Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Break up on The North Coast.

Late March: The journey in mud season met the crack of spring with its onrush of sun shattered ice floes hastening to their Atlantic end. Great Heath looked like a mercury lake. Blueberry fields were getting their commencement burnover. Overhead canada goose vees pointed north to the line of ice retreat.

We went to the colony's edge with the whole westerly widening continent to our backs. Cobscook Bay provided a park campsite months before its actual opening. Lubec has been abandoned by the present after its sardine industry collapsed. Houses cost less than thirty thousand dollars with acreage. The land is Scot-coast beautiful.

We reached ‘Penobscot Meadows’, Belfast, late on a Friday night. The Innkeepers conducted us to room #5, a small cozy room with bath facing the meadow draped east. Beyond the pensive, wine dark night, a breakfast of insipid ugliness burst surreal upon a warm spring morning. There we were, marooned amidst a nuked muffin breakfast with well-dressed gaggle of Awful White People. The Innkeepers were nice enough. Applied politeness and a skittish nature are occupational acquisitions of a life so encumbered. Nerves tend to fray from the cycles of stranger parades. The nuked muffins were okay, the coffee was real and butter came in little porcelain pat-a-cups.

Entertainment came from two horrid couples and a faded ingenue. One couple had a two year old girl who they tormented with vigorous stinginess and arbitrary denial, ‘No More MUFFINS!’. The other couple, Polyester Quebecois, bristled at any wistful attributions of humanity to Soviets and viewed the world with scared jaundiced rabbit eyes. Ingenue boasted of lobbying for Audubon while still making time to loathe her teenage daughters. Blech! After a quick pay up and pack we were rolling east. We made a choice to travel aimlessly along the coast and let discoveries determine which fork of the road we’d take.

Just beyond the Belfast-Searsport line is a small state park, (Moose Point), that touches Belfast Bay. It’s an oversized rest area that provided a welcoming spot to digest impressions and touch the Sea. It’s a low grassy slope rolling down to the shore. A west edge line of white pines is joined by clumps of benches and grills. The park was ‘closed’.

The next stop was Fort Knox, guarding the Penobscot approach ways. The shoulders of this old river soul impress. The fort, for all it attempts is squat and bleak blocked granite in a neo Vauban style. It has far more charm than the hulking manufactory belching pulp steam on the Searsport side of the river. The Fort remnants, along the coasts, are military industrial fossils of bygone doctrine.

A Saturday drill rehearsal of a Twentieth Maine reenactment was beginning. We walked through the catacombs and over parapets soaking up the sunlight and broad river and bay view. A stop at Ellsworth to buy some picnic food preceded the last leg up the Down East Coast. The route along 182 gave me a chance to touch the distant shore of the previous falls walk along Hog Bay. We even visited Egypt.

The original plan was to cover prior ground only on the return trip but we had to visit The Great Heath and its cabin. I found my campsite from the previous year and picked up some trash. The poncho I left found a home. The Pineo Ridge road net was at its earliest edge of mud season. There were imposing ruts. Nancy managed to plod through bringing us at last near the ridge crest facing the Heath.

It was late March. Melt water fattened with rain turned the placid Pleasant into a respectable torrent. The Great Heath lay beneath the waters shimmering silvery from a rippling spring breeze. Fringed with forest blends of balsam fir, larch, aspen and red maples laden with buds laced with mist, it enchanted with its stillness as seen afar. Up close, it sang its fluvial water swelling song welling its way from distant branch brooks to swaying bay waves. It sang of vernal renewal moving to season of births and sprouting. Daylights clear vivacity was complemented by a star swarmed indigo night far from the noisome reach of urban quartz halogens or mercury vapors.

It was too early for mosquitoes, too early even for black fly simooms. The Blueberry Barrens fields were getting their early burnovers. We left with sunrise, hoping to fish tail out of the Barrens roads before thaw turned them into soup. Beyond one brief push from a ditch lay fairly stable roads. We followed the ridge east until we took a southeast turn near the hamlet of Epping to rejoin route 1.

The ‘White House’ straddles a shoulder of a crossroad between Route 1 and the way down the point capped by Roque Bluffs. The head of the inlet is just to the west. There is a small huddle of old yankee buildings to serve the road and mark the epicenter of Jonesboro. The focus sharpens beyond the dooryard of the White House revealing the teeming water drop microcosm of coastal village life. We had large toothsome piles of scratch made hot cakes crowded with fat local blueberries with quality drip coffee to wash them down. The gentle murmur flow of old Maine voices at pre-church breakfast provided a perfect aubade.

Following feeding, we made a first attempt to find Roque Bluffs. A wrong turn brought us to Kilton Point where we heard distant gull clamor at distant clammers competing for soft-shell meals at low tide. On another wrong side road as
midden testified on behalf of the clam rakes efficacy. This pause preceded a decision to return to route 1eastward. We would find Roque on the way back. The Down East Coast of Maine is laden stunning points and inlets from Ellsworth to Calais.Every one is worth a visit. Petit Manan, Great Wass Island, Roque Bluffs, Quoddy Head and Moosehorn are the main public lands along this wild rural stretch of Atlantic Coast. Our plan was to visit as many as possible.

