Hitch-Hiking Through Hancock County….

August 2012

I only pick up hitch-hikers who remind me of myself in my early twenties, young adventurous types. That particular August morning, the two female hitch-hikers near Sunrise Glass fit the bill. They looked like they could be sisters, two very hipster sisters in their early twenties. They were both petite with hair shorn so that it was only a couple inches long but no garish make-up.  Each had a 60 liter backpack, not yet dirty or dusty.  They clearly had not been living out of them and had not traveled far yet.  I could tell they were not down-on-their-luck hitch-hikers.  They were clearly well-raised, probably from out-of-state.

I made a split-second decision while waiting to pull onto 1A.  Forget working out at the gym, I would much rather help the hitch-hikers.  I felt worried about their chances of catching a ride otherwise. At that time, drivers headed onto 180 from Sunrise Glass could be headed in any number of directions, either out towards Otis or towards Eastbrook.  Since I had a couple of hours before I had to head to work, I wanted to help them get as far as they needed to go.

I made a u-turn and pulled over in the parking lot behind Sunrise Glass.  The women looked at my car, with that “wow, did-we-actually-get-a-ride?” expression, and then they dashed across the road.

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“Right now we’re trying to get to Route 9, but we will go as far as you can take us.”

“I will take you to route 9, I do not have to work until 10 on the Island.”  Then, I drove a Toyota Echo that averaged 40 miles-per-gallon, so I did not mind the distance. Besides, I thought that they would have better chances being picked up on Route 9 next than anywhere in-between.

They threw their backpacks in the trunk.  One sat in the passenger seat, and the other arranged herself around the rake and shovel on the backseat.

Once we had arranged ourselves in the car and taken off, we realized that I looked familiar to them and vice-versa. We exchanged stories, me first, me ever open and trusting to the right vibes.

Freshly turned twenty-seven, I lived at a sweet little cabin within walking distance of Beech Hill Pond and the best blackberry patch that I have ever found in Hancock County. I worked seven days a week on Mount Desert Island, a 45 minute commute (only worth it because of the cheap rent), gardening during the week and produce at Hannaford during the weekends. We decided we must recognize each other from the produce section, where I encountered every socioeconomic class in Bar Harbor, including College of the Atlantic (COA) students.

They had recently graduated from COA, and they were hitch-hiking to somewhere in the Maritime provinces for a homesteading skills conference. In my head, I contemplated hitch-hiking across the Maine-Canadian border, something that sounds braver than anything I have ever done.

Even with my eyes on the road, I could tell theirs were focused out the window. We passed blueberry barrens as far as their eyes could see, houses with so many additions and repairs and porches that the original structure appeared indecipherable, trucks and tractors and four-wheelers and snowmobiles that did not currently work but someone had not given up on them, vegetable gardens neatly weeded and watered, confined and unconfined animals.

“We have never been out here before, we have not really left the Island.”

“Well, welcome to the rest of Maine! There is hunting season out here in November so be careful.”

“This is so cool! It is so beautiful! Too bad everyone we know lives in Bar Harbor!”

This is the part that has haunted me for years, this is the part that compels me to remember and write about these hitch-hikers years after they may or may not have crossed into Canada. I re-live and experience this story every time someone says to me that they do not understand someone of an opposite ideology. I always want to shake them and say, “Really? This state is filled with political diversity, you should leave your little wedge and experience the rest of it.”

It was not my place that morning to be any more than a driver. When we arrived at Route 9, I pulled over at a visible spot and helped them unload their bags. I watched them stagger with their bags on their back as they walked down the break-down lane, and then returned southward in Hancock County.

Mission accomplished: I had given them all the help I could with their journey.

