Our Trip To Maine, August 2001

by Michelle Erica Green

We arrived in Connecticut Friday night, August 17, having picked the boys up from their last day of camp and stopped at a McDonald's in New Jersey for dinner (I brought butternut squash ravioli, being unable to abide McD's). Saturday morning we got a phone call from my parents, who are at my sister's house in Armonk, NY this week babysitting her two daughters while she and her husband are at a wedding. My mother wanted to know if we wanted to meet somewhere to get the cousins together, so we met up at the little aquarium in Norwalk, CT, about an hour away from my in-laws in Hartford. This is one of the many museums we can get into free off our Maryland Science Center membership, which is wonderful. The aquarium has been partly rebuilt since we were last there, shortly after a fire destroyed much of the building. There's a brand new shark tank, a fabulous large jellyfish tank along with some smaller ones in an educational exhibit, seals in an indoor-outdoor tank where one can watch feedings from three different levels, seahorses crabs in an exhibit on the North Atlantic, a petting tank full of rays that Adam almost fell into trying to reach them, a touch pool with small crustaceans and horseshoe crabs, and two large walk-through mazes with information on ocean ecology where kids can get "passport" stamps on cards...also an exhibit on boating and an IMAX theater that we never made it to, since the kids got tired and we took them for ice cream before the long ride home.

Sunday we went to Old Sturbridge Village, which is a reconstruction of an 1850s-era town in Massachusetts. There's a large farm with many animals, a schoolhouse, blacksmiths using historic tools, a bank minting its own money, residents in costume, a children's toy museum, all manner of crafts and farming activities and lots of food -- a county fair of yesteryear come to life. The boys made their own candlesticks in a tin workshop, watched a toy air balloon launch and designed quilts using a computer program, and we all had fudge. On the way home we went to a Chinese buffet, Daniel's favorite, and stuffed ourselves. The temperature has been tolerable -- a bit hot in the sun but nothing like Washington on a bad day, and it will be cooler in Maine.

Monday we had a number of local chores to do, like getting supplies at the grocery store and Wal-Mart. So we stayed local, going in the morning to some of my favorite places that we may not ever make it back to like the Swedish and Irish shops in Farmington with beautiful handmade doll clothes and great marzipan. Right near my in-laws in Bristol there's a rock shop that we assumed for years was really a head shop, but actually sells fossils and Native American crafts, plus hundreds of different types of beads. Then we took the kids to the Connecticut Science Center (another free exchange with the Maryland Science Center). It's very kid-oriented, with a hands-on exhibit on electricity and sound (lots of battery connections and sine wave music readings), plus Legos, a small zoo and an exploration station with soap bubbles, giant kaleidescopes, etc. Adam's favorite thing is the room full of turtles, where kids can put on fake shells and flippers and BE a turtle after examining many specimens in aquariums around the walls. We also went out for pie.

I called Maureen, my Kate Mulgrew-lookalike professor from college, whom I had meant to call the night we got up here to see whether we could get together since she has a house in Clinton, near New Haven. It turned out I wouldn't get to see her because by the time we planned to get back from Maine, she would already be en route to Duke, where she teaches. We chatted about her husband Michael's new novel coming out next month. I mentioned that I have all of his books in hardcover but his second -- The Delectable Mountains -- and she pooh-poohed it as not worth owning, especially not for the $200 or so it regularly goes for now on the antiquarian market. I relate this because of an incident at the end of the trip that made me think some goddess (probably the Morrigan) was listening to this conversation.

Tuesday we drove to Mount Desert Island, stopping for lunch and snacks at various roadside places in Massachusetts and Maine. The route from Hartford passes through the corner of New Hampshire past some beautiful foothills and lakes before entering the pine forests of Maine en route to the coast. The highlight of the drive was seeing wild turkeys at the side of the road when we entered Maine. Our cottage in Hulls Cove (about four miles from Bar Harbor) was in a hotel-and-houses cluster called The Colony, right across the street from the bay. It was a two-minute walk from the cottage to the tide pools, which were filled at low tide tonight with crabs, clams, starfish, snails, mussels and the occasional urchin. We had chilly but gorgeous weather, so we went to play mini-golf after dinner at Pirate's Cove, which Daniel has been talking about since we went there last year -- this time, however, we played Blackbeard's Challenge which in his mind is more difficult. This place has a pirate ship and fake Captain Kidd relics, so both boys enjoyed it. I was delighted to discover in the evenings that I could access the internet from here and check my eBay auctions.

