First Winter for the Hermitess

During the colder weeks, when she had left all of her faucets dripping during the day, she would come home to that sound and know that at least she had learned from last winter. Then, in the face of an apartment rental gone bad, she had retreated to her mother’s house and waited for something better. She knew that she had found it, she knew that she lived it every day, so she could accept anything that felt difficult about her circumstances.
She had spent months planning for that winter. Everything she had done since the day she had moved in was driven by her determination to live there any time of the year. In her first days in the house, she would have electricians and plumbers and the like come over and they would say, “Is this place even INHABITABLE?” For her, it was. Even when she had to shower at the Northeast Harbor marina and she stored her perishables in a finicky Fresh Samantha cooler from the Cleonice’s basement, she considered the house inhabitable simply because she finally had a place to hang her exotic fruit posters and a mattress to sleep on.
Slowly, over months, sometimes with her dad’s help and sometimes without it, it all came together: the bathroom, the roof, the hot water heater, the refrigerator, the storm windows, the heaters, and finally the driveway. She spent the entire fall studying the forecast, and waiting for the construction company to confirm a date, and occasionally emailing the secretary to remind her that she was still alive and kicking. She knew it could snow any time after mid-October, and with a roommate living with her to help pay the bills, she needed off-street parking on that busy stretch of 198.
The driveway did indeed come, the first week of December, before any snow. Within a month of the driveway’s installation, the roommate left and she faced tighter finances than planned.
Every penny accounted for, she would cash in any returnables she could find for gas money. She had stopped spending money on food, and lived on expired food from the store, mostly stale bread that she would freeze and reheat. She delighted in any produce she could squander, most notably accepting pounds and pounds of carrots from a farmer who had grown too many. She moved into the warmest bedroom in the house, and turned her heat down further.
She dreamt of the day she would own a dog, but knew she needed to fly solo this winter. She had always had a strong will to live, to act in her albeit stubborn best interest, but now she even impressed herself with her tenacity. She would shovel her own driveway, just like her grandfather who kept shoveling post-heart attack, and feel wildly self-sufficient. She might not have had much time to write or climb mountains or start seeds, but the more she supported herself, the better she felt.

things to be happy about 1/10/2016

finally venturing down a trail i have always seen from the carriage roads and wanted to explore, a companion who encourages me to go further than i would alone, free smoothie ingredients blended together in a free blender, rediscovering a forgotten box of hand-me-down clothes, mother rediscovering blossoming tea that i bought her five years ago and it still bursts open in a cup of hot water, homemade vegetable lasagna, $3.50 in returnables, listening to my favorite radio programs and a fierce wind at the same time, making a case for turning my shed into my writing space…

my latest attempt to express my self-love

at thirty, i have never been so happy, and so poor, and so in love with who i have become.  i am happy to be a produce girl, and a home owner, and, secretly or not-so-secretly, a cold, calculating, driven woman.  most people do not know that i sleep with my budget every night.  hopefully, the universe has noticed that i do not take “no” for an answer until i have exhausted every other option.  undeniably, i have expensive taste, yet an unusual amount of glee in dump runs and returnables and stale bread revived in the oven.  i do not need to spend money, i can live out of a backpack and fall asleep staring at the orange ceiling of my one-person tent, but if i am going to spend money, i want whatever i buy to last at least a decade if not five.

The Skinny Ditch

On the morning after she started diabetes prevention classes, her friend’s friend had brought beautiful potato doughnuts from Portland as a gift. This new acquaintance did not know about her carbohydrate-loving, sugar-addicted, compulsive overeating, completionist ways. She did not know that she could devour both doughnuts in one bite and be on a binge that lasted all week. She had never met her hostess, she wanted to do something kind.  For some unknown reason, people love to make random acts of kindness out of food.  This particular gift just happened to be something that her brain could not handle and could not have in the house without feeling wildly distracted.
The hostess did what she had never done before but had been done many times to her throughout her life: the skinny ditch. Usually these healthy beautiful women with self-control will rip off one piece of a Whoopie pie and hand the rest to the nearest unsuspecting fat girl who says, “oh yes, I would love the rest of that” and devours it Cookie Monster style. These unsolicited but welcome calories add up.  She was beginning to realize that they hindered her from being deliberate and discerning in her food choices.
This time, she passed on the skinny ditch. Rather than consume them with pleasure and feel lingering guilt, she left them in the break room at work, and began a new chapter of her life in which she mostly said “no” and on a few rare moments of the day said “yes, yes, I want that.”  She had begun to make a joke of it by saying, “I am not putting that in my mouth,” and the further she was removed from the death grip of sugar and flour, the easier it was to walk away.

another beginning

A year ago, she had been told she was prediabetic.  She thought it was a mistake at first, that perhaps she had simply eaten too much watermelon the night before the blood test.  Her nurse tested the average of her blood sugar level over the past three months, and wrote her a very kind letter saying, “Yes, your blood sugar level has averaged in the prediabetic range in the last three months.  I know you exercise a lot, just watch what you eat, okay?”

