After a fantastic day in the Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire, we headed for Bangor, Maine. We did not know we would be escorted by the participants in The Great Race, an annual event involving street legal vintage automobiles. At first, I was like, “Man! Look at that Model T.” Then, it was, “Wow, that is a cool old pickup. I wonder what model it is?” In our spanking new Kia rental, we were passing these wacky racers like they were in quicksand. All the way to Bangor and the next morning along the road to Bar Harbor we passed these vintage vehicles. An old police car here. A fire truck there. Oh. My. God! Look at that ’57 Chevy! And a T-Bird. The five-hour drive along twisting state highways and county roads was made all the better by the company we kept.
The House that Horror Built
Bangor doesn’t have much going on and we were in a hurry to join the crowd in Bar Harbor (Bah Hahbuh to locals), so we determined to do just one thing before we left Bangor the next morning: take a photo of Stephen King’s house for our daughter Ashley, who loves scary books and flicks.
If I were to pick the house for the masterful, demented storyteller to live in, I would pick the one he chose for himself. It is beautiful, stately, on a quiet street in an older district…just the kind of place you could imagine disturbing scenes. It even has bats on the wrought iron gates.
Kids, do not trick-or-treat this house!
Bah Hahbuh, Maine
It was raining the morning we rolled into Bar Harbor. Despite a timely stop at an actual brick-and-mortar L.L. Bean store (it is a Maine-based company), where we made off like bandits with a few choice items, this was the first day of the trip where neither of was “feeling it.” Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was
Our Prospects and spirits improved as the rain lightened and we found our hotel – the Holiday Inn Resort, a waterfront property with a lobster shack right on the bay. Lobster for lunch proved the perfect way to get the day back on track. Then, it was off to walk the tourist-trap streets of Bar Harbor, do a little shopping, a little window-shopping, and a little bay-watching. A Norwegian Cruise Line ship had set anchor in the bay, which at least partially explained the crowded downtown streets. Rowing teams were in full sprint, honing their craft. Lovers, dog-lovers, and families lounged on the grassy knoll.
There was a peace amidst the hustle and the bustle.
The Shaker Village People
It was raining when we arrived at Bar Harbor and raining when we left. We agreed that it was a lovely little seaside hamlet we were glad to have visited and convinced we would not need to revisit. Maybe we are spoiled by all those years in − and trips back to – California, we concluded.
Marked on our map of things to see was America’s last remaining active Shaker village. Here’s Encyclopedia Brittanica enlightens us on this small, strange group of believers:
go to site Shaker, member of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, a celibate millenarian group that established communal settlements in the United States in the 18th century. Based on the revelations of Ann Lee and her vision of the heavenly kingdom to come, Shaker teaching emphasized simplicity, celibacy, and work. Shaker communities flourished in the mid-19th century and contributed a distinctive style of architecture, furniture, and handicraft to American culture. The communities declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Shakers derived originally from a small branch of English Quakers founded by Jane and James Wardley in 1747. They may have adopted the French Camisards’ ritual practices of shaking, shouting, dancing, whirling, and singing in tongues. The Shaker doctrine, as it came to be known in the United States, was formulated by Ann Lee, a textile worker in Manchester. “Mother Ann,” as she was known to her followers, had a troubled marriage and had suffered difficulties while pregnant (she had four children, all of whom died young), and in 1758 she converted to the “Shaking Quakers.” After enduring persecution and imprisonment for participation in noisy worship services, she had a series of revelations, after which she regarded herself—and was so regarded by her followers—as the female aspect of God’s dual nature (e.g., male and female) and the second Incarnation of Christ. She developed an elaborate theology and established celibacy as the cardinal principle of the community.
In 1774 Mother Ann came to America with eight disciples, having been charged by a new revelation to establish the millennial church in the New World. Settling in 1776 at Niskeyuna (now Watervliet), New York, the small group benefited from an independent revival movement that was sweeping the district, and within five years it grew to several thousand members.
After Mother Ann’s death (1784), the Shaker church came under the leadership of Elder Joseph Meacham and Eldress Lucy Wright. Together they worked out the distinctive pattern of Shaker social organization, which consisted of celibate communities of men and women living together in dormitory-style houses and holding all things in common. The first Shaker community, established at New Lebanon, New York, in 1787, retained leadership of the movement as it spread through New England and westward into Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. By 1826, 18 Shaker villages had been set up in eight states.
They were, essentially, Quakers getting their groove on. They were Quakers with rhythm. They were Holy Ghost-filled movers and shakers. They were craftsmen par excellence and model farmers. They were…celibate.
Celibacy didn’t help the Shakers’ long-term viability. Only a handful remain.
The quiet Shaker village (there was no worship service going on) with only a handful of visitors wandering the premises was a nice, quiet respite after the crowded streets of Bar Harbor. But we must press on. Our time abroad is growing short. (I know that for most Americans “abroad” means overseas, but we are Texans and NORTH of the Red River.)
A Whoopie Pie, A Lost Purse, and a Sentimental Old Preacher
Portland, Maine’s capital city, sits on a peninsula and is a busy American eastern seaboard port of 70,000 (but a half-million in the region), with a cool, historic vibe. We arrived there in the late afternoon and would only spend a few hours before moving on. We visited the bustling fishing wharf, laughed at the name of the Time & Temperature Building, scoured the historic Old Port district, and ate a Whoopie Pie and a homemade pop tart at the gluten-free (you couldn’t prove it by me) Bam Bam Bakery.
