Pandemic proclamations

“Today, I ate a sandwich.”

Not exactly an earth-shattering proclamation. Or is it? Really depends on the context.

My step-mom, Prudy, once had a friend say that exact sentence to her, and it was the biggest deal either of them could imagine. It was back before Facebook, so they were face-to-face friends. Roommates, actually, who spent most afternoons gabbing about health concerns, families, or nothing much in particular. Except for one auspicious afternoon when Prudy’s friend turned toward her, her face radiant in the sun as she sat by the window, and said in a reverent whisper: “Today, I ate a sandwich.”

They couldn’t post, IM, text, or tweet their news. But they did want to shout it from the rooftop, Prudy told me. And, knowing her and her like-minded old lady friends, I believe they would’ve tried. If they hadn’t been stuck at Maine Medical. In the oncology ward. So they used all the energy they could muster boasting to the nurses and anyone else within earshot. After months of chemo, Prudy’s bedside bestie had finally eaten real food. A whole sandwich! The best darn sandwich of her life. And even though Prudy herself was still weeks away from being weaned off IV liquids, she could almost taste that sandwich each time she told the story.

Been thinking a lot about the Sandwich Lady lately. I never got to meet her or even know her real name. But I’ll never forget her, especially now that I really need to channel her life-affirming spunk, her finesse at making the ordinary extraordinary. More than ever, her story reminds me to see silver linings, to tune out idle chatter amid inspiration.

I talk a lot like the Sandwich Lady. Have been for years. Deep into retirement, and living pretty darn deep in the woods, my monologue usually goes something like: Today, I watched the lake thaw. Today, I washed windows. And on real noteworthy days, I include others, add cool modifiers, and switch to first-person plural: Today, we had a Zoom call with Helen and Becky. Today, we did the big town loop, and hit the PO, IGA, and the dump!

Most days, though, I didn’t really sound like the Sandwich Lady. Or act like her and Prudy. “Yeah, today you…whatever,” I’d mutter to my Facebook feed. “And we’re all sharing without really caring about this…why?” I’d chuck most “I’m doing blah blah blah and then I’m gonna yada yada yada” posts into my Whoop-Dee-Do bin and keep scrolling—paging down past the “here is today’s lunch” pics, the afternoon Starbucks “yum!” pics, and the yoga mat in the living room pics. I’d post something ho-hum just to fill the nagging “What’s on your mind, Joy?” space at the top of my timeline, and go about life as usual. Sleep walking in the virtual cloud, shuffling through my normal routine.

But that was all BC. Before COVID-19. Before “life as usual” got blown outta the water like the fireworks finale over Town Cove Park. Before the new normal routine shoved aside the old normal routine like a loaded logging truck barrel-assin’ toward the mill.

No more sitting around asking “So what?” to updates I used to deem useless. I’m too darn busy wondering “So…what the heck?” and “So…how…????” Weeks into “sheltering in place” there is nothing simple anymore about simple announcements, no such thing for me as social media overload. I drink in every drop, reading and reporting posts to my husband, my dog and, especially, myself because I suddenly find the sound of my own voice so reassuring. And whether news comes from a Rangeley friend whose naked face I still recall, or some Facebook “friend” from Australia who I’ll likely never see, doesn’t matter. We are all Corona comrades now and, together, our words make major headlines. Bright lights flashing again on Broadway type news!

“Today, I saw a robin!” I said reverently, my face radiant in the sun as I sat by my office/TV room window. It was the 84th day of April, and I was on day whatever of sporting the indoor Corona-wear I had to trade for the outdoors in the tropical sun drinking Corona and/or rum drinks beach-side wear I’d typically be struttin’ in April. My indoor Corona-wear is an ancient “camp” sweatshirt paired with baggy drawstring pants. I call ’em yoga pants, but that’s more of a stretch than the pants themselves. Because, lately, the only pose I’m doing with any discipline is “seated warrior,” in which I slump lower and lower in my computer chair and hold it as long as I can. That and sun salutations in front of the refrigerator.

