For this romantic couple, home was an island
For almost 40 years, Art and Nan Kellam lived off-grid on a Maine island, eschewing modern technology — but not each other.
Tue, Oct 04, 2011 at 10:43 AM
THE LOVE BOAT: Art and Nan rowboating the seas near their island. (Photo courtesy of New England University Press)
Sure there's a never-ending supply of romcoms in theaters, and these days, flowers, chocolates and diamonds can be ordered online and delivered the next day from (and to) almost anywhere. But alas, true romance is in short supply. However, even jaded hearts are given hope when they come across a book like "We Were an Island," the story of two people who bought an isle to escape from the world and build their own.
Lovingly written by long-time environmentalist and activist Peter Blanchard, the book combines journal entries, family photographs and biographical narrative, creating a portrait of a couple in love with their island and each other. Part romance, part how-to (acquire a private island, live simply, go off-grid), the book makes personal the idea that most modern people flirt with — that seemingly elusive desire to get away from it all. Art and Nan Kellan didn't just talk about it or dream of it, they did it. Having met at 23, the two college-educated and childless Midwesterners retired together at 38 and spent the rest of their days on Placentia, an island not far from well-known Mount Desert Island, just off the Maine coast. (Note: I spent a summer on Mount Desert, and if you've never been to one of these northerly East Coast islands, there is something especially magical and all-encompassing about their energy — a feeling of not really needing to leave; not to mention that they are profoundly beautiful, populated by evergreen trees, small mammals and songbirds galore.)
While the couple lived without electricity or running water, they weren't subsistence-only. They produced some food (and plenty of flowers) in their gardens, and they relied on stores that were a four-mile rowboat trip away for food and other provisions. They were looking for a respite from the hectic pace of day-to-day life and technology of the post-World War II world, but they weren't totally self-sufficient. They even received mail via a mail boat.
An excerpt from Nan's journal gives us glimpses inside the couple's routine; this one details a day in their life in the current season: "The slow feel of summer that lingers in an early fall day begins to fade. Now and then, white tails showed through leafless gaps among the apple trees, as a buck and a doe moved in from the woods to haunt the orchard. Sometimes, as if waiting for the last fruit to fall, they slept there under panels of northern lights that blazed and dimmed and shifted in the clear night sky."
Not every aspect of life was perfect on Placentia; there were misunderstandings — of the weather, of how much firewood was needed, and of course, of each other. But Art and Nan figured out what they needed, in their own way, in a partnership in which each was the other's sole human company.
After almost 40 years, the couple was separated by death, and the island was left to the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy per their wishes of keeping the island forever free and natural.
Below, author Peter Blanchard discusses the book with Fox News: