In Search of the Real Maine

Goat Island Lighthouse as seen from Cape Porpoise

Kennebunkport is a nice little Maine town.  Stroll around Dock Square in the village center and you’ll find plenty of shops to spend your money in and a few good restaurants to curb your appetite.  Take a ride along Ocean Avenue past the Bush Compound at Walker’s Point and I’m sure you’ll find the scenery spectacular. Spend some time on Goose Rocks Beach if you’re lucky enough to find a parking spot and you’ll marvel at the lovely summer homes there.  All well and good, but it’s not the “real” Maine.

To find some semblance of Maine in its genuine article form within this region of the state you have to drive up the coast a couple of miles to the fishermen’s pier in the Cape Porpoise section of Kennebunk.  You won’t find any fancy sports cars or luxury sedans in the parking lot – at least not before sunrise.   All you’ll likely encounter are smelly pick-up trucks with chain smoking fishermen of all ages inside of them waiting for the first light of day to signal it’s time to crank up the boat engine and head out to sea. Likewise, you won’t spot a Hinckley sailboat or a massive yacht moored there. The status symbol of choice here is a lobster boat.

The pier does share a parking lot with its neighbor, the Pier 77 restaurant.  Since this establishment is popular with tourists, you might spot an occasional Porsche or BMW in the lot around dinner time.  I’m told that the food is good there but I much prefer the more Maine-ish adjacent pub named The Ramp where I highly recommend the fish-n-chips.  Any restaurant with lobster buoys dangling from its siding unmistakably shouts “real” Maine.

The Ramp Pub

Driving down to Cape Porpoise to catch the sunrise last Saturday I pulled into the lot at the same time as a vehicle with California plates.  A middle aged couple got out and I could tell by their gear that they were both photography enthusiasts.  I struck up a conversation and learned that they were on a four month cross country journey in search of “real” America.  They had left their home in northern California in early August and traveled up the Oregon coast before heading to Yellowstone National Park.  They later witnessed the total solar eclipse near Omaha, Nebraska and stopped at countless other places before arriving in Maine. Cheap motels and Airbnb’s were the extent of their accommodations.

They spoke of driving up Route 1 all the way to Eastport – the nation’s easternmost township and the first place in the US to see the sun on most days of the year.  Having been to Eastport on several occasions for work related purposes, I can attest that it is not situated exactly on the edge of the earth but you can see the edge from its fishing docks.  My favorite time to visit is when the Chamber of Commerce hosts the “vacant building” festival down on Main Street (anyone who has been to this economically depressed town knows what I mean).

I offered them a few tips regarding several other obscure Maine photo destinations including Lookout Point in Harpswell and Five Islands Lobster Company in Georgetown. And since they were going to Eastport anyway, I highly recommended the WACO Diner right on the waterfront for breakfast.  In all fairness, I did preface my recommendation with a disclaimer that one didn’t go there for the food or the service but rather for the “experience”.  It’s the only restaurant I know of that offers eggs scrambled, sunny side up, or cracked raw into your warm glass of beer (a local Downeast delicacy).  Ask if there is a table available and the hostess will tell you “go and check for yourself”.  On the plus side, you might just spot a whale while dining on their deck. If you want “real” Maine, oh baby, this is it!

Lookout Point

From Eastport, the couple planned to visit New Hampshire and Vermont for peak foliage season before returning home via a southern route with stops in the Smoky Mountains and the Grand Canyon.

I commend these two for their free spirited-ness and desire to see not only the country’s iconic vistas and attractions but the off-the-beaten-path destinations as well.   Since that aligns with my aspirations, we might just cross paths again.


Return to Africa (well, sorta)

I recently read an article about the fifty best places on the planet for photography and I can report that I’ve been to two of them – a whopping 4%.  Although I beg to differ with some of the choices in the list, I have no argument with the two destinations that I have visited first hand:  Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Africa’s Masai Mara in southwest Kenya.  Both offer absolutely stunning photo opportunities.

