Dan and Hannah Welcome You to Walk Their Hometown – York, Maine  Part 1

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Hannah and I now live 20 miles south of Kennebunk on the Maine coast

How in the world did you two residents of Arizona ever end up in Maine?  I mean, really.  You were living in Arizona, the real Sunshine State!   Did you have any idea what winters were like in New England?   What part of roof-raking the snow off your house did you not get?  What were you smoking?  What made you do it?   Well, my Uncle Jimmy had a lot to do with it.  Let me explain.

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Hannah and I lived just to the west of Mesa in Tempe for ten years

Since Hannah grew up in the sub-arctic cold of Rochester, New York and I not ten miles from Manhattan in New Jersey, we were iron filings to the magnetic pull of the warmth of Arizona.  Married young at 24, we figured, What the hell!  Why not Arizona!  Soon, we had the easy peezy life of shorts and sandals.  We even had a 40′ pool at our first house, not a mile from the campus of The Arizona State University.  I could play 18 holes of golf for $3 in the summer.  True it was always north of 100F on the course.

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My Uncle Jimmy with his bride, my Aunt Marian

And then fate and Uncle Jimmy stepped.  It was October, 1980 when we returned East for my brother Richard’s wedding.   There, my Uncle Jimmy, the planter of seeds, said, When are you guys coming back East?

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Such kids!

We immediately dismissed that idea as crazy talk.  Move to the cold Northeast?   During our ten years in the 70s in the Cactus State, there was a soothing laid-back California vibe to the Valley of the Sun that suited us.  We had tans year-round.  We could bike everywhere.  True, smog, that Los Angeles could be proud of, blanketed the valley most days, and the traffic that was a Debbie Downer.

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But the sun-drenched life wasn’t the only reason we were in Arizona.  You see, we each came from families with high profile fathers in the small communities where we grew up.  Hannah’s dad was the village doctor while mine was the high school principal.  Since everyone knew our families, Hannah and I were less Hannah and Dan, but more the doctor’s daughter and the principal’s kid.  No one’s fault, we had good lives…but as introverts, we had a hard time figuring out who the hell we were.

And then Uncle Jimmy got us thinking.  Our daughter Molly was 14 months at the time; then when our second daughter Robyn came less than a year later, the pull of family in the Northeast grew stronger and stronger.

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York Harbor, Maine in November

We thought, What about New England?   Each being from the Northeast, we had a romantic notion of living in small town New England, raising a family, becoming part of the community.   So we picked up and moved in the dead of winter to a duplex in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.   We had no jobs, but an innocent faith that this was the right move.

Then on a sunny day in May, 1982, we drove eight miles north to the seaside town of York, Maine.  Pedaling with Molly and Robyn in bike seats, we fell in love with all the green, the towering trees, the ocean, the small-town feel.  Equally smitten by the first house we looked out, we bought a post and beam home on a wooded acre and a half lot of oaks and beeches; a far cry from our fenced-in ¼ acre house lot in Arizona. (Full disclosure, our first Arizona house did have a grapefruit, orange, and lemon tree in our backyard!)

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Hannah on the trail in Steedman Woods

Now scroll forward 34+ years and we still call York home.  This mid-November Sunday, we are looking for a little exercise before an early sunset in our still small town.  Our walk of choice takes us into the village to the empty parking lot of the York Golf and Tennis Club just off the York River.  (In golf and tennis season, parking can be found in York Village itself near the iconic First Parish Congregational Church.)

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Steedman Woods

Within a hundred feet of the York River, the walk begins down a country lane off Lindsay Road.   To our right are the shoreline estates, to our left we approach the tidal Barrell’s Mill Pond, once the site of an 18th century lumber mill.

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At the entrance to the forest trails, there is a sign that welcomes us to Steedman Woods, now owned and maintained by the Old York Historical Society.  The trail is easy to navigate and goes in a circle with water views all around.

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Trail above Barrell’s Mill Pond

As we enter the Woods, we have a choice of two trails – the mellow one of wood chips to our right that skirts the York River or behind door #2 – the rocky, hilly trail to the left above the Barrell’s Mill Pond that we choose. Either trail leads to the Wiggly Bridge, known locally as the shortest suspension bridge in the world.  Once over the Wiggly Bridge, we continue on to the 300-yard man-made causeway leading to York Harbor itself.

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Hannah at the Wiggly Bridge with the causeway beyond.  The York River to her left.

At this point we take the right on the sidewalk over the tidal York River on Route 103 with the lobster boats of York Harbor to our left, the expansive river leading inland for miles to our right.

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York Harbor from the Route 103 bridge with the Fisherman’s Walk to the upper left

Taking the side road at the marina to the left, we have the wide causeway all to ourselves on a crisp, fall day (i.e., 40s).   At the end of the road is the now shuttered Dockside Restaurant and boat storage area.  Exploring the boat yard and the Dockside lawns on our walk approaching 30 minutes, we soon double back.  At this point, we have three choices.

Choice #1 – Go back the way we came over the York River, back down the causeway to the Wiggly Bridge and through the Steedman Woods.

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Hannah on the causeway to the Wiggly Bridge

Choice #2 – Cross back over the York River bridge and turn instead to the right onto the Fisherman’s Walk paralleling York Harbor on to the Atlantic Ocean.  From there, a rocky path starts at the York Harbor Beach heading north along the coast on the Cliff Walk high above the Atlantic.  Click here for the Cliff Walk blog.

Choice #3 – Continue across the York River Bridge to the first left, Barrell Lane, for a walk that takes us through the miniscule York Village.  Turn left at the , 18th century cemetery onto Lindsay Road, which gets us back to our vehicle.

Let us know when you are coming to this “walk in the park,” and we’d love to join you.  Oh, and one more thing.  Thank you, Jimmy!

Part II of walking trails/hikes in York will come once the snow melts in spring.

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Dan and Hannah and Their Connection to the Viral Obituary of the Year Part 2 of 2

Going to the party to Celebrate the Life of Chris Connors didn’t quite work out the way we had hoped.  Yes, we did get to the York Harbor Inn, but, no, we never did get to hug Emily, my former student and his widow.  That said, though we lingered for just 15 minutes among the 500 party-goers, our time there was a success.  I’ll explain.

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Playful to the end, the family had this sign at the lobby entrance of the York Harbor Inn that evening.  The next day’s York Weekly reported that in the bathroom of their house was a roll of Osama bin Laden toilet paper.  (Chris’s brother had died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.)

His younger brother said, He would say, ‘You should be bold. You should be real.’ And that’s the way he lived his life.

On the plus side, we signed the guest book and left our condolence card inviting Emily for coffee once things settled down in January.   It’s a way for us introverts to connect with the family.

Thanks to Part I of the blog, we heard from our friend, Pastor Rich. Thanks for your message about Chris. I married Chris and Emily at the Harbor Beach!!!!!  I will never forget it.  We all stood on the beach, with stanchions in the sand creating an aisle. Emily and the bridesmaids walked down from their home, past the Reading Room and down the Cliff Walk to join us. It was simply elegant and Inspiring. Chris called the scene, “God’s Great Cathedral.”  Please give Emily a hug for me! 

So, we have our hugs and Rich’s hug to deliver in January.  I can’t wait.  In the end our evening was quite a success.   You see, as Woody Allen says,

Ninety per cent of life is just showing up.

Dan and Hannah and Their Connection to the Viral Obituary of the Year (Part 1 of 2)

Perhaps you have seen the online obituary of York (Maine) resident Chris Connors, a man who lived a full, full life.  As locals for the last 35 years, Hannah and I never knew him but do have connection to the Connors family that I will fill you in on later.

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If you haven’t read the obituary of Chris Connors (67), here are excerpts.  I can’t give you the whole obituary because it is no longer on Legacy.com.  The website says, We’re sorry, but this page is not available.  The error has been reported to our site, and our best people are investigating.   Hmmm.  I’m guessing the website crashed because of so many hits.

Irishman Dies from Stubbornness, Whiskey

Chris Connors died, at age 67, after trying to box his bikini-clad hospice nurse just moments earlier.  Ladies’ man, game slayer, and outlaw, Connors told his last inappropriate joke on Friday, December 9, 2016, that which cannot be printed here.  Anyone else fighting ALS and stage 4 pancreatic cancer would have gone quietly into the night, but Connors was stark naked drinking Veuve in a house full of friends and family as Al Green played from the speakers.  The way he died is just like he lived: he wrote his own rules, he fought authority, and he paved his own way. And if you said he couldn’t do it, he would make sure he could.

Chris enjoyed cross dressing, a well-made fire, and mashed potatoes with lots of butter. His regrets were few, but include eating a rotisserie hot dog from an unmemorable convenience store in the summer of 1986.

