Essays- PB

Monhegan Farewell

Labor Day 2010  has just past.  And as often observed, there has been a change in the air as the temperatures have dropped following whatever was of Hurricane Earl. For the Raquel (Ricki) and Peter Boehmer family, a seismic change beyond that of the air has descended upon us.  After our marvelous Monhegan years, we no longer have a residence on the Island; we’ve very happily sold our Lobster Cove home to Emily Morse!

I, Raquel, find that I want to post some sort of a goodby and a thank you. And I’m discovering that this is very difficult to frame in words – my feelings are emotional and therefore, invisible and hopelessly ephemeral.  But I still want to give a try.  After all, I have lived more than half my lifetime on the place that I felt one with – and now find myself constructing new routines, living elsewhere.

For those who don’t know us, we decided to move ashore (Falmouth, ME) for reasons that were based upon family health, seven years ago.  ‘Tho the focus of health has shifted to now include more of “us”, we know that we made a proper decision.  So, the house that Peter built for us went up for sale, and we have moved off Monhegan.  Impossible to have once considered – I had envisioned myself being taken off in a wooden box!

Our children, their spouses and families are well and also chose to live elsewhere.  None of us will ever have the memories and effects of island living taken from us.  Those seasonal rhythms, persons and experiences that entered into our hearts and minds are there for always.  In fact, to a large measure, those  influences were the foundry where their/our present characters and strengths were shaped.

Personally, I have had my life deeply enriched by the people we lived with, ran across, or  invited to visit and experience Monhegan. And when it came to health issues, there has never been a locale that could so support and encourage one back into better health and with a constructive attitude. Never.   I do thank you all as you have been the wings that held me up – all too often, I’m afraid.  But you were there.  You are not to be forgotten. You were elements that helped shape the islandness that we were privileged to share for those many years. I shout: hooray, thank you and glory.

Asking for a mantle of blessings over each, I add my loving appreciation.

Raquel and family

Just passing through

Just passing through 

For more than three decades I identified with Monhegan Island. Even to the point of claiming “peter at monhegan” as my e-mail address. The fact is that Peter is no longer at Monhegan. We’ve all shed as many identities as our lobsters have shed their shells.

When our family moved onto the Island, I had not fully shed the shell that brought us there. I knew that my current shell was not working for me but did not have the courage to accept the vulnerability shedding required. Shortly after moving on, an Islander told me that he observed the ease with which we moved on, and predicted that if things did not suit us just right, we would move off with the same ease. Well, it took ten years for my inshore shell to shed. It did when I realized that there were things about the Island that did not “suit me just right”, I was damned if we would move off. Well, life on the Island bumped along for the next two and a half decades when we were called off the Island to attend to some family needs.

For two years we continued to identify with Monhegan, keeping that shell firmly in place. It’s been an additional two years and that shell is mostly off. Sure there are bits and pieces of it lying about, like buildings on the Island that once I worked on and now are held together by other hands. The New Monhegan Press is in different hands and taken on shell of its own. Or Monhegan Commons, that I still update daily or the e-mail address, but with every change of tide those bits of shells get thinner and more fragile.

Life on Monhegan was good to me and my family. Of course I like to imagine that we had become part of that Island. But that was a time that is not now, a different tide. All of us passing though Monhegan are affected by that Island and so we affect the Island. Yet both effects are written on the sand at mid tide and are soon lost to the incoming tide.

The last time I was on the Island, in “our home”, which is very much the same as it was when we resided there, it was different. The spirit (our spirit) was not there. Oh, it was nice enough, but it was not much more than a summer rental to me.

The shedding of Monhegan is a liberating experience for me. Giving it up, is more like giving it back – even though it was never mine to have or give. I rejoice at the next generation’s “take over” of the Island and wish them well. It is good to leave as friends, as leave we must in any case.

Peter Boehmer

peter at monhegan dot com

Rope Shed, and then some

Oh, this old soul is lamenting the loss of the Ropeshed. It was in the past a forum. Ideas, thoughts to be discussed and ruminated upon, then responded to. Sometimes feisty, of course, but nonetheless invigorating.

You looked at the opening photo. That got your head in the proper space. Then you went to the Ropeshed, where ideas and thoughts and (choke!) yes, criticism was freely and intelligently bantered.

Now, more recently, there are no early morning photos. Just “Essays” about what it feels like to finally set foot on the island after spending the year in Gary Indiana or any of those “other places” whose residences where you regretfully have to spend you empty time.

Come on people, this wonderful island is populated not by your dreams, but by a viable, wonderful, hard-working, intelligent group of hardy residents. That’s Monhegan. If you can’t include that in your fantasies, then you may have just missed the point. You love Monhegan? Move there. Year round! At least in your minds.
Get to know and understand and support that wonderful community.

And then — carry out your trash, as we are asked to do.


A collection of reminiscences.

