In case you missed the first part of the story, you can get caught up here:
The Photograph - Part 1
When I was a sophomore in high school, we had to read John Knowles' A Separate Peace. It was one of the few books that fell into the required reading category that I liked; for some reason, the thing that stuck with me most from the story was the mention of Cadillac Mountain in Maine. As the story put it, Cadillac Mountain was the first place the sun's rays touched in the morning in the continental United States. Ever since I was fifteen, I wanted to visit the place, to look out over the ocean as it changed from night black to the hues of the morning.
The day after my doctor's appointment, I got up, made myself a pot of coffee and looked out the window of the kitchen in my townhouse across the street to yet another strip mall. People wandered up and down the sidewalks, phones pressed to their ears, gabbing gleefully without taking note of anyone or anything around them. The longer I stood there, the more angry I became. Finally, I finished my coffee, went into my bedroom, and began tossing together a bag. I needed to escape my home for a while. I needed to escape everything for a while.
I got in the car and I started to drive. I had no particular destination in mind at the time. All I knew was that I needed to escape, to get away from the press of humanity and the way everyone around me ignored the fleeting beauty of life. I was not sure what was wrong with me. Maybe I was a little crazy, maybe there was something wrong in my head. Whatever the reason, I knew that the road was the only thing that could cure me.
A few hours later, I had checked into a bed and breakfast in Virginia's wine country. From the balcony of the room I rented, I could see the sun settling slowly over the mountains, and while it was nice to be away from the city, there was still something that I was missing. I wandered around the grounds, walking over to the closest vineyard and sampling the wines they had to offer. I bought a half-dozen bottles, more out of a sense of obligation and decency rather than any burning desire to drink. Returning to my room, I opened the door to the balcony and watched as the sun slowly sank over the Appalachians.
As the gloaming slowly spread over the valley, I got up to turn on a bedside lamp so that I would not stumble in the dark later when I decided to find my bed. As I twisted the switch on, I glanced at the stack of books that were set decoratively on the bedside table. In the middle was a copy of John Knowles' A Separate Peace. Memories came flooding back to me as I picked the book up and thumbed through the yellowed, brittle pages. My eyes scanned across pages, parts of the story flooded over me, flowed through me. I came to the part where Finny fell a second time; after reading it, I carefully closed the book and laid it on the table next to the bed. Walking over to the doorway leading to the balcony, I picked up the glass of wine that I had been nursing most of the evening. The midnight blue rises of the mountains against the deepening purple of the evening sky commanded my view and, as I reflected on the pages I had just flipped through, I knew where tomorrow would take me.
Bar Harbor, Maine was exactly what I thought a New England coastal city would be--or, I suspect, it is exactly what I am expected to think a New England coastal city should be. A remade downtown area sat next to the deep blue harbor overlooking the scattered islands of the northern coast. The central part of town was ringed by cottages and homes, all of them well-maintained, and most with nice views of the harbor, which was covered with sailboats. This was all nested within gently rolling, tree-covered hills. In all, it was beautiful and serene, a sharp contrast to home and even most of the drive to Maine.
Once I had regained the road, the route had been through mostly urban areas. The cities, the traffic, and the noise pressed in on me through most of my journey. Only once I had escaped Boston did trees once again become prevalent, but it was not until I entered Maine was I convinced that I had found my way back to the natural world. Leaving the bulwarks of the urban jungle behind me, I turned off the super highway near Augusta, fully planning on following the lesser-used routes out to the eastern seaboard. At times, I actually pulled alongside the highway and got out of my car just to look at the rise and fall of the land around me, to feel the openness and calm of my new bucolic surroundings.
The remainder of my drive was leisurely. I would stop and look through roadside vegetable stands. Everything was blueberry-flavored here, and I did not care. For the sheer novelty, I bought blueberry beer. It went along with my blueberry preserves, blueberry syrup and chocolate-covered blueberries. For a change of pace, I would buy something cranberry-related; though there were fewer cranberry products, the vendors were just as prolifically creative in using the red bog berries for their roadside concoctions.
Eventually, I could fit no more berry-based foodstuffs in my car, so I continued on, taking several winding highways that appeared to have been laid out to give the best views of the low, scenic mountains. The views were not typically wide-ranging, with trees pushing in on all sides. While the endless forest did not allow for long vistas of the surrounding land, the sea of trees did carry an allure all of their own. There was something enticing about the primordial forest; the thought of driving into the woods and never coming out crossed my mind from time to time as I slowly wound my way back and forth through the scenic hills and valleys of eastern Maine.
I had read stories about people going into the Maine wilderness and getting lost. Reading the stories, I was amazed--almost appalled--that someone could get lost in a time when global positioning satellites could pinpoint your location within thirty feet. Driving through even the eastern part of the state, where the forest was not as intensely unsettled as the wilderness would be, I suddenly understood. Resisting the urge to truly become one with my surroundings, I pressed on and soon found the coast. The road wound around and through more hills, valleys and great, primordial woods, but soon I found signs pointing me toward Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor.
I had called ahead to find somewhere to stay, grabbing a cottage on the outskirts of the town proper where I could have access to Cadillac Mountain. It was small and white and almost exactly what I expected a cottage to look like in Bar Harbor, Maine--or, again, perhaps it was what I was expected to expect a cottage to look like. It was small and it offered a small view of the bay; the water was dazzlingly blue in the afternoon sun, and what seemed like a thousand white sailboats plied the waters. I quickly unloaded what I needed into the small, one bedroom cottage. After a quick survey of what was in the unit--surprise, more blueberry pancake syrup--I got out and stretched my legs.
The seaside part of town had been rebuilt--or at least redone--to make walking more accessible for anyone staying in the town. Clearly, tourism was a major source of income for the people here, but this did not bother me. It was good to be out of the car, to walk through sun-warmed streets and feel the breeze blowing in off the ocean, to smell the briny aroma of the sea. The people I passed were friendly and courteous, and one couple suggested a good place to sample some of the local fare. I wandered the streets some more, window shopping and genuinely enjoying being out of my car for a while before I went to find dinner.
While I had seen foods incorporating blueberries and cranberries almost since crossing the border, now I was on the coast and that meant that the shift was to what the sea provided. I ate myself almost sick on seafood and--no surprise here--I washed down the meal with blueberry wines that came from Maine's own burgeoning wine industry. In all, the meal was delicious, but I did not linger long over my dinner. Once I had paid, I took a stroll around the town once more, hoping to walk off some of the enormous amounts of food I had eaten. After finishing a cigarette, I made my way back to my cottage, taking one long look over my shoulder at the wine-dark waters of the sea. Hesitating at the door to the cottage, I looked past the humble, white building toward the looming behemoth backlit by a sun that had set nearly forty-five minutes before. Nodding to it, as if it watched me, I bid the rocky heap good night.
Tomorrow, I would conquer the mountain.