Maybe it’s a southern California thing. Maybe it’s just that we’re used to having the sun in the sky most of the year at a certain angle. It’s always just less than overhead, but bright enough and clear enough to cut through any thought and interrupt any conversation with “Hey it’s me! Remember your pupils? I do! Sha-BAM now they don’t work as well!” And then you’re left saying to whomever “I’m sorry I lost my train of thought, it’s so friggin’ bright out here.” Maybe it is just a southern California thing, but when we crossed the slim strip of New Hampshire (That slim strip of New Hampshire, by the way, the only beach that the state can call its own, is strangely reminiscent of Myrtle Beach, and not in a flattering way. An hour crawl through traffic with temperatures easily breaking into the 90’s without an air conditioner and surrounded by drunken frat boys screaming about the things that would be possible to do with girls in a vehicle like ours, all with my child in the back seat and my wife at my side, are not factors that contribute to a fuzzy memory later on down the road.) into Maine the light dimmed a bit.
We’re both light people. We love and appreciate good light where we can get it and because of that we love dusk and early morning, rainy days and the Pacific Northwest. And just like the Pacific Northwest it felt like the ceiling of the world had been lowered to just out of our reach, like the sky, as we increased our latitude bent closer and closer to the North Pole until it would eventually touch and not a soul would be able to stand there for lack of room. Clouds had formed into a single grey mass, slowly slowly slowly pushing the oppressive heat further south so we would feel welcome. Pine forests had suddenly sprouted up from the ground and surrounded the highway. We passed through Portland and Augusta and ended our day at Lake St. George State Park. It felt like we were in the Truman Show and were approaching the end of the studio, where the images of trees and hills would prove to be only very successful artistic interpretations of real nature. But we were there, the Captain parked with a view of the lake, sun setting, the water calm.
We walked over and dipped our feet in, skipped stones and splashed each other as Eliot giggled below us. The world behind us was so far away. Fireflies awoke and started their dance from site to site so we eventually crawled up the bank onto the grass and back to camp for dinner. The next morning we woke up and broke camp. Jamie had been talking for a long time about wanting to canoe again and I had noticed walking around that the rangers rented canoes for campers so I surprised her with the news that we’d all be going out on the water. We pulled on our life vests and off we went. I hadn’t been in a canoe since I was maybe 12 years old in Boy Scouts. It felt good to float across the lake, to feel the splash of water on my arms, to realize how weak I had gotten on the trip as my muscles and joints almost failed me. There was Jamie to impress so I withheld my grimace and kept going. Then we took turns and I held Eliot.
Maine. This was it.
We went from Los Angeles to Maine and here we were, canoeing across a lake together. We wanted to go a little further so when we had both drained our arms of any life we pulled back in and hit the road further east. Past Belfast and Ellsworth, we were suddenly in Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park. It was one of the most beautiful places we had seen on our trip. Low lying clouds, scattered drizzle and trees reaching up to the sky. We stayed the night in the park and spent the next day driving around the island. In the town of Bar Harbor we watched the fishing boats bob up and down in the water, sat in the park as the rain drip-dropped around us, and slid in and out of the tourist shops. It was there that we had the best blueberry frozen yogurt in the history of man. (Think for a moment about neolithic cave people serving up waffle cones of blueberry and vanilla swirl frozen yogurt. It was even better than that.)
Acadia was our official turnaround point and the furthest north and east that we would make it on this trip. We didn’t want to leave Maine but we had more to see so we headed southeast to Camden Hills State Park. We stayed for two nights, long enough to warrant setting up the hammock, and had just set up camp when the clouds that had been hanging overhead for days finally stopped messing around and got down to business. The rain fell light at first, like we had had in Acadia, and then got heavier and heavier. Jamie and Eliot climbed into the van while I fiddled around with the mess of bungee cords and our big blue tarp so we could have a little extra shelter from the rain. I ran around a few trees with a line of rope trying to prop up the tarp and tried again and again to fix the bungees so the tarp wouldn’t sag but nothing was working. The rain pounded the top of my head and soon I was soaked. After I had rigged something so that tarp was more or less up and the van looked like it got caught in spider-web I climbed inside. Dinner was warm and delightful thanks to Jamie. The tarp, we later realized, was useless because it had been stowed in the luggage storage atop the van the whole trip and was so baked through and brittle that the water dripped right through it. Great.
The next day we crossed the road and climbed down the hill to a view of the water. The cliffs dropped off sharply below us to rocky coasts and choppy waves. We were the only ones out and it was a beautiful day. The sky had cleared and the air was fresh and Eliot was having all kinds of fun dragging monstrous branches along the trail.
After we left Camden Hills we meandered through more backcountry roads and narrow highways to a peninsula jutting south, with a lighthouse at its tip. Pemaquid lighthouse is small and out of commission but a lighthouse nonetheless and what is Maine without a visit to a lighthouse and a lot of Bah Hahbah-type accent jokes?
As we stood on the slick rocks that fell down into the water we knew that far enough south of us was the tip of Massachusetts and even further than that was the Dominican Republic. This was the Atlantic, from our first sight of it in South Carolina to our last sight of it here in Maine. Goodbye to the waters that connect us to Europe and Africa, goodbye to the world of the north where the ocean air is cold even in summer and the sky sinks low on its way to the North Pole.
It’s about time we head west.