Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Guest Post: A House in Winterport, Maine

From the Bank of the Penobscot River
I asked an old and dear friend who had lived in Maine for 10 years and then moved down to Connecticut to share her thoughts.  These are her words and her pictures.

Muffy and I both love Maine.  So when she asked that I write a guest post, I was happy to oblige. May it serve as a thank you for the many gifts she has given me, including her sense of humor, clothes and accessories (in exactly the right shades of pink, green and blue) and a gift of apples and cider left on our porch.

Most of the Nutmeggers I know who travel to Maine are familiar with Ogunquit and its sandy beaches, but the best is saved for those willing to drive, at least until the Wiscassett bridge on Route 1. It is there that the rocky coast and weathered towns just begin to come into focus as the modern landscape recedes into the rearview mirror.

It is hard to put your finger on exactly what Maine offers that other places do not. The most obvious is the beautiful scenery and lack of convenient shopping, although that is changing (a section of Rockland now has a Home Depot and looks as if it’s in Connecticut). But I know I miss it and haven’t found it anywhere else.

I now know that whenever a choice is made, such as between a beautiful setting and modern malls, that something is gained and something lost. You have to decide what you are willing to sacrifice.  I’ve gained friends in Connecticut, but dearly miss the sense of peace and awe inspired by the Maine landscape. I also miss the diversity of lifestyles – there are individuals who intentionally choose to live without much material wealth and the wealthier residents don’t make a show of it, if they have any sense.

Last summer, I was fortunate to visit some relatives in Maine who don’t live on the coastline, but are in close proximity to the natural beauty the state offers, including lakes, rivers and the sea. My hostess, Jane, lives in an 1820’s colonial on a hill, white with black shutters, built by a sea captain, reached by a long driveway, lined with trees.

Jane appreciates the history of the house and says she often imagines long skirts rustling against the bannister as she ascends the main stairs.  Jane has a particularly close attachment to her house as it was the one in which she grew up as a girl, when not living overseas as a young woman and adult, and is the place that she and her daughters, also world travelers as adults, call home.

Jane’s parents now live down the road in a smaller, more manageable dwelling, but they were the ones who first noticed the house on the hill, before it was even for sale. Jane says that her father, who was at college at the time, used to come home every weekend to visit his wife-to-be in Monmouth, near Augusta. He set out one Friday, hitched a ride with a man who “took him as far as the driveway.” The person driving the car was Mr. Jones, who sold the house to Jane’s father 30 years later.

Jane said that Mr. Jones worked for a paper company and did all the renovations. He put in the bathrooms and created a summer room, once a carriage house and woodshed. Before him, the previous owner created an apple orchard, remnants of which exist today.

Two summer’s ago in Maine, there was a happy reunion of all three of Jane’s daughters. The youngest, Quincy, was having a birthday, as well as celebrating a new job and apartment in Belfast (which has changed drastically since I first rented there in 1989, but still retains a rough-around-the-edges charm) and the second oldest, Caitlin, was home for a visit from the Netherlands where she works and studies. The oldest, Molly, was also home and lives in Maine, but often travels to Asia for work. There were also two couples from the Netherlands, one couple working in the states, while the other was taking a vacation, which all four often do together.

The house, decorated with its treasures from away, reflects the values this family holds dear. They are not afraid to experience the world, but they also know that there is a safe harbor waiting for them to which they can always return.

And isn’t that something to which we all aspire, no matter what your style of car, clothes, home or accessories?

Valerie Bannister is a freelance writer who lives in Chester, Connecticut with her two daughters.


Kathie Truitt said...

There is something terribly wrong with this article. It's too short. I hated it for it to end.

mary anne said...

I agree with Kathy Truitt. I wanted to keep reading. What a nice guest post.

TropicalSunbird said...

Ah, after working 12 hours today, this was a joy to read.

Thank you Valerie for the lovely story and the beautiful, soothing pictures.

Lane said...

Lovely post. I grew up in CT, went to school there, lived in a white house with black shutters C.1790 in RI, and now am in Maine, forever, I hope

Michael Rowe said...

God's country. And what a beautiful post.

scotmiss said...

I was at school in Maine and vividly remember the first time I saw the beautiful, rocky coast; I sent my grandparents a typical Maine coast postcard with the message - 'it's more beautiful than any picture or what you've imagined'. They spent many summers near Booth Bay, but I was of the age where I was certain they never really appreciated it like I did! Living in Michigan, we have our share of beautiful coasts and water galore, but not like Maine. I have the required photos in front of LLBean at 3AM, fond memories of lobster rolls and clam-bakes. And while I have been back there annually for the past 43 years, I never tire of visiting. If I spend more than a few days, I'll come home with an accent like a native! cheers!! scotmiss

Rachel said...

