“So I went on softly from the glade,
And left her behind me throwing her shade,
As she were indeed an apparition—
My head unturned lest my dream should fade.”
In 2012, I was introduced to the Stone House during my first semester with Stonecoast; a low-residency MFA program that sits in the top ten MFA programs for writing in the entire country. It was July, and in the summer seasons the students stay at the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick, Maine. Bowdoin is a beautiful campus with many things going for it, not the least of which is a bevy of old buildings (I’m a sucker for old buildings) to photograph or explore. The sleeping can be a little rough for some folks because as a student, you sleep in the dorms – which can be stifling and often don’t promote a sense of intimacy with other students. Because of this, many people opt out of the summer residencies when they can and go to Ireland for the program’s residency there. After all, who wants to have to sleep with a fan in a dorm room when you can be sleeping under the stars of Ireland instead?
During the winter residency, six months later in January, students stay at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, Maine – which is not too far at all from Brunswick. The Harraseeket is wonderful and provides very comfortable rooms or townhouses, smack-dab in the middle of a multitude of retail outlet stores. The meals are well-prepared by the Inn staff and they even leave you little chocolates on your pillow…and also, who doesn’t want a fireplace in their room? C’mon!
What these two residencies share in common, at least up until now, is that each day – the students are transported away from these places of sleep and friendly gathering and recuperation from the day’s events to a little historic stone house sitting in Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport, Maine. The Stone House, as it is called, is used by the Stonecoast MFA program to hold workshops, presentations, and other gatherings related to the program. It is a place away from the mundane activities of shopping and sleeping, a place that is meant to inspire and to create focus.
As you can see, the house is beautiful. It was built in 1917, and for a place that generally hasn’t been given the upkeep needed by the administration, it still looks to be in mostly-decent shape. It is not without its problems, however, which is why there are some folks who aren’t exactly sad to see it go. I can’t really blame them, either. For those who are handicapped in any way – there are no service elevators in the house and since it’s a historic building, there are strict guidelines that must be followed when it comes to restoration or upkeep, and part of that is not putting in any additions. On top of that, the house can get very hot in the summer and very chilly in the winter – which sometimes can detract from paying full attention to presentations or readings.
Still, for many of us who ended up within the Stone House for the duration of our Stonecoast careers, the house was a magical place. Of course, the Stonecoast program is about the spirit of writing, of community, and nothing defines it aside from the students and faculty involved in the program…but the house was magical.
At the time I received a call from Stonecoast and the person on the other end informed me that I’d been accepted, I was an extremely broken man and I cried. I was thirty years old. My marriage had just ended a few months before. I had no money and was living with a co-worker and her boyfriend, surrounded by the unpacked boxes of my former life as a married man of three years. I had devoted the past six years to a relationship I had fully believed in with every fiber of my being, and it was all dashed in only a few weeks worth of time. If I hadn’t gotten into Stonecoast, I may have been homeless or worse. The student loan money came just in the nick of time, and then my newfound friends and purpose saved my soul.
That summer, I made my way to the Bowdoin campus in Brunswick. After registering, I made small talk with a couple of people on the bus we took from Bowdoin to the Stone House, where we’d be having our Stonecoast orientation and lecture on the history of the house. We took a guided tour from an old man who’d lived there as a child. He told us stories of 1920’s movie starlets roaming the halls, of ghostly pirate ships seen in the waters of the nearby Casco Bay. We writers looked at each other with huge smiles. This place was ripe with story ideas. They were basically seeping from the walls, bleeding from the floorboards. The front yard was well-groomed and the surrounding woods were a good destination for those wishing for a peaceful walk to clear the head after lunch. A fox roamed the property, eliciting varied responses from the students and faculty. If you walked behind the house, you could see the ruins of an old “castle” poking out of a forest across the water – the remnants of an old hotel that burned down at the turn of the century, only a stone spire remaining which was just one more thing to make the Stone House itself seem magical.
My first workshop was held in that house. My first real friendships after being divorced were forged within those walls. I worked with the best writers and people I have ever met, in those little rooms under dim lights. There were conversations, lectures, amazing stories, emotions. We filled that place with life, and it’s sad to think of the house just sitting there in the woods, the winter class of 2015 its last breath, all the stories created there remaining as ghostly voices echoing across empty chambers.
To many, losing the house wasn’t a big deal. Stonecoast the program is where the home is, because that’s where our hearts are. But the Stone House, for people like me – was a refuge. A sanctuary. A place of healing and creative energy. And to know that I can no longer step inside, especially when I become an old man and wish to show my family the place that helped to save my life – hurts more than anything.
And now, I leave you with some photos from inside and around the Stone House. They are simply photos, but they do capture the essence of what life was like for two wonderful years of my life in the Stonecoast MFA program. The Stone House will be missed. It was a magical place, away from the city, away from almost everything except for inspiration.