A Fertile and Beautiful Place

Chronicles of a Wandering Marshmellow, Essay

A Maine Adventure In Three Acts
Act one: A Brief History & Cinnamon Rolls
Act two: A Lobster Tale
Act Three: A Fertile and Beautiful Place

In this rural corner of the country, cash is still the Maine way (pun intended) to pay, and we find ourselves counting quarters to cover the entry to Quoddy Head State Park, the nation’s most eastern point. Exact change is recommended as there is only a self-pay-box. The park is wrapped in fog an average of fifty-nine days a year, but today we can see across the channel to the cliffs of a Canadian island and the Bay of Fundy beyond. Maine’s coldest summer temperatures are recorded here and that, combined with the fog and typography of 90-150 foot cliffs, helps to create coastal peat bogs. The scale and beauty here rival that of the pink granite cliffs of Acadia National Park to the south. 

Quoddy Head is Passamaquoddy (People of the Dawn) for “fertile and beautiful place.” The lighthouse, which was built in 1808, is still in operation today. Painted with red and white stripes to make it more visible in fog and snow the light itself shines 15-18 miles out to sea and was originally fueled by sperm whale oil. 

We stroll down the coastal trail to Green Point, keeping an eye out for various birds and the whales that frequent the area in the summer. On another day, we do see a couple of seals and a pod of dolphins or porpoise just off the beach. After tide pool exploring and a snack, the boys begrudgingly follow us to the peat bog. I tell Erin she should bring a coat to the peat bog. It is an arctic peat bog after all. The land on either side of the trail is covered in a lush layer of dark green moss. It looks like an enchanted land and I tell Luke that this is certainly the habitat of hobbits, elves, and dwarfs. When we read about dwarf trees while walking the boardwalk in the peat bog I say, “See? I told you there were dwarfs here.”

 He groans, rolls his eyes and wanders off to look at a carnivorous plant. 

Elf mansion

Just off the parking lot on the Inland Trail, we find an elf village set among the trees. It is amazing to see what folks have built here, and Noah is fascinated and begins to build a house of his own. We will come back to this spot two more times to create more homes. 

Lubec, the easternmost town in the country, is a quaint hardscrabble town that seems shuttered at the moment. The only open restaurant is The Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant, which is perched above an operating wharf. The view encompasses the harbor, Popes Folly Island, and Canada just across the Lubec Narrows. If the border were open, we could take the bridge across for even more exploring. After dinner, we wander down to the wharf where a few men are standing around the back of a dented and rusted pick-up talking while they wait to unload the clams they have dug today. They tell us that with three men it takes about four hours to harvest the four large containers that fill the back of the truck. 

Reversing Falls is a 191-arc preserve that allows for views of the largest set of tidal falls on the Maine Coast. The water lulls us into a state of relaxation as we sit on a rock outcropping watching it rush by at nearly fourteen miles an hour. Late in the afternoon, we venture to Hersey Point Preserve–the description sounds promising but the trail is overgrown and dotted with fire ant hills. One section of the beach has Luke and me sinking up to our ankles in mud. We do find a Lion Jellyfish that has washed up onto the beach. It is almost two feet across and feels like jelly. 

Unreachable beach on the Cutler Coast

The Cutler Coast is our destination the following day. My mind has become clouded with the thought of a secluded beach accessed only by a wooden ladder. This drives me to push the family on an epic six-mile slog. We never make it to the ladder beach, but we do see a beach that we cannot reach. It seems to too many people just like us have tried to scramble down the ravine thus causing it to greatly erode. We do reach a beach that is nothing to write home about, and that is saying something for this area of Maine. We conclude that hiking is not our favorite thing to do, and we would have been much happier just turning around after the first mile where we stopped to have lunch on an outcropping a hundred feet above the water that supplied us with a dramatic view of the coast. 

