Ragged Island

buckman-160701Ragged Island, the farthest offshore of Maine communities, still seems possessed of the rugged character and drama invoked in Elisabeth Ogilvie’s “Tide Trilogy.” Pithy novels set in the early 1900s, when life 15 miles to sea was a stark and elemental business, the spectacle and gritty realities of the place were captured with clarity by the author, who summered here.

There’s a certain timeless quality to the tidy village, gathered about the teapot of tide pool at Criehaven Harbor, that feels like you’ve sailed back an era or two. For all its wild sensibilities, the island is a place of a welcoming communal character, and it seems that they rather enjoy the company of a few visitors, we having been invited to several cookouts and cultivated much common ground there. That said, it’s a place for travelers, not tourists, and the absence of infrastructure demands a light touch.

The harbor is reasonably sheltered, except in winds west through north, though in any weather a bit of a lop curls past the breakwater to remind you that you are on the very edge of the continent, with thousands of miles of unfettered seas stretching away to the east.

No anchoring is allowed, for the harbor bottom is solid granite and crossed by steel cables, from which moorings are hung for the fishing fleet. There may be a mooring available by inquiring among the lobster fishers, who all seem to know who’s on the main for a day or two. Visitors should not tie up and leave their boats unattended without clearing it with a local. Moorings occupied by a dinghy should be considered off limits, and if none are available, one can remove to nearby Matinicus Island or the shelters of Penobscot Bay, a few hours northward.

Landing on the shingle strand at the head of the harbor, you are immediately among the body politic. Only a few steps away, the mustard-colored school and store, both long shuttered, speak to a noble collective impulse, courage and optimism. The village well, in the midst of the gathering, should not be used by cruisers, it being of modest capacity and for local needs only. There are no services of any sort here, though lobsters can often be bought when the fishermen return from their day at sea.

Treading lightly is essential. A network of trails is accessible from the stone beach. Bearing left, one can follow a jeep track, past a dirt landing strip, and head toward the island’s northern flank, where grassy swells harbor the ruins of several homes and the foundering of dreams. Decline in the present tense is sobering in a place like this, and there’s a particularly poignant feeling to the tiny cove on the north shore that is littered with the relics of failed ambitions.

Turning right at the village beachhead, it’s easy enough to work along the western shore where the views of infinite of ocean are breathtaking. If the trail peters out, and it does, you’ll have to stitch together a bushwhack in knee-high grass or along smooth ledges. The eastern shore is breathtaking with stirring views of Matinicus Rock, with its spike of a lighthouse, and nearby Seal and Wooden Ball islands looking lonely against the infinity of sea.

One comes to a certain state of heightened awareness here. The very being of it is in your face, rugged and fragile, a mere stripe of granite and greenery beneath a yawning vault of sky. Sunsets and the night heavens are striking. There’s a raw energy and sensation of feeling small amidst the spectacle, which is an optimal circumstance for discovery.

Comments are closed.