The Morning View From Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive is a short stretch of road that splits off from Allen Street and then hugs the shoreline as it runs down to Greenhead Lobster.  At that fork in the road there is a manhole cover — specifically, manhole cover #123, which we know because all Stonington manhole covers bear green, neatly spray-painted identification numbers.  When the lobstermen who moor their boats in the western edge of the Stonington harbor drive to Greenhead to park their pickup trucks and take their skiffs out to their big boats in the morning, they hit old #123 as they veer onto Ocean Drive and make a distinctive “clink CLUNK” sound as the manhole cover rattles under the weight of the passing trucks.  Most mornings, that clink CLUNK is the first sound I hear.

Ocean Drive is a bit of a misnomer, because the Atlantic Ocean is still several miles away, shielded from the harbor by many islands.  But it’s not hard to imagine that, as the lobstermen turn left at the Ocean Drive split, give #123 a good rattle, smell the salt air, and catch the sunrise view shown above in the morning, it helps them get mentally ready for another hard day of lobstering.

On The Trail

This part of Maine is blessed with some fine hiking trails, and thanks to the Island Heritage Trust, Deer Isle has more than its share. A good hiking trail is a great place to rediscover the simple pleasure of a walk in the woods, and reengage with that inner child who has been buried under decades of life and countless layers of adult obligations. You can’t help but feel a bit like a kid again when you balance on some two-by-fours laid over the boggy areas or are tempted to skip a stone on the still waters of a pond.

It’s been a busy summer for us, and the occasional hikes have been an effective and much appreciated stress relief mechanism. As the summer draws to a close, we always regret that we didn’t take a few more, and vow that next summer we won’t make the same mistake.

Through Morning Mist

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.

On the Glacial Erratic Trail

The glaciers descended on Deer Isle, as they did across most of the northern United States.  With their immense force and grinding power, they reshaped the landscape, scooping out harbors and inlets and coves and beveling the shoreline.  When the glaciers finally receded, after staying for millennia, they left behind the craggy Maine coastline we now know and love, as well as colossal, non-native rocks that the glaciers had brought with their initial inexorable advance.

Yesterday, on a foggy Labor Day morning, Russell and Betty and I explored some of the glaciers’ handiwork through a hike on the glacial erratic trail at the Old Settlement Quarry Island Heritage Trust site.  It’s a beautiful trail that winds through the woods and lets you see some of the glacial debris up close — like the enormous metamorphic rock pictured above that the glaciers brought with them on their visit and then left in place, deposited on top of the native Maine granite — as well as an alpine meadow, with its “snow in summer” plant life, pictured to the right. 

The Island Heritage Trust has done a fabulous job with all of the trails and hiking sites on Deer Isle, and the glacial erratic trail, and the rest of the Old Settlement Quarry site, is one of the best trails they have developed.  Thanks to the Island Heritage Trust, the people of Stonington will never have to worry about having a good place for a stimulating pre-breakfast hike on a Labor Day morning.

The glacial erratic trial ends at the old quarry itself, which also offers a lot of interesting viewing.  For decades, the granite-cutting business was a key part of the economy in this area, and the old quarry site gives you a glimpse of how the work was done — and just how tough that work was.  In the photo at left you can see the holes the granite workers drilled to place explosive charges to try to take advantage of fissures and split the rock into the desired shapes and sizes, and some of the precision work that was done, like the huge “box cut” pictured below that blasted out a massive square of granite.  It must have been an incredibly noisy and dangerous place to work.

The Old Settlement Quarry site sits atop a dome of granite that usually offers a commanding view of some of the islands and inlets of Deer Isle.  Thanks to a thick blanket of fog, we didn’t get the expected view, but we did see lots of rock — both the erratic rock dropped off by the glaciers, and the immense piles of granite “grout” left behind from the quarry operations.  If you like rock, the glacial erratic trail at the Old Settlement Quarry site is the hike for you.

Harbor Moon

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.

At The Burnt Cove Boil

Tonight we tried a new place for dinner. It’s called the Burnt Cove Boil, and it was great. I only wish we’d found it sooner.

In Maine, if you’re talking about a “boil,” you’re talking about shellfish. The BCB offers you a prime picnic table right next to the waters of Burnt Cove, paper towels, a succulent Stonington crab, steamed corn on the cob, a whole lobster, a wooden pick to extricate the crab and lobsters meat, and an ice cream sandwich for dessert — all for a very reasonable price. Oh, and one other thing — a baseball-sized rock to smash the assorted claws, legs, and tails as part of the participatory dining process. Beverages are BYOB.

