On our shuttle flight from Newark to Portland, I couldn’t help but notice strange formations of violet-tinged clouds above a deep gray layer that reminded me somewhat of the Grand Canyon at sundown. A few minutes later and the clouds developed into snowy-white columns and spires looking like Bryce Canyon, Utah in the dead of winter. And then the clouds transformed into long gray, streaks that replicated the land until, at last, we descended over the Casco Bay with long gray strands of glacial peninsulas and islands, one of them being Chebeague.
We arrived at Chebeague, not as Penobscot Indians by canoe, a few centuries ago, in pursuit of the island’s abundant shellfish including clams, mussels, scallops, and oysters, but on a ferryboat packed with other visitors (who would stay at the Island Inn) and some year-round residents.” “Chebeague” is an Abenaki word meaning “island of many springs.” With such resources, no wonder it became a popular place for European Americans since the 1740s.
Our daughter-in-law Jess picked us up to drive us to a newly purchased home along a stony beach looking out on Casco Bay and its many islands including Crow, Bangs, Hope, and a very distant Bailey Island. Our son Rich would be returning from a business trip the next day and our grandchildren, Greta and Sean would return that evening from their summer jobs. Their rustic, wooden-shingled home proved to be a delightful place to stay and visit and sometimes stare out the window at diving loons and quick paddling Eider ducks.
One of the first things I noticed just outside the cottage was a crystal-clear brook tumbling out of the surrounding forest. I couldn’t resist following the stream up to one of its several fresh-water springs gurgling out of granite rocks perhaps a hundred yards upstream in the ferny forest.
Just after a relaxed, late breakfast the next day, we all took a hike through the forest out to Deer Point, the westernmost part of Chebeague Island. Some of the tall spruce and fir trees had been blown down by a powerful nor’easter ten winters or so ago. Within the woods grew thick tangles of wild raspberry and blueberry bushes. There’s nothing quite like the taste of wild Maine blueberries! After a half-hour or so we emerged from the forest into dense growths of beach roses lining the rugged, rocky shoreline.
We all ate snacks and reminisced about our previous stays in Maine during years gone by. Rich well remembered our staying with my mom and dad at their cottage in Ocean Point not far from Boothbay Harbor. I recalled my college days’ summer job in Acadia National Park. Jess spoke of her growing up in Yarmouth, Maine, and coming out to Chebeague as a little girl. All the while constant waves rolled in and crashed against the rocky cliffs. Sailboats and lobster boats plied through the waters surrounded by bevies of laughing seagulls.
On our way home, we stopped to enjoy some of Maine’s own wildflowers: light blue morning glories, stalks of bulbous yellow rattle blossoms, and white Queene Anne’s lace, all sprouting from grassy meadows within the conifer forest. We all thoroughly enjoyed the rich scent of balsam fir trees towering above as well as the sounds of gurgling springs deep in the woods.
Each evening we spent on Chebeague, we loved to stroll along the nearby beach leading to Rose’s Point with long strands of seaweed exposed at low tide. Higher up on the beach, we gathered colorful rocks worn smooth by the sea. Some of them had white rings of quartzite crowning dark gray granite. Others were pitted and looked almost like pieces of calcified brown sponges. Just to breathe that rich salty air surely added a few years to one’s life.
Our last night on the island proved quite eventful. Shortly after we had all gone into a deep sleep, the most violent thunderstorm I had ever experienced erupted like a giant Icelandic volcano. The sky was filled with massive mushroom-shaped clouds with thrashing lightning. In no way did they resemble the gentle strands of gray clouds that greeted us upon our arrival. Later, the peaceful tolling of a distant bell buoy helped us go back to sleep. We well realized that to be on Chebeague Island is to truly experience both the frightening forces and the gentleness of Nature.
Richard Fleck’s latest essay, “North by East from Boothbay Harbor,” (60 miles northeast of Chebeague), appears in the current issue of Northern New England Review.