Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wyeth and the Beans of Egypt, Maine

In October, Mom and I jumped into her dark green jeep with the thin red pinstripe just under the windows for our long talked about road trip to view the Andrew Wyeth's autumn inspired collection at The Farnsworth Art Museum on Maine's mid-coast.

The day was gorgeous. Spectacular in a way that artists capture and poets describe. The embodiment of a picture perfect New England fall day. One you could bottle. Treasure. Ephemeral. A final vestige of warmth and color in the fleeting weeks before daylight savings ends abruptly draping afternoon sunshine with winter's grey shroud.

On this day, the cerulean sky cloudless. Dry air defined the crisp edges of each brightly-hued leaf bordering the highway. Breathtaking. I-95, the turnpike that would lead, or so we thought, to U.S. Route 1 and Rockland. Our canvas boat bag packed with a few bottles of Poland Springs and apples from the nearby orchard was tossed casually on the back seat. Ooops. No GPS. No map. No problem. Just follow the highway toward LL Bean and then along the shore road.

Not a happening thing. Not in Maine. I-95 is a north-south highway wending its way north from the tip of Florida through the densely populated megalopolis of the east coast, parallel to the Atlantic Ocean. Right? Uh-unh. It veers left at Portland and heads straight through interior Maine to the Canadian border. North! Who knew north was not along the coast as it was the entire length of this super highway? Who knew the meaning of 'downeast'? Not this mapless Kentucky-bred driving duo beelining on a course directly into moose territory during wild turkey hunting season. If only the sour mash variety.

Lost in animated conversation, unwittingly staying the course on I-95 to the exit for the coastal route. The one that which would lead us through the picturesque antique village of Wiscasset past Bath Iron Works shipyard at the mouth of the Kennebec River (which further upstream was a torrent of white water rapids that our Willy canoed during his childhood summers). Instead, we sailed into the heart of Maine, a comedy of errors.

Ooops. Zoomed past the exit for Augusta. Augusta? The state capitol. Maine's epicenter. The democratic location for every state house in the nation ... except Boston. The toll collector surely would redirect us. But, and this should have been a tip-off, he didn't exactly know the way. No problem. We did what every self-respecting lost driver would do: headed to the nearest filling station to reset the course. I popped inside and asked the woman selling Lottery tickets and slushies at the counter. She rambled off a series of turns, landmarks, route numbers. My ears numbing out the turn right at the blank, then left at the other blank, around the rotary, past the quarry to a route number we never found. I nodded as my eyes glazed over. So deeper into rural Maine we drove. This time on country back roads.

Phew. Mom spied several men in camouflage gear unloading their rifles from the pickup's gun rack. They'd know. Men are so much better at directions. We slowed onto the gravel shoulder, rolled down the side window and hoped the shotguns were not loaded. Smarter now, I jotted their convoluted directions on a piece of scrap paper stained with a crimson lipstick blot. I know they were chuckling as we pulled off on a wild goose chase. Pin the tail on the donkey dizzy. A museum? Yup.

We zigged and zagged past fields and barns and rusty tractors. No route numbers. No signs. Nothing. The double yellow line luring us into a false sense of confidence that this secondary road would take us somewhere. Anywhere. Ahead a farmer pulled his red Ford F-540 dualie to the mailbox on the edge of road. His kind eyes met mine and I knew, the way one knows that his directions would be honest ones. And, we'd be on our way. I explained our predicament to this patient man whose steely grey eyes locked onto my face. When I had stopped talking, he shrugged and shook his head, his hands on his ears indicating he couldn't hear. Pitiful. A deaf mute with a driver's license. We were screwed.

Late afternoon. Our resolve gone. I positioned the setting sun on the right side of the jeep and headed toward what was assuredly the coast. Miles later Mom squealed. Ahead at the bottom of the hill a sign for Route 1. Finally. Not knowing whether to turn right or left to reach the Farnsworth we threw our hands in the air laughing at our trip to nowhere. With growling tummies, we stopped for barbecue at Naked Buck's juke joint outside Freeport.

So, where is this going, this column of mine? To Rockland! To the Farnsworth. Andrew Wyeth's winter collection in the main gallery. This time for real. The correct way. The only way to reach it by land from southern York County. I-95 to I-295 to Route 1. A confident passenger in another classic green automobile heading downeast. My seasoned sailor at the helm. The wind at our backs. The sun in our eyes. The Gulf of Maine at the tip of pine covered peninsulas, scattered with deserted islands on our right looping in and out of view. Monhegan Island appears on the horizon. We are nearing our destination.

Poland Spring water bottles clink. Cheers ... until tomorrow!

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