Dining with Dad

When she was just beginning to link objects with labels and functions, one of my girls picked a spatula up off the kitchen counter and declared it a “Dada cooker.” Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with the role of father in the modern kitchen.

Traditionally, men were not linked to any food prep functions. When they did take utensils in hand, it was to “carve” the roast—a ceremonial ritual dating back to when the head of the household had brought the meat to the table an hour earlier from yonder woods or field. Plus, fathers have also always been pretty deft with barbecue implements, a ritual which dates back even earlier to primordial families who never bothered to specify “rare” or “well done.”

In taking their culinary tools closer and closer to the kitchen stove, men seem to have developed extraordinary skill with the common spatula. Originally, I believe that
dexterity was born of necessity and fine-tuned during all-male fishing trips when there was nothing between them, their hunger and the supper still flopping around in the sink, but an iron skillet and plenty of bacon grease.

“Daddy’s cooking supper?” my sister and I would ask on the occasions my mother could not be home to feed us.

“Yes. I told him to heat up some corn chowder.”

When the time came, we watched in silent amazement tinged with trepidation. Had it been our Mum at the stove, we would have questioned the use of cast iron cookery, and said “yuck” when the Worcester Sauce was added. But, when Daddy did it, we kept still. Even if we had to watch him eat most of the chowder himself and load up on crackers afterwards, paternal cooking was an exciting shift from the ordinary.

It’s no wonder my daughters readily associated the spatula with their dad. Especially on camp weekends, he became so proficient in the short order cooking department the frying pan barely cooled between Saturday morning and Sunday evening. And, like most  dads, he never told them “You just ate,” or “You should have some fruit instead.” He was more than willing to take command of any operation resulting in food, especially grilled cheese sandwich construction for his little fishing buddies on a Saturday afternoon.

Dads don’t generally waste as much energy as moms worrying about the four food groups, either. To them, food is fuel. And the object is to tank up—preferably without forks and, ideally, without plates—so you can return to what you were doing when hunger struck.

“We made sandwiches with Dad for lunch,” I remember Helen announcing as I’d return home from running errands when she and her sister were small.

I could tell. A knife still stood buried in the peanut butter jar in the middle of the table kitchen table. Surrounding it were all the signs of a motherless feeding frenzy—paper towels, crumbs and huge hunks of cast off crusts.

“Did you have anything to drink?” I’d ask. (I’d learned that dads making dinner got so intent on the dietary bulk of the meal that they’d usually forget the liquid part.)

“Oh, yes,” said Helen. “Red Kool Aid. But we spilled some and Dad wiped it all up so the floors wouldn’t be sticky.”

I could tell. My oak Lazy Susan was glued to the table top and I could see a mound of pink stained paper towels heaped into the wastebasket. “Don’t say anything to your Mom,” he must have instructed as he unraveled a long, billowing expanse off the towel holder at the other side of the room. The sponge next to the sink, however, was dry as a bone.

I always figured this behavior dated back to the time when a guy’s bandana had to suffice for a cleaning cloth and his water was rationed from a canteen. Or, maybe it was the natural result of too many boyhood confrontations with a mom who didn’t understand there was no time to tidy up your trail when the Injuns were after you. Most likely, it stems from a little bit of both. I do know that, somewhere along the line, dads came to rely on “dry” cleaning to cope with spills and splatters.

I had to remind myself that this very same cavalier kitchen attitude had been adding spice and excitement to father-child relationships, mine included, since the first time a woman walked away from her hearth for any amount of time. I’d bite my tongue, wet the sponge, and remember my dad’s special corn chowder out of a can. And I’d especially think of Grandpa.

It was a rare and festive occasion when my grandma would drive off alone to go shopping, and my grandpa would let us take full advantage. (For those of you who read about her in Letting Myself Stay, I’m not talking about my mild-mannered Nana who’d offer us dessert all the time because she thought we were company and she’d probably just served us a meal but couldn’t really remember. This was my other, omnipresent grandma, who once told me she liked to dust. She policed her cookie supply and seemed to think the earth would spin off its axis if you ate more than two a day or, Heaven forbid, consumed your food groups in the wrong order.)

“Is she gone yet?” my grandpa would wonder with boyish impatience as my sister and I watched the big, blue Ford back down the driveway. We’d wait until she was safely on her way and then race into the kitchen straight for the cookie jar.

“Don’t tell your grandmother!” Grandpa always reminded us with a devilish smile as he scooped most of the crumbs into a napkin and double-checked us for Oreo moustaches.

Happy Father’s Day, everyone! May you dine with your dad in your heart and at your table.

Letting myself stay

The first time I remember being concerned about how much older really old folks were, I must have been about four. “How old is Nana?” I asked my parents.

Their answer was way, way out of my arithimetic comfort zone. “Fifty-eight.”

At first, I just frowned and tried to comprehend that number. I knew I had six marbles in my little drawstring pouch and that each Sky Bar came in four sections. Anything beyond that was as bewildering as adding up all the stars in space. Then I got scared and burst out crying. If my grandparents had been around for whatever that forever-sounding number was, I knew they must be ready to die any minute.

Fortunately, I was too busy being a kid to worry myself for very long. After all, my parents weren’t upset that their parents had one foot already in Heaven. And Nana was always smiling. Plus, she had soft, crinkly, Nana skin on her hands and arms that I found oddly comforting. It wasn’t until early grade school had broadened my mathematical reach that I questioned old-age relativity again.

“How many birthdays have you had, Mommy?” I asked.

“Thirty-four,” she answered.

This time I didn’t cry. But I was still pretty darn scared. “Gee,” I said, “that’s even more than the number of days I have to wait between Thanksgiving and Christmas!” Of course, I desperately wanted to be older myself. Not as old as she was or, Heaven help me, my grandparents—just a year or so wiser, taller and worldly enough to hang with the “big” kids.

During middle school, when the desire to age myself out of braces and away from bullies had become a constant daydream, I overheard a conversation that made me ponder the wisdom of wishing away time. “Tammy’s got a tummy!” my mom announced moments after we were driving away from visiting family friends. Not a caddy woman by nature, Mum was delighted to discover that her once skinny college pal now had a mid-life paunch, especially since she could make the observation into a taunting little rhyme. “Yup,” my dad concurred from behind the wheel. “She let herself go.”

“Go where?” I remember wondering from the back seat. Not to the mall or the beach, it didn’t sound like. And with emphasis as much on the letting part as on the going part of his statement, I knew there was a great deal of loss of control implied. “She let herself go,” he said again with authority. Suddenly that other mother went from a cool mom with a great backyard who bought the good kind of chips to Mrs. Tammy Tummy.