I was in the Mara and other parts of Africa exactly five years ago this week and the experience remains unforgettable.  Much like a good wine that gets better with age, the sights that I witnessed and captured in digital form – or reside in my mental archive – amaze me more with the passage of time. Whenever I scan through the nearly 4,000 pictures that I shot I find several more that I deem blog-worthy.

In the two weeks that I spent there I only got to see a tiny fragment of this vast continent and I long for the day when I can return.  Fortunately, through the magic of Netflix and YouTube, I’ve made frequent virtual trips to the grassy plains, rolling hills and pristine lakes of this ultimate in wilderness territories.

A friend told me about a Netflix series called “Tales by Light” that I’ve really enjoyed watching.  Sponsored by Canon, these short presentations follow professional photographers in their quest for dramatic and evocative images throughout the world.  The emphasis is not on photography itself but rather on the resulting pictures these photographers create and how they may influence the viewer and the world as a whole. Filmed in places like Antarctica, beneath the waters off the coast of New Zealand, and in the slums of India, these artists capture the essence of their subject matter with profound impact.

The series features two episodes shot in the Masai Mara that follow the plight of photographers Johnathan and Angela Scott as they work to stop the continued dwindling of the region’s lion population.  I actually have friends who were in the Mara several years ago and met Johnathan Scott.  They can attest to the passion Scott has for protecting African wildlife in general but particularly the lions.  It is his and his wife’s hope that through their remarkable photographs of these amazing creatures, humans will see the need for their survival and act accordingly. I highly recommend this and all the other Tales by Light presentations.

I also stumbled upon another extremely talented wildlife photographer named David Yarrow on YouTube.  A former Wall Street trader, he gave up a career in finance to pursue his love for photography and animals. He travels to Africa frequently and fully subscribes to the axiom that if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.  Consequently, he strives to place his camera as near to the animals as possible rather than shooting them with a monstrous telephoto lens.  Typically, this requires positioning the camera in the expected path of the beast and remotely triggering the shutter from a safe distance.  Through the use of wide angle lenses his images juxtapose the “in your face” look of the animal with its natural environment as a backdrop and this offers a unique perspective.  Of course this comes at a price.  As Yarrow puts it, the folks at Nikon must chuckle when he returns a camera for repair and indicates “kicked by an elephant” or “mauled by a lion” as the reason for the damage.   You can see some of Yarrow’s work here.

If and when I do return to Africa, I’ll hope to do several things differently.  First, I will try to be more selective in my photography and work to capture the animals in a manner that tells a story rather than simply documents their presence.  When visiting Africa for the first time it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the moment that simply recording a sharp image of the animals seems satisfying enough. However, wildlife photography is so much more than that.  Compelling photographs reveal something about the subject and the photographer.  That doesn’t happen easily and typically requires “vision” beyond the camera and lens. I’ll have my work cut out for me!

I will also hope to focus more on the people of Africa, especially the Masai tribe (also spelled Maasai).  These semi-nomadic people remain strongly ingrained in a tradition that centers around their cattle.  Cattle serve as their primary source of food and even act as bargaining chips.  Many grievances among factions within the tribe are resolved by exchanging a few head of livestock.  Lately, the Masai cattle have been a source of controversy as they encroach on lands normally occupied by predatory animals.

I had the pleasure of visiting a Masai village in Tanzania and a later hired a Masai guide in Kenya.  Their colorful clothing and jewelry often make for a powerful photograph in and of itself.  Their welcoming and charming personalities make them a delight to interact with.  Photographing them is a joy.

Finally, the continent is home to some spectacular landscape that is often ignored – wildlife being the main attraction.  Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s iconic landmark and makes for an impressive photograph when it’s not shrouded in cloud cover.  However, there are countless other mountain ranges, prairies, lakes and rivers that warrant attention.  With very little light pollution, nighttime astro-photography will be a must.

