Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Maine Islands and Beaches

The first day of September already felt like fall. The sky was pure blue, and the breeze was blowing off the ocean.

Our friends Steve Walker and Jackie Sartoris invited us for a boat ride. Jackie’s kids and my kids are buddies too. What could be better than cruising past seals to celebrate the last day before school? Jackie’s poodle worked on her sea paws.

We left from the brand new boat launch in Brunswick just 4 miles from my house. Jackie and Steve had worked together to pass this public boat launch despite some local protest. So much of the coast in Maine is privately owned. Despite concerns, the launch was built with great care for the environment down to the eel grass.

Steve now works for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He helps communities and land trusts plan for habitat conservation. I go to him to fact check the wildlife details in my novels. Jackie used to be a Brunswick Town Councilor and is now in law school.

Steve has been boating on the Maine coast for years and knows the tricky tides and coves. We headed into Middle Bay towards the sea. It was the same part of Harpswell in which I’d gone out lobstering to research my novel S.A.D.. Our part of Maine is full of these tiny, uninhabited islands only accessible by boat. We had one of The Goslings Islands all to ourselves (and a few flies!)

Jackie, a fabulous cook, baked mushroom calzones. I brought Smart Puffs, “healthy” junk food. Steve, even smarter, brought the beer. I’d missed these friends while we were in England last year. Even sadder, we’d missed their January wedding. An island excursion was a great way to reconnect.

At low tide the two mini islands connect by sandbar. Our kids crossed over to explore, but I could only bear the cold water for a short swim plus getting from the boat to the beach and back. The water is at its warmest at this time of year.

My son and I bushwhacked to the southern tip of the island for a spectacular view of Casco Bay.

I admired the patterns in the seaweed and tried to figure out how I could return to paint. I felt sorry for my husband, who was meeting student advisees all day. Labor Day is a day to labor at Bowdoin College. We had at least squeezed in a couple of beach days when Henry could join us. Our two favorites are Popham and Reid State Parks on the Atlantic Ocean.

On the last day of August, my family went to Popham Beach just when everyone else was leaving. At this time of year, the sun is low in the sky, making the sea a deep indigo and the rocky islands glow like gold. At low tide you can walk for miles and miles along the soft sand beach.

My son and I must have walked, swam and waded 6 miles round trip along Popham Beach to Morse Mt. Beach then towards Small Point. We passed few people but found a record 35 sand dollars. The light colored ones are dead and okay to collect. The dark ones are still alive. I hope we didn’t kill any by mistake. My son told me that sand dollars are divided into symmetrical fives, like starfish, their cousins. I love that now he’s teaching me about the world.

The wind whisked water off the waves, catching the sun to form rainbows in the surf. The wet sand reflected the puffy clouds. The sky is always cerulean, causing a problem for painters. My art supply store was sold out of that hue watercolor.

I used up the dregs of my cerulean blue in Georgetown where I often paint. My kids love Reid State Park (above and below,) a beach with the biggest waves, but I find the biting greenhead flies annoying. My son calls me “the bug magnet.” I’m tempted to come back and paint at Reid after a cold snap kills the bugs. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Five Islands Lobster Co. is a short drive from Reid State Park. I love the directions on their website: “Keep driving until your hat floats, and then just back up a bit.”

Five Islands sells live or cooked lobsters fresh out of the ocean. They also have delicious grilled haddock sandwiches and non-seafood. The food couldn’t be better.

You sit on picnic benches with an amazing view of five small islands. During the summer, it’s open all week long but only on weekends from Labor Day to Columbus Day.

After a delicious dinner with my family and friends, I had to come back to paint. You can see how different my painting (below) is from the photo (above). I painted from the same picnic table, but my eyes see selectively. Note the changing leaves in the foreground. You can click on an image to see it enlarged.

The camera was best capturing the sunset on the water. It had been a race to finish the painting before the light faded. I had long lost the tide. I enjoyed a perfect lobster roll as a reward. I don’t usually paint in such luxurious conditions, but what a grand finish to a short painting season.

The kids started school Tuesday so I’m back at work on my new novel, A MATCH FOR EVE. I may sneak out and paint a few more days this fall, but it feels so good to be writing again. My fingers switch from brush to keyboard. The landscape glows inside my mind.


tina said...

What a beautiful painting of the coast. Is it watercolor? It is so clear and saturated with color. I like the flowers you added in close up. I love shell collecting and on my next trip there will be heading to Popham Beach. Any special places to find the sand dollars?

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, the painting is a watercolor. I started life as an oil painter, and I use watercolors more like oil with thicker pigment saturation. Watercolors are easier to bring on location and dry quickly. I also like the way the pigment moves when wet like water does. The downside is it's hard to control.

One day I may paint some oil paintings from my watercolors, but I don't have studio space or time now. Maybe when my son goes to college in 5 years?

