Friday, December 07, 2007

Bridgewater, Maine

Temperature: 18°F

“If love can be and still be lonely, where does that leave me and you?”

I’m sitting at the dining room table at the house in Bridgewater, looking out the three large front windows at the newly plowed white driveway, the dusting of snow on the pine trees, the empty birches, and the broken-down goat shed out back. Under his pine tree, the wolf-dog, Shadow, paces around on his chain. That dog’s keeping me sane--we go on two-mile walks in the snow every day. We had seventeen inches of snow on Tuesday, and since then I’ve been plowing through in my boots and crampons, beating a path in the shin-deep snow.

The physicality of it reminds my muscles of the work they did on the Appalachian Trail. Walking even that small amount makes me miss walking, makes me remember when walking used to keep me sane, when walking used to be what I did for a living. The best part of being here would be the walking, hands down. I push myself a little farther every day, into the untracked snow, the wolf pulling me forward, sniffing the new smells on either side of the woods, tracking voles and moose and deer and partridge. I like seeing the world through a wolf’s eyes, imagining the two of us as a lean pack, hunting together through the northern waste.

The crazy thing about Shadow is that he really is eighty percent wolf. Karl got him when he was just a puppy from the previous owner of the land, who bred wolves and huskies. I don’t know how you end up with eighty percent, but he did all sorts of crazy cross-breeding, the way animal breeders do, and ended up with dogs that are mainly wolf, toned down a little with the husky blood. Shadow is the smartest dog I’ve ever encountered. I swear he understands English, to the point where Karl thinks I’ve gone a little off--I explain things to him the way I would talk to a three-year-old. The first day I walked with him I showed him my crampons and told him I was trying out a new system, that he had to be careful. Since then he slows down when he feels me slipping on ice.

He’s like my sled dog, and he knows how to take care of me. One of Karl’s neighbors up here, Slim, says that people actually ski like that, with a single dog. He thinks I could train Shadow to do it. I think so too, although training a dog is never been on my list of personal ambitions. Shadow, though, is like fallow soil. I feel like I could teach him to spin a beach ball on his nose in about a week.

It’s a perfect example of how I feel about this beautiful place. All the things we could do here! Can and press apples, grow tomatoes and flowers and basil, raise goats and chickens, harvest wood and build things, have a farmstand, train dogs, learn to cross-country ski, take some graduate-school classes at the neighboring universiy. But the million-dollar quesion is: do we want to do these things? That’s why I feel so ambivalent about Karl selling the land. It’s such a great back-up plan for if we sink the boat. But if we’re never going to come back here and really invest in the earth and the community, is it fair to let it sit here and rot? Every time we leave, Shadow watches us with baleful eyes. Karl talks to him every time we leave, and I hope he understands to a degree, but he’s still just a dog. All he knows is that when we leave he’s kept on a chain again. You can explain things to a person, but not to an animal. It breaks my heart.

The realtor came by yesterday morning and Karl listed the property. The compromise is that he listed it at a high price in a bad market, so it probably won’t sell. If it does, it might be such a financial windfall that it would be worth it to part with the place. It just throws all of our plans into question. Maybe we should back up here and cruise Maine and Nova Scotia, one of the plans that Karl’s always talked about. Maybe somehow we can have both dreams. I always want everything, though, and it’s just not possible. We can either have the tropics or we can have the snow--we can’t have both. Every choice we make precludes another one. Soon I’ll be thirty, and the story of my twenties will have been written. I will have done the things I’ve done, and no others.

The necessity of making choices has always been my least favorite thing about life. Not so much making the choices, but but that each choice means another one can’t be chosen. Each choice blacks out the option of its alternative. It’s so final. As final as death.

(The quote at the beginning is Townes Van Zandt, the best country singer of all time.)

“If I had a flying schooner, I’d sail into the light of day,
If I had your love forever, I’d sail into the light of day...”

Monday, December 03, 2007

Presque Isle, Maine

Presque Isle, Maine
14°F, with a windchill of 5°F, snow showers

We’re here in the neighboring “big” city to Bridgewater, at another one of thesee small-town libraries that so graciously provide internet access. I must say that Northern Maine is as close as you can get to the Bahamas in the States as far as access to services goes, although it’s worlds away weather-wise. Still, though--northern Maine has pharmacies, hardware stores, and libraries with wifi, even if they’re thirty miles away over icy roads from Karl’s homestead. I’m having a great time up here, fighting my Seasonal Affective Disorder by taking long icy walks with the wolf-dog, Shadow. At least I have been once I figured out how to wear crampons on my beat-up old green Doc Martens.

Twenty-four inches of snow are forecast for tonight, so it might be a while before I can post another update. In fact, I’m worried about getting back down to Boston in time to catch my flight to Atlanta. I hope the roads will clear enough for the buses to run sometime in the next week. It’s nice to feel, though, that our trip is winding down. Slowly, we’re ticking off all people on our to-visit list, and when I get back down south I’ll be that much closer to Crooked Island and Secret. That’s our last stop... I’m still hoping we’ll be back for a tropical Christmas.

The best part of being here? How much writing I’m getting done. There’s nothing else to do up here.