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Ralph Gardner Jr: I Brake For Tidal Pools

Courtesy of Ralph Gardner Jr.

The Hudson Valley has a lot going for it. But – correct me if I’m wrong – the last time I checked tidal pools wasn’t among them.

To access a few required a trip last week to Maine. So here’s the thing about tidal pools. Like snowflakes, but their contours easier to detect, no two are the same. They’re the result of their shape, color, rock composition, as well as the flora and fauna that happen to find itself there – intentionally or otherwise – when the tide goes out.

I’m frequently reminded of those lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s song “Suzanne” where he sings, “There are heroes in the seaweed…”

I frankly have no idea what the words meant to him when he wrote them. But when I hear them I think of crystalline tidal pools and the life that goes about its business within, that serve as microcosm and metaphor for all existence, no more or less important than that which we attribute to ourselves and our, at once, insignificant and sacred lives.

On a lighter note – though part of a picturesque tidal pool’s allure, especially in the bright sunshine and unblemished skies we were fortunate to have throughout our vacation, is their absurd delicacy – I was fortunate to sample several lobster rolls and other lobster-related food sources.

I’m being sarcastic when I say sample. Inhale might be a more apt verb due to the speed at which I consumed them. With a Coke and a side of fries they’re approximately as addictive as some of the pricier controlled substances out there, not that I’d know.

And the only thing that can cure the disappointment that sets in following your final bite is another lobster roll.

But perhaps – not perhaps, definitely – the best lobster dish I had in Maine was the lobster pie at the Maine Diner in Wells on the way back home.

I felt like a fool for making my wife suffer through heavy traffic on Route 295 to get there. And once we did I knew there would be a long wait, as indeed there was, because my taste buds are no more wanton than anybody else’s.

I initially balked at Debbie’s suggestion that we order my lobster pie to go. I’m a big believer in the rituals of dining aided by the comforts of a level surface, a knife and fork, salt and pepper, and a proper napkin. It was raining, finally after all that splendid weather, and I’d have to devour the dish in our car.

But the wait for a table was a good forty-five minutes, we wanted to get home before dark and the traffic was approaching stasis on the interstate, and I had enough faith in the Maine Diner’s lobster pie, based on past experience, that I knew it would be special even if there were missiles flying overhead.

And I was correct as I sat behind my dashboard – we were parked in their lot, not in motion by the way -- dipped tender morsels of lightly breaded lobster into a container of drawn butter, abetted by a side of fries and cole slaw and indulged, or rather overindulged, my senses.

I don’t know what they put in those breadcrumbs, their alchemical composition, but there’s a certain sweetness that positions the dish in that charmed terra incognita somewhere between an entrée and dessert.

And as rich and guilt-inducing as it is – my hunch is that algebra would be required to get an accurate sense of the calorie count – you’re despondent when it’s done, searching fruitlessly for a final remnant of lobster and fearing what cataclysms might occur in the coming year that could prevent you from returning for your next lobster pie.

Another attraction of our trip to Maine is that it was eminently affordable due to the fact that we mooched off the hospitality of friends up and down the coast.

There was no way I could have known, when I befriended Debbie Kovacs on the first day of college many eons ago, that our relationship would come to include squatters rights at their idyllic home near the ocean on the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border.

Beach communities are typically overbuilt. But I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere on the East Coast where the beaches are that beautiful, untrammeled and accessible.

And an evening swim with Debbie and her husband Nick after driving several hours across New York and Massachusetts has a miraculous way of instantly changing the narrative, of rebooting the brain.

We didn’t swim at our next stop as we crept up the coast – Kennebunkport. (Weather alerts in Maine include warnings not to be deceived that the temperature of the water matches the warmth of the air.) But the tide was out, the skies blue, and the sand perfect as we walked along the broad beach with our friends Connie Hume and her husband Jon Dykstra, a geologist who recalled his childhood summers there, perhaps treading some of the same fine grains of sand that he did in his youth.

Our final, longest stop and the one where we really tested our welcome across several days was with Debbie’s best friend from college, artist Nancy McCormick, and her husband Paul Monfredo.

They live on Mount Desert Island, home to those aforementioned tidal pools. Not to mention a delicate landscape, settled by names like Rockefeller who left behind a legacy of a national park, glorious gardens, and well-maintained trails. But that seems only fair to a landscape where mountains and sea grace each other’s presence and your next lobster roll is just compensation for a vigorous hike and a swim in a freshwater pond overlooking the ocean.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.