February 22, 2008

THE OVENS on Mt. Desert Island, Maine




Oct. 8, 2006. Like Hansel and Gretel, Monte and I headed towards THE OVENS on our trip to New England. Only we weren’t being chased there by the wicked witch—we were visiting a place where my ancestors—and very likely, the main character in the first part of my historic romance novel—picnicked and frolicked during low tide on Frenchman’s Bay (the Mount Desert Island side of the bay), Maine.

The Ovens were briefly referred to in some of my genealogical research readings before a distant relative, the late Gladys Vigent, shared her experiences there as a child.

My great- great-grandfather, Allen Walker, had a home on the main road leading to Lamoine Beach, Maine. He also had a large boat he built in Quincy, Massachusetts.

I have black and white photographs of this intriguing boat. In 2003, while visiting the owner of Shore Acres (the name of a former hotel retained by the current owner of the property, Chuck) in Lamoine, the subject of the boat came up. In the middle of our conversation he excused himself, leaving Monte and I alone at his table while he disappeared. He returned with a post card (he is a post card collector, which I didn’t know) of the Arabella, with Quincy Yacht Club written on it. It was in a sleeve used to protect post cards.

I asked him if he would allow me to take it to my hotel room so I could scan it on my computer, after which I would return it.

“No,” he said.

I felt a little miffed, but understood he valued his collection and didn’t really know me, didn’t know if he could trust me. Then he continued:

“You can take it and copy it. But you keep the post card and send me the copy.”
I showed the post card to Gladys in Vermont. I believe she also had pictures of the boat, but either way, she was quite familiar with it.

“Allen used to bring the boat up to Lamoine in the summer,” she said, noting that some of the photographs were taken at Frenchman Bay. “In the morning, he’d take the fisherman across the bay to The Ovens where they caught fish. Then, he boated the women to The Ovens, where they prepared food for a picnic—food like clam chowder. Finally, Allen boated everyone else over for an all-day outing.”

( )

The only limitation (besides, I assume, weather) was the tide. The adventures only occurred at low tide.

So when I scheduled the activities for this year’s visit to Lamoine, THE OVENS were a non-negotiable part of the plans. Where were they and what were they?

When our feet reached Lamoine Beach it was almost sunset. I was quite surprised. I’d been there at low tide, but never was the tide as low as it was this evening. The beach reached out into the bay a good distance beyond the boat launch that is there.

A unique characteristic of this beach is it’s shells—layers upon layers of black shells that crunch underfoot when you walk. One cannot avoid their blanket, and one had better not be barefoot!

Then the sunset hit—the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen! To top it off, there was a full moon, a moon so big I didn’t know whether to soak up its image or to continue watching the sunset. The afterglow of that experience still lingers. Too soon we had to leave, the sunset gone but the sky lit brightly by this spectacular moon.

Monte discovered the lowest tides occurred about five in the morning (no way! too early, too dark) and six thirty in the evening—almost dark. But our instructions were to go at low tide, and our schedule didn’t allow for us to linger for another tide cycle.

After checking a map and he discovered THE OVENS were marked on it, even with their limited access.

At dusk we entered a campground with purported access to The Ovens. We’d been on this gravelly beach on our previous visit, and again the camp director instructed us to park in a special area. He told us to go down to the beach and turn right, we had a ten-minute walk to the ovens. I figured there was no choice but to be caught in the dark. Adventuresome as we are, we proceeded onward.

We went to the end of the very short beach with a natural stone-wall at one end. We’d been there before, but not realized we were almost to The Ovens. And I believe the tide was higher, discouraging us from walking around the wall.

We made it around the wall and discovered a surprise. Yes, it would be a ten-minute walk to the end of the rocky, shell-blanketed beach on that side of the wall. But we were THERE as we stepped off the rocks.

( )]

The beach on this side had sixty-foot high strictly vertical cliffs. At the beach level of the cliffs were dugouts that created caves in the sides of the rocks. A couple were quite deep and high, others were just indents. ( ) I could see why one wouldn’t want to be caught in a cave with a rising tide. I could also see why it would be a great place to picnic on warm summer days and cool summer nights. It will be perfect for a scene in my novel. The entrapment experience as the tide rises will symbolize the entrapment the main character (in the novel’s second part) feels as continual tragedies occur in his life.

The tide was so low that Monte calculated there would be a fourteen-foot rise in the water at high tide. With the low tide, the shoreline we stood on was actually below sea level. We walked the length of the beach, exploring the caves along the way. We could see across to Lamoine Beach, the setting of my ancestral home and the novel I’m working on. The sunset was less spectacular than the one the night before, but nonetheless it added an ambiance to the scene.

( )

There must have been cottages atop the cliffs. Two places had ladders built for residents to access the beach. Oh, what fun they would be to climb with bad knees!

Rocky, shell-filled, gravelly beaches are not kind to walkers in bright light.

( ) Dark was descending, and there would be even less kindness. Monte turned us back in an attempt to move around the wall before dark hit. Even with my flashlight, dim as it was, it was a real struggle walking without tripping or twisting my ankle.

Back at the hotel, a worker told me he likes The Ovens. He canoes across the bay at high tide and picnics in his boat inside the caves, the ones that are so high the tide doesn’t rise to the top. Yes, I think that would be a great experience.

Perhaps the low tide will occur earlier in the day on our next visit. However, the low tide we experienced will not be matched.



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