Goldie. Hunter. Rosie. Otis. Necromancer. Alice. Spartacus. Woof Doggy. There is a seemingly never-ending stream of canines that gallivant down Bar Harbor’s Shore Path on Frenchman’s Bay. Their leashes are long, short, red, chained, leather, canvas and sometimes non-existent as they sniff their way down the well-groomed gravel path past rocks and ocean, fences and tourists.
The waters are cold and beautiful but the dogs of Bar Harbor don’t care much about taking cell-phone photos and posting snaps on Instagram or Snap Chat.
They’re all about the experience.
“This dog is Stella,” says a man pushing a dog in a blue baby carriage. Stella is a small Schnauzer, 13, and she’s got a service dog vest on.
“Oh, is she working? Can I pet her?” I ask.
He looks at me like I’m absolutely clueless and I’m guessing that if Stella ever was a service dog? Yeah. She probably isn’t anymore.
She is, however, super cool and chill as she gives my hand a sniff and licks it. Beyond her is a golden retriever who is squatting down to poop. Her owner has a dark green doggy-waste bag already tucked over her hand.
Dogs joyous pull their owners along. They smile. They wag. They inhale and pant. The people take photos. They argue with each other sometimes. They play and eat ice cream.
I wonder what they see.
I also wonder if Stella poops in her carriage. I also wonder how many dogs have pooped on this path since 1880.
That’s a long time.
The Shore Path takes many and tourists and locals on a quick stroll around a tiny bit of Mount Desert Island’s coast. Less than a mile long one way, it’s a staple for visitors and a major place of vacation photos.
That’s because you can see things. The Porcupine Islands, Balance Rock, Egg Rock Light and the Schoodic Peninsula are all visible.
The Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association keeps the path clean and groomed so that people can visit Frenchman’s Bay.
The dogs don’t tend to look out on those vistas. They greet each other with butt smells, growls or wags. They sniff and bark and enthuse not at the scenery but at the smells and at each other.
It’s the experience that matters to them. The experience. And that’s the sweet irony of it, isn’t it? There are studies now that show us that all our photo-taking is pulling us out of the experience. We’ll be on the Shore Path and take a photo of the Balance Rock, but not necessarily remember it. God knows, it’s unlikely we’ll remember it as having a smell of salt and wind, clams and algae, and maybe an occasional cruise ship.
The Shore Path is worth the memory. It’s a top thing to do in Bar Harbor no matter what list you look at. There are blog sites that devote a post to how to walk its tiny length from end to end.
So here goes:
The Shore Path begins at the Bar Harbor Inn or the town’s Ellis Pier and ends at Wayman Lane. Tourists stroll and saunter around a little point of land and past the inn along a gravel path that hugs the coast line. Towards town there will be wild roses, fences in various states of repair. There will also be inns and old mansions also in various states of repair.
There are a couple of benches along the way. Signs tell you tiny bit about Bar Harbor’s history. At low tide, the rocks are exposed and people often hop out to climb and explore.
You can park at the town pier. Maybe. But you can also walk there from any point in downtown proper. In the harbor are fishing boats, the Margaret Todd, a schooner, and a few yachts in the summer time. And cruise ships. Sometimes there are cruise ships.
At night, the houses and inns are ablaze with night, but the ocean is dark almost always. It’s full of mystery. There are less dogs and tourists once the sun goes down and sometimes you can smell marijuana over the sea, wafting. In the darkness, someone will be out on a boulder and giggle. In the darkness, someone else with hum to themselves. In the darkness, a dog will walk, paws softly displacing gravel as it sniffs and enjoys its stroll.
Solace isn’t always easy to find. And sometimes the beautiful isn’t in the sights you see off the sea, but in the inhalations and sniffs, the soft, sweet sound of waves lapping into shore, a giggle on a rock, a paw moving gravel. Solace and beauty can happen in the darkness, too, elusive no longer. Dogs know that. They know to inhale.