By LESLIE LINSLEY Citizen Columnist
Maine is just about as far away from Key West as you can go within the U.S. on the eastern seaboard. It takes about as long to get there from Nantucket, just because it's hard to travel anywhere from Nantucket.
East Boothbay Harbor (not to be confused with its more populated and "discovered" neighbor, Boothbay) is one of those sleepy fishing villages that's worth the trip. While Key West and Nantucket and many places in between have become gentrified, this place has retained its quaint charm and picturesque scenery that might form the background of a Stephen King novel.
There's the general store that sells everything from breakfast pizza to great wine and gourmet cheeses so you know, in spite of the deceivingly unpretentious appearance, there's a sophisticated mentality going on here. There's the rickety porch hanging over the water in back of the "real" restaurant for those who don't mind swatting mosquitoes away while cracking lobster claws. The post office is half the size of the front room of a conch cottage, and since there's not much going on, buying a postage stamp and mailing a letter becomes a social event of the day. "Lobstah" rolls are $12.95 or three for $29.95 and advertised on sandwich boards every few feet along the road. There's no obvious evidence of a building from which these delicacies are produced.
On a recent weekend we took what was to be a three-day trip to Maine. Planning a trip, especially in mid-summer from Nantucket is no easy feat. It involves a ferry ride or a commuter plane to the mainland at great expense. Then you rent a car on the other side. We were headed for E. Boothbay Harbor to stay with our friends Joann and Steve Marcoux who had rented a cottage on a river for two weeks.
We should have known that leaving the island in the middle of our season would result in clashing headlong into the world of vacationers traveling up and down Cape Cod and points north through New England with cars so overloaded with paraphernalia as to be indiscernible. Bicycles four deep on car racks doubled a vehicle's size, kayaks, canoes, and fishing gear strapped to rooftops shouted vacation fun, all contributing to bumper to bumper traffic.
Our four-hour trip turned easily into six plus. As we approached our destination every curve, every hill, every rolling turn and dip of the road led to what seemed like an endless journey. And then we were there. "This cannot be their road!" I announced as I cautiously edged the car down a roller-coaster-wide-track of gravel along a coastline that seemed to drop right into a river. But perched on the edge of the bank, right smack overlooking a body of water filled with sailboats and fishing boats and Boston whalers of all sizes was a sprawling cabin surrounded by fir trees and all the nature associated with Maine.
But the thing that was overwhelming was the quiet. If we weren't stirring up the environment with our voices and laughter and the slam of a screen door, the quiet enveloped the place. It made you aware of the sounds of the lapping water and the birds calling and the clanging of things in the water reminding you where you were. We drove all over the area, stopping to buy lobsters to cook at home and doing cliché touristy things like checking out the shops in little towns.
When you have always lived in a tourist town as the four of us have, it's fun to be tourists elsewhere for a short time, like one day. We visited the local library, once a house and looking still like another house in the town only with makeshift shelves holding worn books. They were having a lecture by an author later in the day and when I asked who she was, no one seemed to even know she was coming despite the giant sign on the front steps.
When I am in Key West or anywhere else in the world, I like to look at the architecture of the place, which is a clue to the history of a place. In this case early farmhouses and big barns, sometimes attached to enlarge or expand the living space over time.
While they surely don't have house tours in this part of Maine the way we do in Nantucket and Key West, and I doubt that the interior designs are tour-worthy, the style of houses and gardens were so unpretentious yet neatly maintained. When you live in places that have become overly gentrified and "discovered" it's fun to go to historic or scenic or funky places that have not yet been overly messed with, at least not to the extent that Key West and Nantucket have been.
We once thought we were too remote, too hard to get to, to succumb to change. We thought we were immune. It happens so quickly once a place reaches a certain level of popularity. And then it doesn't take long for the process of removing all that "lovely grittiness" to be set in motion and what we have, when we return, is not quite as good as we remember
Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket with her husband, photographer Jon Aron, and has a store on the island that specializes in her one-of-a-kind creations. Her latest book is "Key West, a Tropical Lifestyle" (Monacelli Press), with photos by Terry Pommett.