Hewnoaks Artist Colony is a magical place

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I haven’t been myself this week.

I mean that in the best possible way.

I have just spent the past seven days at Hewnoaks Artist Colony on Kezar Lake in Lovell, and it has been, for me, a unique and transformative experience.

It’s not the beautiful lakeside setting, the call of the loons, the breathtaking sunsets, or being able to stroll a few yards to the water’s edge whenever I want that have made this week a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.

As you probably already know, I have the remarkable good fortune to have spent every summer of my life beside a lake in western Maine, watching the sun set behind the mountains and drifting off to sleep to the call of loons.

(I don’t know what I’ve ever done to deserve this kind of luck, but believe me, I am grateful for it every single day.)

But here at Hewnoaks, I have lived alone in a remote cabin. I have risen every morning for a week and planned my day—or not planned my day—according to only my own needs, desires, or whims.

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My cabin, Alpine Hut.

There have been no meetings, no scheduled work hours, no errands, no laundry, no meals to prepare for anyone but me. At my cabin, there is no television, no Internet access, and only intermittent cell service (enough to text—sometimes—but not enough for a phone call).

I came here to write, and I have written—about 10,000 new words on my current big project, two to three pages daily in a journal, a draft of an essay, and this blog post.

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If it’s not quite as much as I hoped to get done when I came here, it’s because I decided to make the very most I could of this experience—to make the most of this rarest of times, a week of living alone.

I have gone swimming several times and canoeing twice. I have hiked up two small mountains and taken two long walks on nearby roads. I have carried a notebook and pen out to my cabin’s gloriously private backyard and sat under the pines for three late afternoons in a row, writing by hand instead of keyboard for a change, and listening to the remarkable variety of songbirds that fill the boughs above me.

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On top of Sabattus Mountain.

I have seen a moose, a water snake, a great many tiny toads, and an osprey.

I have seen, for the first time ever, an American redstart.

It didn’t occur to me until this, my final afternoon at Hewnoaks, just why this experience has felt so different from any other to me. It finally hit me today: in my 56 years, I have never lived alone. Not even for as long as a week.

I went away to college, where I lived with a roommate. I married at 20, and again at 30, and in between there was single motherhood. (During that time, although I often felt lonely, I was rarely ever alone, even in the bathroom.)

Living alone, even for a week, has given me the kind of time I don’t usually have for introspection. It has allowed me to focus on lifestyle choices—choices about food and exercise and sleep. It has given me the opportunity to live lightly on the earth, and to consider the impact of my choices.

I have slept when I was tired, eaten when I was hungry, exercised every day. I have prepared very simple meals and eaten a mountain of fresh fruits and vegetables. (The only thing I have baked this week was a sweet potato.)

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I have drunk only water and V-8 juice. I have eaten no meat and very little sugar (s’mores at a campfire with my fellow residents one evening).

I have generated one small bag of recyclables, one teeny-tiny bag of trash, and a big bag of compostables that I’ve kept in the freezer and will take home to my compost pile tomorrow.

I have walked up to the main lodge to check email and Facebook more often than I should have, but less frequently than I would have if it weren’t a rather rugged uphill climb all the way.

Now the challenge: to take what I’ve learned this week home with me. Can I eat more vegetables and less sugar, prioritize adequate sleep, avoid over-scheduling myself, keep on exercising (my streak is at 1,225 days now!), limit my Internet use, and make earth-friendly choices?

That will be my goal—to bring some of the magic  of Hewnoaks into my “real” life and see where it takes me.

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My bag of trash for the week, with my shoe for comparison. I do have big feet, but that’s still a tiny bag of trash.

 

Steve and Peggy–50 years!

Steve and Peggy wedding

August 14, 1965

On August 14, 2015, my oldest brother Steve and his wife Peggy will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Actually, they’ll be celebrating it today, at a party with family and friends, and I’ve put off writing something for their “memory book” until just about the very last minute.

When Steve and Peggy were married, I was six years old, so I have a few memories of their wedding day, though not many. I was their flower girl, and it was the first time I had ever been in a wedding or, for that matter, participated in any formal occasion that required me to present myself with decorum, or at least not show up with smudges of dirt on my face or Band-aids on my knees.

I have no real memory of the service, except for worrying that I would trip on my long dress on the way down the aisle, and a dim impression that the church was huge and sort of castle-like, with stone walls and heavy wooden doors with enormous black iron hinges.

I remember more about the reception, where we were served a seven-course meal and there was dancing between the courses. I danced with my friend Susan; there is a photo of us somewhere, two little kids, up way past bedtime, holding hands and dancing by the kitchen door.

What I don’t remember anything about at all is Life Before Peggy. I think I must have been three years old the first time she came to camp to meet the family, the summer she and Steve met at Chute Homestead and started dating.