At Machias, we made a memorable first meeting with a spring rivers roar. The Machias was bowling a tempestuous flow of ice slabs toward their dissolution in the bay. All strained through sluices in a frenzied rush of bashing, scraping and skittering end over kettle. We stared into the whirl awhile listening to the rivers boisterous expulsion of winters decaying fetters. Past the elderly abandoned railhead and the Middle Machias estuary is an archaic concrete bridge to cross the East Machias and link Route 1 with 191, an old coast road.

It’s the main coastal thoroughfare for the huge wing of granite that now carries Whiting, Cutler, Trescott and Lubec. It’s the easternmost, wildest stretch of the coast, a land of little leprechaun hills and hollows riotously festooned with boulder erratics rising from blueberry moor carpets. To give it a bit of spookliness, one soon meets a thicket of antennae belonging to a Navy Communications station on Little Machias Neck near Cutler. It’s hard to hide but, thankfully, off limits.

The region has other DOD oddities tucked into its backwaters including an Air Force Winter Survival Camp and a weird little officers club on Schoodic Point. 191 heads north to West Lubec near Bailey’s Mistake, a cove providing harborage for South Trescott. A dirt coast road continues east.

We stopped a quarter mile beyond and climbed a small granite nubble overlooking the coast. There is a sparse pebbled beach nearby and traces of a long abandoned attempt at improvement. This consisted of a graded driveway long overgrown with heath shrubs. The nubble provided a great observation point for Grand Manan Island with its steep granite cliffs just across the channel. It ran along an east-west alignment and screened the road from the shore should the road ever be busy.

The tract was a charming micro biome with a few mini marshes, alder and yellow birch groves and a seaside stand of black spruce. There is a thirty-foot slope to the strand and a score of miles of ocean to separate Grand Manan. Within the same distance offshore as the walk to the road, there is a sharp drop in depth to sixty, then ninety feet and deeper into the channel.

Following this pause was the final stretch to West Quoddy Head, the eastern edge of the US and the boundary of the Eastern and Atlantic Time zones. Within five minutes, we were parked near the candy-striped lighthouse at the head. We looked out to sea from cliffside and descended steps to the shore. A large marine granite erratic edging the channel was the eastern tip of our journey. The rest of the US was behind us.

Along the shore, brawny waves tumble cobbles noisily with the highest tides along the US Atlantic coast like an oversized maraca chorus. After gathering a few attractive stones, we went landward to explore the mossy forest. It was June warm in late March, blatant lamb weather. Lubec is a sardine ghost town. The fishery collapsed and left a sardine museum full of rusty gear as a keepsake. We weren’t able to scare up food more complex than corn chips.

The newspaper, ‘Quoddy Tides’, (easternmost paper in the US), listed ridiculously low prices for homes and land along with charming gossip columns by elderly ladies about the neighbors dahlias or who visited who. Following a swing through Lubec, we visited Cobscook State Forest. It was technically closed but the gate padlock was left open. We let ourselves in and drove around the forest roads through groups of campsites.

The food search continued at Dennysville. It ended at the Dennys River where a combination store/diner fed us the best scallops and clams I’ve ever had. They were fried to perfection and coated with a thin tempura like batter. All you can eat cost around seven dollars. There were also a number of homemade cream pies. This place, by itself, justifies the eleven-hour drive from Boston.

After this food wallow, we returned to Cobscook and picked a campsite on a thumb of land next to the mouth of Burnt Cove. A small, tree clad islet sat in an inlet before us to the east. Beyond lay Whiting Bay. A wide broad picnic meadow lay to the northeast. Moosehorn guards the west. Canada goose vees and eider lines crossed the sky following opening waters northward. The soil was semi-frozen, plastic and studded with frost heaves. Sleep was serene.

Whiting Bay at dawn was a sheet of glass in the mid point of its cycle of between surging and receding. The morning eider chorus used indefinite temperament to voice an intricate staccato melody in a lower register.

We found Roque Bluffs on the way home after another transcendent breakfast at the White House. It’s a remnant summer colony from the turn of the twentieth century. There is even an octagon house that had weathered brick red paint trimmed with dark forest green.

Roque Bluffs State Park overlooks Roque Island on the eastern side of Englishman Bay. It’s a cobble beach sliver of crushed granite micro pebbles enroute to sand with a wide tide range near 24 feet. At the crest of the bluffs separated by the road, is a freshwater pond inhabited by trout below with a flotilla of great black backed gulls. The ecotone mix puts fresh waterfowl and shorebirds in close proximity. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.

