"now [north haven] really feels like home. This is where I feel the safest, the happiest, the most joyful."
I’m Josie Gates. Just turned 29 and I've been coming to North Haven since I was a month old.
I grew up in Camden, Maine and then every year, especially growing up, we spent our summers on North Haven, from like Memorial Day to Labor Day, pretty much. I realized I've spent some amount of time on North Haven every year of my life, whether it's been for a couple days, like literally that's it. Or like, in most recent years, like seven months, like half of the year.
North Haven being the most consistent home for me is that my family has gone through some of the most joyous times in our life and some of the most heart-wrenching times in our life there. Like, my brother sat my parents and I down and said what was going to happen if he died during his trip to Afghanistan. At the same time, I took my wedding vows in that same spot.
When I think of what really feels like home to you, it's a place that can be your safe harbor in like the worst of the worst and also like the best of the best. In growing up, I think it was always the best of the best. But as North Haven becomes more and more of less of a May-to-August place for me and more of like a, no this is like my anchor in life, it's just been that much more of a support for me.
My whole island lineage is through my dad's side, but through both of his parents. So, I am a fifth-generation summer person and my grandparents came out to Vinalhaven to visit their grandparents every summer. Crazy. And met each other as summer kids coming to Vinalhaven. And both of their grandparents’ homes were on the Thoroughfare, so it was so much easier for them to use a boat and come to North Haven and use North Haven as town. So, Vinalhaven might have been where the home where their homes were, where they slept. But North Haven was really like the community of people.
So, my grandparents would come out, I think, more than half the year and spend time out here. They got married in 1938 at the church. And there are some really wonderful photos of them on their wedding day. And then, they went down to the Casino across the Thoroughfare and then they had their reception at my grandmother's grandparents’ house, which is right on the Thoroughfare on the Vinalhaven side.
They bought the Dole Farm in 1947 on North Haven when Dad was seven years old. The farmhouse that they bought, which is where my family still lives now, it's directly across the Thoroughfare from my grandmother's grandparents’ house. So, you look out from our house and you see the house that she grew up in and she said that that was always really important to her.
Something that's really kind of interesting, especially with my brother and my mother and my relationship to North Haven and especially our home, is that we never knew my grandparents. My dad's parents both passed away in a plane crash at Owl's Head before he even met my mother. So, our whole lives and experiences out here and our connection to the island are always sort of walking in memory of them. Not even my mother knew them.
So, there's photos of them everywhere and my aunt and uncle and my dad are always saying things about them, but they're not personal anecdotes. I never had time with them out here.
Growing up, especially in my teenage years, my time on North Haven was so finite and it was considered like really quality family time. So, we weren't really like joiners in the community necessarily. I didn't go to North Haven hangout parties. I didn’t do that stuff at all because it was considered such close family time.
In 2012, the spring of 2012, I was like, OK, I really want to create some deep roots on North Haven. I want to be out there the whole summer. I want to meet some people. I want this place to be more than just kind of my really wonderful family retreat. I want to weave myself into the fabric of this place a little bit more.
So, I ended up getting the job at Nebo as the hostess, which can't be more of the epicenter of North Haven Haven's social network. I got to know so many people in such a wonderful way that I definitely missed out on as a kid. It just became so much more seamless to get to know islanders and people who live here year-round.
And some of the people I met were like, oh my god, you've been coming here your whole life and I've never met you. How is that possible? Or like, yeah, I've always seen the house up from the tennis court but never knew who really lived there.
And I did feel so welcomed when I, kind of, walked through that door of like, no I really want to work out here and meet people and have this be more than just about the place, but about the community too. And four years after that first summer two of my co-workers were in my wedding.
In what I was saying before, that, islanders work so hard and care for each other so much, I think it really did take me working here for a summer and then years after that to kind of like prove yourself. To prove like, no I'm here, I'm giving back, I'm sticking with it, I'm making friends. I'm working hard at these places that serve the community and serve summer people and that's really important to me. If I had come out here and not done that, I think I would still have a very different relationship to North Haven.
When I think of North Haven–when I think my whole family thinks of North Haven, it's been the most–like yes, it's the second house, like we don't live there all year-round. It's not like that's the primary home and then we live somewhere else. We've lived in a couple of different places in Camden and Rockport and Hope throughout like my whole upbringing and childhood. But North Haven has been the most consistent place for all of us in our life as a family.
Leta So, does it feel like it’s like a second home? Or does it feel like home?
Josie Right, so that's a really interesting question. I would say, six years ago, I would have said second home. But, in the last few years, it is definitely my heart home. Like, this is home. My parents live in a house. I say I'm going home to visit them because I'm going to their home. But this, how my relationship with North Haven has changed is that now it really feels like home. Like, coming here this past weekend and opening the doors for the first time and turning on the electricity and sweeping out the cobwebs and the mouse poop I was like, OK, I'm home. This is where I feel the safest, the happiest, the most joyful. This is where I pour a lot of my heart and soul into. This place has harbored like some of the best and some of the toughest times. It's just been the most consistent place for me.
In transitioning from feeling like the mainland and Camden is home to feeling like really North Haven is home. I have yet to make that legally official. Like, I still vote in Camden. I still register my car in Camden. And like, I was thinking the other day, well, I don't quite yet feel qualified to vote here. I don't feel–I spend less time in Camden, but for whatever reason, you know, that's where I kind of cross those adult boxes off. So, I think in that way I have yet to, kind of, bridge that sense of belonging of like, no this is home. But I do spend time away from it, but it is home.
Because I have still yet to live here year-round. I mean I've lived here April until the pipes freeze in November. But, I haven't stuck out the winter yet and I think that is a huge part of what builds the character of a year-rounder, someone who lives here all the time. And I have yet to do that. I've lived many of my winters in Maine. But just not out here.
I don't feel, necessarily, like I'm in a place like I have to prove myself as a year-rounder yet. And just like, logistically with our house we–it's not a year-round house. I stay out there literally as late as I possibly can. I haven't made the effort to also find a year-round job out here yet. The last four years I've had year-round jobs elsewhere. But that might be changing in the future.
My husband and I have already talked about like where we really want to dig some roots, as the two of us but then also maybe as a growing family. And I can't think of a better place than North Haven.
My family has some property with our house on Dole Road that my husband and I have been eyeing as a possible place to build a house. This is like the pie in the sky dream and who knows how that dream will come to fruition. Although, I think we both really want it to. I think in the next few years we would love to build something that can be our own and possibly start a family out here.
Putting on my mom hat, I think no better place to raise a kid, no better place to send a kid to preschool, no better place to send a kid to school. Thinking about how I have been embraced and how a child can be embraced in this environment, I would absolutely love to grow a kid up here.
Photos courtesy of the Gates family