FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2019
Before I get to our Friday road trip down Main State Roads 3 and 1 to Portland, I need to address a couple of omissions. First, on our trip to the “Quiet Side” of Mount Desert Island on Thursday, we spotted a Bald Eagle in flight! (How could I forget to mention that?!) We were lucky to see it. I happened to be driving and looked out the window to my left and just the right moment. Not 50 feet in the air and seemingly close enough to touch was an eagle that was unmistakably bald, beginning an ascent and looking as majestic as the free travel commercial it was. I hastened Erin to lean over and take a peek, and thanks to low speed limits, she quickly confirmed my sighting. At the end of the day, we failed to see moose on this trip, but I’ll take a Bald Eagle sighting and Thursday’s deer to be sure.
Second, I know many of you familiar with Maine are wondering why I haven’t mentioned blueberries (I can practically feel the clamor through my laptop). Maine is after all known for all-things blueberries, including being the country’s #1 exporter of the anti-oxidant. I must confess, unlike my 1995 trip to Bar Harbor with my parents (and Cheryl… whatever), where we enjoyed blueberry ale, blueberry pie, and other unlikely things flavored with blueberry, I simply didn’t seek out blueberry everything this time around. I DID try a small sample of blueberry coffee at one café. … I remain undecided. So – apologies to blueberry aficionados. I would normally be among you. It just didn’t happen for some reason.
Friday was check-out day from the Holiday Inn Regency Bar Harbor. Our grand plan was to drive the coastal roads back to Portland (e.g. the ridiculously beautiful scenic route), stopping in the incredibly cute and historic-looking towns of Belfast, Camden, and Bath before returning the rental car at the Portland International Jetway (yes, JETWAY!). It started off ok. We hit the road around 10:15AM out of town toward Belfast. We somehow landed there, however, near noon (it looked closer on the map). This fact meant little to me at the time, as we had it in our minds that the coastal roads were about a 3.5-hour drive to Portland in their entirety. So naturally, we leisurely walked around the brick-built and old-fashioned streets – a classic small town’s downtown complete with a 2-screen movie house. We found a couple of gifts for friends and family, and enjoyed a terrific lunch at “Rollie’s,” a local institution that serves as combination sports bar and public house. I enjoyed one of the better steak salads I’ve had in a while, that paired beautifully with the veggies and blue cheese crumbles. Rollie’s standout characteristic is about 150 drinking mugs hanging over the bar. Upon inquiry, we learned that each was assigned by number (we could see Sharpied on the bottom) to the staunchest Rollie’s regulars, so long as they attend the daily revelry at least 1 day a month. The ritual just reinforces that there’s a real sense of community in Belfast (or at least at Rollies).
We got back in the car looking forward to our walk around Camden, about a half hour away. As we drove, we noticed something. It was suddenly 1:30, and our GPS said we STILL had more than a 2-hour drive back to Portland Jetway. This wouldn’t be a problem if the car were not due at 4:00PM, and it wasn’t going to cost us more than $100 for the first minute we were late. How could we have only gotten as far as visiting Belfast in 2 hours? The fact is, we had miscalculated the drive even assuming no traffic. Then, throw in a few traffic jams and constructions delays (by crews no doubt trying to finish projects before the long, freezing winter as we were reminded by our friend Mari [more on her soon!]), the fact that it was single lane highway the whole way, and low speed limits, and would should have predicted that we had no chance. So, I apologize in advance that we could not stop in Camden and Bath and tell you about their unique charm. However, imbedded here are a few token drive-by photos.
… I know. We were disappointed, and I felt I had let Erin down in my planning…..Boy, this travel blog just became the sad, guilty travel blog entry. Looks like I’m entering “a very special episode” territory.
But no! We perked up almost immediately once we were picked up at the Portland International Jetway by the incomparable Mari Henry, and new friend Dani Henry. Mari is a beloved friend and would be if I had managed to meet her in life on my own. But Erin and I are only blessed to have her in our lives because she settled on one “Lawrence Henry” as her husband, life partner, and father to her much-better-than-Larry children. But I of course am kidding. I love Larry Henry like a brother. For those of you not in the know, Larry was my roommate Freshman and Sophomore year in college at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and has remained a dear friend ever since. And for you modern kids, that equates to “First Year and Second Year.” (barf). I know no better man, example of faith in action, and earnest sports fan than Larry. The fact that the Henry’s opened up their home and weekend to us for our last 3 days of this majestic trip has already made for the perfect capper. The icing on the cake.
Dani opened up to us slowly on the car ride home, and by the end of Friday evening had us in stitches. She is a very determined young lady, and intellectually curious. She is also a rascal extraordinaire. Arriving home at the Henry estate, we became immediately impressed with the cozy, family-feel home that is the Chez Henry. Mari, Erin, Dani and I awaited Larry and middle daughter, Mila, to return from soccer practice, and their eldest, son Patrick, to return from the much-heralded Cumberland County Fair. Once everyone was home, Erin and I enjoyed reminding Patrick and Mila that despite their lack of memory on the subject, we had met them 10-years ago when Patrick was a precocious 3-year-old and Mila about 1.5 and complete with the “I know a secret” face of a rascal. They have both grown up to be amazing kids. Patrick is now a tall, deeper-voiced 8th grader. He’s really into music and skateboarding, and fits in with all kinds of kids at school. Mila seems so tall and a great intellect. Nary a prank to be feared, but certainly a big heart and her love of family very clear.
