On New Year’s Day, in East Boothbay, with an air temperature in the teens and a water temperature only 8 degrees above freezing, the 12th annual Penguin Plunge helped raise money for the second grade swim program at the Y.
What this tradition says about the obsessions of Mainers, or the rewards of the post-dip warm-up is something that perhaps only “rugged New Englanders” appreciate. (A Puritannical make-yourself-miserable-enough-and-you’ll-feel-better-later understory to the state slogan “The way life should be”?).
Out on Spruce Point winter has settled in early. The homes along Grandview Avenue peer from the snowdrifts like hibernating bears and the spruces that were draped in ermine a few days ago are now as spare and tall as the ship’s masts they once furnished for the Royal British fleet.
The spruces here on Spruce Point stand for quite a bit in defining who we are at the Inn. They are, of course, the emblem of The Pine Tree State of Maine. And at this time of year, as major cities select dramatic trees for holiday displays, the season of the spruce is upon us.
The first signs of the approaching holidays are emerging: in addition to the frosty mornings, we’re beginning to see the flyers for local holiday fairs, taped to the windows in the grocery store, tacked up in the post office, marked on hand-written signs outside the school. These fairs have to be the original and best expression of the “Shop Local” movement (before it had a name), filled with hand-crafted items of every color, taste and description.
October makes us think of things mysterious, foggy nights and the deep tradition of Maine as a threshold for the otherworldly. Certainly the silent spruce, rocky shores and dramatic ocean inspire authors like Stephen King. But the true tales of harrowing adventure are enough to keep us reading, close by a toasty fireplace, into the night.
This Ocean Awareness Week, October 6- 12, gives us the opportunity to replay the oceanside memories that animate our thoughts of the seasons here at Spruce Point. The harbor seal that heralded Spring as he basked on the rocks right below Sunset Cottage and entranced the visitor from San Antonio. The puffins on the day charter. The tiny inhabitants of the tidal pool the kids at Camp Lighthouse discovered one summer afternoon. And of course the sustainable seafood, from lobster to halibut (and the working fleet of Boothbay Harbor) that inspire the menus that form the backdrop to so many wonderful dinners. All of these sharpen our awareness of the ocean and what it means to live perched on the edge of the Atlantic coast.
“Wondrous strange” is how Andrew Wyeth and his family describe the Maine coastal villages and upland haunts they paint in landscapes familiar to generations of Americans. The new exhibit at the Farnsworth Museum in nearby Rockland showcases some of those strange and wonderful things. “Every Picture Tells a Story” features the illustrations of N.C. Wyeth, the patriarch of the clan, who painted pirates and prisoners, Native Americans like the Wabanaki who knew the shores and woodlands of the dawnland long before Spruce Point ever got its name and an assortment of characters ideally suited for ghost stories on an October evening.
Our friends at Maine, the magazine, did a story a few years ago about the land trusts of the state – the people and acres who ensure that the beauty of the place and its ecosystem are sustained. As the editors wrote, “A journey to Maine has always promised an escape into the woods, a breath of fresh air, and … pristine beaches. Thanks to a network of grassroots conservationists this will continue to be true. Forever.”
In autumn, in particular, we love to share such places – the land trusts, the gardens, the wildlife areas (currently filled with migrating birds) – that our partners, including the Boothbay Region Land Trust and the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, are dedicated to preserving for all to enjoy.
Autumn is the golden season – the goldenrod along the side of the road. The black-eyed Susans and yellow asters. The jewelweed and the marsh grass as it turns from green with each tide. Pots of chrysanthemums at the farm stands. And, of course, the leaves.
When he wrote that “nothing gold can stay,” Robert Frost was talking about the leaves – the first ones of the spring foliage season, that are like gold fringe in the branches. But the same is true of the birch and maple now – and it is as true of their leaves that “nothing gold can stay.”
We saw a selection of “the things they carried” that will go into the national 9/11 Memorial in New York and were reminded of how quickly the ordinary can become extraordinary; the common become an uncommon moment, preserved in amber for future generations.