Clam Hoes And Shedders

When you spend times in a different part of the country, often you learn new things.

Consider, for example, the evil-looking items being sold by an antique store in town. With long, sharp tines and short handles, they don’t look at all like innocent gardening tools. To the contrary, they look like the sort of implements Freddie Krueger or Jason would happily use to send witless teenagers to their painful, impaled demise.

So, what are they, exactly? As the hand-lettered sign explains, they are clam hoes—ideal for digging deep into the soft muck in the mudflats when the tide goes out and raking clams to the surface.

“Shedders” are another story—literally. The local newspaper ran a front page article, with photo, announcing that “shedders are in!” That’s big news in Stonington, because many locals contend that “shedders”—lobsters that have just molted their old, hard shell and are growing a new, softer-for-the-time-being shell—have sweeter meat and are the best eating lobsters of all.

We’re going to a lobster boil tonight, and if I draw a shedder—which you can identify because the shell can be easily cracked by hand—I’ll see if I can taste the difference. I am learning about local tools and terms, but my lobster palate may remain uneducated.

Our New Downtown Bench

When civic improvements come to Stonington, sometimes they are on the smaller side. So it is with this new bench, which has been placed below one of the granite outcroppings next to the Dry Dock shop, on the western side of downtown. The new bench is a sturdy one that features some quality craftsmanship and a seat that can handle posteriors of all shapes and sizes.

A new bench might be a small improvement, but it is by no means an insignificant one. In any town that welcomes tourists, having plenty of benches where visitors can have a seat and enjoy the sights is a “must.” And having a bench near some of the shops is smart placement that helps the local merchants. Couples that don’t have equally zealous interests in shopping can split up, and the shopper can take her time and do a thorough canvas of the stores, secure in the knowledge that the non-shopper has a comfortable place to sit, check their messages, and look out at the activity in the harbor. And if two couples are visiting town together, the bench is spacious enough to accommodate two non-shoppers who’d rather sit and talk.

The bench fills a decided need in the western part of town, which had been bench-deprived until now. Previously, all of the seating was at the eastern edge and center of downtown, to accommodate the groups of ice cream eaters and 44 North coffee drinkers, and the folks waiting on a table at the Harbor Cafe. Now the western side has a place where visitors can take a load off, too.

In The Inland Mist

Recently I’ve started trying different routes on my morning walk, just to mix things up a bit. One new route takes me away from the shoreline and downtown Stonington and instead follows Route 15 up the hill to Cemetery Road, then across the interior of the island, and then back down the hill toward home on the Greenhead Peninsula. That inland, tree-lined route gives a decidedly different perspective on our little town.

On foggy mornings, like this morning, the mist rolls up the hillside and encases the countryside in a blurry, moist white blanket. It gives the landscape a kind of mystical look that makes for a very pleasant, and very quiet, walk. Earlier this week, on a similarly misty morning, I saw a large herd of deer that included a few youngsters that hadn’t lost their spots nosing around in this same spot. I surprised them as I walked past, and they looked up, startled, and then bolted gracefully into the tree line and vanished into the mist.

Elsa’s Punch

Elsa arrived in Stonington yesterday and proved that even a depleted tropical storm can still pack a wallop. High winds rattled the windows, shook the trees, left our side yard covered with downed tree branches and twigs, and—as feared—broke off two of our towering delphinium flower stalks.

The storm also showed that I don’t have a future as a drainage engineer. Despite my best efforts to remove rocks and take other actions to discourage the pooling of water in the down yard, this morning’s sunrise illuminated a large new pond in the low-lying area, as shown below. In fairness to my drainage promotion efforts, Elsa brought so much rain in such a short period of time—between three and four inches in the space of a few hours—I’m guessing that even professional efforts would have been overwhelmed. The downpour left some of the lupines and ferns I’ve been trying to grow in the area partially submerged, and only time will tell if they survive the dunking.

Gardening and yard work projects are always subject to the whims of Mother Nature, and all you can do is accept her consequences and move forward. One positive in all this, though, is that Stonington had been experiencing a drought. After yesterday, I think there is a drought no longer.

Fireworks Over The Harbor

For a small town at the tip of an island in Downeast Maine, Stonington puts on a great Independence Day fireworks display. The fireworks are launched over the harbor, and the lobstermen rake their boats out on the water to get a close look at the show. You can see the boats in some of the photos below.

Happy Fourth of July!

