20 October 2010
By the end of August, summer is moribund; by the middle of September, truly done for. Summer the well-beloved is over, dead and gone. Although its demise and subsequent resurrection recur as predictably as clockwork, we seem to have some vestigial reptilian brain wiring which reacts with shocked melodrama to summer's end. We might even go through the now-classic five stages of bereavement, not a moment too soon arriving at acceptance.
This fall six of us survivors transcended mere acceptance. We embraced summer's successor by celebrating the equinox at Old Orchard Beach. Our annual tradition of spending a few days at Old Orchard began serendipitously about five years ago when we couldn't find a place to stay in Portland. It turned out that this nearby, bustling, slightly seedy seaside honky-tonk suited us just fine. Our timing this year was more serendipity; conflicting schedules postponed the trip until after Labor Day.
The weather held, and the town had lost none of its charm post-season, flaunting a relieved, mellower vibe. Most shops had closed for the season or opened only on weekends, and the engrave-your-name-on-rice and other pier emporia had disappeared without a trace. Ubiquitous cigarette-smoking Quebecois teenagers no longer graced the now deserted sidewalks.
We recreated strenuously on our B & B's front porch, reading, napping, working cryptic crosswords, drinking tea and coffee and wine, shooting the breeze. The women assembled the Maine-themed jigsaw puzzle, a tradition within the tradition. We played an original Trivial Pursuit game, its questions ranging from gimmes to the ridiculously obscure, additionally daunting because the answers might or might not be thirty years out of date. Just down the hill we could watch the coast-hugging Amtrak Downeaster make its ten daily transits, momentarily cutting us off from the beach.
Though the front porch seduced us, we ventured off occasionally. At Camp Ellis Bill, Don, and I basked in Atlantic air with binoculars while Andrea, Cheryl, and Jean clambered out onto the jetty. We took our traditional ferry from Portland to Peaks Island, whose own charm augments Casco Bay's always-interesting maritime activity. From Portland Head Light we saw a cruise line leviathan leave Maine State Pier and glide out to sea during a gorgeous sunset and dusk.
Our major challenge was finding venues capable of satisfying our gluttony, and we succeeded. We also pretty well mastered sloth, except for a couple of crypto-bicyclists in our midst. And we envied no one.
This is a vacation worth the overhead, of which the best part isn't returning home, and from which we came back less tired than when we started. Once again we resisted indulging the frenzied American chase for excitement, the feverish quest to tick off items on a bucket list. Our gratification lay only tangentially to what we did or in the doing. It lay essentially, as it so often does and should, in the simple, intangible, and timeless pleasures of friendship.