Each island’s story is told and retold
in daily conversation, written down
and reread by the people who live year
round or summer there.
We began our journey for this book on Great Spruce Head Island where Michael and I had both spent time in
past years at a week-long art retreat run by artist Anina Porter Fuller to which she invites a small group of artists
each summer to participate in a shared creative environment. The island has a renowned, creative tradition as the
summer home of Anina’s uncles, painter Fairfield Porter, and his photographer brother, Eliot Porter.
On the first of what would become three annual working weeks on the island, Michael and Peggy stayed at
Anina’s cottage and I moved into Eliot’s old darkroom, which had been turned into a quaint little cottage.
We quickly settled into a rhythm of brief check-ins. I gave Michael poems to consider. He showed me fresh
watercolors of spruce trees and beach stones as well as the day’s photographs: a dory, osprey feathers, reflections of
the sea on old glass windows at the Big House. We tossed around ideas which worked on us like sparks off a fire.
We caught a word, a question or an image, and set to work. I read him a poem about the island fleet of wheelbar-
rows and the next day he returned with a set of photos that captured the moment. After I read a draft of a poem
about the kitchen in the Big House, he showed me photos he had shot in the kitchen that revealed things I had
overlooked. I went back to work to bring in a deeper level of detail and history. After I studied his watercolor of
an ancient spruce I hiked across the island until I found a similar tree. I sat on the path for an hour. Looking up
into the branches, lulled by the calls of osprey and gulls, I took notes. When I read him the finished poem, he said,
“That’s just what I was seeing.”
Creative collaboration such as this is never easy, but from the very first day when Michael called me saying that
he admired my poetry and that it captured his view of Maine, it has been both a delight and a very rewarding experi-
ence to share this journey with him: to see the words of a poet so closely aligned with images created by an artist
and photographer.
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In our three-year journey producing this book, Michael and I met homesteaders who chose to raise their chil-
dren on islands, using a fishing boat to haul sheep, chickens and bales of hay to their homestead. We met retired
painters who moved full time to an island. We encountered those who left the trappings of academia and ended up
joining the island fire department. We discovered how islanders know one another even though they are separated
by miles of ocean.
Populated since the 16th century, the islands have also been home to generations of boat builders, sailors,
fishermen and lobstermen who have shared their livelihood and stories and laughter with the summer people, both
day-trippers and families who come year after year. In addition to the artists’ voice, the intimate societies of islands
have been written about by poets, memoirists and naturalists, and recorded by historians. It is a world that is both
connected to the mainland for supplies and the streams of people coming and going on summertime ferries, and a
world set apart.
The “special” world of islands is also a fragile ecosystem for the natural world and the human inhabitants, both
affected by the pressures of the 21st century. Organizations, such as the Island Institute, work with islanders to
maintain sustainable fishing communities and to support island schools for their children and the island way of life.
The Institute states eloquently that its role is based on “an understanding that all life is intimately linked with its
environment; that people are therefore an inextricable part of the ecosystem of the Gulf of Maine and that there is
an interdependent web of existence more evident on islands than in other communities and landscapes.”
Michael and I have had the good fortune to have spent time on many of the islands in the Bay over the years, I
writing poetry and he painting and shooting photographs. The collection of images that begins this book grew out
of a Penobscot Bay sailing trip Michael took with his wife Peggy and friends.
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