I don’t get tired of looking at boats, and of all the boats I like the graceful sailboats the best. Watching them glide by is a treat, and it reminded me of a nice bit of poetry about the lure of the sea and the “tall ship” boats:
Sea Fever by John Masefield
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Sometimes the morning fog makes the world of Stonington look . . . different. This morning, the mist shrouding the sun as I returned from my walk gave this scene of the harbor from the foot of the Greenhead peninsula a kind of flat, monochromatic feel that looked like something you might see in a National Geographic article on Southeast Asia.
Long ago I took a photography class and learned about “f stops” and prolonged exposures and the techniques you needed to use to take a good nighttime photo. I even had a 35 mm camera. But that knowledge and camera are long gone. These days, my camera is my phone, and if I can make those kinds of adjustments to the camera app I don’t know how to do it, anyway.
The nighttime can be beautiful here, with a full spread of crystal stars and the harbor limned silver by the handful of lights downtown. And when the full moon is out and over the harbor, shining on the scattered clouds above and the water below, it’s just bright enough to try a phone camera shot.
It doesn’t fully capture the scene, but it’s the best I can do. I probably need to get a real camera again.
Yesterday I took the photograph above on my morning walk. As I looked at the sky, I thought: “Clear skies are nice, but clouds make the picture more interesting.”
And the combination of the picture and that saying made me think, inevitably, of refrigerator magnets.
Mom was a big refrigerator magnet person. Some of you, at least, are familiar with what I’m describing. The magnets always had both a picture and a saying. And usually the combination of the photograph and the saying was aiming for purported wisdom and vaguely aspirational notions, in the sense of accepting life’s challenges with a positive attitude and sense of resolve, or maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. An example might be a photo of a crew team rowing on the water, and the saying might be “we make better progress when we all pull together,” or something along those lines.
The picture above with the saying “clear skies are nice, but clouds make the picture more interesting” would be a classic refrigerator magnet of that genre. Someone would look at it as they are getting ready to make their sandwich for today’s working remotely lunch, nod at its pseudo sagacity, and eat their lunch with a renewed sense of purpose.
If you’ve ever been out west — into the countryside, not the big cities like Denver or Phoenix — you know that people who live there tend to have a different sense of property, and physical space.
Out west, things tend to get left where they are likely to be used again, rather than carefully returned to a garage or shed, stored, and locked up. There’s plenty of space and room for everything, it never rains so what’s the big deal, and who’s going to come by and steal the stuff, anyway? If you go out into the countryside, you’re likely to see things strewn about the property around many of the houses and trailers, whether it’s a car being worked on with parts left on a tarp, or a half-completed structure that looks like it hasn’t been worked on for a while. Some people might think it looks junky, but others would say it is trusting, and relaxed, and practical, besides. The owner bought all that wide-open space for a reason, so why not use it?
Maine has a bit of that devil-may-care quality that I usually associate with the west. As you walk around, you’re likely to see things just left outside, right where they are going to be used again. Boats, kayaks, canoes, oars, lobster traps, buoys, and boat trailers dot the landscape, and nobody seems to notice or care. It’s a much more relaxed mindset. Where city dwellers would have reflexive concern about potential theft, Mainers know from experience that it’s not likely that someone is going to steal a green kayak. And they are right: the police report section of the local paper really doesn’t report much in the theft department.
Getting used to this attitude requires Midwestern city dwellers like me to make a bit of a mental downshift, but once you get comfortable with it, it’s actually quite pleasant.
Sometimes it’s worth going out onto the rocks to get a photograph. This is a picture taken yesterday morning of the houses along the waterfront of the Greenhead peninsula, just to the west of Stonington’s city center. There wasn’t a breath of wind, and the water was as reflective as a looking glass.
A heavy fog moved ashore last night, leaving the world mist-shrouded and opaque for my walk this morning. As I walked down Main Street toward the center of town, this scene seemed hauntingly familiar. It reminded me of a vista from a dream, where everything lacks sharp edges and seems somehow unfinished.
