This column was first published July 22, 2006

Enough already with this rain, lightning and thunder stuff! You know where you can put the fog that seems to have taken up permanent residency along the coast – California comes to mind. Would it be too much to ask for a week or two of warm, dry and sunny weather?

I’ve been in the middle of three serious electrical storms in the past week or so. One took out a tree and hit the light poles at Mansfield Stadium yards from my house.

Other bolts, many of them, danced over my head a week ago Tuesday in Winchester, Mass., as I waited for my daughter’s plane to arrive at Logan International Airport.

And a third round buzzed around my ears spewing electricity, hail and torrential downpours here at 491 Main St. as I waited in my truck in the parking lot to get back into the building after lunch earlier this week. I moved the vehicle under a nearby tree thinking the racket of the drumming hail the size of Jelly Beans might be softened by the leaves overhead. It worked, but only slightly.

My daughter had spent six weeks in Europe taking a college course and doing a little sightseeing. She was on her way home a week ago Tuesday. I drove down to Massachusetts to pick her up and visit with my parents.

That was the morning after the Big Dig Tunnel ceiling collapse. I changed my plans on which way I’d drive to Logan – it wouldn’t be by tunnel.

The row of storms that blasted through the area had the Boston television news crews dancing. Hail and lightning were wreaking havoc in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. My daughter’s flight on Icelandic Air would take her through that line of storms.

Rest assured, a voice at Icelandic told me over the phone, “our pilots fly in the world’s worst weather … they’re very experienced.” It wasn’t much assurance to me as the bolts flashed and thunder exploded instantaneously. Ironically, the flight came from Reykjavik, Iceland, directly over Bangor. A quick stopover could have saved me 500 miles of driving.

Just days earlier a lightning bolt had struck close to my home in Bangor and split a 30-foot tall ash tree and blew the bark right off the trunk up some 15 feet. Pieces of bark were thrown more than 50 feet.

So on Tuesday as I sat in my vehicle deafened by the falling ice and rain, all I could do was shrug my shoulders and wonder what was next – turns out, some nice sleeping weather.

Despite some interesting weather over the past couple of weeks I have managed to get in some time on the coastal waters. While on a short vacation the week of July 4 (yes, I got in a charge of freshly caught lobsters with friends in South Addison – thanks, Oscar and Sarah!) – Narraguagus Bay beckoned.

My wife and I had a little time off and we opened up my parents’ summer home for the season. After two days of that with the ocean out front beckoning, I put my boat in the water and crossed the bay to Dyer Island. Rounding the northern end I caught the lee and an eddy from the incoming tide and watched a doe grazing in tall grass and twitching her tail. She was so intent munching on grass she never even noticed me. Not so the seal I saw a while later. Like all of its sleek cousins do, this one surfaced, eyed me and quickly slipped back beneath the surface. I don’t know what it is about a kayak, but seals are always wary of them while they seem to ignore motor boats.

I slipped up the eastern side of Dyer a short way, then ferried across to Strout Island and Ripley Neck for a quick peek, then turned and headed back to Wyman, just south of Milbridge where I’d launched.

The next morning, Friday, I launched again out of Wyman and paddled south on glassy rollers past my folks’ place to McLellan Park. I followed the shoreline back to Smith Cove where I met a group of five folks in bright yellow kayaks who’d launched in Milbridge. They, too, were casually exploring the shoreline.

Last weekend it was my turn to check out the waters around Castine. One foray took me out to the Ram Islands and another took me upriver to the Negro Islands. A couple of large spruce trees on the easterly shore of Ram Island have been victims of high winds, and upriver by lower Negro Island, the oyster farming operation has disappeared.

Sunday morning’s fog lifted just enough to make for a pleasant paddle. Maybe because it was Sunday or maybe because it was foggy there were few other boats moving about the harbor. The fog also served to keep the air temperature down a tad.

Later when it cleared off things got a bit muggy and the harbor was abuzz with boats. One older couple I met had come across from Belfast. It was their first time in Castine and they were looking for a place to sit and have a drink while enjoying the harbor views. I steered them about 20 feet away to the walkway at Dennett’s Wharf Restaurant. When last I saw them they were enjoying themselves on the front deck.

