My first husband and I packed up our dog, Woody, and moved to Maine in 1985, two days after Christmas, so that he could start his first term as a student at College of the Atlantic. While my husband pursued his understanding of human ecology, I jumped into a steep earning curve in the state’s geography.
My first deeply physical memory of Maine is exploring Mount Desert Island. Though it seems incredible to me now that we could get lost here, we did. Looking for a sign to direct us back to Bar Harbor, it seemed we could go anywhere but: Northeast Harbor to the left, Swans Island Ferry to the right, Seal Harbor behind us. Uncertainly following the signs, we discovered small villages with warmly lit houses nestled within dense forests patiently bearing heavy jackets of snow along a rocky coast of gray-green ocean. This was a magical land that we were determined to explore and share. I knew then that I would stay here.
Maine has that effect, both drawing me in and opening me up. I was born and raised on the plains, where all are exposed to the great dome of the infinite overhead. Thirsting for open skies, hiking to a summit or to the land’s edge is my pilgrimage. But community is the daily bread that keeps me grounded in the here and now. I soon found it at Maine Coast Heritage Trust where I started working in 1986. While there I became acquainted with the state through the lens of protecting its open spaces—the nature of what makes this place special and makes it Maine.
Today I am fortunate to continue to work with MCHT as a partner protecting year-round communities on Mount Desert Island. At Island Housing Trust, we do so by creating opportunities for those earning a median income to live where they work. Our communities are stronger for more people being here year-round, protecting and forming our sense of home, turning on lamps when dusk falls, and lighting the dark days of another new year. Together we share that particular sense of place—of community—that is the best protection of all.
Marla O’Byrne worked for Maine Coast Heritage Trust as a development associate and business manager from 1986 through 1995. She is currently executive director of Island Housing Trust, promoting the viability of year-round communities on Mount Desert Island by providing permanent island housing for workers.
This piece is part of Voices from the Coast, a collection of writing, art, stories, and images offered in celebration of the Maine coast and launched in 2020, Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s 50th year.