Peaks Island, Maine.
Portlanders are a lucky lot. I’m not talking about Portland, Oregon, although if I am to believe all the magazines, those west coast Portlanders are pretty spoiled for microbrews, local produce, and bearded men. (I for one have never been there, an egregious oversight I intend to rectify soon). But little Portland, ME, is a star. It’s navigable, it’s home to undoubtedly the best lobster roll on the planet (more on this in a future post), and most importantly, it’s easy to escape. Escapability is one of the first things I consider when evaluating a city. No matter how many exciting pop-ups, start-ups, and taco trucks a city may precipitate, it’s still a city, and therefore must be evacuated from time to time in the name of sanity, fresh air and a clear night sky.
Not only is Portland easily evacuated by land – trails pump bikers, joggers, strollers, and their four-legged friends from downtown to the great outdoors- it is even more easily escaped by sea. The port city is hugged by a smattering of islands by such charming names as Catnip, Little Diamond, and Chebeague. Most fascinating of all is that some of these specks of land are actually part of Portland city proper.
Peaks is one such city island. Home to some 1000 year round residents, Peaks is the perfect “suburb”, just a 30 minute ferry ride from the mainland. Apparently, 30 minutes and a little salt water is all it takes to feel a world away.
My first step off the ferry triggered a temporal recalibration. My internal clock gradually succumbed to island time, so that the fastest pace I could hope to muster was a languid toodle. Mom and I wafted around the island, past red trimmed cottages, untamed rose bushes, and rocky outcrops spilling headlong into a glittering sea. The four mile loop took almost two and a half hours. Talk about some seriously languid toodling!
Our walkabout led us to the sunny porch of Cockeyed Gull, where we sampled some more of Maine’s most celebrated crustacean from our perch over Casco bay. (One can never be too thorough in one’s lobster roll research). After lunch we picked up the trail toward the ferry. Along the way our path was bisected by a gray cat with an uncanny resemblance to our family cat Bella. Thinking perhaps that this was Bella’s spirit, Mom and I made a note of the time (1:47 pm) and told ourselves to call home later to see if Bella had expired at that very moment. (Alas, our premonition did not come to pass and Bella continues to lead a fulfilling life of mouse-hunting and upholstery-shredding.)
After the Bella-doppelgänger incident, we came upon a provocative sign bearing the words “Umbrella Cover Museum”. The sign was attached to a building roughly the size of a tool shed. Mom rolled her eyes and continued faithfully toward the ferry (I’ll never understand how my mother can be so selectively pragmatic, especially after we had just been visited by a ghost cat) while I allowed myself to be drawn into the mysterious Lilliputian museum. Inside I was greeted by a beaming woman who introduced herself as Nancy 3. Hoffman, owner and curator of the museum. Hoffman, whose innate quirkiness seems to emanate from her integer of a middle name, guided me on a tour through the museum, which took approximately five steps. She explained that years ago she realized that she had unwittingly amassed a collection of umbrella cases which had long since been abandoned by their umbrellas. What to do with all the lonely sheaths? Why, make them the headliners of their very own show! In 2012 her efforts were rewarded with a Guinness World record for the largest collection of umbrella covers, 730 at the time.
Hoffman’s vision has a motto – “Celebrate the Mundane” – which she has incorporated into a lovely ditty with accordion accompaniment. After the performance, I donated $5 to the museum which earned me a “Basic Sheath” membership. Some people support the National Museum of Art, I support the Umbrella Cover Museum. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the accordion!
Watch curator Nancy 3. Hoffman perform the umbrella song: