The Season of Warmth and Migration

She had known November to be a time for creatures to either migrate to a warmer place or secure stable shelter for the winter. She had always felt the pressing weight of uncertainty around that time of year when she worked seasonally. Now she knew she had a source of income in the winter, but she found herself moving again, pond-hopping from Long Pond to Somes Pond.

She had answered a newspaper ad for the highly-coveted ideal: year-round and affordable. Once she saw the space, a sunny garage studio apartment complete with wood stove and sleeping loft, she wanted it to be her new home. She had not been able to unpack her books or hang posters for over a year. At this new place, she thought she would have a chance to nest in a way that she had not been able to since she left Beech Hill Pond.

The landlord was installing new flooring, so she would not move in for a month. She began to daydream about her life there and all she would want to enhance it. For the first winter she could remember, she could afford to buy a cord of wood and that thrilled her. She had recently envied a friend’s collection of cast iron cookware, and planned to ask for some pieces for Christmas. She wanted to have so many layers of blankets on the bed that she felt like she was sleeping under one of those blankets one wears while having an X-ray.

Her landlord said it was a happy space, and she wanted to keep it that way, she wanted to make it even more so…

A Produce Department of Her Own

During the three years that she worked in the produce department at the grocery store, she would dash across the street to the natural food store on her lunches. In the winter, she would help herself to soup and tea, and she would sit at the counter in the window, hands nestled around liquid warmth. In the summer, she would opt for coconut water and kale salad. Either way, she had always felt magically transported back to Burlington, Vermont, and back to a less stressed version of herself.

She had always hoped to work there some day, but she never had the courage to apply until she endured three summers at the grocery store. There, she cared too much. She ran around the department as if she were paid on commission, always writing a new list on a piece of scrap cardboard, breaking out a sweat to break down freight or stock the shelves. For as much as she tried, she could only do so much in her position, especially considering the corporate rules. She had started to cry every meal break and at the end of every shift.

In a moment of desperation, she called someone she knew who worked at the natural foods store and asked if they were hiring. “Stocking, freight, anything?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, full-time produce I think. I think she is still hiring for that, you should bring your résumé in tomorrow.”

She had to borrow a computer to re type her résumé. When she brought it home, she realized she just wrote “service leader” as her job title. She wrote “produce” in the margins, and hoped that would not look too silly.

When she interviewed, she was offered the job on the spot. “I am not going to find anyone more qualified,” the store owner told her. She immediately accepted it, and gave her two weeks notice.

She started in the middle of October, when lettuce and tomatoes and broccoli and cabbage and spinach were still available from local farms. On her first day, she felt compelled to buy a bunch of the most robust spinach she had ever seen and then she ate half of it on the ride home.

She would soon learn the specialities of every farmer, and she felt like the case was missing something when the Brussels sprouts or leeks were sold out. When farmers called, she could genuinely answer the phone and say, “I
am so happy you called. I was just thinking about your fingerling potatoes”, or celeriac, or cauliflower. Because she held the buying power, she felt like a VIP when farmers left her free samples of carrots or kale.

She like that the case was a dynamic organism, that it offered constants like lettuce mix and kale, and irregulars like fennel and asparagus. She thought that the possibility of irregulars kept the job interesting.

One day, she found herself trying to fit a third variety of blue potato in the bottom bays underneath the banana table. She kept shuffling around the brown paper sacks of potatoes, doubling up varieties that were almost sold out. She finally gave up, and decided to fit it out later. She laughed to herself. She would rather have produce problems than any other sort of problems in the world…..

Imagining Her Lover’s Soulmate

She felt jealous of the woman who would grow old with him. She felt jealous of the woman who would bear his children, and be among the first to hold his grandchildren, and die surrounded by the family they had created and with him by her side. She envied the woman who would have what she wanted, the simple repetition of waking up and falling asleep next to him, the nightly asking of “how was your day?” that never seemed to get old. This woman, whom she imagined to be stunning and brilliant and interesting, would have the thrill of planning, collaborating, and laughing over meals with him, she ever trying to challenge his palate, ever trying to impress and please him. This woman would bring him home to her parents, she would be proud to have him sit at the table and add to the discussion.

She wanted him to be happy, more than she wanted anything else in the world. She had always hoped that she would be the one to share that with him. If it was not going to be her, she wanted it to be someone who knew that she was lucky….

In anticipation of the first snow…

All she wants, on the morning of the first snow, is to wake up next to a smart, handsome man who adores her and whom she adores just as much.

She is not wistfully hoping it happens ten years from now. For once, she is not daydreaming about someone who may not exist. She knows it will happen tomorrow.

She always treats the first snow like a religious holiday where one is allowed to be joyful. It does not matter how much or how little snow. She checks every closet in the house, and finds her snow pants and Muck boots and mittens and hat and every possible accessory. Then she heads out for a walk, and ooohs and ahhhs about the neighborhood that looks pretty in a new way.

