Fishing Lessons

IMG_8330 - CopyAfter spending a lot of time this winter watching birds, I learned that they have a wide variety of fishing styles, techniques, and skills.  I thought that shorebird fishing consisted simply of a dive or beak stab, followed by a quick swallow.  But no, bird fishing is a sophisticated and fascinating business.

For example, one evening at South Carolina’s Huntington Beach State Park, this brown pelican fished for about an hour off the causeway.  He patiently harvested tiny fishes through the sieve method—lots of work for not much protein.   IMG_8339 First, he took aim and lunged.

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Then he slowly, slowly pulled his head and bloated throat pouch up, engorged with water and minnows.   It was a gradual process, with the water slowly seeping out his beak until his head was fully up. IMG_8392 - CopyIMG_8394IMG_8395IMG_8397 - Copy

IMG_8336IMG_8327 - Copy (2)He held his head fully upright, beak down, while the remaining water dripped out his beak tip and then abruptly pulled his head back, with great bill chomping, and swallowed the little fishes.IMG_8398

IMG_8399 - CopyAfter attracted a bevy of photographers, he flew off to fish elsewhere.IMG_8378IMG_9199IMG_9200IMG_9203

This egret was after larger prey.  She suddenly went into a frenzy of wing flapping and stomping, all around the edge of marsh tidal pool.

IMG_8435IMG_8436IMG_8437IMG_8439IMG_8440IMG_8441IMG_8442IMG_8443IMG_8444Then she went in for the kill—a good-sized fish that she carried onto the mud bank.  IMG_8447She dropped it and let it slither around in the mud for a bit before picking it up and awkwardly downing that sucker. IMG_8452IMG_8455IMG_8458

One Gator, Two Gator, Three Gators, Four …

IMG_9025Some places are more of a surprise than others.  When we headed south in the fall, we stayed at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina based on rave reviews by several RV bloggers.  Not surprisingly, we loved it.

Six months later, now heading north in the almost-spring, we stayed at another South Carolina coast state park with a similar name–Huntington Beach State Park.  We had no blogger recommendations for this park, and knew little about it, but it looked interesting.  It was … and more–a very nice surprise.

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To start with, it had alligators–huge armored grandfather gators, adorable smiling-like baby gators, and everything in between.  And there were lots of them, very close, swimming and sunning. IMG_8837

This is a "how many gators can you spot in this picture" puzzle.

This is a “How many gators can you spot in this picture?” puzzle.

I count five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground.  Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

I counted five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground to see the babies. Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

It was a gatorpalooza.  Throw in miles of empty beach and more birds than you can throw a stick at and you have one of my favorite campgrounds in our travels.

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IMG_8653The park is right off a main road leading to the highly commercialized Myrtle Beach, which battles with the Panama City, Florida area for the title of Redneck Riviera.  So it was a surprise to find an oasis of alligators and birds, left alone in relative peace.

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There is a causeway leading to the campground, with cars randomly stopped while their occupants take pictures of alligators sunning on a little island a few yards away.

Causeway.

Causeway.

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This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

Birders with spotting scopes lined the road, trying to catch site of the eaglets in a nearby nest or photographing the birds fishing, sparring, and courting in the oyster beds and marshes.IMG_9067IMG_9328IMG_9069

The campground was a mix of wooded and open spots with two pathways directly out to a beautiful dog-friendly beach.  IMG_9058

The park was established as a bird and wildlife preserve by Archer and Anna Huntington, a wealthy and somewhat eccentric couple who first came to the island seeking ease for Anna’s tuberculosis.  She was a successful sculptor and he had various interests, including a love of all things Spanish.  The house they built in the 1930s, Atalaya, is open to the public, but is in pretty bad shape.  IMG_8879The park puts on an interesting tour, but the house itself was ugly, dark, damp, and cold.  I couldn’t wait to emerge into the sun again.  IMG_8880The land around Atalaya, however, is lovely and, thanks to the Huntingtons, isn’t covered in water slides and Ruby Tuesdays.

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I spent a lot of time watching alligators and birds.  Their eyes,

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and wings,IMG_8598IMG_8954IMG_9097

Check out the reflection of the bird in the middle.

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and signs of spring.IMG_9004IMG_9009IMG_8483IMG_8622IMG_8969IMG_8607

Skidaway

IMG_7758It feels good to be traveling again.  We headed north from St. Simons back to Athens, Georgia, where our son and daughter-in-law live.  We picked up our generator and some other things we had stashed there, ate like kings (or pigs, depending on your point-of-view), and then turned around and headed back to the Georgia coast.  This time, our destination was Skidaway Island State Park, just southeast of Savannah.

