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There’s still time to enjoy a bit of summer in Maine

There’s something about the light in Maine. Maybe it’s the way it hides inside morning fog along the Muscongus Bay or how it illuminates stunted spruce on rocky ledges. But I’m guessing it’s the quiet of an island and the great expanse of sea that pulls the light deep against moss-covered paths and cathedral pine. It’s a fall day along the coast of Maine and we are hiking on a hushed Monhegan Island after the summer season. Our only company are careening seagulls and migrating gannets.

Burnthead, Whitehead, Pulpit Rock, Green Point–every named crag and cove with wild land and rising tide. We hike along the cliff trail and stop multiple times to watch for flapping sun fish along Pebble Beach and sunning seals on ledges near Deadman’s Cove, and eventually we end up, like most of the island, at Monhegan Brewery. It’s an oasis of microbrews with an outdoor lounge made of blue-wire lobster trap tables, chairs and sitting benches.

“What do you do on Monhegan?” a day-tripper asks the bartender.

“I don’t know,” he says. “But it takes all day.”

After a long Happy Hour afternoon, we head to the Island Inn, which holds itself like a queen against granite cliffs. With its wide expanse of wraparound porch, its draping Adirondack chairs over a green hillside, and sea breeze blowing sheer curtains from windows, it’s a welcome sight after a six-hour hike and sun-filled afternoon. After a dip at Swim Beach, we find chairs on the porch. With layers of pink, purple, and with the shadowed Manana Island blinking with firefly, the sun sets in silence and sky fills with stars.

That night, we dine in the art-filled restaurant, and it is sea-to-table elegance, complete with candlelight and BYOB wines. Michael and Jaye, the owners, stop by the table, and they introduce us to the artist-in-residence, Rick Daskam.

“We are sitting inside our hike today,” I say, pointing to Daskam’s tableside paintings, which feature black cliff, exposed tree roots, and all with light staining sea in shades of blue and green.

“The moon will rise over Manana Island, tonight,” he says, smiling. “Wait for it.”

We decide to spend time eating. We start with heirloom beets, arugula, figs, and balsamic reduction, and then we head in different directions, with Brian choosing a beautiful Frutti di Mare of mussels, clams, scallops, prawns, halibut, roasted tomatoes, while I pick mixed grill of salmon, scallops, prawns with saffron cauliflower and asparagus. Over a shared blueberry cobbler with ginger ice cream, we watch the moon illuminate Manana Island.

We are up early, for a morning kayak along Fish Cove, and then a visit to the Monhegan Museum, for the Maud Briggs Knowlton exhibit (one of the first women to paint on Monhegan). We make the late afternoon ferry back to the mainland, and it’s a quick two-hour drive inland to the Belgrade Lakes Region. We’ve still got more summer to enjoy.

Because we are now in land of loons and lakes, and there’s a canoe in front of us, we decide to take it out for sunset. The Village Inn, our “camp” for the next two nights, has a classic “in the middle of the lakes” location, with Great Pond a paddle away, and Long Pond, in front, with a series of coves and shaded nooks. Our Old Town canoe drifts into a calm cove of Great Pond, and we look for the pop-up of black head and dash of white neck. The cove is dark and smooth, and suddenly, two loons appear, but quickly disappear, when seeing us peering for them with binoculars. In the distance, we hear the plaintive cry of a lone loon, beautifully eerie in the dimming light. We glide toward the cry and then behind us, three loons call in alternating reply. One rises-up to flap its wings while another dips below the surface. The moon rises against the candlelit windows of the Village Tavern.

We sit window-side, still hearing loon call in the distance.

“The loons are our children, our neighbors, our friends,” the waitress tells us. She’s lived on Great Pond for thirty years in a lakeside cabin built by her great-great grandfather. “They are our history.”

A couple at the next table tell us they’ve been coming to Belgrade for thirty years. “Just to hear those glorious loons,” they both say in unison.

We snack on fried pickles and dilly beans with garlic and dill. After salads, we both choose cod with bok choy, coconut rice and lemongrass beurre blanc. For dessert, a warm blueberry cobbler.

The next day is lakeside, alternating between kayaking and swimming and burgers from the outdoor grill. That evening, a band plays “all things summer” with locals and out of towners singing along to Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” and of course, “Summertime” by Ella Fitzgerald. The loons don’t seem to mind our off-key renditions, even when we sing past dusk. They know we’re holding onto summer.