Monday, August 28, 2017

Maine Event

We had the adventure of a lifetime last week, on our first family trip to Maine.  We went to the wonderful Audubon family camp on Hog Island for a week, with on our explorations on either side.  It was a very full, very busy trip.  Memories of a lifetime.

Blueberries, lighthouses, sea glass, lobster, puffins, spruce, 18th-century houses, violin, chilly nights, tide differentials, stone walls, moose crossing, hiking, binoculars, fleece jackets, magnets, beach roses, frappes, sunrise, sunset, lobster boats, harbor seals, shooting stars, blueberry pie, gardens.

c. 1685
We left first thing in the morning, pushing through Connecticut and Massachusetts to get to Portsmouth, NH.  For a long time I had wanted to visit Strawbery Banke living history museum and this was my chance.  The town had wisely preserved a few blocks of old buildings around the old "puddle dock" inlet and created a museum.  It was delightful!  My favorite building was the c. 1685 brown gabled house.  Of course, I also liked the 18th-century houses, too.  And the tasty pastries at the museum cafe.  One of the most interesting houses was the one that was not restored; with the help of an NEA grant, the house is actually maintained in its decayed state--fascinating to see what a mess it was.

The unrestored stairwell in the NEA-grant house.

A colleague of Mama's had recommended the Kittery Trading Post as a stop for us, something akin to our favorite Vermont Country Store.  It was fun to wander the Maine souvenirs, though they weren't as nice as in Vermont.  We did fine some Maine fleece jackets on super-sale, so three of us got them and wore them during chilly nights.  We also got some great little binoculars for all of us, light but with good and steady focus.

Cape Elizabeth Light
One of the local houses in Portsmouth.  My favorite!
Mama is wonderful at finding places to eat and her first one was a huge success:  Lobster Shack near Cape Elizabeth Light.  Yep, we got to see our first lighthouse of the trip, explore the rocky shore (where I found three pieces of clear sea glass), and watch sunet at the lovely Maine shore, and then had a huge meal of fried fish, lobster, lobster rolls, oatmeal pie, grape nuts pudding, whoopie pie, blueberry pie.

Yummy desserts--oatmeal pie, blueberry pie, grape nuts pudding
We drove late into the night to get to our hotel closer to where we needed to be.  It was so dark, though, that I couldn't tell you if we drove near the forest or shore!

We had a marvelous breakfast overlapping Rockland harbor at the Home kitchen Cafe, with its huge cinnamon rolls,

Our goal for the day, besides getting to camp, was walking the Rockland Breakwater Light.  I think I underestimated the hike, not the last time I would do that this week--it was almost a mile out (and so almost another mile back) on uneven granite blocks with deep crevices in between.  And it was hot!  But we made it to the cute little light and enjoyed the journey there and back.   Oddly, there was a ship that looked most like a pirate ship, or early 18th-century schooner, in the harbor, but we never did figure out what it was.

Before arriving at our Hog Island destination, we stopped by the Project Puffin visitor center, where we learned about the heroic efforts of scientist Dr. Stephen Kress to bring back puffins in Maine (using chicks from Newfoundland), and bought a quart of tiny Maine blueberries bursting with flavor.  We saw several places we'd love to visit again--Portsmouth, Rockland, Rye (NH), Brunswick, Wicasset--but we were headed to Bremen.

The boat to take us to Hog Island docks at a little place called Bremen (pronounced "Brayman," I think.)  It is so Maine!  Buoys, boats, little gray wooden shacks, docks, seagulls, rocks, clear water, spruce trees.  I don't know that I ever consciously had a picture of Maine beyond lighthouses and lobsters, but I soon recognized the unique forested coast.  I also really like the particular architecture of the older houses--small capes with 2-3 segmented attachments either to the side or the back (usually ending with a barn or, for newer versions, garage.)

