February 2010 Archives


The Vacation Noise Factor

Barking dogs, busy roads, chainsaws and jet skis can ruin a beautiful spot.  How about that neighbor who feels he has to share his mufflerless motorcycle sound with everyone within a half mile? You can’t tell from the pictures or web pages. There’s a certain rule of thumb here in Maine. I don’t know why but the freshwater lakes are where you go if your idea of fun involves internal combustion. Here you will find soulmates who drive their speedboats and jet skis around in summer, snowmobiles in the winter and ATVs year round.  I was concerned about this when we bought our place in Lamoine on the ocean (Frenchman Bay), but my worry quickly evaporated.  I remember the first year we spent here the loudest thing was a woman singing opera across the water, and then a bagpiper a few days later. Neither of these has happened since. I miss the bagpipes.

Many people who stay with us ask about noise. We are sure to mention the airport 5 miles away but little airplanes are a lot quieter than they used to be.  Pleasure craft on the water are a rare occurrence; we get maybe one jet ski per year, usually on the Fourth of July. Lobster fisherman are more picturesque than noisy. The nearest road is not that busy, and it’s at the end of our quarter mile driveway.  The real source of most of the noise here is the birds. Crows and gulls are the loudest. When they fight the eagle he adds his squeeky wheel. Loons warble at sunset and in winter the long tailed ducks cackle in great flocks on the salt water.

I admit, I’m kind of anti-engine. I mow my lawn with an electric mower, trim my trees with an electric chainsaw and clean my house with an electric power washer. I own no outboard motors, motorcycles, snow blowers or motorized garden gadgets. I do have a generator for when the power goes out.  It’s quiet here. Not graveyard quiet but certainly buzz quiet. If you want to leave the buzz behind, stay at SeaCat’s Rest.

Long tailed ducks, Clangula hyemalis, just off our shore in February

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Campobello Island, FDR’s Retreat

A day trip to Canada’s Campobello Island is a great way to survey the easternmost section of the Maine coast and learn about America’s most important 20th century president. Just 90 miles from Ellsworth, access to the island is across a bridge from Lubec, Maine, where US citizens must go through customs.  Interestingly, this is the only way the island can be reached except by ferry from Canada. Last summer we visited Lubec and on a whim decided to see if we could get across without passports. The Canadian side said, “Sure, but I can’t guarantee the U.S. side will let you back in”. They did, but if you want to make this trip I would bring passports! The former Roosevelt property has been lovingly transformed into an international park. It always humbles me how friendly and generous our northern neighbor is.  The 2800 acre Roosevelt Campobello International Park  is close to the bridge and consists of a welcome  center and the family cottage. The welcome center has a movie theater and many displays about the Roosevelts as well as how well our two countries have cooperated over the years.

The cottage is preserved as it was when FDR was president. Inside are lots of small bedrooms including a section for the servants and cooks. We were told that Eleanor didn’t spend much time in the kitchen. Franklin was often sailing if not busy with the affairs of state. Outside are gardens with flowers planted to bloom in late July and August.  Nine trails are also available to wander. Most are between one and two miles in length.

A trip to Campobello is not complete without a visit to the northern tip where East Quaddy Head Lighthouse stands. Just reaching the lighthouse is an adventure. First, you have to wait until the tide has exposed enough ground to cross. By the way, the tides here are among the highest in the world, 28 feet! Then you have to descend a wet, slippery path and rusty ladder to reach the temporary path…and do the same on the other side. Finally, you have to make sure you retrace your steps before the tide comes roaring back in. Shortly after we left we heard the sad story of a couple who waited too long and were swept away. They were eventually pulled out of the water but one later died.

Consider a trip to Campobello Island when you visit Acadia. Not only will you reach the eastern extreme of the United States, you will learn about the man who led the Greatest Generation.