It’s all good, though. Because, today, I started a really good book. I sat on my porch in the sun. And, tomorrow, God willing, I’ll get back on my bike. These days, those are pivotal proclamations, ones I shout to the rafters in true Sandwich Lady style. Actually, I’ve probably kicked her style up a few notches and decibels. I’ve acquired a manner of speaking which, like my everyday outfit, is my default mode. It’s not my inside voice or my outside voice because it only has one volume setting. Loud. I call it my anytime voice. Amped up by shouting out the truck window or off the porch from a safe social distance, it lends the proper oomph to my vital pronouncements.

They all seem so vital now, too, all the little thoughts I used to keep to myself, write on a to-do list, or put in a draft that might never get published. Maybe it’s because, thank God, I can’t really see the danger that’s supposedly all around me. But I know it’s there. So I keep trying to drown out the silent approaching threat by repeatedly squawking. About silly stuff that could turn serious. Fidgeting and chirping like a human version of a yard raven. And when there’s nothing specific to broadcast, my outbursts are more primal than ever. “Oh!” I say repeatedly. Or just “OK!” or “There!” No verbs, nouns, or extra syllables. Just me self-soothing with my own echo.

Tom calls it verbal processing. It’s a nice way of saying I could talk the ears off of a jackrabbit. Him, not so much. He’s never been a talker, never much felt the need chime in over my steady drone. Until COVID-19. Something about all this uncertainty and tension has been pressing hard on his TALK button, too. On the phone, online, or on our bicycles yelling to neighbors, Tom’s become a man of more and more words. We’re just a couple of old stereo speakers now, sitting side-by-side in our own private chat room each night—spewing, spinning, and otherwise verbally processing our thoughts.

“Well, today, I read a new virus report,” is usually how the couch dialogue opens. It continues for longer than we’d like in that vein, till we’ve tossed around all our hypothesis about what we think we know and what we hope to be able to do about it. We throw all our fears, our rants and pandemic postulations into our imaginary COVID Cuisinart and process away. And then, in honor of a rule we made on or about the 97th day of April, we stop churning negativity and balance out the awful-izing. Each one of us must express at least three things we are grateful for that day.

There’s quite a bit of duplication between the two of us and from day to day. But that’s OK. Repetition is nice. Especially when we both put just being together at the top of our lists. Tom says he wouldn’t want to be trapped in a cabin in the midst of a global pandemic with anyone but me, and I say likewise. That and our health. Now the weightiest and most incredibly complex object of all our thoughts and deeds, health is right up there in the blessings count. We sure are glad to have that for another day. And we’re thankful that, as far as we know, our family and friends are surviving with their sanity and optimism intact, too.

“Today, I’m grateful we got groceries again!” I said the other night. Not so long ago, talking like that would’ve sounded like I was reading a third grader’s diary. But now it’s far from simple. After seeing snippets of what social distancing food shopping entailed in bigger cities closer to supply hubs and fancy logistics, I wondered what kind of results I’d get way up here in Rangeley. My answer is: phenomenal. Let me tell you, some of those frenzied, bull horn blasted people packing the stores down country could learn a thing or two from the hard-working, inventive, adaptable folks at our tiny local grocery stores! If anyone ever told me I’d be emailing in my food order, calling on my cell from the parking lot for pickup—all the while trusting that my list would be filled without being able to actually see and/or touch each item—I would have laughed and fondly shook my head. But now I’m smiling with pride and admiration! Thanks to my community—to the folks keeping the “social” behind social media and the lifeline that turns online requests into curbside delivery—our pantry, our stomachs, and our hearts are full. We can crawl back into our hidey-hole for a fortnight, if needed, between each virtual forage run.

“Tomorrow, we can go on a picnic,” I said as Tom nodded. “I’m grateful for that.” Like most everything lately, going on a picnic has a brave new connotation. We drive up to the Height of Land, overlooking our sheltering place and the connecting hamlets of friends waiting to hug and high-five us in better times. And we slowly savor every bite of the take-out sandwiches we picked up in town. Because they are the best sandwiches we ever ate.


