Down East in Bountiful Maine

I think I may have found concrete evidence of divinity. Here it is. In Maine in July, it is lobster season, raspberry season and blueberry season all at the same time. Wow. I think I am going to gain a little weight. And for once, I will not begrudge it. My goal in Maine was to see the ocean and eat as much lobster as I could possibly manage, and I think I achieved it. If not, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Turns out that my pairing of lobster rolls with raspberry and blueberry pie is an excellent idea – well, as long as you don’t do that for very many days, that is. I walked quite a bit to try to work off the pastry and the butter, but I suspect a couple of weeks of hard dieting will be in order upon my return home. I can thoroughly recommend Mabel’s in Kennebunkport for both the lobster roll and the raspberry pie. I think there are other excellent eateries, too, but I was pretty happy with Mabel’s and saw no need to deviate. When you find lobster heaven, why look elsewhere?

To get to the great state of Maine, I had a lovely drive up through Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. As I was leaving Massachusetts, there were highway signs to nearby provinces and cities. In my memory, I could hear my grandmother’s voice pronouncing their names, as only a native does. It seemed so familiar even though I’d never been this way. Maine is the northernmost state in the continuous United States. As such, the winter, which is approximately eight months long (give or take), is really freaking cold. But the summer, which lasts for only a few minutes, boasts glorious weather, a pretty seaside and lush gardens. The people are polite and friendly. Life in Maine is calm and orderly. Furnishings are definitely federal style, many of the homes are historic and well-designed, and there are quilts. The soil in Maine must be terribly nutritious. It looks very loamy and black and the plants were the healthiest I’d ever seen outside a nursery or a botanical garden. I don’t know if people specially treat their gardens, but since even the plants on the side of the roads were growing like gangbusters, I think it’s natural. The gardens at the B&B were so nice I spent 45 minutes photographing the flowers one day after breakfast. Speaking of, my first stop was in a pretty bed and breakfast inn in the little town of Kennebunkport. I was only a few yards away from the big Bush family compound. They weren’t at home, but on the last day, you could tell that maybe someone was coming soon. The gatehouse was manned and there appeared to be secret service vehicles on the compound. Their family home is located on a long stretch of land that is essentially a finger into the Atlantic. It’s called Walker point. There are a few different homes and outbuildings on the point, and of course, the gatehouse. Fortunately for me, none of this was terribly far from Mabel’s lobster place.

Most of the industry in Maine seems to have closed up as a result of globalization and perhaps this later recession. There used to be big, water-driven mill factories employing whole towns. They made blankets and other woolen goods for decades, some until just recently. Those large brick buildings are slowly being converted to office space, but it is sort of sad to see them out of operation. I passed many of these on the way up to Kennebunkport and then a couple of days later on my way to Portland, Maine. Fortunately, the big shipping and commercial city of Portland is still thriving. If anything, it seemed to be revitalizing. There was all kinds of restoration work being done to older buildings and there seemed to be plenty of healthy commerce brewing. I saw many fishermen (or perhaps I should say lobstermen) at the wharves, working, and there were lots of tourists out and about. I sampled as much of the local fish and crustacean life as I could – not to mention the oysters. They were so fresh and delicious that I didn’t hold back. Plus, bonus, they are high in iron. Maybe mercury too but I am trying not to think about that!

If you get tired of shopping and walking in the town of Portland, it’s only a few minutes’ drive to the coast and beautiful Cape Elizabeth. There, you can find several state parks, old forts and lighthouses. The lights are still in use today and they also employ very loud, directional fog horns. There are warning signs telling you when you are getting too close to a horn and that hearing damage will result should you come any nearer. Luckily the view wasn’t tempting from the horn location. From my quiet vantage point, I could see plenty of the rocky shores and the Atlantic ocean. I met a young photographer (he was maybe 12 years old) and we talked about cameras and lenses. He was on a school “scavenger hunt” for lighthouses. His mom and little sister were pretty good sports to take him up and down the coast to find as many as they could. A little further down the cape, at the next lighthouse, I spent a fair bit of time helping other tourists by taking their pictures. You know – the “can you get one of us together” kind. I think my big Nikon is volunteering me! But I probably owe it to the world for all the times I’ve asked just the same thing.

All in all, Maine is a beautiful place to spend time, to beat the melting heat and humidity of lower New England, and to eat really well. If it’s July, that is. I don’t know how people do it the rest of the year, but the economy and stubborn independence of the people of Maine is a thing of American legend for a reason. I hope one day I’ll be back in Maine, and even more, I hope it’ll be lobster and berry season when I arrive!

[Editor’s Note: lots of pictures this time because it was just so pretty there. I hope you don’t mind.]

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