BAR HARBOR, MAINE — I am beginning this story before I can possibly know how it ends. The view from my window isthat of a green Maine countryside on a Thursday morning, so I felt compelled to get started, knowing a deadline looms. It is difficult work, not because I have so few ideas from which to draw, but because I have so many. …
Joanie and I have come to New England for a couple of weeks, but by the time you read this and turn to the business of your day, we will, in all probability, be back home watching the wheat field across from our house turn itself from green to gold.
A few days rambling across the rocks and breathing the pine-pitched air of this place has made us happy, for as you will be reading in subsequent editions of this column — and, as it is my understanding, several features with room for plenty of some of the hundreds of photographs I have taken — we were able to visit a few sacred places along the way. These spots are not shrines in the traditional sense. We are not here looking for healings for arthritic knees and weakening eyes at an American Lourdes. Rather, this has been a trip of affirmation, of confirmation that much of what we have read and taught and come to believe in — the teachings of poets, the brush strokes of painters and the imagery of writers — are true and real and earnest.
So far, after a bit of hiking, and a pinch of contemplation (thrown in with a heavy dose of back-breaking driving), we are far from disappointed.
After nearly 1,800 miles of driving, we are turning past only the halfway point of our trip, geographically speaking. On it, we have journeyed through and across seven states by major interstate highways and winding two-lane pavements, even gravel roads that are not lines on our maps. We have parked and gawked from wide shoulders and narrow lanes, driveways and bridges, and we’ve looked up and down and across from walking trails. We have seen covered bridges in Vermont, river gorges in New Hampshire, big cities in New York, and the unforgettable coastlines, marshes and forests of Maine. We have also seen mosquitoes the size of fighter jets and more streams and rivers than we knew could exist. We have seen things that, unless we come back here, we will never see again.
Our trip was jump-started on a hot and muggy afternoon, and after a few hours roaring across our home state into central Ohio, we headed north out of a congested Columbus to start our adventure in earnest. We watched huge supercell thunderstorms through car windows as they built in the west all day, and by the time we got to Cleveland, a bit tired and bleary-eyed, we knew we needed to get off the road. A game-time decision to keep driving toward Erie, Pa., proved good fortune, for when we got into a hotel room, television weather crews were advising those in the areas we had passed through to seek the lowest level of their houses and hang on for what was coming. We had no big winds where we stayed that night, but by 3 a.m., awakened by a drumming rain, I saw that our hotel parking lot looked like an asphalt-coated creek bed, foot-deep water cascading toward flooded drain covers.
A short drive through the elbow of northern Pennsylvania gave way to a long and wet sojourn across New York State. New York is a big place, but we didn’t see much of it. Shrouded in fog and lake-induced mists, broken only by the thumping of the pouring rain on our windshield, we spent the day tensely negotiating three-lane traffic, dodging overloaded big rigs, concrete road construction barriers and hydroplane-inducing puddles. Nearly every inch of the way to the magnificent Hudson River Bridge, just before we slipped across the state line into Massachusetts, was dripping, and the mountainsides leaked riverlets of run-off with every mile we covered.
A good night’s sleep in southern Massachusetts gave way to a side-winding drive on small state highways — confusing ones — toward Amherst, our first real stop as we found the home of reclusive, yet surprisingly witty poet Emily Dickinson. A feature about our visit there on a cloudy, steamy day will come later.
After Amherst, Joanie and I headed north to Vermont’s mountains to spend a few days with Robert Frost. Vermont is a tiny state with tiny towns; in fact, its state capital is a fraction of the size of Terre Haute. It is a place of kayaks and backpacks, quaint shops, and beds and breakfasts. Anyone looking for fast food and chain hotels will be mightily disappointed. Our trail there was somewhat convoluted, visiting Frost’s grave in an ancient Bennington churchyard first, then heading north to stop-in-the-road Shaftsbury to wander the old stone farmhouse where he lived until his wife died in 1938. After that, his “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” already written and his fame firmly established, Frost moved north, bought another farm in the Green Mountains near Ripton, built a cabin behind it, and settled in until his death in 1963. It is a sacred spot, perhaps the highlight of our journey. A feature about that day will follow, as well.
Across the river gorges and mountainsides of Vermont and New Hampshire in another day (we visited the boyhood home and gravesite of Calvin Coolidge, too) has led us here to Maine, and it has been memorable. Above most items on our agenda was a visit to the painter Winslow Homer’s house. But we soon discovered that the home is open only by appointment — we had not reserved one. It really didn’t matter, for the summer’s schedule there had already been booked. We saw the house anyway — although, not its interior — via another route: We hiked around it, snapping pictures of it and a gorgeous southern Maine coastline along the way. An unforgettable afternoon of lunching at the Black Point Inn, and a 5-mile hike along the cliffs of Prout’s Neck (on which Homer’s seaside studio sits) satisfied our yearning, and we left there to head north to moose country, knowing we had seen a special place. A feature will follow…
And so, here we are, two days after a much-too-long trip down to Brooklin to try to pick up the scent of E.B. White’s famous farm, and one day removed from our magnificent tour through Acadia National Park. Our car, already weighed down with a hundred rocks picked from Vermont stream beds and craggy Maine beaches, is pointed toward the beauty of a few more lighthouses, while the homes of poets Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sarah Orne Jewett, Henry Longfellow and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and much, much more, are to follow before we take off for the flat and familiar Midwest.
What surprises we’ll have. Then, I can finish this story.
Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. You can learn more about his writing and speaking by going to his website at www.mikelunsford.com. His new book, “A Windy Hill Almanac,” will be released this fall.