THE air feels strangely warm, moist and sweet with the smells of summer caught like reminis-cences in the stillness. The sky is lightly dusted with the first colors of dawn as I mount my bike to ride out into the thin light. Cresting the hill, I can see the mist stretching low along the river. My bike is loaded with cans, tied together with string. They clang against the handlebars as I descend the hill too fast and loud for the heavy quiet of the town. As I cross the bridge from Old Town to French Island, I am suspended briefly in mist above black water that flows deep and silent, its sleek surface broken occasionally by the white ripplings of backwater eddies. Once on French Island, I walk -- it is too hilly to ride.

French Island is a chaotic collection of clapboard frame houses on a knoll straddled by two branches of the Penobscot River. A friend of mine has just moved here. He is a writer and has recently been hired to the faculty of University College.

It is the first day of classes, and I have brought him cans and a handful of daisies to punctuate the occasion. I edge through the narrow streets, lit here and there by light filtering out from kitchens of otherwise darkened houses. The morning shift at the paper mill starts early. My friend's windows are shaded and dark, assuring me of anonymity in my effort.

I have been collecting cans for three weeks -- there are enough to string up and down the long flight of stairs leading to his second-floor apartment. My friend collects returnable cans as a way of paying for the postage on the manuscripts he sends out. The cans clink slightly as I unravel the tangle of string and metal. A neighbor checks through his front door, eyes me briefly, then retreats. I paste a large sign -- ``In Celebration of Your First Day'' -- across the line of cans, then silently ride off.

It is now 5:30 and the streets of Old Town are stirring. A long-bed tractor-trailer, overloaded with tree-length logs, rumbles down Main Street toward the mill. A faded red pickup truck heads north along the river. I follow behind and we both stop at Read's Bakery. Its ovens have been warm since 4:00, and the street is aflood with the welcoming smells of fresh pastries.

Doughnuts, dripping with glaze, are piled warm on the counter. I clasp a crisp white bag of doughnuts against my handlebars and pedal for home, but a thought stops me. I turn and cross back to French Island to leave the warm prize at my friend's door.

I savor the glow and thrill of beginnings -- they should be relished, celebrated. Back on the bridge, I see that the sun has chased the mist off the river. I scan its banks to see a tuft of white. It is Queen Anne's lace, harbinger of fall -- my heart sings a bit, and I see that the maples are beginning to show red. I cycle back to Read's Bakery to bring doughnuts home to my family.

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