Mountains and ocean coasts, all within reach.
In North Carolina, we appreciate this blessing.
As Tom Earnhardt points out in his fine new book, “Crossroads of the Natural World,” if you travel from Bald Head Island to Grandfather Mountain or Mount Mitchell, you can experience the same diversity of ecosystems as you would on a trip from the tropics to northern Maine or into Canada.
So, why would I be so desperate to travel to Maine this summer when I could simply follow Earnhardt’s route and get the same experience right here in North Carolina?
One reason: Several of my friends quietly slip away each year to spend part of their summers up there in Maine. I have wondered what caused so many of them to go there. I developed a secret plan to visit each of them some summer, bumming meals and places to stay.
The second reason: I got caught up in the book featured on North Carolina Bookwatch a couple of years ago. In “You Lost Me There,” Rosecrans Baldwin set his story on Mount Desert Island, Maine. His characters introduced me to Bar Harbor, the resort town on that island and to a variety of other towns and communities like Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor, and Northeast Harbor. In each one fishing and lobster boats and workers abound. Working people mingle with the summer visitors and tourists.
Baldwin convinced me that the island was like a compact country unto itself.
I remembered a story he told about another island town, Seal Harbor, where, a certain celebrity neighbor, Martha Stewart, asked to use a gas station’s telephone. The clerk politely told her the inside phone was for employees only, but that there was a pay phone outside. Stewart lives only a minute or two away, but she insisted she needed to use the inside phone. After more questions and explanations, she said to the clerk, “Do you know who I am? Do you realize who you’re talking to?”
“At which point.” Baldwin related, “an elderly gentleman steps out of line, and says, ‘Excuse me, but I’m David Rockefeller. And I use the pay phone, too.’ And he hands her a quarter.”
After I read that story I put Mount Desert Island on my bucket list. When I got a chance last week to visit for two days, I grabbed it.
And if you ever have a chance to visit, I encourage you to do so, too.
Here are some of the highlights of my quick visit:
1. Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, which covers most of Mount Desert Island, was my first stop. For the experience I had, imagine you are on top of Grandfather Mountain looking down on Southport or Ocracoke and the ocean beyond. I drove to the top of the mountain, but many others find the challenge of scaling it by foot irresistible. I gave a ride down the mountain to two hikers, who just finished walking the entire Appalachian Trail. They said Cadillac Mountain’s dramatic views beat anything they had seen this summer.
2. At Schoodic Point, a rocky coastal peninsula juts out and meets the powerful sea. Most visitors to the area skip this part of the Acadia Park because it is a 45-minute drive or ferry ride away from Bar Harbor. They miss an unforgettable experience.
3. The town of Bar Harbor at first looks like any other upscale tourist town. But the restaurants and shops have an overlay of relaxed Yankee charm. In a park overlooking the harbor I sat for hours watching small boats come and go.
4. I would not want to miss any of the island towns with “Harbor” in their name: Southwest, Northeast, Bass, and, of course Seal, where Rockefeller and Stewart met. Each has its special charm and foods, always bustling with some activity in arts, music, and eating. All have an appealing mixture of visitors and hard-working locals, who make it their business to make everyone feel welcome.
5. Get off Mount Desert Island and visit some of the many small coastal towns in the nearby area. Do not miss Blue Hill, where I ran into a young woman wearing a UNC shirt. She stopped to chat and have coffee. She explained that even though she loves her home state, North Carolina, she wouldn’t trade her two weeks in Maine each year for anything.
I wouldn’t trade my two days in Maine for anything either, even though, as always I was glad to get back to home in North Carolina.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch
This week’s (Aug. 25, 29) guest is Duke Professor Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational,” in which Ariely argues many important decisions we make every day are not based on a rational determination of what is best for us from an economic viewpoint. There are two important consequences. First, we often do a terrible job in taking care of ourselves economically. Second, the conclusions that economists make based on a “perfect” marketplace composed of rational decision makers can be very wrong.
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
“Predictably Irrational” is full of entertaining examples designed to prove Ariely’s point.