Castine, Maine

My apologies for the delayed post, but it has been a happily hectic summer with lots of company, time in, on, and around the water, and plenty of fresh Maine lobster and Maine wild blueberries.
Visiting the quaint village of Castine is always a pleasure. It’s a tiny town of about 1300 people and home to the prestigious Maine Maritime Academy, a 4-year college that prepares students for careers in the merchant marine and other maritime careers. If you visit Castine, you’ll no doubt see the cadets walking around town in their uniforms.
The town itself was originally home to the Tarentine Abenaki Native Americans, now known as the Penobscot Nation. One of the earliest white explorers in the area was Samuel de Champlain in 1612. At various times over the ensuing centuries, the flags of France, Great Britain, Holland, and the US flew over Castine as they fought for control. When you visit, watch for the plaques along the sidewalks that tell Castine’s interesting story.
Today many people visit to view the lovely Federal and Greek Revival Homes and the stately American e

A lobster bake on the beach is a highlight of  summer in Maine. Photo (c) Nathaniel Hammond
A lobster bake on the beach is a highlight of summer in Maine. Photo (c) Nathaniel Hammond
lms that shade the streets. On your way to Dice Head Light (you can walk around it, but not enter it) be sure to stop in at the little Wilson Museum, packed full of local artifacts. Castine is also home to the oldest US Post Office (built in 1814) in continuous use. It’s a handsome building, well worth a stop.
Back here on my small Maine island, life has settled down momentarily before the next wave of visitors. We’ve had some hot and muggy days, but with memories of last winter still in everyone’s mind, I haven’t heard a single word of complaint. We’ll enjoy every minute of summer in Maine, and wherever you travel here, I’m sure you will, too.

Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine

I’ve just returned from a long sail along the Maine coast and thought I’d share a few suggestions for those of you planning your own visit here. Acadia National Park, established in 1916, is on the bucket list for most Maine visitors, and with good reason. Its more than 49,000 acres are home to a wide variety of animals, birds and butterflies, and at least 160 varieties of plants.
Hikers will enjoy 1,528-ft. Cadillac Mountain and the panoramic views from the top (go on a clear day if you can). You can also take guided walks or carriage rides through the park, bike on many of the trails, or go kayaking or birdwatching among many other activities.
The park is located on Mount Desert (pronounced “Dessert”) Island, which also boasts the busy tourist destination of Bar Harbor. Here you’ll find shops selling everything from funky t-shirts to high-end jewelry and just about anything in between. Watch for unusual gifts like chocolate-covered blueberries, blueberry wine, Native American-made items, or tourmaline jewelry made from the official gemstone of Maine. Future college students may want to check out College of the Atlantic, a small liberal arts college.

A glacial erratic seen along the Bar Harbor Shore Path. (c) Karen Hammond
A glacial erratic seen along the Bar Harbor Shore Path.
(c) Karen Hammond
And no-one should miss the handsome Abbe Museum with its extensive collection of Native American artifacts. Walkers will enjoy the Shore Path that winds between several Bar Harbor mansions and the ocean. The glacial erratic (large boulder left by a receding glacier) shown in the photograph here is just one of the many interesting sights along the rocky shoreline.
So much to do, so little time! This barely scratches the surface of all there is to see and do in the area. I return year after year, always finding something new, and will be back again in the fall when I find the park to be especially beautiful.
In my next post I’ll take you to the quaint little village of Castine. But for now I’m content to be back on my little island, coaxing much-delayed flowers into bloom at last, and looking forward to the official start of summer.

