Monday, December 30, 2013

Surfing, York Harbor, and the Nubble

Just north of us, there are still people sitting in the dark tonight.  We are counting our blessings here in the Midcoast, knowing how lucky we are to be warm and with lights.  There was some ice here, and walking the dog was a bit tricky, but we strapped on the Yaktrax and suffered through.

Once it looked like we weren't going to lose power, we were off.  On Christmas Eve we headed down to Ipswich to spend the holiday with some friends.  Stopping in southern Maine was half the fun!  Our main goal was to find a dog-friendly beach for Dory, and we were up for some exploration.  Going south is fun because there are so many beaches to choose from -- York, Ogunquit, OOB, and on, and on.  There aren't too many sand beaches in Casco Bay; the glacier carried our sand away, leaving it to the south of here.  Time to go enjoy some of the glacier's leavings.
Rocks on Harbor Beach

I love this pic.  You can see the curved waves coming ashore.  Science!
Sea colander; Agarum nodosum.
Our first stop was Harbor Beach, a fine sand beach protected by offshore ledges.  The waves curved in from the Atlantic and broke gently on the beach.  Dory had a terrific time here -- not only is the beach dog-friendly; it's an off-leash beach, as long as your dog is under voice control and stays away from walkers.  We had a good chat with a local, who said the dog-police will come and actually ask you if you have a bag, and issue a ticket if you don't carry bags.  I'm thinking that's overkill, but if that's what it takes to let my dog have a little run, so be it.  (Also, I always have a giant roll of bags anyways, so bring it, dog-doo cops.)  Unfortunately parking at the beach is limited to town residents only, but there's plenty of parking up on 1A. 

An icy temptation.
We thought to check out the Cliff Walk, which has been a source of controversy lately in York.  You may know I'm a huge fan of organizations that protect public access to our coastline, and I recently visited Marginal Way in Ogunquit and Giant Steps in Harpswell; both amazing resources for the community.  The Cliff Walk, despite hundreds of years of use by residents and what appears to be notices on deeds regarding the Walk's public use, is under threat by a couple of waterfront home owners.  It will be interesting to see what happens; a group called the Friends of the Cliff Walk has raised $50,000 for possible legal action by the town of York, and it looks like the case of Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport, currently under review, will greatly influence the future of York's Cliff Walk.

However, the Cliff Walk was pretty icy, and we had no proper foot wear for the situation.  So off we went to the Nubble.  I've just finished reading The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife, by Constance Small.  She served alongside her husband at lights from Eastport to Portsmouth, and occasionally they filled in for the vacationing keeper at the Nubble.  They were often photographed as part of the scenery, and she said she felt like a goldfish in a bowl.  Understandable; even on a cold December day, there were plenty of tourists photographing the light from Sohier Park.

Nubble light.  I'll be back.
 On our way south we stopped for a moment at Long Sands Beach.  When I used to teach middle school in coastal North Carolina, I learned how devoted surfers are.  Many of my students would get up at five in the morning to surf before class.  The surfers were out in force on Christmas Eve; suited up in wetsuits and making due with some pretty minimal waves.  But it was heartening to see them; in this time when so many Americans are couch potatoes, here were a group of people enjoying the ocean even under a grey winter sky.
Surfing is a year-round sport in Maine.
York Harbor history.
Where are we?
Clearing skies after the ice storm.
This is a bad photo, but those are Metridium senile anemones.
Our final stop was York Harbor, and the town docks.  These clearly stay in the water year round; a quick peek over the side revealed huge anemones -- Metridium senile -- lining the dock floats.  (Mental note; return in summer to see if there are nudibranchs.)  The docks are exceptionally well maintained, the result of the community's commitment to its fishermen.  It's really nice to see a place like this.  We also got a good look at the Fishermen's Walk and the Wiggly Bridge trail to Steedman Woods.  We'll save that for another day; this one had been full and we needed to make our way south.

To get there:  To get to Harbor Beach:  Take exit 7 and go south on US1.  Turn east on York Rd (US1A) and go 1.75; turn right on Harbor Beach Road.  The Nubble (Cape Neddick Light) and Long Sands Beach are north on 1A.  York Harbor can be accessed by turning south on Rt 103 from 1A.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My 2014 Bucket List

Tempus fugit.

That's what they say.  What am I going to do about it?  Well, in 2014, I hope to:

1)  Get out to an island.  Not the one I work on in June and July, but a year-round Maine island community.  I'm thinking a weekend on Monhegan, a visit to Isle a Haut, or a trip to Vinalhaven.  Even a day trip to Seguin would fit the bill.

