Hurricane Island

Sam Smith, The Idler, October 1964 – There are several places in this world that I own. Not because I paid cash for them, nor because I can produce any deed to support my claim. I own these places because when I go to them no one is there. No one seems to want them. So, until another makes a claim, they are mine. Someone has made a claim on one of my places. I only went there once, but I immediately decided that it would be mine. Now I must give it up, and I’m a little sorry.

Hurricane Island lies close to the Vinalhaven, the large island that guards the entrance to Maine’s Penobscot Bay. It once had a small village and a quarry. But when I visited the island, it was empty. I climbed to the highest point of the island and, from that massive, moss-coated rock, stood a long time looking between the islands that line Hurricane Sound to the sea beyond that changed its color as it reflected the slowly descending rays of the sun.

Below, and it seemed very far below, lay the little 40′ cutter on which I had sailed to this place. I stared down the sheer face of the rock. The drop, as close as I could figure it, was a hundred feet almost straight down, until it met with the soft mattress laid by years of falling softwood needles, twigs, and loose bark. I would, perhaps, someday build a house here. In fact, the house was partially constructed. The rock face was as sturdy a wall as one could desire. The ground was as comfortable as the most expensive rug. Three more walls, one of them with a huge window from which to look down the sound, a roof, and the house would be complete.

I returned to the boat and told the others I wished to spend the night here. They shrugged; I gathered up my sleeping bag and returned ashore. There was much to see on my new property and little time, for we were sailing on the next morning. I walked over the land making a mental list of my assets: A huge tree that had been recently struck by lightning and was lying on the ground with a moist yellow scar running a full fifty feet along its proud, straight length. It looked brutal then, but I knew that in a few months the scar would fade from prominence as the tree died. Tough little bushes that had fought their way up through cracks in the granite. Various berries. Some were bitter and some tasted sweet, but all gave a pointilist’s touch to small sections of the island. A few boards, held together by fragile and rusted nails, with a purposeless strand of wire reaching out, but finding nothing to hold to, and so ending in the grass a few feet away. A battalion of softwoods standing at attention, ready to defend the ground from the sun and the rain.

I slept on top of the rock that night, making a soft bed out of pine remnants on which to place my sleeping bag. The next morning, I awoke damp and a little cold, but very much awake. The sun had passed to the other side of the island during the night and now it was rising to my left as I looked toward the sound.

I walked down to the rocks from which the water was slowly receding as it did twice each day, dropping 9 feet then returning to the same place. The boat was near. I returned to it. We set sail, floated down the sound, then, with the sun, moved slowly to the west. That was nearly ten years ago. I never had a chance to return to Hurricane Island. I sometimes felt guilty, being an absentee landlord, but I felt sure the island was safe.

Then, recently, I read a brief announcement  somewhere: “Outward Bound, a system of survival schools which originated in Great Britain, will be doing preliminary work on a new school to be es tablished on Hurricane Island, Penobscot Bay, Maine this summer.”

Another claim had been made. I had no receipt, no deed, to show that it was still my island. Hurricane Island could no longer be one of my places. Now it belonged to others. I’m a little sorry, but also happy, for it would be selfish to prevent others from gazing down the sound or tracing to its source the thin rivulet I had found. The new owners sounded like good people, people who would understand the reason for the island, people who would tend it, perhaps, far better than I. I have other places, but Hurricane Island was one of my favorite. I hope the new owners will let me come back sometime.


And got this comment from Senator Margaret Chase Smith

I have read the Hurricane Island story with interest. I know the area and appreciate your feelings. I have a place at West Cundy Point (Great Island) so perhaps am prejudiced with respect to the Maine coastal islands. As you know, there are hundreds of them and one who loves the area as you do would always find a warm welcome whether at Hurricane or another similar spot. Sincerely yours, – Margaret Chase Smith United States Senator

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