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As much as people knew hanging out with him would end in a night in jail or a killer screwdriver hangover, he was the type of man that people would drive 16 hours at the drop of a dime to come see. He lived 1000 years in the 67 calendar years we had with him because he attacked life; he grabbed it by the lapels, kissed it, and swung it back onto the dance floor.

At the age of 26, he hoped to circumnavigate the world but spent 40 hours on a life raft off the coast of Panama; in 1974 he started the Quincy Rugby Club; in his 30s, he was stabbed in New York while saving a woman who was being mugged; and at 64, he climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest.

Most people thought he was crazy for swimming in the ocean in January; for being a skinny Irish Golden Gloves boxer from Quincy, Massachusetts; for dressing up as a priest and then proceeding to get into a fight at a Jewish deli.  Many gawked at his start of a career on Wall Street without a financial background – but instead with an intelligent, impish smile, love for the spoken word, irreverent sense of humor, and stunning blue eyes that could make anyone fall in love with him.

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Sailor at heart

Throughout his life, he was an accomplished hunter and birth control device tester (with some failures, notably Caitlin Connors, 33; Chris Connors, 11; and Liam Connors, 8).  He was a rare combination of someone who had a love of life and a firm understanding of what was important – the simplicity of living a life with those you love.  Although he threw some of the most memorable parties during the greater half of a century, he would trade it all for a night in front of the fire with his family in Maine.

Written by his daughter Caitlin and cousin Liz Connors, Caitlin told the Boston Globe that they knew the obituary had to do him justice, writing every story they could remember and more after a few drinks.

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A Celebration of Life in memory of Connors will be held Dec. 19 during Happy Hour at the York Harbor Inn.  Those looking to pay tribute for Connors are asked to pay the open bar tab or donate to Connors’ water safety fund... (Already $10,000 has been raised!)

From the York Weekly    Click here for the full article.

…YORK, Maine – When Caitlin Connors sat in front of a fire last weekend, to write her father’s obituary, she followed his instructions to make it funny, but didn’t anticipate it would be shared globally.

The obituary for Chris Connors, with the headline “Irishman dies from stubbornness, whiskey,” has been “shared and shared” through social media, his daughter said. Before Barstool Sports, Boston Magazine, Men’s Health and the Boston Globe made stories about the tribute she wrote for her dad, Connors said his family was expecting 150 to 200 friends to attend a celebration of his life Monday at the York Harbor Inn.

“Now that it’s viral,” she said, the family plans to contact the York Police Department for a security detail. The obituary was published on Seacoastonline, in the Portsmouth Herald and the York Weekly.

“He would’ve loved it,” said Connors’ widow, Emily Connors. “He would’ve laughed.  He’s definitely looking down at us.”

When he was on hospice, a friend of the family, who is just as crazy, was bikini-clad when she would help administer his medication,” Caitlin Connors said.

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His wife Emily, the mother of young Chris and Liam, was a student of mine in teacher education at the University of New England.  Simply, for three semesters it was clear that she was the kind of person you would like your own kids to have as a teacher.   Since then, we see her upbeat self about town and at our gym in Kittery.  I had no idea what life must have been like living with Chris.

As reported above, there is a celebration of Chris’s life at the York Harbor Inn, just a few miles from our house.  Hannah and I are going to stop by later today.  Not for a drink in a crowded bar or to tell stories about Chris (whom we never met), but to give Emily a hug.  If that doesn’t happen and I’m not sure it will given the publicity around the “viral obituary,” we have an envelope for her with an invitation for coffee at a local café, the Crumb, here in town come January, when the circus dies down.

Part II of this blog will be the story of us going to the York Harbor Inn today at 4P.

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But this obituary does raise questions for us all, have we lived life fully?  What amazing things are we going to make happen in our lives in the coming year?  Three years?  What choices are we going to make to create the most of our lives?

Perhaps some clarity will begin to emerge for me tomorrow at the York Harbor Inn overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Dan and Hannah Take to the Cliff Walk in York Harbor, Maine

 

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Having lived in York, Maine for thirty plus years, Hannah and I have access to the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean any time we want.  It’s a little over four miles by from our home on Chases Pond Road to the York Harbor Beach.  Today we take our Canadian good friend Bill Buggie into town to walk the York Harbor Cliff Walk on this Labor Day Sunday.

