With a nod to Isak Dinesen, UUFE’s Judy Hedges might begin her book, “I had a house on the coast of Maine.”
Follow Judy as she migrates to Maine, rescues strays, transforms her lacrosse stick into a magic broom, and wanders and ponders the Five Big Questions.
UUliFE: Where were you raised, and how?
Judy: Perpetually, I am appreciative of the cornucopia of my early years. There was abundance. There was opportunity. I was given the groundwork for choices that allowed me to become– even at a young age- who I wanted to be. Width of exposure allowed for adventure. I smile now at the random circumstance of a silver spoon (silver skates, too) start… Gratitude surrounds my recollections…
As with Brigadoon, I look through the mists of time to Gladwyne, PA in the 1950’s and early 60s. In those days, Gladwyne was a tucked-away bucolic hamlet of stately homes amidst established azaleas, green space, ancient beech woods, pony trails. My parents gave me and my younger siblings such a setting; we were then blessed with the benign neglect to run unleashed–just like the Springer Spaniels who were my close companions. We bicycled, swung from trees, forded every stream…. until ultimately heading back to the spacious, gracious fieldstone house in the white dogwood-ed meadow that was our home. Thus, my beginner’s world view was formed by forests, fields, fur persons… and I have–in moving from place to place- ‘taken to the woods’ with critters.
Actually, my affinity to my animals was my mainstay. In spite of the veneer, the human players in my world were not always reliable. That was when mutual trust with canines made all the difference. Ever since… it has been– ‘love me, love my dog’. The bond defines me.
Settings beyond ‘Pheasant Hill’ in Gladwyne were more gifts of my childhood. My grandparents’ western farm allowed for summers on horseback and learning to run with the beautiful Irish Setters. Away from the heat, was our retreat home on the shores of Lake Placid– where we messed about with boats in pristine summer waters, and became happy skiers in those ever larger snows of yesteryear. Somehow—that strong Adirondack beauty was being stored– all along– in my soul. Then there were my 8 week sessions away at Songadeewin – a girls’ summer camp in glorious northern Vermont. We gained skills, we grew strong, we took to the wilderness in canoes– unafraid. My camp-self became my favorite persona.
As for the role of religion… We went to the white steepled Episcopalian church that provided a sort of social center for our village. It was simply- a pleasant place… with its pretty grounds, and fun spring fairs when the azaleas bloomed. Certainly no scars formed from the exposure. Wearing a hat was the hardest part… a fifties thing…
My biggest boost of all came by way of the educational institution chosen for me (being signed up -at birth) — Baldwin—the girls’ prep school (my mother’s alma mater) (created originally to prepare blue stockings for Bryn Mawr College– across the street.) Academics were arduous in those turreted towers, but there was a huge pay off for me. Part of the unique (this is pre Title 9) feminist message was that girls were the athletes- not the spectators. With all my enjoyed ice skating lessons allowing for confidence, I lapped up the intensive coaching we were given in field sports… and the rest is the story of the magic broom….
With superior training at Baldwin, I went on to play a sport every season in my four years at the University of Pennsylvania. With team practices, and as many poetry courses as I could take, all hours were overfilled. I did, however, play for the regional Philadelphia teams– hockey, squash, lacrosse- on weekends. Eventually, I dashed my way into the United States Lacrosse team– pure determination! The next step was being chosen the touring team– which meant taking a semester off to travel and play abroad.
There was-ultimately- a second tour… and when a grant from Penn found me studying in England, there were chances to be in matches there. My squash racket saw international play, but it was my lacrosse stick that was my wizardly vehicle– carrying me along the course — establishing the valuable, intensive bonding with teammates, understanding relationships with opponents, being hosted and feted as we explored foreign landscapes. It was grand… But -wait- the battered stick is hanging on my wall… maybe I need only to take it down, recall the spell… and return to the enchantment. So…I grab hold of the worn wooden handle, believe in pixie dust, and -whoosh– I go there again- treasured times and pleasing places revisited– on my magic broom.
How have you made your living?
Since, for me, study ended and my first career began in 1970… (and I unearthed a picture of my yellow VW Bus) I am drawn to a sidestep of my remembrances of the feel of that era. Some of us were so sure we were carrying torches that would brighten the planet and its people… Never, would I -as that self- have believed in the backlash– with its dark clouds of discrimination hovering… as they do in the time of this writing– Obama’s last week in office.
How full of idealism I was in the early seventies–creativity in my classroom, 7th graders singing ‘This Land…’ in that VW bus on our way to camping trips. Ah… the belief that empowerment was breaking out all over, doors for women were opening, the courageous were crashing out of closets. I hummed along with Joan Baez, I wove macramé, made candles, switched to Birkenstocks and wore candy colored flared clothing. My universe grew… standing tall for peace, the rainbow coalition, Pride… High of heart, on went my educator’s cap. Having been favored by inspiring teachers in school and college, I was sure that there was no higher calling. Also, with coming of age in the Kennedy years, it was my best answer to– how could I GIVE?
The next twenty years found me in classrooms and around fields, courts, and lakes- coaching. Circumstances and a certain exploratory nudge within made for a wide range of experiences– from faculty living –with my spaniel in my English classes– at a Delaware boarding school to the idyllic campus of Wellesley College–with a middle school in Wyeth country, and top notch high schools in Boston area villages along the way. It was good– mostly. However, as autonomy lessened, my principles whispered, then shouted hints that moving on was necessary– to be authentic.
