Monday, November 25, 2013

Pemaquid Point and the King Eider Pub

Pemaquid Point Light.  Note the wind is blowing so hard the fence has fallen over.
It's cold here in Maine.  Really cold.  Bone-chilling, tooth-rattling, booger-freezing cold.  When it gets cold like this, there are two choices:  hide at home in front of the woodstove, or pile on another layer and get outside.  Sometimes, I opt for the former.  Today, Damon and I dug out the long-johns and headed to Pemaquid Point.

I knew Pemaquid would be spectacular.  From a marine ecologist's point of view, it's hallowed ground.  A lot of what we understand about how the rocky intertidal ecosystem works was first studied here by some of the great names in ecology:  Menge, Sutherland, Lubchenco, Bertness.  These scientists chose Pemaquid Point because of the high-intensity of wave action on the rocks here.  Few mobile consumers can withstand the force of the waves, so this is a great place to contrast with more protected sites and ask questions about the influence of snails, seastars, urchins, and crabs (which turn out to be considerable).

Monhegan Island
When we got there, it was about 25 degrees with wind gusting to 40 mph (it was literally difficult to keep my balance at times), but the place was so amazing we stayed there for over half an hour.  The rocks were nothing short of amazing.  I'm no geologist, but I can tell you the place is something special.  It looks like a some work of modern art.  Long veins of rock run parallel to each other, gently sloping from the cliffside to the ocean.  Fifty shades of gray?  Pemaquid has many, many more, each lined up in a geological spectacle.

The wind was blowing from the Northwest; from land to sea, so we could safely approach the water.  (The rocks are VERY dangerous in storms when the wind direction is from sea to land.  Be careful.)  We quickly descended the rocks to get a look at the organisms near the water's edge.  Unfortunately it was about two hours after low tide, so we only got a look at the top of the intertidal zone.    Thousands of Littorina saxatilis were crammed into crevices above the tide's reach.  These tiny snails are champions at withstanding desiccation, and rely on splash from waves for a little bit of moisture as they graze on the black Calothrix coating the top of the intertidal.  Below the Calothrix, thick carpets of barnacles covered the rocks, with blue mussels crowded into every crack and crevice.

The thick carpet of barnacles at the top of the intertidal zone.

There were two age classes of barnacles; probably this year's and last year's.

Littorina saxatilis by the thousands.
The tidepools were spectacular.  Some of them were frozen over, and since there was no evidence of freshwater sources, we decided it must be cold enough to freeze the salt water in them.  Some of the pools were full of bright green Enteromorpha intestinalis (peeking out from under the ice); others had a nice collection of mussels, Irish moss, and Ulva.  We worked our way down to one that was pink with Lithothamnium coraline algae as well.  It was too cold to take a really close look at the pools, plus the tide was coming in, but it's on our list to come back in better weather, when we can take our time and poke around properly.

Frozen tidepool with Enteromorpha intestinalis.

Low tidepool dominated by Lithothamnium.
I really believe this is a can't miss for anyone interested in the ocean.  Not only is the biology amazing; the lighthouse was a beauty (and is open many days in summer).  The people of Maine chose Pemaquid Point Light as the image for our state quarter, with good reason.  It's the quintessential Maine coastal scene.  The views were terrific.  Monhegan floated on the horizon to our east, and the Gulf of Maine spread out below the cliffs.  A gannet sailed by, searching the waves for fish, and eiders floated along the water's edge, seemingly unperturbed by the cold.

Eventually the weather got the best of us.  Despite the many layers I was swaddled in, I realized I was having trouble breathing properly, and my hands began to ache terribly.  We hoofed it to the car, where I whined about my fingers for a good five minutes, and asked if we were going to get hot chocolate to aid our recovery.

After a few detours (a visit to Colonial Pemaquid where we didn't have much interest in leaving the car and an aborted short cut where a fallen tree blocked the road) we headed to Damariscotta and hit one of my favorite pubs:  the King Eider.  Our neck of the woods has a lot to offer in the restaurant department, but a cozy pub (that's student-free) isn't to be found.  After a cold day on the shore, this was the perfect medicine.  The terrific lentil burger they made me was perfectly accompanied by a glass of cider and the Jets-Ravens game (bonus; the Jets were losing).  All in all a great way to spend an early winter day.

Now that we're home, though, the dog and I are taking advantage of the woodstove.  Damon just checked the weather and tells me tonight's low will be 11; with winds at 20-25 mph and gusts to 45.  Trees and power lines are down all over the state, and plenty of folks have lost power on this bitter cold night.  For most of us up here, no power means no furnace or boiler; there are lots of people huddled around their woodstove a little more closely than me tonight.  So we'll put another log on the fire; pull the blankets up to our chins, listen to the wind howl in the dooryard, count our blessings, and dream of a trip back to Pemaquid Point.

To get there:  From US 1 in Newcastle, take US1A into Damariscotta and turn left onto Rt 129, Bristol Road.  Proceed south 2 ¾ miles and turn right onto Rt 130 (still Bristol Road). Follow this 11 1/2 miles and bear left at the fork of Bristol Road and Pemaquid Loop Road. In summer, a small fee is charged for visiting, and a museum is open. Leashed dogs welcome.

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