Volume I - No. 5
NATURALIST CRUISES OF ACADIA
By Maurice Sullivan,
"Directly astern of this boat you will see a bit of land emerging as the tide ebbs. That is the bar which connects Bar Island with Mount Desert Island, giving the island its name of Bar Island and the town we just left the name of Bar Harbor. 'You see the bar, but the harbor isn't,' so the sailors say."
Thus run the opening remarks of the Ranger-Naturalist guiding some, seventy-odd tourists visiting Acadia National Park, the only National Park that smells of the sea and has the "Down East" flavor. The Ranger-Naturalist continues: "At high tide the captain can pilot this big boat over that bar, but when we return in three and a half or four hours, one could drive his automobile from one island to the other." Then follows a story of people who have misjudged the tide and were stranded for several hours on Bar Island, and a story of the woman whose car stalled on the bar between the islands and was completely covered by the tide. The big tidal range of ten or more feet is explained and the white line of high tide barnacles pointed out on the pilings of the town pier.
At this stage a chart is passed around and the course of the Naturalist's Sea Cruise is outlined. The uniformed Naturalist explains that this free Ranger-Naturalist guide service is part of the regular program in all organized national parks. By this time the large roomy boat has passed the metamorphic rock outcrops near the town's sand beach; the origin and structure of such rocks are explained and attention is called to the large glacial erratics along the shore.
"The little cottage just peeking from behind the trees is the first summer cottage ever built in Bar Harbor." This time it is the voice of Captain Parker, a typical old salt with very grey hair and a pair of Frenchman Bay blue eyes made bluer by the tanner complexion. The first mate steers the boat, carefully dodging lobster buoys, while the captain tells about this estate and that estate, many of the owners being of national or international importance. Near Bar Harbor the estates are relatively close together, but after the Dorrance property each commands more shore frontage.
"Far back in the trees is 'Old Farm', the estate of George B. Dorr, father of Acadia National Park. Mr. Dorr is one of the aristocrats who has spent much of his life and part of his fortune establishing the park." Again it is Captain Parker speaking. As soon as the Captain stops, the Naturalist takes up the story with bits of geology, pointing out the mountains, answering questions, or telling about Old Sol, for whom Sol's Cliffs are named.
"Porpoises on the starboard," the first mate sings out, and everyone rushes en masse to the rail to watch them. Fortunately, the craft is so designed that eighty people can stand on one side without upsetting the boat. In fact, the old Narmada scarcely lists, but keeps an even keel regardless of where the crowd is. Drinking water, sanitation facilities, comfortable seats and plenty of space in which to walk around are conveniences for visitors. Three big engines, powerful pumps, a life preserver for every passenger, a big lifeboat, and a skilled crew assure safety.
The boat cruises on past Arthur Train's estate, past Potter Palmer's, Joseph Pulitzer's magnificent place, past Schooner Head. Near Anemone Cave the route swings eastward toward Egg Rock, past Ironbound Island with its bold cliffs and many nesting fish hawks, which fly harmlessly overhead whistling in great anxiety. Ahead of the boat sea pigeons, or Black Guillemots, laboriously rise from the water, trailing their crimson legs be hind them. Terns, Herring Gulls, Cormorants, occasionally a Great Black-backed Gull or a Loon add to the ornithological interest. On Long Porcupine Island is a heronry, where hundreds of Great Blue Herons rear their young, which decorate the tops of the spruce trees like some Christmas tree ornament.
"I see him! I see him!" And another mad scramble follows as all rush to see the big bald eagle which is just taking off for less crowded regions. It is one of the high spots of the trip, because some have made the trip expecially to see their national bird in an untamed state. The Natural Bridge is passed and a dozen or more cameras click as the Captain carefully pilots the boat so that the stern swings around just opposite the Bridge.
Now all eyes are searching for the eagle's nest. As the boat cruises past the Ranger-Naturalist points out the two young eagles perched in a tree close by the nest. They have just left the nest, but are nearly as large as the parents and may weigh more. Again cameras click.
The feature that makes the Naturalist's Sea Cruise delightfully unique among the sightseeing trips is not that the trip lasts twice as long, but the fact that the party lands on Burnt Porcupine Island, one of the uninhabited islands lying in Frenchman's Bay. By sixes and sevens the passengers are rowed ashore in large flat-bottomed boats that slide right upon the sheltered beach.
The tide is low and starfish, sea urchins, crabs, snails, barnacles, mussels, sea anemones, sponges, Isopods, Hydriods, and many other animals and plants crowd the inter-tidal zone. Competition and survival of the fittest are easy to teach to the interested. Problems of food, anchorage, protection are discussed. The lowly organisms take on meaning for the traveler. Starfish are turned upside down and allowed to right themselves in a tide pool before the watchful eyes of many who have never seen a living starfish before.
Old snail shells, crab shells, eagle feathers, rocks, bits of rounded glass join the cruise as souvenirs destined to travel back home to be shown to mother, dad, sister, brother, or friend, who could not come. Of course, these "souvenirs" could not be gathered in the National Park, but burnt Porcupine Island is privately owned and the supply of old shells is renewed each time by the crows, gulls and ravens which carry the shells ashore where they feast on the contents.
It is 12 o'clock and the cruise is about over. The Naturalist tells about other boat trips, the auto caravan, hikes, campfire programs, all-day sailboat trips, as the Narmada passes private yachts, Coast Guard cutters, and other boats lying at anchor. The passengers pay the Captain a dollar for the all-morning cruise and thank the Naturalist for all the things they have learned. Thus ends one of the most novel trips any National Park offers.
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