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Sensory Picnic on Deer Isle

Mist covers every curved cove of the granite cliffs as we hike along Barred Island Trail on Deer Isle, Maine. Foghorns add to the suspense as seagulls careen in and out of moss draped pines looming over the Penobscot Bay. A bench made of driftwood sits like a sentinel of silence on top of the bluff.

“It’s like we are inside a painting,” my high school friend, Ann, says, as we hike down the craggy trail to a pocket beach surrounded by smooth stone and sea rose. We’ve been warned to “watch the tide” because “the beach goes under twice a day” but the sand beckons. We take our shoes off and wade.

Clouds pass overhead, and soon, shafts of sunlight turn the Atlantic to aquamarine and green. A seal swimming past turns its head to gaze at us, as we pick sea glass from the sand.

“It’s magical here,” I say. There are no easy highways or straight roads to Deer Isle, just twisting routes, and a notoriously steep and narrow suspension bridge not meant for two cars. “And we survived crossing Eggemoggin Reach.”

Looping back through coastal forest, fern and moss sparkle as the day brightens. I decide to jump into the ocean before returning to our cottage on Goose Cove.

We’re staying at Aragosta, a hidden enclave of rustically elegant cabins built into private ledges and meadowed fields. Maple Cottage is white-washed, with a tweed furniture and lush comforters, and after hot showers, we sit on our deck overlooking the cove. We share a bottle of sparkling wine.

That night, we head to the famed Aragosta restaurant, owned and operated by Devin Finnigan, chef extraordinaire. A fireplace crackles, as we sit at a candlelit table overlooking the cove, telling tales of our teenage years together. Sun sets, as first one course, then another, is artfully arranged on beautifully presented stoneware. A taste of caviar on polenta points. An oyster adorned with poblano on beach rock and moss. A scallop with peach and tomatillo, sitting on ice, like a rare jewel.

“We are inside a food painting,” Ann says. “Each course prettier than the last.”

We dine on lobster tagliatelle and the most luscious cod with corn and peppers. Chef Finnigan comes to our table and explains how she was born into a “chef family” in Vermont and that she is raising her own family in the same way, only in Maine. She talks about wanting to bring warmth and a sense of community to this tiny slice of Deer Isle, and how she finds inspiration in sourcing locally. “Our Happy Hours are a community event,” she says.

Next, we taste “delicata” duck surrounded by chanterelle and then finish with Wagyu, potato, and chimichurri. Three hours of elegant dining and raucous talk means adding two desserts: profiterole seasoned with vanilla ice cream and peach. Under a moonlit night sky, we wander back to the cabin, not needing flashlights, and fall into our beds.

The next morning, after a breakfast of “the best blueberry pancakes ever,” and fresh fruit, we make our way to Stonington Harbor and take a ferry over to Isle au Haut, a hidden nook of Acadia National Park. No crowds, no cars, just Ann and I hiking along the Duck Harbor Trail past empty stone beaches full of driftwood. We pass Deep Cove and Shark Point and watch sailboats off Haddock Ledge. After three hours of hiking, we wait for the ferry at the town landing–a lone dock pointing out into the sea, and soon the ferry appears. On the way back, the captain names some of the islands we pass: Wreck, Rock, Flea, Sprout, Potato, and the tiny Peggy Island near the harbor. A passenger tells us to visit Nervous Nelly’s for a good time.

“Go for the jam, but stay for the sculpture village,” he says.

We make a plan to visit the next day, but zip out of Stonington Harbor to make it for the Happy Hour, back at Aragosta. We relax on the deck outside, blankets over our legs, and enjoy veggie burgers and a couple of pinot grigios. The high school stories begin again. Cicadas call out the ending of summer, but the night is young, and our laughter is loud.

The next morning, we watch a tow-headed girl run between the flower beds on the bluff overlooking the cove. She carries a pile of daisies in her arms, as she chases a butterfly. Aragosta is a memory place; a corner of New England that is hard to find, but harder to leave.

Aragosta on Goose Cove. www.aragostamaine.com. 207-348-6900. Rates include breakfast, use of private beach, and walkable access to Barred Island hiking trails. The restaurant is a culinary extravaganza of seven courses. Happy Hours offered during the summer months: Tuesdays, Wednesdays.

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