I love the idea of worlds that lie between and behind city streets, and Deering Center is a perfect place to see that.
Stevens Avenue is a busy, trafficky street. Take a few steps in a couple of different directions, though, and you’re on dark forest trails or gazing at a chain of little ponds nestled between woods and the graves of some of Maine’s most prominent citizens.
There’s kind of a sacred aura about Mayor Baxter Woods — the trees are tall and there isn’t much undergrowth, so just about everything you see is starkly vertical. Here and there the light streams in; otherwise, it’s dark. There’s a lot of silence — sometimes. Sometimes, though, what you hear is the sounds of happy canines reveling in their time off the leash — leashes aren’t required in Baxter Woods.
Walk straight ahead through the woods and you’re on busy Forest Avenue. I didn’t do that the other day, though. I veered onto a path to my right and came out onto Hartley Street, one of several streets that Portland Mayor James Phinney Baxter established and named after his children, after he bought the estate of former Congressman and railroad executive F.O.J. Smith. Baxter sold another part of the estate to the Roman Catholic Diocese and retained the third part as woodland.
Baxter’s son, Maine Governor Percival Baxter — for whom nearby Percival Street is named — gave the wooded part to the city in 1946 to honor his father.
Kitty-corner to Baxter Woods is Evergreen Cemetery, a vast expanse of imposing monuments and simple slabs commemorating the existence of Mainers famous
and not-so-famous. Walking there, I always feel physically gripped by the poignancy of human lives that come and go. Nostalgia rises up in me for other people’s lives. Once, though, I saw a very old stone marked “Hattie,” and felt a particular pang, because my mother, whose name was Hattie, had died a few months before.
I’ve come across the graves of people I actually knew (though none very well), and it feels strange to think of them, so recently alive, resting in this place that’s so redolent of dignified eternity.
To the side and back of the cemetery lies a thick border of woods criss-crossed by trails. I like to walk that woods, and will do a separate post on it. At the edge of the cemetery are several ponds, where some kind of wildlife can usually be seen. I saw many ducks and a heron — possibly a great blue? I’m not sure of my herons.
Farther down Stevens Avenue, toward Brighton and actually located on Leland Street, there’s another little patch of woods, confusingly named Baxter Pines. It’s a lovely spot, though so small that you’re always aware of that you’re in the middle of a residential neighborhood. But actually, that’s part of the charm for me of these urban havens.