… on signs being signs

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?

That Five Man Electric Band, heavy sigh, I don’t think they like signs at all.

But I do.

Well… at least on a case by case basis I do.

That one up there?

Oh yeah.

Love it.

And, like so many ‘things’ that exist in our lives – things we love – it has a story.

But you knew that already, didn’t ya?

That is the sign that watched over the Damariscove Island Preserve when the caretaking and management of the Preserve was turned over to the Boothbay Regional Land Trust, nearly twenty years ago. There the sign stayed in its spot for a few more years, welcoming and ordering people around.

Never heard of Damariscove Island?

It’s kind of a big deal.

No, really.

Like, historically.

You know that Plymouth place? Plymouth, Massachusetts and that rock and those Pilgrims?

Amateurs (well, okay, in so many ways they were but…)

The folks at Damariscove?

They saved ’em.



Local tribes, including the Abenaki, were probably the first to visit Damariscove to fish and gather berries and perhaps the eggs from shore birds. The island may even have been visited by the mysterious Red Paint People – based on what we know of their movements along and about this coastal area – thousands of years ago.

By 1604, a number of European explorers had also come across Damariscove, and a fishing colony was established there. Captain John Smith charted the island (as Damerils Isle) in 1614 and, by 1622  there were more than a dozen year-round fisherman on Damariscove with about thirty boats active in springtime (thank you, Wikipedia).


In 1622, when the folks down in Plymouth were facing starvation, they sent a boat out to Damariscove begging for help. The island fishermen filled that boat with cod and sent it back, which helped save the lives of the colonists (and, of course, the colony itself).

Then one thing led to another and there are lots of stories in between.

Okay, one is from 1689, during King Phillip’s War. The island was attacked multiple times and, during the first attack, the then owner was slain by members of the Abenaki tribe. Apparently he was – skip to the next paragraph if you are squeamish… do that now… no, seriously… okay you were warned – beheaded and tossed into the ocean. His faithful dog jumped in to save him, and both were lost to the sea. Except they apparently still haunt the island TO. THIS. DAY.

One more?


Apparently, and according to at least one Piratologist (they are a thing!), the pirate Black Sam Bellamy was planning to establish a pirate republic on Damariscove ’round about 1717. He was going to join up with another pirate republic in the Bahamas, blockade the entire eastern seaboard, and rip North America away from the English and French and other European-ish folks. Sadly, a big shipwreck ruined his plans. I know. I too am wondering how a pirate republic would have differed from a constitutional republic. But before I digress…

Lots and lots of history related to Damariscove Island, I tell you. It’s Coast Guard Station, built in 1897, is still there (though it doesn’t operate as a Coast Guard Station anymore), and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, most of the island is listed there too, because of archeological importance and all that. Plus, the capsize scene for the movie Message in a Bottle was filmed right next to Damariscove. This may not have initiated the decision to put Damariscove on the National Register thingie, but it probably influences the Board’s decision to not kick it off.

Seriously. I don’t know why Wikipedia hasn’t broken down my front door. 

And now.

Now I have this old sign mounted above the fireplace in my old house.

My first time at Damariscove was aboard friends’ antique lobster boat. We traveled down the eastern side of the island, then rounded the southern-most point and carefully navigated the ledges (well, my friend did!) into the harbor.

Many folks who have visited before and since are right… there is something about Damariscove.

Sprinklings of otherworldliness, dashes of magic, a pinch of the unknowable.

I’ve been back several times since, and the feeling is always the same… quietly drifting past the Coast Guard rescue station, slowing by the dock and float… the staged lobster pots. Boats moored, maybe a few folks grilling. The enveloping landscape is as wild as the sea that surrounds it. Grasses mix with wildflowers, berried shrubs. ‘There isn’t a tree on the island’, whispers my memory to my mind’s eye.

Even ‘special’ somehow feels like a diminishing description.

A piece of her history, albeit contemporary in the whole scheme of things, is now a daily reminder at The Inn that this island exists, lives, and breathes just a boat’s ride away from where we live.

And how did the sign come to be here?

No we didn’t steal it! You really need to curb your addiction to true crime (or maybe I’m projecting, and need to curb mine).

We bid on it at a fundraiser for the Boothbay Regional Land Trust (a very cool organization with admirable accomplishments and plans).

When friends invited us along to the event, we had no intention of bidding on one of the retired preserve signs… then the Damariscove sign was presented. John and I looked at each other and he raised his paddle. Even with that, we didn’t expect to ‘win’, but ‘win’ we did. I don’t think a lot of folks were considering everything about Damariscove when we were bidding on the sign, which was confirmed when we were approached later in the evening (more than once!) and asked if we would consider selling it.

But how could we.

In addition to all the history, to our feelings about Damariscove’s sense of place… how we feel when we visit and even talk about it… we found out something special about the actual sign itself.

We ended up meeting and talking to one of the two caretakers for the island – before, during, and after the Nature Conservancy turned their stewardship over to the Land Trust. He was all excited, pointing out where, on the sign, the Nature Conservancy sticker was peeled off (it’s ‘shadow’ remains). He said that transition took place just before the summer season of 2005…

Which was when we first came up to this region, Maine’s midcoast.

And we happened upon a very old home, a former inn needing some tender loving care.

On an impulse, before ever even visiting the nearby town of Boothbay Harbor, nor even taking a ride around the island the house was built upon, we put in an offer.

And the rest is history.

Or… at least our small addition to it.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign…

Thanks for readin’.

Comments and shares are always appreciated, and you can do that down below. You can also join fellow ponderers on Just Ponderin’s Facebook or Instagram pages. C’mon over to either one any time to join the conversation :))