Posts Tagged With: Maine

Thunderstorms

I had a little time to do some actual writing in Maine while I was there. It felt good to exercise those muscles again.  And it also led to the writing of some vignettes, like the one here.

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A Maine thunderstorm is not like a thunderstorm in California.  In California, the gray clouds gather for hours before they begin to weep a misty drizzle that eventually might turn to more persistent streams.  The booming clouds are loud but faithless.  They roar a couple of times and then they turn back to the drizzle they were born of.

In Maine, a thunderstorm comes in.  The gray fluffy clouds roll across the blue, blue sky, groaning in warning.  In a matter of minutes the sky is all cloud, the wind chimes ring out their warning peal, the rain falls in a sheet.  The booms seem to echo in the sky around you, and the lights of the house flicker.  Sometimes the house lights go out and you are left grappling for your flashlight.  The clouds continue their persistent roll and roar even after the rain has passed.  A Maine thunderstorm means it.

I sat in the living room of my mom’s cottage with my husband and watched the storm come in over the ocean today, wondering if it would wake up my napping son in the room above.  And in the way of children and mothers, it pulled me into a different memory.

It was surely not my first thunderstorm in Maine. I have been a slightly legitimized summer person since I was born (since many of my family lives here full time). But it’s the first storm I really remember.  We were staying in the big cottage, the one Grampy’s father made for his mother (as opposed to the tiny cottage that Grampy himself had built – maybe 600 square feet?)  The black “Juanita” sign still hung in the living room in the big cottage amid the iron stove, the rag rugs, and the furniture from the 1970s with holes in all the upholstery, stuffing flying free – deftly covered by Juanita’s granny square afghans of many colors.  We were serviceable at the beach.  Despite the bucket of clean water at the door to wash your feet as you came in, there was a fine patina of sand on everything.

I slept next to my sister Cody under the eaves in a bedroom upstairs, white lace curtains at the window.  The noise woke me up and  I was frightened, but too old to admit it.  I couldn’t remember a storm that loud, even though I remembered Maine thunderstorms. My mother was up too.

“Case, can you help me close the windows?” she asked, flitting from room to room.  The sheet of rain had already started, and the window sill in the hall was already wet.  I shoved the pane down, and moved downstairs to the next.  A peal of thunder shook the house.

It took forever for the two of us to manage the window on the stairwell, too high to grip tight and slippery because of the rain.  But finally my mother managed it.  I was still scared, though the purpose of the moment had turned my adrenaline to excited.

“We did it,” said my mother as we turned to each other.  Another peal, and when the house shook I also shook.

“Mumma!” Cody called from the bedroom upstairs.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to sleep tonight,” said my mother.  “Have you ever watched a storm over the ocean?”

I shook my head.

She climbed the stairs to get Cody.  “Grab a blanket, and we’ll all watch together.”

We settled in on the couch, Cody on one side of my mom’s lap and me on the other, tucked under one of Juanita’s afghans.  My mom had pulled the couch over so the big picture windows were perfectly in front of us, like a TV.  The lightening danced over the dark waves of the ocean, sparking the clouds in purple and forking down to the water.  No two zig-zags alike.  The thunder shook us at intervals and it seemed like it all must be right on top of us.  Cozied in like that I felt safer, though.

“How far away is it?”  I asked.

“Count,” said my mother.  So my sister and I counted one-mississippis between light and sound,  and my mother did the math.

“About a mile away,” she said.

It felt more present than that.

“Could the lightening ever strike here?  Would it strike the rocks?”

“I don’t think it will tonight.  It’s very rare, but it could.  It has.”

“It has?”

“Yes, you know the hollow on the rock you were pretending to make seaweed stew in the other day?”

I nodded.  The rock was a larger than the footprint of the small cottage, an almost perfect 30-degree angle of dusky, weather-beaten granite that dipped toward the shore, ending in a collection of smaller rocks that created tidepools when the tide was out. At the top left of this rock was a perfectly round indentation, like a black melamine bowl.  This room was always our kitchen when we played house, because it already had a sink.

