Saturday, July 5, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

Refreshing Our Recollections on the Fourth of July - Dispatches from Maine

The date was July 4, 1826 and the nation was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.  Only three of the original 56 signers were still alive.  Two of these signers who worked tirelessly drafting the original proclamation during those stifling hot days in the early summer of 1776 were invited to participate in the national celebration.  John Adams, age 90, was at home at Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts, while Thomas Jefferson, age 83, resided at Monticello, his estate near Charlottesville, Virginia.  Unfortunately both men were too feeble to publicly celebrate the spirit of this momentous occasion, yet Jefferson nevertheless thanked and congratulated the citizens of Washington, DC.  “Let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”  Adam also toasted the approaching anniversary.  “Independence forever” was his simple message.  As fate would have it, both of these founding fathers died on that very anniversary, Jefferson at noon, and Adams a few hours later with the words “Jefferson lives” on his dying lips.  Only one of the 56 signers, Charles Carroll of Maryland, remained alive 50 years on.  He lived another six years, until November 1832, when he passed away at age 95.

Perhaps recalling Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he cautioned them to hold on to their freedom and to never to use it carelessly, these brave men, looking to divine providence for protection, gathered to ratify and sign the Declaration of Independence while mutually pledging to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor knowing full well the penalty would be death if they were captured.  These were mostly men of means who had flourished under the tutelage of Great Britain and her King.  Yet they valued liberty more, and many of them endured lasting hardships as a result of their patriotism.  Some were forced to flee with their families.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned by the British forces sent to the upstart colonies to put down their rebellion.  Nine took arms against the British and died from their wounds or other hardships during the Revolutionary War.  Five were captured and charged as traitors, and were tortured before they died.  Three had sons who were killed or captured during the war.  It was a high price indeed to pay for freedom and liberty. 

The centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence occurred in 1876, just eleven years after the end of the Civil War that divided the nation our Founding Fathers struggled to bring together.  Many of the issues that divided the original signers gave rise to that great conflict, and states that seceded from the Union beginning in 1860 to form the Confederate States of America included four of the original thirteen colonies.  The nation was licking its wounds, some of them still fresh a decade after that momentous conflict.  There was little interest in celebrating the centennial. 

The bicentennial in 1976 was a bit more festive.  I recall watching the celebrations across the country on TV as we packed our small apartment in Tucson in preparation for our move cross country to the outskirts of Washington, DC, our current home.  That evening, with an apartment full of boxes and expecting the movers first thing the following day, we walked to the University of Arizona campus where we watched the local fireworks.  Upon our arrival in suburban Maryland that August, we spent a great deal of time wandering our nation’s capital in the throes of its big birthday gala.  It was an exciting time to explore our new home.

Once again we are spending our summer in a small town in Maine.  We have been coming here each summer for over a quarter of a century, yet only now am I truly beginning to appreciate its wonderful history. In 1736, a group of citizens of Gloucester, Massachusetts petitioned the colonial governor to settle land near the coast in the Province of Maine (it would not become a state until 1822).  The petition was granted the following year, and in 1739 a group of settlers cut a road from Yarmouth, on Casco Bay north of what is now Portland, through the intervale to the headwaters of the Royal River at Sabbathday Lake where our summer cottage is located.  A blockhouse fortification and palisades were erected on the high ridge line of Gloucester Hill circa 1753-1754 during the French and Indian War.  The town of New Gloucester was eventually incorporated in 1774 at a time when the thirteen American colonies were organizing to express general dissatisfaction with their treatment by the British crown.  Upon incorporation the good people of New Gloucester made it known that it would gladly contribute to the common defense of the united colonies in support of full independence.