Don’t hold your breath awaiting my next “real” trip to Africa.  I’d go back in a heartbeat if it wasn’t such a costly endeavor.  Besides, I have 48 more places to visit in order to complete the list of “must photograph” locations.


Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Labor Day signals the end to summer in Maine and there are lots of things I shoulda, woulda and coulda accomplished in the past three months, but I didn’t.  It seems that summers are just too short around these parts.

I logged a fair amount of bicycle miles but I shoulda ridden more (ice and snow aren’t that far away).  I woulda used my camera and blogged more but life got in the way.  I spent some good times with family and friends but I wish those times coulda lasted longer.  In a nutshell, I could use another summer to complete my to-do list of warm weather activities.

The good news is that experts are predicting a spectacular fall foliage season here in the Northeast and that’s always a photographer’s delight.  In fact, if you look carefully, signs of what’s to come are now showing up in many places.

As I anticipate the coming of autumn, I can already hear the crunching sound of fallen leaves beneath my bicycle tires as I ride Southern Maine’s Eastern Trail system in search of the projected kaleidoscope of color.   If indeed Mother Nature cranks up the hue saturation knob, we’ll all be in for a treat.

Reviewing my to-do list, I had plans to do more nighttime photography but that didn’t happen.  These days, I can hardly stay awake through a nine inning baseball game let alone be out past midnight in search of the Milky Way.

The best I could muster up was a pre-dawn shoot at Old Orchard Beach before the tourists swarmed the place.  In the process, I discovered that OOB takes on a whole different persona when you’re the only one on the beach before the sun rises.

I also wanted to do an early hour hike to a mountain summit and photograph the sunrise illuminating New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  As it turned out, I settled for mid-day family hikes up Middle Mountain in North Conway and Maiden’s Cliff in Camden.  The light at noon is not well suited for mountain-scapes and it’s hardly worth schlepping a camera up the trail.  Therefore, whether hiking up a mountain or just walking along in the great outdoors, I also try to pay attention to the details rather than simply focus on the grand vista.

My checklist also included taking in many of the free outdoor evening concerts in Southern Maine but I only made it to three.

LL Bean hosted several big name artists for their “Summer in the Park” concert series and I really enjoyed the season’s finale featuring Bruce Hornsby.

I first saw Hornsby when he performed at Portland City Hall on a bone-chilling January night in the late 1980’s. He was at the height of his career having just won a Grammy Award as the year’s best new artist and he rocked the house.  He later became friends with Jerry Garcia and toured with the Grateful Dead until Garcia’s death.

He is a very talented musician as evidenced by the multiple instruments he plays.  You know there is fun in the making when someone pulls out an accordion!

I set a goal to do more bird photography but that also fell through the cracks.  I can’t count the times I drove past Scarborough Marsh on my bike or in my car and spotted the perfect egret or heron shot only to lament the fact that I didn’t have my camera with me.

Even my backyard feeder saw reduced activity this summer.  Maybe the neighborhood birds were displeased with my lack of participation and found somewhere else to strut their stuff.

As much as I could use a summer do-over, all was not lost.  On more than one occasion I ignored the temptation to hit the snooze button and dragged my butt out of bed to catch the sunrise and the corresponding golden light of early morning.

If there’s one downside to summer it’s that sunrise occurs pretty early – hence the reason my daybreak excursions were few and far between.  However, the times that I did get out before dawn, I was well rewarded.

Looking back on it all now, it was actually a pretty good summer.  I can’t wait for the next one!


Pitcher Pond

I recently had the good fortune of spending some time on Pitcher Pond in Lincolnville, Maine.  Friends of ours invited me, my wife and our dog to spend a weekend at their “cabin” along the pond’s western shore and although the weather wasn’t spectacular, the time spent there certainly was.

