Personal Best: Place to Be Photographed in the Nude
Given the array of biting insects, the prevalence of cold waters, and the unpredictability of the weather, not to mention the natural modesty of the natives, Maine is not a great place for nudity. Oh, you might from time to time see some skinny-dippers in the flooded quarries on Vinalhaven or a few artists au naturel sunning themselves on the rocks at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, but, other than that, Maine is pretty much a clothing-mandatory kind of place.
If for some reason, however, you ever find it necessary or desirable to be photographed in the buff al fresco, the very best place to do so is Sargent Pond in Acadia National Park.[For the rest of this story, see the January 2008 issue of Down East]It's absolutely beautiful, totally secluded, and sweaty hikers swim nude there all the time. The hike up Sargent Mountain and along the Jordan Cliff also happens to be the best and most beautiful day hike on the entire coast of Maine, so, by all means, do it whether you intend to go starkers or not.
I first discovered the wild pleasures of Sargent Pond during the summer of '78 while living on Mount Desert Island and working on an as-yet conspicuously unpublished novel. To distract myself from my literary labors, I would bicycle through the park from Northeast Harbor to Bar Harbor and back, occasionally wandering out onto the hiking trails of Acadia, the only national park in America where it is impossible to get lost.
I hiked to the pond perhaps a half dozen times that summer and then, some years later in the go-go 1980s, I reprised the hike for an article in Maine Times, making the mistake of taking photographer Christopher Ayres along with me. Not only did Chris duly document every step of the journey, but I had to carry his cumbersome tripod up and down the mountain. Something about a bad back.
The thing about the hike from the Jordan Pond House to Sargent Pond and back across Penobscot Mountain and Jordan Ridge is that there are rewards both coming and going. You start by taking a leisurely stroll along the carriage road from the Jordan Pond House to the north end of Jordan Pond. From there you climb up through the woods along the Deer Brook Trail, following the rocky brook a strenuous .8 mile to Sargent Pond, a sylvan oasis cupped in the bowl between Sargent Mountain and Penobscot Mountain.
If you arrive at Sargent Pond hot and sweaty and can resist the urge to doff your kit and plunge in, you're a better man (or woman) than I am.
Once thoroughly refreshed, you hike out along Jordan Ridge, each step along the totally exposed lunar landscape of the mountaintop providing you with the most spectacular views of Frenchman Bay and the shattered islands off Mount Desert to be had without an airplane. Even when Acadia is socked in with fog and you can only see from cairn to cairn, the hike down along Jordan Ridge is worth the effort.
At the end of the ridge, the trail drops precipitously down over Jordan Cliffs, a near vertical descent that is made possible for the faint of height (such as myself) by ladders, handrails, and the fact that the cliff trail is largely screened by trees. Vertigo only sets in when you look back up the way you came.
When you reach the bottom, you just walk back along the carriage trail to the Jordan Pond House, there to reward yourself for four or five hours on the mountain with tea and popovers on the lawn. And while sipping tea and spreading jam, you may want to glance furtively around just to make sure that no one at the lawn party happened to witness your Full Monty up at the pond.
In my case, photographer Chris Ayres had snapped off a few discreet frames of the intrepid author swimming beneath the clear, cool waters of Sargent Pond. So a week later, there I was, naked as a pike and white as a perch, in the pages of Maine Times. The one and only nude scene of my journalistic career. Unless one of those underwater nudes should indiscreetly re-surface here, I will assume that they were destroyed decades ago and that my dignity has been restored.
Editor's Note: No such luck.
Edgar Allen Beem, a Maine native who has been writing about Maine life since 1965, was on the staff of the alterative weekly newspaper Maine Times from 1980-1995, during which time he often performed above and beyond the call of duty - such as
doffing his clothes for this photograph.