Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Maine Attraction, part II

(continued from previous post)

I passed the first chilly night snuggled on one of the twin beds in the main room, wrapped in a smoke-scented wool blanket, serenaded by the low, mournful call of the loons on the lake.

The aroma of coffee awakened me in the morning. I poured myself a Styrofoam cupful, and grabbed a chocolate-encrusted donut from a cellophane package on the counter. Ah, nature. I breakfasted on the porch with the hummingbirds, mentally preparing for my next adventure. Dave had promised we’d do something that day, so I needed to get washed and dressed. It was time to brave the lake.

Did I mention I don’t swim?

Dressed in our bathing suits and armed with environmentally friendly bath soap, we negotiated the rocky hillside down to a small inlet in the lake. We stacked our towels on a rock, and then Dave and Scott swam out to a boulder about fifty feet out. I would stay in the shallow end, thank you very much. I scooped up some water with a cup and poured it over my hair. Then I squeezed a dollop of soap onto my head and rubbed. As I attempted unsuccessfully to generate lather, I glanced down at my feet. To my horror, approximately one hundred and fifty thousand minnows swarmed around my ankles.

I screamed and splashed to shore, my hair still clumped up with non-sudsing soap. Dave shot back from the boulder in an instant and stood at my side.

“What happened?”

I shuddered. “There are fish. In the lake.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t even try to hide his smirk. “We're supposed to go fishing in the lake, remember? Where did you think the fish would be?”

He and Scott exploded with laughter. You would think a ruckus like that would have roused at least one errant moose from its hiding place and out into the open to make this trip worthwhile. No such luck. I stomped up to the cabin and finished washing at the bathroom sink.

We walked down the steep, dirt road to the tiny, clapboard General Store that afternoon while my in-laws watched the hummingbirds. We needed bait for fishing, since I was still annoyingly insistent on doing something. I wasn’t likely to see any moose while fishing, but at least I wouldn’t be looking at hummingbirds.

The little shop was about the size of a convenience store, but not nearly as well-stocked. Some items were so crusted with dust that I’d swear they had been sitting there since Dave was a kid. We told the clerk what we needed, and he pointed us to the refrigerated case. We found the plastic tubs packed with dirt and laced with fat, pink worms, right next to the Snapple. We bought two (and some Snapple for the climb) and headed back to the cabin.

By the time we returned, we were sticky with sweat. Gliding across the cool water sounded like a good way to spend the afternoon. Dave mentioned a rumor about some twenty-four inch salmon in the lake. Maybe we could catch one or two for dinner. My mouth moistened at the thought of fresh-caught, wood-grilled salmon. The outdoors might have some perks after all.

I donned a life vest and we cast off, Dave, Scott and me. We didn't so much glide as churn across the lake, our motor spewing gasoline fumes in our wake. But when we dropped anchor, the calmness enveloped us.

We returned later that afternoon sunburned, bored, and fishless. Dave blamed our constant talking and bumping about the boat for our lack of a catch. Thinking back, it’s a good thing we didn’t catch anything. None of us would have known how to handle a flailing twenty-four inch salmon, anyway.

The next day, we opted for a hike around the lake. I had never been hiking, and am not a big fan of insects or dirt, but hiking seemed as good a way as any to run into the ever-evasive Maine moose. As we left the cabin, Dave plunked a worn baseball cap onto my head.

“You’re going to want to wear that,” he said. “It’ll keep the ticks out of your hair.” I’m not sure if he had a genuine concern for my well-being or was just trying to creep me out, but I spent the entire hike scouring my clothing, hair, and surroundings for anything sporting more than four legs.

In three hours of hiking, we encountered not one moose.

On day three, we departed for another fishing excursion—on the other end of the lake this time, for a little variety—equipped with minnows we had caught with a wire trap hung off the side of the dock. We motored across the lake, and Dave dropped anchor in a shady inlet.

