Tuesday, September 30, 2014

on the road in maine, part two

Waking up in this little tent on this little island was the best! Seriously. Heaven.

On my second morning on Mount Desert Island the air was so fresh and the breeze so crisp that I didn't even need a coffee to feel awake. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky when I poked my head out of my tent. The tide had gone out since I called it quits with my camera and my gently lapping front yard of waves had turned into fifty feet of pebbly sand and tide pools where a few seagulls and a heron were hunting breakfast.

I drove into the town of Bar Harbor for breakfast and walked around for a couple hours, hopping around taking photos of the beach and the piers.

To be honest, it wasn't my favorite part of the day; there were a lot of gift shops, art galleries and cute looking restaurants that I probably would have enjoyed more if I weren't by myself, but there were a lot of slow, dazed-looking tourists ambling about, tour buses idling everywhere and even a giant cruise ship pulling into port. I like cities and I like people, but wasn't in the mood for either at the time.

I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed south to roam Acadia National Park, which was beautiful and offered a few beautiful short hikes and lots of great beach turn outs. Towards sunset I stopped one last time at Seal Cove and tip toed around the waves, collecting shells, rocks, feathers and other little things that probably sound sort of crazy unless you are also a person who likes to glue such things to canvases.

Have you ever seen one of those photos of beaches so crowded that you can't even make out individual people - there is just one solid colorful swarm of umbrellas and beach chairs and people right up to the water line? Maine is the polar opposite of that; out of a dozen different beaches I poked around, maybe half had one or two other beachcombers at the time and the other half were completely empty. Obviously mid-September in the northern latitudes isn't exactly beach-going season but I had a feeling many of these shores are in a constant state empty of people, tides going in and out and in and out every day, every year, tossing up pebbles and shells and the occasional lobster buoy with barely anyone paying any notice besides sand birds.

After camping near the entrance of the campground I was feeling safe and decided to switch it up a little bit and moved my tent out onto the peninsula on the other side where there were fewer campers. Instead of being right near the shoreline, my tent was now about twenty feet above the sound on a little cliff overlooking Sheep Island and its docks and boats.

My new view:

As usual, I totally forgot to bring a cooler! So once again I stuck beers in the closest body of water to chill while I made a little fire to heat up my dinner and warm up.

There was no cell phone service in this area either so I read my book by lantern light until my fire got low, practiced some more star photography and then wrote and drew a little before falling asleep face first into my sketchbook. I woke up just as the sun was coming up, shining gently on the layer of mist blanketing the surface of the sound and making it glow. The water was as flat as puddle, mirroring the blue treetops until here and there a gull landed or took off and rippled its surface. There is no silence and serenity like that anywhere near my home in Boston so I sat there for a good hour taking it all in.

Just when this camping trip was beginning to feel suspiciously too good, it happened.

On my way to get a coffee and plan the day, my car's check engine light came on! This might not normally be a big deal, but anyone who has ever owned a thirteen years old car with 165,000 miles on it can understand the level of anxiety it provokes. Is it just a loose wire? Should I check my oil? Is there a spontaneous explosion in my near future? There's nothing that gets the imagination going quite like a mysterious car problem.

The bad thing about car problems on a road trip is that there is the potential to be stranded alone, hundreds of miles from home, with almost no cell phone service and a gigantic repair bill. The good thing is that there really isn't that much you can do besides just keep on driving home like you planned. So that's what I did, keeping a wary eye on my temperature gauge and trying to avoid potholes and mentally scolding myself each time I took an irresponsible detour, of which there were many.

An hour detour from Route 1 was Pemaquid Point Light, which shines over an intensely dramatic slope of exposed bedrock where thousands of years of waves have crashed, smoothed the rock, created mossy pools of water and slick layers of stone. I climbed the spiral staircase inside up to the light, an enormous spotless teal lens that overlooks miles and miles of flat northern sea.

I planned to spend the next night in Wolf Neck Woods near Freeport, but being so close to Portland I headed straight there to catch Portland Head Light at golden hour. It didn't disappoint!

New England is a treasure trove for anyone who loves old things, history and American nostalgia, and Maine in particular is one long adventure tale of a hardy people steadfastly carving out little towns on a somewhat desolate shore. Portland Head Light, lit in 1791, is the oldest in the state and the first to be built after the American Revolution. It's easy to reach now, but for a century or more many of the 57 lights along the Maine coast were nearly inaccessible… a light house keeper's job was actually their whole life, living (often alone) in tiny houses on rocky cliffs, battered by salty storms as they manually lit the lights and rang bells to guide ships past these unforgiving rocks. 

Every lighthouse has it's own totally insane story, like having to be continually rebuilt because rough surf would toss giant boulders ashore and damage them, or being kept by light keepers who only saw other people twice a year on supply runs. How wild is that? Through it all they stand like sentries, pillars of light guarding the shore and beckoning sailors for centuries. Thinking about this during my few days in Maine sparked an idea for this year's personal project that I hope to share by the end of the week.


  1. Love all your photos. Hope your car is okay.

  2. Such a beautiful post! I felt like I just took a little vacation with you and I'm putting this on my list of places to visit. The pictures are amazing!