Looking for Rachel Day 5

Thursday, September 6

I took, what I now consider, my morning walk to Hendricks Head beach.  In the distance, I saw three white ovals bobbing in the water.  Even with my binoculars, I couldn’t determine what they might be.  Styrofoam footballs?  Then, it seemed as if one had a slit along one end, like a mouth, almost as if it were struggling for air.  I watched for a good 10 minutes.  I considered that they might be seals or some other sea creatures reaching for their last breath, but white seals, three baby white whales?  I dismissed my deductions as frivolous.

Today we go to Ocean Point checking to make sure we’ll be there at low tide.  Linda Lear in her biography of Rachel Carson describes her fondness for this area.

“To reach a rocky ocean shore, Rachel had to go five miles across to the western shore of Southport Island or about ten miles to Ocean Point, a wild and rocky point at the end of the peninsula that bounded Boothbay Harbor on the west and the Damariscotta River on the east.  Ocean Point soon became one of her favorite haunts.  Waiting for an extreme low tide, when she could systematically explore the tide pools there, she discovered beautiful creatures hiding under seaweed or clinging to the underside of the rocks visible only at these times.  Some of the more movable ones she took up to her mother who waited on the shore, enjoying the ocean view and watching the lobstermen.”

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Ocean Point

We explore as Rachel did finding dulse among the rocks just as she described them in The Edge of the Sea.

“The lower rocks and and walls of low tide pools are thickly matted with algae.  Here the red weeds largely supplant the browns that grow higher up.  Along with Irish moss, dulse lines the wall of the pools, its thin, dull red fronds deeply indented so that they bear a crude resemblance to the shape of a hand.”

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Dulse, Ocean Point, Maine

We sight some wildflowers but we’re not sure we can name them.  Trillium?  Lupine?  Yet, we marvel at our fortune to be here alone, quiet, within its beauty.

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We had plans to head towards the Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve in New Harbor.  We would have to go north on 96 and then loop around east towards Bristol.  Hungry, we stop at the East Boothbay General Store.  I don’t want to leave.  It’s chock full of edible wonders.   I can’t decide between a sticky bun or Banh Mi sandwich.  We decide to eat on the road, but first, relieve the kidneys.  Across the street, the East Boothbay Fire Station  has rest rooms.  The interior brings back memories of dances held at local church halls where boys leaned against one pine paneled wall looking across the great expanse of the dance floor to girls leaning against the opposite wall.

As we start out on Route 96, we see a wall of black clouds heavy with rain, a flash of lightning, and even hear some thunder.  Thinking it might be just a squall, we decide to “soldier on.”   A very bad idea.  In five minutes, torrents of rain immerse us as the wind shakes the car.  We pull over and pray.  We are directly across from power lines swinging wildly from side to side just like the car, both unable to withstand the storm.  After 20 terrifying minutes, we could move forward.  Fallen trees blocked almost every road.  We had barely missed getting crushed.  We abandoned our plans to the salt pond and cautiously made our way back to the house going in circles to avoid roads strewn with debris.  The lights appeared to be out as we passed through Boothbay Harbor.

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Home finally and no damage.  Glasses of wine all around.  After a brief nap, we walked down to the beach falling into the pattern of morning and evening walks I had imagined might be mine if this were my territory.  After talking to several people, we discovered we had been caught in a tornado.  At least that was the rumor.  And though we weren’t in Kansas, the winds were clocked at 65 mph.

Then, a second discovery.  The “styrofoam footballs” had been seals after all and they had been gasping for breath.  Now they were dead.  We see a gull pecking at one of the seals beached along a rocky ledge.  I should have done something but my ignorance prevented me from acting.  A local assured me there was nothing I could have done.  There was no way to save them in time.  It seems a virus has been attacking the seals this season.  It was the last time I would come to the Hendricks Head beach.  I couldn’t face the memory of that failed struggle for life.  Is this the outcome Carson imagined in Silent Spring?

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Hendricks Head Beach

In a letter to Dorothy Freeman on another September Thursday in 1953, Carson writes of the wonder she and her mother witnessed from her home, this house we are privileged to have for a week:

“One day there was a school of porpoises over on the far shore; we have had loons just offshore several different days; and yesterday a big seal put his head out several times….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking For Rachel Day 4

Wednesday, September 5

Today, we took the ferry from Boothbay Harbor to Monhegan Island, over sixteen miles away.  A whale was sighted but I managed to miss it.

In her book, The Edge of the Sea, Carson writes of Monhegan Island, “…which in ancient times must have stood above the coastal plain as a bold monadnock.”  According to Britannica.com, a monadnock is, “an isolated hill of bedrock standing conspicuously above the general level of the surrounding area.”