“That wasn’t there when I was a girl.  Lightning struck the rock, and created the hollow.”

In the world where we are both adults and we have talked about this again, I know my mother never saw the lightning strike happen.  It was winter, and no one was at the beach then.  They came next summer and the hollow was just there. But I could see it so vividly in my mind that I was certain she had for many years.

It would have been a night like this one, and maybe Aunt Nancy would have come to snuggle with her on the couch cushions.  I never could quite picture my mother with her mother, who died shortly after my mom’s marriage and whom I never knew.  And Grampy wasn’t a cuddle with the kids during a storm kind of guy.

The two of them, Kathy and Nancy, would be watching the storm, tucked under one of Juanita’s afghans, and the lightening would bolt down from the sky.  There would be a huge cracking sound as the electricity hit the rock, sparks flying, the rock burning for a time before the rain put the flames out.  And in the morning was our sink, too hot to touch for weeks.

We were outside time in that moment, those two girls and my sister and I. Parallel. Same house, same sky, same blanket, even to some extent the same sisterly love.  I have had so many Maine moments that run parallel that perhaps I can be excused for believing in this one for so long.

I still live in California, where I grew up.  Despite what they tell you, there is history there.  It just isn’t your history.  I live next to an orange grove that was planted and picked by someone else forever ago, to my south an irrigation ditch dug in the 1820s by local rancheros.  The local church has done a Las Posadas every Christmas for a hundred years, the 4th Of July Band plays Sousa all summer long, and the epithet “without vision a people perish” has presided over concerts in the park since the 1920s.  I can even visit Teddy Roosevelt’s chair at the Mission Inn, if I want to.  The tradition is there, but it doesn’t pull in the same way.  It doesn’t belong.

History in Maine is rooted, sweeping you into the past like the rolling of the clouds over the ocean, dropping rain sheets of the lives of others over your modern veneer.  In a moment it doesn’t matter what year you are in, and time moves in a circle like it does in theoretical physics.  You are tangled with the generations before you, whether you like it or not.  Mostly it’s comforting, that sense of being both outside of time and inside a memory.  In Maine, history means it.

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That Annual Fall Longing

Fall

It’s that time of year again when everyone else is getting blissful fall and it’s in the 90s in Southern California.  The only fall we’re getting is in the merchandise in the grocery stores.  I will admit that the Roger’s Red is turning brown. I’m pretty sure that’s not fall color, though, but instead it’s being scorched by the sun.  Until about 2 weeks ago, it was over 100 almost every day.  And almost 110 about half of the time. I guess we could pretend?

It’s worse this year because my mother is in Maine and posting pictures of fall colors.  She even has gourds in her planter boxes and mums on the outdoor deck.  There’s nothing prettier than fall in Maine, even after the colors fade and it becomes this stark brown and gray gorgeousness.  It makes me wish California was like that.

Instead, I’ll be putting up the Halloween decorations this weekend.  And maybe thinking about bean soups and squash for dinner.  It IS getting colder at night, I have to admit.  I’ll be crossing my fingers for cold days, with hopes that by the end of October we might be able to have the first fire of the year in the fireplace.  If I can’t have real fall I’ll have the manufactured variety, thank you.

Fall means that this kid is almost here.  We’re just under 2 months now until my due date, and we’re all but ready.  I’m 100% ready.  This pregnancy just gets harder every day with all the joint pain I’m experiencing, although my other symptoms aren’t terrible.  At least I’m sleeping well.

This kid is getting BIG.  You don’t even always need to touch me to feel him moving now.  Especially at night, his strong arms and legs make my stomach visibly ripple.  He’s still measuring exactly in the middle on everything he should be.  He’s already head down, and likely to stay that way.

