What is it about watching the oceans that makes one nostalgic, remember people and places, and wonder about life? With seagulls careering over our heads I thought about it as we stood at the edge of the Atlantic near the Portland Headlight, a quaint lighthouse.
Portland in the state of Maine is one of the 10 Portlands in the US. A five hour drive from New York, it is a port city that washes away the bustling feel of New York with its first glimpse.
A day in Portland is short, as it is a charming place to visit. A settlement since 1623, it has seen many phases of rebuilding. Today a blend of history and modernity, the best way to describe it would be a vintage town. On a Saturday night in downtown Portland, music, cheer, vibrancy and gaiety float down its cobbled bylanes. Lobsters and lighthouses are the signatures of the city. Lighthouses dot its coastline. The Headlight, the oldest lighthouse in Maine, stands on Cape Elizabeth near the Cosco Bay. It is the most photographed lighthouse. Surrounded by well maintained gardens, remnants of an old fort and the gurgling ocean, it a picnic spot.
From that vantage point many other lighthouses can be seen along the ocean contour. One can lounge in the scenic area for hours with the gentle breeze carrying the whiff of the ocean, which tugs at the heartstrings.
The image of the lobster pops up at the most unexpected places. The creature typifies the region. Lunch that features lobsters in full, in soup, stew or rolls is a must. In downtown Maine, there are a large number of eating places along the coast that offer a variety of lobster preparations, the price depending on what the market gives for the catch on a particular day. In the evenings these places become haunts for the young with loud music. Interestingly, in the downtown area there are no chain restaurants, which are ubiquitous in the US. One has to necessarily eat at a local place, which makes the experience original and refreshing.
From the quiet of the lighthouse, a half hour drive takes one to the Old Orchard Beach. Named after an old apple orchard, the beach has been a place for visitors since 1653. Today it is a snapshot of color, activity, and splashing water. Families sprawl in the sun, kids build castles in the sand, and the adventurous surf on the crashing waves. When we were there it was crowded, bustling and full of life. We walked the shore with our footwear in our hands. The water of the Atlantic was freezing, unlike the warm Indian Ocean. Careful not to break castles of sand or walk over a lazing form, the sense of fun in the place was palpable. Another facet of the ocean was on display, with its waters bringing people together.
There are a lot of other things and places you can visit in this vintage town. There is a museum of the narrow gauge rail road, there is an old Victoria’s mansion, there are walking trails, parks, and lots of nature to see. You can go on a moose-watching tour, as the area has a sizable population of moose. If you are interested in pottery there is a well developed pottery culture and Maine pottery is quite well known. It apparently stems from the fact that the soil has a lot of clay in the area. There is also an area that locks the wishes of love of young and old alike. You can put a lock on the mesh with a wish, opening it when it is fulfilled.
As we began our journey back to New York the next day a beautiful church caught our attention. We stopped and walked towards it. The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, a brick red building with tall spires and great tranquility was shut at that time. We walked around the building taking in the serenity of the structure and its surroundings.
In the distance the seagulls were circling the ocean. As I stood there I understood why the ocean evokes such myriad emotions. In its seeming endlessness and eternity there is movement, life and joy, its waves come and go and its call cannot be ignored. It mirrors our life itself.