Tenants Harbor, Maine
43° 57.819 North
069° 12.121 West
Of Blueberries, And Fog, And Old Friends
been a three constants on Ithaka over the past two weeks. One, the
thickly cloaked us, so that no matter where we sail,
we see with the radar. Two, with the help of study tapes, Douglas has
been struggling to memorize his Morse Code, so that he can sit for the
FCC’s Code exam and hopefully earn the Ham General Class license.
This means that, in response to my wit and scintillating observations,
instead of responding with the charm and insight I covet, there’s
been a cacophony of “dot and dit” noises emerging from my
beloved morning, noon and night; all other “noise” aboard
(me) has to be kept to a minimum. The third constant is that we’ve
been in the throes of a blueberry frenzy, eating pints of the purply
blue jewels almost every day now, and making them into pies, soups, and
season has come late to Maine this year. Well into August, the usual
for the crop to reach its peak, Maine was a blueberry-free
zone, unless you were willing to fork over a large chunk of dough for
a small cardboard box of the beauties – and this dampened our consumption
while increasing our cravings. Then, it happened; toward the end of August,
and the beginning of September, kaboom! The crop peaked with a flourish,
and then everywhere we went we bought blueberries, experiencing the joy
of popping handfuls of perfectly ripened little juice balls into our
Announcing the peaking of the blueberry crop.
On a crystal-clear day, with a great wind filling our sails, and giddy
with the ability to see far and wide for a change, we sailed from Blue
Hill through the usual maze of lobster buoys, to Deer Isle in Penobscot
Bay, all the while listening to the urban agonies of Harry Chapin emanating
from our CD player.
on the journey, we passed one postcard-pretty pink-granite island after
next -- -- Hurricane Island, Butter Island, McLathery
Island, Pond Island – all along the famed Merchant’s Row
archipelago and up the bay, each one holding the promise of hide-away
anchorages for other times. This stretch of Maine probably offers the
most beautiful vistas of the entire coast, and I liked the thought of
coming back to Maine every now and again over a lifetime, and exploring
new islands and anchorages each time.
Merchants Row are some of the most beautiful islands in Maine.
separated from the mainland by Eggemogin Reach, has towns and villages
around it with lovely names begot of other eras,
such as Sunset, Sunshine, Mountainville, Oceanville, and Stonington,
the last one named for the granite quarrying that made Stonington a boom
town in the late 19th century. It was during those years that many Europeans
came to Maine, mostly from Italy, to work as stone cutters in the state’s
burgeoning granite business. In Stonington, as the story goes, the Italians
missed their arias so much that they built an opera house. It still stands
over the town today, a relic of a bygone time; for the most part, the
quarries of Stonington, and those of most of Maine, are now silent.
tribute to the stone carvers of Stonington.
our friend Betsy in Sylvester Cove, on Deer Isle, and through her
had a glimpse
of the country life. The bookshelves of her house are
piled high with novels and reference books, and lots of games and puzzles
for her children. We didn’t see a television. One day, Betsy and
Douglas went out to the forest to collect mushrooms – I mean,
how idyllic is that? -- which we made that night into an amazing risotto.
day, Betsy fired up her runabout, and together we zoomed out to visit
a few of the uninhabited islands. As we rolled up our pant
legs, pulled the boat ashore, and walked around in the streams,
she taught us all about their delicate ecosystems. This was where Betsy
had grown up, and her stories were from a lifetime of exploring
islands of Penobscot. Her family still had the house that had been
built by her great-grandmother, who’d bought the land it sat
on—in the 1870s—for $25, and who’d had everything
brought in by schooner.
On one of
our last days, Betsy and I drove from Deer Isle to the mainland, and
as we passed
red barns here and there, I remembered something I’d
seen in a book in the Southwest Harbor Library. In the 1700s, when it
was time to paint a barn, they’d kill a seal for its oil, and mix
it with red ochre to make a more durable stain. It was said to last for
years, and that’s where the term “barn red” came from.
through Brooklin, where writers Ann Seddons and Roger Angel live, and
the poet E. B. White’s house still stands, almost
just as he left it, including his writing cabin with much of its original
furniture. Maine seems to draw artists, and especially writers, to its
idiosyncratic community of full-time residents mixed with summer people.
