Category Archives: Maine destinations

Listening to the Dew: Nature Log Maine destinations

Fog travel

As night paled the outlines of the trees across the pond became more distinct. It wasn’t sunrise yet, but the dark had yielded. This is camp, where my toes at the foot of the bed are about twenty feet from the water’s edge. It is January, and the water is hard.

As smoothly as the horizon of trees had appeared, it disappeared. A white cottony mist obscured everything but a short stretch of ice in front of the cabin. I knew there was a cove across the pond, but I could not see it. I recall an old Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Brigadoon, where a traveler comes upon a village in Scotland which appears only once every one hundred years. I could not see the cove, and so had no proof it was there. It might have been carried off to join that fabled village, or something entirely different may have replaced it.

The mist became thicker, not moving or swirling, but waiting motionless above the ice.  I put on my creepers and headed out.

My husband joined me, and a few minutes from the camp the only thing visible was the bright fog and each other. Keeping the sun at my left shoulder, we cross the ice. The camp, the ice shacks, and the shoreline were all hidden. The sun was the only indication of direction, and even so it was easy to find ourselves walking first to the left, then to the right. We paused somewhere near the middle of the pond and did sunrise salutations, awkward in our snowsuits. Cobra, with my face lifted to the brighter patch of haze that hid the sun, brought me down to the ice, but the fog went right to the surface. There was no looking below it or over it, or around it. It was everywhere, and everywhere else was gone.

We are alone on the planet. A raven calls but other than that all is still, except for the occasional groaning of the ice. We are not on a pond in Maine, we are nowhere. The fog goes on forever, there is no other side of the pond, and the camp where we started has ceased to exist. We have been here days, perhaps centuries.  There is just white. No time, no space.

Driving along back roads on dark foggy nights we use words like pea soup to describe the intensity of the fog, or, here in Maine, the phrase dungeon thick.  The foghorn wails on those nights. That fog is a dense layer of cloud lying close to the surface of the ground that reduces visibility to a very specific number, less than .62 miles. One tenth of a mile more clarity, and it becomes mist.

Carl Sandburg describes it:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

But that is not this fog. This fog is eternity, and we will be here forever. We walk slowly, we run, it is all the same, we make no progress.

We stand, perhaps somewhere near the middle of the pond and decide to walk back toward the sun. The fog lets us go, and we hear voice shouting, ”Flag!” Stumbling and laughing we run to the tip-up, with its orange square of fabric bouncing gently. We pull up a perch, and head back to camp, a grey silhouette on the shoreline.




Day trips Destinations Festivals Maine destinations

The people behind the plane

Fly-in in Greenville this weekend–it’s all about planes.

Fly-in  in Greenville, Maine

Gary Norris at the fly-in in Greenville, Maine

Gary and Maureen Norris
The white Cessna 180 bobs and shifts on the sparkling waters of Moosehead Lake. Gary Norris and his wife Maureen pull their canoe off the pontoons and tie the seaplane up at the dock. The announcer checks their time and broadcasts “Second place.” Maureen yells out a resounding “Yes!” then bounces up and down and jumps into her husband’s arms. It is the Greenville Fly-in, and Gary and Maureen have just finished their run at bush pilot’s canoe race. Energy levels are at a bursting point, and this couple is charged up.

“We live and breathe this weekend,” Maureen says.

“We missed a few years ago. And that was really hard,” Gary adds.
The sweet little plane nestled against the shore did not look so pretty four years ago. It was Gary’s first plane and a childhood dream come true. “I always wanted a plane as a kid, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would own one.”

The Cessna had been a vivid orange. “We called it the flying pumpkin.” Maureen says, They flew it at the competition in Greenville but in the second year the engine went.

Fifty- two weeks until the next fly-in, and as long as they were putting in a new engine, they figured they might as well do a complete restoration. This may not be logical to everyone, but for Gary and Maureen it was a natural conclusion. “We devoted every weekend and many a week night for a year to this plane” Gary says. “A new engine, and we gutted the inside and stripped the paint.” They had it repainted white. Why white? There is no answer, but white it had to be. Gary owns a flooring business, and all the company trucks are white. His personal vehicle is white, the Toyota Landcruiser they bought to keep at camp on Moosehead is white, and Maureen‘s Denali is white.

