Meet the Old Friar

Some early wag exploring the channel that separates Eastport and Campobello Island thought a rock formation visible only at low tide resembled an old monk and dubbed it the Old Friar.

To me, it looks more like an old hound. The poles to the left lead to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt summer cottage.

The headland behind it soon became known as Friar’s Head.

For a little perspective, note how small the Friar looks against the bluff.

As for the channel? It’s Friar’s Roads, curving along the island to its end on the Bay of Fundy.

The Old Friar himself may have lost some features during the Civil War when cannoneers stationed on Treat Island used the monolith for target practice. Canada, apparently, never complained, sparing the U.S. an international incident.

The Passamaquoddy, meanwhile, referred to the pillar as the Stone Maiden. The legend told of a young brave who left on a long journey after instructing his lover to sit and await his return. The distraught young maiden sat on the beach and waited for months. Alas, when he finally returned, he found her turned to stone, forever to wait and watch.

We have some huge tides and treacherous currents

Listen to me, like I’m an expert.

Still, the Old Sow can be seen about a mile away from Eastport if you time it right, about three hours before high tide on the biggest days of the month. The Western Hemisphere’s biggest whirlpool not only swirls but also shoots spouts into the air. As if I could capture that flash with my camera.

The current, though, often runs at seven knots, faster than an Olympic champion swimmer could manage in even a very short burst. It’s also treacherous for Scuba divers, waders, and sailors alike.

It’s by no means the only place to be mesmerized while watching the charge.

Tide pressing from the Atlantic into Dennys and Whiting Bays churns and ripples.

Another impressive sight is the Reversing Falls in Pembroke, though “rapids” would be a more accurate term. The sounds of the waters rushing from one bay to another are as mesmerizing as any waterfall, though.

As the level intensifies, a large whirlpool with a concave depression forms behind the rock ledge, setting off smaller whirlpools around it.
The major action is a set of rapids I’d hesitate to call “falls,” though they’re just as noisy. Once the tide comes in, it has to go out, keeping the action going endlessly. As I was shooting this, a pair of seals lolled in the whitewater wings, diving and coming up with fish in their mouths. 

An eagle nearly collided with me here

Funded by a family trust, Cobscook Shores is preserving waterfront lands around Cobscook Bay and its subsidiaries for public use and pleasure. One of its 14 sites is Pike Lands Cove, facing Eastport’s west side across the water from the North Lubec peninsula.

A trail leads out around tidepools I hope to investigate later.

 

A saltmarsh can be explored up-close.

 

Here’s where that eagle nearly ran into me. It was being chased by an angry gull. Eastport is across the water.

 

The beach trail culminates in this cove.

 

 

Say hello to the whales – and more

When I moved to New England more than three decades ago, I tried to take in at least one whale-watch cruise each year, usually out of Newburyport, Massachusetts. But my first time of meeting a live whale came during my first-time ever time in a real sailboat, which was also my first time out on the Atlantic. At first, we saw minkes lolling along at a distance, some of them parallel to our course. And then, just as we were turning into the harbor on the Isles of Shoals, one came up right beside the bow, where I was standing. You can’t say this Ohio boy wasn’t impressed. Minkes may be the smallest of the whales around here, but our 32-foot craft wasn’t much bigger.

A minke is viewed between Campobello and Deer islands in New Brunswick on a cruise out of Eastport.

Whales migrate up the New England coast each May and linger in its nutrient-rich waters well into October.

One thing I quickly came to appreciate is that there are no guarantees about what you’ll encounter when you go out from shore. What I’ve often called a poor man’s cruise is an experience in itself, especially as you watch land recede and then disappear altogether behind you and there’s nothing save the expanse of sea and sky with occasional birds and boats as punctuation. On one outing, the only whales we found were a minke cow and her calf, which we followed at a leisurely pace. On another outing, so many minkes, humpbacks, and finbacks surrounded us – some close enough to be misted by their stinky blow, others breaching off in the distance – I lost count. Once, we had to be content with a trio of porpoises. You should be grateful for whatever presents itself.

I was trying to get a good shot of the Cherry Island lighthouse but wound up with this moment of a father and daughter from Ohio.

Somehow, though, after I remarried, the annual event faded from the schedule – maybe a handful in 20 years, always with family and sometimes with the kids’ friends. I still have the memories.

Relocating to an old house a block from the ocean has now recharged that. I can walk to the whales. Seriously. In late season, they can even be seen from the shore here.

Here’s a sculpin fish that was in a lobster trap the cruise pulled up as part of its tour of the local waters.

