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My cold-kissed season on Maine's shore

The white clapboard cottage curls around me like a snail, the small, cozy rooms cushioned with memories and chilled by autumn storms. The small drip in the hall ceiling won't damage the red-and-blue carpet much.

The temperature is 45 degrees F. when I come down to make breakfast. I pile paper, shingles, and logs into the tiny woodstove to coax its warmth to invade the cold kitchen.

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My overalls and sweatshirt aren't enough for comfortable sitting. I add my down vest and draw the small breakfast table nearer the stove. The white cupboard above the sink holds the blue-and-white willow-ware I've used my whole life. I take down a chowder bowl for my cereal. Edging as close as I can to the iron stove, I dip my spoon into the Grapenuts and half-cream. A hot mug helps warm me more than the fire.

The cottage wasn't meant for off-season habitation. Built in 1897, its lath and plaster aren't enough to keep out drafts from the 25-knot winds outside. Were it not for the radiator in the bedroom and bath, I would have had to leave when the other summer folks did, in late August or early September. I would have missed the glory of the leaves, the peace of an empty shore.

I am alone facing Pumpkin Lighthouse and the bright blue bay. All my neighbors have flown south, and I relish the solitude even in the boisterous storms.

The mooring poles bob empty in the dark surf. All the boats rest in sheds for the winter.

I walk out to the woodpile. Will this small pyramid be enough to warm the kitchen until I leave? The crisp air surrounds me. Clouds of breath rise off the surface of the bay. I dump my armload of logs in the shed for the next fire and start closing up the cottage for the winter.

Cleaning this tiny house is the first in a series of closing-up adventures. Upstairs the 30-year old vacuum crouches on its skids, catching on door frames, falling over, whining. I push and pull it around the small rooms that have no square corners. Floors protest in different musical tones as I drag the reluctant vacuum behind me. It eats the hall throw rugs.

Trapezoidal bedroom doors no longer close. Dad planed the tops off for years in an effort to make them fit after the frost heaving of the house in the winter. Now, triangles of empty space breathe above each door.

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Downstairs, at the living-room windows, I push the nails back through the holes to secure each wooden window frame (our effort against intruders, as if there were any on this remote end of the island).

In summer the porch is our main living space. We read our books, piece our jigsaw, and gaze at the lighthouse. Now, in the chill, I lift the screen door off its hinges and lay it gently on the floor beside the porch swing, already prone, bottom up, its chains in small rusty piles.

From the corner beside the swing, I heft the five-foot-tall megaphone my parents would use to call me in to dinner when I was mooring the sailboat. It spends its winter sentry-like inside the living-room closet.

The white painted porch furniture I pile in the center of the room, stacking rockers on end tables on chairs. There's so much furniture in this tiny house!

My last task is to climb the wooden ladder to the roof and put the square wooden top over the open chimney. No squirrels or mice will get into the house that way, especially with large, flat rocks to hold it in place. No more woodstove fires now. I'm forced to pack and go to a warmer climate.

Life in Florida for the winter may be ideal, but it's not real. My life, Maine-cottage life, mingled with challenge and nature and memories remains suspended until May when I can joyfully open up the little snail-shell house again and smile as I light the woodstove.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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