Maine Meanderings & other North Woods Reminiscences
Living in New England provides a variety of vacation opportunities—urban, rural or away from the crowds. When Toni and I became an item she had two road bikes and I had two canoes. This was what you might call a perfect match up for recreational options. We could go biking together or canoeing with friends—and we have done both.
A love of language is another common bond for the two of us and certainly plays a role in the retirement effort you are reading at this moment. Take the word peregrine for example—the definition from Wikipedia: “Peregrine, Latin Peregrinus, is a name originally meaning “one from abroad”, that is, a foreigner, traveller, or pilgrim”. Perhaps my lifelong pleasure of chasing birds and a particular fascination with the Peregrine Falcon (the fastest bird, found the world over and migrating in the western hemisphere from the Arctic to the southern extremes of South America) says something about my wanderlust. As you will learn, whether on bikes, in a canoe or on more distant peregrinations we include bird books, binoculars and a camera. It is likely we will not be canoeing on the first road trip around the perimeter of the US and across southern Canada, so here are a few more recent images of adventures to the Connecticut lakes of northern NH.
One of our first dates was a canoe camping trip to the northeastern shores of Lake Umbagog on the Maine-New Hampshire border. It was a chance to get away and get to know each other better—of course we wanted to show our best selves and for the most part we did. This junket began quite pleasantly on a sunny spring day with us hiding her bike at our anticipated take out point, then parking my truck at the entrance to the Dartmouth Grant and canoeing downstream from the north on the Magalloway River. The warblers sang, the Rapid River gurgled and we had the campsite area to ourselves. I was familiar with this general area having first wet my fly line on this river in the company of my grandfather in 1964. Our camping trip would not have the amenities I’d remembered from the grand sporting camp of that first trip, but my companion this time had other attractive characteristics.
Early on our first morning I rose early and headed up the river to fish for trout or landlocked salmon. This was a test to see if ‘she’ could abide ‘his fishing’ and if ‘he’ could cope with ‘her sleeping in’. It worked out well. When I finally trudged back into camp, sans fish, breakfast was ready to go on the camp stove. We both passed the test! Toni still sleeps in although I have happily done most breakfast cooking since; sometimes there is fishing.
The following day was blustery and overcast; Lake Umbagog was serving up continuous rolling waves as large shallow lakes are inclined to do under these conditions. We successfully made a dry return crossing, quartering to and rolling with the waves to prevent swamping. Our take out in Errol, NH was not dry: the dock was slippery and Toni experienced a thigh deep immersion. Not to be deterred, she did bike the five miles back to the truck (after all–it was her bike). I passed the time smoking a cigar in the shed at the dock. All in all this was a very satisfactory early date and camping together became a fixture of our vacation itineraries.
Since this baptismal beginning we have continued to hold a fondness for northern lakes and Maine in general. The next getaway of note was our first trip to Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, Maine. It was a memorable long July 4th weekend where we traded the canoe for bicycles. We biked the loop road (traffic was lighter then), stopping along the way to explore overlooks toward Bar Harbor, plus Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs and on another day Paradise Hill on the Carriage Trails. We estimated the time and distance poorly, arriving famished at the Jordan Pond House. Popovers and strawberry jam never tasted so good!
When Justin was 6 months old he earned his first tent at Acadia—a survival maneuver for us because it was the only way he would sleep through the night. When the children were young we stayed in a commercial campground on Somes Sound with hot showers. There was a dock where the kids could bait and catch crabs with a dip net. Oh yes, and also a camp store with ice cream.
This park was also the trial run for our first (retrofit) camper trailer. We hauled our bikes in it and the side mounted “Chuck Wagon” made camp meals easier but we still slept in a tent. Soon our family of four were biking on the famous carriage roads in Acadia—the brain child of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Designed to connect the various ‘cottages’ of summer residents on Mt. Desert, they are now available for horseback riding, bicycling and hiking–with or without the dog.
The bridges on these carriage roads are one of the more spectacular features, each individually designed for the terrain at their specific location. Ultimately Mr. Rockefeller in conjunction with other local notables gave this land of mountains, lakes and ocean shore back to the citizens of the USA. There are so many non profits preserving land on Mt. Desert and other areas of Maine that each trip we explore some new find along the coast.
The Cranberry Islands is one of these cherished discoveries. Put the bikes on the mail boat and escape the car traffic for a day. It was during the first island exploration that we learned about Ashley Bryan—an African American author/illustrator and year round resident of Islesford on Little Cranberry Island. Of the many people we have encountered during our travels he is the one with the biggest heart and most open door for visits from friends (or friends to be). 25 years later we continue the pilgrimage to his door whenever we are in the area. For the past two years we have journeyed there for a post-season painting workshop for Toni and a 3 day stay on the island for me and Loca (our Chihuahua-Jack Russell cross). In September of 2016 this was a blessed escape from the media and presidential campaign.
