the definition of a tough little critter

…A tough little critter, of the Templeton the rat variety, the sort of thing that lives behind the lattice under the porch or in the wall behind the woodpile. It finds things to feed itself in an impressive way without impressing anyone. No one knows of its existence, yet it has an inarguably strong will to live and thrive.

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.”

Spending the Night in the Bunk House at Chimney Pond

“Don’t put too much product in my hair, I am sleeping at Chimney Pond tonight.” The hair appointment had been scheduled for months; I had only reserved a space at the Chimney Pond bunk house shortly after 8am that morning. I had wanted to go camping when I saw that I had two days off in a row. However, quite frankly, I do not like sleeping alone in the woods any more. After 3000 miles of backpacking, between my southbound and northbound hikes, I like hearing others playing cards as I fall asleep. I like waking up to someone boiling water for coffee. Yes, I have friends who hike and camp, but sometimes I want to go when no one else can.

Staying at the Chimney Pond bunk house seemed to be the perfect solution to my odd need to sleep within earshot of others’ breathing and snoring. I had always wanted to stay there, but it never had space when I checked. After all, the lean-tos and the bunk house at Chimney Pond are highly sought after, due to its closely proximity to Baxter Peak. Hikers can sit at the shore of Chimney Pond and gaze up at the Knife Edge, the Knife Edge being one section of the glacial cirque.

When I saw that the bunk house had ample room that night, I assumed it was because of black fly season, an event hyped up to be far worse than it is. I hiked the entirety of the Maine AT in early June, and for the most part, the air was still too brisk for pesky insects.

I did not see the weather forecast for the next day until I pulled up to the south gate of Baxter State Park. The forecast for the next day read : “Showers and thunderstorms, 80%.” I had planned to climb the Cathedral trail
and summit the next morning, but that forecast did not look encouraging.

I would have summited that day, but I did not leave Roaring Brook until 4:30pm. The distance from Roaring Brook to Chimney Pond is roughly three and a half miles, a gradual gain in elevation, in the woods alongside water for much of the way. I felt more like myself simply because I was carrying the weight of a pack.

As I was approaching Katahdin in my car, I could see that snow still lingered in its upper reaches in the middle of June. From Chimney Pond, the snow banks, as they are called, appeared even more pronounced.

“Is that unusual, to have snow remain through mid-June?” I asked the ranger when I checked in. I had crossed a snow field on Mount Washington in mid-June, but I had never summited Katahdin from the Chimney Pond side in June before.

“Oh….happens every couple of years.” He told me there would only be two others in the bunk house that night, only three in a place whose maximum capacity is ten.

The bunk house there now must be less than 5 years old, set back in the woods off the beaten path of day hikers. For the cost of eleven dollars a night (versus thirty dollars for a campsite at Roaring Brook, I had a bunk (bring your own sleeping pad) and access to a shared common area, and food prep space, and a cribbage board, and a complete deck of cards.

My bunk mates were quick to tell me that the cabins at Daicey and Kidney Pond were even more posh. “They even have mattresses.” I had never noticed before reading the Baxter State Park literature more closely that more than a half dozen of the campgrounds in the park provided the bunk house option. I had also recently learned that Mainers could stay a maximum 14 nights in the park each season. In the spirit of setting goals that do not matter, I contemplated trying to stay at every bunk house in the park.

At dusk, I tagged along with a bunkmate who was headed to Chimney Pond to take pictures of the ominous clouds rolling in over the ridge line. As part of the field naturalist program at UMO, she planned to photography lichen in the alpine zone but she and her hiking companion had checked the forecast. They would wait one more day to summit.

I would not have the luxury of waiting a day. Having tossed and turned and jammed my hips into the wooden bunk, I woke up to the pounding of a downpour. Immediately, I made some quick decisions. I needed a new sleeping pad. I would not attempt to stay at every bunk house in the course of my life. Finally, I would not be ascending the Cathedral Trail that morning.

I felt so grown-up to turn down Baxter Peak and head back to Roaring Brook. More than once, I had hiked twenty miles in the rain because I was out of food and trying to make it to town or pursuing this or that deadline. The last time it happened, I promised myself that I would never voluntarily do it again.

