I apologize for my blogging silence the past couple of weeks. After spending nine days in Maine, I was on the road again in Utah and southern New England. I’m home now, after attending a writing workshop where I was encouraged to just “shut up and write.” The instructor wanted us to tell our inner critic – the monkey mind (a Buddhist term implying a restless, indecisive, unpredictable mind) – to be quiet. She told us to write daily for ten minutes or more, without stopping. I’ll admit that I’m not good at writing without simultaneous editing, but I’ll work on it. In the meanwhile, here’s this week’s non-stream of conscience narrative.
When I’m in Maine, I’m constantly amazed at how tradition-bound we – that is, people who routinely spend our summers there – are. I notice the preservation of longstanding customs within myself, my family, neighbors on the island we live on, and with others who regularly spend at least part of the summer there. Where? In the state that currently proclaims its identity with the tagline, Maine: The Way Life Should Be. That, in itself, implies long-term commitment and constancy, no?
My family has been going to an island off the coast since before I was born. In fact, my father discovered our “paradise” in the 1940s when visiting a college friend, and he insisted on returning, first just with my mother and then with the rest of us. Once initiated, there was no turning back. We bought a house and have gone ever since. I’ve been there almost every summer of my life, sometimes for the entire summer. Only twice, when in my 30s, did I miss a summer; that’s because I was living overseas. In late August, I found that I was depressed, and realized that it was because I didn’t get my Maine fix. The place was in my blood, ingrained prenatally.
Speaking of babies, my first year or two, my parents would give me a bath in the large steel dishpan, one of two that we use daily to wash and rinse the mountains of dishes. My older brothers were bathed in it before me, and my nephews and nieces used it that way after me. This summer a new generation was baptized in it. We also use the pans for dishwashing – we’ve resisted buying a dishwasher, in keeping with the tradition of washing by hand. (Besides, what would our mother’s ghost say if we caved to modernity there, in our 200+ year-old house?) And, we follow a ritual: glasses and cups first, then silverware, then the cleaner of the plates, and eventually, the pots and pans. We take turns washing and drying, with occasional arguments (what are siblings for, anyway?) about whose turn it is.
Not only do we have household traditions, but activities that are “required” (at least by some of us) every summer. For instance, there are morning walks to the end of the island and back, a distance of just over two miles each way. And, jumping off the dock into the frigid Maine waters on hot days. Some of us swim from one float to another, while others are satisfied jumping from high heights. We often have a lobster cookout on the rocks on the backshore – live lobsters thrown into a pot of boiling seawater heated over a fire made of driftwood, baked potatoes and onions wrapped in aluminum foil, and salad. No need for lobster crackers; we just use rocks to smash the lobster claws open. And, while the lobsters are cooking, we build small rock piles and then stand at a distance to throw rocks at them and knock them over. Everyone knows the game; no explanations needed.
Then there’s the annual hike up Sargent Mountain in Acadia National Park. In our family, it has to be done a certain way. We park our car at Jordan Pond House, climb Sargent via one of two trails; and eat our Full Belli Deli sandwiches at the summit or just below at Sargent Mountain Pond, where we swim from one side to the other. Then we hike up Penobscot Mountain, and descend via the Penobscot Mountain trail for sweeping views of the many islands to the south. As my nephew says, the hiking is really just an excuse for what comes next: the tea and popovers on the lawn at Jordan Pond House. They’re the biggest, airiest popovers you’ll ever eat, and they’re accompanied by unsweetened lemonade or iced tea with a small pitcher of simple syrup on the side.
Uh oh, I’m getting hungry. It’s time to take a refreshment break (and a reading break). If we were in Maine, we’d be eating hand-picked wild blueberries, baked into cake, buckle, pie or pancakes. For dinner, there’d be kale, chard, carrots and lettuce from the garden, along with fresh salmon, haddock or halibut cooked on the grill or made into chowder. Gin and tonics, or whisky sours. They’re all part of island tradition.
Stay tuned for more to come. I’m on a roll just thinking about how habit-bound we are.