At night, we sit on the porch and listen to a foghorn in the distance and the surge of the tide running through the rock weed. Lights of boats cut through the darkness; shooting stars sear the sky.
We made do (and were compensated). Cold water does have a certain aesthetic, and we could always shower next door when we wished. We also took the occasion to get to know Alfred Moses, de facto caretaker of the cottages along this road. His family has lived here on and off since 1870 when an Episcopal parish paid to build a home for his great-grandfather, the Rev. John T. Magrath.
At 67, Moses is a garrulous man, every anecdote a story, and we welcomed him when he knocked on the back porch one morning. He came to look at the plumbing, and we enjoyed the chance to talk. He recommended a day trip to Damariscove Island. He identified the robins that woke us at dawn. He guessed the temperature of the ocean at 58 degrees. He identified the birds.
We listened and asked, "Could you live anywhere else?"
He shook his head. The winters are hard, and worse than the cold is the darkness. The sun sets at 4 and doesn't rise until after 8, but no, he said, pausing, this is home.
"There's kind of feng shui here," he said. "I can stand on my front porch and look east and see Monhegan Island and to the south — there're the Cuckolds," referring to the lighthouse at the southern tip of Southport. "It orients me, this view. I can't imagine not being here."
Driving the coast
After visiting the Olson House and Wyeth's grave on a point of land overlooking the St. George River — an hour drive from Southport and the Boothbay Harbor region — we drove to Port Clyde, where we had fish and chips and lingered over our Lobster Ales as a rain squall passed.
When the sun broke through, we drove to Marshall Point Lighthouse, built in 1858 and made famous in 1994 when Tom Hanks ran along its footbridge in "Forrest Gump." We took pictures and watched as the storm moved out to sea and a lone fishing boat worked against the tide.
We had hoped to continue to Rocklandto see the Wyeth collection at the local museum, and possibly even go into Camden for some blueberry pie, but it was late afternoon.
Driving the coast of Maine has its rewards — the roadside produce stands (strawberries in June, blueberries in August), the Colonial villages, the church steeples poking through the canopy of trees, Civil War monuments, the quick glimpses of daily life — but it can be frustrating. Route 1 is the primary way from Brunswick to Camden, and the two-lane roads that snake down to the sea can be choked with traffic made worse by road repairs.
The problem, of course, is the topography itself, the long peninsulas and tidal rivers of this drowned coastline, as geologists describe this edge of the continent, where glaciers over the last few millions of years scraped soil from the rocks and eroded the rocks themselves.
Some speculate that the coast of Maine used to resemble the gently sloping New Jersey seaside, but as the last glaciers melted some 15,000 years ago, they flooded the valleys and turned mountains into islands. Today the coast is so convoluted that from New Hampshire to Canada, 293 miles as the crow flies, there are nearly 5,500 miles of tidelands.
It's an invitation for renting a boat — or for at least accepting the generosity of an uncle whose 19-foot outboard sits moored just a short row from shore.
On the water
The next day we skipped across the water at 22 knots, visiting harbors and wharves that would have taken us hours to reach by car. The weather was perfect, the breeze warm and from the southeast.
Our road map was the nautical chart of the Damariscotta, Sheepscot and Kennebec rivers. Few documents better capture the romance and mystery of Maine. It became our guide to the Cuckolds and the Hypocrites, a neighboring ridge of semi-submerged rocks; to the ledges, guts and reaches of Boothbay Harbor, and to a stretch of tidal rapids known as Upper and Lower Hell Gate.
Soon we were cracking open 2-pound lobsters on the wharf on Georgetown Island, picnicking on Outer Heron Island, swimming in the Sheepscot and having margaritas at Robinhood marina, and on our final day, we headed out into the Gulf of Maine to Damariscove Island, as Moses suggested, a sliver of land stretched between sea and sky.