On the Island

A Shoaler in the Making: Part 3

A Shoaler in the Making, Part 3 by Nelson Linscott

“Joy is of the will which labours, which overcomes obstacles, which knows triumph.”  William Butler Yeats

It was April and I worked on my packing list. Making sure you have everything is essential when you are a beat up old guy and your best friend is an even more beat up eleven year-old miniature Australian shepherd. Just the medical equipment, prescriptions, Baxter’s things and his dog food was a substantial load. My anxiety was building. Though I was in treatment for PTSD, the disorder is a constant battle. At home, I didn’t deviate from my unconscious schedule. I don’t swim and I fear water. I avoid groups and certainly don’t seek attention in places I am not familiar with. I’m Buddhist and I didn’t know much about the Universalists. I started dreaming about Star Island on April 14th. In the dream, Baxter was healed and running in open spaces on Star. Since I had only seen photos of the island, my overactive imagination filled in the scenery and people. On April 18th, I came back to Star in a new dream! Though it was April, June 16th was quite a ways to go, I read everything I could find about Star Island. My dreams occurred often and increased in an enlightened discovery of a place I hardly realized even existed a few months before.

As the snow disappeared and the buds of all the trees burst forth in greenery, I traveled around the coast looking out to sea to the islands. Baxter was not walking well, so I bought, with the money my friends and acquaintances gathered together to help me and Baxter,  a sling to carry him in. Baxter weighs close to thirty pounds. What was I thinking? My back is in terrible shape with degenerative disc disease. I was thinking of thirty pounds as I thought of it when I was twenty years old. The sling lasted a day. I was hobbling. I thought, “Who will carry me now?  Sciatica set in. This is not what I had planned.

 I started looking for alternatives. Baxter’s doctor suggested a wheeled contraption that Baxter could be strapped into, lifting his hindquarters off the ground in a harness connected to two wheels. He lent me one. Trying to strap a wiggly, scared dog into one of these carts was difficult. Baxter was horrified and didn’t trust this equipment at all. I returned it the next day. On Amazon, I saw a baby carriage for dogs and with two day delivery and $30 – I soon was pushing Baxter down the road. Baxter loved it! I was still hobbling.

With my back in tatters, I called my pain specialist and agreed, very reluctantly, to epidural steroid injections. I have had several rounds of these shots and I don’t like them and have had very little improvement from them but, “Hey, I am going to Star Island!” In a few days I found myself face down on a table, shirtless under the “C-arm” having my back drilled with needles too big not to be nervous. At least the local anesthesia would give me relief for the afternoon but it would take three days to tell if the injections worked. They did not. Now I was going to rely on ibuprofen and “grin and bear it”. At least Baxter’s problems were solved. 

Suddenly it was June. I live in Wallingford Square, Kittery which is the site of Kittery Block Party once a year, every June. It was on the same day as my departure to Star Island. There is no vehicle traffic allowed in the square for the whole day. I carried my baggage from my apartment up the hill to the laundromat to be picked up by my brother, Ronnie, to drive us to Portsmouth. I headed back to get Baxter in his stroller and as I wheeled into the laundromat parking lot, Ronnie pulled in. My heart was pounding in anticipation of the trip. Baxter knew something was going on and was smiling like I was. Off we went.

As I waved goodbye to Ronnie, I had the feeling I was walking into another world. I hadn’t been on a vacation for a decade. Health problems, divorce, poor decisions, continual PTSD and depression had stifled my once indomitable spirit. I stopped, staring at the Thomas Leighton, the people, the river, and took it all in. Suddenly I had cold feet. I was scared. Baxter was fidgeting in his stroller. I got edgy and irritable. “Baxter, take it easy”, I said. I was looking for an excuse to turn around. Change can be a trigger of PTSD. I use an exercise when the “stinkin’ thinkin'” sets in. I physically say “STOP!” and change the direction of my thoughts. I pushed forward. As I neared the people, I heard my name being called. It was Ally Miner, my point of contact, and her smile dissolved all my fears and apprehension. It was the first smile of many I would experience as I checked in and sat with the people also heading to Star Island. My acceptance was unconditional and overwhelming. A tear came to my eye. I was leaving a bag of misery on the dock. I felt like I was home for the first time in a long time, maybe the first time in my life.


Photos by Nelson Linscott

On the Island

A Shoaler in the Making: Part 2

We’ve received an outpouring of responses to our most recent blog post by Nelson Linscott, and are pleased to share the second installment of the series, A Shoaler in the Making. We think you’ll appreciate reading about Nelson’s life and experience leading up to his first trip to Star as much as we did. His story is incredible, but relatable still – especially if you have a beloved pet or have ever felt anxiety before visiting a new place.