2)  Go see the alewives migrating upstream at Damariscotta Mills.

3)  Check out the horseshoe crab orgy at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick.

4)  Go to the Pemaquid Oyster Fest and pig out.

5)  Make a trip offshore to see birds.

6)  Spend more time Downeast, and go to Great Wass Island, Quoddy Head, the Lubec Flats to see sandpiper migration, and the reversing falls at Pembroke.

7)  Do some great hiking.  Bring the dog.

8)  See the anemone cave at Acadia.

That doesn't seem like too much to ask of the new year, does it?

If anyone has suggestions about things I shouldn't miss in 2014, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Biddeford Pool, Snowy Owl, Cape Porpoise

Do I look cold?  Because I am!
Winter can be a really interesting time on the coast of Maine.  Saturday we threw on our long-johns and headed south to check out Biddeford and Kennebunkport on a frigid cold day.  We figured it was awfully cold for a dog from Florida to come along, so she wasn't invited.

Biddeford Pool, a giant mudflat with a single tiny outlet into Wood Island Harbor, is well-known for its birds.  I'd like to go there sometime when the sandpiper migration is in full swing (in August and September), but we had a wonderful treat there on this December day:  a snowy owl.

A poor photo of an amazing bird.
We knew some interesting bird was around as soon as we pulled off Rt 208, because a crowd of birders lined the streets.  It was easy to find their quarry, a snowy owl, just by following the line of their spotting scopes to the top of a chimney on a roadside house.  Apparently snowy owls commonly visit New England barrier islands and dune habitats in winter, especially when food is scarce on the tundra.  My old friend, Lisa Hutchings, who teaches down at Joppa Flats Mass Audubon Center in Newburyport, tells me that between Salisbury and Sandy Point they have counted 27, and someone counted 7 in one day on Crane's Beach.  Pretty amazing.  This guy was a cool customer, ignoring the swarms of binocular-laden spectators.  I  clicked a quick (and not so good) photo and we left the birders to their nirvana.

We headed out to the end of the neighborhood of Biddeford Pool and the Maine Audubon's East Point Sanctuary.  It was cold, but we were determined to get out and enjoy a walk, even if it was short.  The trails at East Point start by paralleling a golf course,  but soon take you to the eastern tip of Biddeford Pool, with views across the harbor and Wood Island Light.  There were some intriguing cobble beaches and rocky outcrops, and if it'd been warmer I'd have been more interested in them.  Whenever I go out to the coast on days like today I appreciate even more the hardiness of intertidal animals.  Not only do they face extreme heat and desiccation in summer when the tide is out, they face freezing on bitter days like this.  Pretty amazing physiology.

Unfortunately I'm not a hardy intertidal animal.  It didn't take too long to decide the weather had gotten the best of us, so we headed back to the mighty Kia and on to our next stop, Cape Porpoise.

The parking area.  Only 2-3 cars fit here.
The trail paralleling a golf course.
Winter storm moving in.  About four hours later those clouds were dumping a foot of snow on us.
There's nothing like a good warm pub to make winter more attractive, and The Ramp on Cape Porpoise fits the bill nicely.  After checking out the town landing, we headed for cover and lunch.  The Ramp was packed, not surprisingly, with a lot of other people trying to fight cabin fever.  We sat at the bar, had a great talk with some visitors from New Jersey, and enjoyed mussels and a lobster roll.  (The lobster roll was great -- with scallions, celery, light dressing, and a bed of finely chopped lettuce in a buttery roll.  And the home-made chips were a great accompaniment.) The snow-heavy clouds rolled in over the harbor, night fell, and we headed for home and the wood stove.

Winter in Cape Porpoise -- starkly beautiful.
Some color on a gray day.
An excellent seaside pub.
Low tide.
Landing catch even in frigid temps -- these guys are tough.
Clouds closing in over us.
Looking desolate.
One of those chairs has my name on it next August.
A pub packed with people, great food, interesting conversation, and sports/political stuff.  Let's stay for just one more beer.
To get there:

Biddeford Pool -- From US1 in Saco take Route 9 south.  Once you leave the city go south 5 1/2 miles and follow Rt 208 left into Biddeford Pool. At the end of Bridge Avenue, turn left onto Mile Stretch Road and continue to the end (keep taking the right hand forks in the road once in the neighborhood. Park with the flow of traffic on First Street or you will be ticketed.

