Through a newcomer's eyes

By Karen Brace | Aug 25, 2016

This is the time of year when friends and relatives from away appreciate that we live on the coast of Maine. Cooler temperatures, a frequent sea breeze and the views are of course the most appealing factors, as well as good company… a free place to stay in the guest room of a relative’s house doesn't hurt either.

Being a host has a fortunate aspect in that these visits cause us to stop what we’re doing and take a break ourselves. We can play tourist. When we do so, we find ourselves looking at our hometown with a fresh perspective, through the eyes of a person who may not have been here before, or those of a visitor who for months looks forward to a stay in Camden. It's amazing how much we discover through a newcomer’s eyes.

A regular visit I always look forward to is that of my Godmother. (I named her “Marigold” when I was a child because I wasn’t able to say “Margaret”.) Marigold drives all the way from Pennsylvania by herself to spend a week with us during blueberry season.

This year a treat during her visit, in addition to the abundant crop of blueberries, was to ride aboard the Lively Lady. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a large lobster boat that takes passengers on one-hour trips from Camden’s Public Landing. An incentive for the cruise was that my sister's oldest child Annie works on the boat as the principle tour guide. She helps to haul the traps, explains lobsters and the craft of lobstering in detail, and offers history of the islands and shoreside homes. Capt. Dominic chimes in, explaining the geography of the Bay. Some of the stories I heard that day I hadn’t known through all my years growing up here, and all my hours on the Bay. For instance, did you know that the rocks you see sticking up out of the water out at “The Graves” are actually boulders that the Coast Guard placed there long ago to mark them? Whale oil lamps were the alternative to mark the hidden ledges at the time, but getting close enough to refill and relight lamps was much too dangerous. At Annie’s age I’d caught dozens of mackerel around The Graves, but I'd never heard the story she shared with us as we passed by them during the cruise.

What a great summer job: my niece had become well-educated on lobsters, pulling them boldly out of the trap that the Captain had hauled and measuring them deftly. The teenager patiently described how to know whether a lobster needed to be thrown back and why. She found a female with eggs and notched its tail, then assisted a young child in tossing the permanently protected female back over the gunwale. After Annie’s explanation of the parts of the trap, these children who were aboard knew that kitchens and parlors are not only rooms in human houses. Spending that summer afternoon as a visitor to my own hometown was memorable on several levels.

We returned to a bustling harbor, where classic sailing yachts had arrived to participate in Lyman Morse’s Camden Classics race; where Windjammers, day sailors, Zodiacs and kayakers passed; and where launches shuttled passengers to and from vessels. We walked to one of the nearby restaurants where we've sat many summers before and as is common during these months, I recognized the waitstaff but hardly any customers. Those from away probably assumed I was a visitor too. I was playing the part well.

The experience of playing visitor made me wonder if those who are just passing through take away an impression of Camden as seafood and sailing, or whether they might gain an awareness of the Camden that the locals know: the incredible film and music culture that thrives year-round, our four-season recreational assets, the fascinating conferences that come to us three times a year — greatly enriching the lives of students, visitors and residents. I wonder if they know our downtown economy is consistent all 12 months of the year, or that we host major festivals during February, not to mention over the holidays. I doubt they have any inkling that the five-town school system is unparalleled, attracting top-notch educators and an increasing number of young families who call Camden home. Those just passing through may not realize that Camden is home to five private schools, as well as many retirees who've held high-ranking careers. And, I wondered if they saw why so many of us never left home. The latter they probably did.

I'd recommend to any local a trip on a day sailor or M/V Lively Lady. Participating in the heritage of our Windjammer Festival ( will refresh your depth of knowledge about our town’s maritime heritage. Or take a hike or bike ride on one of the mountain’s new trails. If you haven't played tourist in a while, it's simple to take a moment or two to walk around the harbor from Sea Street through Harbor Park, or ride up Mt. Battie at daybreak. As added incentive, if a friend from away hasn't visited you yet this season, scour your address book — there's still time to invite someone!

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Aug 25, 2016 17:06

Karen, such a true picture of Maine as it is and especially Camden by the sea! Just reading this brings on nostalgia. Here now in AZ I find the desert interesting but no substitute for the Sea Coast and surrounding mountains.But God's beauty is here as well as there. Thanks for the reminders.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever

If you wish to comment, please login.