Discovering the Mysterious Cairns of Hell’s Half Acre

It’s hard for us to believe that in the right conditions, our house in Rockport is a single, 24-mile-long, starboard tack from Hell’s Half Acre.

Yes it’s true. And last weekend, we repeated this wonderous sail that crosses two deep blue bays, winds between the twin green-blue Fox Islands along the way, and ends in the enchanted islands of Merchant Row off Stonington.

Hell’s Half Acre is a small solid granite island with a spare, but complete, tiny forest. Despite being located within one of the more popular anchorages among the many Merchant Islands, it’s still one of our favorite Islands on the coast.

A complete miniature world, there’s a granite beach that becomes massive at low tide. Sand, a very coarse version of crushed shells, exists in various little clefts that are flanked by steep leathery looking granite mounds. The slender thread of a forest sits atop the low granite center spine where soil is also a work in progress of life and subsequent decay.

If you look closely you see the thin soil supports a variety of growth, even trees, those undersized but venerable island versions that work so much harder to survive than their mainland relatives. Rockweed and barnacles cling at the islands watery waist and flow in the constantly moving tidal waters beyond.

It’s always a remarkable little island to land a dinghy on and explore. During this visit, something different caught my eye. Cairns. Not just any cairn, these were delicate man-made pieces of sculpture. Gracefully defying gravity in their design, and with a clear artisan skill in their assembly, they seemed to be sending me a message from their natural alcove-like gallery.

Like the posted rules of publicly owned Hell’s half Acre, maybe they are a sign as to the fragility of such a delicate little place.

Luckily we may all use Hell’s Half Acre and be a part of its unending evolution. Things will inevitably fall down, yes, bottles and other debris will wash onto its shore. I think I’ll pick up a few plastic bottles next time I’m on the water, and recycle them. I should, and that would be easy.