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.


Anonymous said...

Why shouldn't the weather determine your life? People are too disconnected from nature and its rhythms in modern society. And weather is anything but mundane! Love your weather, and it'll love you.

rling said...

If you don't want to go to Crooked Island, don't go. Realistically, what are your chances of getting the boat out of there on your own? You probably need an outboard motor, you may need a new roller furler, you almost certainly need to empty and clean the fuel tank. If that's the case, it won't be like getting dropped off to hike the will be more like sitting on top of Springer Mountain with two broken legs. It doesn't matter how tough or inspired you are: you can't hike without legs.

If you're just going down to visit the boat and hang out for a while or if you have a realistic plan to deal with the mechanical issues on the boat, then go ahead...but without that plan you will likely find yourself stuck down there, probably going nuts, and with hurricane season about to start to boot.

I don't mean to be negative about your quest, but sailors of all people have to learn to listen to those little voices inside. If yours are telling you not to go, I'd listen to them.

If I can help, drop me an e-mail and let me know.

--Rodger Ling

Phil and Jessica Smith said...

I'm assuming you mean OUR blog (how many of our high school friends live in the middle of nowhere in Alaska??) and we don't have bitterly cold winters. We live in the banana belt of Alaska, remember? We just get lots of snow, but if you can handle that, no prob! Truly it's unusual to get below 20 F up here too often. That's like ideal late spring weather up north! But still a far cry from the Bahamas... :-) --Jessica

Melissa said...

Hmmm... All valid commments. I hate letting weather determine my life. Maybe it has to do with growing up in a place where the weather never changed. Ever. You didn't have to think about it. It was always ninety degrees and sunny. That's what weather is supposed to be, for me, and anything different is wrong.

I do want to go. It's kind of one of these issues like Apostle Paul had: what I want to do I do not do, but what I do not want to do I do. Of course, what I want to do is sit on a couch, watch cable, and eat ho-hos. But is that what I really, really want to do? Probably not. What it boils down to is that it's the most difficult thing I've ever had to do in my life, and no one wants to do things that are difficult. At least I don't want to.

And yup, Jess, of course I was talking about your blog! But I don't want to hear that Alaska is warmer than northern Maine. Not good news at all. Sometimes I think northern Maine is colder than Antarctica. My next challenge, perhaps. It's certainly nice being able to go for sunlit walks at nine in the evening.