We began the long return to Boston stopping at Schoodic Point at midday. We climbed around the Points’ broad slabs of cubist granite sheets divided here and there by tar black basalt filling ancient fissures deep pocked by wind and waves. Beyond Schoodics’ tip, low flying eider lines skimmed the rising wave tops. The oceans’ tumbling tumult blasts the rock, punctuating its’ pulse with roaring crashes to leave a lingering glimmer of mist. One last visit brought us to spring snowmelt waters sliding over sphagnum jeweled rocks beneath the beeches girding Maiden Cliffs, north of Camden. The sturdy beeches hug the steep slopes and were at earliest burst of the season’s chartreuse bright bud tips. All that remained was the long tedious haul along Route One to the highway.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Downeast Sojourn Part 4: Going Home.

Late Sunday--sunset.
Ha Ha Ha! Boy did I fuck up! I'm just past the Stueben-Millbridge line. I completely forgot how far East I am. A look at the map reminds me I'm only forty miles from New Brunswick! I'm at least six hours drive from Portland! Oh well. Dum de dum dum.
When I get back, I'll have to calculate the total distance I walked. It could've been sixty miles.
So far.

9/30 Westfield Hotel, Portland (fleabag).
10/1 Crocker House, Hancock Point.
10/2 Schoodic Bog.
10/3 Barrens I, Cherryfield.
10/4,5 Barrens II, Cherryfield.
10/6 Route 1 pond overlook, Steuben.

So now I'm back to everyday life wearing clothing and using abstractions like time instead of watching the sun. I'm back on paved and numbered roads.
It's a days hitch to Portland. At least, now, I'm at a jump off consisting of a five or ten yard walk to the highway at dawn. Hopefully, someone with business in Portland will get me there in one ride. Whatever. I'll be back tomorrow. Still on map 25. Over and out.

Monday: Yay. I'm at the bus stop, waiting on a 4:00 southbound. As far as I'm concerned, I'm ahead at this point, Steuben to Portland in about six hours, give or take a few minutes.
Ms Sparrow, of Lubec enroute to Bangor, led the charitable with a stated fondness for folkies and other coffee house strummers. Jim Lynch, Hood Sails rep enroute to Thomaston, pointed out his favorite features of Penobscot Bay. Donny Houchin, Cherokee folk singer with war wounds from Khe San, got me to Damariscotta.

The leg from Damariscotta to Wiscassett was covered by a huge comical ironworker headed to Augusta for a vote on a weak contract with Bath Iron Works. "If it's a tie vote and it's up to me, we ain't workin' tomorrow".
A small business consultant who enjoyed classical music got me to Bath. A silent fellow got me to Falmouth and a coupla' cokehead hot shits brought me to the Congress St. exit ramp.

Jim Lynch makes a good living from little boats; yachts and such always need sails. He's built a few of his own and was building a house. He told me a lot about emerging entertainment needs as more people who don't need to be near a city move to Bar Harbor and environs. They want to return to land less stifled by encroaching mechanism choke. He mentioned an auditorium and an imaginative jazz club in Bangor.
I was invited to visit several homes, Charlie Hutchins place in Cherryfield, Jim's at Bluefields and Donny's place in Damariscotta.

Donny needs a hand. He wants to die cause his back is a wreck thanks to a combat stint in Vietnam with the Marine Corps. His mother was one of the remnant Cherokees missed by Jackson's agents during the death march called the Trail of Tears. They lived in their cove cabin home over the years to watch their ancestors grave land drown beneath rising waters from Howard Baker's pork tub Tellico Dam. She died cursing the Euroids and I say, "Good for her!"

He wanted to die. Three discs removed and now they want to take out another. With inspired stinginess, the service only allows him partial disability status even though he can't lift more than twenty pounds. Before the war, he could make a forty-yard dash in 4.7 seconds. He even tried out for the Redskins.
He's played guitar for 21 years but now he can't stand to sing or play. His life's flame is at a low glow. I tried to encourage him to fight the Beast. Why make it easier for them by dying? I urged him to sue the Corps for full disability.

What the fuck! I know useless slobs who have chiseled five to six figure insurance fraud incomes over far more dubious mishaps. I told him about Harvard's Native American Law Project and about the encouraging number of humane Vietnam Era veterans now entering Congress.

I offered to introduce him to Gordon and Rounder in order to provide more reasons. I suggested he look up the history of the Five Civilized Nations. His response brought the house down. "I tried but it's so sad while the history of the invaders is so bright and upbeat, I couldn't stand to read anymore".

Oh well. I told him how the five nations and the northern nations refrained from significant warfare with the Continentals while the issue was in doubt. This was one of General Washington's main fears. I told him about the Mohawk Longhouse Council and how it gave Benjamin Franklin useful ideas for framing the Constitution.
This seemed to encourage him. I can hope so anyway. He gave me a feather work as an honor token and resolved to spend the day looking for turquoise to work for its healing properties. I told him about Nyah Nyah finding more reasons to write it. It'll be a fat heap of bile and spleen to climb by the time I begin, maybe in the coming year.

The steelworker and the consultant both had stories about shipbuilding.

The steelworker complained about management's attempt to introduce a two-tier wage system, reduce health coverage and cut wages by ten percent. The first two items were the worst. Tiered wages erode a union's unity and insurance coverage is vital in a calling as hazard prone as shipbuilding.
The consultant told me most federal contracts at Bath are now met on time and at cost as a result of accounting and award procedure improvements such as commissioning several ships at once, instead of one. He thought Bath was weakest at landing commercial design and building contracts.

