Nine Miles Offshore

View from Manana. Photo by Kristen LindquistMy wife Kristen and I spent five nights on Monhegan Island, which is anywhere from nine to twelve miles off the Maine coast depending on which way the crow happens to be flying. On Tuesday we hired a local kid to row us in his skiff across Monhegan Harbor to an enormous uninhabited hunk of rock named Manana (rhymes with banana). Manana is famous for two things: its runes and its hermit. The "runes" are a series of crosshatched lines that have been alternately ascribed to the Phoenicians and the Norse. But the markings looked to my eyes like some very interesting geological anomalies. They certainly didn't look like the Futhark I learned when I was a thirteen-year-old Tolkien nerd.

Manana goats. Photo by Kristen LindquistThe hermit was a New Yorker named Ray Phillips who dropped out of society to raise goats on this wind-scraped island from 1930 to 1975 (an award-winning documentary was made about him, but I haven't seen it). The hermit's been gone for a while, but he's sort of a persistent presence on Monhegan (almost like a ghost), in that his name gets evoked frequently by islanders trying to explain to tourists what the deal is with that big chunk of stone right across from the Island Inn. After decades of visiting Monhegan, I was glad to finally have the opportunity to explore Manana myself. It's a weird little ecosystem — almost a piece of Scotland shoved across the Atlantic — and a worthwhile day trip. What surprised me, however, were the feral goats we found grazing on the far side. I've traveled all over Maine, and you don't stumble over feral goats all that often (in fact: never). Our teenage guide didn't know if the four we saw were the descendants of Ray Phillips' former herd, but clearly they were thriving.

So not all the tall-tales I'd heard about Manana were false after all. That's usually what you find when you go searching for local mysteries. But I still think the runes are bunk.