The striking and picturesque photos on the cover of “National Geographic” depict wild and natural landscapes of what seems, on occasion, to be another planet. The magazine does a good job at inspiring awe, desire, and even loneliness through its intimate and thoughtful photos. However, the landscapes in their publishings are not often inaccessible to those who wish to see them for themselves. One such place, available to the public, is Monhegan Island.
The square mile of land that has been fixed ten miles off of Maine’s coast, and has shown no signs of moving anywhere else in the near future, has been a destination for Maine’s many travelers year after year. With many travelers from New England and further arriving along the coast each summer, Maine, and Monhegan Island, certainly live up to the bold claim set forth on one version of the Maine license plate: Vacationland. Its unparalleled beauty and awe striking landscape are its most sought after attractions.
Monhegan Island is the embodiment of the Maine coast: one giant rock with pine trees on top. But, like most of Maine’s coast, this rock with pine trees on top is alarmingly captivating. The northwest shore of Monhegan is visible from places such as Acadia National Park and Pemaquid Point, and on the southeast shore of the island, fifty-meter cliffs look out onto the horizon. Between these two shores lies a mostly uninhabited forest. Cathedral woods, the rock’s collection of pine trees, is, again, alarmingly captivating; the ocean can even be spotted through the trees there sometimes. The southernmost tip of the island opens up into a field of high grass and a small beach, but Monhegan’s town is located on the northern shore facing the mainland and holds a regular population of about seventy-five islanders. Another smaller island, named Manana, accompanies Monhegan, and is almost accessible by land from Monhegan at low tide. This tiny bluff is also exquisitely striking. The rocky outcrops just outside of these two islands are popular destinations for seal-watchers. On a clear day, the sight of Monhegan Island, with its rocky coastline, pleasant town, and tall forest, is unforgettable.
Hiking trails and island shops exist to entertain those visiting the island. Monhegan Island’s main attraction, its landscape, attracts both artists and hikers alike. Upon arriving to the island, one will walk up a ramp onto a pier that leads to Monhegan’s small main street. Along this street one can find small gift shops – usually “guarded” by dogs that appear older than the island itself, a small grocery store, and a few art galleries. For the hikers, island’s trail map illustrates a network of numerous trails to explore. Popular trails are those that lead through Cathedral Woods, parallel the islands steep cliffs on the southeast side, or lead hikers to the southern tip of the island where the remains of a shipwreck have rested for over sixty years.
Traveling to Monhegan Island is most commonly done through a passenger ship company called Hardy Boat Tours. Their one boat, the Hardy III, takes passengers from the wharf in New Harbor Maine. The ride takes two hours and the crew is known for its accommodating nature and often stopping to look at the harbor seals when leaving the island.
Some residents of Monhegan Island may only live there for the summer, where they can spend time painting, swimming, hiking, and getting tired of their neighbors, but there are full-time residents of Monhegan: lobstermen. Maine’s coast is filled with colorful buoys, floats connected to underwater traps that indicate their locations to fishermen. These buoys, different colors for each lobster man, sit like Easter eggs in the water. This is no exception on Monhegan. These lobstermen account for most of the non-vacationing inhabitants of Monhegan, and their presence is apparent as mountains of unused traps rest on street corners.
The photographers from “National Geographic” are capable of capturing photos of the planet that evoke feelings of wonder and desire. The intriguing islander lifestyle, the appealing prospect of the open ocean, and the invigorating natural beauty of Monhegan Island have inspired many in this same way. The island, secluded from life on the mainland and left alone to hearten its many travelers, has its own delicate charm, unlike any other place on Earth. You might even want to see it for yourself.
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(Copyright 2015 Chris Berry-Toon)