Island Schoolhouse: One Room for All

Wednesday, Sep-12-10
Paperback, $20, ISBN 978-0-88448-340-3

On six remote, windblown Maine islands, the children are still educated in one-room schools. After two mainland one-room schools closed in 2009, these islands maintain the last taxpayer-funded public one-room elementary schools in the state. But despite very small student populations and sometimes shrinking communities, these remaining schools are not slated to close. Consolidation is impractical, a daily commute is usually impossible, island families are determined to keep their communities viable, and all agree that a school is a central part of a stable, year-round community.

You might think that these tiny schools are an anachronism, offering an old-fashioned approach to education. You'd be wrong. They are among the most technologically savvy schools in the state and offer a culturally rich educational experience. Author Eva Murray moved to Matinicus in 1987 to teach in the one-room school, married and raised a family on the island, and has served on the school board and volunteered in the school. She has traveled from island to island, collecting the stories that tell how these small communities promise their handful of children a modern education within the context of a specialized and sometimes extreme offshore lifestyle. The hows and whys will fascinate educators, and the details of island life will interest everyone.

Why "Safely Out to Sea?" What does that mean?

Monday, Aug-16-10

"Safely Out to Sea" is Eva Murray's personal website. Murray is a freelance writer who lives full time on Matinicus Island in Maine. You may link from here to Eva Murray's writing in area publications such as Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors; Working Waterfront; Down East online and the (Rockland) Free Press. There are archived columns from the op-ed pages of the Knox County Times, the Lewiston Sun Journal, and other Maine newspapers. Read some of her essays and articles about island life and about other things, view some images of Matinicus Island, check out her book "Well Out to Sea," or send her a note.

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Matinicus Island is located at the approach to Penobscot Bay in the mid-coast region of Maine. A small rocky outpost roughly 23 miles from Rockland, the nearest mainland city, without daily ferry service or any guarantee of transportation to or from the island in bad weather, the island community has a well-deserved reputation for isolation, independence, and defiance. Our resident population averages below 100 people, and can be well below that in the deep winter. Even during the summer "tourist season" Matinicus is the smallest of small towns. The weather can be ferocious, and the sense of being truly cut off from the rest of the world when sea conditions make boat travel unsafe contributes to the islanders' sense of their own resilience and strength.

Sometimes, the meteorologists on the evening news reassure the mainland population that with a bad storm coming, they need not worry as "the storm is headed safely out to sea." While that news is wonderful for Portland and Bangor, the reality is often that the storm is then headed straight toward us. We hear the expression "safely out to sea" on the weather report as an indication that the mainlanders have forgotten that people live out here on the islands, and that we are about to get hammered by the wind...again.

There is another meaning, however. For centuries, and certainly over the past couple of years, Matinicus Island has been called a place of lawlessness, anarchy, and violence. In roughly 300 essays and articles published over the past nine years, I have tried to make the point that such a characterization does not accurately represent all of us, all of the time. It is true--there are no police on the island, sometimes people come here to avoid responsibility and they bring their troubles and their misbehavior with them, there has been some rough stuff lately and lobstermen do live largely by their own ethic"”but those of us who call this place home feel safe in doing so. I can leave my door unlocked at night and the key in my automobile. To those who believe Matinicus to be a den of iniquity, I ask: can you do those things where you live?

"Well Out to Sea" Published

Thursday, Jul-01-10


by Eva Murray

"Want to run away from the 'real' world and live on an island off the coast of Maine? Well, Eva Murray will show you that life on Matinicus is very real, and she'll do this with insight, compassion, feistiness, and just the right amount of humor. Reading this book is almost as much fun as driving the ferry!"
    -- Captain Abe Baggins, Maine State Ferry Service

"As a First Class ship pilot (any tonnage) for nearly thirty years, I had a lot of contact with people on Matinicus Island, where we had a pilot station. I have wished for some time that someone would write a descriptive story about Matinicus and its people. Mission accomplished with Eva Murray's book "Well Out to Sea."
    -- Captain Gilbert Hall

What's it like to live on an island twenty-two miles out to sea? Where there are only three dozen winter residents? Where the local economy is lobstering? Period. Where your most reliable source of transportation off the island may be a small Cessna and the airstrip is dirt (or snow or mud)? Where, if the forecaster says the storm is "headed safely out to sea," you know it's coming your way?

Eva Murray moved to Matinicus in 1987 to teach in its one-room school. She married an island man and stayed to raise their family there. Over the years she's written a number of lively columns and articles for mainland publications. These are the stories of a unique community, of an interdependence that is all too rare these days but necessary for this island's survival. Murray writes with a keen eye and sharp wit, sharing stories that are sometimes poignant, sometimes mind-boggling, and often hilarious. She lives in a place where, "You love it, absolutely love it here, 51 percent of the time. That is enough to make you stay."¯

A Five-Minute History of Matinicus

Wednesday, Jun-30-10

2,000-3000 years ago, Quaternary Period: oceans roughly at present level. Peninsulas, bays, and islands of coastal Maine have their present shape. Matinicus, Criehaven, Matinicus Rock, Wooden Ball, No Man's Land, Two Bush, Seal, and Ten Pound Islands probably looked much as they do now, only without the multicolored bits tangled up in the bladderwrack.

2006: The Matinicus Congregational Church gets running water to the kitchen after a century of doing without because the year before twelve island women, of a respectable age, peeled down behind the rose bushes for a worthy cause. The calendar sold out quickly, and only a few helpful souls wrote to inform us that we were going to hell. 

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My Book
Selected Essays