Going Back to the Island

Going Back to the Island

Planning to go anywhere always requires thinking ahead and planning for being away. Is everything in order (so to speak)? Can I stop what I’m doing and concentrate on what I need to do to just get out the door? Packing light for only a weekend at this time of year is tricky; long pants, shorts, bathing suit, tee shirts and long sleeves, sweatshirt, winter coat, hat and gloves. What? What a crazy list of things! But it’s not so crazy, if you are heading out to an island off the coast of Portsmouth. Not quite summer but then maybe it might be for a moment or two, yet early spring days and nights is more likely the thing to deal with.

Debbie Curtin Captain Boat

The car was parked and we (big sis K and I) schlepped our bags and sleeping bags to the boat for our gloried camping trip where sleeping was indoors and not in a tent, water at a high premium and our assigned tasks yet to be determined. It was Friday night when at 6:30 pm we left the comforts of home and motored out into the deep blue sea on the fishing boat, Aurora. We were now off on our yearly adventure as volunteers on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals. The weekend, however, was yet to unfold. Jackets and winter hats were key wearables as we went bouncing along the waves in the brisk, cool weather. Linda, our volunteer coordinator, gave us our room assignments so at least we knew we had a room at the inn.

Arriving at the pier about an hour later, an island pickup truck took whatever bags we needed to get from point A to point B so that was a relief. After making it to Sprague, the name of our small motel-type unit of 5 guest rooms, a meeting was scheduled with some social time for all. Now we found out what we were all in for. K had her work cut out for her with gardening. Kind of a vague word, as gardening could mean a boatload of different stuff on any given day. I was assigned, since requesting it months ago, to the wood shop. Here I would be joyously glazing windows. I mean it, there are some mundane things I just get into, with a mindset and that I really enjoy. Like, scraping windowsills or decking of old paint, or weeding – but I’m getting ahead of myself. We met up with others who were in our same work group and then parted ways. Morning would be here soon enough.

Footsteps sounded at the crack of dawn. What?! Many people coming here are bird watchers and they were up and at ‘em before coffee. Not me. With K and our version of bright and early we met the rest of the gang for coffee, of course, then a hearty breakfast at Nelson (every building was named so you knew kinda where to go at any given moment if someone needed you to). After a quick meeting about assignments we were off on our days adventures. The weather was great, sunny and with a light breeze. I met Grace and Dan who were part of the young people work brigade that were here for the summer. They were very accommodating to me and just let me get into a groove with using the heat gun, scraping old paint; repointing the new glass pieces that they so carefully cut to fit to replace the broken ones. Grace is a master of so much hands-on work. She majored in art in college, sculpture of all things. But I’ll tell you, her skill knowledge and comfort level of every tool in the wood shop was owned by her hands down. Definitely her work in sculpture within every medium you can think of has benefited what she does for Star.

The sawblade clock told me our 15 minute break was here. A quick trip back to Nelson for a snack and I was back at it. Everyone was scattered all over the island so we had a chance to catch up at lunch to see what projects peeps were up to. My job was so slow and steady but it couldn’t happen any other way. I did not mind at all. There are still many buildings that have not been updated yet with new windows so there are still many individual panes here and there that need new glass from the havoc of weather woes. I’m glad we thought to bring gallon jugs of water just in case, and I kept one on hand, because of the preciousness of the water situation. The solar panels, situated in a somewhat discrete location, (if it can be that on an island), was the newest investment of money saving features. It seems this is becoming a necessity on other islands as well with escalating fuel costs and the sometimes unpredictable weather impeding shipping delivery.

 Debbie Curtin, Sunset at beach

Debbie Curtin, Sunset at beach

Grace’s music choice in the shop was perfect as the day went. Later she told me she noticed how I was singing along and kept the theme going since I enjoyed it so much. You know the music of the 70’s and 80’s that you only hear once in a blue moon because there was so much GREAT music then? This 20 something young person knew the words too, so no age gap thing, just so you know.

We knew a barge was due in to collect construction debris. On an island they do this a different way. Huge mesh tarps were laid out and stuff collected and placed on each one using a small loader. Each one was gathered like a trash bag (clever as they were huge) and one by one cinched up and brought aboard the barge. It was a quick moment in the day to witness the interesting process in action. There was also a day tripper boat already here with tourists for an hour or so as they walked around and about on their guided tour.

Dinner for us was a great reprieve after our work efforts and we took our plates outside to sit and sip a glass from a nice bottle of vino we purchased in Portsmouth. It was the end to a fabulous and productive work day. Great conversations, music in the wind and everyone was on their own until the next morning. K and I made sure we wandered around afterwards to capture some great photos as the sun slowly set. So many trails and places to explore. Every year is the same but so different. You can be on an island yet on a trail for an hour and not see anyone else. Then again watch where you’re going and stay away from the seagulls that are nesting. They will not hesitate to come right at you should you get too close. Did I mention this may have happened at one time?

The next morning was the same. Coffee! Also the early (loud) footsteps as the birders were out and about. Oh, wait there was a sighting of a spotted something-or-other at the summer house. My eyes glazed over as they spoke. And then after breakfast, I was put to a new task of gardening since they ran out of glass for any more windows to fix.


Lugging buckets, a group of us went near the dock as it was low tide. We proceeded to pull huge amounts of seaweed from the rocks and fill the buckets then dumped them in two rickshaw carts. This was to be part of the compost efforts for all the various vegetable gardens. Use what’s available and it works. Who knew?

 Debbie clearing out some wild roses near the vegetable garden

Debbie clearing out some wild roses near the vegetable garden

Clearing out a wild rose section near the vegetable garden and just past the wood shop was the task for the morning. So not only were we trimming and lopping dead branches, but the three of us assigned to this area raked and raked and raked some more. The huge piles of debris were then dumped into the same rickshaw carts and we hauled it away to the dump spot. One of us three worker bees I called Cindy Lopper as she was queen of lopping in taming the brush and I was Cindy Loo Who or Cindy Lopper 2. We made it fun and the time flew. Time was up and lunch was here. Yeah! Our bags had to be ready to go asap at this time. The weekend was over and mission accomplished.

At the pier we were sent off with the traditional rah, rah theme song and it was great. Time was too short as always but well spent. We sailed back to reality, to life and home. It was nice to know we each made a small difference in the bigger picture of such a majestic place that has withstood the test of time having been around for centuries.

We will be back.

Debbie Curtin writes stories about people, places, events and other topics of interest that engage the reader. As a member of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Debbie keeps ‘in the game’ with other like minded people. She has been an artist and creative person all her life and uses the unlimited sources of inspiration that abound everywhere in her writing as another art form.