Remembering those Long Ago Maine Summers

Kate Flora: I don’t know why I remember summers more than winters. Was it because

Pie from my Union blueberries.

school was out and there was so much more time for rambling? Because the days were so long and we could stay outside and play long after dinner? Somehow, the sights and smells of summer are so evocative. Over the past two day, I went rambling around Camden and Rockland with my childhood best friend and they all came rushing back.

I didn’t know it then, of course, but I was spoiled growing up where I did. Not because of things–we didn’t have things, we had bill collectors banging on the door and often worried about losing the phone or oil for the furnace–but because our 1811 farmhouse was perched on a hilltop looking down over rolling fields to a beautiful lake. Sunrise over the orchard and sunsets over the hills across the lake. Sometimes a night when we could lie out in the yard and see the Northern Lights.

We were spoiled because we had over a hundred acres to explore. We could stake out mossy plateaus along the cliffs in the woods and make them into our houses, our castles, our own worlds limited only by imagination. We were spoiled because both our parents were avid gardeners and the food we got to eat we grew ourselves and it tasted real. Because when we ate corn, Dad had just asked how many ears we wanted and gone down to the garden to pick them.

Not that summers were ever a time of endless leisure, of course. It was a farm and there were always many chores to be done. On many days, the three of us, my brother John, my little sister Sara, and I were handed typed chore lists in the morning and those chores would have to be done before we could go down to the lake and swim. Laundry. Ironing. Vacuuming and dusting. Weeding the garden. Endless weeding the garden because weeds are always ahead of the crops. But then, like a school bell had rung, we could pull on yesterday’s damp bathing suit and race down the hills to the lake.

Mom was awfully clever about getting us–and the friends who inevitably showed up when it was time to swim–to think that work was fun. Yes, we could swim, but before we did, everyone had to pick up twenty rocks from the lakebed and toss them onto the bank. Between this, and the many baskets of leaf mulch she pulled out and used on the gardens, she maintained a lovely open, sandy swimming area.

The days were never over when dinnertime rolled around. There was always something

From Mt. Megunticook to the sea

from the garden that needed to be processed. Peas to shell or beans to snap or cherries to be pitted. We would sit around the table, often with guests from New York or New Jersey joining in, and talk while we processed what needed to be canned or frozen for what we always called “the long, cold winter.”

One spring, we found that a float, or raft, had drifted into our cove from somewhere else on the lake. When no one came to claim it, my brother John and I made it our own. Often, after dinner, if there weren’t chores to be done, we would take our fishpoles and a long pole we used to steer the raft, and we would pole out into the lake and fish. There was a family of feral cats with many kittens that lived underneath the back porch. We would fill the box with little fish–perch or sunfish–then bring them back up the hill to the house where we would leave them for the cats.

Mom in the yellow bathrobe we all wanted to burn

Often the long day would end with us swinging from the old apple tree in the backyard, or perched in the tree itself, as we watched the sun set behind the hill. After going to Boston for college and staying for many years, I’ve realized that my upbringing was very different from most of my friends and neighbors, and I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful that it has kept me attuned to the natural world in ways that many people aren’t.

Yesterday, driving from Rockland to Augusta, I was in a long stream of traffic on Route 17 caused by road construction. As we puttered past equipment and traffic cones, I was given the gift of seeing an eagle fly overhead. Would I have seen it if I weren’t so attuned to the world of a Maine summer?

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7 Responses to Remembering those Long Ago Maine Summers

  1. Beth McHugh says:

    Kate: Really loved your Maine summers column. It brought back many summer memories of my own, bike trips to the library after the chores were done, picking wild blueberries, and knowing where the best ones grew, and many more. Thanks for the memories.

  2. John Clark says:

    All great memories of Sennebec Hill Farm. I think we loved summer best because when we walked out of school on the last day, we were imagining endless possibilities. I still love the smell of a ripening blueberry field above most others.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I was probably rambling around Rockland & Camden round the same era, late 60s, early 70s.Must never have met, I would have remembered one so pretty! where did you hang out back then?

  4. matthewcost says:

    And would the eagle have been there if you didn’t see it? Ah, the summers of yesteryears. I’m glad it has finally arrived in Maine.

  5. Alice says:

    I also hung around mid-coast for the summers in the 60’s & 70’s; who can remember meeting anyone that long ago??? but I fell in love with this part of the world and we built our home here 17 years ago to live in this wonderful area. We don’t leave for the winter either.

  6. Julianne Spreng says:

    As always, thank you for the reminiscence. I, too, learned that my childhood was unlike most of my schoolmates. Chores and then freedom. Outside all day and after supper. Woods to explore and streams in ravines by the house. Wild strawberries, black raspberries, and black berries. The old medicine man camp. Trees to climb up or swing from. Swimming late at night. Dancing in the rain in our underwear. Clean air. No fear. And parents that were so very liberal. We could argue with them about anything and everything. I never understood why friends wanted to come and stay instead of inviting me over…until later.

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