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Trip Report A Cottage in Maine

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and then some!

I am just back from my wonderful two weeks in New England, a destination that has become a regular for me in late summer for the past three years. It’s hard to imagine a lovelier place to be.

My time in mid-coast Maine, in a lovely little rented cottage on a tidal cove off the beaten path in the tiny village of Spruce Head Harbor, was perfect. With nothing but the sights and sounds of nature all around, each day was a new surprise. Sometimes I awoke to the pink sky of sunrise, sometimes to grey skies and a slowly lifting fog over the water, hearing the sounds of the sea gulls. It was everything I hoped it would be and more.

I could see the water from most rooms of the cottage, even lying in bed, and I experienced all types of ever changing weather - cool breezes, gentle wind, fog, rain, mostly pleasant sunshine, one hot and humid day, and a severe electrical storm one night. It just added to the atmosphere to be home and cozy, and I fell asleep to the sounds of the storm. Now that's relaxation! Each morning I’d sit at the little table looking out at the incoming and outgoing tides while having my breakfast and planning my day.

Everywhere you look in Maine is a picture postcard - wildflowers, lobster pots, sailboats, water views, piers, lighthouses, pine trees, birds, rocks, whitecaps - and the people are friendly and helpful.

When I arrived at the cottage, I found a container of freshly cooked lobster left for me by my landlords, and all picked and ready to eat. I made the 7 mile trip to the nearest supermarket, Hannaford’s, in Rockland and bought ingredients for lobster roll and chowder, which I feasted on for days. A few days later they brought me more freshly caught and cooked lobster - the wife catches them - and I feasted on more. It was heaven.

I had a couple of nice restaurant meals, but mostly enjoyed home cooking and I discovered a little gem of a general store in the adjacent village, Owls Head, that serves the most incredible casual food. It is right next door to the Post Office on the way to the lighthouse and is a typical country store with friendly, wholesome people, a few homey tables, and is loaded with atmosphere. It should be listed in Zagat's b/c the food is that good! I had the most delicious cheeseburger I’ve ever tasted – recommended by my landlords – and went back the next day for a Haddock melt. While I was there I picked up some haddock chowder and cornbread for a light supper. Truly delicious.

I visited some interesting museums, including The Farnsworth in Rockland, which features Maine artists and has a special section on the Wyeth's. I was never a fan of Andrew but gained a new appreciation for his work after touring the museum. One room is devoted to his tempera painting, "Her Room" - the living room of his and Betsy's home - and features all the studies he did before the final painting, all of them works of art themselves. There was also a study of a painting called, "Goodbye, My Love", a seaside scene, which a docent told me was painted shortly before he died and was most likely a farewell to his wife. The final version is in the private family collection. Wyeth’s wife Betsy is in her 90's now.

Other museums I enjoyed were The Owl's Head Transportation Museum, which has a great collection of antique cars and planes, including some WW fighter planes, and even offers some cars for sale, The Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland, an impressive collection of lighthouse memorabilia; Montpelier, the Thomaston home of Henry Knox, a Revolutionary War General and a friend of George Washington; three small museums at Owl’s Head, Marshall’s Point and Pemaquid lighthouse, and the Fishermen’s Museum at Pemaquid. When I went to Owl’s Head, it was a brilliantly clear, sunny and windy day, and the view of the water from the top of the lighthouse, with whitecaps all over, was breathtaking.

On my last day, which was drizzly, I visited the Olson House, where Christina lived. I was surprised to learn that Wyeth was 22 and Christina was 46 when they were introduced by Wyeth’s wife, who had known Christina and her family. For some reason, I’d always imagined Wyeth to have been the much older of the two. He is buried on the property of the Olson House.

I learned that lighthouses are automated now and there are laser sensors which set off fog horns when the fog becomes thick and interferes with the lasers. Who knew?! Surprisingly, at least to me, Maine ranks #2 for lighthouses among the states, with Michigan being number 1.

