We closed on our fourth house at a lawyer’s office in downtown Gorham. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the dwelling, on a dead-end road. The neighborhood was covered with a couple feet of old, graying ice and snow. Bruce, one of our new neighbors, was helping Sammy jockey his massive rig to an optimal unloading place. It was the first of a number of occasions in which Bruce, unbidden but greatly appreciated, would help us.
Meanwhile, the slightest sounds seemed to echo against all these new walls of trees.
After several days we established a modicum of order in the house. The 35-year-old structure was a variation on the common New England Cape Cod style. It had a second floor and an unfinished basement, which meant stairways, a new element in our homeowning experience. The front of the house had a small, screened-in porch. The detached, pitched-roof, two-car garage had a large attic.
The house sat on a little more than an acre, two-thirds of which was lawn, shrubbery, and groundcover; the remaining one-third was densely wooded: our own little parcel of Maine wilderness. Trees of all sizes―white pine, maple, oak, birch, hemlock, larch―hugged and canopied our house. Nearly all of the 15 or so other properties on our road were of similar size. We no longer had the wide-open surroundings we enjoyed in southern New Mexico and Colorado; on the other hand, I was grateful for the privacy and solitude provided by the crush of trees.
Several days after our arrival, I went with Buddy for a first walk well beyond our front door. Our destination was a place Bruce’s brother―the previous owner of our house, who would soon have a house built for himself and his wife immediately behind us―called the “ottah pond.” That is, the otter pond. (Although I had a Boston roommate at boarding school, the New England accent would take as much getting used to as the woods. And, yes, I came to understand that the Maine accent differed from a Boston accent and a southern Maine accent differed from a northern Maine accent.) We walked in the direction of our road’s dead end and crossed a single-track railroad line we had been told was abandoned. We then headed down an asphalt trail that paralleled the track.
It was a raw morning, the temperature 40 degrees, the skies leaden. The air was still and fog filled the woods in places. A foot and a half of old, dull snow blanketed the woods and the occasional open field. The asphalt trail, obviously used heavily by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers, consisted of flattened snow and rotten ice. It was all I could do to avoid slipping and falling. Vast patches of ice were new to Buddy and he, too, fought to keep his hindquarters aloft. The countryside was quiet but for the occasional call of a crow and the distant bark of a dog, a deep bellow, probably that of a Labrador, which, I would soon learn, was a very popular canine in watery Maine.
The gloom of the morning and the density of my surroundings were certainly different, got me to thinking: Some aspect of this surely inspired some of my favorite writers: Emerson, Thoreau, Frost, Hal Borland, Edward Hoagland. Would this blanket of wood succor or smother me? Comfort me or unnerve me with all I imagined it was concealing? Would this gray sky soothe my eyes or throw me into a depression?
Soon we arrived at the pond, actually one of several ponds, where the asphalt trail ended and the railroad track disappeared in a dense, gray tangle of trees and brush. (I would later learn that the track ran from Portland to the northeastern New Hampshire town of Whitefield.) The world opened up somewhat at this body of water and patchy ice that covered about 50 acres. The pond was as melancholy as the morning, but, during our walk back to the house, the prospect of swimming in it on a hot July afternoon lifted my spirits as Buddy and I negotiated the trail, now with a bit more sure-footedness.