Midcoast Maine: Boothbay Harbor

It’s peak tourist season here in Maine, with many vacationers traveling to the midcoast area. Here you’ll find charming little fishing villages, small towns with a mix of funky shops and luxurious boutiques, and of course plenty of swimming, kayaking, whale-watching and other fun in the sun. Let’s meander up the midcoast area starting with Boothbay Harbor.

Located on the Cape Newagen Peninsula, the year-round population of Boothbay Harbor is about 2500 people. At this time of year the streets are alive with the laughter and chatter of tourists, who vastly expand the population from May through mid-October.  Once a fishing camp for English sailors, today Boothbay Harbor is one of Maine’s most popular tourist stops.

Among the attractions are several lighthouses, including Burnt Island Light, the Cuckolds, and Ram Island Light, all of which can be seen on one of the many boat trips offered from downtown Boothbay Harbor. You can also catch a ferry out to Monhegan Island, well worth the trip to see this magical “artists” island.”  I’ll write more about Monhegan in a later post.

Fine seafood restaurants are also a draw here, but for gardeners the primary reason to visit Boothbay Harbor may be the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the largest in New England. I’ve escorted dozens of boatloads of tourists to the gardens, many of whom were hesitant about spending time here because they’ve seen botanical gardens in other parts of the country or around the world. To a person, far from being disappointed, they are always enthralled. If you have any interest at all in gardening, you should make the gardens part of your itinerary.

Midcoast Maine awaits, and I hope you’ll  find time to visit soon.  We’ll be making stops at other midcoast villages, so stop back here when you can.  Happy summer!

The Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay Harbor welcomes visitors from all over the world. Photo (c) Karen Hammond

 

 

 

 

July on a Small Maine Island

Is there a better month anywhere than July on a small island off the coast of Maine? Although I’ve had the good fortune to travel widely, I haven’t found a better place to spend the peak summer month. Swimming, boating, lolling in the hammock, as well as fairs and festivals fill up the month. And the weather is glorious. Sometimes steamy, yes, and an occasional thunderstorm, but for the most part it’s a month of clear blue skies and gorgeous weather.

The Fourth of July has come and gone once again, but we still see fireworks on the mainland as small midcoast towns continue to celebrate summer with local fairs and celebrations. And occasionally we see them even closer to home. Our neighbors recently celebrated a special event with fireworks set off from their dock into the water. It was a spectacular sight right in our own backyard.

July has been my favorite month since childhood. School was over, hot weather and summer camp had arrived, and there was still plenty of time when I returned from camp to enjoy the beach and friends before having to think about school again. And when my camp days were over, it was time for a summer job followed by late-night swims and clambakes at the beach.

I’ve begun a book about year-round life on a small Maine island in response to many emails and inquiries, so stay tuned, continue to follow this occasional blog when you can, and feel free to share your own thoughts about Maine with me.

Savor the last days of July. We will recall them fondly next January!

A lobster bake on the beach is a highlight of summer in Maine. Photo (c) Nathaniel Hammond
Dock’s out! Float’s out! Families on a small Maine island enjoy summer’s every fleeting moment. Photo (c) Karen Hammond

May Comes to a Small Maine Island

After our long, cold winters everyone in Maine looks forward to spring and the arrival of warmer weather. In a very lucky year we may get a taste of good weather in April, but for the most part the first warm days arrive in May. And with them arrive the first snowbirds–our summer visitors and residents–who tentatively return to their warm-weather homes while hoping they’ve missed the final snowstorm of the season.

Here on the island we look forward to seeing our tiny streets and miniscule village coming alive again, although life will continue to be slow until the end of June when families with school-age children are able to return. In the meantime, all over Maine, seasonal restaurants and hotels are reopening in preparation for Memorial Day, which unofficially kicks off the summer season.

In the old song, “June is Busting Out All Over,” the month of May is said to be “full of promises,” and that pretty much sums things up. We keep a close eye on the gardens, willing the tulips to open (those that have managed to escape the ravenous deer), watching daffodils unfold and waiting for the lilies-of-the-valley to perfume the air. Glorious spring days alternate with days with temperatures in the 30s and the threat of hail. It takes patience to live in this state!

May also sees families busy with weddings, graduations and vacation plans. As the weather warms up, I’ll be writing about some great places to visit in Midcoast Maine and elsewhere in the state, and now and then some escapes well beyond Maine. So do continue to drop by and consider joining those who follow me on this blog, whether for some vacation ideas or just some idle musings.

Harbor view  (c) Karen Hammond

Welcome! And may you have a great May!