“Could she have hung on?” I began to ask myself as a teen when I’d hear my dad make the remark. “And why is it always a she?” I drew a mental picture of a poor woman teetering on the brink of 40, hanging onto a wimpy branch for dear life while nature’s relentless pull raged just beneath her like a waterfall. One moment of weakness, one lapse in concentration and…woosh…away she’d go to the point of no return. I started checking out my mother with a whole different eye. Blessed by genes from the tall, lanky side of the family, she was still a bean pole, but for how long? Would I get some sort of a warning that she was slipping so I could somehow give her a heads up? Or, would Dad just pronounce her gone when she was too far downstream for help? And, when I got to be her age, would I instinctively know how to muckle onto the branch where she let go?

In hindsight, I think it’s a good thing women in my mother’s generation didn’t know what we know now. They hit 40 back before coed gyms, body mass calculators, and good carbs versus bad carbs. Back then, if anybody’s mom said she was “working out,” she meant in the garden, not spotting you on the weight bench. So, they could let gravity and lower metabolism take over without the added torment of Dr. Oz or Dr. Atkins telling them they had only themselves to blame. Healthy eating meant ordering a Fillet o’ Fish with small fries and no shake. There wasn’t Biggest Loser Bob showing you how to take charge of your own proactive lifestyle, how to get up off the couch, elevate your cardio and steel your abs. There was Jack LaLanne doing a few jumping jacks with you in front of the TV. And, if that didn’t do the trick, you couldn’t turn on an infomercial and know that a Spanx body shaper would answer all your prayers. You were just incredibly grateful panty hose had been invented so you didn’t have to squeeze your shape into a real girdle like your mother did.

“Joy’s keeping herself up real nice,” I overheard my dad telling one of his fishing buddies  when I was almost 40. By then, the remark should have gotten him slapped, sued, or both, but I took it as a supreme compliment. I was forever bemoaning my slant toward the short, stocky side of the family and beginning to wonder if the dryer was shrinking my jeans. Suddenly everyone, including me, was jumping around the gym in their Reeboks and ripping the skin off their baked chicken. Still, it seemed harder and harder to not get sucked under, into the flow of middle-aged complacency. But then I’d think about Mum and lift my real self above those troubles. As it turned out, she didn’t let herself go. Before she had time, she got swept away by an undetected “defect” she’d been born with and would have been powerless to hold in check. She never suffered, though, and left with a smile, a teeny pot belly on her lanky frame, and the very beginnings of Nana skin. Nana herself, on the other hand, ended up living way longer than I originally predicted. While in her seventies, she’d waged war with her short, stockiness and shrunk herself about five dress sizes by eating little but plain yogurt and Melba toast. Even if she had let herself go, though, or had stayed gone, it didn’t matter. Soon after, she forgot where she was completely, how she’d gotten there, who was with her, or what she’d had for breakfast before leaving.

Dad who, ironically, was the patriarch of stockiness (or, as he called it, barrel chestedness)—became a gym rat later in life. When he wasn’t out fishing, he was horsing around weights at the health club, keeping an eye on whether or not the women in Spandex were letting themselves go. He’d puff out his chest, flex his biceps and say, “Not bad for almost 70!” But his coronary arteries did not agree. Eventually, all his pre-Dr. Oz years of letting himself eat whatever he wanted took him down at 68.

Dad watches me, though, I can feel it. And, hopefully, he still brags. Mum was with me, too, as always, when I celebrated a landmark birthday the other day. I’ve now lived ten years longer than she did, as much by hanging on as by letting myself stay in the moment. I remember them when I turn down chocolate in favor of carrot sticks. But I think of them just as vividly when I decide to say yes to a pair of “just because” earrings or to savoring every last bite of cherry cheesecake. They’re my hiking buddies, now that I’ve traded my gym membership for long walks along the lake they brought me back to. “We’re doing just fine,” I tell them as my heart gets pumping and I take deep breaths of Rangeley balsam.

My daughters concur. They’re keeping an eye on me for any signs of slippage and they swear I don’t need pleated pants or a swimsuit skirt. They tell me I “don’t even look scary yet” in my underwear. And, if I promise to not start wearing bright pink lipstick, they promise to warn me when it’s time to give up the hair dye and let myself go grey with dignity. Plus, best of all, they’ve taken the opportunity to keep me young and run wild with it like I never could with my mother. I’ve decided, with their help, that the Nana skin on my hands looks just as wonderful gripping a fishing rod against a West Kennebago sunset as it does wrapped around a roller coaster handle bar at Six Flags, screaming like a 12-year-old, and hanging on for dear life.

Tackling spring cleaning

Spring is in the air and, at last, the sun is peeking out. Finally, you can throw open your windows and exchange a breath of it for the staleness that’s been hanging in your house, along with the ghosts of that corned beef and cabbage you cooked back in March. The birds are singing. You think you might have a lupine or two in the front yard, but you suppress the urge to go and check, knowing you must not withdraw from your domicile and the allegiance it demands. The dust clinging to the window pane in front of you, which has turned your curtains from crisp white to a shade often found on old bread, is as much a harbinger of the season as the robins and the warm breezes. So, you prepare a checklist and steel yourself for spring cleaning. “1. Upstairs: A. Windows and walls; B. Closets; C. Floors…” you write. “2. Downstairs: Ditto, ditto, ditto…” As you’re filling in major categories with more subheadings, you remember last year you had a similar action plan, all nicely detailed on a large sheet of paper, and each time you looked at it you became paralyzed with dread.

You may have turned to the self-help aisle at the bookstore for a little motivation, where you were met with reams and reams of training in the science of domestic engineering. Trouble was, you probably spent so much time reading that you were still pecking away at your checklist when your daffodils had given way to tiger lilies. You certainly don’t want that to happen again, so consider this: Our foremothers—who firmly instituted these seasonal scrubbing rituals so that, come warm weather, we’d forget about Gloria Steinem and begin worshiping Donna Reed—called it “spring cleaning” for a reason. Even pre-emacipated wash women intended for a brief respite before fall cleaning, if only to save up their energy for canning and baking all the fruits of the harvest they never got to savor on the vine.

