A little over a year ago I posted my thoughts about my struggles with the month of August and titled it The Last of the Firsts. It’s a catchy title; one that I couldn’t, and didn’t, take credit for. In the post I said:
I was talking to a good friend about how I’ve been feeling and she said, “What you’re going through is totally understandable. You’re going through the last of the firsts.” Hearing my condition, phrased poetically, was so helpful to me.
As you might guess now (but I’m hoping you didn’t guess then), my “good friend” was Rhett.
August is both the month of Colleen’s and my wedding anniversary and the anniversary of her death. The former on the 11th and the latter on the 21st. When I was seeing my therapist in the fall of 2019, shortly after Colleen’s death, I asked her for advice on grief pitfalls I should try to avoid, or at least anticipate. My therapist responded that on anniversary days, birthdays and holidays I should expect a difficult day, take it easy on myself, and leave myself time during the day for remembrance and reflection. This was wise counsel but—as is my tendency—I took the advice too literally and in 2019 overly-focused on the 11th and 21st, and missed how the essence of the entire month would affect me. A core tenet of Alcoholics Anonymous is “progress, not perfection” and in that spirit I’m trying to learn from August 2019 and apply my learning to August 2020.
August in South Florida has such a unique feel to it. Yes, as you might expect, it’s hot as hell. However, it also has its charms: it’s quiet, the roads and beaches are comparatively empty, the ocean is just cool enough to be refreshing but warm enough that you can stay in the water all day, and most everyone you meet is a local and friendly. However, last year all those attributes of a Florida August became triggers and reminders of the prior August. I said to myself last summer that I really need to get out of Florida for August of 2021 in hopes of mitigating the pain.
I’m happy to say that I’m doing that in Maine. I’ve traded 90° heat that sometimes breaks 100° for the 60°s that sometimes breaks into the 70°s. In Florida, the humidity causes massive summertime afternoon thunderstorms; here in Maine it causes fog.
While the August change in venue from Florida has been good for me, an added—and unsuspected—benefit is that parts of the Maine coastline remind me of shores of Chautauqua Lake in Western New York. It’s where Colleen and I both spent much of our summers growing up, where we met in our late-teens and early-20s, where we were married, and where our children spent much of their summers growing up.
I think a lot about recency bias—the human tendency to give recent events more credence than events that happened further in the past. It’s an element of our shared evolutionary biology and is among the litany of physiological and psychological human traits that helped our species survive earlier in our evolution. When Colleen died, I was enmeshed in a protective cocoon of recency bias. It was survival mode for all of us. Fortunately, I survived; unfortunately, Colleen didn’t.
As I searched for positives after her death. One thing that I found is that by looking at old pictures and reminiscing of when we were dating, newly married, and with young children, I could mitigate my over-emphasis on the recent chaos that bipolar disorder and addiction had injected into our family. I could remember Colleen for who she was. I could start to emerge from my cocoon.
In looking back at last year, I realize that the environmental cues of being back in Florida for the last of the firsts had re-triggered my recency bias. Today, I’m happy to be far away in Maine with the added benefit of sailing along shorelines, summer cottages, and kids’ camps that remind me of our earlier and better times.
I plan to remember this lesson and my progress well, and respect the power of geography in August and be far away for the next of the subsequents.
In the spirit of telling enough people what I intend to do as a motivation to get me to actually do it, I have my eyes set on either the Mediterranean or the Canadian Maritimes for next summer. I’m glad to say that I think not only do I have my eyes set on it, but we have our eyes set on it.
Speaking of Florida, home, and August—a couple days ago Rhett flew home to FLorida for 10 days to visit family and friends, and take care of a few things. She asked me if I wanted to join her but I declined both for the reasons outlined above and also to give me some quiet time to work on my Heeling is Healing manuscript. I have the manuscript back from my editor and it’s currently sitting just slightly north of 100,000 words (at a benchmark 250 words per page, that would be a 400 page book—a tome by today’s standards). I’m attempting to hew away more of the stone to reveal more of the statue, and get it to 75,000 words.
As I type this I’m sitting in Hazel’s saloon and we’re anchored in a secluded corner of Rockland Harbor working away and waiting for the fog to lift and the wind to become favorable for sailing further downeast to Acadia National Park.
Our cruising over the past couple weeks has been magical. In Boothbay Harbor we enjoyed a couple nights in a resort hotel room and off Hazel. While there, we enjoyed a trip to the Maine Botanical Gardens:
We then spent a couple nights moored on the tiny Damariscove Island and hiked the island. Although nearly deserted today, it was a bustling fishing port and may have been the first permanent European settlement in North America. According to the Mayflower’s ship’s log, it put into Damariscove in 1620 with 102 pilgrims aboard, “…to take some coddes [dried codfish] before sailing on to Maffachufeets Bay.” The large wooden structure with the red roof in some of the pictures below is the decommissioned Damariscove Lifesaving Station:
We then sailed 40 or so miles downeast (downwind and to the east) to eastern Penobscot Bay. On our sail we passed close to Eastern Egg Rock and saw Atlantic Puffins—a first for both Rhett and me! Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds accurately describes them as a, “…chunky little ‘Sea Parrot.’” While puffins were plentiful in Maine in the 1800s, both adults and eggs were hunted to local extinction by 1900. In the 1970s researchers transported puffin chicks from Newfoundland and laboriously dug burrows for them on Eastern Egg Rock. Their efforts have been highly successful and in 1981, five pairs of puffins began breeding on the island. Today, there are hundreds. Amidst all of the recent horrible environmental news, it’s refreshing to have a feel-good story.
On our final leg of the sail that day we passed the majestic schooner Stephen Taber built in 1871.
Finally, when we reached our destination in False Whitehead Harbor, we were treated to a magnificent sunset.
A final highlight of our recent cruising has been the town of Camden at the foot of the Camden Hills and protected by Curtis Island and its lighthouse. The Camden Hills provided excellent hiking for us as well as panoramic views of Penobscot Bay. We did have to use our imaginations a bit as fog obscured some of the view.
In our hiking around Camden and elsewhere in Maine, we’ve been taken by the number and variety of mushrooms that cover the forest floor. I thought you’d like this photo fest of them.
Fair winds and following seas!