Tension

By John Christie | Dec 02, 2011

One of Maine's great native son poets, and perhaps my favorite, was born on Whitehead Island in Penobscot Bay.

Wilbert Snow saw his first sunrise over the ocean in 1884, and in his more than four score lifetime he not only crafted great poetry, he became a noted educator and, for a short time, the 75th Governor of Connecticut.

I was first exposed to his genius while at Bowdoin in the 1950s, the same school from which he had graduated in 1907. While immersing myself in his complete body of work, I stumbled on a few lines that so resonated with me that they've never been far from my mind.

 

The sea is forever quiv'ring, and the shore is forever still

And the boy who is born in a seacoast town is born with a dual will

The sunburned rocks and beaches inveigle him to stay

While every wave that breaches is a nudge to be up and away

 

You see, I was that boy. And when I first read those lines I understood for the first time in my life the dichotomy explaining the pull and push that I'd been feeling since I was a little boy... the realization that I was in about as perfect a town as I possibly could be, but with the guilty feeling that there must be something more.

I'd like to think that I might be speaking for all my Camden friends who grew up with me in the two decades between 1940 and 1960, and who had some of those same feelings that it took a few lines from the pen of Wilbert Snow to clarify for me.

Our youth benefited from the dedication of selfless people who built and kept the Snow Bowl going; from the works of the CCC boys who created Camden Hills State Park; from close-knit families and neighbors who looked out for each other; from local shopkeepers and contractors and others who gave us after-school and weekend jobs; from teachers who genuinely cared about us and took an interest in our preparation for life after Camden; and from the generosity of summer folks who endowed the community with more than just their money.

Yes, the pull of the sunburned rocks and beaches, and the craggy cliffs on Mount Battie behind my home on Megunticook Street, and the movie theater on Mechanic Street, and George Prescott's hot dog wagon in front of Carlton French, and the Putnam's candy shop, and the soda fountain at Boynton McKay, and the Eager Beaver teen group at the Congregational Church conspired to pressure my friends and me to never want to abandon this little Eden of ours.

But the crashing surf, and the relentless constancy of the incoming and outgoing tides were working on our collective subconscious in ways that I had never even realized, and would have been incapable of putting into words, but for Wilbert Snow.

I no longer feel guilty about bursting out of Camden's protective cocoon because, as Snow said, I was influenced by forces far greater than myself, and beyond my control.

At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

And now that my 75 years have brought me full circle back home after years astray, it delights me to see the same kind of community that I left 55 years ago, and my sense is that not much has changed, or will change. The mountains will always meet the sea. The tides will always rise and ebb. And our youth will continue to be torn between staying and leaving. As they should.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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