Deer Isle, Maine — When folks start talking about what they want in a vacation, they often sling together things obtainable only by the hardy, the wealthy, or both. They want memorable restaurants, heart-stopping scenery, some gentle occupation in case the mood should strike, a rental car, and an airport. They often stipulate no -- or as a compromise, an ignorable number of -- other tourists; someplace ``undiscovered,'' or ``unspoiled.'' People who have been coming to Deer Isle for generations -- and it is that sort of place -- would probably laugh at the idea of its being undiscovered, but unspoiled it certainly is. And residents and summer people seem determined to keep it that way.
It is very lovely here. Deer Isle lies off Maine's well-known rocky coast, between the comparatively bright lights of Camden/Rockport and Bar Harbor. Its twisting roads take you past pine trees and white clapboard houses with lobster pots stacked in the yard, on the other side from the wood pile. Every so often an inlet of mercurial blue and its scattering of granite-based islands spiked with more pine trees will sweep into view. Deer Isle consists of several islands latched together by causeways; the whole cluster is linked to the mainland by a bridge (the last of the ``Galloping Gerties,'' I'm told).
During my visit in May there were hardly any tourists here. As I walked down the main street of the town of Stonington, I noticed a large dog gazing mildly out the window of a parked pickup, the one vehicle in sight, but not much else in the way of action.
Things are more bustling in the summer, I imagine, when all the mainlanders come. Aside from those who have second homes, however, the island offers lodging to only some 200 people, so the amount of bustling that can happen here is limited.
Deer Isle is a place for relaxing pleasures. There is sailing, of course; all those offshore islands provide protection, places to picnic, and scenic charm. Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park are just over an hour away.
You can play tennis or golf at the Island Country Club (visitors welcome). Or you can do absolutely nothing.
An enjoyable place at which to do nothing is Goose Cove Lodge. To get there, you bump down a dirt road so long that you're positive you've missed your turn. But once you're there, it's completely peaceful. All you can hear is the D-flat of the foghorn and the steady swoosh of the waves.
The lodge has 70 acres, with trails covered with moss so soft it seems rude to walk on it, and glimpses of sea and granite ledges through gray-green lichen-covered trees. For warm days, cabins have porches overlooking the cove and its pine- and spruce-treed islands; for damp, foggy days, there are stone fireplaces inside. There's a sandy beach (the water is reportedly chilly for swimming, even in summer). Offshore there is a small island accessible by sand bar at low tide. ``Naturalists like to come here,'' says Ellie Pavloff, the owner.
A sailing program called Sailways operates in Goose Cove; rentals range from $35 a day for a 16-foot Daysailer to $90 for a high-performance J24. Frank Hull and his wife, Vicki, offer a kids' program ($100 a week); basic adult lessons ($50 for boat and instructor for three hours, cost to be divided by number in group); and excursions for island picnics, watching lobstering, or fishing for mackerel when they're running. They also rent kayaks, rowboats, sailboards, and canoes.
Fans of the 18th century will love the Pilgrim's Inn nearby. In 1793, it was the home of Squire Haskell, one of the framers of the Maine constitution. Today it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The pumpkin-colored pine floorboards, brass beds with quilts, rooms heated with wood stoves, and mill pond in the back all add to the country atmosphere.
The fishing village of Stonington is authentic and not dressed up in any obvious way to attract tourists. It has several art galleries with everybody busily putting up shelves, painting, and cleaning at this time of year.
One of Stonington's overwhelming advantages is that it's the location of the Fisherman's Friend restaurant, home of ambrosial fish chowder, the local catch, and reasonable prices. Three of us ate a large meal there for $13 or so.
From Stonington you can take the mail boat, with Capt. Buster Aldrich at the helm, out to Isle au Haut (pronounced hoe). Part of the island is a remote outpost of Acadia National Park, and in the summer Captain Buster makes a stop at Duck Harbor, near the park campground (permit needed).
