New Beginnings

“THAT crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea” 

W. B. Yeats

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Late Autumn via Skylight: Degregoire Park, Mount Desert Island

So here we are, on the first day of a new year: 2015! How did we make it here, marching through the muddy cloudiness of life, keeping feet forward and a sense of hope in our ragged hearts? Magically, almost, the universe ushered in a new year last night late on a cold January evening; ours was marked with fireworks and fire and friends, and it was good to kiss a new year on the cheek, welcoming in the wishes of another turn around the Sun.

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Treasure from the River’s Bottom: Lincoln, Maine

This is the third January 1st that I have ushered in this cold and magical place where the ground is covered with moss and crinkles when you walk upon it on a cold winter’s morning. This afternoon, as I moved armload after armload of freshly chainsawed wood to its winter home of pallets set in the side yard, I watched the sunset over two mountains in the distance: it was colored pink and peach and seemed to be held interminably above the ridge of those mountains, clouding them in rose and salmon and magenta. I remarked to the neighbor who was helping me chainsaw piles of birch timber how lucky we are, and he remarked how everyone watches the sunset in different parts of the world, everyday. I disagreed and still feel that today was special.

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Sargent Drive in Snow: Northeast Harbor, Maine

So what does a new year mean, in its essence, in its whole, in the grand scheme of things? It is hard to posit meaning in and of itself; only to say that we are welcomed with opportunities and responsibilities in each moment, really, but especially in the birth of a new year, another transit around our central star, a time to reflect and plan and foresee, as best as we can, what is to come.

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Ice in the Driveway: at the Tool Barn, Hulls Cove, Maine

I have spent my year of 2014 in quiet and not so quiet contemplation of how I got here: how I came to be in this peaceful and quiet place, surrounded by misfits and oddballs, a kinfolk for sure of people who seek meaning in the everyday, who try to make it despite the natural adversities of life here. Here is a place you have to consciously commit to, as the way of life is so different, so difficult, even, and yet, so soothing and comforting and welcoming and warm. As I sit here in my new house, my home I hope to say, I am listening to and watching the fire burn, staring at old brass lamps that are glowing in the darkness. I type on a table that has been in my family since I was a small child, transplanted from England to Texas. This small pine table sat in many kitchens of ours; we moved many times within the same corporate-created borough of north Houston. We, an immigrant family seeking place and meaning in a foreign environment, created ourselves, as we all do, as products of our environment, our family and our friends. Today, that old table is covered with an antique quilt top gifted to me by Angel many years ago, one night during jewelry class. I always meant to make it in to a quilt, but haven’t so yet, and so it has become a beautiful tablecloth, covering a cheap heirloom of sorts, providing a grounding force in this new home.

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Treasures Hidden Inside an Antique Piano: Bar Harbor, Maine

Each morning, I look out my kitchen window at Champlain and Gorham mountains while I drink coffee. When I venture outside to grab more wood or make the move to my car to go to work, I gaze upon the notch between Dorr and Cadillac. At all houses here, previous to this one, I gazed upon the ocean. Here I look at the mountains, and the metaphor is clear: no longer a time of intense reflection, this time is for grounding and building, embracing this place and finding a spot in this community, continuing to build upon my projects, create more beauty, more artwork, in these awe inspiring, and at this time of year, rather desolate surroundings.

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The Cusp of December: Belt Buckle in Copper, Bronze & Milky Opal, 2014

I have found that it takes a certain person to make life work here: there is an intention within those who choose to be here to live and work and make a life despite adverse circumstances that are mostly based on a seasonal economy and general lack of orientation around money. Money here is not a driver, but experience is, peace is, serenity is, building things that will stay becomes a sort of guiding force for all of us. Once you have found it, you want to hold on to it. I remember discussing with a friend how he felt about his first stone wall, and how he went to check on it regularly over its first few years. I asked him if he was afraid it would have fallen down, but no, that wasn’t it: he wanted to see how it was standing, how it was living as a piece in a grander landscape. I suppose that is how all of us are here, there, and everywhere.