It makes me think that maybe he’s a more cooperative fellow than I thought he was, after hiding behind my belly-button during ultrasounds and swimming away from the wand all the time.  We’ll know soon enough, though.

I’m eating dates, pondering Caster Oil, raspberry leaf tea, and pineapple juice, and crossing my fingers that this kid is ready a few weeks early.  November 12 would be just about perfect, sir.  Especially because then it would mean that I could get one of those adorable turkey onesies and you could wear it at Thanksgiving.  More fall for all of us!

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A Retirement

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It’s been a milestone year for almost everyone in my family.  One of those milestones is that my mother is retiring, which happens officially tomorrow.  We went to the party last week, at the patio of the Alumni house.  It was this gorgeous Spanish-style courtyard with bright tiles and stucco, plenty of pink bougainvillea, strings of bulb-lights overhead.  A 4-piece combo band played background music, the linens on the round tables were all school-colors, the flower arrangements were supernaturally gorgeous, and the food was divine.  There was even salt water taffy on the tables from Maine – a nod to where my mom plans to spend much of her retirement.  I think it was probably the best retirement party I’ve ever been to.  Certainly the most fashionable.  It felt like a wedding reception; the classy kind.

My sister and I were asked to give a speech.  “We know your mom’s career now, but you’ve seen the whole thing,” her assistant told me on the phone.  So she and I got together and wrote one (Cody, below).  I’m gonna publish it here, because my mom really is great and that should probably be big news.

She’s leaving me soon to go spend most of her summer and fall in Maine (tear).  But she’ll be back before Baby arrives – I’ve told her that’s non-negotiable.

Also, I borrowed the picture above from my mom’s Facebook page, so I’m happy to give credit where credit is due – except I have no idea who took this thing…

Here’s the speech:

Cody: Writing this speech was really hard for us. Because what do you say about a mother who is as great as ours? We had an idyllic childhood, and a lot of that was because she stayed home and made it that way.

Casey: “Don’t you remember that summer feeling?” My husband Brian asked me one day. “You know, where you’re bored out of your mind and there’s nothing to do, and you’re just restless?” I had to tell him No. Kathy made sure we were never bored like that.

Cody: Summers were the best times in our house, pulling out the latest dollhouse and working on it as a family, waking up to the smell of bacon and biscuits cooking on the stove, Simon and Garfunkel playing on the radio as mum puttered. Gardening together, riding around on our bikes.

Casey: And then there was the month in Maine, running on the beach with our cousins and competing to see which of the three of us could get browner. The only year I won was the year I had a head-start at Sea Camp, Kathy was always the champ.

Cody: Hard work was always a value of Mum’s. She taught trombone lessons most of our childhood, and Casey and I would hibernate in the back room until the honking was done. When finances were tight, she taught Music for Young Children classes, wearing silly earrings with faces for the kids and bringing home French horns made of hoses and funnels. Sometimes we would garage-sale for furniture and refinish it together on the weekends. We were always busy, and it was always fun.

Casey: I was in sixth grade when she officially took a “mom job” to get us all health insurance. An 8-3, 9-month position doing the books for Baxter Medical Center, she was home when we were, holidays and summers included. When we were in Junior High, we used to walk to her office after school and play solitaire for 15 minutes or so on her computer until it was time to leave. We were the mascots of the office, and I was thrilled to be able to tell all the nurses about my 9-minute mile in PE Class.

Cody: They loved her as much as we did, and the promotions came rolling in. She was second only to the director by the time she decided to pursue her MBA and a bigger career in the field. We were in high school then, and all three of us did our homework in the evenings, together but separate. Her graduation was in a huge arena in Los Angeles. We cheered loudly when they called her name, and an image of her shaking the president’s hand flashed onto the jumbotron. By this time, she was a single mom. We had both witnessed how hard she worked for her accomplishments, for us and our future, but also to fulfill herself.