To complete your checklist before you’re dripping sweat into your Spic ‘N Span, you do need to keep in mind some of those nifty tips you read up on last year while procrastinating. The experts would recommend you begin by tackling household focal points first—rooms where family density remains fairly constant over time. Try to view your home as a casual visitor might, drawing your attention to major accumulations of dust, debris and discoloration. A visitor would see, for example, what happened to the rug when you let the family eat spaghetti in front of the television, not what’s under your bed or in your corners. Adopting this perspective will let you prioritize to get maximum results where it counts. After all, it’s not so much for sanitary reasons that we clean, it’s to give the general impression of sparkle and shine to the viewing public—our company. (They probably won’t be crawling around on their hands and knees or hopping high enough to see most cobwebs. But, if they do, spike their coffee so they won’t care anymore.) It’s important to forget about feels clean and lemony fresh clean and go for looks clean first. Seeing the immediate outcome of such well-focused housekeeping will motivate you to organize closets and scrub unknown substances from your surfaces later, when the weather’s lousy and when you’re not taking an Irish coffee break.

When you’re ready to start tackling your spring cleaning list, an obvious place to start is that kitchen window you just opened—the one your family and friends have been politely ignoring since you put the hibachi right under it late last fall. The experts would agree. It’s small, not time consuming and requires few supplies—big pluses when you’re just getting in gear and are easily discouraged. And, once that window’s clean, you can move onto other windows without losing your focus. Begin by gathering your supplies: glass cleaner, paper towels, sponges and some sort of scraping device for splatters that have no respect for ammonia. If you’re unable to locate your scraper right away, start looking for it in the basement first because, that way, you can toss the kitchen curtains in the washer and they’ll be clean when you’re through with the window.

Now, don’t let the fact that your washer and dryer and surrounding shelves have been collecting dust since the Carter administration distract you. You’re on a window-washing mission and wiping down basement appliances would be totally senseless right now. However, since you may never be standing there with paper towels and Windex in hand until the end of the Obama years, no harm will be done by taking a few swipes at the dirt.

By the time you find your scraper in a closet that demanded total reorganization, you’ll probably be out of paper towels. That’s O.K., though, because newspaper—for some undocumented reason—does a better job on windows. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll have an ample supply of really old papers to use. And, if you’re like most Americans, you won’t be able to resist reviewing some of what’s in the stack. Half an hour later, after re-reading accounts of oil spills, tsunamis and tornadoes, you’ll naturally be depressed and lethargic. Ten million gallons of black goo floated around Alaska and you can’t even bring yourself to clean a simple window!

At this point, a cup of regular coffee will be just the thing to restart your motor. Do not, however, under any circumstances look closely at your coffee maker while you’re making one! Then you’ll have no choice but to sponge it off, especially up underneath the drip mechanism where it looks like you’ve been brewing with swamp water. Make yourself sit with your cup of coffee and do your best not to stare at that window you still haven’t cleaned. Lower your eyes, if you have to, to that grungy spot of crud clinging to a juice spill next to the refrigerator. Well, you do have the sponge handy…

When at last you’ve finished your first spring cleaning chore, stand back and admire your accomplishment. The curtains look brand new, except for those grey fingerprints you got on them when your hands were covered with newsprint. You’re exhausted, but you’ve got one-sixteenth of a clean floor, a coffee maker that would impress a contortionist, one organized closet shelf, a washer and dryer gleaming where the sun never shines and, voila, one heck of a spotless window. The sunlight will now stream into your kitchen and straight through your livingroom, pooling right on that pile of ashes under the wood stove you told yourself back in February you’d “get to” if it ever got to be spring again.

Mumma energy

“I got a nice dose of Mumma energy last night,” Becky called to tell me awhile back. She was going through a bit of a rough spot and really needed me in person, but had to settle for one of my cross-country pep talks instead. She’d been to a meditation/healing circle, led by a holistic Moab woman with “Mumma hands,” a giving heart, and wise, empowering words. Once again, my younger daughter had found just the surrogate she needed for that specific moment in her worldly travels.

“Oh, I’m so glad you feel better, honey,” I sighed. “Why don’t you book a couple office visits with her? That would be nice, huh? Think of it as my Mother’s Day present.” 

“Uh, Mom,” Becky said, “you do know that Mother’s Day is when I’m supposed to give you stuff, not when you tell me to give stuff to myself?”

“Right. But I’m telling you this is what I want more than anything. If you give yourself this gift, you will actually be pampering me, making my heart glad.”

“What is it with her?” I imagined Becky saying after we hung up. Every Mother’s Day for as far back as she and her sister could remember, I’d told them not to fuss over me, not to get me anything. As long as my girls were happy and healthy, I assured them, I had everything I needed. I meant it too, wholeheartedly. Of course, they’d still give me plenty of little trinkets and tokens, including their annual hand-drawn coupons for ice cream at the Pine Tree Frosty. I’d stash those in the glove compartment and promise to cash them in as soon as we got “back up to camp.” Last count, I had eight of them stacked under my snow scraper, never redeemed. We still enjoyed our share of Rangeley soft serve, regardless, lapping up the late spring sunshine as we fed the pond ducks even more than ourselves. Fortunately, all my Mother’s Days perfectly coincided with opening up camp, with no formal gifts necessary because the earth was warming up, the road was drying out, and we were returning to Rangeley. And, now that I am home here for good, I know it’s thanks to my three mothers, my beautiful daughters and husband, and all the nurturing, creative “Mumma energy” that works in mysterious ways to give us this life.

“Oh, honey, you didn’t need to give me anything!” I remember my mother telling me as she unwrapped my Mother’s Day gift. I was 17, and had presented her with a set of stoneware salt and pepper shakers I’d proudly bought with some of my $1.80-an-hour paycheck. “All I need is for you to be happy, really,” she insisted, setting them on the dining room table for “special company” and hugging me.

When Mum died suddenly a couple months later, I couldn’t imagine happy being a possibility for me ever again. Smiling was forced torture. And for years laughing was only a release mechanism that left a pain deep in my chest. Happy—as in sitting in the sunshine humming and wanting to hug myself? Well that, I believed, was forever on the other side of the big, dark wall where I’d left my previous life. But then, in spite of myself, slowly but surely Mumma energy began trickling back into my world. It came from Prudy, my step-mom, who helped me love myself as a grown woman while seeing the wonder in all things. It came from my Reiki teacher, Holly, who channeled Mother Earth energy into my heart and hands, empowering me to heal myself and those I love. It came just in time from my mother-in-law, Ruth, when—after holding each other at arm’s length for years—we finally embraced the power of unconditional love. It came from my Mum, who shows me everyday how love lives on in Spirit. (For more of this story, see my Come and Meet Those Dancin’ Feet series.) And, the Mumma energy came full circle in Helen, my mother’s namesake, and her sister, Becky.

