Three Ponchos

Nothing is more pleasurable than a road trip with good friends.  My recent trip to Acadia National Park was one such trip.  The day before our departure, I went with my friends Helen and Deb to see Wonder Woman in order to set the right tone for our adventure.  That night we amused ourselves by taking a personality test.  We found that the three of us were very different.  Deb is a giving-helper, always ready to make me a cup of tea.  She was so thoughtful to bring special treats for all of us and especially three ponchos in case it rained!  Helen is the epicurean-protector.  She brought a power cord to ensure she could hook up her computer and had chosen the place we were going to stay for its amenities.  I’m the observant-loyal skeptic.  I was the one that decided we should all take the personality test because I had observed that we were all quite different.

First stop was Freeport, Maine to do shopping at LL Bean.  We actually went to three LL Bean shops.  Our second stop along the way was Boothbay.  We had a great lunch at the Steamboat Inn and Helen and Deb started their tour of blueberry pie tasting.  This was the first of three.  Deb was very giving in offering me a bite.  We took a walk along the harbor and I observed the landforms around us and shared that the Boothbay topographic map was often used to illustrate fjords and their formation from glaciers.  Helen and Deb were very appreciative of my observations.  Helen bought a homemade bar of soap so that we had something special to use while we were gone that would make us smell good.

Boothbay Area Map

We crossed the Penobscot bridge, choosing not to go up in the elevator, but did stop and view this beautiful structure.  Deb was very helpful along the way in pointing out any orange cones signaling road construction.  Helen did much of the driving and showed good defensive technique which protected us from crashes several times.

We found the turn for our final destination, an Airbnb cottage.  A sign showed that The Fuhrer lived on the same road.  I was skeptical.  When we arrived at our cottage on a lake, Helen proceeded to move lamps around, get flashlights placed correctly for emergencies, and put the soap where we could find it.  She also figured out the internet so that everything was set up just right.  Deb started to cook dinner and shared her special snacks with us.  Helen opened a wine bottle.   I looked for material on Acadia National Park so we could identify where we might want to go the next day.  Helen locked the doors before we went to sleep.

The next morning, while Deb made French toast for us, Helen told us about the lights that flashed in one window all night that made her concerned for our safety.  I remained skeptical.

Because we are three Ph.D.s, we spent the first few hours after breakfast each morning on our own writing projects.  The measure of good friendships is an ability to be in the same room and just work, getting feedback occasionally but with no further expectation.

By late morning we were ready for our excursions.  The first one was to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.  Our first stop was to Bar Harbor, on the edge of the Park, where we had lunch at the Sidestreet Café.  Helen had checked out the options and found one that she thought would be great.  Helen and Deb tried the blueberry pie—the second round.  As usual, Deb shared with me.

View of Bar Harbor from Mt. Cadillac

We spent the day exploring Acadia on Mount Desert Island and learning about its landscape.  Mount Desert Island was initially a massive volcanic caldera, ten miles wide, formed from volcanic eruptions.  Underlying this caldera was an intrusion of molten granite that was two-three miles below the surface, ten miles in diameter, and one-two miles thick.  Following the end of the volcanic activity, this granite cooled, was uplifted, and tilted ten-fifteen degrees to the southeast.  With the uplift, streams began to cut into the solid rock.  The more resistant Cadillac Mountain granites grew more prominent as land was eroded around and resulted in a typical radial drainage pattern where stream flow away from the higher elevation center.  In this case, streams flowed both north and south off the higher elevations.  Finally, glaciers that were up to 5000 feet thick and flowed up to 150 miles out to sea scoured the landscape, eroding away the top layers to expose the granite, streamlining the mountains, and turning V-shaped valleys into glacial U-shaped troughs.  As the glaciers melted, the land rebounded, meaning it rose in elevation with the loss of weight from the ice, creating the incredible landscape that you see today.

U-shaped trench and glacially rounded hills









The second day our excursion took us to Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Island, along with the port town of Stonington.  Our goal was to find Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies and see what Nervous Nellie was all about.  Every turn was a surprise!  Nervous Nellie’s turned out to be an art exhibit as well as a jelly kitchen.  Each set had a theme, whether it was a medieval castle, a civil rights-related venue, or a burial site for a Viking.  We explored it all.









The Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Island were first known for its granite.  Stonington granite was used in any number of important buildings.  The Island also produced many boat pilots who were involved in commercial marine shipping.  Then of course, lobster-fishing is very prominent.  The town of Stonington is the number one lobster port in the state of Maine.  Most recently, tourism and the arts have become important.  The island is a mix of all these things, with a wonderful playfulness exhibited in the arts.  

Public Art

In all these travels, we observed the stunning sight of fields of lupines.  We also observed what looked like rocks growing in a field.  I was skeptical of a farmer’s ability to grow rocks and postulated that we were looking at glacial moraines.  Finally, every restaurant sign claimed they had the best lobster of all.  I didn’t see this as being possible.









When we returned to our cottage at the end of one day, Helen wanted to look at the property down the road to see if she could find Hitler as a proactive move toward protecting us.  Deb went on to expertly construct a fire for us.  As we sat around the flames at dusk we heard sounds across the pond.  Deb and Helen thought they might be loons but they sounded like bull frogs to me.









Our last evening, we ate our third sample of blueberry pie, bought from a local café.  I got my own piece this time.

Such road trips create space for self-care, care for one another, and for wonder.  Road trips create the space for reviewing life’s journey:  The very hard experiences–deaths of spouses, divorces, hip replacements, struggling children, self-doubt, and deep, deep disappointments.  And the tremendous joys—your first child being put in your arms, new opportunities, deep satisfaction from seeing growth in our children and our students and our colleagues and our institutions, grandchildren, books, and beautifully crafted arguments and thoughts in writing or in theatrical productions that contribute to the world’s understanding of the human experience.

Three ponchos.  Three Ph.D.s.  Three days.  Three blueberry pies.  Three LL Bean stores which resulted in six shopping bags.  Much, much conversation.  Three very different personalities.

Deb gives through her art, crafting both theatrical texts and the casts that present them, in a way that builds understanding and empathy in her audiences.  She helps us understand our life experiences through this process.

Helen reminds us to pay attention to the simple pleasures of life—whether it be artwork or a well-crafted argument.  She advocates for clear institutional structures and policies in order to enhance the chance for human flourishing for all.

I observe in order to understand what others are experiencing and needing in order to stand with them in their joys and tears, while helping them grow.  I am always trying to understand how institutions can be built to enhance growth because I want this next generation to be able to lead us into the future.  I want them to be wise as serpents and as loving as lambs.

I remain skeptical of platitudes but I firmly believe in deep friendships because I have them.


I don’t remember asking for a tether ball.  I think I remember it being put up by my father—a pole in a tire filled with cement with a ball attached by rope.

It sat in our back driveway turn-around.  I would occasionally play with friends—each hitting the ball in opposite directions, trying to wrap the rope around the pole.  But usually I hit the ball all by myself, again and again, as hard as I could, wrapping and unwrapping the rope around the pole, one direction and then the other.  Always tethered to that pole, firmly planted in cement on my back driveway.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to make a gunny sack swing and hang it from the old cherry tree.  But we took a gunny sack and filled it with other gunny sacks so that there was a lump of them at the bottom that we could put our legs around, and tied a knot around the gunny sack with a rope that was strung up on a big branch in the old cherry tree.

Somebody found an especially tall step ladder to use in order to swing higher and save us from having to push each other.  It was a twelve-foot ladder (can that be true?).  We took turns climbing the ladder, wrapping our legs around the gunny sack and letting go, always with the knowledge that the rope was fraying as it rubbed back and forth against the limb of the tree.

And when my turn came and the rope broke, I fell to the ground and learned what it meant to have your breath knocked out of you.  I can still remember how it felt as I lay on the ground with the pain in my chest.

My mother died suddenly and it takes my breath away daily—when I have the impulse to skype with her or when I open my email and find no new news from the extended family from her.

The description that has come to me lately is that I am untethered.  She solidly connected me to places, to the people, to memories, and to the past.  She tethered me, through reminding me of who I was, in the midst of whatever happened.  Relationships among family, long time family friends tied to the various places we lived, and acquaintances were maintained through her no matter how far and wide we flew.  She tethered me.

My breath has been knocked out of me and I am struggling to be able to get back up and reattach the gunny sack to the cherry tree and climb the ladder one more time.