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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 44.3158, -68.3644
Summer in Maine is spectacular. The weather is perfect: deep blue skies intensify the pure, bright sunny days, and a blanket is always needed at night--such comfortable sleeping weather. It is the very best time of year to be here. We live inland, but for 22 years we have spent part or most of each summer living on Mt. Desert Island, volunteering as Ridge Runners at Acadia National Park. Our children learned to identify local plants and to forage for berries on summit tops; initially we packed them up in backpacks, but now it's just two of us continuing to do our work, tallying hikers for the Park's Resource Management division. It's a great job. In exchange for our work we get official looking shirts, hats, jackets, a free campsite, plus we give back to the Park, getting to spend these months doing what we love in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And, without the hundreds of thousands of volunteers working in the parks, our National Parks could not stay open; we are happy to do our little part.
When we first started ridgerunning we parked our tent trailer at Seawall for the summer, but for the past several seasons we've camped in a tent at Blackwoods. Every night, while Bill stayed with the sleeping children, I wandered out around the campground, studying the stars and teaching myself the constellations. I walk in the dark without a flashlight, preferring to exercise and enhance my night-time powers of observation; occasionally I'll slip off the edge of the paths into the woody areas but it's easy to get back on track. I have seen families of raccoons crossing trails, and large deer, but the most scary thing that I've encountered is loud snoring issuing from tents in the woods. Very few other humans walk in the dark, listening to the music of insects and owls and unseen animals scurrying through the night, feeling safe, totally connected and at peace walking under the tall pines and the night sky beyond, but this is one of my joys when we're camping at Acadia.
Most of the northern constellations have become very familiar to me over the years. Identifying Pegasus, Cygnus, Aquarius, Aquila, Hercules and many others delights me, but my favorite constellation is ancient Sagittarius the Archer. Spotting him and his bow aligning with the Milky Way makes me feel content with the universe; even though all the constellations are connect-the-dots drawings we compose in our imaginations they become familiar, comforting, our night-sky companions. One is never truly alone wandering with such friendly escorts. Did you know the word planet means wanderer? Therefore I am a planet, wandering the earth in search of knowledge, learning others' truths that might illuminate and reveal the mysteries of life and living on our own troubled little orb, which itself is tucked away in a far corner of our own minor Milky Way galaxy, maybe even insignificant in the grand scheme of things, if there is indeed a grand scheme of things. Such philosophical thoughts come easily when walking alone in the dark.
Daytimes find us hiking up various peaks each summer. This year we have the Beehive again, the second most difficult hike in the Park. (The most difficult hike, the Precipice, is closed until late summer because of nesting peregrine falcons.) If one has a fear of heights, or (because of years of abuse from ballet and hiking) if the knees don't work as well as they once did, it can be a humbling experience navigating to either precipitous summit. But we've found that many of us can be truly magnanimous in helping brethren hikers to succeed in their climb; if not, everyone is aware that people have fallen to their deaths on both peaks. There is much rejoicing when hikers reach the top of the Beehive and gaze out over the back of Sand Beach, enjoying the beautiful view and the euphoria of completing another difficult and successful climb. For such a short hike, it offers a great workout and a grand feeling of accomplishment.
One of the hikes I like best is Pemetic Mountain. We haven't counted on this peak for several years, but it's one of my favorites, partly because of the refreshing Ravine Trail with its old wooden ladders and narrow passageways, plus it's fun to clambor over mossy rocks to avoid the rivulets running through. It's a relatively unknown peak, but standing on top I have looked down and seen eagles fly below my feet, soaring below me on the updrafts between Pemetic and Penobscot and Sargeant Mountains, a thrilling viewpoint. Wherever we are, for 2-3 hours we sit or walk on top and record the numbers of those who climb, engage in conversations with hikers from all over the world, offer information on trails and possible destinations, take their photographs if they ask us, eat our picnic lunch on the summit, enjoying the dramatically stunning views of the island-studded ocean below us. And we know that we still have a pleasant hike back down the mountain, eating just-picked ripe berries along the way on whichever trails we choose to take, our work over for the day. In summer, the daylight hours here in the north country are blessedly long, so we can take our leisurely time hiking back down, soaking up the warm sun, breathing in the fresh balsamic air, enjoying our incomparable time in Acadia National Park, sated with sun and sea air and gorgeous views of the ocean beyond, and the feeling of being happily physically spent. If you come, we'll show you some of our favorite trails and summits. But be prepared to want to stay.
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