Kirsten Stockman with her daughters, Eva and Lily. Stockman’s book, “Remembered Earth,” has been published posthumously. PHOTO COURTESY OF TOM CRIKELAIR

Kirsten remembered: The life she lived and the life she wrote



When Kirsten Stockman of Bar Harbor died in 2013, she left behind a grief-stricken family and a legion of friends and acquaintances who admired her – no, “admire” is not the right word, let’s say “awe” – people who were in awe of her for one or more of her many talents, her accomplishments and, it must be said, her luminous, unselfconscious beauty.

If the measure of her days fell far too short, Kirsten filled her 45 years with more life than most people could manage in twice that span. At various interludes, she worked as a laborer in the Kansas wheat fields, studied modern dance in Boston, went lobstering in Maine, graduated from College of the Atlantic and started a popular and successful restaurant – Mother’s Kitchen, in Town Hill. She founded the Maine Women’s Balkan Choir, and sang and danced to this haunting music at concert venues across Maine, in Washington, D.C., and abroad to Bulgaria. She created charming woodcuts, got married, settled in Bar Harbor, had two children, kept a garden in the summer, tapped maple trees in the late winter, baked the best pies ever … and, oh yes, she wrote a 400-page book.

Her novel, “Remembered Earth,” was written in the four years after selling Mother’s Kitchen to one of her former employees. It was completed in 2001, and she quickly had two agents who recognized a compelling new literary voice and vied to represent her with publishers. Kirsten chose wisely and was soon courted by a major New York-based publisher who was eager to develop her novel – but with some critical changes.

The book has been described as a modern retelling of “The Wizard of Oz.” There is a lovely girl – damaged, lonely and longing for a safe haven. There is a cast of eccentric male characters, each with flaws or deep hurts they are striving to overcome. There is a doting aunt. While there are no witches or flying monkeys in this tale, there is danger, and there is a different sort of magic.

Unlike Frank Baum’s Dorothy, Anna, the storm-tossed child of this tale, arrives not in Technicolor Oz but in a small farming town in Kansas, which for her, feels like the refuge she needs to rebuild her shattered life.

We meet Anna at age 19. Eventually, we discover that for the past 10 years, since being orphaned, she has been living with her kindly, but recently rather exasperated Aunt Bea. Rather than insisting “there’s no place like home,” this auntie urges the girl to spread her wings and realize her potential by accepting a scholarship she’s been offered at Yale. But when it’s time for Anna to leave the safety of her routines, the people and community she cherishes, to climb into the wonderful wizard’s air balloon, as it were, and sail off to new adventures, this one does not click her heels, she digs them deeper into the fertile Kansas soil.

According to Kirsten’s husband, Tom Crikelair, the publisher, like most of the characters in the book, wanted Anna to make different choices; wanted her to hop on board that balloon.

Despite encouragement from her agent to rework the plot, it didn’t happen. Kirsten never outright refused to follow the suggestions, but, like Anna, perhaps she felt she was being pushed in the wrong direction. Like Anna, she rebelled by procrastination rather than confrontation.

Eventually, Kirsten stopped talking about the status of “Remembered Earth” with her family or her agent, so it is something of a mystery why she balked so thoroughly at making the changes, which might have launched her literary career. It certainly wasn’t arrogance. That was not in her nature.

It wasn’t hard to find good reasons to let her novel stay tucked neatly away in its file icon on her computer desktop, waiting to be revisited.

Soon, topping that list of distractions was the birth of her first daughter, Lily. In addition to a new baby, there was the garden, a home, her marriage and her music. Three years passed, and there was another baby, Eva, followed by a grueling two-year bout with Lyme disease.

While Kirsten struggled to regain her health, her writing languished. In that desktop file, Anna continued to labor ferociously in the soybean, corn and melon fields of Kansas by day, tinker with an old Chevy truck she was restoring by night, dream about an unattainable boy and an unacceptable future, and keep secrets from her aunt Bea.

Gradually Kirsten’s health and vigor was restored.

While writing was one of the first things she returned to when she started feeling like herself again, it was not Anna’s story she revisited. It was, according to Crikelair, something else entirely, a new story, set in Maine; there was fishing involved.

Just as she had learned how to weld and the basic art of motor mechanics for her first book, Kirsten signed on as a sternman with a Bar Harbor fisherman to understand a little what that life and labor at sea was like.

Before she was able to weave this experience into a story, however, she ran out of time.

In 2011, Kirsten was diagnosed with colon cancer, which, by the time they found it, already had spread.

In “Remembered Earth,” Anna ruminates about the loss of her beautiful young mother to cancer. She believes her mother chose death, rather than face the reality of a crumbling marriage and a lost passion.

Kirsten, however, chose to live. For two years, she fought with everything available to stay in the life she loved until all viable options were used up and her strength was gone.

In her book, Anna also chooses life. Not the one of academic and writing success that her aunt and her friends think she should experience as an Ivy League graduate but a pared down life of hard work under a hot Kansan sun, a life of growing things, of cherishing the people around her and her chosen community, a heroic, even saintly life, unburden by possession and ambition, but passionate and fully committed. A life, as Anna says, “like Joan of Arc without all the heavy armor.”

With the help of the Maine Author’s Publishing, Crikelair has published his late wife’s novel. He said he is not certain that Kirsten would have approved.

“Ultimately,” he said, “it seemed wrong not to publish it, not to finally let Kirsten tell her story just as she wrote it. Those who knew her will see that she is everywhere in those pages.”

“Remembered Earth” takes a while to get into and has some peculiar structural elements and digressions – occasional side trips into Finnish mythology, for instance. The author’s prose and close observations of nature at times reads like Annie Dillard, “As she turned north onto a small section of road approaching the river, the fallow fields and wheat fields turned to fields of drought-stunted corn and beans their leaves curled inward, scroll-like as if sheltering a secret from the drying wind.”

And sometimes it brings to mind “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” in its contemplative, carefully crafted descriptions of engine mechanics.

It can, at first, be confusing. But it is worth sticking with. Eventually when you get the hang of her style – the jumps in time and space, the almost cinematic multiple perspectives – the pace picks up, questions are answered; you find you care for all these people and this place, and before you know it, it’s midnight, and you cannot put the book down, even though it’s hard to see through the tears and you know the end will come too soon.

Remembered Earth

Copies of “Remembered Earth” are available at Sherman’s in Bar Harbor and from Amazon.com or can be ordered at www.kirstenstockman.com. A book-launching event is being planned for February.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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