A Sense of Place in Time

Haney House

This was my house, until about four years ago. My house, the Haney House,  was the last place that I felt home, a place where I didn’t have to run from one thing to the next. It was a house in which I could stay, and paint the walls, and build gardens, and raise chickens.

Whilst driving home tonight after dinner with my family, the almost full Moon was shining huge and bright through my windshield, and I realized with the pain that only nostalgia can bring, how much I miss my house. And yes, I miss the brick and mortar of that house, but mostly I miss the feeling I got when I walked inside at the end of long days. I miss waking up on weekends and going outside to work in my gardens. I miss the rustling-squawking of the hens in the mornings, and how they waddled towards me to get cracked corn through the fence. I miss the dark purple walls of the laundry room and the sun I painted in metallic gold paint on the ceiling of the hall bathroom. Although I don’t think I would ever paint another house with each room being a different, deep colour, I loved each room in that house, most especially the craft room with its dark orange walls, blue ceiling, and silver trim.

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Four years ago, in the spring of 2009, I was planting more native species in the bed in the front of the house, and building a raised bed in the side yard. I was hanging lights in the old Elm tree, and sitting outside at the blue table with elephants for legs. I was on the back porch with its sagging roof, surfing the Internet for tickets to Mexico and England, rubbing my hands on the old cotton tapestry that covered the plastic table, swinging in the Mexican hammock, building a house for grapevines out of re-bar.

So. Nostalgia: the pain of remembrance. Conveniently, we remember those things we wish to see in our minds eye, and forget much. This is perhaps a function of survival, of resilience, or perseverance. I remember the Haney House as the place in which I was married, in which I worked to make a home for my family; it was the house in which I expected I would have children, or at least, further expand my life from the point at which I found myself when we bought it in 2006. It wasn’t meant to be, because the box of life I found myself within did not make me fulfilled, and I chose to step out of it, into the harsh air, on my own.

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Tonight I sit here, in my little house on the ocean in Maine, and all is not perfect, and sometimes I get inconsiderate and impatient with life’s imperfections. Sometimes I wish for that sense of stability again, for a future that could be mapped out. But of course, even when we can see down the road, we cannot predict all of life’s curves and challenges, and even when we have what society calls stability, we have only the things that we can really hold in our hands, and everything else can be taken away in the blink of an eye, the movement of someone out the front door, or names signed on the lines of forms produced by the State of _________.

I have had a beautiful life, and each day, my life becomes more so. It is hard to see oneself through the eyes of others: in fact, it may be almost impossible. I have had so many adventures in such a short amount of time, and sometimes, I judge myself based on the failures, whether actual or just perceived, that I have encountered along the way, even though, to others, those failures are insignificant, or not failures at all.

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Maybe I will never settle down again. Maybe I will always be a wild woman. Maybe I will meet someone who is a true partner and find love and companionship and team spirit. Maybe I will always travel. Maybe I will always have a sense of home not tied to physical place, but to friends and experiences. Maybe I will be okay, finally, with who I am, despite the fears or uncertainties of others, including my family, and myself. Maybe I will always relish newness: visiting a perfect replica of the Alamo in central Mexico, listening to the eerie calls of loons on a lake in Maine while sitting on a floating dock, running up and down sand dunes in England, illegally importing cars in Belize, driving a Ford F150 through narrow streets in Canada. Maybe I will always be me, uncertain, changeable, flexible, flighty, loving, loyal, colourful, creative and kind.

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An Exhalation…

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

– Anais Nin

schieleLandscape – Egon Schiele 1913

IMG_2342Spring Shadows at Compass Harbor, Acadia National Park

“O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Thro’ the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

reflectionReflections, Northeast Harbor

IMG_2330Tools and Toys from the Tool Barn, Hulls Cove

IMG_2336Beech Tree in Early Spring, Compass Harbor

IMG_2347Birch, Box and Block

“The hills tell each other, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turned
Up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth,
And let thy holy feet visit our clime.

benchTools for Creativity

ideasIdeas

chainChain, Northeast Harbor

deconDeconstruction

“Come o’er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumed garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee.

harborNortheast Harbor in April

IMG_2334A Dream, disguised

IMG_2337Birch Bark

rocksRocks, Northeast Harbor

mosaicsMosaics

solderingHeat & Oxidation

“O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languished head,
Whose modest tresses were bound up for thee.”

– To Spring – William Blake

duskDusk, Northeast Harbor

reconReconstruction

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”

– Anais Nin

Oh Loulou!

“Loulou can’t remember exactly how she got mixed up with the poets. It wasn’t that she had any special thing for poets as such: it just happened that way. After the first one, the others just seemed to follow along naturally, almost as if they were tied to each other in a long line with a piece of string. They were always around, and she was so busy most of the time that she didn’t go out much to look for other types of men. Now that her business is doing so well you’d think she’d have more leisure time, but that just isn’t the case. And any leisure time she does have, she spends with the poets. They’re always nagging her about working too hard.

Bob was the first one, and also her first husband. He was in art school at the same time she was, until he decided he wasn’t suited for it. He wasn’t practical enough, he let things dry out: paint, clay, even the leftovers in his tiny refrigerator, as Loulou discovered the first night that she’d slept with him…

What he’d…said was that he’d fallen in love with her name. All the poets have done this, one after the other. The first symptom is that they ask her whether Loulou is short for something – Louise maybe? When she says no, they look at her in that slightly glazed way she recognizes instantly, as if they’ve never paid proper attention to her or even seen her before. This look is her favourite part of any new relationship with a man. It’s even better than the sex, although Loulou likes sex well enough and all the poets have been good in bed. But then, Loulou has never slept with a man she did not consider good in bed. She’s beginning to think this is because she has low standards.

At first Loulou was intrigued by this obsession with her name, mistaking it for an obsession with her, but it turned out to be no such thing. It was the gap that interested them, one of them had explained….

“The gap between the word and the thing signified,” Phil said.”

from Loulou; or, the Domestic Life of the Language by Margaret Atwood

Carousel

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”

– Virginia Woolf

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I recognize them by their trucks: the men of the town. Very few women drive trucks, but almost all the men do. Silver F-150s, blue striped GMCs, black and bright green Chevy’s, red construction and demolition Peterbilts. In fact, I live behind a demolition company and walk past their fleet of oversized red trucks every day.

Yesterday, I walked down to the harbor to have lunch and conversation in a truck. It was the blue striped GMC. Its interior was dusty and reflected the country life of its owner: green shotgun shell on the dash, Old Crow Medicine Show music playing from the tape deck, a pack of Marlboros shoved into a cubby hole, an iPhone, a can of Monster, old coats, older boots. The interior was that heavy carpeting of 1980s American cars: the stuff that binds upon itself over time and becomes softer but tangled, stands up from the floors and walls of the truck. As I sat there, I was struck by the memory of my mom’s Oldsmobile station wagon: our childhood car that had the same carpeting all over its interior, and velveteen and vinyl seats.

When we were kids, my brother and I would sit in the trunk of the car because there was a rear-facing seat in there and we could stare out the back window of the wagon and pretend we were driving backwards. I don’t think they make those seats anymore; I have a strong attachment to that memory. Houston, Texas, blue Oldsmobile station wagon, my brother giggling, my mother managing us, moving us across that landscape that was so alien to her. Streets of white asphalt that crunched under wheels and feet, dust, pine trees, humidity, intense heat. Pine needles turned golden as they fell off in the summer and fall, pine cone wars with neighbor kids, swimming, popsicles, Jello eggs.

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In high school, I spent much time in a town called Porter, Texas, which was about 45 minutes away from where I lived. Porter was home to my boyfriend’s grandmother, which is also where he lived most of the time. She lived on a few acres surrounded by a hurricane fence in an old, stationary trailer with an ornament of an eagle that hung off the pitched front window. In that kitchen I was served mashed potatoes and fried chicken and Kool-Aid and all kinds of other delicious things over about three years. There was a barn, too, and many, many rose bushes everywhere. She loved roses. There was also a large tree with a swing, a dirt road leading to the trailer, and whole lot of nothing else.

