The Lily Pond Walk

On Sunday Kish and I took one of our favorite walks on Deer Isle, on the Dunham Point Road. It’s a circular route that starts at the shoreline and the grounds of the Deer Isle Yacht Club, skirts the sweep of a stony beach, then heads inland through towering forest, where the air is heavy with the scent of pine. After a ramble through the trees the road emerges in a farm area with a view of the Eggemoggin Reach in the far distance, and passes a house on a hill that looks like it could have been the setting for the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World. Then we turn right onto Perez Road and head uphill to my favorite stretch of road, where we might encounter a cyclist or two on the rolling hills, and just before we turn down toward the shore again we find this perfect little lily pond, peaceful and quiet, with its floating pink flowers and lily pads and unruffled water that gives a mirror-like reflection of the scenery above.

In short, in a walk of a few miles, the Dunham Point Road gives a glimpse of just about every form of topography our island has to offer.

It’s been a busy year on Deer Isle, with lots of tourists downtown and on the trails and at the parks. But the Dunham Point Road trek is off the beaten path even by Deer Isle standards, and we usually have it pretty much to ourselves. That’s one reason why it’s a favorite.

Scratching The Seven-Year Itch

Today I played golf for the first time in seven years. Russell, Kish, and I went to the Island Country Club, a nine-hole track here on Deer Isle. It’s a pretty little course nestled in a pine forest. Surprisingly, for a course on an island, there were no water hazards.

It was a fun outing. Having not played in years, I played without the curse of high expectations. I hit the ball pretty well and played bogey golf, with three pars. I walked and carried my bag, to be sure to maximize the exercise element of the outing.

My short game needs work, obviously, but I did end the round on a high note by rattling in an 18-footer on the ninth hole. Golf is a lot more enjoyable when you just go out and play without worrying about your score.

The Art Of Presentation

When I first started going out to eat, and for most of my dining career, restaurants didn’t seem to pay much attention to the presentation of the food on the plate, or the design or decoration of the table, or the decor of the restaurant itself. You might get a sprig of parsley on your plate next to the baked potato as you sat in a dim room, but that’s about it.

The American foodie scene has changed all that—and how. In addition to offering fresh, local food that is packed with flavor, modern restaurants pay much more attention to the whole eating experience, from the point of entry to the end of the meal. The holistic approach makes for a far more enjoyable, and interesting, dining experience, where you can’t help but admire and appreciate the effort that has gone into making sure that your meal is a wonderful time.

Aragosta, where we went for a fantastic meal last night, is at the top of the line when it comes to attention to detail. From the bright interior and huge windows that leave the dining room bathed in light and present a terrific view of Goose Cove, to the little touches like the delicate fresh flowers on the table, to the presentation of the excellent food on the plate, the chef and proprietors have thoughtfully considered every detail. And the plates themselves—shown here by photographs of two of our courses from our meal last night—are like individual works of art, featuring beautifully arranged rocks, mosses, shells, ferns, pine cones, white birch bark, and other accent pieces—all of it local. I’ve never been to Japan, but I expect that the experience of dining at Aragosta is a lot like eating in a fine Japanese restaurant.

I’m an old codger who has to resist reflexively thinking that things were better way back when. But I have no hesitation in saying that the experience of dining out in America has improved tremendously during my lifetime, and is light years better now than it was in the ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s. Aragosta is exhibit A in support of that conclusion.

The Deer Get The Last Laugh

Thursday night the Montauk daisy buds were out in force and on the cusp of blooming —finally!—and the only question in my mind was whether we would see the plant in its full-flowered glory before we returned to Columbus.

But when I awoke on Friday morning I found that the marauding band of deer had paid us an overnight visit, come right up to the stairs, and chewed off dozens of the buds, leaving only one or two sad and shaken reminders of what the daisy could have been. And so two of the principal gardening storylines of the summer — the Great Deer Battle of 2020 and the Waiting for Godot-like delay in the blooming of the Montauk daisy — have coalesced, weeks of anticipation have been dashed, and the thuggish deer herd of the Greenhead peninsula has had the last laugh. May those white tailed reprobates be consigned to some flowerless hell!

But one battle does not determine a war, and the deer’s triumph in 2020 just means I will have to redouble my deer resistance efforts in 2021. I guess you should plan on that when you decide to try gardening in a place called Deer Isle. In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for the hunters of Deer Isle to shoot straight and true when deer season rolls around in a few weeks. In this clash, I could use some allies.

Rutting Season

The other day we were talking to one of the locals.  Russell mentioned that on his recent hikes he’s seen more deer activity, and has had to be careful driving in the wooded areas of Deer Isle to avoid collisions with deer charging out of the underbrush.  The local nodded sagely and said, simply:  “rutting season.”

(Whenever somebody says anything involving a “season,” my mind automatically cycles to a classic Looney Tunes where Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny are ripping hunting posters off a telephone poll, arguing “Rabbit Season!” and “Duck Season!” with increasing vehemence, only to finally expose an “Elmer Season” poster.  But, I digress.)

