A bull moose swims across Indian Pond in Somerset County. (ED ROBINSON PHOTO)
When we landed in Harpswell, local friends told me about the fisher population. Surely they were pulling my leg; fishers would not be found here! In fact, fishers are quite common in our area, along with coyotes and the occasional bobcat. Down the years I have heard multiple reports from people spotting moose, even a black bear, in the quiet reaches of town.
As you drive along the two main routes that connect Harpswell with Brunswick, it is easy to think of our town as part of “suburbia.” For now, fewer than 5,000 souls call this place home. If the number of building permits and construction projects is any indication, Harpswell is sadly on its way to becoming more suburban. It is hard to keep our lovely town a secret when so many people are fleeing urban areas for a different post-pandemic quality of life.
Yet Harpswell still retains a distinctly rural and natural feeling in many parts of town. While there are more houses along the roads each year, aerial photos show that behind those houses lies a fair amount of undeveloped land. Working farms are no longer a common sight here, but a few landowners continue to grow selected crops or a few livestock for market. Their hard work pays dividends for all of us by keeping green spaces open, while supporting rising demand for locally sourced food.
Having grown up in a rural area with hundreds of acres of woods, waters and fields out the back door, I am happiest in a natural setting. The absence of road noise, rooftops and contrails is critical for truly relaxing and allowing the more subtle sounds of our environment some space in your mind. You can detect the clacking of a grasshopper in flight, the plop of a frog entering a pond, or the gentle calls of a black-capped chickadee feeding on weed seeds. There is a term for this — “forest bathing.” Physicians in Japan even write prescriptions for their stressed urban patients, requiring them to leave concrete and macadam behind.
Left to my own devices, I would live in a very rural area and spend the bulk of my time in the field. But a healthy marriage and the importance of social interaction in retirement involve compromises. The primary draw of Harpswell for us was the ocean, but there are many spots in town where you can find tens, even hundreds of acres of natural environment — forests, marshes, islands and shrubland. Thanks are due to the many people involved with the town’s Conservation Commission and the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust for their long-term vision and dedication to conserving our most sensitive places. Kudos also to the dozens of citizens who maintain our walking trails — those trails have been a lifeline during the nearly two-year-long pandemic.
It is a joy to live in a town where there are occasional sightings of river otters, where a flyover of a bald eagle is nearly a daily event. We have seals around the calendar and with luck you might spot a pod of harbor porpoises. While Harpswell is clearly feeling the pull toward suburbia, for now there is still a good deal of “wild” left in our beautiful community. My wish for 2022 and beyond is that we will always be able to maintain that healthy balance!
Ed Robinson’s latest book, “Nature Notes from Maine Vol. II: Puffins, Black Bears, Raccoons & More,” is available from the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. All profits support HHLT’s conservation and public education efforts.