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.