Bog Brook Cove Preserve–Moose Cove on the other hand provides more exploring than hiking, it is also far less busy than the Cutler Coast. With a beautiful cobblestone covered beach, rocks to climb on, and tide pools to explore we are in our element. We meet a biology student from Northeastern University who is studying the effect of the invasive Green Crabs on the Welk. The crabs have been on the southern Maine shores for a hundred years but more recently have begun to move north. 

“I’m impressed at how easily you move over the slippery seaweed and rocks,” I tell him. 

“Oh you’re fine until you’re not,” he says. “Somedays I look like a newborn giraffe.”

The tides our last two days here are nearly three feet below sea level. This gives us two gobsmacked days of exploring the seafloor. We find hundreds of Sea Urchins, the Blood Sea Star, Purple Star, and the Common Star. We find Limpets, Sea vases, a Sea cumber, strange multi-legged worms, and a small minnow type of fish that is incredibly fast and seems to use its front flippers as legs to dig into the mud and disappear. At one point a Lion Jellyfish swims by. We discover Colonial Tunicates, an invasive species but still an amazing and beautiful life form. They look as if someone has spilled orange, purple, and red paint all over the rocks. I reached out to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute for help with the Colonial Tunicates identification and one respondent told me that they are more closely related to vertebrates than they are to the invertebrates that you will find in the same tide pools. 

We spend hours exploring the ocean floor–until the tide chases us back to dry land. How blessed we are to have had this experience. If it were not for the pandemic we would have never come to this magnificent corner of the world. 

A Lobster Tale

Chronicles of a Wandering Marshmellow, Essay

A Maine Adventure In Three Acts
Act one: A Brief History & Cinnamon Rolls
Act two: A Lobster Tale

The Little River Lobster Company in tucked behind a house and perched on a bluff overlooking the Little River. It is a simple building that holds a small office and a few shelves stacked with gloves and other items that lobstermen need to do their work. I learn all this later, though, because right now the sign on the door says Closed. 

The Lobster Barn is next on the list, but a hand-written sign on the door reads, Closed. All sold out. Captain Matt’s is literally the end of the road in our search for a fresh lobster dinner.  An enormous sign hanging on a small pre-fab garage reads We are Open. A handful of kids are playing on the back porch when we pull into the driveway. A moment later a large barrel-chested man with a friendly smile and a thick Maine accent emerges from the house. 

“My first question is do you take credit cards?” I ask.

“Yup, just let me get my phone,” Matt replies.

The interior of the garage is taken up almost entirely with two live tanks stacked on top of each other. Each one is about three feet deep and the size of two queen beds put side by side. We purchase four two-pound lobsters and drive back to camp with grand visions of roasting our “catch” over the open fire as we have no large pot to boil the lobsters in. How hard can it be? 

In the book, The Line Tender, the main character makes her father kill the lobster before he boils them. The boys ask me to do the same and given that we are cooking them on an open fire this seems a reasonable request. To do this I must stab each lobster between the eyes. It’s wretched business, and it proves too much for Noah who retreats to Marshmellow followed by Erin and Luke. I silently vow never to do it this way again.  

The fire is hot with a good bed of coals, rain is forecast but given the late hour, I decide to forge ahead. The lobsters’ barely fit on the grill and a couple are still twitching, and though I know they are no longer alive it is still horrifying and I am glad I am out here alone.  

In hindsight, our main worry that we would over-cook the lobster and turn them to rubber is laughable.  The rain soon comes in sheets, and the fire begins to sputter. One part is hot and the other is cool. How do those chef’s on social media make this look so easy? I dash off to rip branches covered in lichen and Spanish moss from a dead tree. The thought crosses my mind that woodsmoke will flavor our lobster, but not enough for me to stop and look for a cleaner fuel source. I stuff the branches into the fire, frantic for it not to go out. When the lobsters are finally done only one of the lobsters is eatable. The others are either partially cooked or taste like moldy gym socks. If we are going to cook lobster again, we are going to need a pot. 

