Blue Hill: A Memory Piece
ESSAY – AUGUST 2007
By Caitlin Shetterly
In high summer, I drive through Blue Hill late at night after a long journey northeast and open all the windows until I know I am home. There is a green grassy smell in Blue Hill unlike any other anywhere, the lawns fecund with rain and loamy dirt, the trees copious with leaves and the gardens full of flowers. This is not the suburban smell of just mown grass I might take in anywhere; this is a deep green smell, virgin of chemical lawn enhancers, and it is mixed with both the rich saltiness of the bay that laps the edges of town to the southeast and the whiff of pine trees and vertical aspirations of Blue Hill Mountain on the northern side of town.
All I need to do is call up that verdant summer smell and, like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a door opens inward and I am back in the town where I spent much of my youth and school years; ironically, I once worked hard to escape what I believed were Maine’s shortcomings. Now that I have returned to live in my home state, I feel a deep nostalgia and a longing burst forth every time I drive through Blue Hill and know I am home.
In those teenage years, my father drove me to school in the morning, the smell of coffee permeating our car, and I would get out, my bag heavy with the books that would help me get out of Dodge, and trudge across the pristine grounds of George Stevens Academy, and arrive late for Physics. I was always late.
While I sat through the necessity of high school classes, I could feel the town vibrate and beckon me: “Come to the library, check out a book! Come to the Fish Net and get a lobster roll, some fried clams! Merrill and Hinckley’s general store has got great coffee with Coffeemate! Go for a hike, go to the water, come down to the park and walk across the causeway to the island, go get a piece a pizza!” Sometimes I would indulge the voice, but not as often, it seemed, as my classmates.
In late summer, the energy of the Blue Hill Fair draws people to the town a full week before the fair even opens. Route 172 becomes slow and congested as fairgoers arrive with their cows and pigs and horses and chickens, prize-winning baked goods and vegetables; the rides and concession stands that dole out fried dough and funnel cakes, blueberry pie and egg rolls. For me, the child of such a small town, just going to the Blue Hill Fair brought the thrill of an amusement park ride—it was a rush. There was so much to see and eat and spend my pennies on. It was at the fair that the combination of Charlotte’s Web (which the beloved Brookin-based author E.B. White based on the Blue Hill Fair) and the darker undercurrent of the world at large came into close electric proximity as people from up and down the coast, and as far north as Caribou, thronged under the late night lights and glistening candy apples and popcorn became dinner. By the time I was a teenager, all I wanted was to be set free of my parents into that strange world, armed with a few bucks and my coolest t-shirt and two-tone jeans.
In spring, my family and I hiked up Blue Hill Mountain with our dog, Sadie. We’d get to the top and sit in the wet grass under the warming spring sun and feel utterly transported into the next season. Below us, the town stretched white and pristine until it met the bay, a cold blue gray piece of slate glistening in the sunlight. Then we’d run down the steep incline and go to Merrill and Hinckley, our steadfast local general store, for the paper and coffee and maybe a piece of fudge or some local beef jerky. Merrill and Hinckley, despite Hannaford and Wal-Mart, soldiers on, filled to the brim with chips and soda and ham sandwiches encased in plastic and Styrofoam.
These days when I go to Blue Hill, I find myself at the Co-Op health food store, a newer addition to the town, filling up on organic coffee, amazing baked goods, and even lunch. Sometimes I pack up my car with organics and run down the hill for a quick splurge of fried clams and a lobster roll at the Fish Net, inhaled guiltily with my eye trained on the Co-Op and the wonderfully healthy things I’ve just bought.
This month I will go back to Blue Hill to get married. My friends are coming from all over the country to stay for the weekend in the small town, take in a hike and a lobster roll, stay in the Blue Hill Farm Country Inn—where I once worked a summer job as chamber maid—and experience the most amazing muffins ever made. Maybe some of my friends will run out to East Blue Hill beach for a quick dip and soak in the sun on the huge granite rocks that border the sandy cove. But then, finally, they’ll watch me, in a moment of faith and risk, make vows under the setting sun. And it will be right to do so in my home town, the place that nurtured and pushed me out to see the world, yet still holds the power to beckon me home with green lawns and soft breezes, memories and changes.
Caitlin Shetterly is the founder and artistic director of the Winter Harbor Theatre Company in Portland. In addition to acting herself, Shetterly also works as a freelance journalist and contributing producer for National Public Radio and Public Radio International. She writes for the Portland Phoenix. She edited the fiction anthology Fault Lines: Stories of Divorce (Putnam Berkley Group, 2001).