So this morning we went down to the Lower Village, not far from the site of the original fortification and palisades, to the New Gloucester meetinghouse dating back to circa 1772.  Here members of the local historical society, townspeople and visitors  gather each July 4th for a public reading of the Declaration of Independence.  This year we commemorate the 238th anniversary of the ratification and announcement of that most eloquent of documents which gave birth to the American republic.  I had forgotten how long it is - 1,336 words not counting all the signatures – and listening to those words, and contemplating their full meaning and intent, one quickly realizes that there is more to the 4th of July than fireworks, family picnics, and a day off from work.  The Declaration of Independence is America 101; it expresses what we as Americans feel we deserve and why. I had forgotten this until three years ago when I participated in the reading at the New Gloucester meeting house, something I have done every year since.  It is a refreshing of our recollections as we read and listened to those words spoken in unison which make the sound of people standing up for what they believe in.  Read them, speak them, share them, and more importantly, remember them and don’t let anyone tell you they are no longer relevant.  I think a lot of us have forgotten what wonderful and beautiful music these words can be.  Raise up your voices and be free!

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Journey Proud - Dispatches from Maine

This is the first of several “Dispatches from Maine” to be posted here through the beginning of October.
Last week seems like a blur to me now; running around visiting and saying good-bye to friends I won’t see again until October; taking care of a few last minute details for ongoing projects at the National Archives; making certain the house is clean and secure and ready to endure our summer absence; and packing and more packing . . . all the stuff we will need at our home away from home.

What type of clothes should we take?  We are heading north just a week after the onset of summer and we anticipate the occasional hot weather we could very well encounter (an early heat wave accompanied by high humidity greeted us upon our arrival with temperatures hovering near 90 degrees).  By the time we return home we will have put the window fans away with the arrival of crisp early autumn days when we will fire up the wood stove in the morning and evening to do battle against the nip in the air.  Not that long ago, in April, the last vestiges of a harsh winter still clung to the margins of the lake, and there is every chance there will once again be snow in the air not long after we depart.  Summer is short in northern New England and so one needs to be prepared for both heat and cold.

Then came the loading of the car and insuring that we had not forgotten anything important despite lists and more lists of things to do and what to take with us.  By the time we had everything in the car it was late in the day and we were too beat to even consider hitting the road and making our way north.  Our neighbors happened to be planning a fiesta with great food and drink and so the delay of our departure was a welcome respite after all the fuss and bother of the previous week.

One thing I did hope for yet failed to materialize was a good night’s sleep before our 10+ hour drive to Maine the following day.  I have driven this route between our home in suburban Washington, DC and the lake cottage in Maine literally dozens of time over the past quarter of a century and I swear I can do it blind-folded.  Still I am always “journey proud” . . . that deep-seated apprehension about an impending trip.    What will the weather be en route?  What about the traffic as we gradually escape the clutches of Washington and Baltimore on Interstate 95; by-passing Philadelphia through the pinelands of southern New Jersey and the meadowlands of north Jersey as we give New York City a wide berth along the Garden State Parkway and across Westchester County; and finally the diagonal trek on Interstate 84 from southeastern Connecticut to Worcester, the environs of Boston and northeastern Massachusetts.  Finally we are moving quickly north through coastal New Hampshire and into Maine, our summer home.  As it turned out, the trip was uneventful.  The weather was fine and the traffic, save the swing around Boston and its harried drivers, was lighter than we expected.  There was absolutely nothing to worry about.

And so here we are again, our 27th summer at the cottage on True’s Point, on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, Maine.  We have truly become summer expatriates in every sense of the word.  We have learned to navigate two very different places very well.  There is our home in Maryland where we have resided for nearly four decades, and there is this summer lake cottage in Maine.  Perhaps we are not fully understood in either place nor do we fully understand the lives around us in both places.  There is certainly a great deal we still need to learn and comprehend and maybe we will never rise to the task.  But you know what?  That is perfectly fine with me.  I enjoy the mystery that remains, and with it comes the comforting degree of privacy I have always cherished.  I read recently that this nature of the expatriate is “an uncontrollable quality” that follows us back and forth between Maryland and Maine.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.