Finding that lobster pot proves as easy as finding decent coffee, and it is only by my sheer dogged determination that we succeed. We try the Lobster Barn first. The website shows pictures of kitschy lobster paraphernalia and lobster pots. The closed sign is still up, but I peer in the window and see some pots on the shelf. I knock on the door of the adjacent house but no one answers. The TrueValue Hardware only has a pot with a burner attached. I naively think that we do not need a burner for the pot.  The man I speak with suggests I try a handful of other places. We stop at the Hammond hardware store but they only have a pot that you can fit an entire turkey in. A kind fashionably dressed woman at the Machias River General Store looks all over her backroom but cannot find one. She makes an off-handed comment that her personal pot is too well-loved to sell and I almost offer her $20 sight unseen, but decide to first try the three dollar stores and the grocery store in town. None of them have pots, so we stop back at the general store, but the woman is gone. Out of options, I buy some extra canisters of gas so that we can cook the lobster on our tiny grill. My family wants lobster and lobster they will have even if I have to grill them two at a time. 

As we pass by the Lobster Barn, I see a car in the driveway of the house, so I veer into the post office parking lot next door.  As I approach the house I see a large cloud of smoke drift up from the back porch and smell the aroma of marijuana. The front door looks directly through a small room and out the backdoor to where I saw the smoke. I knock on the door and a moment later a man of about sixty pops up, eyes wide, like a prairie dog poking his head out of its hole.

When he opens the door I say something to the effect that I see you are closed but I also saw you have pots on the shelf and I’d like to buy a pot. He looks at me with a mixture of confusion and worry, his mouth hanging slightly agape. 

“A lobster pot,” I say, “I saw you had one in your shop.”

“I’m out of business,” he says. But he perks up when it finally all falls into place. In short order, I am walking back to the car with a seventeen-quart pot, my head held high in triumph. 

It does not occur to me until later that he probably thought I was trying to buy the kind of pot you smoke not the kind to boil lobsters in. 

The Little River Lobster Company only takes cash, which after the purchase of the pot I now am short of again. I do have enough for three lobsters, and since it is Erin and the boys who love lobster and I can take it or leave it, everything works out. 

Our new pot is far too large to fit on Marshmellow’s tiny stove and given last night’s debacle and the enamel coating on the pot I am afraid to put it on the fire. So I place it on our small gas grill which is not made to boil even small pots of water, let alone excessively large ones. They say a watched pot never boils and after a good hour and a half, I decide that if I wait around for this pot to boil, we will be having lobster for breakfast. The water may not be boiling but it is hot so I put the lobsters in the pot for a few minutes to get the cooking process started. Then I take them out and place them on the grill to finish the job. 

It is nearly nine when  Erin and the boys begin cracking shells. It has been well worth the wait though, as the lobsters are fully cooked and do not taste like moldy gym socks. We’ve also got a great story of how it took Dad an entire day to cook three lobsters. 

A Brief History and Cinnamon Rolls

Chronicles of a Wandering Marshmellow, Essay

A Maine Adventure In Three Acts
Act one: Cobscook Bay State Park, Edmunds Township, Maine

Cobscook Bay State Park is surrounded on three sides by its namesake. This 888-acre park was purchased with funds from Duck Stamps and was originally a wildlife refuge. The camping area was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 and it was not until 1964 that it became a state park. Exploration opportunities abound in this area aptly named the Bold Coast. Here, the tides average 24 feet, which equates to the water rising or falling approximately one foot every fifteen minutes in six hours. Cobscook comes from the Passamaquoddy word meaning “boiling tides,” and we understand why when we visit Reversing Falls. As the tide rushes out, the calm water is covered with large ringlets of water, and it seems as if the water is about to start boiling. 

Our campsite, number six, is one of a handful of first-come sites in the park that are right on or near the water. Our site can accommodate an RV up to thirty-five feet, over twice the size of Marshmellow. With such a large site and the easy maneuverability of Marshmellow, we spend two hours trying to find just the right spot to park for the week. I pull forward, back-up, get out and stand with my hands on my hips while conferring with Erin, then repeat the process several more times. Exasperated with our indecision, the boys wander down to the shore where they find a bone that looks like a miniature whale’s tail. Finally, we tuck Marshmellow in between the trees, angled just right so we can see the water through the big back window.

