I grew up in a small town on the shores of Portage Lake in Aroostook County, the largest county in the state of Maine and the largest county in much of the eastern half of the country. It is so large, in fact, that both Connecticut and Rhode Island could fit within the borders of the county.
Portage Lake is situated along the Fish River Chain of lakes and nestled in ancient rolling hills that turn a deep, lush green in the spring and summer, a mosaic of colors in the fall, and a picturesque snow-covered landscape in the winter. Loon greet the sunset at night – as do fireflies and mosquitoes – and it is not uncommon for deer, moose, bear and other creates of the Deep Dark North Woods to wander out to visit the village on the lake’s southern shore.
It is a wonderfully beautiful place. A Maine tourism catch phrase some years ago read: “Maine, the way life should be.” The inspiration for that could have come from Portage Lake.
Earlier today I posted a poem by Ruby Garrison Searway, a poet from Aroostook County. I shared it for two reasons: 1) the poem used a touch of Maine humor about a snowstorm and that region was dumped on yesterday (My sister said she could relate); and 2) I am from that neck of the woods, as they say.
She is not a force in the literary world, but she did write a poem about Portage Lake. As I posted earlier, the parents of a girl I dated in high school gave me Searway’s “Yesterday’s Tomorrow” from which I took the earlier poem. The poem about Portage Lake, appropriately titled “Portage Lake,” was a supplement to that book, essentially a card on which the poem and line art representing the lake were printed.
“Portage Lake” by Ruby Garrison Searway
Cradled among Aroostook’s hills you lie,
And cabins face the sunset on your shore;
A motor’s widening wake disturbs the calm
Unbroken by the Indian’s silent oar.
Above a circling seaplane’s shining wing
An osprey hovers, and a loon’s weird cry
Echoes across the lake and near the reeds –
Pond lilies in a patch of mirrored sky.
Care drifts away when silver salmon rise,
And fires on the farther shore burn low;
Above West Hill the evening star’s soft light
Caught in your hear becomes a candle glow.
Gift of a wise and beauty-loving God,
Rare jewel of Fish River’s glistening chain,
A lonely city dweller far away
Longs for a friendly camp fire up in Maine.
I am not sure what she means by “silver salmon rise,” since Portage Lake was and very probably remains a poor fishing lake. It is too shallow and the environmentally questionable practices of long-gone mills and earlier cabin dwellers make it not the best of fishing spots.
It is, however, a fantastic place from which to venture to wonderful fishing and it is a classically beautiful location.
I still could not find much online about Searway, just online references to available copies of her books and one genealogical reference, but the website would not load and I could not read it. I believe she lived in Blaine and may have lived in Ashland, which is about 11 miles from Portage. The following is from the back cover of her book “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” published in 1974.
“Mrs. Searway’s poems are sparkling and alive. Her style is natural with a relaxed technique that flows from the pen of a truly great poet. A meticulously expert understanding of poetry has not stilted the lovely creations that her latest work enfolds. You will marvel at the delicacy of her tastes, such as the joy of touching a flower and smelling its fragrance. Her sense of compassion for wildlife is beautifully described in her poem ‘The Last Flight.’
“Everyone from New England will treasure a copy of this book by a Maine author who was born and has lived all her life in Aroostook County. Her wealth of knowledge of bygone days and their nostalgic heritage is exemplified in Yesterday’s Tomorrow. Walk with her into an old-fashioned kitchen and smell the pungent, spicy flavor of ‘New England Pickles,’ a poem of hers that is written with the quaint accent of ‘downeast’ colloquialisms. It warms the heart and gives the reader chuckles of delight.
“Her subjects touch all facets of life. It expressions superbly the very experiences that you and I have, such as in ‘The Day After Christmas.’ The exhaustion and litter of the home is so vividly portrayed, you almost sigh as you read it with complete understanding of the feeling and the scene.
“But do not be bewitched into thinking that Mrs. Searway is only taken up with the lesser tasks of living. Her poetry throbs with the depth of an insight into the Spiritual Realm. You will be brought into harmony with your Creator when you read her lovely lines of ‘Peace.’ Also the poems ‘A Prayer’ and ‘Search’ express the longings of heart that all of us have, culminating in the fulfillment of finding God’s presence. Mrs. Searway is truly a woman with Greatness of soul, sharing her genuineness through her beautiful poems.”