Nearby Camden State Park offers hiking trails overlooking larger Lake Megunticook as pictured during a recent hike

About 2.5 miles long by half a mile at its widest, Pitcher Pond is as pristine as it gets and quiet as the proverbial church mouse.  Just a short drive from the Camden Hills region and even closer to the seacoast town of Belfast, this area offers some wildlife viewing opportunities that rival Maine’s more isolated locations.

With few powerboats and jet-skis, the pond is a kayaker’s paradise so long as the wind isn’t kicking up a fuss and disturbing the peaceful waters.  Depending on the water level of the pond, the adjacent smaller Knight Pond is accessible by kayak or canoe via a narrow connector channel.

Our first kayaking excursion was in the direction of Knight Pond where I was told that herons are frequently spotted.  Having once lost a camera in a capsized canoe fiasco, I was a bit gun shy of taking my “good” gear with me in the kayak.  Replacing the submerged point and shoot camera several years ago wasn’t too painful; having to buy a new digital SLR and high quality lens, ouch!!!  I made the decision to leave the camera in the cabin and it was a BIG mistake.  A great blue heron put on a spectacular show for us – envision a giant cargo plane practicing flawless take-offs and landings – and I didn’t even have a cell phone camera to capture it.  The next day I compromised and brought the camera along but outfitted it with a less costly consumer grade lens.

Catching some rays
Even a broken leg didn’t stop this angler

Most of Saturday was overcast and the sky didn’t begin to clear until just before sunset.  Meteor showers were forecasted for the overnight hours and several shooting stars were spotted in between breaks in the clouds.  Shortly before 11:00 pm the near full moon rose above the tree line – its fiery red glow partially obscured by some clouds – and provided an illusion of the sunset we missed while out to dinner in Lincolnville Beach.

Moonrise over Pitcher Pond

The evening sky offered promise for an epic sunrise the following morning but it didn’t materialize.  Rather, daybreak greeted those of us awake at that early hour with some low hanging fog, the enchanting sounds of loons crying, and a bald eagle perched across the pond within reach of my telephoto lens.  The stillness of the morning was only interrupted by the occasional splashing of some ducks and could best be summed up by the words: “Tranquility Base, the Eagle has landed”.

Following breakfast, we set off on a kayak mission to one of several known bald eagle nests intricately erected along the shoreline.  No one was home when we arrived at the nest but Mr. (or Mrs.) eagle was spotted joy-riding and putting on an air show (think Blue Angels) for us.

Oh, and did I mention that our dog, Emmie, swam and swam and swam some more?  She rated the weekend a solid “10” on the happy meter.  So did mom and dad!


Celebrating the Fourth on Peaks Island

Ferry boats line up at the Casco Bay terminal

I think most painters, writers and photographers experience periods of creative block.  I know I do.  It’s as if there is a voice within us that whispers that the next creative act can wait another day.   The more we listen to that voice, the more days that pass where we “just don’t feel it” and the camera, brush or pen simply sits idle.

View of Portland from the Maine State Pier

For me, this voice comes in one of three choruses:

Conditions Aren’t Right – The light won’t be right; I don’t have the right gear for that; getting to the right location will be too much work.

It’s Been Done Before – With billions of pictures on Instagram, Flickr, Facebook and other social media, there’s probably no place on the planet that hasn’t been photographed already.  Why bother?

It Needs to be Perfect –   That’s a great idea but I could easily screw it up!

I doubt that I’m alone in this thinking.

A strong display of patriotism along the Portland waterfront
Let’s not forget our Canadian neighbors as they celebrate their 150th anniversary

So what’s the antidote for this artistic roadblock?  Pick up the camera.  Go out and shoot something, anything.  Done is better than perfect.

A great day for sailing on Casco Bay

After a month or so of feeling uninspired to click the shutter, I decided to take the camera along as my wife, dog and I made our traditional July 4th excursion out to Peaks Island to celebrate Independence Day.

