6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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A Rainstorm in January

In the utility closet leaning up against the corner are my snowshoes, a beguiling reminder that for this time of year, I should be out making tracks through the woods. Not today, though, nor any other day this winter thus far. The most snow we’ve had on the ground was a half foot we got last month, but it didn’t stay around very long before it washed away with the rain.

Rain, lots of rain for what seems to be the makings of an incredibly mild winter. The Almanac’s forecast for a bitterly cold and snowy winter is beginning to seem like an over-hyped travel bag promised as a free gift. When it arrives you end up feeling sorely disappointed. Our January thaw this week didn’t have much to thaw out, and the 50 degree temperatures have made the last few days feel more like late October or early April.

Today, though, I’d say early April, especially with the rain that was beating against the windows this morning. Not that I haven’t seen rain in January before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen rain like this where it comes in huge sheets pushed by thirty to forty mile an hour gusts.

After spending the morning housecleaning, I hopped into the car and drove to Wasses to get a hot dog smothered in grilled onions, mustard and relish. As I stood under the awning while waiting in line, the man in front of me said, “If this had been snow, we’d be up to our eyeballs in it, I tell you.”

“I’m sure,” I replied, smiling, as I reached into the cooler for a Dr. Pepper.

I was drenched by the time I got to the order window. The lady that manages the stand looked at me. “Most people are using the drive-through today,” she said.

“I imagine,” I said. “But what fun is there in that?”

She laughed. “Not much, I suppose.”

She turned about to make my order, closing the window just as another sheet of rain draped over me as if I were taking a shower in my clothes. When I got back inside my car, my Woolwich coat smelled like wet wool mittens after a hard day’s play out in the snow.

As I sat encased in moisture eating my hot dog, it didn’t take long before the windows inside my car steamed up real good. I turned the engine on and put the defroster on full blast. A rainstorm in January’s not so bad, I suppose. The weather can’t always be what you want it to be or expect, so you may as well enjoy it for what it is. Besides, there’s a good two months of winter left. Somewhere during the time remaining I’m sure is that one snowstorm waiting to drop a foot or more of snow. And when it does, I’ll put my day pack together and toss my snowshoes and ski poles in the trunk of my car, and head out to make tracks.

Days like that, I usually start out early in the morning by having breakfast first at Chase’s Daily. I especially like their French toast made from sweet corn raisin bread. Accompanied by a cup of Espresso blend coffee, you have the perfect combination that puts you in an appreciative, contemplative mood as you take in the camaraderie of others engaged in small talk and pleasantries.

After eating, it’s just a matter of deciding where I’m going for my trek. Sears Island has become one of my favorite spots for a day jaunt. Said to be almost a thousand acres, it’s one of the larger islands on the coast of Maine, and sits at the top of Penobscot Bay. Just seven miles from where I live in Belfast, the island is easily accessible thanks to a causeway that connects it to the mainland. The island is preserved as a wildlife sanctuary, thus it’s not open to traffic or snowmobiles. Shaped like an inverted cereal bowl, the island has a slight ascent toward the center and a slight decent toward the shore facing east.

After a snowstorm around the beginning of March last year, I startled a Great blue heron as I began to make my way down to the shore after a hard trek across the island in a good two feet of heavy snow. As the heron flew away across the water, I pulled my fur hat off that covered my head in a heavy sweat, and unzipped my coat. The day after a storm, even though still thick in a gray sky above, affords a clear view of the entire bay and the islands beyond. Something there is about going there, that puts my mind at ease, that makes me feel as if I am absorbed and every bit as connected to that place as the heron I came upon.

I finish the last of my hot dog. The wind and rain sweeps across the parking lot in sheets that sways my car in a gentle rocking motion. There’s much of the day left. On a mild, January day with rain falling in torrents, there’s not much else to do except to be resigned at home with a few magazines and a book. I put the car in gear, and head back to my place.


An Abiding Sense of Home

"The road was new to me, as roads always are going back." – Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

January has always been that one month of the year that seems to put me in a quandary of sorts more so than any other month. I’m never sure whether I’m supposed to be completely happy or terribly miserable. So far, winter has been fairly mild for those of us who live here on the coast, whereas Northern Maine has seen more typical weather, especially with sub-zero temperatures and a covering of three feet of snow that they had last week. A perfect back drop, to say the least, for the U.S. Olympic Biathlon Trials at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Fort Kent.

It’s been cold enough, though, for the pond and lakes to freeze over, but we’ve only had a few dustings of snow, and the one significant snowfall of a half foot we had a couple of weeks back washed away with the rain that fell the week next. Unless winter gets here real soon, January thaw might end up going unnoticed this year, unless, of course, you live up in Caribou or Fort Kent.

After I got home from work today, I made a tuna fish sandwich and a pot of coffee. As I was sitting at the table sharing bites with my cat, I started to think about how I have struggled mightily over the years with the question of “home.”

I was born in Bangor, Maine, but as a young boy, I grew up in Pittsfield, Mass. after my mother had moved there from Belfast. During my teens and early twenties, home was central and southern California. As much as I liked those places, and still like going back to visit, they no longer feel like home. And even though I have lived in other places, Kansas and Florida, the one place that has always kept drawing me back has been Maine.

But I don’t think it’s because I was necessarily born here, or because my mother had been born and grew up here, and later moved back here in 1980 to live for good. No. Not for those reasons, although it could be argued that roots might have something to do with it. But it’s not that. As I look out the window and watch the snow that has begun to fall, I find myself reminiscing back to the time when I was nine years old during the summer of 1963. My mother drove to Saturday Cove, Maine with my brothers and me to visit with Uncle Mike, Aunt Mary, and our cousins Beth, Sue and Eben.

The drive up the Maine coast to Northport enthralled me with its scenery of pines and ocean. When we pulled into their driveway, I was amazed that they had the ocean right off from their back yard. I remember sitting at the window seat in my cousin’s second floor bedroom. Staring out at the water, at the fir covered island of Isleboro, I dreamed away the hour in mystery and adventure.

The next morning, after eating a breakfast of eggs, bacon and oatmeal that my aunt had cooked on a woodstove, my cousins and I headed down to the beach, and then went climbing on the rocks along the shore. In between we stopped at a small tidal pool and collected a couple of large starfishes that I dried out to bring back to Pittsfield with me.

Later during the day, my cousin Eben took me back down to the shore to gather mussels. I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night, but when we had finished, Eben went outside and built a small fire in the front yard, and then put a grate over it. He then went and got an empty Maxwell House coffee can and filled it with water. He brought it outside and set it on the grate over the fire. A half an hour later when the water started to boil, he emptied the mussels we had gathered earlier into his makeshift pot. Fifteen minutes later, I tried my first mussel dipped in melted butter that my aunt had brought out for us.

The ocean, the islands of Penobscot Bay, the majesty of the white pines, the walks along the rocky shore, the step-back in time city of Belfast—-those were the reasons I had chose to come to this place to live. My cat nuzzles up to my hand and takes the last bite of my sandwich. As I give him a pat on the head, I feel that maybe, afterall, I did make a good decision by moving back here. Although I don’t live in a house on the shore as I used to dream that one day I would, I do have a nice apartment that’s within a half mile from the harbor.

The view of the bay and the islands beyond is still mine to look at whenever I choose to dream and wile away the hours. Like last night, when I walked down to the City Landing, the air thick in a swirl of fog, it occurred to me that what makes “home” feel like home, is our deep, abiding sense of place. I pulled my collar up close and headed back. For once it felt good I was walking “to” somewhere, instead of away.

S. L. Cunningham

Published in The Village Soup Citizen, 01/18/06: 27