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Our first stop was the Fish House noted for it’s lobster rolls.  I remember driving to Wood’s Hole decades ago and stopping at roadside stands.  Two dollars would get a hot dog bun filled with lobster salad; then, small pieces of lobster pieces fit the roll.  Now everything is super sized and doesn’t appeal.  I opted for fish tacos.

The restaurant, a short walk from the Ferry to Dead Man’s Cove, faces Manana Island where the Manana Island Sound Signal Station is located, sending out fog signals since 1855.

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From there, we walked to Lobster Cove.  The path reminded me of the difficulty getting to the beach at Rachel’s house.  Narrow trails towards challenging rocks.  I had hoped to see some birds of note but none appeared.  Like Rachel Carson, I’m fond of sighting birds.  Unlike her, I’m inconsistent in my attempts.  My friends ventured further.  I remained cautious.

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Next the Monhegan Museum of Art and History,  part of the keeper’s house on the Lighthouse grounds.  A real treasure like the museum on Ile Aux Marins across from Miqulon, the French outpost off the coast of Nova Scotia. We stepped back into the past with views that stopped my breath.

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We had to do a quick tour in order to reach the ferry on time.  Once back in Boothbay Harbor, we crossed the Boothbay Harbor Footbridge to the other side and did see a bird of note: a loon.

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We ended the day with a dinner of beans on toast.  Then a look at the stars while reading aloud James Harpur’s poem, “The Perseids.”  And we were moved.

And in the freckled darkness

the stars looked down on us

and on the gathering of silent animals,

as if they’d willed us there, the ones

they had been waiting for,

ensouling the universe

with our thoughts for sick and absent friends

and wishes for uncertain futures –

the stars saw the meaning of life –

if only for the time it took

to see and lose a prayer

in our evaporating trails of love.

From  The White Silhouette, Carcanet, 2018 

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what day did we read James’ poems.  Stars

 

I want more nature, need to take time to write

 

Looking for Rachel Day 3

Tuesday September 4

I began the day walking to the town beach.  I can imagine a routine that would include this morning stroll.  When I returned, we had breakfast on the porch and watched a fishing boat make it’s way up the Sheepscot River.

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On the itinerary for today was Boothbay Harbor.  This visit disappoints.  Having read a biography of Rachel Carson and articles about her time in Maine, I imagined a small understated New England town.  Instead most stores fill their shelves with tourists’ merchandise.  One of my friends commented on their playlist, 60’s pop to appeal to baby boomers.

Just like New Hope Pennsylvania, Boothbay Harbor sits along the water: New Hope along the Delaware, Boothbay Harbor on the Atlantic.   Henry Miller, when he returned to the states from Europe as WWII took hold, wrote The Air Conditioned Nightmare, an account of his drive cross country east to west.  He stopped in New Hope which he described in scathing terms.  The town often described as a refuge for artists, seemed to him the home of non-artists.  He recognized the beginnings of the tourist trap it would become.

After some grocery shopping, we returned home and once again, I walked to the beach. I watched cormorants perch along the rocks and talked to several people.  As I looked into one of the tidal pools,

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I imagined a perfect routine: a walk to the beach every morning, coffee on the deck, writing, chores in town, writing in the afternoon, another walk to the beach, then, back to the deck for drinks, dinner, and to bed with a book.  Heaven.

Dinner was a group effort.  We played music, drank gin and tonics, talked, laughed for hours, and watched the sun set on the Sheepscot.

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Regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed, I was able to do some writing before hitting the sack.

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Another bit of heaven, writing where she wrote.

Looking for Rachel Day 2

Monday September 3 2018 Labor Day

“Bring an old pair of sneakers for wading.”  Rachel Carson to Dorothy Freeman, September 3 1953

 Another day when we don’t leave the house until noon.  Sixty-five years ago, September 3, 1953, Rachel wrote to Dorothy advising her to bring old sneakers for exploring the low tide at the bottom of this house.  We won’t go wading today, but we will do a bit of exploring: Cozy Harbor, Newagen Inn, and the Municipal Beach.

We make a left onto Salt Pond Road, then, a left onto Dogfish Head Road looking for what Rachel hoped to preserve, what she and Dorothy called their “lost woods.“  After a few turns, we happened upon the Freeman cottage that Dorothy visited every summer for most of her life.  We were unable to see a way down to the shore where she and Rachel had spent many happy hours.  How cheered I am by this discovery, this tie to Rachel.

Rachel writing to Dorothy and Stan, October 7, 1956

“The day of high wind I explored the shore and adjacent woods from Daniel’s place north for a short distance.  If only that could be kept always just as it is. ….How many acres would you guess are in the land from Daniel’s road north to where the Head cottages begin, and between the Dogfish Head Road and the Bay?  Just for fun tell me what you think, and let’s pretend we could somehow create a sanctuary there…. Where people like us could go… and walk about , and get what they need.”

