Unique trip to Maine

The best wildlife safari

Maine

Photo: Kevin Crosby

The moose-crossing signs on I-95 always crack me up. I’m convinced they are only there to get some oohs and ahhs out of innocent tourists who are heading north. Of course, precautions should always be taken, and there are certainly better chances of seeing moose on a Maine rural highway than in New Jersey, but the chances are slim to none of seeing one on a main drag.

Take the Waterville exit and head North to Jackman, and moose sightings are almost guaranteed. As you pass Caratunk and head into rafting country in The Forks keep your eyes peeled for the lumbering giants of the north. Keep going on to Jackman and your chances of seeing a moose – or many – grow exponentially.

While you’re up there you might as well choose from one of the many rafting companies to guide you in running the class 3-4 white water of the Kennebec River. Crab Apple stands out as the best in my mind.

The best meal in the woods

Foodies agree that Portland, ME has reached an all-time high as one of the best cities in the US for amazing food. This culinary blossoming has been covered by all the media biggies, such as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and The New York Times, and has brought a record-breaking number of gourmet tourists to the state.

This foodie wave has spread far past Portland. Spring Creek BBQ in little Monson is a bustling example. The front-porch-with-rockers, backyard-smoker, tin-can hot spot has gathered a following in the 680-person town, to say nothing of the outdoor crowds passing through on their way to some of the best hikes in the state.

Get yourself to nearby Borestone Mountain for a quick day hike (the longest trail is only 3.5 miles roundtrip), then reward yourself with a messy and mouth-watering dinner at Spring Creek.

The most rewarding day hike

Maine

Photo: Dana Moos

Right next door to beloved Popham Beach lies a little hike through coastal forests that rewards you with a view, without you having to sweat it up thousands of feet in elevation. The trail over Morse Mountain is only about two miles long and skirts the edges of the 600-acre Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area. The old road trail is wide and easily managed by kids and newbies, as it winds its way through forests and wetlands.

But the end of the hike is what makes this trip a must. You arrive at Seawall Beach, a long stretch of pristine protected waters. This beach is not for those who immediately seek out the concession stand. The area’s beauty is partly because it is part of the Maine’s conservation acreage, and management has made a huge effort to keep hikers well informed of what this means for their behavior and for the land. So, as long as you don’t feed the seagulls, chug some beers and pitch a volleyball net, the almost always empty shoreline is as close to the perfect Maine beach as you will find.

The best cocktail with a view

Inland is where the number of out-of-state tourists drops dramatically, and where you’ll find the locals on vacation in typical Mainer style — upta camp. The lakes are lined with rustic cabins which often are part of old family traditions. Nowadays it’s hard to find a spot on a lake without paying an arm and a leg for it, but that’s what Kawanhee Inn and Restaurant are there for.

This place has all the character of an old log cabin, but the updates of a gourmet, fine dining restaurant. Grab your drink of choice and find an Adirondack chair on the state’s best back porch, to enjoy the view of Webb Lake and great dining. It’s just like being upta camp, but with the welcome addition of a bartender serving your drinks.

The best swimming hole

This spot is hardly known, even by those who live in the area. If you can find it, then it’s usually all yours. A funky woods trail, lined with weird signs, abstract artwork, and even a little dog house winds through Eastman Park in Phillips, to the Sandy River. The giant boulders make a perfect base camp for the day’s exploration, shaded by the trees and tucked beside the flowing current. Pick your spot.
The Sandy has carved out smooth divots and holes over thousands of years, creating hundreds of crystal clear swimming pools. Rock hop your way up shore and jump in for a natural water slide downstream. Choose your route wisely. Rocks can suddenly appear.

The best of Mount Desert Island

Maine

Photo: Jeff Gunn

If you’ve always wanted to check out Mount Desert Island, take just a short break in Bar Harbor. While the little seaside village has some great food (Morning Glory Bakery bagels are worth a stop) and some awesome pubs (The Lompoc is a must-do) you’ve got the rest of the island to see.

Continue on rt. 3 to find The Burning Tree Restaurant, whose vegetables and herbs come from their own greenhouses. Go a few miles further and search for Little Hunters Beach — an almost always vacant cobblestone beach at the end of a twisting forest path. Explore for a peaceful while, then drive on to Northeast Harbor for the famous donuts at Colonel’s Restaurant. If you’re feeling energized and want to keep going, swing through Southwest Harbor.

The best museum

If you’re planning on visiting Baxter State Park, be sure to stop in next door for one of the state’s best museums of local history. You’ll learn things you didn’t know, i.e. aside from lobsters, lumber is one of Maine’s biggest exports and has been since the early 1600s.

The Patten Lumbermen’s Museum details the work of the loggers, who would float the year’s harvest of logs down the Penobscot River all the way to Bangor to be shipped all over the world. This rich history is exemplified at the museum with old-timey photos and artifacts that pay homage to this piece of Maine’s heritage. The humble, unassuming museum is worth the stop if you’ve made it that far north in the state.

The best music festival

Arootsakoostik, The best music festival in Northern Maine has lined up some well-known names on their small, hand-built stage which lies in the middle of sloping fields and looming mountains. The steadily expanding festival just celebrated its 10th-anniversary last summer. Rumor has it they might be taking a break for a while, or maybe just adjusting the sails, but in the meantime, check out Eureka Hall Restaurant in the neighboring town of Stockholm for good food and to catch a live show. Eureka is home to Arootsakoostik’s founder, Travis Cyr, who manages the music line up for the popular spot.

The best eco-friendly spa

Nurture Through Nature, a spa resort with an eco-twist will help you get your body and mind out of the city (way out of the city), and encourage you to reconnect with the earth and your inner self.

