Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

 A stormy summer day is a peaceful time to visit 
Boothbay's Botanical Gardens.

 The gardens were nearly empty,

Allowing for reflection by the meditation pool.

Simon and Garfunkel fans would appreciate the Scarborough Fair wall.

Best of all were the life-like sculptures.

Steve Tobin's Pine Cone was made of boat propellers.

T.J. McDermott's egret in a sea of blooms.

The only sound was the fall of water.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Monhegan Island, Maine

It was my British nephews first visit to the USA, and we wanted to take them someplace special. Visiting Monhegan Island is like stepping into a Hopper painting (who did indeed once work there). In the two decades since my first visit, the remote island hasn't changed beyond acquiring a cell phone tower and wifi.

The only way to reach Monhegan Island is by boat. Ferries leave twice daily from New Harbor and from a few other ports in Maine. Our 10-mile journey took about an hour. I spotted a couple of minke wales, schools of harbor porpoises, gray seals and seabirds. At the dock, pickup trucks waited to deliver luggage to the inns. The only other vehicles were golf carts as the island is less than 2 miles long.

Most of Monhegan is rocky shore and woods, with 12 miles of trails of varying degrees of difficulty. There are fairy houses and Cathedral Woods. Two thirds of the island is protected as a nature reserve.

Monhegan was once a fishing and trading post for Native Americans and the earliest settlers from Europe. Its remote simplicity now draws artists and vacationers in summertime. The year-round population, including lobster fishermen, is only 60 people.

There is a small school house for island children.

And even a library! 

The Barnacle sells wrapped sandwiches and drinks by the dock. Henry's sister was very pleased with the afternoon tea and her husband found a good sunhat. The kids liked the frappes.

There are only three hotels. The Island Inn, which dates from 1816-1907, is the largest and the most luxurious. Even so, the rooms were small, but compensated by expansive views. Only a few had private baths, and there was no air conditioning. Sea breezes more than sufficed. A covered deck with rocking chairs and sitting rooms with leather armchairs offered pleasant places to read. The restaurant served fresh local fish and lobster, overlooking the harbor at sunset. Even if you don't stay at the Island Inn, it's well worth eating there one night. The Island Inn is a dream hotel from another era.

I woke early to the cry of seagulls and slipped outside to greet the sunflowers. The light has a special clarity to it that has drawn artists to the summer colony for decades. I would love to return with my artbag and time to paint.

With 4 energetic teenagers in tow, we came to Monhegan to hike. The 5 or 6 mile cliff trail took us nearly as many hours to complete. There were easier bypasses, but we wanted a challenge and the panoramic views. The first time my husband and I visited Mohegan, I heard a swooshing sound. Looking down from this cliff, I saw a whale. A second softer swoosh announced her calf. This time we only spotted seals, seabirds and a rotting leatherback turtle corpse. Odd things wash in from the sea.

Under clear blue skies, the ocean sparkled like sapphires, aquamarines and emeralds. This pounding surf has adorned many a canvas, but it's even more stunning to behold in person. Hiking the cliffs felt like flying, but it wasn't scary. The highest point on the island is only 160 feet above sea level.

At the end of the trail, we drank sundowners back at the Island Inn. Can you imagine a better place?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Canoeing in Baxter State Park

Most people come to Baxter State Park in Maine to hike, but it's also a really nice place to canoe. The park service rents canoes for $1 an hour. My son and I had this mini-island all to ourselves for a picnic. For dessert there were wild blueberries. 

Matagamon Lake was dotted with islands and ringed by mountains. The large scale was impossible to capture with a camera. We paddled for three hours and spotted only a couple of canoes and no power boats or houses. We kept company with loons and a bald eagle.

My son once spent 6 weeks paddling and poling (when you stand and push off the riverbed with a pole, like punting) up the Allagash and Penobscot rivers, following Thoreau's journey to Baxter. He did this trip through Chewonki Wilderness Experiences two years ago. Back at Baxter with me this July, he was my stern-man and guide. In a reversal of roles, I felt safe in his care. My "boy" just turned eighteen and is no longer a minor!

 We paddled for an hour and a half looking for an island with low banks, where it would be easy to come ashore. After lunch we headed back before the afternoon winds got too strong. 

Even with a map, we missed the turnoff to Trout Brook but found it soon enough. The banks somehow reminded me of the Thames in England, only wilder and buggier. My son guessed that camping at Trout Brook Farm wouldn't be too pleasant. Bug nets were necessary even at midday, although the lake downstream wasn't buggy at all.

Our campsite was at a smaller pond, South Branch, nestled in the mountains. 

Another easy trail led to a waterfall.

We camped in a lean-to in case it rained, but the only time it did during our 5 days at Baxter was driving 2 1/2 hours between campsites. 

We came prepared in mid July for bugs. The black flies were especially bad in the evenings. They breed in slow moving water, like the the stream feeding South Branch Pond. A smoky campfire kept them it bay and our bug nets made for better sleeping. 

We also shared our campsite with nesting Merlins, a fish-hunting falcon. On our last day, the fledglings decided to take their first wobbly flight. The ranger was very excited when we showed him the nest. I'm sure the Merlins chose our campsite for the spectacular view. It was a lovely place to swim and wash away the grime of camping. We couldn't use soap as this was our drinking water too. Every day we pumped or boiled many pints.

There were canoes to rent at South Pond too. The placid, small pond would be ideal for inexperienced paddlers and young children. I relaxed in my camp chair, watching the wind ripple the the reflection. The golden light still glows inside me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Moose and Calf at Baxter State Park

At Sandy Pond, you're pretty much guaranteed to see a moose,
posing before Mt. Katahdin.  

If you're lucky, you'll see her calf too. They're born in late spring.

This little girl(?) decided to swim to our side of the pond, 
grunting all the way.

She waded through the shallows, taking no notice of my son and me.

Skimming the surface on her skinny long legs, 
she reminded me of a water bug. 

At the click of the camera shutter, she turned and stared at us 
and then vanished into the woods.

Mom followed, spooking a deer on the bank.

The deer passed right by us, more scared of moose than humans.

Mom seemed majestic with her long, splashy stride.

There is something gloriously prehistoric about these huge beasts.
This is the wilderness that calls me home to Maine.

I'm taking next week off from blogging to catch up with my extended family.  
Next post: August 15th.