Thank you to all the people working tirelessly behind the scenes to help us pull through! Stay safe everyone. And repeat after me: Rangeley rises!

For more Corona bright spots, see:

Slow, slow riders

Ten winters after putting down Rangeley roots—perennial roots deep in the arctic strata formerly known as our summer waterfront—we put down tracks. Serious tracks. Boldly going where we hadn’t dared to snowshoe, ski, or ice shuffle before. Faster than a speeding lawnmower. More powerful than the Funtown kiddie train. Almost able to leap aboard in a single bound. And while we might not be shreddin’ it hahd, as Bob Marley would say, we are dicin’ it up pretty good.

“Bout time!” That’s the general response we got from the “locals” this fall when we talked of buying a sled—after ‘fessing up that, no, we never owned a snow machine and, yes, we live on the slow end of the Big Lake. All winter. With nothing but miles of “white gold” between our front door to ITS 84 and beyond. For the past decade.

Usually I’m pretty honed in on anniversaries. From the mundane to the monumental, I’ll be the first one to tell you how long ago something happened, what day of the week it was, who was there, and what they were wearing. Like if Rain Man were fixated on calendar days rather than never missing an episode of Judge Wapner, that’d be me.

As it turned out, though, buying a sled during our tenth winter around the Rangeley sun was more coincidental than ceremonial. More reactive than proactive. Blame it on some kind of decade in a cabin dementia, but my instinctive, proactive time elapse surveillance never kicked in. If it had, our conversation might have been something like “Wow, ten’s a big number. Let’s celebrate with that Ski-Doo we’ve always wanted.” Instead, we just sort of woke up one day in October and, with the reverse of what a bear must feel right before hibernation, saw there was a new third-digit year coming up on the calendar and said “Ya know, a sled would be pretty darn special.” Even more special, most days, than our snowshoes and grippers. And that’s how we knew it was finally time to spice our snow daze up a notch with some horsepower and “helmet therapy.”

Our brand spankin’ Ski-Doo Skandic 600 “wide track two-up” arrived well before the first snow fall, during that twilight time of waiting and wondering also known as sneaking up on another Rangeley winter. Seeing the sled parked in the yard in all its just out of the showroom shininess added a different dimension of unknowns to the season. Would it really snow enough to ride that thing? Or, like the year we bought the new snow blower, had we triggered an inverse weather pattern and insured a winter drought? And what, exactly, were we gonna do with this gas-propelled, snow+machine piece of property except go get yet another registration stickah and reshuffle some shed space for it?

Silly us. We forgot that the only sure way to make Old Man Winter start piling on blankets and blankets of snow is to doubt, even for a day, the inevitability of his arrival up here. In these parts, idle speculation about winter—or any season—is just that. Idle. It’s counter productive right when we need all the squirrel energy we can muster to spring into action, get ourselves set up.

So, almost as fast as the yard turned from brown to white, we got busy. Never having piloted a snow mobile, Tom did some test runs and gave me, the designated back seat passenger, a “just in case” lesson on the controls. We dress rehearsed using our most expensive fashion accessories to date—our state-of-the-art helmets. How to hermetically seal our noggins while adjusting, snapping, sliding, and otherwise tweaking each advanced feature—on-the-fly—according to our ever-evolving safety, comfort and visibility requirements. How to gracefully remove the new-age brain bucket without removing large patches of hair along with it and then dropping it on the kitchen counter like a greased bowling ball. Then we graduated to figuring out how to pull on our new snazzy boots without pulling a neck muscle and before pulling on our sub-zero gauntlet gloves. Finally, I was ready to do a “hands on” demo: How to get all layered up, hop on the back of a two-up, and actually stay on.