Maine in May

Spring has truly come to the island at last. Long after the crocuses have come and gone elsewhere, they are finally in full bloom here and looking glorious. Extremely cold winters are said to be good for bulb plants and I’m holding out hope for tulips and daffodils. After the long, gray winter I think we are all hungry for color wherever we can find it.
The island remains quiet, probably for a few more weeks. Around Memorial Day the summer people will start to arrive, and when school gets out around the third week in June

Crocuses bloom at last after a cold Maine winter. (c) Karen Hammond
Crocuses bloom at last after a cold Maine winter. (c) Karen Hammond
the island will be buzzing again. We’re savoring these last quiet weeks while also looking forward to seeing friends who are here only in the summer. Of course we have great bragging rights this year, having dealt with the coldest winter on record in Maine along with nearly 120 inches of snow.
I’ve just returned from a few days in New York City. The city is energizing, to say the least, compared to my quiet Maine village of fewer than 100 people. I always enjoy it…the restaurants, the Broadway shows (finally got to The Lion King, which was spectacular), and the shopping, but after a few days I’m also always happy to head home. It works both ways. In the summer a lot of visitors from New York arrive and it always takes them a while to unwind and get acclimated to a much slower way of life.
For now my days are spent alternating between working here in my home office and getting the yard ready for summer. Today the men arrived to put in our dock and float. Summer’s coming….I can feel it in the air!

Springtime Comes to a Small Maine Island

Well, not quite. The calendar says we are a few days into spring, but with temperatures hovering between 7 degrees and the mid-20s, we know we have a way to go. Still, I can feel the soft touch of spring just beneath the cold air as I walk around the island each morning.
Finally, the island is no longer silent. Birds have returned and the early mornings are filled with chirps and calls. A dove has perched on a wire outside my office for the past few mornings, enjoying the early spring sunshine. We’ll have to wait a little longer for flowers, however. Several feet of snow still blanket the yard, so there’s no chance of snowdrops poking through. Who knows, we may be seeing crocuses in July! But we’re definitely on our way to good weather and recent glorious sunsets have made the long wait worthwhile.
It’s time for vacation planning. Living in Maine–Vacationland– makes it easy, of course, and I’m looking forward to several long sails along the coast and stops at some of my favorite places like Camden and Castine. If you’re planning a stay anywhere in New England, you might want to check out my book, Backroads & Byways of New England: Drives, Day Trips, and Weekend Excursions, for tips on off-the-beaten-

An early-spring sunset is our reward after a long, cold winter. Photo copyright Karen Hammond
An early-spring sunset is our reward after a long, cold winter. Photo copyright Karen Hammond
track places you’ll enjoy.

Frigid February on a Small Maine Island

It may be the shortest month of the year, but as we continue to deal with mountains of snow and frigid temperatures here on the island, February seems to be lasting forever. This is one of the few times that I can remember stalwart Mainers actually getting fed up with the weather. A few have taken off for warmer climates, but the rest of us are resolutely hanging on and waiting to turn the page on the calendar. We’ve finally had a few days without snow, although we are due for another six inches later in the week. Right now the cold is the biggest problem…well below zero last night and more chilly days and nights expected. Life has pretty much come to a halt on the island. It’s too cold even for the hardy lobstermen to venture out on the water, and pretty much the only people on the roads are the plow drivers, oil truck drivers, and workmen doing odd jobs like shoveling off roofs. So, how does one spend one’s time when it’s too cold to do much but hunker down inside? Those of us who work at home have no problem keeping busy. Deadlines don’t disappear because of the weather, and in some ways it’s good to work without a lot of distractions. When I sit here in my office in summer, looking out at the sailboats and lobster boats bobbing by, it’s a lot harder to keep my mind on my job. When June comes and our summer people return to the island, there will be lots of questions about why on earth we stayed on through such an historically bad winter. I guess the only answer is, “If you have to ask, you’ll never understand.” The stubborn New England personality is certainly part of it…we don’t like to give in or give up. And as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a certain pride in withstanding whatever Mother Nature throws at us. Nonetheless, spring will never be more appreciated than it will be this year. It’s less than a month away, and while it’s still way too soon to pack away the winter woolies and boots, I did a see a robin yesterday. There’s hope!

Dreaming of a summer lobster bake in Maine. Photo (c) Nathaniel Hammond
Dreaming of a summer lobster bake in Maine. Photo (c) Nathaniel Hammond

Stay warm wherever you are.

