Our friend D. called this a sacred place, and that’s what it is, to my family and me. The lone farmhouse on a hill, overlooking the vast meadow and Penobscot Bay. Reached by boat, powered (intermittently) by generator, heated by fireplace; garden full of vegetables, flowers, herbs; orchard with apples, raspberries, blueberries; wooded trails banked with moss; beaches of smooth, tumbled rocks, laced with seaweed and sun-bleached driftwood. Sunsets over the meadow; mowed trails lined with bright wildflowers.
Our party this time consisted of my mother and stepfather, two friends who are professional photographers, and me. For all of them except my stepfather, who these days would rather just experience things without carting big cameras around, this September visit has traditionally been a photography retreat. I joined for the first time as a pseudo-apprentice who also just wanted a few vacation days. (I’ve set a goal of spending more time on creative work. The two photographers, D. and L., are masterful teachers and generally great to hang out with—patient and thoughtful and full of sly, sweet, witty humor.)
And so these five days on the island: we cooked, we ate, we took pictures and worked on them in Adobe Lightroom, which I’m just learning to use. We sat (as in meditation) twice a day, as a group, around the fire, with the generator turned off, and a soundscape of distant waves, bell buoys, fire-crackle. We walked the meadows and trails, walked the beach, the wind chilly off the bay and the sun still warm. I ran the meadow path and the puppy came with me—turns out she’s a pretty solid runner, despite those ultra-short legs. (The puppy, Emmylou, is a seven-month-old blonde dachshund, very loving and glued to her people and very scared—who knows why?—of just about everyone and everything else.)
One night, D. and L. and my mother went outside with tripods and took luminous pictures of sky and stars and meadow. Days, they made radiant landscapes of sun-lit grasses, striated rock, wind-rippled tide pools full of bright underwater plants. D. coached us on portrait photography. L. took an ethereal, textural picture of a cream-colored curtain in ribbony folds. There was lots of comparing of lenses, zooming in on images and exclaiming over the fabulousness of the cameras.
The garden’s still going strong this time of year, with tomatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, squash, corn, herbs, garlic, potatoes, and eggplants. In the orchard, under netting, the blueberries ripen as fast as we can pick them. This week we did two blueberry pies, with the buttery-tender crust recipe our friend Lisa taught me—heaven with the slightly tart, fresh berries. Both nights, egged on by my stepfather, John, we devoured the entire pie. John made fried green tomatoes the way his mother used to do—breaded and browned, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. L. made spiced chicken shawarma. D. made a delicious, basil-y meatloaf. We did crispy roasted potatoes, avocado-tomato-cucumber salads, sautéed eggplant, peppers and onions. There was John’s brunch sensation of fried eggs over homemade chili with avocado and grated pecorino.
It’s the time of the full moon. When I took the puppy out one night, the moon was so bright it actually startled me, showing up between the evergreens as I groggily wandered the lawn, post-blueberry-pie. The big tides left expanses of briny, seaweed-y rock exposed, then rose to touch the steep sand and bramble along the high shore. There was talk of the full moon’s disruptive effect on sleep and state of mind. Someone we know is a 9-1-1 dispatcher who’s become a convert to the full-moon theory of crazy-behavior trends. I can buy all that, no problem—but here, whatever deleterious effects the moon might have had on me were more than counterbalanced by the deep quiet, the softly washing ocean, and the peace of spending days reading, walking, exercising, photographing, meditating, scarfing one feast after another, and hanging out with good people in the same contentment-inducing groove.
Leaving, I lagged behind the group, struck by a possibility I’ve tried not to think about much. My grandfather bought this property in 1960, hired a local guy to restore the derelict farmhouse, and passed it along to future generations in perpetuity. Well, that was his intention. Now, a bout of family strife (unexpected, in this family that’s always gotten along well enough to truly enjoy holidays together) has put us at risk of losing the property. I won’t go into detail, other than to say it’s heartbreaking. Already, to have come here every summer of my life is a gift. As D. said, if this were just a special place, we might skip the fight and let it go. But it’s more than that, as everyone who comes here feels. Things could turn out any number of ways. I keep reminding myself of that. But stepping off the porch, I felt a pull in my chest. It’s the first time I’ve walked away from that house not knowing for sure that I can always come back.
Now I’m home writing and eating cherry tomatoes I picked the morning I left the island. The taste is like sugar and earth and it makes me promise to plant tomatoes here at our farm next spring.
Pictures by my mother, Anne Meyer:
More about Maine, from previous visits: