A Wicked Awesome Day

Foliage is slowly changing on the seacoast of New Hampshire. There are rich yellows and reds scattered around Exeter. If we drove an hour or so inland to the higher elevations we would be greeted by a kaleidoscope of color.

We decided not to join the train of leaf peepers heading for magic in the hills this year. All we wanted this Columbus Day weekend was a simple day adventure and that quest took us to Mt. Agamenticus in Southern Maine for a first visit. Most locals call it Mt. A. Just try to say Mt. Agamenticus three times fast.

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Maine has 17 million acres of fall foliage to discover however there was little to be found on Mt. A, a conservation region of more than 10,000 acres located inside 30,000 acres of conservation land. We soon discovered it was mostly about hiking. Cars galore parked below the mountain, along the approach, and atop with few people to be seen. They were all hiking or biking on the abundant trails.

decked out for a day on the trails

 

Hiking

Couple with twins on their back!

At the summit (that we drove up 😏)  views were spectacular. The ocean to the east and the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the west where leaves in the distance showed telltale signs of color to come.

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On the ocean side, we could see all the way to Kennebunkport… hazy but made a little closer with my telephoto lens. We thought about lunching there but it’s about a 45 minute drive from Mt. A by auto, so we chose a closer destination for a walk and dinner.

kennebunkport

On our way out, mister gardener pointed out numerous birds in a section roped off as Regrowth Area. Happy song sparrows dining on seeds entertained us with antics in the hips of rugosa roses.

Mt. Agamenthus song sparrows 2018

And how about those native New England asters (Symphyothichum novae-angliae) that dotted the summit? Those bold colors certainly got our attention… beautiful and filled with bumblebees.

New England Aster 2018

There were plenty of monarch butterflies fluttering and feeding in the Regrowth Area.

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We followed up with a trip to seaside town of Ogunquit where we found an abundance of fall color. Mums, pumpkins, scarecrows and a village packed with colorful tourists took center stage.

Ogunquit 2018

After a walk along Marginal Way and strolling Ogunquit village and enjoying a cup of homemade cider, we finished up the day with a taste of Maine seafood before heading home to New Hampshire. These little neck clams stuffed with chorizo and buttered bread crumbs and a cup of soup were a satisfying ending to our day adventure. It was a Wicked Awsome Day!

Five littlenecks stuffed with chorizo and buttered breadcrumbs

 

Maine 2018

Maine.  What’s the appeal? Maine’s rocky shorelines dotted with sandy beaches draw thousands of vacationers to Maine. And then there are folks like us who are drawn to the dozens of fresh water lakes where rustic camps dot the shoreline. Bliss for me is watching a thick fog roll in over a lake waterfront while sipping a morning cuppa joe.

Thompson Lake 2018

Coffee could be followed by a morning paddle through the fog, the only sounds being the paddle dipping in the water and the not-so-distant call of the loons. In this tranquil setting, this could be the most exciting thing you do all day!

Fog burning off Thompson Lake 2018

Our summer stay was on Thompson Lake, a seven-square mile lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. The lake is in the top 5% of the cleanest lakes in Maine. On our boating expeditions around the lake, we could see the bottom at about 30-feet deep before we headed out into areas where the depths were close to 120-feet deep.

Both in deep waters and around the parameter of islands were prime spots for the grands to try their hand at first-time real (or reel 😄) fishing. A lake fished for bass, salmon and trout, all our small fishermen caught were little sunfish that were all released to see another day.

fishing 2018

It was not uncommon to spot a bald eagle on one of the many islands or hear the echo of loons any time of the day. With a reported 20 pairs of loons breeding on the lake, we felt fortunate to have a pair with their tiny offspring foraging in a cove near our camp daily. What a sight to see!

loons 2018

Days were spent doing whatever we pleased. That could mean doing nothing at all or it could mean a venture inland. Unlike the summers of my youth on the salty shores of our grandparents’ rural cabin in Virginia where siblings and cousins played cards or Monopoly to pass an afternoon, this generation has modern options for afternoon lounging. All good….