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Skidaway takes reservations, but not for specific sites, just the category of site—full-hookups or water and electric only.  There were no full-hookup reservations available when we made ours, but we arrived early and snagged a full-hook up site that had just opened up.  I believe we had the best site in the park.  Enormous, level, relatively private–it was one of our favorite campsites of the trip.

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Although Skidaway is an island, the state park is in the coastal forest bordering the marsh and there is no beach.  Most of the campground sites are large, overhung by live oaks, bordered by palmettos, and alive with birds.  IMG_7826It has a series of trails, from a half-mile to three miles, which made for lovely daily exercise.  IMG_7742IMG_7786IMG_7771Lots of birds, not too many people, campfires at night, a full moon rising through the trees—as I said, it felt good to be in our little trailer world again.

IMG_7823The park has a small interpretative center with information on the area’s history—natural and otherwise.  As I walked through it, trying to quiet the thwack-thwack of my flip-flips so as not to interrupt the Ranger’s talk on poisonous snakes from the room next door, I heard her say, “Whatever you do, don’t walk the trails with sandals or flip-flops.”  No problem, I headed out on the trails fully shod, ankles sprayed with bug dope, so that no snakes or ticks would get near me. IMG_7883

The interpretative center had a birdfeeder out back.

The interpretative center had a bird feeder out back.

This cardinal kept attacking its reflection in the interpretative center's window

This cardinal kept attacking its reflection in the interpretative center’s window

We headed into Savannah one day, but it was too cold and windy to even get out of the car for more than a few minutes.  IMG_7836IMG_7840We parked and tried to walk around but didn’t get much past the parking lot with the hearse ghost tours.  Still, even a drive around Savannah is interesting.  Its historic district is a maze of beautiful old homes and shaded squares, with some grittiness interspersed and around the edges.  IMG_7869IMG_7863IMG_7876IMG_7868IMG_7877The river waterfront’s warehouses have been converted to restaurants and tourist shops.  It gave me the deja-vu-ish feeling that I have had in several gorgeous old waterfront towns that now have look alike tourist businesses–Lahaina, Provincetown, Savannah, Wilmington–as if I’ve been on these streets before, but with a slight shift in light, background, and smell.  They are becoming too much the same.

IMG_7845IMG_7854We did not have any expectations for Skidaway.  We changed our travel plans in Athens, deciding that we wanted to head back to the coast in hopes of warmer weather. So, we booked Skidaway at the last minute, knowing little about it.  It was a good decision.  Despite the one cold day, the weather was pretty nice.  And the campground, which seems like a serene, woodsy oasis, is only about fifteen minutes from Savannah. We loved it.IMG_7791IMG_7810IMG_7796

 

Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans

IMG_7535We are on the road again and just getting back into the sweet rhythm of travel.  But it was not entirely easy to leave St. Simons.  Unwittingly, we put down a few root tendrils in our three month stay that had stubbornly taken hold.  It was a good interlude and we will be back.

St. Simons was not new to us, but this extended visit gave us a new perspective.  I became almost addicted to the winter beach.  It changed–sometimes dramatically–from day to day and, on days when I did not walk its full length, I felt as if I was missing something.  Few ventured out on the bitter cold days, giving me miles of solitude with nothing but waves, sand, birds and sky–always different, with constantly shifting sands and tidal cuts.

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When I wasn’t walking the beach I was bird-stalking–mostly along the marsh.  I am not a birder and have no life list.  But I love to watch and listen to birds and to try to capture them in photos.  St. Simons was a birdy feast.  I never knew what I was going to see from day to day, but felt I got to know some of the resident egrets, mergansers, and herons.

20141203_162428In fact, the birds were so varied and interesting that the second part of this post will be bird photos only, allowing those of you tired of the birds an easy bypass.  IMG_7650

The St. Simons’ people, both locals and visitors, were some of the friendliest I have ever encountered.  We enjoyed our quirky neighborhood–between the King and Prince and the Village–full of old houses, cats, and enough dogs to hold a neighborhood dog parade in their honor.

King and Prince Hotel--good beach access here even at high tide

King and Prince Hotel–good beach access here even at high tide

The Crab Trap, neighborhood restaurant for 40 years

The Crab Trap, neighborhood restaurant for 40 years

Shrimp boat seen from Village pier

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Shrimper

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Cats on a roof.

Dog parade

Dog parade passing by our front door

We made friends.  I came to know the 89-year-old woman living around the corner, her yard man, the oil company guy on the beach, the shell-collecter who hated the cold, the mail lady, fellow kayakers, three different couples from Maine, and a wide variety of people from yoga classes.  After months on the road, where interpersonal encounters are necessarily transitory, the people of St. Simons were an unexpected pleasure.