“Where are the minnows?” he asked, preparing his rod as if he did this all the time.

“Right here,” Scott said. He pulled the minnow trap up from the back of the boat. A mass of limp minnows clumped at one end of the trap.

“Tell me you didn’t drag it behind the boat,” Dave said.

Scott smirked. “Whoops.”

We emptied the dead minnows from the trap and returned to the dock. Dave replaced the trap in the water for another attempt later. When we checked that afternoon, it once again teamed with happy minnows. Dave dropped the trap back underwater, leaving the minnows to hang out until after dinner. When we returned that evening, Dave pulled up the minnow trap revealing six crayfish and a tangle of minnow skeletons.
I immediately headed back to the cabin. I’d seen enough carnage for one day. Tomorrow we needed to do something different. Like shop.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Maine Attraction--part I

I've been neglecting my blog, and I feel badly about it. It's been a busy month, with school wrapping up for both of my children and for me. Yes, I've finally completed my MFA after three and a half fulfilling years, and I finished with a bang, if I may say so myself: 4.0 grade average and a Best Thesis Award to add to my resume. *Sigh*

Okay, enough basking. In the meantime, I've also begun a new gig as a freelance editor, in addition to attempting to carve out time for revisions on two novels, so needless to say, time has been of the essence.

But I hate to ignore my faithful readers. So as an interlude of sorts, I'll be posting some of my graduate school writings over the next couple of weeks for your reading enjoyment. And so, without further ado:

MAINE ATTRACTION (part 1 of 3)


Sue Carr

Anyone familiar with the state of Maine will tell you that it’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Fishing, hiking, skiing, canoeing, bird watching, snowmobiling – it’s all there in the unspoiled majesty of the secluded wilderness.

Anyone familiar with me will tell you I’m not an outdoorsy girl.  

But when my husband, Dave, suggested a quiet week at the lakefront cabin where he vacationed as a child, I didn’t hesitate. After all, I loved watching Northern Exposure, and dreamed of visiting Alaska. From what I understood of it, Maine was a closer, slightly more densely populated version of Alaska. More importantly, I wanted to see a moose.

Don’t ask me why a decidedly non-outdoorsy girl has a thing for moose. Perhaps it’s the manifestation of a suppressed desire to commune with nature. Perhaps it stems from my love of our plush honeymoon accommodations at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, decorated with carvings of northwest wildlife in the safe, civilized metropolis of Orlando. Or perhaps it’s sheer marketing prowess. Among the moose accoutrements I’ve been enticed to purchase over the years are a moose “welcome” sign, moose bedding, even a moose incense burner.

The idea of seeing a moose in the wild so thrilled me, in fact, that I apparently tuned out any further description my husband gave of this cabin in Maine.

We departed the Philadelphia suburbs before sunrise in mid-August. The five of us – Dave, his parents, his brother Scott and me – crammed into my in-laws’ early-90’s Chevy Cavalier for the ten hour drive. Being the smallest in our party, I took the “hump seat” sandwiched between my mother-in-law and husband in the back. Not a bad position for the first five hours or so, but after about seven, my ankles stiffened from trying not to infringe on anyone’s floor space, and my butt ached from hours in a seat not actually intended for human use. The thought of relaxing by the water at our lakeside cottage was all that kept me from jamming a heel into my father-in-law’s back when he passed yet another gas station in his quest to find gas a couple cents cheaper further up the road while the gas gauge flirted with “E.”

We approached Maine through the tumbling green peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountain range under unblemished skies. As we neared Howard Pond, we passed signs for the Sunday River Ski Resort. I daydreamed about our cabin nestled in ski resort country. Maybe there would be trails leading over to the resort, where we could hit tennis balls or do some sightseeing. Maybe we could make this a regular thing, summering in Maine for several weeks each year.

But we kept driving farther and farther from Sunday River, as signs of life became scarce. Every few minutes a careening logging truck would practically blow us off the road like a miniature clown car in a cartoon, but otherwise we passed no one.

