Sunday, October 09, 2005

Monsoon Season in New England

Well, that'll teach me to complain about FOG. This year's extra-long, extra-harsh Hurricane Season appears to have turned the usually crisp, bright, blue skies over October in Maine into a tropical mess of relentless downpours. We arrived last night in Bar Harbor, for our usual dog-friendly stay at the Wonder View Inn just outside downtown Bar Harbor. Needless to say there are no wonderful views today: it's all mist and rain over Frenchman's Bay.

We didn't leave Portland until 2pm yesterday. Of course we had to take the dogs to one of the Dog Parks (they had made it to both parks on Thursday and then "only" the Ocean Avenue (7-acre) park on Friday). Valley Street's gravel-and-sand expanse was transformed into a shallow lake, which the dogs had a great time splashing around and playing in.

There was no point in meandering up the coast along Route 1 of course. For years I have wanted to make it to the used bookstores in Camden, but they close early in the colder months of the year and we would never have made it in time with our late departure: plus there were reports of flooding near the coast, so we stuck to Interstate 95 up to Bangor and then route 1a through Ellsworth to the Island.

As a consolation prize, I asked Lisa to look up whether there were any antiquarian bookstores listed in Bangor, and there were. We managed to make it up 95 through the sheets of rain to Bangor just half an hour before the store's closing, and got lost a couple of times along the way to the store (thank goodness for cell-phones). I managed to spend a bunch there, too, and fill up my second box.

Our Thule didn't make it through the torrential deluge up 95, and our down Cuddledown pillows, shoes, and various other items were soaked. Not pretty. And the roof of the building we're in has sprung a slight leak, so there's a little drip via the heat lamp in the ceiling of the bathroom. There's nothing they can do until the rain abates.

The rain is still relentless, and if the weather reports are to be believed, it will rain at least some every day of our visit to the Island. I am hoping they're just giving us the worst-case scenario.

If the weather really ends up being as bad as the reports suggest, it will be the first and only year in the nearly 15 years we've been coming where there wasn't at least some time where it was warm enough in the sun to hike up Acadia's mountains in shorts and t-shirts, but I have noticed what seems to be a trend towards worsening weather in October. I don't think it rained at all the first several years we came, and in the past several years, there has been at least some rain each visit. Three years ago there was a Nor'easter so bad that Bar Harbor lost power. These things may not constitute a pattern, but I can't help it crossing my mind whether the intensifying hurricane patterns that many are blaming on Global Warming may not end up ruining New England's leaf-peeper season and replacing it with an autumn monsoon season instead. Let's hope not.

The Wonder View has an interesting history all its own. It's built on the site of the estate of a flapper-era mystery writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Bar Harbor in the guilded age used to be a playground for the rich, with mansions given the precious nickname of "cottages", just like in Newport. All this ended in the Great Fire of 1947, which not only destroyed most of the cottages but also large swaths of old-growth trees in Acadian National Park. In fact it was a fire throughout much of Maine, not just Mount Desert Island. The foundations of Rinehart's entry gate are still standing near the Hilltop building we stay in -- they look like Roman ruins. But nothing like the castle tower, complete with battlements, that used to stand in a hill over Mount Desert Street, part of the remains of an Italianate Villa that used to stand there. My father spent a summer working at Jackson Labs when I was a boy, in 1969 (we watched the moon-landing from the apartment we were renting over a hardware store on Maine Street), and I talked him into taking us up to see the castle tower, which I could hardly believe wasn't a hallucination. We picnicked up there and toured the ruins: there was a swimming pool with windows and hallways along the side. Obscenely, the villa was bought by some philistine in the 1980s and torn down and replaced with some boring, soulless modern house.

Well, we'd better go and brave the floods ...

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Track with co.mments
At Wed Oct 12, 08:02:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Dixie Sanger said...

I hope you are managing to keep your heads above water. I just discovered your blog and would hate to lose you so early in the game.
It seems that we share a few interests, beginning with books. "Antiquarian" titles are usually too rich for my purse these days, but I do find it hard to pass a bookstore of any kind without at least stopping in for a look.
I, too, watched the moonlanding from a home away from home in New England. My wife and I had rented a tiny camp on Squam Lake for a couple of weeks that summer. We were packed in there with three kids and a couple of dogs, and every time I got up for a beer or a pee I whacked my head on one of the rustic, but low-slung rafters. Caught up with me years later in the form of a chronic subdural hematoma, but at the time it seemed to add to the fun.
We were summer Mainiacs for many years, too, but our retreat was usually a borrowed camp on Lake Richardson (otherwise know as Mollychunkamunk (sp?). Been to Bar Harbor just once, and that was as a side trip from Ellsworth, our true port of call. Attended an AA meeting there, however, and remember it well for having been chaired by a then-prominent television celebrity whose yacht was anchored in Bar Harbor.


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