Gary is soft-spoken and resolute, Maureen exuberant and sparkling, and together they get things done. People call them Rooster and co-pilot. Maureen is a convert, though. Although her dad was a pilot, planes were simply not her thing. Gary, however, has been obsessed since he could crawl. And it wasn’t just planes, it was seaplanes. “I’d hear one when I was a kid, and run down to the dock to see it come in. A DeHaviland Beaver. What a plane.” Gary has made most of his dreams come true, but has yet to get a DeHaviland. “We keep buying megabucks” Maureen quips, but if the Dehaviland comes into their lives, chances are it will be bought with hard work and total focus. A brief stint with Amway reinforced Gary’s natural tendency to visualization. “See what you want, pin a picture on your refrigerator, and concentrate on getting it. You will.” For Gary this works. “I buy what I can afford” is his philosophy, and if he needs to work more to afford something, that is just the price you pay.

“I dreamed of planes as a kid, but never even thought for a second I might ever sit in one, and owning one? No. Not a possibility. We were poor, our house burned down, and I lived in a tent. Never had running water. When I was twelve I worked on a farm so I could have a little money.”

Gary is pragmatic about a pretty hard childhood. “When I was 14-15-16 I worked at a flooring company, we didn’t have money, I wanted something, I had to earn the money myself.”

But he still dreamed of flying. High school graduation, it was time to decide what to do with his life. Gary joined the army. He had wanted to join the air force, be a pilot. Fly. But his mother, who had not been able to live her own dreams, thought she was giving good advice when she told him not to bother, “Your grades aren’t good enough, forget being a pilot.” she said. Gary did not try. This is a man who sets a goal and then achieves it. But, as a teenager, he did not have the clear vision he has today. “I didn’t even try, and I regret that.” One of Gary’s few regrets.

When Gary got out of the army he came back to Maine, to his family. He worked for the same flooring company he had worked for as a kid. He might still be an installer for this company, but they went out of business. Gary had always worked extra hours, filled in for other installers, did carpet installation on weekends and evenings. “If you put down a yard a day, you got paid for a yard, if you put down fifty, you got paid for fifty.” Hard work, honest work, and it helped Gary turn from a one-man operation to a respected member of the business community. “There are bigger carpet installers out there, but we have a reputation. Even when it was just me, I was there when I said, I charged what I said.” And that has not changed.

Gary is the American Dream before it went haywire. He is living the life he wants, earning the money he needs, and facing every morning knowing he does not owe anyone anything. Most recent dream? A hunting camp in Alaska. He bought one last year, and the first time he was dropped in he spent a week putting on a new roof. “I worked until midnight more than once.” You know he is not exaggerating. And if he does not have an immediate goal he just works and saves. “He’s like a squirrel” Maureen says, “He doesn’t even know where all his nuts are buried.”

But he knows what makes him happy, and that is flying. And working hard. He is flying a 180 today, working hard everyday, and if that Dehaviland Beaver is off the refrigerator door and on the strip it will not be such a surprise.

Excerpt from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

community Day trips Destinations Maine destinations

Winter in Winter Harbor

Dogs watching Wonsqueak Harbor

It's a dog's view, and I wish it was mine.

Black Friday, and we were up and out early. Our destination was not the sales and bargains the day after Thanksgiving is known for, but Schoodic Peninsula, an odd disconnected portion of Acadia National Park. Our goal was a walk with ocean views, designer breakfasts prepared by someone else, and then back home to split wood and get ready for winter.