Tomorrow she will not have her snow pants, but she does not care. She came to Bangor to go to the Bangor and Orono farmers’ markets for the first time, and did not plan to stay. Having been invited for a sleepover, she could not leave…

Dysart’s

Neither of them looked at the menu. She saw beef stew on the specials board, she had been checking for it since Labor Day, and this was the first night she had seen it posted. He knew what he wanted, his usual.

Nor did either know how many times he or she had been there. They could both share stories set at that most famous landmark of Eastern Maine. Yet his all seemed to be comedies, and hers all seemed to be tragedies, tragedies that all ended with “…and then I had a piece of pie”.

She had already kissed him before the meal, and now she felt that she had nothing to hide. She even admitted that she brought all her first dates there. It was a bit of a test: to see what they ordered, if they ordered pie, if they had ever been there before, if they liked it. He had impressed her more than anyone else.

The optimist in her wanted this to be her last first date at Dysart’s. The optimist in her had decided he was brilliant and wanted to keep him. He designed machine parts, and wanted a woodworking space of his own, and baked pies and cakes and biscuits with presumable precision.

She did not know how to make that happen, she with all of her flaws. She was resolved not to let go first, not to give up, not to walk away this time. He could change his mind, but she would not change hers until that happened.

Long Pond

She had moved back to the island, ever darting between living on either side of the bridge. She moved to the other side of the Sound this time, to a neighborhood in close proximity to Long Pond. She immediately noticed that so few cars passed down the street even in the height of August that she could hear each one whiz by. This part of the island reminded her the most of interior Maine.

Her landlords told her that she could borrow the kayak and take it out on the pond whenever she wanted. She did not ask for them to qualify how often “whenever she wanted” was, for fear that almost every night in August was too much. She would wheel it down the street and put it in at the fish ladder, wading into a bottom of shredded bark and decomposed leaves. Yet once she had launched herself, she hardly paddled except to cut through the current on the way back. She was content to float and let the sun relax all the nerves that had been standing on end from her harried day.

She felt most proud that she had found Rum Island on her own. Her landlord told her that she could portage across the causeway on the Northern Neck Road, and Rum Island would be at one ‘o’ clock from the head of the neck. The island was property of the park now, perhaps it always had been, and she knew she had found it when she saw tourists swimming and picnicking.

She would return another day, and more days after that, to sun herself on the rocks and swim. She had heard that the brothers used to paddle to the island, and fish, and camp. She found what looked to be a popular tenting spot, and she pictured their younger selves there. She felt happy that she met them, happy that they had led her to that spot…

Blue Hill

Give me the combination of dusk, and a little black sundress, and a blueberry patch on the side of a mountain, and I am a happy woman. It does not matter how much I pick or how far I climb. Most of the berries end up in my mouth, and I do not regret it when I only have a handful to bag and freeze. I like having the mountain and the berries to myself in the cool of the evening.

Traveler Loop in northern Baxter State Park

I had never entered Baxter State Park at the Matagamon Gate, the northern entrance.  I could not remember ever driving through Patten, whose darling of an old-fashion downtown includes a Shop ‘n’ Save and a hardware store and not much else.  I had never reached that crest of open land on route 159, where for the first time in my life, it became definitely clear that Katahdin is part of a range of mountains usually obscured from view when the mountain is approached from the south.  For my 29th birthday, I wanted to climb a trail other than the ones on Katahdin that I know so well and love.  My mother wanted to bring me to South Branch Campground, a site that she had only recently discovered and whose beauty is considered to rival Chimney Pond’s.

South Branch Campground boasts a beach on Lower South Branch Pond where hikers can jump in the refreshing water at the end of a long day under the shadow of the mountains that they just climbed.  My mother compared the landscape to something out of the West Coast.  The way the mountains dramatically slope into the body of water reminded me more of Acadia than anywhere else.  The afternoon before our 10-plus mile hike of the Traveler Loop, we rented a canoe for $1 an hour and spent much of our two-and-a-half hours on the water floating.  We did line our canoes over to Upper South Branch Pond, and we watched teenagers jump from the high cliffs into the water.  Yet we were content where we were.

I moved back in with my mother in early June as part of a cost-saving measure.  We are once again brushing our teeth together, and sharing meals upon occasion, and trying to remember to water the garden.  Yet we seldom had a chance to relate like this, without telephone interruptions or work commitments to pull us apart.  I always feel lucky to spend my birthday with the woman who gave birth to me.

On a daily basis, especially living with her, I am constantly in awe of how strong and tough that she consistently proves herself to be.  For work, she takes care of the dying.  Outside of work, she would “give anyone the shirt off her back in a snow storm”, as I like to describe her.  When we hiked the Traveler Loop, she practically carried me for 10-plus miles.  If she could have carried me, she would have, she said near the end of the day.