The Newest Little Library

I’m a big fan of the “little libraries” that have sprung up in German Village, in Stonington, and in many other communities. Books—especially paperbacks—shouldn’t sit on shelves gathering dust; once they have been read they should be shared with others. The little libraries are a great way to do that, and they also help to keep a house decluttered. We’ve contributed books to the little libraries in German Village and up here as well.

This new little library popped up in our neighborhood within the last week. I appreciate the nautical theme and the craftsmanship, too.

Relishing The Cool Of The Morning

Like much of the rest of the country, Maine generally, and Stonington specifically, is experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures in the 80s in the coastal areas and 90s inland. But unlike the rest of the country, Maine isn’t really equipped to deal with high heat. None of the houses in our area are equipped with central air conditioning, for example, because there is absolutely no need for it during a typical summer, when you expect highs in the 70s during the day and lows in the 50s at night.

That means Mainers deal with the heat using the techniques many of us remember from our pre-air conditioning childhood. A heat wave is a time for wide open windows and ceiling fans, and wishful hopes for a hint of a cool breeze to sweep through the room. It’s a time to stay outside a bit later as the sun goes down, until the mosquitoes drive you indoors. It’s also a time to savor the early morning moments of cooler air before the sun rises and the heat is cranked up again. And the views just before 5 a.m. aren’t bad, either.

Heat waves are a challenge up here, but eventually they end. In the meantime, the ice cream shop downtown is making a killing.

Amidst The Mist

Fog is a curious phenomenon. For one thing, sounds seem to carry differently when Stonington is socked in by a heavy fog, as it is this morning. The growling sounds of the lobster boats heading out to sea seem to be amplified by the moisture in the air, so that it sounds as if the boats are very close by when it is clear they aren’t. And familiar scenes look different, too.

But the visual effects of fog can also be surprising, and varying. Sometimes it renders things, like the boats at anchor above, blurry and indistinct, like a grey aquatic dreamscape. In other places the fog acts as a kind of backdrop that frames the structures in the foreground, giving them a different cast. The old dock and green boathouse below, located next to the post office, are a good example of this effect. I’d never paid much attention to them before, but amidst the mist they look spindly and delicate and haunting.

Fog makes the morning walk more interesting for me, but makes the morning work more treacherous for the lobstermen.

The Path To Barred Island

They say that timing is everything. In the case of the hike to Barred Island, that’s literally true.

We’ve taken the rooty trail out to Barred Island multiple times, but when we’ve reached the vantage point of the photo above we’ve always encountered a full channel of frigid, leg-numbing seawater—which is why it’s called Barred Island. But on our hike on Sunday, we timed our arrival perfectly, and instead of seawater we found that at low tide a sandy, golden path had appeared, beckoning us over to Barred Island itself.

Once we got to the little island we learned that there were no interior trails, because of an ongoing restoration project. The only option for the visitor is to scramble around the shoreline, which can be treacherous due to slick, algae-covered rocks along the channel separating the island from the mainland. You really have to watch your step, and our sturdy, gripping hiking shoes came in handy.

Once you turn the corner and start to circle the island, the rocks—primarily striated granite—become larger, sun-baked, and a lot easier to navigate. In this area of the shoreline we saw a small furry critter—perhaps an otter?—scampering among the rocks. At this point of the circumnavigation of the island, you begin to see the other islands, and the lighthouse out in the Penobscot Bay.

On the far side of the island, the big rocks give way to a stunning collection of different kinds of smaller rocks, which meant that careful attention to path planning and foot placement was important. It was fun to hop from rock to rock and enjoy the colorful mosaic of the different colored rocks in the bright sunshine. If you like rocks and subtle colors, it’s a very cool area.

Following the shoreline inevitably took us back to the sandy spit linking the island to the mainland. We were glad we timed our visit so as to finally allow us to cross over to Barred Island and see what it had to offer. And speaking of timing, as we noticed the sun moving slowly toward the western horizon and glimmering brilliantly on the water, after a full day of yard work and hiking, we decided the timing was also perfect for some soft-serve ice cream.

Wildflower World

Early June is a pretty time in Stonington and throughout Deer Isle, thanks to the wildflowers that have just started to bloom. This hillside next to the Stonington Opera House is typical. The slopes are too steep to tend, so it’s a survival of the fittest battle between the weeds and the wildflowers. Fortunately, sometimes the wildflowers win.

