I fell in love with Maine decades ago when I first set foot in a state so completely and utterly different from my own. Fast forward 25 years and it still has a pull on me that I am powerless over.
What is it about this northeasternmost state that tugs at my heartstrings so?
I’ve been digging hard and deep, and here are the top 6 reasons that I heart Maine.
Reason #6: Maine has Moose. And Puffin.
If you’ve read our blogs from earlier this year, you’ll know we were on a quest to see puffins in Iceland and moose in Montana. While we finally spotted the adorable puffin, the moose remained elusive. Hmmph.
So when I learned Maine had moose AND puffin, I was in heaven! Having already gotten my puffin fix for the year, I set my sights on the moose.
Sadly, they had other ideas, and (again) remained elusive. Errrrgh. And to rub salt into the wound, every sign on the side of the road taunted me.
I would have happily braked for them, if they’d just shown themselves!!! Over 75,000+ moose in Maine and all I saw were these bloody signs.
So, if you know me at all, you know that I’m now on a serious moose mission! But we’ll leave that for another day…
If nothing else, I now know where I can get my moose and puffin fix without leaving my time zone. Always a good thing for a girl to know!
Reason #5: Quaint Coastal Towns Filled with Historic B&B’s and Inns
As we finished our leaf peeping adventure in New Hampshire, Jeff, Kay, and I drove through the interior of Maine to get to our next stop on the coast. No disrespect at all to interior Maine, but it was a bit dead. (Understatement.) Out of season and positively empty, a car of 3 hungry people couldn’t find a place to eat for hours!
But then “Voila!” the minute you get near the coast, Maine comes positively alive. The heart of Maine beats in its quaint coastal towns. We started in adorable Bar Harbor (Yankee translation: Bah Hahbah), where the downtown main street just reeks of character…
…and stayed in the delightful Shore Path Cottage B&B. Normally we don’t promote any particular place that we stay, but this was so perfect, we just have to. Right on the coast, only a stroll away from central Bar Harbor along the scenic Shore Path, we couldn’t have picked a better location.
This B&B embodied the quaintness of Maine, while also allowing us to enjoy what we love about B&B’s — coming down to enjoy breakfast with complete strangers from all over the world, sharing stories about where they’ve been, what they’ve seen, and what we just have to see. (Bonus points that Jeff got to talk rugby with a South African bloke…)
And as if Bar Harbor weren’t enough, we also got to enjoy Boothbay Harbor. There is nothing like some fresh fish and chips and local Shipyard pumpkin ale (with a delicious cinnamon and sugar coated rim!) while overlooking the picturesque harbor.
(Though out of season, the coastal Maine botanical gardens in Boothbay Harbor were also impressive.)
Camden, on the other hand, had other ideas for us. While the weather had been great in Bar Harbor and Boothbay Harbor, we were socked in in Camden. This just goes to show how quickly Maine can go from breathtakingly gorgeous to downright spooky.
Hello, pea soup.
Despite the desolate weather, we enjoyed staying in our historic B&B, Whitehall Inn, the setting for the risque-for-its-time movie, Peyton Place.
No matter the weather, the quaint coastal towns filled with historic B&B’s and cozy inns are enough to steal anyone’s heart.
Reason #4: The Lobstah Life
You can’t visit Maine without being inundated with lobster (ahem, lobstah). Now I personally have no interest in lobster — I’m not a seafood eater. But it fascinates me that the coastal towns of Maine have made a whole lifestyle around this funny looking “cockroach of the sea.”
You can’t go anywhere near the water without seeing lobster boats efficiently pulling up their catch, and quickly sizing and sexing them before tossing them into the boat or out to sea. (Twenty lobsters were likely evaluated in the time it took you to read that sentence!)
And anywhere you go on the water, you see lobster buoys everywhere. [Ok, so Jeff tells me the below picture is awful and should never be put online. I hear him, but I'm doing it anyway. Shocking, I know!]
It’s like one of those pictures where if you stare really hard in the center, a picture comes to life. In this case, stare in the middle third of the picture, just below the horizon and try to count how many white and yellow spots you can see. Those are all lobster buoys. Each buoy represents a lobster trap below.
In case your vision is as bad as mine, take my word for it that there are hundreds. Each lobsterman has his own buoys, like a fingerprint, with different colors and patterns to differentiate his buoys from someone else’s. Per the guide on our boat tour, the average lobsterman has about 800 buoys. 800! That’s a lot of lobster.
So I had to ask, how many lobster are there? The guide indicated that each female lobster will lay up to 8,000 to 100,000 eggs (ummm, ouch!), depending on the age and weight of the female. Say what??!?!?! But only 0.1% (80-100) of those make it to maturity. Hence the reason one of the first rules of lobstering is to always throw back pregnant females. Gotta keep the population up!
And not only are the buoys EVERYWHERE in the water, but they are also used to decorate the towns, making it absolutely impossible to avoid the lobster life.
And the results of all that lobstering end up on the streets…
…and on menus and plates everywhere. Jeff was surprised that the famous lobster rolls were served cold, but they were delicious nonetheless (or so I hear)!
Reason #3: Rocky Coastline
Way back when, Maine was the first place where I had every seen anything different from the sandy beaches of the Southeast. So to fly northward to find dramatic, rocky coastlines was bewildering to me. And utterly fascinating.
