Stonington and Deer Isle in 48 Hours
Next month I will turn 58—as my kids like to say, I have one shoulder on the door of 60. It’s really hard for me to get my head around the fact that I’ve become a man of a “certain age,” when inside, I still feel young, vital, and full of adventure. So I was quite honored when I was asked to do the first 48 Hours trip for Ageless Maine because quite honestly, I do feel ageless. The years I have under my belt are just numbers on paper because I still have a well-developed sense of adventure and discovery, and I look forward to many more years of both.
The journey begins
We point our car north on a typical November afternoon, looking forward to exploring a part of Maine where we’ve never spent much time. These two coastal towns are bustling hubs in the summer but when the colder months begin to settle in, they get back to their slower, steadier Maine pace.
We cross the Deer Isle–Sedgwick Bridge from the Blue Hill peninsula and arrive on Deer Isle, where we make it a point to stop at John Wilkinson’s studio on Church Street. He greets us warmly and takes us on a tour of his studio, which is filled with a breathtaking array of sculpture he creates from stone, concrete, epoxy, paint, and found objects. It’s hard to describe the breadth of his body of work other than to say it is nothing short of incredible.
After leaving John’s studio, we make a quick stop at the Coldwater Seafood Market where we have a chat with smokehouse manager Debbie Field and pick up some smoked mussels marinated in garlic and olive oil—these will go quite well with the martinis we have planned for later.
Pulling into Stonington, the first thing we notice is how calm and quiet the streets are. We walk into the Inn on the Harbor and are immediately enveloped by the incredible aroma coming from the kitchen. Dana Durst, who runs the Inn with her husband Jay Brown, is making a batch of granola; she greets us with a smile and shows us to our room. Oh, and what a room it is: king-sized bed; picture windows looking right out on the harbor where we can watch the lobster boats coming and going; comfortable lounge chairs; and, yes, a working fireplace.
Part of the community
We get some ice, make the aforementioned martinis, nibble our smoked mussels, and watch the sun slowly set as the boats unload their day’s catch.
Since it’s closing in on dinnertime, Byron and I wander over to the Harborview Store and Stonecutters Kitchen to see about dinner. The place is buzzing; it’s as if everyone in town has turned out for a fundraiser where lobster traps by the Friendship Trap Company are the prizes for the day. We feel that we’ve stepped into the heart of the community. But since the place is so packed, we decide to head elsewhere for dinner and take a short walk to the Harbor Café. Here Byron and I tuck into what has to be the freshest fried seafood platter we’ve ever had. We leave happy, looking forward to a great night’s sleep and weekend of adventure.
Starting the day right
We hit the Inn’s very cozy dining area early. Dana greets us with espresso and we eat our way through the buffet she’s laid out—deviled eggs, breakfast bruschetta, French toast casserole, and her incredible granola. Since many of the area businesses are seasonal, we know that this will be a weekend of outdoor exploring and walking so we need our sustenance.
After breakfast, we stroll Main Street and wander the docks to watch the lobster boats get ready for a day on the water. It’s quite a sight to see, giving me pause as I consider the rugged jobs these people have, and feeling gratitude for being able to see it firsthand.
We stop in to poke around the Dry Dock, owned by Jan Cook, a store full of fashion and whimsy. We spend a good 15 minutes laughing at the selection of greeting cards on display and pick up a few to add to our collection.
It’s a short drive back to Deer Isle to the much-talked-about Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies. Owned and operated by found object sculptor Peter Beerits and his wife Anne, the property is so much more than home to a jam company. Over the years Peter has built a Westernstyle town complete with a juke joint, a blacksmith shop, garage, and a church. Each structure is “occupied” by life-sized sculptures of people dressed in clothes of the era. At the back of the sprawling property, Peter is working on a Grail Castle sculpture based on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. We spend a good two hours chatting with him, wandering the property, and marveling at the work that has gone into creating such a magical place.
Our next stop is at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. While it is closed for the season, we walk the grounds and have our breath taken away by the beauty of the campus and the views from this shoreline center—arguably one of the country’s most notable artists’ retreats. When Haystack is open for visitors during the season, if you go, it’s important to stay on the visitor paths and not disturb the artists. They are there for the solitude that fuels their creativity.
Exploring on foot
Back on Main Street in Stonington, we stop for lunch at the Stonecutters Kitchen while we plan our afternoon hike.
We get directions and follow them to the Barred Island Preserve, after stopping at a nearby Quick Stop to pick up blaze orange hats and vests. It is hunting season and we have been warned to not hike in the woods without orange. Sage advice.
When we get to the trailhead we find ourselves in luck: not only is there parking, but it’s getting to be low tide, which bodes well for what we are about to experience. The hike—which is more of a rigorous two-mile walk—winds through the woods and puts you on a sand bar that, at low tide, allows you to walk over to Barred Island. It’s an amazing spot to gaze out into the ocean; it makes us feel fortunate to be able to enjoy such an incredible place in Maine. The walk is truly one of the highlights of our trip.
Feeling like we belong
It’s beginning to rain and we head back to the Inn where we light a fire, make a cocktail, and, again, watch in amazement as the boats unload their day’s catch under the lights. Truly a sight to see and something we will never forget.
Since the restaurant we were going to try in Blue Hill is closed in the fall, we decide to have another meal at the Stonecutters Kitchen and are not disappointed. The menu is casual pub fare—pizza, burgers, sandwiches, fish and chips—and very tasty, and we feel immediately like we belong. Even in the off-season, Stonington and Deer Isle are wonderfully welcoming places to spend time. While the location and scenery are indeed picturesque, it’s the people who really give the place its charm.
A difficult place to leave behind
We can’t resist one more breakfast at the Inn and Dana greets us again with her amazing buffet. She makes it a point to tell us that both Deer Isle and Stonington are great places to live, and that when the summer months are here, they are abuzz with people from all over. She also lets it slip that it’s her 60th birthday. I’m taken aback because not only am I closing in on that number, she oozes youthful energy that is as happy as it is contagious.
We say our goodbyes and take a slow, meandering drive through Deer Isle and then to Blue Hill. We are absolutely thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit at a time when we were able to get to know the area, meet the people who live there, and drink in the awe-inspiring beauty of a place that is not overly commercialized. As the saying goes, “It doesn’t get any more Maine than this.”
We so look forward to a return trip.