A Shoaler in the Making, Part 2 by Nelson Linscott

“Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” Hans Christian Andersen

From the day I received word that I was the Veteran’s Raffle winner, all things seemed brighter, the sun seemed to follow me. I had six months to wait. There were some obstacles, however. My dog Baxter had been injured, tearing his rear right leg’s tendons.  The injury was inoperable. He also had contracted a tick borne illness,  canine anaplasmosis, and to top it off, hypothyroidism. I was also broke. Dog veterinarians and treatment for Baxter’s ailments would cost hundreds, maybe thousands, and there was no guarantee he would walk again. I was carrying him. I couldn’t leave Baxter at home with a sitter to go to Star Island. I contacted Star and let them know I would have to decline. The good people of Star Island wouldn’t hear of it! “You can bring Baxter with you!”, they said! I was amazed and so grateful. One problem solved! The next problem was carrying Baxter. Though he is a mini aussie, he is heavy. I have degenerative disc disease and I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry Baxter around the island without further injury to myself and Baxter, if I fell. At the same time, my friends in Kittery rallied together and started a Go Fund Me account, and in a day I had money for Baxter’s medical care. The first purchase was a dog stroller. Now, I could get around. At the vet, Baxter was prescribed medications for the anaplasmosis and the hypothyroidism. The diagnosis for his leg was grim. He may never walk again. I thought, time heals most things, “all things must pass.” After the week at Star Island, I would pursue other possibilities and treatment. At least Baxter was going to get a vacation, a change of scenery, and that may be the best medicine at all. We also had months before we left on the trip.

With things falling into place, my excitement was evident. I hadn’t had a vacation since I retired. Disability doesn’t provide a lucrative existence. I lived payday to payday. I began reading all things Star Island. I began a journal. With my usual enthusiasm, I planned for the day to board the Thomas Laighton. With months to go, I began to worry. 

 *Note: The following paragraph describes a scene during Nelson’s time in the Vietnam War. We are mindful that such descriptions can be triggering for some, and invite you to skip ahead to the *End note if preferred

I had won the Veteran’s Raffle. I had a terrible time in Vietnam. I was a top secret courrier in a helicopter unit during the time Saigon was being evacuated. I was chosen for a secret mission. I would be flown from my kaserne in Germany on several different aircraft, ultimately landing on an aircraft carrier. Two guards and I would then fly by helicopter piloted by my friend, commanding officer, and copilot, from the carrier to the target in Saigon, land on the building, and we would take the ladder to a lower floor. I would open the safe, retrieve the contents, and climb to the roof and depart. What could go wrong? Plenty. As we approached the building, we started taking on small arms fire. We landed quickly and the three of us jumped out and headed for the hatch in the roof, which was open. The helicopter suddenly left due to the live fire from the street. That was not a part of the plan. We made our way to the safe. I had been trained for months in Germany for this. As I knelt on the floor, I noticed a small amount of Vietnamese money on the floor. I scooped it up and pocketed it as a souvenir. I pulled my .45 and placed it on the floor, a move that saved my life. I began opening the safe from the memorized combination. As I began dialing the second number, there was a bang so loud it disoriented me. My ears rang and gunpowder smoke floated in the air. Instinctively, in a flash, I grabbed my .45 and took two shots. Two people hit the floor. It was then I realized my guard on the right had been shot and killed. I was covered in blood and tissue. The guard to my left was standing clutching his M-16 in shock. I screamed, “Bob, guard the door! Wake up!!”  I began redialing the combination. The safe opened and I retrieved the paperwork. “Let’s go!” I howled. On the way out, I looked at the two Vietnamese on the floor. They looked young. I gasped.  We left our comrade on the floor, made our way up to the flat roof.  No helicopter! I thought we were dead. Then, in about two minutes, which seemed like an hour, I heard the blades of the UH-1 helicopter. It landed and we dove in. My guard was quietly crying. I was silent. I noticed my .45 was missing. I forgot it on the floor. I thought, “Oh well, they will understand.” When I got back to Germany two days later, I was written up for leaving my .45. The information I had retrieved was useless. The day we performed the mission, the Vietcong overran Saigon. Our deceased guard’s body was not retrieved. I was not happy. Depression sunk in. I hoped that almost 40 years later, after winning the Veterans Raffle, I would not be asked to speak too fondly of “my service” or asked about details of it. My feelings were still complicated, though this was the first time I had ever been recognized in a good way for my army time. It was a beginning of a healing process, decades later. It started on Star Island.

