Every once in a while, I feel the need to highlight the “New England” part of my blog title – and this will be one of those instances. Everyone probably knows, of course, that I have a real affection for the region of the United States in which I was born and in which I’ve spent almost my entire life. But after returning from a brief family camping trip last night to a new part of Maine to which I’ve never been, I thought I would both share some pictures I captured (simply on my iPhone) and explain why it is that I love Maine so much – all the while trying to draw some type of spiritual lesson.
Though there are many, many reasons why I love Maine so much, here is one of those reasons which is chief: there is so much of it to discover! It is actually quite astounding: Maine is a very, very big state – especially for the standards of the northeastern United States – and it is very sparsely populated (the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi River). As a result, there are some very hidden and out-of-the-way places here, and I seem to be discovering some of those places a lot lately.
The chief reason for this, which many people “from away” don’t recognize and appreciate, is that though Maine’s coast, from its southern point to its northern point, is only 228 miles if one were to draw a straight line. But taking into consideration all the peninsulas and coves and harbors and islands, that coast actually stretches out to 3,478 miles – which is the fourth longest coastline in the entire United States (only Alaska, Florida, and Louisiana, have a longer coastline).
This means that there are so many hidden nooks and crannies on the Maine coast, with charming coves seemingly around every corner.
Take, for example, the new place we enjoyed this weekend: Deer Isle. You can see, based on the map, just how intricate and zig-zagging the coastline is. It seems that around almost every turn in the road there was another cove, dotted with fishing boats and sailboats, and small islands. Such beauty!
And yet this is just one of literally thousands of islands off the coast of Maine!
So there is always some beautiful new place to explore and discover – with coastal variation all along the way.
But let me tell you a little more about our trip this time, with a few accompanying pictures.
After enjoying an absolutely fabulous anniversary trip last weekend with my wife, Camille, in our all-time favorite – Mount Desert Island/Acadia National Park/Bar Harbor – we joined Camille’s two brothers, their wives and children, on a campout last night on Blue Hill Peninsula, with intentions to continue on to Deer Isle and Stonington this morning.
A word of explanation: Deer Isle is the major island which lies most immediately to the southwest of Mount Desert Island (MDI) – which is considered by many to be the “jewel” of the Maine islands, being the home of Acadia National Park. MDI is my wife’s and my favorite at this stage in our lives because there is so much to do with our kids: it has amazing hikes, spectacular coast, nice restaurants, amazing resorts. But it is, admittedly, very touristy. When we’re in Acadia, we seem to frequently be the only ones from Maine!
But Deer Isle, and especially its crowning town Stonington, is a whole other animal. It is frequently named as a favorite place in Maine for photographers and travel guides, but it is still very much unspoiled. Indeed, as I discovered, it is probably Maine’s most authentically charming place.
So when we woke up this morning, which, with a 15-month-old, was way too early (4 AM – or roughly the time when the light started making its presence known in our tent), we headed for Deer Isle. Our initial destination was a remote beach that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law rave about: Barred Island Preserve, located in Stonington.
The drive there was worth the price of admission itself, practically. I am a hobby photographer and I know that lighting is everything! And the lighting was perfect during our drive (aided by two things: first, young children who wake up at first light when you’re camping; and secondly, paying close attention to the tide since we need low tide to enjoy Barred Island). My only regret was that we were unable to make any stops to take pictures!
But here’s the first little shot, taken from my car, as we crossed over the mainland to Deer Isle via the Deer Isle suspension bridge (an impressive sight in its own right):
We soon found the parking lot for Barred Island Preserve and proceeded to embark on our one-mile walk through the coastal forest to the beach. This, itself, was quite a trek and was entirely enjoyable. We walked through a characteristically lush and green forest, hearing sounds of a fog horn getting louder, and smelling the salt of the ocean more poignantly, the closer we got. (Make sure you click on each picture in order to appreciate a much larger and fuller view of these sites!)
When we finally got to the end of the trail, which, with young children, seemed to take longer than a mile should, the sight that greeted us did not disappoint! There, before us, was a completely serene, idyllic, and lonely beach – created only by the low tide with water lapping the sand on both sides.
It was all ours! The only noises interfering were the sounds of seagulls and a lone lobster boat setting out for the open waters. There was also a sail boat, just to the left of Barred Island, that was slowly moving across the horizon.
The kids immediately got into their bathing suits and we all began to explore.
These were the rocks just around the corner of the beach.
At one point, we noticed a seal swimming around a few hundred feet out (you’ll notice some of our party in the upper right-hand corner, just relaxing on the rocks, looking out at the seal.)
Of course, there is one minor detail about the Maine coast that doesn’t sit well with many people: the water is very rarely warm. Such was the case today – with the temperature of the water probably around 55 degrees. But this didn’t stop the kids from splashing around the whole time we were there (with my littlest one, Winslow, in it practically the whole time). And Cameron and I, before we left, actually did go all the way in. It was cold but refreshing!
Here’s one last view from Barred Island Preserve before we left after staying for about two hours. During our whole time there, there was one other party that joined us. But, other than that, we had the whole place to ourselves! And this was July 4 weekend!
After we got back to the parking lot, we proceeded to Stonington – that famed fishing villages that has captured the imagination of so many. Before we even got to the downtown, we saw some spectacular vistas. Just beautiful.
This is a classic Deer Isle – and coastal Maine – scene: a beautiful Cape style house overlooking an island-studded and rocky cove (the only thing missing are lupines, but those probably peaked a few weeks ago).
Unfortunately, we stayed in Stonington for a pretty limited time – and there was much else to explore. But I did have one neat experience during lunch: I met an old Mainer who was sitting next to us in the classic Maine diner. He was 88, having been born on Deer Isle and returning when he retired in 1991. He served in the Air Force for many years and then worked for the city of Lewiston, Maine. When I asked him what he did to stay busy these days, he said that he volunteered at his church. It turns out that he’s a deacon for the Advent Christian church – a denomination that is cousins to us Seventh-day Adventists.
What I found most surprising is that he says that the little Advent Christian church on Deer Isle averages about 80 persons each week. I thought that was remarkable for that off-the-beaten path location!
Here’s another shot of the harbor in Stonington.
But as we drove out, this was our parting shot: you probably can’t appreciate it as much, but we saw a kayaker paddling off into the open seas.
For good measure, we added a bonus on the way home: with the day being so hot, we stopped by our favorite swimming hole, Branch Lake, and spent about 30 minutes cooling off. Branch Lake, which is about 30 minutes from our house, is a beautiful and somewhat-remote lake that has a clear bottom. It’s simply gorgeous!
And, even though Camille and I have our go-to place (MDI/Acadia/Bar Harbor) because it’s so family-friendly, I continue to be thrilled with making new Maine discoveries periodically!
And here’s the very sappy spiritual lesson: Maine is like the Bible! No matter how much you experience it, there is always something more to learn and discover about it. Plus – and this one is not a stretch nor is it sappy at all – spending time in Maine, enjoying its unparalleled beauty in nature, truly revives one’s spirits.