Every time I start a trip with a predawn flight, I think the same thing, “I’m chasing the sun!” Though the flight was canceled and I was flying east, the thought still made me smile. I smiled even more 18 hours later when I laid my head onto a pillow in my above garage apartment in Sebec Village, Maine. I’m back in Maine.
Sebec Village will be my home for the next 14 weeks. You won’t find Sebec in most guidebooks. It’s a throwback to another time where sawmills and woolen mills once harnessed the power of Sebec Lake. There’s one blinking traffic light in town and the nearest mall is an hour away in Bangor. The last stop on the Appalachian Trail is a few days by foot. Or at least I’m told, I don’t plan to test that fact.
I was instantly charmed by this Hallmark ready town the day after arrival when walking through the dandelions to get a photo of the town’s gazebo I was stung by a hornet that had found its way up my pant leg. Not to be topped by a hornet, a hummingbird flew into me as I knocked on my landlord’s door asking for help with the sting. It was as if nature was welcoming me in the only way they knew how!
And sitting at Steve and Sandy’s dinner table last night I lifted my eyes in time to watch a beaver work on a large hunk of wood. He pulled it onto a rock jutting from the surface of the lake. And not until it was just as he wanted it did he swim off towards his dam with it in his teeth. The sunset shimmered in his wake. It was hypnotic as I enjoyed both dinner and the show. This is going to be a jolly good summer.
That’s when I learned about infamous map dealer and part-time resident Forbes Smiley. Living in Sebec Village seemed to be a jolly time for him, too. For years Smiley lived in a farmhouse overlooking Sebec Lake among a row of apple trees.
According to his friends the tweed clad Smiley was a deeply caring middle aged man with a lively intellect and great reverence for the past. Then, during the summer of 2005 Smiley bewildered everyone who knew him by committing a crime worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. He was charged with slicing several precious maps from books inside Yale University’s rare books library using an X-Acto blade. Once a member of an elite circle of map dealers, collectors and scholars, the respected Sebec preservationist was exposed as a fraud.
Smiley moved to Sebec in the 1990s to preserve Sebec by buying the store and post office. Back then they were dark, dingy places where animals roamed. He set up a historical society and filled the buildings with the most expensive equipment to restore the town to its former glory. After his arrest everything closed and it ruined the town. The apple trees are in bloom on the trees smiley planted in front of his house, and a flatbed truck is parked out front as if he might come down the steps at any moment. The building stand quiet, people lost jobs and a town’s divided. Locals are left wondering what will happen to the Sebec Village Shops.
Tonight, when the sun sets over the lake and the slap of a beaver’s tail shatters the silence I’ll imagine the jolly times to come over my summer in Sebec Village.
If you would like to read more about the map thief Mr. Smiley you can click here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/05/23/trail-martha-vineyard-rare-map-thief/qbFFssloEpByBZ4vK14DgL/story.html Or read the review of “The Map Thief”: http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-the-map-thief-by-michael-blanding-1405291313