Acadia National Park proved rather different from what I had pictured and what had been pictured to me. Where I had expected an island paradise, I found instead considerable human build-up to the point that, when looking at the map, park land marked in green, public land in white, I had the distinct impression of two opposed forces whose territories change hands as one advances and the other withdraws in the face of hostility more implacable than that found in war. The retreating green has given way to private drives, and the strand is often absent from view. In its place, I found stands of trees, an ever deserted visitor center, homes, hotels and outbuildings of all sorts. When the strand did come into view, it seemed no closer, as it was a mere tangle of weedy shallows and tidal pools. In the harbor towns at the island’s farflung corners, the wild felt as distant as in Maine’s more populated areas for I could not help but note the way in which all had been painted and primped for the summer season’s crowds. Far from mind were the deserted mounts which Champlain had come upon and the fog-wreathed autumn peaks shown in the insets of the park map.
At one place where the strand drew near, I prompted my companion to stop to inspect a series of natural jetties. The formations , jutting as they do into the tidal shallows, are strangely rectilinear in appearance. I attributed this to the stone’s natural cleavage. The seabreeze whipped past as I inspected the pools of water remaining at lowtide, unable to drain away via the rectangular spillways cut through the rock. In them I found everything that the sea had thrown ashore and left as an unwitting wonder cabinet for the curious: hardened plant formations studded with purple clam shells, verdant and unfurling kelp, crabshells eaten out from within and now inhabited by seasnails or juvenile shrimp, green bulbs sprouting from bright fronds. Over it all lay, or so I imagined, a palpable unpurposiveness, likely a reflex from lost years spent in Kant’s company. Thankfully, my companion called me away from my cataloguing to regard a black-sailed boat plying the waters in the distance.
Strewn about the island’s roadways were small woodsheds, open on one side and proposing wood bundles to visiting motorists. These sheds had a strange sense of the voluntary and the obligatory about them, much as one might experience before a shrine: voluntary in that one does not have to stop and could well avoid making an offering; obligatory in that, should one want a fire for the evening Maine chill, wood can come from these places alone, for no foreign wood is permitted on the island. For the outsider might unthinkingly introduce insect species to the isolated Acadian biome. Yet there seems bound up with all this a purity concern as well, the attempt to keep the setting unadulterated and apart. And so it gives to wonder as to the set-up of this wood economy, as to who sets prices and determines shed locations and mediates disputes, and, by extension, to whom the non-park land belongs.