The View From The Rocks

It was a beautiful morning yesterday. The sky was blue, the sun painted the eastward facing houses on Greenhead peninsula with a brilliant, glowing luminosity, and the tide was out, which allowed me to walk far out onto the rocky outcroppings along the shoreline and get a good view at the long pier fronting the water.

I wanted to get a good, long look at this pretty little part of the world, which I have called home for the past few months, and lock it securely in my memory before heading back to the Midwest. I took this photograph because sometimes a photo app can help the memory, too.

A Tall Ship In The Morning

This morning’s walk produced a surprise—a “tall ship” in the harbor, towering over the outboards and the lobster boats. It was a perfectly clear morning with barely a breath of breeze, and I walked out to the end of a jetty to get a good look as the masted vessel rode at anchor. With my time in Stonington drawing to a close, I’m going to take in as many harbor and boat scenes as possible.

The Mushroom Trail

On Sunday we headed off the island to the nearby Holbrook Sanctuary for a hike. The Sanctuary has a lot of trail options that we haven’t tried yet, and the middle of a three-day weekend was a good time to experience a new one. We chose the Mountain Loop trail, which promised to offer what we like about hikes: a pleasant ramble through the cathedral of trees, where you can enjoy surroundings so peaceful and quiet that even a whisper seems like a shout.

It quickly became clear that, at this time of year at least, the Mountain Loop trail could also be called the Mushroom trail. We saw lots of mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors, from a bone white that stood out sharply against the prevailing browns and greens, to a bright orange shooting up from the moss, and finally a harvest gold to brighten the side of the trail.

When we started our hike we wondered if any of the leaves on the trees would be starting to turn. They really weren’t, although some of the ferns in the forest were showing some colors along the edges of their fronds. But who needs fall foliage when you’ve got mushrooms to brighten the forest floor?

You Know It’s The End Of The Tourist Season When . . . .

The Stonington Ice Cream Company proprietor has a simple way of notifying customers when he’s out of particular flavors: he puts tape on the flavors that have regrettably been totally scooped out and depleted. When I walked past on this Labor Day weekend—the traditional end to the summer tourist season—pretty much every ice cream flavor was gone except the old reliables vanilla, chocolate, and . . . moose tracks.

What’s wrong with the tourists this year? Chocolate and vanilla are classics, and moose tracks is pretty darned good, too. I would have thought that some experimental maple flavor would be the last man standing.

Sailing Practice

Normally the view of the harbor from Greenhead Peninsula exclusively features the familiar, functional outlines of lobster boats. Every once in a while, however, a graceful sailboat will change the view as it passes, silhouetted against the islands in the bay.

The sailboat that was out this morning looked to be getting in some practice as it tacked and changed course on a brilliant and cool morning, when sailing conditions were just about perfect.

Pine Hill Preserve

After our visit to Scott’s Landing on Sunday we drove the short distance to the Pine Hill Preserve on Little Deer Isle, another of the properties managed by the Island Heritage Trust that we had not visited before. The contrast between the two locations could not have been greater. Scott’s Landing allowed for a pleasant ramble on gently rolling meadows and beaches. Pine Hill Preserve is a lot smaller and a lot more . . . abrupt. After a short walk on old quarry road you reach its central feature: a rock outcropping that rises dramatically from the pine forest. It’s a big, steep hill, and you can get a sense of its scale if you look carefully at the photo above and see the two figures at the top who are taking a picture.

The short hike up Pine Hill is a lot more challenging than anything Scott’s Landing requires of a hiker. The key word is “up.” The trail is almost entirely vertical, as the photo above shows. Be prepared to haul yourself up the steep, rocky incline and—because, as any veteran hiker knows, coming down is usually more hazardous than going up—be prepared to get on hands and knees and carefully back down when you are descending on some stretches of the trail.

But when you reach the top you are rewarded by some magnificent views. In one direction you gaze over the rock face, where they quarried some of the stone that makes up the causeway between Little Deer Isle and Deer Isle, and acres of pine trees beyond. In another direction, you can look over the forest to the Eggemoggin Reach and the suspension bridge to the mainland.

Scott’s Landing

Over the years we’ve hiked around most of the properties managed by the Island Heritage Trust, but one of the sites that we hadn’t yet checked out was Scott’s Landing—until yesterday. It’s located on the edge of the island, at one end of the causeway that connects Deer Isle to Little Deer Isle. And that means some good waterfront views, in this case of the Eggemoggin Reach that separates the islands from the mainland. You can climb up White Rock Point—an outcropping of sun-bleached Ellsworth schist, the bedrock of this part of the island—and enjoy a good view of the Reach and the suspension bridge to the mainland.

