On a recent camping trip to western Maine, my family and I climbed Tumbledown Mountain, where the reward for a tricky and steep 2-mile hike was the serene mountain lake that awaited us just shy of the summit. While we sat on the shore taking in the view, my 12-year-old daughter settled in with her sketch book and her sandwich, and my 10-year-old son decided to swim out to the small island in the middle of the lake. Out on the island, he found wild blueberry bushes and ate a few handfuls, dried himself on a sun-warmed rock for about 20 minutes, and then swam back to us. As he shook off the water and pulled his hiking shoes on, he shouted up to us, “those were the best blueberries I’ve ever tasted!” And I thought: what a life these kids live. What an incredible gift it is to grow up in Maine.
A sense of adventure and the need for a change of scenery brought me to Maine from California 18 years ago when I was childless and just starting my teaching career. I didn’t know much about Maine when I first moved here, having only visited a few times prior. I thought I would be here for a few years and then head back to the west.
In hindsight I can clearly see that having kids in Maine is what anchored me to this place, what solidified my sense of home. Not only did I meet some of my best friends when our kids were all babies, but I came into my own as a mom — and in many ways, as a person — at the same time I was coming into my own as a Mainer. I regularly walked my babies on the bog walk in Bangor City Forest, and love thinking that some of their earliest views of the world were looking up out of their strollers at the puffy clouds and pine trees floating by, and feeling the stroller wheels rhymically bump over the slats of the wooden boardwalk. When I hiked with them in a backpack, they watched the rugged trails and mountain views over my shoulder while pressed up against the warmth of my body.
As they got a little older, I learned quickly that my kids were always happier outside, and because I am a mom who never wanted to be stuck at home with toddlers and no plan, I was the queen of the Maine day trip. Just about every weekend day and all summer long, I would pack a backpack with some extra clothes, snacks and sandwiches, and we would head to a beach, climb up a mountain, or explore some woodsy hiking trails. We drove in every possible direction, to the beaches in the south, to Moosehead, to Baxter, to Acadia, to Stonington and Schoodic and Sorrento. I got to know all the corners of the state while simultaneously introducing my kids to the very best of Maine. After a full day outside, and usually with scraped up knees and pockets full of shells or acorns or pinecones, they would climb into their carseats and I’d watch in the rearview mirror as their heavy and happy eyelids fell shut. My love for Maine became inextricably linked to my love for mothering my own little Mainers.
Now that they are getting older and busier with homework and sports teams, we don’t take quite as many day trips together, but the foundation of their outdoorsiness is as sturdy as a New England rockwall. I am proud that my kids can navigate hiking trails, start a campfire, and steer a canoe, and that when it rains, they grab a raincoat and carry on, all things I think that good Mainers do. They are brave enough to swim out to an island on the top of a mountain to pick blueberries.
What a life. My kids are growing up with a backdrop of lakes and loon calls and blueberry barrens and lobster shacks and rocky coasts and pine trees, not to mention all the kind, loyal and loving folks they have come to call their people. I now feel as at home in Maine as they do, the difference being of course that they were born here and have never known another home, and I chose Maine out of all the places I could’ve landed.
When I came here from California all those years ago, I could not have anticipated how rooted to this place I would become. Yes, I love Maine because it is one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen, and I love Maine because of the good people that I know and love here. But what connects me to Maine more than any of these things is growing the family tree that I planted here myself.