December 1st: A Walk in the Park
There seems to be a common misconception that Acadia National Park is “closed” or “mostly closed” in the winter. As an individual who has lived on Mount Desert Island for many years this comes as a surprise to me. I visit the park as much or more in the winter than I do in the summer (not because the park isn’t wonderful in the summer, but because my schedule isn’t wonderful in the summer), and although I am not able to drive my vehicle up Cadillac Mountain or dine at the Jordan Pond House I am certainly never left feeling disappointed. In fact, wintertime in the Park is an ideal time for uncovering new layers of intrigue that may be less apparent in the summertime. Indeed, there are many subtle sights and sounds which are largely obscured when there are more people and more vegetation around.
Yesterday around noon I ventured into the Ocean Drive section of the Park Loop Road (note that this stretch of road is open to vehicle traffic all winter and offers access to tons of hiking trails, walking paths, and scenic locales; it takes only 10 to 15 minutes to get there from our front door in the middle of downtown Bar Harbor) with the intention of hiking Gorham Mountain. Gorham is one of my favorite hikes any time of year, but it is especially convenient in the off-season because the Ocean Drive offers parking right at the trailhead. Convenience was not enough to overcome my wandering mind, however, and I soon realized I had driven right past the parking area. No matter–I would park at the Fabbri Picnic Area and walk back to the Gorham trailhead from there.
Weather conditions on this particular day were 36 degrees and overcast–it wouldn’t be unfair to describe them as unspectacular, however certainly conditions were not poor (in terms of their impact on one’s prospects for enjoyment of the Park, it is my firm belief that conditions are rarely poor). I wore a basic jacket, hat, and sweatpants and felt entirely comfortable upon stepping outside (off-topic, but these are the single greatest sweatpants in the history of sweatpants–I’ve been a dedicated sweatpants enthusiast for three decades and I can assure you that these particular Champions are the true champion). I can’t tell you whether I still felt comfortable upon reaching the top of Gorham Mountain because, well, I never made it up there–in fact, I didn’t even make it to the trailhead. Instead I spent an hour exploring the shapes, colors, textures, and sounds of the forest, followed by another hour watching the weather do strange things along the coastline. For me this sort of experience is classic Acadia National Park in the 0ff-season: I venture off with some sort of itinerary in mind, only to find that several hours later I’ve gone off in some entirely different direction–either literally, figuratively, or both.
The first thing I noticed upon walking along the Loop Road was all this stringy moss hanging from the trees. Our landscaper tells me it’s probably Spanish Moss; I find it looks more like an old wizard’s beard dyed green. Anyhow, I can only imagine the feats of artistry that an actual photographer with an actual camera could accomplish in photographing this stuff; the texture and color of it is just so interesting, particularly paired with all the other mosses and lichens.
I enjoyed the various mosses and lichens all the way to one end of the Ocean Path at Otter Point, at which point I decided to leave the road and walk the path. The weather was still overcast, however some bursts of sun were starting to break through the cloud cover, which resulted in a rather spectacular sky as well as interesting lighting on the ground. I stopped for several minutes to enjoy the sight and sound of a tiny waterfall that was dripping from a rocky ledge into a small tidal pool, and then I stopped again to observe some very oddly configured tree roots which cross the path. In all this time I saw five souls–two cyclists, two deer, and one fox. For all intents and purposes I had the entire Ocean Path–one of Acadia’s premier attractions–all to myself.
My progress continued to be extremely slow as I, for whatever reason, became engrossed in every little detail of the landscape. Eventually made it about a half mile down the path and rounded a bend near Otter Cliff, revealing a gorgeous view of The Beehive, Sand Beach, and Great Head. For a moment I couldn’t determine why this view appeared so stunning to me, but suddenly I realized–in all my thousands of treks along the Ocean Drive and the Ocean Path, I have never once walked or driven this particular section of coastline in this particular direction! (Which seems odd, however this is probably more common than one would imagine because this part of the auto road is one way.)
Yes, after 30 years of near daily use, one is still able to rediscover Acadia–such is the magic of this great National Park which sits in our backyard.
The picture comes nowhere close to doing the scene justice, however if you look carefully you can see the aforementioned cloudy sky with bursts of bright sunshine breaking through and traveling along the ground near the base of the Beehive and across Great Head. Surely someone with the right skill and equipment could have captured this incredible scene in a way that showcased how these rays of sunlight brought out the pink tones in the granite–truly, Acadia is a photographer’s dream.
In all, I spent roughly two hours exploring a stretch of maybe one mile. So while I suppose it is true that the closure of certain auto roads makes Acadia a little “smaller” in the winter, this should absolutely not lead one to believe that there is no longer enough to see or do to make the trip worthwhile. Acadia is simply so concentrated with natural beauty that one need not cover miles and miles of ground to enjoy what the park has to offer, particularly for the detail-oriented individual looking to escape from life’s day-to-day pressures and anxieties and slow things down a bit. On this particular day I think the reason I never made it up the mountain as I had planned is because I was more in need of this sort of leisurely, thoughtful, calming experience than even I had realized. Indeed, these couple hours were incredibly refreshing!
Along the Ocean Path there is a memorial dedicated to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The plaque very effectively summarizes some of the basic areas of enrichment a walk in the park can offer to an individual, all year round.