Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Welcome to Maine

My eyes watered up as the plane flew over the ocean, dotted with islands. Inland was rich pine green with distant mountains. Lightening snaked down under grey clouds. Of course we’d brought the rain back with us, but everyone is grateful due to near drought conditions. It’s too ironic.

As we approached the runway, our plane angled away and circled. There was a moose on the runway! What a homecoming for the author of Moose Crossing. Was it an omen? Or just the storm?

As soon as we got in the car, the rain lashed down with a force I’ve never seen outside of Maine. The road became a river. Lightening flashed. Thunder cracked. Henry was just getting used to driving on the American side of the road.

We decided to ride out the storm in Portland at our favorite Japanese restaurant. Sapporo has the freshest sushi at a great value. Tuna is caught right off the coast. On a cold day, we often order the nabeyaki udon, a chicken-vegetable-noodle soup. Even my Japanese sister-in-law was impressed last time she visited.

Storms in Maine tend to be violent but short lasting. They blow out to sea, clearing the heat and humidity. A typical summer day is in the upper 70’s with cooler nights. It felt refreshing after the 90 plus muggy heat of NYC.

Back on the highway our happy smiles were short lived. Our tire blew out on a nail! Luckily the spare was okay as we haven’t gotten cell phones yet. Vacation traffic was zooming by. Off the shoulder was a swamp and islands. The air smelled fresh in the light rain.

We pulled off the highway and wound back home slowly on Rt. 1. Hay was rolled on the golden fields. Cattle and sheep were grazing. It was farm country, but still so different from the hedged green English fields.

Excited cries came from the kids as we drove into town. On our garage door was a damp welcome home sign from my friend Charlotte Agell. It’s a bit of a joke. Charlotte’s first young adult novel was called Welcome Home or Someplace Like It. It’s a fabulous story about a family returning home to coastal Maine. How appropriate.

It felt so odd walking back into our old life as if we had never left. My children didn’t dwell on it and ran off through the woods to visit their buddies. No need to call first. My daughter came home in war paint with a big grin. My son’s friend had walked back with him to see our dog. We’re friends with their parents too.

Our hometown is friendly. People have been stopping by to say hi. We’ve run into others on dog walks, at the farmers’ market or shopping in town. You have to factor an extra 10 minutes into going anywhere for time to chat.

On Sunday we went to Popham Beach with friends who could well understand our dazed confusion at being back home. The Bradley-Webbs had moved to Paris but had kept their home in Maine as a summer house, much to our delight. They had visited us in England, and we had stayed with them twice in France. Our 11-year-old daughters picked up as if no time had passed, giggling away.

Elizabeth and I went for a long walk on the 3 mile beach and passed other friends. In one direction Popham is a nature reserve and on the other end summer houses overlook small islands.

Not exactly beach weather, but isn’t Popham gorgeous in the mist? That’s Seguin lighthouse in the photo below and in my new header image. It's funny: doesn't the photo look more like a watercolor than my painting does? You can see why I chose that medium.

Once I’ve unpacked, I will be painting again this summer. I write novels during the rest of the year. My two vocations work well with the climate. I’ve missed the change of seasons while living in England, the land of eternal spring. There is nothing nicer than a Maine summer, especially when the rain stops!

I’m taking time to relax in the midst of unpacking. The kids’ first request was to go to Cote’s for the best homemade ice cream in Maine. It’s served from an unassuming shack on Brunswick’s Maine Street (love that pun!) Usually the line is long. The rumbles of thunder must have scared off the less intrepid. The ice cream was even better than we remembered, and we beat the rain home.

We need sweet treats, as there are still boxes and suitcases to unpack from England. To make room for our tenants, we stored even more boxes in my daughter’s room. They were shoulder high, now knee high. Despite all the upheaval, or maybe because of it, we are all sleeping so well in our own beds.

It’s a delight to be back in our house where the furniture is comfortable with good reading lights, and there is room to stretch out. I stop and admire every painting as if seeing it for the first time. Our house at under 3,000 square feet isn’t large by American standards, but it’s more than twice the size of what we had in England. We have a mini forest for a backyard.

The lilies are cheerful even if the weeds are not. I’ve pruned the burning bushes back into trees already. I’ve fixed the refrigerator, a stuck drawer and plugged shower heads. The clothes are unpacked but not my office. I’m trying to reorganize as I unpack, to regain the sparse order we had in England with so much less clutter.

That sabbatical seems to have given me peace with my life. I’m so much more appreciative of our home after missing it. There’s a true sense of belonging one gets in a small town although sometimes the perspective can be too narrow. The time spent abroad has widened my vision and stimulated my imagination.

