Watching Hurricane Earl from Lincolnville Beach
This is Maine, where anything can happen — and probably will, eventually — but as things stand, it's shaping up to be a rare week when those of us who cannot afford waterfront property are a tad relieved about it.
I'm not saying that I regard the rapid approach of Hurricane Earl with anything like smugness. But I fear I may, from my cozy perch on high ground, be succumbing to the occupational hazard of seeing the coming storm not as an actual, dangerous weather system, but as some kind of metaphor. And a convenient one, at that.
This is the precise time of year when I fell in love with Maine. That was twenty-two years ago, during a stretch of absolutely perfect September weather: one glorious sunny day after another, with star-bejeweled nights cool enough to break out an extra blanket while leaving the windows cracked open.
It was not my first visit to Maine. That had come a decade earlier, when the Coast Guard cutter on which I was stationed pulled into Portland for a few hours to take on fuel and replenish its store of fresh produce. It was evening, as I remember, and we were in the middle of an offshore fisheries patrol. Since time was tight, the crew was under lock-down, forbidden to step ashore except on urgent business. But I was the ship's navigator and I wanted to give my team of quartermasters a break from the tedium of shipboard life, so I issued a set of bogus purchase orders, one at a time, with instructions more or less as follows: Walk to the head of the pier. Turn right. Proceed to the nearest bar. Wait there for the rest of us.
The only things I remember about that particular visit to Maine are a landscape of brick and concrete, a large mechanical bowling game, "You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille" on the jukebox, and the twinkling lights of various aids to navigation on the seabound lane from Portland Harbor. Though I will say this to any young mariners out there: Do not drink and operate a large oceangoing vessel.
My second visit to Maine was different, not only for the perfect weather, nor for the fact that I had shucked off the blue uniform. I was more or less in love, or at least in that exultant state that passes for love among normally melancholic people, and every part of my being yearned to escape the brick-and-concrete landscape of Dupont Circle, my neighborhood in Washington, DC. We drove up and down the coast of Maine in a rental car and I thought, you know, Wow — what's not to love about this place?
Within a week we had signed a lease on a tiny old house in Rockport Village. We moved up in mid-October, enjoyed about six more days of lovely autumn weather, and then BOOM, the hammer came down. By Halloween I realized I did not even own any outer garments suitable for the ordeal ahead. The rented house proved to be drafty and claustrophobia-inducing. The new relationship was not going as planned. My novel-in-progress came to a shuddering halt.
I'm sure I need not dwell upon the various life lessons here. Let me just call attention to one of them. Maine is a place of extremes, some of which are blissfully intoxicating, while others are downright dangerous. Hurricane Earl may prove to be one of the latter for my neighbors down the road. But next week, like as not, will turn out to be the former all over again. As Kurt Vonnegut liked to say, And so it goes.
The last of my kids just left for college yesterday. That makes three of them, but this one strikes hardest, because he is the last. And this is where the full Category 5 force of the metaphor kicks in. You know: Let the earth tremble, let the heavens weep, save me the trouble.
I can't say I've never looked back since moving to Maine twenty-two years ago. I think I may have spent a couple of person-years, all told, looking back on a full-time basis. But I've never concluded that moving to Maine was not the right thing to do, even the best thing I could have done. This is a great place, a dramatic place, and it has a way of putting one's personal concerns in a wider perspective. Cold comfort if it's your roof getting blown off. But comfort all the same.