The dock to depart for Hog Island
It was a quick and easy crossing to the island, which is right off the mainland.  We docked at what I later learned was a late 19th-century chandlery in a small fishing camp; now it's the lab called Queen Mary.  Next we saw the 19th-century white wooden frame house that serves as the administrative headquarters and some staff housing, known as the Bridge; behind it was the airy cafeteria and kitchen (with chef and staff!)  A third building completed the main part of camp--the Fish House--which was where we would have our evening "campfire" gathering and daytime classes.  There were gardens, wood carvings, and picnic tables--and a 100-year-old apple tree--scattered in between.

Our room--the Magnolia room in the Crow's Nest--was the furtherest one from camp.  It was one of several multi-bed rooms sharing a dorm bathroom.  I think you could call ours a galley room--long and thin, the width of one bed (mine) under the window, with another bed and bunk beds along the side and a thin bookcase.  I felt like we were on a ship, except with high wooden ceilings.  It was cute, though there wasn't much airflow which complicated drying clothes especially when it turned muggy.  We didn't spend much time in there, though.

Our room
There were about 50 people at camp and we spent the first night getting to know them.  With games, which was probably Mama's least favorite activity!  As a Girl Scout leader, I thought the games were good; I might even borrow them.  We played "Captain's Coming" (or "Captain, Says").  Essentially, it's Simon Says (players have to be put "at ease" first, but played somewhat cooperatively (some actions have to be completed in groups), with people eliminated like Musical Chairs (see here.)  We also visited activities in our groups, which is how we were organized for the whole week (Mammals and Birds--we were mammals, specifically Flying Squirrels.)  There was a human knot, a toss-the-stuffie name game, a non-verbal line up game (you know, get in order of birthday without talking), and, finally, a cooperative marshmallow-floats-on-a-chocolate-river game to get everyone from one side to the other.

And then we ate the first of several delicious meals.  The camp has a chef with a professional team and turns out local, seasonal, interesting foods--new salads every night (orange vinagrette or olives, etc.), individual little desserts (cheesecakes, ice cream sundaes, tres leches cake, cupcakes with maple frosting), and a family-style entree and veg (roasted chicken, sauteed squash, roasted cauliflower, fish tacos, fish stew, chicken noodle soup, baked eggs, chili, beefy mac pasta, etc etc.)  And they were sensitive to restrictions and preferences (I'll tell you about how they really made Sis's day later.)

Our cabin
We enjoyed sunset over the cove, which became my favorite place on the island, before heading to our evening "campfire" in the Fish House.  Every night we all gathered around 7 pm or so to sing, hear about ecological projects (saving horseshoe crabs and puffins), listen to concerts, and even dance.  The first night we met the staff, a group of naturalists and graduate students, all specialists in fields from bugs to fish to geology to birds, of course, this being Audubon.  We also played another get-to-know-you "find someone who" game as we tried to complete a series of questions (I was usually the person who had lived west of the Mississippi!)  And then we sang two songs that we'd sing every night "Eider and Osprey" and "Island Lullaby" (lyrics below.)

What a great first day!

The center of camp, Bridge on left and Fish House on right

Look at this tide differential!! It changes 8-12'.  It really is amazing and I never ceased to be surprised.  

We were awake early on Monday and all took part in the early-morning walks, after watching sunrise over the cove.  Bud and I did birding; Sis and Mama did nature photography.  It was my first little hike on the island; there would be a few more, with increasing difficulty (not so much from sheer exertion because of incline but because of unsteady footing in roots and rocks, which I find harder.)  On this morning, I first heard, knowingly, the cry of the osprey.  It took me awhile to associate the sound with the osprey, maybe because I've seen so many in CT without ever really hearing them.  The birding grad student, Anna, was one of our favorite teachers on the island (the kids later did migration games with her and had lots of fun.)

Two creatures were omnipresent during our stay:  the voles that scurried across the path we walked to our cabin and the red squirrels that chattered almost constantly.  We also saw several different birds at the feeders in the gardens in the middle of camp--my first American goldfinches, a hummingbird, dark-eyed juncos, chickadees.

