Spend an hour walking through majestic white pine and oak on the ledge-dotted heights of 80-acre Robinson Woods, then scoot across the road to lie in the sun and peer far out to sea over Pond Cove. Robinson Woods is part of an impressive network of green spaces and walking trails under the stewardship of the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust.
There are not many places in Maine where you can go for a peaceful walk in the woods and also listen to the iconic sound of a lighthouse foghorn infiltrating the canopy of green. The trail starts out on the western side of Shore Road, approximately a mile south of Fort Williams Park and Portland Head Light.
A kiosk at the trail head provides information about the flora and fauna you may encounter on your walk, and highlights the fascinating human history of the Cape Elizabeth area. Did you know that the proliferation of farms in the area prompted many to refer to the area as “The Iceberg (Lettuce) Capital of New England”? One of the early successful large farms was owned by the Hannaford brothers, who would later open a store on Commercial Street in Portland to sell their wares. (You know the rest of the story.)
We are in the midst of an unusually placid winter. When we visited on a recent Saturday afternoon, the 2.5-mile trail was bare of snow in many exposed spots and covered with slippery glacier-like tongues of ice in other spots. We were glad we brought along our ice creepers for our boots to help with the traction.
You may visit just after a 2-foot snowfall – who knows what the weeks ahead hold for us. Whatever the snow conditions, you can leave your cross-country skis at home for this walk, due to many sections of narrow, twisting trail and sudden ups and downs. The trail is marked with white blazes on the trees, and with small metal markers at trail junctions and turns. Keep following the white-blazed “Outer Trail” loop.
Because of the rocky terrain, this area was not farmed like most of the rest of the fertile Cape Elizabeth plain. There are many secluded sections of forest with tall, arrow-straight white pine and huge, gnarled red oak. We stopped in a couple of sun-splashed hardwood glades to scan with our binoculars rotted birch and pine trunks for woodpeckers. With a flash of wings a hairy woodpecker flew onto a tree and started pecking away, its long white longitudinal patch brilliantly bisecting its broad black back. Chickadee and nuthatch calls battled with crow calls for forest supremacy.
Suddenly, we caught the flash of a big black bird with white head flying into a nearby treetop. We were stunned, and fumbled for the binoculars. What was it? Had we sighted the thought-to-be-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker? Our hearts truly were racing. My wife got to the binoculars first and broke my heart with the news, “It’s a big crow with a huge chunk of bread in its mouth.” We shared a big laugh at our birding prowess, and came to the conclusion that crows came first, then television in the ever-evolving time-line of human entertainment.
Back at the parking area we crossed over Shore Road and followed a path 100 yards down to the steep cobble embankment perched above Pond Cove. An hour before the near cove had been filled with a mirror of water. Now a broad black tumble of rocks was appearing leading across to the far point, leaving an isolated small saucer of water to its left. How many thousands of years of winter storms had chopped away at the point and carried its debris into the cove to reappear twice a day at low water?
We sat down on the cobble, delighted that the early afternoon sun had warmed the rocks to help provide a soothing natural lounge chair to settle into, watched the wavelets tumble into shore and observed the flotilla of various inshore ducks and gulls. A pair of Canada geese walked along the grassy shoreline on the other side of the cove, and two mallards splashed in the water near the exposed rocks. A pair of large raptors circled in the thermals high above the cove. Maybe on your visit you will see the elusive Barrow’s Goldeneye, or the ironically white winter plumage of the Black Guillemot as it arcs around the cove.
Then we succumbed to the warm rocks and penetrating sun. Eyes closed, we absorbed the warmth and listened to the gentle swish of wavelets, distant foghorn, and gull calls. With our last scan with the binoculars we spied a white speck far out to sea. Lobster boat? Slowly a giant oil tanker rose out of the sea, churning up and over the horizon. A brilliant orange superstructure slowly appeared, and minutes later a black deck emerged, shimmering mysteriously in the cold maritime air suspended over the water. We spent a half hour watching it get larger and larger, and then headed back to the vehicle with vows we’d be back again soon with a picnic lunch, and spend another beautiful winter day at the edge of the sea.
Check out the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust Web site at capelandtrust.org for detailed property descriptions and trail maps.