Wednesday we had a very busy day, waking close to dawn while the tide was out, then heading to Mount Desert Island's SW Harbor. We stopped at Wonderland, Seawall and the Bass Harbor lighthouse because these areas have excellent tide pools -- we didn't see many starfish, but there were lots of small crabs and one big barnacle-encrusted rock crab, plus thousands of snails, barnacles, and the tiny little black mussels that grow between the rocks near the ocean (not to be confused with the huge black mussels that grow in areas left dry when the tide goes out, which one often must walk over to reach the larger pools). The kids got a kick out of popping the bladderwort and declaring that it was "peeing" when it squirted water out of its little balloons. Some of the rocks were extremely slippery from kelp and seaweed, but we did a lot of climbing particularly near the lighthouse, which is situated at the top of a magnificent view over a craggy cliff leading down to the shore. The rocks had hundreds of little spiders on them in the dry areas, replaced by snails closer to the water. During the walk back to the van from Seawall, we discovered blueberries growing at the side of the path and stopped to pick them. We didn't get to see the best tide pools because by the time we arrived at Bass Harbor, the tide had mostly come in and was covering them.

After stopping for lunch at a little deli called Deacon Seat in SW Harbor, where we had a lobster roll, we went to the Mount Desert Island Oceanarium down by the water. We had gone there last year and the kids were very anxious to see the "sea pukumber," as Adam calls it. This is a wonderful little aquarium with shelves and shelves of shell and bone specimens, a room where one can dress up in sea gear and practice piloting a ship, lots of information for kids about salt water, pollution, etc., and the highlight -- a huge touch-tank filled with horseshoe crabs, snails, urchins, starfish, clams and of course sea cucumbers and sea potatoes (both of which gratified boys by spurting water at them while they were being held). The staff is extremely knowledgeable and also took us on a tour of the room with the tanks, where we got to observe scallops fleeing from menacing starfish, cod dozing in sand, wolf fish demonstrating the size of their jaws and lots of other small sea life, including a dead dried shark head.

We came back to the cottage to change because everyone was rather muddy from the morning tide pools, then headed out to Bar Harbor as the tide was starting to go out again. An enormous cruise ship larger than the tallest hotel in town was anchored out in the harbor. Paul and the kids went shopping for fudge and blueberry syrup while I went to my favorite hippie hangouts -- Eden Rising (a New Age Asian import-and-health store), Sherman's Book Store (which also carries all manner of kitsch, Maine foods and handmade jewelry) and the Hemporium (where you can buy absolutely anything made of hemp, but not, of course, the smokable or ingestable variety). In addition to gifts for friends, I bought some goddess postcards, some solid perfume (frangipani, impossible to find in Washington or anywhere I've looked on the internet), a pair of sun earrings, some beads and an "I GREW HEMP" rubber stamp with which to mark dollar bills next to George Washington's mouth -- my favorite item at the Hemporium, though it was really difficult to pass up the hemp backpack with Grateful Dead bear on it.

Since we had plans to go out for lobster the next night, we came back to the cottage and had Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner. But first we drove out on the bar about an hour before low tide, at a point when it was completely uncovered but not completely dry. This is one of two times of day when Bar Island is accessible on foot, so we walked over into this section of Acadia National Park and went to look at the harbor tide pools, which don't have as much variety as their oceanic counterparts but had lots of gulls and ducks wallowing in them looking for food. Then we came back for fudge, showers and reading.

Being in Bar Harbor, I can't help thinking about Karen, who died last year the day we arrived; I bought a pair of earrings in Eden Rising the night I learned of her death, and think of her whenever I put them on, so I wore them today. We discussed going to the restaurant we had eaten in that night, which had excellent lobster and a train going around the ceiling, but I didn't eat a thing last year and it doesn't hold very nice memories for me. I have had strange dreams about her since being in Maine.

Thursday we got up and made blueberry pancakes with the berries we had picked the day before, then went to the Bar Harbor Oceanarium, which is home to a lobster hatchery and salt marsh. The boys were interested in seeing the infant lobsters -- at stage four, when they can be released into open waters with a good chance of survival, they are less than an inch long, and are kept in large warmed tanks with constant bubbles so the strong ones don't try to eat the weak ones. They get fed huge quantities of brine shrimp. We got to see several mother lobsters with lots of eggs caking their undersides, including one that looked like it was at least eight pounds, but Adam was disappointed because we weren't allowed to touch the lobsters or anything in the hatchery -- the environment is too fragile. We also learned that another hatchery had successfully bred blue lobsters and released thousands of tiny ones into Maine waters, which probably explains why blue lobsters showed up in our local food store back home -- normally they're one in a thousand.

Next we went to a talk by a lobster fisherman who taught us to make nets; he asked Daniel to be the volunteer to hold the string and keep the net, but Daniel declined, and Adam complained all morning about not getting asked to be the volunteer, leading to his falling off the indoor boat where the lobsterman was lecturing. After his talk, the man let Adam touch one of the blue lobsters, which assuaged him somewhat. The tanks contained some rare orange lobster along with other varieties of seafood, demonstrations of how lobster traps work and the like. The marsh walk involved nice views of the harbor, fish in a mosquito pond and some red squirrels but couldn't compete with the lobster hatchery.

