Exotic Maine July 13, 2010

Recently my wife and I had the pleasure of going as far as you can from California and still be in the lower 48 states. Maine is at the northeast corner of the country. It is our easternmost state and is the only one to border on one and only one other U S state. It was also a return to the 20th century. No internet access, and spotty I-phone usage, in both the places we were in. I’m sure there are business hotels in Portland, which has the reputation of being a nice town, that have both these services. But I was cursing myself for having left behind my Verizon Treo, which I would bring to such places as Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota. I could have used it in Maine.

Other things you can probably find in a decent business hotel in Portland are laundry services and elevators. The two places we stayed were “B & B & D’s,” which had neither.

In deference to the first place we stayed, it was in Kennebunkport, within sight of the Bush compound, where a family including two recent Presidents spends the summer. And they black out internet and cell phone service in the area for security reasons, we are told. The coastline is beautiful and rocky at that point, but we didn’t see anybody in the water. Cape Cod forces the Gulf Stream eastward; south of it the coastal ocean is warmer than in So Cal, but northward it is actually colder!

The other place where we went, the area of Port Clyde and Tennant Harbor, is even more beautiful, with many islands covered with evergreen trees. It reminds me of the Puget Sound area, except that the weather on the Maine coast is far more extreme, especially in the winter. We got the tail end of the East Coast heat wave; it may have gotten up to 80 on the peninsulas and hotter farther inland – sounds familiar again! Though East Coast weather is generally more extreme in all seasons because it sits downwind from the continent instead of upwind from it normally, because the Maine coast trends northeast – southwest the wind often blows parallel to the coast and picks up marine influence. So sometimes you can get California-style fog when the wind hits the cold water. Because Maine is usually downwind from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, it’s often called “Down East,” especially the parts closer to New Brunswick in Canada. I wished I had had a paddleboard, and though the water was uncomfortably cool it wouldn’t kill me if I had gotten briefly dunked.

The Central Coast region isn’t crowded with mass tourism like the Bar Harbor area farther to the northeast, where we had been in 1992, but there are lots of summer people, like Justice John Roberts, and artists, like Jamie Wyeth, living in the area, enough that the lobster-gatherers, still very much part of the economy, live inland. (A familiar story indeed to the dory fishermen of Newport Beach, or anyone pursuing a trade like that in a scenic place!) Our friends whom we were visiting are full time residents, but they are rehabbing a “winter home” in nearby Thomaston, an attractive town full of white houses that were in the 19th century home to sea captains. (The bigger towns nearby are Rockland and Camden, with lots of art galleries and a few hip restaurants but still not as mobbed as Bar Harbor.) Reminded me how one of the functions of towns and cities, in the days before the Riviera, Florida, and Palm Springs, was as winter resorts for the rural aristocracy. A closely crowded city is a lot more comfortable place to be during a cold winter than a rural area. One reason why the urban “Social Season” often still starts in September.

An interesting fact about Maine is that its native French speaking percentage is actually a little higher than Louisiana – slightly over 5 per cent. While French speaking Canadians migrated in large numbers to much of New England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in the northern parts even outnumbering the Irish, the area where they still speak French is mostly inland and especially the large northern Aroostook County, famous for its potatoes. I never saw any signs in French in the parts where I was, nor heard French being spoken, but we stayed close to the coast on this trip.

I apologize for no pictures but I wasn’t’ very good about taking pictures on this trip.

Randy Thomas 07/14/2010

I would love to visit Maine someday. My step-uncle Bob (Robert) Metcalfe moved from SoCal up there a while ago. I have only met him twice so I don’t know if he is still there but when I did talk with him he loved it. He went on and on about how different it was from Southern California.

Ganado-Lady 07/14/2010

Thank you for the description. It makes me want to return.

My mom’s people are from that area and more from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. My great grandfather (“Big Hector MacKinnon”) built church buildings Downeast from Boston to Cape Breton. You become a time traveler, going back 40 years when visiting there. Twenty-eight years ago we honeymooned by camping through Maine up through Nova Scotia. Feasted on salmon and fiddlehead ferns in hollandaise sauce! Oh my!!

kmasugi 07/14/2010

I’ll just turn up my air conditioning and, in lieu of your photos, look at these Winslow Homer paintings: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575357301061128286.html?KEYWORDS=winslow+homer+maine

And this fine article by Terry Teachout: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111704575354953572029646.html

Anna 07/14/2010

Another nice thing about (some parts of) Maine – the warblers are down at eye level, instead of hidden up in the treetops as in MA.

Clarence Olsen 07/15/2010

Thank you, Howard. This is one of the most interesting travel reports I
have read in some time. I think you should consider writing them for
more of your travels. You always pick up interesting facts that most of
the rest of us miss, or miss seeing their significance. Incidentally, if
you enjoy travel reporting, you might consider Peter Mayle’s “A Year in
Provence,” one of my favorite travel books.

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