Looking for Rachel Day 3

Tuesday September 4

I began the day walking to the town beach.  I can imagine a routine that would include this morning stroll.  When I returned, we had breakfast on the porch and watched a fishing boat make it’s way up the Sheepscot River.

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On the itinerary for today was Boothbay Harbor.  This visit disappoints.  Having read a biography of Rachel Carson and articles about her time in Maine, I imagined a small understated New England town.  Instead most stores fill their shelves with tourists’ merchandise.  One of my friends commented on their playlist, 60’s pop to appeal to baby boomers.

Just like New Hope Pennsylvania, Boothbay Harbor sits along the water: New Hope along the Delaware, Boothbay Harbor on the Atlantic.   Henry Miller, when he returned to the states from Europe as WWII took hold, wrote The Air Conditioned Nightmare, an account of his drive cross country east to west.  He stopped in New Hope which he described in scathing terms.  The town often described as a refuge for artists, seemed to him the home of non-artists.  He recognized the beginnings of the tourist trap it would become.

After some grocery shopping, we returned home and once again, I walked to the beach. I watched cormorants perch along the rocks and talked to several people.  As I looked into one of the tidal pools,

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I imagined a perfect routine: a walk to the beach every morning, coffee on the deck, writing, chores in town, writing in the afternoon, another walk to the beach, then, back to the deck for drinks, dinner, and to bed with a book.  Heaven.

Dinner was a group effort.  We played music, drank gin and tonics, talked, laughed for hours, and watched the sun set on the Sheepscot.

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Regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed, I was able to do some writing before hitting the sack.

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Another bit of heaven, writing where she wrote.

Looking for Rachel Day 2

Monday September 3 2018 Labor Day

“Bring an old pair of sneakers for wading.”  Rachel Carson to Dorothy Freeman, September 3 1953

 Another day when we don’t leave the house until noon.  Sixty-five years ago, September 3, 1953, Rachel wrote to Dorothy advising her to bring old sneakers for exploring the low tide at the bottom of this house.  We won’t go wading today, but we will do a bit of exploring: Cozy Harbor, Newagen Inn, and Hendricks Head Beach.

We make a left onto Salt Pond Road, then, a left onto Dogfish Head Road looking for what Rachel hoped to preserve, what she and Dorothy called their “lost woods.“  After a few turns, we happened upon the Freeman cottage that Dorothy visited every summer for most of her life.  We were unable to see a way down to the shore where she and Rachel had spent many happy hours.  How cheered I am by this discovery, this tie to Rachel.

Rachel writing to Dorothy and Stan, October 7, 1956

“The day of high wind I explored the shore and adjacent woods from Daniel’s place north for a short distance.  If only that could be kept always just as it is. ….How many acres would you guess are in the land from Daniel’s road north to where the Head cottages begin, and between the Dogfish Head Road and the Bay?  Just for fun tell me what you think, and let’s pretend we could somehow create a sanctuary there…. Where people like us could go… and walk about , and get what they need.”

Next, we ventured to Cozy Harbor that sits on one of the inlets of the Sheepscot River south of Rachel’s house.   Looking out to the water, on the right is the Yacht Club and on the left is Oliver’s, a restaurant.

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With my own old sneakers, I wander down to the dock to see what might be living amongst the rocks.  Her biography and letters to Dorothy captures her delight in all creatures and plants that inhabit salt water.   Like her, I’m intrigued by what is in front of me: she still influences her readers.  Unlike her, I haven’t a clue what I’m looking at.

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What did she see when she visited this spot when Oliver’s was the E.W. Pratts General Store?  She wrote to Dorothy on another Labor Day, September 2 1958 about a visit to nearby Pratt Island.

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“…I walked through the woods to the place you and I sat that last day.”  She goes on to share the birds she has sighted- semipalmated plovers and turnstones.

Next we drove to the Newagen Inn located at the southern tip of Southport and described as one of her favorite places.  The inn seems so modern: I can’t imagine her visiting.  On the terrace, we had a late lunch looking out towards the Atlantic.