The average commercial contract is for three ships a year and Bath is lucky to finish 2.7. This is exacerbated by fairly primitive drafting requirements. They rarely use more than six blueprints and about a three inch keel thickness overall, (that's commercial, not federal). Pretty amazing when you consider the truckload of blueprints it takes to specify an F-16.

The consultant also cared about music and had an avid interest in my description of funding programs in Massachusetts like "New Works" and "Heritage". The components for a vivacious life are certainly there.
Maine will always be one of my favorite places. If I don't abandon America, I'll try to be a geezer in a small house on some Downeast neck near the Heath. That will cover my need for contact with the world beyond shopping malls. There, "outside" is a term endowed with meaning. Even the cities are a break from stupid Boston and drab New York. People are kinder, more distinct and tend to be more in tune with the essentials.

I'd also rather wander here than merely visit another country. It's as foreign as I need a place to be without the nuisance of a passport. It's as close as New England gets to frontier with a visible, if low profile, Native American population.

And, of the outdoors... everyone should try just once to forget Time and live by sun cycles. Walk naked in thick bog underbrush for a while and you'll understand why animals are 'graceful'. One needs grace to move easily through thickets without getting scratched and cut. Clothes were on of our earliest abstractions to numb our touch of the actual world. Knowledge of woodcraft sharpens perception, especially senses of sound and smell, which become guides instead of mere entertainers.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Day Hikes: Bedford: North Segment, 11/19/2006.

The leg from Great Road, north, is a well defined rail bed edged by variegated wetlands. Oak and maple swamps, alder swales, vernal pools alternate throughout a recharge aquifer. A few cattail marshes of fairly recent formation lie west of the VA Hospital and then there is the pond called Fawn Lake. White Pine groves appear to be in their decline phase of succession with a few really large specimens capable of housing owls or raptors grow along the western edge near Fawn Lake.

In this quiet lull time before winter’s onset, the “Pik” of the Downy Woodpecker makes a solitary tone nearby with a distant background wash of Blue jays and Flickers and bass tone booms of a rod and gun club firing range. It is a Sunday and a few pooch walkers are using the main trail. The York Conservation Area has a few well marked spurs to the west and a cryptic royal blue blazed one north of the VA parking lot.

This trail offered a flat lichen dappled boulder for a sit down moment and winds through the rise of returning oak land containing the percolations of the aquifer. Fawn Lake Trail. Further north lays the pond ambitiously called Fawn Lake even though it’s smaller than Walden. A spur trail toward it is larded with risk aversion signage soon after it parts from the Bay Circuit.

A discarded sign warns of a hornet nest probably abandoned several years ago. Another sign warns of an aquacide algae treatment due to be complete by 8/27 with the year unspecified but a reference to the former DEM suggests it must precede the facetious renaming of the latter by one of the corporate GOP looter administrations the commonwealth stupidly imposed on itself to dodge taxes. There is also a trail closure sign for an inundated segment along the “lake’s” west edge mounted sturdily on a post and framed in Plexiglas with credit accorded to Alex Washer and Boy Scout Troop 114.

The Fawn Lake parking lot on its NW corner marks the current end of the BCT but another segment of the rail bed is slated for use when the extension to Andover through a seemingly reluctant Billerica. Signage indicating the existence of the BCT hasn’t appeared yet. I decided to follow the rail bed a bit further north to see if the Bedford/Billerica border is noticeable or marked.

The trail passes one last conservation area, north of the Fawn Lake parking lot, Buehler Ponds. These are so tiny they are already quickly becoming marshes. Attempts to impose a Japanese garden have already failed as the upland native forest inexorably returns. There isn’t much to indicate the border between prim liberal Bedford and slovenly neocon Billerica beyond the sudden appearance of trailside yard middens mainly comprised of rusty metal stuff. I once found it unsightly but it now looks more like quaint archeology and probably shelters voles and other small critters.

The commonwealth has become a subset mirror of the nation with blue and red towns and, oddly the red towns have the same down at the heels look as the red states I passed on a cross country rail trip while the blue towns have the same glow of prosperity. The rail bed loses its coat of rock dust and a cover of the old sand serves as a replacement. Before long, the rail bed vanishes beneath a newer development road guarded by a stern ‘No Trespassing’ sign as Private Property outranks General Access. I turn back amid jealous encroachment and, later, a scolding from a red squirrel. I end up walking a northeast trending spur trail along the north edge of the Buehler Ponds site and later discover it is the likely continuation of the Bay Circuit toward Andover.

The feverish burst of real estate speculation over the past decade has left the North edge of the spur trail hemmed by a bulwark of bulky particle board palazzos of recent vintage redolent with more private property jealousy probably attended by considerable debt burden anxiety. These poor lummox homes will be horribly vulnerable to spikes in energy costs and represent the odd boomer bloat era one day to be derided or pitied as the nation inevitably rediscovers common sense.

