A couple of years ago, after the kids were grown and most of them moved out, I decided it would be fun to re-acquaint myself with the state of Maine, where I spent my first 17 years and later returned to raise my children. I wanted to drive to the end of every road and turn around and come back. Just ride around. Figure out where I am. Ponder my place in this big world. See what was around me outside of the-, say-80-mile radius where we usually lived our lives and took care of our business. With Maine being about 35,000 square miles I only wanted to cruise all the coastal roads of my childhood with wind blowing my hair and the radio loud, my only objective being to see the view. I didn’t need any extravagant arrangements, I only needed my atlas, my husband and my playlist. Maine has 3,478 miles of jagged coastline, third to only Florida and Louisiana so this may keep us out of trouble for a few summers. My husband’s interests gravitate to the west of us towards New Hampshire so we may have to alternate trips but that’s fine, I’m flexible.
I have long been fascinated by the small towns in this country. By their likenesses and their differences. By the cultures and sub-cultures that thrive within them. I grew up in a small town. I’ve lived in cities and towns from here across the country. From San Diego to Birmingham and small towns all around. I love this country. I’ve always wanted to drive it from end to end.
It took one day out driving last summer to discover that most roads in the southern part of the state now end in Private Property and No Trespassing signs. What isn’t closed to trespassers has been commercialized. This is Vacationland, after all. “Maine- the way life should be.” Thank you, God, they took those signs down, they annoyed the crap out of me. The way life should be, my ass. What does that even mean? What way should life be? And who decided this anyway?
There is York Beach that boasts York’s Wild Kingdom with its animal exhibits and paddleboats rides. You can even grab a ride on a camel. There is Old Orchard Beach with its amusement park rides and its boardwalk, where children can still find an arcade and you can grab a slice of Bill’s Pizza and stroll the shops on the pier, if that’s your thing. There is Popham beach and the nearby Fort Baldwin with its crumbling forts and towers to explore and of course the stunning Acadia National Park with its 158 miles of hiking trails, carriage roads and stone bridges. You would think with all that coastline we would have a lot of beaches but we don’t. Most of Maine’s beaches are made of stone and surrounded by bluffs and once it gets above 60 degrees in the spring, school gets out and the next thing you know everyone you ever met from out of state shows up for a summer visit and before long everysandy seat is taken.
After the snow melted last winter, we made the spur of the moment decision to get out of the house for a little spring head clearing. While we were hibernating over the long winter, I had done a little research and I chose Lubec as a destination only because it is the easternmost point of the contiguous United States. No other reason. Thought I might try to hit every point. North, South, East and West.
I went online and made a reservation at the first place that came up in my search, a fantastic sounding place named The Inn on the Wharf. The website looked promising and the idea of ‘adjust(ing) my watch to tide time, fall(ing) asleep to the sounds of the sea and wak(ing) up to the tranquility of a day beside the bay… while playful seals and whales swam nearby’, was alluring after a long winter spent shoveling snow and hauling firewood- trapped in the house for months with my family and our insane dogs. Beyond finding a place to stay, I did no other research. I didn’t plan a route or look up attractions in the Lubec area. The thought of doing these things never crossed my mind. I only wanted to go away. I didn’t really care if we stayed in the room all day, at least the view would be better. For a week, I ran over the images from the website in my mind. Screaming inside my mind and feeling trapped, I fantasized about one night away from my own house…
We were long past cabin fever and rushing towards cabin ‘psychosis’, trust me – it has to be a thing. By December the sun rises around 7 and sets about 4 and the nights get long. One year I even went so far as to try and get my family to make a movie about a family being killed and not found until the snow melted in the spring. I even made chalk outlines with masking tape on the floor. It was a project more involved than a puzzle and, needless to say, there were no takers on that winter project… I don’t know how people in Alaska survive for so long without daylight. By February every year I’m seeing shadow people everywhere. Sometimes, I think The Shining was partly based on fact, the unhinged part anyway, for sure.
