This is All Saints by the Sea, a small church in Maine which generously invites me to care for them in the summers. It is an intelligent, kind congregation and their church sits on the rocky edge of Southport Island as does the rectory a ways down the seaside at the southern tip of the island.
The house is silent, one of its most delicious features. One can sit here for hours and hear only a gentle surf and the sea gulls calling out a territory warning. Hermit crabs meander beneath the dock beyond which is a small island and the open ocean to its left and right.
The island has a small house on it, set beside a small forest of pine trees and painted in the classical New England Red with white trim. Nobody ever goes to or from the small dock nor inhabits the old house. It sits there and is a wonderful source of imagination for me. I love to wonder what the rooms look like, what is in that little forest of trees and what has happened inside that house over the past few decades.
The home and island had a famous (or perhaps infamous) owner and occupant. Purchased as a retreat from the maddening crowd of people who recognized her on the streets of every town in America, Margaret Hamilton bought the house to escape the world. Best known as The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, she was famous for her portrayal of two iconic and evil characters. It was the first popular movie to be filmed in color, making the shift mid-way through, as Dorothy landed near Oz and made her pilgrimage down the yellow-brick-road to face an evil witch with a green face only to find that tossing some water on her would be all it too to escape her clutches and that the Great and Powerful Oz was, indeed, simply a pathetic little insecure man.
They say it was hard for Margaret to live a normal life after acting in that film. Children could recognize her and had trouble differentiating the actress from the character which so frightened and angered them. So she hid on this island where there was silence and the gentle sound of surf and seagulls.
I find myself going back and forth between wanting to be out in the mix of humans while, at the same time, wanting to live apart, as I soon will, deep inside a gated, 20 acre farm in New Mexico. I seem to go back and forth – from Washington DC to a secluded home on Thomas Jefferson’s estate. Then from Cambridge, Massachusetts to a secluded farm in New Hampshire. Then from downtown Denver to a secluded farm in New Mexico. And these moves back and forth from cities to solitudes make me wonder about how we humans offer ourselves and then, when hurt, pull back like hermit crabs; waiting, hoping for the silence which implies some measure of safety.
So here’s to you Margaret Hamilton. I sit here wondering about your life and about mine and about the life of the hermit crab I have decided to name “Fred” and who lives beneath the dock of my little summer house.