If one mainly looks to the south with gaze respectfully averted from these overstuffed sucker traps, the aquifer mosaic of vernal pools, mini swamps and enveloping oak resurgence is its own reward. Flocklets of chickadees and their titmice cousins gambol through it all with a comforting subdued staccato of orientation chirps that will probably enhance this sturdy biome remnant long after the palazzos go the way of ghost towns.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Downeast Sojourn, Part 3, The Great Heath.

Sunday a.m.:

Well... this is it. I'll take a Heath walk and be back in time to hit Route One by noon.
I walked in foul weather through the Barrens skirting the edge of Pineo. This consists of a sculpted gravel moraine interlaced and skirted with wavy edges like landform sized scalloping. You can't see into these due to tree density. This is comprised of red and white oak, aspen, sugar maple and other wt soil hardwoods. I'll check it all more thoroughly when I have USGS topo maps instead of DeLorme.

My tracking was sloppy and I wandered with no idea of direction. The overcast stole visibility so I couldn't use Schoodic or Lead Mountain as a benchmark. And by mistaking the alignment of an east-west power line, I only sank further into confusion. The wind might have an answer but I didn't get it.

I flushed a spruce grouse as soon as I stepped onto the Barrens. There were few signs of mammals. I hiked through one plateaus patchwork of side lanes sprouting clusters of portable migrant shacks. I looked into one. It's a crude plywood box frame with an average roof pitch and a stove hole, pallet frames for bedding and a few windows. The bunk frames are two tiered.

The road to Deblois looks ok on DeLorme but it's really only fit for high clearance vehicles capable of fording a stream. Four wheel drive may even be essential. A long slope section is washed out and Schoodic Brook needs a bridge. Bear and moose appear to find it more useful than people do.

It was awful and late by the time I stumbled onto 192. A twelve-mile walk in cold, grim rain dark beckoned. But, another kindly pair of old locals saved my dim bacon.

Yvonne and Wendell Otoury have a flatbed truck and are blueberry tenant pickers. Yvonne is a Mic Mac lady with a fondness for Camels. Wendell has a corresponding fondness for canned beer. He sports a small hat and a large gray beard.

They were pissed because they had leased a field from its owners and were dragooned into picking a lamer one while theirs went fallow. All of this, according to Wendell, smacked of blueberry harvest office politics.

This was a record blueberry year for the Barrens but the local blueberry barons got cold feet early and contracted to purchase cheaper blueberries from Canada as a hedge. They ended up writing off a number of their own fields. Wendell had gathered a crew and lost some due to the slimmed pickings.

Another complaint addressed the crews' supervision. Bosses had em all fan out from the center instead moving in from the edges like a closing seine. This left boxes scattered everywhere.

Last nights rain led a minor stampede of elements, particularly wind. There, under the frail bubble of tent in waning autumn light, I felt an urge to immerse myself in it all. Reveling in my embrace of insignificance I strove to belong to this howling Living World. I battened the tent against the wind and layered a poncho over it to hedge the rain. 

Then I slid into the sleeping bag and read passages of St. John Perse aloud to it all choosing excerpts from "Winds", "Rains" and "Exile". Perse lived for a while along this coast after the Nazi's drove him from France and the texts have a marvelous resonance.

"...very great winds over all the faces of this world,
Very great winds rejoicing over the world, having neither eyrie nor resting- place,"
"These were very great winds questing over all the trails of this world,"
"For a whole century was rustling in the dry sound of it's straw, amid strange terminations at the tips of husks of pods, at the tips of trembling things. Like a great tree in its rags and remnants of last winter, wearing the livery of the dead year. Like a great tree shuddering in its rattles of dead wood and its corollas of baked clay-- Very great mendicant tree, its patrimony squandered, its countenance seared by love and violence whereon desire will sing again,"
" The banyan of the rain takes hold of the City,
A hurried polyp rises to its coral wedding in all this milk of living water,
And Idea, naked like a net fighter, combs her girls mane in the people's gardens".
"Sing, poem, at the opening cry of the waters the imminence of the theme,
Sing, poem at the milling of the waters the evasion of the theme..."
" Hatching of golden ovules in the tawny night of the slime
And my bed made, O fraud! On the edge of such a dream,
Where the poem, obscene rose, quickens and grows and unfurls."
" I have chosen a place glaring and null as the bone-heap of the seasons,"
"...To desire the barest place for assembling on the wastes of exile a great poem of nothing, a great poem made from nothing..."
" I have built upon the abyss and the spindrift and the sand-smoke. I shall lie down in cistern and hollow vessel,
In all stale and empty places where lies the taste of greatness."

There it was, the distant percolation of the bog stream, the robust incessance of raindrops, branches and soaked leaves shivering in the wind to the hem and haw of a flapping tent. The lone little voice floats old words in a corresponding percolation to the stream. This is what 'to be' means. The voice fades with the light, as the pages grow dim.
When sunrise returned this morning, the birds rooted for it strenuously. It's just now rising over the trees.

Wow! Distinct shadows!

