The first time I set foot in Acadia National Park, in the early 1970s, I was little more than a toddler and the park was not yet 60 years old.
Since then, over the past four decades, I’ve done more things in the park than I can count.
When I was young, hikes and picnics at Acadia with my parents and their houseguests were a regular summer event. The summits of Penobscot, Norumbega, Beech and Parkman mountains were our usual targets, as were the blueberry bushes we passed along the way. Often, when our hikes ended, we had an extra handful or two of blueberries that we would bring back to the house and drop into our pancake batter the next morning.
Later, during summers off from college, I worked as a cook at the Jordan Pond House (which was rebuilt after a devastating 1979 fire). For two years in a row, in 1989 and 1990, I made more popovers than I could count. I can still remember the recipe for the large batches of batter that were made daily: 50 eggs, a gallon and a half of milk, six pounds of flour (plus salt and baking soda). Don’t try that recipe at home.
As a visitor to the park, I’ve swam in Echo Lake, gone cross-country skiing and biking down its carriage paths, snowshoed on its hiking trails, and ice-skated along frozen Northeast Creek. I’ve seen the aurora borealis shimmering in the night sky above Sargent Mountain, jumped into crashing waves at Sand Beach, and camped under the stars at Isle Au Haut.
Some of the most vivid memories I have of Acadia, however, are from its most remote corner: Baker Island.
Baker Island, part of the town of Cranberry Isles, lies more than three miles off Mount Desert Island. It is round in shape, 123 acres in size, and has striking views of the mountains of Mount Desert Island. Unlike Isle Au Haut, the island is uninhabited, with the exception of two small, privately owned seasonal cabins that may or may not get a handful of overnight visitors each year.
It wasn’t always that way. In the early 19th century, Baker was settled by William and Hannah Gilley, the descendants of whom remained on the island year-round through the 1920s. The original Gilley family homestead still exists on the island, boarded up to prevent entry. A lighthouse that was automated in the 1950s stands on the high point at the island’s center.
Aside from the dwellings, a few gravestones mark where members of the Gilley family or those of lightkeepers stationed on the island were buried decades ago.
Like most islands, Baker is accessible only by boat. There is a rocky bar connecting Baker to Little Cranberry Island that is exposed at low tide but it’s wet and slippery. Walking across the bar between the islands is ill-advised.
On Trotter family picnic excursions to Baker, we would tow a dinghy behind our motor boat to the island and then drop anchor off the island’s north shore. From there, we would row to a nearby cobblestone beach, making several short trips back and forth to get everyone on dry land.
From there, we would walk up the path through the meadow that was the focal point of the fragile hamlet. We’d stroll past the three remaining houses, past the lighthouse and into the woods, following the trail to the south-facing beach of boulders known as “The Dance Floor,” so named because of the broad spans of flat granite where picnicking rusticators reportedly held summer dances in the 1800s.
My family and I did not dance. We ate and got wet. The swells crashing on the south side of the island sprayed water over the rocks, soaking some of us and creating a mist for others that would cool us off from the summer heat as we digested our sandwiches and cookies. I remember crawling under some of the large boulders strewn along the shore, sheltering from the sun in the shady, cave-like nooks between the massive stones.
After we decided we had enough, we’d hike back across the island, row out to our anchored boat and motor back home to the other side of Little Cranberry.
It has been several years since I last journeyed out to Baker Island, and I’m overdue for another visit. The park completed a tree-removal project on the island a few years ago, but I am sure it remains the way I remember it — remote, scenic, and carefully preserved to give its visitors a hint of what life once was like on the rocky edge of civilization.