We enjoyed a nice visit BBQing on their back porch, enjoying a nice seafood meal and plenty of laughs as we got to know the kids. Larry is quite the grill man. This guy can do it all. Later, following a game of “Apples to Apples” which was of course won by Erin (Some people win sports championships. Erin Tanenbaum. Wins. Board. Games.), and the kids were put to bed, we enjoyed some couple time with Larry and Mari, talking more about the kids and their many years in Falmouth Maine, just outside Portland. Saturday would bring us an entire day of Henry girls soccer games and a tour on a lobster boat, so thankfully we slept well that night.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2019
I arose at a leisurely 8:30. Erin and Mari were already awake. Larry and the kids would file down soon after. We enjoyed an incredible All-American breakfast of waffles, bacon, and berries. One might think Mari was stepping up her hostess game a bit just for us. However, I have a feeling the kids eat well and balanced regularly. Mari and Larry are quite clearly “super parents,” which we could already see years ago. But now they are absolute pros. We took in some of the Liverpool match with Sheffield United, given that our U.R. classmate Andreas Andronicus Hunn turned Larry into a big Liverpool fan years ago on a group trip to Anfield. Sheffield put up a surprising fight. But it was good to be watching a game that would normally have started at 4:30AM in Los Angeles at a decent breakfast hour. By 11:15, it was time to hit the local soccer field in nearby Yarmouth for a few hours of soccer.
The girls were playing in a special 4-on-4 soccer tournament on shortened fields, no goalies, and no offsides. It was different but proved to be enjoyable. Dani and Mila alternated, playing short, ½-hour games every hour until 2:30. They impressed me with their teamwork and tenacity, and willingness to share the ball, frequently attempting to set their teammates up for shots. That’s not easy at 9 and 11, when the temptation I remember from that age was to hold on to the ball and hog it until it was stolen. I think the girls have learned a finer game than I did back in the late ‘70s / early ‘80s. It clearly shows.
I should confess that I discussed with Larry, Mari, and the girls a “bit” I wanted to pull during their tournament. Turns out, they were game to my idea of shouting out “coded plays” for the girls to run that meant absolutely NOTHING. So, at (I hope not too many) intervals throughout each ½ hour match, I belted out some spontaneous phrases like “Scorpion 1! Scorpion 1,” and “Hufflepuff, not Ravenclaw!” I’m sure a “23 scadoo” found its way in there, and “Last Chance Cantina!” actually became a real code for time is running out. There were others – “Zipline 6” was some nonsense that came out of my mouth, but I should probably quit while I’m behind. It certainly was entertaining for me, seemingly some of the parents, and I hope both girls. Dani and Mila were at least polite and pretended to enjoy going along.
Overall, the environment was impressive. An entire sports complex with 12 miniature fields, probably 150 players and probably twice as many parents and families all enjoying the last of Maine’s warmer days of the year. This attached photo is actually from one of Sunday’s full-length, fully-fielded team games. But as you can see, the field is surrounded by forestry. A pleasant change for a Southern Californian to witness. Small town soccer in Maine is also very interesting. Each town fields a certain number of teams, depending on the size of population of players, and the teams play other cities, rather than a number of teams assembled from a single league in their own town. This may be the norm for millions of American kids, it was simply not my experience growing up in Brea, CA. There, we fielded whole leagues of teams for each age group.
After our soccer adventure, another one awaited. Mila and Erin are both very sensitive to seasickness, so Mila went off to the Cumberland County Fair with a friend, and Erin rode with the rest of us to downtown Portland and the Port. While she walked around the very charming and vibrant downtown of shops and restaurants, Larry, Mari, Patrick, Dani and I ventured onto the Atlantic with a family of lobster fisherpersons who take groups along to check their traps and educate tourists and locals alike about lobster fishing and the sustainability practices of the Maine lobster industry. They actually take it seriously, and as someone who has worked on ocean sustainability issues and advocated for Marine Protective Areas to allow for fish populations to repopulate, I was impressed.
For example, by law, a fishing operation can’t keep any lobster who’s back doesn’t extend at least 3.25 inches from the end of the eye socket, and not more than 5 inches. Given that it takes about 7 years for a lobster to grow to 3.25in, it was reassuring that many lobsters who are thrown back have more time to grow and mate to increase the population. If they last long enough to grow to 5 inches or more, they are also thrown back, as the larger lobsters are the most popular breeding mates. So the window of lobsters that can actually be kept, sold, and eaten is a very limiting 3.25-5 inches. Good chance most might make it, while allowing for plenty to go to market? Another population protection involves breeding females. If a lobster is caught showing signs of carrying eggs (which are visible underneath the lobster tail), the back fin second from the right is clipped just so as a sign that the female is a valuable breeder. So even if she has hatched her eggs (and only 1% survive to grown adults), a future fisherman will continue to throw her back seeing that her tail indicates her value to grow the lobster population.
