Strange Rerun: the American Vacation

The unexpected rarely rears its head in a life ordered by Zoom.   Spontaneity has become collateral damage.  

Usually I get my share of happenstance while traveling.  But traveling is so reduced this summer; possibilities for goofing off and going off the map have been clipped.  What we already know predicts where we can go, and what we do. So I’ve gone deep into reruns of American summers of childhood, memories of family, ponds, fireflies, deep woods, deep Americana.  Repeat, recycle, revisit.

But, being a Europhile and  self-declared “citizen of the world,” I realize I don’t know well our own country’s breadth and surface.  I know enough to know I was always leaving, and often returning.  I am always looking to other horizons, that restless draw to other horizons excites me, though maybe it’s just a need, a thing.

I found myself leaning into Maine. Austere, ranging from cool to cold, someone else’s nostagia.  What did I know of its thick and grassy salt ponds or broken peninsulas, the coast like the decay of a thousand organ notes or autumn branches oozing notes? Its stacks of lobster cages in the yards, its birches, beeches and beaches?  Coves with hard stones that the steady inundation of waves and tides has not crushed.   

It was a release from the everyday order, a time for chance and an outside world I didn’t know to break in. I got to renew the language of fish and fishermen that I use in languages I barely speak – international fishmonger lingo.  All those crusty lobstermen, dipping their catch in salt to make bait for the lobster catch.  Tiny islands that look like the heads of seals as they appear and disappear.  At land’s end, in the easternmost part of the US, the light was equally teasing – there, barely there, so thin and transparent it made everything within its reach slightly magical.  Light itself is invisible, though we tried to capture the zinc gleam on the mudflats at dusk, the streaky pink glimmer of oyster shell in the sky at sunset.  

The Zoom I prefer: going so far out of yourself you become part of that thin, invisible light before you settle back into a slightly different self. 

Cervantes wrote, “Where one door closes, another opens.”  The LED signage on the white clapboard Baptist Church in Damariscotta, glowing under a dark starry night, read, “Change is inevitable, but growth is up to you.”  Voilà!

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