Porter, a town outside of Conroe and near Cut-n-Shoot, was in the piney woods of East Texas, on your way to Huntsville. The trees were tall and skinny, and shady. Despite the heat that seems to pervade all those memories, there was a calm in that shade, and I remember them moving in the wind. When it was very rainy, during the monsoons, sometimes, they would pop: literally explode from over-watering. They seemed to pop at different intervals, as if there were places in the trees naturally designed to expand into a large bubble of water and wood pulp. The smell of East Texas was strong, too: pine, and soil, and heat, and sweat. The sounds of trucks driving along the roads, lawnmowers, tractors, dogs barking, chainsaws. Raccoons lived there, in the woods, as well as copperheads and water moccasins in the rivers and streams. The sun streamed everywhere: I have so many patchworked memories of sitting in a patch of sun, on the dirt, on the ground, stirring it into designs with a stick, watching ants, playing with earthworms, drawing spirals and other shapes in the earth. I still do that, today.

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I am experiencing a feeling of returning and it is very disorienting to me, as if I have been spinning on a carousel for a long, long time, and it is finally stopping; as if the blur of pictures that you see whilst riding a hobby horse on a carousel are slowing down and coming into focus. This place, the country of coastal Maine, not my town exactly, but the places around it, remind me so much of those country towns of East Texas. The people are similar, they drive the same trucks, they do the same things with their time. There are fir trees here, not pine, but the smells and sights are so similar. Of course, in East Texas there are no beautiful granite formations or islands or the ocean, but the feel is there. It’s as if I have returned after a very, very long time. And I suppose, in some ways, I have. Thirteen years away from your family makes returning scary and challenging: starting anew, again, for the third time in a few years, living in small towns in a place with such a long, long winter. Exploring options, trying to forge a path.

I was speaking with a friend about his new bathtub the other day, and how, when he took his inaugural soak, he was transported back to the bathtub in his parents’ house, a series of memories about forty years old. He said he remembered how it felt to be in the bath, how the walls in the bathroom looked, and the sensation of holding your breath under the water as long as possible. We all did that, didn’t we?

And yesterday’s lunch in the blue GMC, with its carpeting and velveteen-vinyl seats, transported me back to a childhood outside of Houston that, at many moments, I plain forget. I thought I had forgotten so many sights and smells and sounds and memories of growing up in the almost-country of east Texas, and yesterday all these things flooded back: the train track behind my high school where a friend of mine got drunk and passed out on the tracks and was run over, my best friend’s almost El Camino and racing boys in cars in it while smoking cigarettes and jamming to the Rolling Stones, my boyfriend’s 280ZX and sitting on his driveway in the afternoons after school. Driving to Huntsville to sit in the sunken rose gardens at Sam Houston State University, time spent at a strange lake house in Cold Spring when I was weeks away from graduation from high school. Camping in the woods in Nacogdoches, making forts in the woods with neighborhood kids, reading books on a blanket in the front yard and waving to the elderly lady who drove past me in her Cadillac each day.

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My parents left Houston about six months after I graduated, and so I never returned there as an adult to have these memories cemented into my mind. Funny how things come flooding back, as you sit talking about nothing in particular, on a cold spring April day, looking at the water move against the dock, in a 1980s beat up pickup truck.

digging in the dirt 2Houston, 1987

The North Pond Hermit

“A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Strange tales abound here: this land of woods and rugged coast, of granite and fir trees and deep, cold, clear waters. In the waters, down at the harbor, seaweed and kelp stream from buoys and docks, pulled out and pushed in by a constant flow of tides. They flow out and stand, streaming, as if they are the hair of a strange and spooky spirit, barely tethered to the shore.

