January 12, 8:30am-11:30am, about 32 degrees. Overcast with very light snowfall at start, which got much heavier. Felt relatively warm, no noticeable wind.
David Parker, caretaker
Lisa Burton, Reel Pizza
Cromwell Harbor is a quiet little cove looking east toward Bald Porcupine and the Breakwater. Surrounded by summer homes, it has no public access. The cove has a broad, flat, gravelly beach tucked between two dramatic rocky headlands. I had come round the northern one the previous week, and planned to scramble across the southern one on this Walk. My friend Lisa and I met David Parker on the beach there during a gentle snowfall. Lisa has a gift for observation and a cavalier disregard for weather that make her an ideal hiking companion. David has been the caretaker for two houses on the cove since 1978, and we were meeting for the first time.
David: Well you picked a nice morning here.
Lisa: It’s better than the last time she [asked] me to come with her, which was like, 5 degrees and blowing 40 knots! [That was Tuesday of Coast Walk 2.]
As we walked along the beach, stopping now and then to look at a stone or pick up a piece of sea glass, we chatted about the weather, our children, and the project. When I mentioned that I had come around Kenarden’s point last week, where the Shore Path had once run, David said, “You know, this used to be public, at one time. There was a trail that went round the brook. This was years ago, I guess even the 50s. And then they would let the local kids come down and use the beach. Then it got real private after a while.”
J: How long have you been a caretaker here?
D: I’ve been over here for the Pulitzer family since 1978. Thirty-seven years.
J: What are your favorite things about the cove?
D: Oh, I don’t know. … For many years I had a boat out here.
D: No, powerboat. Used to pull traps.
J: In the cove?
D: Yeah, set em up off the Breakwater. Very popular spot for the fishermen.
J: So did you grow up on the island?
D: Nope. From New York, upstate New York.
J: Really, whereabouts?
D: The Binghamton area. Endwell actually. Endicott, Endwell.
L: Oh yeah, my mom’s from there.
L: Endicott. She lived in Endicott for a while. My grandfather was with the New York electric company. He had a Reddy Kilowatt cardboard stand-up that he put out at Christmas time.
D: My father was an IBMer. IBM originated in Endicott. I did a stint at IBM, and thought, ‘Mm, it’s not for me. And then I headed up this way.
J: What brought you up here?
D: Just hearing about the island, what a great place, and you know… Never left.
L: Young hippie?
D: I don’t know, no, well maybe, a little bit, but it was ’77, so I was starting to settle a little bit by then.
L: It’s a great place to come to and never leave. I did that!
D: Yeah, we came up and then three weeks later we were back here. We went back, came up here for a visit in March of all times.
L: That’s a good time; if you like March then you really like the island…
D: It was mild, I remember, and foggy. We came back in April and I started working at the golf course. Fred McPeters hired me. Worked there a couple of years…
D: See there’s all kinds of sea glass. Look at the colors!
J: That’s gorgeous
D: And you can make jewelery out of it
J: One of my friends, Lisa Hall, makes beautiful jewelry [from seaglass]. Me, I take photographs.
D: Oh it’ll get up to the base of the bank there. One storm we had one time, it went over the bank. But that was many years ago.
J: Wow. And are the wooden pilings just reinforcing the bank, or what are those?
D: I wish we could see a picture, but supposedly, there were three sisters that lived here, and I think it was that house, that house, and this house [pointed to Seacove, Beachcroft, and Aldersea]. ‘Cause you see the end over here and supposedly they had some type of a boardwalk across in front of their properties. And that’s the story, but there’s no proof of it, you know, but for some reason they’re still there. They’re still solid some of them. And if you dig down in the mud the boards are like the day they were put in, you know? They’re just preserved down there.
J: Well, I can ask Debbie Dyer, over at the historical society.
D: Yeah, I should get over there sometime, I haven’t been there in seems like forever.
J: I’ll see what she knows about it. She said she used to come down here when she was a kid. They called it Scott’s Beach.
[I did ask Debbie a few days later, but she didn’t remember a boardwalk. Of course, as she pointed out, she was a small child, and small children are not observant of things that don’t interest them. The story about the three sisters she thought was unlikely, as the cottage owners are documented and none seem to have been related. I’ll have to go back and look through old photos of the cove to see if I can find out more … If anybody reading this knows, sing out in the comments!]
J: Oh, you know what I meant to ask you, do you call this Cromwell Harbor or Cromwell Cove?
D: It’s known as Cromwell Harbor. Or Scott’s Cove, you know, that was a popular name before; it was Scott’s Cove, because of the Scott family that owned the property, I guess.
J: Well, I wondered because everyone I know calls it Cromwell Harbor, but it’s on the map as Cromwell Cove. And it wouldn’t be the first time the maps were wrong.
D: I’ve got a map at home, I bought it just [because] this was called ‘Rodick Cove’ and I’d never, ever seen it referred to as Rodick Cove. But it’s a Coast Guard map and that’s called ‘Little Round Porcupine’ [pointing to Bald Porcupine.]
J: Wow, I’ve never heard that one. How old’s the map?
D: 1927, so it’s not that old, you know I’m surprised.
J: Well, this was still Lafayette National Park then, too. I’ve got a fantastic map of the States from I think 1922, and it shows Lafayette National Park on it.
J: So you got any other good stories about the cove?
D: No, I don’t know much, well I could tell you one year there was a yacht, I think he was a Dupont cause it was from Delaware, but anyhow it was a night time and he ran smack into that Breakwater there.
J: Oh no!
D: So they towed him in here on the beach. That was the biggest excitement since I’ve been here.
J: When was that?
D: Oh, I’m trying to think, it was back in the 80s.
