On the outskirts of town, we stop at a used bookstore & antique shop. I pick up a reissue of Black Sun and Em Ell finds me an old Western shirt with snaps down the front. Twenty minutes later as we pull into our place for the week, I hear the first hermit thrushes. That night I crack open the book and read Abbey’s words in the first paragraph: “He hears the flutelike song, cool as silver, of a hermit thrush.” Fiction mirrors life, every single time. If it’s good and true, that is.
Maine’s natural beauty, both rugged and fine, bowled me over. I came as a pilgrim, seeking solace from the noisy, angry city streets, and I left a zealot, prepared to spread the gospel. Maybe better to keep it to myself, I thought later, though, don’t want to spoil a good thing anymore than it’s already been spoiled, which is surprisingly very little, as evidenced by views such as this:
We explored by boat, by foot, by bike, by kayak, and again by foot. I saw and/or heard 62 species of birds (several of them were lifers), a little lower than my expectations, but considering I did very little dedicated birding, not bad by a long shot. We climbed in the mountains, topping out somewhere around 1160 feet. We kayaked with the loons and listened to their haunting song. This particular loon seemed unimpressed with us:
The one day I went out by myself specifically to go birding was cool and rainy. I woke at 6 AM to the sound of steady rain and almost decided not to go. I lay back down in bed, but I just kept thinking about how I am only in this place for one more day. So I went. At my first stop, deep in the park on the western side of the island, I found myself surrounded by ravens scronking their unearthly calls in the trees. I’d hear sounds like churning helicopter blades, and look up to see another raven flapping its wings, off to unknown places. I then found myself slightly off-track due to a confusing turn in the trail. So I returned to the car and drove on twisting gravel roads to the place I was looking for. I’d planned out this excursion using a birding guide to Mount Desert Island. This first place ended up a bust, though. There I was deep in the forest, and all I could find was a robin and some mourning doves. I can find those birds in my backyard any day of the week! But they don’t get to see this:
A curious thing about birding that you learn early on is that the most beautiful isolated places in the world are not necessarily the birdiest places. In fact, they are often not very birdy at all. Birders often find themselves hanging around water treatment plants, landfills, parking lots, and disgusting ponds behind shopping centers. Birds don’t care what a place looks like, per se, as song as their needs are met. On this particular day in Maine, I was experiencing this phenomenon. It’s hard to be upset at a lack of birds, though, when there is so much else to look at, such as this White Admiral butterfly.
I left the forest and headed to the western coast, where I hiked in to some land preserved by the Nature Conservancy. This was a tract of towering white cedars, red spruce, and balsam firs that were untouched by the great fire of 1947. The trail, gnarled with massive tree roots, wound a circuitous route to the beach. When it opened up out of the forest, I found singing warblers, most very high in the trees. Busy woodpeckers worked the lower trunks. A winter wren trilled its bubbling song. I only lingered for a little while, though, as I’d already been out for several hours.
Later that day we explored the Wonderland and Ship Harbor trails in the southwestern section of the park. It was quite birdy there, and we saw a bald eagle land off-shore on some exposed rocks where a group of gulls was roosting. The gulls were none too pleased with the eagle and started dive-bombing it. I forgot the camera in the car during these hikes so I don’t have any visuals. But here is where we hiked to the very next morning:
After climbing mountains that last day, we returned to home base. I needed to reflect and absorb, as I felt the end of this time nearing and my state of mind already shifting. Near our place, at the bottom of a long cascading series of wooden steps lies a rocky beach. I go there, close my eyes and hear the tide wash in and recede. I open my eyes and see that large smooth stone on the beach as my soul, washed as it has been by the saltwater tonic of this place. I want to distill the salt-laced air, the fragrant pine boughs, the views of aching beauty, the hermit thrush’s song–take it all and fill a tiny bottle to carry with me and open to breathe in as needed. But the grains of my recollections will instead likely drift away over time in the stale winds of the day-to-day. Perhaps, though, if I concentrate hard enough, I can keep some of the uniqueness of what I saw cloistered deep within my mind, where nothing from the outside can ever destroy it.