In August 1973, our family arrived in Maine for a one-week vacation on Pemaquid Pond outside Damariscotta. The following year we arrived for two weeks, and then steadily we accumulated more weeks and years until something about Maine felt like home.
I was 13 the bicentennial summer in 1976 and walked into the Maine Coast bookshop and a white haired man, the proprietor, helped me find books to read. He gave me A River Runs Through It, and a lifetime memory of his kindness.
I still have that hard-bound first edition, and the memory of that wonderful book store—across the street from the Yellow Front Grocery and near Reny’s and across from Clark’s Spa—and it remains influential.
I could see an old rusty F-150 pulled over, and a giant bear of a man out on the side clipping a few lilac flowers…
The tug of those summers required me to return as often as was practicable the next decades, and the combination of too much time in the D.C. area without nature, and too little interaction in the D.C. area with real people, led me and my wife to try to make a go of it here on the Midcoast. In the fall of 2020 we bought a home along the Kennebec, two or so miles up from Popham Beach.
I’m so fortunate to be able to work remotely, and this affords much tranquility, as the hermit thrushes, cedar waxwings, warblers, and nuthatches, and the spruce, pine, fir, maple, oak, birch, and beech they live in surround us. We are having to learn about wood chipping, snow blowing, gale force winds, frozen pipes, brown tailed moths, how porcupines and dogs mix, and the necessity that firewood be seasoned.
On a bike ride a few weeks ago there was a bird strutting across the road while a pickup truck behind me seemed likely to pass me and squash the little guy. The truck driver stopped to let the bird cross. The driver explained to me it was mating season and he was a woodcock doing his thing.
On a bike ride a week later, as the lilacs were in full bloom, I could see up ahead on the road an old rusty F-150 pulled over, and a giant bear of a man out on the side clipping a few lilac flowers which I then saw he was fastening to his rear view mirror.
I would not be surprised to learn that one or both of these guys, neither of whom I know, may be related to the guy who plows my drive at 2:30 in the morning during a January blizzard and who is always in good cheer, even when he managed to get his truck into the ditch and had to winch himself out.
Besides the thrushes and the warblers, pink lady slippers sprouted for the second spring in a row, and we have begun to notice not just huckleberries and blueberries but beautiful service berries as well.
Our neighbor’s camera confirms coyote and a fisher cat are hanging out, and my youngest cattle dog cannot help but roll in something vile on some of our morning walks. Foul as that is, it’s so much better that it happens now in these spring and summer months when I can hose her off outside.
The cranberry bog is much wetter this year than last. I’m anticipating a much healthier blueberry harvest than last summer, which was quite hot and dry. What this spring’s and early summer rain totals mean for this fall’s cranberry haul I am too new to say. But I’m enjoying thinking about a real bounty.
A lot of my time on the weekends has been devoted to moving rocks.
That means I get a few feet of a wall built every weekend, whereafter I sink into the couch wondering about the size and constitution of the men who built the miles of stone walls across Maine.
Moving a single 250-pound stone the 100 yards from one part of my property to another, up against gravity that doesn’t want to let me get the rock up the hill, and then down against gravity that wants to yank it from me before I’m ready, takes everything I have got. And then I have to figure out how to get it placed without losing a finger in the process.
Henry David Thoreau wrote that “We are never prepared to believe that our ancestors lifted large stones or built thick walls.”
Here in Phippsburg, I see the kinds of people who know how to build stone walls because they build them. And know how to navigate through the fog because they fish in it. And know that summer is short and as much as one may want to sit back and take it all in, there’s wood to stack.
These days, someone is getting half of every strawberry in the garden; it’s an annoying tithe, but also more than a little bit charming.
Charles Buki was born in Arkansas, lived in the Carolinas, served in the Army, spent time in Northern Virginia, and finally, after all that, is home.