 Summer reading list

I’m feeling a bit guilty about this stack of books sitting on my desk. There are nearly a dozen that are begging for a good look, but they’ll get only a quick glance because I don’t have that much time these days. They will, however, remain in my desktop library as useful references. I’ll give you a taste of four.

The one that has been here the longest is a Backpacker’s “The outdoors at your doorstep” series book entitled “Tent and Car Camper’s Handbook” (ISBN 1-59485-011-9). If you’re new to family camping or want to try it out, pick up a copy. It’s published by The Mountaineers Books, 1001 SW Klickitat Way, Suite 201, Seattle, Wash. 98134. You can check them out on line at www.mountaineersbooks.org. This book will help you through the selection process as you look for tents and other equipment, picking the best campsite, setting up camp, hygiene, first-aid and kids games as well as some useful hints and recipes for cooking over fires. You’ll also get a taste for canoeing, fishing and photography -all this for $16.95.

Another good guide is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s “Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains,” a “four-season guide to 50 of the best trails in the White Mountain National Forest” by Robert S. Buchsbaum (ISBN-13:978-1-929173-88-40) or check out Appalachian Mountain Club Books at www.outdoors.org.

This guide has recommendations on snowshoeing and cross country skiing as well. You get an at-a-glance trip planner at the beginning, some Leave No Trace coaching, and flora and fauna instruction at the end and in between detailed descriptions of the 50 trails sprinkled liberally with photos.

Each trail is rated, measured for distance and elevation gain, and a hiking time estimate is provided. And each walk has its own map with highlights of features you’ll find. You get a reference to a more detailed map in the AMC White Mountain National Forest Map and Guide as well as directions on how to get to the traihead, a trail description and nature notes. Pick this guide up for $16.95 and you’ll be your hiking party’s guide.

If you want to remain closer to home check out “Discover Maine,” it’s AMC’s outdoor traveler’s guide to the Pine Tree State by Ti Wivell (ISBN 13:978-1-929173-70-9). You’ll find some 55 trips for hikers, bikers, paddlers and sea kayakers, from the southern beaches to Mount Katahdin to the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

The guide is divided into southern, midcoast, Down East, western lakes and mountains and Greater Moosehead Lake and 100-mile wilderness regions. At the outset you’ll find a handy reference for each of these regions by activity – hiking, biking, paddling – telling you the distance of each trip, its difficulty, distance, time, whether it’s good for kids, etc.

As with other AMC books you get great trail and trip descriptions, pictures and maps. For $17.79 it should keep you busy for a few years.

The fourth guide is another Mountaineers Book – “Best Loop Hikes, New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Maine Coast” by Jeffrey Romano (ISBN 0-89886-985-4). Romano, who has hiked in northern New England for more than 30 years, takes you through some 60 hikes throughout Maine and New Hampshire. The best thing about them all is that they begin and end at the same place – no car shuffling. Each hike description begins with a distance and rating, elevation gain and best time of year to do it as well as a reference to the USGS map to take along. The book has a small topo map of each hike and there are photographs used to show the highlights. You get directions on how to get to the trail head and a detailed description of the hike. The book costs $16.95.

Whales and seabirds

Want to take a cruise out of Bar Harbor and see some whales and sea birds? Maine Audubon is sponsoring a trip from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12.

“Whales have been the subject of legend and imagination for so long that most people forget they can see them just offshore,” said Margi Huber, trips and tours director for Maine Audubon. “And they’re often in the company of unusual seabirds.”

The trip will circumnavigate Petit Manan Island – where common, arctic and roseate terns nest and puffins are frequently seen – and then head farther offshore to whale-feeding grounds to see humpback, finback and minke whales.

Along the way, participants can watch for Wilson’s storm petrel, northern gannet, several species of shearwater and northern fulmar.

The trip is $46 for Maine Audubon members, $50 for nonmembers, $25 for children 6-14 and $8 for children 5 and under. Advance registration is necessary. Trip fees help support Maine Audubon’s work to conserve Maine’s wildlife and wildlife habitat.

For more information or to register for this or other Maine Audubon trips and programs, call 207-781-2330.

Jeff Strout’s column is published on Saturdays.