More likely is walking down to Butch and Jana Harris’ Eastport Windjammers and setting forth in one of their refitted lobster boats. The vessels are smaller than the usual whale-watch models but put you much closer to the water. The route, from downtown Eastport out between Campobello and Deer islands in New Brunswick, doesn’t need to go into the open waters of the Bay of Fundy.  On at least one of boats, you can even stand beside the captain – usually, but not always, Butch – and, on occasion, each of the kids on board gets to briefly take a turn steering at the wheel.

Don’t scoff when you connect “windjammer” with “lobster boat.” The enterprise comes by its name honestly. Up through 2014, its whale-watch cruises took place aboard Butch’s 118-foot, three-masted schooner, the Ada Lore. But on December 4 that year, a portion of the Breakwater collapsed, wrecking the schooner.

Pursuing whales from a wind-powered deck, I’ve been assured, is the most satisfying way of all to go forth.

I’m ready and willing, should the opportunity present itself.

At times we were joined by what I jokingly call the world’s smallest whale-watch vessel, which sails out of neighboring Lubec. The captains work together by radio to share sightings and other info. Lubec is seen in the background.

 What’s been your most memorable experience with the sea? Or some other body of water?   

We’re rolling in wild blueberries

The handheld rake was invented in 1910. I can’t imagine trying to pick large quantities of blueberries without it.

What’s harvested by the ton in Washington County is not just blueberries, but wild blueberries – lowbush, laced with small pellets of complex, concentrated flavor, rather than the big, juicy, cultivated highbush kind.

What grows here, I’ll argue, is tastier and richer than the more coddled kind I had previously known and even grown.

As you can see, traditional picking can be backbreaking work. But old-timers tell you it delivers better berries than the newer mechanized harvesters do.

Maine has a near monopoly in the production of the wild lowbush berries in the United States. Neighboring parts of Canada are also of note. Still, the output is only a fraction of what’s harvested from the domesticated highbush farmers in other states.

You can drive right past a blueberry barren like this and not know it’s loaded with ripe fruit.
Here’s what a stop to look reveals.
For a few weeks each spring, clusters of commercial honeybee hives are placed by the hundreds throughout the barrens. The electrical fencing is intended to keep bears out.

Just so you know.

What’s your favorite kind of berry? And your favorite way to eat (or drink) them?

A little more heaven on earth

The day I shot these, I encountered only one other person in two hours … and that was just as I was leaving. Admittedly, I arrived around 7 as a foggy dawn lifted and then listened to a mournful foghorn in the neighboring Bailey’s Mistake cove much of the morning. How could I not be elated?

In 1988, the Maine Coastal Heritage Trust secured the property now known as Boot Head Preserve, saving it from a planned 35-lot subdivision and instead opening it to public enjoyment. It’s a gem that includes coastal hiking, a cove with a cobble beach, and an arctic peat bog.

Promise me you won’t tell anyone else.

Just six-tenths of a mile from the parking lot, the trail opens out on this.

 

And this.

 

And passes beside wild iris.

 

To this.

 

And this.

 

And then this.

 

It really does need a soundtrack of the ocean’s endless crests striking the rocks below.

Top zoos in North America

Yeah, yeah, I know the concerns about holding animals in captivity. But where else are kids going to learn about exotic fellow creatures? TV? They can’t smell them there. The circus? Few of us even live on farms anymore, and those dogs I see walked up and down the street are hardly exemplary of the animal kingdom. Frankly, they’re more spoiled than most children.

But I digress. Out of view, the best zoos are also places of serious research and attempts to keep gene pools alive.

Here are some of the best in North America:

  1. San Diego. It pioneered the open-air, cageless exhibits, for one thing, and is in a beautiful park, for another. So I’ve heard.
  2. St. Louis. More than 600 species on 90 acres, and you can get around via a mini-railroad.
  3. Omaha. Some of us remember it from a television series.
  4. Cincinnati. Includes a botanical garden, and for years it was also home to the summer opera, the nation’s second-oldest. Now that was an interesting mix.
  5. Bronx. It was the first with a zoo animal hospital and full-time veterinarian staff.
  6. Toronto. Features seven distinct zoogeographic regions – animals and relevant plants and climate displayed together.
  7. Smithsonian, Washington, D.C. One of the most diverse, and admission is free.
  8. Los Angeles. Founded in 1966, it’s one of the newer zoos in America and has zoomed in status.
  9. Columbus. Includes a notable aquarium, a manatee rescue and rehabilitation program, and Polar Frontier.
  10. Philadelphia. Also noted for its success with hard-to-breed-in-captivity species.

Honorable mentions to Miami, Fort Worth, Seattle, Brookfield and Lincoln Park in Chicago, Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida, Houston, and Denver.