An Ocean Inside Me

Written By: James Barracca

Two weeks after Jamaica, I was back on the road again, Kerouac style, this time to Bar Harbor, Maine, in search of the changing Autumn leaves, reminded again of another Bob Marley lyric: “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.”

Living on Long Island, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the changing seasons, and although a committed summer aficionado, the beauty and allure of the fall kaleidoscope of leaves inexplicably called me in towards safety, like a bright beacon from a distant lighthouse.  In years past, I had taken this miracle for granted, absorbed more so in the density of urban crawl than in actually taking the time to see the magnificent colors of nature’s transformation.  Yet, ever since my retirement, I felt beckoned to understand why God would choose to make the leaves transform into magnificent colors only to have them loosen, flutter freely to the ground and die. Never a zealous church-goer, I always considered myself closely aligned to a strong moral compass, maintaining a belief in all that is good and righteous, but that level of devotion would soon escalate while praying in church one Sunday seeking His help and intervention through a difficult period in my life.  Although the immediate path He chose for me was not one I would have taken, I soon realized He had provided me with a personal road map to help achieve life’s ultimate fulfillment: Peace.  Thus, in some weird and wonderful way, the changing leaves have come to represent my own spiritual growth, a time to let go and release things that have been a burden, a constant reminder that nature’s cycles are indeed mirrored in our lives.

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights;
it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent,
in the ideas of living.”
– Miriam Beard

So, I flew into Portland, rented a car and drove the two and half hours to Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor, the second-largest island on the eastern seaboard behind Long Island, making sure to travel the most scenic route along the coast in order to fully take in the striking colors of the Autumn leaves.

I was initially attracted to Bar Harbor for its world renowned ambiance, the perfect combination of a coastal seashore community conjoined with its symbiotic twin, Acadia National Park. A lifestyle community like many located on the eastern shores of L.I., it’s a place where people live in aspiration and complete harmony with the land they inhabit.  Many who have lived there are artists or writers who have sought its beauty as a means for creative inspiration and intellectual stimulation, much like Shinnecock’s William Merrit Chase or Sagaponack’s Matthiessen, while others have sought to live a more humble existence making their living fishing the nearby waters.  Billy Joel sang in the persona of the impoverished Long Island Bayman where he referenced the difficulties of trying to make ends meet in “The Downeaster ‘Alexa,” while struggling to keep ownership of a lobster type fishing boat built in the style of those found in “downeast Maine.” The context of his lyrics draw many Long Island parallels to the fishing village of Bar Harbor, the title itself considered to be the place in which it is geographically located.  Joel also referenced the difficulties East-enders like himself have endured as a result of the rapid conversion from the laid-back inconspicuous summer retreat it once was, to the expensive summer colony it has become catering to the affluent.  While Bar Harbor has “Millionaires’ Row,” a line of summer estates built for America’s richest and most powerful families, Long Islanders have Southampton’s Meadow Lane similarly known as, “Billionaires’ Lane.

Having been brought up minutes from the coastal shoreline, I am forever attracted to the mystical healing powers of the ocean.  The briny taste of salt water runs deeply in my veins creating an ocean inside me.  The sound of crashing waves underscore the soothing background rhythms of my personal soundtrack, while the abundant availability of fresh shellfish, clams, mussels, oysters, scallops and lobster, provide me with the soulful sustenance to withstand the harsh winter days of hibernation.  There is nothing more ethereal than enjoying a freshly shucked, sweet and silken Peconic Bay Scallop just harvested from the waters between the twin forks, savoring the now ubiquitous Blue Point Oyster raw and on the half shell, or diving into a bucket full of steamers enjoyed at many of the picturesque waterfront restaurants that dot Long Island’s vast 400 mile shoreline.  Wherever I have traveled, I have vowed to adhere to a culinary pact: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” eating, drinking, and indulging in everything locally harvested. It’s not only an integral part of the whole-soul experience; it is a unique porthole that enables me to peer into the history and lifestyle of the people who live there. 

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs,
fear the religion and avoid the people,
you might better stay home.”
– James A. Michener

It would only stand to reason that a journey to Mount Desert Island, with all its rugged beauty and natural wonders, was the perfect elixir. When I had finally reached Bar Harbor however, the sugar maples had yet to reach their full bright hues of yellow, orange and crimson, even though the peak season had arrived the same week the past two years. It seemed that nature, in all of its infinite glory, had different plans this time around.

Deciding to switch directions in search of tranquility, I awoke the following morning at 4am in anticipation of being amongst the first in the US to view the sunrise from high atop Cadillac Mountain.  Driving along the meandering Summit Road in the morning darkness alongside the steep cliffs while small patches of fog had yet to lift was precarious, especially with no other cars ahead of me to follow. When I had finally reached the summit, I was surprised to see dozens of other vehicles had already made the trip. Although I had dressed accordingly for the frigid temperatures, the howling winds were relentless and my hat, gloves and scarf failed to keep me warm.  Sleepy headed couples were huddled close to each other for warmth, scattered all about the face of the mountain, some behind large pink granite boulders, while others, seemingly impervious to the cold, sought the best vantage points in which to view the panoramic beauty of the rising sun as it illuminated the waters of Frenchman’s Bay below. Professional photographers -or those who thought they were- precariously perched themselves close to the cliffs edge, their tripods supporting expensive, difficult-to-use cameras with shutter speeds calibrated to record every second of the sun’s ascension.  I had found that whether I was photographing Michelangelo’s David, the great masterpieces of Renoir at The Musee d’Orsay, the towering Cliffs Of Moher, or of the seals huddled together at Long Island’s Cupsogue Beach (much like the people gathered on Cadillac), when I viewed the world through a restrictive eyepiece, it confined my ability to see the true intrinsic beauty of the objects before me; rather, I was focused more intently on ensuring I had the perfectly framed shot in my lens.

“Why can’t we be content to live in the here and now, to savor those very moments that feed our souls? Do we really need to memorialize them in photos, to view them in snapshots, sometimes years later after which the thrill of the moment has long vanished?”

Yet, as everyone anxiously waited with cameras focused on the exact spot the horizon began to appear brighter, I found myself poised with my iPhone held high.  By now, the side of the mountain was packed with hundreds of bystanders waiting to see the spectacular flash of morning glory serenely set against the panoramic background of land and sea.  From that vantage point, I knew that it was indeed a special place to be, especially the moment the flaming orange globe began to peek its head ever so slowly above the distant horizon.  Suddenly, the howling winds stopped and the only thing heard was not the expected sound of clicking cameras; rather, it was the consoling sounds of our own beating hearts.  I left speechless that morning, knowing all of us assembled atop Cadillac Mountain were lifted to an even higher place than we had hoped.

“If we were doomed to live forever,
we would scarcely be aware of the beauty around us.”
– Peter Matthiessen

Days later, I was hiking trails through Montauk’s Camp Hero State Park. Perched atop the eroding bluffs, I could see the historic lighthouse. Panning the wide expanse, the sun set majestically, casting a pinkish glow across the glimmering ocean. Below, a lone Razorbill silently dove….

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
– Ibn Battuta