Spring was trying hard to rear its lovely head just as we were leaving.  The first blooms were zapped by a hard frost, but new blooms kept coming.  With the spring came more people.  Too many for us–we would not like the St. Simons’ summer crowds.IMG_6789

IMG_6810IMG_4484IMG_6929IMG_6782We were ready to leave and fortunately George’s shoulder healed quickly and well.  We lucked out on his surgeon, whose aggressive approach to rehab allowed George to be lifting some weights within six weeks of surgery.  He now is able to do most everything, has good range of motion, and little pain.  We are very glad that we took a break from travel to have the surgery.

That break also gave us a chance to think seriously about where we want to go from here. Originally, we had intended to be on the road for about a year, until May.  After deciding on surgery, and a three-month break for rehab, we continued to think that we would head out west afterwards and travel into the summer.  But, at some point in our down time, we decided instead to head up to Maine and buy a house this spring.  We want to have a place near some water with a little land to indulge in gardening, beekeeping, woodworking, and other long-on-hold interests.  We will take the trip out west whenever we feel like it because, after all, we are retired and can come and go as we please.

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Zoe learned to handle the surf.

Zoe learned to handle the surf.

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Car transport behemoth ship in the distance

 

Last beach walk--beautiful light.

Last beach walk–beautiful light.

We are working our way up the East Coast to arrive in Maine later in the spring.  We will continue to travel, but now with a new home base.

 

Migration

New Holland - Canon Elph-107We are on our way south–part of the snowbird migration to Florida—with stops in North Carolina and Georgia.  Unlike most snowbirds, our Florida stay will be brief because we are eager to be out West again.

We left Massachusetts with the leaves just starting to turn and morning temperatures dropping into the 30s.  Time to go.

Good bye Boston

Good bye Boston

Our first stop was Connecticut, where we again visited with family and prepared for the trip.  Fall is the loveliest time of year in New England and, although we did not stay for the whole season, we got a good taste.

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Covered bridge at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, an 1830 outdoor museum. We took my Mom there for the day.

Zoe found her calling as a farm dog.  She’s never been happier.

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Surprisingly, with all of the rolling around that Zoe has done on this trip, she has not had any ticks.  And despite all of our hiking and time outside in fields and woods, we have not had any, either.  Ticks were one of our big concerns for this trip because we knew we would be in the heart of Lyme Disease country.  Plus, we hate them.  In my anti-tick zeal, I even bought light-colored, non-patterned sheets and blankets for our trailer so that any stray ticks would easily show up on the bed.  But, not a tick in sight.  I heard it was a mild tick year in New England.  Whatever the reason, we’re happy.  Let’s hope that our luck continues.

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After leaving Connecticut, we revisited Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, an area we loved when we came through in June.  Here is our previous post.

The two visits made interesting bookends on the farming season, with fields just planted in June now ready for harvest.  In the spring it was a frenzy of activity.  School was out and the Amish children were busy on the farms in the day and outside playing in the evenings.  The farmers and horse teams were working until late at night, haying, plowing, tilling, and fertilizing.New Holland -Phone Pics-100

It was much quieter on this trip, with school in session and the corn, alfalfa, soy, and tobacco still in the fields.  The big Belgian work horses were grazing in paddocks, getting a rest before their harvesting work begins.

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The manure smell was more pungent after the summer’s heat, battling one evening with the smell of skunk and woodsmoke. Not a place for the odor-sensitive.

Horses returning to the barn after spreading some liquid on the fields--it smelled like liquid manure.  The glassy water on the left is a homemade swimming hole.

Horses returning to the barn after spreading some liquid on the fields–it smelled like manure “tea.”  The glassy water on the left is a homemade swimming hole.

Stink bugs were everywhere, trying to get in the trailer, buzzing around like little armored drones when they succeeded.

The Amish women were harvesting pumpkins, gourds, tomatoes, beans, eggplants, potatoes, peaches, pears, and apples, and selling them at farm stands, along with a variety of fall products such as home pressed cider, home canned goods, apple butter, and pumpkin whoopie pies.

A dangerous bounty?

Hickory nuts

Hickory nuts

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Every morning we looked down on a thick fog below our hillside campground, which slowly dissipated as the sun rose.

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The sky was always changing, with impressionist cloud swirls.

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IMG_3036Landscapes out West tend to be in-your-face beautiful, undeniably stunning to even the most crusty old beauty-hardened individuals.  Lancaster’s beauty is more subtle and nuanced, sneaking up on you and catching you by surprise.  Turn a corner and there’s a line of corn against a streaky sky or silos poking up from the mist.

