No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
I haven’t written a single thing about our vacation to Acadia National Park. Shockingly remiss of me, considering the level of planning, organization, and expense we went to for our biggest vacation of the year. My delightful parents even flew out from Seattle to join us on our Maine jaunt, and yet I continue to neglect my reporting duty. Shameful.
Allow me to beg distraction—both of the important type, such as the phone interview I conducted yesterday, and the unimportant type, such as the two books I’ve read in the interim—and take steps to remedy the situation. Instead of a day-by-day or blow-by-blow recounting, I think sharing some vignettes and my general impressions will cover the trip fairly well. However, in an effort to spare my reading public, I’ve divided it into sections, and you can choose whichever section you want to read. The entire post, I think, pushes the limits of the amount of text Blogger allows you to include in one blog.
1. Waiting in the Thunderstorm.
A truly intimidating thunderstorm rolled in Sunday evening around 5:00. Fortunately, we had the foresight to shut the house up before traipsing to Framingham, so our apartment remained as dry as the extremely humid weather permitted. We successfully rented two sleeping bags and a tent from REI, stuffed them into the back of the car (at which point we had our first inkling that the Prius, while well-suited for two person car trips, provided significantly less cargo space with four occupied seats), and walked briskly across the street to my favorite Hideous Stuff Store, Home Goods. New junk goes to Home Goods to die a sad, cheap death. At least it’s never a lonely death; of all stores I visit, Home Goods certainly packs more products into one square foot than most others. A person truly could furnish almost an entire house with Home Goods merchandise, but the décor would end up looking gaudy, fake, and hideous. The good news is that it’s all so cheap, you’d be obliged to replace everything within a couple years anyway. I found a clean, fairly new Igloo thermos in the parking lot, which made the trip worth it in my mind. Ian would certainly disagree, since not only does he hate my tendency to pick things up off the ground, but we also got soaked in the first downpour of the thunderstorm on our way back to the car. Some hooligan shouted, “Run, Forrest, run!” as we dashed across the intersection—we ran, and ignored the catcalling. The circumstance certainly called for running.
In the dry warmth of the car, we regrouped and remembered the Barnes & Noble not far away. This provided us with plenty of entertainment until we heard from my disgruntled parents, whose flight had circled around the Boston stratosphere for a couple hours while the thunderstorm did its worst. They finally landed, but much later than expected, so we moved on to dinner at Fresh City. Happily fed and with new books in hand, Ian and I decided at last to simply wait in the Framingham Shuttle parking lot until my parents’ bus arrived from Logan.
Deep, cloudy blackness brought night long before the sun usually set. We angled our books to catch rays from the parking lot lights. At one point, a 1990s Ford Mustang convertible pulled up, sharing its rap music with all and sundry within a half-mile radius. With the top down, we easily saw a couple of white boys trying to be cool. Another pair of cool-wannabes materialized after a moment, hopped into the rear of the convertible (who needs doors?), and they zoomed off. Less than a minute later, the sky opened up again. We got a chuckle out of imagining the cool dudes soaking in their convertible.
2. On the Road at Last
The car, once fully packed, resembled one of those move-the-block geometry puzzles that have only one free square. Dad and I squeezed ourselves in, the cooler and ceiling-high stack of pillows in the middle of the back seat intervening between us. The rear of the car practically dragged on the ground; Ian had used every last square inch of the back space, including “secret” compartment and all the passenger foot space. We had spent most of the morning skinnying down our clothing choices, scrutinizing a pair of pants with slitted eyes and finally proclaiming “I won’t need this.” Turns out my worst choice was replacing my big GoreTex jacket with my smaller, lighter waterproof biking jacket. We forgot dish soap, flash lights, rope, a pancake flipper, a tarp, and umbrellas, but unfortunately did remember to bring The Burning Pilot, one of the overall worst-written books I’ve ever had the misfortune to hear read aloud.
Mom “entertained” us on the five-hour drive by plowing doggedly through what felt like endless repetitions of the same story, which the author handily summarized in a succinct two pages in the introduction. Why The Burning Pilot’s author required an additional 200 pages to unfold the full tale, I have no idea. We all agreed that the author had simply rewritten all the court records of the case, with no eye towards interest, suspense, or storytelling. Which is too bad, really, because the characters in this unfortunately true story were such schmucks (you could tell that much, even through the turbid writing) that it provided ample fodder for a fascinating read. Alas, the author trampled the fodder into the mud, then formed the mud into featureless bricks, fired them, stacked them in a perfectly geometrical square, and foisted that off on the reader.
The rest stop in Maine where we ate lunch provided a series of stretching signs for travelers. They showed drawings of people stretching various body-parts, usually using car bumpers as an immobile surface. Mom and I diligently worked our way through the series, but did not feel any significantly stretchier than before. Mom did, however, reveal a fascinating tidbit I wish I hadn’t known: E. Coli can get through toilet paper. In fact, it takes at least seven layers of toilet paper to keep E. Coli from getting on your hands when you wipe. This factoid haunts me every time I go to the bathroom; fortunately, I diligently wad my paper, which forms a greater-than-seven-layers-thick barrier between my hand and the bacteria on my butt.