“I couldn’t have chosen anyone better to become the mother of my child,” Tom wrote in my first Mother’s Day card. “Really?” I remember thinking, resting the card on my enormous belly. “Will he still feel that way a couple months—and a couple decades—from now?” I was seven months pregnant with Helen, my first-born, and my attitude towards motherhood had just barely switched from “Babies are cute, but keep them away from me,” to “As long as my natural instincts don’t fail me, I think maybe I could be a mom.”

Fast forward past college graduations, a wedding, and mother-daughter memories better than any Hallmark could anticipate. My Mumma energy is pumping just fine, I’m glad to report, triggered just as much by giving birth and from holding my babies as it is by having my daughters mother me back. It’s more ethereal than any biological process, flowing within the laughter that bubbles through the phone line, in long, tearful goodbyes, and those that went unspoken. It’s in the sweet, mysterious grace that keeps me here—alive and well—as a middle-aged mom, riding roller coasters and rapids, or dancing in a concert crowd to the songs that bind us together. Turns out, it’s the gift my mother asked for so many years ago, the one that never needs wrapping. I am grateful I found it, in the kindness of friends and strangers, in the courage to live my legacy, to create my own health and happiness every day. Thank you, Mum. Thank you, everybody. I really don’t need anything more.

Hoppin’ down the muddy trail

Take ten miles of soggy Bemis track oozing along the cutoffs and swamp lands of lower Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Add about three more miles of private dirt road snaking up the shore still shadowed by snow banks. Mix in plenty of early spring snow. Freeze, melt, rechill and thaw until soft, and what have you got? A route to town that looks like Oreo cookie left soaking in milk too long and feels like a rodeo rink.

As I said back in Finding Community, we don’t really live in Rangeley. We live in a “suburb” of town 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 came in use to describe a “minor civil division.” So, in Rangeley Plantation (population about 155) we don’t have councilors or selectmen. We have assessors. And Mother Nature keeps them plenty busy assessing and maintaining the stretches of roads and bridges that connect us back to the big town.

“We don’t live on this road,” I told a first-time visitor last April. “This is our main town road. Our place is on a side road off of this road a few more miles from here.” We were about midway down the Bemis Road—also known by those of us who consider it a major thoroughfare as the Bemis Track. “Back when folks came here by train, this was actually a train track,” I explained. “See how straight it is? But it all got washed out in the Great March Flood of 1936, so now it’s a road.” I couldn’t tell if he was impressed or scared. He just jostled back and forth in the passenger seat, peering out the window in silence. But I’m pretty sure I heard him haul in his breath as we motored across the one-lane causeway bridge at the southern tip of the lake. “Almost there,” I promised rounding a corner and chugging up a small hill onto my “camp” road.

Friends generally don’t come here during mud season. And if they do, they don’t come out this far. They get part way into the Plantation and either park it and call for help, or spin around and slide back down the mountain. Even UPS—the guys driving huge brown trucks, wearing brown uniforms who look like they could handle a little extra wet dirt—won’t venture out past the town package depot this time of year. But, with our address label officially stating we live on a trail, I can’t say as I blame them for dropping our boxes off in another zip code and having us retrieve them there.

After more than 20 years of negotiating our way from southern New Hampshire, Tom and I knew what we were “getting ourselves into” when we decided to retire up here off the beaten track. Money, house, road. Boiled down to their essence, those were our determining factors as our thoughts turned from “Wouldn’t it be nice?” to “How can we make it happen?” Would our savings hold out? Could we really turn the old camp into a house? What was the likelihood we’d got stuck out there? Plus, lurking in the grey area at the end of the money-house-road list were generic retirement questions about health and sanity. Would our health and our fondness for each other’s company last as long as our savings? But in the big game of chance called life, we knew that mental and physical wellness were cards we’d carry with us no matter what road we chose. So, as much as anyone could, we prepared for all scenarios, got our ducks in a row. We vowed to balance frugality with adventure, to eat from our garden whenever nature cooperated, and figure out how much homemade wine consumption would fortify our hearts and souls without jeopardizing our self-sufficiency. We packed up our life in the bigger city and made the one-way trip to Rangeley.

For our “back home” friends, the route from there to here does take a little getting used to. TomTom and Garmin help with some of the trip, but get confused when friends type in our “trail” and get warned they’re on their own from Route 17. From there, they have to rely on plain, old Tom’s highlighted squiggle on the Maine Atlas and their own senses of direction and adventure. Personally, I think the resulting candid commentary tops their barking GPS monotones anyways. Where else can you go from “See how pretty the lake is over there?” to “I think I might see the lake again,” to “What the hell were they thinking?” and back again all in less than 25 miles?

So far so good, though, I’m happy to report. The pantry is full. Most days, we still talk to each other more than we talk to ourselves or the beagles. We haven’t found ourselves standing at the end of the driveway wearing tin foil hats barking at the full moon yet, either. We’re even managing to take frequent trips beyond and back without calling for rescue. But we don’t kid ourselves for a minute that we can take all the credit. We get constant support from some very special people—two in particular. Thanks to our lead assessor/town road agent and the plow man hired by our private road association—who defy all geological, hydrological and meteorological laws to keep our travel lanes clear —we’re staying on track with retirement in the woods. Even during this worst winter/spring in memory, we have never been stranded, marooned or otherwise stuck out here 13 miles from pavement.

And Tom and I don’t need to kid ourselves that pavement is by any means better than dirt. For more than 30 years, we lived right alongside a real city, tax-dollar funded road. Salmon Falls Road, it was called, named for the river bordering New Hampshire and Maine it follows. Once a place of fishing folklore and sprawling farms, it is now mostly a commuter corridor for folks wanting to work closer to Boston. To say it was paved would be generous. It was a long stretch of tar patches connecting pot holes through swamp land that ate hub caps like M&Ms. On those unfortunate summer evenings when we were back home from Rangeley, a steady stream of tire thumping outside our bedroom window kept us awake, longing for loons and waves lapping the shore. We were only a couple miles from  hospitals, stores and all those other things our city friends want us to be able to get to now. But, most days, the route to those conveniences was an obstacle course that gave us much less bang for our tax dollar and more pounding on the Subaru suspension than driving down the dirt roads in the Plantation.