I think there was a seal in there somewhere, but now I can't see it.
The big activity for the day was a "shakedown" cruise circling the island.  I love a good boat ride, even a slow cruise, and really enjoyed the excursion.  We saw more ospreys, black guillemot, surf scoters, white-winged scoters, eiders, loons, cormorants, common terns, and a few bald eagles.  The "first mate" on our little boat pulled up one of her lobster traps and had two market-sized lobsters, which she let all the kids examine.  And there were harbor seals!  The harbor seals were following a fishing boat which was pulling in its nets, just like dolphins follow shrimpers in Texas.  There were two, I think, their lithe bodies and stubby heads flashing above the water.    Even better, we later saw a dozen sunning on a rock ledge, but, when we were all looking at an eagle, they shimmied off into the water to check out some kayakers. 

The dock

We had afternoon optionals, which were classes we could choose.  Mama took a compass class and then a nature photography one.  Sis and Bud were especially interested in the green crab count in the intertiday zone, which was a scientific survey of the invasive Southeast Asian species.  They both waded into the icy Maine water and explored amid the rocks and algae on several occasions.  They also perfected their rock skipping!  But and I did a class with Anna the birder on beak adaptations--probing, crushing, gleaning, sieving, tearing, sipping beaks.  I also took a nature-pressing optional.  I picked and pressed sow thistle, goldenrod, and a horseweed (sonchus), then researched the Latin name and other scientific info for the tags.  Thank heavens that Russell the plant man could put me on the right path or I'd never have found the right information.  I donated the pressings to the camp herbarium.

Then I took a nap.  I love camp naps, from my days of quiet time at Girl Scout camp (when I, admittedly, rarely napped, but wrote letters and journal entries), and my bed near the window, with the nice breeze, was very cozy.  In our spare time we also worked on our homemade picture frame which would house the family photo that the island photographer took next to the cove.

That evening, we heard a fascinating talk on the Puffin Project by one of the original volunteers, Paul.    They really have done amazing work transporting chicks and fostering a breeding colony (using decoys, mirrors, and sound recordings) on seven islands in Maine.  Then there was music!  The renaissance-man who was director not only teaches high school science and runs a horseshoe crab rescue group in NJ, he plays violin beautifully (and looks like Russell Crowe.)  He and his bandmates--other naturalists, including Colleen (who actually lives just across the river from us), Russell the bird man, and John the volunteer (I think)--played a civil war song in honor of Loud's Islanders who resisted serving in the Union Army by attacking recruiters with hot potatoes (apparently, the residents of Loud's Island are still contrary to this day), a song about common birds called "The Birder's Lament," and a repetitive, raucous song called "Rattlin' Bog" (you know the kind, "a rash on a flea on a feather on a wing on a bird on an egg on a nest on a twig on a branch on a limb on a tree in a bog in the valley!")  Plus the "Eider and Osprey" and "Island Lullaby" that we sang every night.

Small world:  in addition to the fact that Colleen lives the next town over, I met a woman who grew up a mile from me, almost went to my high school and graduated the year I did!  There were also a few other people with connections to the town we live in.  Incredible.

We awoke Tuesday (not early enough for the early activities, which we wouldn't catch again!) to damp fog over everything.  We were sorry for the people going on the puffin tour, because their visibility would be low, and were glad it was our 7-hour hike day.  Mama and Sis opted for the long hike--long meaning 5+ miles--while Bud and I did the short one (1 1/2 miles), though we were all out for 7 hours or so.  I had dreaded the hike a bit because I don't like using the forest as a toilet, but that didn't turn out to be the biggest challenge; the hiking itself was.  Even though I've hiked a bit--climbing Sleeping Giant, doing a bit of Queechee Gorge, climbing up to see the falls at Moss Glenn Falls, making it to the stone chapel at Trapp Family Lodge (all of which had some steep bits and some rocks or roots)--I was not prepared for the topography of parts of Hog Island.  There were a few parts, namely between the Bingham cottages and a bit after the Sandy Cove, that kicked my butt--steep-for-me inclines and declines complicated by narrow, root-covered and rock-strewn paths, sometimes close to drop offs (which I never like.)  Thank heavens for my hiking stick and the kindness of the other hikers, who were company and encouragement.  Still, it was a bit defeating, even though I made it the whole way without falling.  I'm glad I did it, though.  We stopped numerous times to examine lichen and moss, sea lavender, an old stone wall (from the days when mainland farmers continued their property lines onto the island and probably gave it the name because of livestock kept there), birch bowers, dense forests, and listen to birdsongs (some identified the ruby-crested kinglet!)  We also did a 10-minute listening exercise, a "sound map," documenting everything we heard--each other, osprey, bugs, motors on the mainland once or twice.  One of our number has been coming to the island since the 1960s and recounted changes in the habitat; he was also there for the dedication of the placque comemorating Mabel Loomis Todd, who helped save the island (and also, being a neighbor of Emily Dickinson, had edited her poems--on the island--for publication), which famed environmentalist Rachel Carson attended.  We later went to Todd's cottage, now known as the Bingham cottages, where she did the actual editing.  Now, an artist-of-resident from New Mexico who did watercolor birds was staying for a few weeks; I liked her and her work, realistic in its depiction of birds but with abstract dots behind instead of habitat.