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Get Out on the Water

You have to get out on the water when you visit Acadia.   It’s so much a part of living here, of the experience of being in Maine.    There is just a certain perspective from the water that cannot be missed.   It would be like going to the tropics and spending all your time inside an air-conditioned hotel room and car.
There are many-many ways to get a water adventure, and with most of them, you won’t even get wet–unless it’s raining:  Here are six of my favorites:
1. Take a mail boat to an island and bike or hike around  Frenchboro, Swans Island, one of the two Cranberry Islands or beautiful Isle au Haut.   These are little-known trips that only locals know about.   Our mail boats get the people who live on the island on and off, like a ferry, but at a lower cost and without cars.   The first two islands mentioned are accessed by a ferry leaving from Bass Harbor.    From Southwest Harbor, the boat to the Cranberries is an excellent choice for an afternoon.    There are two pick up points one off Clark Point Road, the other on the Manset side of the bay. Finally, Isle au Haut, part of Acadia National Park, is accessed by a mail boat from Stonington on nearby Deer Isle.
2. Get out on the water yourself with kayaks: options include taking yourself out or joining a guided tour and starting out in freshwater or a saltwater adventure.   Other options are how long: one or two hours versus all day on the water.  It depends in the beginning on your experience and readiness for the adventure.    See my blog on kayaking for more information about the experience.
3. Take an organized nature cruise:  These vary from 2 hours to four hours.    Acadia National Park cooperates with four tours to provide rangers who discuss the natural & cultural world that you move through on these cruises.   Your choices include a motor boat to Baker Island, a sail on a four-masted schooner in search of wildlife and history (see the boat on our banner at the top of this page), a tour with a diver going to the bottom of the ocean, or an historical cruise to Islesford Island.   More on this at the National Park website.
4. For the biggest thrill, and possibly the waviest cruise, consider taking a whale watching cruise or a lighthouse tour: With the whale watch trip you go out on a larger boat; a four hour trip to the open ocean (halfway to Nova Scotia)  and along the way you find out about the natural creatures that call the Gulf of Maine home.  Seeing whales is all but guaranteed!  The lighthouse tour includes historical information and is a must for photography buffs.   The best pictures of lighthouses are taken from the water.
5.  Go out on a sail or a fishing adventure.    Here your choices are big or small.   From a small 2 person boat to a large schooner cruise, from 2 hours to 4 hour tours or more.   Take a morning tour, afternoon or a sunset sail.    While sail is a bit more of an investment on your part, the quiet and historical component are incredible.   There is also a fishing adventure available.   Most tours are leaving from Bar Harbor, although Southwest Harbor has a few available also.
Can’t decide? Just take a walk around the docks in Southwest Harbor. There’s sure to be a watercraft to catch your eye.

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College of the Atlantic

Right here on Mt. Desert Island we have what is either the greenest or the most beautiful college in the U.S., depending on who you talk to, and a great place to visit on a rainy day.  On 35 acres on the rocky shore just down the road from Bar Harbor, all students major in human ecology with the freedom to interpret and design that major broadly. This is a small school with small classes (average size 12 students) so all receive individual attention.  It is a fairly new college (founded in 1969) and the buildings fit in well with the rambling cottage architecture of Bar Harbor. In fact, some buildings are just that–rambling cottages built by former owners in the 1800’s!

Pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero, C.O.A. earns it’s green reputation. They even serve organic food in the cafeteria grown in their own gardens.  While environmental science is a big part of the school–they are well known for whale research–the emphasis is on a true liberal education with an environmental twist.  Stated simply, all educational path at C.O.A. lead to “the relationship among humans and their environment”.

Locals know C.O.A. as a place where lots of things are happening. This past Saturday night (Feb. 6) for instance there was a fundraiser for Haiti to benefit Doctors Without Borders. The evening featured Haitian food, storytelling and entertainment–even belly dancers! Throughout the year there’s always something going on; the calendar can be seen here.

New dorm with pellet storage

What I find most interesting about the college is their latest building project. Comprising 20% of campus, the new dorms are super-insulated, low power consuming and heated with locally produced wood pellets. They’ve even erected a wind turbine at their Beech Hill Farm. Composting toilets, LED lighting, certified wood for building, the list goes on. What carbon dioxide College of the Atlantic still releases is offset by support of a project through carbonfund.org to provide electricity to truckers at truck stops so they can turn off their diesels while they rest.

The college features three museums to visit. The Bar Harbor Whale Museum is at 52 West Street in Bar Harbor and is opened from June to October, seven days a week. Admission is free. On campus is the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, open year round Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is also free but donations are gladly accepted.  See great dioramas of animals in action.  Also on

The Dorr Museums touch tank is a hit with kids.

campus is the Ethel H. Blum Gallery, featuring 10 to 12 art exhibits per year by faculty, students, alumni and artists from around the world.  Summer hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. through 4 p.m. The college is also a great place to enjoy a stroll through the gardens, along the shore or have a picnic on the grass. There are five gardens in all, the Community Organic Garden, the Newlin Gardens, the Beatrix Farrand Garden, the Turrets Sea Side Garden and finally the Sunken Garden. You can read about them here.

