by Jim Tibensky
This September past I went to Maine, took the Maine Guide test, passed it, and planned a nice long kayak tour of Casco Bay. Eight times before I had done week-long kayak trips there, always as a guide for Omni Youth Services' wilderness therapy program. This time I was going to do it with my friend Patty and no teens.
On what was supposed to be the first day of our trip, we were recruited to help lead a day trip of nine double kayaks. Alice, of Alice's Awesome Adventures, the person who was hired to lead the trip, originally expected ten people. When the number increased to eighteen, she needed another guide. Two days after passing my exam, there I was.
The group that hired her was a theater troupe from Emerson College in Boston. They were putting on the play Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. And therein lies the tale.
The play, based on a book of the same name, tells the story of a mixed-race girl, Lizzie Bright Griffin, and a white boy, Turner Buckminster III, who become friends. She lives on the island of Malaga in Maine and he lives in Phippsburg on the mainland directly across from Malaga. At the closest point, Malaga is one-tenth of a mile from the mainland. One could easily be heard when shouting to someone on the opposite shore.
I have stopped on Malaga to eat lunch every time I have been to Casco Bay. But I never knew its story. Thanks to Emerson College's theater team, I learned it. They went to Malaga to see it - to walk on its soil, to sit on its rocks, to hear its sounds, to breathe its air, and to commune with the spirits of the people who once lived there.
Since the civil war, people lived on Malaga. There were probably never more than about fifty people there at any one time. They were independent of the mainland for the most part. They fished, they built homes, they had families, they took care of themselves. Some of them were African-American, some were white, many were mixed. No one on the mainland cared much about Malaga until rich people started putting vacation homes in Maine in the early 1900s. In 1912 the governor of Maine ordered the state police to evict everyone from Malaga, hoping that someone would buy the island and build a resort or vacation home there. The homes that were not removed before the eviction were burned down. The people who could not find another place to live were placed in the Maine Home for the Feeble-Minded for the rest of their lives. The cemetery was dug up with the bodies being re-buried at that same Home for the Feeble-Minded. The five children of the Griffin family were buried in one grave. This all really happened.
No one ever lived on Malaga again. No resort was ever built there. No rich New Yorker built a vacation retreat there. Today it is a beautiful, peaceful, empty, wooded, haunted island that is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. I won't tell more. You can look it up at:
https://www.malagaislandmaine.org (watch the three minute video)
My wife, Gail, and Patty and I all went to Boston to see the play. It was amazing. The actors talked about how much it meant to them to be able to paddle to Malaga and experience it. The actress who played Lizzie calls herself "an honorary Malagite."
I'm telling this convoluted story, in part, to praise the benefits of kayaking. You get good exercise outdoors with some of the greatest people in the world in some really lovely places and, once in a while, you meet talented young people who, by going the extra mile themselves, take you along with them into a world you thought you knew, but didn't. And you get your name, and CASKA's, in a theater program in Boston.