The "floating tree" which rotted out in the middle.
We met up with Sis and Mama at Sandy Cove for lunch, one of the few beaches we saw that had sand.  And it had sea glass!  I found several lovely pieces over the course of the week, including at lunch that day.  I loved how the forest went right to the shore, rocks everywhere.  So different from the beaches I know.

The rest of the day is a blur.  I think I napped and had dinner and missed the evening activities.

Sandy Cove

Moss-covered stone wall

A former staff member liked making these birch bowers.

At the Bingham cottage, sketching

Wednesday, our day for the puffin cruise, was beautiful, a perfect Maine day, they said.  After breakfast, we boarded the Snow Goose III for the day, our lunch sacks and binoculars in tow.  First, we saw the habor seals, dozens sunning on a rock ledge.  At our approach, they flopped off into the water; this time, we all saw them.  So funny!

Puffins! They were on Eastern Egg Rock, a sanctuary island where Dr. Kress and volunteers have worked so hard to bring them back in the last thrity years.  We had heard that the young ones had fledged but that adults were still around; we had hoped they all wouldn't leave before we got there--but there were a few dozen. We couldn't land, but it was enough to watch the "flying footballs" from afar--they are rather round and flap quite vigorously. My favorite part was when a bird emerged from the water, seamlessly transferring the flapping they use to swim to the flapping that allows them to fly!  Incredible.  As Mama noted, they look like brightly-beaked rubber ducks in the water.  With the flying and the waves, it was hard to get a good photo, but Mama cropped one with lots of puffins.  With all the negative environmental news that we hear in a steady drumbeat of our doom, it was reassuring to see a positive impact that humans had made, a negative that had been reversed.  A little bit of hope puffing around.

Beyond the puffins, we weren't too focused on birds this day, though we saw black guillemots, kinglets, cormorants, terns, and a sand piper.  We were amazed, however, to see more than one Monarch butterfly crossing Muscongus Bay on its way south.

Our afternoon was spent on private Harbor Island, whose owners generously allow Audubon to land and hike (there were a few others there, too, I think--I'm unclear about the ettiquette of landing on islands; nothing was posted anywhere.)  Sis and Mama opted for hiking--Sis went short, with a cave and wild raspberries; Mama went long with a rock scramble and geology discussion.  Bud and I stayed on the beach, exploring tidal pools, searching for sea glass, and wading in the cold water to find green crabs and little baby lobsters.  So cold!  No wonder no one really seems to swim.  I found lots of great sea glass here, including a lavender heart-shaped piece.  Loved it!  

And did I mention the beach roses?  I think we first saw them that first night at Cape Elizabeth.  Most of the blooms were gone, leaving just these gigantic hips which I thought were berries at first.  Then I saw the same bushes, some with blooms still there, anywhere we stopped at the coast.  I think these roses have the best rose scent I've ever known.  I tried to collect some petals but much of the fragrance is lost.  

Purple heart sea glass

I forgot to mention the lighthouse:  we passed by Franklin Light on our cruise, an old tower on one of the 1000s of islands.  