To My Valentine

I did what I always wanted to do as a little girl but never thought I would do as a grown woman: I married my knight-in-shining-armor. Our first date was less of a date and more of a rescue mission in which neither the damsel-in-distress nor McGyver wanted to say good-bye. I became in awe of him from the moment he agreed with me that my rental car turned out to be a lemon, and it has become a bottomless pit of awe ever since. Every time I wake up next to him, I think he looks like a big angel with perpetually messy hair and a strong sturdy build that mirrors my own….until he wakes up and he is all boy: we go into the cell phone store and he just wants to take every phone apart, his eternally sparkling blue eyes light up a little bit more when discussing anything with an engine, he just wants more time to putter around in his lab. With all of his interest and abilities to save the world, he has hands that could be insured for a million dollars.

Carrying a Chicken down the Aisle….

My husband wanted to marry me at the Mount Desert Transfer Station where we went on our first date.  During the week before my wedding, I wish that I had fulfilled his request simply because it would have been effortless.  I had chosen and planned a very DIY affair at the community center in town, a hall whose dark wood reminded me of a Swiss Chalet.  Friends and family had come forward to offer to cater, bake the cake, provide music, and officiate, among other things.  I had been shopping all the 75% off sales after Christmas, and I fully intend on using any leftover heart doilies for Valentine’s Day. 

I had the ingredients for a memorable event, but alternating between holding back and letting loose the tears,  I could not hide my doubts about it coming together.  I kept asking the people around me, “Is a week before too late to decide to have one of those $20000 weddings?”  Sadly, yes, yes, it is.

My only consolation were my three chickens, recent gifts from a friend who could no longer keep them.  Two of the chickens were Buff Orphingtons, big burly ladies who wanted nothing to do with me.  The other was a Bard Rock whom I called Naughty Girl in part because she tried to escape on our second day together.  I had to chase her around my unfenced yard until I slid and caught her from behind like I stole second base.  She would be the first to come to the coop door, the most interested in trying new food.

The chickens were the only living creatures in my life immune to the wedding frenzy.  I had always identified with chickens and thought of them as my spirit animals because they were such a balance of nervous “the-sky-is-falling” concern and “i-found-a-worm” joy.  It struck me every time I checked on them that afterwards, I felt calmer, in a better mindset to tackle the day.  Unquestionably, they function as therapy birds in my life; why not carry Naughty Girl down the aisle to keep me calm on my big day?

I started to seriously consider this on the Wednesday before we wed, and I floated the idea to see what everyone else says.  The general reaction was “you can’t be serious?!”, and I took that as a personal challenge, like hiking Katahdin in a dress.  My then-fiancĂ©, a poultry lover like me, said, “Whatever makes you happy”.  The majority of people kept telling me the same: “This is your day….”  I decided I would try bringing Naughty Girl to the dress rehearsal on Saturday before I committed to having her part of the show on Sunday.

I frequently load her and her roommates into a dog carrier to visit my then-fiancĂ©, so she was not fazed by the trip to town or being carried down the aisle.  I decided my lovie would pet her before I placed her in the dog carrier positioned on the stage, a prominent place to watch the proceedings.  One of my friends would be the chicken handler to pick her up at my house before the ceremony and sit in the front row in case she pulled her escapee act.

All of that being resolved, I needed to decide what to do with my amaryllises that I had expected to carry on my bouquet.  My friend in Russia sent me even more white lilies and red roses.  I decided to bring all the flowers I had leftover to my hairdresser on Sunday.

I explained to her about Naughty Girl.  The idea that we had concocted two months prior would no longer work.  “Just throw my bouquet in my hair.”  She braided my hair in a couple places and then swept it all back into a lopsided bun that served as a nest for amaryllis and lilies.  I sat in the chair already wearing my nana’s thirty-five year old red-white-and-blue sweater.  “You look like a Norwegian bride!”

I loved the way that I looked with the sweater over my aunt’s wedding dress.  Most definitely a country bride, nothing extravagant yet head-turning nonetheless.

Naughty Girl, even with a necklace of roses, did not upstage the bride.  She did start to squirm as “Til There Was You” started to play, but she, and I, made it down the aisle without me crying or her flying to the rafters.  In fact, she proved to be a well-behaved guest.  I only wish she could have signed the marriage license papers as a witness.