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On the weekend, the campground was full of retirees on end-of-the season trips or snowbirds heading to warmer weather.  It was mostly a big-rig Class A crew, staking out their spaces with happy hour flags and pots of chrysanthemums.  Many were rushing around to flea markets and the enormous local smorgasbord buffets.  We preferred a slower pace, walking the roads, and taking in the beauty and glimpses of Amish farm life going on around us.  It’s a special place.

Good roads for riding--motorcyclists are everywhere in Lancaster on the weekends

Good roads for riding–motorcyclists are everywhere in Lancaster on the weekends

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Parking for Sunday service, bicycles on the right, buggies on the left.

Parking for Sunday service, bicycles on the left, buggies on the right.

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Cod pieces–biking, hiking, and beaching

Biking and Birding-1002Cape Cod has plenty of flaws. The traffic is horrendous. It has lots of snotty rich people. But our visit was a return to childhood. Outside all day, no plans, no deadlines, a brand new bike for exploration—just like a typical summer day when we were kids. That was, of course, when kids were treated as if they were sufficiently competent to navigate the world on their own with a bicycle.

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On the Cape, we had sun and time to spare—a rarity in our working lives. It is difficult to describe the Cape’s September sunshine. It infuses the air with a thick gold that almost—but not quite—seems to be palpable. It makes other colors pop, with more intense blues and greens in contrast.

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Combined with the drone of insects and the spicy odors of bayberry and sweet fern—it was straight back to childhood for me. It was eerily as if I had never left New England, even though I have been gone for most of my adult life. Unsettling, but nice, too. Most days on the Cape, I would set out on the bike, with no specific destination or time by which I had to return—a luxury of childhood and retirement. It was a sweet feeling to rediscover.

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Our campground, Atlantic Oaks, was on the Cape Cod Rail Trail—a 22 mile bike and walking trail following an old rail bed. We could hop on the bike and head in either direction. The trail has bathrooms, bike shops, and restaurants along its route and is prettily heavily used. It also intersects with a trail out to Coast Guard Beach, which was nicely hilly and my favorite ride. I rode and rode and rode, just so happy to be on a bike again.

Bike path to Coast Guard Beach

Bike path to Coast Guard Beach

Birds feeding in the marshes along the bike path before the beach

Birds feeding in the marshes along the bike path before the beach

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At the beach

The weather cooled down enough to bring Zoe on a short hike. We took the Pamet trails in Truro to an almost deserted beach and an old house on the cranberry bog.

Pamet overlook trail

Pamet overlook trail

A short hike to this deserted beach

A short hike to this deserted beach–just George and Zoe

The Pamet trail beach in Truro.  Are you kidding me?

On the crowded East Coast–no one there.

Cranberry Bog House.  I don't know why the door is on the second story.  More research required.

Cranberry Bog House on the Pamet trails. I don’t know why the door is on the second story. More research required.

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Zoe’s ears now perk up at the word “beach,” where every day she got to race around like a pup. These were her first beaches with real surf and, surprising to me, she had no interest in swimming in the waves. She was happy with a nice wade.

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Others were enjoying the (relative) solitude

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The beach cliffs. These bird homes look a bit like cliff dwellings.

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IMG_2829We sacrificed outdoor time one afternoon to finally get our phone service switched to Verizon, which has better coverage than AT&T. The Verizon folks allowed Zoe in the store, where she made herself right a home. Zoe has become a pro at adapting to changing environments.

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At the Verizon store.  The saleswoman also had a yellow lab.

Codified

This makes me hungry.

This makes me hungry.

September in Cape Cod—I’m approaching bliss.  Only one day in, but what a day—blue skies, breeze, not too crowded, NOT TOO HOT, a beach with seals, my favorite lighthouse—it’s all good.

We spent the past two weeks again hanging out with family in Massachusetts (near, but not quite on, the Cape) and putting things in order after four months on the road.  We ate well, drank well, and discussed the way of the world with our good family—soaking up time together that has been all too rare during our years in Alaska.

Conversations on the back patio of our driveway home.  Not too shabby a view--pretty sweet, in fact.

Conversations on the back patio of our temporary driveway home. Not too shabby a view–pretty sweet, in fact.

We organized–discarding things that we were not using, and buying a few others, including a bike and an RV GPS (it is geared to RVs in planning routes, locating gas stations, and much more).  I initially resisted a “fancy” GPS, being a map lover, and thinking that our free phone apps would be fine.  But after two months of hauling a trailer on the narrow, low-underpass laden, twisted roads of New England (with infamous Massachusetts drivers and tiny gas stations), I had a near meltdown when the phone GPS kept dumping me and reverting to a search we did in Oneida, New York. George kindly suggested that we could buy a better GPS and I gratefully agreed.  We should have bought the RV GPS sooner, but if we had, we would not have appreciated it as much as we do now.

