There’s a place up in Maine that I know. It’s a small dirt road of “camps” on the shores of a clear and fresh water lake, with hills surrounding it, and in the summer time it seems like a green handkerchief over the face of the earth. Driving up from Massachusetts you quickly pass by New Hampshire on I-95, and if you’re like many Massholes, you probably stop off at one of the giant liquor stores off the highway. But be forewarned–in New Hampshire they don’t sell beer at the liquor stores. You have to buy the beer at convenient stores or supermarkets. Makes no sense, right?
Continuing up the highway you quickly get to the border, and after crossing a bridge enter the State of Maine. It’s a fitting way to enter, considering the state is sprinkled with rivers, lakes, trees, mills, vacationers…In fact, look at the Maine license plates and it says it all, “Vacationland“. Whether or not it’s a bit extreme of a claim, the northern New England property certainly has plenty of stretches in which you can get lost and hide yourself away, forgetting about the stresses of the city and just floating back into the way things “used to be.” This is a unique charm which drew a few of my old college buddies up there recently.
My friend Travis is originally from Rumford, Maine, which he told me is now one of the biggest places in the country for collecting unemployment. His family owns some property with a beachfront “camp”, or cabin on the shores of Lake Webb, so he reserved the camp for a week and invited a few of the guys up for fun and relaxation. I arrived there first, and getting off of I-95 I had to continue on progressively smaller and smaller roads until eventually reaching the end of the line at the lake house. This all reminded me of something out of an early Hemingway story with a main character Nick Adams. It was about 12:30 pm and the sun was high, so after a quick lunch we picked up his younger cousin Alex who lives about 45 minutes away and went to check out some swimming holes. In Maine, a 45 minute drive isn’t much at all, and along the way we passed by the paper mill which has been going through harder times through mis-management, though still seems to employ half the town and surrounding area.
Our first swimming hole was a river below an 18-20 foot cliff, and though there were rocks leading down to the water, it was obvious that there was only one way down. People come from all over for this thrill, and I watched Travis and Alex jump in before standing on the edge. With my heart rate jumping up sharply and that feeling in the stomach you get just before you do something stupid, leaped off the edge. Twisting my legs together to ease the impact, I made a bent pencil splash and ducked down into the deep river. Up top again I gasped for air as the adrenaline had taken me breathless, and I could feel the water in the back of my nostrils and throat. My jaw hurt slightly but I wasn’t hurt too badly–not like the first time I jumped off a cliff at about 14 years old. It was only 13 or so feet up, but there’s that extra second you expect it to take and just like this time, I looked out just as I splashed the water and BOOM–bruised my ribs.
Alex and Travis climbed up on the other side to jump from even higher up at 30 feet, but I simply watched as other people crowded the hole. We all jumped the smaller cliff again and then waded over to a waterfall where ice cold streams pushed us away. Our next destination was set–Three Pools, where we could find more waterfalls. Back in the car and down the road we went until finding more cars parked on the side of the road by a lone house. We jumped off the smaller cliffs and then made our way over to the rapids which quickly blew me back. This was going to take some work.
The other guys are bigger than me and were able to make it up the rocks and through the rapids on their own, but on my first attempt I was holding on to the rocks for dear life before losing my strength and getting swept away into the current of the river. It was nothing too serious, but I needed to stand on a rock with my muscles trembling before I could attempt it again. Up ahead I could hear the rush from the waterfall and hear the other guys screaming in joy. Somehow I got the strength together and swam back to the rocks. The rapids were flowing over me but I swore under my breath and told myself that I would not miss this one, that I would get over it. Slowly I got over the rocks and positioned myself to get steady footing, and slowly I climbed over to the guys who had already written me off as gone.
With their help I was guided to the waterfall where we hid under the rush, deafened by the noise and blinded by the splashback, but the adrenaline kept us going, and together we agreed how amazing the experience was. Later that night we sat around watching the Red Sox game and then made a campfire in the yard, burning well into the night as we sat around with drinks in hand and talking about whatever. The moon was high, it was crisp and clear, and on the lake we could hear bullfrogs and what sounded like coyotes. This was definitely Maine, and anything uncommon about this scene wasn’t present for the locals. Vacationland is damn right.