Monday, December 5, 2011
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Up from Bangor, leaving the gem-like coast behind – the faceted boulders, garnet blueberry fields, opalescent sea and sky – for the yellow-leaved hardwoods of the north. Through towns bustling, towns on the skids, towns that never got started, towns completely finished. Past and over the foaming Kenduskeag; passed by the lumbering logging trucks and signs advertising goods, new, used and long-moldering, for sale. Everything along the way is for sale: pumpkins, horses, cars, houses, hay, cider, apples, tires, plow trucks, lamb, fish, books, acreage, “crafts”, railroad ties, trailers, motorcycles. It’s a hardscrabble life along here.
The lake and surrounding mountains are everything. I hope the distressed frequently “lift up [their]eyes unto the hills” because that’s about all there is – all and everything. And the undulations of the lake. And the cloud shadows passing over, fingering the mountains with darkness and light.
We arrive at our beautiful inn, shown up to a paradox of a room right out of a 1930’s Hollywood parlor romance. At any moment I expect Rosalind Russell to swan in – all dark lipstick and fingernails – hair perfectly coiffed and wearing a frock (never a “dress) of some glittering, silky, clinging material. Outside the lumber trucks rumble by.
This part of northern interior Maine was more prosperous in the days of the rusticators and Big Lumber. Evidence of this is all around – the fantastic, now faltering wooden confections that were the lakeside mountain houses, the rock-ribbed Masonic hall and this inn, a lordly mansion with its terraces and cannons. Here the Maine dichotomy is writ large.
Rusticators are mostly gone - hunters remain. They were always here of course, but now they tear up the woods in ATV’s instead of trotting in on horseback or tramping in on foot. There was an elegance and gracefulness to the past that has been largely lost. Weekend warriors have taken over the woods and lakes.
This is a rough part of the state. As with the coast, there is cold granite under the lush flowerbeds and, at this time of year, a biting wind off the lake that reminds me how bitter is the winter here. But it’s beautiful, beautiful. Run away, moose. The hunters are here, but they won’t stay forever and you can go back to your gentle, placid ways.
We feel as if we are in the back of beyond. We’re unfamiliar with this area and, although we live in a pretty remote part of the state, this feels even more separate because of its strangeness to us. I couldn’t live in this wilderness but I understand the powerful pull. Along the coast we have hills and distant glimpses of what we are pleased to call mountains; here are true mountains, magnificent and craggy, changing during the day from gray to blue to slate to purple. The movement of clouds over their sides and slopes is endlessly mesmerizing. On fine afternoons a band of light outlines the peaks with a frill of gold. In the woods the smallest detail stops me along the path: a scarlet leaf on the forest floor, a fist of springy moss, a tiny whorl of some small water plant caught in a cleft of submerged stone. These minutiae bespeak some tremendous otherness, so removed from our usual experience, so profound. I derive a deep sense of comfort from knowing it’s all here: the light bright across the tops of the trees, the ruffled brilliance of hardwoods against the pines, juncos rising up in flocks from the side of the road, the moose and her calf standing among the birches, the yellow leaves in the yellow light, the impossible blue of the lake, the lace of clouds. It’s all so reassuring somehow. It will all be here forever - at least that’s how it seems; a flow of life, separate from our human strum und drang, that all goes on in spite of us, thank goodness.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
It has to be a pretty hot day for a Mainer to think of swimming. Yesterday was one such, and we went to the beach. Our beach is a crescent of rough sand along the causeway facing south to the islands and beyond. To the left and in the center are barbarous canes lifting the most sweetly fragrant rugosas, to the right are piles of granite and sea-rounded rock.
Parents and children were putting tentative toes into the water, wading in the shallows and a few of the braver ones, swimming. I noticed how pale were these northern beach goers. Nowhere here the broiled coconut scent redolent of the seashore where I grew up.
Along that Jersey shore, summer is one long warm sunny day of nicely baked ease, softness, drinks from coolers, glittering jellyfish, snatches of music from the boardwalk, sleek seagulls and sleeker lifeguards. There is a rule-straight horizon where the beach meets water and water meets sky. Speedboats and jet skis plume along heedless of swimmers who venture too far out. Chubby toddlers pat the sand or nap in the shade of gently flapping beach umbrellas. Mothers read and doze, fathers run into the water and belly flop like ten-year-olds, teenagers and college kids preen and roast or sleep off the previous night in the shade of the ticket booth. A build up of bundled cloud over the water allows plenty of time to gather beach chairs, towels and sand toys and get home ahead of a thunderstorm. In the evening, the warmth of afternoon sun is still trapped beneath the wide blue sands and the scent of the hushing surf mingles with the taffy-cotton-candy-ice-cream-warm creosote smell of the boards.
Here in Maine beach-going is all tang and spice – no sugar sand, no Tiki bars, no cotton candy – just flinty stones and beach glass, blue-purple mussel shells, and cold wavelets lapping seaweed.
On wide, mid-Atlantic beaches there is ample room for retreat when the tide turns landward. Here the tide will not only catch you out but cut you off. Firm-appearing sands become quagmires, invitingly soft sand hides nail-studded timbers, remnants of lobster crates, driftwood splinters, dried crab claws and other sea-wrack.
Our beaches are small and hard, coves mostly, like crooks of elbows surrounded by a scrim of soil-on-rock where wildflowers bob. Often our only companions are deer flies, snakelike coils of kelp and the unearthly and amorphous inhabitants of tide pools.
You can’t laze the day away on these sandy outcrops. Even on the warmest days the breeze raises goosebumps on unprotected skin and sweatshirts and blanketed legs are the preferred beach cover ups. After midday we’re grateful for a rough blanket around our shoulders. Here, there’s an atmosphere of alertness; the air is charged with ozone, breezes shift and bite, and crisp white sails slice the space between the saw-tooth profiles of the islands. Instead of calliope music there is birdsong and the crying of gulls.
It's hard to describe the sensation of swimming in our deep blue. It isn't hard to imagine ice crystals forming on the raised arm of the swimmer who attempts even a brief crawl along the shore. Standing in the shallows, where little silvery fish and transparent lobster fry dart around toes, can produce an aching numbness that reaches high above submerged ankles. Maine swimmers go forth, breathless and wary, respectful and slightly overwhelmed by beauty, strangeness, cold, more likely to return home wind burnt than sun burnt and grateful for the fireplace. After a plunge from an island ledge I pop up gasping for breath, skin prickling, heart racing. Diving into ice-cold champagne might have the same effect.
When the sun breaks through the clouds it’s like a blessing.