Finding My Muse in Coastal New England
By Kathryn Gerwig
The plane banked to the left in preparation for landing. I caught my breath as I glimpsed the familiar and welcoming wooded hills of New Hampshire from my window seat.
Deep green blankets of oak and maple, hemlock and pine, covered the summits. The landscape was sprinkled here and there with small sparkling lakes of clear cerulean blue, reflecting skies of similar hue on this spectacularly sunny summer afternoon. Snuggled between the hills, small villages were visible, spires of churches pointing skyward.
I had visited the New England states on various occasions, with husband and dogs in tow. But this time I was alone, something friends deemed quite daring. Today was also my first time on an airplane.
This trip was destined to be. For several months I had studied maps, plotting the course of my explorations, not really thinking the trip would occur. But when my husband, whom I believed would attempt to discourage my departure, reminded me I needed to purchase my plane ticket soon, I knew it was fate.
Coming through the flight experience with flying colors, I hurried past the majestic moose displayed in the Manchester airport lobby, to the lower level. Collecting my rental vehicle, in a few moments I found myself zipping out of the parking garage in my little red car with license plate proclaiming, quite appropriately, “Live Free or Die”.
Sleeping soundly and dining deliciously at a historic bed and breakfast near Peterborough, I enjoyed stimulating conversation with proprietors and fellow guests amid antique furniture which seemed to hold the spirits of the home’s previous century owners.
My destination was the coast but on the way there, I stopped in Exeter, home of the impressive brick buildings of prestigious Exeter Academy. I experienced a fascinatingly detailed two hour tour of The American Independence Museum, housed in a historic home and tavern. The idealistic spirit of our forefathers, as well as that of the town’s current citizens was palpable along the streets of this progressive, yet traditional town. I strolled past an eclectic mix of practical shops alongside antique stores and modern art galleries. Citizens discussed local issues and admired each other’s pets. People spoke to each other and to me as they passed.
Cruising through Portsmouth, my first contact with the coast, I reached the tiny idyllic town of New Castle. Weathered, shingled shacks offered lobster lunches. Small boats, creatively christened with enchanting names such as “The Silver Frog” sat in front of small brightly colored cottages dressed with flower filled window boxes. At the ends of narrow streets, the timeless tide could be heard crashing the coast then retreating peacefully, with a whispery swish. At a park on the beach, I saw sailboats breeze past distant lighthouses as I caught whiffs of the slightly salty, somewhat musky, scent of the sea.
Traveling north, I soon crossed the big green bridge into Maine, where I located another excellent bed and breakfast in York Harbor. The turn of the (twentieth) century Queen Anne Victorian home became my base as I walked paths along the harbor, and the beach near the town, bordered by rocky cliffs. Wandering downtown, I strolled through the series of original buildings which comprise the Museums of Old York.
To the north of York Harbor lies the time warp town of York Beach, lined with small shops, vintage tourist cottages, and an amusement park. The setting appears much the same as in the early twentieth century, when tourists began to flock to the area, escaping the summer heat of the cities.
Next is Cape Neddick, with it’s Sohier Park, where one may view the famously photographed Nubble Lighthouse, just across the inlet.
Since childhood, I have associated New England with the concept of idealistic independence. I do feel an incredible sense of freedom and inspiration whenever I’m there. And while it’s nice to share the experience with others, going alone at times can be beneficial.
My uncle once told me that we all have friends everywhere. We just haven’t met them yet. How true. I chatted with strangers who soon seemed like friends throughout the trip, knowing that I would never have made many of these acquaintances had I been accompanied by a familiar traveling companion.
Alas, all journeys must come to an end, but memories linger on to enrich the rest of our lives. In fact, the fun and freedom of my successful solo sojourn helped to reawaken my passion for writing. My first mystery manuscript is now nearly complete, appropriately set in southern coastal Maine.
Kathryn Gerwig has written primarily essays and editorials, but recently completed a cozy mystery manuscript based on her travel experiences. She achieves inspiration through nature and pets, travel, and the many personalities she has come to know through her career in customer service.
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