Mother’s Day anniversaries

For more than 20 years, Mother’s Day meant time to go back “upta camp” to rake the leaves, dust off the cobwebs, and watch the lake warm up before declaring it summer-ready and heading back to New Hampshire. Time for my girls to bestow their annual, handmade Pine Tree Frosty gift coupon/card and whatever trinket their allowances allowed, even though I told them to save their money.

“Mumma doesn’t need things,” I’d insist. Being with my family, happy and healthy, and back in Rangeley, was the best possible gift. As my pile of un-cashed ice cream vouchers grew, so did my memories of this fleeting weekend in early May when the promise of warm days by the lake stretched ahead like a mirage. Inevitably school, work, and my maternal duties in my “regular” house crept back into focus so that, by mid-summer, I’d be grounded in truth: I was a split-personality mother leading a seasonal dual existence. My family’s residence—a house with more space but a lot less charm—was three and a half hours away from our true home, our real base camp in Rangeley.

On Mother’s Day 2010, I made a colossal liar out of myself. Sitting in my Adirondack chair watching the lake “turn over” from another winter, I wasn’t the least bit remorseful, though. I’d come to find out there was an even better best possible gift for Mumma. Being right here with my family, happy and healthy, and staying here was all I ever needed and then some. Beginning with that one monumental weekend, I did not need to pack and head for “home” as soon as I got settled in. I was home—for good—a bona fide year-round Rangeley resident! Faith, family, determination, and a touch of insanity bought me my fairy tale. My life was consolidated, my pared-down possessions tucked snugly in my now-just-big-enough cabin. With home base and its newly-added upper stories peeking out of the birch boughs behind me, I faced the lake and let my head align with my heart. I could stay put now way past “camp closing” time, to see the big lake ice over again, to be there still for the next spring turning. “Priceless,” I said, and gave myself a big motherly hug.

This Mother’s Day weekend marks four years since my Big Move. Just before I pulled the plug on my old life (and my higher-speed Internet connection) and left New Hampshire for the last time, I posted the following thank-you note on Facebook:

I will be celebrating Mother’s Day in my “new” home by the lake, sending love to everyone who made the dream possible. To my three mothers….Mum, who gave me life and who shows me every day how love lives on in Spirit; to Prudy, my step-Mom, who helped me love myself as a grown woman while seeing the wonder in all things; and to Ruth, my Mother-in-Law, who taught me just in time, the healing power of unconditional love. To my beautiful, strong, funny, amazing daughters, Helen and Becky, who mother me back, but keep me young at heart and always eager for adventure. (Thank you for chosing me in this lifetime!) And, of course, to Tom, my husband and forever friend. Thank you for the courage to take this free fall, for the wisdom and common sense to bring our “craziness” into the realm of possibility, for keeping my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds, for laughing with me and loving me all ways, and for always  just being with me by our big, beautiful lake.

I’m still saying thanks every day since I wrote that. I thank my three mothers in Heaven for bringing me, collectively and in their own separate ways, to where I am today. I thank my daughters—for knowing I don’t need things because letting me scream like a 10-year-old with them on a mega-coaster or a whitewater raft is better than any trinket. I thank Tom, my best friend, for building this life around me and still wanting to share it with me, even through the long, cold Rangeley winters. I thank my girl friends, my soul sisters, who nurture me like mothers, and love me unconditionally for who I really am. I thank my work family, for enabling me continue my financial security out here in the woods, for helping me prove to myself and the rest of the traditional business world that earning money is just as much of a blessing as having the freedom and the enthusiasm to enjoy spending it. And, more than ever on this Mother’s Day, I thank myself, for just plain being—here and now—hugging myself in my camp chair, at peace with all that I have and have lost.

