Nash Island, Remembering Jenny Cirone

The plan was to get to Cutler, but the visibility was zero in Eastern Harbor and we weren’t about to navigate Moosabec Reach in thick fog with a mast that was almost as tall as the high tide clearance under the Beals Island Bridge.

While ashore on the first day we noticed an elderly, hunched, woman pole her dory to the beach, lift her leg slowly over the gunnel and, with the help of a crutch and a couple of admiring young girls, alight and mend her way up to a house on the road. This was Jenny Cirone, at the time in her late 70s, who had spent her entire life both lobstering and tending a herd of sheep on the islands off Cape Split—Nash, Big Nash, and The Ladle. She grew up on Nash Island when her father was the keeper of its lighthouse.

Jenny’s sheep were known for their exceptional fleece. She was an icon, and a woman we had long wanted to meet—both to hear her story but also, given her advanced age, to see what thoughts she might have about the future of her islands and their unique flock. Loss of her robust breed of sheep would be sad; sadder still would be desecration of the island’s low, flat profile by a mega-mansion. Two days later we got our chance to see her.

In poor holding ground, we had picked up one of two guest moorings—blessedly provided by its owner who, with extraordinary hospitality, invited us to drinks and dinner. There, we were introduced to a local lady who knew Jenny and who was very happy to introduce her to us at her home the next day. When we arrived we found a sheep munching around outside, a gaggle of geese, and two Muscovy ducks. A Doberman was asleep on her doorstep, and there was a turkey in a pen beside the road.

Inside, Jenny sat in an armchair sorting through a plate of raspberries she’d picked the day before. She moved us to her kitchen looking out over the harbor, then, with little prodding, launched into an animated description of her sheep, raising them on the islands, and of her father the lighthouse keeper (of Great Duck, Egg Rock, and then Nash). Jenny had her own way of putting words together, wonderful to listen to, captured in a verbatim interview published in Salt Magazine in 1985.

But then our guide, Jenny’s friend and our driver, steered the conversation to the future of Nash Island, giving us a chance to expound gently on the many comfortable ways its conservation could be assured. Jenny’s expression didn’t change. She gave no indication of discussing that topic, but instead called her pet sheep in for some corn, followed by the Muscovy ducks and a couple of geese. With that, our visit was pleasantly concluded.

Jenny passed away in 2004 at age 91, 14 years after our visit. She left her islands to friends. One of them then sold his interest in the portion of Little Nash that she had owned, and The Ladle, a small, nearby island where rams were kept, to Maine Coast Heritage Trust—ensuring their long-term conservation and, at least for the time being, a home for her sheep. The sheep still live on those islands, and Nash Island as well, managed by friends of hers.

Born in 1929, Peter Rand first cruised the Maine coast in 1939, and has done so more than 50 times since, oftentimes with his wife, Alice. He is retired, following 60 years of medical research, and has served on Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s board and council since the 1970s.

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.