J: You’d think that they would see the Breakwater on their charts.
D: Well I think that he was down below deck or something. Not paying attention.
J: How long did it take to get the boat patched up?
D: Well they put a temporary patch on it and took it around over to Hinckleys to get it patched up. It was a nice yacht.
J: Ok, sorry, but I have to take a picture of that. [disposable razor on the shore] I photograph the weirdest things that I find.
D: You know what I found a lot around here over the years is leather soles to shoes. Strange.
J: Yup. I find those. Flip flops, I find.
D: And every day the beach is different here. Some days more sand, some days less sand. There’s a lot of gravel now over that way, but sometimes there’s sand all over. You never know.
D: One thing that surprised me is going back and reading in the history of the native Americans here in Bar Harbor and on the island, why this, this seems like this would’ve been an ideal place for them, for a camp, with the freshwater stream coming in. But I’ve never heard or read anything about them ever setting up camp down here. Or a reference to it. That’d be something Debbie Dyer might know about.
J: The other people you could ask are the Abbe
L: [Coming up with another disposable razor] Must have lost a whole package of them. It’s still got the little cover on it.
D: Geez, I could maybe use that.
L: You’re more than welcome to have it! It looks brand new.
D: Started growing my beard cause I ran out of disposable razors last year.
J: Well it’s come in nice.
D: Hey, a dog toy!
J: Is that what it is?
D: You know they sell these down at Bark Harbor for probably $9.95.
J: Sheesh. You got a dog?
D: I have three of them! I would have brought them down, but they’d be a pain.
J: Yeah, they’re always like, ‘What are you looking at, give me some!’
D: I got two little ones and a golden retriever.
J: What’d you find?
L: I thought at first it was a tongue and teeth, but there’s a foot attached to it, so I’m not really sure.
D: That one, that’s just stormwater, but the one that runs underneath it is.
J: Oh, it’s just stormwater?
D: Yeah, that’s just draining. Right underneath it, the pipe, you see it, runs straight out? That is the overflow, if the sewer department gets overloaded.
J: That’s good. Usually when I see an overboard discharge it’s like, green where it comes out because of all the nutrients in it.
D: This one here runs out, supposed to go out there past the middle of the cove. I don’t know what the condition is out there now.
J: I find a lot of them broken off. But that one’s a lot bigger.
D: They just repaired this a couple of years ago.
D: It used to be terrific flounder fishing [here.]
D: Yeah, oh, they’d pull them up by the bushel full.
J: But not anymore?
D: No, they put a sewer plant in.
D: All these houses, the main line sewage went right in the cove up until 64, no 74. 1974.
J: Oh, so the flounder came for the sewage?!
D: Yeah! It was so good for the flounder.
J: You don’t usually think of improving the sewage disposal as bad for the wildlife!
D: Yeah, the flounder went away after they cleaned it up.
J: That’s too bad.
D: Yeah, I hear stories. You could sit there in a boat and just pull them up one after the other.
L: That was one of the fascinating things when our kids went to Swans Island for their 4th grade trip. They, at the little museum there, they had these pictures of these guys just with spears, and they’d just spear them from the boat.
J: So how big were the ones you were catching?
D: Oh, I’ve never caught one, this was before my time, before I came here. Back in the 50s and 60s. No, I never caught anything but a mackerel out here. And a pollock. And lobsters.
The snow was starting to come down more enthusiastically, so after a little more chat and many thank-yous, Lisa and I headed out around the point. We moved cautiously onto the rocks, and found that the snowy rockweed gave the best footing. Even so, we had to be wary as the light coating of snow disguised the semi-frozen tidepools. I stepped in one myself, misjudging its depth, and was pleased to discover that my Smartwool socks and insulated boots kept my foot as warm as it had been when dry. (If they hadn’t, or if the day had been colder, I would have cut the walk short rather than risk frostbite. There are limits to my stubbornness.)
We spotted two male and two female Buffleheads on our way out of Cromwell Harbor, three or four brown ducks that might have been female Mallards off the point between the harbors, and a juvenile loon who followed us out of Cromwell into Compass Harbor. I say a juvenile loon, but it might have been an adult in winter plumage: my bird knowledge is spotty.
Our attention was pretty focused on keeping our footing, but we couldn’t help stopping to admire the tidepools every so often. The reds and greens just glowed in the grey, snowy daylight.
Eventually we rounded the point into Compass Harbor, which although shaped much like Cromwell Harbor has a much rockier character, with a cobble beach rather than sand and gravel. Half of Compass Harbor is in Acadia National Park, and I’ve been bringing my children here since before they were born. (The trail from Main Street is a nice, level stroll for a pregnant woman, and it’s also a pleasant walk for toddlers.)
By this point, the snow was coming down much thicker, and we were glad to reach the easier walking of the cobble beach just beyond this seaweed-covered stretch. For those of you who worry about our safety, the first rule of the Coast Walk is “Do not die.” Just above the outcropping at right is a house with a lawn whose owner had given me permission to cross her land. We could have reached it in two minutes. In fact, from the beach where we left David, there were three properties from whom I had permission, so we were never more than a few minutes from civilization.
We spotted three female buffleheads off Dorr’s Point, and called it a day, trudging gratefully and happily along the path back to Main Street.
Next week’s Coast Walk is still taking shape: I’ll be heading up along Sols Cliff, which should be exciting. About half of the property owners along this segment have given me permission to cross their land (no one has actually refused, I’ve just had a hard time reaching people who live out-of-state in time for the Walk: must remember to start calling and emailing at least three weeks ahead) so I may be zigzagging around a few places to avoid trespassing. It will be an orienteering adventure!