There's something about driving down a long gravel driveway knowing your finally home. What a lovely post, thank you.

Anonymous said...

home... this is truly a wonderful post, do tell more

WRJ said...

What a great guest post! How lucky you are to live in Chester--it's a great area.

The photo of the beautiful house set back behind a natural field reminded me of a years-old article in the Times, a great example of the paper's urbanity/inanity, describing a meadow designer catering to wealthy surburbanites who takes a great deal of time, effort, planning, and, of course, money (up to $100K!) to achieve a similar effect.

Your point celebrating a diversity of lifestyles rings very true. One of the few behaviors that makes me embarassed to be a Nutmegger is the way that many of our towns, particularly the "upscale" (barf) surburbs, intentionally make affordable housing impossible. It's as though an influx of teachers and firefighters and fishermen and their kids will crater the public schools and kill the precious (falsely-inflated) real estate values (a serious problem when even the most expensive properties are mortgaged to the hilt). In the exurban area where I grew up, blue and white collar workers and the independently wealthy live in very close proximity. And yet there's palpably less class friction than in those communities where residents, aided by town governments, insist upon excluding anyone who is not their economic equal.

Anonymous said...

I am from Canton, CT, but my grandparetns lived in Wiscasset. On our way up each summer (and sometimes in the winter if we were feeling adventurous enough to brave Maine in February), we would stop in Portsmouth, NH, at the now gone Goldie's Deli (I hope I am spelling the name correctly).

My grandparents' house was further inland. My grandfather worked at the shipyard in Bath (I am unapologetically proud of my family's blue collars). The house was close to a dam with a huge meadow surrounding it. We would pick fresh blueberries and rasberries, and use the blueberries for morning pancakes. On the nights we went into town, we would eat at Sarah's.

We would take day trips to other towns such as Skowhegan (New Balance), and Damariscotta (best playground of all time). There was one roadside ice cream shop that had Smurf ice cream and it left your tongue blue, but as a kid, any flavor that changes the color of your mouth is your favorite.

Lobster was cheap. Walking on the beach and not falling through a crack in the rocks was a badge of honor. On our way home, we'd stop at L.L. Bean, and hopefully catch a trout fishing demonstration inside.

Maine will always be a special place for me. To those who feel the times are changing, they are, but make your criticisms tongue-in-cheek, because you still had some of the best times of your life there.

Anonymous said...

Spent my summers as a kid on Panther Pond, near Sebago. Parents, siblings, happy place that I still dream of and hope to have my son experience the same. People ask what is it about Maine and my only response is they have to spend a few weeks on a Maine lake to know what it is.

Joyce North said...

What a lovely post! I want more!

Kathy said...

Such splendor! I want to move to Maine.
Thank you Valerie for the captivating post.
More please!

Bob Henkel said...

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your Maine with us.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I drove the length of Maine several summers ago and we couldn't help but remark how much it looked like the Northern shores of Lake Michigan with the towns and farms and stretches of wonderful nothingness punctuated by glimpses of the water. Hope to get back to Maine soon. The only thing we could think of that Maine has that Michigan does not are lobsters. But then again we have smoked whitefish!

Rachel said...

WRJ... I just had to ask , what's a "Nutmegger"?
I have to agree with your views on the "Upscale" suburbs, it's the same here. Social Inferiority Complex is an American curse.

Brad Cole said...

Nice story and photos (especially that spectacular shot of the Penobscot River). Valerie writes, “It is hard to put your finger on exactly what Maine offers that other places do not.” She also references the state’s natural beauty several times.

I’m in midst of reading the book “The Coast of Maine” by Louise Dickson Rich. She writes on page four, second paragraph: “All history is determined by geography, by the nature of the country – by its topography and climate, by its latitude and longitude, by soil and natural resources, by the hundreds of other conditions that contribute to its own special character. Nowhere has this been more clearly demonstrated than along the coast of Maine, because nowhere is there an area of more strongly marked traits.”

Maine certainly offers those willing to make the effort to travel and explore beyond the usual tourist spots - further Down East - an opportunity to experience its special character and remote beauty. Maine’s icy cold water, rocky shores, fog, strong currents and more extreme tidal ranges add to what’s offered for those willing to leave the more extravagant Nutmeg State behind.

