Fall in Maine, United States, is prime season to feast on lobsters and admire the gorgeous foliage
It is a balmy, tranquil day at the fishing docks of Casco Bay and I am watching shiny white boats haul in their catch at the waterfront.
Across the river, the foliage is a lovely spectrum of scarlet and yellows.
My husband returns to our table with a large lobster, boiled to a fiery red. He dons his armour (a plastic bib, really) and attacks the crustacean.
In one fell swoop, he skilfully twists off the claws and breaks each one with a nutcracker.
To dislodge the tail, I arch the back of the lobster till it snaps with a resounding crack.
"Ooh, tomalley," I say as I unhinge the shell, hungrily eyeing the oozing greyish-green slime.
This is the lobster's liver, which looks remarkably unappetising, but is considered by some to be a delicacy.
We are devouring lobster with warm melted butter at the Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster shack (36 Main Street, South Freeport, ME 04078; +1 207-865-3535; www.harra seeketlunchandlobster.com) in South Freeport, which counts George and Barbara Bush among its legions of fans, according to The New York Times.
This is our maiden trip to Maine in autumn, the prime season for hard-shell lobsters, which is significant for a state that accounts for more than 80 per cent of the lobster haul in the United States.
The best places to enjoy lobsters are the lobster shacks or outdoor pounds - devoid of frills - that harvest and boil the crustaceans on the spot.
We are within sight and scent of the sea, our fingers dripping with lobster juice and creamy corn on the cob.
If we look quite the experts, it is because this is our third lobster feast in just two days.
We started off awkward and uncertain, our eyes darting between the crustacean and the eight-step "how-to-eat-a-lobster" instructions in our trays.
By the end of our five-day trip, we will have eaten nine whole lobsters and countless lobster rolls - mounds of cold, sweet flesh served on hot, crisp bread - between us.
We will know the anatomy of the lobster rather intimately (and make mental notes to arrange cholesterol tests).
To round off our meal, we order dessert of wild blueberry pie. The crust is warm and buttery, and the blueberries - the official fruit of Maine - so plump that they explode in bursts of tangy sweetness with every bite.
This is the life, I sigh contentedly, as we dine alfresco by the wharf, breathing in the sea-salted air and enjoying views of the harbour.
But there is more to it, we discover, as we explore other facets of coastal Maine in the fall.
It hits us that autumn is a commodity in Maine, when there are hotlines for visitors to track the changing foliage hues and there are fall surcharges at some hotels.
Nature is a flamboyant exhibitionist in autumn in the otherwise low-key New England region. In the thick of fall, the vivid colours of scarlet, purple, red, orange and yellow leaves enliven the backdrop of pristine highlands and jagged coastlines.
Autumn is exceptional in Maine due to the permutation of weather, altitude and soil, coupled with the native species of trees that glow with lustre in the fall, such as witch hazel (purples), sugar maples (reds), birch and beech (yellows).
Fall foliage appears as early as mid-September in northern Maine, and as late as mid-October in the state's south.
When we arrive and take the scenic coastal drive from Portland to Bar Harbor, the peak of leaf season is unusually about a week late, but the hues of foliage lining the roads are still breathtaking.
A sight that impresses us enough to stop our car and gawk by the road is a blanket of leafy creepers swaddling a quaint brick house in a wave of reds and yellows.
It is not uncommon to see vehicles parked by the streets, with "leaf peepers" - an affectionate term for visitors who come to enjoy autumn scenery - stepping out to gaze at the brilliantly hued foliage and gently falling leaves.
The kaleidoscope of colours is fleeting, and visitors want to catch the intense shades that exist only for a brief period each year.
We imagine that Maine is beautiful in different ways all year, but the state proves dazzling in autumn. For many, the canopy of colours is an enchanting sight worth paying high-season rates for.
More than 60 historical light- houses dot the rocky coast of Maine, and we enjoy visiting these emblematic structures in the cool autumn breeze.
For hundreds of years, light- houses guided ships navigating the complicated peninsulas of the Maine coast and represented hope for lost vessels.
With the advent of GPS technology, these lighthouses no longer play the role today, but they still embody the nostalgia and mission of the past.
We stroll along to photograph some famous lighthouses along the way, such as the Portland Head Lighthouse at Cape Elizabeth.
We perch ourselves near some of these landmark structures, listening to the waves that lap lyrically against the coastline.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Acadia National Park (www.nps. gov/acad; +1-207-288-3338; Admission: US$25 or S$35 for each private vehicle, valid for seven days), located on Mount Desert Island, is one of the most popular parks in America, and the riot of colours makes the vistas even more picturesque this season.
The park is well suited for outdoor enthusiasts. One can choose to bike on carriage roads paved with crushed rock surfaces, or hike through a selection of the park's 200km of historic trails.
Sea kayaking tours are also available in surrounding waters.
My husband decides that his waistline is ballooning too quickly from the lobster diet and changes into his jogging gear, happily running in solitude along a scenic path.
The waistband of my pants seems fine, I tell myself, and settle to read a book on a rock facing the shoreline of Bar Harbor.
Bird lovers will be thrilled at the opportunity to spot bald eagles, blue herons, peregrine falcons and woodpeckers, among other species that call the park home.
Cadillac Mountain, situated within the park, is a must-see in Maine and boasts the highest point of the North Atlantic seaboard.
At the break of dawn, we head to its peak, which is the first place in America to view sunrise.
The sight is so mesmerising that we return at dusk, this time to capture photographs of unblocked silhouettes against the sunset.
The Park Loop Road is a scenic 32km roadway that circles much of the park, allowing drivers to get a good overview of the crashing waves and granite mountains.
For lunch, we stop at the famous Jordan Pondhouse (www.acadia jordanpondhouse.com; +1-207-276-3316) to sample its renowned popover pastries, named as such because the batter swells and explodes over the muffin tin while baking.
Eaten with butter and fresh strawberry jam, the fluffy rolls are light, fragrant and somewhat creamy on the inside, living up to the hype. It is no wonder that Maine is known as the "vacation state", with its rich offering of breath-taking scenery, outdoor activities and culinary delights.
On our final morning in Maine, I cannot resist the lure of yet another lobster pound.
The button on my jeans threatens to pop, but I throw caution to the wind as I chow down my last lobster roll by the harbour and watch seagulls snack on leftovers.
•Denise Lim is a freelance writer.
We flew from Washington DC to Portland International Jetport, Maine, on United Airlines.
• In September and October, the days are warm and pleasant, but temperatures can dip considerably in the evening to about 4 deg C in October.
• Fall foliage appears as early as mid-September in northern Maine, and as late as mid-October in the state's south. Track the foliage website (www.mainefoliage.com) to plan your trip and keep updated on the changing hues.
• Make reservations for accommodation early as autumn is peak season. Some inns have a foliage surcharge of US$10 (S$14) to US$40 a room a night. We stayed in Quimby House Inn (www.quimbyhouse. com; 109 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609), where room rates start at US$125 a night in autumn.
• Most lobsters caught in autumn are hard-shelled lobsters. Lobster shacks start to close for the year in mid-October, or after Columbus Day (which falls on the second Monday of October). Call ahead or check the websites of lobster shacks for season dates.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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