Friday, May 23, 2008

Bridgewater, Maine

It was 48 degrees here this morning, at the end of May. I’m still wearing a heavy sweater around the house, and a coat when I go outside. Traveling here from Chattanooga took a total of eighteen hours, on--let me recount: a twenty-minute car ride to the shuttle, a two-hour shuttle ride to the airport in Atlanta, a three-hour plane ride to Boston, a four-hour wait in the Boston airport, a three-hour bus ride to Portland, another three-hour bus ride to Bangor, and then, finally, a two-hour ride north into Aroostook County. Bridgewater is a roadside stop you have to request specifically from the driver or he forgets. We drove by and I saw the Subaru, which desperately needs a name, sitting cozily by the side of the road waiting for me.

The crazy thing about the trip is that as soon as I took off from the airport in Atlanta, I was heading north, unrelentingly north, and I just kept going north. Boston is infamous for being cold in winter, colder than Chicago, farther north than New York, but then I got on a bus in Boston and I kept going north. For eight hours. When my parents and I drove up to Chicago to see my sister’s new baby (congrats, Erica!!!), they were shocked to see redbud and tulips still in full bloom. In Chattanooga, by the time we got back, the azalea blooms had already wilted and the roses were in full flower. Here, I doubt they’ve even had daffodils.

Karl shaved his head, my first big surprise, but the second is spring. I don’t think I’ve ever been on Snow Road when there wasn’t actually snow on the road. Sure, it’s a little chilly for us warm-blooded types, but I keep thinking about the things I could grow here. I spent all morning reading about asparagus. Karl’s talked about building a greenhouse for years. Sam, Karl’s dad, has tomatoes sprouting. Shadow, the wolf-dog, is thrilled to see me, and has been trained by Karl to sit respectably while I scratch through his shedding winter coat. No walk yet, as long as it persists in raining.

It is almost inconceivable to me how soon I will be in the Bahamas. I’m beginning to revert to my childhood daydreams when I was on the verge of flying back to boarding school: maybe the airport will blow up. Maybe the islands will sink into the ocean. Maybe I’ll have a mental breakdown. Anything to make me not have to go.

Am I whining again? Sorry. But I don’t want to go. I don’t. I haven’t, since February, and I’ve been trying to convince myself that I do. The point remains, though, that it’s not what I want to do, but it is what I have to do, and the only reason I don’t want to go is because it’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do in my life, and that includes the Chicago marathon and the Appalachian Trail. And I have to do it alone. That’s the hard part.

Still no hotel reservation in Nassau, still no one picking me up at the airport on Crooked, still no ride to the boat, and no internet access in northern Maine. The phones barely work up here. The silence, though, is extraordinary. And there is a neighborhood moose, it is fabled, who likes to hang out in the beaver pond. Canada geese are nesting nearby, with eggs set to hatch. The grackles eat the bugs in the lawn, and the ruby-throated hummingbirds stop by every morning for breakfast.

I could see myself settling into a routine here--walking with Shadow, hiking with Karl, setting the school bus up as a writing studio with a wood stove and spending the mornings in there, aping Thoreau. If nothing else, the County is probably the best place in the entire nation for surviving on an aspiring writer’s income. There’s no need for a day job up here--you can live off the wood you cut, scarred potatoes left behind by the reaper in neighboring fields, a deer shot once or twice a season, and the occasional partridge or rabbit.

I've been reading the blog of a high school friend who has lives in a really remote village in Alaska, and there are similarities between life there and here. It’s mainly a feeling of living a life apart from the rest of the country, unconnected to the cities and the politics and even the television that belongs to everyone else. I’ve always wanted to live in Alaska, mainly because I crave the idea of true wilderness. But the problem with Alaska is the same problem as here: the brutal, unforgiving winter. Could I really make it? I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to try. Many things, including twenty-degree below winters, seem idyllic from afar.

That wilderness exists in the Bahamas, too, and there’s the same ability to live off the land. Could my entire life really be decided by something as boring as weather? How pedantic.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Money doesn't change a thing

Chattanooga, Tennessee

What is it about traveling that makes me want to write? It’s only when I’m traveling that I feel like I’m living. Being static in a place is entering stasis: I cease to be able to function. I’ve always said that I’m happiest when I sleep in a different bed every night. It’s the truth, sadly. I don’t know why it is I can’t be content when I’m stationary.

Maybe the dorm did it, how we had to change rooms and roommates every quarter, carefully packing up our clothes and toiletries and moving to another room down the hall, with a new closet, a new bed, a new comforter. Kids are adaptive, they say. So now I have to have a new space about every fifteen weeks, or I start clawing my face off. No wonder my favorite thing about sailing is having a home that moves. My bed can stay the same, but my view can change. It’s perfect.

Now I’m slowly emerging from my winter cave, coming out of hibernation, finding out how to take the next step, move on to my new place. I’ve been trying to figure out how to break my big news to the assembled public without risking jinxing it, similar to the way I was unwilling to start my Appalachian Trail journal before I actually took my first step. Tomorrow I fly from Chattanooga to Boston, and ten days from now I fly to Nassau. By myself.

What am I feeling? Sheer, abject terror.

I still don’t quite know why I feel the need to go. Maybe it has something to do with Secret being my only earthly possession and my only financial asset. Maybe it’s my endless longing for something new, some new adventure, a new superhuman challenge for which I am anything but prepared. Maybe it’s wanting to finally have some time to myself, and where better than off the coast of a deserted island? Or maybe it’s just wanting something good to come out of this disaster.

There are still many details to be worked out. As of right now, my plan involves getting off the plane on Colonel Hill, and, if all else fails, walking to the Church Grove dock and rowing the dinghy, with my stacks of gear, the seven miles to the boat. I hope those who were my friends will still be my friends, and I can at least hitchhike, but this I know: I have legs. I have arms. I’ve walked 3000 miles. I can make it to my boat.

That is, after all, what this adventure is all about--self-reliance. Autonomy. I’ve been accused in the last four months of being self-pitying, of acting like a victim, of blaming my problems on others rather than taking responsibility for them myself. So I’m stepping out, and I’m taking a risk. My current mantra is, “leap, and the net will appear.”

When we left Marion last time I wrote about how happy I was to be leaving it in my wake, which wounded some people. It's not that I don't love this country, or my friends and family, it's just this is so, so where I don't want to be. I want to be with Secret. I’ve wanted to be with Secret for months now. The question has been do I want to be with Karl or with Secret more? I know long-term I don't have to choose between the two, but the process of doing all of the repairs and sailing may take months. Do I want to spend that time away from Karl? And do I really have the courage to do that by myself?

I still don’t know, but I’m following my path as well as I know how, and I pray that my faith will be rewarded.