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The Flower Tower: a Memorial for Eden, Bar Harbor, Maine

My hopes for 2015 are for more creativity and more communication and for connecting the dots between how I see myself and how others see me. I wish to become more present, more available, less of a mystery and more a citizen of this place. For the past two years, I have waffled back and forth about staying and going, whether to commit, or not. In reality, I haven’t committed to anything in five years, until right now. I moved into this beautiful little house (photos forthcoming) a bit less than a month ago, and have found, after all the ups and downs of recent times, of the discoveries, enlightenments, experiences, sadnesses and true joys, have found a home.

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A Helping Hand: Davistown Museum Sculpture Garden, Hulls Cove, Maine

Thank you for reading. It is the winter, truly, now, and I look forward to writing more about how it unfolds here, sharing my thoughts with you and yours. It is time for a celebration of a sort: as a friend told me the other night, how amazing is it to be 34 years old? Or however old you are. Enjoy it.

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At the Tool Barn, Autumn 2014 – photography by George Soules

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What a Difference a Year Makes

dan photos september 2013 114At Rockefeller Gardens

I have a neighbor named Jill; she and her boyfriend are about to go to Florida for the winter, but she came over to chat tonight and betrayed The Secret, the thing that you are not supposed to say out loud when you live here: she said, “this place is hard when you’re alone, by yourself, that’s for sure.” (Her boyfriend, Bobby, is already on his way to Florida and she has been solo now for about a month. She also said she’s staying til November 20th and at this point, has no idea why.)

The stores all closed this past weekend, the weekend of Halloween, and many of the year round places are taking some time off. This is not hugely significant to me, as I spend most of my time at my house or at my friend’s houses, but it is strange to think of this island, so abuzz with activity all summer, as literally shutting down: closing doors. I keep noticing the dark curtains pulled close across all the windows of the summer houses and interpret it as a metaphor for this place.

What does that mean? I honestly have no idea, just am mulling over the loneliness factor of living here for a second winter. People here pair up, hardly anyone is single, and I think the reason is that the starkness and the harshness of staring down the barrel of a long, cold winter, is just too much for any one person to seriously be able to handle. Perhaps people like the North Pond Hermit love the loneliness and isolation, and I do, too, for many, many hours and even days during the winter.

But I miss strangers, strangely. I miss the surface level interactions you have with people in cities: with the guy that works at the coffee shop, or the bartender at the pub. I also miss seeing people on the street and smiling at them or just saying hello, knowing that will be your only interaction with them for the rest of time. Here, in winter, you know almost everyone to the point of being actual friends, and having conversations every time you run into them. Now, this may sound magical and sweet, and it is, but sometimes I just want to be anonymous as I walk around the towns, and there is no anonymity here. You, your business, your quirks, are all on public display and a topic of public conversation.

To meditate for too long on one’s existential loneliness is probably not a good idea, but places like this tiny island do force you to think about the Big Ideas, the life issues that we all must confront at some point: what gives our lives meaning? What messages are we putting out there for all the world to see? What does accountability mean? How do we really communicate with those we love? What is community? Family? Truth in relationships? How do you balance independence and a desire for companionship? Are you doing it right? The last question is, of course, a joke, but these are the questions floating through my mind tonight, a night of cooler temperatures, a rare solar eclipse in the morning, and our first snowfall coming sometime tomorrow.

Today, whilst driving through the park, listening to the hum of a very loud engine, I saw hundreds of naked beech trees. Silent, tall, skinny, with knobby trunks, they are deep grey with black blotches. Growing in stands, or groups of trees, they dazzle the eye with their sheer number and monochrome. Beyond the stands of trees are great granite outcroppings, covered with lichen in various shades of green. Almost gone are the colors of spring and summer: green and grey are highlighted in the fading light, in the absence of leaves and flowers.

from school laptop 2012 093From Outside, Looking In! Photographer Unknown

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)

Three Weeks

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

Edith Sitwell

Pemetic Trail, Acadia National Park

Last night, I helped some new friends throw a benefit party for their 17 year old daughter who is taking the huge leap of moving to Italy for six months, all on her own. We decorated the Neighborhood House, a huge old building dominated by flying buttresses of darkly stained wood and semi-Tudor looking windowpanes, a large stage, a room with couches and a fireplace, another room with a wrap-around window seat and a fireplace, and a few porches thrown in for good measure. Strung in the buttresses are many white Christmas lights, and along the dark paneled walls are sconce lights: both of which you can dim.