Acadia National Park felt homey to my parents, and not only because of its abundance of evergreen trees. The climate, which turned distinctly rainy almost the moment after we set up our tent, continued cool and drippy for the next 24 hours or so. This drippiness became downright torrential during the night, waking us up to thank our stars that we’d strung the rain fly out with guy wires as taught as it could go. Ian and I remained dry, although Mom awoke to a stream of water pouring onto her in the night. Turns out their rain fly required some additional attention, which, once completed, kept them dry the remainder of the trip too. That’s the disadvantage of using an unfamiliar tent.
The rain changed our plans a bit. Instead of seeing Acadia’s natural beauties (of which we had taken in Thunder Hole the previous evening, and all agreed it really seemed more like Whisper Hole), we drove in to Bar Ha
rbor, bought a long stretch of rope and the last four umbrellas at the True Value, and proceeded to scrutinize every shop in the downtown area. Normally not avid shoppers, we diligently examined every knicknack, thingamijiggy, T-shirt, mug, photograph, hand-made sea-glass bracelet, and lobster-item in each store. I bought a Gel Gems tree with pink flowers which, put up in my cubicle window, has received a round dozen compliments. By 11:30 we had also examined the gigantic yacht in the harbor and its attendant pair of scooters, poked on the beach, admired several nice buildings, and become thoroughly soaked beneath our knees. This necessitated retiring to a warm, dry location for as long as possible.
Enter Geddy’s, our warm, dry location. We ate food there, watched Olympic synchronized diving and whitewater kayaking on the TVs, and most importantly dried out. By the time we left, three of us stripped a lobster clean of its meat, we had all eaten blueberry pie, and the sky had started to lighten up. This good omen left us with the rest of the day, which Mom and I spent mostly snoozing in the tent while Ian and Dad suspended the tarp from the trees around our campsite. Then Dad went for a run and Ian entertained himself as Mom and I continued to snooze.
4. Seize the Day
Starting the day with itchy eyes and a fountain for a nose meant only one thing: Sun! I gladly traded no allergies with rain to allergies with the clear, poofy-clouded day we awoke to on Wednesday. Taking advantage of what we feared might be an all-too-brief respite from the drizzle, Mom, Dad, and I hiked from our campsite in the Blackwoods Camp Ground to the top of Cadillac Mountain. This peak, towering at just over 1500 feet above sea level, proved to have a very nice trail with sweeping views of the shore and its attendant islands. As the day wore on, several of the big sailing ships appeared, taking tourists out on cruises. They looked picturesque among the islands, although somewhat anachronistic with all the lobster boats also out.
We walked over long stretches of bare granite peppered with smaller stones, admiring the geology of the situation. Clearly some igneous rock had intruded into the granite at some point; the veins of quartz left after softer neighboring rock eroded also made quite an impression (fortunately not on our knees, hands, or posteriors). We encountered fewer than a dozen other hikers over the four or five miles of fairly easy trail. Scrubby evergreens comprised most of the non-lichenous plant life. We saw very few wild animals, and counted ourselves lucky to see the birds and chipmunks that did cross our path. Then, suddenly, within a quarter-mile of the top, crowds appeared. At the peak, swarms of people stood gazing out, having “hiked” from the parking lot at the top to the outlook marked with an informational panel. Dad went to take pictures while Mom and I walked on the “gentle paved path” that formed a short loop around the top.
Eventually we found Ian, who lucked out in obtaining a parking spot in the lot, and we all adjourned to Jordan Pond, where Ian wanted to show us a view. He had hiked around Jordan Pond and over the South Bubble, which sounded significantly more strenuous than our Cadillac Mountain hike. Unfortunately, when we arrived (in our car) at Jordan Pond, crowds had so inundated it that overflow parking stretched down the road. We decided that Jordan Pond would be there tomorrow, and instead made our meandering way down to the Bass Harbor Head Light, or something with a name like that. A lunch stop at a random pull-out in the road involved meat sandwiches and Dad giving himself a rather dazzling slice on a finger with one of our new butter knives. We watched a lobster boat and a couple of kayakers make their way down the harbor. Eventually we squeezed back into the excessively-loaded car for the remainder of the trip, which I missed because I fell asleep and awoke at the light house. Although picturesque, this had little to commend it, since it only involved a tiny spit of boulder-strewn beach topped with the light house. However, we made the best of it and looked in tide pools (a few limpets, zillions of barnacles and periwinkle snails, not much else), clambered around on the rocks, photographed the light house, read the informational plaque, and enjoyed the sunshine.
Showers, in order after a sweaty day of hiking and riding in the car, followed. We each paid $1.50 for four minutes of “guaranteed HOT SHOWERS”—unluckily for us, at a time when 90% of the other campers in the Blackwood campground wanted their hot showers. Turnover in the men’s showers proceeded rapidly, but women—and their innumerable children—took many dollars’ worth of time to get clean. Mom and I waited… and waited… and waited… Until the men’s shower became miraculously free of all men. Then we, one other lady, and the lady’s husband, all hustled into the showers.
