Tuesday, September 30, 2014

on the road in maine, part two

Waking up in this little tent on this little island was the best! Seriously. Heaven.

On my second morning on Mount Desert Island the air was so fresh and the breeze so crisp that I didn't even need a coffee to feel awake. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky when I poked my head out of my tent. The tide had gone out since I called it quits with my camera and my gently lapping front yard of waves had turned into fifty feet of pebbly sand and tide pools where a few seagulls and a heron were hunting breakfast.

I drove into the town of Bar Harbor for breakfast and walked around for a couple hours, hopping around taking photos of the beach and the piers.

To be honest, it wasn't my favorite part of the day; there were a lot of gift shops, art galleries and cute looking restaurants that I probably would have enjoyed more if I weren't by myself, but there were a lot of slow, dazed-looking tourists ambling about, tour buses idling everywhere and even a giant cruise ship pulling into port. I like cities and I like people, but wasn't in the mood for either at the time.

I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed south to roam Acadia National Park, which was beautiful and offered a few beautiful short hikes and lots of great beach turn outs. Towards sunset I stopped one last time at Seal Cove and tip toed around the waves, collecting shells, rocks, feathers and other little things that probably sound sort of crazy unless you are also a person who likes to glue such things to canvases.

Have you ever seen one of those photos of beaches so crowded that you can't even make out individual people - there is just one solid colorful swarm of umbrellas and beach chairs and people right up to the water line? Maine is the polar opposite of that; out of a dozen different beaches I poked around, maybe half had one or two other beachcombers at the time and the other half were completely empty. Obviously mid-September in the northern latitudes isn't exactly beach-going season but I had a feeling many of these shores are in a constant state empty of people, tides going in and out and in and out every day, every year, tossing up pebbles and shells and the occasional lobster buoy with barely anyone paying any notice besides sand birds.

After camping near the entrance of the campground I was feeling safe and decided to switch it up a little bit and moved my tent out onto the peninsula on the other side where there were fewer campers. Instead of being right near the shoreline, my tent was now about twenty feet above the sound on a little cliff overlooking Sheep Island and its docks and boats.

My new view:

As usual, I totally forgot to bring a cooler! So once again I stuck beers in the closest body of water to chill while I made a little fire to heat up my dinner and warm up.

There was no cell phone service in this area either so I read my book by lantern light until my fire got low, practiced some more star photography and then wrote and drew a little before falling asleep face first into my sketchbook. I woke up just as the sun was coming up, shining gently on the layer of mist blanketing the surface of the sound and making it glow. The water was as flat as puddle, mirroring the blue treetops until here and there a gull landed or took off and rippled its surface. There is no silence and serenity like that anywhere near my home in Boston so I sat there for a good hour taking it all in.

Just when this camping trip was beginning to feel suspiciously too good, it happened.

On my way to get a coffee and plan the day, my car's check engine light came on! This might not normally be a big deal, but anyone who has ever owned a thirteen years old car with 165,000 miles on it can understand the level of anxiety it provokes. Is it just a loose wire? Should I check my oil? Is my old, faithful car planning to spontaneously explode upon hitting the next pothole?

The bad thing about car problems on a road trip is that there is the potential to be stranded alone, hundreds of miles from home, with almost no cell phone service and a gigantic repair bill. The good thing is that there really isn't that much you can do besides just keep on driving home like you planned. So that's what I did, keeping a wary eye on my temperature gauge and trying to avoid potholes and mentally scolding myself each time I took an irresponsible detour, of which there were many.

An hour detour from Route 1 was Pemaquid Point Light, which shines over an intensely dramatic slope of exposed bedrock where thousands of years of waves have crashed, smoothed the rock, created mossy pools of water and slick layers of stone. I climbed the spiral staircase inside up to the light, an enormous spotless teal lens that overlooks miles and miles of flat northern sea.

I planned to spend the next night in Wolf Neck Woods near Freeport, but being so close to Portland I headed straight there to catch Portland Head Light at golden hour. It didn't disappoint!

New England is a treasure trove for anyone who loves old things, history and American nostalgia, and Maine in particular is one long adventure tale of a hardy people steadfastly carving out little towns on a somewhat desolate shore. Portland Head Light, lit in 1791, is the oldest in the state and the first to be built after the American Revolution. It's easy to reach now, but for a century or more many of the 57 lights along the Maine coast were nearly inaccessible… a light house keeper's job was actually their whole life, living (often alone) in tiny houses on rocky cliffs, battered by salty storms as they manually lit the lights and rang bells to guide ships past these unforgiving rocks. 

Every lighthouse has it's own totally insane story, like having to be continually rebuilt because rough surf would toss giant boulders ashore and damage them, or being kept by light keepers who only saw other people twice a year on supply runs. How wild is that? Through it all they stand like sentries, pillars of light guarding the shore and beckoning sailors for centuries. Thinking about this during my few days in Maine sparked an idea for this year's personal project that I hope to share by the end of the week.