Maine is, almost by definition, off the beaten track, and it has a lot of parks and natural areas that are not very well known. One of them is the Holbrook Island Sanctuary. Yesterday morning Kish and I went “off island” to the mainland to visit the Sanctuary and get in some hiking on a sunny, late summer day.
The Holbrook Island Sanctuary is a huge nature preserve in Brooksville that has been kept in a natural state for decades. The property was acquired by a nature lover, Anita Harris, who donated the land to the state of Maine in 1971, and things seem to have been kept as they were then. The area is so rustic that the roadways in and out are packed earth, rather than asphalt, and the only facilities are a picnic area and a few outhouses. But it offers lots of interesting trails, the ruins of abandoned buildings, some old family cemeteries, and a chance to explore some of the different Maine ecosystems, from rocky coastlines to mud flats to steep hills, marshes, ponds, and deeply forested woodland mixed with intermittent meadows. It’s a favorite destination for birders, hikers, and nature lovers. The Maine state park website says that “alert visitors can see abundant signs of deer, fox, muskrat, beavers, otter, porcupine, bobcat and coyote.” We apparently were not sufficiently alert — hey, it was pretty early in the morning, after all! — because we didn’t see any of those critters, but we did see a lot of birds.
The Sanctuary has nine trails, none of which seem to be super-difficult. We took the Back Shore trail, which is well-marked and winds through forest and meadows and takes you past one of the cemeteries, where the gravestones date back to the 1830s, down to a rocky shore on the Penobscot Bay. We got to the shore at close to low tide, which meant we got a good look at the shellfish shells and the seaweed-covered rock beach. From the shoreline you can watch sailboats glide by and catch a commanding view of Castine, Maine, on the opposite side of the bay.
The Holbrook Island Sanctuary is a pretty place, and a kind of hidden gem. With eight more trails to check out, we’ll definitely be back.
The pier at Greenhead Lobster provides a pretty good view of the west side of Stonington. The houses are built into the hillside and rise in rows from the water’s edge. The slope of the hillside is so abrupt that houses that are not right on the water still can have a commanding view of the bay. In local realtor parlance, they are not “waterfront,” but “water view.”
When you look at the town from Greenhead, you notice the colors. Most of the boats and houses are white, which itself gives a very Maine-y look, but some bolder colors are mixed in here and there — bright yellows and blues and reds, stately gray, and Opera House green. For some reason primary colors just look natural on the waterfront.
Yesterday we took a “puffin tour” — a boat ride that took us several miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Our destination was Seal Island, where we hoped to find puffins, and seals, and any other marine creatures or birds that might care to drop by. It was a beautiful day and a very enjoyable ride. We saw puffins galore, lots of seals, cormorants, sun fish, and even a few porpoises. One person on the boat claimed to see a whale in the distance, too.
But puffins, really, were the reason for the excursion. Puffins are cute little birds that look somewhat like a cross between a penguin and a parrot. But here’s the thing about puffins: they’re pretty much impossible for the amateur nature photographer to capture. They float and bob on the ocean water, looking simply like indistinct black spots on the sun-dappled waves, as the photo above reflects. The water shots therefore don’t exactly make for striking pictures. And when the puffins decide to fly, they take off very fast, beating their wings as rapidly as hummingbirds, and stay low to the water, skimming its surface. They’re notoriously shy, too, and scatter when a boat gets too close — so no close-ups. You might take hundreds of photos and be lucky to find one, like the one below, that gives even a reasonably decent look at a puffin in flight.
Seals, too, aren’t exactly easy to photograph. Yesterday they were in the water, looking at us, rather than lounging on the rocks and inviting a photo shoot. And seal heads popping out of the water to gander at a boat basically look like more black spots on the waves.
Fortunately, the cormorants of Seal Island were willing to perch on the rocks and give us a chance to take a snapshot. They were far away, and they may not be as cute as those adorable puffins, but at least they stand still.
The puffin tour was fun and interesting, and the whole experience gave me a new appreciation for National Geographic photographers.
Last night we took a boat trip and headed due west to North Haven, an island community that is about a 45-minute boat ride from Stonington. On the way we enjoyed the sunshine and the salt air and the sailboats and the sighting of some seals lounging on a rocky outcropping in the water.
