Welcome to Owl's Head, Maine


Maine has a sort of mythology in my family. "You just have to go to Maine!" I can hear my dad saying back when I was in high school, maybe even younger. "I'm telling you. If you go to Maine, you'll write a bestseller."

I don't know where he got that idea. I assume he saw a movie once, long forgotten, in which someone holes up in a cabin surrounded by far-reaching pines, perhaps some water, and thoughtfully composes sentences on a typewriter.

"You'll get inspired," my dad says, his face lit with conviction. "I'm telling you. It'll happen."

For years, Maine has been a dream of my dad's and a smiling eye-roll for my mom and me. We both know it takes more than trees and water to inspire and, beyond that, it takes more than inspiration to actually write a book. But we played along. Maine became a shorthand.

"How's your book coming?" my dad has asked in years past, with knowing eyes. My inevitable answer--that my as-yet-undefined book had been relegated to the back of my mind, again--made him shake his head. "Maine," he'd say solemnly.

I'd nod. "Maine."

I should add that not one member of my family has been to Maine (before now). Whatever draw it's had for my dad has been constructed purely of imagination and intuition. And my dad has remarkable intuition. In the truest sense of the word, he's a visionary. He sees the future where I see, for example, empty acres of land, and perhaps more importantly, he also sees the steps to get there. He knows that vision without action isn't worth the time it takes to daydream. I shouldn't have been surprised, then, that part of his one-year proposal for my employment included spending a month in Maine with my mom, working on our books.

For awhile, it seemed as though Maine might not happen. March through July were consumed with wedding planning and then wedding travel. Come August, the holidays seemed right around the corner, and a subzero Maine winter didn't appeal to either my mom or me. If we were going to make the trip happen, as my dad prodded us, it would have to be soon. Nearly at random, I picked Rockland, Maine (which really turned out to be Owls Head, Maine), as our destination, and we booked the house, our tickets, and a rental car no more than three weeks in advance.

"I can't believe this is actually going to happen," my mom kept saying. And, once: "I kind of wish your dad had just dropped it."

I was surprised, and maybe a little hurt. I recognized that I was a little nervous--though my mom and I are close, we've never spent such exclusive one-on-one time together--but I hadn't thought that perhaps she might share my hesitation. Two days in, I haven't asked her about it, but I have a feeling her reluctance had more to do with everything but me: being in a completely unfamiliar place, with the pressure of resuming a book she stopped writing seven years ago, all while not feeling confident in herself as a writer (though she should) or at all certain of her book's future (and who is?). But we do still have differences to negotiate.

It's interesting, noting the habits I've formed in the years since leaving home for college, comparing them to my mom's longtime routine. She starts her day with a glass of Carnation Breakfast Essentials, which I introduced to her years back as a healthier version of her daily chocolate milk. I can hardly form a coherent sentence before coffee. A news junkie, she immediately turns on the TV to catch up on what's happened in the world since the previous evening's segment. I didn't realize how accustomed I am to quiet, contemplative mornings; the competing news anchors' voices sent me straight to the back deck with my coffee, where I breathed the apple-scented air and watched leaves ripple like sequins.

When we ate a lobster and seabass lunch on the pier yesterday, I thought ordering wine was a given. But Mom cheerfully ordered a Coke, and I couldn't bring myself to be the alchy; I just looked enviously at the three women at the next table, laughing over their glasses of rosé. At home, lunch is usually Mom's big meal; she genuinely enjoys a bowl of cereal or a yogurt parfait for dinner. I prefer a big lunch and, well, also a big dinner. (I'll be dreaming of pizza a lot here.) Mom has already found a Catholic church to attend on Sundays; despite my Catholic upbringing, the thought would have never occurred to me.

We're both noticing these differences with little laughs, accommodating each other's rituals. When I told her the coffee I'd grabbed at the market was whole bean, not ground, she slapped the counter and said, "Oh, no!" with all the vigor of a fellow addict. When I heard what sounded like organ music downstairs, I kept the snark out of my voice when I asked her if she was watching Mass on TV--and when she enthusiastically said yes, that the Pope had just given Mass and it was beautiful, I joined her on the couch and watched the rest of the news segment with her.

Of course, there are commonalities we're finding as well. We both love getting in some movement every day. Yesterday, I did Pilates on the deck while she worked out inside to a DVD she'd brought (along with five-pound dumbells--that's commitment!). We were both thrilled to find a used and rare bookstore, and Mom's face flushed with pleasure when she discovered a first edition of a childhood favorite author.

We love our evening shows, our primetime dramas and police procedurals, which we prefer to enjoy with glass of vinito, as we say. Our conversations today, our first full day of work, have covered drug smuggling, import/export, 72-hour psychiatric holds, and traditional meals in Switzerland circa 1788. It turns out, we both enjoy research.

This afternoon, we decided to drive to Owls Head State Park, which would have been just too far to walk to and from before dark. We admired the sailboats small on the horizon, wondered together exactly which body of water we were looking at, and walked in companionable silence to the lighthouse. It was a shorter walk than we anticipated, so we agreed to try the only other path available. The trees of my father's imagination surrounded us, some tall and thin, others thick with canopies, some leaves green and others beginning to glow amber. It frustrated me that if I were to write these trees, I wouldn't know their names.

"I wish I knew what all these trees were called," Mom said, breaking the silence.

I stopped. "Me, too!" I nearly yelled. My voice was so enthusiastic that we both laughed. For a moment, each of us was absolutely understood.

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