Isolation, we’re figuring out, is more a state of mind than a geographical predicament.
It is a valid concern, though, voiced regularly by those closer to bigger lights and brighter cities. “What do you expect to do all by yourselves way out there?” That’s what they wonder out loud, anyway. And even though we rattle off our list of comings and goings and the lakeside decathlon of events we engage in on any given day, silently they seem doubtful. What they’re really saying behind their raised eyebrows and nervous giggles is: “Yeah, but summer’s not going to last forever. Then what?”
Sure, it’s only September still, but as fall begins and we enter into the “then what” phase of this wonderous experiment called early retirement, we don’t feel loneliness encroaching. Call us naive, totally in denial, or just plain stupid, but we don’t expect to be lonely, either. Right from the early planning stages of deciding to live in Rangeley permanently, building a new sense of community has been just as important to us as building a newer house. So far, we’re finding what we came looking for.
When we moved, we went from being two of the 30,000+ residents of the City of Rochester, NH, to becoming new additions number 154 and 155 in Rangeley Plantation. (Technically, you see, we live in a “suburb” of the Town of Rangeley given the Maine-unique distinction of a “plantation.” I always thought the name stood for a place with tons more trees than people. But, according to Wikipedia, in colonial times when Maine belonged to Massachusetts, this term described a “minor civil division.” As far as I can tell, when Maine split off on its own, places like Rangeley Plantation kept the name and a lot of summer folks, but dropped all other Massachusetts correlations.)
Soon after settling in, we went from numbers 154 and 155, to Joy and Tom, or just “the new folks living on the old Upper Dam Road all winter.” And in the four months since, we have mingled, been entertained, reciprocated, and basically hung out with people more frequently and more intensely than we did in the 35+ years we spent packed closer together with them in Rochester. Why? Well if you’re a Rochester reader and are about to stop because you’re feeling this is a Rochester vs. Rangeley “the grass is greener and the people sure are swell” comparison, please don’t. I love you and want you to still spend gas money to come see us because you were included in the friendship intensity I just mentioned. And, if you’re a Rangeley reader, please don’t stop because you think I’m saying you aren’t above and beyond what neighbors should be. You are. You see, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a geographical cure for loneliness. I believe you get what you look for in people, no matter where you go, if you choose to look. I believe people are giving, open and nice to be around unless and until proven otherwise, and I trust them to believe in me the same way. Whether I’m talking to the clerk at the DMV or someone I meet out walking, that’s what I put out there and, in large part, what I get back. So, the difference – the reason Tom and I are more closely knit with friends even though we moved “away” has not been so much a change in attitude or a change in population. It’s been a sharpening of focus, a recommitment to building relationships and the luxury of time to make it possible.
“Having the time” to stop in for coffee, to check in on our nearest neighbors, to participate in town and township events, has really been nice. ‘Course we had the time all those years we were commuting to jobs and busy with kids and any number of other things that put friends further down the list, but we didn’t take the time. Now that we have more time, taking advantage of it is a top priority. We’ve joined clubs. We’ve been to three festivals named after fruit harvests, and are reaching the limits of my “friends over for dinner” menus. One new friend has even invited me to join her group of bikers who pedal to the Oquossoc Grocery for muffins and coffee each morning! As the farthest away, with a 13-mile one-way trip on dirt roads to get there by 7 a.m., I can’t imagine what she’d ask me to do if she didn’t like me. (Just kidding. I love my new friend and am sure I’ll accept her invitation sometime between now and July 2012.)
So, while building a sense of community isn’t as cut and dried as building a year-round house, we are just as glad to be surrounded by friends this winter as we are to have R30 insulation in our new walls. We are glad to be finding what we’re looking for – friends new and old to keep us company, to call us by name and ask what’s up as we come out of the IGA or the bank. And when we look over their shoulders while chatting with them and see the gorgeous Rangeley lakes and mountains that are now our back yard, we’ll know we are doubly blessed.