Monhegan Island, Maine
by Gary W. Stanley
One of the most enjoyable parts of my work as a photographer and writer is being able to share special photographic places with you. We all know that more often than not, it's not only about the photography, but also about the experience. Don't get me wrong, while I do enjoy sharing my experiences with you, I find it even more gratifying when I can share those special moments and special places with my children.
While it is my hope that this article will inspire you to want to go to a place like Monhegan, I hope it will also encourage those of you with children to make an effort to share your photographic experiences with them.
My son Jesse just turned 10 and his sister Johanna (JoJo) is almost 8. So as a dual birthday treat I decided to take them out to Mohegan Island.
My first suggestion: if you want to get any sleep the night before, don't tell the kids what you're planning to do! We needed to get up at 3:30 am in order to catch the first boat out to the Island. Just knowing that they were allowed to get up at 3:30am was all the excitement they needed. We may have gotten two hours of sleep, period!
3:30 in the morning may seem a bit extreme, but we were going for just the day and I wanted them to experience the Laura B. The Laura B is an old WWII gun ship, that was converted to haul supplies out to the islands. I knew that it leaves at 7:00am from Port Clyde, so we needed to get there early to buy tickets. Oh sure there are other boats that go out to the island, some were even closer to home, but they are just "Plain People Movers" and I knew that the Monhegan experience would be more complete with a ride on the Laura B.
We arrived in Port Clyde about 6:00am so we had a little time before our scheduled departure. Port Clyde compliments the Monhegan experience very well. It is an old harbor that you could spend hours photographing. The kids hung around the dock watching the men load the Laura B with supplies, while I took a few photographs. The fog started to move in, so I framed a couple of lobster boats in great light.
Soon the Laura B was loaded and we were heading out of the harbor on our ten mile ride out to Monhegan. It wasn't long before we were out of the fog and enjoying the scenery. You pass Marshall Point Lighthouse on the way out of the harbor and see the lobsterman checking their traps. We saw two bald eagles, several porpoises and harbor seals as well. Sometimes you'll even see a whale if your lucky.
Arriving at Monhegan, we dock in a very picturesque and well protected harbor, the folks on the island greet us as we dock and the only vehicles allowed on the island, a few pick-up trucks, are waiting there to haul the supplies up to the Inns. Monhegan is an artist colony with very few amenities. Rustic would probably best describe the experience.
There are two main Inns, the Island Inn and the Monhegan along with smaller and even more rustic cottages. There is a small market, cafes and restaurants at the Inns serving food during the dinner hours. The dirt roads are lined with quaint little homes with white picket fences. Many of these homes house small galleries and craft shops that feature local artist work.
Only about 75 people actually live on the island year round. Be forewarned though, Monhegan can be a very busy place during the summer. The island is only a mile and a half long by one mile wide so the village can get a little congested, but with over 17 miles of trails you can easily find your own piece of heaven.
The coastal trail will take you past an old shipwreck (The wreck of the D.T. Sheridan at Lobster Cove), where you may also spot whales as they travel along the Gulf Stream.
Continue around the outer trail and you'll come to two of the highest cliffs on the coast of Maine (160'). The trail can be fairly strenuous so I recommend that you exercise caution and wear sturdy hiking shoes because it is rocky.
You can take a shortcut to the cliffs by following the trail out of the village through the forest. The woods are virgin forest, chiefly spruce and Balsam fir called Cathedral Woods. There are a wide variety of wildflowers and other plants of interest, so you may want to bring a macro lens along. Some of the other trails can be a little tricky to follow so be careful, you can get lost even on a small island.
We got turned around a few times following some of the trails on the west side of the island. We hiked for over four hours and I was concerned that Jesse and JoJo might get tired or bored, but they just took everything in stride treating it all like an adventure. They would take turns reading the trail maps gaining valuable experience learning how to figure out where they were. To be very honest, there were a few times they made better choices than Dad. Jesse said: " Dad we have to be on this trail here (pointing to the map) because it's the only one with a Firebox!" He was right! Monhegan is one of those places that gives the photographer a bit of everything to photograph. There's the harbor (check out Fish Beach) and the fish houses which serve as workshops for many of those who fish and lobster), the village, the beautiful woods and spectacular views along the cliffs.
Above the village is the old lighthouse built in 1824, you'll want to check that out. When it's time to relax, pick up a sandwich and a drink from the store, and relax for a while in an Adirondack chair under an old apple tree. I spoke with one woman there who has been coming to Monhegan for over 50 years, so I guess you could say that it can be habit forming.
If you are serious about getting some nice photographs, I strongly suggest staying at least a night or two. You'll want to book lodging well in advance. Go to the website that I've listed here and check out the lodging arrangements. I happen to prefer the Inns for comfort over the cottages, but they can get pricey, so if you don't mind roughing it, most any of the lodging choices will do. As for time of year, I like the springtime best because of the spring flowers and it tends to be less crowded.
For camera equipment be sure to bring plenty of film or a few extra memory cards. You'll want lenses that will cover the wide-angle to modest telephoto range. I like using my D100 digital camera, the Tokina 24-200 for most shooting situations, my Nikkor 18-35 for the wide stuff and the Nikkor 80-400 VR because of the wildlife that you may see on the ride to and from the island. I also recommend a compact backpack such as the LowePro Mini Trekker and a lightweight carbon fiber tripod to make hiking around the island easier (the island is quite hilly).
I like to let my kids take their own photographs letting them develop their own interest in photography. They may bring along point-and-shoot cameras or I'll supervise the use of my camera for a shot or two.
Our day trip was over far too soon. Late afternoon we said goodbye to the island and headed back to Port Clyde. A few miles off the island my daughter got to see her first whale and I realized that taking the kids with me was a great idea and indeed, it doesn't get any better than this.