Getting out here is never what you’d call a smooth ride, though, not a cruise control sort of commute. I was reminded of that recently while driving alone back from town through a low spot in the road. A torrent of melted snow rushed down off Bemis Mountain and across the track on its way into Mooselookmeguntic where no amount of maintenance or tax dollars could have kept the dirt surface solid. My Subaru tires started to sink like four fudge doughnuts and I sucked in my breath and steered my way through. “What the hell were we thinking?” I started to say. But then I thought I could see a patch of open lake water through the trees…and summer somewhere right around the corner.

Out like a lamb-eating Yeti

Good thing nobody said it, at least not within earshot and, in particular, not while I was looking outside on the first full day of spring. Watching fresh snow pile up on the glaciers not yet receded from my yard, I knew that somewhere somebody was saying it: “Gee, looks like March isn’t going out like a lamb this year!”

“Looks like! Not unless it’s a lamb to the slaughter,” I imagined myself having to reply with a fake giggle. Luckily, I didn’t have to respond or come up with any new twists on restating the obvious. Alone in my kitchen with the Weather Channel on mute and my cupboards full from my last trip to town, I had no need to socialize and no risk of rehearing the same, lame, lamb-to-lion analogy I’ve heard every March since 1956. So I just stood there, staring at the latest blizzard. And, except for a couple feeble, lion roar sighs, I kept quiet as a lamb.

It’s human nature, I know, to lighten our Man versus Nature defenselessness by making trite fauna and flora seasonal correlations. We find the rote repetition of habitual phrases soothing—especially this year in these parts. Way back when, somebody worth listening to must have looked to the heavens and made a proclamation, right? “In like a lion…out like a lamb!” he announced and probably etched out some pictographs to record the whole story. Some years, he must have been right. Most years, his clan must have pointed to the faded drawings and retold the tale while hunkered down in whatever could shelter them from the unpredictable March weather. And the saying stuck.

I’m not sure what sort of creature this March is, but I know my daughters would have fun drawing it. Back when they were the only kids in the universe not allowed Game Boys, they used to occupy themselves during long car rides to Rangeley by challenging each other to morph as many animals as they could think of into one sketch. “This time, draw a moose-leopard-eagle-rhinoceros,” one or the other would declare, and the car would stay quiet from South Paris nearly to Rumford. I found one of the resulting animorph masterpieces shoved in an old dresser yesterday. Not really in full spring cleaning mode, but feeling like I should start taking baby steps in that direction, I was sorting through some 20-year-old camp stuff. Folded up next to a dog chewed Barbie, I came upon a pencil drawn creature with a long alligator tail, and both bird talons and moose hooves to balance his lion-like head on his camel-humped body. It was enough to snap me out of any sour weather doldrums I’d let myself slip into.

“Just keep laughing,” I told myself. “It’s all good. Spring has been finding its way up here every year without you around to fidget over it, so keep the faith.” For an extra boost, I dug out my brightest spring green sweater and put it on. Over coffee, I changed my Elmer Fudd-like Facebook picture to a profile of me enjoying warm weather and a bright blue shoreline. But when those strategies failed to do the trick, I knew it was time to shift into full-throttle attitude adjustment mode—to rely on my tried and true home remedy for keeping my chin up and my thoughts prosperous: Put the right gear on my feet, point them away from the cabin, and just get out there!

The right footwear part of my plan is crucial to its effectiveness, I’ve learned. Choose wrong, and a brisk walk to gain fresh air and a new perspective can easily turn into a death march. In January, in Ice Road Tracker, you might remember me professing my love for Yaktrax which, back then, were just the thing for keeping me safe and vertical during my daily walks. Well, I’m much worldlier now, and my needs have matured. Once my road surfaces got really serious from repeated thawing and refreezing, I had to ditch my Yaktrax like a middle-school crush. Lately, I’ve been going out with real studs—metal ones strapped to my boots so I don’t cripple myself six ways to Sunday taking a walk. And, when I want a real fling, I can still strap on my snowshoes and get way out there.

“I guess we’ll still be walkin’ on the wild side a few more weeks,” I concluded as I reacquainted myself with my snowshoes. My gear of choice the other day, they helped me negotiate my luge track of a driveway till I was once again trekking up my favorite hillside across the road. As usual, it wasn’t long before my attitude fell in step as I made my way up the path that always brings me back to center. No matter what kind of footwear and how much resolve it took, I’d walked this path—in summer, through winter, and back into the promise of spring. And, along the way, I’d eaten raspberries sweet as the August sun, watched lupines bloom and hibernate, and a moose leading her yearling to browse. On a snowy day not so different from this, I’d brought my first Rangeley Christmas tree down off the hill with me. Once again reaching the top on the first blustery day of spring, I paused to appreciate my place overlooking the lake and mountains, and the reasons why I was there came back into focus. As I pointed my feet homeward, I could feel the sun gaining strength and hear the gurgle of melting run-off finding its way down Bemis  beneath the snow. Spring was under there somewhere, I could feel it.

By the time I reached home, my Elmer Fudd hat was crusted over with new snow again. But even though I had to inch down the driveway like a drunken penguin, my smile didn’t fade. Not much can stop me from strapping on gear and getting out there, I’ve determined. I have given up, though, on trying to decide exactly what kind of creature the month of March is. He’s a gnarly one, I figure, with thick fur and long, ice gripping talons on the end of his paws—a beast that eats little lambs for breakfast. Whatever he looks like, I sure hope he lets spring come to Rangeley sometime before April showers bring May flowers.

Signs of spring

When the phone rang the other day, my heart did its little “Ooooh…somebody’s checking in on us!” dance and my feet had to join in to carry me to the other end of the house by the third ring. Caller ID said it was Becky calling from Moab, Utah, and I got breathless. What a nice girl, calling to check in so we won’t worry about her making it through the long, harsh winter all alone out there!

“Hi, Mom! It’s 65 degrees and I’m in flip-flops, shorts and a tee-shirt!”

“Great, honey…awesome!” I said. Although I kept my voice light, my upper lip instinctively curled into the kind of snarl a dog does when you put a treat just out of reach and then snatch it away.

“How about you guys?” she wanted to know. “Got much snow left?”

