It's been a good time for reading, these past couple of weeks, chilly and wet, and I've met some remarkable Mainers that way, in the pages of books. Then, just yesterday, I was lucky enough to meet one of the subjects in person, when she stepped off the page into a cafe in Rockland, looking even more lovely and gracious than I'd expected.
If I'd lived in this town ten years longer, I could say I've known Andy O'Brien, our delegate to the Maine House of Representatives, since he was in diapers. But I can say truthfully that I've known him since my son Tristan, who's about to graduate from high school, was in diapers, because we hired Andy one night to babysit. Andy was about thirteen; we were friends with his family. We came home around midnight to discover Tristan sleeping face-down on the floor of the sleeping loft, and his diaper ...
The first thing I noticed about life in Maine — not about Maine itself, but about the experience of actually living here — was that nobody asked me, "So Richard, what do you do?"
I awoke the other morning to the sound of birds chittering madly and my eighteen-year-old son shouting at me to turn the light off. The bird cries, it developed, were coming from my iPad — an appealing though ineffectual alarm-clock setting — and the boy cries, which worked better, were coming from a loft that my son has appropriated for his own use in addition to converting the entire basement into a tricked-out teen bachelor pad.
There's a right way and a wrong way to rough it in the Maine woods — an entire literary sub-genre has grown up around this — and for the last week I've been doing it all wrong.
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.
There are Mainers who find April to be a dismal time of year and strive to spend as much of it as possible in some exotic locale like Disney World. I am not one of them. For me, April signifies [insert here stirring boilerplate about renewal of life, season of hope, new beginnings, blah blah]. Anyway at this time of year I can seldom afford to travel.
One of the great things to be gotten from reading literature is the sense — which may be either vexing or comforting, depending, I suspect, on the age of the reader — that nothing changes very much or very quickly.
I remember a spring this warm. Only one spring, but I remember it well.
It was in 1992. My younger son, Tristan, made his appearance just after midnight on March 31st of that year. My mother came up to Maine from Virginia to lend a hand with her newest (and last) grandchild, hanging around through Easter. Before she left, daffodils were blooming around our cottage on Coleman Pond in Lincolnville — a little cold pocket where spring usually crept in late.
The collapse of mighty institutions all around us — big corporations, the State of California, and now perhaps the Grand Old Party — might be even more alarming were we not watching from the relative tranquility of a place where things are basically okay.