I am, however, mostly a big talker, because as much as I love to visit, not sure I could survive the Maine winters – too long. As a friend who lives there says, “not too many months of bad sledding.”


Anonymous said...

A few thoughts...

1. I got lost in the post by imagining a lifestyle far removed from the constant flux of Bloomberg monitors, traffic noise and Food Trucks.

2. I'm no Prep but there are so many things about Prepdom I would give up a non-vital organ for at this moment. One of these things: field of wild flowers in front of a Country Home.

3. Mainers often allude to the dichotomy of cosmopolitan people who lead sophisticated, interesting lives by the shore and the simple country folks who live in rural areas within the interior. To me, it's just "God's Country".

4. Maine is a close second in my personal ranking of NE States. VT, Maine, NH, MA, RI. I'm not certain what the status of CT is. Last I've heard, a local magazine wanted to toss CT out since they share more DNA with NY and NJ than they do with the rest of NE.

5. The image of the house reminds me of Wallace Stegner's "All The Little Live Things".

Anonymous said...

Please bring her back. Jane Keller

scotmiss said...

Maine - 3 months of winter and 9 months of poor sledding - can't wait to be back for my annual trip in Sep. thank you, thank you for describing my second home state in such soothing terms. More, please . . .

Greenfield said...

Anon 5:57:

Get 10 miles north of the Post Road, or anywhere east of New Haven, CT is ALL "New England." The part that gets confused with NY is Fairfield County, and I second everything WRJ said above. It's Wall Street's bedroom community, which starts feeling at times like a set for "The Stepford Wives." Which, as a matter of fact, it IS! ;)

What was said above about affordable housing is of particular concern in towns where it seems every house built before 1980 is being torn down, and replaced with a McMansion.

As for Maine (and I love this post, Muffy!), ever driven up there in the WINTER? We did, looking for a boatyard in Blue Hill. Trees, unbroken trees, and none of us noticed the scale of miles on the map changed when you crossed the NH border. "Are we there yet? How far? It's getting DARK!" It also started to snow--heavily. Enormous logging trucks lurching down on us on narrow 2-lane roads. "If we run off this road, no one will find us and our bones will be scattered by BEARS!"

Well, we finally reached the boatbuilder in question at 3:30 PM which was sunset for all practical purposes. His light was the only one on. In the whole town! We had to drive miles and miles back the way we came to find people again. I've thought of it as the "Howling Boonies" ever since, and I hope it's still that way.

Anonymous said...

I rely on the unscientific but reliable observations of NY Yankee hats, apparel and decals found in CT. Weigh this against the number of Red Sox gear and you have some basis as to where their loyalty stands.

Then you do the anecdotal-testimonial-subjective opinion thing and simply ask native New Englanders from other States if they think CT is a part of the region. Most will probably say the CT is indeed a part of NE because they're conditioned to believe it due to maps, history, etc. But if you probe deeper and ask them to define characteristics of New England people, would this apply to CT? And this where confusion lies and it has little to do with "diversity".

My view is CT is in New England but it's heart and soul is with NY and NJ. Parts of northern CT may align closer with MA but the perception is that the State simply does not share the same mindset and maxims with the others.

Sartre said...

@ Rachel -- a nutmegger is someone from Connecticut, the Nutmeg State.

It's also a term I've heard used in boys' soccer for when you pass the ball between someone's legs. :-)

Greenfield said...

Anon. 8:47

That depends an awful lot on whom you are speaking with, and of.

There are fewer CT "natives" in evidence in the more "upscale" parts of the state because those areas attract, frankly, people who can afford to live anywhere and are the corporate-upwardly-mobile types; dare I say, "The Yuppies." They are nomads who have no real commitment to or feeling for the place--it's all New York, or Seattle, or LA, to them.

We natives, those few crusty and recalitrant souls who've not sold out or been priced out of the region, tend to have a lower profile as we do not share what has become the predominating culture--Competitive Conspicuous Consumption and hipster fads.

There are some of us still here. Ask US, and we'll tell you that when the Greenwich bridge fell into the Mianus River awhile back they should have left it there--the N'Yakaz would've built their "tract mansions" in Joisey and CT would still belong to the Red Sox.

Only reason we're still here is, we stole it from the Indians fair and square! ;)

Anonymous said...


My early memories of Connecticut were of campus visits to New Haven and Hartford, the Van Doren Family scene in the film "Quiz Show", Moby's original DJ residency inside an Episcopalian Church and Bruin's Games against the old Whalers. With the exception of the brilliant Van Doren Family depicted in the movie, there isn't a coherent imagery in CT that resembles anything remotely New England.