Unveiling my Vows

I promise to love you no matter what.

We do not know the topography of our future, but we are the ones who will navigate the trail.

Every day, I promise to wake up and try to love you how you deserve to be loved and treat you as the beautiful soul I know you to be.

I vow to speak my mind and listen to yours. I pray for the insight to know when I am wrong (frequently!?), and admit it. I will rely on the important words–“thank you”, “I am sorry”, “I love you”. I will teach our children to use these words with sincerity and frequency.

I promise to support you on the blue sky days and when it seems the sun never rose. I will generously give you space to maintain, grow, and see into fruition your dreams and authentic self. I ask for the same.

I vow to encourage you to cultivate strong relationships with family and friends…..

I love you.

In Search of Amaryllis

I finally found a florist who would order my amaryllis for my January 15 wedding.  It was the sixth that I had called, and I had learned how to ask by that point.  I had learned to just say I am “buying stems for an event”–mentioning “wedding” seemed to imply I was spending thousands of dollars she did not have.  I had learned to mention calla lilies first and then casually float in the idea of amaryllis.  The florist did not say “no”, which I thought was encouraging.  She said they would be expensive and she would have to check on the availability while I drove to the other side of the island.

I walked into Westside Floral, and I finally felt like I had encountered a shop with a style akin to my own: one-of-a-kind branches hung all over the walls, stars made out of birch bark, wreaths of dried hydrageneas.  I did not want to be THAT girl: “is this for sale? Is this for sale?”  Most of it was not, but I did manage to buy a wire rooster stuffed with moss and plastic red berries.  I could use them as Christmas decorations and for the wedding!

When it came time to discuss my flower order, the florist tried to talk me out of the more delicate calla lilies and amaryllis.  “Sometimes they freeze in shipping, or the bloom has not opened or never will open, or they have a fold across the petal.”  As she told me all of this, I could imagine that for any other bride, those scenarios would make her burst into tears, anything less than perfect unbearable.

For me, it made me want to take the risk on the amaryllis even more.  “Oh, the symbolism!” my high school history teacher would say.  This delicate, beautiful flower goes on a long journey, and it could arrived damaged or not yet ready to blossom.

I promised I would not complain.  I promised, just as I intended to promise to    my future husband, that I would love the flowers no matter what….

The beginning of a first draft

I will always remember the first line I wrote to Mitch: “you look like fun”. It was the same line I had used time and time before, everyone wants to think they are fun whether it is true or not. Yet this time, I felt like I should not stop there. On the one hand, I didn’t have my hopes up. I had been trying to meet someone for far too long, and it seemed statistically unlikely that he would be the one. On the other hand, he seemed perfect: smart handsome engineer looking to settle down, around my age, in the eastern Maine corridor.
So I wrote a full paragraph to him. Thought we had a lot in common and wanted the same things, told him I liked working on projects (in my own way this was true although I certainly don’t wire things like he does), and asked him what he liked to do around Bangor. Had to tell him about the redemption center I found up there that also sold beverages, thought that was funny.
I sent it, and figured if he didn’t write back, at least I scratched that itch, except he did write back, almost immediately. “Wish I had met you a long time ago,” he wrote. That sounded hopeful. He had read my profile and he was equally interested in me as I was in him.
We went back and forth like that for several days, me excited every time I received a message from him. He seemed perfect for me, but I did not want to ruin it. Slow and respectable, slow and respectable.
Slow and respectable would have worked if the loaner car I was driving did not have bizarre acceleration issues. Rather than reach the start of a backpacking trip in the Bigelows, I found myself at Dysarts, spending my last couple of dollars on my credit card on a bowl of baked beans. I needed to trade in the loaner car for another the next morning, and I was broke. I did not have the gas money to drive to the island and back to Bangor.
I contemplated all the ex-boyfriends I could text, and I did not want to see any of them. I texted the nice young man I had met on okcupid, explaining my situation but not ask for a place to stay, and he said, “it would be out of character for me to not offer u a place to stay. U can sleep on my couch.”
“Great, what time can I come over?”
“I am flattered that you trust me but shouldn’t we meet in a public place first?” Oh yes, he was right.  By this point, I had become so comfortable with online dating that I frequently threw caution to the wind.  When I did go out on first dates, my go-to spot was right where I was sitting, the Dysart’s on the Hermon-Hampden line.  I liked watching how different men responded to the same menu, deciding whether I approved of their entree choice, seeing how they responded when I ultimately ordered pie.  Yet Mitch was with friends for the next several hours, and I could not stay there.