I was strangely happy to be a party of one at that point, and be able to make the best decision for me, and not be pressured to go farther than I wanted. I do hope to have company for the Traveler loop and the Brothers later this summer, but I did like being at Chimney Pond all by myself.

Revisiting an Old Theme

I showed my lover the contents of my soul as I always did, like I was selling wares out of a trench coat. This time, I decided I would show him the uglier contents as well as the more glamorous ones. I told him everything, perhaps in hopes that he would walk away, either clearly uninterested or simply noncommittal. I told him that I could not follow recipes, and I felt inexperienced, and I laughed like a goose, and on and on.

I think the honesty stunned him. I waited as he pawed through it all, waited for his excuse, his reason why he could not love me. I had already thought of a thousand, some of which I had heard before and others of which were uniquely suited to him.

In the process of waiting, I kept dragging out uglier and uglier things until I found the ugliest thing inside my soul, something that would scare away even the least squeamish. It was ugly enough that he did indeed walk away.

Then, by some miracle, he came back. He still loved me, even after I had shown him every ugly part of me….

My First Visit to a Dietician

Over an eight year period, I have been asking my various physicians and nurse practitioners if they would give me a referral to a dietician. The resounding answer? No. I do not have diabetes or even pre-diabetes. I may have an obese BMI and an ominous family history, but my vitals, including my extraordinarily low pulse, suggested an individual in optimal health.

Yet I still wanted professional guidance, and I still asked, asked and asked and asked. I finally asked my current nurse practitioner, a woman who runs on the treadmill next to me at the gym and who buys ample amounts of produce. She looks about fifteen years younger than she must be, considering how long she has practiced. We talk about the doctors who lecture me on my weight before looking at my vitals. She knows I make an effort to be as healthy as I can be. She gave me this referral as a gift, as if I too will look fifteen years younger some day.

I waited for months to see a dietician, told that I was on a wait list that I would later find out did not exist. I followed up for the second time after I saw the hospital advertise in the newspaper, and found out that I had been assigned to the wrong person.

Suffice it to say, even after a stressful morning, I was thrilled to meet this dietician. I sat down and began telling her everything, about my overeating, about certain foods I could not keep in the house, about exercising. “I feel like I hold a carrot in one hand and a Whoopie Pie in the other.”. I told her that I had been using MyFitnessPal app, and I loved it, but it did not give me feedback. It did not interact back with me.

She, on the other hand, interacted back with me. I told her that I was trying to follow a 1280 calorie plan on MyFitnessPal, and she said that even she struggled to eat only 1200 calories when she tried to simulate her clients’ experiences. “You need to eat more calories early in the day so you are not hungry later. You need to eat more frequent meals and snacks. You need to eat more than 1280 calories a day.”

She put me on a scale to

53 Day Streak of Food Journaling on MyFitnessPal!

Two years ago, I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app, and it is only now that I can say that I have used it consistently for 53 days in a row. I have loved the idea of it ever since my friend told me that she lost 60 pounds logging in everything she put into her mouth. However, whenever I tried to use it for a couple of days, I would try to eat as clean as possible, and then blow it. Subsequently, I could not admit how much I had blown it to myself, or to this app. I have written about it before, multiple times before, written about my hope and my frustration.

Yet in this 53 day streak, I have written everything down, junk food or not, large quantity or not. When I gave up sugar and flour for 14 days, I started logging my food into MyFitnessPal every day because I already had to write it down and tell someone. Once that 14 day period ended, I still wanted to remain accountable, so I kept logging.

The app calculates how many calories I should eat based on my weight and weight loss goals. The app then allows me to eat more calories on the days that I exercise, based on the type and intensity of exercise. At the end of the day, when I finish logging, it says, “If you ate like this every day for 30 days, you would weigh this much.” I have been logging my weight on there for two years, so I can see weight trends over time.

Lately, I have been absorbed in the nutrition section of the app. Every day, it helps me keep track of what percentage of my daily fat, saturated fat, trans fat, protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sodium, potassium, iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, etc.

For the most part, I discovered that I do not have a problem reaching my daily goals for protein and dietary fiber and the majority of categories. I learned that when left to my own devices, I do not eat enough potassium and iron. Yes, I could take a supplement for that, but studies have shown people absorb nutrients more effectively from food than pills.