 *End note 

I also have several medical problems. My back was in tatters. The effects of my bout with cancer, though I am cancer free now, concerned me. I am almost deaf and even when I do hear, many times I cannot understand. It is almost like trying to communicate with a person speaking a different language. Crowds scared me a bit and I depend on disposable catheters to urinate. I take several medications. “What a pair! Baxter and his buddy, both limping their way across Star Island. This ought to be a sight!” I had to ensure I had enough medical supplies to last the week. What about privacy while I use my catheters? Though I still had maximum enthusiasm, I worried. I decided to open up about my condition before I went. By email, since I can’t hear well on the telephone, I explained. I communicated to several people at the island. I had never talked to any organization in my life with the professionalism, empathy, and compassion as exhibited by the crew at Star Island. I was assured that no matter what I needed, it would be provided. I felt the love before I boarded the boat. The sun shined brilliantly and the love reverberated in my heart.  I had an innate feeling of love not just for Star Inland, but for the people who work there. I had found my flower in life.

On the Island

A Shoaler in the Making

We were overjoyed to host Kittery’s own Nelson Linscott as our 2018 Veterans Raffle winner last June. We are beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to share our special island with someone new, who has sacrificed so much for our country. From the moment Nelson set foot on Star, it was clear to us that we had made a special connection that would stand the test of time.

Nelson immediately felt the magic of Star. Since then, he has shared the wonders of his experience with us and many others. We are delighted to share the following piece, the first of a series written by Nelson Linscott, about his journey toward becoming a Shoaler. We hope you enjoy reading about Nelson. If you haven’t made a visit to Star Island yet, we think this series will inspire you to take the leap!

A Shoaler in the Making by Nelson Linscott

I grew up poor in North Kittery, Maine, a sleepy farming community bordering rural Eliot, which was once a part of Kittery. Rolling fields of deep grass, hay fields for horses and dairy cows, lined with stone walls from stones plucked from the fields by farmers generations ago was my playground. We didn’t venture far from our small home. Kittery Point, only a couple of miles away, but could have been hundreds of miles away as far as we were concerned. We thought of Kittery Point as another world of lobsters, coastal homes and the sea with views of the horizon and lighthouses on tiny islands. As a boy, I fantasized about the islands. I was an avid reader and stoked with visions from “Treasure Island” and “The Mysterious Islands” I wondered out loud about these specks of rock in the sea. “What are those islands out there?” I asked my mother on a rare visit to Seapoint Beach in Kittery Point. 

“The Isles of Shoals”, Mom replied and after several other obviously irritating, persistent questions, I learned that the islands had been home to fishermen, pirates and once there had been a murder there. Ah, my mind began racing. I envisioned pirates with swords and ruffled three corned hats, and treasure, buried treasure of course. I planned my raft. It didn’t look that far out to sea. After I found the buried treasure I would have plenty of money to sail back to the mainland in style. So began my dance with the Isles of Shoals, a group of small Islands I wouldn’t set foot on until I was sixty three years old. 

As the years went by, I became interested in Celia Thaxter. I loved poetry, writing, and of course reading. I found my way to the beaches more often on my own with friends and my interest in the islands never wavered. “The Wreck of the Pocahontas” was the first Celia Thaxter poem  I read and the words, “The sails that flecked the ocean floor, from East to West  leaned low and fled; They knew what came in the distant roar, That fill the air with dread!” I trembled  in excitement and horror. Celia had nailed it and I was hooked.

With visits to the local libraries, I learned the history of these tiny specks on the horizon. I was hooked but how does a poor North Kittery boy get to islands ten miles out to sea? I was barely getting enough to eat at home. A trip was out of the question. 

In the 1970’s I became an apprentice at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. I was on my own after a stint in the U.S. Army that I wanted to forget. I was married, had a daughter and I had money. I was free to pursue whatever I desired within reason. I had a family to care for. I then heard of Viking Cruises’ trips to the Isles of Shoals. On a bright cool Spring morning we boarded the Viking Sun to cruise out to the islands. I was thrilled. Seeing the mainland from the vantage point of the sea was amazing to me. I had never been on a boat. We were loving the cruise and then I saw the islands. The cruise was only a roundabout cruise to view the islands from the boat. We weren’t stopping. I was amazed at the number and size of the buildings on the islands. Heading back to the mainland, I planned my return but life got in the way. My wife’s chronic Illness kept me from returning. The Isles of Shoals became a distant memory. Occasionally I would read about the islands. I looked from shore at them in the distance. That’s as close as I would get to setting foot on an island for decades. In December of 2017, I received a phone call.