I decided to suggest a new place that I had never been before: the Dysart’s on Broadway.  Having made a plan, I headed off to the Bangor Mall in an attempt to receive a free make-over.  I did not know if Macy’s still did that, but it was worth an attempt since I had no eyeliner on me.  The girl at the make-up counter would only instruct me how to do it myself, she was not going to put it on for me.  Drats.  It still ate up time until we were suppose to meet.

The End of Fair Season

i. Skowhegan

We had said that we just wanted to look at the animals.  After arriving at dusk, the demolition derby just starting, every ride lit up and inviting, we bought wrist bands so we could go as many as we wanted.  I could not stop smiling, my first fair dating an electrical engineer who told me everything was safer than it looked.  I believed him, believed him as our Ferris wheel tea cup rocked at the tippy top, as we were spun and jolted in every direction.  With him next to me, I had no fear.

ii.  Blue Hill

“There’s no poultry barn?!”  He wanted to leave upon arrival, not quite sure he could take the place seriously.  We headed away from the dust and the heat and the crowds, across the road and up the hillside.  I led him slightly off trail, to a spot where the blueberries had not yet been picked, and we gleaned what was left, the berries still sweet but drying up.  We listened to the pulse of the fair and spoke of businesses that we had dreamed of birthing, our ambition and imagination equally matched.

iii.  Unity

Every year, at 1pm on the Saturday of Common Ground, I return to the Folk Arts Tent to hear the Balkan Women’s Choir.  Each month has annual pilgrimages that I may or may not choose to take depending on the year, but I always try to make it to the reunion of this particular tribe.  This year, I brought him, perhaps to offer him an out more than anything else.  This is my life, this is all I have ever known, I did not choose it but it is mine.  He took my hand and danced with me, and I did not worry if my steps were in time to the music.

iv.  Fryeburg

We watched the video on logging drives, and smelled the peanut butter fudge just out of the oven, and admired the equipment of years past.  We had each chosen separately to live here, but loving the same sprawling wild state made us closer to each other somehow.

Bluuuuuuuuuuuuueberries!

Her guests had left two pints of hand-picked blueberries in the fridge.  They had laid a napkin across each container, and she believed they must have been forgotten rather than left as a present for her.  She had already bought a fresh pint of blueberries for the guests arriving that day, wild organic Maine blueberries able to impress and please any visitor.  She stashed the berries on top of a laundry basket of linens that she would not use, and she hustled along with making beds and vacumning and shining up the place in a way that became a consistent product.

She did not think twice about the berries until she reached the Mount Desert transfer station.  She started trying to find the trash and recyclables that she had stashed alongside the laundry baskets and duffel bags of clothing, alongside her box of bathroom items and her sleeping bag and tent.  She opened one of the back doors and her gaze settled on the upsidedown berry containers.  The berries pooled up behind her hiking boot, and snuck in every layer of folded towels in the laundry basket, and made their way underneath the seat that had been folded down.

She stood in shock at her open car door before she started grabbing fistfuls of whatever berries did not look contaminated.  She sold berries as part of her produce gig, and this was exactly the sort of drama she associated with the sweet irresistible fruit.  She had seen the aftermath of so many berries take a tumble and roll in every direction on the floor, and it seems like you can never quite find them all.  They tend to either dry or ferment in the corners of produce sections across the state of Maine, and the fruit flies will find any the produce girls cannot.  Sure enough, now the blueberries would find every corner of her car.