I’m eager to get back to work and to see what happens. I can’t wait to try out my new SLR camera. First I need to settle in and catch up with friends. I didn't realize how happy I was to be home until I took a break from unpacking to have a pint and crisps (Uh, I mean a beer and potato chips) with Henry on our deck. The sun was setting in a cool blue sky casting gold on the tall pines. Can you see why I love it here?


tina said...

What a nice welcome to Maine! Sorry about your bad luck with the tire but a moose should more than offset that misfortune! At first I thought we had taken the same picture on Main Street, then I realized your icecream store is on the opposite side. This store has been here since I was a kid-more than 35 years ago, and is still a great stop. On my way out of town I snapped the hot dog stand and the town mall bandstand. I have always loved this about Brunswick. Quaint New England for sure. Let us know about your paintings. I used to paint as a teenager and miss it but now it is too much gardening! lol

Katarina said...

Sarah, you seem to have had a very nice home-coming,despite the moose and the flat tyre! I do believe that moose is an omen - you are going to write many successful novels now that you're back in Maine!

Cindy said...

Welcome Home! I really like your new header. Your photo of the lighthouse is great too. The mist makes it seem so dreamlike. Ah, the ocean is calling to me. Although I'll be at the beach in DE soon, those rocky coastlines of New England make me long to return there.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Oh, yes, I can see why you like it there so much. Nice descriptions! You don't happen to be a writer, do you? haha

Lovely pictures. I love a misty coastline and a lighthouse.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Maine is the only other place in the US that I think I could live. Such a beautiful state. And the best fish sandwich I ever tasted was in Stonington, on a cold and rainy day. Perfection! Welcome home.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, Cote’s has also been around for 3 decades if not more. My kids enjoy getting burgers at the town mall stand too [for those outside of Maine: the mall’s a village green, not a shopping mall.] I will blog about painting soon. I didn’t know you were an artist, but I’m not surprised. Gardening is creative too.

Sage Katarina, I love your interpretation! Good thing we didn’t hit that moose.

Cindy, glad you liked the new header. I felt so odd changing it, but it reflects how much my life has transformed. Have fun on the beach!

Alyson you make me laugh. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. It’s great to be home.

Pamela, aren’t we lucky to live in such nice places?

Anonymous said...

As for the plane landing, I guess Maine just moosed your family’s absence.

Jean Merriman said...

Well Sarah your trip home started and ended in not having so much fun but alls well that ends well.
Welcome home!!!!!

Sarah Laurence said...

Ha, Dad. Although I miss England, I’m moosely happy to be home. Now readers know whom to blame for my punning gene.

Thanks, Jean. How right you are. It was quite an adventure but well worth it.

Elizabeth said...

Welcome home!
Some great friends in Marrakech, Samuel and Caitlin Dowe-Sandes, named their design company Popham Design after Popham beach where they got married.
It's a very small world indeed.

timothyjlambert said...

What gorgeous photos of the homeland. I'm glad I stopped by and saw them. Although, they do make me a bit homesick. Especially the sight of Cote's!

Sarah Laurence said...

Elizabeth, what a coincidence. My “logo” photo on my website was taken at Popham Beach too.

Welcome, Timothy, and thank you! How nice to encounter another author with Maine connections and excellent taste in ice cream. Did you grow up near Brunswick?

It is indeed a small world.

Tessa said...

Beautifully written. Yes, I can see why you love it there. Absolutely. One day I, too, will go home. (That wasn't said drearily, btw!)

Look forward to reading your blog about painting.

Gretel said...

Welcome back! I am catching up after forced work absence, have found your posts so interesting, especially the one about living in Britain. I often think that Americans must find our little country rather inconvenient and uncomfortable compared to (what I have seen on (TV) your life at home.

Those beach houses look stunning!

Am dying to know about your new novel, as my other half plays village cricket most weekends, (and I tend to watch him from the boundary) so am wondering if the title has a clue to the content?

Rose said...

There's nothing like leaving home and then returning to make you appreciate it all over again.
I've lived in a small town all my life and share your fondness for them--in a small town, people notice when you're gone and welcome you back!

Sarah Laurence said...

Welcome, Tessa, and thank you! I can imagine England feels very different to you too. I enjoyed your paintings of Africa on your blog. I’m eager to get back to painting, but first I have so many errands and unpacking after a year abroad.

Hi PG, you remind me that I never made it back to the Cotswolds for tea with you. So many things I wish I had done in England. I did enjoy my time there, but home is always the most comfortable place. My life in Maine painting and writing is probably more similar to yours than what you see on TV. No Desperate Housewives here!

I do remember seeing some good cricket shots on your blog. My English husband loves cricket too. I can’t say too much about NOT CRICKET yet as I’ve only just started writing it, and my novels change a lot as I work on them.