The food was terrific and fresh from the boat, the setting was beautiful, and the shellfish smashing felt pretty darned satisfying after a long day of remote work. Burnt Cove Boil, in Stonington, is highly recommended. Be sure to ask for Jake.

Harbor Dreamscape

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.

At The Holbrook Island Sanctuary

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.

Colors Of Stonington

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.

How Cold Is The Water Up There?

One question people frequently ask us is:  “How cold is the seawater up in Maine?  Can you swim in the ocean?”

It’s not an easy question to answer.  Some people enjoy the bracing ocean waters — but only if they are wearing wetsuits.  Others stick to the shallow water, where at least the majority of their bodies can enjoy the sun’s heat.  And, admittedly, there are others, who apparently count polar bears among their distant ancestors, who will actually splash around in the water in nothing but a bathing suit.  I tip my hat to those foolhardy and intrepid souls.

But here’s a concrete example of how cold the water is.  During a recent visit from friends, on a beautiful, sunny day, we took a favored hike through the Barred Island Preserve out to the shoreline across from Barred Island — so called because it is blocked from the mainland by a tidal channel at all but low tide, when you can walk over while the water is receded.  When we got to the crossing point it was about midway between low tide and high tide, and the water was a little over knee-high for an adult male.  The distance to the island through the water was maybe 30 yards or so, as shown in the picture above. 

I tried to walk over — but just couldn’t do it.  The water was so brutally cold it was a shock to the system, like plunging your face into ice cube-filled water — except colder, somehow.  It took my breath away, and my feet almost immediately became numb.  The thought of going knee-deep in the frigidity, even if only for a short 30-yard slog over to the island, was unimaginable.  So call me a wuss — but I declined.  I’ll save the stroll over to Barred Island for a day when I get there at low tide and can walk over without experiencing water so cold it is like a punch to the gut. 

There is one good thing about the ocean water temperature in Maine — when you step out of the water and let the sun heat your chilled feet back to normal temperatures, it really feels good.  That’s how cold the water is.

The Great Puffin Photo Challenge

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.

On The Way Back From Nebo

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.

Life On The Reach

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.

Without The Mighty Tourism Dollar

Italy is suffering.  Every year — until 2020 — Italy has welcomed millions of tourists from the United States, who spend billions of dollars enjoying the charms of one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  Those tourism dollars are a huge part of the Italian economy and help to keep thousands of people employed.

empty-rome.jpg.1200x800_q85_cropBut . . . it’s 2020, which means everything has changed.  With Italy being a COVID-19 “hot spot” in the early days of the pandemic, and the United States and other countries continuing to deal with coronavirus issues, tourism from America to Italy has plummeted.  The principal hotel association in Rome says 90 percent of the hotels there remain closed, and estimates that the hotel  closure is causing an economic loss of about $115 million per month.  Restaurants are operating at much lower capacity, and the residents of Rome report that it feels almost empty without the throngs of tourists.  It’s hard to imagine Roman landmarks like the Pantheon, shown above, without huge crowds of visitors.  In fact, you might say that this would be an ideal time to visit Italy . . . but for the global pandemic.

And you have to wonder — will there be a long-term impact on tourism and travel, to Italy and elsewhere?  It’s pretty clear that travel helps to spread pandemics, which gives the notion of tourism a kind of risky taint — but once they get going, pandemics are notoriously nondiscriminatory in their impact and eventually are going to hit, and hurt, every country.  If a reliable vaccine is developed — a big if — will Americans go back to favorite destinations like Italy, or France?  Or, will they to stick closer to home for the time being and choose to travel within the U.S., until the dust settles and other tourists returning from their trips give the all-clear to travel overseas?  The Italian tourist industry representatives quoted in the article linked above seem confident American tourists will be back because they just can’t get enough of Rome and the Tuscan sun, but  after 2020 . . . well, who knows?

We’ve got an overseas trip planned for 2021 and certainly hope to be going — but between now and then we are going to be paying pretty close attention to news about vaccines, and outbreaks, and other medical developments that we wouldn’t have even considered before this year.  I’m guessing that we’re not alone.