Forty years ago, I thought my joyful Mother’s Days were over. I’d proudly bought my mother a set of stoneware salt and pepper shakers with some of my $1.80-an-hour paycheck, even though she’d told me to save my money. “As long as you’re happy, I don’t really need things,” she said. “But thanks honey, they’re lovely.” Grinning, she set them in the dining room hutch for “special company.” Fortunately (and unfortunately) I had no way of knowing that was to be our last Mother’s Day. I was 17, madly in love with Tom, getting ready to graduate high school and head into my “best summer ever.” Mum died suddenly a couple months later, leaving me to stare angrily at the salt and pepper shakers and all the nick-knack gifts I’d given her that seemed so hollow. Happy? If happiness was what she really wanted for me, from me, how come she’d just taken all hope of it away with her forever?

But neither did I know then that mother-daughter chats wouldn’t stop, that the wisdom and support would come to find a different, more powerful, communication channel. I didn’t know then that, today, I’d be so relaxed in my camp chair, a mother of two grown women myself, surrounded by what I choose to bring into focus, nurtured by laughter and love that never dies. Happy. Blessed. Rooted in Rangeley—with a huge stack of coupons to the Pine Tree Frosty yet to be cashed.


For more Mother’s Day messages, see:


Goin’ to town: A Rangeley winter primer

“Goin’ to town. Need anything?”

On any given day, the question elicits a mild adrenaline rush. Even if I’m just back from doing the whole loop, with provisions stacked up like cord wood, the doubts still surface. Gee…what’s left in the freezer? Is company coming? Got milk? Then it’s winter again and I go from backwoods practical to Pavlovian.

Used to be, planning my shopping meant figuring out if I had to hit Market Basket on the way home from work or could wait 24 hours, picking a Rite Aid based on ease of traffic flow, and avoiding both on the day of the month when folks got their Social Security checks. Now, after my Big Move to the outskirts of Rangeley 13 to 20 miles from goods and services, my strategies are no longer about a store, but the store—and how I’m going to get to it and back while still accomplishing enough in-town necessities to make my own Subaru commercial along the way.

“Probably gonna go to town this afternoon,” Tom said the other day. I waited till my heart rate leveled back out and my brain synapses stopped rapid firing, and made a quick assessment. “You can’t!” I insisted. “It’s Monday!” And, being the year-round Rangeley life partner that he is, instead of shaking his head like I’d gone woods queer, he took a moment to rethink his decision. “Jeez, you’re right,” he said. “Let’s wait till Wednesday.”

Part way through our fourth winter up here, we’ve super honed our skills at a mind game I call “information mapping Rangeley-style.” To play, I combine my investigative reporting and technical writing skills, enabling me to gather information no matter how complex, and make it somehow make sense. Then, Tom throws in his industrial logistics guru-turned-science-teacher expertise and, bingo! Mention going to town, and we instantly do a mental decision circuit that, if put to paper, would make my days documenting major product launches for HP and other high tech giants look like child’s play. The thought process (and rationale behind it) goes something like this:

Goal: To get groceries.

Start: Approximately 20 miles from goal destination.
From Point A, getting groceries (AKA “going to the IGA”) is rarely a singular task, a goal in itself. Until we end up with more gas money than we know what to do with, getting groceries without just getting groceries is crucial. Same thing is true for any Point-A-to-Point-B round trips, unless someone else is driving and they don’t want to stop. Also, if Tom or I ever do go to town without going to the IGA, we need a good explanation for why the hell not when we get back home. Example: “Bob was driving and he didn’t want to stop.”

Key objectives/tasks: These are weather and time/date dependent, so we select as many as possible from the following list and aim for the best outcome.
A–Rangeley Plantation Transfer Station (AKA the dump)
BOquossoc Post Office
Dhair cuts
Ebuilding supply store
Ggas station
Hoptional additional tasks as stamina/time/date/weather permits