Snow came early this year, and we were ready for snowshoes and piles of white around our ankles. We had spun though eleven unplowed inches to get to my sister-in-law’s for Thanksgiving Day where it sparkled out the windows, but now we wanted to be in it, not looking at it. We tossed our gear in the car and headed off island. It was not long before we blew off the hike, breakfast, split wood agenda and just took it as it came. We saw a road we had not been on, and took it. Unplowed and snowy we came around a curve and disturbed a small group of turkeys. They stretched their necks and single file strutted off through a path in the woods. Turkeys are a common sight, but we had not seen any in about six weeks and had commented on their absence. “Guess they feel safe now,” I said. It was Black Friday, after all. Thanksgiving was over.

Back on track, we arrived in Winter Harbor, the town just before Schoodic and our hike. Tourism may be part of its economy, but the feel of this village is that of a simple coastal Maine community. There is a bank, a few restaurants, a grocery store, a five and dime that has everything you could ever need, and not a t-shirt shop in sight.

The Five and Ten has it all.

We wandered about town before our walk, getting the winter feel of Winter Harbor. Summer folk are gone, but there is no sense of the forlornness that pervades nearby Bar Harbor with plywood coverings nailed over shop windows and the fountains in the parks covered with stark plank pyramids. The cashier at the market gave us directions to a friend’s house, and it felt good that she of course knew where he lived. We stopped at Chase’s Restaurant for a coffee refill, and left with the waitress saying they would have stopped serving breakfast when we finished our hike. She said she has lived in Winter Harbor all her life, gladly suggested places to eat in nearby towns, called us dear in typical Downeast fashion, and we parted with smiles. We did not take the time to drive to Grindstone Neck, a stretch of summer homes and awesome hills we bike in the summer, but headed straight to Schoodic. In a field off to our left we saw three turkeys grazing. After weeks with no sightings, we had two in one day. Wild turkeys know their calendar.

Spruce Point, Maine

We had no clear idea where the trail we wanted started, and didn’t really care. We turned left onto a road with no street sign, because neither of us knew it, and found, to our surprise, it led to our path. Had we been looking for the trail, we’d never have found it. The only sign indicating the trail was over fifty feet after we turned onto this unmarked road. It was steep and winding, and took us to the top of the hill we had expected to be climbing. There were no tire tracks before ours as we made the ascent. When we left hours later, ours were still the only tracks. I doubt in July we would be the only ones on the trails.

Our hike started high, and was an easy ramble with views of our home, Mount Desert Island. There were ravens, squirrels, signs of coyotes, and at one lookout, an interpretive panel with moose tracks on it. We found this a bit perplexing, as it implies this might be a moose habitat, and it is not. There are several easy trails here, we wandered them all. The snow was only a few inches deep and so we did not get to use our snowshoes, but we were the first to walk the paths since the snow had fallen, and making the first footprints is always a sense of privilege and delight.

Wonsqueak Harbor, Maine

Wonsqueak Harbor, Schoodic Peninsula

Leaving Schoodic we pass through Wonsqueak Harbor, which not only has the best harbor name I know of, but is also a classic picturesque harbor that demands you take its photo whatever the season or weather. The local dogs enjoy the view too; a half dozen were hanging out on the roof of a porch overlooking the water.

The sun was now high, gleaming on the water droplets at the tip of every branch and twig. It was time to split that wood, and so we headed home. As we neared our island we saw half a dozen turkeys along the road. I suspect they are not as stupid as their reputation suggests.

community Maine destinations

8MY_MNY Kenneth and Christina Beebe

Ken and Christina Beebe

Christina Beebe wanted black, but granite, not metal. She looks at the sleek black Series 8 BMW. “We were renovating the kitchen, and had planned on black granite counter tops, but Ken came home all charged up over this series 8.” She sighs, “Of course he talked me into it, and there went the money for my countertops.” And that explains 8MY_MNY.

Ken and Christina Beebe both have self-created jobs, and while Christina says of Ken: “He always has too many irons in the fire,” she is no slouch herself. She paints and runs a tiny gallery, he paints, fixes boats and farms oysters. Together, they have created a give-and-take lifestyle that suits them both.