The property includes a long stretch of rocky beach. We were there when the tide was out, and a family was digging for clams at the waterline down the beach. Clam digging is a popular activity here, especially in the area near the causeway.

Scott’s Landing is an easy hike, with wide grassy trails and gradual inclines. The trails branch off in multiple directions, and inland the site features pretty meadows filled with wildflowers. The property is a popular spot for birders, although we didn’t see many of our feathered friends yesterday. We did, however, see lots of honeybees buzzing among the flowers. That’s a good summer sound.

We also saw some sailboats on the Reach taking advantage of a good breeze to let the wind fill the canvas and take the ships along at a good clip. The Reach is a long narrow channel that is popular with boaters, and it seems like there is always a sailboat on the horizon. At one end of the Scott’s Landing preserve the wildflower meadows rises up an incline, affording a good views of the flowers, the Reach, and the sailboats moving past. I found myself wishing there was a bench at that spot, so I could sit for a spell and just enjoy that scene.

Hiking Isle Au Haut

Yesterday we took the mailboat out to Isle au Haut for some hiking. We disembarked at Duck Harbor at the southwest corner of the island, which is largely unspoiled forest and hiking trails, with a handful of camping sites available. Although I have been on the mailboat multiple times, this was the first time I had actually set foot on the island, and I was eager to see what it was like.

It turns out that Isle au Haut is like most of coastal Maine—only more so. There was lots of rugged and dramatic scenery, sheer cliffs, pine trees and ferns, and plenty of granite. There are lots of different hiking options, too, from simple trails with only small elevation changes to much more difficult hiking that requires you to clamber up rock faces. I enjoyed the view, in the photo above, looking south from a promontory a few hundred feet above the ocean, and the inky black pool of water, shown below, that was perfectly reflective and framed by rock outcroppings.

By the time we reached Squeaker Cove, shown below, we realized that our visit to Isle au Haut would not only feature memorable vistas, but also an unprecedented swarm of biting black flies. According to the park rangers, the flies had just appeared the day before, and no doubt the swarm would be gone a day or two later. But the flies were there yesterday, in force and ready to chomp, descending on everything that moved and giving vicious bites if you didn’t swat them away in time. There were so many flies that the legs and backs of fellow hikers would be virtually carpeted in flies. The little bloodthirsty bastards were easy to kill, in their singleminded zeal for a meal, but for every one that got swatted another ten were circling and ready to land.

Eventually the pesky flies became so annoying and unpleasant that they drove even the most ardent hikers back to the mailboat dock, where the breeze off the ocean kept the fly swarms to a minimum. As we waited for the mailboat to arrive we swapped fly tales with other hikers and sympathized with the dogs that had suffered mightily from fly bites. And as we waited even the boat dock offered some pretty views, like the one below.

I’d like to go back to Isle au Haut to do more hiking and exploring—but before I do I’m going to call the Duck Harbor ranger station for a fly report.

Island Return

I took a fine, direct flight from Columbus to Portland yesterday, hopped into my car, exited the long-term lot, then took a three-hour drive through the Maine countryside to head back to Stonington. I arrived just as the sun was setting, and as I drove past Sand Beach I couldn’t resist stopping the car and checking out the sunset over the bay.

Someone had left a beach chair on the sand—there are a lot of people on the island right now—and the combination of the chair in silhouette against the golden water and the blazing sunset behind drove home the message that I was, indeed, back on the island.

Direct Versus Indirect (Cont.)

My experiment in driving down to Portland to catch a direct flight to Columbus yesterday worked like a charm. The weather was clear, I enjoyed a fine, mask-free drive through the pretty Maine countryside with a soundtrack provided by the Maine classical music network of stations, I arrived at the Portland airport in plenty of time, and my direct flight on United left on time and got in early. Portland has a very nice, newer airport, with high ceilings and lots of room and charging stations for electronic devices, and the long-term parking lot is literally right next to the terminal building. It’s ridiculously convenient. The only mishap occurred when I missed an exit and had to loop around, but I had given myself plenty of time so it was no big deal.

I think direct flights from Portland are definitely a viable option, although I recognize that yesterday’s experiment involved practically perfect conditions— no rain, no traffic-snarling accidents, and no slow-moving trucks to hold me up on the two-lane roads that make up most of the drive. In the future those conditions obviously could change and make the trip less effortless. But boy, it sure was nice to reduce the hours of annoying and uncomfortable mask time, and all told my travel day was a bit less than taking a one-stop trip from Bangor.

