I don’t live in Portland anymore. In fact, I’ve flown the whole county of Cumberland for the woods of Arundel, county of York. To say this week’s move has been a breath of fresh air would be both literally and figuratively true.
I’ve spent most of the past 15 years on the Portland peninsula, residing in apartments on the East End and West End. I can’t complain about the rent, but as several of my friends previously discovered, for a little more money one can rent a house outside Portland, more than double one’s living space, and have a yard — in my case, one that borders about 600 acres of woods.
It was nice to live within walking distance of Hilltop Coffee Shop and fine-dining restaurants like The Front Room and Bar Lola, but articles I’ve written in the past six months exposing the nefarious deeds of the owners of those establishments effectively made me persona non grata there — not that I’d give those people another dime, anyway. There are more rich people on Munjoy Hill now than when I first moved there in 1998, but the neighborhood is actually poorer for the loss of honest, working-class folks like Tony Q., who ran an eponymous sandwich shop on Congress Street years ago, and Dickie Colucci, whose namesake corner store was torched by my former next-door neighbor last March.
Granted, there are more notorious criminals in this neck of the woods. It was unsettling to live within 10 feet of an arsonist, but the Arundel house is not far from the Kennebunkport line. My old neighbor invaded the apartments above Colucci’s, but one of my new neighbors invaded Panama, and unlike the kid next door, Poppy Bush killed people — hundreds of ’em in Latin America alone.
Still, this move is for the better. The house and yard are the big advantages, but the little things add up, too.
For example, yesterday I bought 15 big trash bags for $3.99. Five of the large blue Portland trash bags cost more than twice as much — an artificially high price intended to prod me to recycle, which I was faithfully doing long before the blue-bag system was imposed.
I’ll miss living just a few blocks away from an Otto pizzeria, but last night the family and I drove to neighboring Biddeford and had equally delicious pies at Pizza By Alex. Then another remarkable thing happened. A guy walked in with a full, thick mustache, and he was neither a Portland fireman nor a hipster — just a good ol’ Franco-American. I’ve never found facial hair so refreshing.
By far the most wonderful thing yet involved a family pet, a red-eared slider turtle named Turtwig. Turtwig belonged to my girlfriend’s son, and for the past five or six years he lived in a tank in the boy’s bedroom, basking on an artificial log and snapping up dried shrimp and pellets that fell from an artificially lit sky. Much as we loved Turtwig, the sight of him confined in that glass box became depressing. The boy took him for a walk once on the Eastern Prom, but let’s face it — that’s plain crazy.
A couple years ago, we began brainstorming ways to give Turtwig a better life. We seriously considered sending him on a plane to relatives of mine down south who live near fresh water — an only slightly less insane solution. After further research, we learned that Turtwig could survive outdoors in Maine, even in winter. There’s a sizeable pond in the woods behind our new place, so we carried him there in a cardboard box, set him down at the water’s edge, and tossed in some shrimp and pellets to make his transition to the wild a bit easier.
He sat there for a minute or two, cautiously craning his neck out of his shell. I can scarcely imagine how much his tiny mind was being blown in those moments. Then he slipped into the water and sank like a stone into the mud an inch or so beneath the pond’s surface. A couple more minutes passed, and he didn’t move, at all. It seemed wise to bring the kids back to the house and check on him later.
After half an hour, my girlfriend and I returned. Turtwig was no longer in the mud. Our relief morphed into joy when we saw his little head emerge from the middle of the pond. He was swimming, really swimming, for the first time in his life.
I can more easily imagine how he feels now.