Letting Yourself Go

I got a letter from a friend the other day, full of late August angst.  “August is one of those months where I feel like I’ve wasted my life,” she wrote.  “The summer is gone and I have done nothing that I wanted to do.”  I could certainly understand what she was saying.  Why, just the other night I finished reading a book, the only book I’d read all summer.  My brain is practically atrophied from lack of reading.

I hurried to bang out a letter to my friend and I slipped it into the recently read book, Louise Dickinson’s The Peninsula.  Published on October 15, 1958, Rich outlines the history and geography of the Gouldsboro peninsula from her years living in Corea and Prospect Harbor.  The book, filled with wit and Down East humor, also has enough philosophy to lift one’s spirits during these dark days of August.

Rich is most noted for her book We Took to the Woods, written in 1942.  It chronicles the years she and her husband Ralph lived in a camp in the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine.  Following her husband’s death in 1945, Rich returned to her home of Bridgewater, Massachusetts and supported herself and her two young children by writing books about Maine.  A friend offered her a cabin on the Schoodic Peninsula and she became a regular visitor.

We Took to the Woods is part Thoreau and part “let’s get away from it all; The Peninsula, too, is a place Rich describes as “being outside time and space and life itself.”  Fishermen who wear oilskins, (not Grundens) fill the pages alongside their wives, the local storekeeper, retired sea captains, and aging aunts.  At the time Rich wrote the book, progress had not reached across Frenchman’s Bay despite Bar Harbor’s steady popularity as a summer destination.  Peninsula residents and visitors alike still met at the store after daily “chores” to pick up their mail, share news, or to make a phone call.  Industrious and creative, the Peninsulans in Rich’s book were not likely to approach August’s end with ennui.

According to Rich, Peninsulans were also not distracted by the latest bright and shiny thing.  “The danger of the laborsaving device,” she wrote, “is that it too often produces idleness rather than leisure—and there is a big difference.  Leisure is something earned by work, a reward to be savored and enjoyed.  Idleness is a form of poverty, a lack of employment, and conducive to waste of time and talents.”

Like the locals, Rich kept herself busy at her cabin on Corea’s Cranberry Point.  When her chores and her writing were done, she explored the landscape, the old cemeteries, and visited her neighbors.  She made an impromptu visit to storekeeper George Crowley’s aging sisters who lived “up the Guzzle in the house by the old silver mines.”  Rich’s knock found the ladies, in their early 90’s, in their kitchen giving each other home permanents.  Rich is surprised and they tell her “but if you once started letting yourself go—Well!”

Faunce Pendexter, writer for the Lewiston Evening Journal Magazine, reviewed the book on November 1, 1958 and wrote “this reviewer is happy to comment that The Peninsula avoids what so many books about Maine and Maine people have been guilty of:  Mrs. Rich doesn’t seek to make Pine Tree staters quaint or peculiar.”

Rich herself wrote “I hesitate to use the word picturesque in connection with it, because picturesque and quaint are two words of which the Peninsulans take a dim view when applied to them or theirs.  They are summer-people words, pregnant with patronage.”

Old books like Louise Dickinson Rich’s The Peninsula are just right for the last dark days of August and the brighter possibilities of autumn.  It’s certainly not time to let yourself go.

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