Day 22: Sturbridge, Massachusetts to Manchester, New Hampshire
I left Sturbridge and headed towards Worcester on a gray, depressing day, and sat in traffic around the city. I looked for a dog park on Google Maps, but true to what seems to be the norm in Massachusetts, even a city the size of Worcester didn’t have a dog park. East of the city, the leaves had begun to change a little more, and a beautiful mist hung over heavily forested hills.
I stopped at a dog park in Andover, MA. Pinned to the gate was a wordy note from a local volunteer, reminding dog park goers that volunteers emptied the trash every night. I thought it was nice that volunteers did that, but since this was a public park, shouldn’t taxpayer money pay for trash pickup? Apparently poop scooping was a problem. Piles were continuing to form, the note warned, and if it didn’t stop, the local municipality had agreed to put in security cameras so they could fine the offending dog owners.
The same local municipality that would not pay for trash pickup or plastic poop bags was willing to shell out for security cameras. I wondered who was going to watch the footage of dogs pooping, figure out which dog went with which person, get the license plate of that person, and send them a citation. How many hours of municipal worker time would each offense entail? How many security cameras would be needed in order to cover the entire dog park and parking lot? Wouldn’t it just be cheaper for the county to provide poop bags and empty the trash?
I hate poop in the parks as much as anyone, but this is the tragedy of the commons. People are always going to mess it up. That’s why we have governments, and taxes, and municipal funding. If the citizens of Andover want a dog park so badly that they are willing to police it and empty the trash themselves, shouldn’t the government realize this is important to their constituents?
East of Manchester, NH, I saw my first “Moose Crossing” sign. I also saw my second “Clinton/Kaine” sign. So now, in all the rural areas I have traversed, I have seen one more Clinton sign than “Moose Crossing” or “Beware of Alligators” signs.
In New Hampshire, I have seen low handmade rock walls, just like in England. It smacks of colonial fortitude, of a people come to make something of this new land. The trees are tall, and there is very little underbrush. The barns are made of some kind of wood that burnishes lighter in the sun. Pubs stand at crossroads, with English names like Lee and Nottingham. I passed a farm selling goat’s milk on Revolutionary Lane. The pull-out rest areas off the highway had stone tables, as if waiting for hobbits to come along and have a picnic.
In New Hampshire, it was my first night “off-grid” and a good test for the propane furnace, which worked wonderfully.
Day 23: Bear Brook State Park, New Hampshire to Ogunquit, Maine
In Maine, the signs on the highway are in kilometers. Is this because Maine wants to promote the metric system, or because Canadians come into Maine and become hopelessly confused? The signs say: “Exit 45 1/2 m 0.8 km”. Maybe I give them too much credit, but I wager the average Canadian driver can estimate a half mile without assistance.
I saw a coyote dash across the road this morning as we were leaving the state park. Then, a few miles later in a residential area, a flock of wild turkeys crossed the road, holding up traffic. Local drivers took it in stride, waiting for the turkeys to race across one by one. The turkeys seemed to recognize danger from cars, and waited for breaks before dashing across, legs pumping, neck stretched forward with effort. Once they had cleared the pavement, they resumed normal posture and speed, wandering after the leaders.
The state motto of Maine is “Life As It Should Be”. Sigh. Maine is dreamy so far. The motto of NH is “Live Free Or Die”, which seems very dramatic 250 years after the revolution.
Day 24: Ogunquit, Maine
The town center of Ogunquit was filled with retirees flocking to the stores as if a cruise ship had just docked, so I drove south via Shore Lane, a very affluent winding road with enormous houses in the woods perched overlooking the sea. I wanted one.
The coastline is filled with diners, ice cream stores, and seafood joints. I bet this place is a zoo during the summer. It’s very well-to-do and clean and crisp and I can imagine people walking around in top-siders with sweaters wrapped around their shoulders. I took Chesky to Nubble Lighthouse for a photo shoot, and he loved the sea. It overwhelmed his puppy senses, and he was as animated as I have ever seen him.
We went to Ogunquit dog park this morning, and I had to submit to what seems to be a mandatory grilling by a woman regarding how much I fed Chesky, who is very lean. A setter’s owner came to my defense: his dog was a few months older and she had been as thin as Chesky as a pup. Meanwhile, Chesky was running laps around the entire half-acre dog park and playing with great glee, the epitome of health and vitality.
The landscape is dotted with glacial erratics, which I haven’t seen in a while. Erratics are giant boulders left in unlikely places by the retreating of the last glacial ice sheets from the region 10,000 years ago.
Day 25: Ogunquit, Maine to Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine
I am in love with Maine. Every vista, it seems, is picture postcard perfect.
I started out at the Kennebunk dog park, filled with the wealthy and the pedigreed. Chesky was beat up by another dog, which happens sometimes. I was angry, but the owner was an apologetic young woman with a baby strapped to her back. I wanted to tell her: “I don’t want to hear your excuses, I want you to take your dog and leave the rest of us in peace.” But I didn’t. It’s not a good use of my energy to try and to teach manners to people or their dogs. We moved on instead, and her dog attacked someone else.
The drive up to Acadia was filled with antique shops, emporiums, ice cream parlors sealed shut for the winter, little cottage motels, and lots and lots of lobster. Most shops were closed for the season or open only on weekends. Things were described as “wicked good”. Wild blueberries were for sale, for harvest, and as tourist attractions. Bundles of firewood were $3 in roadside stands with honor boxes.
