Almost Summer Camp

In the dead of a New England winter, I can only post about what I see… and it’s all snow or ice. So I am taking a trip back and posting about a warmer time, a time 2 summers ago when I spent a week on Star Island with a friend from Virginia. Star Island is a part of the Isles of Shoals, a group of nine small islands located a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine with names like Appledore, Smuttynose, Duck, and White. Groups arrive and leave all summer attending conferences, yoga camps, retreats, marine classes, photography, watercolor classes, or a family having a relaxing day-trip on these craggy shores. For us, it was the closest thing to summer camp for adults.

The largest building on the right is the old wooden Oceanic Hotel from the late 1800’s, the focal point of Star Island where we checked in and dined morning, noon, and night, where we showered, attended lectures, visited the gift shop, met friends, and enjoyed ice cream at the snack bar. Other buildings were guest rooms, guest cottages, the chapel, and lecture halls/classrooms/activity centers. The islands have been inhabited since the early 17th century (or earlier) by fishermen… some working their way up from Virginia colonies. In fact, Captain John Smith visited in 1614 and named the isles for himself, Smyth Isles. I guess it didn’t stick.

IMG_7951-X2Oceanic dining hallroomsYes, it was a lot like summer camp as we were roughing it on the island. We chose to share a miniature room with a bath (toilet/sink) rather than have a room in a cottage or the hotel with a shared bath, an upgrade we think, but showers were limited to certain days for certain hours in the basement of the Oceanic Hotel. Staff, dozens and dozens of young adults (“Pelicans”) of college age for the most part, showered on opposite days.

Watercolor LectureWe were free to wander the island in between activities and lectures. One day I poked around to see what flowers called the island home. The most abundant bloom I saw was the Rosa rugosa, a salt tolerant scrubby rose. It is prolific non-native that made the island look like a monoculture of rose. I searched for the scarlet pimpernel that grew on the rocks but to no avail. Mostly I saw blooms common to all.

Rosa rugosa

The black-backed seagulls outnumbered people by thousands. The breeding season was over but we were still warned about aggressive seagulls. I found the youngest gulls delightful and sometimes posing for the camera. This one went through his entire yoga routine for me.

young black backed gullOver the island, there were a number of grave sites and I couldn’t help but wonder if they brought soil from the mainland to cover the coffins on this thinly earthed rock. At the bottom of Eliza’s stone, it reads:

Death has cut the brittle thread of life
And laid my body in the grave.
Yet my spirit lives in heaven above
To sing the praises of God’s love.


We signed on for an outing to another island, Appledore, the site of a Cornell/UNH marine science lab and the home and cutting gardens of Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), famed poet, writer, the daughter of the lightkeeper on White Isle. He eventually built two grand hotels in the mid-1800’s, one on Appledore and one on Smuttynose (both burned down). Celia became his hostess and her cut flowers adorned the hotels. Guests flocked to the island for relaxation and inspiration, among them famous writers and painters like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the artists William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam.

AppledoreWe followed the rocky path upward and across the island to the stone foundation of Celia’s home. This is a popular tour to visit a replica of her cutting gardens planted according to the plan she outlined in her bestselling book, An Island Garden. Our summer visit found only those late-blooming flowers at peak… but it was exciting to be there and catch a few photographs.

Back on Star, we followed paths, rutted roads, climbed boulders and rocks to explore every inch of the small island. Click to enlarge.

And at night we gathered with our cameras on the decks and on the gazebo called the summer house and watched the sun go down.

"                               " IMG_8079-X2Yes, we went to camp that summer….the discomforts of lights out early, limited cell phone use, no television, no cars, few showers paled in comparison to a week of great experiences with lots of new friends on what the locals call The Rock. Hope to go back!

Sandy and me with new friends on Star Island

22 thoughts on “Almost Summer Camp

  1. Small world! I have never been there, but Judy talks frequently of the times she spent at Star Island when she was a kid. Her father attended some kind of retreat or conference held there for several years, and he would bring along the family. Judy has extremely fond memories of the place, which I can understand as I look at your photographs. As an Ohio kid, she was especially fascinated by the tidal pools.


    • If Judy has her way, a future trip to Star Island for your family may be the works! It combines a love of history and the love of nature with the appreciation of a simpler time.


      • This is from Judy — even though I’m signed in through Jason at gardeninacity.

        I would love to go back! What wonderful photos! I have to say, it looks just exactly the same — and I was last there in the 1970s. This brings back such great memories.

        As Jason says, I was from Ohio, and this was my first ocean experience. There was a small marine biology lab in the hotel, and a weekly tidal pool walk. And I spent hours sitting on the rocks watching the waves. I probably still have somewhere a small vial of sand from Star Island.

        I don’t recall showers, though. I kind of think it was just baths? But I don’t recall. What I do vividly recall was that there was no running water in the bedrooms, and the Pelicans brought around pitchers of hot water before rising and I believe in the evening (?) — and each room had a pitcher and basin for washing up, and a slop bucket to pour the dirty water out in. Do they still do that? Lots of work for the Pelicans!

        I’m ready to go back any time! Thanks for sharing the photos!

        Liked by 1 person

    • It will be something for you to look forward to after the big snow melts. Take a day-trip out for a nice lunch, a sit on the veranda, and a bit of a hike to see if you’d like to bring a suitcase the next time.


  2. RE gardeninacity: Judy, Yes! The Pelicans are a hard working bunch. They brought us hot water, washcloths, and tried to make our beds. But, after making our own beds, we made our way to the hotel porch for early bird coffee, tea, hot chocolate, followed by a morning walk until breakfast was served. Sunrises over the Atlantic were as beautiful as sunsets.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely have to get there someday.. that looks like a wonderful place to spend a week! Thanks for finding and following me. I see my friends Judy and Garden in a City just above in the comments too… Looking forward to following you!


    • I’m glad I discovered your blog through Judy. Looks like you got WAY more snow than we did in New Hampshire’s seacoast…. and I look forward to seeing all those seeds sprout. Pinetree is a good seed company that signed the Safe Seed Pledge. Bravo!


    • If I go again, I think the nature themed week will interest me the most. Exploring the ‘rock’ sometimes forces you to drop to all-fours and crawl over and around the huge rocks… a little like being a kid again.


    • I’m sure you would love it and so would your little fella! It’s an adventure to take the boat trip and stay for a day. That’s my plan for this summer…


      • About ten years or so ago there was a film set on the Isle of Shoals; ‘The Weight of Water’. I really did not like the film and it has probably made me reluctant to go there, but we really should!


      • Hmmmm… I’m not familiar with the film. I’ll check that out…. (and I did check it out. It was talked about while I was Star Island in a lecture about the history of the islands and Smuttynose where the murder took place. We didn’t visit that island. I wouldn’t like that film either!)


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