As Mom and I left, an old man who had to wait because three women occupied the showers made a remarkably vitriolic comment about how if men did that, women would whine or something. We moved along, having taken the minimum four minutes each.
5. Carriage Paths and Rented Bicycles
We rented (decently maintained, if heavy) mountain bikes on Wednesday evening and spent Thursday riding on the carriage paths, first from our camp site to Jordan Pond, and then around the Pond area. Mom and I let Dad go off on his own while Ian cooled his heels at Jordan Pond House. We made our more cautious way around, enjoying the overcast but warm-enough-for-comfort day. I loved the trails, and as we gained facility at riding on the gravel and maneuvering the ungainly bikes with their enormously wide tires (“You’d have to be an idiot to tip over on these,” I unwisely remarked. Fortunately I did not prove myself an idiot that time, at least), we enjoyed ourselves more. Lots of people appeared on the paths as the day went by, including one lady with a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppy—far and away the cutest puppy I’ve seen in some time, and a member of the breed I’ve daydreamed of owning for years. Due to some unfortunate confusion and not consulting a map, Mom and I got somewhat lost on our way back to Jordan House for lunch. We ended up a couple miles along the trail paralleling Jordan Pond in the almost opposite direction of Jordan Pond House, but we agreed later that it proved well, giving us more time for a nice talk as we rode.
Lunch, which Ian obtained for us by getting in line as soon as it formed while the rest of us were still out pedaling, involved popovers. The rest of the food proved delightful, too, but in my mind the popovers really made it worth the trip.
6. Everything Else
We ate at an establishment called the Lighthouse Restaurant, located in picturesque Seal Harbor, one evening. No description of mine could do it justice. However, I will say that in addition to being housed in a lovely old building, the restaurant had a bar with mirror panes straight from the 1960s—imagine gold marbling in each tile and you’ve got a good picture—laminated place mats with a grainy picture of Seal Harbor on them, very nice tables and chairs, fresh flowers and fairly tasteful lighthouse candle-holders at each table, a chef with an artistic sense far more developed than any we’ve collectively encountered before (more on that momentarily), and, most of all, the mermaid. The mermaid was a statue with a strategically-placed lei draped around her neck. She was situated in a far, dim corner of the empty restaurant in what could have been a shrine to the Virgin
Mary. Exotic cacti and other plants (all real—Mom and I looked) surrounded her, and nestled among the leaves were lawn ornaments of animals: a fawn, a squirrel, others I’ve forgotten. A blue light illuminated the mermaid and her entourage from below.
The restaurant, as I say, was completely empty when we arrived. One young waiter, probably just over 21, staffed the entire room. We surmised the presence of a chef, but the waiter disappeared for long stretches into the kitchen, so we also surmised that he helped prepare salads and so forth. He attended us carefully, but we had to ask for more water three or four times. Yet in addition to the mermaid, food presentation was the defining feature of the restaurant. Each plate came with a fresh lily head nestled carefully on it; my soup arrived on double-layered plates with paper doilies beneath each plate. Most of all, when another couple (more customers!) ordered the lobster, it came out in a dazzling display, carefully propped up on its back, legs carefully folded; a votive candle on the plate kept the butter above it melted. We all gawked unashamedly; I wish we’d gotten a picture. The man in the kitchen really cared about his food presentation, somewhat to the detriment of the food itself—the peach and blueberry cobbler Dad and I ordered tasted burned. However, in all we enjoyed the restaurant and had quite an experience.
The other thing I don’t want to miss is Fort Knox. Not the one with money in it, but the one we stumbled upon as we drove home on Route 1 in Maine. This Fort Knox, built in the 1850s, is almost totally open to the public. They recommend bringing flash lights if you have them, which gave us an inkling of how cool it would be. Turns out it was much more extensive and cooler than we ever expected or imagined. It was built of granite with buttressed brick ceilings and worn brick floors. It had long, dark passages, secret nooks and rooms everywhere, a few original cannon still in place, lots of twisty stairways, multiple levels, and even an educational section with a sample room set up as the original soldiers would have had. I spent the first ten minutes exclaiming “Cool!” and the next ten minutes reminding myself not to continue the exclamations of excitement. We wandered through the delightfully dark, dank passageways, trying to avoid the two buses’ worth of YMCA Summer Camp kids screaming and dashing around, for over an hour. Then we had a nice picnic lunch in the shade of some big pine trees overlooking the wide river. And thence back home along Route 1 and eventually to a freeway when we got tired of the low speed-limits and snarly traffic in small downtowns.
I drank so much water on the drive home we had to stop three times for me to pee.
That was our trip to Acadia. We left with the knowledge that while Acadia was not a park of firsts or bests or superlatives — it has no Grand Canyon or Old Faithful — it has its many small gifts. Yet it was the first national park east of the Mississippi and it contains the tallest peak (truly! Cadillac Mountain, at 1500 feet!) on the East coast. The many small gifts of beauty, peace, blah blah blah that I have forgotten since seeing the free inspirational 15-minute video at the visitor center, remain with us to this day. Huzzah!