Monday, October 24, 2011

Edge of the World

To drive into the town of Eastport on the skinny stretch of route 19o is to straddle two worlds. On your right, the narrow coves and winding rivers of Cobscook Bay beckon you. To your left, the wide open and seemingly endless Passamaquoddy Bay intimidates, as the distant shores of Canada loom under the dark clouds of a late October thunderstorm. You are no longer in quaint and cozy Maine, you have entered a foreign land, a place where wild fields of grass roll on forever, and a giant sky covers the land like a blanket covers a bed. Eastport and its surrounding environs are in their own category. The lobster boats here are bigger, almost resembling Coast Guard cutters, the ones that shear through thick packs of ice. These beastly boats are housed in a watery prison, with 30 foot high wooden walls surrounding the entrance to the town dock. The people are different here. French Canadians are everywhere it seems, even the radio stations are almost all French. There is an Indian reservation at Pleasant Point, home to generations of Passamaquoddy Indians, the "people of the dawn." The houses are different here. Waterfront properties sell for prices that would make real estate agents in Camden and Boothbay drop their jaws in disbelief. The buildings here are old and weathered, rundown in many cases. This is a town that looks like time has forgotten it. There are a few cozy antique galleries and chic eateries, but the surrounding streets sit ripe with trailers, abandoned houses and roadside trash. This is not a tourist town, this is a real town. The word quaint need not apply. On the outskirts of town, there is an old boat school, where wooden relics of the past sit in overgrown fields of grass. "dead" boats, with monikers like "Irish Broad," and "Mrs. TC," stand proud in the yard, where they will probably never leave, until they finally rot away, like so many other vessels on the coast of Maine. There is such stark beauty in Eastport, yet there is such stark poverty as well. This town exemplifies the juxtaposition of people who live hard lives in beautiful places. As a wise man once told me, "you can't eat the scenery." He must have been referring to Eastport.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wide Open Spaces

Camden is a beautiful place to live, but the constant procession of camera carrying tourists can sometimes drive a resident to drink. Every weekend, it seems there is a new event going on. A film festival, a technology conference, and of course, a windjammer festival. While all of these aforementioned events are extremely valuable to the town and to it's 5,000 plus residents, the crush of visitors can be felt from Mechanic Street to Baview Street and all points in between. Above all else, what this tourist crush creates is a glaring lack of space, a certain lack of breathing room. My answer to this conundrum of congestion had always been to head east, for once I pass Ellsworth, the roads open up, the sky stretches on forever, and a distinctive feeling of isolation creeps in. It is without a doubt, the perfect antidote to the crowded streets of Camden. Up in Cutler yesterday afternoon, not a sound could be heard, only the wind, which whipped around me with a rather persistent authority. I headed out on the rugged and rock strewn trails of Western Head, a magnificent piece of bold coast real estate that marks the western entrance to cozy Cutler harbor. The waves on the back side of Western Head were enormous! Crashing into the shore with reckless abandon, the surging waters of the Bay of Fundy acted like a vengeful dragon who continually spit his salt sprayed venom onto the land for all to see. The height and depth of the waves were incredible, and the power they seemed to harness was immense. There was nothing to protect this jagged shore, just the millions of rocks that have been shaped by years and years of this very same watery assault. After snapping my faithful Nikon, I quickly sought the shelter of the deep woods that ring the winding trail. The wind suddenly dropped out and the sun peeked through the pines. No more than 50 yards to my left, a raging sea continued to pound the shore, but here, in a small thicket of fir trees and swaying sea grass, the surrounding environment could not be more tranquil. These are the extremes that define downeast Maine, the unruly ocean, and the deep and distant woods that cover a hiker like a haystack covers a needle. Each environment is spectacular in their own right, but when combined, can cause an optimistic 28 year old to just sit and smile. I left Cutler and headed down the road to Bucks Harbor, a small but gritty fishing community halfway down the Machiasport peninsula. The harbor was vast, and the pine clad islands that encased it grand and foreboding. A small fleet of lobster boats occupied the center of the harbor, their dirty and weathered hulls gleaming in the afternoon sunshine. I had found my wide open space, and I had found my isolation. Not a soul was visible around me. No bands of tourists and strangers to contend with, just myself and the rippling water, autumn air and bright blue sky. The day was closing in on evening as I made my way back towards route one. I decided to catch the sunset down in Roque Bluffs, where one of the prettiest sand beaches on the east coast sits, like a diamond in the proverbial rough. I walked the 900 yard stretch of sand, as the wind blew around me and the sun quickly faded from the endless sky above. The waters of Englishman Bay surged in the distance out towards Roque Island and Jonesport. The tall fir trees that lined the beach swayed back and forth, bending to the will of the blustery breeze, a breeze that blew all day and swept through all the lovely and wild wide open spaces of downeast Maine.