East of Boothbay Harbor, Maine 6
Seaward Cliffs of Monhegan
East of Boothbay Harbor VI
On the day before leaving Ocean Point and sailing out to Monhegan Island, I gathered blueberries in a woodsy meadow not far from the cottage. White-throated sparrows serenaded me as I picked handfuls of fresh berries. Since it was late August, the blueberries had grown plump and dark blue--almost black. Naturally, I tasted quite a few before returning home with a small pail full of them that my mother cleaned and placed into a dough-lined pie dish to bake in the oven. I knew that after our journey out to Monhegan, we would have fresh blueberry pie for dessert.
Out to Monhegan Island
Some ten miles off the northeast shore of Ocean Point lies Monhegan Island with its towering granite cliffs rising straight out of the sea. After arriving at Boothbay Harbor, we boarded the Balmy Days that soon churned out of the colorful harbor dotted with yachts and passenger boats cutting wake in myriad directions. It was not long before we sailed out beyond all the spruce-wooded peninsulas and rocky shores of our own Ocean Point. Passing the white pegmatite cliffs of White Island, I noticed thousands of dead trees serving as cormorant nests perched on the upper branches. Apparently the heavy concentration of these black nesting birds has destroyed numerous spruce trees, thanks to the acidic diet of these shore birds. Quite a few Herring and Great Black-backed gulls circled around the shoreline. It was amusing to watch the clumsy cormorants taking off from the water, hitting their tails four or five times before they became airborne. This species of bird was originally a land bird and has been trying to adapt to the sea for centuries now. While it is a great fisherman, it hardly has the grace of a sea gull in flight. In fact, if a cormorant should happen to land in a forest, it must hoof its way seaward until it can take off once again.
Captain John Smith's Ancient Visit
In the distance loomed the masses of Manana and Monhegan Islands, between which is Monhegan harbor, or, as Captain John Smith put it when he "discovered" them in 1614, "Monahigan is a round high ile and close by it Monanis betwixt which is a small harbor where we rid." The islands slowly grew larger until we could clearly discern the coast guard station on Manana and the lighthouse atop Monhegan. As the Balmy Days pulled up to the dock, the little settlement of Monhegan village spread before us with several homes, a hotel (The Island Inn) and a lighthouse high up on a hill dominating all. It was this very harbor that has been portrayed by such great seacoast artists as Ernest Fiene, Norman Rockwell and Jacqueline Hudson. Like Matinicus, Monhegan residents earn their living from the sea, but unlike Matinicus, Monhegan has lured many a vacationer. Perhaps one of Monhegan's truly unique features is its seaward coast that has some of the most rugged scenery east of the Rockies.
Because we had only several hours, we immediately hiked up the trail to the lighthose and then proceed to the seaward side. This two mile long by half mile wide island has many tourist trails to follow. From the lighthose we could see a good thirty mile stretch of the jagged Maine coast in the misty distance. To the east of us lay a thick black spruce forest that steadily gained elevation until it reach 160 feet above the glistening Atlantic. After we had entered the mossy woods, it was difficult to believe that we were hiking on an island. Many mainland creatures could be seen and heard including red squirrels, white-throated sparrows, Swainson's thrushes and chickadees.
Gradually the forest floor became stony and was laced with large granite boulders. We passed through open meadows flush with pink fireweed and suddenly we stood atop an awesome black cliff whose lower portions were being punded by thundering surf. I was reminded a bit of the white cliffs of Dover made famous by Shakespeare's great play "King Lear." Looking down 160 feet into the choppy green Atlantic Ocean made me feel a bit dizzy. We ate our sandwiches atop Whitehead Cliff amid stunted windswept spruce trees reminding me of tree line forests in Colorado.
From Woods to Sea Cliffs
Sea gulls played in the treacherous air currents between our cliff and distant Burnthead Cliff (140 feet high). We trotted through the spruce forest ton a rocky cove called Squeaker Cove and descended jagged granite boulders to the stony shoreline to see huge and twisted pieces of steel from a shipwrecked vessel. They looked as if some giant had stepped on them and wedged them deep into briny crevices. What brute force the sea can have! A huge wave came out of nowhere and we had to climb quickly to safety to avoid being pounded against the rocks. When the thunderous wave hit below us, it shot spray thirty feet into the air that thoroughly drenched us. But as we climbed back up to the trail for the lighthouse, Monhegan's strong sun and sea winds began to dry us out.
By the time we reached the lighthouse we were almost completely dry. In no time, we sadly stood aboard the Balmy Days and that rogue wave seemed more like a dream. All too soon we left the peaceful harbor and entered open seas to watch Monhegan Island disappear into the mists of the sea. After our supper (with blueberry pie for dessert) back at the cottage, we went out to the rocks to be treated with an Ocean Point sundown.
Years ago, when I lived in Wyoming, I was offered the seasonal position of island naturalist at the lighthouse on Monhegan Island. If I had taken that position, I often wonder how my life and my family's life would have been different..