Thompson Lake 2018

Evenings were spent enjoying all the traditional summer activities….sitting on the dock, listening to the loons, watching sunsets, and toasting marshmallows over an open fire.

Thompson Lake sunset 2018

I think I’m sold on these rural lake camps of New England where nature abounds. It seems each summer we are on a different lake but it’s all so similar…. quiet, tranquil where nature rules and we are allowed to enter and absorb it all for a short time.

Thompson Lake 2018

 

 

 

Hayride to the Pumpkin Patch

Climb aboard the wagon, find a good spot on a bale of hay, squeeze between your grandchildren, and let the tractor take you away…. over hills, through the cornfield, past the pond, beneath the murder of crows that were startled in the corn, to the tangled vines of a pumpkin patch…. acres of pumpkins and gourds.

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Two tractors and four wagon loads from our grandchildren’s preschool were ready for the bumpy expedition that twisted and turned through the fields.

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Parents and grandparents, siblings and more, all armed with cameras and smart phones fanned out across fields to help youngster find the perfect pumpkin, all shapes, sizes and colors, and to capture that moment with a photo.

pumpkins!

Me included…

 perfect pumpkin

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A perfect pumpkin for us and small enough for a little tyke to carry….

Room for all

Then the bumpy journey back up to Farmer Zach’s Farm to visit the cornfields in search of the best and most colorful ears of corn.

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Ahhhh…. what an adventure!  Making fall memories with little people…

Almost Summer Camp

In the dead of a New England winter, I can only post about what I see… and it’s all snow or ice. So I am taking a trip back and posting about a warmer time, a time 2 summers ago when I spent a week on Star Island with a friend from Virginia. Star Island is a part of the Isles of Shoals, a group of nine small islands located a few miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine with names like Appledore, Smuttynose, Duck, and White. Groups arrive and leave all summer attending conferences, yoga camps, retreats, marine classes, photography, watercolor classes, or a family having a relaxing day-trip on these craggy shores. For us, it was the closest thing to summer camp for adults.

The largest building on the right is the old wooden Oceanic Hotel from the late 1800’s, the focal point of Star Island where we checked in and dined morning, noon, and night, where we showered, attended lectures, visited the gift shop, met friends, and enjoyed ice cream at the snack bar. Other buildings were guest rooms, guest cottages, the chapel, and lecture halls/classrooms/activity centers. The islands have been inhabited since the early 17th century (or earlier) by fishermen… some working their way up from Virginia colonies. In fact, Captain John Smith visited in 1614 and named the isles for himself, Smyth Isles. I guess it didn’t stick.

IMG_7951-X2Oceanic dining hallroomsYes, it was a lot like summer camp as we were roughing it on the island. We chose to share a miniature room with a bath (toilet/sink) rather than have a room in a cottage or the hotel with a shared bath, an upgrade we think, but showers were limited to certain days for certain hours in the basement of the Oceanic Hotel. Staff, dozens and dozens of young adults (“Pelicans”) of college age for the most part, showered on opposite days.

Watercolor LectureWe were free to wander the island in between activities and lectures. One day I poked around to see what flowers called the island home. The most abundant bloom I saw was the Rosa rugosa, a salt tolerant scrubby rose. It is prolific non-native that made the island look like a monoculture of rose. I searched for the scarlet pimpernel that grew on the rocks but to no avail. Mostly I saw blooms common to all.

Rosa rugosa

The black-backed seagulls outnumbered people by thousands. The breeding season was over but we were still warned about aggressive seagulls. I found the youngest gulls delightful and sometimes posing for the camera. This one went through his entire yoga routine for me.

young black backed gullOver the island, there were a number of grave sites and I couldn’t help but wonder if they brought soil from the mainland to cover the coffins on this thinly earthed rock. At the bottom of Eliza’s stone, it reads:

Death has cut the brittle thread of life
And laid my body in the grave.
Yet my spirit lives in heaven above
To sing the praises of God’s love.

