Sunday, July 12, 2015

Maine: Mount Desert Island

     Welcome to Mt. Desert Island Maine.  At 108 square miles, the island is the second largest off of the continental United States, eclipsed only by Long Island New York.  It has a year 'round population of about ten thousand and hosts over two million visitors a year.

     The Indian name for the island was "Pemetic," meaning the sloping land.  Its current name came from the Frenchmen Champlain who visited in 1604.  His journal entry noted that the mountains were barren of vegetation, and thus named it Isle de Mont Deserts - meaning Island with bare mountains.

     The island has numerous small towns and many inlets, coves and harbors.  Pictured above is Egg Island which you encounter when arriving by sea to Bar Harbor, the island's most populated town.

     It is also home to Acadia National Park, the first National Park east of the Mississippi River.  The park encompasses some 47,000 acres of the island.

     The park was started in the early 1900's by one George Dorr, who out of fear of the lumbering companies worked tirelessly to set land aside.  He was able to recruit others and between purchases and donations he cobbled together some 6,000 acres.  He then persuaded Woodrow Wilson to turn it into a national park.  Of interest is that George spent every dime on acquiring land that could be preserved - it is said a collection had to be taken up to cover his burial expenses.  One of the ghost stories of the island is that George still wanders the trails, looking on appreciatively at those who are enjoying the land.

     We meet Dave Donovan, a National Park ranger.

     Dave is a surprisingly spry 70 year old retired high school teacher, having taught Biology, Anatomy and Physiology.  He officially retired eleven years ago, but continued teaching in various schools until about six years ago when he became a ranger here.

     He fits right in with the National Park's mission - which is "to preserve unimpaired natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, inspiration and education of this and future generations."  The charge to share these things with the current generation and to educate is a unique feature of the National Park's Service.  I watched as he interacted with several visitors, and he has that ability to get directly to the point with a gentle hand.  My guess is that the talent came from years of trying to teach complicated subjects to pubescent teens.       

    Dave speaks passionately about this area and the changes it is going through. There are a lot of ecosystems that all contain a lot of diversity here, and they are all undergoing a lot of change.

     Plants that have never grown anywhere close to here - plantlife such as Mountain Laurel and certain species of Magnolia from much further south are showing up in the park.  As the area becomes more populated the real estate prices are surging, which means there are big cultural changes going on as well.  The fauna is changing too, which we will take a closer look at in tomorrow's article.  

     The above photo is taken from the south, and shows the profile of the mountains on the eastern half of the island.  The top of that mountain, Cadillac Mountain, is the first place in the continental United States that daylight falls each morning.  That combined with its northern latitude means that during this time of year it starts getting light here not long after 4 am.

     A quick credit - many thanks to Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company for helping me get the photos taken from the water.

     We will be seeing a lot more of the men and women who work with this company over the next few day.

     There are many gorgeous fresh water lakes, lagoons and ponds on the island.  This is one of David's favorite spots, atop Beech Hill.

     There is a look-out tower up here that is worth the walk up if you are in the area.  

     There are many cave systems - some of them right at the tide line.  This next spot is called "Thunder Hole."

     When the tides come in the waves crash into this cave and create quite a display.  Sometimes when storms are around the waves burst out of the hole, breaking clear up at the second tier of steps.

     I learned of another cave system here from Professor Marcus Librizzi back in Machias.  The local Indians thought that the caves were a portal to their version of hell, and would engage in human sacrifice in an attempt to assuage the demons within.  

    In the early 1700's there was a French trader named Esak Winslow who was particularly brutal with the Indians.  They took him into one of these caves, tied him to a stake, laid brush and wood around him and set it afire.  They left him for dead, but between the wood being green and the water coming in the fire went out.  Esak was able to escape and tell the tale.  

     To this day folks will report hearing strange chanting and seeing odd lights in these caves.

     The relatively easy access to many different areas and a few bold cliff faces make this a favorite spot for those who want to learn mountain climbing.

     The granite in this area is very uniform - desirable for construction work.

     Many a schooner loaded up fifty thousand paving stones at a time from the local docks.  Large buildings and bridges were built with granite from this island, including the Congressional Library, the Philadelphia Mint and the Brooklyn Bridge.  (We saw in Conway NC where the timber for the Brooklyn Bridge came from.)