We came back to the cottage for lunch, then drove into Acadia and up Cadillac Mountain and hiked around the summit, where boys jumped on rocks and Paul and I studied the Cranberries where we'll cruise tomorrow. Afterwards, for the highlight of the day, we went to the Sand Beach. The water was so cold it made my head hurt, and tons of seaweed washed ashore with every wave, but Daniel and Adam didn't seem to care that they were turning blue and spent a lot of time in the water, then covered themselves with sand. The tide was near its peak, so there wasn't a lot of beach and the waves were quite impressively large, knocking Adam down several times. Unfortunately we hadn't brought enough changes of clothes, so we wore a lot of the sand when we went into Bar Harbor for dinner.

We ate at the Fish House Grill down on the water, at an outdoor corner table overlooking the dock. We had lobster bisque and corn bread, then I got swordfish (and a pina colada) and Paul got crab cakes (and a blueberry margarita) and we all shared (not the drinks but certainly the whipped cream on them). Seagulls and pigeons were circling right outside and flying into nests in the rocks of the seawall. Lobster boats were coming and going, as were a bunch of passenger lobster tour ships -- including the one we took last year, the Katherine. The tide moved out throughout the meal, so parts of the dock that were submerged when we started eating were above the waterline by the time we finished. The bar, which had been completely submerged when we started, was nearly walkable by the time we were done.

Adam was insisting on getting a stuffed rabbit like the one Daniel got the day before in town, so we went back to some of the stores, where I got a rainbow-colored backpack with a purple moon on it at Eden Rising, plus some beads at the Hemporium. After that we went back to Pirate's Cove and played the other mini golf course, where to my shock I got two holes-in-one and won. Daniel was dancing around all night and declared he had to poop at the seventeenth hole, so Adam and I had to waste several minutes climbing on rocks waiting. We wasted the late night watching Gary Condit lie to Connie Chung about Chandra Levy -- funny how the real world intrudes. I remember Paul's entire family at the reunion in Oregon sitting around the television watching O.J.'s Bronco fleeing police.

Friday we ate a quick breakfast so we could walk to the beach across from The Colony, where the tide was as far out as we've seen it and we could pass the Chart House restaurant dock without getting our shoes wet. Then we went back to the cottage to pack a picnic, which we ate on the dock while waiting for the Sea Princess to take us on our cruise. This was a lovely trip but more adult-oriented than last year's ride on the lobster boat Katherine, where the tour guide passed around live urchins, sea cucumbers and various other small sea life to keep the kids distracted while he lectured on Maine lobster fishermen. We arrived early and got a great seat toward the back on the windward side.

The Sea Princess started out motoring past the summer cottages of Nelson Rockefeller et al, the people who donated Acadia National Park to the government. Then it headed out into deeper waters, past rocks with a couple of seals on them -- since the tide was rising, most were out feeding in the water. We were told we might see porpoises, but didn't get that lucky, perhaps because of the number of lobster buoys and the sailboat races out past Mount Desert Island (which the tour guide pronounced as "dessert," based on some weird interpretation of the pronunciation of the French name, which refers to the islands as rocky and deserted). The boat docked at Little Cranberry Isle, where we walked into the tiny town of Isleford -- which consists of a post office/general store where we bought homemade gingerbread, a small maritime museum, and a public restroom for people coming off tourist boats. The main road was lined with empty lobster traps and goats tied up in people's front yards. The town is more than a hundred years old and populated entirely by lobster fishermen in the winter; in the summer, naturally, there are locals in seasonal cottages, whose property taxes pay for the roads, schools and most other amenities. Incidentally, there are no longer cranberries on the Cranberry Isles, since the bogs attracted mosquitos and were drained decades ago.

We had to rush back to the Sea Princess because the mail boat was coming. This time we cruised into Soams Sound, through the only fjord in the Northeast, with huge cliffs overlooking very deep, cold water where we got sprayed with very cold salty water. There were several cormorants and an enormous osprey nest, though we did not see any osprey up close, just soaring over the hills. Once we docked, we walked down the center of town in Northeast Harbor, then drove around to the other side of Soams Sound, where we climbed down a steep hill toward the water. After that we headed to Jordan Pond and started to hike out on the nature trail, but both boys decided they had to go to the bathroom as soon as we got to the pond (though they had insisted they didn't while we were in the Jordan Pond House), so we turned around after a brief view of the Bubbles and a glimpse of a tiny frog in the clear water. We considered having dinner there to try the legendary popovers but it was very expensive and had a long wait, so we just grabbed some chocolate and balsam fir sachets in the store and drove back to Hulls Cove.