April on a Small Maine Island

We’ve all heard of April in Paris, which if you have been to Paris, you know it’s not really the best time of year to be there. May is a much better month, but the word April simply scans better in a song.

April in Maine can be a challenging month, because after our long winters (and this year was a very loooong one!) we’re  all more than ready for a warm spring and the promise of summer.  But as I write this, snow from last night’s storm is still waiting to be shoveled and there’s more snow predicted for  tonight. It’s a little frustrating for those of us eager to sit on the dock, put a boat in, or at least be able to pack away the winter woolies. But warm weather will come as it always does, and we’ll appreciate it all the more.  And truth be told, when the summer people return to our small island, we are happy to claim bragging rights for having made it through another winter.

As I work on another book about Maine, this time about life on the island, I realize again what a unique place it is.  When an ice pond formed in front of my house for the first time ever and cut off access to my car, friends offered ice choppers and strong backs to help me break it up and our trusty plow guy-hand shoveled ice over the frozen walkway so I could navigate my way out.  I brought muffins to a sick neighbor, and when a friend skidded on black ice and landed in a ditch

April on a small Maine island. Winter doesn’t bow out gracefully!

, three cars stopped to help him within minutes. Challenging as the weather can be at times, it also can bring out the best in people.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll return soon. As the weather warms, we’ll talk more about the many great places to visit in Maine, as well as what life is like in a small island lobstering village.

February on a Small Maine Island

You may know one or more of the jokes about Maine weather, such as “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute,” or “We have just two seasons here: Winter and the Fourth of July.” Both sayings are proving true this winter, and over the last few days we have had snow, sleet, drenching rains, subzero temperatures, and a dusting of more snow to top it all off. The result  is a yard that looks and feels like a skating rink. In an emergency I guess we could pick our way out using crampons, ski poles, and wearing plenty of heavy clothes, but we’re taking the easy way out and staying home with a fire, a book, and a lap-warming cat. Fortunately we have a well-stocked freezer, and although cabin fever will set in before long, the temperatures are supposed to start rising tomorrow, the sun will come out, and we should be freed of our personal ice palace within a couple of days. It’s all part of life in Maine in the winter, and one of those weeks that make life in Maine in the summer all the sweeter.

Wherever you may be, I hope you are faring well through the winter season.  With February here, we know that March–and the first day of spring–

An island tree after a recent snowfall.
Photo copyright Nathaniel Hammond

can’t be too far behind.

 

January in Maine

Thanks for following the blog into the new year, which I hope will be a happy and healthy one for you. With the holidays over, the small island I live on has pretty much rolled up its sidewalks (except that there are no sidewalks to roll up, but you know what I mean). Summer cottages have long since been closed up for the season, and holiday guests have departed for home. A newcomer to the island called this season “creepy” because it’s so quiet and the winter light is so fleeting, but for many of us it’s a time for reflection and for tackling a big project. Because there are a lot of artists and writers out here, that usually means a book, several magazine articles, or a number of art works completed while the island, and life in general, move at a slower pace.

For anyone who needs a busy social life, this is probably not a good choice for a year-round home, but for the self-sufficient, winter can be fun.  There are always simple house parties, part lucks at the church community hall, trips to the movies on the mainland or even a trip to Boston when we’re in need of a city fix. A Christmas house guest and talented photographer rose at daybreak to catch the morning light and snapped some gorgeous photos, inspiring several of us to get out our own cameras.

However you start the new year, I wish you peace and happiness. I’ll return off and on to share more  musings

Sea smoke drifts around a small Maine island dusted with snow. Photo (c) Karen Hammond

about life on a small Maine island.

Thanksgiving on a Small Maine Island

Thanksgiving in New England is always a special event since we tend to go all out to celebrate it as part of our local history. Maine, of course, was once part of Massachusetts, and Plymouth, Mass. the  site of what we think of as the “first” Thanksgiving, So perhaps we have a special tie to the holiday

Guest of honor at the Thanksgiving feast. Photo (c) Karen Hammond

here. In any case, it’s a favorite holiday for many simply because it has no ulterior motives: It’s a time to get together with friends and enjoy good food and a relaxed day (and, if you’re so inclined, a football game or two).

As I write this, my little island is covered with snow that is still coming down hard. While this is not always the case at Thanksgiving, it’s also not unusual. We had flurries in October and this winter is setting up to be cold and long. It’s OK. One of the perks of living all or most of your life in this part of the country is knowing how to deal with the weather.