The cozy yurts and cabins come complete with organic teas and coffee. There are yoga classes, guided meditations, a traditional Finnish sauna and Swedish massage – all of it designed to be in harmony with its natural setting.

climate-change-transformed-Maine

Every morning I walk my border collie across our driveway to a field next door. I don’t own the field, but it’s obvious nobody’s come to visit in years. A small red cabin sits in the distance, the door is locked and you have to duck under a drooping power line to peek in the windows. Hawthorne is starting to take over all around it. This is where I complete a monotonous first task of the morning, throwing a tennis ball and waiting for my dog to retrieve it.

What’s great about having a dog is that they always get you out. I’ve noticed so much about nature by just being with my dog. When I take him to run in this field, one thought plagues me each day, especially now that it’s the second week of February.

Why isn’t there any snow?

This time last year, I was somewhere in the southwestern United States, driving to Mexico with my boyfriend. When we returned home in spring, we were told that we missed a shitty winter — there wasn’t any snow, it was rainy, wet, and cold every day. No point in going out.

Something about Maine that you have to get used to when you live here is that people talk about winter all year long. In July and August, people are talking about January and February. This summer, we all had high hopes for a snowy season — the Farmer’s Almanac had called for one.

But November, December, and January have gone by and there’s been limited snow. If we do get a small storm, it burns off in unseasonable heat the next day.

Is it climate change? Is the earth just on some kind of cycle? Does it even matter which? The truth is that Maine is now different and our seasons are disappearing. That’s been the case for at least a few years, or my entire lifetime. Older Mainers claim they’ve been noticing these changes for decades on end.

When I asked my boyfriend how he has seen Maine transform in his lifetime, he said: “When I was a kid, I had to wear a snowsuit on Halloween. This year I went swimming.”

Maine’s temperature has increased three degrees since the year 1901. Alaska has experienced the same increase in the same amount of time, even a little more. Maybe three degrees doesn’t seem like a lot on paper, but if you live here, you’d have to be in denial not to notice the difference.

The absence of a Maine winter is not the only thing that makes me think climate change has taken a hold on this place. The one thing my mother loves to do is garden. And she’s been in Maine for 40 or so years longer than I have, digging in soil that she claims has transformed drastically. When I asked her about climate change, she talked about her plants.

“These past few winters the ground has varied from not freezing at all to freezing shallow. Adding to that a longer January thaw and earlier spring thaw have let the underworld of soil pests and disease flourish. I’ve not had storable apples, flea beetles wreak havoc on my newly planted veggies, while various fungi diminish my tomato and squash yields.”

My friend Molly is a head gardener on a Mount Desert Island estate. I asked her the same question and she brought up pests as well, claiming they return earlier in the season and with an even bigger vengeance than the year before.

Maine is a lush, biodiverse place. It’s not the desert. But my mother says the dryness in mid-summer has caused her to seek out flowers that are drought-tolerant so she can prioritize watering her vegetables in August.

When I drove across the country last winter, I spent days and days driving through arid, desert land. It made me think about home, and how lucky I am to be from a place that despite popular belief, can host pretty much any type of plant — my mother has grown anything from peaches to kiwis without any issue. And Molly has told me that because of Maine’s temperature changes, she was able to plant tomatoes outside on Memorial Day weekend last year, and they did really well. Usually, Maine farmers would wait until the end of June to bring their tomatoes outside, so there might be a way to work with these newfound differences. As I was driving through those desolate landscapes, my mother was probably back home placing a Fedco seed order for echinacea, snap-dragons, and marigolds.

When I hear about the changes my fellow Mainers have watched within their lifetimes, I wonder if within my own I’ll see Maine transform into that same dry landscape I saw out west.

Molly and my mother bring up pests, and I’ve noticed them myself. From July until November I was camping out on my property with my dog. Each night before bed, I had to wrangle him to the ground and sit on top of him so I could locate ticks and throw them one by one into the fire. Each night I picked off at least twenty, easily. I stopped counting after that because it was too disgusting for me to imagine all those little animals trying to suck him dry. In recent years, Maine moose have been found dead in Northern Maine. Their cause of death: sucked dry by ticks.

The whole life of a tick is centered around finding a warm host before winter. In the fall they can be found at the tops of long blades of grass, with their arms spread open, hoping to catch a ride on someone bigger. We’ve always depended on a cold winter to kill them off, but that hasn’t been the case for several years. There are two types of ticks in Maine: dog ticks and deer ticks. One out of every five of the latter carry Lyme Disease.

I hadn’t even heard of Lyme Disease until my early 20s. Last year, I had to be treated for it.

So what should we do with all this evidence of climate change? Should we ignore it, chock it up to a ‘cycle’? Or should we place it far off in the distance, something that will happen to our grandchildren’s children’s children, even though it’s happening to us right now?

I think we’ve come too far to just see what happens. The most we can do is stay on top of the political system, calling your representatives each day to remind them that there’s a natural world outside their offices. And it’s suffering. The very least we can do is control how we live our personal lives. How we buy products, which companies we choose to support, whether or not we challenge our family members who deny that climate change is real.

When I think about climate change and its impact on my home, I feel worried. I don’t want this place to change, I want the Maine I signed up for when I put a down payment on a piece of acreage this past spring. But I know we’ll persevere, even if the deserts do reach us eventually.

Map: Portland, Maine’s Hottest Restaurants

Gridskipper-Restaurants-of-the-moment-portland.jpg
[Photo: Corey Templeton]

Today we head to Portland, Maine, the city Bon Appétit called “America’s foodiest small town,” and focus on twelve newish locales that have been garnering strong buzz. For this edition, Anestes Fotiades of Portland Food Map and Dawn Hagin of Appetite Portland have shared with us their picks for the hottest dining their city currently has to offer.

Here now, the Restaurants of the Moment of Portland, Maine.