“Yeah, you might say that,” I said, shuffling back to the window. I knew I could give her a Rangeley weather update without up-to-the-minute visual clarification, but I still needed to look one more time just the same. No longer propelled by happy feet, my walk slowed to the pace I get when I go on food recognizance in the IGA. I gazed outside with that same expectant look I get when I survey the grocery aisles—thinking maybe if I search really hard, I’ll see something new—my favorite tea, or maybe more produce from distant, exotic lands. But, once again faced with the evidence, I must accept what’s right in front of me. The snow piles and contours in my back yard are just as I remembered from the last surveillance. I can look away, blink a bunch of times, or hide my head like a spoiled kid. But when I look again, not much will have changed. Although I am starting to see some bare roof shingles on my out buildings, and I’ve heard tell there’s a patch of pussy willows somewhere between here and Stratton, for the most part it seems spring is hiding away in the land of gourmet tea, green, leafy vegetables and flip-flops.

“Remember those pictures I posted of the back yard on Facebook?” I asked Becky. “That was two storms and another foot of snow ago.”

“Woah,” she said. “The grass is all green here and I got a sunburn playing volleyball yesterday!”

“Humph,” I replied. “Well, I’m down to just one layer of underwear, I got to leave my ear flaps up all day yesterday, and if the dogs jump really high I can see them out in their pen above the drifts. So, no grass yet, but there’s a big brown spot up the end of the driveway we’re hoping is dirt!” Thanks for sharing, I told Becky, and to make sure she put sunscreen on. Right after she hung up, I’m pretty sure she called her sister and asked her to drive up from New Hampshire just to double-check on us.

I’ve known for years that these Western mountain lakes generate their own weather and the winter-to-spring cycle can run slower than cold molasses. Now that I’m here year-round to actually witness the process, it must be like watching the proverbial pot boil, and Old Man Winter really isn’t taking any longer than normal to loosen his grip and let spring take over. But I’m thinking there is some twisted connection between our prolonged winter and the sign out in front of the Oquossoc Grocery. As of this posting, it no longer reads “Do the Snow Dance!” which we apparently did with abandon. Now it declares “Snow All Year Round!” I’ve never actually seen anyone out there changing the letters on that sign. The words just somehow appear in the middle of the night. If I wasn’t so petrified of ladders, I just might get up there and alter its cosmic energy pull. Something like “Spring: It’s a Fun Season Too!” might do the trick.

Folks in other social circles are blaming this year’s tough winter on a mixed up Ground Hog’s Day prediction. Back in February, he emerged from his hole and said spring was just six weeks away. The nerve of that wood chuck! How could he and his stuffy handlers come out with all their pomp and circumstance and say that? Aren’t there laws against false advertising? Shadow or no shadow, I wasn’t paying all that much attention. Up here, we don’t have Punxsutawney Phil or anything close. We have a bad ass red squirrel who hangs out in the shadow of the wood shed hogging all the bird seed, and he’s not real prophetic.

Tom and I did manage to have ourselves a little spring fling when we learned we’d be getting some money back on our taxes. It wasn’t a terribly huge sum as far as those things go, just enough for us to splurge on some California vegetables to go with supper, and to dive into the Margarita mix we’d kept cold since summer hoping for such an occasion. Thanks to springing the clocks ahead, we could still see the big expanse of white that used to be our lake from the dining room window. We toasted to that, to our most memorable winter yet, and to warmer days ahead. By a few sips in, we started to feel downright tropical. A few sips later, we recalled a winter vacation when we tried to describe Rangeley to our boat captain in the Turks and Caicos. Tom told him that yes, we had a boat of our own, but since our lake was iced over we had to wait till May to launch it again.

Our guide gazed down at the turquoise water like he was trying to form a picture that just wouldn’t come into focus, and slowly shook his head. “Only ting ice be good for, mon, is puttin’ in drink!” he said.

He did have a point, we agreed, swirling our frozen Tequila around in our drinking jars. But ice had also come in real handy for holding us up on our snowshoes out on the lake too. “It sure was pretty out there this winter,” we concluded. Not Caribbean pretty, but a different, breathtaking kind of pretty that warmed our hearts and invigorated all our senses. We drank to that, too, and did a little spring dance.

Snow daze

“Gee,  wouldn’t it be kinda cool to see how high the snow is around camp now?”

Back when I relied on folklore and friends who visited Rangeley more than I in the winter, I heard tales of drifts piling up to the windowsills. Still, the desire to be “upta camp” no matter what the weather warped my reality and, by the first of March, I’d fantasize about my little cabin nestled in the snow just waiting for ice out so I could show up again. “Even though it would take a whole day to heat up the place, I wish I could see it.”

Well, here I am, smack in the middle of my first Rangeley winter! And, boy, am I seeing it! Guess I never listened to all the older, wiser people about being careful what I wished for. Guess I should have remembered why my Bahamian friends (those blessed, barefooted souls) were always problem-free. “Don’t put mouth on it,” they’d say, unless you are totally sure what it is you be asking for!

As I’ve said right along, I do love living here year-round. I love snowshoeing on my big frozen lake right from my front door. I love my new friends and how they’ve given me a sense of neighborhood, even out on the quiet shore in the off months. I love how Main Street looks like a Currier and Ives painting and how my Elmer Fudd hat is never inappropriate attire. And I love how Mother Nature is blessing our local economy with dump after dump of fresh powder on the ski and snowmobile trails. After all, that’s what keeps the lights on along Main Street: all this white stuff and the folks who come up here to play in it—and eat, drink and sleep in wintry wonder—until they need to go earn more money so they can come back and do it some more.

But, c’mon already…wish granted! The snow isn’t up to my windowsills yet but, as of this post, it’s steadily approaching. Back in November, we could only wonder and wait. “What kind of winter do you suppose we’ll get?” Folks started speculating with the same tone of awe and surrender they’d use when predicting the annual black fly hatch. We all knew  some snow was inevitable, living in the mountains of Maine and all. But after a barren year that left local businesses hankering for winter tourists, the big question was “How much?” Will we get serious footage, some good ground cover that won’t scrape our sleds? Can we hope to be skiing in our short sleeves just days before the fishermen return? Those who believed Mother Nature evens things out from year to year predicted a wallop. Those who swore by the Farmers’ Almanac agreed that “a cold slap in the face” was in store, combined with plenty of precip. But, just to be safe, most called forth rituals that had worked in years past. “Pray for snow!” store and restaurant signs beseeched. “Do the snow dance!”