Or so I thought. But the real lesson I learned was this: When prepping for your maiden snowmobile voyage, don’t rely on a pair of 40-year-old snow bibs you’ve had since back in your almost-maiden youth. You’ll forget that you used to be able to zip ’em up ’cause you had nothing on underneath except a pair of control top pantyhose, not rolls of wine blubber and uber thick fleece! And you’ll feel like the famous scene from Gone With the Wind where Mammy tries to get Scarlett back in her skinny clothes, minus the bed post and plus at least 10 more waistline inches!

So my first ride kinda blurred past me while, instead of wild and free, I felt like Michelin Mamma, praying the few centimeters of zipper I was able to close over my paunch didn’t let go and send a shower of shrapnel into Tom’s back. “No more snow bunny waist for you, Miss Joy Joy!” I said as I waddled back inside to find me some bigger girl pants, glad to have Amazon Prime and be searching for something less cinched, but not quite Mammy sized—yet.

A few days later, we were finally geared up, gassed up and two-up, ready to hit the trail hard, to roar into the great white open. Well, maybe not roar. What we ended up with was more like a steady purr. Because the next teaching moment came as soon as we hit the trail for more than a test run. It pertained to my spirit of adventure. The same spirit that, back in my pre-Rangeley driving days, made me the proud owner of a Mustang convertible named Joyride, the same one that keeps me wanting to ride the fastest, hairiest roller coasters till I can’t hobble on and off them anymore. Turns out, that spirit dies a quick death when exposed to snow-covered terrain. And my need for speed? On the back of a sled, that’s met and exceeded in first gear. Anything above 25 miles per hour feels like I’m riding the end car on Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point. In the middle of winter. Without high tech safety restraints. Yelling things not nearly as endearing as the squeals my daughters call my “roller coaster laugh.” But luckily, my pilot seemed to agree. A couple daring sprints to see “what was under the hood,” and he didn’t need me thumping on his back or silent screaming into my helmet to convince him to slow down.

So much for calling our new sled the Red Rocket! After maintaining about the same cruising speed as a Zamboni, the name just didn’t fit. That, plus when we told our daughter we had a Red Rocket, she made the same face she makes when we ask her to explain a Cards Against Humanity phrase. Said something about that term being synonymous with male dog anatomy. So now we have a Red Rover. As in “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Tom and Joy right over!” Across the lake, around Toothaker, down the Bemis track, and back home. Rambling around, blowing the cabin dust off, enjoying another popular Rangeley pastime. And, yes, getting good exercise!

Before this winter, I agreed with Bob Marley when he said snowmobiling didn’t count as outdoor exercise because “all you need to ride is an ass and a throttle thumb.” Now I beg to differ. Especially in the back seat, you also need vice-like grip strength—in your hands and your legs. Specifically in your adductors, those inner thigh muscles you don’t feel until you ride a horse or haul out your Suzane Somers ThighMaster from the 1980s. Did Suzane ever try muckling onto a vinyl seat while thumping over pressure ridges and scaling snow bankings? I think not. Because, if she had, she would have been a Ski-Doo fitness guru instead.

And talk about an ab workout! I might not be sporting a six pack, but I definitely think I’ll be in better swimsuit shape than your average Jane Sixpack, thanks to my Red Rover workouts. We thought that buying the “deluxe” after-market back seat rest for our sled model would be all we needed to have me riding in style and comfort. We were wrong. Until Tom retrofitted it, I spent most of my ride in a half crunch position I hadn’t achieved since I retired my Abs of Steel video. And all the time I was doing so, I was wondering why the engineers at Ski-Doo didn’t take some safety and design pointers from their cohorts working on car seats. If they had, seeing crash test dummies getting all stove up on the “deluxe” after-market back seat of a Ski-Doo Skandic 600 would have sent them back to the drawing board! Sure, streamlined aerodynamics is important on a two-up sled. But how streamlined is it if you end up needing to duct tape your old college “sitting up in bed” pillow with the armrests and five pounds of foam support to the back of your sled?