That evening, I didn't need a nap; in fact, I danced with Bud and Sis at the Country Dance that evening.  Bud and I danced the Virginia Reel, which I knew from elementary school.  Then I danced with Sis to something called (something like) wave of touring--I can't find anything like it--but it involved a lot of over-under with your partner.  After an hour or so of dancing, we had a concert from Judd Caswell, a staple on the Maine folk music scene.  I really loved his evocative lyrics, with songs about blackberries and the end of summer, "get poor slow," and such.  Lovely, reflective music.  Sis and Mama left early, but Bud and I stayed to the end and then went star watching.  So many stars, even the edge of the Milky Way, and I even saw a shooting star.  I loved sitting outside with Bud.

Except the bugs.  Towards the second half of our visit, we started being bothered by the bugs--mosquitoes, sand fleas, and horseflies--even with all the herbal bug spray we could muster (it seemed antithetical to use DEET at an Audubon camp.)  We were still itching almost a week later, even with benadryl pills and gel.  Not a great souvenir.

Day five was an "at-home" day, so to speak, no cruises, no long hikes, lots of optionals.  My favorite was pendant-making with the art teacher (not the artist-in-residence.)  She demonstrated her technique by wire-wrapping the green seaglass I had.  I wish I remembered more of what she said on how to do it (start with crossed wires, always move wires in opposite pairs, twist with needle nose pliers to tighten around gaps, bend to make the bail.)  I made the white one below (and I've practiced with a few more since.)  I like that I can do something with the sea glass I find.

Mama took origami and created several cranes and a difficult puffin.  She also completed her first woodcarving project on her own:  a puffin!  She has dabbled with whittling for awhile now but was able to dedicate a lot of time to it on the island.  And her little puffin is so cute.  Yay, Mama!

Sis and Bud did the bird migration game with Anna, which was a scientific game of chase, with Sis as the bird of prey.  Then Sis took geocaching.

On our way to the beach
And in the afternoon, we went on an all-camp seine in the intertidal zone.  Sis and Bud scampered across rocks and algae, while Mama and I sat and again marveled at the tidal fluctuations and the forested coastline.  Meanwhile, the staff geologist and facilities manager, Eric, did a periwinkle "roast."  Okay, I admit, I thought it was going to be some kind of edible flower.  Periwinkles in this case are sea snails.  The kids collected them from the rocks, hundreds of them, and then Eric boiled them in seawater, dumping them out on a bed of seaweed (which strained off the water and also seemed to keep the periwinkles warm.)  Then he passed out "winkle sticks" or long toothpicks.  And I must say, the periwinkles were pretty good--you flip off the small "door" and pull out the tiny snail, which is meaty and chewy like escargot, but without the muddiness that those sometimes have.  Bud eventually sat right next to the pile and ate nearly his weight in snails!

And he was still hungry for that evening's very special dinner:  lobster!  The feast, served outside on white cloth-covered picnic tables, started with a really delicious creamy haddock stew.  Then Mama and Bud had lobsters, I had homemade pizza, and Sis . . . Sis doesn't like either one.  She had been such a great sport all week--with fish tacos and chili with quinoa--but she just doesn't like lobster or regular pizza.  And so the staff actually made her a pizza without sauce!!!  They were so kind and she was so thrilled.  Immediately, camp was elevated from a "7" to a "9" (it would have been a 10 if there had been horses!)  Dessert was cream "puffins"--cute and delicious!  We had looked forward to the puffins since first learning of the camp--its their signature dish.

NOT Mama's puffin carving
Afterwards, we attended an exhibition-cum-talent-show, with table displays of all the art we had made--representing our family, my pendants, Bud's bird sketches, Sis's puffin drawing, Mama's puffin wood carving--plus our family portraits and homemade frames.  So many amazing items--other sea glass jewelery, lots of sketches and paintings, lovely painted rocks.  The talent show, featuring several kids but not ours, was cute and then we enjoyed more music.  It really was a wonderful wrap-up to a great week.

