I was born in December 1955. In June 1956 when I was six months old, my very young parents took me on a family vacation to Lake Ebeemee, Maine. And so began my lifelong love affair with this place.
I was my grandmother’s first grandchild and her pet. I loved both my grandparents and they loved me. I spent many weekends in Connecticut having sleepovers at their house. I would pack my “bookcase” and away I’d go. Like many people from Maine, my grandparents moved to Connecticut for work and left as soon as my grandfather retired from General Motors in Bristol.
I spent a lot of time here on Ebeemee Lake as a child. My grandmother’s brother had a “camp” and when I was a small child, my grandfather and his friend George jointly purchased a log cabin for $500, next to which they began building the camp I am in right now. Throughout the years, I came alone with my grandparents and also with my immediate family. My grandmother may hold the record as the most difficult woman who ever lived. And I remember how my mother used to dread having to be stuck here for a week with her and three little kids. I was too young to really understand then but I did later and I do now. Stories of my grandmother’s vituperative outbursts and temper tantrums could fill a book. Truly. But if she controlled herself at all, and she didn’t all the time, it was around me. Having said all that, I preferred being here alone with my grandparents to being here with my family. It was better. Easier.
My grandfather worked at the New Departure division of General Motors. He got out of work at 3 PM and was home by 3:20. Five minutes later, the three of us were in the car heading north. Back in the day, there was no electricity on this lake; no indoor plumbing; i.e. no toilets or running hot water – actually no running cold water either; no telephones. We would get here some time around midnight and I used to think my grandfather was amazing because he could guide the boat across the lake in the pitch black – there was no road then either – and land safely at our dock. We would unload the boat in the dark with the aid of flashlights. A propane tank with copper lines ran to gas lights fastened to the inside walls. We pumped water from a pump and heated it to do dishes. We had both a gas stove and a gas refrigerator. We peed in the outhouse. After a very short while, my grandfather brought running cold water and the toilet indoors. We were fancy then. As for baths, my grandmother washed up in the sink with some of that water she‘d heated up. The rest of us took a bath in the lake where we would, as the old folks used to say “wash up as far as possible, down as far as possible, then wash possible.” Ivory soap does indeed float.
I fished. An older neighbor woman and I fished every night. Right after dinner, she would putt over here in her little boat and I would run to the dock and jump in. We would go back and forth all evening. My grandparents liked the fish too but I began to catch so many that Nana said I had to learn how to clean them. So I did that too.
Also up here, there was the most exotic of animals – boy cousins. I spent my childhood surrounded by girls. I had all sisters, my two best friends had all sisters except for a straggler boy bringing up the rear in one of those families. It took me forever to figure out what to do with boys. There were so foreign and exotic to me. And funny and bold.
Lake Ebeemee in Maine is not like lakes in Connecticut. It is smack in the middle of nowhere. It is not crowded. The nearest town is 25 or 30 miles away. Going to the grocery store or “to town” is a journey. You try to not run out of things. If you go to town, you ask your friends on the lake if there is anything they need. If you want to go to the movies, you go to Bangor, a trip which exceeds an hour one way. Easily. We are off of Route 11 halfway between Milo and Millinocket. Some people have heard of Millinocket. Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin – the highest point in Maine – are there, as is the end of the Appalachian Trail. Route 11 is a two-lane winding road along which you’d better drive carefully, watching for a logging truck to come barreling around a corner right at you, while scanning side to side looking for a moose to jump out in front of you. Moose have huge bodies and very longs legs. You don’t want to hit one. Their legs break and their moose torsos come through the windshield and kill you cemetery dead. Logging trucks defy gravity and are taller than they are wide. They sway all over the road and I can never figure out why they don’t tip over and kill people. After you find the turnoff, from what we refer to as the “hard road”, you then drive four-and-a-half miles on a dirt road through the woods to our driveway. When you reach the end of our driveway, you will see a lake. To me, my arrival is like the sun rising. Especially the first time I come in the spring. Up over the little rise and there it is. Just sitting there. We can see lake out of every room in our camp. A big beautiful, clean, cool lake. In the spring you will see moose. You may see bear. Or deer. You will definitely see turtles, eagles, osprey, ducks, loons – anyone who has not heard a loon’s night song doesn’t know what they are missing. There are squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, bats and beaver. We have a pet lake Raven. He goes from house to house and is so tame that he will sometimes take a cracker out of your hand. Hummingbirds. We have a feeder in the front yard and outside the back door. Hummingbirds are everywhere. All the time. You will catch fish. Perch is our main eating fish. There are bass in this lake. And pickerel which are fun to catch but not so much to eat. There are lots of fish in this lake. You may catch an eel. They are disgusting. Your mother may drop your pretty red fishing pole overboard. An hour later your father may hook this same fishing pole and bring it up, reel it in and find a fish on the end of your red line.