Yes, I need to broaden my sampling pool and visit more spots outside of the Casinos but again, it just confirms my view that Connecticut suffers from a lack of consistency. Superficially, there are contradictions between the Nouveau Riche Bankers and PMs in Fairfield and the Old Guard consisting of idyllic farms, Prep Schools and coastal villages. And it just seems the former are winning out, expanding, buying up chunks of real estate, developing on raw land, building mega mansions and extending the reach of Steinbrenner Nation into our sacred turf.

This is not lost on anyone here in Massachusetts. Almost without fail, the local media outlets poll readers if Connecticut is truly in their minds a part of NE. Results usually favor CT but the gap is closing. Why? Perception is becoming reality.

WRJ said...

Yes, Nutmegger is my preferred term for a Connecticut resident. (Connecticutian and other options are awkward, to say the least.)

As to the is-or-isn't Connecticut New England question--of course it is. Yes, the New York suburbs, like all suburbs everywhere, are filled with people haling from elsewhere with only a tenuous connection to the community. (E.g.: I'd dare say that you'd more easily find someone from Asia in Cambridge than from Massachusetts.) But even in Fairfield County, Connecticut visibly differs from New York and Jersey: there are still plenty of gracious historic properties (for now), much less density (outside of the cities), more and better small businesses, and fewer awful honking accents. There is, after all, a reason why people choose Connecticut's much longer and less convenient commute. (Though there are McMansions aplenty--I'm interested to know if Greenfield is familiar with the cute little historic house across the street from the Hunt Club in Westport, to which was recently grafted a hulking new house of, oh, 6,000 square feet or more. At least they didn't tear it down?)

New England is, of course, not a monolith--Connecticut isn't Massachusetts Massachusetts isn't Vermont, and Vermont DEFINITELY isn't New Hampshire. None would have it any other way.

For those who take Red Sox fandom as the bellwether of New Englander status (and I'm not sure why they would, since my paternal grandfather's family were both Rhode Islanders and Yankees fans to the bone), this old Times article should be of interest:

Anonymous said...

Nantucket and the Vineyard are distinctively New England in its architecture, culture, history, industries--past and current, cuisine, vernacular, maxims, etc. There is a shared history in other words of veneration for the past. This is why building codes can be restrictive when it comes to radical designs. Even though the islands turn into theme parks during the summer months for the idyllic rich, the vibe, feel and scene remain the same.

Connecticut conversely is governed by the flow of capital and as such, money talks. The moneyed class are Bankers, Corporate Titans and a few Trust Fund Scholars. This privileged class have the deep resources, political clout and architectural flexibility to mold Fairfield and its surrounding counties into their quaint version of the Upper East Side over-looking Central Park. From what I've observed in meetings with Buy Side shops, the new architectural monstrosities are popping up everywhere at an increasing rate.

Nothing wrong with this but compared to the rest of New England, there is a history of understated elegance and refined simplicity in the more stately homes especially in say Rye, NH or Concord, MA.

Cambridge may boast a decidedly Progressive and International demographics but these groups don't impact the culture of the City the way the City influences them. They may add perspective to the polis but they can't alter the historical scope of what Cambridge means to say Yo Yo Ma or William Weld.

I don't see this happening in Connecticut. I see the culture of Fairfield spreading like virus to neighboring counties.

Greenfield said...

WRJ: Everything you said, and THEN some! The house across the road from FCHC (and another, up Sturges Highway) have indeed morphed into what I call "95 percenters." This is the way they have their cake and eat it too--the "historic" home and the Big Box all in one package. Have you ever noticed, you never see any of "them" outside?

You are right that in spite of it all CT is still New England however. To those who doubt, please take a Sunday ride through Southport, Ridgefield, Redding, Woodbury, or Essex.

(But wasn't this post about Maine??)

WRJ said...

Greenfield: at the risk of further distracting conversation from the topic at hand, I am familiar with the Sturges property, having watched the augmented version languish on the market for years. There are a number of articles in the Times (which I won't link for fear of looking more like their shill than I already do) discussing the "preservation" of the little house to which that McMansion is attached. In all honesty, both properties are better done than many new houses, but seem like particularly brazen offenders because of the way they treat their historic forebears.

Anonymous said...

As with so many things that are now defunct, your blog will one day be recognized as a progenitor "blog" of New England culture which alas I expect will one day no longer exist.