Last year, our first snowfall came on December 8th and in April it was still snowing. My husband is always spouting off that, “It’s almost February!”, like February is some magical point where winter ends and the sun comes out. While it’s true that February is halfway through winter and it’s the shortest month of the year. I, personally, feel that February is the longest month, still, if we can get through it we are over the hump. That year my February lasted until the last week of April. It was a long month. The temperature remained below normal and as of May 9th, no buds had arrived to dress the trees with their vivid new-green leaves, and most of my flowerbeds were still under snowbanks. We needed to get away.
By the end of the week, my husband decided he couldn’t wait any longer to head ‘DownEast’ -a term I never understood- so we headed out a day early. It was supposed to be a 4 ½ -hour trip, though we intended to stop at whatever scenic overlooks and attractions that appealed to us along the way and we expected it would take us a little longer. That 4 ½ hour trip north turned into an overnighter about the time we were halfway. We were happy wanderers let loose and before the weekend was over we learned the term ‘Downeast’ was a sailing term meaning that ships had to sail downwind up the coast to reach Hancock and Washington County, the 2 most northeastern counties in Maine.
I don’t know what that means either. The best I can understand, it has something to do with turning the sails and the rudder until you are catching the wind at an angle. Don’t take my word for it, I may live in Maine but I’m no sailor. All my life I thought it was just what we Mainers called up north…
There are a couple things you should know if you’re going to travel around here- One is, if the snow is melted, be prepared for delays and detours due to road construction. Usually it is only it is only pothole repair, a futile yet necessary exercise, if you want to keep the tires on your car, that is. Another is that your cell service is going to be spotty, if not non-existent most of the time you’re not near a town. Oh, don’t worry, it’s pretty. You’ll have plenty to pay attention to. And don’t forget the potholes!
We loaded the car and headed out early Friday afternoon in the direction of Rt. 1 North, intending to follow it to the end. Just get in the car and drive to the end of the road. We detoured only once when we decided to venture off to Deer Isle where we entered a rabbit hole near someplace called Orland. It seemed it didn’t matter if we took a left turn or a right, we ended up at one of two stop signs. No isle of any sort in sight. We spent well over an hour, laughing hysterically as each familiar stop sign came into sight. We must have made 7 or 8 loops on what should have been a straight shot when we finally came upon an unfamiliar stop. We breathed a sigh of relief and followed the signs again directing us back to RT. 1. We laughed hysterically but I, for one, was happy to be out of that distorted reality. The goosebumps had started to spread and I was beginning to feel a little freaked.
That detour cost us daylight and not knowing what type of lodging would be available farther north during the off- season we stayed in Ellsworth at a chain hotel and ate fast food in bed with the tv, our happiness at being out of the house overshadowing our disappointment.
We rose sometime after breakfast and headed straight for Lubec- no time to waste on unnecessary detours! Our weekends mission of discovering what was at the end of this road awaited us, now with a greater sense of urgency. It was about a 2-hour drive to Lubec along Maine’s Bold Coast Scenic Highway, (I don’t know why they call it that because not only did we see NO coast, we saw no BOLD coast while driving along that stretch of Rt. 1 but we were in more of a hurry. Maybe the Bold Coast was visible by boat but that was an adventure for another day….
After leaving Ellsworth we began to see more and more blueberry fields. I didn’t recognize them as blueberry bushes because the blueberries that grow in our yard are on bushes taller than my 5’ self. The fields were barren, bordered by low stone walls and broken by boulders of varying sizes. To my mind, they were eerily reminiscent of the photos I had seen of southern Civil War battlefields. Deserted and lonely.
About an hour out of Ellsworth, we began to notice abandoned houses sporting overgrown yards left choked with broken down cars and boats of all shapes and sizes, rusting lobster traps and other makings of a life by the sea. We passed many houses with For Sale signs in the yard. The main industry in this area was once sardine canning and the last cannery in Lubec closed in 2001. People learn to get by with what they have and make money where they can.
Lubec is a small village in Washington County on the Canadian border boasting about 95 miles of shoreline and a population, at last count 1,359 souls. It takes about an hour in the car to traverse the entire town and you won’t see much from the car window. It is when you discover all the hidden trails and beaches that you realize your vacation time is well spent.
