Don’t look down.
I tried to tell myself that it was all in my head, but I still swayed as I crossed the narrow ramp onto the ferry. I have no fear of heights, but the lack of railings on the bridge would be nerve-racking for even the gutsiest of passengers.
My sister and I claimed our seats on the lower level of the boat, near the water. In a few minutes were were chugging out of Port Clyde, Maine, between boats, past islands, and into the open sea. Watching the waves that rolled out of our wake was fun for a while, but there wasn’t much to see through the dense fog besides that. So to break the monotony I started a game of Find-The-Buoy with myself. I’d latch onto a particularly painted lobster buoy and keep looking for the same pattern.
About halfway to our destination, the captain drove us by some rocky islands covered in sun-bathing seals. But we didn’t stay long; we had a better island to visit. After a long time we were pulling up beside a tall wharf and unloading onto one of the most unchanged places in New England: Monhegan Island. Bethany soon put me in the lead, so I started us up the steep dirt track past the hotel, past the library and school, and onto the Whitehead trail just when the other passengers had started lunch. (My sister slowed us slightly with several photo shoots on the way – not that I’m opposed to that… are you?)
When we stepped out onto the rocky bluff, we were met with a wall of white. We weren’t disappointed, but instead enjoyed a quiet lunch with no intruders except several curious and comical gulls. (We were glad we had gotten ahead of the crowd, because on our way back we passed other passengers from our ferry who had eaten their lunches first.)
After Whitehead, we moseyed onto a shady lane to investigate the famous Cathedral Woods. I had been on the island as a kindergartener, fascinated with the many fairy houses dotting the edges of the trail in the forest. Many years later, I left my own fairy house.
On the way back, we stopped to snap a picture of the lighthouse and the exceptional view from its hill, then strolled back through the village. At a tiny ice cream shoppe, we bought and savored the best ice cream known to man. (Bethany’s was a refreshing green tea flavor and mine was a delectable caramel and sea salt.)
Since we’d only hiked half the island, we took a path between the houses in a southerly direction. I had wanted to see Christmas cove or Lobster cove, but we ended up not finding the path leading to it. (Um, it was right in front of you, dummies. Duh.) Anyway, we did clamber over the rocks on a quiet shore across from Manana (Manana is a smaller island across from Monhegan. A couple other tiny islands speckle the shore.) My sister found with great delight that the bubbles on the kelp can be crushed under the feet with a satisfying pop and squish. It became for her what bubble wrap is for me.
We peeked inside an art studio, then a gift shop. Both she and I knew the gift shop would be a tourist trap, so we intended just to look and not buy. We were greeted by a blonde golden retriever who’d been working there since just a puppy. As we perused the items for sale, I couldn’t help but snatch up a sweet-scented bar of soap for my mother. (So much for that idea.)
As a matter of fact, I had been especially excited to tour Monhegan with Bethany because I’d been writing something centered on that very island. It gave me a chance to get the feel of the village, people, and take notes on what I saw. (Of course, slacker that I am, I never got around to taking notes until the end.) So because I wanted lots of research, I had planned to cram in as much walking and sight-seeing as possible. But by the time we got out of the gift shop and were back to the wharf, we still had more than a half an hour of time to kill!
Bethany and I finally sat inside the Barnacle, a café on the wharf, and treated ourselves to a giant root beer float to share. (I know, I know, more ice cream…) But it was a nice way to relax, a cool breeze coming in the open window, a drink between us, something to write on and a lovely view to distract us.
At four thirty, we kissed Monhegan goodbye and boarded the ferry once again. My sister and I took the same seats we’d had on the way in, and we sat while the captain got the boat ready. A group of teenagers was laughing and talking on the wharf beside us, waiting for the ferry to start away from the island. It’s a tradition there, a group of the bravest dare-devils jumps into the deep water off the wharf whenever visitors leave; it’s their way of bidding us farewell.
We were off. The teenagers were spluttering their way back onto the wharf, and Bethany lent me a poetry book to pass the time. It wasn’t long, however, before the captain cut the loud engine and circled around a suspicious looking wave. Over the loudspeakers he told us it was possibly a shark or large sunfish. I caught a glimpse of a fin-tip, but it disappeared. Later a deck-hand informed us that the passengers on the top level had seen it from above: it was a twenty-foot shark.
With that sensation over, I settled down with the poetry book and lost myself until we were in Port Clyde. Bethany shook herself awake and we gathered ourselves, found our car, and drove the two-hour trip back to Searsport, Swan Lake, and our cozy lakeside cabin.