Luckily, we didn’t need to go that far. With a little Yankee ingenuity and some more help from Amazon, Tom had me sittin’ pretty, enjoying Rangeley’s winter splendor like never before, looking forward to many more years out and about on our anniversary gift to ourselves and our unique lifestyle. It’s not the stuff that jewelry commercials are made of—the ones that make you believe if you don’t by some sort of diamond studded “still married to my best friend” bling to commemorate your love, you’re doing something wrong. But I’m pretty sure, one time in February when we were avoiding a snow drift, our sled tracks made a big, heart-shaped loop on the lake. And sometime along in there, I got inspired to write a song. A reggae song set in the frozen north, about breaking our own path and moving to our own quirky beat.

Slow, Slow, Slow Ridahs
Sung to the tune of Buffalo Soldier

Slow, slow, slow ridahs,
Won’t go fastah.
We’re just the slow, slow, slow ridahs
Old faht Sunday drivahs.
Moved up from the Flatlands
With no real sled plans.
Bought our first Ski-Doo
Gear that’s brand new.
Ridin’ duo
On days above zero.
Joined the trail club
For a stickah and a raffle stub.
Cruisn’ real slow
Where there’s good snow.
Traded in our bicycles
Feelin’ like icicles!
Toward Bald Mountain
Trail map scoutin’.
Havin’ no fear
Keepin’ it in first gear.
Toolin’ round Bemis
Maybe the ITS.
Slapped by pucker
Motherf*****r!
Still we look slick
Straddlin’ the Skandic.
“Snomos” wild and free
On our four-stroke utility.
Gawkin’ to and fro
Through a helmet window.
Is that an ice bump
Or a buried stump?
But, oh what a cool sight
Our shadows on the white!
Great view of Tom’s head
His neck’s real red!
Out on the Big Lake
Watchin’ out for snow snakes.
Holdin’ on so tight
Can’t feel my frost bite.

Singin’ braaap braaap braaap ba braaap braaap
Braaap braaap braaap ba braaap ba braaap braaap!


For more “Songs of Joy and Tomfoolery” see:

Channeling my inner beagle

All I really need to know about retirement I’m learning from my beagle.

It’s not that I lack two-legged role models. My husband Tom, who should be a poster boy for AARP, is a shining example, as are many friends and family who have crossed this bridge before me. But when it comes to learning from the best, old Kineo dog is my Zen Master.

I always thought leaving the world of work-for-pay behind would feel more eagle-like than beagle-like. I’d soar up, up and away from earth-bound limits and weighty commitments, honing my sights back down on what I really wanted and needed. But then my path toward retirement became as roundabout as a rabbit trail through the pucker brush. And when I finally made it to the finish line, I was channeling b + eagle energy.

Sleep. Eat. Romp around. Repeat. Become enraptured by a leaf. Let the wind tickle your nose and flap your ears back. Drop when you’re weary but scamper while you can. Kineo’s teachings are as simple as they are profound. He’s never read the Tao Te Ching and can’t begin to explain how he walks his path with so much delight and gratitude. And he certainly doesn’t know that “freedom from attachment” is a thing. Still, he shows me “The Way” way better than my shelves full of New Age books and hours of fireside philosophizing.

“Watch and learn from the Beagle Buddha,” I remind myself whenever Tom and I take Kineo off road far enough to unleash him. We’ll be half way up the hill behind our house and Tom will reach down and unhook him from the tether that’s so often necessary for the traits of his breed—a nose and heart as big as the North Woods and a brain the size of a pea. “Good boy. Go on now you’re FREE!” I holler. Then I stand back and watch a live demonstration of the power of letting go.

It doesn’t happen all at once. So bent is he on sniffing every possible leaf and hummock that, at first, he can’t feel the loss of pull-back from his master, can’t shift his own weight into forward momentum. Then, like a lightening bolt, his new reality hits home. He stops, looks up, and a pinpoint of awareness flashes through the dimness of his primal dome. ZING! He’s on his own! His tail wags double time and I swear he smiles. Then, in a nanosecond, he throws himself into overdrive so fast his hind legs almost outrun his head. Woooosh! Suddenly a floppy-eared Taz/Wile E. Coyote shape-shifter, Kineo beats feet off trail. He’ll circle back eventually. But not until he’s celebrated every square inch of his independence.

