Surviving Another Maine Spring Break
In Maine there are two school breaks in the second semester — one in February and one in April. The first (though undoubtedly popular among students), comes as something of an annoyance to teachers, who have barely gotten the kids settled down after the Christmas holidays. By the time the April break rolls around, though, we teachers are ready. I believe I bumped into every educator in midcoast Maine at some point this week, wandering dreamily through the aisles at the supermarket or buying cartloads of bedding plants at the garden center or standing in a particular kind of daze like Little Bo Peep after the livestock went missing.
I spent much of the week digging things up and moving them around in the garden, which was cost-free except for the refreshing beverages needed to sustain this sort of activity and which left me with an inordinate sense of accomplishment. Now the plants, startled to find themselves in new surroundings, are out there sulking in the rain.
Spring break had other notable highlights. 4/20, our newest national holiday, fell on Tuesday this year. It was observed, I have no doubt, with the same enthusiasm in Maine as elsewhere. On Wednesday my boiler, a temperamental three-year-old given to fits of acting-out, refused to work at all, and the man who installed it is not returning my phone calls. Thank God this didn't happen in the depths of winter. And just today — popping in to the Beach Store to see the new proprietress, whose brother does a little boiler work on the side — my eye fell on the last surviving local newspaper, which featured an update on one of the most eerie real-life mysteries I've run across in these parts: the story of a young man who vanished into the woods of Northport and was never seen again.
I was going to tell you about this one day, during the next leg of our drive up State Route 52. The still-unexplained disappearance happened six years ago this week (hence the timing of the story). The young man in question, 26 years old at the time, emerged from the forest behind the house of one of his former teachers. He "appeared distraught," reports Irene Yadao of the Herald-Gazette, "and was holding a wad of cash in his hands." He told the teacher that "'bad people' were after him." The teacher called the police, but when he heard the approaching sirens, the young man panicked and ran back into the woods. His empty van was discovered on a desolate stretch of road, keys and cell phone still inside, but no trace of the young man himself was ever found, despite three intensive searches.
I suppose if I were a serious journalist I couldn't get away with saying this, but I've always found the town of Northport to be rather creepy. There are places in Maine that make you realize why Stephen King is our de facto literary eminence, and this place where a boy seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth is one of them. It's especially creepy at this time of year when the snow is gone and the woods have a haunted look and boulders hoary with lichen protrude from the bare ground like the bones of a fallen race of giants. If the Loch Ness Monster has a cousin I expect it's probably living up there in Knights Pond, a stone's throw from where the empty van turned up.
So there's a Maine story for you: just the thing for a chilly afternoon at the end of April, with the boiler broken.
Truth to tell I'll be happy when school starts up again. I teach in Rockland where there is no hint of creepiness, not even in a century-old school building with photos of the 1910 football squad and a boiler that looks like a submarine. Funkiness, yes. Artsiness, yes. A flash of new money, for sure — though it's gone into cool things like attractive sidewalks and a renovated Art Deco movie place. But creepiness, no.
It's hard to get this point across, I find: that Maine is not just one thing. It's Stephen King but it's also Kate Braestrup. Haunted forests but also transcendent seascapes. Strange animal cries in the middle of the night but then a songbird chorale at sunrise. Pickups with gun racks parked beside SUVs with Obama stickers (occasionally in the same driveway). That's what I love about the place, I suppose. I mean, along with all the other stuff.
For some reason it seems to me that the extremes are more extreme in Maine and also startlingly proximate. The guy in the flannel shirt might be a plumber or a Rockefeller. That curving drive might lead to a pop singer's opulent home or a hand-built shack or a desolate boulder field suitable for practicing unspeakable rites by the dark of the moon. Or it may just be just be a regular driveway.
Being a well-adjusted Mainer entails, I think, acquiring a taste for juxtaposition. How's this for you: I'm typing in a small wooden cottage with a broken boiler on an iPad whose virtual keyboard is smart enough to guess "proximate" when I've gotten as far as "prox." Somehow this seems like a very Maine thing. And notice how taciturn I've been about the whole iPad thing, after hyping it for weeks — also very Maine-like. It's taken me twenty-one years to get this far and even now the whole trip seems strange to me. Which is only fitting for the week of 4/20.