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After our meal we asked the receptionist if she knew where Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman would spend time.  She directed us to a narrow path leading through a patch of woods to the river.  There on a rock were two occupied adirondeck chairs.

From a letter to Dorothy, September 10 1963 on their morning at the Newagen Inn,

“For me it was one of the loveliest of summer’s hours, and all the details will remain in my memory: that blue September sky, the sounds of wind in the spruces and surf on the rocks, the gulls busy with their foraging, alighting with deliberate grace, the distant view of Griffiths Head and Todd Point, today so clearly etched…. But most of all I shall remember the Monarchs, that unhurried westward drift of one small winged form after another, each drawn by some invisible force.”

We made our way home saddened by the thought that this had been the last time Carson and Dorothy were together, the last time Carson visited the Newagen Inn.  She died seven months later.

We took the long way around to the house which meant passing Hendricks Head Beach.   There were children exploring the waters, nets in hand, catching crabs.  But loss seems to have followed us: a dead baby seal had washed up on shore.   The beauty of the site, the children’s interest in the creatures of the sea, and the loss of one of it’s own made for conflicting emotions.  Would Rachel understand it is all part of the wonder of sea life or would she start to wonder what had gone wrong?

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Looking for Rachel Day 1

Sunday  September 2 2018

“Going down into the low tide world,”

Always Rachel, The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman

I am in her house, but not in her world.  I can see the body of water, the Sheepscot River that eventually reaches the sea, but I can not touch it.  This morning, my first morning, I walked along the path that leads to the shore but could go no further than the long ledge of rocks that line the coast, slippery and dangerous.

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When Carson first moved to Southport, Maine, she had a note from a neighbor, Dorothy Freeman, welcoming her.  She invited Dorothy and her husband to a Sunday exploration of the very coastline that challenges me.

After a friendship developed between the two women, Carson wrote to Dorothy that she wanted to preserve the forest off Dogfish Head Road which extends north to the tip of a peninsula of the same name.  It’s the site of an early settlement as well as the port where steam boats carried summer guests to Southport.  Dorothy was one of those early visitors, traveling by steamer from Boston to Southport when she was just an infant.

The act of preserving was imperative to Carson.  But as Linda Lear (a Carson biographer) explains, ”She also wanted to preserve the paths these two friends had lovingly tread.”  Carson called them the “Lost Woods.”  I walked along the path that seems to lead to those woodlands, but it went nowhere; instead, I saw only houses.  So the woods are lost.  I’m saddened.   A contradiction as I’m sharing her very house with my two loving friends, Karen and Iris.

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 The Lost Woods

Karen and I rose early.  She is reading the Sea Around Us, Carson’s poetic and scientific portrait of the sea, and I’m reading Always Rachel, a present from Karen. I began to peruse the book, looking for links to my stay and read aloud those first few entries hoping to inspire our outings.  Karen also explored the grounds and, like me, reached only the top of the rocky shelf.  But she feels confident we can make our way if we do it together, much like Rachel and Dorothy did on that first meeting.

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Stanly Freeman, Dorothy Freeman, Rachel Carson

We have a hard time getting out of the house, so much to share, to review.  I worry that I won’t be looking for Rachel.

Today, we visited monarchs at the Costal Maine Botantical Gardens in Boothbay.  A guide in the Butterfly House told us that the staff knows when the Monarchs will migrate: then, they lift the screened roof and the monarchs make their journey to Mexico. This guide was particularly fond of the Mourning Cloak butterfly: it doesn’t migrate but toughs out the winter in Maine, making its home in an oak tree, then, in the Spring, climbs down the trunk to drink it’s sap.

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Mourning Cloak

Tomorrow is Labor Day and we will look for Rachel at the Newagen Inn which she visited for the last time on another Labor Day watching Monarchs fill the air.  My worries were unfounded- a serendipitous link to Rachel.