Literary Maine

Overwhelmed by the beauty of the foliage as I drive through Maine, I’ve decided Brunswick is my favorite place, maybe because it’s a college town. Although Longfellow wrote his first published poem at twelve years old, Bowdoin College was where he studied Latin and Greek, and became familiar with the rhyme scheme he later used in “Evangeline,” the sad tale of lovers torn apart when the British banished the French Acadians (now known as the Cajuns) from Nova Scotia. It seemed like a good idea to download the poem (free online) to reread it while here.

Brunswick also claims Harriet Beecher Stowe who lived in a house near campus with her professor husband for only two years before moving to Andover in Massachusetts. During his tenure at Bowdoin, Harriet wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to supplement his low salary. Their house has changed through the years and the college now uses it as a dorm. I’ve never read this famous book (I do remember the play rendition in the movie “The King and I”). Have you read it?

Of course I’ve been seeking and finding bookstores: the Bowdoin College Bookstore, The Gulf of Maine in Brunswick, and Sherman’s – Maine’s oldest bookstore – in Bar Harbor. And the weather is great for reading.

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Maine – Lobsters and Longfellow

As I conduct my personal survey of Maine lobster rolls, the colorful Fall leaves, lighthouses, and beautiful coastline offer a distraction. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s birthplace and childhood home, a brick house not far from the water in Portland,Maine, is now a museum. Although his bedroom window had a view of the sea, inspiration for many of his poems, modern buildings now block that vista.

Of course, I found the bookstore named for the famous poet.

Both Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne studied at Bowdoin College, my next stop.

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Traveling to The Thin Place

When Eric Weiner described “thin places” in his New York Times article Where Heaven and Earth Meet, he reflected on travel to places “where {he} could breath again… and became {his} essential self.”  He listed bookstores among such enervating sites, and his mention of Powell’s Book store in Portland, Oregon, reminded me of my good intentions to get there someday.  Have you been there?  Bought a book there?

Rereading the 2012 article gave me some perspective on my own recent travels.  According to Weiner, thin places cannot be planned; they just happen.  Although escorted tours come with expectations,  those unexpected moments – usually alone – make the fulfilling connections.    I’ve found thin places when I wasn’t looking: my early morning walk in England’s Lake Country among the ferns and babbling brooks; my awe at the vastness and the color of the glacial lake in Canada as the sun rose over the mountain;  a bulldog sleeping peacefully outside a country store in Wales; a fireplace in Alberta as the snow quietly fell outside.

IMG_0087Some thin places have been closer to home: the quiet of the Pacific Ocean before dawn as I walked along a seawall, a deserted park before crowds of walkers took over the paths.

Weiner’s paraphrase of Kierkegaard:

“Travel, like life, is best understood backward but must be experienced forward…”

reminded me how often I did not appreciate where I’d been until later – when the memory of beauty or quiet sustained me in a harried world.

Where have you experienced “thin places”?

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