INTERMISSION: Random Moments of Beauty

I am at last about to make the Big Announcement.  And after that I even have a few new posts---the sort that keep some of you coming back---lined up in the queue.  But for the moment, I'm finishing an article for New York Social Diary, and organizing the drum roll for the B.A.  So, in the meantime, (or is it meanwhile?), I offer a scenic intermission.

Last week up here was nothing short of astonishing.  Summer weather, in the seventies, in Maine, in March.  It was shirtsleeves and shorts weather, yet there were no leaves on the trees, no boats--save a few lobster boats--in the bays and harbors.  No tourists or summer folk on the street, no lines at the Restaurants, no gallery openings.  Nothing but sublime weather.  But appearances can be deceiving.  On another such fluke day in March some thirty years back,  I was deceived by the weather and swam in the ocean, off a beautiful pebble beach. It was, um, bracing.  I'm older and wiser now. Mostly older.

On Thursday, I chanced to find myself on the tip of Naskeag Point in Brooklin.  It is a small peninsula separating Blue Hill Bay from Eggemoggin Reach, one of the country's finest sailing waters.

The very tip of Naskeag point, a pink gravel beach, looking West, give or take
And from the same spot, looking in the other direction, East to Blue Hill bay
The next day, a little later in the afternoon on remote Petit Manan Point, further Down East, in a more spartan Maine.  This part of New England was once part of New France, and the names bestowed by Champlain, before Jamestown or the Mayflower, survive.
Lobster is the big industry on Petit Manan Point.  Here, lobster traps at the ready on a dock.  Left, to the East, is Bois Bubert Island, over the horizon, Portugal. 

And a little while later on the way home, a detour to Grindstone Neck.  This is the view East from Grindstone
And the view West across Frenchman's Bay, with Mt. Desert Island in the distance
Years ago, Mel Gibson filmed a movie up here---Man Without a Face.  A friend went to see it, and mentioned how extraordinary it was to look at the landscapes we see every day, perhaps even take for granted,  on the big screen, and how world class, they really are.  The distance by car between Naskeag and Petit Manan is only slightly over an hour, yet between those two points, I could have taken photographs of a thousand spots of astonishing beauty---many of scenes far more dramatic and spectacular than these.  And I never take them for granted.

To all those who ask how we survive the winters up here, this is your answer.  But remind me next February.



A friend kindly took me on an architectural walk around Sorrento, a small summer colony developed in the late 19th century far up the Down East Coast. It is a community of many scenic and architectural wonders, not the least of which is the view across Frenchman's Bay to Bar Harbor and the Mount Desert Hills, as magnificent a bit of scenery as exists on the eastern seaboard (click HERE for that view)

Among the houses we passed was this rambling Victorian summer cottage high on a bluff.  It was once owned by Civil War General John Schofield,  who was later Secretary of War and Commanding General of the United States Army.  Its blue shutters particularly caught my eye.   Paneled board shutters are common features of cottages up here.  They usually are decorated with cut out silhouettes of an appropriate Down East motif--sailboats, spruce trees, ship's anchors, etc.   These however, feature a most un-Down East motif --- a surfer riding a wave, not a frequent sight on our rockbound section of coast. (my guide told me that the family who occupied the house in the 1930's also had a house in Hawaii.)

Delightful, no? 



I had occasion to be on the College of the Atlantic campus in Bar Harbor yesterday, on a decidedly indirect route to an appointment in Northeast Harbor.  The College, with a curriculum emphasis on environmental issues, occupies several former gilded age summer estates along the Eden Street shore.  Before acquisition by the college, these properties have had varying fates---one was until recently occupied by the woman who had gone there as a young bride in the 1920s, another was abandoned and ready for demolition until the nascent college rescued it in the 1970s, yet another, the present subject, had been a monastery of the Oblate Fathers, along with the site of its long demolished neighbor, Beau Desert, the Augustus Gurnee estate by William Ralph Emerson, since the 1940's.  

Several of the college's estates had very grand garden schemes, by some of the most prominent designers of the era.  Remnants of those gardens survive, romantic in their desuetude, little resembling their former lushly planted, groomed and manicured selves.   Students often take on restoration of one of these gardens as projects, but with little sense of design history or intent, the results are charmingly tatty---and of course, students graduate, and move on---and the campus has many student landscape projects left in stasis.  I hardly criticize these good intentions---though I would love to get my hands on the myself, straightening and pruning and restoring vistas and edges, I cannot deny that there is real charm in how they have morphed into campus use, rather than disappearing completely, as have so many others.  (But still...)
Guy's Cliff c. 1880. (Photograph courtesy of Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Rights reserved)
Guy's Cliff was originally a large stick style style cottage, built on a granite outcropping high above Frenchman's Bay.  Later purchased by the Cushman family, who alternated between their Bar Harbor and Newport houses in summer, it was sold in 1926 to prominent attorney James Byrne of New York.   Byrne commissioned Guy Lowell to remodel the fusty wooden house as a Tuscan Villa.  In 1928, the Byrnes hired Beatrix Farrand to design a series of terraced formal gardens, cascading down the steep slope from the long main terrace of the house.  Although less complex, these terraces and their architectural features have much in common with her famous work at Dumbarton Oaks.

Guy's Cliff, c. 1975.
In this view of Guy's Cliff during the Oblate era, the gardens retain original shrubbery and planting, overgrown and beginning to show signs of age and neglect, but still following original design intent.  On the upper terrace can still be seen decorative Soderholtz pots (click HERE for more about the fascinating Mr. Soderholtz)

 The front door at Guy's Cliff.  One reader may recognize herself (MDI Historical Society Collection)
After Mrs. Byrne's death her daughter, Mrs. Walter Lippman, sold the house to the Oblate Fathers.  they removed the tile roof and replaced it with asphalt, installed aluminum frame storm windows, added a flat roof wing behind the ballroom, and the decline began.   A few years after the college purchased the property, Guy's Cliff, used as the library and dining hall, went up in flames, taking with it the Byrnes elegant 3 story spiral stairs with their delicate iron railings and the Chinese scenic papers that had been installed in the 1920s.  Sadly, the fire also burned the photographs stored in the library of the estate in those more glamorous days.   Today, a new library building, using the gardens as an axial focal point, occupies the site.  In late winter, the bones of the original layout, two sets of cascading terraces centered on each end wing of the house, are clearly revealed.

Guy's Cliff ablaze
Trees on the bluff below have obscured the view of one of the Porcupine Islands beyond, originally framed by the vista
The neighboring cottage, 'The Turrets' by Bruce Price, visible from the upper terrace, was screen out in the Byrne's day.
A corner of wall on the far upper terrace
Once carefully defined shapes have become rather more, um, free form, as with this central bed that once surrounded a statue

Once these steps led to carefully maintained lawns, and each shelf would have held a large planting pot