The Maine attraction

My first memory of the place is framed above the prow of a canoe.


Before I ever visited Maine, I was drawn to its orbicular names: Penobscot, Bangor, Millinocket, Bar Harbor. Names that conjured up oars knocking in oarlocks, a sound I imagined I heard through a fog. For my father, Maine was a place of escape. His friend Lloyd had moved there, and every letter from him echoed for days through our house with lighthouses and lobster traps, bobbing buoys and sun-soaked spits of land. When he finally took us there, though, my father let Maine charm us not with its untamable coast but its largest lake, Moosehead. My memory of that place is framed above the prow of a canoe, and I see a wooden dock reaching into blue-black water, a red seaplane rocking on its pontoons, a glassy gray stillness roiled by the head-shaking splash of a rising loon. I hear that loon, too, as I stare into a campfire, the sparks of which rise into a sky thick-pricked with stars. 

Some years later, I saw Maine again through a teenager’s eyes, bleary after a sleepless night in a wet tent. Mt. Katahdin, its shaded slope like a knife blade on the horizon, the white cake of its summit frosted by snow and clouds. In an album, I still have the photos of the moose I met at the base, the brown sign I embraced at the summit. And in the album of my mind a plane still flies below me, a yellow speck against green pines. 

The last time I visited Maine, my wife and I were met with five days of rain. I remember slurping chowder while our umbrella dripped in a tin bin by a cafe door. On another day, at the Farnsworth Art Museum, we walked through the dry landscapes of the Wyeths’ sprawling watercolors. Later that afternoon we took the ferry to Monhegan Island and strolled its puddled roads from studio to studio, gazing into seascapes and floral still-lifes, cityscapes, and portraits. 

These bright scenes of Maine seemed like Lloyd’s Maine, or my father’s Maine as conjured up by the letters of his friend. Our Maine that week was, indeed, a wet one. “A washout,” we kept saying. But I loved it just the same. Camden Harbor seen from Mt. Battie in drizzle is no less Maine than Acadia National Park on a clear dawn, its rocky shore glowing orange. 

Whenever I think of Maine, I hear the names of its places as though read in a letter promising escape: Boothbay, Rockport, Damariscotta, Ogunquit. And I want to go there, sun or rain.

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