UNH Wildcats, Dan and Bill

UNH Wildcats, Dan and Bill

If you are coming from I-95, take exit 7 towards the town of York.  A quarter of a mile later, turn right (south) at the lights on Route One and then left (east) onto route 1A (York Street).  Wind your way through York along York Street for nearly a mile until you arrive at the St. Christopher’s Catholic Church on the right.  Park at the far end of the church lot.

York River looking inland

York River looking inland

On this Sunday morning, we begin our cliff walk with a prelude on route 103 that goes south to Kittery.  To our right is the Wiggly Bridge bordering the York River.  Taking the path to the left towards the Ocean, we three walk on the gravelly harbor path, wide enough for two of us to walk side by side.  Pleasantly busy on this low tide Sunday morning, we meet locals walking dogs and tourists exploring our harbor town.

York Harbor Walk

York Harbor Walk

Having learned a joke on the Internet this morning, I give it a shot to a couple we know.  Two cannibals are eating a clown when one turns to the other and says, “Does this taste funny to you?”  The joke brings both smiles and laughter; and a connection that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

York Harbor Beach

York Harbor Beach

Buoyed by the positive interaction, we walk further on the harbor path which skirts mansions to our left and the summer harbor of lobster boats and small pleasure craft to our right.  Within a half mile, we approach the grounds of the Stage Neck Inn with its clay tennis courts and “Members Only” pool.  Beyond is the York Harbor Beach, the beach of choice for our kids and the townies of York.  There are no services – no ice cream, no taffy shops, no tee shirts.  Parking down the road to this beach is restricted to those who have permits.  No fear.  Two hundred feet up on route 1A across from the York Harbor Inn there are two hour parking spots.

Hartley Mason Park

Hartley Mason Park

At 915A on Labor Day Sunday, we enter the Cliff Walk trail just down the hill from the Hartley Mason Park.  Hartley Mason himself died in 1925.  The urban legend is that in his will he laid out that when the last of his grandchildren passed away, the six houses on the property would be demolished and a park created for all to enjoy.  His will held up to court challenges and now a park overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is there for townies and visitor alike.  It is a “go to” spot for post-wedding picture taking.

Bill, the daredevil

Bill, the fearless

Beach goers are just beginning to claim their spots on this soon to be 80 degree humid day, marking the unofficial end of summer.  Some twenty feet above the beach on the rocky cliff, the Cliff Walk Trail leads walkers in front of the cottages of York.  “Cottage” is the euphemistic term for seafront mansions.  Another urban legend has it that seasonal residents pay 40% of the property taxes in York.  Do I hear an Amen!

Reading Room of York Harbor

Reading Room of York Harbor

Passing the private Reading Room club we walk the cliff edge that never feels perilous.  In and out of tunnels of trees along the trail, we have the Atlantic Ocean at our feet.  The Cliff Walk is steeped in controversy.  A hardy and valiant local group is trying to keep the walk’s access open to the public.  Who owns the land to the high tide mark – or is it low tide?  Does what the king decreed in the 1700s still hold water? (I couldn’t resist.)  The courts will decide.

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We pass others on the trail and when the time is right and the people seem welcoming I favor them with my one sentence two cannibals joke.  Rather than fellow walkers just smiling and stepping aside, the joke breaks the ice for a small connection and laughter.

So I encourage you to have a good joke at the ready when hiking.  You may wonder what are the criteria for a good joke on the trail: Short, one you can spit out without tripping, and that people get immediately.  Quick hitting and surprising.

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The trail is rocky but it’s never much more than a twenty foot rise in elevation as we walk.  An outcropping facing the ocean on the trail is ideal for that couple or family picture of your time in York.  (See UNH Wildcats picture above.)

The cliff walk seems not much more than a half mile.  The trail does abruptly end in controversy as a wealthy land owner has constructed a fence with dense bushes that keeps townies and tourists alike from hiking further, as we could do 15 to 20 years ago.

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At this point there is a wide right of way away from the ocean back to route 1A.  But today we just double back the way we came, having a completely different view as we go in the opposite direction.

Looking back to York Harbor Beach

Looking back to York Harbor Beach

For the most part we hike single file, but it’s easy to step aside to let others pass.  In short order we are back to the York Harbor Beach that is beginning to fill up on this Labor Day Weekend.

 

Right near the end of our hour walk a young girl with her parents is walking in our direction.  Her tee shirt says Make me smile.  The Universe is just begging me to repeat my cannibals joke.  With that invitation, I give it my best shot and Mom and Dad join their daughter in laughter.  And truth be told, it does make her smile.

Playful beach stones

Playful beach stones