This past Sunday I was slated to do a program in Kennebunkport with my friend, the author Carolyn Chute. Carolyn doesn’t drive so I was going to go pick her up which meant I was basically going to drive three sides of a triangle, from my home to Parsonsfield, Maine, down to Kennebunkport, and then back up to Parsonsfield before returning home to Dublin. If I were to have gone from my home to Kennebunkport, the journey would have been less than four hours, all told. Alas.
In all, I anticipated driving nine hours before the end of the day. I set forth at 8 in the morning. The program was at 2 in the afternoon and I was to pick her up at noon but I decided to get there an hour early because I realized we would have to stop somewhere for lunch. It’s always amazing to turn into her driveway where little handpainted signs of caution and scoldings are nailed to trees: Stop first at the Security Office!, Watch out for Small Animals, and the like. I’ve known Carolyn since 1985 when I went to interview her for a story for Yankee (April 1985). We have been friends ever since. I recognized every single one of the old trucks that have been abandoned under the trees and out of the way of the path, remembered when they were functional vehicles.
Carolyn came out to greet me. It’s always a great reunion to see her. I was expecting to just pick her up but she said she had made a beef stew so we wouldn’t have to stop anywhere for lunch. So the day began with beef stew inside their incredibly eccentric home where revolutionary slogans are tacked to the walls beside pictures of loved ones and dogs, past and present. They had to do some rearranging to find a chair for me. I sat on an old rocker beside the warming woodstove, using a log stump for a table. In order to talk with Carolyn and Michael, I had to look through a thicket of stuff, including the barrel of a shotgun, which I had no doubt was loaded. Their many Scottish terriers sat quietly in a hallway that was closed off from the house with fencing and a gate, like it was outdoors. The house, designed like a New England farmhouse, with dormers, an el and a farmer’s porch, was built with some style but never finished past the framing, insulation and plywood floors. That was more than 20 years ago. Water still comes into the kitchen sink through a garden hose. Bathroom is an outhouse across the driveway. Money, or the lack of, has always been an issue for them.
The beef stew was good. There is always lots to talk about. And laugh about. Michael told of his uncle who lived to be 99 years old and all he ever ate was Fruit Loops. Secret to old age. There are always stories like that when we get together. There is always so much more to tell. I had to hurry us up so we could get to the gig on time. Which we almost didn’t as we got lost, of course. But we arrived at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, an elegant new building looking out on a marsh at the end of a long dirt road. Fans awaited both of us, which was nice — nice that we both had admirers rather than one and not the other. It was such a gorgeous, warm day, many of them waited out on the deck while we gathered our things together and entered the building.
This is the third time Carolyn and I have done this, we call it a duet as we sit in rocking chairs and talk about our work and read from our writing. We are such different writers, I don’t know why it works but, well, it seems to. The audience seemed very appreciative throughout, smiling at us and, after, there were questions and comments, which were provocative. Sun streamed through the big windows behind us, emphasizing the surprising November warmth. Cooling breezes came in through open windows. After, books sold briskly. We signed them and chatted with the visitors. Cider and delicious small cakes were enjoyed. A fine writer named Joshua Bodwell had engineered this, a series of readings to benefit the town’s library. Carolyn and I were the last presentation for the season. He and I have corresponded over the years so it was nice to see him and make that connection again. He put a lot into this program and I was grateful.
Around 4:30 we got back into the car. I was not going to see the ocean, as I had hoped. No time. I wanted to get home before midnight. It always amazes me how easy it is to miss the beauty of places known for their beauty. You have to turn off the main thorougfare which is always Rite Aids and MacDonald’s and superduper supermarkets, none of which one pictures when going to Kennebunkport or Biddeford. I think of tranquil, sun-specked waters and stony beaches.
Going back to Carolyn’s only took something over an hour, which was what it should have taken us going down. But, once I let her off, I had three more hours in the car before home. Generally, I like long drives as it is time stolen to process events that sometimes otherwise are lost in the collision of events that comprise my life. So I was thinking about all that had happened that day, being in Carolyn’s revolutionary home, and soon again being among a lot of people of a different mindset but who were excited to greet this member of the 2nd Maine Militia. And Joshua had told me about an artist’s collaborative he and his partner are about to start in an old mill building in Biddeford, space for artists and art events and readings such as this one. All things to support the arts, which is such good news in a bad economy.
About an hour into it, somewhere near Ossipee, it was just like everyone says, all of a sudden she was right in front of me, standing still across the center line. I saw her eyes, she appeared to be trying to decide what to do, but there wasn’t even time to swerve, I immediately hit her, crack, crunch and it was over. I can’t believe that in all these years of driving these roads, I have never hit a deer but there it was, it had happened. Another doe lurched toward the road, as if wanting to come to the stricken’s rescue but then she shot back into the woods. I pulled over, shaken. Fortunately, it was a very lonely stretch of road, no cars coming either way. It was also pitch dark. If my car was a mess, I couldn’t see.
I dialed 911 on my cell phone. I wasn’t sure where I was, it was just road and woods, no landmarks, which they asked for. No problem, within seconds, the deep-voiced dispatcher was able to pinpoint my exact location by tracking the GPS that’s in my cell phone. A loss of privacy is a help in times like this. They asked me to wait right there and a car would come. As I sat there, I remembered the awful story of a friend driving these roads some years ago in a big old car in the summer, windows down. They hit a deer but didn’t think anything of it and kept going until several miles down the road, they noticed a little stream of blood trickling down around their feet. They pulled over and got out. The deer’s head was in the back seat. Other stories like that came to mind while I sat waiting for the policeman.
The police car came from the other direction, flicking on his blue lights when I was within sight and making a u-turn to position himself behind my car. The officer was a nice young man with a shaved head and a helpful smile. The deer was gone, too. It seemed almost as if it hadn’t happened. But it did. I can’t imagine the deer could have lived through that but maybe she was off somewhere in the woods, licking her wounds. Maybe she was beside the road. It was too dark to see much of anything but she was not in the middle of the road, as I had assumed. “They’re pretty resilient,” the officer said, with assurance. With his bright police car spotlights and his big handheld flashlight, he and I walked around it, carefully inspecting my car — no sign of anything! A small scratch perhaps, no blood. It was a good half hour before I resumed my journey home.
I eased a Mozart piano concerto CD into the slot and soothed myself with that amazing music the rest of the ride home. I got home around 9:30. The dogs were ecstatic to see me and after walks and a bit of play and a chicken sandwich, eaten standing up — there had been no time or desire to stop for dinner — I went directly to bed, thinking about the deer in the woods and hoping she was as unscathed as my car.