36| winter on the coast


Looking out from the top of a mountain in Maine

View from South Bubble Mountain


For the rest of the summer we continued to build our traditions. The months of August and September are the busiest as far as the tourists are concerned. Instead of eschewing Bar Harbor during those months we learned to revel in the hustle and bustle. When the cruise ships began anchoring in Bar Harbor, it felt like Mardi Gras. Passengers came ashore by the score. In the space of one block you could hear three or four different languages.

The fall foliage in Maine peaks between mid-September and mid-October. During peak leaf season, there are multiple cruise ships docked along the coast and the roads seem filled with tour buses. And then it’s all over. The next thing that happens is November. The month of November in Maine is grim. The trees have lost all of their leaves. It’s too early for snow. Jim’s description of November in Maine? “Rain, drizzle, and fog, oh, my!”

“We need to join the YMCA or something,” began Jim on one rainy November morning. We were both missing the weekend adventures of the summer and fall.

I sat up, “Okay, let’s do it. I’d love to start swimming again.” So, we joined the Y. Jim usually lifted weights or used the aerobic machines like the stationary bicycle or rowing machine. I lifted weights sometimes but mostly I swam. I love the water. What can I say, I’m a Pisces? There’s something hypnotizing about swimming. I’d settle into a steady free style and just swim.

On days when I had only paperwork to do I started staying at home to do it. Then the migratory birds began to settle on the bay. The sound that the birds make is magical and almost indescribable. It’s a symphony of whistles, squeaks, and calls. It’s completely different from the quacking or honking sounds made by ducks or geese when flying. Even through the closed bay window where I had my desk I could hear it. When I think of winter on Frenchman’s Bay it’s the sound of the migratory birds that I remember . . . a sound interrupted only occasionally by the low thrum of the diesel engines of the scallop boats moving across the bay. I loved those days of working at home. Jim would make sure I had plenty of wood for the fireplace before he left for work, and I’d keep the fire going all day.

We waited for snow. Snow on the Maine coast is persnickety if you happen to enjoy cross-country skiing. Snow usually moves across the state from west to east or moves up the coast in a northeasterly direction. The ocean is much warmer than the land, and, often, the snow turns to sleet or rain as it approaches the coast. The most annoying pattern for the snow is when it snows several inches of nice light snow, turns into sleet mixed with rain, and then freezes solid. The result is something like concrete, slippery but dangerous concrete. For most of November and December the snow was no good for skiing. It ended up as the slushy or concrete variety. Finally, in January, the conditions were perfect. We were waiting for our friend, Chuck, to arrive. Chuck worked for one of the west coast guide dog schools and was in Maine to evaluate someone who had applied for a dog at his school.

“Hey Jim,” I called from the kitchen. “I’ve got this soup and everything ready for Chuck but if he doesn’t get here soon it’s going to be too late to go skiing on MDI.”

“I know,” said Jim. “He said he’d be here an hour ago. Look, I’m going to go ahead and put the skis in the truck.” I had given Jim new skis for Christmas. He was going to use his new ones and Chuck was going to use his old ones.

“Sounds good,” I replied. “When you get the skis and poles in the truck come back in and I’ll have your soup ready.” As we sat at the table eating our soup Jim asked what I was going to feed Chuck. “I don’t know,” I’ll give him a sandwich or something.” When Chuck finally pulled in the driveway we unceremoniously stuffed him in the truck, handed him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and set off. During the drive to the island we caught up with each other’s doings of the past couple of years. As we drove over the causeway, Jim said, “So, where do you want to go?”

“Oh, Jordan Pond House for sure,” I answered. “Let’s do that loop that begins with the long, gradual downhill to the stream.” Jim agreed, and we headed in that direction. There were only two cars in the unplowed main parking lot. We pulled across and stopped near the woods.

“Here you go, Chuck,” said Jim, handing Chuck his old skis. He disentangled my skis and handed them over. After snapping my boots into the toe holds I pulled on my gloves and got my wrists settled in the straps of my poles.

“Okay, everybody ready?” asked Jim. “Let’s go.” We had to go up a very slight hill into the woods and then along a path to the carriage trail.

I got there first. As Jim came out of the woods I said, “Any tracks?” While cross country ski trails in Acadia National Park are not professionally groomed enough people ski there to keep the trails pretty well defined.

“Yep, about two feet to your left,” Jim instructed. Stepping in that direction I felt the first track.

“Left or right?” I called.

“Right,” Jim called back. We had done this so often that we had a sort of shorthand. Feeling further left with my left ski I found the parallel track and settled both skis firmly in the tracks. When Jim and Chuck were ready we set off. We went about thirty yards on this carriage trail and then took a left. This was the beginning of a long gradual downhill slope that I loved. Insuring I had my skis in the tracks I whooped and set off.

At first I took long graceful gliding strides, using my poles to propel me forward. As my speed reached the critical point where propulsion was no longer necessary I put my skis together, leaned forward, and began to fly. The wind whipped through my hair. Along with the sound of my skis flying over the snow came the sound of the stream below and to my right. Both of us ran along our appointed courses, free and joyful.

I knew I was going to pass the place where we needed to turn right but I didn’t care. I never wanted to stop. When I reached the bottom of the hill I turned and headed back up to the intersecting carriage trail. Jim and Chuck were there waiting for me. The next part was short but tricky. “How do you want to do this,” asked Jim. “Want me to go ahead and call you when I’m down or do you want me to ski behind you and tell you when to turn.”

Considering the alternatives I said, “Behind me I think. That way you’ll be closer the whole way and I’ll be able to hear you more easily.”

“Okay, go for it. The snow is pretty uniform along here, no tracks to really follow. I’ll stay close behind you.” I set off more slowly. This part was steeper and I knew I’d be flying again soon. The tricky part was the ninety degree turn to the left halfway down. I picked up speed.

“Left,” called Jim. I angled my right ski to the left and leaned into it. “Okay, good,” Jim called. “Now straighten up and go for it!” I did, and arrived breathless at the bottom of the hill.

Chuck had never seen us ski together. As he joined us he said, “You guys are incredible. It’s like you’re reading each other’s minds. You make it look so easy. Sue, have you ever thought of skiing competitively?”

“No, not really,” I replied. “It’s so much fun, I wouldn’t want to mess things up by having a training schedule or a real coach or anything like that.”

We moved out again. As we crossed a bridge the stream was now on our left. We skied three abreast and talked as we moved along the carriage trail. “You guys don’t know how lucky you are to live here,” began Chuck. “I don’t think I’ve heard the sound of a free flowing stream since I moved to California.” We asked Chuck about his work for the guide dog school. He told us about all of the travel that he was doing. It was his job to fly all over the country and evaluate applicants to his school. “Oh, yes, the travel has its good aspects but it’s getting a little old. I’m actually thinking of switching jobs at the school. I want to learn to train guide dogs.”

By now we had reached the long uphill part of the trail. Talk ceased as we worked our way up the hill. Arriving slightly winded at the intersecting trail that would take us back to Jordan Pond House we rested. When we set off again we reached the part of the trail where Penobscot Mountain rose steeply on our left and dropped steeply on our right. I paused for a few minutes to take in the wide open space to my right. Then I set off again. There was one more nice little downhill part of the trail which took us to the Jordan Pond outflow stream. Then it was back up the hill to the parking lot. Divesting ourselves of skis and poles, we threw the lot in the back of the truck and headed home to a fire and hot soup.

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