One Morning in Maine — a Glimpse at the Real Storybook Setting

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A cove I passed on my drive from Bucks Harbor to North Brooklin.

I grabbed our copy of One Morning in Maine just before we left New Jersey for a 9-hour drive up into the Pine Tree State a few summers back. The paperback, a gift from my mother-in-law, a Mainer, is inscribed in blue pen: Happy 6th, Annie — Love, Grandma.

I reread the 1952 classic by Robert McCloskey on the car ride up, familiarizing myself again with Sal, her mother, father and little sister, Jane. By then, the girl in the back seat of our Honda CR-V was 17, no longer the jolly preschooler who loved every detail of the book.

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A classic heart-warmer from another time, now more soothing than ever. Contact the Owl & Turtle Bookshop Cafe in Camden, ME — another storybook village— to order a copy. www.OwlandTurtle.com

When I saw my brother-in-law John a day later at Eileen and Mike’s fishing camp, he said, You know that town in the book — the one they go to on the boat? Bucks Harbor? It still looks like it did in the book. The one store, the garage where they go to get the boat motor fixed. Brothers-in-law Pat and Mike concurred. (These are all Hurley brothers. Counting Dave, there are four of them up in Belfast, Maine.)

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Illustration of Bucks Harbor from One Morning in Maine. Published 1952, The Viking Press.

I was instantly hooked, and drove there to see for myself one July afternoon in Maine. My husband, Dan Hurley, was walking with Mike, and our daughter (Annie, nickname Figgy) had walked into town, so I went alone. It was about 44 miles to get there, and took over an hour due to road construction stops.

John was right. The simple steeple against the sky, the one single store, even the old garage where Sal and Jane’s dad took the outboard motor to get it fixed…in the story, it’s run by a Mr. Condon. I found an old garage, and a nearby street sign that read “Condons Point Road.” And writing this, I landed on this listing in Brooksville (Bucks Harbor is part of it):

Don Condon & Son Garage
98 Herrick Rd.
Brooksville, ME 04617
207–326–4964

I went into the Buck‘s Harbor Market (they use an apostrophe) on Cornfield Hill Road. I was hoping to find the deep ice cream freezer illustrated in the book — the freezer the grocer bends over to dip a chocolate cone for Sal and a vanilla one for Jane. But instead, I saw a modern Blue Bunny-branded freezer packed with paper-wrapped ice cream novelties.

The market also sold fish, meat, local chevre, donuts, cookies, groceries, wine and beer. My favorite part, as in every vacation-spot grocery, was the carefully edited line of things travelers forget but can’t live without: Q-tips, deodorant, Neosporin.

Then I remembered John telling me that author E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and my favorite, The Elements of Style) was also from around there. So I went on my iPhone and read the NY Times obit about White; he was from North Brooklin. I plugged that into the GPS, too, and headed there. Rolling roads, breathtaking water views, coves and farms and fields of Queen Anne’s Lace.

I lost my internet connection with all of those dipping hills and hidden coves, so I never did get to find out which house was White’s, but the town looked like it was out of a dream. I smiled at the signs that said CHILDREN AT PLAY. Children and farm animals — and spiders — I presume.

Streets had names like Thyme Farm Road, Sea Spray Lane and Huckleberry Lane. Someone had posted a sign: Homemade raw cider vinegar for sale. Then the GPS took me through Blue Hill…the name alone has long been alluring to me. I drove over Stevens Bridge and had to stop on the other side and park. It was just too pretty to pass. Water rushing — and a seal swimming right in front of me, bobbing his friendly face up and down in the water.

A woman walked by and I asked her to take my picture. It was such a beautiful monent in time. I wanted to remember it, remember coming across it, stopping, taking in the view. She told me it was Blue Hill Falls.

I arrived back in Belfast safely by sundown, happy and exhilarated, feeling rich with the memory of a great adventure in the back pocket of my denim skirt. And all it took was a little gasoline and a yearning to wander back to simpler times.

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View from a bluff overlooking Penobscot Bay.
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That night, we stayed with Pat Hurley and Martha, who had three hens.
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Here I am by Blue Hill Falls. I want to go back one day. My drive to explore filled my soul.

Alice Garbarini Hurley is a writer and editor who worked on staff at magazines including Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street Parents — where she often sat at her desk dreaming about her next Maine trip. She has written for the New York Times and Coastal Living, and has blogged daily since 2010 at http://insearchoftruthandbeauty.blogspot.com/. Follow her on instagram: @AliceRose126.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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