Monday, September 22, 2014

dispatch from northern maine

Last week, in a fit of wanderlust and inspiration and a bit of anxiety from just thinking about winter (when New England gets very inhospitable in a way this Pacific Northwesterner is still not used to) I packed up my car and headed six hours north to Mount Desert Island, Maine for a few days of camping and exploring. Unfortunately Mike was in the middle of a few lab experiments at work and couldn't join but I felt strongly about getting one last outdoor adventure in before summer was over, even if I had to do it alone.

Mount Desert Island is mostly famous for the vacation town of Bar Harbor, but is also home to Acadia National Park and a few beautiful little fishing towns. I found a campground that overlooked Somes Sound and set up my tent on a little platform right near the water. The ground was so soft, covered in a bed of pine needles and moss warmed by the sun, and the breeze was an intoxicating blend of salt air and pine… it was heavenly and right away I was so happy that I decided to make the trip.

Because I got there on a Wednesday afternoon in the off season, the campground was only about 20%  full and there were a lot of empty sites and it was very quiet. When traveling alone I always try to "borrow a family" by setting up camp somewhat near a family or group… as a solo female it can be tempting to sort of hide yourself away in order fly under the radar of anyone who may want to pester you, but it's actually better to be very visible in everything you do. Nobody minds a quiet solo neighbor, plus parents are parents no matter where you go and there is almost always a mom happy to make sure you feel safe regardless of whether she actually knows you ;) I still had plenty of privacy and space.

When the camp office opened I bought some firewood, asked for a recommendation for dinner and was sent on my way with a map down to Bass Harbor, on the Southwest corner of the island, where I got a lobster roll as big as my face and a slice of raspberry pie on the side from Thurston's Lobster Pound. While I was waiting I roamed around the idyllic working harbor taking photos of lobster boats unloading their last catch, old boats in various state of faded beauty and lobster buoys! So many lobster buoys.

I wish I had gotten a photo of my lobster roll. It was intense.

Due to the spur of the moment nature of this trip I didn't do a ton of planning or researching, but I chatted with the kitchen staff at Thurston's while they were tossing lobsters and shellfish into the boilers outside and got some good tips on what to see (Side note: always, always ask locals or other travelers where they'd go if they were visiting. It can change your life.) I made my way to the other side of the harbor to see Bass Harbor Light, where there's a pathway that leads down to a clearing below the lighthouse, and jagged rocks to scramble over to get right down at wave level.

I got there just in time to perch on a rock a few feet above the waves and watch an intensely vibrant sunset behind the lighthouse, and then watch the waves crash and swirl through little canyons in the dimming twilight. While most of New England's coast is sandy shore, the coast of northern Maine has a lot of exposed bedrock which looks similar to the Washington coast, where I grew up.

Back at my campsite I sketched and wrote for a while. And then the best part of camping...

I've been trying to teach myself the ins and outs of star photography and am (clearly) still learning, but these do an okay job of showing just how amazing the night sky looked from the edge of Somes Sound. With no light pollution the Milky Way was a bright streak of stars across the entire sky and there almost seemed to be more stars than blackness. It was incredible! Sadly, I didn't have a remote shutter release with me so most of my photos are a bit blurry from manually holding down the shutter for 60-80 seconds in the very cold air, but it was still fun to get to practice on such a beautiful cloudless sky. Crashing waves and billions of stars have a lovely way of making one feel tiny and infinite at the same time.

Monday, September 15, 2014

sunset over newport harbor

"Sunset Over Newport Harbor" is a brand new 30"x40" painting I finished last week. 

I took this photograph of Newport Harbor Light on Goat Island last year on our ferry ride back from Block Island, after hurting my back and having to scrap our plans of sailing Mike's boat home. At the time I was so disappointed that we didn't sail back, but entering the harbor right at sunset on the ferry (versus after dark in the sailboat) allowed me to get this perfect photograph. Large paintings like this require an immense amount of paper material to create all their layers, so for about three months I've been setting aside material for this one - a 1970's nautical map of Narragansett Bay, fish encyclopedias, letters to and from Newport, marine newspapers and some perfectly patina'ed book pages - and it all came together pretty perfectly. It's available in my shop and is on display at the SoWa Market every Sunday if you'd like to come give it a look in person.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

30x30 project, a year later

Happy September! Around this time last year I was finishing up my 30x30 Project in my old South Boston studio… I challenged myself to create 30 small, intricately layered paintings in 30 days. Here are all 30 lined up to be titled and signed before getting matted. 

Day 11, above, was created towards the end of August when the days were still hot but the nights began getting cooler and longer and I wrote this poem about the wistfulness and wilds of a summer's end… it seems perfectly fitting to share today after a weekend that gave me both a slight sunburn and a campfire scented sweater.

This project was demanding and challenging in a good way and helped me work on budgeting time and deadlines (a sorely needed skill in my life and business) and ended up looking pretty cool all together. All but three of the original paintings have sold and I've made a select few available as paper prints. I'm getting the urge to start another big personal project but am not sure exactly what to do… a little book/published sketchbook? Maybe some sort of wearable art? Suggestions are welcome!