Tales and trails twelve miles out to sea

I keep finding myself looking for the little black rat. The one written about by author Margaret Wise Brown, who spent more than a dozen summers on Vinalhaven and penned Goodnight Moon, and other classic children’s books. Her story The Little Island sticks with me the most. I can picture the boats and the island where “seaweed squeaked at low tide,” and “herring and mackerel leaped out of the water all silver in the moonlight.”

My own first impression is of the island’s green landscape and the dominance of trees broken only by solitary, bay-facing cabins, larger houses, and a boathouse or dock here and there. The ferry docks in Carvers Harbor; we grab our duffel bags—I’m traveling with photographer Peter Frank Edwards—and find the Tidewater motel, where we chat with owner Phil Crossman about the island and its geography. He points to a map of Vinalhaven. “It’s nine miles across from here to here,” he says. “But how many miles of coastline do you think?” Crossman traces lines on the map with his finger. There are lobes and coves, peninsulas and islands just off shore. The innkeeper explains that he made it a personal goal to walk the entire coast of Vinalhaven in a series of hikes, and it took him three years to complete all sections of the winding, jagged coastline. He logged the mileage, and the final tally was 268 miles.

In the morning we order coffees, a croissant, and a scone inside Downstreet Market, a handsome old apothecary-turned-bakery with a pressed tin ceiling and built-in wooden shelves and cabinetry arrayed with vintage silver teapots, teacups, crystal wine glasses and cruets, and vintage and new linens, all for sale.

By noontime we’ve made our way to one of the island’s long-abandoned quarries, now used for swimming. Booth Quarry is a spring-fed pool with depths up to 50 feet. We watch as a teenage boy jumps off a high ledge and a younger kid dips his toe in the water and squeals at the cold temperature. The challenge is on. I’m wearing a swimsuit under my clothes for just this possibility. Eventually, in the bright sun, I dive in with a splash.

That night, back up in the Crow’s Nest at the Tidewater, the land around the harbor looks like a pair of arms pulling everything in. It’s hours past sunset, and the sky is blue-black above a few dozen glowing lights still lit in houses and buildings at edges of the harbor— almost like summer fireflies. Recalling again the storybook tales of Margaret Wise Brown, on Vinalhaven, it’s another good night for the moon.

Did you know
Vinalhaven granite was used in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, the State Department Building in Washington, D.C., and the Washington Monument, among many other structures.
Local icon
On Vinalhaven’s Main Street, the dominant building is the pale yellow, former Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge that’s known as the Star of Hope Lodge. At three stories tall, the Victorian manse with a center turret towers above the rest of the buildings. After visiting Vinalhaven in the 1970s, pop artist Robert Indiana, who died in 2018, left New York to buy the building for his home and studio and lived there year-round.