Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Week of Lobsters: Part 2

I started writing this on Sunday, sitting and watching it snow from the warm comfort of our couch. In March. Near the end of March technically. Like 7 inches of blowing, icy, crappy, beautiful snow. And it makes me long for our vacation. So I'm finally motivated to finish writing about Maine. Because I want to go to there. Now. To the warm ocean breezes, the salty sea air, and the lobsters. So much lobsters.


Let me catch you up, back to September, we just spent the first three days of our trip staying in a rustic secluded cottage in Clark's Cove right on the water, plus guest stars including lobsters, boat trips and a lot of ocean. So day four of our trip, here we go!

Tuesday we got up around 7 am, and thankfully the extra quilts and space heater kept the upstairs sleeping loft of our little cottage cozy and warm, the downstairs was straight chilly when the temperature dropped into the 40’s overnight. We dressed warmly and and went out for a solid walk around the area. We'd seen plenty of the town from the car, but everything looks different when you explore on foot, especially in the isolated spot we were staying in.



We chatted with some neighbors, watched kids load onto the school bus, pet velvety horse muzzles, made friends with the gray barn cat, ran across a pack of wild turkeys, and chatted with the lady who owns the few acres we are staying on and lives up on the property above the cottage that we called home.


She talked about things to see and do in the area, and the spotty summer weather and her vast garden, and then somehow we veered off into talk of how the government is trying to control the weather with aluminum spray in the air. She recommended a documentary we should watch all about it on YouTube. The aluminum spray evidently caused serious fungus in her garden and will do further damage to our environment. She told us about their gardening, composting, horses and how they could sustain themselves on their own property if necessary. “It’s good to know what’s coming.” she said. Very independent, very much prepared for the upcoming zombie or aluminum apocalypse, very Maine. I should take lessons. And learn how to can my own veggies and treat an oozing flesh wound, and maybe stockpile some ammo. But back to vacation.


Instead of doomsday prepping, we wandered back to our cottage, drank lots of coffee with delicious chemically enhanced Irish Crème flavored creamer while sitting on our deck, and made plans for the day. We took a quick photo to wish our nephew Jackson a happy birthday, and his grandmother, Mary Jo, who Jackson happens to share his birthday with, and then we got gussied up, you know, showered and put on public appropriate clothes, and headed out for some legit sightseeing.




Our first stop for the day was a 45 minute drive over to The Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens near Boothbay. The place is spectacular, 128 acres of pristine Maine tidal shoreline, forest, trails and gardens.  




Many lush, fragrant gardens, including the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses, with something to tantalize and engage all the senses. Fruits and vegetables to taste, cool stone labyrinths to walk across in bare feet,  long shady trails along the river coast, delicate ferns, foliage, art and sculpture, lots of senior citizens enjoying the roses and the slightly sloped trails. 




We took the two mile steep shore line trail that had like two short steep stretches, rocky and uneven. Saw the adorable fairy houses built by visitors with twigs and rocks all over a huge swath of the trail. Past a huge crystal orb just floating in the forest. Then more art and sculptures  as we walked up the Birch Allee and took in the back edge of the gardens. All dressed and decorated with curves and paths lined with hydrangeas, butterflies and flowering bushes.




Hydrangeas in this blue purple, which is based on the acidity of the soil, are my absolute favorite.



Right here was the best smelling spot in the whole garden. All lavender and roses wafting across the path, I could have stood here all day.






After the few hours we spent walking and taking photographs, and absorbing all the beauty and nature, we were ready for a quick lunch. Joe had scoped out about 1,000 restaurant options before we even left Kansas City, and one of the top recommended fish and chips place, was Bet's Fish Fry, right down the road from the gardens. 


With a limited menu, and just a few picnic tables for seating, we ordered up an order of fish and chips to share, and it was delicious. Crispy and fresh and perfect. As a fish and chips connoisseur, Joe was in heaven. 


Our afternoon plans were simple. Take our long scenic drive home along the Damariscotta River and then back to the deck of our cottage, the sun and the umbrella, reading and writing and relaxing. And probably a nap in front of the open window facing the water. Ah. And maybe a Blueberry soda.





After our leisurely afternoon, we headed to the other small inlet island next to ours, and staked out a spot on the long striped rocks that the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse has warned seafarers off of since 1835.



This is easily one of the most photographed lighthouse in Maine. And with good reason. Stunning, rocky, picturesque. Joe has the tripod set up and is getting the “money shot.” I've wandered, meandered on the rocks after he prodded me down onto them, they looked steep from far away, but they aren't  I’m a chicken, but anyone could manage these steep beauties.





