Going To Town

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We live in a very small town in the hills rolling inland from Penobscot Bay in midcoast Maine.  It has a surprising wealth of amenities for such a little place–a good market, friendly post-office, library, farmers’ market, winery, distillery, two restaurants, and TWO tractor dealerships–everything we need, really.

As an added advantage, we also are close to four towns strung along the coast–Belfast, Camden, Rockland, and Damariscotta.  Each has a distinct personality.  When we visited this area while traveling in our RV in 2014, we spent most of our time in Camden and Belfast.  But we didn’t spend much time in Rockland.  IMG_4015

Since moving here, each town has developed a niche in our lives—certain things are best in one, others in another.  But Rockland has become our overall go-to town.  I’m a little surprised at how quickly I have come to love it.  When we were house hunting, well-heeled and well-intentioned folks in Camden (a picture perfect coastal village) warned us that Rockland was … well … a little dicey … higher crime, more drugs, more problems.  And our initial impressions were not particularly favorable.  To be blunt, it just seemed uglier than the other towns.  Objectively, that’s probably a fair assessment. Although all the coastal towns draw tourists, Rockland remains more of a working class town than its neighbors, with viable waterfront industries, including the only carrageenan (a seaweed extract) plant in the country.

Industry in the harbor. The smokestack is at a cement factory down the road from Rockland.

A harbor view.  The left smokestack is a cement factory down the road from Rockland.  The downtown brick buildings and old courthouse are just visible in the middle of the photo.

The old courthouse.

Here’s a closeup of the lovely 1874 old courthouse tower.

This may have no relationship to carageenan, but it's lovely seaweed.

This seaweed likely has no relationship to carrageenan, but I like it.

Rockland has pockets of poverty and depressing living conditions.  It is a regional center for shopping and services, so there are strings of unlovely big-box stores on the town’s outskirts.

End of the tracks.

End of the tracks.

As with many things, however, as we got to know it, Rockland became a lot less ugly and veered towards beautiful.  IMG_4129

The breakwater and lighthouse are just below the horizon

Breakwater and lighthouse are just below the horizon

At first, it was the shopping and services that drew us there.  It was the most convenient place to find the things that our little town does not provide.  Over time, the town grew on us more and more.

Lobster traps and buoys outside home on the water.

Lobster traps and buoys.

The people are remarkably friendly, there is a lively downtown, colorful history and architecture, ferries running to the nearby islands, and the backdrop of a stunning breakwater stretching across the harbor entrance, with a lighthouse at its tip.

The harbor breakwater, almost a mile long with a lighthouse at its end.

The harbor breakwater, almost a mile long with the lighthouse (the tiny white speck) at its end.

Larger fishing boat heading out past the breakwater.

The breakwater lighthouse.

An artsy shot of a railroad spike sculpture with a glimpse of the lighthouse on the horizon.

An artsy shot of a railroad spike sculpture with a glimpse of the lighthouse.

Plus, it’s interesting, with messy, contentious local politics and a tendency to party (it holds both a lobster festival and a blues festival in the summer).

Rockland's Christmas tree made of lobster pots.

Town Christmas tree made of lobster pots.

Rockland is a town of rocks and water.

The breakwater was built over twenty years at the end of the 1800s.

The breakwater took over 20 years to build at the end of the 1800s.

Breakwater lighthouse

Breakwater lighthouse

This day the water was a little choppy beyond the breakwater.

This day the water was a little choppy outside the breakwater.

And almost dead calm on the harbor side.

And almost dead calm inside.

Up until the Civil War, it had a thriving port and industries–with granite and lime quarries, lime kilns, and rich fishing grounds. 

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Pulling lobster traps from a small skiff in the harbor.

Pulling lobster traps from a small skiff in the harbor.

It built clipper ships–fast beauties that sailed the world, with fittingly aggressive names–Red Jacket, Springbok, Defiance, Rattler, Live Yankee, Anglo-Saxon, Progressive, Yankee Ranger, Young Mechanic, and one misfit soothing name, Euterpe, giver of delight.

Many of Rockland’s old buildings were lost to fire and age.

The Odd Fellows Hall still has closets of odd regalia on the top floor. It's crying out for a paint job.