Follow a winding road down a narrow peninsula and enter Beebe country. A high-roofed building houses Ken’s boat projects. He shows off the meticulously restored 18 foot 1947 Boston Rudder Cod dory that has just come out of the boathouse and has been sold to a lucky buyer from Massachusetts. Outside the boathouse is another classic wooden boat, but this one is in rough shape. The owner’s widow has given to Ken. She knew she could depend on him to tend to it, and bring it back to life. A few yards away is a massive boat trailer, and Ken switches from animatedly discussing restoring boats to measuring the tongue of the trailer and sketching plans for reworking it. He has just bought another boat, and needs to adapt this trailer to haul the longer, deeper keeled vessel.

“Ken had such a boat fetish,” Christina says, and one cannot help but wonder what it was like before, since she is clearly referring to an era with even more boats. Ken talks about selling the boats moored behind his house and just having the one he is refitting the trailer for. “I just want one boat now,” he says.

“He is lying” Christina says, laughing.

“We named one boat Four Letter Word,” she says. “That word of course was B-O-A-T. But it really aggravated a lot of people.”

Ken nods, and looks around the yard. It reflects life and work. Flowers and vegetables grow unrestrained and exuberant. There is a wrench lying near the trailer and Ken motions towards it and says “No florescent green lawns and black roses for me.” He lets his gaze roam from the boat shed to the vine-covered trellis leading to the house, and then to a nearby duck pond with feathers along its shore. “This makes me happy,” he says. He is a content man.

The duck pond is small, and the geese had chattered and departed before Ken approached. “Where did the girls go?” he asks. This is not rhetorical, he really wants to know, and you can hear the concern in his voice. These geese are family. Christina mentions Blue, a goose that died last year. She was 21 years old, and is missed. Not many geese lead such a cherished life.

Not far from the pond is Christina’s gallery, a sweet little shake-shingled structure that displays her watercolors, wooden salad bowls painted with flowers or salmon, floor cloths, and a portfolio of her faux finishes. Christina’s art is functional, up-scale folk art imbued with her warmth and love of nature.

Parked here and there in the compound are BMW’s, “beamers.” “We went through boats, gotta have this, gotta have that. Then it was cars.” Christina says. Her car is a white BMW 7 series, license plate Y 65. “I hate it” she asserts, meaning the plate, not the car. “It is so not me.”

Ken explains, “Why would you want to drive 65 miles an hour in a car that can do way faster that that?” he asks, explaining the plate. He also admits that he talked her into this car, their second BMW. Christina has grown to love the luxurious ride, but not the plate. “It is just asking for trouble,” she claims.

And then there is 5678BMW, on a series 5 white wagon. The message is that they have the set, series 5, 6, 7 and 8. The series 5 wagon is a working car. “It’s a shit box,” Christina says, making her feelings clear, then adds “Pardon my language.” Ken’s fetishes have included boats, cars, and, it seems, vanity plates. The white truck parked in front of the house is not a BMW, but bears the plate OYSTERS. This is the truck Ken uses in his painting business, but the oyster plate is because of his oyster business.

Hog Cove Oyster Company is the only oyster farm in the state in salt water, not brackish water. Shear orneriness is the reason. Ken, an oyster lover, had bought some oysters for Thanksgiving, and rather than keep them in the fridge drying out, he submerged them in salt water by the pier. The Maine State Warden came by, and emptied the bag into the water, saying he really should fine Ken and would certainly do so the next time Ken stored his oyster dinner in the bay to stay fresh. The letter of the law is that one has to have a license, purchased from the state, to have oysters in the water in a container.

“God dam I was pissed” Ken says, and he says it in a steely voice with sparking eyes. The irritation is still a tangible memory for him, and he is tense as he tells the story. “I went and grabbed a paint-rolling pole, and an onion bag, and went back and raked the bottom. I got back 32 of 36.” He smiles and relaxes. The satisfaction he felt is evident. He then went and got a license so he could keep his Thanksgiving oysters fresh. Along with the license comes acreage. The area he leased is not far from the dock behind his house, near Hog Cove, and it is in salt water. He now has 228,000 oysters growing. This is a man who doesn’t do things in small measures. That is a lot of oysters just to be sure there are fresh ones for a holiday meal.