It’s so alive here. The ocean constantly pounds the rocks in roiling waves with white froth against the millennium old stone. The sunset is starting. Pinks merge with pale orange and wisps of clouds like insulation peaking out of the sides of the old lobster shed we walked by earlier today. The sounds, the salty wet smells blowing through my hair. Joe is focused. Intent. I’m perched and contemplating.



Cold ears and wishing I’d brought my warmer jacket with the wind like it is. But not minding much. Not minding much at all. There aren't many other people here either, which is wonderful. Some locals and their friends scattered on the rocks taking in the view and eating sandwiches.




A German couple who didn't speak a word of English, but were all smiles when they asked me to take their photo, twice, with each of their own fancy cameras. You don’t get this experience or these views in the Midwest. I feel at home in the flat golden plains, but the sunset melting across the waves as they crash into the cove, lighting them up with an initially fiery and then darkening purplish red, both hot from the sun and chilled from the frigid gray blue ocean, convinces me without words that I could live here.



It feels right sitting here. I wonder how long people have climbed on these rocks. In my head, I see Victorian ladies in long dresses and wide brimmed sunhats tip-toeing across the rocks. Stopping to sketch, visiting with each other, smelling what I’m smelling, the wind skimming through their upswept hair styles like it’s tossing mine about tonight.



After Pemaquid, tired from climbing around and photographing everything and the sun and wind all day, we drove over to Shaw’s for dinner. Fried scallops and clams, lobster roll with not enough mayonnaise and too much lettuce, fish chowder, and Pemaquid Ale and a pink lemonade. We are full. We are sated with the various pleasures of the day.



We sit in old lacquered wooden chairs that remind me of a grandparents’ 1980’s basement rec room. Cozy, homey, and utilitarian. We flip through photos of the day, stare off into space, chew and relax. Then driving home on the twisty, dark and desolate roads, we can see that off season Tuesday nights are quiet here in Maine.  We are getting used to the quiet.


Back home to pajamas and local Gifford’s vanilla ice cream topped with blueberries, and while Joe snores I stay up way past my bedtime devouring an entire book, in the deep dark of the Maine woods.


Wednesday is an adventure day. Up early to drink coffee and sit in our favorite spot, the deck overlooking the cove, as we research restaurants for our next three days. Joe prepares camera equipment and empties cards of all the photos he’s taken so far.  I could live here on the water forever. Watching the birds catch fish off the rocks, the water slowly lapping against the docks and the boats. But there is adventure to be had driving up the gorgeous curving coast to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, several hours north of our cottage.




Our road trip to Acadia started around 10am. We stopped for gas and drinks and then hit the road north with just a couple of brief stops, for a little shopping at a road side flea market, all those gleaming glass bottles and lobster floats caught our attention somewhere along the way, and then at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge for a photo op. 





Our best laid plans were to eat lunch sometime in the early afternoon at Tracey’s in Sullivan, about 10 minutes outside of Acadia National Park, but that turned into a 45 minute adventure, courtesy of a bad address in Yelp. Somehow, we are sort of lost and off the main road, having seen no signs for Tracey’s and following some numbered Fire Road into the woods. Passing signs that say “Go Slow, Deaf Dogs, Blind Cats, and Old Woman with gun!” We didn't stop to take a picture of that one. Some huge construction project/road work was happening poised over a rushing stream. Even idyllic back woods Maine needs better roads. 


So once we gave up on Tracey’s, obviously closed and hiding for the season, we headed back out to the  main roads, if only to avoid getting shot by Grandma Pearl for accidentally running over her hard-of-hearing dachshund. We regrouped, and tracked down Jordan’s Snack Shack. Still open and doing a brisk business at two in the afternoon, always a good sign. We were starving. Stomachs rumbling, we grabbed a picnic table tucked behind the restaurant, ordered our fish lunches at the window and settled in to eat some of the best casual food of our whole trip. The best fried scallops I've ever had. Everything was fresh, hot, and of course perfectly battered. It’s vacation, battered is a vacation food group. 

After our shady, breezy, deep fried lunch, we hopped back in the car, toodled down the road to Mt. Desert Island, the island where Bar Harbor, one of Maine’s biggest tourist destinations, and Acadia National Park reside. 



We headed to Bar Harbor first. The number of senior citizens, cars, fanny packs, walkers and general tourist mayhem was overwhelming after the isolated off season trip we’d had so far. Increased ten fold compared to Boothbay or Damariscotta, it was crazy. And kind of awful. Like ants had suddenly invaded our perfect two person picnic. Just moments before, as we drove into the outskirts of the town,  I'd said maybe we could consider staying here next time, it is gorgeous, but I quickly took that back once we got closer into the main town. Nope. Never. Too many tourists.



