We are thankful for the visitors requiring our lodging and leaving us with good thoughts of Acadia and Bar Harbor. Somehow when the wind starts to blow the yellow and russet leaves off the trees, I’m comforted by the thought of the bounty of food and local products that are tucked away for winter in New England.
I’ve also just returned from a Halloween wedding, and a new baby in the family. Times to remember with handmade gifts from New England. If you are like me, I search while on trips for something special to remember the places I’ve been. Sometimes it’s from nature, like the osage oranges on my counter. Often it’s a handmade gift from Maine. I was fortunate to find a handmade baby blanket for my new grandneice at Swans Island Blanket in Northport Maine. Something that will be treasured and handed down for generations. The sheep are raised on islands just off MDI and the wool processed right here. Hand loomed in Northport, with natural colors and dyes, the blankets remind me that you too may be interested in what you can bring back from your visit to New England.
New England, famous for its work ethic and pride in craftsmanship has many treasures for you to find and take back home with you. Swell company in Parsonsfield Maine makes wool stockings, beeswax candles from 2 Note Botanical Perfumery in Portland, Linen towels from Hallowell Maine, Brahms/Mount Towels, a classic shave set from Prospect Harbor Soap Co.
But what really makes the season special and a local secret is the many many local craft shows that happen each and every weekend. Local folks, selling handmade goods for the holidays. It fills the day with small delights. While some might prefer a shopping expedition to the big city for the holidays, I like visits to out of the way halls and gyms to search for handmade items that can be enjoyed just because they are unique. Last year I found a local knitter at the Lamoine craft fair to knit a special replacement hat for someone who lost their favorite. There is a Maine Craft Fair in Bangor this weekend, one of the many to follow. In Ellsworth next weekend— The Gifted Hand Fine Art, Craft and Gift Show is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13, and Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Holiday Inn in Ellsworth.
This is the first year we have opened our lodging during the winter months, and we have 4 groups of folks coming so far. Whether for family, business or just a quiet get-a-way, you can have a good time around the fire in any season here in Maine.
If we could pick one scenic trail for your first visit to Acadia National Park it would be Bubble Rock. First, it is a modest climb, well suited to small children looking for adventure and those who can’t remember their childhood but would like to, rising about 500 feet from the parking area to North Bubble and 400 feet to South Bubble. You will feel like you are in a very remote area, as the wild forest surrounds you at the start of the climb. Bring or find a walking stick if you are not used to hiking or have knee issues, as the trail is filled with large boulders and stone steps. Second, the trail asends quite rapidly, but it’s worth the views of Jordan Pond and the ocean beyond. Finally, when the hike is over you will be two miles away from the world famous Jordan Pond House, where you can relax by the fire with popovers and chowder after the hike before returning to Seacat’s Rest, 35 minutes away.
The trail to either peak is about ½ mile over rocky soil which the park service has fashioned into steps for the ascent. Within 100 feet of the summit the trail becomes, as most Acadia climbs, bare granite. Trail markers are blue stripes painted on the rock. Within .3 mile of the top there is a choice between South and North Bubble. On our most recent trip we decided to try North Bubble since it seemed less traveled, and we had never been. South Bubble features an awesome balanced rock, the subject of our daughter’s eighth grade field trip, where the kids were expected to estimate the weight of the boulder. From South Bubble another trail leads down a rocky slope (not quite as easy!) to link up with the Jordan Pond trail. From this point it is 1.8 miles to the Jordan Pond House around the west side of Jordan Pond.
Fall is a great time for these hikes; foliage views show up the sharp line between conifers on the tops and deciduous trees below. Bring your camera!
An unsung gem of Acadia is Northeast Harbor’s Asticou Azalea Garden. I’ve been to Japanese gardens in San Francisco and Portland, OR and they are beautiful. I never thought a cold weather Maine version was possible. Thanks to Charles Savage and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. this secret garden was planted in 1956 to preserve the rare plants of other island gardens as they were being dismantled. Charles Savage, then owner of Asticou Inn graciously opened the gardens for all to enjoy for free. Today the garden is owned and operated by the non-profit Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve. This is an excellent place to unwind, relax, contemplate and inhale.
The main theme is azaleas, or more broadly, rhododendrons, from cooler regions of the world. Winding paths of raked gravel take the walker over a meandering stream to the shore of Asticou Pond. Exquisitely cared for and labeled specimens transport one into a bonsai wonderland. Seasonally, the beauty is timeless with a careful balance of evergreen foliage and flowerings. I can’t wait for the cherry blossoms in mid May.
The Asticou Azalea Gardens can be found at the intersection of Route 198 and Route 3 in Northeast Harbor, with the parking entrance just off Route 198. It is on the Island Explorer bus route. The garden may be visited during daylight hours from May 1 to October 31. Nearby also find the Thuya Garden, also owned and managed by Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve.
SeaCat’s Rest is the ideal spot for winter visitors to Acadia who may be looking for a year ’round cabin or cottage. We were made aware of this recently when we had an inquiry from someone who tried to find an oceanside cabin only to discover most places are buttoned up ’till spring or summer. Chances are, these summer cottages would be drafty and cold anyway, since they weren’t built with four seasons in mind. Our apartment is built with double exterior walls, south (ocean) facing windows for maximum solar gain and two sources of heat. As I write this, on November 8, our solar tank is filled with 80 gallons of 125 degree water from our rooftop collectors.
