“To everything (turn, turn, turn), There is a season (turn, turn, turn), And a time to every purpose, under heaven…”
Sitting down to write today this verse kept running through my mind. Actually it’s been hovering there in my subconscious for about a week as I’ve been considering this next post. It’s from the book of Ecclesiastes and was turned into a song by Pete Seeger in 1950 and then made famous in 1965 by the band the Byrds.
“A time to be born, a time to die, A time to plant, a time to reap, A time to kill, a time to heal A time to laugh, a time to weep… ”
Turn! Turn! Turn! became one of my generation’s lasting protest songs. While it is largely considered an anthem for world peace today, it always felt more like a steadying reminder to me. I believe it’s counseling us to take comfort in the knowledge that everything comes and goes and that even the horror of the catastrophic Vietnam War (during which the song became famous) would end one day and the world’s deep wounds could heal over time.
“A time to build up, a time to break down, A time to dance, a time to mourn, A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together… ”
It’s no accident that memories of my ’60s protestations against the injustice of those times is rising up today in the midst of our country’s/world’s resurgent crises. This song, I think, offers us hope as it presents the cycle of life itself as a self-cleansing force.
The old, whether in the form of an individual, an administration, a society, a system, whatever doesn’t change, will die in order to make room for the new. Sometimes for the good but other times not. That seems to be the geometry of our world; the structure on which we are laid down; the divine shape in which it all unfolds.
Being transient as a promise and a strength.
“A time of love, a time of hate, A time of war, a time of peace, A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing…”
As we arrived at the Island Inn for a stay on wonderful Monhegan (see previous post Monhegan) my thoughts were naturally immersed in the rich, artistic history of the place, such a small community, with only 40 to 45 year round residents now, down from its peak of roughly 140 in 1920.
“A time to gain, a time to lose, A time to rend, a time to sew, A time for love, a time for hate, A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”
Perhaps it’s something to do with my age or with the fact of my declining physical state, but I find myself reflecting a lot these days. And I am seeing the cycle of life playing out in mine.
Don’t get me wrong, I gladly hand over the baton to those coming up behind me, with thanks and gratitude. My race has been run and I’m tired, quite honestly. “To everything there is a season…” and I am in the twilight of mine. Let the young build and create and tear down and rebuild again, perhaps making a society that works better than the one we’re living in now.
I rejoice at the youth who are succeeding us because I find them to be kind and engaged, intelligent and full of energy. And there is plenty of work to be done.
Even this beautiful island of Monhegan faces its own potential demise although several groups of locals who love it are doing everything they can to save it.
But out on the footpaths and in the small stores during my visit, I sensed an energy that wasn’t exactly welcoming.
I wouldn’t say locals were contemptuous or hostile or anything even close to that. It was more like a kind of grief I saw on some of their faces, tinged with something akin to revolt, ‘though that word sounds a bit too strong. I think it was because I represented the foretelling of a potential collapse of their way of life, hard-won and hard-held for over four centuries.
Monhegan is an old working class fishing village. People who lived there were isolated and so they had to depend on themselves and their neighbors for survival. They pulled much of what they needed from the sea. They planted and raised most of the rest. They depended on the earth for their sustenance. And they shared.
And now, from what I’ve read, I think it’s safe to say that Monhegan Island is being a bit over loved. Like Venice, Italy. So many people from around the world have discovered her beauty, some of whom have bought summer houses there, and buildings are being snatched up to become businesses catering to summer tourists, all of which raises the going rate on everything.
“Housing costs have more than doubled in the last five years… and the men and women who have lived and worked year-round on Monhegan are finding it very difficult…” [to afford homes]. Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association (MISCA) website
The island’s isolation, being 12 miles out in the Atlantic, has become expensive. Energy costs, particularly, are sky high so it’s often hard to afford being warm on Monhegan in the winter.
And then there’s the lack of winter jobs; the school was down to one student and the village’s only grocery store lost its lease because the owner wanted to use the building for another purpose (i.e. they wanted to sell). Then rents were too high for the store owner to start over again.
Here’s one of the most poignant statements I’ve read about the island, “We stood in the center of one of the great anomalies of early-21st-century American life: an ancient, self-governing village, essentially classless and car-less, whose homes, sheds, and footpaths appear to have thrust themselves out of the wild…” Monhegan at 400: “A Fortunate Island,” by Carl Little, Island Journal June 2014
Doesn’t that sound like something we’d want to cherish and nurture? And yet the island appears to be at a crossroads.
Will it continue as a functioning fishing port with farmers and shop keepers, teachers, carpenters, working artists, and others, year-round, and a tourist season in the summer? Or will it succumb to the high cost of housing and energy that’s driving working people away, to become a sort of summer camp for the well-healed? I certainly hope not.
From nearly 300 year round islands, the coast of Maine is down to just 14 now.
As Elizabeth Smith, a long time visitor to Monhegan, says in Will Bleakley’s excellent Down East article, The Last of the Monhegans, “We’ve lost all sense of community in the world, and to lose this special place would be devastating.”
So people are stepping up to do something. In fact the article I quoted above, had a far reaching and positive effect. It spurred islanders, both year-round and summer, to seriously search for solutions. And people who have loved and visited the island for years are getting involved as well.