Finally we turned onto the semi-paved road that snaked sharply upward into the dense woods. As we turned, we passed a forlorn clapboard structure resting by the side of the mountain advertising stamps and live bait. This, Dave informed me, was the only source of essentials for at least ten miles.

Surely he was exaggerating.

The exhausted Cavalier churned its way up through the forest on an ever-narrowing path. As we jostled up the road, I gazed at one lovely lake house after another, waiting for my father-in-law to pull over and announce that we had arrived.  Just as I thought the car might finally peter out, he veered into a patch of packed dirt outside a small brown cottage that resembled a child’s playhouse – and by “resembled” I mean “was approximately the size of.” This couldn’t be it.

I pried myself from the back seat, arched my stiff, aching back, and surveyed our lodgings. The cabin clung to a steep hillside amid the dappled sunlight of the forest. As we yanked our bags from the trunk, my mother-in-law pointed out places where this one twisted his ankle and that one got in trouble for hitting baseballs into the lake.

Built by a friend of the family back when people still built homes with their own two hands, the cottage felt like a playhouse even from the inside. The plank walls offered shelter from the elements, but no insulation (which is why, Dave explained, we visited in August and not October). The miniature kitchen could comfortably hold a person and a half. The bedroom with its gray woolen blankets held two twin beds in an “L.” The living area included a small table, low bookcases packed with Agatha Christie novels, and padded benches along two walls by the fireplace that doubled as twin beds. The scent of long-burning wood fires permeated every fiber of the cabin. I inhaled deeply. It was cute. Cozy. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

Dave must have recognized the pained expression on my face, and pointed me to the bathroom. Thankfully the cabin had at least this amenity. I shut myself in, thankful for the privacy even if only for a few minutes. But I couldn’t sit down until I carefully inspected every crevice and beam for black widows, as anyone should in such situations. Surprisingly, I found none.

When I came out, I sat by Dave on the bench. “There’s no shower,” I pointed out.

“Right. I told you that.”

“You said there was a pump that brought water up from the lake.”

“Yeah, for the toilet and the sinks. I told you we could bathe in the lake.”

“You said we could.” I poked him in the shoulder. “You didn’t say we had to.”

He shrugged and stood up. “You heard what you wanted to hear.”

I followed him onto the narrow screened porch at the back of the cabin. My bathtub, a.k.a. Howard Pond, filled the valley before us. The calm pool of blue was more of a lake than a pond, truth be told. At least half-a-dozen hummingbird feeders dangled outside, decorating the view like jewels on a necklace. Several of the tiny birds hovered, sucking the sweet nectar left by our host. In the silence we could hear the buzz of their wings. I had never seen these delicate birds up close. When I stood next to the screen, I could feel the almost imperceptible breeze from their blurred wings. I found myself watching them fly, hover, drink, back up, fly, hover, drink. This wasn't the wildlife I had come to see, but they were intriguing. Fly, hover, drink. Fly, hover, drink.

Okay, maybe not that intriguing.

Unfortunately, the hummingbirds proved to be the main entertainment. We had no television (not that there would have been cable anyway), no internet (or anything resembling electronics aside from the coffee pot), and no cell phone coverage (although we did have a land-line telephone, the kind with a cord like the one I recently spotted at the Pittsburgh History Museum).

There weren’t even any moose grazing nearby.

We settled onto the porch to gaze on the still, blue lake. “So, what should we do?” I asked. Any vacation I had taken to that point involved the doing of something at any given moment – sightseeing, dining, amusement park thrill-seeking – at the very least, shopping.

Dave smirked. “This.” He sank further into his chair and sighed.

After about fifteen minutes of glancing from the hummingbirds to my family, waiting for anyone to do anything, I went inside. I pulled Murder on the Orient Express from a shelf, curled onto a bench, and dove in. I could do nothing for one day.