…there, thought unbraids itself, and the mind becomes single. There you row, with tranquil oars, and the ocean shows no scar from the cutting of your placid keel; care becomes senseless there; pride and promotion remote…
-Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ragged Island
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and playwright who lived in my little harbor town on the coast of Maine. Although she had a richly varied and well traveled life, she always loved her Maine home. I was first introduced to her poetry as a child, when I memorized the opening lines of one of her best known pieces…”All I could see from where I stood were three long mountains and a wood. I turned and looked the other way, and saw three islands in a bay….” Little did I know that one day, I’d stand often on that small summit, gaze over the same scene, and call those mountains and bay “home”. Whether it was the tired old coastal houses, the pine wood scent, or the barnacles on the rocky beach, Millay could transport me to Maine coast better than any photograph.
I have an old dog-eared copy of her collected works that I’d take out to the coastline and read. Ragged Island, the poem quoted above, has always been one of my favorites. It captures the feeling of comfort I take from the sea in a way that I can’t adequately put into words…”there thought unbraids itself and the mind becomes single…”
Sunday afternoon, I was lured out into the cold sunshine by a desire to walk down to the water. With my Westie, Pippin, trotting happily by my side, I made the short trip to the town beach. The park at the head of the harbor, and the grassy Ampitheater behind it, are well known and oft visited by local and tourist alike. The beach, however, is surprisingly quiet…even on a sunny summer day. This day, it was completely deserted. I let Pippin off his leash when we reached sand and he bounded off like a jackrabbit…deaf to my cries of “Don’t get wet! It’s still too cold!”. I pushed my hat down as far as it would go and thrust my hands into my pockets, reaching for the warmth that wasn’t there.
It takes only moments before the transformation begins. A few deep breaths of sharp salty air, the pull of the tide’s foam laced fingers trailing along the sand, a glance across the bay to the lighthouse guarding the harbor…and I feel everything else just drop away. Like a crow, I look for the little things that catch my eye…bits of sea glass, dog whelks, mussels, granite cobbles of all shapes and sizes. Ropy rockweed mingles with newly thawed autumn leaves at the tide line. A few mallards bob with the current, and a herring gull shrieks overhead. Under the pilings, where the sand meets the rocky ledge, I grab a flat rock and skip it over the surface…I always make a wish and promise myself that if I can make the rock skip a certain number of times, the wish will come true. The horizon is a soft rose and the gull cries a final time before wheeling overhead and heading out to sea. Pippin crashes into the waves with joyful abandon and scatters the ducks.
I close my eyes and smile. “…there, thought unbraids itself and the mind becomes single.” Indeed, Ms. Millay.