One special thing about Deer Isle is that many artists and craftspeople are drawn here by the scenery and by the presence of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, a mecca for craftspeople. So on rainy or foggy days you can go shopping for imaginative pottery, jewelry, hand-woven items -- and meet the artists who make them.
Local artist Elizabeth Compton gives one-day workshops in making splint harvest baskets or natural coil baskets. She takes people along the beach behind her house to gather shells and grasses to incorporate. ``I schedule coil baskets at low tide,'' she says. ``Some people will only put in their baskets what they found in that walk, and then it really becomes a record of the day.''
Ms. Compton holds her classes outdoors on sunny days, in the barn on rainy ones. ``My inspiration is really from the natural world,'' she says. ``People get a lot of pleasure out of making their baskets, and I say it's because they're working with these natural things.'' She sells her own baskets in a shop in her barn on Sylvester's Cove Road.
``We have a pretty sophisticated clientele,'' says potter Charles Hance. ``They like to go where things are made. It makes for a prolonged time of selling, but it removes the shoplike atmosphere of business. His wife, Ebba, weaves scarfs and ruanas (ponchos open in the front) of cotton and silk, wool and mohair. Mr. Hance's specialty is stoneware or flameware that can go on top of the stove. ``Clay's good to cook in if you can design it so that it takes the heat,'' he says.
Another potter, William Mor, used to invite people to watch him fire with wood, but right now he's building a conventional gas kiln. ``We've had a lot of wind and it's very dry. I'm afraid to fire with wood,'' he says. He uses a glaze, based on a Japanese formula, called shino, that has an almost opalescent shine. You can visit his workshop, on 409 Reach Road, from 10 to 5, June 15 to Sept 30.
Weaver Kathy Woell, jeweler Ron Pearson, and blacksmith Doug Wilson can all be found on Old Ferry Road. Kathy Woell started selling woven articles and was told she had such a feel for it that she should start weaving herself. She puts seven garments on the loom; the warp stays the same for all, but she changes the woof with each garment. Her husband, Fred, creates wonderfully ironic and witty jewelry and sculpture, also on display.
One house farther down is Ron Pearson's, chairman of the Haystack school, whose sinuous silver jewelry is on sale on the second floor above his workshop. And across the driveway is Doug Wilson's smithy.
``I'm doing traditional blacksmithing; people are usually intrigued,'' says this creator of graceful candlesticks, fire tools, railings, and sculptures. You can watch Mr. Wilson in his leather apron at work at his forge, or, if you want to buy something, he'll show you his portfolio of previous work.
Mr. Wilson showed me around Haystack's buildings of beautifully weathered silver wood siding. It looks like a clever series of tree houses perched above the dramatic view of water and islands. Haystack is open between mid-June and mid-September, when about 80 people -- teachers and students, gather here for two- and three-week sessions in clay, fiber, graphics, wood, iron, glass, jewelry, and paper.
You can visit in the afternoons, and during the week there are slide programs and evening lectures open to the public (call or read the local paper for listings). At the end of each session an auction is held for the work by students and faculty.
``It's not a flashy place that puts out a lot of flashy advertising to promote things for tourists,'' Mr. Wilson says, ``but at the same time we welcome people to come and visit.''
That's Deer Isle in a nutshell. Practical information:
Cabins and rooms at Goose Cove Lodge range from $325 to $430 a week per person for a double, including breakfast and dinner in the lodge. Call innkeepers George and Ellie Pavloff, (207) 348-2508.
Prices at the delightful Pilgrim's Inn are $55 per person per day with shared bath, or $65 per person with private bath (includes breakfast and dinner); weekly rates are $330 and $390 per person. Or you can just come for one of Jean Hendrick's spectacular dinners ($17.50); the entree could be poached salmon, paella, or Tournedos Neptune. Call (207) 348-6615.
To find Maine artists who sell their work at home, watch for signs along the road, posters in shops, or bulletin boards, and check with innkeepers or information booths on main roads.
The Maine Crafts Association (PO Box 321, Deer Isle, Maine 04627) has information on craftspeople throughout the state.