Casey: In a lot of ways, she gave us the best of both worlds. Her time was so valuable when we were young. But the lessons she gave to us as we were older were just as important. “You CAN have it all,” she used to say. “Just maybe not all at the same time.”

Cody: Her hard work and ability to bring people together has been an inspiration. Who would have thought that her part-time mom job would end with her overseeing four departments as an Executive Director of Student Wellness? I don’t think any of us did. Which makes us all the prouder.

Casey: Through all of her responsibilities and hard work, she still finds time to support and care for us. I think we can all say that a long rest in Maine is well deserved. We know things will change as you enter this new chapter of your life, but your penchant for hard work and joy, and the love we have for you, never will.

Cody: Congratulations, Mom.

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Granite Point

I thought I might post some, you know, actual Writing on the blog in celebration of getting something published.  But most of the things that are fantasy-esque are being shopped right now and I can’t put them up.  I remembered, though, that I had written a few practice essays in my black Moleskine, and that some of them were pretty good.  So I typed one up for you. This was from a Steering The Craft exercise that was supposed to be full of lavish description.  When I think purple prose, I always think of the beach.

It’s a little bit maudlin, but I’m posting it anyway because I think it’s evocative. And I’m sure you can forgive me for being self-indulgent for an entry.  The happenings are true, but I don’t feel that dramatic about it in every day life (I’m really mostly a pragmatic person and would probably have made the same decision to sell.  I get it).  I’m the kid on the left, and that’s the cottage in the back.

Here it is.

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Granite Point:

There is a place in the east where the world is both gray and vibrant, the verdant forest rooting into brown fingers of granite which, in turn, grab hold of the blue, blue sea.  In between the tall fronds of marsh grass and the slap of ocean on the soft, gray sand is a brown road and a row of houses.  Two of them are red; one small and one large.

Round the corner in your car, past the black and white boulder and the green cottage it hides.  Slip from the shade of the trees, your tires crunching on the gravel as you press the car forward, and it’s laid out before you: the flat grasses, the pools of brackish water, the line of round trees in the distance where the forest coalesces again, the white heron standing alone, bright on the muddy landscape, the row of houses opposite.

Only the two red ones belong you; one big, one small.  The houses, the land they stand on, is your birthright.

The big house is the Juanita, says the black and gold sign.  Named for the whitest of great grandmothers, the most puritan on these puritanical shores.  The small house is nameless, and under the wooden floor in the tresses are too many nails where your uncle hammered them in distraction while Grampy built the house and raised the walls around them both.

There used to be a mansion on the headlands, out there where the silver beach ends and the granite grips the sea.  There used to be a mansion where the waves rush, unthinking, onto the rocks and their spray splashes at the sky.  See?  Says your mother as you walk on the point just before the sun sets.  See?  That house has borrowed the old foundation.  That is where the mansion existed, though it doesn’t anymore.  Consumed.

What happened to it?  It burned in a fire that swept along the shore and took the cottages with it.  The Juanita was saved because Juanita saved it, watering the roof with a garden hose and brushing burning embers onto the grass with a kitchen broom until she had to leave, before the forest started burning too and there was no way to get through the slim forest road.  The little cottage with no name hadn’t been built yet.

Juanita saved it for you.  She saved it so you could put your finger through the rusted bolt on the domed granite tent rising from the sand like an island and try to imagine a toe-headed boy named Bobby tying his boat here.  But it’s impossible to imagine white haired, red cheeked Grampy as anything but a grandfather.

She saved it so you could slip on the rocks, tearing up your shin on the barnacles, your red blood mingling with the waving seaweed.  The small green crab comes to investigate and you move your toes away from his pinchers.  The salt water stings.

She saved it for you so you could jump from tall Elephant Rock, squealing as the air rushed around you and your heart leapt to your throat, your ankles shuddering on the wet gray sand below.  You egg your cousins on, daring them to take the higher ledge, afraid to take it yourself.