The following is a sample Rangeley wintertime information mapping exercise with determining factors.
Mission statement: I want to go to the IGA without just going to the IGA.
<Decision 1> Is it a weekday?
If yes: Skip the dump and proceed to the next decision.
If no: Proceed to the dump, but only if it’s not after 1 p.m. on Sunday. Skip the PO, bank and, if it’s not Saturday, hair cuts and the building supply, and then proceed to the next decision.*
<Decision 2> Is it a Monday?
If yes
: Skip the dump and the hair cuts and probably lunch (see “Additional tips for optimal success” below), and then proceed to the next decision.*
If no: Proceed directly to the next decision.
<Decision 3> Is it a weekday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.?
If yes: Proceed to the post office only if you don’t need to pick up any packages and it is     before 4 p.m., then proceed to the next decision.
If no: Proceed to the post office, to all other available objectives, then on to the next decision.
 Footnote: In these scenarios, if remaining tasks are not critical, reconsider aborting mission and restarting on a different day.

Additional tips for optimal success: 

  • A–transfer station (AKA the dump): If it’s a Saturday or Sunday morning and you live in Rangeley Plantation, never under any circumstances leave your house this time of year without your garbage and recyclables. If it’s any other day and you happen to go by the dump and the gate is somehow miraculously open, slap yourself upside the head for not having your garbage and recyclables, or consider going back and getting them.
  • BOquossoc Post Office: Consider having the new, limited “full service” hours tattooed on your arm so you don’t get all the way there and end up with your important packages on the wrong side of the closed window. If this is not feasible, pause for an extended moment of gratitude that you still have a post office in Oquossoc (and hope that it will take just long enough for the window to open back up.)
  • C–lunch: To proceed with confidence in going “out to lunch”—the ultimate prize in all goin’ to town missions—first verify that: a) an OPEN flag is displayed outside your selected eating establishment; and b) there are obvious signs of life inside the allegedly OPEN restaurant.
  • Dhair cuts: Honor these appointments and give them precedence this time of year. If not, you could risk getting kidnapped by one of those “emergency makeover” shows next time you do make it down the mountain. However, in the event that you must cancel an appointment due to hazardous driving conditions, take heart. Your loss is someone closer to town’s gain. My stylist assures me her chair never stays empty for long, even in a blizzard. All her in-town customers wait for days when folks can’t risk coming in from the plantations and rush in to fill our slots (while we get woollier waiting for the weather to clear.)
  • Ebuilding supply store: Regardless of other priorities, consider making this stop mandatory. Study all aisles with care, ensuring your ability to find and purchase that one gadget you won’t remember needing till tomorrow—when you’re back home in the pucker brush—shit outta luck.

So there you have it, information mapping Rangeley-style (winter version). Depending on your dietary requirements, and where you place yourself on the spectrum between making do and “gotta go get it now,” your results may vary. The game’s not for everyone, especially some friends from away. “I’m a half a mile from Petco and the Home Depot, and I think I have at least three grocery stores within a mile radius,” our friend tells us every year on the second day of his visit. (His calculations start then because, on the first day, he’s too glad to be back in his favorite fishing retreat to be feeling like he has to justify where he chooses to call home.) Closeness to “stuff” used to be a consolation for us, too, I tell him. Each time I had to leave here to return to Market Basket country, I remember saying “At least I can go get groceries without planning my every move.” That was little comfort, though, when our real home, our ideal situation, was back on a big lake on the outskirts of Rangeley.

As year-round residents, we’ve now become highly motivated to win the goin’ to town game, even though some days we don’t get very far past GO before returning to home base to regroup. “Thank God we have enough boxed wine and powdered milk to last awhile,” Tom remarked after the worst of the recent ice storms. We’d just barely loaded up and headed off towards town when the Subaru started to skid out of control, and we figured we’d look better cancelling our hair cutting appointments then smashed into a tree. If flow charted, it could have ended in a “Dude, you’re screwed” dead end, leaving us longing for the IGA and, perhaps, even our old lifestyle. But, luckily, Tom already factored in the ultimate decision triangle back when the Big Move was first taking shape. Got a pantry? Yes, we sure do, and it’s a game changer! Plus, the fact that he saw fit to give me enough square footage to stock with provisions from as far away as Farmington seems to be earning me bonus point around here. 

