This has been a summer unlike any other in my life, and it’s not over yet. Here in northern New England, the first weeks of September are typically among the best, especially for swimming in the ocean, though the water still hasn’t warmed up enough for that where I’m now living. It’s still in the upper 50s, like most of the nights.
While the Red Barn’s been posting mostly what I had scheduled before we landed the 1830s’ Cape where I’ve been living since the beginning of the year, blogging has felt like a special kind of housecleaning for me – this is the cycle I’ve left behind while gathering a ton of new material that will be featured in 2022.
One difference is that I’ve been largely on my own up here, but not alone. There’s teamwork involved, with visits as well as daily phone calls. And Zoom’s kept me in touch with many good friends and introduced me to more.
There’s a respect I get in being a year-’rounder in a small city where three-quarters of the population is what Mainers call Summer People. Now they’ll soon be going-going-gone and we’ll get back to our more essential, barebone state – what I call the remote fishing village with a lively arts scene.
Still, summer is when this place takes on a special life, one that often feels like a big daytime party that attracts people from all over the country. (I’ve seen license plates from all but seven states, but wouldn’t be surprised if Hawaii shows up.) And this has been the first time I experienced that as well as the ideal of summering on a Maine island. (We are connected to the mainland by a pair of causeways that lead through the Passamaquoddy’s Pleasant Point reservation.)
Here are ten highlights of my summer:
- Exploring unspoiled nature. The deep forests and rugged shorelines with their breath-taking views keep stirring up memories of the Pacific Northwest, which I left more than four decades ago. OK, my legs aren’t what they were back then, and the trails here are more arduous than the ones in the Cascades, so my jaunts have been slower and shorter – I’m simply ever-so-grateful to have this back in my life every week. And then I’ve been pleased to introduce these gems to the rest of the family on their visits. Oh, yes, I shouldn’t overlook the joys of being behind the wheel while driving along the rolling tree-lined terrain, an experience that has me reliving my first years of driving or later traipses in Upstate New York and Washington state – my, it does take me back but is here right now, once again.
- Fathoming the sea. It’s not that I haven’t been around ocean before – Dover, for instance, is on tidal waters – but this is the first time I’ve lived only a block from maritime activity. Many mornings I wake up hearing the foghorn on the New Brunswick side of the channel, one I can glimpse through our neighboring houses via our windows. Most days I get out on the Breakwater downtown, with its active fleet and cluster of sports casting for makerel. Better yet is getting out on a whale watch in a lobster boat or taking the passenger ferry to the town of Lubec and back. And then there’s beachcombing and tide pooling.
- Celebrating the Fourth. With the Canadian border still closed, this year’s festivities in Eastport were only half of what they’d normally be, but Old Home Week was still included, with its parades, contests, street dance, and reunions. I slept in through the annual blueberry pancake breakfast at our modest airport but have heard only raves from those who attended from our full household. As for the big show, I’m a stickler about fireworks – it’s not simply bang-bang-bang but a live-arts installation with the entire sky as a canvas and requires all the fine timing a good comedian relies on – and Eastport’s work from the Fish Pier definitely delivered. Next year, we’re looking forward to the additional pyrotechnical show on July 2, Canada Day, honoring our neighbors in New Brunswick across the channel.
- Enjoying a real-life Cheers. With the opening of Horn Run Brewing, downtown has a new social center. The place has a distinctive pub air, rather than a bar, and the marine views from indoors or the deck are bewitching. Rather than serving its own food, the brewpub encourages patrons to bring their own, especially from the new Bocephus gourmet sandwich shop a block away or Jess’ food truck, when she’s in town. The Horn Run has proved to be far more popular than its business model projected – it even ran out of brew on the Fourth!
- Meeting a lot of fascinating characters. Not just people, but eccentrics and others who bring experience and insight to even brief introductions on the street or out on the Breakwater – or at the Horn Run, for that matter, or a forest trail.
- Taking weekly yoga beside the harbor. The outdoor hatha sessions have been mercifully gentle, but it’s still humbling to have to confront what 45 years of neglect can inflict. And then, for the first time in our years together, my wife and I got to do the exercises together – twice!
- Sharing live music again. Rehearsing on Zoom just ain’t the same. But some informal gatherings in Pembroke were magical – one featured sea chanties and folk instrumentals, another focused on Sacred Harp shape-note singing. First-class chamber music recitals returned to the Eastport Arts Center, along with a knockout jazz trio and vocalist beside the harbor. And then there were the weekly gospel sings in Lubec.
- Delighting in art. In addition to its own resident painters, photographers, sculptors, and crafters, whose work is featured in galleries lining Water Street, Eastport welcomes artists in residence who work in a storefront studio downtown and engage the public. One had color samples for passers-by to use in identifying the color of the harbor and sky that she then used in painting a canvas mural of a day-by-day progression. Another collected strands of rope from the docks and shoreline to create an installation, albeit more modest than the mylar creation that filled half of the old North Church. I’ve been impressed as well by some of the locals as I drop in for the newest work on the walls.
- Cooking on my own again. I got truly spoiled, I’ll confess, and will never measure up to her immense talents, but it’s been fun reengaging in my own cooking again. I’m still rediscovering the basics, but in a kitchen quite unlike the one we left – I miss cooking on natural gas, and the induction hotplate and convection oven are tricky, as is the Montgomery Ward stovetop. My flavor-set’s been more Japanese than my wife’s Eastern Mediterranean take, but garden fresh produce and seafood are surprisingly scarce here. The weather’s been mostly cool, with only a few days above 80, so my usual August-September cuisine of tomato sandwiches never manifested. Lettuce, however, has proliferated, so big salads have been a staple. Now, if lobster prices would finally come down! I still haven’t indulged there.
- Seriously revising my next book. I should have been suspicious when the book seemed to write itself, but reactions from a circle of beta readers to my big history of Dover Friends Meeting and its bigger context in early New England sent me back to the drawing board. I’ve been engrossed in refocusing and restructuring the work, a project that’s been tedious on my end but quite satisfying when I revisit the results so far. It’s taken on a whole new tone, with a voice and presence quite distinct from what my professional journalist’s training would have permitted. How refreshing!
Let me also add observing deer closeup from my windows. You know, looking up while washing dishes or keyboarding.
Sometimes they hang around long enough I can really study them – a few spotted fawns for several hours, actually I love it when the adults rise up on their hind legs to pick apples from a branch overhead. They’re still enchanting, but when it comes to trying to garden, they are vermin.
So how’s your summer been?