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.

In the coastal raised peatland

Approach with caution. The ground is fragile. Visitors tour on planks, like this trail at Boot Head, or on boardwalks, like those at Quoddy Head.

Within the continental United States, these arctic bogs are found only in Maine, where they’re known locally as heath. These magical openings in the forest host a variety of unusual plants and even rare animals like the crowberry blue butterfly. The forests themselves are often thick with arboreal lichen – Spanish moss – which thrive in the cool temperatures and fog, as well as mossy bog.

A recent rain shows why these are called pitcher plants. Like Venus flytraps, they’ll devour the stray insect.
It’s also known as the northern pitcher plant, purple pitcher plant, turtle socks, and side-saddle flower. Here’s how its flower looks.
The terrain also includes sphagnum and sedge lawns.

Terrain can be mountainous without stunning heights

Somehow, much of Downeast Maine feels mountainous, even without the loft. The highest points in Washington County, for instance, are Lead Mountain, at 1,479 feet elevation in Beddington, and Pleasant Mountain, 1,373 feet, in Devereaux Township, mere foothills in some other places I’ve lived. Yet the terrain has steep slopes that still challenge motor traffic, as well crests that offer long views of seemingly unending forest.

In that way, it has a lot in common with the Allegheny range in Pennsylvania or neighboring West Virginia, which touts itself as the Mountain State.

The elevations here can be misleading, since much of the landscape is only 20 or 30 miles from the ocean. The town of Wesley, for example, population 98 or so, occupies a highland reaching only 226 feet above sea level, but that’s also a windswept blueberry barren with far horizons. The drifting snow piling up on State Route 9 there can be treacherous, as I learned the hard way.

View while driving State Route 9 through T30 MD BPP, one of the unincorporated – and uninhabited – townships in Washington County.

The highway itself sometimes runs along ridges as long as it can before dropping to a streambed below and then climbing to the next crest. I’m struck to see the next landmark cell-phone tower on my route not off in the distance in front of me but rather far to my right or left with a chasm and lake in-between.

The contrast in colors during summer helps. In winter, this would all blend into variations of white.
Approaching Pocomountain and lake in Princeton, as viewed across a blueberry barren.

Much of the land is boulders and exposed bedrock rather than rich loam.

There are reasons, then, those hills are named mountains. Pay heed.

A breath of new heights

Despite growing up in the flat country of the Midwest, I’ve always been attracted to heights. The top of the tree in our backyard was mine alone. I remember taking the speedy express elevator to the top of the Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati as a child and looking down on the ant-like people on the streets far below. And mountains have always loomed large in my imagination, later abetted by a few early visits to the Appalachians in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. I even backpacked a week on the Appalachian Trail at age 12 as a Boy Scout with my primitive-camping troop.

By the time I returned to Indiana in the mid-’70s, I had also lived in the Allegheny foothills to the west of the Catskills in New York state as well as the Poconos in eastern Pennsylvania. I’d even ventured into New Hampshire to climb Mount Washington, the highest point in the Northeast. I thought I had a familiarity with mountains.

The paperback cover …

My next upheaval sent me west. The drive across the Great Plains and Rockies was a revelation, and the entry into the environs of my new employment came frankly as a shock. Neither my wife nor I was prepared for the arid, open desert where nearly everything, including its famed apple orchards, required irrigation. Forefront in my mind was Swami Lakshmy’s observation from her first visit to India, that every place she visited had its own unique vibration.

And yes, there were mountains, including the barren heights defining our valley as well as the eastern flank of the Cascade Range to our west and glacier-clad Mount Adams looking down on us from 50 miles away.

As I adjusted to the realities, everything was filled with wonder I came to love, as you will see in my novel Nearly Canaan, which started out being more about the distinct landscape than about fully considered characters.

My employment situation, meanwhile, provided its own fodder for what would emerge as Hometown News back in the Rust Belt. I never wanted to leave Pacific Northwest, for sure, but a new publisher at the newspaper made the situation intolerable. As I bailed out, along with the most of the rest of the management team, I entered a difficult period that added much to the newspaper tale, plus a divorce and broken engagement.

It’s always hard to come down from a mountain. A part yearns to hang there forever.