On The Rooty Route To Barred Island

There are many good hiking trails on Deer Isle.  One of the nicest ones, maintained by the Nature Conservancy, is the trail that runs past Goose Cove to the Barred Island Preserve.  It’s called Barred Island — I think — because when the tide is in Barred Island is an island, but when the tide is out a land bridge forms that allows you to get out on the island without getting your feet wet.  You can see the spit of land that leads out to Barred Island in the photo above..

 

 

 

There’s just one problem:  the trail out to Barred Island, which runs through a dense forest, is just about the rootiest trail you’re ever likely to encounter.  That isn’t an issue for normal folks.  In fact, so many prior hikers have taken this route that the exposed roots are worn smooth by the tread of countless prior visitors.  But if you’re a foot-dragging stumblebum like me, it means you’ve got to carefully watch where you are planting every size 12 shoe, to make sure that you’re not going to turn an ankle or do a face plant on the next root system.

 

 

If you pause for a moment before you make the next careful step on the rooty route, though, you’ll realize that you’re in some of the nicest forest you’re likely to see.  And . . . it’s so quiet!  There’s not a sound to be heard, and if you’re walking on a day where there’s a gentle breeze, as was the case during our hike, not even insects will bother you.  There’s so much pine straw on the ground that, except when you’re walking on the roots themselves, it’s like you’re walking on a plush natural carpet.

As you approach the water, after a hike of about a mile, you begin to sense the salty ocean smell mingling with the overwhelming scent of pine.  Finally you emerge onto a scenic overlook that allows you to see out onto the water and the islands that are far away. It’s a breathtaking view. 

Once you get out to the Barred Island and the bay, you’ll encounter a fabulous waterfront scene.  To the right, across a gritty, pebble-strewn beach, is Barred Island, and to the left are more of those colossal Maine granite boulders, many of them algae covered because they fall into an intertidal zone. And beyond that lies the sailboat-studded vista of the bay.

On the way back, be sure to take the shoreline loop and the short detour to Prayer Rock.  The path leads us up to a flat granite outcropping that is far above the cove and the bay, which can be seen through the ever-present pine trees.  You’re not the first one to visit the promontory, of course — some thoughtful soul has built stone benches that are dedicated to some other people who loved this area and the beautiful view the Prayer Rock offers.

 

Alas — it’s time to return, back over the rooty path to where you began.  Watch your step, and be sure to hand that walking stick that you found to the next traveler who wants to enjoy the hike to Barred Island.

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Neon Art

I’ve always liked neon signs.  There’s something kitschy about them, of course, but also something classically American — bold, consciously attempting to be memorable and attract passersby, naked in their capitalistic purpose, and often dosed with fantasy or humor.  Plus, neon really looks cool at night.

Downtown Boston has come up with a great way to celebrate — and preserve — some of these neon relics of a.past America.  On one of the small strips of land between the downtown area and the waterfront, called the Greenway, neon signs have been positioned around the perimeter.  The signs draw visitors like moths to light.  Two of my favorites were the Siesta Motel, with its cactus and sombrero theme, and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, with its rocket ship and flaming trail.  The Siesta Motel, which dates from 1950, was located in Saugus, Massachusetts — where its southwestern-themed sign must have stood out like a sore thumb — and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, which dates from 1953, long before rocket ships were commonplace, was located in Auburn, Massachusetts.

Don’t you wish you’d had a chance to see these signs on the great American road during the ’50s, and perhaps stop at the Flying Yankee for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie?

The Long Wharf

I’m in Boston for work, staying down in the old financial district near waterfront. Last night I took a walk out onto the Long Wharf, which juts out into the Charles River. The area has been a focus of redevelopment efforts, and last night it was crowded with people getting on and off harbor boat tours, enjoying an after-work beverage and the music at an outdoor gathering spot on the wharf, and trying to decide which of the many nearby restaurants to select for the night’s dinner.

It’s a great area if you’re a Midwestern landlubber who always enjoys checking out real harbors. There were sailboats on the water, enormous chains and tie-off pilings, and a sense of bustling activity that you always get at a busy harbor. It’s a fun thing to watch and experience, and gives you a good sense of what making the waterfront easily accessible to walkers and joggers can mean for a town.

Calling For Seasonal Workers

Go to any seaside town — or for that matter, any resort, tourist destination, or other business that does seasonal work — and you’re likely to hear the same refrain:  the local shops and restaurants just can’t find enough employees to fill their needs.

summerhelp_crop380wOn one of our first nights in Stonington, we went to an event where we rubbed elbows with some of the locals, and one of the big topics of conversation was the labor shortage.  One restaurant that the residents particularly like didn’t open this summer because it just couldn’t find enough workers, and another had to cut back its meal service.  And as you walk around town, you see the same young people working at multiple places.  The young woman taking your order behind the lunch counter today is likely to be working at the local hardware store tomorrow.

There are two primary causes for this situation.  The first is the unemployment rate, which is at its lowest level in years.  In June, the unemployment rate was 4.0 percent.  Some economists think, practically speaking, that’s as close to “full employment” as America is likely to get.  That’s good news for workers, who have lots of bargaining power and who can command higher wages.  But it also means that some of the Americans who might otherwise gladly fill seasonal jobs waiting tables on the seashore or working at gift shops are already working full-time in other positions, leaving seasonal employers without the pool of labor they had drawn on in the past.