NOT CRICKET will be a bit about cricket since one character is the captain of his Oxford college team, but it’s more about the expression “that’s not cricket” which, as you know, means not playing by the rules of gentlemanly conduct. I’m looking at the cultural difference between Americans and Brits and their mutual attraction. Also the plot centers around an ethical dilemma. There will have to be some handsome blokes in cricket whites and champagne with strawberries. Not too much about cricket (with all its complex rules) as it is NOT cricket.

Rose, small towns are wonderful. How nice that you live in one too.

walk2write said...

Sequence is everything! I'm glad your plane didn't blow out a tire on a nail and you didn't encounter a moose in the middle of the road. ;>) I will have to check out that Japanese restaurant next time I visit my relatives in Portland. Glad you're all back safe and sound. I'm looking forward to more good stuff from your part of the country.

Sarah Laurence said...

Ha, W2W, you make laugh! It really could have been far worse, both for me and the moose.

Kelly said...


I'm glad you are home and getting re-adjusted and re-settled back in your home! The top picture on your blog reminds me so much of a scene from the movie "On Goldon Pond" with Henry and Jane Fonda years ago! It was set "back east" also, and if I recall correctly there were Loones-(sp)birds. I won't go on and on, since I don't know if you have ever even seen the movie, but my goodness, it reminds me so much of it! How lucky you are to be living up there.

Anyway, glad you all are home and getting use to driving on the "right side" of the road again! (lol)


Sarah Laurence said...

Kelly, I have seen On Golden Pond and loved it. Henry and I once stayed at Squam Lake in New Hampshire where the film was shot. We’ve seen loons on Maine lakes too but farther north. I’ve adjusted to the driving, but it took a couple of days.

Audrey said...

Welcome Home. It's always great to walk back into surroundings that are both familar and yet new. I love that feeling. I'm off to the States myself on Thursday--out to the Hamptons and then down to Baltimore to see my parents. If only I could click my heels...

Anonymous said...

What about the an exclamation mark (or two) after 'Welcome to Maine'? I'm so happy to back!! ☺ Despite the rain and the flat tire in the middle of the high way, I loved coming back to Maine with a welcoming Sapporo's Bento Lunch Box! I wonder if they will ever put up a 'MOOSE X-ING' sign on the plane run way? It was weird to be back in Maine after almost a year in England! None of my friends or people say 'I cant be bovvered!' or 'would you like some cheese and onion crisps?' FINALLY, my room is almost cleared up! I love Coty's! I would recommend Peppermint Stick, Moose Tracks, or Blueberry Frozen Yogurt! No more chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and a random flavor like pistachio or coffee!I love this post!
One more thing, I would really recommend 'Welcome Home or Someplace Like It'! It's really good, funny, and well written!

~Your Daughter☺♠♣♥♦☀☁☂☃✍

Sarah Laurence said...

Audrey, it is wonderful to be home. Enjoy your brief repatriation. The Hamptoms are nice if a bit crowded at this time of year, but at least it’s beach weather!

Daughter, ha! You are right about the !!! I love the idea of adding a moose crossing sign to the Portland runway. I’ve never heard of a moose on a busy Portland runway although some do live at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. My favorite Cote’s flavors are butter crunch and black raspberry, but I guess you already know that. I admire your willingness to try new flavors. Ditto on what you said about Charlotte Agell’s book.

TBM said...

I am so glad to read this post and loved that your children scattered about but came home smiling and with friends. I almost can picture myself going home again :-)

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, you can go home again and with fond memories.

Bee said...

Sarah, this post made me feel a little weepy -- but in the nicest possible way. I'm so happy for you! (But it makes me feel homesick for Maine, even though I've never lived there myself!) Having just been to Maine for the very first time, I can picture from experience the beauties you describe. Not that your pictures are inadequate in any way, but I actually know now what it feels like to walk on a Maine beach. (I also know what Moose Tracks and Buttercrunch ice cream flavors taste like!)

Even though I miss your old header, your new header is so lovely -- and redolent of your life now.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, you picked the best time to visit Maine although I enjoy it during all seasons, well maybe not mud season. My life and my blog have indeed changed so much, but I’m teary happy to be home too.

Anil P said...

A sense of belonging is usually a trademark of small towns. Cities can rush you past people, actually past everything.

It's must be a great feeling to be back.

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, how true. The pace in Maine suits me.

john said...

The header that "Welcome Home" was really impressed me. In the world the most beautiful one which I found was nature. Nature contains many beautiful things.Some of those are the oceans and the plants and trees. The above pictures were beautiful.

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Sarah Laurence said...

John, welcome to my blog and thanks for your nice comments! Nature is certainly at its best in Maine.