Eliza

We signed on for an outing to another island, Appledore, the site of a Cornell/UNH marine science lab and the home and cutting gardens of Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), famed poet, writer, the daughter of the lightkeeper on White Isle. He eventually built two grand hotels in the mid-1800’s, one on Appledore and one on Smuttynose (both burned down). Celia became his hostess and her cut flowers adorned the hotels. Guests flocked to the island for relaxation and inspiration, among them famous writers and painters like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the artists William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam.

AppledoreWe followed the rocky path upward and across the island to the stone foundation of Celia’s home. This is a popular tour to visit a replica of her cutting gardens planted according to the plan she outlined in her bestselling book, An Island Garden. Our summer visit found only those late-blooming flowers at peak… but it was exciting to be there and catch a few photographs.

Back on Star, we followed paths, rutted roads, climbed boulders and rocks to explore every inch of the small island. Click to enlarge.

And at night we gathered with our cameras on the decks and on the gazebo called the summer house and watched the sun go down.

"                               " IMG_8079-X2Yes, we went to camp that summer….the discomforts of lights out early, limited cell phone use, no television, no cars, few showers paled in comparison to a week of great experiences with lots of new friends on what the locals call The Rock. Hope to go back!

Sandy and me with new friends on Star Island

Garden Conservancy’s Open Days 2014

Earlier this spring, I was working in the perennial gardens at Rolling Green Nursery, greeting customers and tending to the plants when I met the owners of one of the gardens on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days.  I was already holding 2 tickets for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour of private gardens in Cape Neddick, Maine and was looking forward to unforgettable experiences.

This local tour and many others across the country take place on different days to raise awareness of the Garden Conservancy’s work to preserve extraordinary gardens and to educate and inspire the public by opening private gardens on Open Days. Four remarkable private gardens were open this year. Three homes and fabulous gardens offered panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean with mighty waves beating on craggy shorelines. We saw rock gardens, rose gardens, shade gardens, pool gardens, perennial gardens, pond gardens, vegetable gardens, pergolas, container gardens, and even experienced a young eagle swooping low over our heads and landing in a near tree at one home.

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Awestruck is a good word to describe how we felt about these gardens. And I was very excited to visit the fourth garden, the home of Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and owners of Stonewall Kitchen, the two shoppers I encountered strolling through the perennials at Rolling Green Nursery.

We stopped for an early lunch at their business, Stonewall Kitchen, a favorite destination of ours for good food and lovely gardens.

Approaching by foot along a graceful curved drive, we could see that the property was a wonderful blending of home and garden. Hornbeam trees and a cedar pergola acted as a screen in front of the house.

Every inch of the entry garden was filled with delight. A mix of cottage-style gardening in one area and clean lines of formal boxwood with connecting pathways added variety and invited visitors to linger here and enjoy the colors, textures, shapes and function of the different garden beds.

We peeked inside the ‘glass house’ and thought… yes, this would be a lovely addition to our home. Magnificent!

We enjoyed the raised-beds in the vegetable garden supported not with wood, but with granite slabs… then on to the inviting pool area with built-in fire pit, containers overflowing with blooms, and handsome pool house.

But the most fun of all was the poolside Meet & Greet by the owners. Down to earth, personable and friendly, we both enjoyed the hospitality of the hosts… and their sweet pups!

I am always amazed at the generosity of folks who throw open their garden gates for a good cause.  We had a fabulous day exploring the wonders of gardening in Maine.

Coastal Maine Botanical Garden

When friends invited us to join them Down East at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, we jumped at the opportunity. It was voted Tripadvisor’s #1 in April’s Top 10 Public Gardens in the U.S. For a botanical garden that only opened its gates in 2007, that seems remarkable.

