- by Carol Standish
For northerners who neither ski nor spend the winter frolicking in the Caribbean, and there are a few, the stretch of time between January and the end of April (and the beginning of boating season) can appear pretty bleak. There is some consolation in the arrival of seed catalogs and there's always the Internet, but cabin fever seeps in as inevitably as the frigid drafts around the windows.
A recommended treatment for this odd combination of restlessness and ennui is to read travel guides—not the effusive descriptions of the tropical playgrounds of the rich and famous—they only produce a gross sense of deprivation and grumpiness—but guides to your home state. There are several unforeseen advantages to this practice. You find out stuff about your immediate neighborhood that only the tourists know and if you discover something of interest, you can go check it out…why not…the distances are manageable, you're traveling in your own back yard, which chances are, you've never seen (you're too busy and its too crowded).
In the case of a state like Maine, there are tons of interesting attractions and the whole place is deserted… nobody here but us chickens…the folks people from away come hundreds of miles to observe and chat up. There's no traffic, no crowds, and if you want to stay over, no shortage of rooms…and the rates are a bargain, even at fancy places. The foreseen disadvantages to taking a short cabin fever cure between January and April in Maine are only two: blizzards and the fact that a lot of tourist oriented businesses are closed while owners spend that time frolicking in the Caribbean. The solution to the blizzard problem is simple: stay home, reschedule...you weren't going to do anything the next weekend anyway. What's opened and what's closed, where to go and what to do and why bother (cabin fever, remember) is where the guide books come in. For Maine there are all the usual ones from Triple A to Frommer's which skim the surface of the region. The information they contain aren't as detailed as your own local knowledge, if you live here, because they try to cover too much and the travel editor has never been here at all.
Assuming that visitors to the Maine Harbors website are ocean oriented, there are several coastal guides available which have an obviously narrower focus. Two recently released coastal guides have thoroughly unique points of view which make them good general food for escape fantasy reading. Used together they provide both the big picture and practical details for traveling by car or boat along the Maine coast.
Maine - Cruising the Coast by Car, (Country Roads Press; 182pp; $10.95) by Castine resident Arthur B. Layton, Jr., divides the Maine's coastal region into fourteen geographic areas covering York County to Eastport. Layton determinedly avoids Route One and follows the secondary roads as they parallel the rivers and bays down to the tips of the peninsulas.
His interests are early settlement history, economic history and development such as shipbuilding, quarrying, trading by sea, local art and architecture, good restaurants and nature walks and scenic vistas. He's not the least bit interested in "shopping opportunities" which is very refreshing in a guide book…practical, too, since there's not a lot open this time of year. In Kittery, for instance he guides the reader down route 103, toward the shore and state parks, avoiding Route One and the outlets. He describes Freeport as having been turned into a "parking lot punctuated bazaar of outlet stores…[possessing] the subsurface frenzy of a casino town where shoppers, rather than gamblers, go from outlet to outlet searching for the jackpot of bargains." (Freeport, is, however, always open.) He goes on to describe some of the more charming historical aspects of the town like the Jameson Tavern, the site of the document signing which officially separated Maine from Massachusetts and marked the acceptance of the new state into the Union in 1820. The Tavern is still open for business on Main Street.
The book is written as a casual easy to read narrative but gets a bit confusing when the author tries to explain route numbers and give directions. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of graphics and maps, except for a frontispiece, are non-existent. Layton's knowledge is detailed and reliable and his observations quick and wry. One of the most useful parts of the book is the index arranged alphabetically by activity and interests (like aquariums and eateries, schools and museums) as well as architectural and topological features like beaches, islands, natural attractions, and lighthouses.) Although he recommends quite a few restaurants along his routes, Layton gives precious few details about fees and hours and phone numbers for businesses and attractions. That's why taking a second guide book along is a good idea.
The Second Edition of Hot Showers is now out. See our July, 2000 Book Review
Together, these two guide books create a unique and enticing picture of the Maine coast, the kind of books that answer the traveler's question, "what in the world do you think is down that old road (or up that creek), Fred?" For a curative meander on a blizzard-free weekend in February or a more elaborate summer visit from out-of-state, these two guides provide a breadth of appreciation for the region and a wealth of practical detail for navigating it. By car or small boat they will keep you hugging the shore.