At the edge of consciousness
Where the lines they start to fade
Where the spirit goes undressed
Of all malice and brocade
At the edges, silvery edges
Where the mirror it bends and stretches
Past the edges of this world
Where the waters crash and curl
-David Gray, “Davey Jones’ Locker”
There is a power of place that transcends memory, time and logic. Smells, sounds, and shimmering moments of déjà vu conspire to transport our consciousness somewhere familiar, yet somehow altogether strange. For me, Maine is one of those places.
Situated so close to the mega-metropolis of the Northeast (only a few hours’ drive from Boston), it’s startling how tranquil Maine can be. The landscape, in summer, is quite picturesque: rolling green fields, dense woodlands, and winding rural roads. Homesteads and mansions alike pepper the coastal towns, lending a decidedly domesticated atmosphere to the region. I am accustomed to the rugged, gaping expanses of the West and, in comparison, coastal Maine does not feel at all wild. Even when a moose or a fisher can be spotted, or a giant snapping turtle crosses your path, it feels somehow… tamed. Compromised. It’s almost as though these creatures are intentionally making an appearance. As though they have agreed to participate in this quaint scene.
Even the Atlantic ocean here is subdued, its power diffused by the myriad islands and peninsulas, tiny wavelets curling over your feet almost imperceptibly on the beach. Indeed, a far cry from the thundering surf of the Pacific.
I was here for more than 3 months last summer, working as a teaching assistant for Maine Media Workshops. (See my farewell note here.) It wasn’t an easy summer for me in many ways, and I found that being in a place so remote from everything I care about served as a catalyst for some pretty serious soul-searching. Like many people teetering at the edge of a new decade (I was about to turn 30), I had some things to figure out. I still do. We all do. A year later, have I made progress? I think so. I hope so.
And here I am again, in this familiar-yet-strange place. Swirling tides, screeching gulls, spluttering diesel engines in the harbor. The musty smell of Victorian mansions left in various states of disrepair. Salty sea spray and wispy clouds in a haltingly blue sky. The smell of lobster on my hands, a full belly, and a cold summer ale passing over my lips. The sound of songbirds in the woods and the glow of fireflies perched on my finger. Slippery carpets of kelp draped over rocks at low tide like limp wigs. Fog and drizzle and a gentle breeze through the poplar trees. Each of these triggers a sort of reluctant, melancholy nostalgia; memories of discontent I cannot quite trust.
I arrived in mid-coast Maine (Camden and Rockport area) on Tuesday afternoon. It was a gorgeous, sunny mid-70s summer day, and my first stop was to say hello to my colleagues from last summer at the MMW campus. Some knew I was coming, others were surprised to see me. It was interesting to be on campus, watching the churning chaos of workshop operations, and to not be a part of it. A spectator. A tourist.
My demeanor was so much more relaxed than last summer, as my only agenda for this trip consisted of socializing, exercising, eating seafood and sightseeing for the week. When all was said and done, I accomplished 3 out of 4 for the week, which ain’t too shabby (sightseeing never materialized).
I spent an afternoon at Seal Harbor and Birch Point Beach, as well as a day in lovely Belfast. I swam laps at the familiar Penobscot Bay YMCA, and jogged out past the dairy farm by Lily Pond. I sat on the dock in Rockport harbor and dangled my feet in the water.
Wandering, in solitude, the same places as I had a year earlier stirred in me many memories, faded with time yet intermittently vivid. Fleeting vignettes. Flickering, sputtering flames. Shadows on a sagging clapboard wall. Voices singing faintly in the night wind. Revelations, revisited.
The summer rains are coming, and I am ready to dance.
Where the sands they blow and shift
Borne away now on the drift
Maybe I can free myself
Dancing with the swaying kelp
Maybe I’ll redeem myself
Swirling with the swaying kelp