Sunday: Midday.
Made it!! I walked to the Pleasant River canoe launch. I found an inspired cabin owned by R. Lambrek about 100 feet up road from the river. It had a spring well, bunk beds, gas and stove hookups and a downhill outhouse. On one wall was a faded cartoon of a boy and a girl with the girl's hand in the boy's pants. The boy looks dismayed. The caption: "Now I know why you can run faster, you have a stick shift with two ball bearings". Clever.

The Pleasant is quiet, slim, somewhat bog tannic and obviously perfect for birding and quiet canoe drifting. There is a rickety log bridge that might bear certain kinds of vehicles, a jeep maybe. A stretch of meadowland fringed with acres of hemlock, fir, larch and birch faces westward. Upriver toward the Great Heath an alder corridor makes an awning for the river as tree tips from both banks meet in the middle.
This is the last river in the U.S. with a remnant native Atlantic Salmon population. They once ranged all the way to Chesapeake. Facing north, it's possible that the distant summits are Boarstone or even Katahdin.

The most remarkable thing about this astounding semi-wilderness vista is its provenance. The vast tracts shepherded by these silent mountains exist by default. The region has defeated a few centuries of human effort to wrest much more than comfortable subsistence from it. It punishes speculation and is too far from urban centers, too inconvenient to be wrecked for recreation.

The Pineo Delta marks a glacier's retreat. Boulder trains form eskers running all the way to Katahdin. The moor slopes are strewn with erratics up to the size of a small garage. The moraine lines are wavy and still distinct while the plain is pocked with kettleholes. It must have been a jaw dropper when the glacier first departed.

The ridge top wears aspens searing yellow with detail work provided by fir and birch. Colors elsewhere mottle, dapple, splatter and splash a counterpoint of red, straw, lime tinged evergreen and a flock of varied browns beneath a white laced azure. The pale blonde sand ribbons weave a slender trace of lanes and trails through all.

This is land overlooked. A meager and diminishing road net with a few modest scuffs from the Human Boot Heel are minor intrusions. The living world has room to stretch and express itself with a wealth of ecotones, habitats, patterns of succession and the many attending serendipitous surprises.

This is a scruffy way to hike. The complete absence of any infrastructure to accommodate the usual bloated and boisterous form of American Outdoor Recreation makes it all resemble the way Thoreau wandered through the Maine Woods rather than the RV incongruity of dragging a compact slice of suburb to the edge of Nowhere. It really is Away.

Having got what I wanted, thoughts turn to return along the long run back. I turn back to the campsite to pack it up for the highway. With luck, I'll make Boston by midnight.
The walk back to camp provides an opportunity to collect. Along with pine cones and stones, I find someone's blueberry quota book, an Innu religious pamphlet, (Christian), rules governing employment of migrant farm workers, an odd sign warning of bee swarm hazards and, in a ditch, another about pesticides applied. That completes documentation.

At camp I finish a meal of crackers, cheddar, sardines and wild mushrooms and began road stowage.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Downeast Sojourn. Part 2. Wickyup.

