Summer, and After
Written and art directed by Basha Burwell
Styling by Brienne Neumann
Photographs by Ryan Goodrich
The spirit of McCloskey’s SAL lives on, even in autumn
Growing up in Portland, I used to imagine I was a long-lost cousin of Sal, the intrepid island girl in Robert McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine and Blueberries for Sal. Sal lived on an island in Penobscot Bay with her parents and little sister. She was independent and spirited. She picked blueberries and made jam with her mother, went clamming with her dad, and headed to town in their outboard boat to do errands and pick up groceries (and ice cream cones).
I was lucky enough to have three grandparents: Nana and Grampy and Grandmother Fran—living in the same coastal village where I spent my summer vacations. If I wasn’t at day camp (my parents worked full-time), you would find me either at my Nana’s summer cottage, with a boisterous crew of cousins, or at Grandmother Fran’s house just up the street. Whenever I had had enough of my rambunctious cousins, I could slip away to the big, quiet clapboard house where I had Grandmother Fran all to myself. She made me special lemonade and cookies and tried (in vain) to teach me cribbage.
Yet most days were spent with the cousinhood: playing games on the cottage porch, roaming the beach in search of feathers and treasures, or playing hide-and-seek at the yacht club. Our Sundays were reserved for island trips, when we loaded up the Whistler, Grampy’s lobster cruiser (built by Carroll Lowell in Yarmouth), and headed out. I loved diving off Whistler’s bridge when she was at anchor. (These days, on island picnics, I still prefer diving from our sailboat at anchor and letting the dinghy haul my crewmates and lunch ashore.)
Excursions aboard Whistler turned my cousins and me loose on the natural playgrounds that are Maine’s islands. Wandering barefoot, we explored fairy trails, ate wild berries, and inevitably got into trouble: a cut on the chin from a fall on the rocks, a tummy ache from too much foraging, or a wicked sunburn. It was worth it.
For one of my August birthdays, I was allowed to have my party aboard Whistler with a few of my “city” friends from Portland. I always felt so proud that I could expose them to my Maine. What patient saints my grandparents were, letting a gaggle of loud, wet-from-swimming girls gobble birthday cake and run wild all over their beloved boat.
Now I live in a small coastal town a few miles from where Sal lived. On a clear day, I can see her island. My five-year-old son and I pick mussels on the shore (not clams—no license) and go sailing on the bay. (I let H bring one friend on our boat; that’s about all this mother-sailor can handle.) I have been teaching H and his pals to swim, row, and steer a sailboat, and we love exploring islands. And, of course, we always pick our fill of blueberries.
When I was a girl I didn’t spend much time reading during the summer, but I always found my way back to Sal when summer was over. Her unchanging, idyllic island Maine was quite different from the divorced-parents-sharing-custody Maine that I was living in most of the year. But Sal never let me forget how lucky I was to know what a Maine summer could be like. Now, when the wind blows northwest and the sweaters come out and the woodstove lights up, I read the stories to my son, and Sal takes us right back there.