Saturday, November 28, 2009

DIE FOR MAINE: ISLAND BOY

Growing up, I completely took for granted the natural beauty, craggy coastline and rugged landscape of my home state. When I moved to New York City at 18, I thought I'd never return to Maine.

Flash forward to 2005. I found myself packing my belongings, preparing for yet another move, this time back to Manhattan after three years in south Brooklyn. This had become something of an annual ritual: getting priced out of my apartment, frantically searching for another, and then lugging my belongings through the streets, subways, and tiny stairwells of the city. This was going to be my sixth move in 7 years, and it only seemed to be getting harder.

Over the years, moving had become a lesson in minimalism. With each move, there would inevitably come a point where I could no longer take it. I would stuff a bunch of my things in a trash bag and leave it on the curb. "I just can't be bothered to lug this crap!", I'd say to myself. So I'd ditch perfectly good possessions for someone else to find and take home. I'd lost plenty of things this way over the years. One year I threw out my sneaker collection. Another year I ditched my favorite chair and antique shipping trunk. Such is the lay of the land in New York.

The only things I refused to part with, or even pair down, were my record and book collections. It struck me as odd, even then, to so easily part with clothes or shoes or art in lieu of the heavy, unforgiving nature of books and vinyl. But for some reason, I have never been able to throw away a novel or album, no matter how little Ive listened to it or how few times Ive turned its pages. It was as I packed this burdensome load that I stumbled upon many of my old books from childhood.

Suddenly I was holding my copy of Island Boy. Written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney in 1988, Island Boy tells the story of Matthias, a boy who grows up on a remote island in Maine. The story chronicles his youth, following him as he leaves the island for a life on the sea. He ultimately returns to the island, where he raises his own children, followed by grandchildren, before dying on the same piece of land where he was born.

I had been thinking of moving out of the city for a while. I had a great job, working in production at GQ Magazine. I had my best friend, my older sister, only a trip on 7th avenue express away. I had a large and diverse group of interesting friends. I was even in a bowling league. But despite all of this, I felt something was missing. As I flipped through Island Boy, past each meticulously detailed and beautifully illustrated page, I was struck with an intense and undeniable feeling......I had to go home.

Within eight months I was moving again, this time from Manhattan back to Maine, the state I where I was born and raised. It has been three years since then, and though I occasionally miss the city, I wouldn't trade anything for my islands, farmland, and rocky coast. Cooney described Island Boy as being the closest book she has written to her heart; it was her hymn to Maine. I used to think Maine had no place in mine, but I was wrong. You're never too old to go home. It's never too late to start again.

4 comments:

Damien C. said...

This is awesome. I want to come to Maine!

m said...

A man, yet by these tears a little boy again,
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter, Taking all hints to use them--but swiftly leaping beyond them,

A reminiscence sing.
-Whitman

Jay2Dee2 said...

Feel like I share a parallel life; from the North Shore of Massachusetts; left when I was 18 and have been living in Bushwick Brooklyn for many years. Sometimes I think about returning home; most of the time I'm just ranting about it to anyone who will listen: The Sox-this, the Pats-that, let me tell you about lobsta'... still I'm in stalemate at this time. Thanks for sharing your story; and what is it about New England...

Brendan Rogan said...

While I don't live in NYC, I do live in south Florida, lived in Maine for the first 9 years of my life, then down on the Cape for the following 9.

If there's any piece of land that I feel a part of it's Maine, and at the first opportunity I get to go back up there permanently, I'm taking it (I have the good fortune of working at a summer camp in Wiscasset, but 3 months isn't enough)

I'm anxious to return to someplace where I don't feel like an outsider.