Fall is a remarkable season for Casco Bay, the island-studded body of water that stretches out from the mainland to a line drawn from Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth northeast to Cape Small.
Summer on the bay, of course, is great.
But to witness the transition from the busyness of July and August to the tranquility of September and October is mesmerizing. Most of the pleasure boats have been stored. The ferry schedule has been cut back. The winter storms won’t arrive for another month.
There is calm as the bay breathes with the tides, great inhales and exhales that roll the stones round onshore, polish the sea glass, break in long whispers along the sand.
Breathing in and breathing out.
At my favorite lookout in Cape Elizabeth, I can look northeast and take in the entire bay without turning my head. Here, I feel I am near the heart of the bay, so close to its pulse.
Breathing in, breathing out.
I take my final melancholy cruise around the bay. There is not much of significance to note, a good sign. On calm seas under platinum clouds, I cruise through Portland Harbor, where the tourist boats are still out, but less crowded than they were just a few weeks ago.
The bay is swollen with the tide, with one hour to go to high. On the fish finder, I see a school of baitfish at 20 feet. The striped bass have mostly moved on. The water has cooled from its summer high of nearly 70, to 58 degrees. The crisp air is cool enough for a light parka.
On the Maine State Pier, seven fishermen try their luck. A workboat filled with seaweed, towing a dinghy overflowing with even more seaweed, makes its way into the harbor. Kites float lazily over Bug Light.
Along the Eastern Prom, the bloated super-yachts have left for warmer winter quarters. I thread the boat between The Brothers, hoping to spot the eagles that frequently perched on an old dead tree this summer.
I recall one day in June when I took some people for their first cruise on Casco Bay, and the bay delivered. I played the skilled old salt as I pointed out eagles, osprey, loons, basking seals, playful harbor porpoise, and a jumping sturgeon, all appearing right on cue.
My guests were astounded. Of course, it had nothing to do with me, just the bay doing what the bay does in all its natural glory.
At Falmouth Foreside, most of the moorings are empty, the boats hauled ashore.
At Littlejohn Island, sweet woodsmoke tinges the air. Someone has a fire going.
Around the north end of Great Chebeague, then down the eastern side of poor Hope Island, with all its garish red buildings and scarred and deforested landscape. Recently the island was sold for $7 million to a California man who says he will keep it as it is.
On the way back to Portland, we wind through Chandler Cove, closely skirt Long Island, and enter Diamond Pass between Peaks and Great and Little Diamond.
Ashore, the year-round residents, like the bay, are transitioning to the long winter season. My friend Bud Higgins tells me he is looking forward to “the healing power of quiet sea-side walks,” and “the sheer joy of snowshoeing along woods trails during a snowstorm.” Most of all, he looks forward to being “enraptured by the magnificence of Casco Bay.”
Fellow Peaks Islander Mark Green looks forward most to “connecting with the island community that seems to disappear during the chaos of the summer season.” Mark is also excited about his ritual “cold-water immersions during the dark of winter to connect both mind and body to the quiet of winter season.” More power to you.
On Great Diamond, Jennifer Fox fondly anticipates the changes “as we slip into our rhythm of happy hibernation.” With bread in the oven and the wine cellar full, she awaits the time “when it snows, and the land and trees sparkle clean and white – like a magical wonderland.”
My boat and I make one last pass close under the towering cliffs of Whitehead Passage, along Cushing and across the channel to Portland Head Light. Reluctantly, I turn the boat back along the Cape Elizabeth shore, round Spring Point and Bug Light into the harbor, and wrap up another season.
All the while, the bay breathes. In and out, in and out.
Have a good rest, my friend.
Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.