What’s on your Thanksgiving table? In Maine the traditional meal tends to include turkey, lots of stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, possibly turnips (we’re big on root veggies here), and something green like green beans, peas, or Brussels sprouts. In my house we add creamed onions. And of course homemade rolls and plenty of gravy. And pies. And in my case, a cranberry cake that I have made for as far back as I can remember.  Despite all the cooking, it’s a relaxed day, the calm before the storm of the Christmas rush. I’ll carve out an hour or so to sit in front of the fireplace with the family cat and just…be grateful.

However you spend your Thanksgiving, whatever goodies your table may hold, I wish you a happy one and a festive start to the holiday season.

Leaf-peeping in Maine and a Lively Pumpkinfest

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest is now in full swing, with most activities scheduled for the weekend. Among the festivities are a street fair downtown with food and entertainment, a pumpkin dessert contest, a parade, a pumpkin regatta, and plenty of other entertainment for the entire family.  Giant pumpkins line the streets, transformed into all kinds of figures by talented local artists. A highlight is always the pumpkin regatta, in which other giant pumpkins are hollowed out and “sailed” down the river. It’s always a fun day and if you are in the midcoast area, I urge you to come by. Note that parking is limited, so make use of the free shuttles. For details go to www.mainepumpkinfest.com.

Yes, the leaves are turning as we speak and although Vermont may be best known for fall color, we have lovely sugar maples here in Maine that pop against our evergreen trees. It’s a beautiful sight and changing every day. Many people consider fall the most beautiful time of year here.

For those of you following life on my small Maine island, all but an intrepid few of our summer residents have now made their way back “home” until next year.  The streets are quieter, making walking and running a little easier, and those of us who live here year all year grow closer as we get together for small gatherings and to work on events at the historical society or our little white church. Most of us spend our spare time readying our yards for winter, replacing summer flowers with pumpkins and cornstalks, hammering loose shingles, and in general getting prepared for another Maine winter. I know that many people love living where it’s always warm, but it’s hard to imagine a place without four distinct seasons.

If a fall visit is on your agenda, eat lots of lobster, and wild Maine blueberries, indulge in a cider doughnut or two, visit our fairs, and hop on a ferry to visit one or more of our beautiful islands. Enjoy!

Fall colors near Rangeley, Maine. (c) Nathaniel Hammond photography.

 

Life on a Small Maine Island

Today for the first time it’s clear that fall has come to the island. Not only have most of the summer people headed  for warmer climates, but the air is brisk and the first trees are starting to turn. Once again there’s little traffic on the streets and the island has begun to turn back into itself. The summer house parties and tennis tournaments are over until next year and the social scene until spring will pretty much consist of church suppers and neighborhood potlucks.

If you’ve never come to Maine, this is a great time to visit. Most hotels and B&Bs are open through Columbus Day, harvest fairs are in full swing throughout the state, and in Damariscotta, in midcoast Maine, plans are well underway for the annual Pumpkinfest, an event that has now achieved international fame. Growers vie to grow the largest pumpkins and artists carve and decorate them. Entertainment, street food, a pumpkin dessert contest, and plenty of activities for kids are all part of the festivities.  And Damariscotta itself is a lovely village with interesting shops and restaurants to explore.  Plan a visit if you can. Days are still warm (ish), nights are brisk, and the sugar maples will be turning color. It’s a nice last vacation before the holiday season.

A basket of fall flowers brightens an autumn day.
Photo (c) Karen Hammond

Cruising the Maine Coast

While it’s fun to visit Maine by car, locals will tell you that the best way to see the state is by water.  As someone who lives on a small island with water views from every window, I have to agree. And when I’m not on the island I’m often either on our own small boat, a canoe, or lecturing on a cruise ship traveling up and down the coast. One of these coastal Maine trips might be just right for you, whether you choose one of the mega-cruise ships or a smaller, more intimate one. Both have their advantages. Large ships have something going on 24/7, while smaller ones have the advantage of being able to dock in smaller ports and exploring venues that the big ships can’t get to. Whichever you choose, a Maine coastal trip is a great way to wind up the summer or early fall season.

Midcoast Maine is especially popular right now, with ships docking at, or mooring just outside of, beautiful towns like Camden and Rockland, famous for their handsome downtowns and windjammer fleets; funky Belfast with its art galleries and unusual stores; Castine, tiny in size and huge in history; and Boothbay Harbor with its attractive stores and shops and nearby Botanical Gardens. Some cruise ships bracket these stops with visits to larger towns and cities, such as Bar Harbor and Portland, giving passengers a good overview of the Maine coast.

The weather has been especially beautiful this summer and our fall season is always lovely. Much as I enjoy looking at the water from my island home, being out on it is even better. Hope to see you along the way!

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse at Sunrise
Photo (c) Nathaniel Hammond