Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee recently described a school of courtly Japanese art as having the ability “to stay limber and spruce” as fashion and patron tastes evolved. It was a use of the word we haven’t seen for a while. “Spruced-up,” yes. But “spruce” as an adjective? What Merriam Webster defines as a “somewhat old-fashioned” usage, an adjective meaning “neat, clear or stylish in appearance.”
They say you’ll find more green beer, corned beef and cabbage and blarney circulating in New England than in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. And that’s probably true, given there are seven times more Irish descendants in America than in Ireland, thanks to the exodus that brought so many across the ocean. The Scots and Irish, like the 20 families who arrived in Boston on the “Maccallum” out of Londonderry in 1718 and eventually settled at the mouth of the Androscoggin were probably the only souls willing to take on the challenge of this rocky Atlantic shore and its stone-packed ground as something closely resembling the unfriendly planting grounds of home.
Somewhere beneath the snowbanks here on Grand Avenue the roots are starting to stir. We saw a chipmunk the other day, who must have been responding to the lengthening afternoons of spring (certainly not to the temperature!). By March 17th we’ll enjoy 11 hours of daylight, made to seem even better by the return to Daylight Savings Time on March 9th. And then it will be Maine Maple Sunday – if the sap ever decides to rise.
One thing all this snow seems to do is magnify the senses. Sunlight is dazzling. The cold is bitter, especially when the wind comes in off the Atlantic. The woodsmoke curling from chimneys on the Point sharpens our desire to hurry home to our own fireplace and woodstove. And the other day, while shoveling, I smelled a sudden burst of mint as my shovel caught a plant at the edge of the herb garden. (Won’t be long before it’s Derby Day and julep time!)
In New England, the topic of hauntings is a familiar one, undoubtedly because we have 400+ years of colonial history and millennia of stories from the Wabanaki whose woods these were. Each sunset looks back across an ancient natural and built landscape; across a sea of stories.
We were remembering the matter-of-fact observations of a friend convinced that she and her family shared a house with a colonial ghost. Trying to recall the spirit’s name, we thought, “Patience? Prudence? Charity?” None seemed right. And then we remembered: “Experience.”
Ok. So it’s January and we’re in the middle of working through a lengthy checklist of tweaks and enhancements to the guest experience at Spruce Point Inn. It’s finally winter and we’re reminded of the beauty of the Maine Midcoast in all its costumes, even on the starkest, coldest days when all that moves is the sea smoke drifting in from the icy Atlantic.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was at his desk in Cambridge, far from his native Portland in January 1847 as he prepared to write “Evangeline,” the story-poem about the exile of the Acadians from Nova Scotia. Yet as the winter descends here on Spruce Point, it is easy to see our own spruces on the edge of the Atlantic in the lines, “This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlock… Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean speaks…”
The Boothbay Region Garden Club welcomed hundreds to the third annual Festival of Trees this past weekend. Dozens of clever and beautiful trees created by members of the Club, local businesses and individuals lit up the historic Opera House. And now we turn to the festival of light – the infinite demonstrations that in the midst of the darkest season of the year, we turn to light – to candles, to holiday events, and to the Solstice to remind us that light does come again. And just as each sunrise here in the “Dawnland” of midcoast Maine is the start of a fresh day, the return of the sun means there is hope for growing things and finding our way. The festivals of lights in all our cultures lift us from dark-ness.
November mornings still bring the occasional “V” of migrating ducks, Canada geese and raptors, heading for sheltering harbors and marsh bays where they can winter over, secure from the northeast storms that will batter their summer islands. We welcome back the chickadees, bluejays and dozens of others who spent summer deep in the forest and watch the woodpeckers foraging for suet and the tasty delights beneath the bark of birch trees past their prime.