This morning finds me on the deck of a house overlooking Penobscot Bay, with a surprisingly good views of Cadillac Mountain in the distance. This is our first trip to this part of the Maine coast. With the exception of Bar Harbor, aka Rodeo Drive North, the Maine coast gets less and less commercial the further up, and out, you go. Our usual digs, about 60 miles south of here, are appreciably more touristy than the place in which we now find ourselves. That is to say, they are appreciably more cluttered with out-of-state license plates, especially New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey plates, than this area, which appears to be a Favored Stomping Ground of Mainers.
Perhaps this explains the puns. Perhaps there is something that comes with living in a state whose name is a homonym for a common noun and a common adjective. I say this because I could swear that every third shop on the way up was called “Mainely [insert virtually random part of speech here]”. Mainely Quilting. Mainely Sewing. Mainely Boatbuilding. Mainely Landscaping. Mainely Urns and Memorials. Mainely Woodworks. Mainely Chair Caning. Mainely Boats. Mainely Custom By Design.
Don’t take my word for it. Just fire up the internet search engine of your choice, and type “mainely” into the box. All those hits? Yup. Um, and that includes “Mainely Hawaii”.
The title of the post notwithstanding, we have had no rain here, on the Main or on Maine, even Mainely So.
I’ve just Gone Native, that’s all.
Usually we stay at inns when we traipse off to the Maine coast, but last year we tried something different: we rented a house with a group of friends. It was an entirely different experience, especially when it came to packing up a weeks’ worth of groceries along with a weeks’ worth of clothing for an uncertain meteorological zone, and a weeks’ worth of sporting goods. But it was great fun, and so this year, we decided to find a small house that would be just right for the two of us…and, since we were in an exploring mood, we set out for Parts Unknown.
Which brings us to this cottage, where I sit on the back porch looking out over Penobscot Bay, and attempting to determine – without consulting a chart – whether the tide is on the way in or on the way out. At high tide, the water laps at the lower of the two decks, and there are steps that one can descend to enter directly into the water.
If one chooses to do so…and the circumstances under which I can envision choosing to do so are extremely limited, given that the average water temperature here-and-now is 63 degrees.
Yesterday, in fact, we encountered one of those very uncommon circumstances – when we arrived, it was clear that the Vicious Heat Wave that has been gripping lower New England for the last couple of weeks had extended its hellish tentacles up to embrace the midcoast of Maine. It was 87 degrees, and humid. Not at all the conditions one wishes for unloading the camel and setting up the pavilion, especially when the pavilion lacks air-conditioning. Why bother with AC when the number of days it’s actually needed during the year can be counted on two hands? Unfortunately, yesterday was one of those. Which is why, once we were settled in, it looked like a Good Idea to Go For A Swim.
And yes, we were already aware that the average temperature of the water was 63 degrees.
Let me explain something about “average water temperatures”. I have no idea how those numbers are developed. Because anyone who has snorkeled, or holds a SCUBA cert, knows that the ocean has thermoclines. The ocean is not one big homogeneous body of water, children. It’s more like a liquid H2O Layer Cake. And it’s a Layer Cake with Frosting, too, because it’s not like you get a neatly and smoothly graded change in temperatures as you go down. There is some kind of palpable line where the new thermocline starts.
Nowhere could this be more evident than in Penobscot Bay yesterday afternoon. The tide was going out, which meant that we descended the stairs and made our way over a huge expanse of slimy rocks of irregular shape and size to the edge of the water, and started to get wet. At first, it was “Oh, I’ll just put my feet in” because I do have some experience with the Atlantic along the northern coast, and I’ve never gone swimming in it. Too hard to get hot enough to make that seem like a good idea.
But it was surprisingly nice. I guess we’d gotten That Hot. So then it’s “Well, maybe up to the calves.” and then “Maybe up to the knees.” Both of us wanting very much to go for that swim, because it really was That Hot…and both of us understanding what it means to Go For A Swim in Maine.
Everyone here does something on the water. Fishing, kayaking, sailing, you name it. But very few people do things in the water. You can find the occasional very small sand beach absolutely bursting with humanity…but then the only people you actually see in the water are children between the ages of 8 and 15. Children of that age, as we all know, are made of rubber and impervious to the elements. This is why.
So…Roy waded in far enough that the bottom edge of his trunks got wet, at which point I suggested that if his suit was wet anywhere, he needed to get it wet everywhere.
He bought that argument, for some reason, and dove in. Then floated about, telling me how great the water was, and generally tormenting me until I too took the plunge.
That’s when I met the thermoclines. I could say that the water was Mainely 63 degrees. Meaning that the top 4 to 6 inches was a balmy 70-something, and the next foot was 60-something, and everything below that was in the 50s. It’s fine if you just float. Unfortunately, I remembered almost instantly that I don’t. I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to float worth a darn. Not in the pool, not in the ocean. The part of my body that has air in it – lungs and parts north – will float, but absolutely nothing else will. Which left me, there, bobbing very briefly with my shoulders out in 88 degree sun, my lungs in 70-something water, and everything south of my navel in the 50s.
It was a tremendous incentive to keep moving.
It also, ultimately, did the trick for resetting the old personal climate management system. Neither of us were in the least bit “hot” for the rest of the evening and into the night.
Now we seem to be returning to our Regularly Scheduled Weather, and – one hopes – the urge to swim will not strike again.
We celebrated the first day of our vacation in the Time Honored Manner: a trip to the local lobster pound.
Roy does not eat lobster, but enjoys the spectacle ofme eating lobster. This has something to do with my personal conviction that I carry the moral burden of consuming every viable scrap of an animal who was killed strictly in order for me to eat. So Roy orders up a piece of fish and some sides, and watches the carnage unfold across the table.
The carnage last night was even more spectacular than usual. The lobster pound we went to was about as Old School as you can get. Right on the water, satisfying my Sole Requirement for a lobster dinner (that I be able tosee the lobster traps from my table), pumping seawater in for the little cannibals to live in until summoned to give their all for the Circle of Life, staffed with a combination of Portuguese fishermen, African nationals, and local college students. Housed in a corrugated tin building with picnic tables out back. This was even more Old School than my usual pound because they didn’t sell beer or ice cream, and theydidn’t provide lobstercrackers. I don’t mean the edible kind, I mean the kind you use to crack the lobster shell. What they did, instead, was whack the cooked lobster a couple of times with a cleaver.
What this means is that, in addition to the usual carnage that Roy loves to watch so much was added the additional spectacle of watching me tear the lobster apart with my teeth. Because, really, how else was I supposed to get the meat out of the shell?
As fun as that was, next time, I’m bringing the crackers from the cottage down to the pound. And finally, I am able to conclude that the tide is going out. My only objective for the day has already been satisfied, and it’s time to go find out what the future holds. Or the future Mainely holds.