The first time my friends lay eyes on it, they do a Rangeley version of the “He went to Jared” commercial. “He gave her a pantry!” I hear them marvel. Yup, he did—so he only has to take me to the IGA if it’s Wednesday, and the road’s sanded, and all the restaurant flags are flying.

Working out….and up…and all over

My closer-to-the-city self used to think that working out meant getting in my car and then going inside. I’d drive over to Planet Fitness and schlep around from one piece of equipment to another, relying on the screaming yellow and purple color scheme and the gargantuan thumbs-up logo to make me want to jump on and go like hell. On good days, I’d  burn 283 calories while finding muscle groups I never knew I had, and watching Dr. Oz cure things I hoped I’d never get. Other days, not so much. If I timed it wrong, the TVs strung over the elliptical would be broadcasting soap operas or golf, leaving me staring out  the window at the parking lot, shuffling in place and feeling slovenly. Then, on May 5, 2010, I  shook up my fitness routine and thrust it into overdrive. “I’m moving to Rangeley!” I told the hello/buh-bye girl at the front desk as I shouldered my gym bag one last time. She shrugged, slid me some paperwork, and punched me out of the computer forever.

I found the Planet Fitness paperwork stuffed under some musty socks when I went to re-purpose my gym bag months later. Deep into my first Rangeley winter, I had to chuckle at my signature and all the fine print above it that placed me on my own—outside the “Judgement Free Zone.” I’d officially attested that, yes, I believed whatever new planet I was bound for would offer me a better deal for staying in some kind of shape than $10 a month.

But I was making that happen, I realized. With a bit of ingenuity and a lot more footwear, I’d learned it was possible to keep vertical, keep moving forward, and stay one step ahead of the potluck suppers and wild blueberry pancakes. I’d also learned that an extra canvas bag would be much more useful for lugging mail out of the post office or old magazines to friends than gym clothes.

As I said back in Homebody Building,  I am aware that Rangeley has the best health club ever seen in this neck of the woods. And I agree with my in-town friends—the view from there is spectacular. But I prefer to enjoy it from the back lawn, outside the building, especially when our local clinic brings up the Doobie Brothers and other bands to put on a benefit concert there. While I do miss the social aspects of club membership, I politely decline going inside to join up. I’ve done the math several times and 40 miles round trip to walk on the treadmill or splash around in the pool takes the wind right out of my sails before I even think about throwing my gym bag back into the Subaru. So I settle for sticking to my “at home” routine, substituting the extra car travel with just “getting out there” under my own steam. I may not be able to socialize in my sweats or ask my girlfriends what’s up while we’re getting pumped for water aerobics. But where else can I do the “road wave” to any neighbor who might pass by on my fitness circuit?

This time of year, with only a few of us non-summer stragglers left in my neighborhood, the road wave becomes less and less necessary. And, when it’s snowing again and still blowing a gale,  getting out there is more about blowing the dust off, keeping the shack nasties at bay, and choosing direct contact with the elements over DirecTV. My daily formula for not “letting myself go” 100% dormant becomes 99% stubborn commitment, 1% motivation.

“I’m going out there!” I declare from my back door, wearing my Elmer Fudd hat and layer upon layer of wind and water resistance. “And, dammit, I’m staying out there at least as long as it took me to get all dressed up to do it!” Most days I fit in a decent routine, solo or with Tom and the beagles. My Stair Master is now a hill across the road, my elliptical a pair of snowshoes and poles, and my view far more inspirational than a parking lot or even Dr. Oz. And although I don’t have any fancy equipment or giant thumbs-up (except those I give myself), I have managed to stay in stride with the latest fitness trends. Here’s how:

  • 10,000 steps: I don’t own a pedometer, but figure I get pretty close to 10,000 steps on my jaunts. And I’d bet anything some of my steps pack more of a punch than strolling around the mall. To those who do happen to drive by and notice, I’m the “seen you out walking” woman, hoofing it all the way to Bemis and back in all manner of conditions. In winter, that means stepping out with ice grippers strapped to my heavy snow boots—not the Yaktrax I raved about two years ago. Those were OK to keep in the car in case a stretch of pavement got a bit slickery. But negotiating the luge track formerly known as my camp road has forced me to permanently graduate to serious toothy, muckle-on-for-dear-life cleats. They’re my Rangeley “shape up” shoes on steroids. Once the snow and slush builds up under those babies, my calves think they’re jogging in deep sand on a beach somewhere until my frozen head tells them otherwise.
  • Circuit training: Back at Planet Fitness, there was a special circle of equipment that guaranteed to work out every muscle group in about half an hour. On really good days, I’d make my way around the circuit before moving on to Dr. Oz and the elliptical. I liked knowing that, unlike shuffling in place, the circuit exercises had a beginning and an end. If I made it all the way around to #10, the ab cruncher machine, I’d won. I’d done all the reps and pretended I might be able to hone a six pack. Out here, though, “circuit” training is not about machinery, but common sense and the laws of locomotion. It means ” If I go over there, or through this, or across that, I gotta come back.” And I gotta make it before dark and before the weather changes, or both. Whether I’m out on the lake or up the hill, the circuitous principle is a powerful distinction from any indoor regimen since I typically launch forth with considerable more vigor than I can muster on my return. My last snow shoeing trek was a prime example. I strode, hell bent and full speed ahead all the way across the ice to Toothaker Island—just me and my spring fever out there under the bright blue sky. But when I turned around to head home, my tracks stretched twice as far in the distance as the steps I had taken to get over there, I swear. I figured 3,000 going and at least 7,000 coming back!
  • Yoga/Tai Chi/and other meditative motions: My yoga mat has gathered a bit of dust in recent years, I’ll admit. But I still remember the moves, and I still seek the mind-body connection that comes from thoughtful appreciation of being immersed in nature, moving to the rhythm of creation. This time of year, that often starts with my version of “downward dog” as I jackknife myself to cinch up my snowshoe straps. Some days, I manage to rise up and perform many “sun salutations” and only a few gravity-defying contortions. Other days—after a poorly executed Tai Chi maneuver to shake snow off one shoe, or a misstep into some great white abyss—I add in more deep meditative moments. “Focus on your breath,” I tell myself, my face two inches from the snow, one leg buried, and the other skewed around next to my elbow. “Just let your body sink, relax into it. Deep cleansing breaths, in…and out. Good! Remember, you have the control, the innate strength—to bend, to stand, to step into your power always!” On good days, the mantra works.
  • CrossFit/core training: It’s all the rage, I know. Confuse my muscles and jump start my metabolism with a rapid fire sequence of burning and straining. I’ve got it covered, Rangeley-style, with a custom workout as second nature as brushing my teeth. I call it the seasonal “backwards recumbent stretch, sit and shake” and it goes like this: Open the door to the Subaru, keeping your arms extended all the way out. Maintain as much distance as possible from the covering of road slime on the apparatus as you angle your gluteus maximus toward the seat. While still holding the door firmly with one hand,  sit down, but make sure you keep both legs fully extended, toes pointed outside the car. Clap your legs together firmly several times. When your boots are free of mud and slush, swivel your legs in and close the door. Repeat as needed—at the post office, the IGA, and all around the loop. If done correctly, you’ll feel it in your shoulders, your calves, and especially your core.


Dashing, stashing, wedding crashing

‘Twas the day before Thanksgiving and, as usual, the Oquossoc PO was abuzz over hot topics impacting our tiny community. Who was coming to dinner. Who was going away. Who had to cook what for which relative, and who found a new way to spiff up stuffing.

In true multi-tasking mode, I was making the most of my turn at the mail “sorting” station, fishing a couple official-looking envelopes out of the reams of high-gloss junk that, two years later, still finds its way to my cramped cubby hole inside a log cabin post office. I tossed piece after piece straight into the recycling bin, all the while keeping one eye and both ears open to what was shaking “in town” before the big day. “Eat lots of turkey!” folks called as they rushed off to get ready. “Safe travels!” Sending yet another Cabela’s catalog sailing toward the bin, I nodded and smiled. The sentiments would be the same no matter where I roamed. But, while talk of cooking and eating echoed holiday banter most anywhere, up here I know the driving part is a way bigger deal.