About 4.5 miles from Lubec you will find the West Quoddy Head Light on The Bay of Fundy. It is an active lighthouse that was built in 1808 under orders from President Thomas Jefferson. It is the only candy-striped lighthouse tower in the United States, making it more easily visible in the fog that blankets the area and during snowstorms. Accessible from there, are very nice, well-maintained trails along the coast that lead you to the bluffs. It is the easternmost point of the United States and at our first viewing, it was blanketed by a very thick fog. I walked the ½ mile trail up to the bluffs, not expecting to see much of a view, but just to feel the salty mist on my face and in the air. I wanted to breathe it in and I felt as though the fog was swaddling me, there was nothing to see and only the sound of the foghorn to remind me of civilization. I began to feel at peace with myself and my surroundings. It was perfect. The wind and the mist…The salt in my air and lungs, I felt as if I had come home.
When we arrived at the Inn on the Wharf that afternoon we found the room was all the inn owners had advertised. We were slightly disappointed that the room was not actually on the wharf (lol) but the room was perfect and I’m not sure that the wharf was closer to the water than the room turned out to be.
The door was unlocked and the key was inside on the dresser. There was not one person in sight. The view from the room looked exactly as it had online only better because we were finally seeing it in person. The sun was finally out and as soon as we got out of the car and unpacked we went for a walk to explore.
We could see two wharfs from our balcony. One was the restaurant connected to the inn and it was still closed for the season so we headed toward the other and soon discovered that we could charter a boat to go whale watching or put our own boat in at one of the many public boat landings in the area and explore on our own, although I would probably want someone familiar with the waters of Lubec onboard.
We could see a light house from our room and found that it was on Roosevelt’s Campobello Island, just across a bridge into Canada. We didn’t bring our passports so we’ll save the island for our next trip and there will be one soon!!
The tv in our room had only local channels, although others were programmed in- we were there ‘pre-season’ and things weren’t quite up and running yet. It was when the weather girl started speaking of rain amounts in millimeters, that we realized that it wasn’t going to be 6 degrees that night and that we were watching news from across the border in Canada. I didn’t try to do any conversions. I’m smart enough to know it was cold and that I had forgotten my pajamas.
The local IGA carried the customary Maine tee shirts but there were no pajamas in sight. Or sweatpants or leggings or anything that wouldn’t be worn by a fisherman. Which is fine- just don’t forget them. We were there at the beginning of May but I doubt July nights feel much warmer. If you are looking for organic or vegan foods, I would bring in what you’ll need or you may need to take a ride to Eastport, about a 45-minute ride or possibly further, if you’re picky.
Frank’s Dockside is a little dockside (obviously, lol) restaurant that happened to open for the season the day before we got there. They offered food and live music Saturday night, tired from our ride time we opted for takeout to eat from our room where the view was quieter. Sunday, we were on our own. We discovered Shore Thing Take Out and Variety. They were open from 5a.m. to 8 p.m. and offered breakfast, lunch and dinner serving everything from burgers and pizzas to seafood platters. The prices were reasonable and the food was good. Decks of cards and cribbage boards were stacked in every window sill facing the road, as though many long winter days were spent staring out those windows searching for signs of life.
We heard of a cove named Baileys Mistake and a black sand beach from volcanic rock so we set out to find them. Thankfully it is almost impossible to get lost because all the roads eventually end up at the same place- RT. 1. We found Baileys Mistake and many Lubec beaches but no black sand beach. It was low tide when we arrived at Baileys Mistake and there wasn’t much water on the beach. I could see how you could run aground and there was only one house visible. It looked more like a shack and it was for sale. “If only”, we dreamed…
Lubec has 20 foot tides and 20 feet stretches a long way on level ground. I’m not sure how far but I know I wouldn’t want to be exploring the sandbar when the tide started coming in. You could check the tides online or ask someone in town. I would think most anyone would have that information.
