Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Visiting Lubec, Maine

Okay readers in the 48 contiguous United States, here’s your mission: start walking east.  And keep on walking east until you cannot possibly go any further east without leaving the country.  Now look down at the ground.  You are standing in Lubec, Maine, which is the subject of this latest Maine travel post.

Lubec is the easternmost town in the United States, and West Quoddy Head Light is the easternmost point.  Yes, it is odd that the lighthouse is called West Quoddy Head, but from the point of view of ships at sea, it is to the west.  There is another lighthouse across the way in Canada that is known as East Quoddy Head.

West Quoddy Head Light.  This and all photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise noted.

One of my favorite summer camping spots in the world is located just a quick drive from Lubec, and I make it a point to visit there at least two or three times each year.  With a population of only around 1300, it is far from being a metropolis, even by Maine standards.  There is no Wal-Mart in Lubec, and no MacDonald’s, and I can’t remember seeing even one traffic light.  While tourists and artists are becoming a more common sight on the streets of Lubec these days, it is mainly a fishing village, and has a long history of making a living from the sea.  Shipbuilding, sailmaking as well as fish smoking and packing figure prominently in the town’s economic past, in addition to lumbering, grist mills (powered by the more than 20-foot ocean tides) and a even little bit of smuggling, thanks to the town’s location on a peninsula and close proximity to Canada .

Some views of Water Street, the main drag in Lubec.

You can learn more about Lubec’s history at this site from the Maine Memory Network: http://lubec.mainememory.net/page/722/display.html

Driving to Lubec on Route 189, you’ll be struck by the refreshing ordinariness of the homes and businesses.  The people of Lubec are primarily working-class, and have been for generations.  Many of the homes have piles of lobster traps in the yard, and some have large fishing boats perched on trailers or up on a mount being painted or repaired.  Over the past few years, I have found the residents of Lubec to be very friendly and welcoming to visitors such as myself.  I suppose if you were a condescending jerk out-of-towner who acts so much more cosmopolitan than they are then that would not be the case.  Manners matter everywhere in Maine, I’ve found.

I don't know the story behind this wreck, but it was on the Lubec waterfront for some time. It had been removed the last time I visited in July of 2013. I kind of miss it.

If you are looking for a place to stay, there are several motels, inns, and bed & breakfasts.  Personally, I am a big fan of the Eastland Motel on Route 189.  It’s a family-owned business open year-round.  The Eastland appears to be a classic “motor court” style motel at first, but it is quite modern.  The owners have done a wonderful job renovating the place over the past few years.  Be sure to sample the homemade muffins served each morning.  There is a campground located in Lubec itself and several others within a reasonable driving distance, including Cobscook Bay State Park, which I highly recommend.

This photo is NOT my own.  It comes from the Eastland Motel's website: http://www.eastlandmotel.com/

The town has become somewhat of an artists’ colony, and there is a surprising number of galleries and specialty shops there.  Their hours of operation tend to vary, so be flexible.  Weekends during the summer are almost guaranteed to find most of them open.  I’m not sure what it is about Lubec, but it does seem to edge on creativity.  I filled several pages of my notebook with ideas during my last visit.

The arts are a constant presence in Lubec.

If you are a history buff, then you ought to know that the streets of Lubec were often trod by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt back in the day.  Their summer home on Campobello Island is just across the bridge from Lubec, and is open to tours.  The historic site is very popular for visitors.  Campobello belongs to New Brunswick, Canada, so be aware that everyone does require proper documentation to cross the border in either direction.  Oddly, Campobello is a Canadian island that can only be reached by car from the United States.  No bridge connects it to the Canadian mainland.

A sign on the Betsy Ross House in downtown Lubec.

The bridge from Lubec to Campobello Island, NB.

