Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Special Week in Mid-Coast Maine

Our fourth week-long cottage stay in Maine was special, since friends Louise and Masaharu (hereafter L&M) drove up from Washington DC to join us.  The two Louise's became friends some 35 years ago, when each had a son transfer from a Japanese school to Nishimachi, an international school in Tokyo.  L&M are even more international than us, with kids on three continents (Australia, N. America & Europe), compared to a mere two for our progeny.

For our week together we chose Back River Bend in Georgetown, Maine.  It's part marina, part boatyard, part cottage community.  Owners Sam and Ruth have been here some 40 years, and when they weren't building or repairing boats, they and their kids built eight cottages and their own home, all overlooking the Back River.

At Sebago Cottage, our home for the week, we had a beautiful bedroom downstairs while L&M had the upstairs.  There is a screened porch where we ate every meal -- the temperature was high 60s to low 70s every breakfast and supper.  It was a comfortable place, and became even more so through the interactions of old friends enjoying each other's company.

Back River Bend is, as you might have guessed, at a scenic S-bend in the Back River.  Though the Back River looks like a river, it spends half of every day flowing north and half flowing south, and there is not a drop of fresh water in it from one end to the other.  The "river" is actually a 6 1/2 mile long tidal estuary.   As a tidal estuary, the Back River of course has tides!  The current runs towards the ocean for 6 1/4 hours, then turns and runs the other way for another 6 1/4, then back towards, then back away, ad infinitum.  As those who know tides understand, each day the times of low and high tide are different, roughly 50 minutes later per day.  While the current is mostly under 1mph, it still makes sense, as they say, to go with the flow and to head toward the ocean with an outgoing tide, inland with an incoming one. 

Sam and Ruth have both canoes and kayaks for rent, and we went (as usual) for a canoe.  L&M went for kayaks since that's what they're more familiar and comfortable with.  For our first two trips the tide was ebbing so we headed south 3 miles on the tide to Crow Island, where the Back River joins the mighty Kennebec.

Sam told us we could use a certain dock that belonged to a friend, so we tied up and had our picnic lunches.  We had started 4 hours into the ebbing tide, so the river was already fairly low and the mud flats had fully emerged.  Between the hour of boating and the hour at lunch it was now low tide, and clam diggers were hard at work on the back portion of our small island.  Meanwhile, one of Masaharu's sembei crackers had fallen on the rock and an ant was hard at work trying to be Hero if the Day, if only he could bring it back home.  Partly on his own and partly with help from one other ant, this tiny creature entertained us for the second half of our lunch by moving his giant trophy about a foot laterally and several inches vertically.

Ahead of us was the Kennebec.  To the right it's 170 miles to its source.  Ahead and slightly left and it's 5 miles to the open ocean.  Each of these two days, we got to this point just a little too late to go further since the tide was getting ready to turn, and the wind already had.  As mentioned in an earlier posting, an onshore wind (and in mid-coast Maine that means from the south or southwest) often arises or intensifies each afternoon as the land heats up and the air above it rises, and cool ocean air rushes in to replace the rising warm air.  We've rarely seen a day where the afternoon wind wasn't from the S or SW at 6 mph or more, sometimes even up to 15 mph.  That and the incoming tide were not things we wanted to paddle against, even though they would make for easy going when we turned to come home.

And so we just admired the view to the south, then put the camera on telephoto.  In the photo above, you can't really see that there's anything unusual about that next island downstream.  With the lens partway out you can see that there is something, but what is it?   At full telephoto, it finally is clear that we were seeing the Perkins Island Lighthouse, a mile and a half away.  The lighthouse keeper's house is peeking out at the left, and the odd pyramidal structure next to the lighthouse was built to give the fog horn additional resonance. 


Louise and Masaharu had arrived by car, so for the next two days we took advantage of our greater mobility by heading to the nearby city of Bath for more groceries, and for a pair of hikes.  The first was in a park overlooking the Kennebec.  Some of the colors were surprising, like the stained glass look of some leaves, a red mushroom, and a patch of ghostly white Indian Pipestem.  This elusive fungus grows in various parts of New England and gets its energy from decaying vegetable matter, since it has no chlorophyll and cannot convert sunlight into energy.

It was a vigorous hike, and it was Masaharu's first encounter with another ghostly inhabitant of many a New England forest, an ancient stone wall.   They are mute testimony to the fact that on one or both sides of the wall, some settler cleared the trees and farmed or grazed this land.  It must have been a hard life, trying to raise crops or animals on this thin, hardscrabble land. 

The last 3 photos above are of yet more old stone walls 20 miles away, where we did our second hike at Reid State Park.  Once again there were colorful mushrooms, plus our first blueberries of the season.  As you can see, they've got a bit of ripening to do yet.


What brings most folks to Reid State Park, however, is the beaches, a rarity in this part of the state.  Half Mile Beach has a tidal lagoon behind it, and lots of folks like to float on it.  When the tide is ebbing and the water has had a chance to warm up in the salt marsh, it gets up to a 'balmy' 55 degrees, 5 degrees warmer than the ocean.

The other beach is "Mile Beach," separated from its shorter companion by a rocky outcropping full of tide pools, pockets in the rocks where plants and animals get watered twice a day by high tide, then sit in stillness for up to 12 hours 'til the next high tide washes over them.

Back at Back River Bend, the tide wasn't yet quite right for a trip "upriver" so we spent one day exploring small side channels in the nearby salt marshes.  They're quite a bit of fun to negotiate with kayak or canoe, but they get shallower and shallower as high tide passes, so you can't linger too too long.

For our final two days the tide and winds cooperated for us to travel north 3 1/2 miles on the incoming tide to Hockomock Bay.  The bay is 1 1/2 miles across, but with several islands in the middle, and numerous deep coves to explore around the edges.  It's a major thoroughfare for boaters, as you can deduce from the navigational buoys.  We spotted a pair of osprey nests (with resident ospreys, even) and various groupings of other birds.  The gulls were fairly nonchalant, but the cormorants were a bit skittish and often took off, slapping the water with their feet as they did so.

How do you wrap up a week in Maine like this?  With lobster, of course.  For our last dinner we picked up fresh lobsters at a scenic place called Five Islands, although we could only get two of the islands to fit in the photo.  Lobsters needed for later are in those plastic boxes floating from the dock.  You tell the clerk what size (i.e. weight) you want, and how many.  Another clerk grabs some in back and weighs them in front of you.  You admire or pity them, and in any event pay for them, and off they go to the cauldron.   Fifteen minutes later, you're ready to go.  Most folks eat on the pier there, but we wanted to enjoy our private dining room so back in the car we went to Back River Bend, where the boys did the lobster cracking duties.  It was a great end to a great week.

Next week we head off to Harpswell, then come back to Back River Bend for a week in a different, smaller cabin.  It will be a very different experience without Louise and Masaharu.  Come back for the next episode, hopefully to be published soon!


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