"North Haven has strengthened my conviction that community and friendship are some of the most important things to human beings."
My name is Jakob Eckstein. I'm 22. I've been going to North Haven since I was either six or seven. I can't remember. I think the first year that we went to the island was 2004. Well, the first year that we went as a family was 2004. I don't think I've missed a summer since that first summer.
I grew up in the Boston area. My family lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts now. My parents are German. They both immigrated to San Francisco in the 80s and then moved to Cambridge in the 90s.
I always loved coming to North Haven. Our family had this summer formula where we would get out of school, like late-June, and then we would go to Germany for a month and then we would go North Haven for a month. I was always like, oh, I can't wait for Germany to be over because I want to go North Haven. And my siblings were the other way around. They liked Germany better for a long time. But, I don't know, really early on I was like, nah I'd so much rather be in North Haven. I don't know why. It's always been my favorite place ever.
I remember doing all the classic North Haven things and there being so much novelty to lobster and sailing and running around all day, wearing a life jacket. Things like that felt so new. Yeah, and now they've just become staples of life up there. But I remember them–I remember being really excited by doing those things for the first time.
I remember being so excited by the ferry. It was my first time on a ferry, I think. And I remember it being really bad weather. The swell was huge. You actually had a hard time standing up in the ferry and so we were inside. And I just–I remember–I have this really vivid, visual memory of like looking out the window and seeing massive spray from the swell and the water coming up and splashing onto the window and just being so excited. I thought it was so cool. I wasn't scared. I was just like, oh my god, this is such an adventure! That's my, I think, earliest memory about going to North Haven. And then, after that, things kind of blur together a little bit more.
I was definitely very aware, from an early age already, that a lot of the people who we were interacting with had generational ties to the island and that there were a lot of old relationships between families that had existed for a long time. There are a lot of people who were destined to be friends, you know?
But I have like this–these specific emotional memories of being on the Casino pier and kind of seeing these kids who were so young, but obviously were already so close. I'm just remembering being like, oh my god, like, they're already such good friends. This is crazy. Like, I don't know anybody that well, in my whole life, besides like my siblings. That's crazy. I want that so badly. I want that level of friendship.
I definitely remember an uncomfortable few years. I’d say from the ages of like 10 to 13, where I had become friends with some individuals but I hadn't met enough people to feel like I was part of a group. I remember there being a few false starts about thinking that I would be invited to something, that I wasn't invited to something and then I ended up–I don't remember how exactly how it happened. But, at one point, I really felt like, oh shit, I have a group of friends now, for this first time and this is really exciting.
I never felt very connected to the places that I was growing up in, like culturally or like people-wise. I never had a ton of friends where I was growing up and just didn't like the town. So, North Haven is definitely the place that I feel most connected to, childhood-wise. I feel like I grew up there more than I did in Dover, Massachusetts.
Because in the place where I grew up, there were all these social norms that I always felt kind of alienated from, especially because I grew up with immigrant parents. They never really understood American culture and never really made an effort to, like, Americanize us. I mean, we eventually Americanized ourselves. But, I was always the kid who’s kind of weird because his parents are German, like at school. Because there’s all of these little things that made me a little bit different, like what I brought to lunch or my fashion sense was really fucking weird when I was a kid because I had no American culture reference points to base it on.
And so, I don't know, as a kid I was always kind of–I always like had a chip on my shoulder when I was at school, because I was always like, I'm kind of different. I don't know why. And I didn't have that anxiety at all on North Haven, which doesn't really make sense. If you think about it logically, because we were just–like as a German family who had no familial connections to North Haven, we were also technically outsiders maybe even more than we would–than we were on the mainland. But it didn't feel that way. I felt like I could be myself, without question on North Haven. I could just–I just felt like there were fewer limits, you know? Which is ironic because it’s an island and there are, like, literal limits.
I felt so much freer on North Haven than I ever did on the mainland. And that's–yeah that's why I immediately loved it, because, yeah, I felt free.
Leta What does the term, summer person–when they call you that, like, what does that–what do you think they're saying?
Jakob It's kind of like being a fair-weather friend to the island. You're only there when it's beautiful. You're only there when it's fun to be there. And your relationship with the island is fundamentally different because you vacation there. You don't live there. And I agree with all those things because I come to the island from a place of immense privilege and the island is in itself an immense privilege for me and it's not that way for them. For them it's a home, it's a reality, it's a livelihood and it's a totally different way to experience that place. And that's what summer person means to me, like you don't understand the island in the same way that we do. And I think that's true.
Leta Does it ever feel unfair though?
Jakob Unfair. That’s a hard word to use. Well, OK, the tone can be unfair sometimes. Like, the tone that somehow implies you don't actually care or you don't deserve this place. That can seem unfair because I've put a lot into North Haven and I do feel a genuine, unconditional love for it.
But, at the same time, I don't find it unfair. Because I understand that it comes from a place of, at least the way I understand it, it comes from a place of deep ambivalence and conflict, where I think a lot of islanders understand that economically North Haven is existentially dependent on summer people. But, at the same time, we change it sometimes for the worse. I don't know. Yeah, I get it. Yeah, of course it's hurtful sometimes, but I get it.
Leta Has North Haven impacted your values and the way that you think about your own life?
Jakob Yes. North Haven has strengthened my conviction that community and friendship are some of the most important things to human beings and that one of the most important ingredients in happiness is to feel connected to a place and to a people.
I mean, when I think of North Haven, I think of my friends. I have friendships from North Haven that are just like, the most amazing things–like some of the most amazing things in my life, you know?
It's because I am still in touch with and really love so many more people from the North Have than from my hometown. There's like one or two people I’m in touch with from there and there are like 10, 20, plus people who I want to keep seeing for the rest of my life that I met on North Haven, you know?
I, I think like most people, want my kids, if I have them some, to have the childhood on North Haven that I had. And I also–I want my kids to have this escape in North Haven the way I had it growing up. Because I think it was extremely healthy and therapeutic to have a place where I’d know I would go every year where I could just totally reset. It was almost like meditation, like preparing myself mentally for the next school year. I think that was super valuable for me as a kid, especially as a kid who was kind of weird when he was growing up. I also hope–I hope I continue going. I just hope I can have a lifestyle that allows me to continue to go at least every other year, you know? Even if it's only for a few days. I just want it to remain in my life.
I'm also really afraid for the island. I'm really afraid of, frankly, rising water and I really don't know if I'm overreacting because I'm kind of a cynic when it comes to these things. But, I don't know, what happens when the water rises? And how far will it rise? I don't know. That's a question I ask myself a lot.
And what happens when, if or when, the lobstering industry dies out in Maine, you know? Will that happen? And like, how can the island survive that?
Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the Eckstein family