     If you have a natural resource, folks are going to use it.  There are numerous decorative fences and planters made from the local granite.

       Before the days of electrical refrigeration, the locals here would pack ice in sawdust and then ship it south in the summer season for use in folk's ice boxes.  We heard about Maine ice being shipped in clear back on Cumberland Island Georgia, where the Carnegie's old ice house is now the island's museum.

     One of the island's features is its 57 miles of old carriage trails.

     It seems that automobiles were not allowed on the island until the mid 1900's.  As land was donated to the park the carriage trails were converted into biking and hiking paths.  Over fifty miles of groomed trails run by spring fed lakes and through hardwood and spruce forests - a biker's dream.

     One of the recent events that had a big impact on the island today was a fire in 1947.

     That summer, this area only got about half of a normal year's rainfall.  The vegetation all dried out, and by that fall it was prime for a disaster.

     The fire started October 16th - starting off small enough in a cranberry bog, but growing and intensifying as strong winds moved in.

     Locals were trying to battle the blaze with rakes and shovels - hardly any defense against that type of inferno.

     Old accounts talk about a motorcade trying to escape, being led by a bulldozer and pelted with embers as they worked their way off the island.  Other accounts talk about 3,500 people standing on the piers in Bar Harbor, waiting to be rescued by sea.  In the end, the fire raced down a point and "blew itself out over the ocean in a giant fireball" - according to witnesses at the time.  Hundreds of homes and businesses along with 17,000 acres of land were burned, and the fire smoldered underground for four weeks.

     Vegetation returned to the land naturally.  Trees such as aspen and beech have now matured to the point that the shade loving spruce are just now starting to take hold again.

     The diverse landscapes proved a great spot for artists to draw inspiration.  It became a popular artist's destination in the mid 1800's when artists from the Hudson River School made it famous with their renditions.  Summer after summer more and more artists flocked here.  At first they rented fishermen's cottages, but in time a hotel industry built up to accommodate them - the beginnings of the tourism business the area enjoys today.  It remains a popular destination for today's artists as well.

     Alongside a road running beside one of the smaller harbors we meet Joe Keiffer from New York.

     Joe is here doing "sketches" to assist him when he does more intricate pieces later.  Joe started painting when he was 17 during a visit to Paris.  He attended college there, where he graduated from studies in philosophy and art history.

     After working for years as an art appraiser and as president of an art foundation, he is now able to devote himself full time to his art.  This is the scene he was working on:

     Joe says he learned far more about painting by being immersed in reality than he did in art school.  You can check out his website Here.

     The area has numerous mansions built along the shores - in fact most of Acadia National Park is the result of lands that the Rockefellers donated.  To celebrate his 100th birthday last month, David Rockefeller just donated another 1000 acres to the park.

     We see all the same names here that we saw on Jekyll Island Georgia - Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt etc.  They wintered in Georgia and spent the summers here.

     The fire of 1947 wiped out many of the original mansions, but there are many that grace the shores all around the island today.     

     Some of the more recent famous names that summer here are Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Martha Stewart.

     It is said that Martha Stewart has her servants clean the lawn and then lay out only the most "perfect" pine cones.  Someone joked that she probably wishes she could capture the chipmunks and squirrels and groom them on a regular basis.

     A common feature of the Maine coast is the regular landfall of the fog that often lurks just offshore.  

     The fellow who had this next house built had the tower made with soundproofing and triple pane windows so that he could concentrate on his business.  Turns out, the fog horn out on Egg Island aimed directly at his house.  After much whining and a few years of manipulation he finally got them to move the fog horn a couple of degrees.

     When the fog rolls in, the temperatures drop quickly.  The locals carry a jacket along - vacationers are not always so savvy.

     Want to hang out like you are filthy rich for a week?  You can rent entire islands here.  This one has a neat dock.

     I am not sure what the arch signifies, but it looks cool.

     From what I could find, these remote island rentals go for $3,000 to $15,000 a week.  Let me know when you are coming - I will be happy to visit and get a few photos for you.

     And that brings us to today's "Faces in the Crowd."

     And today's parting shot, taken beside the causeway out to the island.

"Your" - You're" - what's the difference when y'all is sick of lobstuh?

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Have an awesome day !!

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