Granted, this is all self-policed, but from what I learned from our hosts and others on-shore, it’s talem very seriously. Fishing operations known to flaunt the rules are sanctioned and shamed relentlessly, many presumably losing lobster sales on bad reputation.
Returning to shore, we went to the nearby Portland Lobster Company to of course east lobster! (and muscles, calamari, clams, and other delights!) I’ve even broken my rule never to be “that guy” and took a picture of my meal for you.
Back at the Henry family homestead, all wiped from a long day in the elements, we by-passed game night and took in “Men in Black: International.” The movie was considered a flop, but our consensus was it was a perfectly enjoyable and humorous reboot of the franchise.
Sunday? More soccer! Night Night!
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2019
The morning breakfast and coffee routine was again satisfying. Larry whipped up his famous “eggs in a hole,” where a piece of wheat bread is holed in the middle to make way for a fried egg. Delicious! We took in some Meet the Press before the kids arrived downstairs, where Steve Scalise dragged out every ridiculous talking point there was as to why our treasonous, obstructionist “president” shouldn’t be impeached for blatantly asking a foreign power to make up dirt about Joe Biden for help in the 2020 election. It is staggering that despite how obvious a crime this is, Republican cowards fearing Fox News and a Trump-supporting primary challenger will stick with a guy who’s known to be legitimately crazy and somebody most didn’t even want to touch in the 2016 Republican primaries. ALL Republicans care about is power. Remember that, kids.
Again at 11:15, we ventured off to the soccer field, this time right here in Falmouth. Dani was up first. Unlike Saturday’s specialized tournament, this was a “real game,” meaning it was full field, with a city-assigned referee, and :25-minute halves instead of a :30 minute total “game.” Dani was impressive. She’s one of the tallest for her age group, but is also tenacious, stays after the ball, and helps her teammates. She took several shots on goal that ran impressively close, one where she tapped the ball with her left foot from the right side of the goal, JUST missing the left corner of the box. That takes quick thinking and serious skill. She’s 9!!
Mila’s game was a bit further out of town, in a community called Topsham, which I joked (and still maintain, as I write this from the Boston Airport) sounds made up (a phantom community of soccer ghosts!). As we hiked up the parking lot to the field, I could see about 75 yards away was a team of giants. Clearly these girls were 14-15, not 11-13. I know it was going to be a tough contest right away. I was right. But the Falmouth “Blue Thunder” played hard, often I think better and more cohesively than “Topsham.” Mila played beautifully at center forward. She is very adept at positioning and knowing where she needs to be to receive a pass, and does her share on defense and fighting for possession of the ball. Like her sister, she took some impressive shots on goal and I loved her instinct to take them from the distances she did (just right). She is a graceful player, but that’s not to say she doesn’t grind out the tough fights. She simply glides more effortlessly than some of her teammates. Falmouth fell, 5-0, but the score didn’t reflect their effort, or how even the game felt most of the time.
Back home, Larry and I caught up with some NFL action, watching my Chiefs win in a comeback squeaker in Detroit, and fast forwarded through his Brown’s team game knowing they won in order to enjoy the big plays they pulled off on their road win against the Ravens. We were both happy men!
Another fantastic Henry family BBQ followed, with delicious chicken and grass-fed burgers that were both delicious. Before our trip sadly came to an end, we played one of the more competitive, legendary games of “Apples to Apples” that I am sure to see in this lifetime. By the time of the games climax, after nearly :90 minutes of fierce play, all 7 players held 3 green apple cards (it takes 4 to win). I knew I could not win, as I was serving as “the judge” on the last hand. My choice of best match for “Worthless” would determine the winner of this marathon of ups and downs, comebacks and early leads gone wrong. I’ll let you decide who the winner may have been, but I can tell you it wasn’t Erin… or me … or Larry (Ok, it was Patrick).
We arose this morning (Monday, September 30) to say a very early goodbye to the kids, who are off to school, and to Larry and Mari before Larry’s long commute to Boston for most of the week. I can’t say I wasn’t a bit misty eyed after such a long, complete and blissful weekend. I would wish this weekend on anyone I love. I can only hope and pray that it would be long before we see the Henry’s, and the great State of Maine, once again. Thank you, God, for such an incredible, filling week. Thanks for following along with it, dear readers.
p.s. This is the Henry’s Dog, Clarence Henry. Clarence is a huge sweetheart and enjoys nosing in on food, sleeping A LOT, and patrolling the Henry estate for foxes and other invaders. You see him here in one of his favorite resting positions. Oh, Clarence! We will miss you so (understated weekend MVP!)