“Have a great holiday. Drive safe!” friends called as I headed off to do the rest of my loop. In Rangeley woman lingo, that meant, “If you’re the hostess, may your electricity stay on till the turkey is cooked, and may your family from afar bring all the fresh produce you need. If you’re the one traveling, may you dine in decadence that can only come from a different kitchen, with loved ones all around the table, plus a nice warm bed to sleep it all off in that night. But, above all, be ever thankful you don’t have to go out into the cold and drive back up over the mountain after dark!”

To most well wishers who asked about my Thanksgiving plans, but didn’t have all day to listen to my roundabout answer, I just smiled and said, “You, too! Eat lots of turkey!” I’d be surrounded by loved ones—at a table next to a giant volcano mural with not a scrap of turkey on it. And, while I wouldn’t be driving home after dark, I’d be going way out of the woods, over many rivers, to two airports, and through all manner of toll booths and traffic snarls before heading back up the mountain again.

“What’s that low humming noise?” I asked Tom a couple hours after we’d packed up the Subaru and headed south. He crooked his ear toward the dash and pondered a mile or so. “I think that’s the normal sound a car makes when it goes over 50 and it’s on a paved road,” he concluded.

Good thing highway driving is one of those skills we can rely on to come back to us as needed. By the time dodging traffic gets trickier than pulling over for a logging truck hell bent on its last trip to the mill, and we need our peripheral vision for more than missing moose, we get ourselves re-acclimated. “Cripe, there must be a traffic light every hundred feet or so!” Tom said when we chugged into Rochester. “Did we notice all this stop and go when we used to live down here?”

Yeah, probably, which is one of the reasons we decided to pack it up and move off the beaten track, saving long treks for special family get-togethers or bigger travel adventures. This time, our mission south was special indeed. If successful, we’d eventually get together with family out west, way down south, and a couple points in between. Tom would spend the holiday with his brother in camo out in the Idaho bush, while I’d be with my daughters and son-in-law ‘neath a pagoda in Saugus, MA. But first, Tom had to get to the Manchester airport, and I had to get north again to hold down the fort for a week before coming back down to Logan with daughter #1 (Helen) to fetch daughter #2 (Becky), who’d be flying in from the Bahamas for the weekend to be in her friend Amy’s wedding back in Rochester.

“Phew,” I sighed, pulling down my driveway after the first leg of holiday excursions. “Made it back just before dark!” The trip “uptah camp” was a long pull, especially the stretch of Route 17 between Rumford and Oquossoc when, if I didn’t know better, I’d start to lose sight of what lured me out here. Over the last two and a half years, I’d happily become one of those “can’t really get there from here” folks that people from the other states like to joke about. On the drive back up, as the radio stations went to static and I got too road hypnotized to fish out a CD, I pondered the transformation. Why, I wondered, could I motor for 20 miles into Rangeley to get groceries with a smile on my face, while a two-mile, stop-and-go pass along my old commuting route seemed so out of the way? And why, in comparison, did my long, roundabout ride home—seemingly into nowhere—feel so straightforward? I got my answer as I came around the corner onto the Height of Land and once again squinted down at my little dot of real estate on the tip of a big, wild lake. A few more hills and a bit of long, winding road, and I’d be home.

“If we go past a Walgreens, can we stop for just a sec so I can run in and get some contact solution?” I remembered Becky asking the last time we saw her. It was June and we were in a “busy” section of Portland, trying to find our hotel. Her dad, the driver, did not commit.  And the next day we shipped her out of the Jetport to go live on an”out island” in the Bahamas without a last detour into the corner drugstore. Growing up, she could convince us to drive for hours down logging roads in search of moose no problem. But stopping in the city when we weren’t sure if we’d get “turned around”—now that was a hassle.

