Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back at the point

After our second breakfast in as many days at Two Cats, we drove into Bar Harbor to do some quick shopping -- mainly beer at Bar Harbor Brewing Co. -- and made the scenic, meandering, mostly coastal drive from Mount Desert Island to Pemaquid Point.

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The beauty of the drive was that it rained. It rained while we were in the car, not on the rocks at Pemaquid, not in the morning in Bar Harbor, and not at any other point during the trip, except for when we tried to get from the vans into the reception after the wedding, but that story will come later.

We had no specific plans for this day, and my uncle and family wouldn't be home until the early evening, so Casey and I made Pemaquid our time-killing stopover. I must've shot this lighthouse more than any other, with every camera I've ever owned, beginning with my first -- a Kodak disk point-and-shoot. It may be 500 miles from where I grew up, I have to have photographed it more than Twin Lights or Sandy Hook, only minutes from home. But those, I'd visit on a whim, not always with a camera, and I always knew I could go back at any time to shoot them.

Pemaquid is always a planned visit, an outing on its own. On weekends in the height of summer -- and with calmer seas -- the rocks would be teeming with visitors. But none on this day. The sea was so violent (I should've pulled out my video camera, but neglected to) that many rocks I've ventured to or sat on pondering calmer waters were completely submerged.

We'd come and stayed for hours, splitting up to explore on our own time, at our own pace, setting a time and place to meet for a picnic or to head back to Damariscotta. I'd go from the rocks on the east side of the point and make my way around to the west side; I'd bound down to the end of a chain-link fence separating the park from a souvenir shop and restaurant next door and climb the steps to peruse the trinkets that way, rather than going around from the entrance to the parking lot.

On days the sea isn't so active, we'd sit near the edge, on sun-dried metamorphic bedrock, and look down into the calm, clear water and marvel at how far down we could see. I'd take routes less traveled, those not necessarily given over to walking, but areas where I'd need to find footholds and maybe reach up for a crack to grab for leverage, imagining myself a chalk-dusted free climber on the face of El Capitan. I'd spread myself out across the point and come across one family member or another, popping up beside them unnoticed, prompting a, "Where did you come from?" reaction.

Pemaquid without people is an eerie place. It was strange to hear nothing but the waves crashing into the earth, unnatural to see the rocks in such an unadorned, natural state. Thinking back to it now, it's my most unique Pemaquid visit, perhaps my most memorable. Yet at the time, I spent as long as I could sitting on the rocks, watching the frothing sea, bearing the cold May wind. I waited as long as I could before I had to get up again and start moving; now I wish I'd stayed five minutes longer to take it in just a little more.

After a few photos of the lighthouse with the rocks in the foreground, I noticed something unusual in the light tower: movement. A blue jacket moving. Someone was up there! I'd never seen anyone up there -- the light itself had never been opened in all those years of visiting -- so I immediately assumed what I would find out momentarily, that the tower itself was indeed open for exploration. Casey and I went in and listened as the volunteer explained the light's history to two older men, and then the four of us climbed the spiral staircase together. There was just enough room at the top for the four of us, but Casey got her 360-degree view and carefully descended. I remained to get the photos I wanted, then shuffled around to trade places with the two other men and see the view on the other side of the lens. Then I waited them out, letting them get their fill and start the climb down so I could have a minute to myself at the top. If I looked to the southeast, all I could see were the rocks and the small red shack perched atop them -- a view that had to be similar to that seen by the long list of keepers who served at Pemaquid Point.

We made our way back up to Route 1 and headed east a few miles to Round Top, darting between the raindrops for the best ice cream north of Four Seas. (I can't decide which I like better.) We stood at the window to the patio, watching the rain fall on the rolling hills that lead down to the Damariscotta River, out of sight from our vantage point. Years ago, my uncle has told me, those fields were home to the cows that provided the milk from which the ice cream was made -- truly a Maine touch.

From there, I took us to my uncle's through Head Tide, a cluster of 19th-century buildings along the Sheepscot River, just a few miles downstream from my uncle's property. Back in college, Bryan and I canoed from their house down through Head Tide (portaging around the dam) and a few miles beyond the village. I noticed a sign indicating some of the historic buildings were for sale -- or had been sold. Alas, if only I'd known (and had the money).

Uncle Johnny arrived home shortly after we pulled into the driveway (and sat in the car during the downpour, rather than making a dash for the porch), and we spent the evening eating and talking. With the soaking grass, I skipped my ritual walk through the woods down to the river, and when I walked out to the car to retrieve my camera just before bed, I took a few minutes to stare up at the sky. The clouds had cleared away and left only star-speckled space. I couldn't make out the Milky Way -- either because I didn't allow my eyes to adjust fully or the lights from the house washed it out -- but I did see a shooting star in the short time I stood there with my head cocked all the way back. I considered for only a moment setting up the tripod to attempt some star trails photos, but I was tired and not up for the work that would have been necessary -- finding a flashlight, putting on my hiking boots because of the wet grass, tromping across the field to get enough distance from the house and finding just the right spot. I regret the lack of ideal conditions, not the choice I made, and it only has me itching to go back. Soon.

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