We saw only one lone figure while we were exploring the outskirts of Lubec that early spring weekend. No– that’s not quite true- we did see another we’ll get to that encounter later, lol. I had forgotten- we’ll get to that…but for now, sitting on a rock, trying not to shiver, the wind blowing my hair sideways across my face we could see a person walking in shadows toward us carrying a five-gallon bucket in each hand. As the figure neared a voice called out though the wind carried away the words and the third time he called out my husband discerned he was asking the time. He needed to cash in his catch on time. He told us he was ‘gathering winkles’ for extra money. Periwinkles- I guess people eat them, they’re a delicacy in China. To each his own I guess. I wonder how many you eat at a meal. Gross. Anyway. Later that afternoon we saw him again at Shore Thing, cashing in his catch while we were picking up our dinner. Can’t get fresher than that. He was the only person we spoke to outside of getting gas and picking up food. Every moment felt like meditation.
My husband and I spent the weekend each wrapped as deep in our own thoughts as we were wrapped in the fog. Words were scarce as we drove along like old people on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Stopping for a picture or to turn around to check out a view. It was the best weekend of my life. I truly came to realize what inner peace felt like. We can say it and talk it but in Lubec I felt it in every pore of my body. I felt like I could feel God.
As we walked along what appeared to be a log that had been cut length-wise, then wrapped in chicken wire to prevent us slipping in the dampness, through a peat bog at Boot Head Preserve, the stillness was palpable. The only movements were birds just out of sight in the brush. We were enmeshed in the sound of the beach and surrounded by pine trees stripped of their needles from the sea spray and wind. Replacing the pine needles was a strange light green moss that hung from the trunks with stunted limbs and waved in the constant breeze… sunset was near and I didn’t want to be out on a creepy trail with a bum knee when the fog rolled back in so we headed for some exploring by car.
Dang that bum knee! It’s fixed now- that’s where I’ve been for the last year- Sitting on the couch recuperating from knee surgery. Healing my knee. Gaining 20 pounds. Growing into the new me. Using muscles long unused. Stretching. Trying to relearn every movement that leg had long ago forgotten. All the while, unknown to me, with every burning quad and glute and cramp and cry, I was Healing my Soul. I was Taking Form.
Our second encounter of that weekend- and mind you- we didn’t even speak to this person- cemented everything in my mind. The roads were mostly flat around Lubec and we were driving- on our left was the mighty Atlantic and to our right were more low lying blueberry bushes. In silence, we drove and up ahead, about ½ mile in the distance ahead of us, topping a small crest, was a person riding a bike. I don’t think either of us thought about him for even a split -second, we just took in the scenery and dawdled along. Soon enough I wondered about the speed that bike was going and we talked about when we were kids and the feeling of freedom you would get. We each raised a hand in greeting as a sun wizened elderly man with a white beard and a big old grin, wearing overalls and a knit cap zoomed past us at a very good rate. We looked at eachother and burst out laughing. I’m still laughing. I’m sure my husband is too. It was awesome! Right then, I think I knew. You can’t care about what people think- well, within reason, obviously. You’ve got to live life like nobody is watching. And judging. And assessing. Who has time for that? Salt n Pepa have it right, “There’s only one true judge and that’s God, so chill and let my Father do his job…”
Seriously, that old man- doesn’t even know me but he changed me- well, him and Lubec. I found God there. I knew him when I was young and then the world interfered. We became re-acquainted. I was reminded that it’s never too late to let yourself feel the joy. I was reminded to look for the joy in the ordinary days. And maybe it’s not so much as wanting to feel like a kid again but more about being the you that you were before the world tried to ruin you. Maybe it’s just about starting over. Feeling clean and living right. There is no second childhood. There is LIFE- the way it should be. Nothing else. The you that you should be. There is no more “I would if I could”, it is now “I could if I would.” Don’t settle.
The soul must be like a muscle- I think now- if left unused it will wither up and you’ll be left with what? A dead muscle. Every breath of the chill air and fog in Lubec fed oxygen into my soul. With every step on every trail I felt new. I mean, I knew I was in a new stage of life- I was already trying to figure out what I wanted in and out of my future. The kids all grown, just a GiGi now, knowing I’m not a victim- I am a Survivor– and I came out ok for a reason. Believing that everything happens for a reason, I now had to figure out how to use the lessons God had given me. I may not know why or even how. I don’t think that’s not for me to know. What I came home knowing was that God kept me alive for a reason and I need to do my best to honor that. I need to exercise my Soul Muscle.