To my prairie-formed Midwestern eyes, Maine looks like nothing else I’ve seen: big water and hard granite. I come from the land of lake and limestone, where one watches for deer darting across the road, not massive moose that will best your car in a collision. The water around the island of Vinalhaven, where I am visiting, is dotted by colorful, bobbing buoys that mark the location of lobster traps. It’s lobster (or lobstah, as Mainahs call it) roll time and the season for summer people, down east and midcoast or wherever it is I am, not at home but visiting someone at her home.
My friend’s family is as native to Vinalhaven as its granite. Her great-grandfather polished the granite columns on the library; she points them out to me, and later shows me the farm her grandfather sold during the Depression. It’s now owned by summer people from Boston. Some people have been here a long time; her family name helps her fit in to the community of year-round residents, which is smaller by a few thousand than the summer population. Everybody wants to be in Maine in summertime, especially those who live the rest of the year in hot cities elsewhere.
It’s not easy to get there; you need to know the ferry schedule. And the weather might mean the ferry won’t run, so you need to be ready with a plan B. Your car might not fit on the boat, which is OK because there’s no place you need to drive. The commercial strip is a few blocks long, and then it’s trees and rocks and houses sprinkled in outlying areas.
Besides granite, water, and lobsters, it’s all neighbors. My friend knows the vendors at the farmers market; one apologizes for not recognizing her. Stops to chat with people she knows are frequent. It’s a small place: small means everybody is up in your business, but pretty discreetly so. They give you your space. They’re Yankees: self-reliant and industrious, respecters of privacy, but there if you need ’em.
The Harbor Gawker restaurant, celebrating 40 years, is for sale. It’s called that because as it was originally sited, before the street was re-engineered, customers could sit and gawk at the harbor. The tablecloths are red and white checkered oilcloth. The menu is neatly printed on chalkboard after chalkboard after chalkboard, listing a dizzying variety of ways to serve fish and shellfish and, of course, lobster. It’s known for generous servings. My lobster roll is so stuffed with hunks of mayonnaised crustacean that I eat it with gusto and deliberation, so none of it ends up in my lap.
Place: what you see, what you hear, what you eat, how people live. Foreign or familiar, offering roots yet changing. Work, food, ancestors, neighbors, weather, the horizon of history and rock and big water. Millions of permutations of home.