Home sweet homestead

At the Deer Isle Hostel, proprietor and craftsman Dennis Carter shows one of the woodland dwellings that he and others built. The semi-screened interior enables overnight guests to more fully experience’s nature’s sounds and other elements.

Imagine waking up to birds singing all around, chickens clucking nearby and the scent of salty ocean air wafting through the room. Crossing the Deer Isle Bridge, over Eggemoggin Reach’s sparkling waters, that kind of morning begins to seem possible.

“The success of this place is in the way it makes people feel,” says Deer Isle Hostel owner and craftsman Dennis Carter. “It really sets a tone.”

That tone is set by the hostel’s hum of life. It’s felt in the gardens, compost piles and

communal kitchen of the hand-built, timber-framed homestead nestled in Deer Isle’s Sunshine village.

Conceived by Dennis and his former spouse Anneli Sundqvist in 2008, the off-the-grid traveler’s sanctuary offers a culture of camaraderie and tranquility. The homestead’s lodging capacity, limited to a dozen guests per night, creates an intimate atmosphere where visitors can share an evening meal, make friends and enjoy the peaceful environment. Families and single wanderers alike are welcome to rest their heads there. No pets are allowed.

Dennis grew up in the town of Surry just south of Ellsworth. It was The Hostel in the Forest in Brunswick, Ga., that inspired him to create such an environment-friendly lodging haven in coastal Maine. Set in the swampy forests of southern Georgia, Hostel in the Forest shows its guests a hands-on, sustainable approach to living in an unspoiled environment. The Georgia hostel also is known for its sleeping quarters that take the form of treehouses.

“It was going to other hostels that made me realize I could create that community here,” the Deer Isle Hostel’s co-founder recalls. “I wanted to do for others what those hostels had done for me, which was setting me free from thinking I had to live an average life.”

About 6 miles from the town of Stonington, whose fishing fleet regularly commands

At the hostel, the staff raise a wide variety of herbs, greens, root vegetables and other produce enjoyed as part of the evening meal.

Maine’s top lobster landings, the Deer Isle Hostel has secluded huts as well as private rooms with both single and multiple beds. An outdoor shower and three outhouses, equipped with sawdust-composting toilets, are available. A large vegetable garden and chicken coop yield fresh produce and eggs. A small orchard of peach, apple and pear trees grows behind the main house, which has a common room and kitchen available to guests.

Dennis goes above and beyond to live on and work sustainably the rich Deer Isle earth.

“Everything we need is here,” he says. “Granite, spruce wood, pine, and as a carpenter I could see that this land would be successful.”

The main house was inspired by mid-19th century New England homes and built using antique tools. Dennis is currently erecting a new sauna, using the Swedish Delarna Notch method. The lumber business, carpentry and gardening all influenced the craftsman’s childhood.

“My success as homesteader” Dennis says, “has everything to do with the fact that it is what my family has always been doing.”

Each evening at 6:30, Dennis watches a new type of family come together as hostel guests convene in the picnic area to share a communal dinner. Guests, seeking to participate in the dinners, are asked to bring food or a monetary contribution of $7 to $10 per person. The meal differs a little each night and is made up of contributions from guests and fresh veggies from the hostel garden. Visitors are asked to call ahead to find out what they can add to the meal.

“We have one visitor who comes solo every year to celebrate her birthday, we bake her a cake and everything,” says Dennis. When asked what his favorite dinner is the craftsman exclaims, “I love Mexican night” as he walks along a boardwalk in the moss-carpeted forest and toward the chicken coop. “You have to have chickens,” he adds. “They are a great ice-breaker with kids.”

During the day the hostel crew tackles their chores while guests are welcome to explore Deer Isle and beyond. Aurora Hadsock, who met Dennis while working at the Georgia hostel, attends to guests’ needs and interests. Dennis and hostel apprentice Paul Chaber focus on the gardens, building, maintenance and grounds work. The trio make a dynamic and cheerful team.

A few minutes from the hostel, off the Sunshine Road, Island Heritage Trust’s Edgar

On rainy days, guests can curl up on the sofas, chat, read and enjoy fresh coffee for $1 per cup.

Tennis Preserve provides a network of intersecting trails skirting the shoreline and traversing the island interior. Downtown Stonington boasts a wide range of enterprises and institutions from the Stonington Opera House and a fine bakery and art galleries to the women-owned 44 North Café. Visitors also catch Isle au Haut Boat Services’ mailboat, which provides passenger service to Isle au Haut (“High Island”), an island inhabited year-round, where half the island falls within Acadia National Park. Acadia maintains a scenic trail system and makes a memorable day trip. The boat ride takes 1.5 hours one way.

Returning to the hostel, guests can look forward to the potluck supper, a refreshing outdoor shower, the crackle of a campfire and the promise of a good night’s sleep. Nightly stays range from $70-$80 per person. To make reservations, call 348-2308, email [email protected] and visit deerislehostel.com.