A Postcard from Maine
“I would rather feel bad in Maine, than feel good anywhere else.” –– E.B. White
In a car approximately the size of a one-bedroom London flat, cruising down back roads shaded by a dense canopy of beech and maple trees coloured every conceivable shade of red and orange, you can see why Maine has taken in artists and wanderers and those who just want to slow down (and eat loads of lobster) for a while. Locals call the coaches full of people who travel from all over to see the season slowly melt from summer into fall, ‘leaf peepers.’ They are the platonic ideal of leaves. The sort you’d want to travel a great distance to get a peep at.
Joined by our friends from Sebago, we begin our journey in Portland (no, not that one), a sleepy city on the water. There’s a diner called Becky’s that opens at 5AM for the trawlermen, who still cast their nets and lobster pots into the Atlantic each day. Laminate tables and black and white photos on the walls, a corner booth and lights that flicker in the evening gloom. It’s all very filmic.
On the shores of Sebago Lake we sit on a deck dappled in late afternoon sunshine and watch as a blue heron stands still, a peculiar hunter with beak and eyes primed for fishing. A single spindly pine tree casts a lonely figure on an island in the distance, the clean water lapping softly against a rocky outcrop. In the evening we grill lobsters and clams — referred to as local steamers by Mainers.
From Naples (no, not that one), just down the road, we take a 70s seaplane that skids out of the water like a heavy tin pelican, lurching into an iron sky, a fresh view of the leaves blurring into a mass of brilliant colour far below. On the original Route 1 we drop in at Kelley’s Sebago Diner. The waitress, Victoria, recommends the steak sub and says she speaks with an English accent when she’s had a drink or two.
A road trip appears as a series of small memories and hand-painted signs: Shed City, Big Al’s Fireworks, Wicked Good Restaurant and Bob’s Place. We eat oysters on the deck of Ken's boat, a local fisherman and restaurateur who spends his time on the waters outside of Freeport. "In the winter it gets so cold you're breaking through sea ice sometimes," he says. Today cormorants bob alongside us as shellfish is plucked straight from the water, a hazy sun sending a low shimmer across the surface.
We're told that this area is a “hidden gem” by those who know about these sorts of things. There's a lobster pound over at Wiscasset that might have had a queue from the very moment it opened… and deservingly so.
We pile into a Land Rover Defender and make for Frye Island, a rickety ferry, soft sand and thickets of pine trees, most of the vacation set long departed from their summer homes. The radio blares with the smooth, smooth sounds of 102.9, Maine’s classic rock station. Around the endless coast is Acadia and then Canada, from a farmer’s misty orchard you can see the mountains over towards Vermont. Maine is a dense network of islands and rocky outcrops; clapboard houses and general stores set back from the forest and frozen in time. There's plenty of space.
Each evening we head back to the cabin on the lake, the grill is fired up and friends gather around the table. There’s baseball on in the background and the sound of fireworks somewhere off in the distance.
A few stars peek out from the black sky as the embers burn down, and conversation turns towards the next day’s journey.