Saturday, July 27, 2013

Maine Part I: The Journey North

On the ferry at last

Now that my husband and I are both on teacher schedules, we can spend a good portion of the summer at our family home on a small coastal island. We joke about being intentionally poor so that we can do this; that the low salaries and persistent financial worries are all part of the price levied for our getaway en famille.
 And so, playing the part, I take perverse pleasure in telling our acquaintances that we summer in Maine.
“Oh! How lovely!” they exclaim, with raised brows.
To be sure, the images raised by our announcement are lovely: Dinners of lobster-in-the-rough enjoyed at sunset. Weathered summer chalets in Winterport. Children in striped boatneck tops playing on the front lawn.Parents softly chuckling as their kids launch sea kayaks into the water.
“Race you to the other side of the harbor Mitzi!”
If only it were so. No, our journey is nothing like the manicured joy mirrored in the pages of an LL Bean catalog.
Our journey beings with four smelly and sweaty days spent crammed into an ancient Eurovan: two nervous adults, three whining children and two large dogs.
To keep it interesting the universe adds an unidentifiable warning light that pops up on the dash with a shrill “beeeep”. Its appearance confounds and terrifies us as we hurtle through the mountains of Tennessee.  We frantically flip through the owner’s manual. “It could be the brake system! Or the airbags! Or maybe the tire pressure?”  I am convinced we are going to die. Or be forever stuck in Bucksnort, TN.
The elder children bicker incessantly and tears are shed anew every few hours. Not one to be outdone the baby makes his own displeasure known, at astounding volume. By day three we are shoving every electronic device known to man into the back seat in an attempt to get them all to stop shrieking
We intend to camp each night, half of us sleeping in the van and the other half ensconced in a tent purchased hastily from Target the day before our departure.  On our first night we roll into a campground in Little Rock just as night is falling.  Our campsite is crowded in the back of the lot, between a host of RVs.
My husband struggles to put the tent up in the dark as I sit miserably at a picnic table with the kids and the two bewildered dogs. It is unbearably humid and the mosquitoes are swarming us. Somehow, the temperature rises even as the sun sets. I begin to think Arkansas hates us. We have neglected to buy bug spray, a flashlight or even water. We are dunces. We are doomed.
I am the first to speak aloud what each adult hopes the other will say, “Is it too late to find a hotel?” We move with lightening speed to deconstruct our flagging tent and hustle everyone back into the car. It is close to 11pm when we finally settle in the sweet air-conditioned splendor of a motel by the highway.  I sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, as penance for our cowardice.
Each morning my husband folds his long frame into the driver’s seat and hunkers down, ready to annihilate 500 miles as quickly as possible (given his noxious cargo). By the end of our long days my belly bears red marks, carved there by the combined forces of 8 hours straight driving and too many dinners hastily gobbled at Sonic. I curse my jeans.
It’s not a glamorous venture, this summering in Maine.
But it is so worth it.
Safe and sound in the hotel room

****         ****
When we finally arrive at the ferry terminal we are giddy with anticipation.
It is one of those freak New England heat waves, where the temperature climbs to near-90 and everyone goes beserk. Oh how we Texans mutter “Bless your hearts” when our northern friends do this; your “heat waves” are adorable.
We park our van in one of the three “reserved” spots at the front of the ferry line. We unload kids and dogs and clamber down to the water, where a small sliver of rocky beach awaits. The kids throw rocks into the waves and the dogs jump in and out of the tide, sniffing the seaweed wildly.
Suddenly, we hear someone calling. Calling to us? Yes! It is my dad and my sister; they are booked on a later ferry but came early in hopes of catching our fleet before we board. They join us on the beach and the kids stumble over one another in their rush to tell my dad all about our trip so far.  We listen to my sister’s tale of her recent move and we make plans to reconvene on the island that evening.
It is time: the ferry pulls into the terminal and we rush to get back into our car. An attendant guides our vehicle onto the deck and we are sandwiched amongst other cars, belonging to islanders and “summer people” alike. Our windows are down and the bite of the sea breeze comes barreling in to whip through our hair.
We’re 40 minutes away from our second home.
He loves lupines.

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