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More on Julia Child in Maine

I have some stunning news to share about Julia Child and me. OK, so this may not shake you to your foundation like it did to me, but here’s the scoop. I’m her ninth cousin twice removed! That’s the fun of researching your genealogy, you find connections to really cool people. It must be noted however that the ancestor that we are related through is one of 2,o48 ninth great grandparents on my side and 512 seventh great grandparents on Julia’s side. “Twice removed” just means that we are two generations apart when counted down from Sarah Harvey. I don’t know what percentage of DNA we have in common, but if we were cakes it would be at least a crumb.

Julia’s husband Paul Child had a twin brother Charles. The two couples hand-built a family retreat in the 1940s on Lopaus Point near Bernard on Blue Hill Bay. This is well over on the “quiet side” of Mt. Desert Island, far from the tourism of Bar Harbor and the exclusivity of Northeast Harbor/Seal Harbor.  Julia and Paul visited frequently but when Paul died in 1994 her trips to Maine brought her to nearby Deer Isle where she stayed with a school chum from Smith College.  Here she liked to drop in on local restaurants, often ending up in the kitchen to talk shop and sign her cookbooks. Always gracious, humble and generous with her time, she was worshiped by local food fans. Can I be forgiven for bragging about my genetic connection?

Those familiar with Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking will be interested to find that Julia made some creative alterations to some recipes to include local Maine ingredients. Bouillabaisse à la mode de Blue Hill Bay was her localized fish stew, Moulles Marinères her mussel dish and then there was  Lobster Archduke and Butter-Poached Maine Lobster. This adaptability to local ingredients was what made Julia such a good cook. I’m sure sometimes there were key ingredients missing altogether and she was forced to make do with whatever she could find. If she was like me sometimes the results were less than spectacular! But those recipes never ended up in her books.

The following sources were consulted for this article: Julia Child’s Maine by Judith Gaines, Remembering Julia Child’s summers on the Island by Tom Stevenson and ancestry.com for the genealogy.

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Food Foraging along the Maine Coast

You don’t have to lose your wallet first to scrounge for food in the wild. Finding free food is an enjoyable activity for at least some adults and practically all kids. I have always pitied the sports fisher with his fancy power boat and downriggers. How much does he pay for a pound of fish? I grew up using a cane pole and digging for worms. The Downeast version of that is mackerel fishing. The procedure is: 1. Wait for mid-July, 2. Get a cheap pole with a mackerel lure, 3. Find a dock, like the one at Lamoine Beach State Park and 4. Watch the others on the dock for guidance. If you have unusually bad luck you can wait until low tide and 5. Pick as many mussels as you want.

There are other seashore treats also. By all means, check with the Maine Shellfish Hotline 1-800-232-4733 before consuming shellfish. Red tide is nothing to mess with! Lamoine does not regulate the taking of any shellfish, so you can dig for clams too.  We have clam forks to borrow here at SeaCat’s Rest and I’m always ready to give guests a demonstration on our shore. Out a ways at low tide–if you have a kayak or don’t mind wading–you can get waved whelks, our sea snail comparable to Florida’s conch. Italians call these crocettes and have specific ways of cooking them. Tiny periwinkles, which attach to rocks underfoot in the tidal zone, can be boiled and dipped in garlic butter. Besides lobster, the soft shell clam is probably the most delicious wild seafood, but requires something to dig with and a fair bit of work to collect the 20 per person to make a meal. Any clam under 2 inches across must be returned to the muck!

Sea lettuce, Ulva sp.

While scrounging on the shore, don’t forget the edible seaweed. The long lasagna-like Laminaria longicruris or Atlantic Kombu makes a good soupbase and changes from brown to a bright green when boiled. Bright green delicate sea lettuce (Ulva sp.) can be found in limited amounts; please don’t pick it all! It is fine in salads. Salty sea spinach is not a seaweed but grows with it’s feet wet at the top of the tidal zone. Good in limited quantities.

Depending of the time of year there are wild fruits to be had; the season starts with serviceberries (or juneberries) on tall bushes in early July. They look like blueberries and taste like them too, only seedier. Look for raspberries in mid July. Tiny wild blueberries top the list starting in late July. Pick-your-own places are nearby too. We have a guest that comes every year just to pick blueberries and make jam. At the same time I make chokecherry jelly, we trade the final product. Chokecherries are available a little later, in mid August.  They are available in HUGE quantities. Nobody wants them! As long as you cook them with sugar they’re fine.  Blackberries are also ready in late August. Lots of wild apple trees grow here and start dropping in early September. By the end of September I’m making trips to my favorite bog for cranberries.

