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.

On Bayview Street

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.

Lobsters’ Day Off

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.

The 5 O’Clock Wake Up Call

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.  

What Is Missing?

This is an interesting and surprising photograph I took today at Sand Beach Park. It’s surprising because something is clearly missing in this picture of three little kids playing on the rocks at the corner of the beach.

Can you see what is absent?

It’s parents, of course. The parents were about 50 yards away — close enough to keep an eye on the kids and get over there quickly in case of a mishap, but otherwise content to let the kids explore on their own and have some fun. In the current time of helicopter parents, such long-distance, trusting parenting is as rare as a handshake — and as surprising.

Of course, what these parents were doing used to be the norm. My parents let us run free in our neighborhood — and take risks, and skin our knees, and have fun, and hopefully learn something from our experiences in the process. Shockingly, we survived . . . because kids actually are pretty savvy about risks and learn quickly. That’s what childhood used to be about.

Kudos to these parents! I bet these kids thought their trip to Sand Beach Park was great fun. — more fun than if Mom and Dad were holding them tightly by the hand and telling them to stay away from the rocks.

Salt Life

People up here live the “salt life.” That means they are out on the water frequently— in fact, pretty much all the time. This couple was kayaking into town, probably from one of the islands in the harbor, first thing yesterday morning, around 7 a.m. Very impressive!

There’s something about the water that pulls you to it. The people here have stopped resisting the lure of the salt life, and they seem happy about it.

The Lone Dory

Coastal Maine is a scenic place, and Stonington has its fair share of photo opportunities. Sometimes, if you keep your eyes open, they just appear in front of you, the result of a combination of weather, viewpoint, circumstance, and just plain luck.

I caught this picture of a lone boat at anchor just off the shoreline east of the mail boat dock during my early morning walk yesterday. The calm waters allowed for a clear view of the floating seaweed and the huge rocks just below the water’s surface.  At the same time, the fog in the distance left the boats farther out in the harbor shrouded in mist. while totally obscuring the islands beyond, making the top of the picture look like a kind of unfinished artist’s canvas. The colors are subtle and subdued.

Against that backdrop, I was struck by the sharp image of the lone boat — which I am pretty sure is called a dory — all by itself on the placid water.  The scene seemed to perfectly capture an almost mystical feeling of calmness, and solitude, and quiet.   

Wildflower Maine

I’ll be happy if the flowers I planted over the weekend do well, but if that does happen It probably won’t have much to do with my gardening abilities.  The summer in coastal Maine is just about the perfect climate for growing flowers and other plants:  it’s not too hot, so the soil doesn’t dry out like it often does during a broiling Midwestern summer, it rains every few days (and often with real gullywashers) so there’s lots of water for the plants, heavy morning dews are commonplace, too, and there’s plenty of sunshine.  Basically, Maine supplies everything the native flowers need — if you just leave them be.

As a result, flowers seem to grow pretty much everywhere, on their own.  The lupines that are framing the harbor in the picture above are thriving In an untended area off the berm of a very busy street.  And the lupines and the other wildflowers in the photo below are growing in profusion in a huge area that presumably isn’t being actively weeded and watered by a human gardening crew.

So what does it all mean?  It means that if I can’t grow flowers here, I’m undoubtedly the world’s worst gardener.

Flower And Stone

If you’re anywhere near coastal Maine, you’re going to be around granite. There are outcroppings pretty much everywhere.

The granite makes a nice setting for flowers, if you can get them to grow on or about the rocks. The sun-bleached stone makes every color of a flower seem more vivid, and on a sunny day like today the hues can be eye-popping.

These purple beauties are just wildflower ground cover that grew naturally in the crack of the huge rock near our front door. You couldn’t have planned a better presentation if you hired a landscape designer.

Clear As A Bell

It’s a beautiful sunny morning in Stonington, Maine, as we prepare to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. It’s cooler here than in Columbus, but the sunshine is much appreciated after days of rain in Columbus.

The sun officially rose at 5 a.m. today, but at 4:30 it was bright enough to wake me up. The lobster captains like that, because they like to get an early start. When I arose at 4:30, I could hear the throaty thrum of marine engines starting up in the harbor as they headed out to sea for their daily tour of their traps.