Because Steve is 15 years older than me, I don’t really remember when he lived at home before college, or much about his visits home while he was attending RPI. Most of my memories of Steve start with his marriage to Peggy, and thus are memories of Steve-and-Peggy.

I remember visiting the apartment where they lived during the first year they were married, when Steve was working at Pratt & Whitney and Peggy was teaching school.

I remember telling the kids in my third grade class that I was going to be an aunt, and not being believed.

I remember crossing the country by train with our mother and Leslie during the summer of 1967 to visit them in Tucson, Arizona, where Steve was stationed with the Air Force and where Keith had been born in May, and I remember their visit home to Milford for Christmas that year.Christmas 1967

In between those events, the Red Sox had won the American League pennant for the first time in more than two decades, and all I wanted for Christmas was a baseball bat and a Red Sox cap. As it turned out, back then it was impossible to buy a Red Sox cap in December, so my cap was a plain navy blue one, onto which Peggy had stitched a red felt B .

I was in fifth grade when Steve was sent to Vietnam. Keith was less than two and Eric only a few months old when they came with Peggy to spend the year of Steve’s deployment with us in Milford.

I had never had younger siblings, and even though it must have been a terribly stressful year for Steve, Peggy, my mother, and everyone else involved who was old enough to be aware of the emotional turmoil caused by the war, the separation, and the merging of two households under one roof, I was blissfully ignorant of nearly all of that, and I remember it as one of the best years of my life.

Keith and I played hide-and-seek, built forts from the sofa cushions, and closed all the doors to the hall in the middle of the house so we could make shadow puppets on the ceiling. My tiny upstairs bedroom could be accessed through a “secret door” from the bathroom, and Keith would often wake up early in the mornings and sneak in from Leslie’s old room, where he and Eric slept, to have me read to him while the rest of the household slept.

I loved having a little shadow, and I couldn’t even get mad at him the night he got up after he had been put to bed, found a permanent black Magic Marker, and “decorated” everything in my room, from the cross-stitch sampler I had painstakingly completed and tacked to the wall to the special ceramic bedside lamp with an old-fashioned girl in a full, long skirt that Peggy had given me when I was her flower girl.

Eric marked all of his first-year milestones while living with us—rolling over, crawling, then learning to walk—and, after proving that I could change his diapers without gagging or poking him with a diaper pin, I was allowed to babysit the boys on my own several times. (I was barely ten years old and had never taken a babysitting class, they were two rambunctious boys under the age of two, and this was long before cell phones, but I don’t remember anyone being particularly worried about leaving us all home alone.)

The year ended, Steve came home, and the family moved to Virginia for his last year or so in the Air Force. I visited them there during my April vacation, taking the bus from Connecticut to Newport News, where he and Greg, who was also there for a visit, picked me up in Steve’s convertible sports car. After our year of living together, I had missed Peggy and the boys terribly, and it was wonderful to spend a week reconnecting with them.

Steve and Peggy’s purchase of the Sunday River Inn when they left the service was a dream come true for me. I had always known that I’d be shaking the dust of Connecticut off my feet and heading for Maine as soon as I graduated from high school, and I finally had a home base here, and a reason to get here at other times of the year than summer.

I did, in fact, leave Connecticut for Maine a couple of days after my high school graduation, and I’ve never looked back. Somewhat to my mother’s dismay, I declared my legal residency with Steve and Peggy, changed my driver’s license to Maine, and, when I turned 18, registered to vote here.

My bond with the Bethel area, which originated mostly from our summers at camp and the romantic notions—with which we were all raised—of returning to our father’s ancestral home, has grown even stronger in the nearly 40 years since I moved here full-time. I’ve never thought of living anywhere else, and nowadays, it’s quite an effort to get me to agree to even leave Oxford County. But it’s hard to know if I would have felt so much a part of this place if it weren’t for Steve and Peggy, who, by the time I arrived, had already been absorbed into the community.

When Steve arrived here in the early 1970s, there were still many people who remembered our father and welcomed Bill Wight’s son “back home.”

And even though Steve, who has never shied away from controversy and has thus made quite a name of his own around here, jokes that I don’t like to admit our family connection, the truth is that by the time I got here, the password that opened doors for me was “I’m Steve Wight’s sister.”

But Peggy—Steve’s more level-headed, serene, and reasonable counterpart, our family’s BBSE (Best Big Sister Ever) and now our matriarch—has been a part of my life for so long that the first time I went into the hardware store in Bethel and asked to charge something to their account, when the clerk asked me whether I was Steve’s sister or Peggy’s, I honestly couldn’t remember, and said, “Peggy’s.”

I probably should have stuck with that story.

Happy Golden Anniversary, guys…I love you both so much!