People have told me that one has to live in a place to really know it. I never understood what they meant--until I spent an entire summer in Bar Harbor, Maine.
For two months last year, I scooped ice cream for tourists visiting Acadia National Park. I put in 40 hours a week behind the counter, but I still had time to experience the island.
I soon could tell visitors where to find the best beach (Sand Beach, near Thunder Hole, where waves crash into a rocky gorge), the most challenging rock-climbing spots (Pemetic Mountain), the best lobster restaurants (on the piers) and the tastiest blueberries (Dorr Mountain).
Even though I didn't have a car, I could hop on a free bus to Cadillac Mountain, climb to the top, then catch a shuttle back into town.
In L.A., I never would have volunteered to be in a Fourth of July parade. But in Bar Harbor, I eagerly dedicated a weekend to building my employer's float.
Another day, one of my friends took a few of us out on his motorboat. We swam in the cold (and I mean cold) waters of the North Atlantic with seals a hundred yards from us, and we even saw a whale. We found a deserted island, cooked veggie burgers on a makeshift grill and spent the day exploring and sleeping until the incoming tide, lapping at our feet, woke us.
Small-town living was quite a novelty for big-city me. I was worried that I would be bored and feel trapped on an island all summer. I found Mount Desert Island to be low-key, but also friendlier than what I'm used to in L.A.
When I got bored, I walked over to Agamont Park, facing the harbor across the street from my apartment. I'd see "old" friends or meet new ones.
Depending on my mood, I could dance at a bar with one of my buddies, take a walk and talk about spiritual beliefs, explore one of the town's old, abandoned mansions or just hang out with all my roommates.
Now I'm planning my next summer. I keep thinking about my time in Maine. You know, I just might go back.