Monday, August 01, 2011

Backroads of Downeast Maine and a return to Winter Harbor

Joyce and Susie at Frazer Point, Schoodic
The weather Saturday morning began with the promise only of uncertainty -- rain perhaps? Thunderstorms? Overcast for sure -- all we could do was hope for the best. And we did.

So, after packing ourselves and a few food items in the car Joyce, Susie, Carl and I headed off in search of used books and, more importantly, used memories. First up was the Big Chicken Barn, home of thousands of used books and other sundry used items (dubbed in the local dialect "antique"), located midway between Ellsworth and Bucksport, along Coastal Route 1.

At Carl's suggestion, we sidestepped the hopeless clogged Route 1A to Ellsworth (taking weekenders on to Bar Harbor) and took the more roundabout but less travelled scenic Route 15 to Bucksport.

After 40 minutes or so of cruising the backroads of Downeast Maine we crawled into Bucksport where a major maritime festival was underway and we caught a glimpse of a US Navy guided missile frigate and numerous navy types ("tars") strolling about the village.

A few minutes later we were back on the highway and soon found ourselves pulling into the parking lot of the Big Chicken Barn -- which is, as you have probably guessed, a very big, very old, chicken barn. We parked in the shade, unscrewed our bodies from the air conditioned interior and stepped out into the heat of a day turned gorgeously sunny but working on steamy. Susie and Joyce broke out the snacks, the four of us broke out our appetites and enjoyed a light repast of cheese, crackers and fruit before tackling the Barn.

After an hour of casual browsing but finding little to hold our attention, we piled back into the car and headed off for Ellsworth and a return to the fringes of Acadia National Park.

Most travelers to Acadia find themselves wandering around Mount Desert Island (which is an island but not a desert), in search of Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain or the numerous hiking trails to be found throughout the park. But not us. Oh, no, we were off to that other part of Acadia, on the other side of Frenchmen's Bay, the part that is tucked into a small spit of land and sand called Schoodic Point.

Of course we found the park with little trouble -- but then we knew where it was having spent the summer of 2007 living and working in Winter Harbor, a quirky little community at the edge of western civilization but, and much more importantly, at the entrance to Schoodic Point. And the memories came flooding back:
Winter Harbor in the distance to the right, seen from Frazer Point, Schoodic
Cadillac Mountain and Mt. Desert Island from Schoodic Point
Joyce looking out to sea - and what does she see?

Little had changed at Schoodic, geologically or otherwise, since we were there last. The entrance to the Schoodic Recreation Center, what was the old US Naval Intelligence installation, had been redone and looks much slicker now and less like, well, a naval base. And the life preserver stand just up the point by the parking lot is now gone -- it had been put there the summer of 2007 when two women from Michigan were swept off the rocks by one of the frequent "rogue waves," as they're known locally.  At a different time in history the "locals" would have described the waves as evil gods and such actions as punishment. Either way, one woman drowned and the other barely survived and in the blink of an eye what was just a quiet moment of holiday fun became a lifetime of anguish. And the life preserver is still gone. But most of the wanderers that day probably didn't know the story.

Like everyone else, the four of us wandered around almost as if in a reflective, perhaps peaceful state of mind: Susie strolled down roads much-remembered, Joyce sat amidst the heat of the rocks and wondered what the ocean had in store for us all, while Carl and I clambered about the rocks seeking something, anything in the cracks and fissures. Schoodic has always been a place for contemplation and seeking but without actually finding -- that's why it's so appealing for me, at any rate; that's why I like to return again and again.

Winter Harbor, by contrast, was far less appealing this trip. Gerrish's has apparently changed hands, and is now called "Gerrish for Schoodic Restaurant" -- no, we didn't get it either. The interior had changed dramatically since we were there last year -- and in place of racks of provisions and foodstuffs, were dozens of small paintings for sale dotting the walls and the restroom had been moved, for easier access. Even though it was only about 3pm the food had all been packed away and we were informed the kitchen was closed although the sign out front said "Open 7-5" and listed the specials of the day, none of which were now available. But the four young women were clearly bored, certainly with the few customers that walked in and eager to wrap it up and head out to greener pastures.

And speaking of changes in food experiences in this part of Maine, the four of us finished the day off by having dinner at Green Tea in Bangor, a place Carl and Joyce turned us on to a couple of years back. The service has always been quirky but in a cute way (whatever that means), but this time our server appeared more medicated than funny. And the food was less than stellar, bordering on downright mediocre we thought. But, hey, things change.

Carl, Joyce and Susie
Mongolian Beef -- no,  I didn't think so either

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