Blizzard on a Small Maine Island

I hope everyone affected by the recent snowstorm has come through it safely. Here on the island we got about two feet of snow that fell steadily from Monday night throughout Tuesday. Today it is glorious outside–crisp and cold with the sun shining brightly. Great weather for shoveling.
A heavy snowstorm makes the quiet island even quieter. A community-wide pot luck supper planned for Saturday night was postponed and may be postponed again if another storm moves in this weekend as anticipated. But no one really minds. New Englanders are nothing if not resilient, and there’s always plenty to do inside on snow days. We stoke the fire, get out the books we’ve been planning to read, knit, clean closets, and for those of us who work at home it’s a rare opportunity to get caught up on email and projects.
A year or so ago I gave a lecture about Maine life and someone in the audience asked if I “really” lived in Maine all winter. When I replied yes, he asked, “Why?” It made me laugh at the time,

Aftermath of the blizzard of 2105 on a small Maine island.  Photo (C) Karen Hammond
Aftermath of the blizzard of 2105 on a small Maine island. Photo (C) Karen Hammond
but I’ve given his question some thought recently. Just why do New Englanders do battle with Mother Nature year after year and love it? Is it part of the psyche of those of us who were born and raised here? I think so. I think we take pride in toughing it out, overcoming obstacles, and being self-sufficient. And despite that sense of self-sufficiency, there’s also a strong tradition of helping our neighbors. I shovel out my elderly neighbor so she can get her door open from the inside. When my generator battery died just as the blizzard of 2015 cranked up, I called a local boatyard owner to see if he had a battery I could buy or borrow. He not only had one, but he hustled over and installed it. I brought him homemade cookies this morning as soon as I got plowed out. That’s the rhythm of life here on the island, and throughout much of New England. And yes, that’s why I stay in Maine all winter!

New Year on a Cold Maine Island

Although Christmas was warm and rainy here on the island, the new year arrived with a blast of sub-zero weather. Today the ocean was layered with sea smoke, a fog that occurs when the air is colder than the water. It makes for quite a sight to see the huge cloud fog rolling across the water.
Fewer than 100 of us are here all winter, and while we may get together now and then for pot luck or an informal party, for most of us it’s a time to hibernate or to tackle a large project. Life slows down, which is probably a good thing since most of us live very busy lives the rest of the year. I spend the winter writing, and when I see a light at night in my nearest neighbor’s window, I know she is working on her art. A lot of creative people live out here, attracted by Maine’s beauty. Island life is not for everyone, however, and I have occasional visitors who can’t get back to the mainland and “civilization”

Sea smoke drifts around a small Maine island.  Photo (c) Karen Hammond
Sea smoke drifts around a small Maine island. Photo (c) Karen Hammond
fast enough.
If you love winter sports, don’t hesitate to come to Maine. It’s a great place for skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and just taking long walks bundled up in the crisp (ok, very cold) air. With the right clothes and the right attitude, you’ll have a great time.
Happy new year everyone. I wish you a happy, productive, and above all, a very healthy 2015.

Christmas on a Small Maine Island

Here on the island, we are gearing up for Christmas with plenty of snowy and/or gray and rainy days. Luckily we held our annual Christmas open house

Wild turkeys pay a  visit to a Maine island in winter.
Wild turkeys pay a visit to a Maine island in winter.
last Saturday, which turned out to be a decent day, and welcomed about half of the island. It’s always fun to get together at the start of the season because once winter fully sets in we all tend to hole up in our homes and work on our own projects.
From my office window I am watching Christmas lights twinkle through the pine trees, and down on the dock our Charlie Brown Christmas tree is shining brightly in the late-afternoon gloom. Two big ice storms lately have knocked it down twice, but now we have it lashed down tightly and will hope it stays upright for the rest of the season.
A large flock of wild turkeys has been visiting lately, no doubt attracted by goodies in the bird feeders. In the morning their tracks mix with those of deer and the neighbors cats and an occasional animal we can’t identify. I have a feeling our quiet yard is anything but quiet at 3AM.
I wish everyone peace and happiness as you prepare for the winter holidays, however you choose to celebrate them. And remember, if you are looking for a getaway, there are few places more beautiful than Maine under a light dusting of December snow!

