With the passing of the Small Reach Regatta I realize I never finished the posts from Maine over a year ago. Nice to be able to go back to it now.
A light rain is falling as we pull onto the town dock to board the ferry. Attendants wave cars to park out on the wooden pier over the water. Another cautiously directs us into a small slot, the cars packed in so tight T has to get out before I back in.
There’s a notable mix of vehicles: old rusty pickups, almost as old as I am, with Maine plates. Next to those a brand new Lexus or Mercedes with out of state plates. Repeat. Like much of coastal Maine, people with homes on Isle au Haut are either true year-round locals, people who make a living on or near the water, or wealthy summer people from away, their second or third homes out on the island.
I chat with the fellow who waved us in. He’s friendly but his accent seems off. Says he was born here but grew up away, a teacher. Now he comes back every summer and works odd jobs for the season to be near home, his parents aging. Says he misses it so much that he comes back every year.
We rent bikes there on the dock to take with us on the ferry. A dozen or so are arranged in a large empty warehouse once used for sorting and loading fish; it too is out over the water. We try the bikes for fit and finish, and I ride figure 8’s through the big echoing space that once was bustling with people and cod and lobster. It’s clean, the cement floor smooth for riding, and the walls smell faintly of fish. Light filters in through tall salt-crusted windows. Gliding in big looping circles, murmurs of conversation, rain pattering on the tin roof.
Was paddling around in a swamp a few years ago and dug one of these plants up to bring home. Just a stalk and a bag of smelly black mud. Stuck it at the edge of the pond in the yard.
Now in summer you can’t see the pond for the flowers. Bushes five feet tall, flowers as big as your head.
A sort of wild hibiscus, these are the original Marshmallows from which the confection derives. The ones we put in smores and hot chocolate are synthetic now, but the originals were made from the roots of these flowers more that 4000 years ago in Egypt, and were reserved as food for gods and royalty. Back then it took two days of laborious processing to make marshmallows, not including the harvest and drying and prep of the roots. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that they could be produced on a scale that plain folk could have them, too.
It got dark fast, and chilly for August, and we have hunger. It’s only a mile to Stonington along the shore, past lobster pounds in the protected cove behind Moose Island, past hundreds of lobster boats anchored in the harbor – some new, most well used, some derelict. Houses climb up the hill above the harbor like skyboxes, new businesses in old rambling clapboard buildings line the waterfront.
Sometimes the is sea is benign, sometimes it is dangerous; always it is indifferent.
I was given a good book recently by a friend at a poker game. Tom worked for many years at a well-loved used bookstore near the university. Toots, his wife, recently retired as a librarian. They’ve never owned a TV, to my knowledge. Needless to say, they are good sources of good books. The walls of their house are insulated with them, on shelves stacked floor to ceiling.
Tom still wanders into any used bookstore he passes, disappearing for hours I imagine, and at yard sales skips the rusty tools and goes straight for the tables where the books are kept. With so much experience sifting, he has a knack for finding unusual gems he knows will interest me.
It covers all the types of barrier islands along the East Coast, from Texas to Maine, with a special emphasis on the ones I know best – where my parents live between Charleston and Savannah, and of course the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands. The way they are formed, how they shift and change shape constantly, etc.; all of which is eminently interesting if you have spent any time on them.
But it also explores the history of these barren and tenuous places, the people who are drawn to them; and the special feeling of desolation and power surrounding you there, where wind and water and sand alter the landscape constantly.
The big loop is nearly complete at Thomas, less than 3 miles up the road from Davis. Senator Davis bought huge tracts of land here in the late 1800’s when it was still wilderness, then built towns and railroads to extract the resources. He named Davis for himself, and nearby Thomas and William for his brothers. Davis was the timber depot, Thomas was coal.
From the airport in Bangor to Stonington, at the southern tip of Deer Isle, should take about an hour and a half. We spend four hours doing the same, winding along the Penobscot River, stopping in towns along the way, generally assuming the least straight path presented.
First stop is Bucksport, where there’s a farmers market still open. Terri, very excited, insists we stop, and goes in for provisions. She gets caught in various eddies, long chats with local farmers, and does not resurface. I wander the main street, still a little too travel-frazzled for conversation. We had reserved a little Toyota Corolla rental car in advance, but by the time we arrived those were all gone. So, for the same rate, they gave us the only thing left – a fancy new Cadillac. This would normally be a good thing.
John England’s Chesapeake Deadrise under construction.
The rain moved in overnight. However, “rain” does not adequately convey the phenomenon of water falling from the sky at the rate of 3 inches an hour. It’s like there’s a crew overhead bailing out the clouds with 5 gallon buckets.
Good news is the boom tent is keeping the interior dry. So there’s that. People slowly venture out in foulies and wellies, collect on the front porch of the old store with hot coffee to watch.