Why is the Sea King of a Hundred Streams?
Ask me each day for a week to identify my favorite place on Mount Desert Island and you’re likely to get seven different answers. At least a couple of my selections, though, are sure to be quiet spots between Otter Cliff and Seal Harbor, a breathtaking stretch of coastline predominantly comprised of rugged pink granite cliffs peering out at the open ocean. What’s more, even though it’ll only take you about 15 minutes to drive there from downtown Bar Harbor you aren’t likely to run into a whole lot of people—it’s somewhat off the beaten path.
Arguably the best way to experience this area is to follow the Hunters Beach Trail, a short walk through the woods alongside Hunters Brook. You can pick up the trail from a parking area on Cooksey Drive, which is a left turn off of Route 3 just after Blackwoods Campground if you’re travelling from Bar Harbor. After you’ve walked roughly a third of a mile and traversed a wooden bridge or two the trail spills onto Hunters Beach, a small alcove littered with rocks which vary in size, color, and shape (many of them are almost perfectly spherical, which is neat!).
Out of the forest, over the rocks, and into the pounding waves of the great North Atlantic trickles the aforementioned Hunters Brook, a small stream maybe 10 feet in width at its broadest section. Acadia—the highest rocky headlands on the East Coast, where the ocean directly meets the mountains—is full of such juxtapositions, which go a long way towards explaining its unusual and captivating beauty. To watch the little brook get swallowed up by the great ocean at a small beach carved out from a broad cliff simply encapsulates the unfathomable mystery of Mother Nature. How can she offer such incredible diversity of form in a single spot? Such is the natural artistry of Mount Desert Island.
Today, as I often do this time of year, I elected to venture off into the park for several hours. I enjoyed a number of spectacular spots including Sand Beach and Seawall, however Hunters Beach really captured my imagination on this particular day. I was the only person there, and as I watched the brook flow into the ocean I also tuned in to the various sounds—the dribbling of the stream, the crashing of the surf—and nearly became lost in a feeling of the utmost wonderment (I suppose if you’re going to become lost in the park, this is the way to do it!). Despite being caught in a daydream, I couldn’t help but recall and consider the words of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching:
“Why is the sea king of a hundred streams? Because it lies below them. Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.” –Lao Tzu
Indeed, there goes Hunters Brook—filtering down the gentle slope, over and through the weathered stones, calmly returning to its great master, which never ceases to lie below it. The scene strikes me as a friendly reminder of how we might best aspire to whatever greatness it is we may seek—not by setting out to force our way to the top by fierce conquest and without regard for externalities, but by ensuring we serve a fundamental, foundational role that, as Lao Tzu might put it, the ten thousand things ultimately can rely upon and thereby enrich while also being enriched themselves.
The great Tao is omnipresent, both to the left or to the right. Ten Thousand Things depend on it, And yet it makes no speech. The great Tao creates everything, And yet it makes no claim. It nourishes Ten Thousand Things, And yet it does not call itself the master. As it is ever desireless, it may be called “small.” As Ten Thousand Things ultimately return to it, it may be called “great.” It does not call itself great, Therefore, it is genuinely great.
--Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 34.