There is an empty lot in Rockport that keeps cycling through my mind.
Though it is covered in snow, I see its manicured, bright green grass and level surface now serving as a small open space next to someone’s modern house. There is not much extraordinary about the lot, except it is where my grandparents’ house once stood. There is, however, one thing that stands out — both to any observer and to my memories.
Smooth bedrock humps out of the ground at the rear of the lot. The exposed bedrock resembles a whale’s back gliding out of the ocean — the same ocean I once spied from the upstairs bathroom window of my grandparents’ home. I remember these rocks as the backdrop of the kitchen where my grandmother made some mean chocolate cream pies and my relatives talked politics — loudly.
Today, not only is the house gone, but so too is my grandfather, the uncle who took my cousin and me mackerel fishing in the harbor and my father. This is the power of those rocks. They remain, and with them remain memories and a connection to all that was.
Just down the road a little from this lot, one can find some larger rock formations.
Camden Hills State Park was established in 1948 and is famed for its 30 miles of hiking trails, including an oft-celebrated vista above Camden Harbor. The park provides camping, RV hook-ups, hot showers and flush toilets, diverse trail uses ranging from biking to snowmobiling, hunting and more.
Like the rocks behind my grandparents’ former home, Camden Hills State Park is a connection with the past and a relative constant to which we can return. Years ago, after my father died, my family went to the park to climb Mount Battie. Young grandchildren, my siblings and my wife, in-laws, and my mother all climbed the short trail to the summit.
The view of the harbor below was appropriate, as our remaining family and the park both served at that time as safe harbor of positive memories during a difficult storm.
As an employee of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, I get to see and hear how people look to our parks and public lands as places to ground themselves in family tradition and reconnect again and again with places that comfort with their sense of permanence.
I think of the husband and wife I met in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway who have come up for decades of winters to ice fish and enjoy one another and the beauty of the Allagash’s frozen lakes. All across our system of parks, historic sites and public lands, there are passionate visitors who return year after year to the proper-ties we share and steward.
Nothing lasts forever in one state, and few things remain largely unchanged over time. While parks and lands do change, including improvements, the concept of a park is founded on a degree of permanence. So, while homes and even family members come and go, parks have the capacity to link generations.
This was brought home to me on a trip last summer to Fort Knox State Historic Site in Prospect. Like so many visitors, I snapped photos of my daughter and some of her cousins outside the massive granite walls of this fort constructed in the mid-1800s. Later, I found photos of myself as a youngster posing in that same spot. My wife also found photos of herself as a child in front of those very same walls.
In this way, the historic site is home to all of us from Maine. Like other parks and lands across Maine, it is a place we can return to again and again.
Even though winter is not the peak of activity in parks, right now is a great time to reconnect or perhaps connect for the first time with our parks and lands.
Take-It-Outside events focused on getting people out to enjoy winter activities in our parks have started, with events at Mount Blue State Park, Fort McClary State Park, Range Pond State Park and Aroostook State Park.
These events offer activities such as ice-fishing, cross-country ski instruction, nature walks, demonstrations and are a great way to find outdoor destinations for your family to create their own memories.
Rex Turner is an outdoor recreation planner for the Maine Department of Conservation Bureau of Parks and Lands.