And the second cause is the H2-B program, which allows employers to obtain visas to bring in “guest workers” from overseas.  The problem, though, is that the program is capped at 66,000 visas each year — a number that hasn’t changed since 1992.  This year, more than 5,600 businesses applied for more than 142,000 such visas, and the Department of Labor had to allocate the visas by lottery.  If you weren’t one of the lucky winners — as was the case with some of the businesses here — you’re out of luck.

And it’s particularly tough for labor-intensive businesses like restaurants.  Owners can man the cash registers and restock the shelves at gift shops, but they can’t really serve as cook, waiter, busboy, and dishwasher all at the same time.  As one of the restaurants here realized, the only alternative is to not open for business.

A lot has changed in the American economy since 1992.  Maybe Congress should take a break from its constant fundraising and look at updating a program that provides a useful safety valve for small businesses who are dependent upon recruiting seasonal workers.

Not Exactly Cutthroat Capitalism

There’s a deliberate pace to life on Deer Isle that’s just different from what you see in cities. This disclosure of hours of operation on the door of a shop in the Village of Deer Isle — a shop that happened to be closed, by the way — captured the prevailing spirit perfectly.

Not open today? No problem! Just drop by tomorrow. We’ll probably be here.

At one store we visited, the proprietor was perched behind the cash register working on some acoustic guitar riffs. Chords took priority over capitalism.

Strolling The Dunham Loop

There are some fine walking paths and hiking trails on Deer Isle and Little Deer Isle.  Yesterday we decided to try the Dunham Loop, which follows country roads that circle Dunham Point.  It’s a popular stroll that is about three miles long.  Yesterday some of the fellow travelers on the Loop included two mothers pushing strollers and three young people who were using rolling skis to get in some summer training for the winter cross-country skiing season.

The Dunham Loop gives you a taste of some of the varied sights Deer Isle has to offer.  After you park your car you follow the road past a small marina and dock, and then bear right into the woods, where you get to breathe deep the tangy piney scent of some of the towering trees and enjoy the deep shade.  Along the way, from time to time, you catch a glimpse of the rocky coastline and the water through foliage.

The road then emerges from the wooded area into an open area where the water and hills are visible on the horizon, down across rolling pastures and pine trees along the shoreline.  This is an area of beautiful old farmhouses and barns — one of which had an antique pickup truck parked in front, to complete the image.  After the forest, you’re exposed to the bright sunshine, and it feels like there’s lot of elbow room.

Another right turn — on the Dunham Loop, you’re like a NASCAR driver in reverse — and you head up another country road to see more pretty homes, and a pond with lily pads and a croaking bullfrog.  The road dips and rises, and it”s so quiet you can hear the cross-country skiiers clattering in the distance behind you.  It’s almost a surprise when a car passes by.

Another right turn, and you’re back on the road toward the harbor and the boats.  There are kids playing with dogs at one of the houses you pass, where a mother holding a baby is filling an above-ground pool with water.  The road moves downward and ends at a pebbled beach dusted with oyster and mussel shells and a boat-filled vista overlooking some of the neighboring islands.  The Loop has been completed, and it has been a wonderfully simple and pleasant journey indeed.

Piloting The Boat

Dad was a car dealer.  He ran a Columbus Ford dealership from 1971 until he retired in the late ’80s.  As the manager of the dealership, he had the option of driving cars with dealer plates, the better to show the Columbus driving public some of the new options that were available in the showroom.  As a result, it was not unusual to see a different car in the driveway every night when Dad came home from work.

2f8b1531b9932fa2cad0abc8ca022eb6The good news:  that meant UJ, Cath and I got to try out some new cars when we started driving.  The bad news:  they were all ’70s-era Fords.  Ford produced some of the ugliest cars, from a design and paint job standpoint, in a decade that will be forever known as the low point for American style — whether you’re talking about automobiles, haircuts, or clothing.  Every American manufacturer lost their marbles and churned out products that had none of the sleek, appealing features of cars of the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, or ’60s, and Ford, too, produced models — like the Pinto, the Maverick, and especially the box-like Granada — that were the vehicular equivalent of the leisure suit.

For the most part, UJ, Cath and I stuck with the small cars that we’d take to high school, but from time to time we’d drive one of the big luxury cars that Dad would bring home.  During that time period, Ford had taken the Thunderbird — which started out as a cool, spiffy little roadster — and turned it into a huge, grossly overpowered monstrosity.  The 1975 Thunderbird had an enormous front with a hood that covered approximately one square acre, a half-vinyl top with tiny rear windows, a big hood ornament, and front seats that were wide enough to comfortably sleep a family of 6.

We called it “the boat,” because when you took it out on the street it was like trying to steer an ocean liner.  If you took a corner at a speed exceeding 5 m.p.h., you’d see that massive front end oh-so-slowly make the turn and you’d find yourself sliding all over that sprawling front seat.  You had to wear seat belts, a recent safety innovation, just to avoid being pitched out one of the windows.  Some cars could turn on a dime; “the boat” could probably manage to turn on a $100 bill.  In short, “handling” was not one of its top selling points — and in retrospect, I’m not sure exactly what the selling points actually might have been.

I thought of “the boat” when I ran across a news article about people who rave about American autos of the ’70s.  It’s an example of nostalgia overwhelming reality.  Me?  I’ve got no desire to return to those days of vinyl and velour and gas-guzzling enormity.  I’ll take the sensible, maneuverable cars of the current era any day.