Now that it’s March and winter has blessed Rangeley with a rockin’ Snowdeo weekend, the best-ever conditions on Saddleback and me, personally, with snowshoeing thighs of steel, I think we can all say: Mission accomplished. Somewhere between the fifteenth and twentieth storms, I began thinking up my own sign. Bright red and octagonal, it will spell out my one commandment to the weather gods: STOP! If I can ever break trail long enough to make it back down to the lake, I’m thinking I’ll make it big enough to spot by satellite.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling this winter thing has gone from kinda cool to, as my Nana would say, “too much of a muchness.” Even my self-proclaimed snow bunny friends, who wouldn’t trade the brisk beauty of tromping around Rangeley for a beach chair in Florida, have seen enough white stuff to last them the rest of the winter, if not their lives. As the drifts keep piling up, we’ve even had to expand our ways of describing its impact and our ever evolving coping skills. “The dogs can’t go snowshoeing alongside us anymore,” my friend reported the other day. “They’re porpoising.” After seeing my beagles try to go off-road, I could relate. And, now that the snow banks are getting higher than Tom’s shoulders along the bobsled chute we used to call our road, walking them there is no easy alternative, either. When each dog decides he wants to be king of the hill on opposite sides, Tom may  as well trade in their leashes for bright orange flags and go get a job at the Jetport.

It is Christmas card pretty out here, though, and Tom and I try to find at least one way to voice our appreciation each day. Food analogies worked for a while. “Look, it’s like we’re walking on a giant glistening sugar cube field,” we raved during a recent trek. Then, after another storm, we thought the marshmallow fluffiness stacked all around us was magical. We also repeatedly fall back on our version of that old “dry heat” observation folks make when they’re baking to death in the desert: “At least it’s light, fluffy snow,” we tell ourselves. “If this was all wet snow, we’d really be in trouble.” Tom said that again just the other day and I agreed. But silently I concluded that, once the snow starts inching up past his mouth and nose cavities next time he’s out there trying to shovel, it won’t much matter if it’s fluffy.

During the most recent storm, our positive outlook ran a little thin. As we stood staring out the kitchen window, watching the sheds get buried, we couldn’t think of much to say. But we weren’t completely quiet, either. By late in the afternoon, Tom was making a noise echoed by others around town when the “s” word is mentioned and how deep it’s getting. Each time Tom looked out the window, he’d let out a half-growl, half-groan, then a long expulsion of air that sounded more like a punch in the gut than a sigh.

Yup, I sure picked quite a year to jump into the reality of Rangeley winter. No more hypothesizing from another state. I’m here, seeing for myself, with all my climatized senses fully involved and invigorated. It’s definitely an adventure—experiential learning at its best. And now that I’m fully immersed, body and soul, I’m learning for sure that the real thing is way better than theorizing from anywhere else.

Rustic romance

Last Valentine’s Day, I didn’t get a card, flowers or chocolates. I did get a Hallmark moment though, in the form of a purchase and sales agreement. A nice young couple appeared almost like magic, wanting to build a future in our old house. They were ready to move in as soon as Tom’s school year ended and Rangeley mud season receded enough for us to drive a U-Haul with all our belongings up over the Height of Land,  down the Bemis track, and up the Upper Dam trail. Two dreams took flight that day we signed papers with our buyers. Theirs was about youth and new beginnings, about graduating from an apartment to a mortgage and a backyard, about breathing life back into a well-worn house. Ours was about staying young at heart, about stepping away from two houses into our one true home, about breathing a big sigh of gratitude that life by the lake was no longer happening “maybe sometime” but soon. No doubt both of us couples drank a special bottle of Valentine’s Day wine that night—excited and more than a tiny bit scared by our new-found fortune.

This year, even though it’s the first Valentine’s Day of our new life, we won’t need to celebrate with chocolates, flowers or over-priced cards filled with someone else’s words. We say the words all the time for free and make our own version of the hand-holding Hallmark couple staring off into the sunset. This year, we’ll breathe an even bigger sigh of gratitude and relief that we’re here, moved in, and figuring out that February in Rangeley is not only feasible, but fun. We do have a romantic evening planned, featuring something so special it makes my heart flutter: We are going out to eat! Out, as in away, down the trail, into town. Not for our typical night out either, which usually happens because we’re still in town and it’s almost suppertime and we know we’ll be too hungry to put away our groceries if we don’t cram in a burger. This Valentine’s Day, we’ll be enjoying a breathtaking Rangeley tableside view, a gourmet menu and some special wine with our new BFFs from the sportsmen’s club. We can do the “just you and me by candlelight” thing any night of the year. But nothing says “I love you” out here in February better than getting together with other like-minded souls over some prime rib and chocolate moose (er…I mean mousse). I already have two possible date night red sweaters picked out. One is a soft, clingy turtleneck. The other is an Icelandic cable knit good for 10 below zero.

After 35 years of Valentines, I’m happy to say the romance is still strong. I can’t imagine growing old in my Adirondack chair next to anyone other than Tom. But wisdom and a rural lifestyle have changed my definition of true romance. Unlike the TV commercial women, I don’t yearn for Tom to give me diamonds showing me his open heart or the shape of his arms muckled around me. He’s given me plenty of jewelry, and probably would have given me more if I hadn’t asked “Could I be going on a Caribbean vacation with what this cost?” each time he handed me an expensive-looking box. We did purchase ourselves a special treat this year, one that’s sure to keep the warmth in our relationship far longer than diamonds or a trip to the tropics. We’ll be anticipating it all during our nice dinner, the ride home, and our rush upstairs to get into bed. We bought each other a heated, his-and-hers, dual control mattress cover! My core body temp spikes just thinking about it.

Speaking of heat, I nearly forgot it was Valentine’s Day until I walked by the magazine display in the IGA. All the issues not plastered with snow machines or rabbit dogs shouted out: “Do you want the fire back in your marriage?” or “What’s your sizzle factor?” I just smiled serenely and walked past in my quest for produce that had as much spunk as those titles. When it comes to fire, my husband could teach those Madison Avenue women a thing or two, I figure. He’s kept one burning for me all night—and all through the day—since November. It may not generate the thigh-radiating, breast-searing heat that’s the stuff of romance novels. But, in my book, a stoked wood stove tells me I’m cherished like nothing else.

I know my version of sparks flying isn’t what sells Valentines. But, it sure keeps me happy at home, cleaved to my husband’s side. A cozy wood stove, toasty toes snuggled up in bed—it’s the little stuff that counts, right ladies? Plus real romance lingers throughout the year. Flowers die and chocolates evaporate. Things like trapping mice and spraying the hornet’s nest out by the clothesline, now those are sweet, enduring gestures that remind me why I married him. And I want to tell you, when he gets his drill out and promises to hang up new towel racks, I swoon!

