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….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fauna, Flowers, and People

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In my mad rush packing, I neglected to bring binoculars. Yet, where would they have gone? I’ve had only my eyes and my Iphone to sight birds, not a very effective method. And this is a bird’s paradise. They don’t seem to be in harm’s way no matter where they land. In a saltwater pond on the low road, geese and ducks paddle along diving for food. Various gulls join them. One gull had a fish in his mouth, so big, he had to drop it. I can attest to magpies, shelducks, mallards, herons, warblers, hooded crows, and even a skylark.

Shelduck
Shelduck

 

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been seal sightings. On that last evening walk, two seals sunned themselves on a sand bar turning their heads west to catch the rays.

 

Sunning Seals
Sunning Seals

Along every stone wall wild flowers abound. Dandelions, often considered a pest in the United States, make luxurious lines of bright yellow. Hardy fuchsia spill over the walls like honey suckle, tempting lips, and smalll wonders appear at my feet: spring gentian, mountain pansey, bloody cranes bill, and birds foot trefoil along with many I have yet to identify. Walking back from the cliffs on the east side of the island, tiny red and yellow butterflies danced at my feet.

Cranes Blood Bill
Bloody Cranes Bill

Certainly, I have made the acquaintance of a number of interesting people at the Man of Aran and on my walk: a retired army nurse who is working with the University of South Carolina to start a sustainable farm; her friend, the vet from Boulder, who has developed an interesting method for deferring costs for her clients, cats and dogs; the educators from Rochtestor; the puppeteer from Connecticut; and the United Way worker from Toronto. However, my beginning relationship with the islanders is most precious, slight though it is. Just when I’m leaving, I feel connected. Joe saved the day by taking apart my bathroom sink to retrieve my lenses. He demanded a sonnet which I delivered, fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. Maura let me into her life a bit with what might have been the beginning of a friendship. Fionna, at the Internet cafe, told me about her attempts at fiction and poetry.

On my last full day on the island, I wanted to go to the pub in Kilronan frequented by Joe and Maura. There was just me and a male patron perched on a stool at the end of the bar. Five or ten minutes passed before a barkeep appeared. I ordered a Guinness inquiring if there was any food. He said no, but a few Guinnesses would do just as well. I gave him a fiver and left the rest for a tip. He nodded to the man at the end of the bar and said “See, you can give a tip if you want.” They both laughed.

I sipped my Guinness while the fellow at the bar talked to himself in Irish, hands lifted for emphasis. Eventually, he made his way to me and told me of his travels to the states including a treacherous voyage in a small boat from Boston to Cap Cod.  “A day full of squalls,” so he says. When he discovered where I was staying, he wanted to know if I had seen Robert Flaherty’s famous 1934 ethnographic film, Man of Aran as Flaherty had used the cottages in the film, hence the name of the B&B.  I commented that it was considered an important part of documentary filmmaking even though parts of it were staged. He responded, “Well, yes, yes, didn’t go shark hunting anymore, but that fella could have drowned, the sea was that bad.” He had first hand knowledge as one of his relatives, he assured me, had been in the film.

As the 4 o’clock ferry hadn’t arrived, no vans were at the harbor. Once again, I opted to walk. Without any food since breakfast, I grew weary. I passed 30 or so French tourists and then about the same number of Spanish tourists leaving Ti Joe Watty’s. My friend at the bar said he had a long walk home but would manage by stopping at pubs along the way. I followed his lead, found a seat at the bar at Ti Joe’s, ordered another Guinness, got a sandwich and exchanged some pleasantries with the owner. By the time I left, she asked me to to pass a message on to Maura. “Tell her Grace will see her in October.”