She continued to pick at what could be salvaged, taking up a prime parking space in a dump open 24-7 and busiest on weekend afternoons.  She decided she could not thoroughly clean the car until she reached her mother’s driveway.  She would have to rewash her towels and the bulk of her laundry.

This was a catastrophe of Maine proportions, but also a result of her good fortune.  She thought of all the abundance that had led to this minor topple.  Perhaps only because she had hit rockbottom more than once in her life, only because she had lost everything and rebuilt herself did she see this accident as a product of an embarassment of riches.  She had bought the house that had been left for dead, ice on the walls and snow coming in through the windows, and transformed it back into the cozy abode it was meant to be.  It had become the host of Thanksgiving dinners and summer barbecues, of young love and old love and ten year old girls who had left behind blueberries picked on top of Sargent Mountain.  The blueberries had spilled in a car that she bought sight unseen, a car that when she finally drove it she screamed “this is not my car, this is not my car” for months afterwards.

As she plucked berries from every nook and cranny, she strangely hoped this would not be the last berry spill in her backseat.  She had a glimpse of the future in that moment, of trying to clean up the spills of her children in the backseat.  You see, her greatest fortune had happened right there at the Mount Desert transfer station, on her first date with the man with whom she wanted to spend the next 970 years.  She took him to the dump, and he was so smitten with her at the moment that he too became convinced they were soulmates.

She knew that along the way, their love and the children they wished to have could stumble into these messy moments, but she hoped she would feel as much gratitude then as she did right now.

Ellsworth’s Accident Waiting to Happen

In the Whites, my hiker friends and I would joke that certain trails were “accidents waiting to happen”. I have to say that Myrick Street in Ellsworth and the section of Route 1 between Myrick Street and High Street is a bike accident waiting to happen, as arguably the most bike-unfriendly section of Hancock County. I realize this is strong language. Like the rest of the state of Maine, Hancock County has an ample number of no-shoulder or broken-shoulder roads. Yet in most situations, the road remains navigable to bikers without fearing eminent death.

Myrick Street and the aforementioned section of Route 1 have created a scenario that demands more courage than the average cyclist may possess. If the lane changes are confusing to a driver, they are frightening to a cyclist who realizes she cannot cling to the right side of the road and she must cross multiple lanes of traffic to turn left The hill past the bowling alley feels similarly risky, since the biker has nowhere to go while careening down the hill in front of vehicles also gaining speed.

Bayside is a slightly friendlier route. In fact, the bike path between Birch Ave and North Street may be the best option. Why would anyone bike Myrick Street any way? Just avoid it. Yet functional bikers who have no other means of transportation need to take Myrick Street to reach Walmart. Moreover, as the crossroads of Downeast Maine, Ellsworth is the crossroads of scores of cyclists starting or finishing cross-country journeys or cross-Maine journeys or any number of journeys. If only they all knew
to go the Bayside Road…

As I see it, the Department of Transportation has two options: either include bike lanes when they re-think Myrick Street or post no-bike signs so that they will not be responsible for any accidents or deaths.

Upon Waking….

She wanted to write about the April that she worked at the grocery store and they all ended up homeless by the end of the month, sleeping on couches or in cars.  She wanted to write about the times she had declared herself a freegan, the most glamorous way to declare that she could not afford groceries, and proceeded to miraculously feed herself on scraps.  She wanted to write about how scary it was to careen past Walmart in Ellsworth on a bicycle and even scarier still to try to coast down the hill past the bowling alley without getting herself killed.

Yet from experience, the whole sex-in-the-country theme had always been easier and more popular.  Not just encounters with the opposite sex, but romps in the woods and stories of place and season.  The fluff seemed more captivating, any snippet of how she felt about reality perhaps too familiar, so she was sticking with the fluff for now.