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Red-headed Polar Bear, and Magic in the Air

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We went north from Brunswick, Maine, to visit a piece of land I inherited from an artist friend in the mid '90's. An acre and a half of low-lying Maine coast.
I know. Me, a waterfront landowner? Read on...

I got quite a thrill photographing our spawn on this hallowed ground. We don't get up there much. More, now that Phoebe's our reason to go.

Yes, it's beautiful, and there are ravens and bald eagles flying over it, and it's got an ocean view. It seems now, with rising ocean levels, that it has a little too much of one to be buildable, unless you're very creative, or are into stilts. 

Buffleheads on the yard list, so close you could hit them with a well-thrown oar. Imagine!! But I don't really let myself imagine it, because I don't have the means to make this my yard. I am neither a visionary nor a dreamer. I'm a worker, pragmatic to a fault. I get down and deal with things.

Not sure what to do with it, other than to scratch up the shekels to pay the frankly ridiculous taxes on it every year. Because hey! Like all freelance artist/writers, of course I always have two grand I wouldn't miss just lying around at the end of the year. I pay more in property taxes on this 1.6 acre than we do on 80 acres with a durn fine house in Ohio.

 If there's one thing I've figured out in the last couple of decades, it's that a freelance artist/writer can't  even hope to build a vacation house on a little parcel of waterfront 16 hours away by car. This year, I wrote the tax collector to ask when the appraised value might possibly be brought into line with the actual value, and received no answer.  Tax collectors in coastal Maine probably start the morning fires in their Jotul woodstoves with politely querulous letters like that.

photo by Bill Thompson III

Here I am with the kids on my bit of land in Maine. So beautiful. Achingly so. But damned if I know what to do with it. Visit it every time we visit Phoebe, I guess. That's a start. Wish I could afford to erect a small hovel on it, but local zoning prohibits hovels. Yurts? What about a yurt? Nope, no yurts either.  I know they won't let me put so much as a pup tent on it, because if I put up a pup tent I will eventually need to poop. On my own land. And landowners' association rules won't let me do that, either. One of these days I'm going to sneak up there, dig a little hole, and poop. In the spruce forest, on my own land in Maine. And you'll be the first to know about it when I do. I think I'd just said something to that effect when Bill took this slightly cracked family portrait. Caption contest, anyone?

The last day we were in Maine, it rained. And poured. And poured. And it would all turn to snow by the Sunday morning after Halloween. But we'd be out by then, home, by the hair on our chinny-chin-chins. So that last Saturday, we planned to visit the awesome little Peary-Macmillan Arctic Museum and the equally awesome Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Both of which are hangouts for Phoebe, yay! We looked at a bunch of art depicting the myth of Psyche and Cupid, then watched a mesmerizing animation telling the whole story. It sticks with me to this day. Such are myths--applicable for eternity, because they are rooted in our most primitive centers.

In the Peary-Macmillan Arctic Museum, Inuit art: amongst my favorite in the world. I have a couple of pieces, a weighty soapstone walrus (from the same artist who left me her land!) and a woman's face pendant that I've been wearing since 1983. Also a gift. Riches, in simple stone.

Musk ox of soapstone. Hard to pick up without dropping it, I bet. 

Dancing polar bear. Maybe she's skating on the pack ice.

Snowy owl, saying BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!! I love this piece but don't think I could put it where I'd look at it every day. It's too primal, too upsetting; it speaks to me of a bird laying out everything it has in self-defense, the last thing it does before it either lives on or dies, right there.

Polar bear, not dancing. Eider and puffin, considering their collective fate: standing, quietly collecting dust, atop a sofit for all eternity. No preening, no pooping allowed.

photo by Bill Thompson III

Zick, clowning. Forgot meh toga, and meh laurel, but I got meh digi. 

Call me on meh digi. 
(a billboard we saw years ago in Trinidad and still quote weekly)

Phoebe, made to stop in mid-flounce. She has only to lift her chin a bit to strike me dumb.

In July 2013, we brought Phoebe and Liam to Bowdoin to see the place and meet some people. We had a wonderful student guide named Mark who showed us all the best napping couches and alcoves. It was exactly the kind of thing that spoke to us. We don't need superlatives (though there are plenty to be had, the academics and food being two). We need napping couches and well-lit alcoves, and Mark understood that.

The two things that seemed most important in Phoebe's college selection criteria were architecture and food. A child of my heart: looking to send down roots, seeking quality and beauty in the most basic things. Excellence in both, non-negotiable. 

On that July visit, Phoebe stopped to investigate a restroom in Hubbard Hall, and upon exiting, she was wearing a polar bear mask we'd bought in the Arctic Museum's tiny gift shop. It was her way of telling us she wanted to be a Polar Bear. She'd made up her mind in Hubbard Hall.

 We understood, got her message at that psychic root level. No matter where she was admitted, and there were many colleges that wanted her, it was Bowdoin she wanted.

photo by Bill Thompson III-still has The Eye for the shot. I just copy him.

We re-staged the shot on a rainy Saturday in October 2014, when she had become a Polar Bear. Arctic Museum Ancillary Exhibit: Girl, unmasked, living her dream.

I thought about it all the way home, gazing out the window at pillowed cloud layers. Thankful for the girl we'd left behind (again), for her sweet brother, for the love that had made them both.

 Still amazed and beyond understanding at how we could lift off in a metal tube with engines powerful enough to make it go fast enough to become airborne, how a man in a snappy hat could fly that thing and set us down a little roughly in Boston an hour and a half later, so we could drive a couple more hours and end up in Maine on the same day we left Ohio, with our arms around Phoebe. And then that gaily painted jet would bring us back home again in another magical hour and a half, for far cheaper than we could drive it.

Grateful for the friend who helped us get there, for those cheap, nonstop Southwest flights from Akron to Boston, for the tiny airport where you can walk from your car to the gate if need be. CAK, you will see us often.

Part of me just doesn't understand it all. It's like the way I know there is an afterlife, but I don't quite grasp how it works.

I promised the clouds never to become blase about that. About any of it.

And I never will. Part of me, no--most of me-- will never get over dropping down into the bumpy stratocumulus--
me! up in the sky! flying!
leaving the sun and the pink pillowed sunset

and seeing Canton, Ohio, burning auburn, appear suddenly below. And with that sight, a rush of emotion I can neither explain nor contain, Celtic knots intertwining feelings of joy, loss, anticipation, sadness, and wonder. I know, because this is how it's all going, that this is how it all should go, but I keep hoping there's something more coming, a good, surprising, unexpected next. Because it can't all be just about saying goodbye now, again and again. There has to be a good hello out there somewhere, too.


Is there some sort of wildlife refuge that you could maybe donate that plot of land to? I know you'd want to keep it out of the grubby hands of developers -- as would I -- so maybe one of the refuges in the area would like it?

Posted by Anonymous November 25, 2014 at 3:47 AM

Reading what you write, and how you write it brings me more joy than you will ever know. Thank you so much for sharing the journey. XO

Thanks for the lovely words on this cold sunny morning. Happy Thanksgiving my Friend...we are blessed.

There is; oh, there is. "My hope is built on nothing less...."

Here's a suggestion on what to do with your land in Maine: Donate it to the Nature Conservancy. Some friends here in Oregon were in a similar situation and found this to be an elegant solution to the problem.

Here's a suggestion on what to do with your land in Maine: Donate it to the Nature Conservancy. Some friends here in Oregon were in a similar situation and found this to be an elegant solution to the problem.

Oh. My. Julie. Perhaps the most moving post. There are too many to love on your blog. This one is kaboom at my heart. Just beautiful in every possible way. What keeps tons of metal and hearts in the sky? I often wonder how... You said, "On my own land. And landowners' association rules won't let me do that, either. One of these days I'm going to sneak up there, dig a little hole, and poop. In the spruce forest, on my own land in Maine. And you'll be the first to know about it when I do."

I love you for your gift of outrageous laughter, smiles, and tears.

Donate it to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Don't you like how we are all just giving your land away1

Wonderful (yes! full of wonder) and bittersweet post. Loved it. Thank you again and again for beautifully written thoughts and shared lives.

And yet another idea re: your land since we all seem to be eager to protect your slice of beauty: consider a conservation easement. We're in the process of this for some PA land that was in my family since the Irish ancestors settled. Structures are long gone so we're preserving woodland, a fen, stone walls. Working with a local conservancy. Still own the land, can sell it, etc. but we've defined its use or lack of in perpetuity - the rules go with the land. And there are some tax advantages. Kim in PA

Posted by Anonymous November 26, 2014 at 5:50 AM

Agree with so many other commenters--make sure the land never gets developed & they each present good ways of doing that. Good Luck. Beautiful piece of land!

Amazed, as always, at the synchronicity of our world views.

What a wonderful send off you've given your daughter!

your land: can you park a camper on it for, say, a week? You can keep your poops in the tank. Or maybe a clivus? Is that not allowed?

If you wanted to build a vacation home on it, you would need to become a landlord and rent it out, I guess. Maybe your offspring will find (or become ?) a green architect and build you a little LEEDS Platinum Certified hide away.

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