By these desolate islands I had driven
Dozen times, hauling lobster traps or
Making grocery runs to Stonington.
Hailed by alarmed voices, I beached my
Skiff on sandy shores, stranded fishers,
Engine trouble, radio dead, prop-tangled
Lines, offering help as I could.
Yet, this strand was empty, no footprints
But my own, chill winds persisted in close-
Knit spruces, voices whispered just out
Of sight, “Harsh winters!” imparting cold
Within my bones, histories we had learned,
Bleak life hundred years past on perilous
Rocky isles, clouded by death and despair.
Settlers carved farmsteads on these forested
Mounts. In doing so, it meant death to them
And to these islands, some mere buttons
On marine charts. “We were frozen!” voices
Cried in unison, wind cutting along rocky
Slopes, images of sparse cabins, families
Huddled on islands clear-cut of trees.
Pushing into spruces, I found remains of
Past ages, half-buried stone foundations,
Rusted evidence of lives forsaken. As trees
Fell for cabins and firewood, winter gales,
Chilling spray thrashed unprotected shores,
Settlers froze in efforts to survive deep
Snows or escaping waves by rowboats.
For these winter-weary shades, little help
Could I provide. Over decades spruces had
Regrown, islands returned much as they
Were before desecration. As I pushed my
Boat into cold chop, the outboard drowned
Haunting voices, hopes and lives time-lost
To Maine’s denuded islands.
Poem of history and tragedy, Maine poet Wilbert (“Bill”) Snow
wrote “The Denuded Island,” circa 1922, where lost trees were
presented as narrator’s “young, willowy children.” For more
information, see Island Heritage Trust.