I have returned to Maryland from more southern climes. Fortunately, the traffic headed north was far less than what we encountered on our southbound journey the previous week. It did not look like early December when we left Florida after the long Thanksgiving holiday, but it sure looks and feels like it back here in the Mid-Atlantic. We even had some snow over the weekend.
This new ‘blog" is barely a week old and I have already had a number of inquiries regarding the significance of its title. Why am I "Looking Toward Portugal"? I suppose this is a legitimate question and there is no big secret mystery. For the past two decades I have been gravitating to the coast of Maine. At first, it was only during our annual summer hiatus, but in recent years I have returned more frequently . . . every chance I get, to be honest. And each time I go back I find myself standing on that rocky shoreline, looking out to sea and pondering this and that. Well, if you gaze in a general easterly direction from the Maine coast, you will see nothing but the rolling swells of the Atlantic. Nova Scotia is out there somewhere, but if you continue across the Atlantic you will eventually arrive on the northern shores of Portugal somewhere near Oporto.
I have come to believe that my life today, and what I hope to accomplish in the years remaining to me, are in no small way tied to the pleasant days I have come to spend on the Maine coast over the past 20+ years. I am constantly reminded of Jack Kerouac’s observations when he stared out across the Atlantic from the shores of Long Island (he naturally gravitated to America’s two coasts) – "this last lip of American land." Writing in On The Road (1957): "Here I was at the end of America . . . no more land . . ., and now there was nowhere to go but back." It reminds us of our limitations, but it also offers a hint of what might be if we only choose to look beyond those far horizons.
So what lies beyond? When I first discovered Maine and its coast in the late 1980s, I often stood on a rugged finger extending into the surf below the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse (the one depicted on the Maine state quarter). I also favored Ocean Point, a few miles to the southwest of Pemaquid on the southern extremity of the Boothbay Peninsula. Later I ventured farther Down East to Quoddy Head, and the most eastern point of land in the continental United States (and like Kerouac I am also drawn to the America’s Pacific shore, visiting Quoddy Head’s western counterpoint at Cape Flattery on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula). About five or six years ago I discovered the eastern headlands of Monhegan, a small island located 15 miles off the Maine coast which has long been immortalized in the paintings of the Wyeths (James Wyeth still has a home on Lobster Cove on the island’s southern exposure), Rockwell Kent (who originally built the Wyeth cottage), George Bellows, and so many others. Even today one cannot visit Monhegan’s headlands, coves, and shores without encountering artists discovering and interpreting the island’s landscapes and seascapes for themselves. As I sit here in our dining room in Maryland writing this I am surrounded by several paintings depicting Monhegan Island scenes. The island remains close to my heart even when I am not able to be there.
In fact, it was an artist by the name of Bo Bartlett who gave a name to what I have been doing all these years. Bartlett divides his time between Matinicus Island, which can be seen from Monhegan Island on a clear day, and Vashon Island, near Seattle (yet another who is drawn to America’s two coasts). "Still Point," his summer home and studio are situated on Wheaton Island which forms the small village harbor on Matinicus. He refers to the seaward side of his island as "the Portugal side," and so I attribute "Looking Toward Portugal" to him.
In last week’s column I made reference to Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s tenet that everyone needs "some small place of enchantment to turn to." Although I do enjoy my more and more infrequent sojourns in that swamp and hammock country of north central Florida, it is the coast of Maine that has become my true querencia, the place where I feel most grounded and where I long to return. It has become my place of solitude, solace, and inspiration. Looking out to sea from "the Portugal side" of my own life, and pondering what lies beyond that meeting of water and sky, I know that my grand search will never be over. Certainly not in my lifetime. I will always return to that "last lip of American land."
NEXT WEEK: "Acorn School - Part I" (Part II will appear the following week)
On Craft & Canon
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