Except In Acadia

My family is moving to Mount Desert Island in six weeks. After spending the last few years cooped up inside the smoggy high rises of South Korea, we’re looking forward to being able to unwind on one of the most beautiful islands on Earth. Much of Acadia National Park is located there, and even at the height of the summer tourist season it’s possible to find uncrowded and well-maintained hiking trails and beaches all over the place. Until I moved to one of the most densely-populated countries on Earth, I never understood how vital it is to have access to paths through quiet forests, mountains overlooking endless oceans, and beaches and cliffs carved by—to steal a few words from Carl Sagan—“the awesome machinery of nature.”

In South Korea, whenever I catch sight of people walking their dogs, I can’t help thinking of how this place is terrible for raising canines. They have nowhere to run around, only disgusting smells to draw into their snouts, and their paws get filthy whenever they go outside. At the same time, if this place is no good for dogs, it must also be no good for humans. Our ancestors spent millions of years hanging around trees and sprinting across grass fields—often in the company of Canis familiaris—but little of that natural habitat is to be found here. Instead, we waste away among concrete towers and neon jungles…

But in Acadia, we don’t have to. I worked as a gardener on the island for a couple of summers, and gained a deep appreciation for the dew gathering in morning spider webs, the palpable happiness of rain-soaked flowers bobbing in the wind, and the hummingbirds zipping from tree to tree with bluebirds and cardinals.

Treasures of every conceivable kind can be found on MDI. I daydream constantly of weekend breakfasts at Cafe This Way, guzzling cup after cup of glorious coffee (along with more than a plate of blueberry pancakes) in the company of hairy COA students. This brunch-fast is then followed by a promenade along the shore path, people watching on the Village Green, and pizza and a movie in the evening at Reel Pizza Cinerama. One of my friends told me he ordered their goat cheese pizza on the phone so often that when he called, he just baaed like a goat—he didn’t say hello or goodbye. They knew it was him, and whipped up exactly what he wanted. This same friend was fond of smoking marijuana at a place he had named “Reef Point” on the Shore Path, an excellent strategic position which allowed him to see if people were coming from great distances in multiple directions. Now that pot has been legalized, there’s no need for such precautions, of course, but the legacy of Reef Point will live on, regardless.

To be honest, I didn’t appreciate the beauty of Acadia when I was a kid. But lately I’ve discovered a ridiculous enthusiasm for the wigwam at Sieur de Monts Spring, the glacier-gouged Tarn at the foot of Dorr Mountain, and the Viking-worthy fjard at Somes Sound. Hollywood ought to take notice of this last feature; it’s been waiting for decades for someone to film a scene involving warriors running along the gleaming oars of a longship. Far more history, both natural and human, is packed into this little island than many might at first suppose.

Then there are the tide pools cradling countless specimens of life—the lakes and ponds filled with frogs, tadpoles, and beaver lodges—the wintry hills perfect for sledding—the lonely lighthouses and ancient arrowheads embedded in the sand—the seafood driving gourmets insane with joy—the free summer buses spiriting tourists from attraction to attraction and town to town—the occasional moose striding across your lawn, and the curious deer staring at you as you jog along a carriage road alongside horses and barouches or brakes that belong more properly to Tolstoy or Flaubert. These are things you catch in movies or books—never things you see with your own eyes or touch with your own hands.

Except in Acadia.