Wondering and Wandering in Down East Maine: Journey’s End

As the last piece of furniture was added today to the c. 1880 farmhouse in Maine, a kitchen table from about the same era, I was enveloped by a wonderful sense of fulfillment. After years of travel and many pursuits, I was home at last. Rewind to when I lived in southern California decades ago, as a young graduate student at UCLA.  Although I found a great sense of “home” in Westwood and Beverly Hills as a center, with epicenters in the Sierra, Big Sur, and Death Valley ( spiraling all the way to Mendocino to the north and the Mexican Baja peninsula to the south), I still longed for Maine. I had never been there in the winter or the spring–only in the summers, but it felt “home” in a way no other place had.  I remember a counselor telling me that we all want to be away somewhere, sitting in the sun with a sombrero. I responded that Kennebunkport was not like Mexico at all. She had no clue. I loved the natural beauty of California deeply, but Maine still spoke to me in a different, quieter way.

Then I made an observation which few people will understand. I thought that both states should secede from the Union, and become separate countries. Why? Because they were such diverse yet complete entities, having a spectrum of  elements that were  somehow different from the other states I had grown up in. California in the 60’s was a golden vision of “anything and everything is possible,” and a cinematic adventure. Maine had always been to me the metaphor of man living with nature in an Emersonian transcendentalist world. And both were connected to Europe by sea exploration centuries ago.

In the end, Maine has become my home, and I’ll explain why. All my historical investigations in college began with the Greek civilization, which had to colonize the entire Mediterranean to function. They traded to stay alive, literally. So in Maine. The upshot is that the tie with the sea is paramount, and while ancient Greece imported wood, Maine exported it. I was in Milbridge yesterday, and some of the sea captains’ homes are still standing. Even though that way of life has disappeared, with the tall ships and commerce, there is a palpable past here. And descendants still work with lumber and fishing. Where I live on the Schoodic  peninsula, pick up trucks and lobster boats are as visible as ubiquitous  BMW’s and Mercedes’  back in Tampa, where we have had an elegant home and studio for 30 years.  There is a very different way of looking at things, and I am starting to understand it. Although, unlike Paris, I don’t have to learn a second language,  I have to interpret  thought, as Maine has more than a dialect or accent; it is a very different way of looking at things.

Like ancient Greece, coastal Maine is a mix of the insular and the cosmopolitan. It is a place where paradoxes and contrasts abound. There is “home spun” along with sharp analytical perception and patience. Imagine, the other day in the metropolis of Bangor (so it seems compared to my rural environment), I ended up in the wrong lane and blocked turning traffic. Did even one person flaunt an obscene gesture or honk a horn? Not one. They all backed up and pulled around in the other turn lane. In the park yesterday, where “do not park off the road” signs have recently sprung up, one car was stopped (there are two lanes, only in one direction), and the driver was taking photos of the ocean. I hadn’t seen this since I drove in the English countryside so long ago. Hey, the world is for people, not for machines!

Which brings me to the most amazing point. Because of incomprehensible legalities, I was not able to return to Paris…and that hurt. However, I have found that I am having French experiences here on the Maine coast. When we used to leave Paris, I would watch as we flew over Mt. St. Michel, then eventually Land’s End in England before the long air time over the Atlantic. I would shudder involuntarily that I was leaving something that I felt was “home.” I saw those tentacles of rock reaching toward the west. Then, hours later, I would see rock tentacles reaching east, as we were over Newfoundland. Today I sit on those finger-like rocks, looking out toward England and France.

As odd as it is, I feel this relationship every day here. After all, the largest bay nearby is “Frenchman Bay.” Mt. Desert Island was part of France under Louie XIV. The British expelled the French, who fled to New Orleans way down south. Oddly, however, I have almost daily hints of France. For example, when I see the Gothic style lines of the simple clapboard houses, with the verticality of that genre, it reminds me somehow of Paris. I mentioned this to someone recently, and they laughed, “Oh, right, Paris in Milbridge.”  Well, yes.

Right now it is another “Edward Hopper” day here. The light is perfect. So is everything else. I drive with the windows down because the fields and trees exude a most delicious scent from pine to bay, from wildflowers and seaweed. Literally my cup runneth over, as is stated in Psalms.

I remember seeing the film version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick with my dad when I was young. I still remember the prologue with shots of a flowing brook, with the voice over about all streams leading to the sea. Well, here I am, seeing those streams ending up in the Gulf of Maine. I have no intention of going off to sea a la Melville, but am more than content to stop at the rocks which speak to me of “home.”


2 thoughts on “Wondering and Wandering in Down East Maine: Journey’s End”

  1. You captured the Maine that anyone who has ever lived there feels. I went to college
    there, was friends with the descendants of ship captains, learned how to clean from
    the best, learned frugality, saw the unparalleled scenery and smelled the Maine woods
    you can’t smell anywhere else but Maine. The colors of the sky, water and land are so intense
    that no where else can duplicate them. From Maine you look down on the rest
    of the States and know that they are “seeing thru a glass darkly.”

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