Our first night there are intermittent torrents of rain, no leaking window this time. It is still raining in the morning but that does not diminish the beauty of the landscape here, in a way it enhances it. But to our dismay, we have positioned Marshmellow right under a tree that is being ravaged by tent caterpillars.  I realize that the plinking sound we heard in the night was the caterpillars relieving themselves all over Marshmellow and the outdoor rug. By the end of the trip, Marshmellow will look as if it has been toasted. 

Erin had read that you can roast Pillsbury cinnamon rolls over hot coals, much like the doughboys, and we decide to give it a try. I have bought the extra-large ones, a mistake, and after a valiant effort, the boys and Erin determine that this particular culinary adventure is a bust. It will not be our last on this trip. 

In hopes of learning of a great bakery close by, I take the bone the boys found and drive up to the ranger station to see what the bone is and what local knowledge I can glean. A couple in their later years are working this morning. The wife is a tender-hearted woman who is small in stature but exudes an air of confidence and determination often found in local New Englanders. 

They give me a list of places to explore, tell me the bone is most likely from a deer, not a miniature whale and that Little River Lobster once had lobster for $3.50 per pound. An amazing price.

“What’s the name of that beach? The one I’m not allowed to go to anymore?” she asks her husband. 

“Jasper Beach, he says,” looking up and giving me a wry smile a twinkle in his eye. “One can only bring home so many stones.” 

“ I came here as a girl and hardly anything’s changed,” she tells me smiling too. I remember when that big field just before the mobile camping area sign was filled with cows. There used to be a big house on the top of the hill too. I bet that some of the apple trees in this park are two hundred years old. If you see apple trees, that means someone settled there for a time. In the middle of the woods or along the shore, it is a sure sign of homesteading.” 

The Pie Ladies is the place to go for all things that we should not eat but do anyway because they are so good. They are just up the road in Pembroke and well worth the 30-minute round trip. Started by a mother and daughter team, it now seems that a third generation is also working here. When Noah and I go for the first time, the grandmother is there, and she embodies the quintessential pie-baking grandma. Short and stocky, with a poof of curly white hair and kind loving eyes, she wears a practical dress and sensible shoes. When we indulge in a dozen cookies along with our cinnamon rolls, she fusses over the fact that the peanut butter ones are all broken. I also get two large cups of coffee because we have run out and my plan of getting a bag of locally roasted coffee has fallen to pieces. All I’ve been able to find is a small can of the mass-produced coffee for $6.99. In the Sixties, my parents traveled through fourteen European countries on $5.00 a day, and now I can’t even buy a can of bad coffee for that much. Oh, the privileged problems we endure while navigating this blessed life that we have. 

Our adventure continues next week. Tally Ho!

Glamping Luxury

Chronicles of a Wandering Marshmellow, Essay

Site 31 Palmyra Golf Course and Campground, Palmyra Maine

“I thought that was a suitcase you were towing,” our neighbor, two sites down says as we climb out of the car and begin going about our set up procedures. I hear Erin laugh and say; “We call it Marshmellow.” And then the normal conversation ensues, so cute, I’ve never seen anything like that before, you all fit in there? Our friendly neighbors offer us wood for our campfire but due to the late hour and because it took us four and a half hours to get here rather than three and a half Google first predicted it would take, all we have the energy for is to set up camp make a simple dinner and climb into bed.

We’ve come to this friendly campground just off Route Two in the middle of Maine as a stopover on our way to Cobscook Bay State Park. After a week of dry camping (no electrical or water hookups at a campground) and a week of mountain biking, we need a little downtime, more provisions and a place to wash our aromatic clothes. With laundry facilities, a pool for the boys to swim in, and hook-ups, this is pure luxury. I wonder if we should have found a campground like this for the next leg of the trip? Privately run campgrounds can be hit or miss. They can be like this one–large well-spaced sites, clean restrooms and grounds, and rules that are respected. Or the sites can be shoehorned together, the property messy, and large lights illuminating the grounds at all hours. Erin assures me we’ve made the right choice.