“Ever wonder where you’d end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash?”

I started pondering that quote by author Robert Brault about the same time I started pondering retirement. “Hmmm…I’d end up somewhere deep in God’s Country where I wouldn’t turn around till my legs gave out, or my heart or my belly called me back home,” I thought. I wouldn’t really know for sure, though, until I went from kinda retired to full-on retired. And I was kinda retired, or at least I told myself that, for a long time.

As I said, mine was not a direct route, a threshold I just crossed over one day and then…boom…I was done working. Already a veteran technical writer before my Big Move to Rangeley, I’d been laid off and rehired, had quit and switched jobs so many times I was worn out enough to just fade away and not look back. Then, when Tom retired from teaching and I settled into a new home office steps from the Big Lake—and many miles from anyone needing the “propeller head” networking guides that used to be my claim to fame and a nice paycheck—I was ready to follow him out to pasture for good. Until I got a “remote” writing contract doing the exact same challenging but cool stuff that used to require commuting all over the place. Wonderful manager, terrific customers, most of whom were on the West Coast and didn’t need me at my desk till late morning. Good pay, flexible hours, great projects using the latest in high-tech publishing tools.

“But I feel like I’m retired,” I’d tell folks who wondered when I’d match my husband’s occupational status. “I travel. I make my own hours. I get tons of fresh air and exercise whenever I want. And I get paid.” Best job I ever had.

Until it wasn’t. Six years later, the fulcrum started to shift. Updated tools sent digital book making back to the Dark Ages. “Challenging” lost its cool factor. And customers got really cranky. For awhile, I kept pushing forward in “it’s OK as long as I can travel, take boat rides, and ride my bike” mode—sucking all the goodness I could out of life in a rural retirement community while telling myself I wasn’t getting sucked in the wrong direction when I’d turn my back on the lake and return to my desk. Gradually, though, I began to feel the pull-back—of meetings and deadlines and the never-ending cycle of rewording the same old stuff—more than my freedom. It might be long and really pliable, but I was on a leash, nonetheless. A retractable one. And my collar was beginning to chafe.

Finally, I cut myself loose last May. I got on early Social Security, bought myself a brand new laptop cleared of any company-sanctioned templates or Skype for Business appointments. I was free! Free to write whatever and whenever the “right” side of my brain wanted while relegating its nerdy left side to crossword puzzles in the Mountain Messenger. Free to watch the lake and the open road without watching my watch.

But none of that happened all at once. At first, I just couldn’t let it. I’d been a good, loyal professional too long, was too conditioned to pats on the back from my managers and the sweet treat of a bi-monthly paycheck. Could I actually shift into autonomy, embrace freedom? Or would my ego convince me I needed to fill up my calendar with some sort of busy work that kept me tethered to reward and recognition?

As with most life altering questions, it didn’t take long for full immersion into Rangeley summer to grant me an answer. And, as usual, when the answer hit I was on my bike heading off into the wild blue and green yonder. Suddenly, mid-pedal, I knew in my core that I didn’t really need my watch or my odometer or most of my old habits. A pinpoint of new awareness flashed through my self-induced fog. I was FREE, and I honestly and truly felt free. I’d turn around when I was damn well good and ready, beckoned home by a warm bowl of food, family, and all the comforts that really mattered.

Somewhere back on my New Age self-help shelf I remembered a passage that likened the power of detachment—of letting go with “focused surrender”—to shooting an arrow from a bow. Authentic freedom, it said, isn’t attained simply by releasing the arrow to fly, straight and true, toward its target. The act of pulling back the bow, of grounding yourself and shifting your sights on what you’re aiming for before you actually let go, that’s where the real magic happens. Kineo already knew that. Fortunately, it didn’t take me a dog’s age to catch on. No reading or over thinking required. ZING! Woooosh! Reality aligned with everything I was shooting for when I came to this retirement community in God’s Country. And like my beloved beagle mentor, I began to master the art of moving meditation, to honor the wisdom of returning to stillness.

