For the first time since South Carolina I was sweating. My van, the Chief, was parked near Skohegan in east central Maine at the conjunction of two rivers. From inside on Indian blankets, I could see the green shimmering waters and ducks diving for fish. The sun was drooping into the trees, and the evening shadows flickered over a family floating by in a canoe. Only the slightest whisper of wind disturbed the swirls of insects drawn out by dusk. I smelled barbeque and I was hungry.
I entered Maine from Massachusetts, through a sliver of New Hampshire and heavy rain. At the visitor center, I was greeted by a shirtless, anatomically enhanced Smokey the Bear, whose frozen gesture indicated a sign stating the fire danger was low. I scanned the dripping brush, peered at the water flooding my shoes. Certainly no fire worries today. At the counter a pair of friendly ladies offered pamphlets and advice. I asked what to do first, they said to drive to Kennebunkport; I did. The harbor was dead, so I strolled the streets mostly alone, and poked through a few stores before, bouncing to Portland, the most populous city in Maine. There my friend Kevin had graciously offered a room in his palatial flat for me to bunk in. I slept in an area he rarely visited, enlivened a bathroom he never used, and perused his collection of well-chosen books. His walls were lined with them.
That evening he took me to a dinner of oysters and wine and fish, at a classy restaurant downtown. And afterwards during a casual stroll, he pointed out buildings and bits of architecture in streets burned blue by sky. Daylight and mists brought us to a beach of crashing waves where we climbed over slick rocks and returned to the car through a forest of explosive green. We visited several gorgeous light-houses along the coast, famously painted by Edward Hopper, and part of a successful show Kevin mounted at Bowdoin’s College Museum of Art, where he was the Director. He also presided over my first bite into a lobster roll, and my first exhausting 3 mile run in as many years. Over the bay, the drizzle had stopped, the sun was out, and skiffs floated under the wavering arch of a rainbow.
After nearly 4 months night-blind, Portland provided the Chief with a welcome chance to get his headlights fixed. One of the mechanics, George from New Jersey, said he moved to Maine because it was so cheap. Vacation lured him here and he stayed, finding three jobs immediately and inviting his brother up to share in the bounty. He knew it was home when, after a long night, he accidentally left his car running with the radio on and the doors open; it was untouched in the morning. He said that would never happen in New Jersey. Now he lives near the beach, in a community where everyone knows everyone. I ate stale hot tamales from their vending machine, and while I waited, traded stories of muscle cars and fishing.
My goal was to head north to Acadia National Park, perhaps dropping into a few peninsulas that formed Maine’s coast of jagged teeth. Kevin suggested Bath, a pleasant little town famous for its iron works; the Bathians suggested Popham; a pleasant little beach known for its old fortifications. Both were worthwhile, especially the green-chili cheeseburger I ate for lunch, and the State Park at Popham with a beautiful beach to myself. Perched in the hills were the military batteries, whose crumbling cement and stone succumbed to the relentless wind and forest. Leaving, I backtracked, then headed north again to spend the night in a parking lot at Rockland.
Sliding down another peninsula that morning, I managed to get on the first ferry from Port Clyde to Monhegan, where the residents readied for the busy summer season. A beautiful island at the edge of the Atlantic, it’s home to great cliffs, miles of hiking trails, a lighthouse, and charming hotels. I ambled around for a few hours, hung out with the ferry guys at the dock, and sank into a supine deck nap on the bumpy ride back.
On to Acadia, the nation’s first National Park east of the Mississippi, wreathed in platinum vapors that soon revealed rocky beaches, inland lakes, and sweeping views. At the top of Mount Cadillac, overlooking Bar Harbor, I met a couple who invited me to stay with them in Vermont. In the town below, I parked at the village common, complete with shirtless guys in dreads exercising, and a gazebo. Strategically located on every other corner were ice-cream stores, sandwiched between restaurants and bars that spilled picturesquely down to the harbor, where there was another park, and narrow beach. A friend in LA organized for me to stay at her parent’s house that night in nearby Steuben. I relied on my GPS, and after a pretty seaside stop in Camden, drifted down yet another peninsula to turn onto a dirt road and meet them late in the afternoon.
The Stanwoods lived in an amazing house with a perfect view of the water. Nearly 800 lobster cages were piled at their pier, ready for the opening season. Mr. Stanwood was a fisherman, fishing for over 40 years on his own. He came from a family of fisherman, who came from a family of fisherman. In fact, most of them still lived in the area, his parent’s line fanning out into 60 or so great and grandchildren. He was the youngest of nine.
He showed me his boat, talking with the Northeast’s thick chewy front-of-the-mouth accent that’s the opposite of the languid South. The shiny Katina Ashley V was not yet in the water. It was his tenth boat, of which five were named after his daughters. The vessel would be moved, along with the floating dock, to the moorings near his house in a few days. Then as captain, he and his crew would bait, drop, haul, empty, and move the cages through the deeps from now until January, following the migration of lobsters from bay to ocean. He used to work all year, fishing many different types of fish, sometimes far into the Atlantic, where he’d lost several friends. But now over 60, his back was bothering him, and he stuck mostly to lobsters, retreating for a few months in the winter to the gulf coast of Florida, where he and Mrs. Stanwood enjoyed the sunsets.
Made for each other, they met in middle school, started dating in high school, became Jehovah’s Witnesses, and were married soon after. She cooked us an amazing lobster dinner with garlic butter and garlic bread, distributing pie and ice-cream when we settled into the comfy cushions to watch TV. I didn’t last long, the thick mattress and six pillows on the bed beckoned me, and soon I was vacuumed under the covers.
I only had two days left, so I made my way into the interior, sad that I’d miss Baxter State Park and its forests far to the north. At Bangor I stretched my legs in the quirky downtown where musicians wore tie-dye. I listened to a skillful guitar player named Mr. B with a haunting voice, then circled the small downtown near the river. It was still early, so the Chief attempted a mission to the mountains and Sugarloaf, one of the east coast’s premiere ski resorts. We passed farmlands tended by old wooden farmhouses and barns, but were waylaid en route by the beauty of Skowhegan, where we parked at a campsite by the slow-moving water and relaxed for two days in the sun.
It was here that I wrote this glimpse, in an effort to get the memories down, surrounded by RVs that intended to stay a while, all with giant barbeques, some with flower pots and permanent shades. There’s a swimming pool with water colder than the river. I jumped in earlier and my voice was an octave higher till the sun melted me down. I had logs but didn’t make a fire. I bought a six pack of canned Budweiser, but only drank one. I did, however, enjoy a fine Cuban cigar a friend gave me. Now the sun has disappeared behind the trees, and the shifting waters have released the night, yielding a chorus of crickets, and a lonely coyote howling in the dark.