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 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 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 Hendricks Head 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. Pratts 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 southern tip of Southport 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 out towards 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 Hendricks Head 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 loss 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.