I imagined that this little beach town would resemble Provincetown. Tasteful renovated cottages filled by armies of queer men. The gay flavor is just a dash of Tabasco. It’s mostly filled with white tourists all over the middle economic scale. We ate in three decent restaurants, went on several waterfront walks, and avoided shopping except for the Ogunquit Art Association gallery. Marginal Way, a beautiful walk from Perkins Cove (think Cabot Cove) to the Ogunquit River, provides a level stroll with benches every few yards in case you feel compelled to propose marriage. It’s legal for everybody in Maine!
OK, truth is there are several islands called Bar Island off the coast of Maine. Our little Bar Island sat between the towns of Steuben and Milbridge at the north edge of the state.
Our little cottage overlooked Pigeon Hill Bay, which looks like a lake most of the day. But then it drains to a mud flat, and you know you are near a tidal body of water—in this case, the Atlantic. Our first morning, we started out to walk down our small island but were attacked by biting flies. Back for bug juice. They are supposed to let up later in the summer. But they are fierce.
From the highway, much of Maine is monotonous—short trees that vary a little in their shade of green, but look similar. Saltbox clapboard houses in S, M, and L, and mobile homes. Lots of them. The grand mansions that come in XXL are far off the highway and located on roads most of us can’t reach. (Often because you can only get to them by boat.) When you get off the main arteries, the vistas to the water and great slabs of granite come into view. Sometimes it is hard to gauge how close the next land mass might be and whether it is accessible without a boat. Smaller land masses disappear and reappear with the tides.
Acadia National Park takes up much of Desert Island. It is simple to drive around and offers hiking paths that range from very easy to difficult. We should have spent more time exploring the park, but we did make it to the top of Cadillac Mountain for the incredible vista.
Although a lot of folks have heard of Bar Harbor and think it might be posh, it is the worst of the coastal tourist towns. You can give the whole thing a miss.
The high point was Edward Larrabee Barnes’s Haystack School. When the site was chosen, the board of the school thought Barnes would build at the top of the site with an amazing view or at the base of the granite slope next to Jericho Bay. Instead, he built on the granite slope—not into the slope, but rather lightly on top, leaving the undergrowth to continue growing undisturbed. Repeating basic modules, he created a serene rather than an austere place. The complex’s simplicity speaks of rural Maine, as does its focus on work. There are places to socialize, but this is not a retreat on a former estate with linen tablecloths and cocktails. This is a summer work camp for artists of all kinds.
While some folks have compared it to Sea Ranch because of its wood exterior, steep roof forms, and respect for nature, it represents a different kind of approach. The early architects at Sea Ranch created place through an artful combination of landscape architecture and buildings that consciously responded to or even riffed on the vernacular. Here, Barnes used a rigorous, modernist love of the module and a strict street grid (albeit a wood boardwalk street) that was softened by the natural materials. In a way, his architecture combined the ideals of high modernism with the directness that Maine dwellers are known for. Everywhere we went, we found them hospitable but without any pretense. We hope to return to Maine, and specifically to Haystack!