Setting the Scene: A Land of Fire and Ice
August 23, 2013
This is the way I wrote about Acadia National Park for a travel magazine. It’s far different when I describe the location in a novel.
The landscape has long been chiseled by the winds rains, fire, and ice of an ancient time that sculpted nature’s statuary of hard rock images, hidden away to the highlands and along the coastline of a restless sea.
Along the aristocratic Acadia seacoast of Maine, the first rays of sunlight touch the pink granite slopes of Cadillac Mountain, while far belong, an angry ocean crashes wildly into the turbulent recesses of Thunder Hole.
As far as the eye can see, Mount Desert Isle – the island of solitary mountains – is wrapped in dark green hemlock, fir, spruce, and pine forests.
Acadia National Park, near Bar Harbor, covers 41,642 acres, preserving Maine’s rockbound coast. It is webbed with 120 miles of hiking trails that range from short, level surf walks to steep pathways that climb toward the beckoning ledges and cliffs of a high country carved by volcano and glacier.
Drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard. Around you sprawl the peaks of Mount Desert Island, encircled by saltwater, often seen as another world cloaked with sea smoke and gray muted fog.
Seagulls catch the wind and soar toward distant isles, while tidepools – hidden pockets of seawater stranded in rock basins – become natural aquariums that brim with curious allotments of sea life, shells, pebbles, and plants.
Mount Desert Island was created by a continental glacier, and erratic boulders sit isolated where they were abandoned by great ice sheets often two miles thick. Somes Sound, a glacial river valley drowned by the sea, remains as the only fjord on the East Coast.
Acadia’s forest and mountain regions are intertwined by 57 miles of carriage roads – broad, smooth, and graveled byways – that have been set aside exclusively for hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, and carriages. They travel to Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake, winding past beaver-dammed brooks and around the flanks of Sargent and Penobscot Mountain, offering unforgettable vistas of Somes Sound and Frenchman Bay.
More than three hundred species of birds flock to the isles where the land joins the sear. Seals bask on the rocky shoreline of Baker Island. And from the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, you can join national park service rangers to learn more about Acadia’s natural and cultural history. Witness porpoises, seals, eagles, and nesting colonies of sea birds on a cruise, hike back into mountains still blackened by the fury of an ancient volcano, or explore the rocky shoreline and hidden ledges of distant islands that still depend on lighthouses to guard a treacherous and unforgiving coast.
And this is how I would describe the landscape in a novel when the reader wants to catch a glimpse of the location but, more importantly, get on with the story.
Morning caught him alone on the cliffs above the rocky Maine coastline. He kept back among the shadows of great boulders that some continental glacier had thrown precariously across Mount Desert Isle when ice sheets two miles thick had been abandoned by the sea. An eagle soared above him. A family of seals lay sleeping on the rocks, waiting for the sun. Below, he could hear an angry ocean crashing into the turbulent recesses of Thunder Hole. He moved quietly across volcanic ledges and past tidepools – hidden pockets of seawater stranded in rock basins – heading against his better judgment toward a lighthouse rising just above a forest of hemlock and spruce. It was barely visible in sea smoke and a gray muted fog. The message had told him to be there by daylight. He had no idea who was waiting for him.
You should never stop a good story to provide a travelogue that tells readers every thing you know or even imagine about a location.
The description should simply be part of the story, offeringa sense of place and nothing else.