Our city even has a forested state park

Eastport may be a city, but much of it is still forest.

Shackford Head, between Broad Cove and Deep Cove, has one of those. And it’s a state park. Mercifully, it even escaped becoming an oil refinery in the 1970s and ’80s, thanks to some dedicated citizen action.

This is all that remains of five Civil War ships that were burned between 1901 and 1920 at Cony Beach at today’s Shackford Head State Park. The vessels were brought close to shore and set aflame to release metal for scavengers to collect at low tide. This is Cony Beach with Shackford Head beyond.

I should note that the Shackford family, so prominent in the settling of Eastport, had roots in Dover, New Hampshire, before spreading into Newburyport, Massachusetts, and then shooting up here. It seems that our house was built in the 1830s by one of them.

Apart from that, the 90-acre state park allows for some delightful hiking and vistas without having to drive miles from home. You know,  needed a quick fix of more nature.

The shoreline can be quite rugged but have a pocket beach below.
Deep Cove flanks one side of the park.
Sometimes a trail takes to a plank walk over muddy stretches.

Memorable hikes in my life

One of the blessings and saving graces of my youth was being a member of a rogue Boy Scout troop that included a big hike one weekend of each month and primitive camping on another. The two together introduced me to many essentials of the natural world and real life.

One consequence is that hiking has been a big delight in my life ever since, despite a 20-year gap at one point and the reality that my days of being able to hike a 25-mile stretch are long gone.

Here are a few memories I treasure.

  1. My first backpacking experience, from Clifton above Yellow Springs to Belmont in Dayton, Ohio. You couldn’t do that now, not with all the suburban sprawl and the ban on trekking along railroad lines post-9/11.
  2. The week we spent on the Appalachian Trail, ending at Roan High Knob in North Carolina/Tennessee when the rhododendron were in blossom. I had never seen them before. I was 12, with a 60-pound backpack. Funny, though, I haven’t backpacked since.
  3. A brace of Scouting trails we hiked in neighboring Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky, earning a medal and sometimes a new scarf as a result. These included the Daniel Boone country around Lexington, the Lincoln country, even getting hopelessly lost in Brown County because some crucial trail markers had been shot up beyond recognition. Later, when I lived nearby, I realized the big lake now sat atop a road that had been paved with crushed geodes. Now that I’m thinking of it, in my return to the scene, I had a fine late-winter stroll through the same woods.
  4. Mount Washington, New Hampshire, ’74, introducing me to the amazing flowers of alpine terrain.
  5. Mount Rainier, Washington, multiple times from ’76-‘80. Though I never attempted the summit, I did make it up the permanent snowfields to Camp Muir twice. And the alpine terrain continued to dazzle me.
  6. Mount Stuart in the Enchanted Lakes wilderness area, Washington state. It was an early autumn outing. Again, I didn’t tackle the summit, though I was acquainted with the man who had been the first to make it to the top. The crisp late afternoon air abounded in cosmic rays.
  7. Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire, late ‘80s. Another mountain that reaches above the tree line.
  8. Mount Chocorua, New Hampshire, a decade ago. A more difficult climb than its altitude would suggest. But there are reasons the Indigenous people considered it sacred, even before the lovers’ leap story.
  9. Quoddy Head, Maine, three years ago. The day was foggy and wet, adding to the drama as we moved on the bluffs atop restless Fundy Bay water. The open peat bog and boardwalk added to the wonder. It was the first time since my initial encounter with Rainier that I’d felt so amazed by nature. It’s what convinced me to move to Eastport.
  10. Bold Coast, Lubec and Cutler, Maine, the past two years. Forget Acadia National Park. This is unspoiled and uncrowded. And for me, it’s now part of home.

Oh, gee, how can I not mention that crazy hike up the desert slope of the Yakima Canyon, Washington state, where I was among those to first to see the return of the bald eagle to the valley after a quarter century or more? I was looking down on an incredible wingspan and didn’t even know its species until later. It was still winter, ’77, and, because of the rattlesnakes, I wouldn’t have ventured into the landscape otherwise. It shows up in my novel Nearly Canaan.

The villain raiding our suet feeder

I thought I was done with winter feeding of woodpeckers, grackles, and even crows, but all the action around the suet had me continue well into spring, allowing us to watch closely from the kitchen table. And then the holder started appearing open and empty.

