Frenchboro, Maine | Here in New England
Everything was in place for the experiment to work — except that nature, natural and human, had other plans. First, the lobstering grounds hadn’t yet recovered from the devastation of a violent storm a few years earlier; a hard economy had become harder still. And then there were the lonely wives.”Coming at the start of winter was a mistake,” Dean Lunt says today. He lives off island now, but his history of Frenchboro and Long Island, Hauling by Hand, is a classic study of how geography and people shape each other. “It’s much harder to fit in during winter.”
“If a wife is unhappy, the family will be unhappy,” Danny Lunt’s wife, Linda, says simply. “The women came from all different places. They’d be home alone all day long. Where do you go to hang out? And it can be scary not knowing how things are done. There aren’t any signs that tell you how to help at the fall dinner fundraiser for the church — you just know what to do. There was all this effort to help the men fish, but who put in the effort to help new women fit in?”
Within a few years, all but one of the newcomers had left. Now and then a reporter would do a follow-up about the failure of the homestead project. Then something interesting happened: The spirit of the islanders who had welcomed strangers began to work like a magnet to pull in young people, many of whom had family ties to Frenchboro but had moved away years before. The houses helped, sure, but even more, the word was still out there that here were island fishermen who would help you get started.
This time people stayed. They had children. A preschool began in the church. Islanders learned from the mistakes of years earlier and tried harder to assimilate everyone. People learned that here’s what you need to know to live here: Buy every little kid a present at Christmas. Don’t go off island on Halloween.
In 2000 the Maine Coast Heritage Trust bought some 900 acres of Long Island from a Rockefeller heir, and the stunning beauty of Frenchboro is now safe forever. That is, the land is safe, but Danny Lunt knows how fragile his island’s future remains.
“We’ll never be out of the woods,” he says. “If fuel gets too high, it’ll be impossible to make fishing work … If another storm rips through and destroys the fishing for too long … If the kids leave for high school and don’t come back …”
Maybe all that will happen. But maybe all this spirited tenacity will keep calling people into the harbor, into a school where each child has a laptop and where individual attention isn’t just an educational concept. The names on the schoolbooks still say Lunt, Bishop, Davis — but now they also say Charpentier, Desjardins, Lenfestey, Wiggins, Rozenski.
In late spring, everyone was talking about the new baby just born in Frenchboro. New blood. Native blood.
For more information on the Frenchboro Lobster Festival, call 207-334-2974 or 207-334-2923.