Exercise had always been the easy part for her.  She had been a compulsive overeater ever since she could reach for food, and she had a taste for the sweet carbohydrate realms of that universe.  Once she discovered running and the gym as a teenager, she would alternate between devouring crackers or tortilla chips and then running laps and laps around a loop in the woods.  As her exercise grew more extreme, as did her eating.  She could out-eat every grown man she knew.  She should not have taken pride in that, but it was the same sort of pride that she saw in her friends who had sobered up but held onto a little ego that they had fallen so deep.

She was still not quite ready to stop out-eating grown men.  For the first six months of that diagnosis, she did nothing different.  When she returned to the specialist who had caught her blood sugar levels in the first place, he said, “What did the nurse do?  Did she refer you to diabetes prevention classes?”

“No,” she said sheepishly.

“You need to go back and talk to her again and get a referral to classes.”  The nurse gave her the referral, and even so, she did not immediately carve out time in her life.  She was buying a house, and starting a second job to pay for the house.  She barely had time to shower and sleep, never mind start a dramatic lifestyle change.  She had even been slacking on exercise as of late, as her life was regaining its rhythm.  Besides, she imagined she would be the youngest person there, and how awkward was that?

As it turned out, not awkward at all.  She knew the instructor and a couple others in the class, and the first thing she was asked to do was keep a food journal, which she had done many times before….

becoming a hermitess

she had kept him in her life so long because he was what she always wanted: brilliant with the spoken and written word, interested and interesting, well-raised and well-educated. yet he had kept her distant, and at some point, she wanted to be close to someone, not every couple of months when he wanted to see her but she wanted someone to crawl into bed next to, someone to talk to at the end of the day and it could not be him. she wanted it to be him more than anything else in the world, but she could not spend any more energy on it.

it stung for her to say it out loud. it hurt to think about moving past someone who had served her slow-cooked chicken for breakfast, who would pull her towards him and kiss her so confidently. she did not merely love the poetry of him, she savored it. she thought she could stand his pessimism and moodiness and indifference for the rest of her life if he wanted her.

she had known she was selling herself short ever since november, yet she hated the thought of letting go of someone perfect for her. she was finally tired enough to try to digest that he would never love her, that she could accommodate him in every way she was capable and he would still slip away. she had reached a point where she would let him go, where she had so little free time that she could not waste it on him.


Ever since Tomato began to move, he was taught etiquette. He learned to address strangers, and ask for unreachable things behind the counter, and say no with kindness. He took a liking to grammar and company that brought complexity to the conversation. He may have abandoned the sturdiness of his roots, compelled to veer towards the heat and light, but he still carried himself so that everyone knew he was raised well.

Upon finding a house….


Part One: The Norridgewock Farmhouse, 1983

My father always says that he fell in love with the Norridgewock house because of the row of maple trees out front. The barn had collapsed, an outhouse was still attached to the house, and due to poor insulation, the previous owners only lived in part of the house during the winter. Every part of the house from the cellar to the roof needed work. It was the first house that a caravan of young prospective homebuyers looked at that day, and my parents decide it was the only one they needed to see.

None of my parents’ Massachusetts-living friends and relatives could understand the logic behind buying a ram shackled old house in Central Maine. My Dziadziu, my dad’s father who has constructed several houses and done all the work himself, found the conditions particularly appalling and vowed to help.

Thirteen years later, the kitchen had been moved into the el, the bathroom had been remodeled, the entire house had been insulated, concrete had been poured over half the basement, and so on, and so forth. My dad had seen the potential behind the squalor, and slowly transformed the space.

Part Two: The Sound, 2015

I had not been house-hunting per se. I did not believe a house existed within my budget on Mount Desert Island. When I found something priced at $119000 in my old neighborhood near the Giant Slide trailhead, I emailed the realtor and the realtor emailed me back immediately and said, “Here is the code, you are welcome to go in but you may need snowshoes”.

