Paradise in the woods, My Favorite PlaceWhen I first...

Personal Journeys

July 12, 1998|By Anne Kefauver | Anne Kefauver,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Paradise in the woods, My Favorite Place

When I first stepped onto the porch of Balsam Ledges and saw the seascape that glimmered through a portal of craggy Maine woods, I felt a little unnerved, as though I was still in downtown Baltimore, hallucinating at the corner of St. Paul and Centre under a withering August sun.

"We're going to be here for a month, right?" I asked my husband again as he came in with some luggage. Grinning broadly, he answered, "Yes. A month. In Maine. We are off, Honey. I'm unpacking the books and booze first."

Balsam Ledges was the comically Gothic name of the small summer cottage we rented in Southwest Harbor, on Mount Desert Island, Maine, in August 1986. It sat at the end of a winding dirt road that cut through the woods. True to its name, the little house was surrounded by fresh-scented balsam fir trees, all in twisted configurations from years of wind and sea spray. The firs were underlaid by wild blueberry vines and rosa rugosa shrubs, whose fall hips were so large we called them "sea tomatoes."

The "ledges" sat low over a rocky crescent beach, which shone pink and gold in the sunsets, and sheltered thousands of graceful periwinkle shells ripe for beachcombing.

Paradise, found.

We ate truckloads of Maine "lobstah" at the local lobster pound. We couldn't think why we had been so in love with the puny Maryland crab as we stuffed our cheeks full of white lobster meat, dripping with butter.

We bought quarts of fresh-picked blueberries at tiny roadside stands and munched on them as we read, chaise by chaise, on our porch, and looked up at the blue-gray Maine horizon over the rims of our wine glasses.

One day we were eating breakfast at the only Southwest Harbor greasy spoon when we saw (astonishingly) Julia Child, lumbering up the sidewalk, her beloved and much smaller husband in tow, carrying the packages. My husband (a wonderful cook) was much affected. "I hope she doesn't eat here," he muttered.

In the evenings we played pinochle, chuckling and guffawing, just the two of us in the middle of the Maine woods. During one week, my husband set up an infrared beam on his camera outside every night to immortalize a goofy raccoon we called Bert, who usually showed up after 10 to eat our leftovers. Finally Bert tripped the flash. His startled face was looking at us around his ample behind. We blew him up to 11-by-14 inches for grins.

By the time we left Balsam Ledges, fall was in the Maine wind, and the nights dipped into the 40s. Baltimore nights greeted us, holding solid in the 80s. But we were deeply refreshed. Balsam nTC Ledges had been an oracle; it revealed that we could do nothing together all day if we wanted to. It's still what we enjoy the most. And "lobstah," and Maryland crabs (they've never heard of Old Bay in Maine). And sea tomatoes, when we find them.

Anne Kefauver lives in Towson.

WEST VIRGINIA

Dorothea Darago, Baltimore

"We made a mini-vacation out of our road trip down to Louisville, Ky., by spending four days in West Virginia. Just north of Beckley on I-64, we explored the sights of: Hawks Neck State Park, the New River (one of the few to flow northward), the New River Bridge (among the world's longest single-arch, steel-span bridges) and Babcock State Park."

SICILY

Ingrid Castronovo, Timonium

"This island is an amazing way to browse among a multitude of past cultures in one easily traveled place. You can span the centuries beginning with some of the finest Greek temples and ruins in existence, and move onto Roman villas and amphi-theaters, to Norman castles, to Byzantine cathedrals with golden mosaics."

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Pub Date: 7/12/98

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