Often, when Douglas and I would peruse the book-trade shelves in any
hotel or gathering spot during our travels in Maine, we’d notice
there’d always be collected volumes of Walt Whitman, E. B. White,
and other poetry, mixed in with lots of liberal-minded political books,
and other odd nods to the literary life; one afternoon we found “An
Introduction to the Readings Of Hegel.” The binding had never been
cracked, and I imagined the noble intentions of the person who’d
thought he might plow through it over a summer holiday. Perhaps it’s
a combination of the vagaries of the fog and weather, a stunning landscape
that entices you to stop and stare as your surroundings disappear to
white, and then appear again, but people seem inspired to do a lot of
reading and noodling here.
We set sail
next to Tenants Harbor, where completely by coincidence we ran into
old friends we hadn’t seen in awhile. Eric
and Liz had just bought a little cabin on the water, and moved up here
from Connecticut. Billy and Joyce had driven up from Rhode Island in
their van, towing their trailerable powerboat, and they were exploring
the coast with their dogs. Bruce and Dorsey, with their dog Alec, were
on the 34-foot sailboat Esmeralda from Jamestown, Rhode Island, and like
Ithaka they were stopping on their way south. Frank and Linda had sailed
up from Marion, Massachusetts, on their 38-footer Simba, and were heading
of Betsys hobbies is identifying edible mushrooms.
I was particularly thrilled to run into Simba, because I knew instantly
that Frank, who recently sat for his Ham test and passed, would pull
Douglas out of his Morse Code thrall, at least for a few social hours.
Frank had used the same study tapes as Douglas, and the two guys commiserated
about the paralyzing dullness embodied in several weeks of studying something
you only need to know for five minutes of examination, after which you
forget it the very next day. These two guys are kindred spirits.
old decoration from the side of the Stonington Opera House.
as several of us were all sitting around in Ithaka ’s
cockpit, rejoicing in the happenstance of this many connected people
being in the same place at the same time, we noticed the names of the
boats moored around us: Serenity, Tranquility, and Equanimity. All of
them were from out of state, and we mused about what their names might
have been if, before naming them, their owners had spent a few weeks
trying to maneuver amongst the blanket of lobster-pot buoys that put
a pall over every passage here. Perhaps then the boat names would more
reflect the mood aboard: Surprised, Freaked, Tangled, Heart Attack. The
number of pots is a nasty problem for cruisers.
Stonington Opera House still stands. Today its home to a thriving arts scene.
was drawing to a close. Tenants Harbor was our last Maine harbor, and
I was feeling
wistful enough about leaving, and fed up with a couple
of greasy boat-maintenance projects we’d just finished, that I’d
gone ashore while Douglas orchestrated his dots and dits, and wandered
into a real estate office to find out how much things cost. I could live
in Maine, despite the fog, despite the remoteness, despite the pots,
despite the lousy cell-phone coverage.
The town of Stonington, as seen from Ithaka s cockpit.
one day at the Tenants Harbor Market, the town’s only
food store, and a teeny one at that, trying to get our T-Mobile cell
phone to work, I stood with three other sailors – all of us in
full foul-weather gear, one foot on the street, one foot on the curb,
because that was the exact and only spot that you could get coverage
for miles around. Across the street? Nothing. Farther in on the sidewalk?
Nope. The result was that those of us on the curb who had Verizon (one
guy) could make calls from that spot. Those of us with other carriers
were flat out of luck.
this week, I looked at what I was wearing – flip flops
and shorts, a teeshirt, then over that a fleece jacket, a Gore-Tex jacket,
a winter fleece leopard print hat, and sunglasses. And I realized the
incongruity of these pieces. The flip flops had never before met the
fleece hat, despite being part of the same person’s wardrobe for
several years. But this to me is one of the beauties of Maine. One minute
you may be sunbathing and popping blueberries, the next you’re
bundled up as if it’s the dawn of the Ice Age. One minute you’re
gazing at a heartbreakingly beautiful tableaux of green conifers on pink
granite, and an antique lighthouse painted in red stripes; the next,
Mother Nature lowers a white blanket over your head, and your world becomes
very small. One minute you’re flying along at 8 knots, the next,
you’re yanked to a stop as a lobster buoy captures your prop. Ah
Maine. One minute you love it and want to live here, the next you hate
it and vow never to return. I miss it already.
fog encourages cozying up to some good food and company. Heres a platter of sushi made by a gathering of friends.
sunsets are spectacular from Sylvester Cove.