No power lines. No modern plumbing. No problem. A family returns to work and play on a rocky point in rural Maine.

By Jennifer Chappell
March 24, 2003
No power lines. No modern plumbing. No problem. A family returns to work and play on a rocky point
Brian Vanden Brink

There aren't too many of them left-summer colonies like this ruralDown East one. It's a place not strung with power lines; forestfloors aren't sealed by pavement. Here, a cluster of battened-downcottages brave brutal winters alone, enduring cruel winds thatflick away their scales of flaking paint and ice storms that makethem shed their shingles.

At last, owners such as the Sorensen family return with summer'sbalmy breezes. The houses breathe again, through raised windows andflapping screened doors. Linens get shaken out, shingles replaced,generators and water pumps revved. "It takes about two or threedays to open this place up," says Andrew Sorensen, president of theUniversity of South Carolina. "Nothing is modern. It's all verysimple but very demanding."

Andrew and his wife, Donna, bought their vacation home in 1978."This was our anchor as I was rising up the administrative ranks,"he says. "The kids always knew that though we moved often, we wouldbe here in the summer."

In fact, their second son, Benjamin, now a 20-somethingprofessional living in Miami, first came here when he was just sixweeks old. A quilt-lined wooden shipping box that came with thecottage served as his baby bed. "Ben took his first steps here,"Donna remembers.

As life's demands increased, summer-long stays shortened. ThenDonna and Andrew didn't come back for eight long years. Theyreturned three summers ago, afraid of what they'd find. "We werepleasantly surprised to discover how well our home had weatheredthe intervening years," Donna says. "We immediately set aboutpainting, glazing windows, and replacing shingles."

Today, the couple has brought Ben back for his first visit in adecade, along with Donna's mother and father. (Their other son,Aaron, and his wife, Cesarina, are busy with a new baby andcouldn't make the trip.) Though recently hired caretakers have keptup the place, there's a lot of work to be done. "You don't comehere to sit around," Andrew says.

As evidence, Ben emerges from the steep back trail, his armsloaded with brush that he uses to fuel a small fire. Clearing outthe property each summer is just part of what it takes to maintainthis place. Andrew didn't ask his son to take on this task. "But Imust confess, it pleases me," he says.

Andrew's gone to work himself. He's standing on a tall ladder,which, to Donna's dismay, he's climbed with a half-empty paint canand brush in hand. Her worry won't deter him from dabbing a freshcoat on the second-story trim. Donna turns to airing out thelinens.

When Ben finishes clearing the path down the bluff, he uses itto head for a dip in numbing waters he hasn't felt since he was 14.His grandparents relax on the screened porch. Later, when the moodstrikes, Donna's mom will help her make dumplings with blueberriesbought at a roadside stand on the drive up. Such is the pace duringa languid summer break at this remote cottage.

Named "Mainstay" by its former owners, the cottage once servedas the dining hall of this seasonal community, founded in the late1800s. In those early days, "Rusticators," as they were called,converged each year via steamship, sail, and rail. "Sitting on oneof the granite outcroppings, you can almost see the summer folk ofyears gone by getting off the steamships with trunks filled for atwo-month stay," Donna says. "Now their children, grandchildren,and great-grandchildren share that history with newcomers likeus."

Late this afternoon, one such descendant stops by. SandraPriest, whose great-grandfather helped establish the community,lives in town but maintains a summer cottage here. "Hello, Mrs.Priest," Ben calls. It's been more than 10 years, but he remembersthis gentle woman as she ambles in. She hoots, however, to see himgrown.

On the screened porch, she fills the Sorensens in on localnews-who's here this season, a recent lightning storm. Sandraserves as area historian and recalls when houses brimmed withfamilies all summer long. "The ladies would get together during theweek and play poker while the men were back in the city working,"she says.

Nowadays, though the homeowners don't know each other as well,the Sorensens still feel a sense of community. "We are notconnected by blood with the vacationers of the past, but we feelconnected because we share the experience-and that has changedlittle over these many years," Donna says. She hopes that nextsummer her son Aaron will bring his wife and their baby, Arturo."Another generation will get introduced to this point."