He recounts telling other area oyster farmers his intent. “They all think I’m crazy.” The reality is that oysters in salt water need much more work than oysters in the river. They are prey to starfish, have mussels competing for their food, and need to be power-hosed every eleven days. But the salt environment may make them brinier, and give a distinct flavor that will set them above the river feeders.

Ken isn’t worried about marketing them, though. He has always loved oysters, and is confident these will be flavorful and sought after.

Christina hopes he is right, or she just might have to place a sign on the oyster boat, 8 MY MONY2.

Excerpt above from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

Day to day Day trips Festivals Maine destinations

Spring snow, sweet syrup

Boots and shovels then tee shirts and rakes, stoke the stove and open the window, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, spring, winter, winter, spring—March in Maine is neither fish nor fowl.

“I’m ready for spring,” even the devoted winter fans have been heard to say as March shifts from cold to warm and back. Spring is a tease, revealing the creamy blooms of snowdrops one day, and then hiding them again under six inches of snow. The winter coats and mittens were boxed and ready for storage, but a recent snow flurry caused us to pull them out and bundle up. For those of us who really love winter, this on-again, off-again is a needed weaning period. We are happy to have one more chance to don our fur hats and feel snow on our faces. The hats were boxed up, but we really weren’t quite ready to stow them in the attic and admit winter was over.

This morning the world was white again. Knowing this may be the last snowfall of the year, we don’t wait, but get up and head right out to play before going to work. But while the flakes are wet and real, there is no threat behind this snow. The winter lion has been declawed. We laugh fearlessly in its face, coats on, but not zipped. We know, too, that the snowdrops and hellebores will come to no harm. This is spring snow, saying a gay farewell. It lacks the seriousness of storms at the start of winter, which bring their cold breath and warnings of long nights and a frozen world. It is wet, and even though it covers the ground, it will soon be gone.

Alternate freezes and thaws are also what makes the sap run. Collecting maple sap and boiling it down for syrup is a tradition for many Maine families. It requires little investment, just a tap, a jug, a pot and a fire.

Syruping fits smoothly into daily life here in the Creek. Half an hour or so to set taps for a few days, then collecting now and then between hiking and dinner, and then boiling in the back yard. When there was more family around, it was done on a larger scale. Now, we tend the fire while making a few starts at cleaning up the yard. An old burlap back is stuffed with the weeds we pull off the garden and becomes a target for a few rounds of archery practice. We swap stories. I tell of my dad boiling sap in the kitchen, and peeling the wallpaper off the walls. I hear of my husband at eight or nine years of age using quart canning jars, the ones that had wire hoop handles, to collect sap, and how he had to collect many times a day. His grandfather helped him make homemade taps from discarded bits of tongue and groove planks. They whittled a slice of the groove side, giving it a point to pound into the tree, and the sap would run down the groove into the quart jars.

While things have improved–we now use plastic hose that fits into an opening cut in the caps of recycled milk jugs–it is still very low-tech. That is part of its appeal. It is also a way to be outside and moving around. Snowshoeing is over, ice is not safe, and biking is only possible on particularly warm days and even then many of the roads in the park are still covered in snow. Tapping trees, hauling heavy buckets of sap, bringing in spruce to keep the fire going, these are all ways to keep from stagnating.

The season is short, too. It is over just before you get tired of emptying buckets and smelling like smoke. These are all perfectly acceptable reasons to tap trees and make syrup. We might do it just for them. The jars of deep gold, thick, sweet syrup are just fringe benefits. Otter Creek Gold is maply, more flavor than sweet, slightly smoky because we boil it over wood, and the best maple syrup on this planet. Sugar, or rock maple trees have more branches and a greater surface area to produce sap. They also have a higher sugar content. Their syrup is sweet, and maply. Our syrup is maply, and then sweet.

