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Letter from Vinalhaven - An Island is an Island

An Island is an Island

By Phil Crossman
Illustration by Chris Clarke
Do you find that, although you like the general “heft” of New York City, Manhattan is not quite the island experience you’re looking for? Take heart! In many respects an island is just an island whether circumscribed by the East, Harlem, and Hudson rivers, or by East Penobscot Bay, the Reach, and the Fox Islands Thorofare. Vinalhaven, the largest island in our local archipelago, has enough in common with Manhattan that even if you’re emerging from the Big Apple (I did not say anything about a worm) for the first time, Vinalhaven can help you transition from that island extreme to, say, Matinicus. Manhattan and Vinalhaven are each 24 square miles in size. Each has a great fire department. Each island has two well-known sports teams, Manhattan with two mediocre baseball teams and Vinalhaven with two championship rowing teams. Each island has experienced a 3% increase in population in the last decade, Manhattan from around 1,510,000 to 1,560,000, Vinalhaven from 1,326 to 1,366 and a half. (The Vinalhaven number includes Devon MacDonald who only stays on Vinalhaven for as long as we can stand him each year, which is about six months. He then moves to North Haven for about the same duration, and returns here when those islanders have had their fill.) The similarities between Vinalhaven and Manhatten are manifest everywhere. Each has about 20 distinct neighborhoods. In Manhattan, there is Tribeca, here we have Skin Hill, Greenwich Village vs. Dogtown, SoHo there and NoBo here, Chinatown and Pequot, the Upper East Side and the Sands, their Bowery and our Bowery, Little Italy and East Boston, Midtown vs. Downstreet, the Lower East Side and Round the Mountain, Turtle Bay and Indian Creek, the East Fifties and Round the Island, Sutton Place and Shore Acres, and Morningside Heights compared to Coombs Neck. Each island has eight bridges: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, Queensboro, Triboro, Henry Hudson, Broadway, and George Washington bridges on Manhattan vs. Lane’s Island, Carrying Place, Dyers Island, Mill River, Boondoggle, Old Harbor, Mill Stream, and Bartons Island bridges on Vinalhaven. Still, there’s no denying that some distinctions do exist. About half of Manhattan’s inhabitants are of one minority group or another, but here on Vinalhaven we only have three minority residents: a Rastafarian fellow who gets a kick from telling summer visitors he’s a native, a Vietnamese woman who sits on the school board, and a Pakistani gentleman who has retired here. Manhattan’s got us licked there; we could use a little more diversity. There are some ways in which we have Manhatten beat, hands down. We harvest a more appealing lobster here in the clear, cold waters of Penobscot Bay than can be found in the East River; we can always find a place to park, and we all wave to one another and to visitors, particularly those from New York.
Phil Crossman is a near-native of Vinalhaven island, a building contractor, an owner of the Tidewater Inn on Vinalhaven, and a freelance writer. His book, a collection of essays titled “Away Happens,” was published in 2005 by the University Press of New England at Dartmouth College.