October 20, 2018 Maine.
“There are many gypsy hearts, but few gypsy feet”
Deciding to move to Alaska’s remote communities in mid-career is a life changing decision. I often say there are two kinds of people that move to Alaska, those that can get a job anywhere and those that can’t get a job anywhere. One thing is certain, those that stay in Alaska make some of the best friendships of their lives. It is so with Brooks and Linda Hurley. There is a high turnover of people in education and healthcare. I thank Facebook for letting me stay in contact with colleagues and friends that I shared tragedies, adventures, and unforgettable times with in the wild, beautiful, dangerous and unpredictable Alaska.
After spending several years in Alaska, Brooks and Linda returned to Maine. They picked the small town of Belfast, on the Atlantic Coast where Brooks headed up the pharmacy at the local hospital before retiring. Unlike other parts of Maine, Belfast readily accepts newcomers that haven’t lived there for 5 generations.
Belfast, population 5000, had a chicken processing plant at the water’s edge. A smelly, messy, polluting plant. The old brick downtown storefronts were closed and boarded up. A bank decided to make the town its headquarters and bought and cleared away the poultry plant and cleaned up the water front, encouraging downtown and harbor development. Today it is a thriving town with interesting stores and farmer’s markets, a bustling harbor and too many summer visitors.
We pull into the driveway of the Hurley’s Cape Cod style house. They met Jim at dinner in Anchorage last month and we also met in Cape Breton a couple of weeks ago. Though Jim did not work in Dillingham, he taught school in the village of Nunapitshuk and Bethel for 17 years, so his experiences blend well with ours. Living and working in Bush Alaska doesn’t make sense to those that didn’t live there and it’s hard to explain.
Over Linda’s delicious fish chowder we catch up and learn more about Belfast and our trip. Jim and I talk about crossing the border into the U.S. at Calais, ME. The agent was friendly, professional and nice, not hassling me about my Green Card. There wasn’t much traffic. She talked about the snow in Montana and her husband living there and on his way to see her. She looked forward to his visit. But as Jim said, he has no doubt that she would whip her pistol out if needed.We told Brooks and Linda about the crossing. Brooks asked if she had short, blond hair. Indeed she did and we laughed about getting the same agent.
Not knowing anyone in Belfast, Linda heeded advice and joined the rowing group, first as a visitor, then a rower and now “cox”. She rowed in long practice runs and competitive races for several years and made special friendships. She also wanted to learn to play the fiddle, so as the oldest student, took a year of Suzuki violin lessons and now plays the fiddle regularly with a group of friends.
She took me to visit two of her friends. Amy and her husband Jim Grant, moved to an old farm ten years ago and established a fibre business. They raise sheep, protected by alpacas, some of whom were “rescued”. Three rescue cats make up the family. Amy tells how they came to join the family including the cat who made several piles of mice to show he could do the job. The old cement floored barn has a small retail shop as well as a large yarn production area. Yarn, delicious smelling sheep soap and bath bombs are for sale. In the production area, all phases of yarn making are underway. They are getting ready to go to a big fibre event in New York and are frantically getting things ready. Amy is well read, listening mostly to audio books as she goes about her day’s work. In addition, Amy is leading a community wide effort to stop a land-based fish farm that has been approved by the city council with little input from the community. It’s ironic that the removal of the poultry processing plant revitalized the town and the harbor and now the environment is endangered again. http://www.goodkarmafarm.com
Willi, a diminutive rower lives with her husband Wes, behind Brooks and Linda. They are committed artists who traveled across the country years ago, purchased an old home with attached barn and converted it to studios for each of them. Wes is a woodworker specializing in oars, and unusual art pieces and has the ground floor studio. Willi, an artist who works in several mediums, has the upstairs studio with different stations for her work that includes white-line block print making and “Willi’s Wires” jewelry making. They are both serious, talented artists who occasionally take on production work for finance purposes. Willi painted thousands of tiny wildlife tie tacks for the Nature stores and other groups.
After learning about Jim’s sweater (which is progressing), Willi, wearing one of her own knitting projects, came over to Linda’s to knit a few rows. When we mention we are going to Sheridan WY, and will visit the Knitting Whisperer to resolve a sweater pocket problem, she said they drove through Sheridan many years ago and she bought her first pair of real winter boots from a store with a rows and rows of boots.The store had a cowboy on a bucking bronco flashing neon sign. She asked if we would check to see if it is still there. http://www.williwires.com
We walked downtown to the harbor and Linda shows me one of the rowing boats (gig) . Having devoured “The Boys and the Boat” I’m at least familiar with the terms.