Peaks Island’s colorful sights are abundant 

Knowing that we would be taking the late morning ferry, I turned down the volume on the internal voice that reminded me that “the light won’t be right at mid-day” and decided to focus on color – bad light be damned.  To capture the true essence of Peaks one must reveal its colorful sights and care-free lifestyle.  Think of any Jimmy Buffett song you’ve ever heard and Peaks Island embodies it.  This is Margaritaville north.

Parts of the island are very tranquil
Most cottages are very well maintained
Each cottage displays its unique decor

About a twenty minute boat ride from Portland’s waterfront, this is a tourist haven in the summertime.  With ferries running about once per hour, visitors can spend as little or as much time on the island as they please.  There are several good restaurants, a general store, ice cream worth the calories as well as bike, kayak and golf cart rentals.  Just remember to wear comfortable shoes.

Just about every hue on the color spectrum is represented somewhere on the island

There aren’t many rules on the island.  If a car runs, it’s considered road-worthy.  Don’t have a car?  A golf cart will do.  No cart?  Get a bike – the older the better.  This place is as laid back as it gets.

People get very creative with their cars
Peaks is a very dog friendly place

A golf cart in the front yard is the ultimate status symbol
Everyone should own at least one purple bicycle in their lifetime
Peaks Island literally offers a “Bicycle with a View”

Each trip to Peaks is unique and often times the ferry ride itself is what stands out.  My favorite pastime while on the boat is to survey the various items that people bring aboard – keeping in mind that there are about 1,000 year round inhabitants and hundreds more seasonal residents that need provisions and other “stuff”.  This year’s winner:  a guy carrying a 4 foot plastic Santa Claus figure.   Must have been a deal he couldn’t refuse.

There are many gorgeous flower gardens to admire

Some flower gardens fall into the “fake news” category

If you’ve never been to Peaks Island, you need to go and experience this quintessential slice of Maine for yourself.

Portland Headlight as seen from Casco Bay
Latest mural on the Maine State Pier

If you’ve been contemplating a visit but haven’t pulled the trigger yet, turn off that voice in your head that suggests “there’s no place to park near the ferry” (go early); it’s too chilly on the boat (bring a jacket); “I won’t know what to do there” (Google it).  It might not be your “perfect” summer excursion, but then again, it might.  Besides, done is better than perfect!

The Perfect Storm

The 2017 Scarborough High School Girls Softball Team

I don’t follow professional basketball very closely but I had been keeping an eye on the Golden State Warriors to see if they would become the first NBA team to go undefeated in the playoffs.  They ended up winning the championship but along the way they lost Game 4 of the finals and finished with a record of 16 wins and 1 loss.  It brought back memories of the 2007 New England Patriots team that ran the table with a 16-0 regular season record, but lost the Super Bowl to finish at 18-1, thereby missing their place in the history books as the “greatest team ever”.  Of course, all that pales in comparison to the U-Conn women’s basketball team that won 111 straight games spanning several years before losing an overtime heart-breaker this past April.  As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”, and it did.

Enter the Scarborough High School girls’ “Red Storm” softball team that recently chalked up several consecutive undefeated regular seasons only to lose in the playoffs and be denied the state championship.  They’re back with a vengeance in 2017 and have racked up eighteen straight wins towards a bid for the regional crown against Portland and – with a victory – a shot at the coveted state Class A title.  With a possible perfect season in the making, I packed up my camera gear and headed up to St. Joseph’s College in Standish to photograph the game and cheer for my hometown team.

It was a perfect evening for a ballgame
The grounds crew at St. Joseph’s College did an excellent job preparing the field
These umpires looked like the real deal
The girls were fired up to play

The Storm had already beaten #2 seeded Portland 9-0 during the regular season and so expectations were high that Scarborough would move on to the state championship game.  Yet, despite the confidence exuded by the players during the warm-ups, I sensed some degree of nervousness based on the knowledge of past playoff failures.  As the sun slowly began its descent towards the horizon the umpire’s shout to “play ball” couldn’t come too soon.

