14 October 2016

Coastal Tour

I have never lived close to water.  For most of my life I've been in a desert where closest bodies of water are small, often man-made reservoirs.  Growing up I lived near some lakes and rivers, but none worth swimming in and none close enough to enjoy on a regular basis.  Driving along the New England coastline today put another dent in my "thou shalt not covet" armor - how glorious to live by the sea!  I don't enjoy crowded beaches and surf culture, but I do enjoy the steady roll of the waves and quiet walks along the coast.  There is a kind of soul centering that happens with such a vast landscape.  I would love to live in Maine.  The exchange for bitter cold winters would be worth it.  I can handle cold.

I don't know what it is exactly about Maine that has always attracted me but I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember and it did not disappoint.  It was every bit as charming and beautiful as you would want it to be.  Next time I come to New England, I'll need to plan much more time there.  Our original plan was to visit a city called Wiscasset, but we ended up going to Ogunquit at the recommendation of our Uber driver (Ali) from earlier in the week.  Ogunquit means "beautiful place by the sea" and it is that.  It has long been frequented by artists because of its stunning topography - I feel like we only scratched the surface of what the town had to offer.  The town was voted as the best small coastal town in America in USA Today this year - it's easy to see why.  The town has an active arts scene with an art museum and active repertory theater.  They also have the "Marginal Way", a twelve mile coastal walk along the length of the town.  We only went a fraction of the way the path offered since we still wanted to visit Salem, but walking the whole thing is on my bucket list now.  What we did see was beautiful.

One thing I love to find when I travel is local art to take home. I have a wall in my upstairs hallway where I feature art from everywhere I travel.  Today I found the addition for this trip (in the nick of time!).  It's a watercolor of the area in a repurposed barn wood frame by a local artist and I am thrilled.  I'm also glad I found no more books.  Six.  How did I find six books to take home?!  What is wrong with me?!!!  My poor suitcase.

Before going to Salem, we made a brief stop at the Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine.  There's another thing I'd love to do - a lighthouse hunt along the coast.  This lighthouse is, mercifully, wading distance to the mainland, so the keeper wouldn't have had to live too far from civilization, and in exchange, he'd have the best view in town.  Sounds like a pretty good deal, even if the exchange involved a lot of work.  Given the number of houses we drove by en route to said lighthouse that were, I'm sure, well over six figures to purchase, the work to keep the lighthouse up sounds like a fantastic trade off.

Salem hasn't ever been terribly high on my list of places to see but, given that we are here in October, it seemed like a foolish thing to miss.  For anyone who really loves Halloween, Salem would be an absolute must.  Halloween is a month long celebration here.  A massive carnival down town, costumes everywhere, even a black cat graced us with its presence while driving around.  It was an absolute circus of cars.  Salem looks like a nice enough city to live in but it would be miserable in October.  Those small New England streets just aren't meant to host that kind of insane traffic.

We managed to escape the heavy crowds by staying away from all things witch related and heading instead to the historic "House of Seven Gables" which, despite my lack of love for Nathaniel Hawthorne, turned out to be a rather interesting tour.  The Turner family who owned the house made their extreme wealth in shipping.  Although the wealth of the home didn't seem like much compared to the homes we saw yesterday in Newport, given a few hundred years of time, the Turners would have been able to compete financially with the Vanderbilts; they just didn't have the technological capability to do so.  All the same, the house was impressive and beautiful.  It was a unique tour since it told essentially three stories: the Turners, the Ingersolls, and the fictional one featured in Hawthorne's novel.  Actually, much of the house was re-purposed once a woman named Caroline Emmerton owned the house in the early 1900s so that  tourists visiting the home would see places referenced in the book (including a claustrophobia inducing secret passageway that was really up a chimney).  The tour didn't make me want to read Hawthorne, but it was still interesting and worth the time.

There is something really magical about New England.  So much of what has shaped our entire country has come from this little hive of history and philosophy and art.  You can see the weight of that feeling still permeating through the streets.  There are political signs everywhere, more than I ever saw even in Iowa during election season.  The small book store scene is alive and well, and nearly every bookstore I went in (and I went into basically every one I saw) was busy.  We saw more antique stores than Starbucks'.  Even with the tourist draw, there is a definite charm that has not been lost or sacrificed among those that live here.  Even the drivers are polite - everyone gives way to pedestrians (it's the law, but still), and cars diligently take turns and wait for others to go first.  There may be a reputation of stubbornness but there is a reality of kindness that I am so impressed by.

I think what I have loved most about this trip is that it's given me new places to love.  The more I explore the world, the more of the world I get to love.  I've been able to love the museums of Paris and the mountains of Scotland.  The bustling streets of Dublin and the West End of London.  The childhood reminiscing in Disneyland, the sheep chasing in the Lake District.  The awe inspiring beauty of the Alps, Salem Harbor, and Prince Edward Island.  I've walked the busy city streets of Victoria and figured out public transportation in Boston and Berlin.  My passport has taken me to Mexico twice, Canada once, and Europe four times in the last decade.  What a gift it is to travel.  There are some things about being single that kind of suck, but the chance to travel the world is NOT one of them.

New England - you have been perfect.  I can't wait to come explore more of you.

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