High Tide at Noon, the first of the Tides trilogy by Elizabeth Ogilvie, was first published in 1944, long before I was born, but it was the first romance I ever read and I fell in love with Bennett’s Island and the people who lived there. Storm Tide was my favorite of the three and Ebbing Tide completed the story of Joanna Bennett and Nils Sorenson. I have hard cover copies printed on second rate paper during WWII and while I’ve considered purchasing newer editions, these hold a bit of nostalgia I’m not ready to abandon.
Ms. Ogilvie went on to write more than forty more novels, most set on the coast of Maine, many on Bennett’s Island. When I read her autobiography, I discovered that Bennett’s Island is a real place. An island at the very fringes of Penobscot Bay, Maine called Criehaven after the original family who settled it in the eighteen hundreds.
At the time, my dad had a small cruising sailboat and to my astonishment, he, too, had read the Bennett’s Island books. If you knew my dad, you would be astonished too. He’s not the romance type at all. But it wasn’t hard to convince him that we should sail out there one summer and explore the place. Once there was a bustling year-round community on Criehaven, or Ragged Island as it’s called on the charts. But in the mid fifties the price of lobsters plummeted and the draw of modern conveniences spelled the end of a way of life that had survived for over 150 years. For years the island lay forgotten, the solid old homestead perched on a ridge above the harbor sat empty along with all the other homes, the one-room schoolhouse, the store/post office and the club house.
Eventually the families who still owned those properties began to return in the summer months to fish the still teeming waters. The Krementz family (Of Krementz Jewelry) bought the homestead and restored it. The schoolhouse is now a cottage and the clubhouse a crumbling ruin, but many of the homes now hum with generators and electricity. The well still produces crystal clear, icy cold water that tastes like ambrosia. And the sea still beats an endless rote upon those granite shores, while men once again fish for lobsters within sight of that proud old homestead.
For me, it was love at first sight. As we rowed ashore to explore, we passed another small skiff headed back out to a quaint little boat rigged with a sail, a canvas tarp and a crooked little stovepipe. The man rowing looked as though he might have lived there a hundred years earlier. He called out a greeting and asked if we were headed up to Joannie’s place. Joanna Bennett being the heroine of Ms. Ogilvie’s books. Clearly we were not the only ones who’d read the stories and been drawn to come out and see this piece of paradise for ourselves.
We returned many times over the years my dad still owned a sailboat, and we always went ashore to explore. There was an ancient cemetery with gravestones dating back to the original Crie family. There were hushed forests of tall spruces, numerous coves and always the sound of the sea wherever we went. In the Tide books, the oldest brother had married beneath him according his family and moved in with his in-laws on the far end of the island so of course, we followed the old dirt road to see where Charles had lived. One night the sea was pounding against the seawall and even in the harbor the waves were big enough to roll us out of our berths so one of the lobstermen came out to invite us to spend the night in his daughter’s home because she was away and not using it. Turns out her place was the converted schoolhouse so I can even say I’ve slept on that island in a building that once saw children learning their numbers on blackboards. We always bought lobsters from the men whose graceful boats were anchored in Criehaven Harbor and I know they were the best lobsters I’ve ever eaten anywhere. Then we would turn in to sleep, rocked by the sea with the lullaby of the ocean in our ears.
The old Schoolhouse The Well
To say there is a lot of nostalgia for those days and that place would be an understatement. On one trip I found a gorgeous pink granite rock, made smooth by the crashing of waves on the shore. It was huge and I could just barely lift it, but I wanted that rock so I rowed down to the cove where I’d found it and wrestled it into the skiff and brought it back. It rode home on the floor of the cabin and lived for years by my back step in Maine. I even brought here to Florida with me where it still elicits compliments. I keep hoping that one day I will find a way to return. My dad is ninety-five and no longer owns a sailboat, but perhaps I’ll find a lobsterman to haul me and a couple weeks worth of food out there so I can revisit all my favorite places. Maybe I will some day. Or perhaps I won’t. But the memories will be with me forever.
The road on Criehaven The road in Summerhaven
I have always loved the sea and am fortunate to live here on a barrier island in Florida where it’s considerably warmer than Penobscot Bay Maine. Nearly every day I go for a walk, usually along the edge of the water. But occasionally, I wander up into the dunes where I’ve found the remnants of a long ago road that winds down the middle of the sandy soil and lush vegetation. And when I do, I am always reminded of the road on Criehaven. There are no tall spruces and prickly pears grow instead of beach roses. But the sound of the sea is in my ears and the scent of the ocean all around me. And if I close my eyes I can almost imagine I am on Criehaven again.
The road through the dunes of Summerhaven, St Augustine, Florida