For two summers, I worked as a caretaker on Damariscove (pronounced “DAM-er-scove”) Island, Maine—a tiny island just one quarter mile wide and two miles long oriented North-South about five miles out to sea. From the 1600s – 1960s people lived year-round on Damariscove; now, summer caretakers preserve the rich natural and cultural history. My job as a caretaker was to do trail and structural maintenance and encourage stewardship of this place, but beyond anything the island inspired my personal passion and love for island living.
Life on Damariscove was simpler and more rewarding than anywhere I have ever experienced. My co-caretaker and I lived in a one room lofted cabin without electricity or running water about one hundred feet from the shore of the cove. We grew a garden of lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, and basil, which we mulched with seaweed to keep the snails and weeds at bay. We pulled up strings of mackerel and pollock when we fished most evenings, which we smoked in our makeshift cardboard-box smoker over some apple twigs.
Living and working on Damariscove made me realize for the first time in my life how happy, relaxed, and patient I am when unplugged from the distractions that electricity brings. We were fully engaged in the natural processes around us by marking the time with the regular filling and emptying of the cove with the tides, being frugal with water and food, working to preserve the structures and inspiration of a remarkable place, spending off-time being creative, being reliant on the whims of the weather, and being surrounded primarily by the screeches of great horned owls, the low, choppy soaring of northern harriers, the quick predatory flight of merlins, the hovering of ospreys, the whining of gulls, the almost silent beat of cormorant wings, the wreak of rotten baitfish and salt dried on lobster pots and line, and the stories from the salty folks that have made Damariscove what it has been since the 1600s: a place where humans and nature are so fully intertwined that one can hardly imagine a supposed separation between the two anywhere else.