In the life of each of us there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness.
– Sarah Orne Jewett, an American novelist and short story writer, best known for her local color works set in or near South Berwick, Maine, from The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories
Happily and luckily, I’ve been coming to Maine for a week in the summer for the last 10 years. The company that I work for – HIMSS Media – was originally MedTech Publishing, which was co-founded by my good friend, Jack Beaudoin in 2003. He and his business partner, Neil Rouda, lived and still live in Maine, which is why the Summer Summits were based there. Every first week of August, the remote workers – I was a freelance writer until I became an FTE in 2010 – would descend upon the company headquarters in New Gloucester and have editorial and sales and marketing meetings. While the out-of-towners stayed at the beautiful Merrill Farmhouse on Pineland Farms, I stayed with Jack’s family. We had wonderful employee-bonding activities such as geocaching (the non-technology kind) and cheese and wine tasting on the Pineland grounds and having a lobster bake on Peak’s Island, a ferry ride away from Portland.
In time, the company was renamed MedTech Media and then sold to minority owner HIMSS and later became HIMSS Media. Jack moved on, and the Summer Summits ceased in 2013. Thankfully, I still return to Maine, but as part of the Summer Sales Meetings, which are now held in July. Every time I return, I am reminded of my initial wonderment when my plane first descended into Portland and I saw these quaint cottages and summer mansions perched on the banks of the many islands off of Casco Bay. And how I fell in love with the land and the lifestyle. It gets me every time.
I’m told that Portland boasts more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States. I will take it. There are wonderful restaurants around every corner. And there are great little shops all clustered together, which makes for a great Sunday afternoon of wandering around and checking out local and state artisan goods. Love, Portland.
After a very packed Summer Sales Meeting week, I met up with Jack and family dog, Holly, and we set out for a three-hour drive northeast to their second home in Stonington, a quaint and beautiful town on a bridged island in Penobscot Bay. The road to Stonington, once we got off the highway, is not really winding as it is up and down, which didn’t sit well with my stomach. Let’s just say that Jack drove much more slowly and cautiously than he’d normally drive, and taking Dramamine on the return trip to Portland eliminated my motion sickness.
Jack tells the story of how he and Fay would rent a house in Stonington for vacation early in their marriage. They fell in love with the town and a few years ago bought the home of the former town librarian, who is still alive at the young age of 104 years. They have been slowly and lovingly remodeling the house, which is a stone’s throw from the popular Friday farmer’s market, the downtown area, and the coast. Fay did a beautiful job with the landscaping – everything looks lush and healthy. She has a great eye and is an avid gardener.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Stonington is that it is a destination for true rest and relaxation. Like my hometown and our visits with my cousin Janet and her husband, Tim, when I am there, I forget about yesterday and tomorrow. I am in the moment, and I take deep breaths and immerse myself in enjoy mode. So it was with Stonington. What I very much appreciated was staying up late Friday evening and Saturday afternoon talking about novels and writing with Jack. Talking shop, as he called it. I don’t have a writing group back home. Most people I trust are the ones with whom I spent two years in Syracuse, who know me and my writing, and who have my best interest at heart. But they are all dispersed. When I was at Syracuse, I was, really, just learning how to write, so I looked up to my more worldly, wiser classmates. But there were only a few writers whose class discussions about craft I listened to with rapt attention and took plenty of notes. Jack was one of them. I valued his commentary on my short stories because he cared and wanted you to do right by your stories and characters. And that’s because Jack is a wonderful writer whose prose is beautiful and precise and whose human insights are startling and real. He believes in the beauty, power, and integrity of story, of fiction. One who has such a writer for a mentor and a friend is twice blessed.
At any rate, here, to have that time talking about, say, structural issues with our current work and discussing how our favorite authors have handled plot or character was magical and so very instructional. I appreciated the immediacy of talking one on one versus communicating via email. So thank you for that, Jack. It made me want to read more and get back to my novel-in-progress.
Just a little bit about the town of Stonington. The lobster and fishing industry support the economy of Stonington and the nearby town of Deer Isle. Many of the fishermen revert to being carpenters or contractors in the off-season. I’m told that these two towns lead Maine in pound and dollar value of lobster landings. The two towns’ waters support some 300 lobster boats during the season. The island is also known for its granite quarries, which go back to the late 1800s and are still being mined today. The granite from John F. Kennedy’s memorial at Arlington National Cemetery was supplied by Stonington’s quarry.
One of the things I loved about our walk to the downtown was the historic homes that bore the names of their original owners. Some were weathered, giving way to their age. Others were happily restored to a gleaming white, which blazed in the July sun, and stood out against the blue sky, blue bay, and green hills. There were B&Bs, a wine shop, art houses and galleries, little shops, and the historic Stonington Opera House. But there were no touristy shops – the shop that did sell t-shirts and the like was low-key and, I dare say, dignified.
A “Mini Village” is nestled beneath a pine tree downtown. The sign on the tree tells of its origins: “Stonington’s Mini Village set up in this little park area was the creation of Everett Knowlton (b. April 7, 1901, d. March 17, 1978) who began building the houses in 1947 as a hobby. He continued to build them at a rate of one a year and slowly grew his ‘perfect peaceful village’ portrayed in these old pictures and portrayed in its original entirety at the Knowlton homestead. After Everett’s death, the new owner of his home donated to the town the Mini Village where each year residents take home the little houses for the winter and bring them back in spring for people to enjoy.”
On Saturday, we timed the low tide so we could walk to one of the islands. It was a beautiful day, if a tad bit warm. We traversed a woody and ferny path of tangled roots and spongy soil, breathing in every now and then the smell of aromatic pine, before reaching the sand bar that led us to the island. The cloud formations were spectacular, especially against the blue skies and waters. This was quintessential Maine. The water was cold, the island rocky, the pines plentiful. Breathtaking. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
On my last night, Jack, Fay, and their daughter Genny treated me to dinner at Aragosta (27 Main Street, Stonginton), the farm-to-table restaurant overlooking Stonington Harbor whose chef, Devin Finigan, is Vermont born and raised. Aragosta is cozy inside – wide-plank wooden floors, sofa seating along the walls, white-washed wooden walls – with a stunning view and a walk-down expansive outdoor deck. Stonington lobster ravioli was calling my name. As I took in the views, savored every bite, and enjoyed relaxing dinner conversation, I kept thinking how David would have loved this restaurant, to say nothing of the views. Aragosta, by the way, is the Italian word for lobster. Of course.
I will admit that photos are a poor substitute for being there. Photos can’t let you hear the lively rain at night or the early morning shower that gently wakes you up. They can’t let you breathe in the lavender in the garden and the pine all over the island. What they can do is make you say: This is where I want to go next. And come back to again and again. Thank you, Jack and Fay, for the beauty, the shop talk, the meals, the rest and relaxation I craved and received with open arms.