A quarter mile off Maine’s shore, at the east end of South Bristol’s Harbor, “The Gut”, lays an 18-acre Sanctuary called Witch Island. The name beckons images of Hardy Boys adventures as does its strange history. In the late 19th century a woman know as the “Witch of Wall Street,” lived on the island. She was a mystical consultant that foretold people’s financial futures. She was very successful and lived a happy quiet life in John’s bay. As to what became of her no one is sure. Some say that she retired and quietly continued to live on the island. One-day locals realized they hadn’t heard from her in a while and when they went out to her home she was found dead in her cabin. Some people have said that she haunts the island. Some evenings a strange glow has been seen floating around the island.
Every Summer I travel up to Maine to enjoy a week with friends at a cabin near Plummer’s Point in South Bristol. Cut off from the comforts of modern life we turn to the beautiful bay and majestic forests of Maine for adventure and fun. Each night concludes with everyone gathering around the fireplace or down on the dock to tell of his or her day and make plans for the next. For many years Witch Island was on our list of possibilities. It shared the same bay as the cabin and would make a nice afternoon canoe trip but it always seemed to get filed to next year. Two summers ago, my friend Mike and I decided it was time to claim Witch Island as another fond summer memory. We launched from the dock and began our journey to Witch Island. It was a pleasant day and we were excited by the though of finally visiting the Island. We had even prepared a sign to stake into the island once it had been taken. We made it out of the inlet and into the main Bay with no trouble. As we entered the bay we saw sea gulls relaxing on a small out crop of rock. Some appeared to be waving to us as they stretched out their wings in the sea breeze. Buoys of all colors dotted the coast. Marking where local lobster-men had staked their claim.
We took a break for a snack about half way to our goal. Up to that point the trip had been problem free. We made great progress with little effort and the weather was fantastic. Mike and I were about to see things change quickly. As we proceed on the incoming tide began to impede our progress. This was expected so we pushed on. The closer we began to get to the island the more resistance we felt from the current. Though it began to get annoying to deal with, we tried to counter the oceans opposition by keeping close to the shore. Our clever move seemed to thwart Witch Island’s plan to stop us, but only temporarily. As we pushed on, we noticed a thick fog quickly rolling in over the bay. How foolish we were to continue on our quest. As we came to the point that separated the cove that had protected us for so long with the cove Witch Island resides in we came face to face with the fog and the full force of the ocean. A strong wind had accompanied the fog and greatly multiplied the strength of the current. Mike named the area Hell. We quickly tried to make it into the next cove to once again be shielded from the power of the open waters. Again we tried to keep close to the shore but Hell countered our move. The fog became thicker, the wind stronger and the water became very choppy. Small waves started to crash on the side of our canoe. We joked about how it must be the evil curse on Witch Island that was trying to stop us, yet we still press on. The waves soon began to toss us back and forth and crash over the side. We were determined to win this battle and continued to row. As the wave began to fling us toward a rocky outcrop we knew we had been beaten and should turn back before the canoe was bashed to pieces, much less flipped. Quickly and cautiously we turned around. Now the forces that were working so hard against us, now aided us in our retreat. Having put some distance between us and the ill weather, we stopped for a minute to catch our breath. When we looked back the storm appeared to be chasing us. This time we took the situation more seriously and began to row with all our strength. Once we seemed to far out of danger I took a moment to mock the evil powers of Witch Island. Soon after I heard a loud and very unfamiliar snapping sound behind me. Mikes oar had broken. This was a serious problem. not only did this cut our oar power in half but we were also at a point that we had to fight across the strong incoming current to make it back into the inlet where the cabin was. Mike being the stronger of the two of us took over the rowing. We were pushed far off coarse but in time we, made it safety. Witch Island had beaten us but we would be back.
A year later we made another attempt to canoe to the island. Considering our last attempt, this time we planned our journey carefully. The trip in was fantastic. The waters were calm and the weather was great. Though I was confident we’d reach the island this time, I have to say that I was still a little anxious. I didn’t wanted to wait another year. Once the island was within’ sight the tension began to vanish. The closer we got, I began to feel a twinkle of excitement begin to swell up inside. Once close enough, we decided not to rush the island like a pair of marines. Instead, we circled around the western side and enjoyed its splendor. The channel between Witch Island and the coast was filled with boats of all sizes. On them we saw friends celebrating summer and lobster men going out to inspect their traps. Landing our boat at one of its beaches, we planted our sign on a slope near the shore.
The island was very beautiful and well worth the trip. Though it is said that you can still see the foundation of the witches cabin, we never found it. That maybe due to the fact that we spent much time scrambling on the rocky shores admiring the variety of sea life that has made it their home. After a few hours, we launched into the bay once again and made our way home. Once we were far enough from Witch Island, I turned back to look. A warm pleasant feeling came over me as I replayed my moments on the island. Much like some of my past escapade, this happy feeling soon changed to somber. Then I thought of the words of Alexander the great, “I love the world, I want it, and when I’ve won, I’ll fall to my knees and beg for new worlds to conquer.” I knew that as soon as I got home, I’d be searching thorough the books and maps to find that new world.
~ Strange New England
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