Mapping Coordinates that Mean Something
History in places like Boothbay is what surrounds us with floor boards worn smooth by centuries of footsteps, by vistas filled with sailing ships brought down to see us, as we line the shore in wonder. By simple places made priceless by their familiarity. Proust’s madeleine turned into a lobster roll and the sound of a halyard loosened on a mast conjuring the dip of oars on another summer night. We say we hate history, that ‘brown furniture’ (aka antiques) is “not our style.” yet we crave authentic experiences with the yearning of a schoolchild let loose from the classroom.
The Windjammer fleet, the Boothbay waterfront, the cottages of Spruce Point Inn are all history lessons of the sort we most treasure, the ones we pay good money for, the ones worth getting to. And why is that? Why does the granite of this Midcoast become so different under our toes, the salt of the sea pique our dreams? What “abides” in the stories of the keepers of Burnt Island Light or the ramparts of Pemaquid? Is it because this history is sieved through our own consciousness, beamed against the far inner walls of our minds, to become our own and highly personalized “oceanside memories made in Maine”?
Perhaps the problem with “history” is not one of making it relevant, after all. Perhaps the question the American Association of State and Local History won a grant to explore should be turned on its head to ask, “how do we make relevance, history”? How do we place the familiar stories of Spruce Point, Boothbay, the Vacationland of Maine residing in our heads and hearts in a context that we recognize? How does authenticity resonate, except against the tuning fork with which we test the world?
When we ask the stories of a new-found place, like our ancient coast of Maine, we are looking for connections; and the more a place resonates with our own internal encyclopedia of experience, the more we want to take it in: the sound of wave and wind rush, the scent of wild roses and sea air, the taste, yes, of lobster and blueberries in Bogie’s. We want to close our eyes and soak in the last rays of a summer sunset, the muffled laughter and the distant thrum of a boat engine off across the bay.
And though we may look for the record of those who made this place, and, knowing a bit about sea and shore, take away a deeper understanding of the fishermen and farmers who managed to put Boothbay on the map, we will mark down the coordinates to help us find it again only when its history is part of our own.
This photo of Spruce Point from aboard the Sarah Mead is courtesy of TripAdvisor.