Pedals and Pins

The summer moments I enjoyed most were those when I could stow my familial ties in the rocks and forget that I belonged to anything. Mounted high and leaning forward, almost nine years old, I pedaled my bike through the concrete-and-dirt vascular system of Sebasco Harbor Resort. In only five minutes, I could coast along the Maine shorefront, disappear down a wooded path, and then break out into the open, intentional geography of the nine-hole golf course. When I was feeling especially sovereign, I would make the turn onto Pine Drive, pass Dana and Cushman cottages to my left and head out over the narrow land-bridge to the boundary of the resort property. When tarmac gave way to bedrock and swollen roots curling above the soil, I would reverse course and accelerate homeward with heightened pride and heart rate.

On these daily rounds, I was enchanted by the most remote cottages, like Captain’s and Coveside. I always glimpsed them from my route, silent and partially obscured by rows of New England hardwoods. Yet during all of my passes, I never once discovered a way to access them by road. For this reason, and also because I feared their spells, I never approached them.

Instead, I used to lie in bed at night and make up stories about the strange hermits who would choose to stay along Sebasco’s periphery. Sometimes they were leaders of pagan cults, sometimes they were master thieves, and sometimes they were foreign diplomats on the lamb hiding out in Phippsburg, Maine while all the world’s espionage agencies scoured the Eastern Seaboard. The stories of these characters felt illicit—terrifying—and I found myself riding on my own more and more. Each circuit of the resort campus yielded new searches for the bridge between the fringe and me. I wanted to know what solitude really looked like, and if it was sustainable.

Every evening, however, when I returned to the compound’s groomed, domestic heart, I was reminded of my duties as one quarter of a family unit. After dining at one of two restaurants, my mother, my father, my brother, and I would often descend upon the Quarterdeck. This was the resort’s game hall, and it was only accessible from the outside by a flight of sharp concrete stairs with railings of peeling iron that did more harm than good.

The interior was a single room with low ceilings, pressed up against the rafters of the building. Here, strange incandescent light fell on a wooden hall sectioned into two parts by a poorly hung net. One half held four lanes for candlepin bowling and a well-used bank of bleachers against the front wall. In the other was a collection of 1990s arcade games, startlingly loud pinball machines and tables for ping-pong, billiards, air hockey, and foosball (most of the plastic players now headless). A scarlet jukebox sat in the corner, spending most nights out of operation.

With all of its creaks and cracks and misfires, that room had a way of making me forget my interest in seclusion. I was blissful there, in spite of myself. Our games of bowling, raucous and inconsequential, turned into epic family endeavors. Every mechanism needed to make the game run smoothly was either breaking or broken, and the four of us would laugh, gasp, and chant as the grumbling technology behind the far wall worked to reset a few pins and return our weapons to us. My dad knew how to use volume and strange exclamations to make mediocre shots seem heroic, and my mom would always reinforce him with a shout of agreement and then a quieter compliment when my brother and I stepped away from the lane.

In the daylight, my parents used to pay men with thick mustaches to take the four of us out on boats for an impressive range of reasons: “Yes, hello. The brochure says that we can take a ‘Scenic Nature and Harbor Cruise’ of the ‘wharves, homes, and boats of Cundy’s Harbor.’ We’d like to see these wharves, homes, and boats.” Or, “Yes, hi there. Our boys are very curious about the lobstering profession [we weren’t]. We would love to watch a real lobsterman check traps while he gives us a random smattering of facts about lobsters.” Or sometimes even, “Yes, good afternoon. We were informed that there was a resident pirate who needed help finding his sunken ship and buried treasure. Our boys are very interested in being a part of the search and perhaps taking home a bit of the treasure [we were].” It was at these moments, though, out on the bay before we had reached the wharves, traps, or treasures, that I would often tune out the tour guide’s rehearsed stories and look back at the craggy hems of Sebasco. I would wish I was riding my bike alone, past Captain’s or Coveside, and peering through the trees.

***

The summer when I was eleven, the four of us traveled together to Sebasco for the last time. On this visit, the resort on the harbor had the feeling of a crumbling fortress, not yet old enough to deserve reverence. Everything was smaller and more trivial. I sat upon my bike once again, hoping to replicate one of those solo rides out to the brink of my organized, one-quarter existence. But this time, I gained no comfort from being on my own. As I passed the more remote cottages, I barely picked my head up to look. They were no longer magnetic. My lust for strangeness and solitude had faded.

I pumped my legs and hurried back to Sebasco’s busy center, suddenly afraid of wasting a day in solitude. When I was somewhere between the tennis courts and the theater, hurrying madly to recover the one-quarter comfort that I had discarded a few hours before, my parents were sitting inside the homey confines of Juniper Ledge cottage, finalizing their divorce.

The following year, my parents attempted to split our time at the resort: part of the week with her, part with him. Sebasco became another shared asset of the marriage that had to be divided equally. It was as if they thought their relationships with us would collapse without this summer week on the Maine coast and neither wanted to withdraw his or her claim to the wharves, homes, and boats—the treasures—of Cundy’s Harbor.

One summer, development settled the matter for them. The place was bought out. It kept its name, but was sculpted into a high-end German spa where lobster tours were made secondary (or perhaps eradicated—I am reluctant to do the research).  They paved the remaining dirt, and tore down centrally located cottages to make room for spa facilities. This is all the natural advance of money into beautiful locations, I suppose.

No member of my family ever ventured up there again, and I don’t remember being disappointed. Yet I have begun to think of Sebasco a lot these days. It is a difficult sentiment to explain, but I find myself hoping more than anything that they left the Quarterdeck alone.

 

Jacob Osborne has lived in the same blue house in Thetford, Vermont his entire life. He loves acting, carrying things on his back, and realizing every day how much he is like his parents. Send him an e-mail at jacob.osborne@yale.edu.

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