But how sweet it all is. How satisfying to make flavorful syrup to pour on flapjacks, drizzle on ice cream, use in salad dressings, meat glazes and baking. We bottle some in tall elegant bottles, make Otter Creek Gold labels, and give them as gifts.

Syrup time is sweet. If you cannot tap and boil, you can certainly taste. Sunday is Maine Maple Syrup Day, and many sugar houses are giving tours and tastes. Go sample, then get yourself some taps.

Day trips Destinations Maine destinations

Borrowers Aboard!

What to do in Maine. Downeast weekend, part 1

A devoted Mary Norton fan as a child, I saw implements and opportunities for Borrowers everywhere I looked.

The Borrowers are the about six-inch tall imaginary (maybe) humans that feature in Norton’s series, from The Borrowers, to The Borrowers Aloft ( when they head off in a raspberry basket and helium balloon) Borrowers Afloat, (down river in a teakettle) and Borrowers Afield.

Although it might be a tight squeeze for Borrowers, Harold (Buz) and Helen Beal’s 900 square feet of operating rail lines, homes, shops, banks, hospitals, waterfront and mills seems a likely residence for them. Even if there are no Borrowers hiding beside the three thousand feet of track, there is a sense of animation and life. The towns, cities and seaports are painstakingly recreated without kits, and many are modelled after existing or historic buildings. There is the old Sears building, Bangor’s brick Union Station, and the local bank. One house was built at the request of the original owner’s great-great granddaughter, who lives out-of-state but wanted it memorialized in this replica world.

A miniscule version of Stephen King’s home in Bangor boasts tiny slate tiles. They certainly look like slate, but close inspection makes the viewer wonder, how can slate possibly be cut so thin? Buz explains, “I just thought about it, and said, yep, 120 grit sandpaper will work.” He is correct. The tumbled rocks on the river’s edge look exactly like a pile of rocks, various shades of black and grey, each a different size and shape. These were not popped from a mold. “I took a big hunk of Plaster of Paris, smashed it up, then soaked ‘em in something dark or black for a few days. Tipped ‘em out to dry, and there they are.”

The Maine Central Model Railroad operates in Jonesport, Maine in nondescript white building in the front yard of Buz and Helen’s home. Drive up and chances are it is steaming around and buffs are exclaiming over the details. Even in the long winter months Buz, Helen and their nephew run the MCMR as prototype railroads are run: on schedule. Each train has an assigned number of cars, that it switches in its allotted time, as any railroad would do. The HO gauge rolling stock (1/87 scale) includes over 400 freight cars and 20 diesel engines.

Will the drunks miss the train? Because there they are, four extremely happy gentlemen leaving the tavern and heading, with arms entwined and listing southard, towards the station. Another building is charred and blackened, fire crew still on the scene, ambulance door wide open and a dog running alongside by barking. “They just got that put out the other day,” Buz says, “Piled traffic up terrible.”

His wife Helen made the over four thousand trees from twigs and branches gathered nearby. She also cut over four hundred windows for the skyscraper disguising a structural post. This couple has spent many hours palnning, painting, building, playing, and they never get tires of sharing their world.

Everywhere one looks there are snips of live, frozen vignettes of day-to-day experience. But look away for a minute and surely that arm moved, and didn’t I just see the woman pushing the baby carriage turn to look at me? Every figure is busily engaged in some activity. The solitary figure sitting below the bridge watching the river flow is an exception. Buz says emphatically, “Everyone works here, nobody sets around, yessuh,” I ask him who the man by the bridge is. Buz peers at him. “Huh, we’ll have to kick him out of town.”

Buz is on the right.

There are over 400 figures, fishing, boating, driving, or hiking the 4,000 foot high (six to us) mountains. Buz’ painted sky is slightly overcast and grey with clouds. The water sparkles and reflects, and a damp trail is left behind as the geese walk up the stream bank. Detail, detail and finer detail. I have been twice now, and will visit again, meeting new characters, seeing new scenes. Maybe I’ll go at night, when sleepy riders doze in the passenger cars, and soft light streams from the windows of the houses. And maybe I’ll see Homily wink from a private railcar as it rolls by on the way to the mountains.