This place, this land of such long winter; right now, as I type, tiny flecks of ice and snow are hitting my deck and the rain is pouring down. It is 36 degrees, and it is April 12th. Hidden in these woods are old trucks, older houses, ancient bottles, middens: the remnants of lives lived here for centuries.

If you drive north of where I live, the land becomes level again, and then downright flat. The trees are spindly and lighter colored than the fir trees that populate this section of the state. This is the road to Baxter State Park, the place with the tallest mountain in Maine, Katahdin, and one of intense, majestic beauty. As you drive west from Millinocket, the flat roadway all of a sudden becomes intensely wooded again, out and up as you drive toward one giant mountain. I was informed the other day that the reason for this is a conjunction of two small tectonic plates: one that originates from the East, and one from the West. Each brings different rock, soil, and climatic features that inform the visage of this part of the state.

But today, the story is not about the lands north of Mount Desert Island, or of Baxter State Park, but rather, of Rome, Maine, a small town about 120 miles west of where I sit at this moment, typing while listening to the ice fall from a grey, cloudy sky. The videos linked below were made by our state media conglomerate, and I find them really fascinating. Mostly what I find fascinating is the attitude of the North Pond Hermit’s pursuers: they clearly knew of a person who was consistently robbing them of food and tools and other supplies, and had known of him for a long time. They also seem to have a fondness and a fascination for him, as if they don’t understand his behaviors but don’t want to make him feel scared. Almost, they want to protect him from others and protect him from himself, protect him from what sent him into the woods thirty years ago, while also understanding that if someone has burgled his neighbors close to 1,000 times over thirty years, that there must be some sort of consequence.

See what you think: each one is about two minutes long.

I am having trouble embedding the videos, so follow this link: Hermit Captured, Part 1. After watching Part 1, you can watch Parts 2 and 3.

At the end, when you are left with that mental image of a fifty-something man who has not seen his own face in almost thirty years, who lives in the woods of Maine in a nylon tent, who refuses to leave that tent during the long winter lest he be found, who spends his days reading and meditating, think about what that would mean for you. How would it be if your last conversation with another human being was in the mid-90’s? How would it be if your neighbors were the needles of fir trees, the birds that call in summer and migrate in winter, the rush of streams and rivers, and nothing else? How would it be if you hid, and I mean, really hid, away? And then, how would it be when you were finally found?

Do you think he is sad? Happy? Both?

“There is a chivalry, here, of a sort”, said Isak Dinesen in her book, Out of Africa, and that idea plays true here in the rural towns of the middle of Maine. People protect each other: it is the culture of the place. Never are you truly alone, even if you choose to live your life as if you are. Clearly, in the case of Christopher Knight, his isolation and his invisibility were protected both by his cleverness, but also by the people who surrounded him, even though they knew nothing of him. A strange cultural element of country life is that people are allowed to be here; encouraged by the spirit of Yankee independence, there is no one way to be.

“Knight remains at Kennebec County Jail, where he is being held with the general population of inmates.

He is not under suicide watch, according to jail officials, who said they couldn’t answer any additional questions.

“I saw him a couple days ago and I was pleased at how well he was adjusting,” Perkins-Vance said. “He was more social. He actually had expression on his face.”

She said Knight has been charged with the burglary of Pine Tree Camps, but noted that other charges also have been filed. She did not specify what those charges are.

“I think this is as much of a shock to him as it is to us to comprehend what’s going on inside his mind,” Hughes said.” (Bangor Daily News)

A Funny Thing Happened at the Health Food Store

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The Robert Frost poem that discusses paths in the woods, and taking the one less traveled by, is a tried and true trope of our contemporary culture, and represents both a great romantic idea and an understanding of risk and reward.

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How do we know anything that lies in front of us in this life? We can take the trodden path, the one we know, and expect at least some results based on past experience, but even experience does not prepare us for life’s pitfalls and surprises. And when we measure the risk of venturing out and down the path that is dark and laden with heavy woods, the fear of the unknowns can be all too overwhelming.

