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. 

Planning your Microadventure

Essay, The Charlotte News


The best way to have a microadventure is to plan one, not just in your mind—you need to write it down on the calendar.  This is imperative because if you are anything like our family, if you don’t plan it, then it usually doesn’t happen. Here are a few ideas to help you get your planning started.

1-3 Hour Adventures:

The Co-Housing section of the Town Link Trail: A crushed gravel path that winds its way through forest and fields. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed. This is a great path for riding your bike or even pushing a jogging stroller. Keep your eyes out for the otter and the nesting Canadian geese that call the pond along the trail their home.

Williams Woods Natural Area: A one-mile loop through what may be the best remaining mature clay-plain forest in the Champlain Valley. The trail starts out on a boardwalk and then transitions to an uneven surfaced trail with large clusters of tree roots that twist together over the damp ground. Stop for a snack at the far end of the loop where you can look out over the open area of Throp Brook. Dogs are not allowed and bug spray is a must.

Plouffe Lane: Don’t let the red gate deter you; it is simply a formality. Open it up and drive into the small parking area. Just below the parking area at the bottom of the hill there is a picnic table, a great place for families to have a picnic and let the children run around. The meadow trails fork here, one going up the hill and passing a bench that is a good resting spot and affords a nice view of the Green Mountains. The trail continues into a back field and loops back onto itself. As the trail starts to curve back around, you have the opportunity to slip into the woods and follow a nice path down to the lower field trail.

More information about these trails and others, including directions to the trailheads, can be found at Trailfinder.info.


Day Adventures:

Split Rock Mountain: A ferry ride across the lake and short drive brings you to the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest and it’s approximately 11.5 miles of trails that provide access to many locations including the shores of Lake Champlain. The trails travel through a variety of terrain and forest types and offer a unique opportunity to experience the “wild side” of the Lake Champlain Valley. Views of Vermont, Lake Champlain, and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks are available from several overlooks along the trail system.

More information at http://tinyurl.com/7xuy6o2

Moosalamoo National Recreation Area: With more than 70 miles of trials, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, it is a magical place to explore. Visit moosalamoo.org for more information.

Swimming Holes: I grew up swimming in crystal clear rivers that tumbled out of the mountains of my home town of Danby. There were rock slides and large boulders to warm yourself on a lazy summer afternoon. To this day, a river is my favorite place to swim. A Google search will point you in the general direction of a hot summer day adventure.

Overnight Adventures: There is no shortage of campgrounds in Vermont or New York. Nor is there a shortage of cabins if the thought of sleeping in a tent with your two-year-old makes you want to curl up in the corner and cry. If you would like to step out of your comfort zone or don’t want to pay for a camp site, then you can venture into the Green Mountain National Forest where visitors can camp anywhere (unless the area is posted as closed to camping,) while staying the recommended 200 feet from roads, trails, and bodies of water to disperse impact.

With a little research there is a microadventure that can fit your schedule, budget and comfort level (though it is good to step outside of your comfort zone.). The following tips may help in your planning.

  1. Perfect isn’t fun. The point is that you get outside, unplug and spend time together as a family.
  2. Be flexible. You may want to get to the top of the mountain, but the kids may want to throw leaves into the stream.
  3. Let the kids lead.
  4. A packed backpack that weighs equal to or less than a quarter of the hiker’s body weight is ideal.
  5. Travel distance rule of thumb: a half mile per day multiplied by the youngest child’s age.
  6. Make sure you have something to spark curiosity (a bug net, field guide, magnifying glass, or binoculars).
  7. I always carry a first aid kit, bug spray, a space blanket, headlamp, matches, warm clothes & wind rain protection and duct tape.
  8. Carry snacks and water for every adventure no matter how short.




The case for microadventures

Essay, The Charlotte News

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 12.58.40 PMWith the sporadic warm weather finally upon us, everyone in the house has begun to grow a bit antsy. We are ready to shed the heavy layers of winter clothing and play outside until the sun casts long shadows across the ground. We daydream about wringing as much adventure out of the following few precious months as we can.

In past years, we’ve talked a good game about all of the things we are going to do over the summer. Then life grabs hold—we don’t write any of our ideas down or schedule them on Erin’s weeks off. We become comfortable in the rhythm we happen to fall into, and excuses come easier than the little extra effort it takes to make an adventurous memory with the boys. Then the summer is gone, and we are left wishing we had done more. This year we are determined not to let this happen.

Alastair Humphreys has bicycled around the world, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, run 150 miles across the Sahara and much more. Most of us don’t have the time, the finances or the gumption to take on challenges like this. Which is why Alastair came up with the term microadventure. At its heart, a microadventure is simply a way to get people out of their routines, out of their comfort zones and into a wild place. It does not matter what you do, as long as you’re out there.
From a parent’s point of view, I classify a microadventure as anything that is out of the house, out of the yard (unless you’re having a family slumber party there) and outside for an hour or more. Adventure is more attitude than anything else. It will take a little extra effort and some planning on your part. You’ll have to slow down, disconnect and focus on wherever you are at the moment. Let the kids lead the way, but most importantly stoop down, look closer and see the world through their eyes. By doing these things, a simple walk along the edge of a field can reveal an amazing world you never knew existed.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.01.19 PMPack a simple dinner and head to your favorite trail for an evening hike. Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and watch the sunset from the water’s edge or the top of a cliff. Anything you can think of can be a microadventure. If you want to turn it up a notch, then I would encourage a mid-week campout at a designated campground or at a suitable spot a short hike from your house or car. After all, the hours between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. are easy pickings for an adventure.

In next month’s column, I hope to share a longer list of microadventures for the upcoming summer, along with some other nuggets of information. I would love for you to share your ideas and suggestions with me by clicking here. The more ideas and information we have, the easier it will be to plan your next adventure.

Written for The Charlotte News Vol. 58 no. 19 – April 21, 2016