Regular readers of North by NorthEast may recall my March or April column from a few years ago extolling the geographic location of the Rangeley Region and our proximity to some very interesting destinations for a long weekend or more within an easy 4 to 4 1/2-hour drive.

If those regular readers don’t recall every word of the column, they might remember the photo that accompanied the words. To make my point a bit more graphic (and inclusive), I enlisted a AAA road map of Maine. I drew an approximate 200-mile radius centered on the town of Rangeley with a Sharpie pen. To make that close-up photo of a Maine map centered on Rangeley a bit more interesting, I placed a very small likeness of a bull moose squarely over the Rangeley Region. Now do you remember the column?

Within that radius, three very interesting cities stood out. Boston, MA, Montreal, Que., and Quebec’ City, Que. Fortunately, that Maine map included enough of the province of Quebec, Canada to show a number of interesting destinations along the St. Lawrence River in addition to those two lively and fascinating cities of French culture, architecture, and much more.

Also within that circle lay interesting small cities such as Portland, ME and Burlington, VT….and many smaller towns and natural locations. Plenty of interesting and easily reachable places to choose from, was my point. Late spring, summer, and fall seasons followed to access many short travel options.

Which brings us to January, 2021 and its seemingly option-less safe travel options, given a) Covid-19 restrictions, b) a “closed-to-Americans” border with Canada, and c) the fact that we find ourselves in the dead of winter. Add the big D)… many closed and/or crowded indoor spaces that are more likely to be “hotspots” among less-than-vigilant people for Covid virus transmission, and therefore are best to be avoided for travel or other recreational purposes.

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? No wonder increased symptoms of mild to severe depression are accompanying a more widespread seasonal cabin-fever compounded by a set of sensible recommendations designed to help fight a pandemic…and it makes one want to step outside and scream at the trees: WHAT AM I TO DO???

Actually, stepping outside is a good first step! Outdoor activities, if you are physically able, are a sensible and safe option. Where better to keep a safe distance from others than the great outdoors….even in winter. Dress appropriately for the elements and take a walk…or a modified walk with snowshoes or cross-country skis or ice skates.

Or…don that important mask and recreate outside in a more equipment-requiring venue such as a) Our fine downhill ski area, Saddleback…or b) Climb aboard a snowmobile and access the many local trails, if an internal combustion engine rather than gravity is your preference to more easily get from Point A to Point B.

Bottom line: There is no better place to recreate safely outdoors within that big circle on the map than right here in the Rangeley Region. We don’t need Canada, or other Maine/Northern New England locations for clearing our minds amid the snowy outdoors in winter. Nowhere are there better options than right where we are!

That said, we all know that a day trip down country for 2 and a half hours or less now and then, is good for the mind and if combined with an interesting walk, the body as well. If combined with an errand and/or appointment…it checks off additional “needs to be done” elements to add to the rewards of a day well-spent.

It is a given that if one lives around here… one must make trips to Farmington now and then…spaced out to when we can tick off at least three or four items on our “to do” list. How about planning a bit more time that day of errands to walk around the lovely town center of Farmington and follow their attractive signage-guided walking tour of the town’s historical sites? We haven’t done that yet, but we plan to within the next two or three months. Again, it’s good for both the body and soul…and it also shortens that list on the refrigerator door.

What got my mind on this topic was our recent (dual) 6-month teeth-cleaning appointments at our long-time dentists’ office in Portland. The following is an accounting of our day…and what added up to be another rejuvenating, Covid-safe, and well-spent day, thanks to a bit of planning:

We left the frozen west shore of Gull Pond at 8 a.m., face masks in hand. This allowed for a quick stop at Reny’s in Farmington to efficiently pick up those 4 or 5 items that just can’t be procured anywhere else… and get to the dentist’s office for our 11:30 a.m. appointments. Like all of our other three brief stops, those 30-45 minute dental hygienist appointments had very good Covid-safe protocols in place.

At about 12 noon we were back in our car outside the dentist’s office located in a lovely converted old Victorian house in a pleasant Portland neighborhood. Having packed a lunch, we sat in the car and while consuming sandwiches with very clean teeth, and firmed up our plan on how to spend the afternoon.

Cape Elizabeth is often on our schedule since we lived, and raised our two sons, there for twenty-one years. We thought about driving to the southern end of The Cape where we lived near Crescent Beach State Park… and walk the 3/4 mile-long beach to our family “sitting rock” (a large and handsome granite “glacial erratic” resting on the seaweed-laden ledges) shortly before the breakwater between Richmond Island and the mainland. The shortening time remaining and the early January sundown caused us to look to option #2.

It had been a while since we last walked the improved paths of Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park…known by many as the site of Maine’s most famous lighthouse, Portland Head Light. It was closer, plus to get there we would be driving right past The Cape’s iconic old pastry shop, “The Cookie Jar” on Shore Road….home of the world’s finest raspberry jelly-filled, and powdered sugar-coated, doughnuts (you can call our sons in Colorado and ask them if that is true…they will, most assuredly, concur)!

Looking westerly through the shipping channel to (L to R) Portland’s East End, South Portland’s Spring Point Light, and the iconic Fort Gorges Allen Wicken

It was a lovely, sunny day…and the fine walkways above the coastal ledges (see photos), have certainly been improved in the past couple of years. We even walked over to what I and a good friend, John Mollica, dubbed the Mollica/Wicken Tennis Court…once hidden in the trees and brush on high ground behind the old Officer’s Row and overlooking the lighthouse. Few knew about it. We considered it ours. It was the site of our Saturday morning singles matches that were highlighted by a stop in play whenever a ship passed by Portland Head. This stoppage allowed us to fully appreciate our very special tennis court. Of note is the transformative fact that the court is now half of four newly fenced and re-surfaced and painted pickleball courts. The only constant is change.

We discussed the old fort’s parade grounds where each of our son’s high school graduation ceremonies were held. Fortunately weather permitted both of their graduations at the fort rather than the high school gymnasium. What a memorable place for their ceremonies overlooking the sea.

Our planned drive home took us over the Casco Bay Bridge and to our favorite seafood source on Commercial Street (see photos)…Again, another establishment with very good Covid protocol. We got home in the dark, but in spite of that, there was complete agreement that it was a very productive, and very rejuvenating, day.

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.
Garrison Keillor

Respect science, respect nature,
respect each other, and respect the truth.

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome. Fire off a Covid-safe email to [email protected]

Interior of same, with very helpful signage for lobster-purchasing Allen Wicken

Exterior of “Free Range Fish and Lobster” on Commercial Street Allen Wicken

Allen Wicken

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