World enough and time.
After nearly three decades, my wife decided to no longer practice medicine. She had devoted her professional life to physical care. Now, she wanted to study theology with the hope of providing spiritual care. Her Christian faith was an essential part of her life. She had been a member of church wherever we lived. So we agreed: She would study while I continued to work in healthcare.
But study theology how and where? We ruled out an online education, if indeed such a thing were even available in her desired field of study. We also agreed that Linda would not live and study somewhere other than Alamosa―for there were no seminaries in the San Luis Valley―while I remained in the Valley. My company and that of our dogs, now numbering four, were too important to her.
Thus, we would sell our house and leave Alamosa.
So, educational possibilities for my wife. And geographical possibilities, once again, for me. Though I loved living in the Southwest, for a decade I had fantasized about returning to live in my native Northeast, specifically New England. It was, as I have written, a land that shaped me, touched me deeply, a land to which I owed much. My mind now enriched and my body seasoned by my years in the Southwest, could I, at age 58, reengage with the spirit of New England? Could I spend the rest of my life there? I believed I could.
Somewhat to my surprise, because I thought she was a diehard Westerner, Linda said she could as well.
We researched New England seminaries. Linda wanted to attend an institution with a progressive spiritual tradition, so her choices quickly narrowed to two: Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and Bangor Theological Seminary, which had campuses in Bangor and Portland, Maine. While we continued to hold jobs in Alamosa, we made plans to fly to Boston and, from there, visit both institutions.
We landed in Massachusetts in October. At the Hertz car rental desk at Boston’s Logan Airport, I penned in my journal: “Boston: Old, wet, dark.”
We toured the campus of Andover Newton. The admissions director of the seminary warmly welcomed, informed, and advised us. I had no doubt that Linda would be accepted for study there.
With a real estate agent, we then looked at houses in the Boston suburbs.
Of course, compared to Anthony and Alamosa, the Boston suburbs―such towns as Bolton, Clinton, Harvard, Hudson, Boylston―were densely populated. After two decades in the Southwest, I wasn’t prepared for such inescapable density. People, houses, businesses, and motor vehicles everywhere, with no safety valve of vast undeveloped public land―land, not sea―nearby. All of this tumult was somehow summed up for me with the sight of a commuter train roaring westward during evening rush hour though the heart of a town whose name I’ve forgotten. I hadn’t seen a commuter train since I left metropolitan New Jersey.
Of course, with four dogs, an apartment in the Boston metropolitan area was out of the question. Then, we quickly realized that housing was costly in the Boston suburbs, and that even a quarter-acre property upon which our four dogs might romp was unaffordable, if not impractical. There existed no “small house in the country” anywhere near Boston for the likes of our family. Thus, an education at Andover Newton was ruled out.
We then drove from Boston to Bangor. The drive took nearly four hours―long even by Western standards―including two hours to get to Portland, Maine’s largest city.
Maine differed considerably from Massachusetts. On the interstate north of Portland, we drove through mile after mile of nothing but dense, dark, monotonous pine and hardwood. No luminous woodlands of piñon and juniper here. Such prodigious verdure was autumn colorful, but murmured of a savagery that unnerved even my nature-loving sensibility.
We arrived in Bangor―at last, no longer just a name in a Roger Miller song. (And Miller incorrectly pronounced it BANG-her. We would soon learn the correct pronunciation was BANG-gore.) The city not even halfway up the length of Maine was stark, modest, and tidy. After a pleasant tour of the Bangor Theological campus, we drove to the office of a local real estate agent.
She showed us a newly-built house with a generous property. The property was treeless, starkly so in this otherwise shaggy land; nonetheless, ideal for the dogs. Yet there remained the reality of this city’s considerable distance from the commerce and culture of Portland, and, more unsettling, the certainty of Bangor’s long, cold, gnawing winters greased by vast, damp, howling places named Penobscot, Piscataquis, Aroostook, New Brunswick, and Quebec just to the north.
So we agreed: Bangor, too, was out.
Which left us with the Portland area. The seminary’s “campus” was just a basement in a great old church in downtown Portland, but the classrooms, offices, and seminary library there were attractive and cozy.
Portland, too, was attractive. Like Boston, it had a picturesque harbor. But it was one-tenth the size of Beantown and quickly spread into spacious communities, many of them semi-rural and even rural―an area obviously with room to wander a-foot in peace and solitude. And Portland, despite its antiquity, appeared to be filled with people in their 20’s and 30’s. Not that we socialized regularly with this age group in the Southwest, but this meant vibrance and progressive politics, and a guaranteed variety of better restaurants. So we agreed: this place was it.
Time permitted us to look at only two houses. They were both within the Portland city limits and their yards were much too small for a canine quartet, but we were informed there would be larger, affordable properties within a reasonable commute to Portland. However, they would have to wait for a subsequent visit by one or both of us.
Meanwhile, everywhere there was the charm, history, and tang of New England. The woods with their fireworks of autumn colors. The gentle light. The thick, humid air that nibbled on the bones at nightfall, but plumped and delivered enjoyable odors, including and especially the sweetness of fallen leaves. The ubiquitous water: rivers and streams that pulsed, lakes and ponds that bejeweled. Yes, there were many, many houses, but the abundant wild and domestic verdure seemed to cushion the rattle of households. And there was, of course, the cosmic, storied ocean, although my gaze was on those limitless forests (despite their savagery) and granite mountains, about which Thoreau wrote, for hiking and packing. (I discovered my testicles when, as a kid, I boldly leapt into the frigid waters off the coast of central Maine . . . and felt that pair of cocktail peanuts scramble for dear life up into my throat. Joyce’s “scrotumtightening sea.”)
After acceptance at Bangor Theological Seminary, Linda returned to Maine in the winter and selected a house in a semi-rural neighborhood outside of the village of Gorham.
We left Alamosa on a warm afternoon in late February. Somewhat to my surprise, Sammy, our mover, was a Mexican-American from the aforesaid Clinton, Massachusetts. Thus, it was sinking in: Mexican-Americans were no longer confined to the Southwest. They were establishing families and powering our economy from coast to coast.I drove the pickup that pulled our 23-foot travel trailer, Linda drove the SUV, and we divided the four dogs between us. Across an America on the cusp of spring. We spent nights in Brush, Colorado; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Chicago; and Cleveland. Shortly after crossing into New York State, we exited I-90 and pulled into an empty lot gleaming with snow in the town of Ripley. As we let the dogs wander, I brought a pinch of the fresh snow to my lips. New York! Where I went to college, drank my first legal beer in a bar, lost my virginity, dropped acid for the first time. Then, a night in Utica, New York. Then, exhausted, several nights in Warner, New Hampshire, where my sister and brother-in-law lived.