Maine. Just hearing that word as a child would induce in me a sudden stillness of anticipation. Are we really going this year? When? For how long?
That was our destination -- Ocean Point, a peninsula with Linikin Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Huge ledges of solid rock (mostly granite) led down to the sea. At low tide the lower rocks exposed rockweed, sea lettuce, Irish moss, barnacles, mussels, starfish and a million other varieties of marine flora and fauna. Offshore the landscape was broken with islands. So many islands. Closest to us were Green Island, Fisherman's Island, Ram Island with its lighthouse, Outer Heron and the two White Islands. "What's your favorite?" someone would always ask. I usually flip-flopped between Green Island with its tiny cap of grass and sprinkle of conifers and the larger, thickly-forested Outer Heron.
Cottages built in the New England style line the shore. Many of them have been handed down from generation to generation. Most of them have gardens and I am not speaking here of tidy plots of limp petunias and stunted marigolds coaxed from unfriendly soils. What I am referring to can best be described as a botanical explosion-- enormous hydrangeas ranging from pure white to marine blue to amethyst. Yellow and orange day lillies, purple loosetrife, giant daisies and black-eyed Susans. These plants are uncommonly well fed, their roots feasting on the richness of moist forest loam.
Ocean Point is Nature in a frenzy of generosity, frantically emptying her conucoepia into the brief few months of the New England summer.
In fact, Ocean Point was the best of all my summers and what sins I committed there from bratty childhood to stormy adolescence to young adulthood were overwritten, outshouted and upstaged by the magnitude and splendor of all that surrounded me. Bad things could happen there but they were like small burnt places in the earth so quickly overtaken by new growth you scarcely remember what accident or act of ill will caused the brief deformity.
In the end what I remember most is leaping from rock to rock past the Witch's and the Dragon's Caves all the way to Diana's Bath which is an enormous tide pool, replenished but never entirely covered by the sea.
What else? Toasting marshmallows over a wood fire on rainy days, wading through tide pools rockweed swirling round my bare legs, reaching through crevices to retrieve an escaped lobster buoy, swimming in Grimes Cove with the cold salt waves bearing me up then pulling myself up onto the wooden float to lie down and let the sun warm my skin that tingles pleasantly.
I remember when blueberries still grew in small open places of the woods, how Aunt Elizabeth would bake them into pies, pancakes, cobblers or just serve them in a dish with cream. They were smaller than their commercially-grown cousins -- sweeter, too. We picked raspberries, also, and those have remained through the years so that in July of 2012 my daughter and grandsons step off the road to reach in gingerly through thorny branches plucking one or two to devour on the spot.
Is this a paean to some earthly paradise? Not entirely. If humans love Ocean Point, so do mosquitoes and the dreaded black flies. From an anthropomorphic prospective, these pesky inhabitants serve to remind us that we have not, in fact, died and gone to heaven.
Bug bites notwithstanding, leaving Ocean Point is invariably heartbreaking. I have been fortunate to have visited and/or lived in several of earth's uniquely beautiful places. Why Ocean Point stands apart I cannot quite explain, perhaps because it is the product of so many memories, so many experiences of joy and shared love.
Sometimes waking from a dream or walking to the laundry room in my apartment building, I imagine I can smell fir balsam mixed with rockweed and mossy loam. As for the slap and hiss of wave against granite rock, I can do no better than quote Yates and say...
"I hear it in the deep heart's core."