Port Clyde Reflections
Posted on June 6, 2011
One of the great pleasures of living in New England is that a few shorts hours in the car can bring you to new places that feel far more distant in terms of geography, culture, traditions, and food. If you live in Iowa or Nebraska you can drive all day and you’ll go to sleep that night in a place that feels just like the one you left that morning. In contrast, here even a few hours drive can take you to the Italian neighborhoods of New Haven and sublime joy of the white clam sauce pizza at Pepe’s on Wooster Street (best pizza in America) or to the bucolic rolling hills of the Champlain Valley in VT or to the galleries and high end shops of Newbury Street in Boston.
In just four hours on Saturday we covered the distance to one of the prettiest fishing villages on the Maine coast, Port Clyde. It still has a working lobster fleet, is the closest ferry point to Monhegan Island, and has the Marshall Point lighthouse (where Forest Gump ends his cross country run in the movie). It’s also the old haunt of the Wyeths. Helga, of the paintings, still summers here in her twilight years and the Farnsworth Museum in nearby Rockland is almost entirely dedicated to the works of that prodigious family. Chief Justice Roberts has a house on Hupper Island just across the way and comes in on his skiff to get the NY Times at the General Store (we are careful to keep Pat away from him since A) he probably does not want to hear about the abject failures of his court in the 2000 election and Citizens United case and B) he is said to have Secret Service protection).
We’ve rented a little house on the water’sedge with its own dock and gray shingled boat house and a view from the deck that spans the harbor, dotted with brightly painted lobster boats, all the way back out to the point and the lighthouse. It’s a place one can sit for hours, as we did yesterday, reading the Sunday papers, sipping coffee, and then later playing Bogle and Balderdash. The problem with playing these word games with our well educated kids and their friends is that we quickly recognize that their minds might have well outpaced ours, or as one of our visiting friends said, “Playing with that gang is like bringing scissors to a gunfight!” When it comes to bocce on the lawn, we can still hold our own. Some shred of our dignity remains intact.
In truth, we delight in spending time like this with our kids and the friends visiting us this week. Emma graduated from Brown last week and somewhere during the festivities I had a flash of my dropping her off at day care. I was the neurotic parent with his face pressed to the window, unable to let her go, ostensibly worried that she’d be upset. Of course, it was my own pain and upset that was holding me there. She will head off to the Middle East again in a couple of weeks and I’ll likely have my face pressed up to the terminal window, unable to let her go, and wondering how four years of having her close by slipped away so quickly. How 22 years between day care and college graduation slipped away so quickly.
So the slow, unhurried pace of Port Clyde, is a perfect antidote to the pace and hurry of our everyday life. On vacations like this one we subscribe to the Sassella Doctrine (Sassella being the name of a house we once rented in Tuscany): no one has to do a single thing they don’t feel like doing. Everyone going kayaking and you’d rather nap in the boat house, no questions asked and no pressure. Going for a walk and feel like being alone, no guilt about not inviting others. Want to have breakfast at noon and stay up until 5AM reading a novel (my personal favorite — the very definition of luxury), it’s up to you. We live in a world of countless commitments — meetings to attend, reports to be written or read, chores to be done, pets needing care, and on and on. A week where your time is wholly your own and where you move only to your interests and desires is like a balm for the soul.
It may sound like everyone is curmudgeonly doing their own things, but even with big groups we find people still end up doing most things together. I think it is the knowledge that you have the freedom to do what you want when you want (and the occasional exercise of that privilege) that is so liberating. That said, when I later this week indulge my nerdy interest in old planes and cars and spend four hours at the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum, I may be alone and that’s okay too. The Sassella Doctrine slows things down and lets us move to our own rhythms and interests, something which is almost entirely absent in our busy modern lives. There are days that are booked so tightly that I hardly look up, reflect too little on what is really pretty wonderful about the day, rush people along too fast (missing the delights to be had with others and, I fear, making them feel less appreciated), and I look up and it is suddenly 5:00. So a morning like this one, where I can sit on the deck before anyone is awake with a fresh cup of coffee, watch the boats slowly make their way out of the harbor, and just be… it’s peaceful.
Almost invariably during one of these glorious weeks I romanticize what it would be like to bail out. To say “It’s been a good run, but enough of the suit and tie world, I’m moving to Port Clyde and taking up lobstering or organic gardening or painting or writing haiku or opening up a tattoo shop.” On a morning like this it is easy to ask “What if all mornings were like this one?” Truth is that unless you are a trust fund type or vacationer, people here work hard and you don’t have to go far out of the village to be reminded just how poor Maine is and how its people struggle to make a living. And while a week of this relaxation is restorative and a good reminder to slow down a little and enjoy, I love my work, am easily bored, and remain too social to hide away on the rural coast.
Indeed, part of what makes a week like this so delicious is that you know it too must end. In this knowledge I again come back to Bhudhist teachings that tell us we can expend our emotional energy on lamenting the passing nature of things or we can use the knowledge to live more fully in the moment.
I had one of those latter moments the first evening here. On Saturday night 12 of us had dinner here at the house. At some point in the evening I looked around and noted the mix of old friends, our kids, the laughter, the food we had cooked and wines we brought, the soft light of the room, the laughter and volume of chatter (the best sign of a good time). The past fell away and there was no talk or worry about the future, only delight in each other’s company, the food we shared, and the moment.