There are more watercolors on my website as I just updated:

I usually find more sand dollars at Popham in winter when fewer people are looking. There's a winter beach scene at Popham in my novel S.A.D. where they find a sand dollar. I was surprised to find so many in August, but we weren't at Popham.

It was dead low tide so we swam over from Popham to the beach off Morse Mt. (hence no photos) where we found them in the tide line. You have to be careful because some are still alive. You can also get to Morse Mt without swimming by hiking 2 miles in. I'll be blogging about that hike later this month. I'm waiting for a cold snap to kill the bugs.

I wish I could go back to the beach today, but I'm scheduled with school meetings all day, and then I'll work on my next novel. Hopefully this almost summer weather will last until the weekend.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Amazing pictures and descriptions. You are so blessed to live near the ocean!

That watercolor was spectacular. You are very talented. I've always wished that I had artistic talent, but it's just not in the cards. I'll stick to learning writing and photography.

Good luck in your writing endeavors!

Tess Kincaid said...

Marvelous Maine pix. I love Maine.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, you really do live in paradise, don't you? Such color! I think you captured it all beautifully in your watercolor. I would indeed think it would be difficult to choose between brush and pen in such a place as this.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, Alyson. I do love being by the ocean with so many beautiful landscapes to paint. Don’t sell yourself short; photography and creative writing are definitely artistic skills. You are mastering portrait photography very well. It’s hard to capture moving targets like kids. Landscapes are more patient. Best of luck with your novel too.

Thank you, Willow.

Pamela, sometimes I can’t believe I live here. I always do a couple of warm-up pen sketches to choose a watercolor composition. I'm more of a painter than a draftsman. My favorite drawing medium is charcoal, and I get very messy. I admire your ability to put such precision into your illustrations.

TBM said...

Sarah, there is nothing I love more than a walk along a quiet beach. Thank you for sharing your gorgeous photos. Looking at your view from the picnic tables, I realized I once ate at a restaurant in Maine with picnic benches overlooking the water. I'll have to ask my husband where that was.

I love your watercolor of the view. You must have been very relaxed and happy.

I saw the first leaves fall in England today. Seems like our seasons must be in synch.

Oh, I went to Oxford last Saturday!

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, wouldn’t it be an amazing coincidence if had been to Five Islands? Picnic-bench-on-the-water -lobster-shacks in Maine are sort of like fish-and-chip vans in England or hot dog stands in NYC (okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture!) Five Islands is one of the more scenic.

Thanks, I am happy in Maine although I loved Oxford too. The leaves are just starting to change here, but nothing is falling yet. You didn’t blog about Oxford. What did you do?

Les said...

Apologies if I have commented on this before. One of my favorite trips was to Maine, and on my list of must-do-while-there was to have a lobster lunch on the water. Pemaquid Point and Harbor was recommended as a very scenic place to explore, and they were. We climbed among the rocks by the light house, and went to the nearby beach. It was there I encountered the coldest water in July outside of my freezer. We also had lunch at a pier-side pick your own lobster restaurant. We dined outside in the fog and while we ate the fog lifted revealing first one island, then another and another.

Sarah Laurence said...

Les, that must have been magical to see the islands appear through the fog. It amazes me how many beautiful places there are in Maine. Thanks for sharing.

Cindy said...

Your painting is so vibrant (your subject as well). It's interesting to see the photo of your view side by side with the watercolor. You do a great job in your selective process.

I never realized sand dollars could be found that far North. You certainly found a lot!

Now, if I could only convince my extended family that they should go to Maine instead of Delaware.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, Cindy. As you well know the camera distorts, especially the horizon. In Maine that effect flattens islands into the sea. That is why I prefer to paint from life instead of from photos. I also notice just a few flowers in a bunch or remember the boat that took sail. In my header painting, I eliminated a house and brought Seguin Island closer.

As for your family of young cousins, the chilly water of Maine might be a challenge. The kids that grew up in it, don’t mind it, but I prefer swimming in the south. It’s the landscape of Maine that draws me. Maybe organize a Maine camping and hiking trip when the kids are bigger. You’d love all the lighthouses.

Rose said...

Beautiful painting, Sarah! It would be hard not to get inspired by this scenery. The last photo of the sunset is paradise!
Thanks for the info on the sand dollars; I always wondered about these shells and the creatures that inhabited them.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, Rose. Environmentally I know it’s best to leave things where they are, but it’s hard not to let kids collect things. Who knows, maybe my son will become a marine biologist or similar. His enthusiasm was delightfully infectious.

walk2write said...

The colors are so vivid in your post! I recently took some beach pics, but either the weather or the camera (or both) are muting the colors I usually see there. It looks and sounds like you had a delightful time with your friends.

Bee said...

Everything about this landscape looks so fresh, brisk and bracing! I can really smell the pines and the crisp, just-fall air.

Imagine having the same blue sky all the time! The cerulean sky is a real antidote to the low gray muck we've been having all week. It must be wonderful to work outside . . . and then to have both a finished watercolor and a lobster sandwich!