My next chapter was all about self employment…. creating a viable trade after making true the vision of living on the coast of Maine. This endeavor led me to my years as a ‘starving artist’ ( the artist part was fun) selling our original photography– with my verses printed on the mats- at art & craft shows all over New England. In all this there are never ending stories for the telling–‘oh the people I met, the places I saw’…
For this current segment of ‘my brilliant careers’, I dust off my passion for making things grow (my grand organic vegetable garden in my back to the earth cycle in the seventies). On a small scale, I do gardening work for folks needing help with their beds and borders. This experience ranges from the glorious in the fresh pansies of April to a slog amidst the weeds in the heavy heat of August. It fits– for what I need, what I can offer–now. One could do worse than be close to the ground– talking to the flowers….
What’s the most remarkable thing you’ve done?
My great adventure should be in the book I have yet to write. How to convey it in a few paragraphs?
When my sojourns took me to New England, I knew I had found my fit–the place where I was meant to be… So, I held on to the wish to live there. As much as I loved the green hills and valleys of Vermont, it was the coast of Maine that called to me.
Flash back to 1986…. The eventual time-to- just-do it catalyst was realizing that I was a square peg in a round hole in my teaching position. As a gardener, I could not let my spirit wilt. As luck would have it, my partner shared the same dream and was ready to escape.
So we went– high on optimism. It was the bravest of acts; it was the most risky of acts. If we had deferred the leap until every aspect of relocation was secured… well, it never would have happened. We leapt with our whole hearts, and then we looked—every day….
It was beautiful beyond belief. Living amidst such loveliness — in a rambling, romantic, (rented) summer ‘cottage’ on a hill above Penobscot Bay- nourished the soul through all seasons. The warren of rooms allowed us to take in the dogs and cats who needed us. When we refined our (created livelihood) art work to reach out to people’s passages, it seemed an ultimate accomplishment. I kept warm by chopping wood to feed the woodstove to heat the parlor. The snows stayed white by the blue bay… while cross country skiing was a Zen activity. Summer days were refreshed by sea breezes. The foghorn of the close by Owls Head lighthouse sounded through the night. I still see the lupine, smell the lilacs, taste the honey buns we shared on a bench overlooking the Camden harbor as our dogs frolicked, and,
We made do with so little and never had so much… It might have gone on in spite of the fact that we were living on the rocky edge without a safety net, but the fates threw curves. Our affordable, adored, dilapidated dwelling was sold. Finite finances did not stretch to purchase a place, and no one in the state wanted two sunshine artists with a menagerie to sign their lease. Sadness surrounded moving on as the inexplicable trail took us to Charlottesville, Virginia, on to St. Michaels, and to where we settled seventeen years ago outside of Easton here on the Choptank marsh.
It is good enough. It is not Maine. However, once upon a time, we did that… took a daring leap and gave ourselves enough soul replenishment to last and last…
Not everyone gets to live for always in her best place. For some shining years I did. It is the truest part of my story… With a nod to Isak Dinesen, I might begin my book… “I had a house on the coast of Maine”….
What’s the Next Big Thing for you?
Clearly–and many of you are with me on this– the ‘next’ has to be growing older ‘gracefully’–as is suggested in Desiderata. With inevitable diminishments, this will require spiritual fortitude I am still trying to build. There is the toll of good-byes alone… as friends depart. Did ‘the goddesses’ get it wrong? Certainly with short life spans for other species, and shouldn’t farewells be stacked where we have youth’s resilience?
An assumption of society is that all have adult children and grandchildren. That not being so puts one in a different place. As I take stock, I am shorter on options for aging than I might wish. I am under-supplied with family and fixed people to be sturdy pillars. The ghost of Christmas future might show me a preview of solitary holidays. Therefore, I am aware of the need to build community–no easy task….
Yet– in the here and now, I have the key ingredients for fortitude… the passions that sustain in surrounding myself with poetry, with books, with the wild birds at my feeders. I do count all the daily gifts of life with Mary in our little red house in the big woods. Rituals matter–even if it is as basic as afternoon tea time. Moreover–with all the four footed rescues who have come through our doors, we are rich with the blessings of fur persons past and present… as attested by pictures: yours truly at cat supper time (many of our felines from trap/neuter/return endeavors) and with Maisie– my senior-pooch adoption through my good group– Mid Atlantic English Springer Spaniel Rescue…. super people united around helping deserving dogs.
It is within the realm of my hopes that I will manage to weave more inextricably into this UU fellowship. We may be warmed against tribalism, but it is very, very nice- on Sunday mornings- not to feel as if I am from a different planet. Potential mentors abound– I always hope that the common sense and keeping-it-simple of an Edie Swallow, for instance–stays in our air and is ‘contagious! Forming firm friendships was so much easier when I was 14 and had the bonding experience of a long canoe trip. I have never worked out the acoustics or customs of coffee hour at our place. What is that line, though, about just showing up? How wonderful to be in a town where there is a Unitarian gathering–I must celebrate being welcome here, no matter … Also, I shall study my wrens and remember that hope is the thing with feathers….
How did UUFE and you find each other?
As a reader, Emersonian wisdom had entered my consciousness, and from there it was fascinating to explore UU philosophy. So–volia– Sunday need not be hats, and creeds, and the Episcopalian establishment–aesthetically pleasing as the stone chapels might be. A craft show friend of mine with similar roots put it this way, “I can go to this ‘subversive society’ (UU’s) every weekend under the cover of ‘church’ “.
New and anchorless in relation to kindred spirits in Maine, I looked around for the best prospects — which led to joining the volunteers at the animal shelter and the UU fellowship in Rockland (where all the children were named Willow or River and organic growing was the subtext of everything!) “Wow,” I said, “This is cool” and-thus- became one more in the realization of always having been a Unitarian without knowing the name.
That meant– when we washed ashore in Talbot County (where there were warning Republican banners everywhere except over the Claiborne post office), I saw some glimmers of hope — those smiling postmasters, a humane society, an ice skating rink, and– in a squat block of a building–something saying UUFE… (my welcome implied)