Just what’s drawn us to Sunrise County?

Naturally, there have been moments when we find ourselves second-guessing our decision to relocate to a remote fishing village at the other end of Maine. Technically, it’s a city, reflecting its peak as the sardine-packing capital of the world, though today’s year-’round population is a mere 1,300 – about the same as the enrollment in my high school minus the 700 freshmen.

I could easily do a Tendrils on what the place doesn’t have – a Laundromat, Chinese or Mexican restaurant, even a pizza takeout, for starters. It’s in an economically challenged region, to put it politely, and the county has a population of only 32,000 stretched across an area about 2½ times the size of Long Island, New York. That comes to about 10 residents per square mile. What, three households? Around half of the townships have no residents at all or at least not enough to incorporate – they have to rely on the state for local governance.

The closest city of any size and resources is St. John, New Brunswick, population 68,000, an hour and three-quarters drive mostly east – once the U.S.-Canada border reopens.

Next, and more likely, is Bangor, 33,000 population, a two-hour-plus drive to the west. (Practically speaking, it’s also the nearest Toyota dealer, when we need serious work on the Prius, the closest medical specialists, the closest U.S. airport providing commercial service or even an Interstate highway.) Portland, seemingly cosmopolitan, takes four hours – with Boston an additional two or so beyond that. (More in the tourist season, when traffic backs up forever at the turnpike toll plazas.)

Are we crazy?

Yes, I’d have to say.

We’re also enchanted.

Crucially, Eastport – on the Bold Coast in what’s aptly dubbed Sunrise County – does have an active arts community, making me think of the TV series “Northern Exposure” and its quirky characters.

And there’s all that North Atlantic water and maritime activity. What makes an ocean so mesmerizing, anyway? The appeal goes far beyond romance for those who rely on moody appearances. This new realm is also deadly and terrifying and constantly changing, unlike anything I knew growing up in landlocked Ohio, for sure. Not even the then far-off Lake Erie.

Somehow, Eastport quickly revives my memories of Port Townsend on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, back in the late ’70s. At the time, it was an eclectic blend of working-class, outdoors types, and marginal artists, many somehow connected to the Fort Worden state park for the arts. Its proximity to booming Seattle, a mere 2½ to 3½-hour trip, plus any down time waiting for ferry connections, does put it in a cosmopolitan orb, unlike Eastport’s seven- to nine-hour drive or bus ride from the Hub of the Universe, Boston.

When I lived in Washington state, I harbored dreams of moving from our home in the desert orchards east of the Cascades Range and resettling somewhere like Port Townsend, perhaps even up in the Alaska Panhandle or on coastal British Columbia. That was crushed after the eruption of Mount Saint-Helens and career upheavals that had me reeling back to the Midwest and then Baltimore and finally New Hampshire. I really missed opportunities to spend time in the wilderness during much of that. Even small pockets of forest could be rarities.

Eastport, though, has rekindled that awareness. It’s not just the deer all over town or the eagles or the seal and then whale I saw from the lantern room of a lighthouse across the channel. There’s also the First People’s presence, which was a part of my Northwest experience. Did I mention you have to drive through the Passamaquoddy reservation to get to town?

In ways, I’m sensing the move promises me a chance to get down to some serious unfinished business. Me, with my certificate in urban studies, my yoga training, time among Plain Quakers and the more liberal end of Mennonites, my labors as a poet and novelist, and all those years in the newsroom.

We’ll see.

Letting go and moving on

It’s official. We’re selling our home of the past 21 years, including the red barn and my asparagus and fern beds.

It all happened much faster than I had anticipated. In truth, I didn’t expect our dream of relocating to a remote fishing village at the other end of Maine to go into action for another two years. Even when we made our pitch for the house we landed, I didn’t allow myself to get my hopes up – they’d been dashed too many times the previous time we were looking before we anchored in Dover.

But here we are, with any luck beating the crowd on that rising housing market. The trend of moving out from the big-city suburbs into smaller, more viable, pedestrian-friendly towns hasn’t yet reached fever levels in Sunrise County. It is, after all, an eight-hour drive from Boston.

And no, I’m not changing the name of this blog – the barn will live on in my memory and as a metaphor. Guess we’ll just have to get a garden shed, paint it red, and call it our new barn.

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Still, the uprooting and transplanting have stirred up a lot within me.

I’m recalling one neighbor’s comment back in Manchester. “I don’t think anybody can afford to live in New Hampshire for under,” and he named a figure that would have gone up a lot under the inflation in the years since. At the time, I looked at him and replied, “But I do.”

He was shocked and maybe a tad embarrassed.

I still don’t know how most people are affording the prices of homes in much of New England or other hot spots, but they’re also being pressed by outrageous rental costs.

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Reflecting on previous moves, I admit most of them were daring leaps to new jobs and dots on the map where I knew no one. This doesn’t feel so draconian. I’ve visited, after all, and have acquaintances, mostly through Quaker circles.

So now I flip between memories of places I was fond of and of others, well, there were some mean towns and economic struggles. Satellite photos reveal that a handful of the units I occupied have been demolished in the intervening years. Let’s just say that luxury rentals were beyond my means, but a few others had their funky charms or at least memories.

The Dover property was only the second I’d owned. The other was a marvelous 1920s bungalow in a Rust Belt town. (See my novel Hometown News for that one.) When that house was emptied, I sat down and wept in the aftermath of a divorce and the confusing developments with my fiancée.

This time, I’ve found myself anxious to move on. Both of us are finally admitting the shortfalls of our home of the past two decades – not just the short treads on the staircase but also the arrangement of the rooms and the fact it just wasn’t designed for our needs. We adapted to the space, and now that there were just two of us, the faults became inescapable.

On top of that, I keep seeing more repairs that are needed – some of them big ones the second time around. I’ve run out of energy. The responsibility – and expense – are simply too much.

But I’m also remembering guests who’ve stayed with us as well as our dinners and parties, not that we ever had as many as we would have liked.

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One thing I have to acknowledge is the emotional weight of things I feel a responsibility for maintaining. As I shed more of them, I’m feel freer and more capable of opening to new experiences. The flip side is the question of just how much and what I might need to sustain that.

So here we go.