Stockton Springs, Maine
A rambling by Tom Knapp

It was like an impossible scene by a painter with a vivid imagination and a sense of unworldly beauty.

We'd arrived minutes before at our destination on the rocky coast of Maine this summer, but it was late, the air was chilly and the drive had been long, so my wife and daughter headed straight for bed after unloading the van.

I was exhausted, too, but I was drawn by the siren call of the water and the heavenly display of stars -- far brighter than they ever were at home -- above me. So I ambled away from the house where we were staying to the cliff overlooking the ocean where it meets Penobscot Bay.

It was nearly 3 a.m., and I quickly drew out of range of the few lights nearby. Reaching the cliff's edge, I switched off my flashlight and stood bathed in the light of a million impossible glimmering specks in the sky.

Twinkle? Ha. They danced for me.

The Milky Way traced a brilliant course across the firmament, and within moments the first meteorite flashed overhead. The ripple of water lapping on the shore kept me company, along with the bass croak of a nearby frog and the occasional hoot of an owl. I wondered how long it would be before my first loon of the year. Less than five minutes later I heard that thrilling, eerie tremolo, and I knew at least one lonesome loon was floating low in the water, somewhere in the inky black of night.

After I'd stood quietly for several minutes more, a slap and splash from the rocks below told me another guest had arrived. Sure enough, the raspy cough of a seal soon rose from the darkness.

I lost track of the time, and I was surprised to realize I'd been standing there in the relative darkness, mere inches from the cliff and a 20- or 30-foot drop, for 30 minutes. A fog was rolling in, dimming the stars along with the distant lights across the bay.

I reluctantly headed for bed.

Maine had, for many years, simply been a place to drive through on my annual October pilgrimage to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. My wife, Katie, first suggested I might want to stop along the way; Maine had been one of her regular childhood destinations, and she had fond memories of the state.

My first trips to the shore towns of Wells and Old Orchard were pleasant but didn't shake my affection for closer, more familiar seaside settings in Avalon, Wildwood and Cape May, N.J., or the less developed coastline of Cape Cod, Mass.

Still, there is something to be said of the bracing chill of the ocean in Maine, as well as the recurring adrenaline rush each time the sand shifted over rocks in the cloudy surf where shark sightings had closed the beaches just a few days before.

Then Katie took me to visit family in Waldo County, and BAM! Maine had a new fan.

We stayed in a gorgeous gray cliffside home in Stockton Springs, a town of fewer than 2,000 souls on Cape Jellison. It was settled in 1759, the year Fort Pownall was built on the point to defend the Penobscot River during the French and Indian War. (The fort is long gone, burned by the British to keep it from falling into the hands of pesky American rebels, but you can still visit the site and nearby Fort Point lighthouse.)

I confess, I don't think much about its history when I'm there. My focus is on the stars and the water, the loons and seals.

It's an "ahhh" kind of place.

by Tom Knapp