“Hello, Mr. Linscott? This is Lisa from Star Island. How are you today? ” 

“Who?” I asked.

“Lisa from Star Island. You have won a trip all expenses paid at Star Island.”

“I can’t hear you. I am almost deaf.”  

“Alright Mr. Linscott. You won our Veteran’s Raffle. Could I have your email address?”

“Yeah, Yeah, email me. I don’t remember signing up for anything. Where is it?”

“S t a r  I s l a n d!  

“OK, downeast101@*mail.com

“”Thank you Mr. Linscott!”

“Yup, bye!”

Little did I know after this brief exchange, my life was about to change. 

On the Island

Winter Stewardship: Keeping Safe Our Spirit’s Home

A winter caretaker needs to have the temperament and endurance not only to manage the considerable environmental and personal challenges of living isolated for months in a remote place, but also needs to possess the particular technical chops that will ensure our dear island remains safely cared for.

Though the various demands on winter caretakers may be unusual and even surprising to those of us that know Star only in fine weather, Alex de Steiguer (and her mainland-based back-up, Brad Anderson) came to us with such a unique set of life and professional skills that we’ve never had a winter-day’s worry since their start in 1997.

Following the long, caring stewardship of Edith and Dave Pierson, and after a brief time cycling through a few interim caretakers, Star finally found this unique team to care for our island home during the long, punishing months of winter. In our absence, they act as steward on our behalf. Because one or the other of them is on-island all winter, a unique set of skills always resides on Star Island while our regular staff is ashore preparing for the following year.

After personal safety, a winter caretaker’s first charge is to thwart the damage that can expand very quickly when winter’s sharp claws pry at our roofs, windows and doors. Buildings of the vintage of Star’s are particularly susceptible to cumulative disaster unless water and wind can be kept out. Newly, the increasing sophistication of our infrastructure – that in part can be a great help to a winter caretaker – also requires additional off-season monitoring. They not only keep an eye on our buildings’ integrity, but also look to the other islands and assist authorities when there are problems on the Isles such as wrecks, lost vessels or mariners, or unusual weather events.

Many of us know of Alex’s long photographic study of the Isles of Shoals, and of her book and music – in large part, all stimulated by her time alone on Star Island and emblematic of our desire for Star to help all to explore matters of consequence and gain knowledge of the world as it might ideally be. We who so love Star may, more than most, rejoice with her in celebration of Star Island as a unique inspiration for creativity and communion. But, beyond the artistic, and even beyond the capabilities accrued during decades of deep-water sailing on ships and big schooners, our caretaker team also applies their skills in alternative energy, remote homesteading, shade-tree mechanics, technology, woodworking, fabrication, and all around self-reliance.

They want you to know: during winter, your spirit’s home is always safe, and they are confident – with the full capabilities of the Coast Guard, the Marine Patrol and Star’s other staff always in the wings – that they can safely manage Star’s entry into every new year, delivering to us in the spring the beautiful, inspiring place that we love so well.

You can see their daily report of conditions on the island at any time by visiting this link.

P.S. Did you know? Alex will be speaking at this year’s Star Arts Retreat!

Star Island Corporation

Veterans Raffle Winner

We are thrilled to announce this year’s Veterans Raffle winner, LaVonne Black, of New Albany, Pennsylvania. LaVonne spent eight years in the army as a German linguist and additional time after in the reserves.

LaVonne has never been to Star Island, but was encouraged by a friend to apply. She is excited to check out the conferences and to enjoy a relaxing experience on Star.

In a beautiful thank you letter to Star Island, LaVonne wrote, “I always loved traveling, but we have never spent time on the coast, so I would love to explore your island…my military service was a great opportunity for a small town farm girl. I had never imagined seeing so many parts of the world and meeting so many people from different parts of the country. I was proud to serve and represent my country. It’s a part of my life I will always be proud of…it left me feeling good about the world because of the great people I met. Since that is one of the things you said about your island, I was very impressed”. LaVonne shared this photo from 29 years ago, during her time in the army. She also shared the more recent photo below from this year’s Christmas card!

Here, LaVonne and her husband of 28 years, David, are pictured with their dog, Xena. LaVonne and David met during their military service when stationed in Berlin. She works as a technician with a major corporation and David is a nurse at the Veterans Administration.

LaVonne is looking forward to spending a week on Star Island with her daughter, who is graduating from college soon. We are deeply grateful for her service, and the service of all of our military veterans. We can’t wait to meet LaVonne, and for her to enjoy all the island has to offer!