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 Maine accent would take as much getting used to as the woods. And, yes, I obliquely know the Maine accent differs from a Boston accent and a southern Maine accent differs 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 was forty. The skies were leaden. The air was still. Fog filled the woods in places. A foot and a half of old, dull snow blanketed the woods and the occasional open space. 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, is a very popular canine in watery Maine.
The gloom of the morning and the density of my surroundings were certainly different, got me to wondering: Is this what inspired some of my favorite writers: Emerson, Thoreau, Frost, Hal Borland, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Beston, Edward Hoagland? Would this sea of towering 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 I estimated was about the size of the flats behind our house in Alamosa. 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―after all these years, to feel the sting of some fresh, clear water up my nose, to paraphrase Mainer E.B. White―lifted my spirits as I negotiated the trail, now with a bit more sure-footedness.
The spring rains that occurred not long after our arrival fascinated me. I’d awaken in the morning to a gray lid over Gorham―and, I’d assume, all of New England. Then, with no fanfare―no heralding wind, thunder, or lightning, as was common in the desert Southwest―it would rain. And rain. And rain. Not torrential rain, just, amid a fundamental stillness, a relentlessly pouring rain. It drummed with “Bolero” monotony on our roof. In the deep woods, where its billions of droplets struck billions of spring-exploding leaves, it hissed, chattered, and roared. James Dickey wrote of the “pressure” of the Eastern woods; these rains compounded that pressure. Accompanying the percussion of rain on leaf was the ubiquitous melody of droplets on puddles everywhere.
Of course, I took measures against the wetness, perhaps overdoing it. Shrouded in my ethylene vinyl acetate rain poncho still stiff and glossy with desert disuse, I galumphed around downtown Gorham with a Frankenstein gait in my new, shin-high, size-15 muck boots. (I would have preferred L.L. Bean’s lighter, “legendary” leather-and-rubber boot―all over Maine since 1912 and popular at my boarding school―had it not stopped at size 14.) Meanwhile, I marveled as women in mere tee-shirts and dresses, their bare feet in flip-flops, splashed with little apparent concern upon asphalt and concrete. In the night with an oily chill that followed, the hollows that abutted the rural roads filled with the eerie music of the amphibians locally known as peepers.