She saved it so you could all visit the mudflats in your pristine matching bathing suits on picture day.  You find the mud under the slim layer of sand in the shallow water, like overbaked brownies but slick.  You slip, and your arm is half slime, your bathing suit brown.  You scrub in the salty water, but the mud stays as though it knows you belong to it.  Your transgression is immortalized when you grin, crouched next to your cousins on Bobby’s Tent while grownups flash away, the mud a stripe barely visible as you cheat sideways to hide it.

She saved it so you could rush around the house in the gathering storm in your pajamas, closing the windows on the driving rain, the wind wuthering around the corners of the house.  You pull the plush chairs, stuffing mounting an escape, up to the wide windows and cuddle beneath the ancient crocheted blankets with your mother and sister.  You watch the lightning strike over the sea and count for the thunder.  You think of the black divot in the rock, the size of a kitchen mixing bowl, where a lightning bolt burned the granite ages ago.  That happened when I was a girl, says your mother.  Did you see it happen? You ask her, dreaming of a great burning flash, sparks flying, a smoking, steaming hole left behind.  No, she says.  I wasn’t at the beach that night.  You fall asleep in the chair to the sound of the rain.

And yet, a hose, a broom, and determination have only done so much to save this place.  The ages pass and the flame of taxes in tourist country rise, sweeping the old cottages off the beach one by one.  The Juanita falls this time, razed for a new gray mansion that matches the others new millionaires have built on the shore.  The small cottage still stands, disguised by gray paint and manicured hedges that screen it from you. Consumed.

Your birthright didn’t last.

The puritans passed away from the gray but vibrant shore and left only the sand and the rocks for you to remember them by.  But sometimes you think that maybe this is enough.  After all, you do remember.

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Maine vs California, and Some Pictures

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I am back from Maine.  It has been almost five years since Brian and I have been together, and it was lovely to have a partner in crime.  It’s always so funny coming home again, though.  I fly into Boston and am deposited into a whole different world, and then I fly out again and am deposited in my own life in California.  There is no transition, and no in-between.  Just one dichotomy and then the other

Maine was gorgeously green this time.  The humidity clung to us, but there was a light breeze most times that if you could catch it would blow the mugginess away.  The mosquitos bit, but I did not get munched by a green-headed fly even once.  That is a victory.  We hiked on forest trails that suddenly rounded a bend and became a secluded bay; trees and calm waters stretching as far as you could see.  Maine is a place to eat your weight in halibut and lobster, watch the fisherman chug through the Gut on their boats, and watch the brilliant stars in the sky.  Life trickles by like a stream.

Back in California, I went to work on Monday morning in a dry heat.  The drought has made things so brown out here.  I raced freight trains to work in a sea of concrete and other cars, and then I went into my air conditioned building and froze. I came home to a cuddly black cat in the window, dinner made from my home-grown tomatoes, and a very handsome husband burning sweet incense in the back room (for his weekly meditation).  The streetlights are so bright they drown out all but the most persistent constellations.  My four-poster bed is the perfect combination of soft and firm.

I will be back to some semblance of a regular blogging schedule ASAP, but I have had to play massive amounts of catch-up at work (to the point where all I want to do at the end of the day is collapse).  In lieu of a full post, please accept this collection of photos from the trip.  Bookishness will recommence next week.  And incidentally, if you are ever in Damariscotta, their bookshop is full of wonderful.  They don’t have the biggest inventory, but they have everything I’ve been drooling over online for months (Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography, anyone?), and local stuff that is hard to find (Maine historical atlases).  I wanted to stay for months and spend a fortune.  You should go.

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A Weekly Round Up

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This week there is a tropical storm somewhere, so we have been getting spurts of torrential downpour and some epic thunder all weekend.  The wind blew down the grape vine trellis, and the cats went a little crazy.  Brian and I sat in front of the window and watched the water stream from the pergola in the back yard, puddling in the dirt and weeds.

