On moving to Maine and first seeing these ledges from a nearby road, I was enchanted, surprised. I’d never seen anything like them before: Mountains like waves of rock over the land? Yesterday we broke trail in this field below them. In three feet of snow, exhausting ourselves, driven by winds laden with chill factors below zero Fahrenheit. Oh that cup of coffee on our return!
Home territory is well known to the author which makes the story . . . a little easier to tackle. At least something looks familiar. It’s a little like traveling to some faraway place where they turn out to speak English after all. It’s still an exotic journey, but you feel comfortable nonetheless.
So wrote Maine author Monica Wood, author of Ernie’s Ark, via e-mail. She kindly responded to a request for thoughts on the subject.
One of the rewards of reading and writing local fiction is to see the place you live in anew. Freshness is regained, a new perception of your place‘s geographic and spiritual reality. You can enter again the vibrant scope of local life which, before touching the keyboard or turning the page, you had forgotten in your mundane travels and interactions in this strange place where you live. G. K. Chesterton called this effect “Mooreeffoc”–after Dickens’s glimpsing the reverse reflection of the word coffeeroom, against a dark sky. This seeing refreshed the way he saw both word and place.
I saw it one early morning while bicycling along the pond to the village diner for coffee. It was not yet spring, a point jutted out into the faintly ruffled water, and along its shoreline colorful camps were reflected, rippling quietly, in the pond.
The reality and its reflection were framed together in the dark, strong, resigned arms of white pine above and below. At the very tip of the point, two smaller white pines leaned out with their reflections mirroring one another, feathery and pointed. Here I had the image necessary to point the direction of my thoughts on writing local fiction. I studied the silent, speaking beauty of the scene and was struck by the row of camp windows, both above and below shoreline, each framed in white with their dark interiors looking out toward me.
There are three aspects to this reciprocity between daily living and seeing our place anew: absence, recognition, and surprise. Nearly every morning I’d walk to the diner or ride my bike on this road. I’d begun taking its beauties and realities for granted; so much so that sometimes I failed to see them at all.
One morning, I turned back on my bicycle briefly, thinking I’d missed something. It was that dear piece of place already mentioned, and I was startled on seeing it to recognize again its beauty; to see again that it was there at all. Had it not been for this lovely and curious doubling of image, I don’t think the road would have awakened me as it did. In my re-recognition I was taken (by surprise) out of my chronic absence. It can be like that when we pick up some story or book in which the local is leveled at us again. When we are willing, as we read, to suspend our literal interpretations we are refreshed by the reformed or rippled vision presented, for, as Wood points out, it is both familiar and strange to us.