A young man pulled up to my house the other day and told me how he’d spent every summer of his childhood in the cottage next door, a structure now close to complete disrepair. He was sad about the abandonment, but I could see that in his mind’s eye, the clapboard nearly overtaken by weeds still lived in its glory days. His wife and two tow-headed boys joined us in a tour of his past. He looked beyond the torn-up floors and mildew to tell us how the main bedroom seemed enormous when he was small. He would send me pictures, he promised, to show me how the place was once well cared for and glorious.
He talked about the former owners of my home — Leon and Claire — and how he would run down to the shore across their fields nearly four times a day, often in search of what the clammers left behind, things like old rubber boots. He’d learned to fly fish where Sligo Creek rushes into Sampson Cove. He picked blueberries and spent hours on the high granite rocks. When he imagined what might have changed over the years, he knew the granite ledges would not ever disappear.
As he spoke, I realized that his childhood had morphed into my adulthood. All of his carefree roaming in the woods, pastures and the shore had become my current life. All of his enthusiasm mirrored my own.
My childhood was spent year-round in a small garden apartment bounded on one side by railroad tracks, another by old Baltimore, and another by suburban sprawl. My only escape was to venture onto tree branches and imagine myself as the captain of a ship. We had boulders too, painted bright yellow to keep cars from treading off the apartment complex roads. I used to leap across them, just as this boy next door had his granite forts.
Maine has brought out the child spirit in me, especially in the summer months. I can captain my kayak on journeys I’d only imagined from the tree tops of that Baltimore apartment complex. I run down to the water many times through the day and it’s never the same, just as the boy/now young man recalls.
Thoreau wrote something about the fulfillment of dreams when he spent those years on Walden Pond. How wonderful when that fulfillment also returns me to childhood.