Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Week in May in Maine

Maine is where people from Cape Cod go to escape the crowds. Of course, if you head out to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park - legendary retreat of the Rockefellers, Fords and Vanderbilts - you are bound for summertime gridlock. The secret is to visit in the month of May.
We opted for a fenced-in yard with a view, having two rambunctious dogs along with us. We were traveling with our friends Catherine and Philip. Ken decided to join us for the weekend. This is Bass Harbor.
It's very scenic - perfect for plein air painters (or photographers who aren't embarrassed to use Photoshop).
On other side of the harbor is the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, an iconic image of the National Park. Catherine ensconced herself well up into the rocks where she couldn't be pestered by the photographer. Wise choice, no doubt.
In the meantime, Amanda and Jim took the dogs down the road to Ship's Harbor Trail. Acadia is one of the few National Parks allowing leashed dogs on most hiking trails. That's our dog Momo, on the right, and her friend Brioche.
It certainly packs in a lot of scenery.
And, the dogs were on their best behavior.
The next day, we pried the brushes from the painters' hands and all headed to Wonderland Trail with the dogs. Philip spotted the squirrel. We were hoping for a moose, but were told that it's not really suitable habitat for them or for bears. The moose are partial to freshwater wetlands.
This pine looked like something from a Japanese garden.
But, it's the views of rocky shores that make Arcadia special.
That, and the close up magic of tidal pools.
And the things you can do with rocks.
 
And friends.
Cadillac Mountain is the big-deal mountain on an island with plenty of terrain. Thanks to the early "rusticators" (wealthy people with a yearning for nature) there has long been a road up to something close to the summit and paved walking paths with jaw dropping views.
Nope, not even this last one was photoshopped (which even your faithful photographer finds hard to believe).
Another unique feature of Acadia is the network of carriage roads, over fifty miles of them, that attracts horse and carriage fans from around the world. We have the Rockefeller family to thank for them, as well as for the existence of the park. None of the park was purchased by the government. It is all donated land, which accounts for the Swiss cheese appearance on a map. By the way, the stones lining the roadway are coping stones which John D. Jr. insisted be cut irregularly to look natural, and not as blocks. It does look beautiful.
Although our tour focused on the bridges built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (known as "Junior" to one and all), our guide provided a nice overview of the history of Acadia and the people involved in putting it all together, especially the Rockefeller family. Being good Baptists, the Rockefellers avoided the rampant hedonism of the wealthy crowd hanging out in Bar Harbor and created their estate in Seal Harbor, where they still maintain a home. The Rockefellers also, we're told, were modest about their wealth and the sons growing up had no idea how wealthy they were. Apparently, three of the boys had summer jobs and were hitch hiking home. When the man giving them the ride expressed surprise that they didn't have their own cars, he was met with "What? We're not Vanderbilts, you know!"
We took a tour focused on the bridges Mr. Rockefeller built, painstakingly and beautifully. He obsessed over the smallest details to create a perfect place for riding a carriage in nature, carefully placing trees to shade the horses after more strenuous climbs.
And creating gate houses to control entry to and from the carriage roads from the automobile roads he also laid out. The Rockefeller property remains private property, but is open to the public, complementing the National Park. Dogs are allowed. Bicycles are not (because they are more likely to spook the horses). And, you can tell when you are going back and forth from the Park to the Rockefeller property because the latter roads are still covered with crushed pink granite, which the Park Service cannot afford, opting instead for ordinary gray gravel.
We enjoyed Ship's Harbor Trail so much, we talked Catherine and Philip into seeing it with us and were then surprised at how much more you can see on a second look. The small bit of fog also helped to create a different feel to the scenery.
An Auto Museum? Well, yes, and Jim couldn't get enough of the one with the round windshield. We ended up at the Seal Cove Auto Museum because our landlady confused Seal Cove with Seal Harbor in providing directions to a Rockefeller property where dogs are permitted to run off-leash (yes, we pamper our dogs). Making no headway in finding any signage or likely place for a Rockefeller property, we stopped at the museum to ask for directions. The men at the Auto Museum had no idea what we were talking about, but phoned around, discovering for us the error of Cove versus Harbor.
As long as we were in Seal Cove, we decided to explore a little and drive down some likely roads along the water. The first road we turned into shortly had a nice wharf down to the right and a handful of lobster boats at anchor. Catherine remembered that one of her son-in-law's best friends ran a lobster boat called the Lady Lauren and thought it would be funny to stumble upon it. So, we pulled out some binoculars and - it was the Lady Lauren.
 
When they heard we were staying less than ten minutes away, Matt and Heather invited us to stop by to say hello and see their place.
Matt's a fourth-generation lobsterman and shares the operation with his father and his uncle. He runs 500 traps himself. The family entered into a program restricting use of the land in perpetuity for fishing, as land prices are distorted by the popularity of second-homes, much as on the Cape.
Waiting for us were eight lobsters, floating in the water off the dock.
They were superb. We also learned the trick to telling that a lobster is done cooking. The long feelers coming off the front of their heads should pull right out. Perfection. And, yes, we ate two lobsters each.
As for the Rockefeller property in Seal Harbor, this is it. It wasn't particularly easy to find and there is no signage to direct you to it, just signage indicating it is private property open to the public. And no bicycles. This is the boat house.
We understand that David Rockefeller comes down with a dog on occasion. He has also been spotted recently driving a carriage on the carriage roads. He's now just a little over 100.
Dogs are welcome to go swimming.
Even the crazy ones.
And that's how it should be.