Oprah would call it my “Aha!” moment — that pivotal point in life where I had to choose one course of action over another and forge ahead. Living in logging country, I now know to ponder a fork in the road, hypothetical or otherwise, much more seriously. Both directions may look passable, but not too far off, one turns into a gnarly spur road taking you way, way off course. Five years ago, though, when I stood at my crossroads with my “smart thing to do” blinders on, I walked right into danger and almost lost my bearings for good. “Aha!” would have been too poetic. My change of direction, when I finally let my heart lead the way, was more like a “Holy crap, what did you almost just do, you idiot?” moment.
Direction “A” was the common sense thing to do, the “right” choice according to our bank book and, no doubt, all those level-headed, man on the street-type people I imagined grouping themselves on the side of reason. It first came into focus as a hot tub conversation. It was fall, near closing up camp for the season time, when it was necessary for Tom and I to adopt an all-business, end of summer attitude so we could forget that we really didn’t want to leave Rangeley, didn’t want to go back to school/work, didn’t want it to be September already. Practicality went way beyond talking about packing up and shutting down, though. On this night, it watered down the wine, drowned out the loons calling, and pretty much counteracted the whole purpose of a hot tub soak. Topic of discussion was our tiny, four-room cabin which, after 20 years of use and sharing it with the critters, needed a roof and other major improvements. Sneaking up on early retirement, would we be able to add enough living space to relocate comfortably and affordably? Not according to the Land Use Regulatory (LURC) guidelines, or so we first imagined. LURC said our setback from the water, originally 85 feet when we built the place, would now need to be 100, minimum. We couldn’t add rooms to each side, either, without infringing on our neighbors’ property lines. So, even though we loved our waterfront property, our discussion kept coming around to how it just wouldn’t work to keep it, to sink more money into it to live there, only to have our dreams of a fulltime residence constrained by LURC and other logistics. And, more than anything else, our thread of conversation kept winding its way back to one huge positive in the midst of all the negatives: Our tiny cabin on its beautiful spot of shoreline, even needing some repair, had appreciated in value four times more than our investment. Our real estate in Rangeley could fetch double the selling price of our four season home near the bright lights and bigger cities.
Sell it, we decided. With the profit, we could build from scratch “exactly what we wanted” in any of those just as nice towns like Farmington. We wouldn’t have to be right on the water. We’d have college-town culture, brand spanking new everything and money….money to travel wherever and whenever we wanted. Course we probably wouldn’t come back to this lake, to Rangeley. That would be too sad. But we would go to Alaska, to Jackson Hole, to Yosemite, to all those other lakes Maine was famous for. Wow, we’d even start exploring islands we’d earmarked in Caribbean Travel and Life. Our girls were grown up now, they’d understand how we couldn’t keep camp, given our exciting new agenda!
Oprah says you can navigate your way through an “Aha!” moment to your best possible course of action by quietly posing the alternatives to your inner self. Does one make you feel more “open” and light-hearted, while imagining the other drags you down? Does one make your gut clench while the other expands your solar plexus? YES a small voice was saying. But still I hauled myself and my sinking innards into the realtor’s office that Columbus Day afternoon and signed a contract to put my camp on the market.
Looking back on it, I don’t so much remember it as a gut clenching moment. It was more like a hole opened in the floor of the realtor’s office and swallowed me whole, pen in hand, along with the sinking realization that the dollar signs in my head would never buy my way back to solid ground. I did manage to get out of the real estate office, and the quaint streets of Rangeley framed in fall foliage blurred as I got in the car and cried all the way back to Rochester, NH. I cried past all the property for sale signs just outside of Rangeley, where Tom said we might be able to build a cute house by the river. Through Farmington and south to the turnpike, not able to pick my head up to look out the window or even for a Subway sandwich, I cried. Not crying tears you dab with a Kleenex, but two-year-old bawling, gooey, hiccuping sobs.
Luckily, the universe didn’t allow me to ignore instinct for much longer. Waiting for us in our driveway back in Rochester was Becky, one of our grown up girls who needed to hear our news and would, reluctantly, agree and understand. Even more rooted in Rangeley than us, Becky had found her calling working as a counselor for the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust environmental camp. And now, what a coincidence that she chose to make her first trip home from college (where she was learning to be an outdoor educator) on the night we agreed to sell the source of her inspiration!
“We’ll be able to go to such cool places,” Tom said after he dropped the bomb. But Becky didn’t hear anything about Jackson Hole or meeting up in any of her future home bases. “No, no, no!” she said as she stomped off to her room and slammed the door. “We are not having this conversation! Not now. Not ever!”
Fast forward a few years to August. Tom and I have slept in the garage loft above all the stuff from our camp we’ve shoved into storage when the old roof was torn off to rebuild two stories higher. I am standing in sawdust looking out at my new view from what is shaping up to be the best bedroom I could ever imagine. Thanks to Becky serendipitously slapping us upside the head, plus umpteen different remodeling plans to fit enough square footage on our tiny footprint, a realtor grateful we would be staying to support the Rangeley economy, and a builder who worked miracles, I was enjoying my second-story panorama. I now know without a doubt that we couldn’t have gone through with selling what was rooted in our souls. My “Aha!” moment, the poetic one, came after I got a timely shove down the road less traveled. And looking through my white birches, across the lake to Bald Mountain and Saddleback in the distance, gratefully breathing in the new cabin smell, my heart soared and still does.