All photos/art by Jesse Burke
I was with friends a couple of blocks off Portland‘s Back Cove, a little after 10 pm on a night when the last ferry home to Peaks Island was to depart at 10:30 pm. Getting here from the terminal on my bike had taken a little over half an hour, but that was at a fairly casual pace.
To live on an island is to always walk a fine line between time and place, I thought as I nodded at the friend who had a “quick question” before I left. His question was long and my answer short; then I was finally on my bike and accelerating down the low hill from one pool of streetlight to the next. The stars were out, but no moon. Less than a minute after leaving the house, I was up to full cruising speed on Back Cove Trail, looking for a pace I could keep up for the four and a half miles to the ferry.
Baxter Boulevard is a striking monument to an era. The “City Beautiful” movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries happened to come along at the same time as Mayor James Phinney Baxter; inspired, he acquired a 100-foot-wide strip of land around the cove and, against political opposition, worked with the Olmsted firm to create a plan to clean up the water, which was then a sump of tannery sludge. Beginning the same year Baxter died (1921), the parkway was planted with some 400 lindens, and I pedaled beneath these living memorials to him. This man was also the father of Percival Baxter, the Maine governor who created Baxter State Park. Between them, father and son bequeathed to Maine the perfect bookends: the state’s most popular urban and wild parks.
I pedaled clockwise along the pathway, passing homes where warm and golden light spilled from plate-glass windows out onto dry lawns. I huffed slightly up the rise along the interstate highway bridge, before looping back under the overpass to connect with the downtown waterfront on Eastern Prom Trail. I came around a big sweeping turn at water’s edge and caught the flash of the two-centuries-old Portland Head Light. Then a few hundred yards from the wharf, I heard the ferry horn let out its abrupt blast, signaling a minute to departure.
I left the pathway, leaned into a bend around the old shipyard, and pushed it down the home stretch. I could hear the high whine of the bridge as it was raised. I braked hard, sliding gently into the rope at the top of the ramp. I wanted to yell something formal like “Request permission to board!” but my voice refused, my body having requisitioned all available oxygen. The captain spotted me signaling mutely and barked an order to lower the bridge. Time and place, once again, had come together in Portland.
When You Go
Casco Bay Lines
Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland
Portland’s Downtown District
Cycling, walking paths, parks, shopping, dining, and lodging options. 207-772-6828; portlandmaine.com
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