Linda, an avid fly fisher, is not an avid shopper like I am. However, as we are both devoted readers we started with the bookstores. There are three independent bookstores in Belfast. We visit two of them. The Left Bank is slightly formal, though welcoming. It has good music playing, comfy chairs and several newspapers in addition to books. It is the type of book store to go to if you’re feeling a bit down and need soothing by friendly books without too much hoopla. I buy three books.
Located in a very old two-story building with welcoming tables and chairs outside, Bella’s Books has a small cafe that you reach through an old fashioned screen door that has a satisfying wooden “bang” when you close it. Upstairs is an antique store. Scattered around the first floor books are a few antique china items. I bring a few books to the counter. The slightly eccentric bookseller talks about how the bookshop aggressively competes with Amazon. A family membership is $20 that qualifies you for a reduced price. They handily “beat” Amazon on Maine book prices. The “family” membership is open, “wink” wink”. Linda joins the membership and my books are included on it. I love it when “small shops” figure out ways to compete with the big guys. Linda also gets a punch card. When completed, she receives $10 off a book.
Linda takes me to Brambles. It sits on a corner in a large, restored wooden building. It has a a garden focus and lots of other items. We both wander separately looking at everything. The store is light with a high ceiling. Gregorian chant music plays in the background and someone it works. I make a few purchases for gifts. I simply must have the iron giraffe hook. And the unusual gnome. And the small garden tools from Holland…
Sustenance is needed. We go to Chase’s Daily which has operated for 25 years. Bins of produce to purchase are in back—the most perfect looking produce ever. It’s mobbed in the summer. It recently changed from single table format to “family style” with long metal tables.Food is displayed cafeteria style behind the counter. Oh, but what amazing food. We eat lunch and decide to pick up quiche and a berry tart for dinner.
How can we spend an hour in an oil store? In Vinoila there is a front display of small bags of popcorn with a variety of sea salt. It’s “pop it” day. Take a bag of popcorn and try different oils and salts on it. Mushroom/sage olive oil and garlic sea salt. OH MY. We try a few others and taste some of the olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Then Amanda calls us over to try the “Lemon Lavender” drink. Flavored balsamic vinegars mixed into bubbly water. OH MY. This is simply delicious and healthy. I buy a few bottles for the road and send some home to Alaska. Linda buys the Lavender/lemon for us to try at her house. Amanda is so knowledgeable and quite a saleswoman. She lives year round on a boat in the harbor with her husband and terrier.
Note: years ago the water in the harbor froze in the winter. It no longer freezes.
While we shop and chat and chat, Jim and Brooks work on the Westfalia camper van, shopping Napa Auto Supplies “where we perused all the aisles” said Jim. They go to the harbor to see the large sailboats for repairs and the rowing gigs, watched sports and contributed multiple stories.
Brooks and Jim share an affinity for ice-cream. Brooks laments the closure of most of the ice cream stores for the winter. However, one remains open, about a 30 minute drive away. Off we go to John’s, who is a 70’s era pot using hippie, that talks with almost closed eyes. He makes his own amazing ice-cream. I have two scoops—chocolate with orange peel and ginger. I’m completely immersed in my own taste sensations not paying attention to anyone else, We groan with full ice cream stomachs and skip dinner.
There is no leaving Maine without enjoying lobster. We pile into the car again and Brooks drives us through Rockport and Camden to reach Graffam Brothers for a fresh lobster roll. And it is the best, fresh and delicious.
Brooks is also a donut fan. He presents us with a bag of warm donuts and two fat Whoopie pies as we get ready to leave.
It is a wonderful visit, sharing meals, talking and laughing. It is a special time with special friends.Like us, in retirement Brooks and Linda are very busy. Funny, when you live in the same place you promise to get together but rarely do. The beauty of visiting is spending dedicated time together, reliving old memories and making new ones.
On we go, heading for Gettysburg and Pittsburgh, where Jim enjoyed his youth with five siblings, paper routes, hockey, Boy Scouts and happy times in the woods.