The view from the kitchen window. Photo by Gayle Potter.
By Everett Potter
I’ve spent the past few weeks lakeside in western Maine, in a cabin — or “camp” in Maine-speak — that dates back to the 1940’s or earlier, slowing down and trying to remove myself — if only temporarily — from the electronic maelstrom that is daily life for many of us.
It’s a place with creaking floors, a stone fireplace and windows that swing inward to open, letting in the great outdoors. That outdoors provides red squirrels chattering noisily on a tree limb and katydids humming their particular white noise at this time of year. At night, it’s the sometimes eerie, occasionally comical cry of the loon, a cry that can reach a hysteric crescendo should something be amiss.
I confess that while there isn’t a tuft of insulation to be found inside my cabin, there is broadband. As a journalist, I am as wired as the next guy. But with the lake shimmering and sending light waves flickering across the beamed ceiling, a cormorant perched on a nearby stone, the hummingbirds that visit almost daily, and the laughter of my daughter as she paddles a canoe to a nearby island for the first time in her eight years, the electronic universe I usually inhabit has some serious competition.
I don’t tune out and turn out completely. I dip into the world of the internet for moments even as I look forward to plunging into the watery one outside my window. Long swims that leave me limber, exercise that’s about as far from the dull routine of the gym as I can imagine. Then there are those 6:30 am trips onto the lake with a 1950’s thermos and a fly rod in hand, ready for the big one, the small one, any fish that I can coax out of nature and then return to the water.
Days go by. I look at the Blackberry once a day, if that. The computer is closed and after a day or two, becomes a place to stack the books I’m reading.
At night, the light that I seek does not come from Facebook glowing on my computer screen. It’s the sky and the flashes of Northern Lights and the shockingly clear Milky Way that’s we’re privileged to glimpse, some 350 miles north of Manhattan.
I was there during the summer’s highlight, the Perseid mentor showers, which NASA dubbed the celestial event of the year. It happens to fall, if you’ll pardon the expression, on my daughter’s birthday. There’s more than a little poetry in that, since she has the speed and energy of a dozen meteors as she streaks through the cabin, slamming screen doors as they should be slammed in a summer house.
Maine is an especially good place to unplug. People have time for conversations. I speak with the lady at the town dump as she helps me unload a week’s worth of recyclable from my car. Without electronic prodding, “friending”, or suggestions, I stop to see the Berryman, as I call him. He’s a man in a plaid shirt who makes up in friendliness what he lacks in teeth, selling native strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries as the season progresses. I eat a Shain’s of Maine maple walnut cone while the camp kids swarm under the bug zappers at the ice cream stand at night. There’s no cell service in the middle of town, so these kids have to talk, not text. This seems well within their capability.
No device is responsible for transmitting the smiles, the lone finger raised in greeting from a steering on a narrow gravel road, and the conversations about the seemingly mundane that are no more mundane than what passes for talk in the electronic world: the merits of my new shed, the mysterious feathers we found, my daughter wondering aloud how long it would take an ant to walk to China. They seem a lot more vital than anything you might feel obliged to opine upon in social media. Up here, it’s merely social.