The old Odd Fellows Hall still has closets of odd regalia left behind on the top floor. It’s a lovely building but crying out for a paint job.

Its downtown, however, retains architecture from the late 19th and early 20th century, with exquisite details for anyone who takes the time to look up a little.  IMG_4014IMG_4021IMG_4043The downtown has a wonderful bakery, excellent restaurants, galleries, stores, and the Farnsworth museum, featuring the Wyeths and other local artists.

I love how the girl in this shot is captivated by the window display.

I love how the girl in this shot is captivated by the window display.

I’m a little embarrassed to say we haven’t been to the Farnsworth yet.  I can blame the weather.  IMG_4050We wanted to focus on outside work in the good weather and museums in the winter.  But our weather has been so mild that we continue to work outside.

Even the pigeons are enjoying the sun.

Even the pigeons are enjoying the sun.

More sunbathing.

More sunbathing.

Museum weather will come soon enough, I’m sure.IMG_4191

Finally, the gym at Rockland’s YMCA (which is inexpensive and open to everyone) has a full-length bank of windows looking out on the harbor—it must be one of the best gym views in the country.  Sweet.      IMG_4113

October to November

IMG_2871Fall lingers. We had expected a more abrupt transition to wintry weather. Instead, our weather has been entertainingly variable–frosty and winter-like for a day or two, followed by stretches of balmy weather, then slow drizzle, with two wild days of high winds that stripped most leaves from the trees.IMG_3240

Except for the oaks. IMG_3208Their leaves turned well after the maples and, even though it’s November, continue to glow with yellow, rust, and reddish brown. IMG_2878Likewise, the blueberry fields remain brilliant, startling flashes of red on the hillsides.

Blueberry fields and stonewalls.  Iconic Maine.

Blueberry fields and stonewalls. Iconic Maine.

October gave us spectacular sunrises, with cold night air creating dense fog over the lakes and river below us. IMG_3078The fog beautifully dissipated into rising mist as the morning air warmed. IMG_3081Moonrises and sunsets were equally dramatic. IMG_2924IMG_3098As the leaves have fallen, we have even more sky to watch.IMG_3431Our normal quiet has been broken by the seasonal sounds of chainsaws, gunshots, and coyotes. Hunting season is underway and this past week we have woken to middle-of-the-night frenzied coyote howls. We have not seen our fox family in several months and suspect that the coyotes have moved in on their territory. I hope not. We miss the foxes.

Our local wild turkey flock seems to be dodging the hunters and coyotes. We have watched the young birds grow up this summer. Here they are in late August, when they first started coming by. IMG_1384By September 18, the young ones were about three-quarters grown.  IMG_1620Now, they are adult-sized (and still shy and hard to photograph).  IMG_3269Over time the flock gradually decreased in numbers but they have survived pretty well and make quite an impressive crew now that they are all full grown.

Our other bird visitors have increased as fall berries have ripened.IMG_3131 IMG_3235Berries, wild and domestic, abound here–currants, cranberries, honeysuckle, winterberries … the list goes on.

This cotoneaster isn't wild, but planted in our yard.

This cotoneaster isn’t wild, but adds color to the rocks along our yard.

To the dismay of our regular bird visitors, the berries attract flocks of robins, starlings, and grackles that noisily descend, feed, and leave.IMG_3115IMG_3142IMG_3156_edited-1I love the berry colors, especially bittersweet, which is an invasive, strangling vine, hated by many. IMG_3170I also am transfixed by milkweed seeds emerging from the pods and drifting on the wind. IMG_3351I even picked a pod I especially liked that was at an angle I couldn’t photograph and propped it up on a stump to get a shot.

Milkweed posing on stump.

Milkweed posing on stump.

I’m sure the local driving by thought I was raving mad.

Here's the same stump, lower down, with an old electric fence insulator embedded like an eye.

Here’s the same stump, lower down, with an old electric fence insulator embedded like an eye.

Aside from appreciating our first Maine October, we’ve been busy putting the garden to bed and clearing land for our spring orchard and garden plantings. Fortunately, we have our new tractor!IMG_2764

More on the fall work in a later post.

Happy November.IMG_3168