I stopped in a small town to walk the dog and take a break, and encountered a closed bookstore on the main road. It looked like it had been a charming place: hardwood floors, big windows looking out onto the street, and a large steel bank vault door on one wall. It made me sad; I haven’t seen very many bookstores in my travels. I bet this one was amazing, but just couldn’t compete with the Internet. It’s sad to feel that the browsing of books has become an anachronism.
The campsite in Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula was beautiful: new, flat, private, with bathrooms nearby, and wifi. National and State parks are not set up to cram as many people as possible in the way RV parks do; instead they are designed to foster enjoyment of the space. It really makes a difference.
This was my last day of driving north and east. I have reached the furthest point and will now turn westward for the long journey across the northern edges of the country. Steinbeck spent a lot more time in Maine than I, but I am moving quickly for two reasons: Maine is only 41st in terms of population and as such, not indicative of the country as a whole, and also because I like it too much. If I stay too long, I may never leave.
The ranger at check-in recommended a hike along the natural harbor, so Chesky and I set off in the late afternoon sun. The first half was a small single-track winding through deep, heavy woods lining the water. We wound our way through the trees, taking pictures and marveling at the quiet and beauty. Chesky burst onto the coast and posed for pictures, then we re-entered the forest to complete the hike. It was growing darker in the trees, and I started to feel a little nervous. We had at least an hour until sunset, but under the canopy it already felt like dusk. Dusk is when the predators come out.
We heard skittering in the bushes several times. Each time, Chesky popped his head up and looked, eager to catch a bird, squirrel, or chipmunk, but immediately discarded the noise. Then we heard something larger. Chesky went alert, and then all his hackles came up. The noise came from behind dense brush in the woods, and I couldn’t see anything, but Chesky sensed something scary. He growled low in his throat and then searched the air with his nose. I pulled him along smartly, eager to be away from the area and out of the woods, my heart pounding.
We emerged onto the road and sunlight a few minutes later, and never saw the monster.
Day 26: Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine
When I was nine, my parents took my brother and I on a two-week camping trip throughout Maine and Nova Scotia. I remember cold, damp misery and little else. Camping in a tent is wonderful, unless it’s cold. Then the chill sets in and I can’t shake it. The trailer, on the other hand, is cozy and warm and provides an unfailingly pleasant place to come back to each day.
I went into the main part of the park today, about an hour away. When I arrived at the visitor center, I thought a concert had just gotten out: the area was swarmed with people and cars and chaos. It was a direct and unhappy contrast to the serenity of the Schoodic area.
At the top of Cadillac Mountain, I took in the vistas of the sea below and chatted with some rangers who were doing a birds of prey count. They claimed 750 different birds will pass by their position on a busy day. That day, they had seen none, but it was cloudy and threatening to rain; not good hunting for prey birds.
I drove into Bar Harbor to walk the dog and see the seaside, and it was as pleasant and cheery a town as I have ever seen. I want to come back, and stay in an adorable B&B in a Victorian home, and walk to fancy restaurants or watch the fishermen come in. The town smacked of prosperity, and was as ethnically diverse as any place I’ve seen yet - with tourists.
Day 27: Acadia National Park to Skowhegen, Maine
Chesky nipped me this morning. It was an accident; he was laying on the bed next to me and had rolled over to play. He was waving his paws around and getting a little crazy, and then his teeth connected to my wrist. It wasn’t even a bite, more of a tooth-human skin interaction, but his shame was immediate and complete. He crawled onto his bed to lay stricken on his side, eyes wide open with pathetic submission. One leg was stretched towards me defensively, and after a few minutes it began to shake from the effort of holding it aloft. It was the most over-the-top performance of regret I have ever seen. He had broken the cardinal law of dogdom: never bite the hand that feeds you. I patted him and he put his leg down but remained on his side. Finally, he fell into an exhausted sleep and awoke with no memory of the event.
I met two rangers yesterday: one was a seasonal worker looking forward to sailing to the Caribbean in a few weeks on his live-aboard sailboat. The other was a comptroller who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sailor said that at least once a week, a dog named Charley comes through the campground and he often meets people inspired by Steinbeck. I like the idea that I am part of a greater community of travelers, out on the road seeing America.
Day 28: Skowhegen to Umbagog State Park, New Hampshire
I realized this morning that no one has asked me if I were afraid in at least two weeks. This leaves me to conclude the fear is a Southern thing, and that in the North, it’s normal for someone to travel alone. Maybe it’s part of the Colonial fortitude.
There is something about driving on a sunny fall day in New England that defies description. The air is clean and fresh, the trees are green and red and yellow, a brilliant montage of colors that seem unnatural and otherworldly. I feel an air of optimism, of freshness and hope that is unexpected. Why is autumn so filled with opportunity and hope while spring is wet and miserable? I wanted everyone to be able to drive down this road on this day in Maine, to see these leaves and feel this feeling. I thought how happy I was; how traveling was pleasant and good and exactly what I’d hoped for.
I like staying in state parks because the other campers are in truck campers, and little trailers, and pop-ups. We are all living relatively humbly, but the secret is the warmth. Camping is great with a heater and a microwave and a little propane stove.
I parked at the edge of a small beach leading to clear water and a lake surrounded by a cornucopia of changing leaves. I tried to get photos but they don’t do it justice; the other side of the lake was too far. I would love to live here, to dig into the hillside and sit peacefully surveying the serene lake through the seasons. For now, I’ll have to enjoy it thanks to the taxpayers of the state of New Hampshire..
Chesky and I stopped at a Grafton Notch State Park in Maine and I got some great pictures of him overlooking waterfalls. I swear he knows he’s being photographed, and strikes handsome poses on command.
The states this week, in two words:
Maine: Wicked good
NH: Colonial fortitude