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Maxwell: A vacation escape from Hurricane Irma

By Bill Maxwell

Four days before I was to board a plane at Tampa International Airport for a 12-day vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine, Upstate New York and Montreal, Hurricane Irma lashed St. Petersburg.

Because my home sits between Tampa Bay and Big Bayou, I expected catastrophic damage. Although huge oak and almond branches were tossed about like matchsticks, none hit the house and no water came near the property. After spending two days piling mountains of debris at curbside, I was eager to forget Irma for a while.

From Boston's Logan International, I traveled on a Cape Air 10-seater to Hancock County- Bar Harbor Airport. The flight over Boston's skyline was spectacular, and the scenery grew more spectacular as we flew low along the Atlantic shore.

I rented a car at the airport and drove to a popular lobster house. After feasting, I drove to a well-appointed vacation house in Mount Desert where I stayed for three nights. It was surrounded by hardwood trees, giving it a sense of isolation. I am certain that Mainer E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, would have liked it. The location inspired me to go online and reread White's 1941 essay "Once More to the Lake" that chronicles the author's pilgrimage back to a lakefront resort in Belgrade Lakes, Maine.

The next morning, I drove to Bar Harbor and took a guided tour of Acadia National Park. Our guide was exceptionally knowledgeable as he pointed out sights, such as the wild Gardens of Acadia at Sieur de Monts Spring, that make Acadia one of our most popular national parks even though it is one of the smallest.

Back in town, I had lunch at an elegant waterside restaurant and watched lobstermen at work and tourist vessels come and go against a picturesque horizon.

The following day, I drove to Montreal, one of my favorite destinations in the Americas. The trip was long, but every mile was worth it.

There is something about this island city of 2 million that many short-term visitors never realize: Montreal is a place of urban agriculture and has been since 1940, when Canada entered World War II. Community gardens were established to help the population become food self-sufficient, and today it has 15 public markets and many others called "solidarity markets" that sell everything found in large groceries stores. The added value is the sense of community these places offer.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that as a black man, I like Montreal because I am virtually invisible there. I do not experience the virulent racism I experience in most U.S. cities and towns simply for the color of my skin color. I am basically ignored in Montreal. I would rather be ignored and left alone in Montreal than feared and despised in the United States.

My next destination was Blue Mountain Lake in New York in the Adirondacks. I stayed at Prospect Point Cottages, which is in Adirondack Park, where I kayaked around small islands and listened to the yodel and hoot of loons.

Adirondack Park, designated "forever wild," comprises 6 million acres. It is a state-operated park, and it stands as a monument to environment sanity. It is bigger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon and the Great Smokies National Parks combined. Even so, it has found a way to develop handicap accessible trails for everyone to enjoy the wilderness. Private individuals own 3.4 million acres in the park, but land use is regulated by the Adirondack Park Agency.

The logical place to go after visiting the Adirondack Museum was Fort Ticonderoga, where many of the events of the nation's founding occurred. At the fort, you begin to understand how military campaigns – bloody battles and human carnage – established our national character and define it to this day.

I ended my vacation on the southwest end of Lake George at Tea Island Resort. I sat on my lakefront deck where I read, drank wine and beer, and watched sunrises. An added treat was observing boaters, swimmers and parasailers enjoying this wonderland.

I returned to St. Petersburg and found my debris piles where I left them. Now, they were brown and sunken from decay, ugly reminders of Hurricane Irma. I am back.