Thursday, October 3rd, morning:
I ended up camping alongside Schoodic Bog, south of the mountain.
At this writing, I'm on Beech Ridge. I hear loons on the lake to the Southeast a slow, rising flutter. Some rattling motor gear passed to the North, (Blueberry Harvesters). The emerald sphagnum understory exudes the charm of things tiny and vivacious. A brief strenuous downpour passed through the night to strew glistening droplets over it all.
A Schoodic Bog sunset of a windless day's stillness is a beauty of weather bleached tree skeletons rising over the reed dense marsh framed by undulating copse lines of hemlock and larch. It is bisected by a long abandoned rail fill escorted by a telegraph line long bereft of voltage. The extremes of a centuries seasons have ennobled this human imposition with patinas that slowly submerge it beneath the more robust living world. The Central Maine Railroad tracks lay rippled and rusted beyond repair and the ties beneath draw lichens to their core.
I plan to make it to Cherryfield by noon to top up my larder and get to the Great Heath by sunset. A hitchhike down 182 will squeeze time. Traffic is audible from here. It's a five mile crow fly but a nine mile man walk.
Tunk Lake Settlement: Well, I've crossed another page of the DeLorme Atlas, around the same time as yesterday (from Map 16 to Map 24). Now I'm on Map 25 where I'll spend the remainder of my journey.
This is a 'no trespassing' zone. It might be logging land or some oligarch's hideout. I listen and remain alert to the possibility of inciting property anxieties. I look for signs of recent passing.
I found an abandoned disheveled barn garage containing archaic rust crusted auto parts strewn around a Model-T chassis wearing an old moldering coat of deer shit. Yet another human thing slowly meets obliteration from the grasp of the robust living world.
The road up, (183) passes the Tunk Lake Settlement, which seems to be more prosperous than North Sullivan is. It climbs a ridge offering a long rolling vista west of small hummock mountains amid heath hollows. This forest mixes a bit of pine with the fir and beech with the birch. This is prime color season for leaves lending a soft claret hue to the heaths.
Whoa! I've found a fire wrecked lodge shell. A few stone chimney columns and a crumbled wall remain giving it a resemblance to something left by Shermans March to the Sea. The basement cavity is strewn with charred and rusted stuff. It sits near a cove at the South end of Tunk Lake. The fire was a fairly recent event and may explain why the road was gated. What party and family rituals was this ruin witness to?
It's siting is imperious, commanding a long view North up Tunk Lake's length to 182. I should be within a mile of 182. I think I can hear traffic. I head toward it, pausing to pilfer a large spatula before passing another rotting garage. This one had room for five cars, several of which were giving up their 1930s ghosts to that ravenous living world.
Tunk II: I'm sure I can hear traffic, but I've walked a painful distance since my last scribble.
Again, a red squirrel scolds, there's always one. More southbound warblers filter by. A newer lake cottage lies at the old roads end. The lakeside mantle of forests new to Somerville eyes rewards a long bumpy lope along a rutted skidder trail. A few larger mammals duck my noisy, hunter fearful approach. I've been using the sun to navigate but clouds at times obscure it. Locals would likely shit themselves laughing at the joke of some clod flatlander trying to get around the Blueberry Barrens with a Maine Atlas.
Cherryfield: I made it through the long Tunk Lake stretch. It took hours longer than I predicted and was rendered drab by a long segment beneath a dense balsam fir canopy. A lively old local bearing apples and newspapers to East Machias got me here. Maine grocery outfitted me with crackers, deviled ham and tuna in tins, chaws of smoked dried fish and peanuts.
I'm looking at a placid silvery sliver of Narraguagus framed with the vivid scarlets, oranges and yellows of leaves just turned.
This is a miniaturist's dreamscape. Everything, even Route One, exists on a tiny town scale. The homes gathered about the town center are Reconstruction era Victorians. Many have colorful paint coats with stencil thin detail trim.
Future trips will begin in Cherryfield. It's a clear dooryard for the whole wonderful Down East coast.
The ruin was a huge family lodge set afire by one of its crazier members. Locals say the money made him crazy enough to try an insurance fire. He got caught and couldn't collect but prominence kept him out of jail. So... some strange Fat American owned the whole exhausting walk along the East Side of a good-sized lake. What weird rages were those crumbled walls witness to?
Note: I discovered much later that the ruins were 'Wickyup', the retirement home of Antarctic explorer, Admiral Robert Byrd. It must have been some local scandal when his kid torched it. 183 was built by the government as the Admirals glorified driveway. I later lost his spatula along the East Swift River in Central Massachusetts.
I'm now laughing at wrothful elements while still at their mercy. It rained soon after sunset and on through the night eating sleep and launching an occasional micro-flood invasion of the tent floor. The walk up was wrapped in some confusion. DeLorme is only partially useful here. I'm left with a clouded notion of location. I may be near Pineo Ridge and the fork to the heath. I can't be more than a mile from it.
I saw a harvested blueberry field all nut brown with stubble and carpet flat. The harvest is collected with combines. Edges and terrain unsuitable for machinery are hand raked with short raked into wooden boxes. I could hear the harvesters today and realize they made the sounds I heard yesterday.
Their commencement signaled rains end though the dampness seems to have shortened their day some.
The gentle rain was hardly merciful.
Damage: Pack of papers: Totaled.
Lighter: Lost.
Binoculars: Fogged.
Bird Book: Sogged.
DeLorme: Gettin' tattered.
Flashlight bulb: Dead.
Some other shit got wet that didn't matter. I've got one serious toe blister, another minor one. A day off walking is sorta welcome. I'll just move things up a day and go home Sunday or Monday.
The first note in this crescendo of doom was the spent flashlight bulb. Fucking thing! I bought batteries but forgot to get an extra bulb.
It's good that I didn't camp at night. From that poor beginning unraveled a parade of petty disasters. My last coupla' joints got soaked. I couldn't start a fire to save my soul and dry the bird book. I hope there's sun tomorrow.
I picked a campsite along the curve of an old road that fragments into trails lacing the backside of Pineo. After last night's soaking, I moved further along the road to a more level grassy site with better drainage and a spot of bare sand for fires. A lichen, fern and heather understory merges into upland fir woods along the well drained west edge of the road. The east edge slopes down to an alder filled swale bordering a stream fed boglet. Lichen draped larch and hemlock clusters occupy the drier heath stretches while swamp maples soak up seepage along the streambed. I love this little bog stream filling my canteen! It's awash in thick bright emerald sphagnum padding undulating underfoot. More warbler flocks follow thermoclines toward the Caribbean at dusk. Geese head to Chesapeake far overhead at dawn.
There are a few vesper birds a phoebe peet-peets and some other avian melody defies identification. All is wrapped in a fluvial ambient blend of stream trickle, wind whisper and rain on stiff soaked leaves. I spotted moose tracks near Tunk and late season black bear scat spotted with blueberry remnants.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Downeast Sojourn. 10/3-10/7, 1985. Hancock To Cherryfield.

