A Maine

For All Seasons

Autumn is an especially beautiful time to visit, but so is winter, spring and summer

Fall Getaway Section

October 08, 2006|By Larry Williams | Larry Williams,[Sun reporter]

ON A CLOUDLESS DAY in August, you are floating silently on a tranquil pond, rimmed by fields of brilliant white water lilies and flanked by grassy hillsides. The images of two distant stony peaks ripple in water so clear you can see the bottom far below. A small stream curves its way into a seaside marsh bordering the gray-green ocean beyond.

It's not heaven. It's Maine.

You're in a peaceful corner of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island on a beautiful summer afternoon. There's no better place to commune with nature and heal the soul than the rocky coast of Down East Maine in August.

But there's a surprising secret that even the most ecstatic summer visitors miss: Maine can be wonderful to explore in every season.

Consider, for instance, the fall.

Brilliant foliage offers a sharp contrast to bright green meadows in coastal Maine. Riding bicycles on Acadia carriage paths that circle mountains and hover on the edge of hidden ponds is an unforgettable treat.

There are apple orchards to visit, and lovely mountain trails to hike on cool fall days. For the bravest, there is the curving knife edge trail at Mount Katahdin, at 5,200 feet, the state's highest peak and the northern terminus of the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail, deep in the woods of Baxter State Park and far from the shore crowds.

Farther north, there might be an opportunity for a late-season expedition up the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a 92-mile ribbon of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams in the heart of northern Maine's sweeping forests.

After the first frost, the rocky blueberry fields turn a striking crimson and the weather turns changeable. Swirling gray and white clouds turn a sunny walk into a stormy adventure.

Church suppers, advertised in local weekly newspapers and frequently punctuated with homemade music, offer friendly company that belies the reticent reputation of small-town Maine.

Go down to Billings Marine on Deer Isle and watch the yard crews pull boats large and small out of the water to inch them to their winter perches -- shrink-wrapped in the yard or cozy in a shed.

Take a perch on the town dock in Stonington and watch the lobstermen sort their harvest on boats bobbing in the harbor against the backdrop of the jumble of charming multicolored village houses that dot the hillsides.

In the middle of the village hill-side is a barn-like structure with the title Opera House painted boldly on its seaward face. Built many decades ago to provide opera musicals to the Italian stonecutters working in the town's granite quarries, it now houses movie screenings and local entertainment.

As December approaches, it's fun to take the mail boat to Isle Au Haut. The mountainous offshore island is home to a few dozen fishing families and interesting shore trails. Riding the heavy waves, you'll see more of the stark, beautiful architecture of the islands, with their leafy summer cover removed.

Winter

When winter starts to arrive, you'll feel the first licks of bone-chilling cold that will last with only brief intermissions until late spring.

But with Christmas just around the corner, the frigid weather is a pleasant change.

Ice skating, cross country skiing and even sailing in a homemade iceboat on a narrow glacial pond offer thrills, chills and sometimes painful spills. The old-timers, gathered around the lakeside fire, recall a time when local farmers raced their horses on the ice.

Later, you snowshoe along the nature path to Barred Island, where waves crash into bold granite ridges and throw freezing spray up onto the rock, coating it with layer after layer of ice.

In the distance, across the bay, you can see snow squalls punctuated by shafts of sunlight cutting through breaks in the storms. It's a breathtaking show, seemingly put on for you alone.

In the calm freeze that follows the weather's fury, evidence of life is everywhere in the coastal forest. There are tracks from rabbits, shrews and squirrels and larger trails broken through snowdrifts by deer.

In the relative calm of Stonington harbor, sea smoke -- created by the still-warm waters colliding with the sub-zero temperature of the air -- swirls with mysterious beauty around the few boats still in the ice-fringed water.

As a winter adventure, you can climb the road up the flank of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia in the early morning hours -- your breath throwing balls of steam that freeze on your face. Then, panting at the top, you can view the fireball rising out of the chilly Atlantic and illuminating the rugged landscape. Later you can proudly proclaim that you were one of the first in North America to see the sun rise on New Year's Day.

The winter days are extraordinarily short -- the sun is setting in mid-afternoon but the thin light still performs miracles in its brief passage across the frozen landscape, illuminating walls of sea ice gathered along lonely causeways and flashing through icicles hanging from the eves of houses.

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