“I don’t even make my own bed. But I have to make ’em here. That’s okay. It’s a good job.” That was our introduction to the maid at the motel we stayed in for our first 2 days here in Lubec, Maine. We’re up here on the Sunrise Coast … where the sun rises first in the United States each morning. That’s about the only thing of note that happens here anymore.
This was once a thriving fishing town. It thrived for about two hundred years. Then industrialization gave us the ability to overfish the areas that had provided a nice living for these people for generations. These are my people. I have more people than I can count in the graveyards up and down this coastline.
I always say that my ancestors were whaling captains; LightHusband jokes that they were kelp farmers. The reality is probably somewhere in between. They were probably fishermen. Solid middle class fishermen.
My people came here with land grants as compensation for their service in the Revolutionary War. They originally came to this country on the Mayflower or shortly after that and settled Massachusetts, but then that got too crowded for them. So they came up to outer limits of the colony and then the state of Maine and settled here … to fish. And to farm. And to lead.
The last of my ancestors to grow up here in Lubec was my great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell. He was a Baptist minister. That was all I knew about him for the longest time. Then I spent some time with his oldest son (my great uncle Paul) shortly before he died at age 98 and discovered that my great grandfather had not been some johnny-come-lately, hellfire-and-brimstone, hick-country preacher … he had been a well educated and well respected minister and had led the Maine Baptist convention … had actually reconnected the Maine Baptist Convention which had been split for something like 150 years! He was someone to be reckoned with. He brought his family (my grandmother) up north of here in Calais (pronounced callas), which is still in Washington County, Maine. He’s not buried here, but his father is and so are the rest of his (and therefore my) ancestors.
And their descendants live on here too. I’m sure I have 4th, 5th, 6th and so on cousins living here even now. Ramsdell is a common name up here and I see it often. People’s ears perk up when they hear it. It’s not common anywhere else. And, maybe it was because I knew it, but I felt at home at the Blueberry Festival. I felt as tho I was among people who were common to me. The people were familiar … and yet … not … all at the same time. It was very strange. The accent is strong here. I have a hard time with that as well. This is something I’ve struggled with all my life. I pick up accents (and languages) very easily. For instance, once we were at a Scottish Highlands Festival and were sharing a bus with a pipe band from Scotland, by the end of the weekend, I was speaking with a brogue that sounded as if I’d grown up in Scotland! It was embarassing, because I didn’t want these new friends to think I was mocking them. This is even more difficult, because this accent is very close to the accent I grew up with. I’m finding myself thinking in the dialect and dropping “r”s and … well … it would be very easy speak like I’ve lived here all my life. In fact, the longer we stood in the mist and talked with the maid at the motel, the more I found myself fighting it.
So then I begin to wonder … what keeps people here? Why did my great grandfather leave? What fire was in his belly? Why did my grandmother (and her siblings) leave Maine to go to New York and then Massachusetts? Why did I leave Vermont? What fire was in mine? What keeps me from going home? What kept my great grandfather from going home? Was it the same thing? In other words … could there be a “leaving” gene and a “staying” gene? I wonder? Because the magnetic pull here for me is powerful. I feel it each time I’m here. There is something here … something that is nowhere else in the world for me. I cannot define it. But it’s only here in this place.
The only problem is that’s the only thing that’s here. Ghosts and memories. Dead relatives. And beautiful scenery (of course). There are no jobs. A lot of the young people leave. Altho Machias seems to be growing, Lubec is dying. How the people here survive is a complete mystery. The maid told us that her husband is an “urchiner”. We don’t quite know what to make of that. But the scallop beds are all fished out. So are the sardine beds. And the haddock beds (at the grocery store we found that the haddock is imported from Iceland) And the cod beds. And even for urchins they are only allowed to fish 65 days a year. It’s sad. Who eats urchins? Do you eat urchins? Someone must be eating them. But it doesn’t sound nice.
So once in a while … about every 12 years or so I come back to this ghost town and remind myself of my roots. That I have a history that twines around roots of this country’s and grew up with it. It helps to ground myself in who I am, where I’ve come from and the fact that it’s okay that I didn’t stay there.
So New Hampshire is NOT like Vermont in so many ways. First, there is the state motto. Officially, it’s “Live free or die.” However with no motorcycle helmet or seat belt laws, it might as well be “Live free AND die.” New Hampshire is much more libertarian than Vermont.
But it goes beyond politics or culture. Geologically and environmentally, New Hampshire is very different from Vermont. The mountains are different, the rocks are different, even the soil is different. It’s kind of weird. Because everyone always likes to lump the two states together — and they do fit together nicely in terms of shape. But … I’m telling you, once you cross the Connecticut River, it’s a whole different ball game.
