Star Island’s Winter Caretaker

Imagine five raw winter months on an island with only frigid winds, turbulent seas, some barren ledge and a few hardy birds as companions. Most would disappear into the penetrating gray of the waves and sky but some find inspiration in such seclusion. Meet Alexandra de Steiguer, winter caretaker of Star Island, its hotel and outbuildings. Save for the sporadic supply boat pilot, she never sees another human face until spring. Alone with her camera, her journal and her guitar, she spins the mist of the island into art, music and thoughts — some of which she shares with us here.

Photo by David Mendelsohn

  • I’ve been a Star Island winter caretaker since 1997, and just spent my twenty-second winter on the island.
  • Before that, I was a sailor of tall ships that were engaged in research and sailing school programs. Each voyage was from six to nine months long..
  • People putting themselves in my place often imagine that it would be deathly boring or an exercise in sensory deprivation. But there’s something very important about what people call “boredom” that is often missed.
  • My parents were Buddhists, and years ago my father told me that he’d once heard this from a wise teacher:
    “Enlightenment lies just on the other side of boredom.”
  • Some of my deepest thoughts, and much of my art is created when I am alone, with no phone or screens.
  • The winter weather on the Isles of Shoals is spectacular. It has everything, from the most tranquil of calm days to the fiercest of storms.
  • Quite often in winter I get emotional just from the sheer beauty and wildness around me — from those brief moments of not only understanding, but of feeling how vast it all really is.
  • Once, when I was checking all the rooms of the hotel, as I do regularly, I found a barred owl flying around in the dark and boarded-up lobby.
  • The poor bird had somehow fallen down a four-story chimney and couldn’t get out. Luckily, I caught it quickly, and brought it back outside where it flew away.
  • I’ve always loved music, and often I sing aloud on the island just for fun.
  • I wrote my first song 20 years ago, shortly after my mother died. I didn’t know I could write a song, but there it was; from deep emotion to music.
  • Over the past 22 years, I’ve continued to write songs, slowly, perhaps one or two a year, during the long winter months on the island.

Along with her caretaker duties, Alexandra de Steiguer is a fine art photographer working in traditional black and white, and the author of “Small Island, Big Picture — Winters of Solitude Teach an Artist to See.” Her time alone has also inspired her to compose the 13 songs that appear on her album “Island Sublime.” She says her compositions reflect not only her unique island life, but also “rich, resonant insights inspired by loss, mystery, angst, destiny and romance.”

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Categories: Q&A