Happiest Man in Maine Bats Down Existential Despair
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.
I don't remember the dates, precisely. I suppose I could look them up — no doubt there's an app for that — but the swirl of images and emotions and isolated, sometimes disputable incidents that cling to my mind are all that a man could really want. The tiny, good-natured infant — two pounds lighter than his older siblings and a happy, energetic child from the start. April sun streaming through the tall windows into our cramped living room. Peepers singing at night from their fir-shaded puddles, and loons back from their winter break crying weirdly across the pond. My daughter Callie, not quite two, sulking in a state of smoldering neglect — her mommy, it seemed, had no time for her, and even Granny was inexplicably fascinated by the wriggling little usurper encamped in her old cradle. (I may have this to thank for the close relationship Callie and I have enjoyed to this day.) And finally the daffodils.
I guess you've heard the old joke about cats and muffins. I'll retell it anyway.
"If my children are born in Maine," asks the newcomer, "will they be considered real Mainers?"
"If your cat had kittens in the oven," replies the old-timer, "would you call them muffins?"
So inevitably Maine children born to parents from away — Washington, DC, in my case, and Westchester County, New York, in their mother's — are known as muffins. And last week, on a night as warm as the one he was born in the middle of, my littlest muffin turned into an 18-year-old man.
It happens all the time, I guess. You conceive them, you raise them, and one day they're grown and gone. It's a cause for rejoicing, undoubtedly. And someday soon I'll try to rejoice. Honestly.
Meanwhile there is this weird sense that my work here is done.
My ex and I moved to Maine for a number of reasons — and I suspect that, if you came from away, like us, much of this will be well-trammeled ground. We wanted to live in a beautiful place. We wanted to be surrounded by a natural world that hadn't yet been dug up, cut down, or paved over. We wanted to have the kind of neighbors who don't look down their nose at you for your old car or your old sweater or your misbegotten attempt to turn the front yard into a wildflower meadow. We wanted a serene and inspiring place to write our novels. And above all, perhaps, we wanted a good place to raise kids.
And so: here we are. I've settled down in a small, well-insulated cottage with a glimpse between old spruces of Penobscot Bay, which I share — for a few months more — with my son Tristan. My neighbor Maria serves a wicked martini each day at 5:30. There are moose prints in my back yard, which melds into an emerald wetland about 80 feet from my office window. My last novel was published by Alfred A. Knopf. I've even scored the Day Job of the Gods, teaching English at the best school in the midcoast. Of all my reasons for moving here, I can't think of one that I haven't ticked off.
I suppose, then, I must be the happiest man in Maine. And don't get me wrong, please — I actually am in pretty jolly spirits these days. I just have this weird sense of something Really Big being almost over. I catch myself — sometimes deliberately and sometimes not — groping around for the next thing to get excited about. I've acquired a kitty. I've ordered an iPad. I've gotten heavily into Japanese maples. I've even, at this stage of my career, become a blogger!
I ran some of this down a couple of days ago with my friend Larrain at the Rockport Public Library. She also has a younger son named Tristan so I figured she could relate. And lo, she could relate. So that's good. In Maine it seems you're never really alone.