just ponderin'

… on gardens (and getting to Maine)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApproximately 8 years ago, my nearly perfect husband and I were in the midst of continuing a decade-long search for ‘The Maine House”. He had grown up in Leave-It-To-Beaverville (Okay, Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. Think, ‘Leave It To Beaverville’ with – let’s see – more trees, fewer white picket fences, more coyotes, fewer aprons on the mothers…ya…you’ve got it now.) So, as I was growing up as the daughter and niece of two entrepreneurial women who held their Somerville (Massachusetts) roots as sacred and – yes, literally – screeched with joy over their idea of a “Murder Tour” where they would guide tourists around Somerville and Boston, pointing out the places where Whitey Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang dispatched their enemies for fun and profit – complete with pithy personal stories of not realizing who the two of them were casually rubbing elbows with here and there around the neighborhood until years later. Ya. So while I was living that life, my nearly perfect husband (let’s call him John, shall we?) was enjoying two-week vacations each summer on the coast of Maine.

In order to distance myself from murder tours and Elvis worship (more about that at another time), I adopted – and was very generously accepted by – John’s family. This meant I got to spend lots of time hearing the stories of summers at Old Orchard Beach. And glass blowing on the pier, and seafood on Browns’ picnic tables, and quiet walks back to the rented house with ice cream cones, and mild sunburns from days spent on the beach.  And it sounded so perfect and I loved those stories so much that I could almost insert myself into the mental family videos I created in my head.  And after we had been together for a while, John suggested a romantic weekend up at Old Orchard Beach and, as many memories go, we should have left it to our imagination and recall.

The entire drive was full of anticipation and visions of cotton candy and artists on the pier. When the first Harley revved past us, interrupting our dreams of quiet romance, we shook it off. When the second passed, we barely noticed. When we were surrounded by cursing bikers on a rotary (’round-about’ if you are visiting from overseas) that we couldn’t seem to figure out how (or where) to exit from, so ended up going around three or four times, giving us a wonderful view of the bars announcing – in voice and signage – that there were some number of “GIRLS” inside. Sure enough, the pier no longer had the glass blowers. The Blizzard of ’78 had reduced the pier of John’s childhood to splinters, and the newer, smaller pier was more about cheap t-shirts, great fries, and a nightclub. I’m pretty sure I saw moms and dads keeping a much better eye on – and in at least one case, tightly clutching to the point of pain infliction – their children than the moms and dads in my mental video of John’s family history. There were also several instances of “kid-on-a-leash”, which I always find extremely entertaining. So my new mental video of Old Orchard is a comedy.

So anyway, with all the stories of Magical Maine, we eventually began to save up our vacation time and money and rent houses in the summer time and we did find a truly awesome place called Goose Rocks Beach. It was, and is, that fantastic, perfect stretch of beach to take quiet morning walks on, build sandcastles and hunt for shells, and watch kids wonder at tide pools. We rented the same house there for years, and shared it with John’s Mom and Dad.  Aunts and Uncles and cousins were in other houses nearby. Birthdays were celebrated, and sandcastles (and animals) were built, and boo-boos were band-aided and memories were created. And, inevitably, one of those memories became taking the quiet walk down to the corner store in the morning (no casinos or t-shirt places at Goose Rocks Beach), getting our coffee and newspaper, and then walking the past the cottages and dreaming of owning one, and one day being able to spend an entire summer at the beach with family and friends coming and going (yes, that was the dream and we know this was only a dream from past posts where I have made it clear that a revolving door of visitors – even the thought of it – gives me a hive (or many, depending on how real a possibility it might be). So we would look, and imagine ourselves with our own little slice of heaven at Goose Rocks Beach and, inevitably, have our dream crash and burn like the prematurely terrorist-controlled plane landing in Die Hard 2 (not the best Die Hard by far, but a heck of jarring movie plane crash. C’mon, you have to admit it: Plane coming out of the low clouds only to realize that – too late – THE GROUND IS TOO CLOSE – AAAAAAHHHHHHH!  See. Told ya.)

So our dreams crashed and burned like that movie special effect because every time we saw a ‘for sale’ sign, we would look at the price and, well, it might as well have been a billion dollars (probably is today, I mean this was like 25 years ago). One day, we noted a tiny…TINY…little house across the street from the beach was for sale and, I remember, it was $500,000 – twenty five years ago – and it was advertised as land. Yes. Land. The house was in such bad shape that you would have to tear it down and build a brandy new house in it’s place for half a million dollars (did I mention this was twenty five years ago?) It seemed the dream of a house on the coast of Maine was out of reach.

Enter the new neighbors.

