What does it mean to spend an entire life in one place?
On a ten-degree day smelling of coming snow, I parked at Bog Bridge in Lincolnville. There, in summer, boats would come and go, and kids would sit on the low cement bridge fishing for pickerel and perch.
But now it was [for the rest of this story, see the March 2008 issue of Down East.]abandoned and frozen. My dog, Daisy, and I set out from the bog onto Lake Megunticook, that glacial scoop edged by a mountain and drained by a river of the same name as if the Penobscots who first claimed this territory saw no need to separate the three, knowing the mountain's hip lay beneath the surface of the waters. The word Megunticook, meaning "at a stream below a height," has always pleased me since I first learned the word, the way it clicks and rolls, like something shapely, from my lips and tongue.
Daisy, tail wagging, ears blowing, trotted out across the snow's crust. She was the only company I sought, another animal, one sure of her own place and happy inside it. As we left the cove and passed two rounded rocks humping up out of the ice, the wind hit us hard, startling and arctic, a wall of air with no hint of thaw.
We headed toward Fernald's Neck, a wild, pine-covered point that once belonged to my great-great-great grandfather and a place I've been drawn to all my life. Behind the neck, on the lake's far side, Mount Megunticook rose like a rock deity: black ledges and boulders angled with snow, undulations of hardwood, their bare canopies appearing smoke-like, and the dark, jagged strokes of spruce and pine jutting up from sheer stone.
Snowmobiles and trucks had scarred the lake with their wandering tracks. But today it was blissfully free of activity other than Daisy and me. She ran freely, while I walked the unblemished sections of glittering crust that had resulted from heavy snow followed by freezing rain two weeks earlier. Each step held and sounded a hollow note like a stick striking bamboo. And beneath that rhythm of footsteps, the ice's booming and moaning voice undulated in the deep, shadowy water where fish hovered and turtles slept in the mud. The only other sounds were wind and my own breath.
We reached the neck and walked in among the windbreak of trees. Winter had sucked color into itself. But surrounded by red pines, I saw that their needles exuded a bitter green, and their rough trunks, a hint of red-like blood shining beneath skin. What was lost in the thrust of bold color was found in the contrast of branches and the mountain's bony curves silhouetted against the sky, its blue thin as skim milk, and in the brittle brightness of so much white winter light. And was found in lost years, my child-self: following a winter path through the woods looking for the perfect wild Christmas tree; skating in delight and terror on sheer-as-glass black ice; leaning my weight against the enormousness of Balance Rock, a lichen and fern-studded erratic dropped in the woods; slipping, naked as any animal, into the cool water.
I stepped back out onto the lake. As I left the neck and headed back to the car and the rest of my day, I wondered - what does it mean to spend an entire life, but for a few years, in one place? To cross the same lake your great-great-great grandfather sawed ice blocks from, ice that lingered beneath sawdust through long summer days? To walk where you first wobbled on skates, and have swum every summer of your life? And I thought - it means you are one branch, one stone, one flicker of fishtail in the water. Their patterns reside in your bones and blood. And then I wondered - what does it mean to want to leave such a place, to leave the place of your birth? To go where no one knows you, where you are shocked still by foreignness? I thought - perhaps it's a need to be defined by the edges of your own body and brief life, and not be swallowed by landscape and history. To step away and see yourself as clearly as you see a point of land.
The bog shoreline came close, nearby cottages all shut tight without another person or curl of smoke in sight. Behind me I heard a fiercer wind rushing down the lake. Spruce and pine thrashed and tossed their tops, making the wind visible in the same way a dancing body brings music to full view. I turned around and saw the first gauzy suggestion of snow sweeping behind the far side of Fernald's Neck. And when I turned back again for one last look, snow had blown up into a storm and had erased all indications of the mountain.
- By: Elizabeth Tibbetts