Looking for Rachel Day 6

Friday, September 7

Our last day to explore and a full one.  First, a search for the Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve and, then, the Pemaquid Light House.   On Route 32 in New Harbor, we see the sign for the Preserve but no entry point.   After questioning a passerby, we are directed to park on the side of the road.   We walk down to the pond that looks out on Muscongus Bay- a favorite spot of Carson’s and an inspiration for her book, The Edge of the Sea where her description of tide pools waxes poetic:

“The pools have many moods.  At night they hold the stars and reflect the light of the Milky Way as it flows across the sky above them.”

and in the next paragraph,

“By day there are other moods.  Some of the most beautiful pools lie high on the shore.  Their beauty is the beauty of simple elements- color and form and reflection.”

Unlike Rachel, we didn’t see treasures in the pond but did sight a Great Blue Heron.  In an earlier book,  Under the Sea Windshe places birds in the “ebb and flow” of life:

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and the flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years… is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be”.

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We go south to reach Pemaquid Light House located at the entrance of  Musgongus Bay across the sea from Monhegan Island.  We were not alone as we had been at the salt pond.  Many are drawn to the Light House, the store, the restaurant, the Fisherman’s Museum, the art gallery, the dramatic views.   We enjoyed them all.

We took in the view after perusing the store, then explored the light house, finishing off at the museum.   A fisherman was available for questions in one of the rooms where an 80 year old lobster shell graced the wall.  When I told him I preferred the old fashioned lobster rolls made with small bits of lobster, not like what we find today, overstuffed with giant pieces of meat, he looked stunned, then smiled wryly.  “Well, we’re just happy to have something good to eat. The more the better when you’re hungry.”  Put me in my place where I deserved to be.

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My friends surprised me with a piece of pottery or is it sculpture bought at the Pemaquid Art Gallery.  It is surely art, made by Trudi Curtis.  The person managing the gallery called her so I could thank her personally.  Ms. Curtis is in her 90’s and was pleased I was so taken with her piece.  She explained that she can’t see as well or be as active as she once had been, but her work which she can do makes most days worthwhile and perhaps joyful.

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We return to the house, our last night.  We pack and clean.  Karen and I decide to make one more attempt to reach the shore below the house, the shore Carson treasured and where she spent so much time.  In her dedication to Dorothy and Stanley Freeman for The Edge of the Sea, she wrote,

“To Dorothy and Stanley Freeman who have gone down with me into the low tide world and have felt its beauty and its mystery.”

We made our way cautiously, carefully, holding on to tree limbs, sometimes walking sideways, sometime sliding on our backsides.  We were rewarded; the drama of the terrain, the light off the water, the hundreds of periwinkles.

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Periwinkles on Rachel Carson’s beach

In Lear’s biography she mentions a letter to Curtis and Nellie Lee Bok where Carson describes the lost woods, that piece of land she and Dorothy hoped to preserve, mentioning periwinkles perhaps seen on this very beach .

“It’s charm for me lies in its combination of rugged shore rising in rather steep cliffs for the most part, and cut in several places by deep chasms where the storm surf must create a magnificent scene.  Even the peaceful high tides explore them and leave watermark of rock weeds, barnacles, and periwinkles.  There is one unexpected, tiny beach where the shore makes a sharp curve and there is a protective jutting out of rocks….

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Another gift from Rachel.

Looking for Rachel Day 5

Thursday, September 6

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

Today we go to Ocean Point planning to arrive 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 aren’t  sure we can name them.  Trillium?  Lupine?  What good 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.  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 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.  As we passed through Boothbay Harbor, all lights seemed to be out.

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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 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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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.