In the past month, I have had the pleasure of spending time with my toes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and have reaped the salty benefits of both.
My visit to the Atlantic was part of my annual pilgrimage “Down East” to places around Casco Bay that I have been visiting since my earliest days. My sister and her family still live in Midcoast Maine which makes my traveling there all the easier and, as you can imagine, there are all sorts of things that we “must do” when I come to town: visits to favorite restaurants, wandering around from point to point and cove to cove, spending some time sailing, walking, at the farmer’s market and in the wonderful independent bookstore in town. There are significant amounts of clams, haddock, and a few lobster that are given over to this visit, and some lazy, candlelit nights spent outside on the deck of my sister’s house listening to crickets and watching the fireflies.
Bowdoinham is the location of our annual family “picnic” which I usually miss ( it usually occurs after I have left Maine) but this year I made a point to be there as the group has grown smaller and it is time for some of us young ‘uns (I’m nearly 60!) to take the torch. Another one of my cousins made a similar effort this year and I think that we may have volunteered to host next year’s event and will encourage our same-age and younger relatives to join in the fun.
Maine is my ancestral family place. James Millay, our ancestor, came from Ireland and landed off of Great Island near Harpswell, building his salt mine. My parents retired there many, many, many years later. Maine is the place where I feel “complete,” and it’s hard to put words to it, other than that: “complete.” My sister knows this and after I insist that we stop at the beach about a quarter of a mile from where I took my first steps, she waits on the stone staircase while I kick off my sandals and walk in the tidal pools searching for sea glass, hermit crabs and razor clams. The sun is hot, the black sand is soft, and the snail shells crunch underfoot. The water laps at my ankles and for a moment I consider lying down in the 3-inch, sun-warmed salt bath. I resist, because I know that it would not feel good later, in the car, sitting in wet shorts. And I don’t think my sister would like her car getting sopping wet. We stop at the gift shop- the same gift shop that we visit every year and we buy the same things: balsam-stuffed tiny pillows, a new tea towel for the kitchen, a 5” “Old Salt” figurine of a fisherman in a yellow slicker for my brother. My brother has the misfortune of an August birthday that falls during my visit each year; he has received several “Old Salt” carved figurines through the years from me. There is a lovely repetition of places, activities and menus that makes this a comfortable holiday. Reading back over this, it sounds so dull…. but it is lovely. Sunny, salty, warm-tomato-in-the-sun, lovely. (There are new adventures each year lest you find this all too pedantic: this year we went to the Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay for the first time and we loved it! Another thing to add to the “must-do-every-year” list.)
The Pacific coast brought the new adventure of a wedding for our family. Our eldest, Emma, was married to Nic. Theirs was the first wedding event for our immediate family and only the second one among Emma’s cousins. It was held right at the ocean’s edge on the cliffs in Mendocino at a small sea-side inn. The setting was fantastic, the weather perfect, the dress beautiful, and the vows meaningful, but it was the gathering together of our dearest friends and family that made it spectacular. College friends, cousins, childhood friends, friends with whom we had raised our children, even children of old friends who traveled to be with us. The volume and power of love in those few days among our family and friends was as strong as the sea itself; I was overwhelmed by the gift of presence and the beauty of love. It was a holy time and a sacred space, consecrated by all those dear ones.
I read four books on vacation.
I watched a few forgettable movies on Netflix.
I didn’t have much time for gardening or cooking- my usual spiritual practices-
I just wallowed. In the water, in the ocean, in the love of it all.
There were some rainy days, some cross words, and some bad moments. Aren’t there always? That’s the way of the world.
But I’ll take the memory of a briny, sundrenched day on the boat eating ham sandwiches and listening to my cousin explain the innumerable benefits of a good spinnaker over the memory of a sour word, anyday.
I hope that you had a chance to get away, go home, find yourself “complete,” or bowled over by love this summer. It is the hand of God at work in those moments. Of this I am sure.
I am off to a meeting of the House of Bishops next week in Fairbanks, Alaska and will miss writing next Friday’s blog. Stay tuned for stories from Alaska in the week following!