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.