24. A Walk Through History, October, 2013
Mount Desert Island rises across the Bay. At 1,528 feet it is the highest coastal peak on the eastern seaboard of the U.S.. For perhaps 6,000 years this was the land of the Wabanaki, (fittingly, “People of the Dawnlands”). Their discarded shell heaps remain, as do they.
If you discount (as most experts do) the Viking coin found in Brooklin, Maine (about 40 miles from here), the first European to see these shores was probably the French explorer Samuel de Champlain who sailed/mapped this coast in 1604. (It is not an accident that our bay is named “Frenchman”.) Sixteen years before the Pilgrims, Champlain scrambled ashore (on September 5), declaring that, “”The mountain summits are all bare and rocky, [They still are.]….. I name it Isles des Monts Desert.”
I like to imagine his 40 foot patache floating at anchor on the Bay over 400 years ago.
Not surprisingly, French Jesuits followed within 10 years and began construction of a settlement on Monts Desert. Two months later, on July 2, 1613, Captain Samuel Argall of Virginia arrived on board the Treasurer to destroy their mission. Killing three of the missionaries, wounding three others, and capturing twenty or so to be taken back to Jamestown as prisoners was insufficient to quell his protestant passion. On a subsequent voyage Argall returned to Mont Dessert to cut down the cross the Jesuits had erected and to burn the remaining buildings. (Interesting that Native Americans persisted here for 6,000 years while Europeans were killing each other within ten.)
Working on the firm principle that, “There is no one to whom we will not surrender”, French, Dutch, British and (finally) American flags have all flown over our region. So, this is a place of history, but it is a different history through which I walk this morning. It is our lived/remembered history of Hancock Point.
As I climb the steps up to our drive to begin my walk I look to the right to the spot where we pitched a tent shortly after buying the property in an effort to get to know it better and to begin thinking about siting a future house. Woodsman that I am, I managed to pitch our tent on a prodigiously uncomfortable root. We climbed out the next morning as stiff and bent in our youth as we are now in old age.
There are, as you might suspect, many kinds of conifers here: pine, spruce, fir, larch, etc.. There is also balsam. As I walk past one at the top of our driveway I’m reminded of the Thanksgiving, soon after the house was built when we drove up for a weekend and brought back some “greens” for the fireplace mantle in Connecticut. They were lovely, soft balsam boughs. But of all the conifers, balsams are “wired” to drop their needles almost immediately. After placing our sentimental treasures on the mantle we came down the next morning to find a collection of twigs sheltering piles of brown needles beneath them.
A half-mile along our dirt road, down the slope to my right is the home of the venerable Oliver Crosby, a former diplomat, serving mostly in Africa and the Middle East. Oliver is now in his 90s. Still sharp and wise, still engaged, (He recently asked me to suggest a philosophy book.), still possessed of a natural charm and grace that must have stood him well in our diplomatic service.
I turn left on Bragg Road and walk up the hill to the main road. I’m on pavement now. I turn right, toward the library and (recently abandoned) one room (10’x12’) post office. Almost immediately Robert Waldner’s foursquare, white frame colonial rises on my left. Bob died less than a year ago; it will be hard for any of us to think of the Point without him. Bob was a sailor who moored two of the most beautiful day sailors in our little harbor. I served with him on the library committee and was regularly the recipient of his advice.
A hundred yards or so further on, our tiny library is set back to my right. I cannot pass without recalling its damp mustiness on rainy summer afternoons. But I turn left instead, down Wharf Road (both a name and a description) to the harbor where on this October day only about a fifth of the summer boats still float at their moorings. There, still below me as I descend the hill, slightly to my left are the boathouse and wharf where Rick and Matt took their summer sailing lessons, where Matt almost ran us aground speeding “wing-and –wing” past our mooring; where on a hot summer day while watching kids drive from the wharf, Susan declared a bobbing head to be, “the ugliest kid she had ever seen”, only to have Rick point out that the swimmer in question was a seal. I smile.
The boat house is where, for over thirty years we have enjoyed, (perhaps that was not always true), the sailing program’s annual blueberry breakfast. The kids would pick wild blueberries on Bean Island which I now see floating a half-mile offshore to my left as I continue my walk, now on east side, toward the tip of our Peninsula.
