Some more woolgathering in Belfast, Maine

Opinion September 12, 2013 0 Comments

Backstage at the Fiber College of Maine’s Knit Maine-ia Fashion Show. (Photo by Hugh Gilmore)

by Hugh Gilmore

Up in mid-coast Maine last week we all had so much fun I just about haven’t finished smiling yet. Of course, it doesn’t take too much to get me clam-ishly happy once I’m up there. The clean air, for one thing, is kind of like laughing gas. When I take a deep breath, my Philadelphia-based lungs brace for an airborne pathogens assault, only to be overwhelmed by nearly pure oxygen, the kind you can only get in a metal tank back home. Makes a person dizzy.

That’s only part of it, though. We also enjoyed being the laziest people on earth for ten days. Cousin Jeanne, who owns the cabin (on a pond) and lets us stay there, called the day before we left and asked: “How was the water?”

“Haven’t been in yet.”

“Oh. Everything okay with the kayaks?”

“Guess so. Haven’t used them.”

“And the motorboat?”

“Looks okay from up here on the deck. Tarp’s still on, if that’s what you’re asking.”

I imagine some folks might wonder, What do they do that makes them feel so happy? (Besides breathing, which I already boasted about.) Well, Janet brings up a giant bag of The New York Times back issues and catches up on the news while she drinks coffee and eats fresh blueberry muffins.

I sit nearby and read a book. Some days I’m able to start right after breakfast. That’s my definition of vacation: daytime book reading. A nearly sinful indulgence, but it takes us where we want to go. “There is no frigate like a book.”

The oldest Times Janet brought this year was dated Oct. 15, 2010. Reading the old ones puts a perspective on “the news” and what is considered important. Books tend to have a more timeless quality. Get you to slow down a little and take the long view.

Technically, Cousin Jeanne’s cottage is in Northport. But we usually say “Lincolnville” if the person asking knows the Maine coast. Our hearts, though, belong to Belfast, six miles away. There’s the tourists’ Belfast (one of the cutest, postcard-pretty Main Streets and wharfs you’ll ever see) and then there’s the natives’ Belfast, a working town where people have to work extra hard to make ends meet.

We’ve been coming up for 27 years but are still tourists to these townsfolk. In the checkout line at Hannaford’s big, beautiful supermarket, locals in truckers’ caps and flannel shirts outnumber the summer people in their Bermudas and collared knit-shirts.

Once in a while we lay down our books and attend a local event. Last year Janet won first place in her age category at the Union Fairgrounds annual blueberry-spitting contest. This year she wanted to attend the fourth annual KnitMaine-ia Fashion Show at the Searsport Shores Ocean Campground. I got towed along and managed to have a good time, despite being one of only six men in a tent full of fashionable women.

The show featured knitwear, and it was produced by the Fiber College of Maine, the largest fiber education gathering on the East Coast. It offered 50-plus classes and 18 free demonstrations, in addition to the fashion show. Janet is a fabric artist and costumer for The Stagecrafters Theater here in 19118, so she approaches pageants like this with a mechanic’s eye, so to speak. “How did she do that?” “What’s that made of?” “Cool idea – she used buttons so she can add or take away the fringe at the hem.”

The setting for the fashion show was magical. If Weavers Way created a summer retreat it would look like Searsport Shores Campground: stately spruces, a thick carpet of needles, snug cabins, every kind of camping setup from pup tents to mobile trailers the size of yachts. All looking homey, healthy and natural.

After parking we walked down a dirt road and then onto a long path in the woods that leads out to a Penobscot Bay beach. Silhouetted against the blue sky and dark water, a long white tent was furnished with folding chairs on both sides of what would be the models’ runway.

Like a Cole Brothers’ circus I once saw, where the ticket taker ran around and sold me popcorn before appearing in the ring on the back of a circling horse, the fashion show featured a few ladies I had seen working in Belfast as cashiers or salesladies. The models ranged from an infant in her mommy’s arms to a grandmother wearing a three-generational sweater. They were all lovely, as were the knitted dresses, shawls, scarves, gloves, socks, hats, and even two knitted bikinis.

And I learned from the MC’s comments that not everything the ladies wore was created using the expected sheep’s wool yarn. Lots of alpaca and angora garments were also on display, plus a few pieces that had been shaped from felt. My personal favorite was a wedding dress created in “fabric” created from plastic shopping bags.

The show finished just about the time the sun had gone down, and we walked back up the trail to our car – happy once again we’d made the long drive to Maine. This year we went to Maine later in the season than we usually do. It’s very quiet up there after Labor Day. Especially now that the Gilmores are gone and have taken their noisy books with them.

Hugh Gilmore’s “Scenes from a Bookshop” is a collection of offbeat, heartwarming, stories based on his days running a bookshop on Chestnut Hill Avenue. His best-selling book, it’s available in both paperback and e-book formats.

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