We know, we know, if you don’t like the Maine weather wait a minute, but this is excessive. Cold enough for a jacket one day, too hot for any clothes at all the next, and through it all the wind blowing a gale.
Regardless, tourists are going to have their summer. If Maine is Vacationland, beaches are at the top of the summer visitor’s list. We don’t do much big and sandy ’round here, at least not Downeast, but we have plenty of delicious oceanfront nevertheless. Little coves, protected from open water, with nary another soul on them. Great slabs of golden rock that run down into the sea, upon which you can bake until you are prepared for the shock of the cold water. Tidal pools made for wading.
The scarcity of sand beaches in our part of the state is underlined by the fact that the best-known beach in eastern Maine is called just that: Sand Beach. Located in Acadia National Park, it is a magnet for visitors (and locals) even when the wind blows or the fog rolls in. On a day that’s hot and sunny, get there early.
Visitors spill down the stairs to the beach in a steady stream, lugging supplies and herding children. The parking lot fills up early and additional cars wedge themselves in where cars should not be, despite park staff’s best efforts to keep it orderly.
Though Americans really like their rides, games and toys, Sand Beach has none of these. Floaty objects are not permitted because of the risk of an unexpected trip out to sea thanks to wind, tide or current. It’s just towels, beach chairs, coolers, umbrellas, pail and shovel. Food and drink are bring-your-own.
There is a tiny dog in a backpack with a clear plastic cover. The Island Explorer goes by on the road along the cliffs. A lobster boat comes into the cove to haul a few traps. A photographer with a real camera takes her time lining up a shot down the length of the beach or squatting down to focus on a rock and a bit of seaweed.
The beach seems to naturally divide into two sections. Most of it is fluffy sand and a gentle incline into the water. This is where you settle if you want to get wet, the area preferred by the little people. Their main preoccupation is running into the incoming surf and screaming. They are also the architects and builders, settling into the wet sand above the water line with pail and shovel to dig trenches, build castles or just dig a hole.
The grown-ups will sometimes brave the water, surf a wave or two and take a few strokes before heading for the beach towel. It is a rare sight when a lone swimmer goes beyond the breaking waves and takes a leisurely swim across the cove.
There is the constant calling of friends and family to the ubiquitous cell phone camera: Look at me! Smile! Jump! There is the pro forma putting of heads together, the official camera smile, the agonizing wait for the app to open, the zooming in, before the moment is recorded and everyone goes back to what they were doing.
At the far end of the beach is a jumble of rocks, perfect for those who want to browse for sea glass (there is none) or shells (there are a few). It’s the quiet end, the rocks providing a perch for those who just want to sit a spell and look. There is an inlet at that end, a combination of fresh water from inland and tidal water that washes in from the ocean. It is not much more than knee-deep and perfect for toddlers who do not like water that chases them. And though the ocean gets all the glory when it comes to a view, looking up the inlet and beyond to the Beehive is not too shabby.
At the end of the beach is a welter of people clustered around a trail marker, cell phones out, wondering if it’s the right path. Up on the Great Head Trail many are, if not lost, at least confused. They are equipped as if for an Everest ascent. Where does this path go? Is it flat from here? Two teenagers are on strike, sitting under a tree refusing to go farther. Entire extended families are 20 yards off the trail, chirping like birds in the trees. It’s over here! No, it’s over here!
Anybody out there need tourists? It’s not that we don’t love them, it’s just that it’s getting hard to fit them all in. Do you wonder why they’re here in such numbers? Go to Sand Beach on a sunny summer day. Who would want to be anywhere else?
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.