“Are you going to Maine? “
“Yes, we are going. We are going. Yes, we are going to Maine.”
—Richard Eberhart, 1975
Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I close my eyes and I try to hear it. In the distance, it’s there. Just above the sound of water lapping at the rocks, down the long green lawn, past the wild flowers that tickle your legs, through the open wooden stairs, to the beach. But I am distracted by a slapping sound of water against the wooden bulkhead and a rogue wave splattering against the ginormous granite blocks from an old dock, somewhere along the beach. It carries, faintly, again, just above the thicket of bamboo rattling in the breeze that catches the curtains in my room, sending them out beyond the windowsill, where they billow, wildly, not far from the end of my bed. There it is again, not the whistling sound in the window frame, but the faint clanging of the bell buoy, chiming its familiar rhythm out in Penobscot Bay by the lighthouse—sometimes announcing itself loudly, sometimes disappearing entirely, bobbing silently, depending on the wind, the flow of the sea, the pull of the tide.
Sometimes, I try to replay the sound in my head, to lull myself to sleep. Some nights, if the wind is up, it drives you crazy, that incessant clanging. But for me, that sound is summer, my childhood. I have never missed a summer in Maine—even if I could only be there for a few days, because there were other places to be, to see. I have somehow always made my way back to Castine. Because there is something about the sound of the bell buoy, something about the view of the islands, Blue Hill and Isleboro and the Camden Hills, from the sun porch of the old barn my parents converted long before I was born, that calms my heart, re-centers me.
The small town I return to is quirky and out of the way, down a long peninsula, a one-of-a-kind place, with fully drawn characters out of a book I seem unable to put down. Now, returning with my husband and my kids, even without my Mom there to greet us after the epic drive from New York, there will always be rituals. Now my family shares a love of this place and of morning muffins at MarKel’s and a walk on the beach in search of sea urchins or sand dollars for the collection on the window sill. Lobster rolls at the Salty Breeze by the town dock, black raspberry ice cream at the Variety Store, a visit to the bookstore. Or later, the library, the farmer’s market on the town green, Eaton’s Boat Yard, Dyce’s Head, Fort Madison, the Back Shore, Elephant Rock, the Witherle Woods. Or for the sail that buries the rail. And then a stop at the museum to see the blacksmith, who will make you a horseshoe or a spoon or a hook, if you can keep the bellows going. Is he still there? Mount Desert and Thunder Hole or Cadillac Mountain? Where are we going today?
And then, just as it always does, it ends too soon.
“We will be back again next July or August, won’t we?”
“We will,” I say. Because the promise of returning to a place that I love again and again is one way I travel. And it reminds me of who I am, and who I was, and who I still want to be—and of what you can hear when you really listen.