Hamilton Pond, Norway Drive (and my fingertip!)

We set up tables and chairs and I put many tiny red chrysanthemums into old glass bottles. Teenagers covered the tables with white paper, set candles inside jam jars and decorated the tables with fir boughs and tiny pine-coned branches that wrapped, perfectly, around the jam jars and the bottles with flowers. We set up a kids’ room with coloring pages and chairs and comfy pillows and made sure there were games in the closets. I watched as my new friends cooked for 100 people: no small feat. I watched as antipasto plates, bruschetta, pasta, salad and tiramisu all came out of that kitchen; all made with love by 4 people for 100 people in their community who loved that girl and wanted to send her to Italy for six months, maybe more.

The Old Dairy Barn, Norway Drive & The Crooked Road

I did my best to help where help was needed: pouring wine and running errands, grabbing bottles of wine and tiny boxes, setting up the silent auction, wrangling little children hiding in corners and making sure they all ate something. I made luminaries with sand from the beach at Clifton Dock and taught three little girls how to use a barbeque lighter to light them without lighting the bags on fire. As we finished, the youngest said to me, “I want to light a bag!” and so, that wonderful spirit of pyromania is born.

Lichen and Reindeer Moss on Tree Branches

I ran home and raided my cabinets for jam jars and tea lights and whatever else would be useful. I tried to stop my friend from working too hard at her own party by taking wine bottles out of her hands to serve people so that she could visit. I bussed the tables and re-organized the silent auction as it got steadily messier throughout the evening. I occasionally stopped and visited with people, including a strange woman who is writing a book on inappropriate baby names, met some neighbors, saw my landlords and met their grandchildren, who, earlier, I saw driving their minivan across the driveway and it reminded me of kids in Texas driving trucks as soon as their feet could hit the peddles.

Seal Harbor, Incoming Tide

At the end of the night, though, was when it happened. There was a kindergartner in attendance, and her name was Olive, and earlier we had played that age old game of lifting her up in the air and tossing her a little bit before catching her and plunking her down on the ground: we did this four times. This was apparently the key to her heart, because at nine o’clock when the dancing started, she came up to me and started shrieking, “Conga Line!”. And so there we were, a 32 year old woman and a 5 year old girl, failing at starting a conga line during Blind Melon’s “No Rain”. And although we failed at a conga line, and I after a while let go of her little shoulders so that she could dance with other little kids, I looked around and realized that a year ago, I was living in a place that I had a lot of ill feelings about, and right now I was dancing in a darkened room, under a disco ball and red and green lights with a group of 20 near-strangers and I was the happiest I had been in who knows how long. In that moment,  I felt part of this community and I had to turn away from the person I was talking to just for a minute and look at the ceiling because I started to tear up at the thought of it.

A Poster in a Window on Market Street, Philadelphia

I looked around and saw teenagers being nerds and dancing to silly songs, and little girls in party dresses spinning each other around, and parents who were drunk and happy to be so, and a whole group of people who were there just to celebrate and send off one of their young ones to the next phase of her life. Watching them, I was so happy to be in a place that felt like home, after so long; a place where, if I want to, these people will take care of me and I them, where I will belong.

The Northeast Harbor Fleet

I walked home to my apartment, and went for a walk and danced and skipped through the streets, so happy that I could dance and skip through the streets and no one would see. I stared up at the stars and saw the faithful arm of the Milky Way that streaks North-South across the sky every night that it is clear enough to see. I walked out to the shore and stared at a lighthouse and realized…

It is amazing what three weeks can do. Home.

The Shelf Above My Bed

A Winged Heart – – – Neckpiece currently under construction