• Pete Salmansohn

ECHOES OF CHILDHOOD, ECHOES OF MAINE........


When my brother and I were young, our parents would take us each summer to a new place in the countryside where we could swim and fish and do vacation-type things. And one of the most fun activities was searching for locations where we could generate and hear loud and resounding echoes. We would stand on the shores of lakes or on hillsides or mountaintops, yelling into the void, hoping to hear our voices repeated over and over as our shouts bounced off the landscape. We’d yell out “Yohhhh-ooooooooooh” or “Ekkkkk-oooooooooooooh” and then wait that anticipatory second or two to see if our mighty elementary school voices could be heard reverberating in a way both magical and inspiring.


Causing an echo to boom out over the area allowed us kids to feel important and powerful. Power is in short supply when you’re a pipsqueak from the suburbs of Long Island, New York. We were not put off, however, if we tried a shout or two and nothing came back. We’d go to a higher location or a quieter place and give it another try. And when we did succeed in finding a good spot, we’d carefully listen and then count how many times our voices bounced around and came back to us. Six or seven echoes around the shore of a lake or off a hillside was absolutely thrilling.


In my adult years, I had the privilege for several decades to live on a hill directly overlooking Muscongus Bay, eight miles from Damariscotta, at the end of a road. Our hillside faced east, down to the water — a perfectly situated and very quiet locale for producing echoes across a swath of islands and salt water. It’s so quiet there that I occasionally heard the ghostly deep moans of a whistle buoy some 12 miles or so offshore, near Monhegan Island, and I could sometimes hear the distant whistle of a train going through Newcastle, nine miles away.


Night-time seems to be the best for echo-making and while I’m usually hesitant to yell at that time of day, there are very few people around to disturb. With lobster boats on their moorings, no boat traffic, and stars above, I would take a deep breath and let out a very loud yell. And then, bingo — an echo, perhaps four or five seconds in duration, traveling across a wide arc of a mile or two, coming right back at me, changing at each step along way in volume and quality.


It was only recently, however, that I had my greatest echo-producing experience, and it happened at the end of an uphill hike in Baxter State Park, at the stunning location of Chimney Pond. While the pond itself is quite small, it sits directly below the base of the truly imposing Katahdin ridgetop, some 2,400 feet higher than the pond and several miles wide. From the pond’s edge you can look up and see the tiny silhouettes of distant hikers crossing the infamous “Knife-Edge” portion of the summit. I positioned myself at the shoreline, facing one edge of the ridgetop, and let out a huge bellowing “Yohhhhh - oooooohhh,” and was then absolutely thrilled to hear an echo traveling from one side of that gigantic mountainous wall across to the other, on and on, for nine fabulous seconds. Nine seconds; I think that’s my record. So far....


But echoes don’t really last very long, do they? They’re like the ripples on a still pond after you throw a rock out in the center. Very cool when its happening, but quick to fade. One could ask in a Zen-like way: Is the pond the same afterwards? Is the mountain the same after a yell? Maybe its all just a teeny little blip on the radar. There are no physical traces left of course, but somehow, maybe, just maybe, a change occurred. Perhaps this is like life. Aren’t our lives in some small way like a yell across a lake? For most of us, the evidence of our being here will eventually fade like an echo, disappearing after a few reverberations, a few generations. We look for a beautiful place to stand, and we give a mighty shout, not knowing how far it will go, or for how long…..always hoping, however, to show the world that we exist.



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