Our wonderful week, both inspiring and challenging, was over; we were already making plans to come back next year.  Departure was 8 am, under cloudy skies.  It would rain all day, sorta matching our moods.

But we had more fun to look forward to:  we'd decided to stay an extra night in Maine and do some other sightseeing.  After grabbing a big Maine breakfast at quaint c. 1927 Moody's Diner, homemade doughnuts being a highlight.  We also really liked their souvenir store, with all its Maine goodies.

And even with the rain, we chose to visit Pemaquid Lighthouse.  But Bud was sound asleep; luckily, the light was not far from the parking lot, so we could explore and keep an eye on him, taking turns.  Sis and Mama climbed the light while I enjoyed the beach roses.  Then Mama sat with Bud, while Sis and I checked out the rocks.  She even scrambled down them and took her own photos.  (Yes, I was suppressing my inner helicopter parent, but the more I trust them and let them explore, the better I feel about it.  Even with rogue wave warnings.)

Sis took this, safely, from the rocks.

With even more rain, I still wanted to see Colonial Pemaquid, a state park about the 17th-century settlement.  I really liked the museum, which paired local archaeological finds with reproductions of Dutch art depicting the same.  Clever and useful.  There was also a scale model--and I love models!  We all wandered the little museum, but only I got out to visit the re-enactor in his cottage.  It's a lot like Plimoth Plantation, same time, too.  The enactor had actually been with the park for several years and had built much of the cabin.  Really wonderful to talk to him.

At the recommendation of Mama Teacher, who spent high school in Maine, we went to Fat Boy's Drive Thru, enjoying their frappes, burgers, fries, and onion rings.  A frappe is a milkshake (pronounced "frap" not "fra-pay")--and the blueberry one was amazing! Then we all fell sound asleep, for hours, at our hotel, no doubt assisted by all the Benadryl we were taking for bug bites and a long week outdoors.

We did manage a foray out for dinner in rain that just seemed to get heavier.  We enjoyed a delightful meal at Azure, with fried chicken and waffle appetizer, beet salad, wild blueberry salmon, crispy chicken carbonara, chicken marsala, seafood pasta, tiramisu, delicious panna cotta gelato affogator, and the most amazing doughnuts with a citrus ricotta cream.

With that sustenance, we went shopping at LL Bean, which is open 24 hours a day.  With the pouring rain, almost no one was there and so we romped around the gigantic store(s) by ourselves.  We got some school clothes for Sis and Bud, new rain jackets for Mama and I, and some shirts and pants for me.  We got a few more souvenirs and Mama got a beautiful leather satchel for work, just like the one that plant expert Roger carried.

Last day of our vacation.  And I think we were ready to head home, after a few stops.  First, Freeport Cafe, with berry-stuffed french toast, crab omelet, eggs and corned beef hash, and a blueberry pancake for the table.  Yep, well-fortified again.

Two more lighthouses:  Rockland Head Light and Nubble Light, both very picturesque, both very iconic Maine, both relatively crowded compared to Pemaquid.  Rockland was next to a beautiful park full of flower gardens--and yes, more beach roses!  These rocks were too dangerous for a scramble, but both Bud and Sis enjoyed the rocks at Nubble, which were not off-limits to the public.  In the photos below, you'll see that the weather changed rapidly from bright blue skies to cloudy and back again, remnants of the full day of rain on Friday.

Between the lighthouses, we went to an exhibition at the Saco Museum, for which we'd seen a pamphlet.  "Victorian Embellishments."  There were 50 gorgeous gowns on display, from the 1830s through the turn-of-the-century at this local little museum.  Some of them could have fit Sis now!  I have long loved historical costumes, but still learned a lot about embellishments--embroidery, cording, pleating, jet beads, etc etc etc.  It was a delightful stop taking us to a whole other world.

We finished our trip at Fox's restaurant, overlooking Nubble Light.  And we again ate quintessential Maine food--lobster bisque, lobster, fried fish, blueberry pie, blueberry ice cream.  It was over.  And it was wonderful.

But we were glad to be going home, especially knowing it was the first family trip to Maine, not the last.

Rockland Head

Nubble, on its own island


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