Read Roberta's reflections on the Bar Harbor bed and breakfast experience. The following items are included in the forthcoming collection by Roberta Chester called “Be My Guest: The Inside Story of a B & B in Maine.”
“Interesting People at the Shore Path Cottage”
The feeling I share with other B & B owners at the end of the season, around the beginning of November, is total exhaustion. Otherwise, it's a bad sign and I might as well literally and figuratively “throw in the towel.” So I’m not really complaining, but it is great to have a break from being up at 6:30 a.m. for six months day after day.
But besides the late hours, the constant baking, the broken appliance, the mad dash to the hardware story to replace a broken shade, we once had a guest who forgot to mention she is gluten and lactose intolerant, hypoglycemic, allergic to dust, feathers, and most detergents, and is an occasional sleepwalker (“Not to worry, I always find my way back unless I am in a strange house,” she told me.). But the aspect of this business that takes enormous amounts of energy is meeting so many interesting people, facilitated by our long dining room table where our guests enjoy breakfast, conversation and often make connections.
I should qualify that by stating that everyone is interesting. That lesson became a staple in the category of the categorical one morning at the breakfast table when we were having a discussion about photography. I was talking with several of the guests whose photographic paraphernalia slung over the backs of their chairs indicated they were serious. Lingering over a third cup of coffee, we discussed the changes that have occurred with the advent of digital photography.
I mentioned having been at the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport years ago where we were developing our film in the dark room during the day and listening to famous photographers at night discussing whether photography was an art or craft. “Do you think,” I asked, “whether digital has settled the argument and that photography has become more craft than art?” One of the guests, not one of the photographers, asked, “Does that mean we won’t have another Ansel Adams whose gifted eye could capture those skies without tinkering with the special effects available via the computer?”
Just then, an older woman on the other side of the table, someone who had arrived with a friend the night before and hadn't participated at all in the conversation, casually mentioned that Ansel Adams had chosen her photograph for a permanent exhibition in the Kodak Collection in Rochester NY. All eyes focused on her as she explained that she had been working at Kodak in the bookkeeping department when Ansel Adams, who was a personal friend of the CEO of Eastman Kodak, offered to give the employees a class in photography. Just for something different to do she signed up. “It was exhausting as we had to go through some pretty strenuous positions and contortions to get the shots he wanted.”
She described how they had to lie on the the ground, poised with their cameras at the ready, for two hours or more. “We met once a week and there were lots of times we had to convene at dawn. At the end of the course, I was very proud when he chose my photograph, a picture of a line of laundry with unusual shapes and shadows, from all those taking the course for the permanent collection at the Kodak museum.”
“Did you continue taking photographs?” we wanted to know. Surely, this would have been an incentive. She told us she did continue, but only for a short time. It was such a privilege and a pleasure to work with Ansel Adams, that I sort of lost interest. “He was just the nicest guy. It just wasn't the same doing it on my own.”
Of course, I wanted a copy of that photograph to add to my considerable collection of books, photographs of the Shore Path Cottage and the Shore Path, articles, pottery, CD's of their music and other creative efforts given to me by my guests. Many are enterprising entrepreneurs, with patents for inventions and technological devices and work at various pursuits that contribute to the general well-being. Others are academics, published authors, and world travelers engaged in research. Often I feel frustrated when I have a full house and can hear only brief snatches of conversations, as I run back and forth serving, clearing, and filling the coffee pot.
Before this business was even a twinkle in my eye I would have thought this would not be anything to complain about... How stimulating and utterly civilized to be in the almost constant company of ongoing visits from an assortment of folks, each of whom has some story to tell or has taken a journey, either geographical or metaphysical, or both. Sometimes I meet someone with whom I “click” and then we spend a few hours just sitting and schmoozing late into the night. I pay the price in the morning, but that stimulating exchange is worth every minute of lost sleep.
By the end of the season I am on sensory overload from the sheer volume of these folks. I have added a considerable number of books to my collection that include such titles as “Engineers in Love,” (a how-to for a category of very “Martian” men; “Henderson's Equation,” about an inspiring doctor; “Plato and His World,” just the best explanation of Plato I have ever read, and numerous books of psychology, poetry, and biographies and two books on landscape architecture.
Over the years I've had at least two composers sitting on the front lawn whose notes drawn on the staff echoed the crows perched above them on telephone wires. Several times between the beginning of May and the end of October, I take a peek at a beautiful watercolor in progress on the front porch and fondly recall the young man who whipped up an origami dragonfly that was an exact replica of those on my Tiffany lampshade.
Often I feel frustrated when I have a full house and can hear only brief snatches of conversations, as I run back and forth serving, clearing, and filling the coffee pot. I envy those who are listening to a guest discuss the possibility that the longevity of people in Biblical times might very well be the abundance of atmospheric oxygen, or the gifted retired teacher whose methods for teaching reading were adopted by entire school systems.
The truth is I am feeling overwhelmed from being so fired up by all these interesting guests. In mid-September I was ambivalent when my good friend Natalie calls me to tell me she is sending me a really interesting guest who is staying at the inn where she is working. “She's from New Mexico and she’s an amazing woman. You've got to meet her because she's leaving tomorrow; I know you two will have lots to talk about.”
Just before I can politely decline, I see her walking down the driveway. She has piles of blond hair, a wonderful floppy hat and is wearing bright colors and red high heeled shoes which don't seem to slow her down, though she is carrying a huge camera; no doubt she is very interesting. Turns out, she does crystals, hypnotherapy, and aromatherapy, “but my specialty is past life regressions,” she tells me and mentions her roster of very impressive celebrity clients. Dizzying avenues of conversation open up in endless directions; it's enough to make my head swim, but I am spared going there when the phone rings.
At the end of the season, when Mount Desert Island is deserted and I might see, at most, just one other person similarly bundled up against the cold at the far end of the street; I am rather enjoying the isolation. Now I have time to check the back page of the guest where visitors to the Shore Path Cottage have left notes recommending the great books they've been reading all summer on our lawn chairs. “You will love this book,” they tell me enthusiastically. “In November,” I tell them, “I'll have the time.” After a trip to the library and our well-stocked local bookstore, these are the titles that are beside me on my night table.
Now it's December as I write, enjoying my wonderfully dull existence when I catch up between the pages with those interesting characters who have endeared themselves to my guests and whom I've been waiting all summer to meet.
- Roberta Chester, 2011