36796956_10212237442627484_5947128197001773056_o

For more Beagle Zen, see:

 

Any given Saturday

I was browsing the greeting cards at a local gift store recently when the announcement was made: “Oh….it’s Saturday!”

It came from a woman standing in between the complimentary coffee carafe and the cash register. Her tone was not one of dismay or panic, but rather matter-of-fact with just a hint of urgency. She chuckled, pleased at her own sudden recall, made her purchases and left to go about her business.

“Yup, it’s Saturday, all right,” I thought. And then it hit me. There I was, reading through the same cute moose and hummingbird cards I’d seen repeatedly, wondering which critter went best with which upcoming birthday, and I hadn’t even been distracted by the woman’s announcement. I’d simply nodded in silence. I already knew it was Saturday. And, without even looking up, I felt I knew this lady just as if we’d sat down and had coffee face to face. She must be a local, I realized, and I must be almost one, too.

With house moving check lists, real estate deadlines, and 9-to-5 work weeks behind me, most days I’d be hard pressed to tell you what day of the month it is. I do have a calendar pinned to the refrigerator like everyone else. But unless it tells me it’s time to send off a cute card, pay a bill, or remind Tom to stop fishing and start hunting, I don’t use number dates to monitor my activities much anymore. I’ve switched over to a day of the week system instead. It doesn’t so much matter which calendar week I’m in, as long as I know “What day is today?” (Except when you’re talking about the third Thursday of the month. Everyone knows that’s pot luck dinner night at the Rangeley sportsmen’s club.)

Out in Rangeley Plantation (see my description in Finding Community), Saturday is dump day. It’s also fresh seafood truck day, post office and bank in the morning day, library before 2 o’clock and building supply store before 4 day, and make it to the IGA before last week’s sale items run out day. But, first and foremost, it is dump-is-open-all-day day. As you can imagine, Waste Management curbside pickup stops way south of here, leaving us responsible for our own garbage disposal. I can’t run out to the curb at the last minute in my slippers hauling green bags in one hand and pulling a recycling bin in the other. Tom and I need to haul our own by-products to the “transfer station,” so-called because it’s not really a dump, but a place where we dump all our refuse and recyclables so they can get transferred somewhere else to be dealt with. And, if for any reason, we have a total brain freeze on the dump hours of operation (meaning when the gate is left open), we can’t transfer our garbage out of our garage and must deal with those consequences for another week.

“Jeez, is it Saturday yet?” I wonder long about Thursday during unseasonably mild weather when what’s left of what I bought off the fresh seafood truck the previous week is in desperate need of transfer. (While most welcome in all other respects, Indian Summer is a bummer when it warms the garage after the dump reverts back to its winter schedule. In the “winter,” meaning after Labor Day, I lose the respite of having the dump open for a couple hours on a couple week nights.)

So if our noses haven’t reminded us, our bio-rhythms hopefully have and, come Saturday morning, we load up and head off for the dump. But, unless we are in dire need of emergency garbage transfer, we are not headed just to the dump. Out in Rangeley Plantation, 13 miles from the post office and 20 miles from the hustle and bustle of the Town of Rangeley, we strive to never make the 12 miles to the dump our only stop. We do what we call “the loop.” The loop will take us around to all the previously mentioned places of business. It consolidates our errands and conserves on gas, while preserving our sanity and rural way of life. And, more importantly, it reminds us why we came and why we don’t care so much about forgoing bigger city conveniences. At the dump, we are greeted as “hun” by the longtime attendant who has told me she will sort my recycling for me. A true honor, indeed, in these parts where co-mingling and other offenses have banished others to a lonely life of digging through their own smelly cans and sour bottles. At the post office, we aren’t a box number, but Joy and Tom who have a book from Amazon that was too big to put in the box so is handed over with best wishes for our well-being and weekend plans. On any given Saturday, one of us might stop in at the only hair salon that’s on a pond next to an ice cream store, where we have a good hair day as long as we don’t giggle too hard at the proprietor’s jokes and make him slip with the scissors. In our travels, we might also run into the guy who installed our TV dish and wonders if our reception is OK. He’s the Rangeley installation guy, not the DirecTV contractor sent from Waterville who refused to go up on the roof and told us we were out of luck. Our local guy runs into us in the building supply store or in the bank and wants to make sure we’re happy because, if we’re not, he’d “make the trip out” again. On any given Saturday, our “loop” is bigger now, but connected by people who would go the extra mile with us.

