Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 20, 2017

© D. James Sahlas

Dr Chiavaras and twin daughters Eleni and Sophia explore a portion of the park’s 200 kilometres of trails.

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I prescribe a trip to Mount Desert Island

A neurologist and his wife, a radiologist, rediscover the summer vacations of her youth, and bring their kids along for the ride

My lovely wife Meg grew up in a small town in central Massachusetts and has fond memories of summer vacations spent with her extended family in nearby Maine. It was natural for us then to explore the region after we got married and had children of our own. While the entire state is known for its natural beauty, the part we fell in love with and keep returning to is Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park and a veritable trove of unforgettable experiences.

Once home to many Wabanaki Indians, the island was first described by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who named it Île des Monts Déserts for the bare, granite peaks visible from quite a distance out at sea.

The whole of northeast Maine started out as part of the French colony of Acadia before falling under British rule as a county within the territory of Nova Scotia. Most of eastern Maine was also regarded as a district of Massachusetts by the United States and the border between the two countries was only finalized in 1842, by which time Maine had become the 23rd state.

Park it here

On our first family trip to Mount Desert Island in the summer of 2010, we rented a cottage near the pretty town of Southwest Harbor (acadiachamber.com), a small enclave of tranquility inhabited by some of the friendliest people my wife and I have ever met.

Although there are certainly fine restaurants and quaint eateries to choose from, we soon became regulars at Sawyer’s Market (344 Main Street, Southwest Harbor; tel: 207-244-3315; sawyersmarket.com) on Main Street, which sells fresh fish and other seafood, made to order cuts of meat, and locally grown and organic produce which provided us with the welcome opportunity to do most of our own meal preparation.

Days typically started with a planned excursion to explore the natural wonders of Acadia National Park (nps.gov/acad; admission US$5 per person, US$20 per vehicle, valid for seven days). The park is a hiker’s paradise, with a diversity of trails for everyone, from young children to seasoned climbers. Some of our highlights include swimming with a family of ducks in pristine Echo Lake, enjoying the seaside trails along rocky little peninsulas and secluded coves, cavorting among the waves at Sand Beach, and visiting awesome Thunder Hole, where spumes of roaring surf are ejected from deep within a cavernous inlet to the delight of onlookers.

Perhaps one of the most exhilarating features of Mount Desert Island is the sweeping vista of neighbouring islands and the surrounding ocean that you encounter while hiking the mountainous terrain. The highest point at 470 metres is Cadillac Mountain, named after Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, who later went on to found the city of Detroit. That’s right, the Cadillac automobile is also named after him, so it’s perhaps fitting that most people drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain. But don’t worry: there’s still plenty of room to roam around the summit or have a picnic, and the 360-degree view is worth it.

Activities, attractions, ice cream

The national park service organizes lots of activities for youngsters, including the junior ranger program, which teaches kids ecological principles and respect for the outdoors. Although intended for slightly older kids, our five-year-old son and his three-year-old twin sisters loved participating. Upon completion of a workbook and certain activities, the newly minted junior ranger is presented with a badge by a real park ranger at an informal swearing-in ceremony at the main visitor centre; another big highlight of our first family trip to the island.

Acadia National Park is also known for its charming network of carriage roads used for hiking, biking and even taking a lazy horse-drawn carriage ride to the historic Jordan Pond House (tel: 207-276-3316; thejordanpondhouse.com) for tea and popovers, a delicious, steaming hot, muffin-shaped roll topped with fruit and whipped cream. The outdoor seating overlooks an absolutely idyllic setting and the restaurant also serves freshly squeezed lemonade, homemade ice cream and a full menu of Atlantic seafood.

During our visits, we also often drive over to Bar Harbor (barharborinfo.com), on the northeast side of the island, in the late afternoon. The town is named after the small, neighbouring Bar Island, which one can stroll to via a land bridge when the tide is low. The island gets separated from the mainland when the tide rolls in and, as you might expect, each year there are unlucky folks who get stranded, or worse, whose cars get submerged while attempting an ill-advised trip back to town.

Bar Harbor has lots of unique attractions including the Abbe Museum of the Wabanaki Nations, the Atlantic Brewing Company and the Mount Desert Oceanarium. There are several ice cream shops, including CJ’s Big Dipper (150 Main Street, Bar Harbor; tel: 207-288-2128) near the town’s main grassy square, where black raspberry is a family favourite. There are also plenty of boutiques and little shops to poke around in like the Mystery Cove Book Shop, and art galleries showcasing local talent.

lthough whale watching tours and other such outings are possible, our favourite excursion by far was Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theatre (tel: 212-209-3370; divered.com; adults US$40, kids under 12 US$30, under 5 US$15). The two-hour boat cruise takes place aboard Diver Ed’s pride and joy, the Starfish Enterprise.

After Ed gets suited up, he asks kids to push him overboard. They can then explore the ocean floor along with him through an audio link and underwater cameras, while his wife, Captain Evil, provides interpretive narration. Ed gathers various sea creatures and brings them back onboard for passengers to get a closer look and feel in his touch tanks, before returning the denizens of the deep to their home.

All in the family

On our most recent visit to Mount Desert Island last summer, we rented a beautiful cottage right on the water and spent mornings watching the sunrise over the Atlantic while the kids were still in bed. Sometimes, the early morning fog would remain impenetrable for several hours, lending a timeless and ghostly quality to our surroundings. Our children loved exploring the tide pools along the rocky shoreline and going out on the dock to cast fishing lines. At the end of the day, the long summer evenings were spent eating s’mores around a campfire under the stars.

In keeping with tradition, my wife’s family has come up to join us for a small reunion each time we’ve rented a cottage. Her parents delight in spending time with their grandchildren and on our last trip, her brother introduced us to the daughter of a good friend, who works as a lobster fisherman on the island. The following evening, we feasted on a crateful of lobsters, crabs and clams that we steamed in a giant kettle on the barbecue. We then cooked them up a variety of ways and even made mouth-watering chive, goat cheese and lobster omelettes the next morning!

Eventually, the time always comes to start packing up in order to begin the long drive home, but each spring we begin to yearn once again for the sounds of the ocean, the sights of the rugged landscape and the smells of the forested hills. We’ll be heading back again this year.

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Comments

Showing 1 comments

  1. On July 15, 2013, edward rawling said:
    nice story well told of a active family enjoying natures awesome views.

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