Downeast Day

Eastport is about the farthest east you can travel in this hemisphere and still be in the continental United States. Understandably, the sun comes up while most of the country is still sound asleep, but I’m an early riser, so bright sunshine at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. is usually fine with me. When Gracie and I set out for our first morning walk, the temperature was a welcome 58 degrees. The town was totally quiet, streets and sidewalks mostly empty.

Early morning sunrise

We had trekked about three hilly blocks up Boynton from Water Street when a large and graceful female deer emerged from someone’s backyard (no doubt having breakfasted in the family garden). She sauntered up the middle of the street right in front of us, not startled at all.  Amazingly, Gracie wasn’t startled either. She just stood stock still, staring, and didn’t let out a peep of a bark. Good thing, too, because it was only 6:00 a.m., and she can raise a real ruckus when she wants to.

Water Street view from Boynton

Towards noon, I drove to the IGA—the only local grocery —and stocked up on basics for Bunting Tosser’s well-appointed kitchen. Then Gracie and I walked the half block down to Water Street to check out favorite shops from previous trips and discover new ones. I was happy to see that Sweeties Downeast is still in business. It’s been described by one journalist as a “confectionary wonderland,” and by another as being like a trip to Willy Wonka’s world. The proprietor, with two dogs of her own on site (Fargo and Malachai), had no problem with Gracie coming inside while I picked out a small block of wild blueberry fudge and another of dark chocolate drizzled with caramel to treat my son and his family when they arrived that evening.

Lisa Stephen opened Sweeties in 2013, and it’s been popular ever since. During the worst of the pandemic, she gave customers disposable gloves so she could continue offering free samples of everything from the fantastic fudge she makes herself to Beckett’s Honey Sticks (a local favorite) and old-time stalwarts like licorice and saltwater taffy. Of course, she also has gummies in every imaginable flavor and shape. “I swear the more disgusting the shape (bloody eyeballs, brains, teeth, and bullfrogs), the more they like it.” She even offers a three-foot long gummy snake that weighs 1/3 of a pound. (No, thanks!)

While Lisa cut and wrapped my fudge, she told me about Malachai, the eight-year-old Shih Tzu she adopted from a rescue shelter. “Fargo and I drove all the way to Tennessee to get him.”  That was after she read that this dog’s family had moved away, left him alone in the house, and locked the door. Cruelty personified. Now, though, Malachai has a loving—and very sweet—forever home.

Later that day, Gracie and I drove to the Bangor airport to pick up my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. The only route between Bangor and Eastport is mostly winding country roads, with several tiny towns along the way. Perhaps the tiniest is Meddybemps. Even the Internet couldn’t tell me where that name came from, but it did let me know that 172 people supported two schoolhouses in Meddybemps in 1880 and that the 2010 census counted only 157 residents.

Afternoon was transitioning to evening when we crested the top of a lonely hill and encountered a magnificent sunset out beyond the blueberry bogs and endless stands of pine. Roger, who would handle driving duties for the next few days, pulled over immediately so we could all climb out and savor the view.

It’s easy to understand why Maine not only chose the Eastern white pine as its state tree but also the white pinecone and tassel of that tree species as its state flower. Ninety percent of Maine is covered in trees, including both natural and cultivated forests. Alabamians (and Ohioans) are mostly used to tall, cultivated blueberry bushes with fat, round fruit, but in much of Maine and other parts of New England and Canada, “lowbush” blueberries grow somewhat like cranberries in “bogs” that spread across the countryside. They are often referred to as wild blueberries whether cultivated or not—tinier, darker in color, with a different but delicious flavor.

Grandson at sunset

Back at Bunting Tosser, after we’d settled in and sampled the fudge, Roger accessed his PLEX account on the large TV screen, and we spent a couple hours scrolling through online posters representing the vast movie collection he’s downloaded. What a fun memory lane trip—all four of us, across three generations, had favorites and reminded each other of classic scenes and characters from movie after movie, including Shawshank Redemption, Rear Window and Vertigo, the Star Wars features, Blazing Saddles. The Great Escape, and on and on.

Gracie relaxing on one of several couches in Bunting Tosser

Next morning when we set out on the harbor footpath for a bayside breakfast, Roger and Meredith (R&M) took the spray-painted sentiment on one granite boulder personally. (See below.) Then we settled in on the back deck of the WaCo diner for a late breakfast while Gracie napped under our table. The WaCo opened in 1924, qualifying it as the oldest diner in Maine. It’s been in this same location for more than 80 years. Locals refer to it as “the Whacko.” Whatever, the menu is wonderful, including great breakfast fare, fresh-caught haddock, lobster, and other sea delights. My wild blueberry pancake stack came with six!! sausage links, so I had to share.

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