In 1996 my parents, responding with vigor to low-level delinquency on my part, sent me to a reform school in the back woods of Maine. For two years I lived in a small house with sixty other young people, in essentially a small society of its own rules, tough and insulated from the world outside.
After I left, my brother moved to nearby Lewiston to attend Bates College. He studied philosophy, became a labor organizer and made a home outside Portland with his partner. I wrote a song of our story called “The Great State of Maine.”
This week we are on the Allagash River, at the northernmost point of the east United States, on the occasion of our parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Our parents have long celebrated their love in wilderness. They married at a stone altar at the entrance to the US-Canada boundary waters.
Thick forests of pine roll up the hills along our route. We take time at the fire to talk. My brother and I are in politics. We each made ourselves half-martyrs to a cause, if there can be such a thing. Now we are freeing up our lives to invest in some exploration again, as we did coming up together in odd corners of the earth.
We have hours to drift. It occurs to me that whatever plans I lay, the essence of my life may always be contemplation and ideas passing through me. I often compose music passively, somewhere behind my first line of thought, barely noticing the process. Some part of it I will aim to place crudely on tape at some point. But most music I write will never have a life outside my thoughts. That will have to be enough. And I notice that it is.
Listen to "The Great State of Maine."