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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Down East, Day 1

We returned on Sunday night from a few days Down East, that is, east of Ellsworth and Bangor. We had never visited the stretch of coast from Acadia to Canada and needed to correct that glaring omission. We are extremely glad we did.

Although the first day was hardly glad. We set out from Owls Head at the beginning of a kind of small northeaster, and are pleased to report its company for the rest of the day - the usual wind and rain and fog. It was a graphic illustration of the reason Down East got its name, the prevailing winds pushing us east. The storm wasn't the problem, since it was to be a day mostly of travel anyway. The problem was certain executive decisions made by yours truly. But first the highlight of the day.

We drove to Bangor and saw Paul Bunyan's statue (no, that wasn't the highlight, although he's quite high), then through Orono and Old Town to the Penobscot Indian Reservation on Indian Island. Our goal was the Penobscot Nation Museum, which turned out to be a whole series of adjectives: small (but definitely beautiful), full (of wonderful artifacts), fascinating (not least because of its gracious curator James Neptune), humiliating (when the facts of annihilation by white people are so bald and disturbing). James showed us an evocative film about the people and their connection to the river, and patiently answered our questions. I'm still overwhelmed by the fact that James is a direct descendant of John Neptune, born in 1767, chief and shaman of the Penobscots, and Louis Neptune, erstwhile guide to Henry David Thoreau on his first trip to Maine. What terrible diminution of place and power that one family, not to mention a whole peaceful people, has seen.

As if in teary response, the rain grew stronger as we left Old Town. The executive decision that ruled the afternoon was basically a silly romantic wish to travel through great swathes of undeveloped forest. The Maine Atlas showed a suitable road, the Stud Mill, running for some fifty miles through nothing. The "nothing" part of the wish was granted, but it wasn't a beautiful nothing. It was boring and utilitarian: a logging road accompanied most of its length by large power-line towers on one side and a strip of cleared land, strangely wide, on the other. We passed a handful of pickups, and a dozen large trucks stuffed with logs. I'm sure they all wondered about the little blue idiot sedan from Massachusetts....So no leafy bowers, no magnificent white pines, no moose. Thoreau had long ago left the building.

But worse was yet to come. Mr. Executive also had the notion of visiting Grand Lake Stream, home of many 19th century hunting and fishing camps catering still to "sports" from the cities. Visiting one, if only to look briefly, seemed an educational thing to do. It involved taking a little shortcut, a short, 10-mile stretch of road off Stud Mill called Little River Road. And here in true executive style I blame anything but myself. Little River Road was indicated in the Atlas to be the same kind of road as Stud Mill, and indeed the same kind as the tarred road that eventually led from Grand Lake Stream to the smooth bliss of Route 1. Needless to say it wasn't in reality.

Having unconsciously delegated, said executive wasn't driving and long-suffering helpmeet, now supremely expert on gravel, was. It took an hour to go 10 miles. The wash-outs were enormous. Thank God for the rain - you could estimate how deep the ruts were. Two miles per hour was several times achieved. Blind faith in the Atlas is forever tarnished.

The pelting rain made Grand Lake Stream less than memorable, and we were never so glad to get to our B&B in Princeton. Wilderness is fine in a 4-wheel drive, sturdy boots, real spare tires, and a pack of provisions. We should have gone straight to the beauty and splendor of Lubec, an amazing area, the very eastern end of the US.

Stay tuned for Day 2.


Chris Rich said...

I love that area. I've been down every neck between Calais and the Penobscot mouth. I highly recommend the Great Wass Archipelago and Petit Manan NWR. The Great Heath near Cherryfield is pretty splendid too.

The Pleasant River there is one of the few coastal rivers that still has a native Atlantic Salmon run.

Anonymous said...

"strip of cleared land, strangely wide, on the other"

I believe this is the right of way for the gas line from Canada.