One of the best family restaurants around is across the street from The Colony backing to the water. We had dinner at The Chart House, where the kids insisted on having lobster which of course is not on the children's menu; we got them twin lobster tails, while we had sauteed lobster and halibut on a macademia crust. Our table backed up to the restaurant's dock, which was floating in the water when we arrived but had hit the sandbar by the end of the meal. So we left by way of the dock and walked around the emerging tidepools, looking at the local ducks and sandpipers that were picking over the gulls' droppings. Realizing we still needed to buy some gifts, we went out to the store attached to the Log Cabin restaurant where we ate lobster last year and got some blueberry jam and tea. The boys campaigned for one last round of Pirate's Cove golf but we convinced them they really needed showers.

Paul took Daniel out to see the stars, and I took a break from keeping this journal to go see what they were finding. Paul hadn't brought the telescope for reasons of space which was a real pity because the sky was incredible. We had the clearest naked-eye view of the Milky Way that I've ever experienced; for once its name made total sense, a big white streak across the sky that just isn't visible from anywhere near the cities by which I've lived. There was a half moon, Mars was on the southwest horizon between Scorpio and Sagittarius. A meteor went through Cassiopeia, though I missed it. It was much colder than the previous night -- perfect for decaf chai and mint fudge.

Saturday was a driving day. After getting up and taking a last walk to across the street to see the low tide, where we saw mussels, crabs, snails, gulls and a single dead urchin that I took back with us to try to dry, we got in the car and headed back towards Connecticut. We stopped to get blueberry pies for Meri and my in-laws, and again at a tie-dye stall where I got the dyed dress of my dreams and Paul got a sweatshirt dyed like an American flag. We also stopped at Wal-Mart to get Pokemon 3 on video, figuring this would keep the kids quiet in the van for a couple of hours. We stopped for lunch at a picnic area in Maine and went into Billerica for dinner with Meri, Brian and Nicholas Antonelli. I haven't seen her since making the same trip last year. Nicholas doesn't seem to have changed that much, though now he's talking. He was highly amused by the boys, who were making some horse joke that he kept trying to imitate. Paul played soccer with Daniel and Adam while Meri and I shucked corn and talked, then she barbecued burgers for everyone while I made a fish fillet for myself. Brian and his friend John were there briefly, but were going from one party to another so we didn't get to see them much.

We got back to Hartford around 10 and had to start repacking immediately so Paul could drive the station wagon we're inheriting to Baltimore, where we planned to pick it up Tuesday on the way home. Sunday he got up early and spent most of the day driving to BWI, where he got on a plane back to Hartford. We took the boys to my in-laws' church picnic, where Daniel ate nothing and spent the entire time sailing styrofoam boats in an elevated tub, while Adam ate several different kinds of noodle salad and three desserts and won plastic dinosaurs and jewelry in various kiddie games. We also walked Ginger around. I bought two pins created by a displaced homemaker to raise money for other displaced homemakers, both colorful images of women of various sizes and shapes -- I figured I'd give one to my mother for Chanukah or something, and I should talk to Washington Hebrew about selling them for our charities. Later I ran out to Wal-Mart to buy boys new underwear while they played card games with Paul's parents. Then we picked Paul up at the airport and went to Rein's Deli, an authentic Brooklyn Jewish deli in Vernon, CT. Then we came back to the house to eat the blueberry pie we brought back from Mount Desert Island.

Monday we took the boys miniature golfing near my in-laws at a place we had to leave precipitously the last time we went when there was a disastrous pooping-in-pants incident. Then Paul and I went to The Book Exchange, a wonderful used bookstore that used to occupy both floors of an old house, full of nooks and crannies and back rooms -- the erotica was right in front where the store folk could keep an eye on it, but the history, biography and art were in interesting back corners. They have always had quite a good collection of original Trek zines including the excellent Chapel novel 'Kista,' though all the really good K/S is long gone (and I didn't even buy it -- well, except for the Naked Times with a/u Kirk and Spock on the cover). The last time we came to Connecticut, The Book Exchange had moved into a typical used-bookstore storefront location and lost much of its charm. But I forgive it for absolutely everything, because during this probable last-ever visit, right on the shelf in the fiction section I found a copy of The Delectable Mountains, in excellent condition, a former library copy...for under $5. I would happily have paid ten times that for it and considered it a great bargain as well as a personal treasure! I was smiling all evening as we ate baked chicken, pistachio cake from the deli, leftover pie, marzipan and everything else we could find lying around.

Tuesday we drove home, listening to N'Sync at Adam's request and watching Pooh and Pokemon at Daniel's. We ate sandwiches we had made in the morning when we stopped at a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop. I dropped Paul off by the station wagon in BWI's parking lot, then we continued home separately. When we arrived we quickly unpacked the van and went to get the cat and hamster. I had pumpkin ravioli for dinner and spent the rest of the evening unpacking, doing laundry and catching up on correspondence.