So many deadlines, so little time. I’m knocking down four articles for publication, opening the shop for the season—delayed by the endless bad weather and a sewer construction project that has deposited more bulldozers, one lane traffic, and orange cones than I ever imagined existed, over the last two months, and basically, I am running backwards to catch up, and finishing up a renovation project for a friend that should have completed a month ago. So, backwards I run, never catching up. I promise, promise, promise to come up with something interesting once the Fourth is behind me.
In the meantime, a couple of favorite houses on the road to Castine, one of Maine’s most aristocratic and historic villages, its streets lined with handsome white houses and gray shingled cottages amidst beautiful ocean scenery, and still shaded by elm trees. My assignment was to interview the owners of one of the most unusual houses there–but more about that, and breathtaking Castine another day. Both of these houses, dating from the first quarter of the 19th century, have that ‘just right’ quality—the elegance and spareness that characterizes early Maine architecture at its best—-gently landscaped without the suburban displays that people nowadays just feel they must have. When did people start forgetting that sometimes what one leaves out is more important than what is added?. For me, this is how an old building looks best in Maine.
In Maine, the old houses were usually attached to their barns by a series of sheds, so that one did not have to go outside on howling winter nights to use the privy, collect firewood, or feed the horses. In local parlance, this type of building is known as ‘Big House, Little House, Back House and Barn’ (an excellent book by that title explores the type further). Along the Castine Road, there are many old capes where this arrangement survives. My particular favorite is the one above, built for a farmer of refined taste, painted a subtle washed gray. In the fifty years that I’ve been admiring it, it has remained in this perfect state—neither shabby nor tarted up, shaded by massive oaks on its rolling old lawn, sheds and barns rambling off to the side, free of ‘tasteful’ renovation.
Almost across the road, this house also sits unchanged behind its stone wall, having somehow miraculously survived 200 years without the indignities of replacement windows or doors. Behind it, fields slope down to the mouth of the Bagaduce River. The worn white clapboards, hand sawn, give pleasing texture, and the thin muntins and wavy glass of the windows have a delicacy that Marvin cannot duplicate, no matter what they say. The yard is full of old fashioned shrubs. Looking at the huge Kolkwitzia blooming in front, one understands its common name, ‘Beauty Bush’.
Next door is a small ancient cemetery, with beautiful cut stone wall. Everywhere along the roadside, wildflowers bloom alongside garden escapees gone wild. Every year, this lovely season, hard won and delicate, seems to go by at greater speed, and one races to soak it all in. There are many versions of Maine, but in Spring and early summer, this is the one I like best.