The Portland Area
I was reading the guidebook on the flight; from Chicago it was barely two hours. I was studying the maps, learning where things are, learning the shapes of places. Once the plane had dropped through the high clouds, I began to scour the panorama below, comparing the coast, the islands and the shore to the maps I had memorized. I was on the left side of the plane and lamenting that choice because I was looking out to sea, and was foiled in all attempts to get that aerial view!
Then the plane turned to make the approach to the airport. Now I was looking straight down on the Old Port of Portland, skimming the edge of the harbor, with a full view of everything! Like a canapé, a little taste sensation for the eyes.
My first destination and my base for the first few days in Maine would be Scarborough, though I only realized that was the official-find-it-on-a map-ask-for-directions name later. I was destined for Higgins Beach and a nice long reunion with a friend from Smith College.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I spent lots of time at “the lake” but not at “the beach,” “the coast,” or “the shore.” Even in Puerto Rico, I do not live on the beach, have a house on the beach or even go to the beach with any regularity (not even annually). But my friend, Kathy, has had that as part of her summer for her entire life, and it was fun to share the weekend with her and her house full of young guests.
I arrived on a Friday afternoon. After settling in and chatting for awhile we headed into Portland for dinner at DeMillo’s. It was lobster for the vegan, Kathy had scallops. When I am traveling I relax my vegan diet so that I can eat and experience local foods. Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) there are very few foods I will not eat and even fewer I do not like. It isn’t a hard decision to get to Maine and try a Maine lobster. I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was messy, and I didn’t have enough napkins to really eat it without making a huge mess. DeMillo’s was fun – the restaurant is on a boat (a big one) right in the harbor. Our dinner scenery included some very fancy yachts!
Saturday, early, I went for a walk on the beach. Higgins Beach is the name of the beach itself and the neighborhood, not the town as I had interpreted. I could walk on the sand in either direction, and I did. There was a sidewalk at the top of the dunes, so I had a a higher vantage point, too.
Tides are a little-known phenomenon for me – we do not have tides in Puerto Rico – at least not that I ever noticed on the north coast. My memories and experience with tides are those that I saw in Marco Island, FL when visiting parents. There (in Florida), shelling at low tide was always the preferred activity and it was easy for me to walk this Maine tidal beach with my eyes glued to the sand. It was also fun to realize that Maine is almost at the same longitude as Puerto Rico and same latitude as WI. The symmetry there must be significant!
For lunch, we tried another local landmark, the Lobster Shack at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth. A very fun place with bright red picnic tables outside and an awesome view, I had a lobster roll (in for a penny, in for a pound) chosen for how not-messy it was to eat as well as getting
another sampling of Maine specialties. From the restaurant you can see two lighthouses, the very two for which the restaurant and Two Lights State Park are named! The major panorama in front of you is the ocean itself, in all its vastness. The promontory where the restaurant commands is protected from a wild sea (not today, though) by layers of exposed granite. It is quite spectacular.
Early afternoon we swung by the Portland Head Light. (Please note: I don’t think you should say the “headlight” – like something on a car. This is a light, on a headland, and therefore I think you should practice say it as two distinct words, not a compound. Just saying. You want people to know what you’re talking about, right?) I didn’t stop for the museum tour or a visit to the Fort (it was “Family Day”) but I did jump out of the car for a few shots of the light, the coast and the view. Maine is a place for letting your imagination take you back in history, and recreating in your mind sea-faring days of old. The light was commissioned by President George Washington and is operational since 1791.
We wiled away the later afternoon at the Portland Museum of Art. The museum has a wonderful collection, well-displayed with remarkably accessible information on the paintings and sculptures displayed. Certainly this is a place to visit often; the works deserve contemplation but if you read all the labels you need more that a couple of hours. If you are reading this with a chance to go in the near future, don’t miss “The Robbers.”
Sunday was another beautiful day. (I must admit I have not experienced Maine’s famously changeable weather since I have been here. So far it has been perfect early summer with cool nights and days warmed by the sun, but not hot.)
Up early as always, I took another beach walk. To the far eastern end of the beach, the houses start to peter out. The vagaries of the tides makes construction here questionable. But also large stretches of the sand are cordoned off to protect the nesting sites for Piping Plovers. Kathy and I discussed the pronunciation of “plovers”. I say “ploh- vers”; you say “pluhv-ers”. (Both are right.) This Nearly Threatened species of adorable little shorebird returns to its nesting grounds in May this far north, and raises its chicks in early June. On my Saturday morning walk, I didn’t see a one, but Sunday morning I glimpsed tiny little feathered balls scurrying over the sand, too far away for a definitive identification. Then a couple of adults flew in and landed on the sand right in front of me. Snap! Snap! I got my picture proof. Looking through the pictures later, I couldn’t find the birds in the shots! They are only the
size of sparrows and blend in perfectly with the sand.
After sending off all the young people, sunburned and sleepy, we turned to another local landmark for lunch. On the terrace of the Black Point Inn I found vegan Jackfruit tacos on the menu and luxuriated in the view of Scarborough Beach below. Kathy says this is where she would chose to stay if she were a visitor. The atmosphere evokes a slower time, a more genteel world. Was it decadent that we lingered over lunch and coffee?
That leisurely lunch put me on the road to Rockport around 3 in the afternoon. The less than two-hour drive was uneventful. Fortunately, a good portion, the better portion, was not on the interstate, so I did get to enjoy the surroundings and cruise through towns at 25 miles per hour, slow enough to get a feel. I wanted to stop in Bath (I’ll plan for that on my return) but internally I was struggling with the thought of stopping versus the excitement of the week ahead…and opted for Rockport in a straight shot.
I arrived on Sunday early evening at Maine Media Workshops & College campus in Rockport. This would be my base for the next 6 days. I am taking a workshop called “The Pen and the Camera.” Don’t be surprised if you notice a change in my writing over the next few days. It probably won’t last forever, but I hope you notice an improvement. The photos could use it, too.
There is more coming. Click here to continue reading about Maine.