Maybe the woman in the gift store realized it was Saturday since that’s the day they switch over to Back Woods Blend in the free coffee carafe. If she was a renter, chances are she wouldn’t have even been there to make the announcement. Come Saturday, she would’ve hung her head and headed south while a local guy picked up her garbage at her rental cabin and transferred it for her. Nope, my guess was that she was a local and headed out of the store to make it to the dump before the gate closed, and after she got fresh seafood and did the rest of her loop.

“You know, when you retire, every day is Saturday,” our neighbor reminded Tom and me when we were making dinner plans awhile back. “Jeez,” I thought, smiling at the possibilities. “You mean the dump is open every day?”

You can get here from there

So how does an out of work writer and her recently retired teacher husband “leave it all behind” to move permanently to their cabin in Maine? What’s it really like living ten miles from the nearest stop sign and 37 miles from the nearest traffic light on a big lake with a long name that, in Abnaki, means “moose feeding place?” 

Good questions. In the three months since my big transition north, I’m starting to come up with some answers, which I’ll share in the following posts. As they come, I’ll also share answers to things I’m still pondering, sometimes in the middle of the night, and sometimes after embarking on a chore I used to take for granted that now involves bug spray, a change of clothes, a water bottle, an ice pack and an itinerary posted on the refrigerator so loved ones can come find me. I’ll share how I came to uproot myself after living in the same house in the same city for all of my adult life to move year-round to what had previously been my summer camp. I’ll share how I got here and how I intend to stay.

For now, I do know for sure, that my transition from Flatlander to Rangeley transplant would never have grown past a whim without a few prerequisites. To take this leap of faith and begin to make it work, I needed:

  • Enough money and enough faith to believe that enough will be enough
  • A  vision for a new lifestyle with the guts to follow through when opportunity allowed and the grace to back pedal or change course if it didn’t
  • A sense of adventure
  • A sense of humor
  • A logistical, up-to-the minute project plan that would impress even the most detail oriented spreadsheet gurus from my office working days
  • A soul mate who instigated and inspired and, more often than not, just plain took charge of all of the above necessities, and still thinks he wants to pull up his Adirondack chair next to mine when it’s all said and done

Some folks say we’re crazy. Some say we’re “too young” to retire, to which we say we’re “just young enough.” Some say we’re taking a huge risk leaving the malls, the curbside garbage pickup, and ambulances that can reach the emergency room fast enough to resuscitate us.  Even one friend says we’re way to far from a wine and liquor outlet to make this lifestyle feasible. It’s a bit too early to say they’re wrong. The jury’s still out…at least until next April or May when we can, hopefully, still claim victory with whatever  the winter thaw leaves in working order. And if we can’t, and we truly are crazy, let’s hope it’s sweet old Nana who could marvel at the same birch tree over and over like she’d never seen it before kind of crazy. Let’s hope it’s not standing out in the driveway with a shotgun and a tin foil hat kind of crazy.

Meanwhile, I also know for sure I already have the most crucial element in this whole leap of faith, and have possessed copious quantities of it for the past 23 years. I love Rangeley. I love this place, its people, my new-old house here that holds all my treasures. I love the way I feel when I walk down to my waterfront and can still see my daughters as toddlers running ahead of me eager, as I was, to jump in. I am rooted in this land of lakes and mountains. Always will be. With that grounding force, along with the previously mentioned keys to survival, plus lots of blankets, dried beans, homemade wine and stacks and stacks of reading material, the saga begins!