But then, when all else seemed to be lost (I am becoming such a good writer. You can just feel the tension, can’t you? It’s like we were on a deserted island and I’m about to reveal that Johnny Depp showed up with lots of rum and an unusual attraction to women who have too many dogs and are not French. But I digress.) When all else seemed to be lost we got, in chic and trendy Dunstable, new neighbors! And where from had they haled? (yep, just wrote that and am sticking by it. Clearly I’m in pirate mode brought on by the Johnny Depp/rum reference) They haled from Damariscotta.  Where the *&^! is Damariscotta? (You can actually buy a t-shirt in Damariscotta that says that. Not kidding.) Damariscotta is in Maine. Mid coast Maine to be exact. When we were hanging with our new neighbors and they told us where they were from, we shared our desire to have a house in Maine near the water. They asked where, we told them of our dream area, and they totally poo-poo’d our dream! They said that southern Maine was “Massachusetts North” (Note to people not from around here, Massachusetts is not looked upon fondly by some other New England states…except maybe Vermont…but they keep wanting to secede, so they don’t count…and maybe Connecticut. But they might look down on Massachusetts because they have that whole ‘we’re practically Manhattan” thing going on. All I know is that, if you are from Massachusetts and you are in Maine, you tend to tout your proximity to New Hampshire. Sort of like, “Where are we from? Oh, right next to the New Hampshire boarder. We can practically throw a rock to it from our back yard. As a matter of fact, we spend practically no time in our back yard because we are always sitting in New Hampshire. With cows.” It’s kind of like when you’re visiting another country and they ask where you are from and you say, “Canada”.

So our neighbors convinced us that mid coast Maine was truly “the way life should be” (Maine state motto plug there) and we should take a look up there. So we did. For fun. And our “for fun” weekend away from the kids resulted in the rather (super) knee-jerk purchase of a nearly 200 year old house on Southport Island, in mid coast Maine. It was so romantic. It was so perfect. It was so old and had recently been rehabbed by house flippers from Texas. I’m telling you, no matter how creative I am, I could not make this shit up.

So after three years of restoration (which is decidedly NOT romantic but we are still married) where we discovered that Texas Flippers enjoy: Floral wallpaper, Victorian furniture and fixtures, and the cutting of 200 year old solid chestnut support beams in basements (which causes one’s floor to sag for what appears, on the surface, to be no apparent reason but, upon later examination, you come to find out that a new oil tank (reason for beam severing – and so new when we bought the house that kitchen didn’t immediately sag!) and old cistern were hiding the evidence from your building inspector).  So, yes, three years of restoration (except for summers, where we enjoyed our partially finished house and protected our new neighbors from the sounds of hammers, saws, and heavy equipment) of the house and barn, we took a breath. And then we noticed the result of heavy equipment on what would one day be our lawn, and thought: we need help. Again.

Enter Jay. And Ryan. And Michelle. And flowers, and shrubs, and beds, and lawns. And, yes, weeds. But also humming birds, and fat, fuzzy bumble bees and oodles of smiles. In Dunstable, we have a new house (well, now it’s ten years old, but we are the first to live in it) and we struggled to make it homey and not so new looking, especially the landscaping. Here (I’m in Maine as I type), we finished the restoration of the house and barn (as if we will ever really be “done”) and turned our eye to what attracted us in the first place: Trees that are over 100 years old (three pairs were planted as “wedding trees” – one for a long ago bride and one for her groom), legacy beach roses (Rosa Rugosa), scattered daffodils that pop up in the lawn in springtime. Jay, Ryan, and Michelle helped us immeasurably – designing gardens that were purposefully not perfect, helping us keep our treasured trees healthy, and paying attention to scent as well as a series of plants that bloom from May through September (some even in October – even in Maine). There are countless stories of my ineptitude with the plants (I have a fear of taking care of roses that, I swear, makes my knees shake as I approach them), panicked calls to Jay or Michelle, and my being in awe that the salt air and violent evening thunderstorms result in happy, rather than sickly, plants. Who knew? Gardiners in Maine knew. Not me.

So today I sign off, not to garden, but to reinforce screens in my screen porch that overlook several gardens. These gardens are a little trampled (I prefer “lived in”) because Mr. Marshal Dingle (German Shepherd Dog, 10 months) and Ms. Blaze Dingle (also German Shepherd Dog, old enough to know better) carried out a coup d’état the other day, ignoring rules and decorum (and training) by bursting through a lower screen panel and joyously barking as they ran – leaping and dancing – through our little neighborhood. They came back quickly, and not the least bit sheepishly, and seem rather interested in heading out on the screen porch (now protected by a baby gate) again, as soon as possible. It is my job to ensure that, when they do, they are confounded by the fact that their gateway to neighborhood barking bliss is no more. I’m off!

Thanks for readin’.

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