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These thoughts were cavorting through my mind the other day when I stopped into our local health food store in Bar Harbor, and there I found a friend who is dealing with this place in life herself. Both of us stand with two paths in front of us: the path of least resistance and more security, and the path of hope and the heart.

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Whilst chatting with her over my paper cup of coffee, she behind the register and me standing to its side, two people began to check out with their groceries and eavesdropped on our musings about life. They said, to us both, that you don’t have to choose, that the right course will become illuminated and just to trust that it will. Trust is something I struggle with, being a lady who likes to plan and problem-solve. How does one trust in the unfolding of one’s path in this great universe of ours? How does one trust in the unfurling of opportunities, knowing the risks of being one of spring’s buds, the new leaf growing outward into the coldness of the spring air? How do you know if summer’s warmth and light is here, or if some new frost will come around and stop your growth in its tracks?

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I suppose that you never truly know anything, in this life. You can plan and plan and plan, and still be surprised. Today, in the midst of a spring rain, I noticed tufts of green grass coming out of the ground that, for months, has been beige-brown and lifeless. I heard, again, new birds in the trees, and watched a loon hunt for fish in the harbor. As I worked, piecing together a necklace so many years in the making, I watched two seagulls fly together, playing in the wind. Tonight, I sit here, at my kitchen table-desk, wondering about what lies ahead, and how to remain grateful and surprised at the opportunities opening up before me. Like the receding ice that has covered the rocks for six months, there are surprises hidden underneath: new joys that are uncovered each day.

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To work!

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Spring Fever

“I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”

Brendan Behan

Feeling the seasons change in your bones, and in the bones of others, is a rather mystifying experience. All day today, in my travels over and across this island, people said the same thing to me: “are you enjoying the weather?” because, of course, we all are. It is amazing to feel the sun and warmth return after such a long time: my journal reflects our first snowfall from November 9th, and here we are April 4th, and although we may get another snowstorm or two, I think it is safe to say that winter is resolutely over, and spring is here. This season of spring is so short here in Maine: a mere two months, mid-April to mid-June, and then of course the shortness of summer, too, mid-June to beginning of September, then fall and winter find us, again.

But enough about that.

Spring fever is in the air: birds are singing about it, plants are bursting forth communicating their connection to our Earth and our position in space relative to the Sun, beautiful people near and far are catching each other’s eyes, gardeners are sweeping back the layers of leaves left on the ground after so many months. Ice is melting to reveal moss, no ferns or leaves just yet, but we all know they are lurking under there somewhere.

march 2013 7The Tarn, still frozen, two weeks ago!

Driving home from Bar Harbor today, I took the scenic route and noticed the sunshine on the top of Dorr Mountain, and followed the light all the way down the cliffs edges and onto the surface of The Tarn. When I was a little girl, we used to fish in The Tarn, but I don’t remember catching much. Today, the sunlight seemed to burnish the golden-colored reeds leaning out of the dark blue water. A mere few weeks ago, those same reeds were held up and in place by white ice, the same ice that spread across the surfaces of all the ponds and lakes, and up mountainsides and dripped off ledges in suspended animation.

This afternoon, the glow of spring seemed to beam off the surface of The Tarn, clearly communicating that warmth is back, the sun has returned. During the sunset, as I drove the long way home through Otter Creek, and then took Cooksey Drive onto the Hill of Seal Harbor, over and through the wooded, mossy roadway, lined with the granite walls of the fancy peoples’ houses, the light remained a bronze-y, brass-y, gold, a colour that left us for so long. The last time I remember it was in the fall, one bronze morning.

Transitions, even joyful ones like this one, are difficult because your rhythm and routine is disrupted; it takes a while to regain the swing of things when the environment is fundamentally changing. I have said it before, but this place connects you so strongly to itself. You are quite literally a part of the landscape and you feel its shifts within your body and mind. For the last few days, the only way that I can channel this shifting energy, this cacophony of nature expanding and exhaling and returning to us after sleeping for six months, is to handle stones and place them in a path, to feel their rough texture, their weight in my arms.