Thursday, June 24, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
I feel incredibly blessed to have lived at the beach in coastal Maine for the past 19 years. Despite the fact that I spent summers here in Maine growing up, I never thought I'd be a year 'round resident as an adult. I can remember playing on Maine's rocky coast with my cousins from the moment the sun would come up each morning, until long after it had set in the evening. The three of us would play never ending games of tag, we'd build forts using drift wood, we would have contests to see who could find the most sea glass and we would play endless games of "pretend". The beach would be a castle, being attacked by a dragon one moment, and a campground for pirates the next. It would transform into a house, a ship and an airplane within our imaginary world. Maine beaches are, for the most part, not like beaches most people imagine....they're craggy inlets bearing thousands of stones, with tidal pools holding their own miniature ecosystems. They aren't the same sand beaches one would see in California, Florida or Hawaii. They're more rugged, more austere and more remote. They're romantic, ever changing and full of surprises. My own children have found sea whelks, crabs, mussels, clams, rocks from every possible classification, and even bits of Maine life...a lobster buoy that floated away from its mooring, a perfectly polished mother of pearl shell, a bit of old shard pottery. They've watched the progress of a small hermit crab moving out of one shell and into another. The Maine beaches are always filled with the unexpected.
Our neighborhood is fairly new one, by New England standards. Once part of a much larger estate, the lots were subdivided and the ring surrounding our private cove was build slowly over a thirty year period. None of the houses are similar to one another, and each one has its own flavor and style. Over time, the houses have often changed hands and become summer homes for people who want to escape the humidity in Boston, Philadelphia and New York. It's not a 'tight' neighborhood in which everyone knows one another well. People tend to come and go with the seasons and have specific agendas for their homes and their own priorities. As a result, many of us simply aren't familiar with our neighbors. As the only house that currently has children on the street, I have often felt the need to 'shush' my kids when they've played outside, trying to respect the privacy of our retired neighbors. It hasn't always been easy to keep street hockey balls, and various toys, from sailing over the fence line into another yard. I have had to apologize for pink trees, due to my son's paint ball gun. It has been a constant challenge to find the balance between neighborhood peace and allowing my kids to 'be kids'.
The one aspect of neighborhood life in our cove that we all share is a mutual passion for our beach. We all enjoy it, and as it's so often deserted, we tend to feel very protective of our little slice of Maine heaven. Because I walk my dogs on the beach almost every day, I have come to know every boulder, every inlet, every landmark stone and every crevice quite well. I even have come to know where the best rocks for stepping on happen to be, so I don't twist my ankle as I walk. About a year ago, one large boulder, near the edge of the beach began to have mysterious designs on it that changed every few days. One day there might be a heart, created using bits of seaweed and drift wood. The next time I checked, I might have seen "Thanks" designed using mussel shells and tiny pebbles. Using materials found on our beach, I have spied the words "Faith", "Joy", "Hope", "Care" and simply a jolly "Hi!". Now, as I traverse my neighborhood on my daily dog walk, I smile more broadly at each of my neighbors. I can't help but wonder who the artistic communicator is with every "Good morning" I say. Is it the woman whose extraordinary garden has been photographed for many magazines? Is it the cranky gentleman who never smiles or says "hello" back...does he hide a secret soft side? Could it possibly be the elegant, but elderly, southern belle, who takes her constitutional strolls in heels and pearls daily? Since the words of blessing and greeting have begun appearing on the boulder at the beach edge, I've looked at my neighbors in an entirely new light. It has made me more patient, more understanding and more tolerant. I can't help but be fascinated by my speculation. It makes me think more gently of the neighbors who might complain about our dog getting out or our kids laughing outside at the bonfire at 10 PM. I can't help but speculate if the gruff exterior of one of these people hides the soul of a poet.
Yesterday, on Father's Day, I was missing my own father deeply. Though he passed away in 1998, I feel his presence with me. The feeling of mourning hasn't gone away. It's only been channeled into a way that I have learned to live with. It was because of my father, and his own love of Maine, that our family began summering here. Later, despite living in my mother's and my home state of California, we would continue to come to Maine as much as we possibly could. In all fairness, Mom and I weren't thrilled initially, but over time, we began to love Maine for all its beauty and solitude. When my father retired and my parents moved to Maine full time, it was natural for my husband and me to want to settle here too. In the years before my father's death, we had wonderful memories together, as he taught my own children about the magic of the Maine coast. As I was missing him yesterday, I took my German Shepherd for a stroll along the cove he loved so much. I sat down, and letting Mackenzie play in the waves, I looked out over the bay towards the islands we used to visit every summer. I felt closer to my dad that I had in a long time. With every breath in of the salty air, I could feel his spirit merge with my own. And yet, this being Maine, the sky grew black in a matter of moments and the rumble of distant thunder came rolling in over the mountains. I knew it was time to head back up to my house.
But, as I walked past the 'Message Boulder', I realized that it was blank for the first time in weeks. Without a thought of the impending storm, I methodically gathered my materials. Using a bit of crab shell, broken mussels and periwinkles, finding pebbles in an array of colors, as well as some pieces of driftwood and sea glass, I wrote I LOVE YOU DAD on the stone. The raindrops were just beginning to fall I finished up. Snapping the leash back on my dog, she and I raced up the path and down the street to the sanctuary of our house, myself laughing the whole way, and Mackenzie giving her excited Shepherd "Yip".
I can't help but wonder if my father could see my message to him...and if my imaginative word writing neighbor will appreciate my contribution. I can only hope so on both counts.