Want to visit? The Maine Central Model Railroad is about seven miles off Route One on Route 187, and four miles east of Jonesport. If you want to call, the number is 207 497 2255.

Day to day Maine destinations

Mussels-by-the Sea

It was 50°, sunny and calm, and the tide was right. Implacable Man, Kym and I went to the shore to pick mussels. They are large, tender, pearl-free mussels. So good I can never order mussels out at a restaurant, they just can’t compare.

On the way back to the house there was an eagle on the Tarn. We pulled over to see why he was just standing on a puddle of water, when he began to gyrate and hop and splash. He was taking a bird bath! We watched for ten minutes, until he flew away.

At home, I made a goat cheese, bacon, and spinach salad and warmed some bread on the wood stove. A perfect Maine dinner, and day.

community Maine destinations Uncategorized

Oysters Oysters Oysters

Shucking in Damariscotta, Maine

Shucking in Damariscotta, Maine

Maine Destination: Pemaquid Oyster Festival

Oyster Festival, cocktail sauce not allowed.
Glidden Point Oysters, firm, crisp, as tangy as the water they were raised in– and as many as I wanted to eat! How many was that? About 16, 12 raw with nothing or a small scoop of pico di gallo, and then four, one broiled with cheese, one Rockefeller, one barbecued, and I cannot remember the fourth cooked style. Raw is the way to go. I could have eaten that many again, but it was a good place to stop, content and functional.
I don’t care for cocktail sauce on my oysters, I don’t think many people do, and yet I hear people trying them for the first time frequently smother their oyster in it. No wonder then, if they’re not enchanted with the crisp, briny, I am swallowing the ocean, magnificence of a raw oyster. And so I heard with a bit of awe and a great deal of respect that the Pemaquid Oyster Festival has banned cocktail sauce. The range of flavorings offered instead was impressive: Lime-Sake Sauce from Swan’s Way Caterers; Sea Bean Slaw from Primo Restaurant; Cider Mignonette from Francine Bistro; Pico de Gallo from Amalfi on the Water; Lemon-Leek Mignonette from Newcastle Publick House; Jalepeno Relish from the Anchor Inn/Damariscotta River Grill; Prosecco Preserved Lemon Mignonette from Atlantica; Green Tabasco Mignonette from Augustine’s and Lemon-Fennel Salsa from the Bradley Inn.
Boats were taking happy oyster eaters down the river to the oyster farms, where we could see the very simple mesh containers where the seed oysters spend about four years of their lives, growing from thumbnail size to ready to eat. The trays get rotated every day to keep algae from forming, according to our guide. These oysters are then dumped on the river bottom near shore to enjoy the last few months of their lives out of captivity. Batter flavor, again according to our guide, much like a free-range chicken.
The festival is a great place to learn about the Damariscotta region. Booths manned by members of area organizations provided information about the fish ladder–a stone waterway allowing alewifes to make a 42-foot vertical ascent to their spawning grounds, river trails, and the shell middens–mounds of oyster shells, one of them once more than thirty feet deep, 1,600 feet long and 1,650 feet wide, evidence that people ate oysters from 200 BC to 1000 AD, and many of them. There was also a touch tank with small scallops snapping their way through the water, nudibranches, hermit crabs, starfish (watch out oysters!) and enthusiastic young marine biology students (outside the tank) showing specimens and explaining life-cycles, identification, and who eats whom.
The grey day was brightened by all the yellow and orange slickers, and the line of oyster openers with dull blades flashing in and out keeping up with the hungry crowds. Good food, happy oyster eaters, a boat ride, and oyster lore combine to make the Pemaquid Oyster Festival a great Maine destination. Think about this: the oyster shells in the bottom layers of the midden ranged from 12 to 20 inches in length. Don’t think I’d eat 16 of those!