Monday, April 11, 2011

Far and Near

One of the first times I stayed away from home as a child was on our fifth grade trip to Camp Chewonki in Wiscasset, ME. There were negative aspects of my stay at Camp Chewonki for sure; there were the mosquitoes, and after days of battling them, every bit of bedding and every sweatshirt had the chemical DEET stink of Deep Woods Off. Then there was the fact that my recently cut hair had taken on a frizzy life of its own forming a triangle on my head that no amount of cap wearing could get to calm and lie flat. There were also the fun parts of camp like the crush I had on one of our camp counselors, and there were the arm wrestling matches between me and the fifth-grade boys I thought were cute, back when being a tomboy and being a bit tough and sassy had cachet.

But the things I remember most were the new experiences and adventures I had, and the simple ones were most profound. The woods at Camp Chewonki were dotted with delicate pink Lady Slippers. They could be found in shady spots in the forest where strands of light poked through, standing tall against the decaying leaf matter on the forest floor—yet dwarfed beneath the enormous trees above. The Lady Slippers were not like shells or beach pebbles that could be pocketed and brought home to show my parents and sisters. I couldn’t take them from their forest home without destroying the wonder that they were, and I remember agonizing that I could never convey the beauty of their pale leaves and gentle curves to my family back at home.

In the morning at camp, there was always hot cereal. In our house at home, we never had hot cereal. Eggs, yes. Bacon, frequently. Pancakes, all the time. Cold cereal, absolutely. But, we never had hot cereal, and I was fascinated by it. The other breakfast offerings at Camp Chewonki have faded from my memory, but the recollection of the various hot cereals remains, and mostly, I remember the various scents. I remember smelling the darker, warm grains flavored with maple, and then I remember a plain, pale grain—maybe rice or wheat. I’m sure there were oats, and the sweet smells of the brown sugar and raisins were tantalizing. I’m not even sure if I tried some or any of these hot cereals. I wasn’t really sure how you were supposed to eat them, and I was afraid of trying them and not liking them. But the experience of sensing something new and foreign was exotic to me—making me eager to experience more of my world—more of the world beyond the home I knew and loved.

Years later, I was hired to coach skiing at a youth ski camp in Zermatt, Switzerland. At 21, I was pretty much a youth myself, and leading up to my departure I was both ecstatic and terrified. I remember the damp, dusty smell in the tunnel at the top of the tram. I was told that the fine, pale-grey silt at the top of the mountain was actually sand from the Sahara blown on the wind and deposited when the winds buffeted the Alps. On the other side of the tunnel with the strange damp, clay taste, the brilliant, sapphire sky was so bright and expansive and in such bold contrast to the stark white snow, it was overwhelming. It seemed like every sunny day I’d ever known packed into one—bigger and brighter than my imagination. After days of becoming acquainted with the piste, or open trails on the glacier, I remember skiing lazily down to where we’d ride the gondola back down to town since the summer months had left the lower slopes green and bare of snow. As I skied down through soft, granulated snow, the warmth from above mingled with the cool breeze off the snow. All was bright blue, white, jagged peaks in the distance, glorious green pastures below, and again I thought, “How will I ever transport this back to my family; how can I share this experience with them.” I tried my very best by talking about Switzerland non-stop for months after my return. Nearly every sentence I spoke started with “In Zermatt . . .”

Throughout my life, I’ve felt both the lure of the distant and the gravity of the familiar—a need to see, feel, taste, touch, and hear what the distant places of the world have to offer and a desire to bring those experiences home to the people and places that are most familiar and most dear to me.

This past Thursday, I made a small effort to marry the two. Maine, that fairy-tale land that I have loved since I first looked at Lady Slippers in the forest, has been on my mind all my life—both when I lived there in college and beyond—as well as in the years I lived on the West Coast. So, on Thursday of last week, I signed some papers in an old law office in Waldoboro, ME, and I took possession of the deed for 3.3 acres of land, which boasts both a small fixer of a cottage and 82’ of rocky shoreline on Sampson Cove—where the Medomak River meets the sea. The deed will be in my name, and it will remain my center of gravity as I continue to seek out adventures far from home—but I will share this place that has captured my affection wholly with my family and friends. They will likely live there more than I will, and by sharing this treasure, I hope to make it more real and even more special.

And even as I type this, Brian is digesting the final phase of boat plans that have just arrived in the mail, and our plans to strike out for distant shores remain the driving force that they have been for the past two and a half years. Our voyaging dreams will remain our motivation for the months and years ahead, and we also hope to share our sailing dreams—both through in person visits and through our stories.

So, I don’t know if the little house in Waldoboro will fully satisfy my desire to always be in two places at once—both grounded and searching. And, I don’t know if all of my friends and family will thrill at the sight of the periwinkles affixed to the rocks on the little beach at low tide. I don’t know if they will enjoy a whiff of exposed seaweed as much as I do, and I don’t know if the effort and expense of rehabilitating the cottage will demand more of me than I have to give. All I know is that when I find something that is special to me, I need to try to share it with the people I love.


  1. Love this!

    Amazing, I can't wait to see the cabin. She (the cabin) needs a name and a christening ceremony with champagne of course!

    hmmm, The House of Shady Lady, Shady Lady Cabin, Roche Harbor many possibilities. :-)

    Love to you and Bri and family and friends!

  2. I was transported to the dreamy undergrowth of your childhood memories. The tones are warm and vivid reflecting the character of your writing. I'm loving your words. Please don't stop again.

    Congratulations on your new place and may it always be your true north, wait maybe that is my submission to the name the chateau contest.

    Punch Brian for me.

  3. Yeah! Punch Brian for us too! Congratulations on your land and your 82 feet of shoreline!

  4. Pam, David, and Genevieve, you're all invited to come visit us--either in Waltham or in Waldoboro, ME. And, if you come to visit Waldoboro, we'll actually have working indoor plumbing after next weekend! And heat too! :-)

    Thanks to all of you for your comments. Oh, and Brian's arm is black and blue. ;-)

    Hope to see you all soon!


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