The McCurdy Smokehouse Museum, a former sardine smokehouse, is right in the downtown area, and provides a vivid picture of the Maine history, as well as the fish processing history of Lubec.  It is almost mandatory that you visit Quoddy Head State Park while in Lubec, which is the home of the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse.  Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson in 1808, this candy-striped beacon is a Maine icon that you can get up close and personal with.  While you can’t go inside the lighthouse itself, the keeper’s home is open as a museum.  The adjoining state park offers miles of hiking trails, as well as opportunities for picnicking, wildlife watching, and just exploring the rocky ocean edge.

That large rock out there, called "Sail Rock" is TECHNICALLY the very easternmost point of land in the United States.  This photo was taken in Quoddy Head State Park. Grand Manan Island, NB can be seen in the distance.

McCurdy Smokehouse Museum in Lubec.

As far as food and entertainment are concerned, Lubec does it up nicely.  You almost take for granted that the seafood is going to be great in a fishing town such as this, and you’d be correct.  My preference for food and drink while in Lubec is Frank’s Dockside Restaurant, which is a very welcoming place, as the sign in the photo below strongly suggests.  Their seafood, steaks and Italian are excellent, and they have an outstanding view of the water.  You can count on at least a few performances to attend in town almost every weekend in Lubec.  Many of the cafes, restaurants, churches and art galleries host talented musicians during the tourist season, featuring folk, rock, jazz, and classical.  There is also a local community theater group which does some great shows. 

Which one are you?

One of my favorite things to do in Lubec is actually one of the simplest.  Sitting in the park near the dock, you can watch boats coming and going, observe seabirds, and see large numbers of harbor seals bobbing their heads in and out of the water as they catch their meals in the fish-rich waters of Lubec Narrows.

A view from the park near the dock in Lubec.

It's hard to see in the photo, but the little black dots out in the water are the heads of harbor seals.

I’ve made roadtrips to quite a few places in Maine this summer, but Lubec remains one of my all-time favorite places in the state to visit.  As a matter of fact, if I could only make one trip a year in Maine, it would be to Lubec.  Yes, it is out of the way, but that is a big part of the town’s charm.  There are seldom crowds, you can always find a parking place, and the sights, sounds and people are second to none.

The Quoddy Narrows Light, as seen from downtown Lubec.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Mighty Hunter

I step into the guest room in my house to find my cat Don’t Bite Me in a crouch.  He’s fat, lazy, and not terribly bright, so for him to be in an action pose like this, there must be something big brewing.  His pupils are dilated, his tail is twitching, and he’s making that odd chatter that excited cats get.  I follow his stare into the darkness under the bed.

Don't Bite Me in a much more typical pose

My mind runs through a list of possibilities as to what my cat’s quarry may be.  Looking more closely, I can’t see anything at all.  Is it a mouse?  I hadn't seen any signs of one.  Maybe one of those sassy red squirrels that are always chittering at me from the tree when I step onto the back deck had made its way into the house.  That would be a disaster.  He'd better catch it if it's one of those.  Many years ago I found a dead rat in the attic.  Could it be one of those?  Yick, I certainly hope not!  A bat is another possibility.  Whatever is under there, I sure as heck want Don’t Bite Me to catch it, so I just stay stock still and watch.

As the seconds pass, it suddenly strikes me as odd that one of my other cats, whom I call Stop It is in the same room, but paying no attention at all to what is going on.  He’s actually on the bed in question, yawning widely at me, barely awake.  Of my three felines, Stop It is the only one who has ever shown any instincts even remotely like those of a predator, so his lack of interest here is peculiar.  His sister, Get Down saunters into the room from behind me, not even turning her sleek black head in the direction of Don’t Bite Me’s interest.

Don’t Bite Me’s rear end starts to wiggle slightly as he gets more and more wound up to pounce.  At this point, I am beginning to question his sanity.  Maybe he is hallucinating.  I don’t see a blessed thing.  His teeth chatter some more, he backs up on his haunches.  The mighty hunter is going in for the kill of something.  Claws out, he leaps forward with amazing speed for a cat who has the physique of a Dodge Dart.

It’s a small housefly.

And he misses it.  By a mile.

He’s totally mystified, I'm thoroughly disappointed, and the other two cats, if they could, would have been laughing their furry heads off.