I’m at Sullivan Falls, a reverser, due to the meeting of constricted inlet and a fat tidal bore. I just walked the east shore of Crabtree Point. Dawns allotment of lobsterers and schoolkids are on their way.

One latter is in the spin now fishing out a few traps to the gathering of gulls drawn by the chum. A mid inlet ledge wears a thicket of cormorants and gulls.

The ‘falls’ are near a lobster pound and rise twice a day at tidal boundaries. Schoodic Point is south, Hog Bay north. The Crocker House is great. A spiff menu offers snails and peppercorned tenderloin at a single malted bar. There’s antique white furniture and relict wallpaper immaculate and cheery.

A coupla’ kindly local cops got me here sparing a murky walk down Hancock Point. I haven’t seen an eagle yet. Ellsworth is the last blast of Mall before an older world border. Hancock is quietly arty with strains of cello practice leaking from a vacation cottage along an old coastal road. The west shore road begins at a tiny triangle park dedicated to Veterans of the War to Preserve the Union.

O Danny Boy, it’s a long way to Gettysburg and The Wilderness from here. Something croaks now and then..yup.. it’s a raven. It sounds little like ‘nevermore’. The forests are balsam fir and birch with scatterling clumps of pine, maple and oak. The smell is one of the more wonderful breaths my Somerville nostrils have wafted. The orchestra of fragrances amid the olfactory purity of sea washed air far from the ozone zone allows vivid distinctness for each part. The balsamic resin of fir legions provides the foundation threaded with scents of brine, mist, gravel, moist earth and occasional cars.

Penobscot Bay has drawn back its draped mist now with a rising suns encouragement. The local children paint praise graffiti for various kinds of rural vehicles, usually 4-wheel drive and ATV’s, on stretches of pavement on the main road back to route one. I followed a dirt trail along the east shoreline for a while and was allowed a round of glimpse tag with a great blue heron foraging in a fresh water pond laying a stone’s throw from the inlet.

Great Cormorants mingle with smaller Double Crested. ‘Birds of North America’ provides a clear basis for comparison. The Greats have a yellow bill and a white throat patch. Greats tend to be more northa’ here, up in Fundy or Newfie with summers on the southwest coast of Greenland. All cormorants spend a lot of time perched above water on reefs or piers with wings spread to dry and warm in the sun. They are a crafty nightmare for hapless fish.

Soon, I’m to walk across a truss bridge over the narrows to Sullivan and then walk north to Hog Bay and Franklin. Made it over!! Locals call it ‘the Singing Bridge’ cause of tread whistle caused by the metal grid cleats comprising the bridge surface. There isn’t a pedestrian walkway. It is, after all, route one. You can see the water below through the metal web of grillwork. I flushed some kinda’ nester from a piling below.

Simultaneous passage of ten wheelers in the two narrow lanes would be a major trauma for an unlucky pedestrian. The water below is cold and the current races. Weather alternates between warm and hot. The walk to Hog Bay was a gruel as I get used to the weird basket pack. I passed a hardware store and tried to steal a march by hitching, to no avail. I found a few wild apple trees. One had a particularly refreshing rosy tartness. These should cover vitamin C with help from rose hips and blueberries. I’ve got local smoked fish jerky and peanuts for protein.

I saw a grouse covey flush, (they’re in season), and a lone sandpiper on the Hog Bay tide flat. I hear something like a bobwhite in a nearby marsh and a mixed flock of warblers in fall plumage winds along the margins of the field where this is written. Later, I saw a hawk rise. I yielded to temptation to wade in thick tide flat muck. The foot cups soon filled with the incoming tide.

I then washed tired feet in a rainwater stream and collapsed on a wooded bluff overlooking the flats and West Franklin. The forest floor exceeds the thickness of any carpet. A bracken layer of moss and fir needles replaces some spun petroleum goo. It’s dotted with understory shrublets accented with mushroom clusters.

Tiny shack post offices serve these small settlements. Hancock Point and North Sullivan both have classics of the genre. An elder woman customer of these wore a weathered face full of life's epic wrinkles earned from long labors through all extremes of seasons. She recalled Sarakatsan goatherds from the mountains known to Pindar.

Homes along these woodland lanes are all demure folk works. Standardization's sterility is abandoned to more homely matters. Shelter is shaped by each inhabitant's array of solutions to problems of need and want with commendable skill at improvisation and thrift. Many have vast stockpiles of scavenged and salvaged things standing ready to serve whatever purpose their owners' imagination can invent. Avid growling mongrels often guard all this, usually tied.

I hear machinery off to the East, crows South, warblers chipping Northwest, an occasional shot due North and mutterings of motor vehicles from all corners weaving in and out of the soundscape. Six leggers of every sort have explored me haphazardly, although the season's allotment of frosty nights has already put earnest mosquitoes to flight.

A look at Schoodic Mountain convinces me I'll climb it some other day. I head instead to Tunk Lake. Schoodic is bald and a mottled dapple of yellow and orange before sunlight, more patchy green, purple- gray under clouds. Hopefully, I'll make Tunk by sundown and pitch tent. I don't expect to see a store before tomorrow in Cherryfield.