After all, it was towards the end of the snowiest February on record, four feet of snow on the ground and I could barely see into the first floor windows. Incidentally, I did not have snowshoes at the time, so I crawled through four feet of snow to reach the front door.

My first time in, I was relieved to see the walls intact, the ceilings not caving in, and no sign of animals living there. The realtor said it mostly needed deep cleaning, and I agreed. I called my former landlady who lived down the street, and as I went up to the second floor, I noticed ice on the walls and snow coming in through the windows.

“Oh, that’s normal with an unheated building,” my landlady told me. The house felt airier on the second floor, with huge windows looking out on Somes Sound.

Yet the third floor convinced me that I needed to buy the place. It smelled of wood, just like all of my favorite places that I have ever rented, and it had steps up to a built-in bed next to the window. In the leafless honesty of February, I could see Somes Sound.

The house was what I always wanted in the neighborhood I always wanted to return to and grow old. I knew that magical section of Mount Desert had bred hermits, bachelors who had created universes of and sports games on the radio and scattered tools and canned goods in the shadow of Sargent Mountain. If I were not mistaken, I would be the first hermitess, who collected different types of tea and hung mounted plants she had pressed in college and filled her house with beautiful things….


An ex-boyfriend had promised her that they could take the ferry across Moosehead to climb Kineo. She was looking forward to climbing a new summit, to driving up Route 15 to Greenville on a blue-sky October day, foliage only slightly past peak. He insisted on taking his beloved truck, not the most fuel-efficient but the only socially-acceptable way to arrive in Greenville.

Yet he chickened out. They arrived at the boat launch, her mouth dropped open at the sight of Kineo on the other side of what was not yet really Moosehead but rather the mouth of the Moose River. It seemed short and square like the Porcupine Islands, but it would better be described as the Porcupine Islands with a receding hairline, green on top and bottom with gray cliffs in-between.

He did not want to pay for the ferry. It was bird-hunting season and one of the moose-hunting weeks, and they were not wearing blaze orange. Moose-hunting in the state park? she thought.

She returned the next summer, alone, with enough cash for the ferry. She was surprised to find more people in line for the ferry than the captain, a Maine Maritime student, could take in one trip. The passengers were an odd mix of golfers and hikers, and by hikers, mostly families with small children. She felt like an oddity as a twentysomething, and she realized that she would not have Kineo to herself.

The Maine Maritime student directed the hiking passengers towards the two trails. He said that the Indian trail was the steeper and more scenic of the two, and suggested taking that one up and the more gradual Bridal Path down.

With no taste for hiking in a crowd, she dashed ahead of the families and started up the Indian trail.  She still passed a steady stream of people hiking down, and she felt in a bit of a claustrophobic panic.  To anyone else, the amount of people coming down the mountain would not seem significant.  To her, she felt like she had stumbled onto one of the top ten hottest destinations in Maine.  If she wanted tourists, she would have stayed in Bar Harbor.

She did not find the road less traveled until she reached the view-less summit, where one could not see anything unless she climbed a fire tower.  She discovered a third trail besides the Indian Trail and the Bridal Path, a trail that veered east at the summit, descended steeply, and slowly looped back to the boat landing.  She did not have a map, but it sounded like a good idea, at the very least to escape the out-of-staters.

Once she descended from the mountain, she found herself traversing a watery path with woods on one side and Moosehead on the other.  She eventually found herself at a cluster of campsites, and she decided that it was time for a swim.  She tossed off her t-shirt, and waded in wearing her sports bra and shorts.  She splashed off the mud from her legs, and lay back in the water.  This was the Moosehead she was expecting, a place where everyone had arrived at their campsites via boat.

“207?!” The campers at the picnic table said.  Wherever she swam or hiked or sunbathed in the state, her tattoo, almost three years old at that point, still caught other Mainers’ attention.  After she explained that it was her quarter-life crisis tat, the campers invited her to stay for supper.

“Oh, no, I must be getting to the ferry,” she said, but she appreciated the warmth.  The campers said they were from somewhere outside of Augusta, and she felt some kinship with them in a way that she did not feel with the golfers on the ferry.  She had found her own version of Kineo.

As she took the ferry back, she vowed to return to this particular corner of Moosehead.  She hoped that she could convince someone to camp back at that site, and climb Kineo up the backside, and coax her up the fire tower.  She just did not know when that would be.