It was late afternoon. We were hurrying to get to the Head Light, the first lighthouse commissioned by President George Washington. Lighthouses were the major reason we were in Maine. Lighthouses and lobster. The drive to the lighthouse was an unexpected delight as we drove through a fine neighborhood of older homes with landscapes bursting with bright, beautiful flowers. We slowed our roll to take it all in and decide which house we would buy if we could.
We arrived at the Head Lighthouse after 6. Donya didn’t want to carry her purse around the park. She asked me to pop the trunk so she could put it there.
Then I heard the exclamation, “Gene! My purse!”
There was horror on her face.
“I left it at the bakery.”
I Googled the bakery. They closed at 5 PM. I called anyhow. An old-fashioned answering machine picked up. I left a desperate message, sure her purse with its treasure of money, credit cards, and personal ID was long gone. Halfway through the desperate message I was leaving, maybe the sweetest voice I ever heard said, “Hello! I’m here.”
The manager on duty was our saving grace, our angel of mercy. She found the purse sitting on the table where we left it. She was supposed to be leaving for the day but said she would stick around until we got back.
“Twenty minutes! I will be there in 20 minutes. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
We recovered the purse, found nothing amiss, and returned to the lighthouse, where we were treated to the kind of twilight beauty you just don’t see in Arlington, Texas.
“There’s a lighthouse on a hillside that overlooks life’s sea. When I’m lost, it sends out a light that I might see. And the light that shines in darkness now will safely lead us o’er. If it wasn’t for the lighthouse, my ship would sail no more. And I thank God for the Lighthouse. I owe my life to Him. Jesus is the Lighthouse and from the rocks of sin He has shown the light around me that I might truly see. If it wasn’t for the Lighthouse, where would this ship be?”
Here’s one of those moments that sticks a lump in your throat and places puddles in your eyes…one of those moments you want to trap in a bottle and put on a shelf, so you can take it down and relive it whenever you like.
Old Enough to Vote – for Kennebunk
Our third (and last) night in Maine would be spent in Kennebunk. Unlike the buzzing streets of Bar Harbor, we found this a quiet hamlet, a welcome respite, and a favorite stop on our journey. The next morning, we were off to Kennebunkport, the seaside beauty that we agreed we much preferred to Bar Harbor. (I know that is not politically correct. What did you expect after all these years?)
Down the winding road from Kennebunkport, we found St. Ann’s by the Sea. I am neither Episcopalian nor an old school liturgical worshiper, but I thought if a person couldn’t see God in this place, then where? Here a man does his best to impress God with amazing architecture, stunning beauty, and an atmosphere that says, “Be still…and listen.” You think that maybe you will never see anything more beautiful or reverent. Then, you step outside and see what God Himself has done.
I could no more imagine a world as beautiful, as magnificent, as orderly, as functional as without its Creator than I could imagine St. Ann’s without the architect that designed her and the builder that put her together.
Lost in the ’80s
St. Ann’s is the church home of the Bush family. Many of its finer features have been maintained or restored by gifts from the family of presidents 41 and 43. Down the road, you find the Bush family’s Kennebunkport “compound.” The main house, which is massive and beautiful, sits right at the peak of a little peninsula, hard against the sea. A string of smaller homes (each bigger than my own) is strung along the private road to the big house. Near the property, there is a pullout on the road. It provides the best view, the opportunity for photos. There, the citizens of Kennebunkport have placed an anchor with a plaque to honor their friend, George H. W. Bush.
Nostalgia settled in my bones.
I was nineteen again, freshly married, and excited to cast my very first vote. I had found a new hero. His vision of America was that of “a shining city on a hill.” He saw America’s founders the way I did, as men of vision and brilliance. He believed in individual freedom and responsibility and opposed Communism with every fiber of his being. His running mate was Bush the elder. I remembered my champion, Ronald Reagan. I thought about that anchor. Another song filled my soul and spilled through my lips…
The anchor holds though the ship’s been battered. The anchor holds though the sails are torn. I have fallen on my knees as I faced the raging seas, but the anchor holds in spite of the storm.
When we were done, before we left for Cape Neddick and the Nubble Lighthouse, I drove back into Kennebunkport and bought a Reagan-Bush ’84 t-shirt. I was only a little annoyed they didn’t have the Reagan-Bush ’80 version.
Go with the Flo
If you are ever driving along Highway 1 in Maine, south of Kennebunkport and north of Cape Neddick, and you see this little red shack on the east side of the road, where the small parking area is packed with cars and people are likely lined up outside the door, stop and get you a couple of steamed hot dogs made Flo’s way. Thank me later.
Hot dog-fueled and ready for one last peek at Maine’s coastal wonder, we stopped at the Nubble Lighthouse. I read somewhere that this is the most photographed lighthouse in the world. I read it on the Internet, so I know it is true.
One last time, we watched the waves crash on massive rocks. One last time, we stood in silent wonder, studying the lighthouse. (This one is on a little island maybe 100′ from the shore.) One last time…
Next up, The Final Chapter. Stay tuned.