You may be bored when you are here. I have some friends who love this place, some who cannot understand at all why I want to be here. There is not a lot to do. You have to be able to amuse yourself. If we get a rainy patch, out come the cookbooks and a list is made followed by a trip to town. Cooking projects often fill the time during inclement weather. We play cards. For those of you who know me, you will remember I have “my spot”. I sit in my spot and read. It is no more than fifteen feet from edge of the lake. I have a comfy chair. I get my coffee or my diet coke and my peanut butter filled pretzels and sit in the sun with my dog and read. And think. And enjoy the solitude. And the peace. My friends go by in their boats. I look up and wave. Sometimes they pull in and we talk for a minute or two minutes or an hour. They go on and I go back to my book. On hot days, you gather a pile of magazines, grab a bag of chips and make a couple of sandwiches, and pack a cooler full of beer and soda and water and drive the pontoon boat into the middle of the lake and drop anchor. Hook up the ladder and voila – instant diving platform. Remember that floating Ivory soap? Take that in with you too. And noodles and rafts. There is a river that comes into this lake. You can paddle up the river with your friends and neighbors in your canoes and/or paddle boats and/or kayaks. At some point, you will need to get out and portage. You can get on the ATVs and head back toward the “hard road” and take any of the side paths and roads and drive all over the woods and mountains. You can write a blog. You need to go somewhere to get an internet connection to post it but you can certainly write in peace. Looking out a window. At a beautiful gray blue lake. The water sparkling like diamonds. Wearing your bathrobe and your pink rhinestone flip-flops.
We have all the modern conveniences now. Kind of. I describe this place as “rustic“. We have telephones, electricity, indoor plumbing including a toilet, shower, hot running water, and even a washer and dryer. We got DirecTV a few years back since my parents retired and started spending gads of time here. My mother has a dial-up modem that she uses to get on line but I don’t have the patience for that. Besides, two years ago, Verizon put a tower close enough for smart phones to work. And a small company has made high speed internet available. They charge you a jillion and half dollars to have it installed but the monthly fee is the same as everywhere. We don’t have that but maybe next year…
Progress has come to Lake Ebeemee. We have friends that have very fancy places on this lake, some who live here year round. Not us. We are “rustic” and not winterized – no insulation. None. Which basically means every fall my father drains all the pipes and the toilet and washing machine – anything with water involved and fills them all with anti-freeze. He pulls the dock and the boats and puts away everything that needs to be protected from the elements. We turn off the phone and the satellite dish and go home until Mother’s Day weekend. Winters here are harsh and cold and snowy and long. Which brings me closer to where I’ve been heading.
There have always been people who lived here year round. Even back in the day when there was no electricity or phones or running water. The hermits. The ones I considered strange, a little off. I used to wonder if these people were society’s rejects but now I think maybe it is the other way around. Maybe they are choosing a different life. A life of peace and solitude. There are year-round people who live here now too in big beautiful homes with all the amenities. And the others who live here with their woodstoves and outhouses and holes cut in the ice for water. And now, I could live here year round in a minute. I don’t need much. Plumbing is the problem. We have a daybed tucked in corner of the main room. The woodstove could make that room so hot, you’d need to open the back door to cool things down. I’d have my dog. I could read all day every day. But then I would be one of the strange, eccentric, hermit-like, a little-off people. Which is OK with me. Don’t think I don’t consider it every day. I was here for nine weeks in the summer of 2005. I wasn’t working and I was here, mostly by myself. And I liked it a lot. My friends would say aren’t you afraid? Don’t you want to come and sleep at our house? But I did not. I liked the solitude. And this is my fantasy now. A high speed internet connection and me. I would read and write all winter long. I would sit here and look out the window at the snow. I could go to town and visit my cousins if I got bored or lonely. Or wanted a long hot shower. Or needed to do laundry. I think I would like it, to do it and write about it.
I love it here. For some reason it makes my insides peaceful. I generally consider myself a pretty social person and I love to be active and with people, however there is a big part of me that is very black and white. I enjoy extremes. And I appreciate solitude. The older I get, this seems like something I want to try. But it is not an easy thing to accomplish. First off, one needs money and secondly – firewood. Probably an unimaginable amount. And four-wheel drive and a plow or a very big snowblower, a snowmobile would be wise. And a good back which is actually the very big problem. Not to mention the little plumbing issue. But hey, it’s a romantic notion that I entertain. To be left alone here, with my dog, and mountains of books, and my computer with that high-speed internet connection.