We had made a dangerous oversight in our harried, last-minute packing.  We knew we would have to treat our water at the campground, and we packed 4 gallons of water and Aquamira.  Yet in what was truly a frenzied departure, an “evacuation-of-Saigon” departure as my dad would say, we did not bring enough water bottles, and we did not realize this until 9pm when we were already settled in.  The park recommends at least 3 liters of water per person on a hot summer day, and we did not have anywhere close to that.

I had hoped we would cross a reliable water source on the Loop, and I stowed my Aquamira in my backpack.  Upon close examination of the map once we had already started our hike, we would have no such luck in the higher elevation of the Traveler Loop.  The park ranger advised us to hike it counter-clockwise, up the Center Ridge Trail and down North Traveler.  Once we veered away from the Pogy Notch Trail, we would be in dry country.

If we were more sensible stock, we would have turned around.  We would have talked to the park ranger or other campers and seen if they had any extra bottles.  Yet we are of stubborn stock, the sort of fools who are a couple miles in and do not want to fail even though the day will be a struggle.  My mother is unbelievably stoic in ways, and who was I to be a wimp.

She ended up giving me the majority of water we had carried, and still bounded ahead of me like a high-energy puppy dog.  I would study her path across the fields of skree and spiney ridges.  We have hiked Katahdin and Washington and some of the other challenging peaks of New England together.  Every time, she will claim it is the last time that she will cross the Knife Edge, last time in the Whites, last time on the Precipice.  “Last Time” has become her trail name, but on this particular hike in Baxter, it could have been mine.  I felt out-of-shape and without any fire under my rear end to keep me going.

We lunched on tuna and crackers at Traveler, and looked at all we had left to climb and what little water we had.  I marveled that the Traveler Loop was still relatively new, in the last decade I believe.  In my father’s guide book from 1978, it described only trails to Peaks of the Ridges and North Traveler.  At that time, hikers still had to bushwhack to the top of Traveler, always a mysterious monster of a mountain.  It was named Traveler because the mountain appears to follow paddlers down the Penobscot river.  It was once thought to be the second highest mountain in the state before the discovery of mountains in the Western part of the state.

Even without bushwhacking, I struggled to lift my legs and keep going forward.  My mother promised me her last half of water as we ascended North Traveler.  I am going to take a break, I am going to take a break, I promised myself right before I banged my right ankle against a stump.

“I hate hiking!”  I screamed at my mother, right before I started crying.  A bruise quickly formed, but unlike last year’s birthday injury, I did not significantly break the skin.  I could not see my bone.  I do not know how I would have been rescued from that spot, so it was a blessing.

My mother did indeed give me the last half of her water bottle, but encouraged me to sip it a little at a time as we summited and descended North Traveler.  The top of North Traveler looked familiar, and I could not figure out why, until I read afterwards that the upland meadows of North Traveler are reminiscent of the Southern Balds.  I have never before seen that comparison in a Maine hiking guidebook.  I am thrilled to know that I can feel the same effect of the Roans or Max Patch within a day’s drive from home.

My mother reached the junction of the North Traveler Trail and the Pogy Notch Trail before me.  “You are never going to believe this!  It says there was a spring 1.2 miles up the North Traveler Trail from here!”

I did not believe it.  The spring was not marked on my brand-new map, nor did I read about it in any of the 1978 guides.  We bee-lined to the car for water before a swim in the pond.  “10 hours, exactly as the ranger said,” I pointed out.  Yes, a 1 mph pace in a day of alternating between losing and gaining elevation.

“I want to sleep in my own bed tonight.”  We had reservations for a campsite that night, but since my mother had to work in the morning, she agreed to drive home.

We could not find any eating establishments in Patten that accepted credit cards at 8pm on a Sunday night.  We headed south on 95 to Medway, to the diner at the Big Apple gas station only a little ways from the exit.  At that late hour on a Sunday night, locals packed the diner.  I do not think visitors typically expect homemade biscuits and soups and dinner fixings at a gas station restaurant, but this is the place to eat north of Dysart’s.

I did not mean it when I declared that I hated hiking.  I despise not setting myself up to have a cushy trip.  I do not like feeling rushed out the door or unprepared.

In fact, I am still absorbing my favorite birthday present, a Map Adventures map of Baxter State Park.  I am studying the possibilities, and creating a wish list.  I adore being able to look at a map, and say, “Oooh, I have not been there or there or there”.  It is a gift that I will use years after this memorable birthday.

Thank you, mom, for map, and giving birth to me, and everything in-between.

 

The oak bureau

I had known the smell of the bureau drawers as long as I could remember, though I did not know the wood. I had struggled to open the drawers ever since I had begun to dress myself, struggled to grip the ornately carved acorn handles and listen to the arrythmic sound, first a creaking that had never been oiled and then a hollow baritone as the drawers slid out.

“Oak,” my mother said when I finally asked her about the wood. “I bought it at an auction in Norridgewock from money I was given when you were born.”