I Married Maine

Morning Haze Lifting, Penobscot Bay, oil by Phoebe Porteous

Morning Haze Lifting, Penobscot Bay, oil by Phoebe Porteous

by Julia Spencer-Fleming

I’ll be the first to confess, I didn’t have a full understanding of what I was getting into when I agreed to marry a Mainer and move to Portland. I had met my boyfriend when we were both grad students in Washington, D.C., but he never made any bones about his desire to return to “God’s country.” (His expression, not mine.) Upon graduating from law school, he accepted a job with one of the larger firms in Maine, and thus began my year of long-distance Maine courtship.


Every four or five or six weeks, I would fly from Washington, DC to Logan Airport in Boston

Peak's Island Street, oil by Cooper Dragonette

Peak's Island Street, oil by Cooper Dragonette

and take the Mermaid Shuttle up to Portland. (That’s a do-you-really-know-Maine trivia question: have you ever used the Mermaid?) The city would be unbearably hot and sticky, and I would arrive to fresh Atlantic breezes and a ferry ride out to Peak’s Island. Or the citywould be gray and cold and covered with dirty slush, and I would spend the weekend shussing down the pristine white slopes of Sugarloaf Ski Resort. Or the city would be crowded with newly-arrived political drones and I would be relaxing in an historic B&B with a view of the mountains in glorious full foliage.

You get the picture. Over the course of that year, my view of Maine developed as an earthly paradise, free from all sordid cares and difficulties. Here is a partial list of the things I had NOT been introduced during my courtship:

Bondo covering up salt-induced rust damage

Duct tape as a cure-all

30 days of the temperatures never rising above 20F during January

Mud Season by John Sloane

Mud Season by John Sloane

Mud season

Potholes big enough to qualify as vernal pools

The necessity of wearing Hunter Orange every time one steps outdoors in November

Summer traffic on Route 1

Reader, I married him. Would I have done differently if I had known that Maine had a few blackflies in the ointment? Of course not. Getting to know a place deeply over many years is not dissimilar to getting to know a person the same way. The flaws start out as annoyances and wind up as endearing familiarities. And, as in a good marriage, Maine has given me the space to grow into the person I was meant to be. I’ve changed from a hurried, harried urbanite to a relaxed, contemplative country dweller. I went from having an entire black-tie wardrobe to wearing Bean boots beneath my skirt at the symphony. I started as a law student looking for money and status and grew up to be a writer facing the world with open hands.

Tukey's Bridge, oil by Caren-Marie Michel

Tukey's Bridge, oil by Caren-Marie Michel

And on those summer days when I’m walking through Camden, or sunning at Pemaquid Point, or just driving on Route 295 over Tukey’s Bridge with Casco Bay stretching out to one side and Portland rising on its hill in front of me, I know it’s been a match made in heaven.


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6 Responses to I Married Maine

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Made in heaven so long as we accept that heaven might have black flies, book deadlines, and the arrival of some gorgeous children.

    Love your illustrations, Julia, and what a good story-teller you are. It took me many years to drag my husband back to Maine, after he kidnapped me from the attorney general’s office and rode me away on his white horse. But now it seems to have “taken.”

  2. Julia, I love what you said about Maine giving you the space to “grow into the person” you were meant to be. I feel the same way, and I can see that it’s also true with my kids. Twenty-five years ago we decided to have an adventure and move to Maine. It’s a decision we’ve never regretted.

  3. Sarah Graves says:

    Julia, those illustrations are great! And so is your coming-to-Maine story.

  4. Magdalen says:

    The alchemy of place.

    I have a friend (also a huge J S-F fan!) who grew up in sunny Florida only to visit Wayne, Pennsylvania as a 20-year-old and think, “I’m home.” (Of course now her husband — the born-and-raised Northeastener — has insisted they retire to Florida and her posts are more about how the pool water is too hot than how much snow they have to shovel.)

    I should feel that way about Maine, but mysteriously, I don’t. My mother was 4 when she first saw Scarborough Beach (in 1924). For ten years, her parents took the family from Manhattan to Maine every summer to stay in the long-gone Atlantic House hotel. She was devastated when they bought a weekend house in the Hudson Valley. As an adult, Mum desperately wanted to return to Scarborough Beach, and finally managed it with three children in tow (and me on the way) in 1956. I literally grew up with annual trips to that beach, making it the beach against all other beaches are judged.

    But when I married, my husband and I found a 200+ year old house in the Endless Mountains (the last bit of Pennsylvania if you’re driving from Philly to Syracuse) as our weekend place, the refuge from the hectic life of two Philadelphia lawyers. We tried every summer to enjoy our share of my parents’ house on Scarborough Beach, but even staring at the glittering Atlantic or walking along that pristine beach looking for surf-scrubbed glass, I missed my weekend house.

    In the end, we sold my share of the beach house to my brother and I’ve never been back. Strangely, I’m not nostalgic for it — and I can no more explain why not than my friend could say how she knew Wayne, PA was the place of her heart.

    It’s just alchemy.

  5. MCWriTers says:

    Lovely story, Julia. And you’ve raised the bar for illustrating posts.
    Isn’t it interesting how many of us came to Maine and were hooked?
    We planned to stay a couple of years, in 1980. No regrets. In fact, quite the opposite.

  6. Jeanne says:

    Saw your post on FB this morning about this blog. Love it!

    Being in the Portland area, what do you think about Borders announcement today of the closing of all its stores? I’m very sad . . .

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