Our good friends Tim and Kathy have reason to be on Mt. Desert annually in early August. Tim is the president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and has some high pressure responsibilities at their August annual meeting there. Kathy, formerly a co-worker with Toni, now shares the same MSW degree and ACSW accreditation in social work with her. For several years we have joined Tim there at the end of his MCHT meetings for a few days of relaxation. Some of our favorite haunts are Thuya Garden, Cooksie Overlook and Hunter Beach.
Summer trips to Maine eventually led us to explore the coast north of Acadia including Pigeon Hill in Steuben, ME, the Bold Coast in Cutler, ME (preserved by the state of Maine), Campobello Island (FDR’s family summer home-now Roosevelt Campobello International Park), Gaspe Peninsula, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island.
Downeast Escapes and beyond
Over the years we have ventured beyond Mt. Desert and further down east. The term Down East or Downeast as many Mainers use it originated as a sailing term during the days when goods were transported by sailing ships along the New England coast and into the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Prevailing winds along the northern coast of the US originated from the southwest; hence the sailors were running downwind to the east. Sailing ships which were modifications of the Clipper Ship design so they could haul more cargo were named Down Easters.
Some years these junkets Downeast were an extension of a vacation to Mt. Desert and at other times they were destination vacations. Along US Rte 1, one hour north of Mt. Desert in Steuben, ME there is a low effort-high reward hike up Pigeon Hill, the highest coastal property in Washington County, rising 317 feet above sea level. The 170-acre Pigeon Hill Preserve acquisition was a joint effort of Great Auk Land Trust (now Downeast Coastal Conservancy) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Nearby is the Petit Manan NWR.
Another 1.5 hours leads to an area called the Bold Coast due to the dramatic rocky cliffs which front the Bay of Fundy near Cutler, ME. This area is part of the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land 12,000 acre preserve owned by the state of Maine. This little traveled natural area has 10 miles of trails which lead through spruce-fir forest and peat bogs, down between rocky cliffs to pocket cobble beaches. Three campsites invite some to stay overnight. We hiked the short trail in an out on a day trip from Acadia. Beautiful clear skies accompanied us through the hike, an afternoon thunderstorm hit as we arrived back at the car, clearing 20 minutes later as we arrived at our next hike on the shore. Sometimes the weather gods are with us.
Lubec, ME and Campobello Island have twice been a destination for our northern journeys. Quoddy Head light in Lubec and Campobello Island (FDR’s family summer home-now Roosevelt Campobello International Park) delight us. The drive across the small bridge delivers an experience in many ways different from Maine. It is has a quiet rural feel along the main road, charming with its old homes and invites exploring the coastal natural areas as well as the International Park which shares the name of this New Brunswick island. The NP is the only one staffed by residents of two nations. The tours of the Roosevelt residence include one special event which was especially enlightening. “Tea with Eleanor” was a presentation (with tea and cookies) by two Canadian women who tag teamed a theatrical presentation of the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. They captured her personality and strong willed idealism perfectly—clearly they held her as a role model in their lives.
Nova Scotia has also lured us twice. From Yarmouth to Sidney we have driven both coasts. The quaint fishing towns in the deeply indented harbors of the Atlantic side and the 30 foot tides of the Bay of Fundy where reversing falls and a tidal bore power plant are both enchanting in their own way. The pastel village of Isle Petit-de-Grat led us to its uninhabited, windswept coast where we spent hours one afternoon as the only inhabitants. A boat birding trip to a Puffin nesting site brought a delightful morning of pelagic bird watching.
One year a dramatic weather change demanded a reversal, back tracking our Cabot Trail drive of two days along the coast of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This change from the more usual overcast and fog to brilliant sunshine provided a day of photography of this dramatic coastline. From a highland overlook one day we saw a large pod of pilot whales. A hike on the Skyline Trail rewarded us with a number of moose sightings including a large bull resting under a tree and a cow with calf. A variety of plant life included alpine wildflowers and a high elevation bog with pitcher plants, sundew, wild orchids, miniature Rhododendron, Bog Laurel and others.
One summer, when the children were still young, we extended our Canadian trip to Prince Edward Island. That must have been in the mid-nineties since it was just before the Confederate bridge (opened to traffic in May 1997) connected mainland New Brunswick, Canada to the island. During these long road trips we used to pass the time by listening to book tapes. And on this trip what else but book tapes about Anne of Green Gables when we were heading for a week of camping not far from Anne’s Land and the town of Cavendish, PEI. Among the memories of that week, one was listening to the audio tape titled, Jane of Lantern Hill over and over again as I was transported into the life of this young girl who lived with her grandparents(I was convinced the male book reader was her father who recently renewed his relationship with her). The other was pulling into the campground and seeing that our neighbors were another rainbow family with 3 daughters just after our Ruby spoke the words, “Daddy, Justin always finds friends, will you help me find some friends this week?” What a wonderful week with Jon, Sonia and their 3 daughters (just the right age) exploring the island from end to end. Jon and Sonia are still good friends and we hope to see them in Ottawa towards the end of our road trip come July.
Stay tuned for our blog entries from the road by the Vermont Teardrop Travelers.