Next, we ventured to Cozy Harbor that sits on one of the inlets of the Sheepscot River south of Rachel’s house.   Looking out to the water, on the right is the Yacht Club and on the left is Oliver’s, a restaurant.

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With my own old sneakers, I wander down to the dock to see what might be living amongst the rocks.  Her biography and letters to Dorothy captures her delight in all creatures and plants that inhabit salt water.   Like her, I’m intrigued by what is in front of me: she still influences her readers.  Unlike her, I haven’t a clue what I’m looking at.

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What did she see when she visited this spot when Oliver’s was the E.W. Pratt’s General Store?  She wrote to Dorothy on another Labor Day, September 2 1958 about a visit to nearby Pratt Island.

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“…I walked through the woods to the place you and I sat that last day.”  She goes on to share the birds she has sighted; semipalmated plovers and turnstones.

Next we drove to the Newagen Inn located at the bottom of Southport and the Sheepscot River and described as one of her favorite places.  The inn seems so modern: I can’t imagine her visiting.  On the terrace, we had a late lunch looking over the water which I guessed was the Atlantic.

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After our meal we asked the receptionist if she knew where Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman would spend time.  She directed us to a narrow path leading through a patch of woods to the river.  There on a rock were two occupied adirondeck chairs.

From a letter to Dorothy, September 10 1963 on their morning at the Newagen Inn,

“For me it was one of the loveliest of summer’s hours, and all the details will remain in my memory: that blue September sky, the sounds of wind in the spruces and surf on the rocks, the gulls busy with their foraging, alighting with deliberate grace, the distant view of Griffiths Head and Todd Point, today so clearly etched…. But most of all I shall remember the Monarchs, that unhurried westward drift of one small winged form after another, each drawn by some invisible force.”

We made our way home saddened by the thought that this had been the last time Carson and Dorothy were together, the last time Carson visited the Newagen Inn.  She died seven months later.

We took the long way around to the house which meant passing the Municipal Beach.   There were children exploring the waters, nets in hand, catching crabs.  But loss seems to have followed us: a dead baby seal had washed up on shore.   The beauty of the site, the children’s interest in the creatures of the sea, and the lost of one of it’s own made for conflicting emotions.  Would Rachel understand it is all part of the wonder of sea life or would she start to wonder what had gone wrong?

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Looking for Rachel Day 1

Sunday  September 2 2018

“Going down into the low tide world,”

Always Rachel, The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman

I am in her house, but not in her world.  I can see the body of water, the Sheepscot River that eventually reaches the sea, but I can not touch it.  This morning, my first morning, I walked along the path that leads to the shore but could go no further than the long ledge of rocks that line the coast, slippery and dangerous.

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When Carson first moved to Southport, Maine, she had a note from a neighbor, Dorothy Freeman, welcoming her.  She invited Dorothy and her husband to a Sunday exploration of the very coastline that challenges me.

After a friendship developed between the two women, Carson wrote to Dorothy that she wanted to preserve the forest off Dogfish Head Road which extends north to the tip of a peninsula of the same name.  It’s the site of an early settlement as well as the port where steam boats carried summer guests to Southport.  Dorothy was one of those early visitors, traveling by steamer from Boston to Southport when she was just an infant.

The act of preserving was imperative to Carson.  But as Linda Lear (a Carson biographer) explains, ”She also wanted to preserve the paths these two friends had lovingly tread.”  Carson called them the “Lost Woods.”  I walked along the path that seems to lead to those woodlands, but it went nowhere; instead, I saw only houses.  So the woods are lost.  I’m saddened.   A contradiction as I’m sharing her very house with my two loving friends, Karen and Iris.

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 The Lost Woods

Karen and I rose early.  She is reading the Sea Around Us, Carson’s poetic and scientific portrait of the sea, and I’m reading Always Rachel, a present from Karen. I began to peruse the book, looking for links to my stay and read aloud those first few entries hoping to inspire our outings.  Karen also explored the grounds and, like me, reached only the top of the rocky shelf.  But she feels confident we can make our way if we do it together, much like Rachel and Dorothy did on that first meeting.

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Stanly Freeman, Dorothy Freeman, Rachel Carson

We have a hard time getting out of the house, so much to share, to review.  I worry that I won’t be looking for Rachel.

Today, we visited monarchs at the Costal Maine Botantical Gardens in Boothbay.  A guide in the Butterfly House told us that the staff knows when the Monarchs will migrate: then, they lift the screened roof and the monarchs make their journey to Mexico. This guide was particularly fond of the Mourning Cloak butterfly: it doesn’t migrate but toughs out the winter in Maine, making its home in an oak tree, then, in the Spring, climbs down the trunk to drink it’s sap.

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Mourning Cloak

Tomorrow is Labor Day and we will look for Rachel at the Newagen Inn which she visited for the last time on another Labor Day watching Monarchs fill the air.  My worries were unfounded- a serendipitous link to Rachel.