We didn’t really need the GPS in getting to the Cape—one road, straight shot—but enjoyed its features anyway (3D lane changes!).  To me, Cape Cod resembles an arm flexed to show off the biceps, like the Rosie the Riveter poster or the Arm and Hammer logo in reverse.  We are staying in the forearm area (above the biceps), which is full-on National Seashore, thanks to JFK, a part-time Cape resident.  Not only is this area protected from development, but the beaches are unusually dog-friendly—a winning combination.

We had a good morning romping on Coast Guard Beach.

Marshes behind Coast Guard Beach.

Marshes behind Coast Guard Beach.

There are extensive bike paths on the Cape, including one to this beach.

There are extensive bike paths on the Cape, including one to this beach.

Amazing September weather and not too many people

Amazing September light and not too many people

There were seals all over the place in the surf right next to shore. They seemed to focus on Zoe, watching her carefully.

What is that white dog doing?

What is that white dog up to?

We noticed this before with seals and sea lions (and a bear) in Alaska.  I do not know if they view her as a potential threat, prey, or if they are just drawn to her bright white squirminess.  The only problem with seeing so many seals is that they attract the sharks, including great whites, making a trip to the beach a little more exciting in these parts.

This one was not looking toward the shore.

This seal was not looking toward the shore.

Peeking over the waves.

Peeking over the foam.

Last week two kayakers seal-watching near Plymouth got their boat crunched by a great white shark–they were unharmed, but wet.  This is Jaws territory.

Plenty of shark warnings

Plenty of shark warnings.

Zoe enjoyed herself on leash.

Zoe enjoyed herself on leash

and even more off leash.

and even more off leash.

No shore development to interfere with natural dune formation

No shore development to interfere with natural dune formation

The Nauset lighthouse is right down the road from Coast Guard Beach.  A real beauty, it’s the one featured on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bags.

To potato chip fans, this may look familiar

To potato chip fans, this may look familiar

They took some poetic license with the picture, but it's the Nauset lighthouse

They took some poetic license with the picture, but it’s the Nauset lighthouse

An addiction of mine—potato chips (most especially Cape Cods)—I almost drooled when I saw the lighthouse.  It’s only open for tours on Sunday.  I’ll be back.  Zoe, who also loves her chips, did a full back roll on the grass when we got to the lighthouse.  Another good day.

A full back rub on the grass

Back rubbing roll at the lighthouse 

With a full dog grin

and later, another ecstatic roll.   We like it here.

Coast guard station

Old Coast Guard station

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Belfast–Maine not Ireland

IMG_1540Belfast is a little gem of a town.  It is about a thirty-minute drive along the coast from Camden.  But, where Camden is a serene, elegant dowager, Belfast is a quirky old uncle with strange tattoos.  It is a visual smorgasbord of angles, colors, and textures.  And its nineteenth century builders and designers paid meticulous attention to the smallest details, making the ordinary something special.

Belfast bank

Belfast bank

Rooftops from harbor

Rooftops from harbor

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The streets are populated by a mish mash of tourists, native Mainers, aging hippie-types, youngish hipster-types, and a few individuals with all of their belongings in shopping carts–the first homeless I’ve seen along this stretch of the coast.

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The downtown winds up a hill from the harbor, which was buzzing with activity.

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The boatyard was busy, plein air painters were scattered at strategic intervals around the harbor, and boats of all shapes and sizes were coming and going.

Boatyard

Boatyard

This woman was stationed over the painter's shoulder for a very long time

This woman was stationed over the painter’s shoulder for a very long time.

IMG_1537Belfast likes its colors.

I love a red tugboat.  These were almost blinding.

Brilliant, immaculate red tugs.  

Front yards that made me  stop in appreciation.

Front yards that made me stop in appreciation.

Lots of old-style painted ads on building fronts and sides

Lots of old-style painted ads on building fronts and sides

Boat repair

Even a boat repair lot was striking for its colors

And then there was the theater

And then there was the theater

There are some lovely old buildings sadly falling past the point of no repair.

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The civil war memorial was striking in its brevity.  I have been reading a biography of E.B. White, who lived one peninsula over.  His mantra for writers was to omit needless words.  No wonder he loved Maine—no need of his reminder here.

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When you travel, some towns just strike a chord with you.  For me, Belfast is one of those towns.