About this time last year, a routine walk along the Eastern Prom changed Mary and Chris Copeland’s lives forever. But that’s not the beginning of the story. The story starts on a different walk along the Eastern Prom Trail, on a fall evening in 2017.
Chris almost proposed to Mary at Fort Sumner Park on North Street that night. They were in town from Brooklyn, New York visiting Portland, the place where they happened to meet and fall in love years before, under the guise of spending time with friends and family in the area. Chris shipped the engagement ring to Mary’s sister’s house in Portland; she and Chris made the hand-off during dinner that evening at the Front Room on Munjoy Hill.
The ring now in his possession, Chris walked Mary to the nearby Fort Sumner Park, which lends views that span the peninsula and Back Cove, to catch the sunset. They were alone, and he began to propose. “I’m telling her all this mushy stuff. ‘You’re my family now. I can’t imagine my life without you.’” But before he could get to the climax of his speech, a group of teenagers interrupted their almost-monumental moment. If Chris continued, he realized, these kids would become the supporting characters in their engagement story forever. So instead, he popped a different question. “Do you want to go for a walk on the trails?”
That’s how they found themselves beside the ocean on the Eastern Prom Trail, dusk settling into the purple sky, when Chris finally asked Mary to marry him. (She said yes!) By the following spring, they were husband and wife.
In January 2020, the couple was thrilled to learn they were expecting their first child, a baby who would surely think of their Brooklyn neighborhood as home. But when the pandemic disrupted every corner of life just two months later, the sudden upheaval left them wondering whether they should stay in New York. At the time, the city was the grim epicenter of the first early wave of Covid. “No one knew what Covid was, there were ambulances running all the time, there was nothing in the grocery store, and people were panicking. It sucked,” says Chris. “Those three months [March, April, and May] that we lived in New York…” he trailed off, “were oppressive,” Mary finished.
By April, they had made up their minds. With both of their jobs now remote, they had the unexpected opportunity to choose exactly where they would want to raise their future child. On June 1st, four years after moving to New York, they returned to the city where they met.
Mary and Chris each with their son, Teddy, on a walk around Mackworth Island this spring.
Parks in New York were “shoulder to shoulder,” packed with people all searching for safe outdoor space. But when they arrived in Portland, they were struck by how much room there was to go around. “It was shocking,” in the best way, says Chris.
“We spent a lot of time going to the Eastern Prom with Ohno breakfast sandwiches, drinking our coffee, enjoying summer in Maine,” says Mary. Their old city became home once again, and Mary’s baby bump grew as the months passed.
By the time the air turned crisp, Mary was more than a little pregnant but was determined to continue going for walks. Well, “walking is a generous term,” she jokes. “I was waddling, lumbering along.” On September 20th, they parked their car at the East End School and took another one of their life-altering walks along the Eastern Prom. They made it to the monument at the base of Congress Street when Chris asked if she wanted to turn around, but she insisted she would walk (er, waddle) all the way to the gazebo just beyond the end of the park.
“I was doing a lot of reflecting that day in particular,” says Mary. “We’ve come to this place a lot. We’ve spent a lot of time here during these bigger moments of our lives. We’ve felt a lot of hope looking out over the water. I remember distinctly there was a puppet show going on during this walk. There were a bunch of kids watching the show overlooking the water. I looked at Chris and said, ‘This is something we’re going to bring our son to.’”
That was at about 4:00 in the afternoon. Fewer than ten hours later, at 1:00 on the morning of September 21st, Mary went into early labor. “I swear to this day the extra amount of walking is what did me in!” she says. Their son, Teddy, was born later that day.
When asked if they plan to stay in Portland or eventually move back to Brooklyn, they agree that, with Teddy having arrived on the scene, they’re not looking to leave. They’re still adjusting to their work-from-home lifestyle, now focusing on cultivating connection and community with others in Portland to balance their loss of office socialization. But mostly, they’re excited for their son to grow up in Portland and for the chance to witness all the moments of his life he’ll live on the trails.
A family photo!