I’ve tried to include the foods most likely to yield enough for a meal, but there are many quarries which are more frustrating until you find that secret spot or special time of year. Maple syrup, morel mushrooms and highbush cranberries come to mind.  If you find yourself short of a full meal why not meet a local lobsterperson or stop by a farmer’s market for some local produce to make up the difference? Here in Lamoine we even have the Seal Cove Goat Farm where you can buy excellent cheeses. Bring them all to your full kitchen at SeaCat’s Rest and cook ’em up!

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Up in the Air at Acadia

Whether flying in or about Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor Airport is a key place to know about.   Don’t forget that much larger Bangor International Airport is just an hour away from Mount Desert Island too.  Both of these airports serve our visitors to Downeast Maine in a good way.
At Bar Harbor Airport,  visitors can also view Mount Desert Island from the air and glide about without the benefit of a motor as they soar like an eagle, snapping some super photos. Either glider or biplane rides are available from Acadia Air Tours and start at around $150.
If you are visiting from beyond driving distance, flying to Bar Harbor is a good choice.    Though tiny, the airport offers  car rental and taxi service.  Also, the Island Explorer free bus service stops every half hour during the warmer months.  Bar Harbor Airport is a short hop from Boston’s Logan Airport on Colgan Air’s 34 passenger Saab turboprop aircraft.  Alternately,  you can fly into Boston and then drive up.   I would reserve 6 hours for the drive, so you have time to drive the coastal route at some point.  Freeport, home of L. L. Bean is typical stop.  For people in a hurry, you can make it in 5 hours by taking the interstate to Bangor, Maine and taking Route 1A to Bar Harbor.   Of course, be sure to plan to avoid the worst of Boston traffic.   Ask us for times to avoid Boston drivers.    An alternative airport which is the same distance away is Manchester, New Hampshire.   This smaller airport may not have all the airlines, but if you can connect through Manchester, you can still drive here in 5 hours, and without the Boston traffic.

About five years ago a group of WW2 veterans flew up here with their restored B17 bomber. They offered flights at the airport for more than I could afford, but just seeing the bird start up and fly over our house was a thrill I’ll never forget.  The sound of B17s overhead must have evoked the extreme of fear or pride at one time, depending on which side you were on.  The thought of 100 or more in formation flying over the French countryside is enough to weaken the knees!

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Movies about Maine

Getting ready for your summer visit to the Acadia area may involve some research; but this research is fun: Rent a movie! Hollywood has been kind to us. We’re so NOT California. The scenery, the way of life, the accents are either particular or peculiar and the film industry does a good job of exaggerating this.  Start with some films you can watch with your kids like the classic André (1994), a true story about a harbor seal which swims back each spring to visit the human family that rescued him. Casper (1995) was filmed in Camden and Rockport. Jumanji (1995) starring Robin Williams was filmed partly in North Berwick and Kennebunk. From 2006 was A Lobster Tale, a family fantasy about magical moss found by a Maine Lobster fisherman.

Peyton Place, filmed in Camden in 1957 should lead off the adult movie section.  Carousel (1956) starring Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones was shot in Boothbay Harbor and Newcastle. The midcoast area also was the setting for Stephen King’s Thinner (1996) and Mel Gibson’s Man Without a Face (1993).     A friend of mine provided the gray station wagon Mel drove around in.  The general store scenes were shot in Lincolnville Center.  Forrest Gump (1994) was filmed in Pemaquid and Port Clyde,  Signs of Life (1989) in South Bristol, Ellsworth, Stonington and Thomaston. Head Above Water (1996) was shot in Phippsburg.

You would expect lots of Stephen King movies to be shot here; he lives in Bangor. Pet Sematary, a movie I am too scared to watch a second time was filmed close to home here.  Listen to  Fred Gwynne’s exaggerated downeast accent.  Stephen’s The Langoliers (1995) was filmed in Bangor.  Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman liked it here. They have been generous supporters of the College of the Atlantic and their daughter Nell is a graduate.  They shot Empire Falls (2005) in Waterville among other places on the coast. Paul also starred in Message in a Bottle (1999), filmed in Phippsburg, Bath, New Harbor and Portland.  Portland was also partially the setting for The Preacher’s Wife (1996) as well as Reindeer Games (1996) and The Whales of August (1987) starring Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Lillian Gish.

