Nightmares are my bailiwick. As a child, I had nightmares, at least five times a week, ranging from Tyrannosaurus rex chasing my entire family down the garden path, eating them one by one (I had been taken to the Natural History Museum and seen the skeletons; in fact, the dinosaur in my dream was just that, a skeleton); or dreams of fire burning below me in my house with no way to escape but through the flames and smoke (our garbage had been set on fire at the back door, and the firemen had to come through the front door and out the backdoor to put it out); or being chased by evil men or a witch.

When I was about eight, my parents took me to see the movie Sinbad. I was terrified by the Cyclops and the thought of holding onto the belly of a sheep to escape. This was just the kind of thing my nightmares were made from. So in front of the fire in the library, I hunkered down with my crayons and my father’s shirt cardboards (which came from the laundry) and created a book about the movie. In this way I could control my fear by owning it. I looked at this “book” over and over to make sure it was indeed mine.

One of the recurring horrifying dreams was of a tidal wave rushing up Gilkey Harbor in Penobscot Bay toward my house, while I tried to get out of my little sailboat and run up the dock to safety. The last one I had of this series was just last year when I warned everybody of the coming wave, and no one paid any attention and continued to read the New York Times. So the water came and engulfed us knee-deep around the newspaper readers. They appeared not to care one little bit. So I put that dream to rest. The more terrifying one I think was of “them,” “them” coming over the Camden Hills and down to destroy us. I was shocked when I heard my daughter tell a friend of hers as she pointed to the Camden Hills: “that’s where they came from.” I had never discussed my dream with her, but here it was yet again, another generation fearing “them” appearing.

Despite these terrible dreams, I was a fearless child on the water and in the woods. The only terror I felt was in the night, asleep and dreaming. I spent most of my waking hours in Maine on the water in my little outboard motor (5 hp mind you), traveling rather great distancesCamden, Lincolnville, the other bay islandswith only oars and a life jacket as safety. As I spent many nights dreaming of watery dangers and all my summer days in my boat, it makes sense that I have always been fascinated by its currents and colors and what they forecast.

Now I still have bad dreams mostly of being lost in unknown cities, but they are nothing compared to my childhood nights. Thank goodness I could end up in my parents’ bed, between them, and so safe.


Image at top: Brita Holmquist, Incoming Tide, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 in.