Cape Porpoise -- From US1 in Kennebunk, follow Rts 35/9A east.  Turn north on Rt 9 for 2 1/2 miles; turn right onto Pier Rd and follow it to the end.

Monday, December 16, 2013

*Local* Seafood in Maine

Earlier this fall, we went out to dinner with some visitors from Florida.  We were in Castine and the season was ending, so there weren't a lot of choices on where to go.  We found an open waterfront restaurant and ordered drinks. We were looking at the menu, when one of our Floridian friends asked "So, what's local?"

My husband and I looked at each other, looked again at the menu, and replied "Well . . . ."

Amazingly, the answer was "not much".  I'm sure there was a lobster dish of some kind (it is Maine), but other than that, we couldn't guarantee anything else was "local".  Maybe local as in, it came from the North Atlantic, but not local as in, it came from Maine.

It got me thinking about what local seafood is readily available in Maine.  The Gulf of Maine has changed enormously in the past 20 years, and the groundfish stocks that once supported huge fishing fleets have shrunk to a fraction of their former size.  Lobster is the only fishery reliably left in Maine, and if anything happens to it (as happened in 2012, the year of the great lobster glut) many fishing families will be in trouble.

Last weekend we stopped at one of our favorite fish markets, Harbor Fish Market in Portland, to find some local seafood.  Harbor Fish is what all fish markets should be.  It's right on the water, in the working waterfront portion of Portland, and boats pull right up behind the storefront to unload at times.  The place is spotlessly clean, smells nothing like fish, and it's packed, ensuring high turnover and fresh fish They're got it all, and they're happy to help you figure out what you need.  If anyone has local fish, surely they're the ones.

So what's local?  

Probably local.  From May-December Atlantic mackerel are commonly fished in the Gulf of Maine.  Most of it is exported because American's dislike its strong flavor.
Canadian; regional.  Smelt can be found in Maine's estuaries in winter and spring, and ice fishermen in our area love them.
Not local.  Despite what this signs says, most scup is caught south of the Gulf of Maine.
Regional.  A squid fishery is emerging in Maine, and may be aided by warming waters.  However, most squid is caught south of here.
Local.  Atlantic herring probably isn't what our visitor from Florida would have wanted though, as it's very strong in flavor.
Local (except for the ones from Wellfleet).  There's a lot of oysters available in Maine, both wild and cultured.  I hope to get up to the Damariscotta Oyster Festival to get a taste of them all! 
Not local.  Probably from the Chesapeake.
Local, but often from Prince Edward Island, and almost always cultured.
Local.  Mahogany clams are harvested in Maine.  They are very long lived (like 500 years) and reproduce slowly, which makes me reluctant to eat them.  You should never eat anything older than your grandmother.
Local, local, local.  Live lobster in the US is almost always from Maine.  Frozen lobster, like the lobster tails sold in chain restaurants and groceries, may be from Canada or may be US lobsters processed in Canada and re-imported.
Where's the fun in this?
Probably local.  Haddock stocks have recovered from low levels in the 1990's, and major stocks are located in the Gulf of Maine and George's Bank.
Maybe local.  Cod stocks are in trouble and the quota was drastically slashed this year.  Much of the cod sold in the US now is from Iceland, but since this is fresh not previously frozen, it might be local.
Maybe local.  In federal waters, halibut can only be landed incidentally, and only in small amounts.  Maine has a small experimental fishery in state waters but it isn't open in winter.
Not local.  In summer, maybe from Maine, but in winter, these are further south.
Local.  Seaweed culture and harvesting is a growing business in Maine.
Local.  Salmon aquaculture is expanding in Maine, and is well-established in Canadian waters.
We just tried some of this salmon bacon.  Pretty good!  However, it's from Miami.  Yes, Miami.
An empty shelf is all we can expect for Maine shrimp in 2014, and probably beyond that.  The fishery was closed due to low recruitment last year.  Very sad; they are a favorite of ours.
Local!  You're gonna want some dessert after that seafood, right?
A good source for basic information about fisheries is Fish Watch.  If you're interested in conservation biology, and which fish are sustainably harvested, I recommend Seafood Watch or a similar program.

Saturday we stopped by Harbor Fish and got ready for yesterday's snow storm.  As the snow came down, Damon, Dory, and I sat by the fire enjoying a nice big pot of paella, with mussels and haddock.  It was a great way to enjoy a winter's day.