During my twenties and thirties, I played softball in a men’s “recreational” (code word for beer drinking) league. I managed the company sponsored team and I was even league president for a year.  My brainchild as president was to schedule the opening day of the season on a Sunday with each of the sixteen teams in action.  Everybody got to play.  Problem was, that Sunday happened to be Mothers’ Day.  The irate phone calls – from both husbands and wives – didn’t stop for at least a week.  Needless to say, I didn’t run for re-election.

Slow-pitch (also code for beer drinking) softball that I played doesn’t require the skill level of the fast-pitch version.  In slow pitch, strikeouts are practically non-existent since the ball is gently lobbed in high arc fashion to the batter.  Not so in the fast pitch sport.  Even at the high school level, that ball is humming as it streaks towards the batter’s box.  I only wish I could “throw like a girl” after watching these young women pitch.

Scarborough pitcher, Abbie Murrell
Ready, aim . . . . fire!

Facing an outstanding pitcher at any level is a daunting task and I expected the ferocious Portland Lady Bulldogs to quickly be reduced to a much meeker Golden Retriever status by Scarborough’s hurler, Abbie Murrell.

Portland’s base runners were few and far between

That didn’t happen and when the first Portland batter launched a solid base hit, I feared bad things might be forthcoming.  Abbie settled down and got out of that first inning jam and in the bottom half of that frame her teammates put up a BIG crooked number and they never looked back.

The Storm kept their eye on the ball and it paid dividends
Celebrating a home run that was icing on the cake

Portland made things interesting in the final inning but it was way too little, too late.  Final score: Scarborough 8 – Portland 3.

The intensity of the players and umpire speaks for itself
A good example of being “handcuffed” by the ball.  Error.
You make the call:  safe or out?
Scarborough had lots to cheer about
The Red Storm outhit the Lady Bulldogs by a wide margin
Portland’s frustration grew as the game progressed
These girls mean business!
The victory game ball now destined for the souvenir case

Scarborough (19-0) will now play Skowhegan (17-2) for the Class A state title on Saturday.  Based on their performances all season, it may take a “perfect storm” to topple them.

Skowhegan?  Bring ’em on!
Raising the South Conference championship plaque

Where Does The Green Go?

One bright, crisp October morning about twenty years ago my young daughter awoke to discover that most of the trees in our backyard had turned a vibrant red, orange or yellow.  That prompted her to ask me “where does the green on the leaves go, dad?”  I tried my best to describe the photosynthesis process to her by explaining that the trees stop producing the green chlorophyll pigment that tints the leaves in the summertime, thereby revealing the underlying hues of the now bare leaves.  It sounded like a good explanation to me, but she wasn’t buying it.  “If the leaves were green yesterday, and today they are red, the green had to go somewhere.  Where did it go?”  I contemplated my next response very deeply and finally replied “better go ask your science teacher”.

I may not know where the green goes, but I do know when it comes back, it returns with a vengeance.  Just before Memorial Day in Maine, the state sheds its drab brown winter coat and dons its St. Patrick’s Day wardrobe. The abundance of rain cranks up the saturation level and lawns and forests magically re-discover their emerald-like vibrancy.  It’s a great time to be outdoors.

One outdoor place that my wife, dog and I like to visit is the Ovens Mouth Nature Preserve in Boothbay.  This 146 acre parcel is formed by two peninsulas – separated by a wooden foot bridge – that border the Sheepscot and Back Rivers.

The preserve is very dog friendly and is reportedly home to deer, otters, osprey and bald eagles.  Although I’ve yet to spot an eagle there, I remain hopeful.  A well-marked and maintained shore loop trail takes visitors to either peninsula named West and East.

I highly recommend a visit to Ovens Mouth.  Just minutes from Boothbay Harbor the place is scenic, interesting, and as unique as its peculiar name implies.