The Working Waterfront

‘Steeped in grief’ as time in Maine ends

Leaving the state for West Coast conjurs memories

Ellie Mason
Posted 2021-08-02
Last Modified 2021-08-02

Reflections is written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands and in coastal communities through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.

These are my last two months in Maine for a long time. I am nearing the end of my two years as an Island Fellow in Tenants Harbor and will be moving to the West Coast come September to pursue a master’s degree. I have never been more certain that this next step is the right one for me, but I’m losing a lot in the process of this transition. I am steeped in summer grief.

I am sunburned and sad, like every sunset will be my last one here, like every time I say goodbye I mean forever.

I think about being six or seven years old, growing up on the coast of Maine, my mom taking us down to the landing to catch crabs and collect periwinkle shells and sea glass. That loop up Flying Mountain my dad would take us on almost every weekend. The twilight swims in summer to cool off before bed and running through lawnmower-made mazes in the tall grass of the field beside our house.

I remember birthdays celebrated up at camp in June (brownies baked in a wood cookstove have character, if not great flavor or texture), and making our once-a-summer trip to the lobster pound for dinner when my grandfather would come and visit.

I got older and some of those things changed. My parents no longer live together, and it’s going on five years since my grandfather passed away. The ticks have taken over the tall grass in the field and summer tourists have crept into all my used-to-be-secret swim spots.

Ellie Mason
Ellie Mason

I moved away from the island I grew up on to a different part of the coast. I met someone and fell in love and just this week, I lost that relationship, too. Now, I paddle in the harbor at sunset, see the fish jumping and the sky turn pink over all the fishing boats. I am sunburned and sad, like every sunset will be my last one here, like every time I say goodbye I mean forever.

To those who have never spent a summer in Maine, there is a time in the evening where I simultaneously feel invincible and so, so fragile. Every moment is new and nostalgic, a contradiction in the making.

It has been a hard year for me. I have cried a lot. I have been confused and uncertain, at a loss for words and have wanted to scream with frustration. I have loved and been loved and lost days, pets, and sometimes even myself.

I marked time with the return of migrating birds. First the vultures, then the ospreys. I heard the burry calls of the terns when they returned, too.

Now, my feet are months deep into their Chaco’s tan and my swimsuit is always wet and drying from a peg beside the door

My skin is salty from ocean dips after work and if it’s not salty, it’s muddy or dirty from tide-pooling or working in the garden. I have endless mosquito bites around my ankles.

I know the tide will come in one day and wash away this grief, but I know some of it will stay with me for a long while, too. It is precious: this time I have gotten to spend on the Maine coast, the people I have come to know and love, this landscape that I fall right into.

Beyond this harbor there is another, and beyond that a chain of islands, more stepping stones that will carry me down a path of my own creation. There can be both hope and sorrow all at once. There can be grief at the window of a new beginning.

For the past two years, Ellie Mason has been working with the St. George School and Blueberry Cove to develop and implement afterschool programs. A graduate of Smith College, she majored in arts in environmental science and policy.