My recent visit to Maine was a patchwork of memories and a blossoming of experiences to add to them.
I moved there two minutes before my son was born, nearly 29 years ago. I fell in love with the town the minute I saw it, mostly for the spare, lovely homes that were placed so elegantly along its streets, and its brick-building-ed downtown that slopes gently into Belfast Bay. I even loved the winters, having never experienced blizzards and snow, bright sun on a pure white landscape, crystal-blue views from my windows.
I’ve been back several times, but this time was different. I stayed with friends and when I got up at the crack of dawn the first morning I tiptoed out onto the huge, furnished porch to find them all already there, mugs of steaming coffee in one hand, a book in the other. I was soon part of this lovely tableau, my attention riffing among my book, the snippets of conversation, the gentle traffic on the bay. What a way to begin the day.
I taught a two-day class in another wonderful home, this one with a double water view of the bay and a protected reservoir. Its airy kitchen was our lab, its screened-in porch the stage of our meals where we sat protected even from the hurling rain and wind that blessed one afternoon. I’ll be back, and I’ll be teaching, and I am already looking forward to it!
I wandered the streets of Belfast which, while chic, have retained their small-town feel. I bumped into people I remembered; met new people, went shopping at the food coop which had been my haunt so many years ago. It is the same, though like the children I knew then who are now smart, accomplished adults, it has changed.
There were sojourns to Camden where the clever driver avoids the clogged downtown; to Rockport with its tiny center of restaurants and galleries; to the Belfast river walk where herons populate the banks; and to an unforgettable meal at Young’s Lobster Pound. For such a popular and surely touristed spot that serves the locals most of the year, it hasn’t changed a whit. Faces are different, but the steamy, briny simplicity is exactly the same. Like everyone else we brought our finery to spread out on front row seating: a picnic table over the bay at sunset. We had appetizers and drinks, salads and bread, then filled in the gap with freshly steamed lobster, pots of butter, and a huge plate of clams. The meal was unforgettable in its purity; our laughter still lingers over the bay, I’m certain.
There was the daily cocktail hour up the road, where Northport neighbors convene every fine evening in varying permutations depending on who is visiting, so that the core group is always the same but the outer layer is constantly changing; there was the birthday party that ended up in dancing to sixties music on yet another expansive porch; the corn; the lamb; the laughter; a few tears as we celebrated the life of a loved one and renewed our own love for each other.
The Maine I know, and I believe it is simply Maine, is such a special place. There is something bright and focused about it. There are friends with whom I can pick up the thread instantly, as well as a moving society of new people each one more accomplished and interesting than the next. The architecture – Greek Revival, Italianate, Federal – remains among my favorite, and those barns cum living spaces are dreamy. As is the produce available from the markets.
But more than all of this what I saw this time, perhaps more than in the past, was something I’d call “the religion of Maine”. I am not referring to a denomination, but to the original meaning of the word (in Latin), which is “to tie or bind together”. One can interpret this in many ways, of course, but I think my host expressed it best, on his way to cocktail hour. “Here, we don’t just like each other we NEED each other. And we know it. And we celebrate it.”
They’ve got it right in that blessed spot, in Maine.