I have enjoyed finding foods rich in potassium and iron, particularly those that are low calorie and low sugar options. For instance, when I told a friend that I did not consume enough potassium, he said, “Bananas and potatoes.” I wanted to find less starchy sources. After all, I needed the most nutrition in the fewest number of calories. Some of the best sources of potassium I found were celery, cucumbers, watercress, yogurt, and low-sodium V8 juice. The Blue Monkey brand of coconut water with pulp is one of the most delicious sources of potassium, but it is expensive so I only drink it a couple times a week as a low-calorie treat.

When I looked for iron sources, everyone told me to eat spinach. I am resistant to spinach, because long ago someone told me that raw spinach inhibited calcium absorption. I have started eating a spring mix that includes spinach and provides 20% of my daily needs, but I do not consume dairy products at that meal. I also found out that a seaweed product that I have been eating since college, the Maine Coast Sea Vegetable triple blend flakes, happens to have 20% of my daily iron requirement in a teaspoon. I add it to my eggs and voila, lower calorie than blackstrap molasses. I also like refried beans as a source of iron. 1/2 cup of oatmeal is 10% of my daily iron requirement. Nuts are a less processed source of iron. Processed foods like cereal and pretzels have iron from the grains being fortified, but I want to rely on more low-calorie, naturally-rich sources. Although I only consume it
a couple times a year, I am impressed with the Chex cereal brand: not only is it gluten-free but the Rice Chex packs 50% of my daily iron requirement in 100 calories.

After all, after spending two decades cutting out this or that food group, I finally believe what a relative has been trying to tell me for years. “There are no bad foods.” Part of me wanted there to be bad foods, because swearing off food groups always felt easier to me than counting calories. Yet winning this battle is about counting calories. I tell myself that a trained monkey could do it. MyFitnessPal users do not have to be brilliant, yet strangely some of the most brilliant people cannot be bothered with food journaling, with being honest with themselves.

Just as my tenth-grade English teacher plastered everywhere, “Success is a habit, not an act.” I still think about that, whether I am trying to hold a plank or packaging up my meals for the next day. Of all my new habits, I am the most proud of MyFitnessPal.

my best story

you are my best story.

i have told it in the dark, moments before falling asleep,

told it descending steep slopes of distant mountains,

told it seeding, and transplanting, and weeding, and harvesting.

i know it by heart,

and i tell it from my heart every time.

i tell it to turn strangers into friends,

and my friends have listened to every chapter, every plot twist, with patience.

i told it to a stranger who said, “you must like being told no.”

i think i like the possibility of a happy ending.

i like daydreaming, and nightdreaming,

the half-asleep and half-awake chance to play pretend in bed,

like i was still a little girl.

i pretend what it would be like to wake up next to you,

next to the mass of you, and slip on my slippers and bathrobe,

and type up that first thing of the day,

always my best.

i pretend that you would eventually come out, and kiss me on the forehead.

i pretend that you would pour yourself a cup of coffee, and sit with me,

and i would read to you.

Starting Again

She had stopped writing, or rather, she had continued writing but she had become picky about sharing. She had continued to express on paper what she never had the confidence to say in person, but she struggled to finish anything. Even when she did finish, she would regard it as unimportant, “not good enough”. She despised people with too much ego, but she knew that not having enough had held her back her entire life, even in clicking the “publish” button.

Every once in a while, she would still mention her blog to someone, usually someone at work at the end of a long day. She was talking to her coworker in maintenance, and she found out that they both had blogs.

A week or so later, she went to a potluck at this coworker’s house. Out of the blue, the coworker said, “I thought the name of your blog sounded familiar and then I realized my friend had sent me a link to it last summer. I loved it, I loved your perspective of this area.”

She sat, rather stunned by the connection, but flattered. Her physical appearance never caught the attention of strangers, but her words, her ever simple Strunk and White words, resonated enough to be forwarded from one friend to another.

She wanted to hit the publish button again, if only for this one friend. She never wrote expecting to be the next big name, or any name at all. She wanted to write in hopes of adding something fun, or soulful, or useful to someone else’s day….