The morning dawn is overcast and cool, and it is nice to sit at the picnic table with a hot cup of coffee and write. An older couple out for their morning walk glance over at Marshmellow.

“If you put a hitch on one of those bikes you could tow that thing,” the husband says to me. We chat for a bit; he is a retired elevator installer and his brother lives in Milton, a town about an hour north of our home. It is a small world.

After breakfast, I get ten dollars’ worth of quarters and start the laundry. I sit out on a bench overlooking the grounds and watch the boys play shuffleboard. I call my mom to fill her in on our journey and she asks if there are just acres of pine trees as she remembers from her trips to Maine as a child. There are, I tell her.

“We used to make up poems to entertain ourselves on the drive and my poem was ‘Trees trees is all I sees.’ I still remember that one because trees were all we saw for miles and miles.”

I send a text of the boys playing shuffleboard to my friend Steve in Montana, another stay-at-home-dad, and the folks we were supposed to be camping with this weekend. “Live it up,” he tells me. 

“Oh, I am”, by doing our laundry.

“I’m vacuuming,” he replies. “We still rock. Lesser men wouldn’t think of doing laundry on a Saturday, much less any day”.

It’s true, I think, and then settle back and watch the boys, now splashing around in the pool.


That evening I wander over to Mr. & Mrs. UPS’s (the husband is a driver for UPS) site to take them up on the wood offer and ask if there is a good place to get a local pizza. As I walk over someone asks me if I am Mr. Marshmellow, “I am,” I say. Mr. UPS tells me to take all the wood that I would like and the box of random woodworking scraps he has for kindling. He also invites us over for fried dough, which is Pillsbury pizza dough that you wrap around a stick and roast over hot coals. “We have some,” I say, and go onto explain that we learned about the dough on our last trip to Maine, only those folks called them doughboys and stuffed them with call kinds of chocolates. Mr. UPS offers us his powder sugar and cinnamon and sugar to use along with the wood. Then he goes a step further and invites us over to their campsite to roast our treats. Another neighbor goes off to her camper to get us a menu for the Palmyra Country Store so that we can order a pizza. The pizza is excellent, and it is nice not to have any dishes to wash. Not that I’ve been washing dishes on this trip; that role seems to have fallen to Erin, which is a switch, as I normally do them when we are home.

What-ifs and questions swirl in my mind. Should I be accepting these things from people we do not know? I don’t want to be rude and refusing these kind gestures goes against every fiber of my being. I settle with putting the two shakers on the picnic table and washing my hands. But it does not end there. Later when I go back over to return the menu and ask the best way to roast these treats, they offer me an adult beverage–that’s is easy to say no to as I no longer drink. They also give us larger sticks and their spray butter, and their pizza cutter. The sticks are extras and you can’t have fried dough without butter. The pizza cutter makes cutting the dough easier. They accompany me back to our campsite to give us instructions and we make small talk as the boys stuff marshmallows and chocolate into the doughboys. Oddly, though, we never ask for names. Perhaps it is just not important. What is important is the sense of community that has been established in the last twenty-four hours and Erin and my renewed sense that there are still kind people in the world despite what the news and the talking heads would have you believe. We can learn a lot from Mr. & Mrs. UPS about genuine and unabashed kindness.

That night as we lie in bed I am still worried we messed up and the fear of COVID is threatening to consume my thoughts. I whisper as much to Erin. She assures me that given that we were outside at a safe distance we will be ok. She would know; this blog was originally called Smart Men Mary Doctors.

The next day as we are packing up continue our journey I stop what I am doing.

 “We should have said it’s not a suitcase it’s a backpack,” I say to Erin. I am always quick with a witty retort.