August is an odd month: it has no Federal holidays; it is officially a summer month yet is the gateway to the autumn; it marks the beginning of the school year for many places and the end of vacation; it toys with us, teasing us to “get ready” and yet to “enjoy the dog days”. Every August, or, as I usually refer to it, every summer, I go “home” to Maine, where I grew up, to visit my sister and her family and to touch base with the Pine Tree State and its lakes and ocean. It is always odd to be a tourist in the place of one’s birth and childhood; in a place where tourists are hated and loved and barely tolerated; in a place of history and family and change. The people talk of folks I should know and yet, I don’t. I might recognize surnames of families I grew up with, names such as “Libby”, “Dolloff”, “Swayze”, “Walker”, and “Thompson”, but I don’t know the people they’re talking about. I haven’t lived there since 1964, and while many of my generation moved away, their clans are still there, and some of them are even some kind of cousin to me, but I don’t know them. I also don’t know the places…the streets now have names and signs which announce those names. I have to remember that Route 25, the one I grew up on, is now the Ossipee Trail, and that Route 35, which crosses it, is also the Bonny Eagle Road to the west and something else to the east. I suppose there were good reasons for these names, but it still seems alien to me.
Other things also seem alien, but I know, deep down, that the real alien is me. I haven’t lived through those changes and my 22-year-old self who insists on arising when I’m there, loses her bearings. She wants it to be the same; she does not want to be one of the “away” summer folk. But I am, and I am not 22, and I am only a Mainer by memory. Moreover, while I’m there, we plan lots of excursions that tourists tend to take, because, living there, we seldom actually did any of those things or travelled to some of the places that most visitors make it a point to see. And so, this summer, we made a day trip to Mt. Desert Island, where Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Eastern seaboard, is located (so far as I know, there is no actual Mt. Desert, only an island with three peaks of a different names), and where sunrise is first sighted for most of the year in the United States. We set off on this excursion in the 4am dark of the early morning, but the three-hour drive didn’t get us there to actually see the sunrise from the top. Instead, we headed into the sunrise as we drove up the coast, to Down East, and stopped for breakfast at one of those little diners that Maine people know so well and hope that the tourists never learn about.
We arrived and drove to the top, and even found a parking place among all of the folks already there, folks from all over the world: license plates from all over the US, and also people from India and from Europe and from Thailand and from South America. A true conversion of geographies. We walked out onto the rocks, dutifully following the designated path, taking our pictures and staring out across the North Atlantic, wondering if we could see our neighbors on its other side, where it would already be afternoon.
The light on Cadillac Mountain was only ordinary, a little misty from the sea, but, since it was past dawn, it seemed no different to me than light anywhere else. Yet, it reminded me of one of the most astonishing things that I experience on my yearly home-going and return to Bloomington. This journey means that I travel from one edge of a time zone to another of the same zone, touching its east and west boundaries, and also going from an area fairly southern in the zone to one of the northern most.
When I leave Bloomington in early August, the sun rises at about 6:40am, already heading towards the dark mornings of autumn and winter. The next morning, in Maine, sun rise is at about 5:30am…more than an hour earlier. In less than 24 hours, the light has changed for me. It always delights me, because I’m an early morning person, and love that the sun is up at that time. Sunset in Bloomington is at about 8:50 and in Maine, about 8:00. Somehow, I don’t notice that difference as much. I get used, again, to the sun being on the rise when I waken for the two weeks I am there, and my brother-in-law and I enjoy an early cup of coffee and news-watching before the rest of the household stirs (except for the cats, who are, of course, ready for food). And then I return to Bloomington after two weeks of sunny mornings. Sunrise is suddenly not until 7am here, and I feel like I have been plunged into an Arctic winter. And it seems to take a very short time before it is even darker, so that each day the mornings delay, and I fuss at the darkness. In just little over a week since I got home, the time for morning light to appear has increased a minute a day, and it seems like an hour a day.
This year, things got even stranger. Three days after I got back to Bloomington, there was the eclipse of the sun. Now, not only was it taking longer for the day to get here, suddenly it slinked away, laughing at my cognitive dissonance, teasing me about the fickleness of light, poking at me about the restlessness of the universe, and astounding me with the reminder of how odd and relative time is. And so, into the next season we go, the 22-year-old me becoming the three-quarter-century me in two more weeks, and the sun rising and setting with no nod to my own journey that seems to have taken no longer than those two weeks in Maine.
Bev for PGM