I made it up to Becky big time, though. Since she wouldn’t make it farther north than Rochester this visit, I was doing what her island friends called a “mule run.” She’d given me a wish list of all the items she thought she wanted but couldn’t lug down there in June. I’d fish it out of the giant totes up in the garage attic, and bring it to our Thanksgiving day rendezvous. We’d see each other just long enough to stuff her belly with Chinese food and her honkin’ backpack with fresh clothing, and off we’d go our separate ways again till Christmas.

“I miss seeing Dad,” she said. “But I’m glad he’s having a nice time with Uncle Jon.”

“He is,” I agreed, cramming in an egg roll while the waiter served a round of tiki-bowl drinks. “Aunt Nancy’s fixing turkey and all the trimmings.” We’d actually be going back through Rochester right around the time of Amy’s wedding reception, I told her. But her dad would be exhausted, and we’d still have a long way to go to get back home. Good thing she’d have plenty of time to see him at Christmas.

Two days and another airport later, Tom was back in the driver’s seat and I was catching him up on my quirky turkey day with the girls. Maybe I distracted him with my verbal meanderings, or maybe something more significant was steering him, but suddenly we were both wondering how we got off course in the city we’d called home for 30 years. “Why’d I come this way?” he asked.

I shrugged, not sure why he ended up taking the “long way around” either. But when we pulled up to the next stop light, we got our answer. Straight ahead and to the left stood the Governor’s Inn, a Rochester landmark, its parking lot filled with guests who had just gathered inside for Amy’s wedding reception dinner. “I’m going in there,” Tom said, making a hard left, “and hugging my daughter.”

And in we went, standing just beyond the buffet table, searching for Becky. We spotted her as soon as we realized our island girl had turned into the prettiest bridesmaid ever. She found us, too, as soon as she realized the only guy wearing a Mooselookmeguntic hat was her dad–on a short Thanksgiving detour, following his heart back home.

Staying past September

“Dock’s out,” Tom announced. “Boat’s out, too.”

“Yup, I know,” I said, even though I was pretty sure he knew I knew ’cause he saw me watching the whole process from my “office” window.

Out here, stating the obvious is expected. It’s a rite of passage, our way of keeping in touch with our surroundings and in synch with the seasons while keeping our vocal chords limbered up. And the longer we live here year-round, the more necessary it becomes.

“Wind’s come up,” one of us will report at least once a day, usually right after a stiff breeze has nearly blown both our hats off. “Yup,” the other will agree. “Lake’s gettin’ choppy.”

Casual listeners (if we had any besides the beagles) might say we sound like we should live closer to town or, heaven forbid, like retired folks. But I’m glad to be right here, watching ourselves move past summer and into another fall, sharing eye-witness reports.

Not too long ago, what went on “up here” this time of year was a hypothesis, a big grey question mark. We crammed as much Rangeley life as possible between Mother’s Day and Labor Day and, most years, even squeezed in Columbus Day. But try as we might to prolong every moment, the days between having summer sprawled before us like an open-ended promise and heading back home were like a screen door on a short, tight spring. I’d barely be unpacked, just about settling in, when zing… BAM! Suddenly it was time to stuff all my canned goods into an ancient Seagram’s box and lug it back down the mountain for the winter. We’d be away then until ice-out, home but not really home, pondering how things were surviving without us “up to camp.”

“Jeez, I bet it’s pretty barren up there right about now!” I’d muse from my other kitchen sometime mid-November. Munching on limp, sawdust-flavored graham crackers pulled from my Seagram’s box of “camp stuff,” I’d be dreaming of s’mores in July. With no year-round Rangeley relativity, my off-season imagination was filled with such conjecture, and enough cold-weather adjectives to convince myself I wasn’t missing much. Part of me knew the leaves fell, the loons left and came back, and the land critters tromped through the snow until April. But, without being right there to watch, it was all just a big theory.