It’s as if the last Ice Age gave New Hampshire a different glacier or something. Or more reasonably what happened was that the glacier came through Vermont and the ocean came all the way through New Hampshire and what is now the Connecticut River Valley was the shore line.
When I was in 9th grade, we did a study of the direction the last glacier took when it came through Vermont. Our study is actually written up in the Vermont Geology books … whatever they might be called. I helped the State of Vermont decide which direction the glacier took … at the ripe old age of 14. That seems sort of funny. We did it by studying striations on pebbles … and called it the Adamant Pebble Campaign. It seems to me that I should be able to tell you more about it now, but I can’t. Perhaps because it happened 30 years ago and perhaps because I was more concerned with what Eddie Pierce thought of me than what my teacher thought or what I was learning. But, I remember enough to tell you something different happened in New Hampshire … because the mountains are different. They are rougher and craggier, more like junior versions of the Rockies. Vermont’s mountains are like Virginia’s Blue Ridge … and they are the northern end of that range (the Appalachians), round and welcoming, almost Rubenesque.
Even the soil is different. The soil in Vermont is black and loamy. The soil in New Hampshire is very sandy in nature. You almost feel as if you’re at the beach. You can tell by the vegetation … the trees that grow there are different too. There are lots of birches and aspens. In Vermont, there are lots of maples and pines.
I always get reminded of all of this when we drive through New Hampshire as we did the other day on our way to Maine. It cracks me up every time I tell someone I’m from Vermont and they say, “Oh, I was just up in New Hampshire …” like they’re the same place … and … well … they’re completely different. But I just smile and nod my head.
that was the sign on a church just as we crossed the Connecticut RIver from Vermont into New Hampshire.
I have to wonder, tho … It seemed kind of cold and removed to me. I know Jesus desires to be our “friend” in a certain sense. But in another very real sense I think He’s made it pretty clear that we’re to be His arms and legs …. His “body” here on earth. So I think He might like us to be friends with each other first. I wish churches would have signs that said, “Need A Friend? Come On In.” or “Try Us.”
Or, the reality is that people who need friends don’t respond to impersonal signs anyway. So I think churches which are supposed to be about people and their needs (spiritual, emotional and physical), should dispense with marquees entirely, and put out something truly inviting like food … or … maybe … beer.
So … this morning we leave. I hate leaving. I’ll cry the whole way up the camp road. I always do. I can never soak in enough of this place to last a whole year. And it’s too far away to come up more than once a year. This year, by our own choice, we’ve been here a shorter time, but it doesn’t matter. Last year we spent all three weeks here and it wasn’t enough.
But we’re leaving and going to Maine. I should stop whining. Maine is going to be fun. Interesting. We’re looking forward to it. Really. LightHusband is. LightBoy is. I am … guardedly. I’ve wanted to go back to this Blueberry Festival since I was 15 … but here’s the thing … I know it’s not going to be as good as my memory is. So they (LightHusband and kids) are going to have a great time. I will merely have a good time. But, perhaps it’s been so long, and my memory is so dim that I will have a whole new and wonderful experience. And that will make it all worthwhile. Even the dial-up inter-net access.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
Sick of the city, wanting the sea;
Wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
Of the strong wind and shattered spray;
Wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
Of the big surf that breaks all day.
Always before about my dooryard,
Marking the reach of the winter sea,
Rooted in sand and dragging drift-wood,
Straggled the purple wild sweet-pea;
Always I climbed the wave at morning,
Shook the sand from my shoes at night,
That now am caught beneath great buildings,
Stricken with noise, confused with light.
If I could hear the green piles groaning
Under the windy wooden piers,
See once again the bobbing barrels,
And the black sticks that fence the weirs,
If I could see the weedy mussels
Crusting the wrecked and rotting hulls,
Hear once again the hungry crying
Overhead, of the wheeling gulls,
Feel once again the shanty straining
Under the turning of the tide,
Fear once again the rising freshet,
Dread the bell in the fog outside,–
I should be happy,–that was happy
All day long on the coast of Maine!
I have a need to hold and handle
Shells and anchors and ships again!
I should be happy, that am happy
Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from water.
I have a need of water near.