The mission of the garden is “to protect, preserve, and enhance the botanical heritage and natural landscapes of coastal Maine…”  Almost 250 acres of stunning beauty and miles of trails along the waterfront, through pristine woodlands, and ornamental gardens simply took our breath away.

This time of year, the hydrangeas are stunning and the gardens took full advantage. The combination of large globular white flowers of ‘Incrediball’ and the hot pink of ‘Invincibelle Spirit,’ a fairly new addition to the market, were a delicious combination in the children’s garden.

Mist sprayed from several boulders in the children's garden to cool off on a hot summer day.

Mist sprayed from several boulders in the children’s garden, a fun way to cool on a hot summer day.

Wonderful whimsical touches invited children to run, to touch, to participate in all aspects of the Children’s Garden from watering the flowers, planting vegetables, to art projects.

My favorite garden was The Garden of the Five Senses. To show how a garden will delight, visitors are invited to renew their senses by sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch.

Five Senses Sweeps of my favorite daisy, ‘Becky’ (Leucanthemum x superbum) lined the pond in the touch garden. I stood there for awhile and admired the variety of insects that feasted on the beautiful blooms.

'Becky'

We took a break midway through our adventure to dine in the Kitchen Garden Cafe where delicious cuisine is created using organic and local ingredients. Herbs, fruits, and vegetables come from their own gardens. It was a very good day.

For more information about the gardens, go to the website for Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. To see more scenes from several of the gardens watch the slideshow below.

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A Garden Party…. Maine Style

This being the first official weekend of summer, we decided to celebrate by taking in a garden tour just over the Maine border in York. It was a fabulous opportunity to peek over the hedge (see below) into a lovely estate, stroll through the gardens, enjoy refreshments and come away inspired by what we saw.

Brave Boat Harbor Farms I love a landscape that beckons visitors along gentle pathways from one garden to another, around corners, up hills, along stone walls, through woodlands and meadows with wonderful vistas and surprises along the way. Brave Boat Harbor Farm did just that. It was a true slice of heaven on earth.

Pathway to the PondA sampling of sights from our adventure. Click on photos to enlarge:

The Gunhouse, built by the last owner, a marksman and a gunsmith, was completed in 1980. This tiny getaway sparked a real interest among the men on the tour but I’d be perfectly thrilled to claim it as my personal retreat…

Many thanks to Old York Garden Club for sponsoring the tour and our gratitude to the family for throwing open the garden gates for visitors.

Final Glimpse of Summer

Fall is in the air in New Hampshire. Our birches have lost most of their leaves. The yellows are blazing and the reds are emerging quickly near the seacoast. Leaf Peepers must be planning their trips to New England… hopefully with airline tickets already in hand. We read that the leaf color in the Lake Winnipesaukee area in the Lakes Region is showing early reds and oranges. With temperature hovering in the upper 40’s this morning, it should only get better. We’ve flown to New England in the fall in years past but this year we plan to follow the procession of Leaf Peepers along the roads. Wish us luck.

To catch a last glimpse of summer, my sisters and I visited Stonewall Kitchen gardens (twice!) in York, Maine where colorful annuals attracted butterflies, skippers and bees. Glorious!

Click photos if you want full size….

