“Bright skies will soon be o’er me where darkest clouds have been.” These words from a hymn came to me this morning. Lying in bed thinking about lost albums, a series of unfortunate happenings since moving to Maine, and a plethora of life occurrences, I roused myself by 4 AM and went to the studio to paint. The words of the hymn followed me. I pondered them before I picked up my brush. Bright skies. I could hear the drizzle of raindrops outside. Yes, dark rain clouds might give way to sun in a few hours. Perhaps I’ll go out on the rocks at the back of our property and paint. But the slope down to the water’s edge is steep. I’ve been calling contractors miles around hoping to find one to construct 5 stone steps down the treacherous incline; falling is not an option, especially with easel and painting equipment.
We moved here because this house is on the ocean, the Damariscotta estuary. It reminded me of my days living along Lake Michigan, which, in case you’ve never seen it, is very much like the ocean with terrific waves, endless sand beaches, and beautiful sunsets. I loved it. Miss it. But we chose Maine, the East coast seeming the right direction–its history, architecture, nature, shore, painting potential, and Maine’s official motto, “the way life should be,” suiting us. When we looked at this property the house was not impressive: small, limited esthetically, especially compared to the spacious beauty we were leaving behind in Pennsylvania. But I envisioned meditating on the rocks, painting the shore, wading in on hot summer days with my Newfoundland and Bernese Mountain Dog.
When our Pennsylvania home sold in winter, the only Maine property available in this area was the one we’d eliminated; so we bought it anyway–“At least we’re getting to Maine! And I can make anything work!” We’d looked at homes in Maine for 3 years, had put offers on 3 properties, all fell through–the strangest one to fail was the one in which the owners came back to us after all legal documents were signed, pleading that they changed their mind and could not leave their treasured home! Legally we could have held them to the contract but who would do that to a couple so in love with their home? Having moved 35 times in my life, I understand better than most the importance of home, and felt for their plight.
Our move to Maine the last week of November, 2018, was horrendous. I hired a reputable moving company, but the two movers were bumbling, inept, with not a clue about handling paintings or antiques. It took them 3 days to unload the van, they being in no hurry to start their day before 10. Rather than back their large van down our driveway, they rented a small van and re-packed everything to take down in increments, so unnecessary as our driveway is not difficult. The event was a nightmare. Aside from photo albums, we are still missing Cuisinart pot lids and who knows what else that I’ve learned to live without. Had my amazing eldest son not surprised me by flying across the continent from his home in Washington state to appear magically in my driveway–a bouquet of flowers for his mom in hand–to help unload and organize I don’t know that the movers would ever have finished! By the third day all of us were moving items, least of whom the movers. My super-efficient son put our beds together, something the movers were supposed to do but never got around to. After a seafood dinner, my son, to whom I will be ever grateful, drove back to Portland and flew home the next day.
We unexpectedly had to replace six decaying appliances with new expensive purchases: Sub-Zero, Wolfe, Bosch, and Whirlpool; install propane gas (I’m a major cook); hire a talented local carpenter to build living room bookcases, kitchen shelving, and kitchen island using antique wood he’d saved for “a special project” and granite I’d purchased in Pennsylvania for this purpose; install Satellite service for phone, internet, and TV–the only server available (our phone regularly drops calls; when it storms, nothing functions, we lose power for days); replace chimney cap; put in gutter guards; install a wall and lighting in the walk-out basement to create a studio/gallery; and more I no longer recall–except for one dramatic event the day we arrived.
The day we moved, after making our Bethlehem home spotless for its new owners, we drove ten hours in our loaded Honda Element, with Heidi, our 160-pound Newfie and Olaf, our 150-pound Berner, directly to the bank closing for our Maine house, then in the dark on to our “new” home where I found dead flowers in a stinky vase in the kitchen sink, old pills splayed throughout kitchen cupboards, oddities left behind, cobwebs, floors unswept, and worst of all, filthy walls–I could not imagine hanging my 300 framed paintings over the dirt. Tired, dejected, and hungry we closed the door on the place and drove to town for supper. While eating in the pub I happened to notice how nicely painted the warm terra cotta walls were. Then one of those angel messages you’ve heard me talk about came to me: What if we could find someone to paint the walls of our new home?! I wonder who painted these pub walls? What a good job they did! I asked the waitress if I might talk to the manager. I did. I asked who painted their walls. I was given the painter’s name. Called him right then. Got him. Amazingly, he said he and his crew just finished a job today and could be at our place tomorrow to prep! They were. In about 4 days all the walls and ceilings of the entire house had been freshly painted! They did a fabulous job! They worked around the idiotic movers as if nothing could prevent their fine ballet. I was thrilled and thankful.
Labor-intensive days and unpacking followed, flowing into the new year, 2019. Several more disappointments came, among them, not enough room in this house to store so much as an extra roll of paper towels or bed and bath linens which I’ve squeezed on my clothes-closet shelf much as I squeezed every item in the 2′ kitchen pantry where you have to take out 5 items to get to the one you want. The house is a sixth the size of our previous home (It had a 10′ x 12′ pantry). I can’t get down the steep slope to our little piece of ocean–the reason we moved here. There’s no mail delivery. Dogs are not allowed on beaches except in winter. The nextdoor neighbor, who swears loudly, hates dogs but loves his noisy 4-wheeler. My dearest friends who happen to be canine, Olaf and Heidi, died unexpectedly at ages 6 and 10 of cancer (or I wonder was it due to the neighbor’s hatred?). Due to unknown HOA rules that we were never told, I am not allowed to post a small gallery sign at the turn-in from the main road–essential if anyone is to find my gallery. For 6 decades I was juried into professional art organizations in numerous large cities, but here, I was not accepted into the only local organization of 32 members: “You’re not a good fit.” The next year I was accepted and told: “We love your work!” Go figure. Always happy to throw large dinner parties or buffets at Christmas time, I decided after one year here to invite neighbors and others we’d just met to a delicious dinner (including my famous clam chowder), hoping to make friends; half did not respond to my hand-painted invitation inclusive of menu. Three years later we’ve a couple of acquaintances, but no real friends. Obviously, of my 35 moves, this one to Maine has been the most difficult. I could endure it if I had Heidi to sit in my lap. Have you ever had a 160-pound Newfie sit in your lap? There’s nothing sweeter, more comforting.
Dark clouds don’t last forever. Most evenings, magnificent sunsets shine in our kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and studio. Truly beautiful. I’ve planted perennials, some flowers now fill vases in every room. We’ve also had several weeks of delicious vegetables from my garden. I’ve painted the lighthouse and nearby rocky shore a dozen times. And I continue to pray people will find my burgeoning hidden gem of a gallery. “If you build it”–and I have!–“they will come!”
I see out my studio window it is still raining. No bright skies. But I know they will come. They always do. Sometimes we just have to be very, very patient.
About the artwork: This watercolor shows one of many rock ridges in the Pemaquid area. On a bright day, watch the light and shadows dance!