Seeing Maine Fresh (A Word for the Jaded)
Happy the man who can ride all the way home from Portland to Lincolnville with his son at the wheel. For that man may lean back and take in a bit of scenery, instead of buzzing dronelike up an endless two-lane asphalt ribbon with his eyes locked warily on the SUV ahead.
I hold it to be one of the sadder ironies of life in Maine that the longer we've been here, the more we've come to love the place, the less we actually see of it. Surrounded by natural beauty of an unequaled sort, by wild creatures that venture in their innocence or bravery right into the cloisters of urbanity, and by human inhabitants who are scarcely more domesticated, with plumage and pack-rat accretions to prove it, we nonetheless go about with our minds on the familiar and mundane. Maine has ceased to amaze us.
Put it down to habituation. I no longer gasp when a gabble of wild turkeys waddles into the road ahead of me. I only hit the brakes. Maybe I pass the time, while they cross, imagining the plumpest of the lot (and they seem quite large this year; have you noticed?) plucked and browned and laid out on the Thanksgiving table — but it's just a passing thought. As soon as may be, I press the accelerator again, leaving the wild fowl well behind me. My thoughts are on the clock, the day ahead, my lesson plan for English IV, a troubling sound from the innards of the automobile (best forgotten), back to the lesson plan.
It was not always thus. I remember a winter when I was new to all this and the most ordinary thing could enthrall me. Dusk in a grocery store parking lot: my aged VW sputters and skids through fresh snow that the plow has not yet disturbed. Ahead, an overweight young woman labors behind a shopping cart, thrusting it forward, getting stuck, pulling back, thrusting again, the cart nearly topples, the woman laughs. I laugh too: you can hardly not.
This is winter in Maine, I think. This is where I actually live. This woman and I, together for a moment, are in on this great secret, the thrill of blue lights glaring off new snow, the hidden knowledge that a bright warm sanctum lies just there, stuffed with goodies. Every minute of this is fun. Nowhere else in the world is exactly like this.
Life in Maine, circa 1989.
Today I am perfectly capable of sitting here at my desk and gazing absently out back at the lichen-papered trees and the wetland that wraps around us, early autumn air sifting stealthily as dawn light through a cracked window, admitting the sounds of crows and mourning doves and traffic out on the state road ... and feeling nothing especially. Whereas in a just and well-apportioned thought-world, I should be dancing and chanting strange syllables and lighting candles to celebrate the beneficence of my deity of choice (lately, as I've managed to lose a bit of weight, I've been thinking wistfully of Ganesh, the cheerful Hindu elephant-god, remover of obstacles). But at least — to offer a word in self-defense — I'm aware of the problem. I know that Maine is something to marvel at, not just to glimpse out of the corner of one's eye.
To thank for this renewed awareness, I have no divine revelation, no road-to-Damascus moment irrupting into my commute to Rockland. I have instead my newest consumer-electronics acquisition, an iPhone 4, and in particular a killer photo app called Hipstamatic.
It's probably old news that taking pictures helps you see a familiar scene afresh. (So does having guests from away, though with added quotidian distractions.) But after a while, even the photographs come to seem much of a muchness. Yes, that's a beautiful mountain. Yes, that's a beautiful lake. Oh look — another beautiful lake. What shall we have for dinner?
Hipstamatic — named after and inspired by an actual product, a cheap plastic camera produced in small quantities in the 90s — really does jolt you into seeing things differently. The basic idea is to emulate the look and ambiance of vintage family cameras of the previous century: your Brownies, your Polaroids, your Instamatics, et al. It's very cool ... but this isn't, after all, a technology blog. I've posted a few backyard photos here to give you the idea.
Back to the main point, though. I don't know how it is exactly that we become jaded to, you know, all this, the startling world around us. I don't know what the cure is. But if a $1.99 app can help, then it's chump change well spent.