A place called Hope: Loons, lobster and lots of Maine memories

My husband and I boarded the Southwest flight in Portland, Maine, and took our seats second row from the front on the left side of the plane.  After a glorious week of lobster and adventuring, we were heading back to Chicago.

I exchanged pleasantries with the gentleman to my left who was already settled in the seat near the window. He told me he had lived in the Portland area his entire life.  I mentioned, “My husband and I did our best to support the local economy – indulging in lobster every chance we could. Gosh, you must just love having fresh lobster year-round.”

He responded flatly, “I don’t eat lobster. I’m a vegetarian.” 

Seriously! I was befuddled! How can you grow up in Maine and NOT eat lobster?!!

Fresh lobster was a regular meal for John during the Maine visit.

We stayed in the small village of Hope. It has a population of 1,698 and consists of two lakes, five ponds, blueberry fields, apple orchards and a General Store. My new non-lobster eating vegetarian friend didn’t even know Hope existed until I explained that it is just southeast of Camden – a harbor community situated on Penobscot Bay and known as the jewel of Maine.

Hope was founded in 1804 when surveyors ran the township’s lines and set their witness stakes as they went – each stake with a letter on it. By chance the four corner stakes spelled E, H, O, and P. Bring the E around and you have HOPE. It’s said that a jester immediately put up the sign: ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE!

Hope is considered one of the safest places to live in Maine.  In fact, in a week’s time we saw only one police car in the entire area. There are roads with names such as Blueberry Ledge, Old Sherman Hill, Eagle Ridge, Lobster Cove Road, and Federal Street. 

We stayed in a rustic, cozy, cottage on Hobbs Pond. The pond is long and narrow – think of an oval drawn with an unsteady hand with coves, inlets, and serenading loons. It’s 20 feet at its deepest. I learned that depth is the distinguishing factor between a pond and lake – not size

 We canoed its five-mile perimeter several times, taking in the gorgeous backdrop of Hatchet Mountain and the loons that splashed and disappeared under water for 25 yards or so before reappearing. It was reminiscent of scenes that Norman and Ethel Thayer (Henry Fonda Katherine Hepburn) enjoyed on Golden Pond. 

Hope, Maine, was founded in 1804, 28 years before this store came along.

One drop-dead gorgeous afternoon, we caught a sail out of Camden Harbor on a boat known as the Heritage, a friendship sloop-inspired, gaff-rigged, wooden classic. Joining us were John’s brother and wife (Dennis and Sherry) who by happenstance ended up in the area at the same time. Dennis, a salty sailor from his younger days, took the helm and skippered the boat for the better part of the ride.

Reading the water for wind gusts, I learned, is an important art every sailor needs in order to navigate safely on the water. We experienced a few such gusts out on Penobscot Bay and as the boat heeled, more than once, I grabbed hold of something as to not slide right off the boat. Invigorating! We sailed by the Curtis Lighthouse, a beauty. Its current structure was built in 1896 and its light, which was automated in 1972, has continued to guide boats into the harbor ever since.

Then there was the evening the harvest moon came into view over the pond and the stars seem to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Come look at me!” There were millions – maybe billions of stars setting a stage – a sanctuary across the night sky. Intense. Brilliant. I wanted to infuse the glow in my soul. To never have seen this starry night would have been to miss a gift of the universe.

Sometimes it’s good to step out and explore unchartered (to you) places where nobody knows your name or cares. Wide open spaces and a chance to turn down the noise and the voices, commitments, phone calls and alarms. Reconnect. Celebrate the ordinary. Become a noticer.

As we repacked our suitcases getting ready for our departure, two loons, as if on cue, swam by our dock as if to say goodbye. A fond farewell I will remember.

 We’ve now spent time in Paradise (Michigan), went through Hell (Michigan), and found Hope (Maine). Yes, there IS a place called Hope!