Spring of 1984 finally turned into early summer. The snow was long gone and the mud season was history. Farmers were up at the crack of dawn working their fields. Life began to emerge as the sun finally reached Northern Maine.
The warming temperatures and greening of the earth beckoned me to the high ground that was due east behind the parsonage. Three or four times a week, I would trek up the dirt road that crossed a drainage ditch and led to the top. Once there, I was on one of the highest points in Presque Isle. It was a great place to sit and dream. With little effort, the smells and sounds of more than 20 years ago come back to me anew.
In the early summer, there was the smell of freshly turned dirt and clover that had been harrowed into the ground. Clover is generally grown between the potato rows; each year they are churned into the soil to replenish lost nutrients. There were usually smoldering piles of last year's vines being burned; in small doses the scent was not unpleasant. The clang of a plow bottom glancing off a rock or the low moan of a tractor were ever present. Voices of workers talking over the roar of their machinery came to me from somewhere in the distance. Up on that ridge, sound would carry for a mile.
My vantage point on the ridge let me see for miles in all directions. If the wind was right, the hollow sound of vehicles crossing the Aroostook River bridge on Route One could be heard. Looking due west, I would watch Don Kirstead and his son work their fields, giving meticulous care to their source of living. From their storage place, the last remnants of the prior year's crops were constantly loaded into 18 wheelers and shipped off. Occasionally, a deer would sneak through one of the thin patches of woods that separated the properties, oblivious to my presence. Sometimes I would lay on my back and watch the clouds slowly drift by and fall asleep with the warm sun regenerating my soul.
There was one thing I always did. I would look down from my elevated perch at the turn-of-the-century farmhouse, the garage-turned-chapel, and the stable. I would try to envision what the property would look like with a steepled church surrounded by a parking lot jammed full of cars. I believed with all my heart that God was going to make a way for New Life to thrive.
I would survey the land to the north and south of our property. We would need more land than the three-plus acres we owned. Which directions would we buy? Many times I would bring a sketch pad with me and begin to make simple drawings of how we would one day lay out our buildings. I was a rookie pastor and church planter, but I knew that, due to the fierce winds and snow, where you put a door or driveway was important!
There were times on that hilltop when I sensed the presence of God so profoundly that I was overcome with tears. Other times I just had to walk, sing songs, and pray. God began to teach me to recognize His quiet voice and helped me to develop eyes that could see and ears that could hear what He was saying to His Church.
Twenty years later I hunger for times of solitude, intense prayer, and eyes to see what can easily be overlooked.