Outta My Yard

By Elizabeth Peavey
by Elizabeth Peavey

An affair to remember

When you’ve been in a relationship for over 30 years, it’s easy to take certain things for granted. You think you know everything your relationship has to offer, and that there’s no room for surprises. Small annoyances get blown out of proportion. You catch yourself in one of those surreptitious gazes: I can’t believe how much you’ve changed. How could you let yourself go like that? Maybe you’ve had your dalliances. Or at least entertained the notion. But most of us just dig in our heels and resign ourselves to the situation — not unhappy, but also not willing to put forth the effort to make the relationship exciting again.

Well, that’s how it’s been with me and the city of Portland, off and on, since 1979. (What? You thought I was talking about marriage? My marriage? Are you crazy? My husband, John, is just about the sweetest, nicest, funniest man going — and he loves to cook. I’d be a fool to complain.)

When you’ve lived in a place as long as I have, you earn the right to grumble. You can also start to feel like a relic. Sometimes I think I should become a stop on the Duck boat tours. (“And now if you’ll look to your left, you’ll see our oldest former college co-ed cum New Wave punk rocker cum ex-pat cum re-pat cum downtown Action Girl cum alt-weekly arts editor cum slam poet cum freewheeling freelancer and edgy columnist cum suburban housewife in Portland.”)

The problem with relics (aside from the fact they require so much dusting) is that there’s a tendency to look backwards and compare: “Oh, the fois gras at Fore Street is nothing compared to the Hollow Reed’s.” (Ha! That was a trick. The Hollow Reed was Portland’s first vegetarian restaurant, and their fois gras was awful — granted, there’s only so much you can do with kelp and beets.)

But as I’ve been preparing for my upcoming two-woman show, “Finding ME,” in which I explore how this Bath girl who wanted nothing more than to live anywhere but here came to call Maine home, I’ve been forced to reexamine why, despite all my carping, I love my home turf. And in doing so, I’ve had some recent I heart Portland moments:

• I heart the Fenix Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night in Deering Oaks park. I didn’t really want to go, but the forecast called for thunder showers, so I figured I could get points for saying yes and then not actually have to show up. But the weather held, and John and I headed over. Families sprawled on blankets around the wading pond. Some hauled in coolers. We positioned ourselves on the periphery, so we could sneak out if the show blew. But lo, forsooth, these merry players doth knocked our socks off.

• I also heart Portland Trails. The other morning I noticed a set of steps going up into the woods at the eastern terminus of Marginal Way, by the poop plant, and thought, Oooh, that looks like a good place to get mugged. So, like an ascending Alice, I took them and emerged into Loring Park. I continued up North Street, where I discovered another Portland Trails sign beside the community garden. (Curiouser and curiouser.) I followed it into a tunnel of trees that wove me through backyards and led me out onto Walnut Street. This minor detour made me feel like an intrepid explorer in my own town.

• My friend Lily King’s beautiful new book, Father of the Rain, was prominently and positively reviewed in the July 25 Times Book Review. I love that I don’t have to wear a fedora and live in Brooklyn to be friends with such an accomplished writer.

• I heart hanging out with the birders during May migration in Evergreen Cemetery. And I love the Saturday farmers market in Deering Oaks. I love riding our bikes there and wheeling away with a bunch of Swiss chard poking up out of the top of my backpack, looking like the type of person I would’ve pushed into the duck pond in another life.

• I heart Sunday morning breakfast with Nan’l behind the bar at Local 188, even though it’s (usually) too early for John and me to have a pop. I love Local, and Sonny’s, and their owner, Jay. I love running into him at the farmers market and seeing him wave from behind the line. I heart Winnie and her martinis at Katahdin; Coffee By Design for furnishing me with a satellite office; and North Star Café for, after much searching, providing a home for John’s and my weekend coffee dates. I love the Great Lost Bear and the fact I’ve known some of those people as long as I’ve been in Portland, and that we can pick up any conversation where we left off — whether it’s been two days or two years.

• I love Standard Baking and Miccuci’s and Ferdinand and Longfellow Books and Folly 101. And I love The Bollard and Chris Busby for his courage and fortitude in keeping a paper going that I can be proud to write for and that gives me a platform to offer a word to fellow Portland relics: Look around. This old town just might surprise you.

Elizabeth Peavey urges you to see Twelfth Night (through Aug. 14). OK, and her show, too (Aug. 10 at the Strand Theatre in Rockland; and later this fall in Portland, details TBA).