The big issue is that the direct flights from Portland are not an everyday occurrence. I therefore was encouraged to see that the flight, on a regional jet, was totally full. Maybe if United sees the demand, it will add some additional flights. So let me encourage my central Ohio friends: fly to Portland and visit Maine! I’d be much obliged.

Direct Versus Indirect

Today I am going to try a personal experiment of sorts.

Normally when I fly back to Columbus I fly from Bangor International Airport and connect in Philadelphia, or LaGuardia, or Reagan National for the second-leg flight to Columbus. But the last few times I’ve done that, my flight out of Bangor has been delayed and my connecting flight has been blown. As a result, I’ve had to spend hours in airport concourses, waiting for another flight back to Columbus. Normally, this wouldn’t be too bad, but the current masking requirement means you spend 9, 10, or 11 hours straight in a mask, breathing your own exhaust and trying to resist the constant urge to scratch your nose, and that pushes the experience into the “to be avoided at all costs” zone.

So I did some research, and found that there is one direct flight from the Portland, Maine International Jetport to Columbus. I’m on it today, It will require a long drive–a bit over three hours, total–because Portland is well to the south, and there are no short drives when you are talking about the shoreline-hugging roads of coastal Maine. But I like driving, when I’m in my car I can listen to music in a blessedly mask-free environment, and if Mother Nature and air traffic controllers and aircraft maintenance technicians and all of the other things that might delay a flight cooperate, I’ll minimize the masked time and probably spend about the same amount of time in transit as I would doing the two-hop trip from Bangor.

I respect the governmental air travel masking requirement and will faithfully comply with it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, or that it isn’t worth seeing whether there are viable options to avoid it. Today will test the direct versus indirect hypothesis, and the limits of my mask-avoidance options.

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.

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.

The Super-Rich In Space

This month we’ve seen a lot of seriously rich people leave the surface of the planet and journey to the edge of space. Earlier this month billionaire Richard Branson took a flight launched by Virgin Galactic–Branson’s company–to a height 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, and yesterday Jeff Bezos, who is even richer than Richard, rode a rocket launched by his space company, Blue Origin, to an even higher destination, 62 miles up. And let’s not forget fellow billionaire Elon Musk, who hasn’t traveled above the stratosphere, yet, but whose SpaceX venture has launched far more rockets and capsules, traveled farther, and advanced space technology more than Bezos’ or Branson’s companies put together.

Bezos’ flight is interesting, and not just because one of the world’s very richest men wore a space uniform and took the risk of a potentially fatal mishap. The Blue Origin flight also was piloted by the oldest person yet to fly into space–82-year-old Wally Funk, who was part of a NASA Women in Space program back in the ’60s–as well as the youngest person, who also was first Blue Origin’s paying customer. The paying customer was 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, whose Dad, a wealthy businessman, bought a seat for him. Oliver filled in for an anonymous person who had paid $28 million for a seat on the flight, then backed out due to “scheduling conflicts.” (Really? Somebody paid $28 million to take a trip into space, and then let “scheduling conflicts” delay their departure? Those must have been some pretty serious “scheduling conflicts”!)

Blue Origin hopes to help fund future flights, in part, through space tourism sales. It has announced that it is now officially selling tickets to future flights, and that it has made $100 million in sales so far. It’s not clear how much such tickets might cost, but it’s obvious that there is a market for a ride into space among some segments of the megarich, and their kids and other family members. And while it wasn’t a particularly long ride yesterday–the CNN article linked in the first paragraph above described the trip as allowing the passengers to experience “about three minutes of weightlessness, unstrapping from their seats and floating about the cabin while taking in panoramic views” before coming back down to a landing–it’s obviously an experience you can’t find anywhere else right now.

We often bemoan the lifestyles and luxuries enjoyed by the super-rich, but in this case I’ll gladly tip my cap to Musk, and Bezos, and Branson, and Oliver Daemen’s Dad, and the anonymous person with the “scheduling conflicts.” If the hyper-wealthy are willing to help fund private ventures in space, and are doing it, in part, so they can enjoy a joy ride to the edge of outer space, I’m all for that. I’d rather see the affluent putting their money down to help pay for new technology that will help us, collectively, move forward into space than frittering it away outbidding each other for Picassos. And, if space tourism is going to become a real thing, obviously the first passengers are going to pay a lot–but by doing so, we can hope that they will help to usher in an era when spaceflights become routine, costs decrease, and tickets are reasonably affordable for the rest of us.