At the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall, I always miss Maine the most. I haven’t lived there full-time since I left home for art school in Chicago, but I go back as often as I can, to see my family and the ocean.
The water is warmer at the end of Summer, and it’s the best time for swimming. When I was a kid I would swim until the end of October, but not so much these days. Truth be told, I love all the seasons in Maine, but there’s something special about the shift in seasons that’s happening right now, that first chill in the air, it makes me more homesick than usual. Since I’m feeling the nostalgia for the Maine coast big time this week, I thought I’d write a little round up of some of my favorite spots that I return to whenever I head east.
With our cross-country move to the Southwest this year, we decided to skip a big summertime trip back east, so I went home solo in April to see my folks. My mom and I got to visit my cousin Joe at his farm in Harpswell. Two Coves Farm is right on the water, and I always love stopping by. They’ve really grown over the years, and we picked a good time to stop by because we got to see all the new lambs.
Close to Joe’s farm in Harpswell is my favorite shop in Maine – Rock Paper Scissors in Wiscassett. Erika’s shop has a great card selection, kid’s books, home goods, a beautiful jewelry case, and Lucy who is the best shop dog. Whenever, I’m in the area, I always stop by. And now you can also find some of my jewelry in the case at Rock Paper Scissors.
Home is Kennebunk, and when I go, I usually stay with Mom. She lives on the outskirts of town, in a small cabin that she mostly built herself. It’s a one room cabin with a loft. My sisters and I usually take over the loft when we’re around. My mom’s cabin is near the house we lived at when we all lived at home, in the woods on the other side of the big field. When my sisters and I left for college and my parents split up, they sold the house, and my mom kept a parcel of the land which she later built on.
My dad still lives in town, with his wife Rebecca and their two daughters, my half-sisters. If you were wondering about the “Mir” in my name, I gave myself the pen name “Mir” (I pronounce it “meer”) after they got married. Rebecca has the same first and middle name as I do, and she took my dad’s last name of Grady when they married. It’s just a bit weird when your dad marries someone with the same exact name as you… At the time gay marriage was only legal in Massachusetts, and not expecting to ever have the privilege myself of changing my name by marriage, I decided to give myself a pen name, hence the “Mir” in Rebecca Mir Grady. Ten years on, thankfully the laws have changed and gay marriage is legal across the country. I got to marry the amazing Sonia last summer, though since I already had a pen name, and our last names are basically the same (only two letters different), we decided to keep our names as is.
The first thing I like to do when I get home is drive to the beach. If I don’t have time to stop, I’ll do a drive by, just like I did in high school when I first had my driver’s license. But usually I’ll stop and say hello to the ocean and then get groceries and head back to Mom’s. We don’t eat out a lot in my family, so whenever I go home to visit we tend to do more cooking, with the occasional meal out. Sometimes we’ll hit up the Fisherman’s Catch (where both of my sisters worked summers during college) in Wells for seafood. I also like to go to Old Vines in the port, and Village Tavern in West Kennebunk. I also always stop in at Cherie’s in Kennebunk for at least a coffee whenever I’m home. I worked there in high school, and I always like to stop in for a thunderbolt blend and to say hello to Cherie.
There are so many good beaches in and around Kennebunk. For the longest time, I just assumed that all of the Maine coast was this way. I didn’t really think about it until I rented a place in Camden for a week and realized that the best swimming spot near there was actually a pond, and not the ocean. Some of the rockier parts of the Maine coastline are just much trickier for swimming. I’d been a bit spoiled with all the different beaches nearby. We usually go to Goochs beach, though we like the rocky side better. But Parson’s beach is even nicer, with the sand dunes and grasses obscuring the view of the road from the beach.
My all-time favorite beach is a secret. In middle school we went on a field trip to Casco Bay in Portland, taking one of the ferries out around the islands. We got off the boat with packed lunches and walked across an island to a very quiet beach. It takes a while to get there, but I’ve been going back ever since. And if I don’t have time to go to the islands, sometimes Mom and I will just take the ferry around to be near them.
My other favorite island to visit is Monhegan Island, which takes even more time to get to. It’s a small island off the mid-coast. We usually take the ferry from Port Clyde which operates year-round, but boats run seasonally from Boothbay Harbor and New Harbor. It takes about an hour to get there, and once you’re there, there aren’t any cars. A few islanders have trucks or golf carts, especially the bed and breakfasts, but the majority of folks walk. Most of the island is uninhabited and is covered with a network of trails. All of the houses are concentrated on one side of the island, in the village. There are a number of artist studios on the island, and many have open studio hours during the summer months. It’s also popular with birders, as the island is along the Atlantic flyway and a number of birds stop on the island. When we were kids, my mom brought us here most Memorial Day weekends – the first weekend that the bed and breakfasts are open for the season. In Cathedral Woods, there is a long tradition of building fairy houses, and my sisters and I would sit in the woods for hours building elaborate structures out of fallen twigs and leaves. My favorite island hike is to follow the trail along the coast, past the shipwreck and up on the cliffs, and then cut back through to the village via Cathedral Woods.
A shorter favorite walk that is a bit closer to home is the trail at the Rachel Carson preserve in Wells. There is a short trail through the woods and to the estuary, where my mom took us on weekend walks when we were kids, and where I now take my little sisters. It’s a nice walk with lots of look out decks, so it’s great for kids’ short attention spans. Also, nearby is the Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm. There are a number of trails, and with some leading to the beach. They also have a summer and fall festivals here, and day camps for kids. I definitely remember attending some summer science camps here, which lead to my short-lived desire to be a marine biologist.
In the port (Kennebunkport) there are also some short walking paths at the Franciscan Monastery, along the river. My dad’s boat used to have a mooring nearby, and you could even swim from the gazebo that used to at the water’s edge there. Though we rarely did that, instead taking our dinghy from where we tied it up at the Nonantum Hotel on the other side of the river. The boat is long gone but we had some good adventures on it when it was around. (I chronicled some of these in the mini-comic SHIPWRECK I made ten years ago, about the three times it sank, among other things…)
The October before last, I took Sonia home with me to meet my folks and see Maine. When we arrived, my mom told us we’d gotten there just in time, as the leaves had just begun to turn. I took Sonia to a lot of the places on this list, though we skipped most of the islands since we only had a few days. We made it to Portland, and only having a few hours, we took the ferry to Peaks Island and went for a short walk in between the scheduled ferry stops. Something about getting on the ferry just feels like a necessity for any trip home. Perhaps it’s all the time we spent on boats as kids, I just associate home with a boat, no matter what size or where it’s going.