Maine. With ninety percent of its land covered in forest, the state strikes me as dark and deeply mysterious, like the ocean which surrounds it to the south and east. And what an intrepid, enduring people, those Mainers. They remind me of how much we are shaped by the climate in which we live.
My sister and I were eating lunch inside a restaurant overlooking Penobscot Bay one afternoon. It was the only overcast day during my visit, winds gusting up to thirty miles per hour. We watched a woman in the distance walking briskly along the boardwalk, her hood cinched tight around her head. Her arms were folded across her chest, fists tucked under her armpits, and she had this fierce, defiant look on her face. I imagined her having rough, dry skin, bright blue eyes, wrinkles fanning out from the corners of her eyes, and not a speck of make-up on. A no-nonsense woman who had weathered, and been weathered by, the elements. Yet beautiful--intimidatingly so. She seemed to me Maine personified.
One of the things I found most refreshing during my two-hour drive from the airport along Route 1 was this: I didn’t see a single chain restaurant or strip mall. Instead, I passed quaint gift shops, fresh produce stands, and down-home diners. I sensed an originality and playfulness lacking in most suburban areas. It was only a hint of what was to come.
About a year ago, my sister and three dear friends moved into a three-story Victorian in Rockland. When they first moved, the house was in terrible condition, long neglected and unloved. Lifeless. My sister and her extended family worked for months making repairs, painting the home’s exterior and interior in bold, primary colors, and planting an extensive garden. When they were done, my sister said someone stopped in front of their house on their busy street, rolled down her window, and thanked them for fixing up the place. Other locals, upon seeing their inviting garden--complete with tables for al fresco dining, fountains, and trellises strung with lights--asked if they were a restaurant.
Inside the house, the rooms are filled with artwork, books, games, toys, crafts, stuffed animals—you name it. Many of these things have come from thrift stores and yard sales or from people who know that my sister and her friends will take in just about anything broken, discarded, or forsaken. Surprisingly, the house doesn’t feel cluttered. In fact, the total effect is nothing short of magical. When people enter the home, the hope is that they might see an item or a piece of art that will transport them to an earlier time, when they viewed the world through the open, imaginative eyes of a child.
Being there, in that house, hearing stories of the townspeople’s reactions to it, and the creativity it inspired in me, reminded me of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, how one woman, using her unique gifts, transformed her sleepy small town into a place filled with wonder and magic.
Two of my sister’s friends, a husband and wife, are full-time artists. One of the things I find most extraordinary about Robert and Su.Sane’s work is their approach to painting. They paint simultaneously on the same canvas, their work entirely driven by intuition. One makes a mark here, the other a mark there, and back and forth they go. In this way, or so it seems to me, the ego and the notion of “masculine” and “feminine” are transfigured in and through their art. They were a great source of inspiration for me. Due in part to the heartfelt conversations we had about the artist’s life and the importance of persevering regardless of commercial success, I resolved to write more and care less where it goes. I have to trust the voices that come to me and believe that what I am writing is serving a purpose, even if it is only to feed and enlighten and transform my own soul.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and my Maine trip reminded me of what a gift it is to be fed, to feed others. I stayed in a B & B a couple of blocks from my sister’s house. Each morning, I’d wake to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, fried bacon, maple syrup, homemade breads and scones. In the evenings, my sister and her friends, who all love to cook, insisted on feeding me dinner. When I walked through the door, after a day of writing and sightseeing, I was greeted by mouth-watering aromas--roasted vegetables, stewed cinnamon apples, or some other comfort food.
We always ate by candlelight, a bottle of red wine and mismatched bowls and platters set on a creatively appointed table, soft music playing in the background. This wasn’t a staged production, something they did just for company. In fact, nothing about it felt forced. They told me they dine like this all the time. It made me want to put a little more effort, inventiveness, and fun into my own weekly menus and routine. Their hospitality inspired me to pay their kindness forward, so that others might feel as pampered and loved in my house as I had felt in theirs.
This is what Maine and my visit with my sister and her friends reminded me of. It is a miracle to be here, to be alive, that our souls have been given (or have chosen) the vehicle of a body in which to experience this mysterious and magnificent world. If that alone isn’t reason enough for thanks, I don’t know what is.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. John O’Donohue. For those of you who have a mystical sensibility like me, you’ll love this author. Every time I read his writing, I feel a centering in my soul. The last chapter in this book focuses on death—both spiritual and physical. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to think of death in quite the same way. Would make a nice gift for the soul friend in your life.
The Edge of Heaven. This Turkish-German film won Best Screenplay at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. I love how lives intersect in unpredictable ways in this movie. It is a story that never gets old--how forgiveness and love can redeem the greatest sorrows. Hanna Schygulla, who plays the mother, delivers an amazing performance. (Thanks for the recommendation, Robin!)