A road trip from my home near Hampden down Route 1A is one of my favorite excursions. The swooping road offers views of mountains, the ocean, forests and rivers — there’s so much green and endless blue to take in. With each passing mile, I get to see more of the beautiful display of God’s handiwork that reminds me just how much I love our great state of Maine.
But on the days when I want to do more than just take it all in from my car, Route 1A provides numerous destinations to explore and unpack along the way. One destination I’m rather partial to is Sears Island.
Accessible from Route 1A in the little town of Searsport (between Stockton Springs and Belfast), Sears Island runs approximately two miles from north to south and is known for its beaches, light hiking and walking trails. The island is loaded with useful amenities, from its paved walking trail to its port-a-potties, which my youngest sister has told me are “the cleanest she’s seen.” The island also provides a few picnic tables, wooden stairways leading down to the beaches, trash cans and even a Little Free Library stuffed with good books.
Sears Island was once known as Wassumkeag, and it has been used for fishing, hunting and camping as long as people have lived in Maine. The David Sears family bought it, and after four generations of ownership, the name was officially changed in the mid-1800s to Sears Island. It was used during the Prohibition to sneak contraband into the country, and in World War II, arms were shipped from its docks to our European allies.
On a recent morning, I loaded up my 8-month-old and his jogging stroller, and we hit the road for some island walking. In our vehicle, we zipped down 1A and turned at the little blue sign marking the island’s entrance. At the end of the aptly named “Sears Island Road” sits the small, wooded, unassuming island. We drove across the causeway and parked near the entrance to the trails, and once the little guy was tucked into his stroller, we took off down the wide, paved path that cuts through the center of the island. I especially love this trail because it provides good walking even as we enter the chilly late fall and winter seasons here in Maine.
It was an exceptionally warm morning for early November (a balmy 54 degrees), and I soon found myself shedding my sweatshirt. After about a mile, as we were nearing the far end of the island, the tarred path transitioned into gravel. While this path is still easily passable, it can become muddy in the spring or after we have some weather blow through. It was a little muddy that morning due to recent rain, but it was nothing that my jogging stroller, hiking shoes and happy little 8-month-old companion couldn’t handle.
It was about there that I first heard Sears Island’s bright green bell buoy.
A bell buoy is a buoy equipped with a large bell and tethered out in the ocean. Its main purpose is to warn passing vessels of dangerous shoal waters, and it rings almost constantly as it is tossed by the waves. Its comforting “clang-clang, clang-clang” became the lilting and peaceful soundtrack to our walk.
We came to the end of the path, I unstrapped my little guy and we walked out onto the island’s modest breakwater. We explored for a little while, and I pointed out the buoy he was so fascinated with. As usual, when encountering new things, he just sucked his hand and stared and stared at it. I couldn’t help but smile at his fascination.
Clockwise from left: Danielle Hines’ 8-month-old son looks up at her while they explore the trails of Sears Island in November; A paved road, closed to vehicle traffic, runs through the center of Sears Island; Seaweed floats along the shore. Credit: Courtesy of Danielle Hines.
After a little while, I buckled him into his stroller once again, and we started back. As we walked, I mulled over that bell buoy and its metaphorical implications. As I’m writing this, the results of the 2020 election are still coming in. Between this US election and the ongoing worldwide pandemic, the last few months have felt increasingly anxiety-ridden, and the news has at times been feverishly fearful.
But to that bell buoy, it doesn’t matter what comes its way. Whether there are calm seas or raging storms, through sleet and snow and sun, it remains. The bell does its job, keeping vessels safe and even providing a little joy to whoever hears its song.
My hope is that no matter what comes of this election, however long we have to hold on through this pandemic, we can all say that we’re striving to achieve those same things — to keep one another safe, and spread a little kindness and joy whenever we can.
Danielle M. Hines is a Maine recreational trip leader, the founder and director of The Bangor Area Homeschool Players and an up-and-coming author. She enjoys exploring her home state of Maine, playing with her new baby and reading just about anything she can get her hands on.