The apartment is always heated, so you will never encounter icy surprises. Also, we don’t allow our cats in the apartment ever, so there are no allergy issues or funky odors. Winter days can be quite bright and beautiful. The low sun angle bounces off the water and actually shines on the ceiling to chase away the winter blues. Should a power failure occur, we have a standby generator and plenty of firewood.
People visit in the winter for a variety of reasons. One guest is coming from Wisconsin to interview a famous area resident for her graduate study. Others come to visit family or for house hunting. Our proximity to Main Coast Memorial Hospital, MDI Hospital and Jackson Lab make us convenient for job interviewees or temporary workers. Finally, some come just to get away and see the Maine coast in its winter glory!
Finally, decent internet, cell service and TV is coming to the Acadia area. Here at SeaCat’s Rest we have made do with satellite internet for several years while we have (not so) patiently waited for cable. Several months ago I wrote our town manager for a copy of the agreement between Lamoine and our cable provider. The agreement stated that all homes must be served which had a density of more than 15 homes per mile of line. With the new home on our line down the shore I was hopeful we met this minimum. Long story short, we did and cable is now run to our pole. Someday soon, a technician will show up and run the fiber optic cable the last 200 feet to our home. Good cell phone coverage is still a ways off, although it is possible to connect outside. There is a proposed cell tower under discussion now in Lamoine and another one going up across the water on the island. Seacat’s Rest has a private local landline phone, we provide the number to our guests before they arrive.
Some of our guests want to leave the rest of the world behind. Now they have a choice. They can check their email and start their day watching CNN on the TV or turn them all off. Many places for rent charge extra for internet or only offer dial up internet and TV with DVD players, so if connectivity is important, make sure you find out. A quick look at some luxury accommodations on line turned up quite a few without broadband or cable/satellite TV. For us, going from 24K dialup to 200K satellite to 2-5 MB cable has been a long road. Seeing our connection drop out when the rain comes down has not been fun. Now that we are finally entering the 21st century we will share our big fat broadband with our guests! Bring your laptop!
12/3/09 UPDATE!! We are now connected and able to download at speeds approaching 20 mbps! Our upload speed is .5 mbps. We are thrilled!
There are many secret birding sites in Acadia and Lamoine. For starters, right here at SeaCat’s Rest we have quite a flow of avian friends throughout the year. In the winter chickadees and nuthatches frequent our feeder. Bright yellow goldfinches appear in late winter looking for thistle. The first nestbuilders seem to be the eastern phoebe. We have a pair who return to a nest under the eves of our greenhouse every year. I’m not sure, but I think they hatch two batches per year. In midsummer the wood thrush’s spooky song echos through our woods and the loon’s yodel answers from the water. Eagles like to perch in our tallest tree until the crows encourage them to move on. Gulls are a constant. I was amazed the first time I witnessed a gull pick up a mussel and drop it from 30 feet in the air to crack the shell. Hummingbirds are attracted to our bee balm and solve their territorial disputes through acrobatics. Late in the summer of 2009 we had a pair of pileated woodpeckers call hysterically to each other all day. Now in November, oldsquaws gather in large flocks, float offshore and cackle. Turkeys are doing a poor job of hiding!
On Acadia, great blue herons, mallards and kingfishers can be seen easily seen in the Northeast Creek basin, which was the subject of an earlier blog here. In the park, trails are often closed when peregrine falcons build a nest. Every late August, park rangers host the annual Hawkwatch. In 2009 a total of 2660 passing raptors were counted. They included American kestrels, merlins, peregrine falcons, ospreys, northers harriers, bald eagles, and many different hawk species. Want to see the clownlike puffin? You will have to take a puffin cruise out of Bar Harbor as most live farther offshore. There are many to choose from and they take about 3-4 hours. Closer to home, visit BirdsAcre in Ellsworth (next to China Hill on Rt.3), a 200 acre preserve dedicated to bird rescue.
Whatever your primary reason for visiting Acadia, take time to look around you for the birds. They are a free show and they never stop singing.
I recently counted 22 lighthouses that surround the Mount Desert Island, Acadia Area. On your way to Maine you can actually arrange to see many of the 77 lighthouses in the state from the land, but some of the best vistas are available from the water.
Bass Harbor Lighthouse is featured on the Acadia poster at the Thompson Island Information Center, halfway across the causeway to Mount Desert Island.
Combining a sailing adventure with your visit to Maine is the best idea if lighthouse vistas are on your agenda. Cruise ships and schooners all make an effort to point out the many opportunities to see lighthouses in and around this area. Day trips to the Blue Hill area and east of MDI can add other opportunities.
See the Maine State government page to get some great information on the lighthouses to visit on your way to Acadia. Don’t forget that the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse in Nova Scotia is only a ferry ride and a 3-1/2 hours drive away from Bar Harbor. Lighthouses can be an interesting introduction to the history of the area, and show how sailing and shipping influenced settlements along the coast of Maine. An essential part of the landscape, they function as both a visual landmark as well as an auditory warning signal during foggy times for marine traffic. Here at SeaCat’s Rest we know when it’s foggy when we hear the the distant horn from the Egg Rock lighthouse blowing twice every 30 seconds.