Friday, December 13, 2013

Aroostook County, Maine

Eating as much garlic as we can.  It's especially good in hummus.  Most of it will probably freeze.

On the drive back here, back home, it was white-out conditions north of Millinocket, the entrance to Baxter State Park, the way to Katahdin. All the way into Aroostook County, it snowed. At first I thought it was dust, the first truck I passed. Or maybe fog, swirling around. It was foggier and foggier, and then all of a sudden the fog was snow. I woke K up and he drove, thirty miles an hour slower than I'd been driving. The county always welcomes us with snow, embraces us with cold.

Tonight it's one degree on the thermostat, the diesel fuel burning in the hall from our jury-rigged plastic jugs. No need to fill the tank—we're only supposed to be here a couple of days, days that stretch into weeks. We're out of wood, down to one log of tamarack, that we're saving for something. Who knows what or when. The house will freeze while we're away, and we're preparing for that, packing up canned goods. What does freezing mean for the books? The vases? The dishes?

Nonetheless, we're leaving it all behind. K's coming with me for the better part of two months to Thailand, the country where I grew up, the place I've been wanting to take him since we met, nine years and eight months ago, and I'm staying for an additional three. Or that's the plan, at least. As we've progressed together, I've had to learn not to plan. Sometimes I realize that's the deal we've struck, the deal I have to live with—definitely the deal when it comes to Spirit. We could decide to sell her tomorrow. We could sail for the next nineteen years.

But right now, the plan is, as much as there is a plan, for me to be alone for three months, live my dream of a bungalow on the beach. When I was a kid, we used to drive down the peninsula for family vacations and find a beach resort in the off-season, just “winging it,” as my mom said. One time we went later than usual and the resort where we stopped had no one in the place, except one guy. A German, a writer, staying all the way in the thatch-roofed bungalow at the other end of the beach from us. I never saw him, just heard about him through my family, talking to the waiters at the open-air restaurant. They cooked for him. He had the run of the place.

I've dreamt of ithat ever since, and I've even thought of trying to find that exact beach resort—Shell Beach, we christened it, for the crushed shells of its sand. Now I have three months to find it, or some place else, some other version of my lost home.

And in finding that lost home, chasing into the past after it, I lose this one. The cozy orange cat nestled in winter coats. The wood smoke. The brisk purity of cold.

I just finished reading Eat Pray Love for the first time, the book that was such a sensation a couple of years ago, and I was impressed by it. Its ruthless honesty, and Elizabeth Gilbert's fearlessness. Somehow it's still shocking for a 35-year-old woman to step out alone. We all still live in Scarlett O'Hara's Atlanta, where a lady needs accompaniment.

I'm also reading Dave Eggers again, A Hologram for the King, whose prose I nestle beneath as if below a zero-degree sleeping bag. He says: “We've become a nation of indoor cats. A nation of doubters, worriers, overthinkers. Thank God these weren't the kind of Americans who settled this country. They were a different breed! They crossed the country in wagons with wooden wheels! People croaked along the way, and they barely stopped. Back then, you buried your dead and kept moving.”

But I feel resfeber, a word I recently tumbled: traveler's fever. “The restless race of a traveler's heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together.” I'm going back to the land of my youth. The land I call my heart's home. I'm going there with my one true love, and he's giving me the gift of time alone there too, and what if it's a bust? What if I hate it? What if I fail? Somehow I'm still setting this high bar for myself when my only job is to marinate in the language, food, and culture of my youth, and to write about it. To write. To write, to keep writing. But what about my notebooks and pens here? My office? What about my typewriter? My beaver-pond facing desk? Worse, what if I fall in love with the land of my youth? What if it is my true home? What if I never come back? What does that mean for this place and my life in it?

I practice my Thai penmanship, look up words in the dictionary, memorize my guidebook. I watch television on the couch. I sleep late, and miss most of the five-hour day. I burrow. I read. I vacillate wildly between abject terror and breathless anticipation. I count down the days. Nineteen. Now eighteen. Can it really be true? It can't be true. It's true.

The word in Thai for adventure—I looked it up, to be able to explain what I'm doing—is gaanpha johnphai. It means, literally, to battle danger. I love that. I love the idea of taking up arms against danger, of fighting it, rather than letting it rule my life through fear. There are so many, many things to be afraid of, and I'm just sick and tired of being afraid of them. Maybe I'm finally ready to live, or maybe I'm just heading into the next phase of my life, my middle age, where I'll do these things and worry less about the what and the why and the for how long. What's great about Eat Pray Love is—spoiler alert—she ends by dividing her time among three places: America, Australia, Bali, and Brazil. A ridiculous arrangement, she agrees, but she loves it for its neat rhyme scheme, its internal echo. I see no reason why I can't, like her, become a hummingbird and absent myself in the winter, during these dark days that require fortitude and endurance and vast amounts of carbohydrates and sleep. Why not build my own migratory pattern, spend the carbon dioxide of a tankful of fuel oil on a tankful of jet fuel instead, and fly away? I'm thinking a four-month schedule, equally divided among Southeast Asia, Aroostook County, and Spirit. With Spirit in the Mediterranean. Or the Azores.

No matter where I am, I dream—or at least daydream--of being elsewhere. Are all of us like that or is it only me? I dream of being elsewhere than where I am, here, now, even while mourning my exodus from this place, my castle in the snow. Sometimes I remember and I stop nesting, mourning, cataloging, cooking. Instead, I retreat into myself before I jump into the great wide world. Instead, I look out the window. Try to watch the blue light of afternoon drift across the white swamp.


Susan Wells said...

Hey Pookie, I tried to post hello and it did not work. Alas, you are great! Happy trails. I will look for updates of your blog in my in box.

Take care wild woman!

Melissa Jenks said...

Aw, hey to you too. I think often of your Swan, my Swan--the Ugly Duckling becoming the Swan. So thanks for that. Or come visit--Kayak gives you round-trip to Bangkok deal alerts!