Characters of the county: the poetry of the wind and the sea
There is a small cottage on John’s Bay in New Harbor. Inside, collections of books, art, and artifacts from faraway places clutter shelves, walls and surfaces. High glass doors frame a view of sparkling waves and smooth gliding gulls. When the tide is high, the salt water licks the edge of a small slice of greenery on which stands a tall pine tree.
This is the house that Sarah Woolf-Wade’s father built; the vacation home she visited when her family came from Massachusetts for weekends and school vacations; where she came to love the Maine coast and sea lanes.
His father loved boats of all kinds and owned boats of all kinds. Boating and sailing were an integral part of his childhood. Her mother was less fond of boats, but most of the sea and surf paintings that fill the cottage walls are hers.
Woolf-Wade remembers a time when she was 8 or 9 years old when her father took her with a nearby boy through the Sound of Round Pond to Louds Island to dig clams. A storm arose and the little boat found itself on the side of the sea. “It’s the only time I was scared on the water,” she says.
Her mother saw the boat struggling from the shore and called for help. A lobster towed the skiff safely to dry land. Woolf-Wade said her mother was so angry with her father for putting them in danger that she gave the entire batch of clams they had picked up to the lobster crew.
Woolf-Wade is a teacher, sailor, traveler and poet. She was born and raised in Lexington, Mass. And lived most of his life near there. But 22 years ago, she and her second husband, Stanley Wade, retired to this New Harbor home.
Woolf-Wade attended Tufts University for three years, studying theater, before meeting her first husband, Gregory Woolf, a musician and artist. She moved to Washington, DC with him and completed her degree at American University.
She changed her focus to English Literature because she didn’t think she knew enough about poetry. The marriage did not last, but the love of poetry was a lifelong commitment.
Woolf-Wade received a Masters and Doctorate in Education from Boston University and taught at the college for 35 years in Brookline, Massachusetts. When she retired to Maine, she spent 10 years as a volunteer at the Bristol School.
She loved working with children, writing and producing plays for children, taking them on trips to explore tidal pools.
“I felt I needed to contribute something in this world,” she said of the teaching.
And teaching gave him back – summer vacation gave him the opportunity to explore the New England coast. And then the world.
She spent 14 summer vacations as a first mate on a sailboat around the Boston Islands, then sailed on Windjammer cruises in Maine waters.
Never a fan of cruise ships, she crossed the Atlantic aboard the four masted Star Clipper from Antigua to Spain. She remembers the trip as an adventure, three weeks of heavy swells and land bird watching as you approach the Azores.
She wrote a poem about a parrot on board the ship, whose wings were cut off to prevent it from flying.
The thirst for travel continued and she took advantage of special fares with teacher associations to travel to Europe, Asia and Australia. Italy was a favorite place. And Croatia. And Nepal.
She traveled north of the Arctic Circle and around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. She has been to Scotland seven times, cruising around the Scottish Isles.
These days, she’s content to explore closer to home. She has a dinghy and a small motor boat that she takes around John’s Bay. And she takes the Hardy Boat to Monhegan Island in the spring and fall to write and revise her poetry.
Woolf-Wade’s first published work was a poem. “I wish I had been a beacon” was published in the Boston Herald when she was 8 years old. Since then, she has been published in over 30 journals, including the Maine Poetry Review; wrote four books of poetry; and composed a historical children’s novel, ‘Downwind from Pemaquid’, which received an honorable mention at the 2013 New England Book Festival.
Woolf-Wade names Sylvia Plath as one of his favorite poets, saying she relates to her and her writing. Ted Kooser is his first choice for modern poetry; she said he creates more down-to-earth poetry. She compares reading modern poets to viewing modern art when she is used to something more representative.
Woolf-Wade writes down his dreams and uses them as inspiration for his poetry. She said she dreams of sunsets and sunrises, time and tides, life and death, children.
Most of his poetry is blank verse, a type of poetry common in the work of many classical English poets that frees the writer from the constraints of rhyme while retaining the musicality of the meter. She said she occasionally writes sonnet, sometimes the more difficult Italian forms, but blank verse is her favorite.
Woolf-Wade said she didn’t write much during the pandemic, maybe one poem a month. “I’ve been feeling pretty isolated for the past year,” she says.
She gave up many of her social activities – her poetry group, her knitting group at the Skidompha library, swimming at the pool at the Wiscasset community center. “Now I’m just stranded,” she said.
But still, she walks, reads, writes emails and letters to old friends. And she looks at the water. “The sea seems to have moods,” she said. “It’s been a month now that there are plenty of whitecaps.”
Woolf-Wade said she was happy here. In this chalet. On this coast. Watch the daily changes of the sea.
Woolf-Wade’s books can be found at Sherman’s Maine Coast Bookstore in Damariscotta and online at Amazon.
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