In this part of Maine, “rutting season” is serious business, and as much a time of year as winter, spring, or summer.  It’s the period where hormones are surging in the whitetail deer population and the cervidae are feeling the overpowering urge to mate.  During the height of “the rut,” Mainers will see antlered male deer “sparring” in fields and clearing, fighting for the right to court a choice female deer.  And when the rutting season arrives in full force, you’ve really got to watch it in the woods or on the roads, to keep an eye out for crazed, wild-eyed deer crashing out of the trees, in the grip of raw biological forces that are totally beyond their control.  Licensed hunters–especially bow hunters, apparently–think rutting season is the best season of the year.

Interestingly, nobody is quite sure when the rutting season truly begins, and some of the more scientific sorts divide the period into “pre-rut,” “rut,” and “post-rut” subperiods, characterized by different deer activity like males leaving scrapes on trees and then “seeking,” “chasing,” and “tending.”  Apparently the onset of the rut is affected by the shorter days, and colder temperatures . . . and it has gotten a lot cooler up here lately.  I’ve noticed increased deer activity even in our neighborhood, with a lot more signs of deer messing with the plants–and changes in eating patterns evidently are another sign of the onset of rutting season.  If we’re not in the “pre-rut” phase, we’re getting close.

So, brace yourself!  “Rutting season” may be near upon us.  And now that we’re going to be dealing with it, I’ll never describe myself as “being in a rut” again.

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.

Into The Great Green Silence

When you get a chance to get away from it all, you should take full advantage of the opportunity.  I’ve been trying to follow that principle and get in a few last hikes around Deer Isle before we have to head back to civilization.

The Edgar Tennis Preserve is a pretty good place to appreciate nature in all its quiet, colorful glory.  We’re at the tail end of the season, so there aren’t many hikers to share the trails — which means the Preserve is as quiet as the world gets.  It is as if the moss and the ferns and the pine straw on the trail swallow any random bits of noise, and all you’re likely to hear is the whisper of the breeze through the branches of the pine trees towering overhead.  If you like silence — and who doesn’t, from time to time? — this is a good place for you.

And the colors are brilliant — even if they are, for the most part, shades of green.  The leaves of the trees and the ferns are clinging to the last bit of 60s temperatures to maintain their green finery to the last, until the fall colors finally emerge. If you were looking for a particular shade of green, this would be the place to come — the Preserve has the entire spectrum covered, from the deep green of the pine trees in shade to the bright, sun-dappled green of the moss and ferns as they are hit by rays of sunlight.

You can follow an old country road down to the foundations of a long-abandoned salt water farm where apple trees planted by the settlers — with green apples, of course — mix with the encroaching forest.  A small footpath winds down to a tidal pool, where the water is clear as crystal and looks green itself, thanks to the algae-covered rocks below.

Name Upgrade

Just last year, it bore the straightforward but dismissively insulting name “Dump Road.” But the same impulses that caused someone to come up with “pre-owned vehicles” rather than “used cars” and to rebrand the Patagonian Toothfish into Chilean Sea Bass were brought to bear, and “Dump Road” became the considerably more upscale and environmentally friendly “Transfer Station Road.” There’s still a town dump on the road, of course, but that’s beside the point. Dump Road deserved a better name.

What Deer Isle road is next up for a new moniker? Weedfield Road, perhaps? Let’s see . . . how about Wilderness Trace? Or maybe Natural Lane?

Hiking The Tennis

This week Russell, Betty, and I took a hike on the Edgar Tennis Preserve — one of the nicest trails in Stonington. You can walk on the rim of the peninsula, getting a chance to explore the shoreline and some of the tidal areas, or choose one of the trails the cross the peninsula and take you inland through piney forest and meadow.

Whichever way you go, you’ll enjoy lots of fresh air, some beautiful views, interesting colors — particularly at low tide, as it was when we visited — and exposure to some of the diverse ecosystems found on Deer Isle. There are lots of good hikes on Deer Isle, and the Tennis Preserve is one of the best.

A Quiet, Peaceful Place

Yesterday we took a hike around Lily’s Pond. In the summer it is a popular swimming spot, but yesterday, with the season over, not a soul was around. It was totally silent, and there wasn’t even a breath of wind — leaving the water unruffled and as reflective as a looking glass.

They say everyone needs to have a peaceful, happy place to think of when they need to escape the hurly-burly rush of modern life. When I need to mentally visit that quiet place, I’ll be thinking of Lily’s Pond, just as it was yesterday.

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.

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.

The Ole Swimmin’ Hole

The ocean alone the Maine coastline is scenic and rugged, but it’s pretty brisk for a leisurely swim. So when the Deer Isle residents want to take a dip, they head to the “Lily Pond,” don their swimming caps, and make like Mark Spitz. When we visited today, some of the swimmers were impressively doing freestyle laps from one end of the pond to the other — which is a distance of at least several hundred yards.

The Lily Pond has been the swimming hole for so long that generations of Deer Islers used the same rope swing, on the same tree, to launch themselves out into the pond. Alas! Some years ago the tree broke and the rope swing was a tradition and rite of passage no longer. The locals say the Pond just hasn’t been the same since.

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.