Almost immediately I see Bill O’Tool’s house on my right with its gold-lettered “Tool Box” sign proudly displayed. Bob was a colleague at the University of Maine, an engineer considerably senior to myself. Philosophers and engineers don’t mix much in the natural world, but I got to know him when I served as a liaison from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Engineering. Some say that Bill is suffering from Alzheimer’s; perhaps, but I think he might just be HARD OF HEARING.
Another academic memory lies a few hundred yards ahead. My morning walk now takes me past Connie Carlson’s craftsman cottage on the east side of the Point. She also was a colleague at the University of Maine. I knew her as the Dean of Bangor Community College (then a part of the University of Maine). She went on to be the President of the University of Maine at Presque Isle. (Note that lingering French tradition.) When Susan and I were thinking about buying this property I called Connie to ask if the price was reasonable. Connie has long since died, but I think of her whenever I pass her snug little house. There is a bench on the library porch in Connie’s memory.
A still earlier memory lies only a few hundred yards farther along the road, on the tip where we visited Hancock Point for the first time. We had come down with Bob, (our Department Chair) and Judy Tredwell who were closing up a large “cottage” for friends __ a great old turreted house that persists today under the name “Finistere” (meaning “end of the earth”). Between Connie’s house and Finistere, I walk past the grand “Bell View” tutor house — so named because it looks out on the bell buoy marking a ledge at the entrance to our harbor. When Susan and I were walking this same ground 42 years ago, we stopped to look at and listen to the buoy. Susan said she was not feeling well. Later we realized she was pregnant with Rick.
Now on the way back home, I pass Eliott Cutler’s home. He is the independent candidate for governor of Maine. When I pass his house I think of Kay Cutler, his mother, whose husband, Lawrence, was Chair of the Board of the University of Maine System. He was an excellent board chair. One afternoon Bob Treadwell and I sailed a Rhodes 19 around from Southwest Harbor to the Point. It was a long, rolling, pitching sail. At the end we met up with Susan and Judy at the Cutler’s for some much-needed hot chocolate and tea. Kay and Larry have long since passed on, but (when Susan and I had no idea that we would someday be playing similar roles) we learned a lot from their example and their hospitality.
Ironically, about a half mile further on we pass the summer home of former governor, John McKernan and his wife, Olympia Snowe. We don’t see Olympia on the Point much anymore, perhaps once a summer. She is a small, now somewhat stooped, woman whose independence has always reminded me of a previously strong Maine woman: Senator Margaret Chase Smith. Now that Olympia’s left the Senate, now that her book has appeared, I am hoping we will see more of her.
Moving closer to home I pass Jean O’meara’s salt box on the right. It’s a solid, properly-Maine house that (like several other homes on the Point) was built by Jeff Smith. It pleases me to think that ours was the first, (entrusted then to a hard-working young man recommended by Paul Petrell who had done some quality work for us when we lived in Orono).
About a half mile farther along the dirt road, (now for the first time repeating my steps as I have completed the Point loop and head back along West Shore road), I pass by (again) Oliver’s house, and walking up a slight slope, arrive at the Amstutz’ (Arnold and Peggy) “compound”. After an awkward first meeting, and some adolescent posturing our two boys and their two girls got to know each other in the sailing program; they have continued to be good friends ever since. Matt still visits Ann occasionally when he is in New York; Rick and Kath occasionally see Alice when she visits her friend on Skaneateles Lake. They all try to time summer visits to the point to allow an annual reunion. I remember when, having been caught up, like everyone else, in the phenomenon of “The Phantom”, our families once met in New York City where we treated the kids to a performance (of Phantom, that is).
The Point has a continuity from generation to generation. Sometimes history is prospective; it’s already clear that that Rick and Matt as well as Alice and Ann will be spending future summers on the Point. Unless I miss my guess the following generation (all ten years old or under) will do so as well. That also pleases me.
Sometimes history is little things — an ancient Norse coin pretending to have been left a thousand years ago; sometimes history is big things — the long tradition of the Wabanaki on this coast; sometime history is foolish things — protestant/catholic wars carried to a distant shore. Always it is human things.