On Mt. Desert Island, with Popovers
People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. Awed by its beauty and diversity, early 20th-century visionaries donated the land that became Acadia National Park. The park is home to many plants and animals, and the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery.
–Acadia National Park page of the National Park Service website
What better way to start off the summer break than by heading out to Acadia National Park for a day of hiking? My friend Nancy and I did just that the other day, and I must say–with our great good luck we managed to pick one of the nicest days of the year so far: sunny, mid-seventies, with a pleasant breeze up off the ocean. We were early enough in the summer–and in the day, too–to miss most of the tourists who flock to Mount Desert, drawn, no doubt, by the above NPS blurb.
Nancy has hiked a bit in the park recently, but I have not been down there in years. When Molly, my oldest heathen, was small, we went a few times: Thunder Hole on New Year’s Day was one instance that comes readily to mind. I’ve been on the top of Cadillac Mountain in the middle of the night, years ago (don’t ask); come to think of it, I’ve been on Sand Beach in the middle of the night as well (again, really don’t ask). For all intents and purposes, as I explained to Nancy, it would all be new to me, in daylight, in the summer. That’s why she thought we ought to start the day on the top of Cadillac Mountain, where the trails circle the summit, and from all points the views are spectacular. From the trails on the north side, we were able to look down on Bar Harbor and the islands; a bark with red sails was circling the bay far below us.
The paths in Acadia are marked with stone cairns, and there are blazes painted on the rocks close to each cairn to guide hikers. Nancy and I wandered about up there–on the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast–for quite a bit, mapless because we’re like that. Whether because the summit is so exposed, or because there are too many hikers, we saw nothing of wildlife. Even the mosquitos were not in evidence, though that might have been due to the breeze from the water.
Truly one would have to have days and days to hike all the trails available in Acadia, and Nancy and I did not. We left the summit and went to Jordan Pond, trading the exposed rock for woods trails and calm water. The paths here were surrounded by hills and overhung with trees, and the one we chose circled the pond. The sun by now was high and blazing, the temperatures climbing, and we were working up a sweat. We stopped at some handy rocks along the shore for lunch, then continued on our explorations.
Our ultimate goal was to end up at the Jordan Pond House, famous for tea and popovers on the lawn for many many years. Unfortunately, by the time we got there around two in the afternoon, everyone in the universe had arrived there as well. The lawn was full, if you can imagine such a thing. Nancy and I settled for a table on the porch; and since we were so hot from hiking, we passed on hot tea as well, though with a pang. I decided on fresh-squeezed lemonade–that seemed to me to be in the spirit of the place–while Nancy, who isn’t quite the sentimentalist, went for iced chai. But the popovers were the main draw, and after I had my first, I quite understood why they were famous. Our server, Rebecca, brought our drinks and one huge hot popover each, along with butter and strawberry jam in little pannikins; after we’d finished those, she wandered back with some more. I couldn’t help feel underdressed, though: Nancy and I should have been wearing summer whites, with big straw hats, rather than the dusty hiking stuff we had on. But no one seemed to mind. Next time. Maybe.
On our way down off Cadillac Mountain, Nancy and I saw something no one would ever believe, should we try to tell them: an SUV, on the way up, had apparently crossed the other lane and got hung up on the giant granite rocks used on the access road in place of guard rails. I mean, the SUV was on the rocks. How? Who knows? The driver was walking around, looking at his car, looking unhappy. I can only think he would have been a bit more unhappy had he managed to jump the granite entirely, and plunged down the mountainside. He had to have been going at a pretty good clip to get up on those rocks, rather than have merely crashed into them. Scary. And unbelievable. Even though we both saw it.