I recently spent a week in Maine, in a town with deep family roots. My mother grew up there, as did all of her family before her. I can point out to my own little tribe the place where I lived as a toddler and the spots where our family history had happened, though many of those structures have been torn down and replaced. It had been seven years since my mom passed away, which was the last time I’d set foot in the place. I used to come up and stay a month with my mom every summer with my own family in tow. It is a place of pleasant memories.
My husband, my son and his girlfriend, and I all settled in at the small apartment I rented just across the street from the water and around the corner from my aunt and uncle’s place. We were all excited about being there. The night we arrived, we decided to go out for a meal—looking for a lovely restaurant on the water. We walked across the town’s famous footbridge to the opposite side of the harbor and chose an eatery that was not too busy and had a small deck facing the harbor. I have 42 years of Texas living in my blood, so I was immediately chilled by the breeze off the water. My son felt equally chilled, so my husband ran back to our lair for our jackets. It would be the last time we would need them on this vacation.
Later, as I settled into bed for the night and sighed with the gentle quietness which permeated our evening refuge, I closed my eyes. I opened them again in inquiry when I heard a strange twang, like the plucking of an out-of-tune guitar string coming from the back of the apartment. You know how it is when, happily drowsing in your bed, you hear a strange noise in the night. All your nerve endings come to attention. You don’t want to make your own noise, so your muscles freeze up in anticipation of hearing it again, waiting for the unknown weird sound to bring death and destruction upon you. That noise did come again, though it had something of a familiar ring to it. A sudden revelation caused me to get up and look out the back window.
Location, location, location. When I searched for a place to stay in my familial hamlet in Maine, I wanted something that could accommodate four people and was in just the perfect spot. This sweet little apartment was upstairs and had a wrap-around deck from which we could see the harbor. It was close enough to the town proper to walk across the footbridge to the commercial side of town with all its shops and restaurants, but far enough away to be quieter. Its location was next to the Catholic church, a building famously photographed from the water for its quintessential New England fishing village vibe.
The rental was also very close to my aunt and uncle’s house, which was around the corner and a house or two behind the church. Their place had been built on the site of my grandparents’ last home in the harbor. After my parents moved our family to a permanent homestead in New Jersey, we visited my mother’s parents in this little town every summer. When I moved to Texas, my visits were less frequent until my mom, divorced from both my dad and Texas, moved back to her home town for good. I know that’s a lot to keep up with, but basically, I’ve been coming to this coastal town all my life and was familiar with its sights…and sounds.
No doubt we’ve all had those sensory experiences where the smell of freshly baked bread or stewed lobsters conjures up memories of times past. The sense of smell is notorious for tickling our brain cells into delivering reminiscences of prior events, especially if they had been pleasurable. On my recent trip to Maine, it was a sound that flipped that switch to the past. That sound I was hearing in the bedroom of our rental unit began to intensify. Twangy, off-tune notes were being joined by multiple pings, trills and chirring to the point where my husband asked what the hell was going on out there.
I started to laugh as I realized we weren’t being invaded by aliens nor by any local, strangely-chirping burglars because that’s when I remembered the pond. Flashback to childhood visits to my grandparents’ home. It was a small house with a good-sized yard where kids could play and explore. The pond was mostly hidden by green growth in summer. We barely acknowledged its existence in the daytime. I slept on a cot or the old sofa in the living room most visits. Maine was a place where grownups thought leaving the windows open all night was entirely normal. I often woke in the mornings to a cool breeze and the sound of the church bells from the Catholic church nearby or the foghorn signaling to vessels entering the local waters.
At night, though, when all those adults were sleeping, I was serenaded by the frogs in the pond. I realized years later, as I listened to the din, that the pond behind our cozy rental was the very same marshland inhabited by the frog choir of my youthful visits. I could, if necessary, throw a rock across it into my aunt and uncle’s back yard! My husband, when told this revelation, was not as enchanted by the noise. He closed the window to lessen the cacophony of the raucous amphibians.
In the morning all was quiet, sunny and warm. We wrote a list of the outings we wished to make, and went out into the town and surrounding areas to visit with family as well as do those things that tourists do. We all noticed the heat. I certainly did not expect to sweat while visiting the coast of Maine. I had packed for the usual cool mornings and evenings and did not bring enough short-sleeved shirts. The area was experiencing a heat wave. I did not want to allow the weather conditions to make me despondent, but realized sleeping might be a tad uncomfortable since air conditioning is practically nonexistent in the little village on the coast and our sweet home away from home followed that norm.
On our second night in residence, we had to crank open the bedroom window to avoid drowning in our own sweat. We were greeted by the invisible choir in the pond, offering us their condolences for our discomfort. We could have slept outside, but we would still have heard the clangorous frogs along with their prey– whiney, carnivorous mosquitos. So, we slept with the window open for the rest of our stay, waiting for the cool of the morning and the end of the nocturnal concert.
By the third night, I had gotten used to the music. It made me happy, listening to nature’s joyous choir, nestled in their swampy home, as I drifted off to sleep after a long day of vacationing. It was no different from the times I was lullabied by trumpeting elk in the mountains of Wyoming or the hooting and cackling of loons out on the lakes in western Maine. I was away from the usual home-base sounds surrounding the Hobbit House and welcomed this choir invisible sending me off to a dreamland far from home.
Enjoying the music,