Not to seem sexist to my guy readers, I must say that I know romance goes both ways. I may only bring a couple logs in from the wood pile now and again, but I do my part to make sure Tom knows he’s appreciated. His favorite gesture—a small thing for me, but a biggie for him—is when I bake him a blueberry pie. Yeah baby, homemade wild Maine blueberry pie—he loves it better than, well…anything. Also, for example, last fall I devoted myself to figuring out how to clean his favorite fishing hat. When I handed it back to him looking as good as the day he first put it on, I’m pretty sure his knees buckled.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! May you all be cherished.

Snowshoe redemption

Not long ago, snow + shoe was an oxymoron for me. Once snow fell, shoes stayed by the back door until absolutely necessary for getting back and forth to the car. For all other activities inside the house and around the yard, I relied on slippers (with emphasis on slip). The fact that I now keep a pair of snowshoes leaned up against my porch and put them on because I want to, not because I need to, is nothing short of an evolutionary miracle.

I’m in good company these days, I know. Used to be that only game wardens, trappers or other seriously snowbound folks wore them. Everyday business shoes, they were, the wing tips of the Great North Woods. But now it seems all manner of people are strapping on a set and trekking across the deep drifts for fun. And, for staying in shape and blowing off the cabin dust once in a while, you can’t beat snowshoeing for a cheap, easy alternative to skiing. No lift tickets,  gas money, or fancy cross-country technique required, just pop ’em on and get out there! Fortunately, snowshoes’ widespread evolution from necessary footwear to desirable athletic gear has paralleled my own personal journey out of the Dark Ages of winter exercise.

As I pointed out in Ice Road Tracker, I’m not the most graceful girl in the bunch. I went downhill skiing once (as in one run) on the bunny slope at Gunstock back in the mid-70s. I did it so my then-boyfriend/private ski tutor, Tom, would be impressed. He wasn’t. Later, as my husband, he soon accepted that he wasn’t getting a snow bunny as any part of the deal. He did help me graduate to cross-country for a while. One Christmas, he gave me my very own pair—waxless, new-age jobs with the latest step-in bindings and, in theory, nothing to stop me from gliding away toward new horizons. He even gave me countless lessons on cadence, stance, and how to, basically, not fracture my tail bone. But, not being particularly ambidextrous with my lower limbs, what should have been “step-glide, step-glide, step-glide” was, for me, more like “step-drag, step-mini-glide, step-drag.” I was OK on vast, open, flat surfaces with relatively light snow, which I found twice in about five years before giving up skis for ice fishing cleats and a seat by the hot dog fire.

The first time I tried snowshoes, I was hopeful. They looked like a way to elevate me from a wintertime waste of skin to passable year-round New England wife material. Old “modified bear paws” they were, with rawhide-laced bindings. Compared to Tom’s huge tear drop models they were streamlined, but I still managed to drag snow, rocks, dog poop and an occasional squirrel nest on the back of mine till the laces loosened up and I had to stop and re-calibrate. I soon realized why old-fashioned snowshoes made such good wall decorations. They deserved to be hung way up high in the peak above the fireplace, out of reach.

Thank goodness I eventually got a pair of new, high tech Tubbs. Unlike my previous pair, which just felt like bathtubs strapped to my feet, these snowshoes are named for their simple oval shape.  Strapping these on and keeping them strapped on is a breeze! No more nearly useless rawhide one-size-doesn’t-fit-all lace-up bindings. Tubbs nifty rubber straps actually bind to my boots, cinching and uncinching efficiently without the need for cussing or contortion. Once on, the Tubbs actually gripped onto the ground. They had some serious snow traction—a vast improvement over my old bear paws, which had no claw-like properties whatsoever and left some terrain slippery like, you guessed it, walking across the bottom of a bathtub with shellacked wooden shoes. Thanks to the marvels of modern frozen footwear technology, I could get out there, on top of the snow, and stay out there! Finally, I could participate in a popular, self-propelled winter sport that was supposed to make me walk like Quasimodo!

Even so, for several years, I remained an infrequent weekend warrior. Snowshoeing was  something I did as an alternative to sitting around or sorting laundry. It let me watch the beagles romp and gave me occasional verification that, yup, it was still winter outside. My seasonal exercise of choice was indoors, on the elliptical at the gym, watching Dr. Oz. Last year at this time, it was a winning combination. I trimmed down and toned up. I learned  answers to all the medical questions women like me want to know but are too embarrassed to ask—so they tune in while acting like they’re exercising. When I moved to Rangeley last spring and switched to good, old-fashioned outdoor walking, I was ready for fresh air and pumped to outdo my “personal best” from previous summers. I still loved Dr. Oz, but I loved the balsam-lined terrains of my own backyard even more. By late fall, I’d met my goals without the gym and had moved into maintenance mode.

First snowfall came, it seemed, before the Thanksgiving meal was cleared from the table. Suddenly, maintaining my optimal body mass required more than just Nike’s and will power. My beloved Yaktrax were OK for most daily road trips, but what would I do when rum cake, cabin fever, and perhaps rum with no cake forced me to take my workouts to the next level?

Turns out, I only had to ponder that dilemma for a couple days back in January. With my Tubbs strapped on, my everyday routes put me in the cake burning cardio zone again. Add the ski poles necessary for me to maintain lateral stability, and I’m working my arms and pecs better than any elliptical. Or, I should say, better than any elliptical I ever programmed. I’d choose “moderate,” not the heart-throbbing, or Mt. Washington climbing settings. And the only thing that might have stopped me from powering down after an hour would have been Dr. Oz going to a 90 minute show. Compared to virtual gym walking, real Rangeley snowshoeing provides all I need to literally “kick it up a notch.” There’s no hopping off a machine when I’m an hour out on the trail and I’m ready to quit. There’s only me and my tracks leading home. And the scenery and sounds of nature are so much more sensational than Dr. Oz even on his best day! I am, however, still learning how to ease into my new routine safely, how to turn around even if I’m feeling “in the zone.” On a recent snowshoe across the Big Lake, for instance, with the windswept snow glistening for miles around and Bald Mountain’s blue dome beckoning me like the Hope Diamond, I was pretty far from home before I remembered I was alone and it was late afternoon. “Wouldn’t want to get stuck on Toothaker Island overnight and have to eat my shoe laces like the snowbound pioneers of long, long ago,” I said to myself as I turned around. “Oops…no more rawhide, anyways. That’s on the old snowshoes hanging on my cabin wall!”