Too many cheesy shops and ice cream parlours. I like off season. I like isolated and quaint and smaller. But Acadia and Bar Harbor for a day trip is ideal. We took the mile long walk along the coast at Bar Harbor, thanks to a tip from one of Joe’s photo books, and we got a chance to see into the backyards of some incredible real estate along the water. We took the path and then cut through a swanky neighborhood that dropped us right in downtown Bar Harbor. 



We strolled along for a couple of miles and then, having taken in the view to our max, and photographed it until there wasn't anything left for anyone else to see, we got back in the car, and drove into Acadia National Park. 



We stopped at the Visitors Center to get a map and some advice, and we started in on the Park Loop Drive that covers 28 miles of the most stunning coastline I've ever seen. But don’t let me tell you, just look.



Sun dappled cliffs, trails shaded by evergreen forests and tiny hidden fauna, it reminded me of Point Lobos near Monterrey, California, where we traveled for our tenth anniversary a couple of years ago. Craggy rocks and crashing surf, it all seems somehow miraculous and totally mundane at the same time. Like, how can it be this lovely? And of course it’s this lovely, it’s Maine. 




Sturdy windswept plants staking claim between cracks in the rocks, small tide pools, every turn, every corner was another vista to make you catch your breath. Either shady horizon lines of tree covered shores with no land in sight in the distance, or sun soaked coves catching the last rays before setting for the day. Sandy Beach, Otter Cove, Blue Overlook, Cadillac Mountain. 



After several stops for photos and brief hiking, and just general absorption of the overwhelming pretty, my sensory image bank was full up. We headed up Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunset, thanks to recommendation from the park ranger and another smart photo book, instead of watching from the summit, everyone sits just below the summit, on a huge slab of sloped rocks. 



There were probably 50 people scattered over the rocks, just waiting. A few other photo nerds with tripods like Joe, lots of camera phone nerds like me, with the big sloping rock set up like nature’s own Imax theatre. Waiting for the nightly show, it was very windy and chilly and the mix of shorts and sandals and heavy winter coats was amusing. As the sun dipped lower and lower, all fifty of us started to smile. The vast expanse of hills and lakes and trees started to light up orange, pink and blue purple. The crowd was reverential. Nearly silent, like church prayers, we sat together and just watched. 



After the slow twenty minute descent, the sun finally retired completely, sunk below, disappeared, and a hearty round of applause broke out. Slowly we all unraveled our stiff limbs, moved around and gathered our bags, warming up, giving one last lingering view to the sky and the land fading in front of us. The drive back down the mountain was as beautiful as the drive up had been, but every sharp needly evergreen was softened in the warm pastel light.


Joe drove us back off Mt. Desert Island, and we found a restaurant in Ellsworth, since it was already after 7pm and we were approaching famished, or at least hungry, Ellsworth was close and would have fewer tourists than Bar Harbor. So we picked out Cleonice’s Mediterranean Bistro, just based on Yelp reviews, and our desire for something besides fried seafood and French fries served in a red plastic basket. Cleonice’s was exactly what we wanted and was probably our favorite meal of the whole voracious trip. Old wooden booths with intricate carvings along the edge covered the entire left side with a large bar along the right of this long narrow, dimly lit restaurant. We took a warmer table near the back. 


Our waitress was one of those career waitresses who takes her job seriously, with a brisk professionalism that ensures she gives you good recommendations, but doesn't talk your ear off. She didn't hover, she handled the rowdy nearly rude table of slightly drunk sales guys with a cool disregard of practiced command that warmed their dismissive attitudes right up. We started with prosciutto and melon tapas, with crispy prosciutto made the traditional Italian, but in Iowa. It was salty, crispy and smoky. For dinner, Joe had a couple of small tapas plates: halibut ceviche, short ribs and a colorful Panzanella salad. I went with the Maine paella, complete with sunny saffron rice and lobster, scallops, mussels, chorizo, and clams. When everything is local, grown around the corner, or from small farmers and producers who put care into their creations, the food just tastes better. Cleonice’s proves it. Clean and beautiful and fresh. Heirloom tomatoes from the owner’s garden, big broiled wedges of homemade focaccia bread dipped in olive oil. 


After this fabulous meal, we just relaxed, drank some wine and relived the day. Chatted with our fabulous waitress, thanked her for the meal, and hit the road back to our cottage. We had missed it after a whole day away. Home to Clark’s Cove by 11 and dead asleep by 11:30. Sleeping and dreaming of crashing waves and peering off of steeply angled rocks.

I’ll wrap up with the last two and a half days of our trip next time, with a bit of boating, art, steak and kidney pie and then back home to the Midwest.