By Tom Lamia
My association with the State of Maine began as a chapter in a courtship that led to marriage. In early 1968, after two years of teaching law, first in Nigeria and then in Zambia, I visited Nairobi, Kenya, where I met a vivacious and seductive fellow-adventurer who would become my wife. I was 30, she 26. We went on several game park safaris together. During one, Susan was thrown through the open hatch of a Land Rover as it rolled over; she picked herself up with no panic and no damage. This was enough to convince me of her suitability as a traveling companion.
We journeyed homeward together from Nairobi, with stops in Khartoum, Cairo, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, and Paris, indulging in all the sybaritic possibilities that our youth and station in life would permit. Would this friendship survive beyond the dash and flash of international adventure? A sampling of dull reality was needed. So, on returning home, she invited me to explore her roots in Maine.
As a Los Angeles native, I knew Maine and its rocky coast only from the movies where, typically, life combined rugged individualism with extreme conditions: storm-ravaged seas, half-mad antagonists, odd supporting characters and, often, the supernatural (yes, even before Stephen King). Susan did not immediately appear to fit within this imagined tableau, but then I had only just met her, and knew her Maine family and roots not at all.
It was early May when we arrived in fogbound mid-coast Maine, in the early afternoon. It was quiet and the light was at its last, just enough to see that an expanse of water with several islands lay before us at the end of the access road we had turned down. Our destination island was close, but it would have to wait for morning light. We sheltered in a small and spartan house trailer there for the use of after-dark arrivals. “Dark” covered all but the middle eight hours of the day what with the latitude and fog. It was cold, probably drizzling rain. My memory fails on this point, but it is safe to assume that it was so. The morning brought a view of the next challenge: to row a small skiff to the island, which was not yet visible, while navigating between rock ledges and points of land that lay between, guided only by Susan’s memory to avoid the submerged dangers. Daunting, but no rolling Land Rover! Looking back at the shore, it seemed odd that there was no evidence of human presence. A few houses were visible, but no one was about.
The island lies in the estuary of the Damariscotta River, just seven miles from the open Atlantic. We reached it cold, wet, and mud-slicked from having pulled the skiff ashore (no dockage being yet available—too early in the year for that). There were several small wooden cottages on the south end of the island. One had a wood stove—most welcome—as it was cold. Very cold. Being from Southern California, and having spent the preceding two years in tropical Africa, my expectations for springtime in “Vacationland” (the state motto) were sun, warm breezes, flowers, and birdsong. No, none of that here—only ice; mud; clams; sea worms; cormorants; a steady, stiff, cold breeze off the water; and isolation. Those empty houses now made perfect sense; they were the July and August refuges in Vacationland for heat-fleeing city people in a time before air conditioning.
Over the next few days, I was spoon-fed family lore, linked to three or four generations of Susan’s genetic forebears, and discussed the town of South Bristol and life on the Damariscotta River. That first visit confirmed most of the Hollywood stereotypes. I met relatives and endured the geographical and meteorological challenges of a simple life on the water and in the woods. I survived all of that and married her anyway.
Next: Maine Character(s).