Maine in the summer is full of good things: salt air, brisk nights, bright sun, wispy clouds, lobster, ice cream parlors seemingly on every corner, breathtaking scenery, a lazy way of taking one day at a time and putting aside the rush.
There’s also traffic; getting anywhere by car is apt to take twice as long as anyone thinks it should, with distances measured in time rather than in miles. And, yes, it’s easy to spend a lot of time in the car in order to see it all.
But Maine is the kind of place that gets under your skin. It’s hard to resist coming back — and the more one returns, the longer one wants to stay.
Yesterday’s excursion took us along the back roads of Midcoast Maine from Wiscasset, the self-proclaimed “prettiest village,” northeast to Belfast, another old seafaring village about 50 miles distant. Then we clung to the seacoast to reach Camden, where Mount Battie stretches to the sky along one side of scenic Route 1 and the surf crashes against the rocks on the other side.
It was a leisurely drive, interspersed with frequent stops for photos, some “on purpose” wrong turns, and a drive up the bluff to view storied offshore islands from the heights at Point Lookout in Lincolnville.
Summer is alive with color — vibrant flowers, lobster buoys glistening in the sun, colorful sails silhouetted against the sky, canoes and kayaks forming their own artistic displays in their racks.
Farm stands and roadside booths abound — offering everything from fresh strawberries and blueberries to ever present lobster rolls, fried clams, and whoopie pies (definitely a Maine thing!) We even found ice cold Moxie for sale by the bottle. Yes, it still has a medicinal taste, but apparently it has never lost its appeal.
We made a stop at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren, and were thunderstruck by the beauty of huge floral hanging baskets. Alas, it’s still a bit too early for Maine sweet corn. But that’s another story; instead we stocked up on fresh strawberries, tomatoes — both red and green, and on purple carrots!
Make no mistake: Eating your way through Maine is half the fun.
Our lunch destination, and one of the main reasons for the trip, is an unassuming eatery with a loyal following in Belfast. Behind bright yellow doors at 96 Main St. is a thriving vegetarian lunch spot (open for dinner one night a week) that also has an in-house produce market, bakery and flower shop. The owners are all family, and their history in Maine dates to 1969; Chase’s Daily opened its doors in 2000.
Good food and sustainability are hallmarks of the operation; the owners and operators are down to earth, realistic and nothing if not approachable. The food is good, with unexpected layers of flavor and unusual ingredients; the ambience is pleasant, the wait staff congenial and the history heartwarming.
Maine has changed over the years, but in important ways this state remains the same as it was decades ago when I first visited. It’s still a little foreign, perhaps a little provincial, and rough around the edges at times. Portland, the largest city, is a cosmopolitan center today, full of fine restaurants, hotels, shops, museums and galleries.
But, get out to the country and there’s still a whole wide world to explore. That’s part of the delight, and that’s the reason for the traffic on the coastal highway. You need to get out of the city and away from the resorts to really experience Maine. As a state slogan proclaims: It is “the way life should be.”
Up country and Down East are not only destinations; they are states of mind.