Islands come in all shapes and sizes, and even that can change dramatically with the tides. Now that I’m living on one, I’m really beginning to appreciate their variety. Some you can drive to or from, while others require a ferry or even an airplane. The better-known ones seem to be vacation or travel destinations.
Here’s a sampling, starting with home.
Eastport, Maine, including Moose, Treat, Carlow, Matthews, and a few more: 3.6 square miles (12.3 with water)
Manhattan: 22.7 square miles
Staten: 58.5 square miles
Martha’s Vineyard: 96 square miles
Nantucket: 48 square miles
Grand Manan, New Brunswick: 55 square miles (198.4 with water), but one side is a 20-mile wall of tall bluffs – the same length as Martha’s Vineyard.
Sanibel, Florida: 16.1 square miles
Mount Desert, Maine (home of Acadia National Park): 108 square miles
Vermont may be renowned for maple syrup and skiing, but Maine lays claim to a very dry humor as well as lobsters. Maybe they’re somehow connected.
When I first moved in New Hampshire, I learned much about the region through the Humble Farmer, Robert Skogland’s weekly hour on Maine Public Radio. But his comedy act wasn’t the only one in the Pine Tree State.
Tim Sample remains the epitome, even though his time was cut unfortunately short.
Another now classic run was “Men from Maine,” a one- to two-minute comedy segment that opened with soap opera organ music and something varying along the lines of, “And now for another thrilling episode of the exciting adventures of Men from Maine. As today’s action-packed drama begins,” which aired on a morning radio show in Boston.
The episodes typically revolved around Lem and Ephus and others in backwoods Maine. While the humor was essentially redneck, it was opposed to that of the American South. Episodes ran all the way from industrial accidents handled in incompetent ways (many residents, including Lem and Ephus, worked in the local sawmill, though the canneries could be equally hazardous), to bestiality, but, as observers noted, the humor always came from the stupidity of the characters and their obliviousness.
After I’d been introduced to the men via Clackity Jane’s show on Eastport’s little FM station, I discovered how much they’re stilled treasured in these parts, maybe because they struck something true.
Like eagles, they can have long wingspans that stretch straight out when soaring. And unlike eagles, they can hover, as they do over water before plunging in a power dive and coming up with a fish. Not that I’ll ever get a shot of that with a simple camera.
Unlike the two most photographed and visited lighthouses around here – East Quoddy on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, and West Quoddy in Lubec, Maine, both of which have been featured here at the Barn – the remaining lighthouses I encounter locally are small-scale. They’re beacons, all right, but to call them houses may push the definition.
The catalyst of re-envisioning Eastport is the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, founded in 2002 by director Hugh French. Its mission has been in acquiring and presenting wide-ranging collections of artworks and historical documents reflecting the coastal region, as well as educational and preservation efforts that include eight significant buildings in the town – four of them in the downtown district – and guest artists residencies each summer.
The leadership is rounded out by French’s wife, Kristin McKinlay, who is director of exhibitions and the StudioWorks residency program, and by Jennifer Dolanski, Artsipelago/program specialist, plus eight trustees, only one of them living in Eastport. The others reside in places like Boston and New York City.
There are also concerts in its 1818 church that housed the Free Will Baptists, plus other events at its 1828/1829 Seaman’s Church, which housed the Congregationalists.
Oh, yes, every New Year’s Eve there’s the maple-leaf drop at 11 pm Eastern – midnight for our Canadian neighbors – followed by the giant sardine an hour later. Both the maple leaf and sardine were commissioned creations.
I suppose TIMA was inspired in part by the Island Institute, founded in 1983 to help Maine islands from Portland to Acadia tackle pressing environmental and socio-economic issues. The Rockland-based organization’s impressive publications include the annual magazine, Island Journal, as well as data analyses to guide public policy. Its focus is on sustainable livelihoods and communities in changing times that include rising sea levels, bringing together marginalized communities, and economic survival.
In contrast, for now, TIMA’s focus seems to be more on art and architecture, principally – especially the small downtown on the National Register of Historic Places.
In essence, it’s building a future rooted in the past but not stuck there. It’s really the way every art moves, too, no matter how revolutionary some of the leaps may seem.
I do have to wonder whether TIMA has taken on too much. The restorations appear to have stalled, perhaps before Covid set in, and both of the churches need significant repair, inside and out. The institute has, all the same, helped distinguish Eastport as a fine arts center in a visually stimulating setting in Maine, an identity that may attract new residents in a time of national population change.
Frankly, it was one of the things that lured me here, as well as my wife and elder daughter.