Well Out to Sea: Year-Round on Matinicus Island


by Eva Murray
Publication date: July 1, 2010
Tilbury House Publishers
ISBN 978-0-88448-331-1
6 x 9, 320 pages

"I don't know what Murray is talking about. This is all about the phone man and a bunch of women who drink. What does this have to do with Maine's most lawless fishing community? This is the most unrealistic thing I've ever read...." -- Melvin Frumpwort

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. But, as she says, she doesn't do lobster wars:

If you're looking for a rabid, swashbuckling tell-all account of maritime outlaws or cut-throat lobstermen, you won't be very impressed. Yes, a rough side of this community exists, but in order to live here happily, I avoid cultivating fear. The same boys who might sprinkle roofing nails in a man's driveway, if they get mad enough, will rush to the same fellow's aid when he's in real danger, and that's the truth.

Likewise, if you hope to relive an idyllic summer vacation or read an escape-to-Maine fantasy with the call of the loon and long walks on the beach, you might feel a bit short-changed. Astonishing natural beauty certainly exists on Matinicus Island, but I'm not working too hard to promote this place to visitors. The rare treat of an outer-island sunrise is a privilege for the deserving, which means for those who have endured the six months of gales or the six weeks of fog or the six days of waiting for the weather to break so the airplane can fly and they can get here.

In the twenty-three years I have lived here, it's true there have been bullets. One, I think, flew right over my head a few years back. There has been vandalism, drunk driving, sabotage, theft, abuse of power, and people just acting like general-purpose jerks. Those things happen everywhere. There have also been heroic rescues, valiant searches for lost mariners, hospice care, fires fought, electricity restored, boats rescued, spontaneous celebrations and heartfelt acts of support, and graves dug by hand. In those things, we may be different from most places, and here's why: It is not strictly the certified professionals who fight the fires or care for the sick or save the drowning. It's just us.

These are the stories of that 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."

When Eva Murray took a job on Matinicus Island in 1987, she expected to stay a year as the island's kindergarten-through-eighth-grade teacher. When the school year ended, she turned down her graduate school acceptance, remained on Matinicus, and in 1989 married the island electrician. She and her husband Paul raised their two children on Matinicus and continue to live and work there full time. Eva is a wilderness emergency medical technician, operates a small bakery, has served in several positions of municipal government, and has been a regular columnist for area publications since 2003 including Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, Down East Online, and Working Waterfront. She is a 1985 graduate of Bates College and is currently working on a book about the modern-day one-room schools of Maine. A thirty-year resident of Maine with Maine native family, she apologizes for the faux pas of having been born out of state.