If I didn’t mention Storm of the Century (1999),  I would have a bucket of saltwater poured over my head, especially since it was filmed in Southwest Harbor.  The Cider House Rules (1999) shows the Hollywood version of Acadia’s Sand Beach, Bernard and Bass Harbor.  Finally there are In the Bedroom (2001),  Iron Will (1994), Sarah Plain and Tall (1991) and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999), which has one Maine scene featuring  the Portland Head Light during our legendary Ice Storm of 1998.

So start your research today! Rent a movie about Maine!

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Lamoine’s Seal Cove Farm

A little over two miles from SeaCat’s Rest is a fantastic seaside goat dairy.  Seal Cove Farm has been in existence for just over 30 years and is part of a growing trend toward hand-crafted local cheeses.  These cheeses are as different from Kraft as Maine’s Geary’s Hampshire Special Ale is from Bud.  About 125 goats freely roam the rocky farm and a roadside farm stand is opened from noon to 4PM, closed Mondays.  Seal Cove cheeses can also be purchased locally from Hannaford Supermarkets, Sawyer’s Market in SW Harbor and the Town Hill Market, but if you want a wider selection, go to the farm stand.  You will also have the option of taking a tour of the farm, meeting the working dogs and finding out about how cheese is made.  At the farm stand you will have the choice of feta, fresh and aged chèvre and blended varieties.  Feta is curds of goat or sheep cheese cured in brine, while chèvre is simply the French word for goat.  Seal Cove feta is made from goat milk, but your supermarket’s feta may not be.  Chèvre is by definition, made from goat’s milk only and is characterized by a somewhat more acidic flavor than cow’s milk cheese. The protein content is higher, the fat content is similar but is considered more digestible. Goat milk is said to be more similar to human breast milk.

Seal Cove also offers some cheeses made from blended goat and local cow milk.  Cheddar-like “Olga” has a semi hard rind and is aged for over 60 days. “Pearl” can be compared to a brie and “Moo Maine” is all organic cow’s milk. Many of these offerings are available with spices, herbs,  fruits and nuts and make superb gifts.

A trip to Provence, France in 2002 gave the owners the opportunity to learn local French goat cheese making techniques and so they have brought that knowledge to Lamoine.  You don’t have to go to France.  If you stay in Lamoine for your Acadia visit, it’s a bike ride away!

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How to Find Out What’s Happening at Acadia

Most of us leave behind the to-do list while on vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine.  A few however, feel that they must have one to make the most of their precious time while on vacation.  Now doing things you love may include a game of golf or tennis, a walk in the woods, a bike ride down a glorious hill or a dip in the warm waters with the rocks towering above your head.  However it could also include listening to your favorite brass quartet, or hearing piano jazz, or dancing with a live contra band and 30 other folks that love to dance.
How can you find out what is happening in the weeks before you arrive so that you can time your visit to grab the best of both worlds?   There are three great sources that detail what’s happening months ahead of time.
The first is community calendars.  There are four sources of community calendars, the local weekly newspapers (Ellsworth American, Bar Harbor Times) publish one, usually only the current week ahead, but that is useful.   Our community radio station, WERU-FM (89.9) has a community calendar at WERU.org that previews a month’s activities.   Maine Public Broadcasting Network also has a state-wide calendar of activities that is searchable and wide ranging.  Finally, don’t forget College of the Atlantic’s events calendar.
Second,  go to the source of the activity.   If it’s music you are interested in and you love the steel drum music of Flash in the Pans, check out their website and see where they will be performing.  In addition, town websites can be useful for information on activities and programs.  Read about Southwest Harbor’s festivals at their Chamber of Commerce website.  Libraries are great sources of information, don’t pass up the librarians themselves.   Theaters and nightspots often have their own calendars posted on their websites.  For a list of these check out our recent post Finding Culture in Downeast Maine.
Third: Regional magazines do a good job of highlighting information, Down East and Yankee magazines are useful for our area.   Folk magazine Dirty Linen has a state by state performance calendar here.  Don’t forget that the libraries carry last year’s issues which will report on recurring festivals. Maine has some big annual festivals, like the marvelous North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland in July, classical Bar Harbor Music Festival also in July, the Bar Harbor Jazz Festival in mid August and  Bangor’s American Folk Festival late in August.

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