The lighthouse in Rockland, the nearest town, has a mile long breakwater leading to it. I hiked it one day and tho' the giant boulders are closely spaced, there are a few spots with gaps of almost a foot and I got a little vertigo as I passed over them. For some reason, it was better on the way back. It was a glorious day and the sun was shining and several fishermen were setting up along the sides of the breakwater. There is a movement to have the breakwater declared the 8th Wonder of the World and I think I am going to vote for it.

My timing was right for a country supper, a twice yearly event at the Town Hall just up the street from my cottage. My landlords invited me and I met some interesting people, including 2 women in their mid 90's who were spry and chipper and sharp. One of them stopped by the next morning to introduce me to her pooch. The supper was "bring a dish" and I made an easy salad of potatoes and string beans. Altho' I'm a city girl, there is a part of me that loves the simple life. Sometimes I wonder who I really am and what life would have been like if I'd been born someplace else.

One day I didn't leave Spruce Head at all, but spent the day exploring the area, mostly on foot, enjoying the beautiful scenery, the peace and quiet, taking photos at every turn, watching the tides come in and recede and just enjoying the day.

After Maine, I spent two days at Franconia Notch, NH, where I did some hiking at The Basin and the Flume Gorge in the FN State Park, two great hikes, especially The Basin, which was a lovely, peaceful area, with a river running through it.. I visited the Old Man of the Mountain, and was surprised and interested to learn of the technology they have developed to restore the profile – well, virtually anyway. I was expecting to see nothing but the remains of what once was. I also took the scenic drive along the Kancamagus H’way, in both directions, which was very beautiful. Driving through the White Mountain forest, I saw a few traces of color, but not much to speak of. I'm told it will be very different in a week or two. One of these days I will go up to NE for some leaf peeping.

My final stop was Shelburne, VT for two days, both of which I spent at the Shelburne Museum and Shelburne Farms, the latter being a former Vanderbilt Estate on the shores of Lake Champlain. The weather on both days was glorious and perfect for strolling and exploring both places, where the outdoors are as much a part of the experience as what is indoors.

The Museum has a truly wondrous and varied collection of art work, home furnishings, quilts, carriages, old buildings, an interesting print shop, a fully stocked general store and apothecary, even an old lighthouse from Lake Champlain and an old riverboat, the Ticonderoga. I spent 7 hours there over two days and still missed a lot.

At Shelburne Farms, they give tours of the grounds in an open carriage and stop at the mansion, which is now an Inn, and a few other buildings at the estate, or you can walk around on your own. I did both and had a wonderful Ceasar salad for lunch, of fresh kale, homemade cheddar, delicious croutons and house Ceasar dressing.at a picnic table near the little farm stand on the grounds. It was delicious.

The gift shop and the Farm Barn at the Farms had plentiful samples of their homemade cheeses available and spreads and jams available for tasting. The restaurant at the Shelburne Inn was recommended to me, as they serve all fresh foods from the farm, but frankly the dining room looked a little stuffy to me so I decided against it.

For anyone who visits Shelburne, the museum and the Farm are not to be missed.

Of course, no trip would be complete without the fun browsing and shopping - at several antique and old book stores in Maine where I found little treasures - several old books for $2 ea. and a Dick Tracy keychain, also $2. In Thomaston I passed a little farm with a table full of pumpkins for sale, unattended, with a little can for paying and I bought three small pumpkins and for my fall decorations. At other farm stands I passed along the way I bought maple syrup, gourds, mums and apples and a lovely bouquet of dried fall flowers.. So much fun!

Thanks to everyone who gave me advice and a special thanks to Clarkgriswold for the reco of Spruce Head Harbor and the great driving directions to NH. Spruce Head was perfect and the ride to NH was easy, relaxing and scenic. The interior of Maine is just as beautiful as the Coast. I especially liked the Wayne Lakes area, altho’ Tubby’s was closed when I passed by. Maybe next time.

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