First Snowfall on a Small Maine Island

Just 10 days into November and we’ve already had a substantial snowfall here on my small Maine island. It’s always a little dicey when snow arrives before we’re in a winter frame of mind, but being New Englanders, we always manage to cope.
Fewer than 100 of us remain on the island now, with summer residents having moved on to their winter quarters in warmer climates. We’re too far off the beaten path for all but the most intrepid late-fall tourist. And so the island folds back into itself. The little local church has a harvest fair coming up in a couple of weeks, the tiny year-round cafe bustles with locals drinking coffee in the morning, and our charming library is doing a booming business in mysteries as people stop in for books (the old-fashioned kind, with pages!). It’s definitely a time of transition as we move from the bright colors of early fall to the grays and browns of November. The first snow didn’t last long, but the next one is sure to linger

First Snowfall on a Small Maine Island Photo: (c) Karen Hammond
First Snowfall on a Small Maine Island
Photo: (c) Karen Hammond
, making the earth beautiful again. And, right around the corner, we have Thanksgiving and the winter holidays to look forward to. Wherever you are, stay warm and enjoy the season!

New Brunswick, Canada, Part 2. St. Andrews

Funky art galleries and craft stores featuring clever, handmade items line the streets, while a charming mural brightens the outer wall of the local drugstore. St. Andrews, New Brunswick, is a worthwhile stop on its own and an easy add-on for those traveling to Campobello. As with the island, fall is a great time to visit. Summer tourists are mostly gone, the weather remains bright and sunny most days, and the small town of about 1800 residents is quietly settling back into itself.
First, check out that handsome mural at 192 Water St. Designed and painted by local artists Andrea Mulder-Slater and Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder, it’s a startling rendition of the exact area where you are standing. Next, stroll along the nearby waterfront and choose among several restaurants for lunch. Afterward, you’ll want to wander into the town’s many galleries and shops.
Those with an interest in architecture won’t be disappointed. Many of the homes here were moved from what is now Castine, Maine, just after the American Revolution. Many Loyalist families dismantled their homes and transported them, sometimes by water, north to St. Andrews in order to remain under the British crown.
If you can’t visit in the fall, springtime in St. Andrews is also a great time to enjoy the town before the summer bustle. Gardeners should plan a lengthy stop at Kingsbrae Garden (www.kingsbraegarden.com). Named one of Canada’s top-ten public gardens, it will open again in mid-May. Among its themed gardens are a Bird and Butterfly Garden, Rose Garden, Rhododendron and Hydrangea Gardens, an eerily beautiful White Garden (try to see it at dusk), as well as a labyrinth maze, intriguing sculptures, and much more. Kingsbrae is also home to alpacas, peacocks, ducks, and other animals.
In addition, Kingsbrae boasts one of the best restaurants in Canada, Savour in the Garden (www.savourinthegarden.com). I recently had one of the best meals of my life there, enjoying a tasting menu that highlighted local seafood in such dishes as Jonah Crab Cakes with champagne vinaigrette. A clever lobster presentation called Lobster and Pearls included local lobster, couscous, and roasted carrot puree. The menu changes regularly according to what is fresh, but you can check out a sample menu on the website.
On November 17 from 5-9 PM, on Water St. in the heart of town

A bright mural in downtown St. Andrews, New Brunswick.  Photo (c) Nathaniel Hammond
A bright mural in downtown St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Photo (c) Nathaniel Hammond
, Savour chef Alex Haun and a guest chef will prepare samples of tantalizing food to welcome the start of the holiday season. And if you’ll be in the area over Christmas, inquire about Savour’s holiday dinner, which is sure to be the epitome of delicious indulgence.
I can recommend the Algonquin Hotel as a place to stay. Open year round, the hotel and resort recently underwent expansive remodeling. Among the amenities are an elegant spa and, for warm-weather visitors, a challenging golf course. But before we pick up our golf clubs again, we have to get through the fall holidays and the upcoming winter. The Algonquin is offering a “Twas the Month Before Christmas” event from November 28-29 that includes meals and crafting, decorating, and wine-pairing classes. Find the details at algonquinresort.com. It sounds like a great way to kick off the holiday season.