I first arrived on Monhegan in June 1950 to work at the Island Inn to earn money for college. There was an organization known as MYSO – the Monhegan Youth Social Organization. Everyone was strongly encouraged (ordered, I guess, – there was no way to say no) to join. Ruth Grant Faller seemed to be in charge. There didn’t seem to be any other reason for MYSO’s existence other than to put on a show, the purpose of which was to raise money for either the school or the library. Most all of the Island Inn workers were members. There were songs which had been written (see below) and we practiced singing and creating harmony all summer. I seem to remember that the show was put on in mid-August. There were two artists, Harry Gommel and Brash who helped with the scenery. It was an enormous amount of of fun to put on such a show. We did it for three years I was there, 1950, 1951 and 1952. Just a few remembrances. Lonnie Treadwell was in the show one year I was there and he was dressed as a South Seas woman, including an augmentation via balloons which he popped at the end of the song. His mother objected but Dr. Sutton, a minister staying at the Inn, spoke to her and she withdrew her objection. Dr. Sutton was a sweet retired minister and highly regarded. I waited on him at the Inn.

Ruth Grant, Norma and I draped kelp around us and sang the song, “Rain.” We were supposed to be mermaids. The cold wet kelp was bad enough on the first night, but on the second night it was also slimy. Remember, there are never any warm nights on Monhegan.

Barbara Elwell, “Boots”

We did Monhegan lyrics to “Doing What Comes Natrurally.” It was composed by all the people on the Island and was so clever. I know I sang “I Can’t Say No” in 1946 and in 1948, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.” Lonnie was classic. He stole the show in big hiking boots, a short skirt, big black velvet hat snd carried a clam hod with flowers. He sang “I’m Called Little Buttercup,” had two ballons blown up “too big” as breasts and on the last stroll across the stage, popped one. It brought the house down. His mother was embarrassed and said he could not go on the next night. So I asked Dr. Sutton, retired Episcopal Bishop, what he thought. He smiled and seemed to take it as “typical Monhegan,” agreed to go to Mrs. Treadwell and talk with her. All was well for the second performance.

MYSO was started by Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Mason and they went to the “school board”  to get permission for us to use the School House  for dancing on Saturday nights. We also had a masquerade every August. There was no limit to our good times!

Ruth Grant Faller


(Deerfield Academy Song)

Far beyond Maine’s rocky coastline, lies an isle of quiet fame,
Where the cliffs are ever changing, yet eternally the same,
All the Island lies in splendor, hushed before the coming night,
From a hundred ancient windows flashes back the sunset’s light.
Now the meadow’s wind soft whisper, stirs the old spruce silhouette,

Bonds each firey tower above us, caught in evening’s dusky net,
Now the day is done with striving, let the heart hold memory bright,
Soon those rocky shores we’re leaving, raise thesong before we go.
Island days are days of glory, memory lives in every sun,
Let no other nme be spoken, ‘til the evenhour is done.
Mike Nelson


(Cayuga’s Waters)

Off the coast of rustic Maine, lies Monhegan fair.
Rocks and trees and cliffs are mighty , all abounding there,
On the hill there stands a beacon, shining with pure light,
Guiding sailors on the ocean, safely through the night.
Dear Monhegan, fair Monhegan, site of happy days,
Join we now our gay young voices, in her loving praise.
Anne Wibley

(Springtime in the Rockies)
From 1950 show, “Salt Water Daffy.”
We fancy it is summer on Monhegan,
The sunset with its colors all aflame,
And every day the waves are softly calling,
“It’s summer on Monhegan once again.”

The twilight shadows deepen on the rocks, dear,
The island lights are gleaming o’er the sea,
We sit together down at Lobster Cove, dear,
We’re dreaming of the days that used to be.
When it’s summer on Monhegan, I’ll be coming back to you,
To your cliffs and rocky ledges, and your sea of sapphire blue,
Once again I’ll hear the foghorn, see the surf and flying spray,
When it’s summer on Monhegan, on that Island far away.
Ruth Faller

(Same tune)
I miss the walks we used to take to Whitehead,
I miss the crowd that came to all the School House dances,
The gossip circles in the hall,
I’m homesick, that’s all.
I miss the gang that gathered at the tea-room,
The times that Mrs. Wibley sang, “My Hero.”
I’m homesick, that’s all.

I miss the evening services on Sunday night,
And the thrill of hearing sea-gulls call,
I miss the scramble for the chicken every Sunday,
The excitement at the Costume Ball.
I miss the lunches at the kitchen table,
I miss the muffins Johnny made when he was able,
The friends I had to leave this fall,
I’m homesick, that’s all.
Ruth Faller, 1948

What Really Matters?

Monhegan is a particular place that has existed for a long time; humans have lived on or visited it for only part of that time. As always, we humans live in between the past and the future. We hope to continue to learn from the past and carry some of our own learning forward for others into the future. Each time has uniqueness. Our particular time faces challenges similar and different to those before. Certainly the hearts of people have not really changed; but, technology has, and the speed with which our actions impact others has increased.