The cherry tomatoes have gone a bit wild.  I was able to actually use some of them to cook with. (!!!)  I had heard that the Juliet variety of grape tomatoes was not considered one of the better tasting types, so I was a bit apprehensive.  But these are excellent, tangy bites of sunshine.  I would plant them again in a heartbeat.  I’m going to claim it’s the compost. The Marriage Perfect Flames are turning orange-ish too now.

I am ¾ packed for Maine.  Terribly early, I know, but I won’t have another weekend to do all the laundry.  I will only have Friday night.  It seems strange to go back again so soon after my last trip.  Strange but wonderful.  I haven’t had the chance to long for gray beaches and blue skies; for lighthouses and that sweet, wild smell of reedy grass that meets me as I walk the dirt roads, the salty wind that whips my cheeks red.  I’m not feeling empty without it all, I’m just feeling VERY glad to see everyone.  And excited for lobster and Queen Anne’s Lace, of course.

We took the cone off the kitten yesterday.  Her first act was to try and eat it in retaliation.  Then she spent the next four hours cleaning herself.

The last thing that happened was Brian and I celebrating our 12 year anniversary.  We got rained out of the plans I made (outdoor amphitheater?  Not so much), but Plan B was to go see Guys and Dolls at the Fox theater in Riverside.  They played slap-stick Buster Keaton movies before the show instead of ads, had a fancy picture booth with Sinatra, and made the experience altogether perfect.  Bonus points for the contingent of the audience dressed in ‘50s garb.  I think Plan B might have turned out better than Plan A would have, even if it hadn’t rained.

I am also attempting to pick vacation reads and maybe a new crochet project.  Any recommendations?

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Back, plus Maine Pics

I should have updated, and I’m very sorry I haven’t. Vacation is wonderful, but the coming back from vacation is a swamp full of things that are undone. The living room is a travesty of dishes, and I’m not really sure what happened in the bedroom. Laundry monster, perhaps? Not to mention the pile of things at work.

 

Anyway, this is mostly to say that Maine was lovely. I was told I missed the best of the color, but it was still pretty spectacular. You should take a gander. Back to real posts soon, I promise.

 

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Maine (!!!)

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I should be deliciously happy that I’m going to Maine in only a week. And I am, in theory. There is something about Maine that is healing. I get to longing for those gray shores and crisp nights. I dream of the smell of fresh cut grass and the waving umbrella tops of Queen Anne’s Lace in the fields. The hole in my heart grows bigger the longer I’m away, but it’s become something I just bear. I can’t ever get to Maine as much as I’d like to. One trip will tide me over for another few years. My roots will have tasted home soil and I will feel much better, I’m sure.

This is the first time my sister and I have been sans fellows on a family trip in a long time. They’re nice to have around, of course, but it’s a different kind of trip without them.  I’m looking forward to it.

I have big plans to finish draft 5 of the novel, staring at my laptop screen until all hours of the night. I will be inside, but I will know that the stars are shining brighter outside my window than they ever do in California. In Maine you can see the Milky Way cutting across the dark sky. In California I am lucky to pick out Orion. My sister and I will also visit with my grandmother’s sister and see what Salem is like the week before Halloween. I plan to eat lobster, watch the boats chug by out the (new) French door, take lots of pictures, and follow my whims in all things. The Queen Anne’s Lace will be frozen into submission and the fields will be brown, but the forests will be full of color and the fierce, reedy beauty of Fall in Maine will be out in force.

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? That is why I am not yet deliciously happy. I want it too badly, so surely work will rescind their permission for me to take time off. Or Brian will find that he cannot spare me for a week. Or something unseen and crushing will conspire to ruin it. Until I am on that plane…

But, no sense in being a total pessimist. I have bought brown oxfords and have dug my sweaters out of the depths of the bottom drawer. Maine, here I (most likely) come!

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