So today LightBoy crossed the Rubicon. He swam out to the raft. Alone. Unaccompanied. LightHusband and I watched from the porch. Lightgirl was already on the raft with her friend. That was the carrot. He’s been trying to do this since we got here. He’s had permission. He’s capable. But he didn’t think he could. And today he did. He had to work his way up to it and he wore a life jacket and a noodle … but he did it. Alone. He conquered his fear. Alone. I was really proud of him. Then I was sad too, because once it’s done … it’s done. And after all that build up, he did it so casually. We couldn’t even celebrate. Because we didn’t want to call attention to all the times he’d chickened out.
Then he chased his sister and her friends yelling “I am Black Jack, the Pirate. Fear me!!” Now look at the picture and tell me if you’d be afraid?? What a silly boy!
… and a dollar short … but here’s my list for List Tuesday.
The Things I Love About Vermont.
It’s Clean. Most of the people here love the land and they keep it clean. So the roadsides, and lakes and streams are not so littered with crap. and trash. and stuff.
No Billboards. By law. The state outlawed billboards about a hundred years ago and so we don’t have them littering the roadsides either and the whole state is much prettier.
People bike here. And there are biking lanes on alot of roads. And if there aren’t biking lanes, most of the drivers expect that there will be bikers (as in bicyclers not motorcyclers) and look out for bikers, mostly. Drivers here are respectful for the most part and look out for other vehicles … even vehicles which are not other cars. Imagine that!!
I’ve actually lived longer away than here, but I’m still a Vermonter. And when I come home, people still know me and still know my family. This actually happened today at the chocolate factory where we had lunch. The owner knows my brother (who makes jam). It’s a small state and you always know someone. I like that … it keeps everyone respectful.
There are four clear seasons here. Well … really five, if you count mud season. But we like to ignore that until it’s upon us in the middle of April. But when the mud is up to your hubcaps, you really can’t ignore it!! The good thing is that it doesn’t last long. And it’s followed quickly by a really gorgeous spring and it’s always accompanied by sap season (which is the running of maple sap which means MAPLE SYRUP!!)
What I wish I could remember is why I wanted so desperately to leave when I was 22. But I did. Of course, if I hadn’t I never would have met and married LightHusband so … I guess it was all worth it.
I read the following article and I needed to share it in it’s entirety without staining it with my thoughts. You just need to read it. It’s from the New York Times this morning. I’ve added Grace by U2 … I would have added the song to play while you read the article, but I don’t think you can do that in Blogger … so you’ll just have to read the lyrics.
August 17, 2005
A Moment of Grace
In an age whose crabbed sense of justice finds expression in dismal phrases like “zero tolerance” and “three strikes and you’re out,” the events in a Long Island courtroom on Monday came as an undeserved gift, something startling and luminous.
It happened when Ryan Cushing, a 19-year-old charged with assault for tossing a turkey through a car windshield last fall, approached the driver he nearly killed, Victoria Ruvolo. Ms. Ruvolo, 44, suffered severe injuries and needed many hours of surgery to rebuild her shattered facial bones.
When Mr. Cushing left the courtroom after pleading guilty, he came face to face with his victim for the first time. He said he was sorry and begged her to forgive him.
She did. She cradled his head as he sobbed. She stroked his face and patted his back. “It’s O.K.; it’s O.K.,” she said. “I just want you to make your life the best it can be.”
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world
Mr. Cushing was one of six teenagers out for a night of joy riding and crime, which often happens when childish aggression and stupidity merge with the ability to drive and steal credit cards. The five others have pleaded guilty to various acts like forgery and larceny, but Mr. Cushing, who threw the turkey, could have faced 25 years in prison. At Ms. Ruvolo’s insistence, prosecutors granted him a plea bargain instead: six months in jail and five years’ probation.
The prosecutor, Thomas Spota, had been ready to seek harsh punishment for a crime he rightly denounced as heedless and brutal. “This is not an act of mere stupidity,” Mr. Spota said. “They’re not 9- or 7-year-old children.”
That is true. But Ms. Ruvolo’s resolute compassion, coming seemingly out of nowhere, disarmed Mr. Spota and led to a far more satisfying result.
She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
When she goes to work
You can hear the strings
Grace finds beauty
Many have assumed that Ms. Ruvolo’s motivation is religious. But while we can estimate the size of her heart, we can’t peer into it. Her impulse may have been entirely secular.
Court testimony by crime victims is often pitched as a sort of retributive therapy, a way for angry, injured people to force criminals to confront their shame. But while some convicts grovel, others smirk. Many are impassive. It’s hard to imagine that those hurt by crime reliably find healing in the courtroom. Given the opportunity for retribution, Ms. Ruvolo gave and got something better: the dissipation of anger and the restoration of hope, in a gesture as cleansing as the tears washing down her damaged face, and the face of the foolish, miserable boy whose life she single-handedly restored.
She carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips
Between her fingertips
She carries a pearl
In perfect condition
What once was hers
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stains
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace finds beauty
Grace finds goodness
So today we went to a museum that LightHusband and I have been going to off and on since our honeymoon (18 years ago this month). We first started going to it by accident. Opie had given us two nights at a posh resort here on Lake Champlain. It was kind of funny because we fit in there kind of like Fred & Wilma. A very, very young Fred & Wilma. You had to dress for all the meals and we didn’t have the requisite clothes and LightHusband didn’t want to play tennis or sail; he wanted to fish … which he did … on the dock. And caught a sheepshead. Which is a very, very ugly fish … with stones in it’s ears (did you know that fish have ears?). In front of all these rich old people. We didn’t fit in. But on the grounds of the resort, just inside the entrance, there was this funny square stone building with a sign on it that said, “Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.” So we stopped in … because anything had to be better than being tortured by properly behaving old rich people.
And we fell in love with the place. Which might have been just a little bit because we were in love too. But mostly it was because the museum is all about the history of Lake Champlain and boating … specifically naval history on Lake Champlain. Which sort of astounded us. Even growing up in Vermont we didn’t think there could be enough of that to have a whole museum dedicated to it. But there is. So here is a little history of Vermont for you. And I think it’s important for the time we live in now. But maybe it’s not. Maybe I just like history.
Vermont actually played quite a large role in the Revolutionary War. Did you know that? Not many people do. I didn’t even know it and I grew up here. I grew up here AND I was fairly heavily involved in Revolutionary War re-enacting when I was in highschool and in fife & drum corps. I didn’t really get much a flavor for it until I went to the Maritime Museum. We held the northern front against the British coming down out of Canada. There were many battles fought on Lake Champlain, and Vermont figured in all of them. Early on in the war, Ethan Allen (the hero for whom the furniture store was named … and please, please, please remember at least that if nothing else) stole the main fort commanding the lake from the British,”… in the name of the Continental Congress and the Great Jehovah!” (in that order) at 4:30 a.m. after a night of revelry … that fort: Ticonderoga … which you probably know better for No. 2 pencils now than for military matters.
Benedict Arnold served with distinction in Vermont for several years. In fact, his service here is probably what led to his downfall later on. He broke his leg defending the lake. And his valiant efforts were garnered to another. Which led to bitterness on his part and ill suited posts in an attempt to make up the oversight … and then treason.
None of this really made the history books, tho. George Washington never slept here. Because when the war was over, Vermont went her own way. We became our own nation for a time. We did not join the union until 1791. We attempted to do our own thing … charge revenue for passage between Boston or New York and Montreal on Lake Champlain. That did not go over well with the powers that be. So we didn’t make it in the history books. We’re too small. And too independent. We’ve stayed that way over the years. We were the 14th state. We never had slavery on our books … not ever. This is actually an accomplishment.
We’re still somewhat independent. When my parents moved our family here in 1968 it was on the leading edge of the influx of “hippies and flatlanders” that came in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The old timey Vermonters looked askance at the hippies and flatlanders and declared that they are changing the state forever. But I don’t think so. I think the state has stayed the same in character … just the face has changed. After all, we were the last place in almost the whole world to get a Wal-Mart and that only after an extremely bitter court battle. And, it’s not doing so well up here in independence land. Us Vermonters are loyal to our independent store owners to a certain extent. Wal-Mart is not doing as well here as they had hoped. So … there! And, they’re not getting another one. They only get one. For the whole state. Hah … So … there.
But … here’s what’s important to learn from the Revolutionary War. This is actually more global. Our trip to the Maritime Museum got me thinking. We spend alot of time here trumpeting the fact that we won. But let’s think carefully about this, and look at it from a little different perspective for a moment. It’s not so much that we won, but really, that England … LOST. Really, what happened was this. England, faced a quagmire half way around the world, fought by a bunch of raghead insurgents, who didn’t know how to fight properly, and were only supported by a third of the local population (is any of this starting to sound familiar?). They didn’t have proper armaments, and used whatever they had … but here’s the kicker … they were fighting on their own turf. When I was at the Maritime Museum today I found out that Benedict Arnold designed and built these throwaway battle ships (really, they were floating gun docks) specifically made for Lake Champlain and specifically made to harass the British Army on Lake Champlain. It’s long and involved and I won’t go into the design aspects of it here … but it was brilliant for the time. And it was part of what caused George III to lose his appetite for the war. We didn’t win, England lost. Really, it’s one of the most important lessons that we got out of the Revolutionary War and we seem to have forgotten it.