Out and About for Art’s Sake

One sister arrived a few days earlier than the other so the two of us ventured out to discover the seacoast together. Since she’s a passionate potter, we spent a half day in Portsmouth visiting galleries and shops where she inspected and poured over local pottery. She’s an excellent potter and really knows her stuff. I found just how good when we were in a little shop with local pottery. She pointed to a container and said, “Now that looks like it was made in North Carolina.” The shopkeeper said, “Yes, that one did come from North Carolina.”  It all looked the same to me. One bowl immediately grabbed our attention. A whimsical bowl decorated with fish… a bit of playfulness that we both love. Sis said, “She’s a talented and creative artist, not a potter.” She could tell by just looking that it was a mold that the artist painted and glazed. We both loved this artist’s free design on the bowl…. and I bought it! That night we Googled the artist, Pat DeGrandpre, and discovered that she lives just across the river in Maine and exhibits in a small artist co-operative called Just Us Chickens Gallery. She makes other pieces of art and she knits. “Let’s go visit Kittery,” I said. We recognized her work as soon as we entered the gallery. We were enjoying her pieces and a multitude of other artists’ creations when the lady behind the desk said, “Speak of the devil…”  We turned and there she was. Pat DeGrandpre. We asked her to hold the little hat she made that we were about to purchase. With a smile, she posed while I photographed her with iPhone. We also learned about the studio of a seasoned local potter, Elaine Fuller, and my sister couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit her studio. We met Elaine at The Red Door Pottery where she and sis talked shop and sis bought too much and shipped everything home to California. Sis was over the moon about the talent she saw and encouraged me to enroll in Elaine’s classes. Hmmmm… While in Kittery, we transported our lunch to historic Ft. McClary for a delightful picnic at the site of an original 1690 defensive fortification, now the site of an impressive 1844 blockhouse that provides a commanding view of the harbor. Not sure if the fort ever saw battle but it was manned during 5 wars to protect the Piscataqua River and US Navy Shipyard. On the National Register of Historic Places, it is owned by the state of Maine.

Isles of Shoals

I spent the last 7 days on a rocky, wave-swept island 9 -10 miles off the coast of New Hampshire. Star Island was host to a photography course that I signed on to attend with a friend from Virginia.

Arriving on a replica steamship from the Portsmouth dock, our first view of the Oceanic Hotel was impressive. The grand hotel with its expansive porch and boardwalk connected a number of smaller buildings arranged in a row. Once a popular 19th-century vacation resort, the non-profit Star Island Corporation has adapted the facility as a personal or family summer retreat and conference center.

People and groups came and went from the island all week. As newbies, the entire experience was a bit confusing to us. The closest thing that came to mind as I wandered the island was the Chautauqua Institution in New York.  We had to check our group’s chalkboard among several other groups’ chalkboards in the lobby that listed the day’s agenda. Name tags identified our group as photographers and other groups as poets, song writers, the mid-weekers, Plymouth NH 6th graders, watercolor artists, Granite State Marine Biology students, a paranormal group, lighthouse group, Unitarians, a yoga group, the New Hampshire Photography Club, and ISHRA (Isles of Shoals Historical and Research Association). We were still confused near week’s end as we stumbled into ISHRA’s annual group photo. “On three, say Cottage-D,” the photographer shouted. “Cottage-D,” we all chortled together. Just wait till they try to id the two interlopers in the midst of 30 illustrious ISHRA members. Folks, we are really sorry!

Our agenda and shower days

Our photography course was enjoyable under the tutelage of our learned instructor, Arnie. Four hours or more each day was spent in the classroom demystifying the digital camera, exploring the intricate camera settings, lighting, color, and numerous ways to compose photos. We had plenty of time for photographing spectacular sunrises, rainbows, sunsets, sea birds, ocean sprays, rocks, and quaint island cottages.

Watercolor artists at work

Reflection of our photography group

Visited in 1614 by Captain John Smith (he dubbed it ‘Smith’s Isles’ but the name didn’t stick), nine small islands make up the Isles of Shoals, some in Maine and others in New Hampshire. After exploring the dozens of paths and seaside boulders and cottages on Star Island, I saw early on that the islands really belong to the gulls, both Herring and Great Black-backed. They dominated every surface on the island and other islands we could see through our telephoto lenses. But we experienced cedar waxwings, tree swallows, warblers, vireos, sparrows, and more. We also found lots of shorebirds and water birds to identify. On Appledore Island, we were lucky enough to observe bird banders hard at work banding migratory songbirds.

