Twenty miles off the coast of Mount Desert Island is a tiny granite outcrop called Mount Desert Rock. On a clear day you can see it with binoculars from the mountains of Acadia National Park. It looks like an improbable ship, taller than it is long.
Only 3.5 acres in size, Mount Desert Rock holds three buildings and a lighthouse just 17 feet above sea level. During winter storms and hurricanes the ocean washes over the island and punishes the buildings. The boathouse was swept away during Hurricane Bill in 2009. Here’s how small it is.
Isolated and exposed the Rock stands alone.
Whale watching tours from Bar Harbor sometimes circle the Rock. That’s how I’ve come close but never landed. The Rock has no harbor so even those authorized to land can only do so when the sea is calm.
Lighthouse keepers and their families used to live year-round on the island, sheltering in the lighthouse during storms. Since 1998 the College of the Atlantic has had whale and seal study crews posted there on temporary assignment, but they leave before a storm.
No matter who is stationed there, they must survive on food and water shipped from the mainland. Rainwater is collected in a cistern under the keepers’ house but it’s undrinkable. Nothing can grow there because the ocean washes away the topsoil in every storm. And there is noise: The foghorn blares every 30 seconds.
When the weather is right, songbirds take a shortcut across the Gulf of Maine during fall migration from Nova Scotia to Maine. From the whale watch boat I’ve seen ruby-throated hummingbirds and robins pumping their way past the Rock to Mt. Desert Island 20 miles away. It’s scary to think they are over open water, sometimes fighting the wind, spending themselves to make landfall on the shores of Acadia — or else they will die.
Fly safe, little birds. The Rock is no place to rest. No food. No water.
(photo by “krzdweasel” via Flickr, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original. Map from Wikipedia.)