Our destination was the Nebo Lodge, an inn and restaurant on North Haven that is a favorite of ours. We had a fine meal at Nebo and brief walk around North Haven before we headed back to reboard the boat so we could make it back to Stonington before nightfall.
Our timing was impeccable, because the skies were clear, the sun hung low on the horizon, and the wispy clouds etched dazzling patterns high above as our boat steamed back east. We sat on the stern and watched the boats sail past, silhouetted by the sinking sun.
Dr. Science, the ultimate rationalist, observed the the sun was just the equivalent of countless hydrogen bombs exploding in an empty void. But the GV Jogger, Kish and I scoffed at his clinical analysis, knowing deep down that Old Sol was painting a brilliant canvas just for us, and we were going to enjoy every minute of the show — and take some pictures to remember it.
As we drew nearer to Burnt Cove, the sun dipped inexorably down and the horizon flared orange, leaving the waters a deep purple and the clouds fully backlit and glowing.
By the time we reached Burnt Cove harbor, the western horizon sill blazed with a warm but dimming celestial fire, while darkness was falling to the east. Our captain deftly steered between the docked boats as we took in the last scenes in the sun’s big show.
To the east, the clouds high above still caught the sun’s bright rays, and looked like wisps of pink cotton candy reflected in the waters of Burnt Cove. The blue sky looked vast and endless.
As we docked and disembarked, the sky was the color of cinnamon and salmon and every hue in between. Dr. Science may be right about the sun just being a colossal hydrogen bomb, but it really does put on a pretty good show.
Yesterday we paid a visit to the shores of the Eggemoggin Reach. The Reach is a channel of water that runs between the mainland and Deer Isle and Little Deer Isle. It’s a very popular spot for boaters — especially sailboats — because the waterway runs like a road between two attractive shorelines and includes sights like the Pumpkin Island lighthouse, shown in the picture above, and some beautiful old houses on the shores, like the ones shown in the photo below. On a warm, sunny day with bright blue skies and wispy clouds that seem to stretch into eternity, even gruff old guys in rowboats enjoy their time on the Reach.
We ended our time on the Reach with a visit to Bridge End Park, the imaginatively named park at the foot of the Deer Isle-Sedgwick suspension bridge. (Nobody spends too much time in these parts of Maine coming up with creative names for parks or roads, incidentally — they’d rather just give you factual information, and leave the rhetorical gestures to people with more time on their hands.) At the park you can get some good ice cream, sit at a picnic table, and watch the sailboats on the Reach cruise gracefully by, framed by the sky and the bright green bridge. Name of the park notwithstanding, it’s a pretty little area that could move a person to poetry.
My morning walk takes me on a short stretch of Bayview Street, which runs along the eastern part of Stonington’s harbor. There are some old wooden stairs, worn smooth by the feet of the countless lobstermen, that lead from street level down to the colossal boulders edging the waters. This morning I interrupted my walk to capture this dramatic scene, as rain clouds began to roll in from the west.
There are always outboard boats coming into and heading out of the main pier at Stonington harbor, but you can tell whether the lobster fleet is out in force by the number of boats tied up at the floating outboard dock.
The lobster crews take the outboard boats out to their larger craft and anchor them in the harbor before they board the bigger boats to head out to sea for some serious lobstering. If the floating dock is empty, that means the big boats are out and hauling up hundreds of lobster traps, hoping for a good catch. If the dock is full, as it was this morning, that means the lobster crews are taking it easy and bracing themselves for tomorrow’s work day.
For the lobsters, Sunday tends to be a day of rest.
There are a number of reasons why you would wake up at 5 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in Stonington:
(1) It was warmer than normal last night, so you slept with the windows wide open to get some of that cool seaside air;
(2) At 5 a.m., the pick-up trucks carrying the sternmen are racing to the piers, and some of the early moving captains have their lobster boats revved up and moving out to the open water;
(3) With the sun peeking over the eastern horizon, the birds decide it’s a good time to call out to each other to make sure that all of the other birds in the neighborhood made it through the night okay; and
(4) When you get up to shut the windows and look outside, you see a sunrise that looks like a painting and you decide the better course would be to enjoy it for a while.