Cedar Waxwing

A young gull stretching

Releasing a banded Philadelphia Vireo

All in all, I’d rate our experience a 10… in spite of the tight quarters we shared and the every-other-day-cistern-fed-slippery-hold the water on-showers. Finally home again and adjusting to cars, computers, telephone, television, and election prattle.

To read three excellent postings on a blog about our photography classes and information about the islands written by a classmate, Ray: click here.

Ogunquit Maine Trek

When we read that Yankee Magazine named the picturesque town of Ogunquit the #1 Beach Town in all of New England in their July/August 2012 edition, we decided to take an early morning stroll along the town’s Marginal Way. The paved and winding path hugs the rocky coast and connects Perkins Cove to the center of town. Our last couple of days have been steamy so we decided to walk the walk before the morning sun had burned off the ocean fog. Perhaps some of the spectacular views were obstructed by fog but temperatures and breezes kept us cool on the mile and a quarter walk.

Parking is always an issue in these small coastal villages and a parade of tourists in cars move slowly in and out of tight spaces. Locals must have a love/hate relationship with them, failing to remember these vacationers provide the funds for their thriving economy. We witnessed an altercation with one impatient local, sounding her horn and uttering a few choice words for an indecisive driver. Signs in Perkins Cove, an old fishing village, were proof of parking shortages and rules to follow.

We began our walk right here at Perkins Cove, the home of the only pedestrian operated draw bridge in the country, we were told. And if you arrive very early as the lobstermen return from sea, you can purchase a fresh, live lobster. Maybe next time….

The pathway winds beneath wind-twisted cedars then opens to paths lined with large pink and white sea roses (Rosa rugosa). About 30 benches along the way provide respite where you can sit and enjoy the vista or read a book as we saw some doing.

It’s a winding trail, up and down, following the contour of the rocky shoreline. We saw walkers of all ages, all very friendly, and many greeting us with good mornings and hellos. We even heard a few different languages being spoken. Our only negative were the joggers who appeared behind us from nowhere causing us to jump to the berm.

At low tide, we saw beach goers taking advantage of temporary beaches the retreating water provided.

We loved checking out the homes along the way, some spectacular, others average-sized but all were tidy and well-kept.

Back in Perkins Cove, we walked through the once thriving fishermen cove, now home to quaint tourist shops filled with crafts, jewelry ice cream, candy, clothing and restaurants.

Wild about Stonewall Kitchen…

When my daughter led me on a shopping/sightseeing tour of Portsmouth in January, little did she know that one tiny store would have a major gastronomic impact my life. Stonewall Kitchen.  I had never purchased their products but with numerous samples in the store, I couldn’t get enough of everything they provided. Each morsel was an epicurean explosion of taste. And then I couldn’t stop buying….

I have purchased goods for me, for guests, and have had them shipped to friends. The dessert sauces over ice cream are wicked. I’ve bought more than I care to admit and declare the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Sauce tough to beat. It is bold and sweet with a hint of salt. How many of those jars have we emptied?

Ahhhhh… the jams. I want to eventually sample them all. The sour cherry and the Strawberry Peach are an explosion of flavor on toast (or on ANYTHING, for that matter!)

Since that fateful day, I have discovered the Home Office, Cafe, Cooking School and fabulous Country Store just across the Maine border in York. I’ve visited twice and brought home a trunk full of garden supplies, salad dressings, mustards, a cookbook, candy, more jams and sauces to sample. They have so many I’ll never taste them all. But being the inquisitive person I am, I am most assuredly going to try.

I’ve driven over to the cafe twice for a delicious breakfast cooked from scratch. It’s wonderful to order your meal, then be able to roam and explore every nook and cranny of the well-stocked shop, sampling new tastes and wander until you are called. Best of all, there’s a cooking school to boot. If I can interest mister gardener, we will certainly take advantage of that when the weather warms a bit.