What does Monhegan mean for those of us who love it? For some, Monhegan is a way of life, generations long, a year round home and livelihood, the grounding of family over time. I cannot speak to this view, but I can appreciate it. My own family roots are deep in the WVA mountains, and I know from the stories of past generations how this cherished “home place” for so many in my family continues to influence even those who for 2 generations now have not actually lived in those mountains. I know where to find that little unlabeled graveyard where my relatives from the early 1800s are buried. I know their names and some of their stories. I see and experience first-hand the flowing through time of past into present. So, I can imagine how deep family ties to Monhegan run.  But, I am not part of that. Some of my extended family re-located to  Damariscotta when I was in high school – Monhegan appeared then on the horizon of my life.

Monhegan for others is a place for people to visit for a day, a week, a month, or a season. Unsurpassed beauty and simple living is offered. What else really matters? I can only speak from the vantage point of one who visits Monhegan to be renewed for one precious week in late summer/early fall. How is it that Monhegan continues to call to me throughout the year?  How is it that I visit Monhegan Commons almost daily? What is Monhegan from this vantage point?

Monhegan offers, for those who are able to see, a way to be reminded of what really matters in life. The island is small enough to help one experience how all of life is intertwined:

How one walks makes a difference. Does one walk “only on the trail”?

Does one walk slowly enough to see the light through the trees, to see the bug trying to cross the trail, to see the small mammal attempting (unsuccessfully) to hide (tails have a way of sticking out), to hear waves and gulls when only forest is visible, to smell the changes with nearness to or distance from the ocean, to feel the changes in temperature between different microclimates, and to relish in the sheer joy of being alive and part of it all?

Sitting while watching and listening to waves defies description. Where does one “go” while spending an afternoon ocean-side? Perhaps we get lost in vastness. Perhaps we experience humility. These waves were here before I was and will be here after I am long gone. How many people throughout the ages have been nourished in body, mind, and soul by this very same water? What is it about the ocean that puts everything in perspective? How wonderful to be faced with something we cannot control. How long before we learn that there is little we can control; that is, other than ourselves and how we interact with our world?

The ocean intersects sky. The enormousness of the sky, day or night, is breathtaking. Words do not describe this beauty. A photograph cannot capture the immensity nor the subtle color variations each sunrise and sunset. An artist can come close. This sky is one to be experienced, for the sky is not separate from the ocean. The two blur together and feed all the senses. And, before them both, we are small.

On this particular oasis, surrounded by vastness, we become aware that how one greets or not greets others has an impact. Island inhabitants, I suspect, cherish privacy. How does one acknowledge the existence of a fellow-traveler in this life without being intrusive? We impact others constantly, no matter where we live, but Monhegan offers an opportunity to realize this in a different way.

On an island, one recognizes, without a degree in environmental science, that trash is a problem. Why does our food have to be wrapped in sixteen layers of plastic and put on a Styrofoam tray? Why shouldn’t my trash be taken care of by me?  What would happen on the mainland if everyone “packed in and packed out” all that they used each day? Garbage really doesn’t just disappear. If a child drops a gum wrapper one day, they might just see it the next day. This is a lesson that will be remembered. If a child searching for sea glass on swim beach finds a washed up Styrofoam cup, that visual “assault” may make an impression.

What better place to connect to our world than on and through Monhegan?

Imaginations can run unencumbered by expectations created by modern marketing. One can explore and recognize oneself as a part of nature, not separate from it. This is true for adults as well as children. Perhaps if one has this awareness early on, one will take great care in respecting and caring for this world of which we are a physical part for a relatively short time.

Monhegan simply offers life to all who visit; an interconnected life within the power and beauty of nature itself. What better way to be reminded of “what really matters”. One can sense, in this environment, that there is something bigger than us, perhaps even sense that “Reality is permeated, indeed flooded, with divine creativity, nourishment, and care.”*  Monhegan offers a place for those who visit to rest in awareness of the presence of God. Maybe a place to discover that in a new way…no matter what your faith tradition, no matter what word you might choose to use to express the Divine. What does really matter for you?

So for those of us who visit Monhegan, but find it calling to us during the rest of the year, Monhegan Commons may be a way to share what it is that we bring back from Monhegan into our daily lives that makes us want to return to “re-charge our Monhegan batteries”. Sharing that online may help keep it alive for us in between visits and may even help those who cannot manage a visit to experience a taste of “what really matters” vicariously. Perhaps it can help us all define “what really matters” for ourselves in a way that will make the world a better place. Monhegan is a microcosm. Why not apply the principles of “Monhegan living” as we struggle to care for and interact with our larger world?

*Marcus J. Borg; “Conflict, Holiness, and Politics”

Dawn Peck