Sarah Laurence said...

W2W, it is really tricky getting good beach photos because light bounces off the sand and water and overexposes the image. I was shooting towards the end of the day in fall light, meaning the sun was lower in the sky. With a SLR camera you can manually set the exposure and use a polarizer, sort of like sunglasses for your camera. These photos were taken with my Canon Elph because I didn’t want to risk dropping my Nikon DSLR while wading/swimming to shore.

Bee, I heard (not sure if this is true) that the navy put the air base in Brunswick because it has the clearest skies in the northeast. You’ll be smiling when the English daffodils are up in February. Our spring doesn’t really kick in until May. I do love New England in the fall.

Anil P said...

Such a beautiful landscape and so well evoked.

I don't remember ever having seen sand dollars before, starfish yes but not sand dollars.

Why were the locals opposing the boat launch?

The watercolour is a lovely blend of the dreamy and the real.

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, some locals supported the boat launch, but others objected to it on “environmental grounds.” Now, I’d call myself an environmentalist and had concerns, but I also believed that the locals who can’t afford waterfront property should have a way to enjoy the water too. Most of the objection came from people living by the launch in Brunswick, on the road leading to it or on the islands that were in Harpswell. There were concerns about property devaluation. There was more than a bit of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard.)

If others disagree with this summary, please post a comment. I was not involved and am only reporting second hand.

Cosmo said...

These are gorgeous pictures, Sarah--the photos and the watercolor. I really love beaches when everyone else is leaving--that's why I love them in winter. My sympathy--well, empathy--for your husband--school has started here, too. But I've had the time to write all summer--now it's your turn!

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, Cosmo. There are a couple of winter beach photos on my website. Good luck with your classes.

Katarina said...

Sarah, I love your watercolour more than the photo! I think you captured the view in a most splendid way!
I also learned something new today: sand dollars...never heard of them before, but now i do!
Good luck with the writing 8and painting, of course) - I'm eagerly awaiting the release of your books!

Sarah Laurence said...

Katarina, thank you. The paintings certainly take more effort than photography, especially since cameras went digital. Novel writing is even more labor intensive, but I enjoy the creative process.

I'd never found a sand dollar before I moved to Maine. They look a bit like the old silver dollar coins, which is how they got their name.

Cosmo said...

The winter beach photos are wonderful, Sarah--you really captured the cold and the solitude. (I also love the Halloween pictures of your kids!) And thanks for recommending Per Patterson--I can't wait to read it--I've also ordered Karin Fossum, who's a poet and mystery novelist (I've ordered the latter)--I looked for her books in Norway but couldn't find them in English.

Jean Merriman said...

Hi Sarah,

First I have to say, I enjoyed all your posts from England but am really enjoying the ones from right here where I also live. Best place in the world, in my humble opinion. My Dad used to call it God's country. But he really meant that for downeast as we are from Calais.

Kudos to your friend for helping to get the boat launch more than a dream. With all the fighting and legal delays, it was a long time coming. But I guess that is part of Brunswick, that is pretty normal as for some reason, they sure like to fight for years over everything they do.

What a great find to find that many sanddollars in one day. Great job!! When cleaning my birdbath I found one in it. I think maybe Tina must have put it there but I keep forgetting to ask her.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cosmo, I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Out Stealing Horses. I imagine it would be the best book to read after visiting Norway. Some people say Norway is a bit like Maine. Must be the northern connection and the coastline.

Thanks, Jean. Aren’t we lucky to call this beautiful corner of the world home? I have to visit Calais one day. My novel S.A.D. is all about the tangled web of small town politics. How funny to find sand dollars in the bird bath. It sounds like Tina or very appreciative birds. Maybe Tina will respond.

Jan said...

What a treat.
You've no idea HOW dreadful our UK weather is at the mo so it was wonderful to look at all this brightness and lightness!
Also enjoyed your own painting. TYhanks Sarah.

Sarah Laurence said...

Jan, I'm happy to bring some sun and blue skies into your day and mine. It's as dark as night here at midday and pouring rain. At least the storms in Maine tend to blow in and out in a day. I remember that lingering grey dampness all too well from my years in England. It does at least allow for gorgeous gardens.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang said...

I went to college with Jackie. It's good to hear that she's doing well!

Sarah Laurence said...

Alex, welcome to my blog! I passed on your comment to Jackie. She and Steve just had a baby boy.

Unknown said...

Hi, We stumbled upon your blog when we were researching sand dollars. My husband and our two young daughters just returned from Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport (where we live) with 30 sand dollars! We were unaware that the dark ones were still alive (we are new to Maine!) and my husband is now en route back to the beach with 20 dark ones that we hope are still alive. Without your info. about sand dollars, we would not have known to return them to the sea. Many thanks, Julie, Steve, Sophia & Isabel

Sarah Laurence said...

Julie, welcome to my blog and to Maine!