Maine Coast Semester 59 students recently took their classroom on the road and hopped on a ferry to Monhegan Island. They spent the day exploring the picturesque island through the lens of human ecology: how have islanders built a sustainable community on a four-square-mile island twelve miles offshore, dealing with the challenges of waste, transportation, tourism, and other realities of life in a place with finite resources?
To help contextualize some of these issues, educator Tess Beam spoke to semester students about her work with the Island Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting sustainable communities on Maine islands and the coast. Students then broke into groups to pursue small-scale case studies of water use, the arts community, food systems, and other topics. Students also hiked a few of Monhegan’s famous cliffside trails in the afternoon to take in the breathtaking views.
Below, semester student Savy, who comes from New York City, writes about the Monhegan Island trip from her own perspective:
We made the journey to Monhegan for our human ecology capstone seminar, which is preparing us for the independent research projects we’ll be doing in the second half of the semester. An island is a great place to practice descriptive research, a way of gathering data/information without disturbing the environment. This research can provide information about the naturally occurring health status, behavior, attitudes, or other characteristics of the particular group you’re studying. A descriptive study can also allow you to observe and describe relationships in the natural world. For our case study on Monhegan Island, Semester 59 split into eight different groups, each focusing on a different aspect of the island: waste management, water, transportation, education, tourism, employment, food systems, and energy and sustainability.
On the morning of our adventure, everyone packed into busses and drove to the ferry at the ripe hour of 7:30 A.M. The drive was filled with laughter and the voices of teenagers wailing along to the radio. We arrived at the ferry right on time and spread out on the boat. Those brave enough sat on the top deck while others took refuge on the lower deck. After about an hour (and about 12 nautical miles), our boat ride, which at times felt more like a roller coaster, came to an end. Excited students and fellow visitors descended the ladder to the lower deck of the boat and safely made it to the shores of the island. Semester 59 gathered for a quick meeting and made a game plan for the morning. Then we broke apart in groups, and our research began.
In preparation for the trip, each group had come up with a set of questions to ask residents and workers on the island. Throughout the morning, we searched for Monheganers to interview. Some popular interview spots were the Barnacle (a local coffee shop), the Island Inn, the island’s school, the Lupine Gallery, Winter Works, and Black Duck Emporium. At 11:30 A.M., after students felt they had gathered enough information from the islanders, the semester met at the lighthouse. For around an hour, each group gave a presentation on the information they had gathered, while others ate their lunches and listened. After everyone had shared their findings, we shifted into the next part of our day.
The afternoon portion of our adventure focused on enjoying our time on this beautiful island. Students could choose to take part in a few different activities including long, medium, or shorter hikes or continuing to explore the village. Each of the hikes followed a trail along the coast of the island, heading in a different direction. Even though everyone could have kept discovering interesting places on the island for many more hours, we unfortunately had to depart at 3:15 P.M. to make the last ferry of the day. Those brave enough to sit on the top deck for the return trip were able to witness a lobstering lesson. One of the boat workers brought a trap up to the top deck and demonstrated different techniques that fishermen use catch lobsters.
After departing the boat for the second time that day, tired students snored the entire drive back to Chewonki Neck, with Gregory Alan Isakov playing softly in the background.
Savy, The Spence School, NY
Check out more photos on Chewonki’s Flickr page