There are so very many things to love about Maine. Somewhere around the top of the list has got to be the ready availability of inexpensive and unbelievably fresh lobster. I didn’t have lobster at all until I was 33. Poverty-stricken student-hood in Texas is not conducive to development of a penchant for something like lobster. Raw oysters and grilled shrimp, yes. Grilled oysters, as well, a real treat from Frenchy’s on the water down by Mustang Island. But lobsters? No.
The first time I ate lobster was in San Diego, on a business trip, which is why I felt up to springing for the pleasure. I remember it quite well. It was at an outdoor table at a restaurant in the Gaslight, it was Lobster Thermidor, and it was utterly insipid. I couldn’t, to be honest, understand how anyone developed a taste for this, let alone enough of a taste to be willing to spring $40 for a dinner of it. I finished it, and filed Lobster under Thanks, Tried It, Not Interested.
Many years later I found myself up in Southwest Harbor for a birthday getaway trip. Southwest Harbor, for those of you who are not fanatics about Maine, is on the other side of Mount Desert Island from Acadia National Park, one of the biggest, brightest gems in the sparkling crown that is our National Parks System. We drove down to Bass Harbor, where there is a perfect jewel of a classic Maine lighthouse, and went to dinner at a restaurant on the water called, heaven help us, “The Seafood Ketch”. I know knot everyone is knotically oriented, so I will explain that “The Seafood Ketch” is a pun. A bad pun, but aren’t they all?
We had a positively stunning sunset that evening at The Seafood Ketch. I remember it like it was last week: the sky dropped into a blood red glow, and lit the water up like it was on fire. This being my first night in Maine, I didn’t (yet) understand that this happens rarely and is a treasured spectacle when it occurs, but I did – for which I am deeply grateful – have my camera with me to capture the moment.
Fortunately, our table was called after the lurid tones faded from the sky, and we sat to eat. I prepared to order fish and chips. My husband shot me a deeply incredulous look. “I bring you to MAINE and you order FISH AND CHIPS?” I asked what else I should consider. I received the look again, and began to wonder if I’d sprouted a second head, the look was that saturated in disbelief. “Lobster.” he said. “You should get the lobster.”
“Oh, I don’t like lobster” I said.
Another stare. “What?” he said.
“I don’t care for lobster,” I said, and explained about the thermidor and how I’d concluded I just must not be a Lobster Person.
“Lobster? In California? Where do they get lobsters from in California?” he said.
He’s a New York City boy, transplanted to New England, and does not possess what I would consider to be a Broad Spectrum of Experience in some aspects.
I told him I did not know where lobsters came from in California, and he suggested that they got them from Maine, and reiterated his suggestion that I order the lobster. He can be very insistent, and I considered it easier to just go along with this than to argue further.
Jolly good thing I did, too. I do wonder if that lobster I had in San Diego grew up in Maine and just had a somewhat difficult journey across the continent. Eating lobster in Maine is an entirely different experience. I could go on about the freshness, and the freshness, and, well, the freshness of the lobster when you’re eating it from a table where you can clearly see the brightly colored buoys for the lobster traps. Lobster that has been living in a tank is an entirely different experience than lobster that was living on the bottom of the ocean just this morning. So, I could go on about this, but I think I’ll just say that my response to all of this is to rule that if I can’t see the traps from where I’m dining, I don’t bother, but if I can, then I eat it every chance I get.
For me, this means having eaten lobster four times in the last two days. Lobster 1 was consumed at Red’s Eats, a road-side shack with the best lobster rolls in the State of Maine. Every shack claims this, of course, but I’d be willing to lay money on Red’s actually delivering. Their lobster rolls don’t fool around with stuff like mayonnaise, or butter, or green stuff. Or, really, with bread. A Red’s lobster roll is a massive little mountain of freshly picked lobster meat – they do all of the work for you – sort of sitting on top of a piece of Wonderbread. I don’t think the slice of bread is actually meant to be consumed. I think it’s mainly an excuse for calling this a “lobster roll”.
Lobster 2 came at dinner last night on top of a pile of gnocchi, and was seasoned with plenty of garlic, cheese, and rosemary.
Lobster 3 was in a stew at a food truck with picnic tables next to the road.
Lobster 4 was consumed at the lobster pound, with a big ear of super sweet corn and a dish of cole slaw. Also, a cold Shipyard Export (beer), all of this hoovered down while watching the sun set over the lobster-trap-filled harbor (remember: a girl’s gotta have her standards).
So, I guess, it’s really, I’ll See Your Four Lobsters and Raise You A Seal…
The seal comes into it over the Cocktail Hour. The inn that we call Home up here is in a summer colony that has a very lightly traveled road (well, light travel by car) that winds around next to the shoreline and offers a series of stunning vistas at every turn. Speaking of vistas, we also took a hike this afternoon in a land trust property on Barter’s Island, one that offered very nice trail with clearly-marked blazes. You can imagine my delight when one of the trees also had a small hand-painted sign affixed to the trunk that read, simply, “VISTA” with an arrow pointing down a side trail. And it was, too. We ran across perhaps four of these “Vistas”. What sort of place marks interesting tail detours, and uses words like “vista” in public signage? Whatever place that is, I love it.
So. The late afternoon here, after the shrieking packs of free-range children have gone home to take baths or naps or eat their mac-and-cheese, is marked by large-scale Scenic Socializing. It almost seems that every adult on the Point corrals a beverage – a beer, a cocktail, a bottle of wine – and heads out onto the road. Some people flock to the rocks, in readiness to watch and photograph the sunset – one of the distinctions of this particular spot is that you can watch the sun set over the Atlantic – while some roam up and down the road, drinking, birding, chatting, and corralling the social scene for the packs of big hairy friendly dogs.
We joined them today after having High Tea (cheese, crackers, and a ginger beer) out on the public dock float. I lit up a cigar, my husband opened a beer, and we Went Out To Greet The World. The presence of the lit cigar ensured that we weren’t impinged upon by anyone else’s inconsequential chatter, and had our choice of VISTAS from which to view the sinking sun, the islands, and the schooners out plying the Sunset Cruise trade.
What we didn’t expect was that our chosen VISTA also offered a fine view of an odd-ball seal that came into the moorings to fish for dinner. We shot right down to the shore to watch this guy – he was all of two feet off of the dinghy dock at one point, and spent a good ten to fifteen minutes rolling in the water and diving for fish. We lost him briefly in the sun on the water, and discovered him hanging out near the float next to a lobster trap, doubtless drawn in by the bait. I laughed and ran down the ramp to see better. He was just hovering in the water, nose sticking straight up in the air, snorting away like anything, and then he blew towards me and rolled back away.
I’ve seen plenty of seals in this area, but never any this close into shore and in these moorings. Vistas and lobsters included, I would have to say that the seal was the high point of the day. And, I must say, any day that includes a seal is one that cannot be considered to be wasted.