The Shore Path

Goldie. Hunter. Rosie. Otis. Necromancer. Alice. Spartacus. Woof Doggy.

A seemingly never-ending stream of canines gallivant down Bar Harbor’s Shore Path on Frenchman’s Bay in Maine. Their leashes are long, short, red, chained, leather, canvas, and sometimes non-existent as they sniff their way down the well-groomed gravel path that navigates the spaces between granite boulders and ocean, fences, mansions, and tourists.

The waters are cold and beautiful, but the dogs of Bar Harbor don’t care much about taking cellphone 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, rough, warm tongue moving against my skin. 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 joyously pull their owners along. They smile. They wag. They inhale the smells of clam flats and fire pit smoke, and they pant. The people take photos. They argue sometimes, voices loud.

I wonder what the dogs see as their paws hit the granular gravel path. I also wonder if Stella poops in her carriage. I also wonder how many dogs have pooped on this path since it began 1880. 

The Shore Path takes many dogs, 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 here, islands, lighthouses, geologic oddities. The Porcupine Islands, Balance Rock, Egg Rock Light, and the Schoodic Peninsula all loom into view. 

The dogs don’t tend to look out on those vistas though. Instead, 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 each other.

It’s the experience that matters to them.

That’s what should matter to us humans, too. We’ll be take a photo of Balance Rock, a giant boulder at the edge of the high-water mark, tilted and looming. We’ll smell salt and wind, clams and algae, and maybe an occasional cruise ship’s exhaust. If we take long enough, we can even taste the sea salt on our skin.

At night, the houses and inns are ablaze with interior lights, but the ocean is dark almost always, full of mystery. There are less dogs and tourists once the sun goes down, and sometimes you can smell marijuana wafting toward the sea. In the darkness, someone climb a boulder and giggle. In the darkness, someone else with hum to themselves in tune with the incoming tide. In the darkness, a dog will walk, paws softly displacing gravel as it sniffs.

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 and experience can happen here in the darkness, too, elusive no longer. Dogs know that. We’re lucky when we do, too.

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