Perfect Weather and Other Maine Challenges
Near the start of the cheerfully mindless teen flick Ferris Bueller's Day Off, there's a scene where the eponymous hero, portrayed by Matthew Broderick, looks out at the sky. Cut to a perfect expanse of blue punctuated by a couple of lacy fair-weather clouds. Ferris (looking into camera): "How can I be expected to handle school on a day like this?"
I feel you, bro.
We are in the habit of handwringing over the gloomy state of Maine's economy, but when you consider the climate we live in, it's really amazing we've got any economy at all. There seems to be no middle ground here: it's either so miserable outside that you want to pull the blankets back over your head, or it's so perfectly beautiful that you just want to stand there staring around you, dumbstruck by the glorious sunshine. What with one thing and another, it's a marvel that we're able to function.
I put this to my excellent son Tristan, who just graduated from high school and therefore knows everything. How many days a year, I asked him, is it possible to get productive work done in this place?
"Twenty-seven," he said, without a moment's thought.
There it is, then. We live in a place where 338 days of the year are either too perfect or too horrendous for the customary forms of human activity.
As I type, the day is of the perfect variety. We've had quite a number of these lately, interspersed with days of torrential rain and howling wind. Much of my driveway decamped for lower ground during the last downpour, but the garden is in tip-top condition. There never has been a more perfect summer for gardening in Maine, ever — I consulted my neighbor Diane, the Wise Woman of Lincolnville, about this, and she did not laugh in my face, so it might be true — and I trust that this absolves me of getting zero work done on my long-overdue novel-in- (if you will) "progress."
I moved to Maine some twenty-odd years ago because it seemed like a perfect place to write and to raise children. The child-raising part has worked out pretty well — in addition to a son who knows everything, I am blessed with a 20-year-old daughter who currently looks most decorous reading chick lit on the couch, and has graciously consented to let me use my own damn iPad to compose this blog, if I hurry — but as for the writing part, I wonder sometimes if I was better off in my moldy basement apartment in Washington, DC. There's that twenty-seven day phenomenon to deal with up here. There's no way to detach yourself from the world immediately around you. This is a good thing in its way — a rare and precious thing on our increasingly denatured planet — but it does call to mind Thoreau's remark, "I am too much with the world."
What a world it is, though! Great stones thrust out of the ground like the bones of fallen giants. Lichen glows ghost-green on the trunks of ancient maples. Any neglected patch of ground erupts in lupines and asters and goldenrod and black-eyed Susan. Ten thousand years after the last glacier stripped our topsoil away (depositing it, I believe, on Long island), the land still has a raw, hard-scrabble look. You don't have to stare too hard at a blueberry barren to imagine Druidic rituals being performed there under a huge pumpkin-yellow moon. The night sky, stark and ancient, is downright startling.
Where I'm living now, the ocean is about a quarter-mile to the east and the Camden Hills, a small chain of bumpy mountains, about a half-mile to the west. This seems to me a quintessential Maine spot: wild and settled in roughly equal measure. You can hear the traffic on Route 1 at midday and the polyphony of songbirds at dawn. You can hear a loon somewhere — down in the tidal marshland, I wonder? — and you can hear a loony local guy blasting semi-automatic weapons in his woodland compound. A huge moose regularly browses the shrubs out back while pickups blaze past the driveway out front.
It's a beautiful place and it's still, after twenty-odd years, slightly overwhelming. Especially on days like this — hey, the iPad guessed "especially" after I had only typed "espec," that's pretty cool — with the garden ablaze in bloom and the sun glazing everything like honey and my beautiful daughter drowsing over a trashy novel on the sofa. You drive into town and see all these out-of-state tags and you think, Hey, these people are paying good money to be here. As opposed to, you know, staying home and doing something productive. We all griped about that silly "Vacationland" motto, but when you think about it, there was a certain compelling logic there. The experience of living in Maine, day in and day out, come hell or high water or heavenly sunshine, does feel at times like an extended vacation — a bracing departure from the rational course of American life.
Maybe tomorrow, if the weather is just a little worse, I'll get some writing done.