May 2009

In past weeks, if you’ve glimpsed me toiling in the yard, you know spring is near. There are few locales, other than Maine, where you’ll find the natives raking the edges and summits of grimy snowbanks in advance of fair weather. Though laborious and tedious, it’s a chore that must be done before the first blades of grass appear. Over the course of many evenings, countless cairns of leaf and branch are wheelbarrowed away and innumerable clumps of sod are resown into earth that was razed by plow blade.

Finally, let me not forget the cursed Maine State Flower. Apparently last summer, Mother Nature decided to let the white pine towering above our home flourish like never before. Despite heroic parking efforts, globules of viscous pitch still rained down on our Toyota Tacoma and brand new Prius, and even after the harshness of recent winter, fresh cones still adorn our driveway, and one lone pine seed found its target when it hit me square on the head. Believe me, a prickly cone smarts when there’s little follicle cover on top. Needless to say, thousands upon thousands have been carried to the forest fringe, too many even for a hundred red squirrels to strip away.

Now that my lawn is somewhat immaculate, it’s time to ramble. To the coast, my family and I go, escaping the depressive air of cabin fever, fleeing the adrenaline rush of workday stress, and leaving behind the woes of humankind. On weekend jaunts to Mount Desert and Deer Isle, we trek and marvel well before tourist crowds arrive and buzzing blackflies hatch.

It won’t be long before we return to Holbrook Island Sanctuary, which can be found on the northwest shore of Cape Rosier. Comprised of 1,230 acres of picturesque coastland, the park offers miles of trails through woods, wetlands, and meadows. Once inhabited by Mainers from long ago, you’re liable to stumble across a number of stone foundations and cemeteries.

After one or two mainland outings, we venture to Holbrook Island. Surrounded by the waters of Penobscot Bay and Bagaduce River, the island isn’t accessible to the average hiker, which is unfortunate for many but fortunate for a few like us. Preferring the beach ramp at the end of Wharf Road in Brooksville, we launch our modest vessel. When loaded with gear, there’s just one task left that involves chasing down a certain seven-year-old, wrestling on his lifejacket, and dumping him over the gunnel. With half my crew compliment in place, the Honda outboard is lowered, and on the second pull, the motor rumbles quietly, belching little clouds of exhaust from the frigid water. Flipping the shift lever into reverse, the boat slips off the trailer. On the verge of ebb tide, the bay is tranquil the air is balmy. My boy peers over the bow into the deepening sea, nattering about starfish, Sponge Bob, and such. I breathe, savoring the ocean scent. All is going as planned, and a rare calm settles over me until my wife calls from shore, “Did you remember the plug?”

After an impromptu beaching to empty the boat of unwanted sea, we’re soon crossing the shallows of Bagaduce Bay. I check and recheck the depth finder looking for evidence of rocks and pilings below the murky surface. We idle past Castine’s historic waterfront, which is dominated by the The Maine Maritime Academy training ship, State of Maine. We admire and mock the stately homes of folks from away, at least I do.

Rounding Nautilus Island, the beach on Holbrook Island’s Northwest Cove comes into view. Protected from the casual sightseer, we often have the entire beach to ourselves. Handled by a crew of two and a half, we drag the boat to the high tide mark and toss the anchor on the sand for good measure. With knapsack brimming with sandwiches, drinks, and bug dope, we opt to head west. Since the trail pretty much loops around the isle’s perimeter, direction matters not. Either way, we’ll eventually end up where we began.

The spruce thicket would be near impenetrable if not for blazed path. Strange animal noises carry from the dense woods, and vague shapes seem to follow just beyond view. Colorful birds alight and take flight in pursuit of insects newly hatched from the needled floor. Mosquitoes attempt to ambush us from brackish vernal pools but are beaten back by noxious doses of insect repellent. Instead, they swarm, following close behind, waiting for the obligatory toilet break to attack again. Knowing this, we hold our bladders until the next sunlit meadow.

The 115 acre refuge is of gentle topography and size, making trails relatively easy to traverse without tiring. After half a mile, we see blue sky through the treetops and arrive at a field on the island’s southern half. As spring matures, native and nonnative flowers will bloom. Not much of a plant aficionado, I’m unable to cite any particular species, but the meadows sure are pretty and perfumed. Whitetail deer forage on the far side oblivious to our presence.

We detour to the west to explore Back Beach. Smooth and white, the shore is littered with quartz pebbles. Islesboro Island looms in the distance. We set aside our backpacks and recline on the warm sand. We dine on tuna and egg sandwiches, watching a solitary loon diving nearby. A flotilla of eiders floats past while an osprey calls from above. A seagull perches on a sun-bleached log waiting for handouts, which my son provides.

Appetites satiated, we head east and walk along a manicured path mown through a patchwork of meadows. During warmer months, two lucky college interns will be selected to caretake the island. Living in the renovated barn, they’ll tend the trails and grounds. Solar and utility power provides electricity to the old building. The meter is equipped with an AMR module courtesy of Bangor Hydro.

A visitor’s brochure offers interesting tidbits about the island’s history. Settled after the Revolutionary War by Captain Jesse Holbrook of Truro, Massachusetts, the island once supplied the white pine logs used as masts for sailing ships built in Castine. During the 1800’s, the mistress and illegitimate daughter of the subsequent owner used to live and raise sheep here. Evidently when not summering in Maine, this particular gentleman resided elsewhere with his spouse and lawful children. When perusing the pamphlet for the first time, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, what a clever fella, I wonder if he had a mistress for autumn and one for spring too.” Seeing my wife’s disapproving expression, I realize too late that my thoughts were uttered aloud.

Anyhow, Holbrook Island is a wonderful place to venture on a daytrip. Just remember your Maine Atlas to navigate Cape Rosier’s meandering roads, don’t forget to put in the boat plug, take care of mosquitoes if you drop your drawers, and if you’re one of the male gender, have a derogatory comment prepared in advance to say about the former island owner.