Framed By The Fog Bank

We haven’t had a lot of fog in Stonington so far this summer. Earlier this week, though, a fog bank that was a real pea souper rolled in and thoroughly blanketed our little promontory on the Greenhead peninsula. Last night it was clear, but when Betty and I went for our walk this morning, it became obvious the fog hadn’t gone away—it just withdrew to a more strategic position offshore, creating a situation where it was bright and sunny ashore but grey and obscured on the bay. When we passed the mailboat dock, we could see the fog out there, squatting on the surface of the water, clutching the more distant boats in tendrils of mist, and making it impossible to see even the nearby islands in the harbor.

On days like this it’s hard not to think of the fog as being almost like a living thing.

Sunset Lobster At The Burnt Cove Boil

Tonight we paid our first visit of the summer to the Burnt Cove Boil. This classic outdoor venue operated by owner Jake McCarty became a favorite of ours last year, and I’m happy to report that it’s still terrific.

Why is the Burnt Cove Boil great? For one, you get a great view looking straight west at the sun setting over the islands in Penobscot Bay. For another, you eat sitting outside at picnic tables, and there’s just something fun and kind of magical about eating outside on a cool evening. And for still another, the natural remains of your meal get tossed back into the water, to return to the marine ecosystem. If you don’t think it’s fun to fling an oyster shell or crab claw or lobster tail into the seawater after you’ve finished with it, you’ve got another think coming.

But here’s the best thing about BCB: the food is excellent, and Jake is a great host. Tonight we started with local oysters, followed by stone crab caught about a mile away, then corn on the cob and lobsters caught just offshore. Everything was absolutely fresh, and that’s a big part of the reason why it was delicious. We used some rocks —also local—to crack open shells and made a merry mess of our picnic table.

While we waited for our next course to cool we enjoyed the quiet of the cove and the setting sun reflected on the water next to our table. The sky had cleared a bit and it was pleasantly warm in the sunshine. It wasn’t a bad view, either.

By the time our lobster arrived our paper trays were pretty well drenched, but we carried on anyway, ripping the steaming lobsters to shreds in search of every last morsel of succulent lobster meat. And after the lobster came the piece de resistance—individually wrapped ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

By the time we polished off our ice cream sandwiches and took our last swigs of Allagash White, the sun was a blaze of golden glory sinking low to the west and the seagulls were bobbing on the surface of the water. it was a beautiful scene to top off a great meal.

“Yes,” we thought, “we’ll come here again.”

Pent-Up Demand

Our local newspaper, Island Ad-Vantages, reported in its most recent edition that it’s looking like it could be a very good year for the Stonington and Deer Isle tourist businesses. An article said that the “summer people”–that is, the visitors and part-time residents who drive the tourist part of the local economy–have come to Deer Isle earlier than ever before, and the hotels and motels are reporting full bookings. I got visual confirmation of that when I walked past Boyce’s Motel in downtown Stonington over the weekend and saw its “no vacancy” sign.

The owner of Boyce’s Motel is quoted in the article as attributing the surge in visitors and reservations to what he calls “revenge travel,” in which people who have been staying put at home make a special effort to get out and about. My sense, too, is that there is a pent-up demand that was created during the prolonged shutdown period, and people now just want to get away from the too-familiar surroundings where they waited out the COVID pandemic. And taking a trip to get a welcome change of scenery is a good way to make a personal statement, to yourself and to the world at large, that as far as you are concerned things are getting back to normal.

Whatever the cause, the increased tourist traffic is good news for the town and those businesses who suffered through a lean lockdown year in 2020. I’m hoping to see a lot of that “no vacancy” sign this year.

Blue Skies, Again

After three solid days of rain, you wonder whether the blue skies will ever come again. And when they do, as they did with this morning’s sunrise shown above, it is a beautiful thing to see.

The sun rises early here in Stonington, on the far eastern edge of the Eastern time zone, which means there is a good/bad tradeoff on sunny versus rainy days. When the skies are clear, the first peek of sun over the horizon blasts through the heavy curtains of our east-facing bedroom and wakes me without fail. That means I get up earlier and earlier until we pass the longest day of the year. When it’s rainy and gloomy, in contrast, I can sleep later, and I don’t need to water the plants, either.

I’ll still take the sunny days.

Cutting Through The Mist

It’s been rainy and cool all weekend, and today fog and a ground-hugging mist were added to the mix. Fog and mist don’t stop the intrepid lobstermen of Stonington, however. Betty and I watched this solitary fisherman navigating cautiously through the murk and returning to dry land—although, given the wet conditions, it would be more accurate to say “solid ground”—this afternoon, just before another cloudburst drenched us all.