The combination of rocks and evergreens define Maine for me. The rocky coastline is a constant reminder that this isn’t a soft place. It’s rugged, and hard, and hearty. And again, when the fog rolls in, it can be downright spooky…
But under the sun, the rocks are utterly gorgeous.
Reason #2: Lighthouses, Lighthouses, Lighthouses
Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not very original. But come on! Have you seen the lighthouses in Maine? Spectacular.
And why am I (and much of the world) so fascinated by lighthouses? Maybe it’s because they are circles living in a world of squares. Spires towering over the ordinary. What’s not to love?
(If you love people who march to the beat of their own drummer [I do!], lighthouses are the building equivalent.)
Ok, so there are over 50 lighthouses in Maine. (I think it should be on my bucket list to visit them all!) We saw several during the Acadia National Park and Lighthouse boat tour and also drove the coastline to visit some local favorites. I loved that each one had its own story to tell.
While the below Bass Harbor Island lighthouse may look idyllic perched on the rocky coastline, the eerie red Fresnel lens actually alludes to the creepy nature of the site.
For legend has it that this site is haunted. When it was being built in 1858, one of the workers was murdered and a bloody axe was found with no body to be found. Several people have died tragically here through the years and visitors swear they’ve seen apparitions lurking around.
Needless to say, we took their word for it and admired it from the boat!
After the creepy one, it was nice to see a picturesque lighthouse without such a devious past. By outward appearances alone, the Bear Island Lighthouse is simple and lovely, though I have no doubt it could tell an interesting tale or two.
But even more special was the regal bald eagle who greeted us from its rooftop perch. How dignified!
I think my favorite lighthouse that we saw on this visit was at Pemaquid Point between Camden and Boothbay Harbor.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Fisherman’s Museum housed in the Keeper’s house. It was refreshing to learn that the people in the town of Bristol took it upon themselves to save this lighthouse. Volunteers man the museums, and local money funds the upkeep. The only part owned by the Coast Guard is the lighthouse itself.
Kudos to the townspeople for recognizing and preserving their local piece of history.
But it’s not necessarily the lighthouse or the museum that makes Pemaquid Point my favorite lighthouse. Rather, it’s the rocky shoreline that the lighthouse is perched upon. Positively breathtaking.
You just can’t make this stuff up!
And I can’t show the prettiest lighthouse, without giving fair and equal balance to the ugliest one, too.
Even Egg Rock Light – dubbed the “ugliest” lighthouse in Maine – is adorable. Ok, admittedly in a Cabbage-Patch-it’s-so-ugly-it’s-cute kinda way, but adorable nonetheless.
With no room on the rock to build the Keeper’s house separate from the Light, they joined it and came up with this unique creation. I can’t help it, I love it! (Ok, I will admit I have an itching desire to buy it and restore it to its former glory — but I don’t think it’s up for sale!)
The below Winter Harbor Lighthouse, though well kept, was decommissioned in 1933 and replaced with an offshore lighted buoy – a fate that many lighthouses have befallen. It is now privately owned, and despite it’s inactive status still stands proud, with its patriotic spirit waving in the wind.
Visiting all of these lighthouses certainly whet my whistle and reminded me of the #1 reason I heart Maine.
Reason #1: The Bravery and Isolation of the Lightkeepers
Ok, so it’s taken me 25+ years to realize why I love Maine so much. (I’m not the brightest bulb in the bunch).
It’s not just the lighthouses, or the rocky shoreline, or the quaint coastal towns full of B&B’s and lobster rolls. Though altogether, that all makes Maine a wonderful place to visit. But alas…
It is the lightkeepers who kept the lighthouses who fascinate me the most.
They embody the essence of Maine that intrigues me to no end. Rugged. Isolated. Brave.
Let’s take a minute to imagine. A time before cell phones. Then back even further, before phones, and wait, back even further, before there was electricity. Then let’s go back even further to before Maine was even a state. That’s right, Maine’s first lighthouse was built in 1786 (Maine later became a state in 1820).
Still with me?
This early in Maine (and US) history, there were men (and some women) who lived in these isolated houses with the sole responsibility of making sure the light stayed on, to keep sailors safely asea. And they did so regardless of weather — from the sunny day to the frigid, stormy, foggy days where you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.
Alone, and with the responsibility of helping others. Noble.
It is. Plain and simple.
And in addition to lighthouses, there were also life saving stations. Born out of a humanitarian desire to save shipwrecked mariners, the US Life Saving Services was established in 1878, and became part of the US Coast Guard in 1915. Today, many of these Life Saving Stations still stand along the US coast, and many are now privately owned.
This one, near Baker Island, warned ships of the dangerous shoals around the Cranberry Isles, which had caused many a shipwreck throughout history.
Nevertheless, it is the thought of these brave men and women selflessly helping others, using whale oil, candles, and kerosene to keep the light on for fellow sailors — all on the backdrop of such a rocky, stormy coastline — that keeps me completely enamored with dear Maine. This environment is indicative of her character.
But then, with the invention of lights, and then automation, the necessity of the lightkeeper slowly faded away. Today, there are few (if any) manned lighthouses in Maine or the US.
Nevertheless, the character lives on.
And that’s the #1 reason why I heart Maine.
What about you? Have you ever been to Maine? What do you love about it? Please, do tell!