I doubted that deer were doing it again, since the tube feeder next to it was still full. Deer, as I’ve discovered, detest a hint of cumin there, so the main birdfeeder’s gone pester-free for months.

Finally, I nailed the culprit, a raven that’s learned to pop the holder open, spilling the block of suet to the ground.

Well, this has given me a good way to get a close look at the large shiny-almost blue black bird, skittish though it may be. I keep thinking male?

The species is more imposing and beautiful than a crow. Somehow, I’m guessing it would take pride in being labeled a villain. Crows seem sociable by comparison.

Does Poe really sway our thinking here?

Even untended, they’re glorious  

“We usually think of a Poppy as a coarse flower; but it is the most transparent and delicate of all the flowers of the field,” Celia Thaxter enthused in her classic An Island Garden book based at the other end of the Maine coast. Noting that the “Poppy is painted glass; it never glows so brightly as when the sun shines through it. Wherever it is seen, against the light or with the light, always it is a flame, and warms the wind like a blown ruby.”

After a half-page of descriptions of the color range of its many varieties, she quotes an unnamed English master of prose, “The splendor of it is proud, almost insolently so,” and then Browning’s line of “the Poppy’s red effrontery.”

Here on Moose Island, after blazing intensely, they give way all too soon.

To me, they glow like miniature suns.

How fitting, with our sunrise now approaching 4:42 and sunset around 8:19 – and nearly 17 hours of visible light.

Popular fish caught around Eastport

And not all of it’s meant for human consumption. Some of it’s used for bait, usually for lobsters.

  1. Along the coast we have mackerel. It’s a small fish and oily, one that doesn’t keep well, but cooked promptly or smoked for storing, it’s a lot like salmon. For sports fishing here, seems everybody’s catching ‘em, sometimes six on a line. Some folks even trade buckets of them for lobster.
  2. Alewife. Migrates from the sea late every spring. Another small fish that needs to be cooked promptly or pickled for canning. Also used as prime lobster bait.
  3. Herring. A century ago, these were the basis of Maine’s sardine industry.
  4. Smelt. They’re small, often dip-netted, and can be pan fried and eaten whole. Pacific Northwest Natives called them candlefish, for their oil. Around here, they often show up on the line when casting for mackerel.
  5. Flounder. The species includes fluke, and they like to hang out around pilings and docks – the kinds of places where many folks fish.
  6. Halibut. Now we’re getting to the kinds of fish you might recognize on a restaurant menu or at the grocery.
  7. Haddock. Ditto.
  8. Turning to freshwater, we have several species of trout.
  9. And bass. or perch.
  10. Plus landlocked salmon. Migratory salmon are off-limits, however.

Clamming is also big when the tide’s out. Not that they’re actually fish.

Just back from a hike

No ticks, thank God!

The black flies, meanwhile, were in swarms.


Supposedly the island’s infamous red ants keep the tick population at bay here in Eastport. Fire ants?

Another pestilence.

Still, I’ve learned to inspect carefully for ticks after any outing inland. Somehow, I hadn’t had to face them prior to New England.

Black flies, though, are particularly nasty. They’re tiny and attack first individually around the mouth and nose and then as swarms or small clouds that leave nasty bites from mid-April through mid-July, especially when there’s no wind or you’re away from the sea.

Yes, that sea seems to keep them away from Eastport.

The skeeters will come later.

You don’t see any of this in the L.L. Bean catalog version of Maine.

In the “Black Fly Song” by Wade Hemsworth, made famous by folksinger Bill Staines, the action is placed in northern Ontario, though it’s of little comfort to know the pests range so far across the northern forests.

The lyrics nail the misery so well, For I’m all but goin’ crazy.

The reason, of course:

It was black fly, black fly everywhere
A-crawlin’ in your whiskers, a-crawlin’ in your hair
A-swimmin’ in the soup, and a’swimmin in the tea

As the chorus goes:

And the black flies, the little black flies
Always the black fly, no matter where you go
I’ll die with the black fly a-picking my bones

It’s true, no joke.

Staines, by the way, lived one town over from Dover, where I was. Small world.

And I should note the bumper sticker: Black Flies, Defenders of the Wilderness.