Move Over, Hitchcock!
Updated: Jun 16, 2018
I wasn't expecting to become emotional the first time I saw Pilot Island. My family booked a trip with Shoreline Charters & Cruises to celebrate the end of our 24 year long quest for a Door County home. As we slowly moved north, Captain Robbo (Jim Robinson) showed us various points of interest such as shipwrecks, homes and even a large political sign displayed on a home facing the harbor. Gliding past Plum Island, we were all struck by the beauty of the lush greenery, lighthouse and beautiful native plants. We promised that one day we would explore this island and photograph the tantalizing vegetation, natural paths and the stoic old lighthouse. On we went.
Captain Robbo's tone changed slightly as he told the story of Pilot Island. When the island was in view, we understood why. Once an island as lush as its sister Plum, Pilot Island became a popular habitat for the beak and feather crowd. It was quickly and permanently overrun by the bird that many Door County residents consider a feathered nuisance - the cormorant. As the boat neared the island, our senses were overwhelmed. The smell created by the cormorants hung in the air, the cries of the birds who weren't happy about our invasion of their turf, but most of all the sights. Hundreds of birds flew overhead, never getting too close but making their presence known. The island itself was hard to process - trees stripped of leaves, just bare sticks, scrubby vegetation and a ghostly lighthouse that seemed to be saying it would very much like to be useful again. And thousands of birds.
In looking at this island, we were ambivalent. While the antithesis of lush and vibrant, it is strangely beautiful and mysterious. While it is a spectacular habitat for these birds it is solely spectacular for them. And what will happen to the lighthouse?
However you feel about the island, this is without question a trip worth taking. Captain Robbo's depth of knowledge and the way he tells the stories of the shipwrecks, the islands and the history of Death's Door make this tour memorable. I am still wondering if this mysterious, Hitchcockian place should or even could be restored. But at what cost to its raucous, messy inhabitants?