It doesn’t hurt that Monhegan Associates, a conserving group whose aim is to preserve the island’s wild lands, has been successful and in place for decades. I have a sense they not only provided inspiration for locals seeking this new wave of innovation, but also acted as something of a guiding light.
Theodore Edison, son of inventor Thomas, learned there were plans afoot to divide the island into parcels to sell for development. And when he learned his whole beloved forest would go, he started buying up lots right then, in the 1920s.
Then in 1954 he invited the whole island to be a part of a land trust, one of the very first on the East coast. Since Edison began buying up lots in the 1920s, the trust has continually purchased land as it has come available. The trust now represents two thirds of the island’s total land area. Where, “Natural processes are meant to prevail, and human manipulation of the forest is strictly limited,” from Monhegan Forest Stewardship Management Plan
Next there is the good work being done by the Monhegan Island Sustainable Community Association (MISCA). Formed in 2002, they have already made great inroads. They also operate as a land trust. But instead of protecting the wild lands on the island, they work to conserve housing for working people without taking land out of conservation.
They do this by buying existing real estate and selling the homes to year round residents at considerably less than market value. MISCA retains ownership of the land. Once the property is in the land trust, thus, the rate of appreciation is controlled. So even when a home sells again, it will be available to resident families at affordable rates in perpetuity.
Oh, and remember the grocery store that lost its lease? MISCA purchased that building as well as the one they’re currently renting to Lisa Brackett (at reduced rates) for the NEW grocery store, L. Brackett & Son. It opened the day after the old store closed.
And that OLD store building, now owned by MISCA, houses two businesses as well as the post office, the Monhegan Plantation Office (all at reduced rates), and two affordable condominiums.
MISCA also has helped several families purchase or lease year-round homes.
Then in 2010 Kathie Ianniacelli, a gardener who has maintained many of the island’s gardens for more than 25 years, launched the Island Farm Project. She says that Monhegan used to be farmland and she wants to reclaim some of that.
She’s currently farming 14 small plots scattered around the village, and in 2012 she added a 12-by-28-foot greenhouse.
“We make deliveries to people’s houses,” says Ianniacelli. “We’ll even put it into the refrigerator for them … ”
A more recent addition to the island, Monhegan Brewing Company opened in 2013. Matt and Mary Weber and Mary’s father Dan McGovern wanted to make an exceptional micro-brew while, at the same time, bringing more jobs to Monhegan. McGovern has been commercially brewing since the early 1990s.
Despite the challenge of getting the ingredients to the island, the trio is committed to brewing on Monhegan.
Then there is the completion of a multi-year project to reduce energy costs. If you’re interested, take a peek at this link which tells yet another interesting and encouraging story about Monhegan: http://www.islandinstitute.org/press-release/monhegan-island-celebrates-completion-multi-year-clean-energy-initiative-community-art.
And it just goes on and on like that, the creativity these people are putting into saving Monhegan’s unique way of life. I simply can’t tell you everything that’s being done in the effort to restore and maintain this island’s year-round community, they are too many.
And isn’t that wonderful? In fact I read somewhere, and I’m not finding it again now, that Monhegan’s sustainability efforts are going to be replicated by other small islands and villages as a path to their own self-preservation.
This is what I meant about the young people pushing at our heels. They’re finding inventive ways to solve old problems (with a nod to my contemporaries on Monhegan that still have such awe-inspiring vitality. It’s not all being done by the young).
But I particularly love how all of these solutions are seemingly growing out from each person’s individual interests and strengths. Monhegan appears to me to be an almost primeval example of how, when left to our own devices, we can seek and find solutions on the way to finding ourselves.
Add to all of this the existence of the splendid Monhegan Museum of Art and History, Yankee Magazine’s Choice for Best Small Museum (another remarkable story of islanders coming together to buy and restore the crumbling lighthouse buildings to act as public spaces)…
… as well as the Monhegan Memorial Library that’s simply overflowing with wonderful bustle throughout the year, from the Children’s Reading Hour, a Writing Group, a CHOWDER FEST(!), Poetry Jamborees, COLLAGING (my personal favorite), and still more events like, “Thoreau & Birds: A Lecture by Tom Potter (Thoreau Scholar),” various readings, book discussions and reviews and, oh yes, a few books to check out to boot…
Everything, it would seem, to hold a community close.
And so I’m wondering, if I were to sign up on MISCA’s list of people wanting to buy an affordable house on Monhegan, and if I left here to live there year-round would the Island’s mystique, her quiet winter’s whisperings, help me regain my keenness for living?
I’ve been infatuated with places before (like so many are with Truchas).
But is it possible that, 12 miles out in the Atlantic ocean on a scrap of rock that’s drawn our attention for over four hundred years, I might once again get me back?
Something soft in my heart thinks it’s almost imaginable. Hmmmmmmmm…. If not for my seven animals…
But then again it’s possible Monhegan could be their destinies too.
Love to you all,
P.S. I’d forgotten to tell you all about my wonderful birthday dinner at the inn. I regret now that I didn’t take my camera because I wanted to be completely “present.” So the photo below will have to do… no glimpses of me in a bib enjoying my first Maine lobster. Not on your life!