Each year, when the calendar pages of our other life finally wound back around to May, we switched into “going back up” gear. “You start putting stuff away, while I turn the electricity on, get the water going. Then, I’ll go down front, check the lake level, see if there’s any trees down. Maybe tomorrow, we can get over to the building supply, get those parts to fix the dock so we can put that back in.” We’d pile out of the Subaru and scatter like squirrels, a flurry of divergent activities fueled by the common purpose of getting going with summer. Our agenda was long-winded and multi-directional—pulling us around, under, over and through—allowing us to pause for a couple tranquil breaths before driving away until the next time.

Now that we stay put, our sentences are shorter, our movements slower, taking us just a few steps off center. No more hypotheses. No more figuring that whatever goes on past September, it must be dark and pretty dreary just to console ourselves. Truth is, the loons take their sweet time about leaving the lake, gathering in long, farewell dances on the cooling water until they’re ready for their journey. And yes, the leaves do fall off the trees, sometimes one by one. Before they do the birches hold on a long while against the blue of the bare mountains, their last flashes of gold no less gorgeous than the first wild flowers blooming along banks of just-melted snow. Then, there’s a pre-winter pause when the naked branches stand in contrast to the evergreens, mottling the hillsides with warm magenta and pewter. Who knew? Now I do. Being here, with Tom as my co-anchor, I know colors change and weather patterns come and go, not necessary on schedule with calendar days or vacation allowances. I’m now at leisure to flow with it, my rhythm no longer set from knowing “time is wasting,” or my “time off” is short, but by knowing it’s time. Time for stopping, for starting up again, for pausing along the way.

“Outdoor chairs are back in the garage,” Tom announced the other day.

“Yup,” I acknowledged, even though I knew he saw me watching him trudge by. Bearing witness to the Adirondack chairs’ departure from our waterfront till May, I was glad to see it looked like a natural migration rather than a funeral march as in years past. I waved and smiled, knowing that, moments earlier, I’d been sitting in one of those summer chairs, watching the last leaves fall and the loons gather, long past September.


You know the commercial. The girl’s never teetered off the pavement in her outrageously silly shoes. She’s wearing some sort of paisley scarf, a tweed skirt and a blouse more ruffled than a partridge on the prowl. Only the blouse is pink, and the necklace she’s draped it with looks like she didn’t bring enough money to a rummage sale. But she does have money—not enough to shop the high-end stores—but enough to go to TJ Maxx more than I brush my hair. At least that’s what she says when she stops mid-strut and smirks into the camera:

“I used to be a fashionista. Now I’m a Maxxinista!”

“Well whoopie for you, chickie,” I tell her from my TV chair, defiantly crossing my fleece-draped arms over my ancient jammie t-shirt. “I was a Maxxinista before you were born!”

Hard to believe to see me now, with my daily “look” featuring must-have items I pluck off a deer antler hook in the pantry. But I used to go shopping, as in actually going shopping. I’d drive to TJ Maxx, paw through the clothing racks, and drive home with whatever outfits survived me squinting at myself in the dressing room house-of-horrors mirror. Yup, I was a well-dressed up-and-coming working woman once, and I had the shoulder-padded tops and pleated pants to prove it. But that was back when I ran my own marketing communications business, and sometimes I had to match a skirt, blouse and blazer so I looked like I belonged in a boardroom instead of back home working in my basement office in my fuzzy pants. As it turned out, though, the classiness of my business attire was inversely related to my career success. The more skilled I got, the less my wardrobe looked like I drew a decent paycheck. By the time I’d made a name for myself in high-tech, I never got dressier than Dockers unless I wanted to start a rumor that I had a job interview somewhere else during my lunch hour.

Now that I’ve left my office job and moved up to Rangeley, I’ve got the no-nonsense, all-weather, mountain-to-shore wear to prove it. Gone are the blazers and most of the Dockers, and any footwear that can’t function as either slipper-shoes or boot-sneakers. All terrain Tevas are OK, too, as long as they’re loose enough to strap over wool socks. I stay in my computer chair for shopping sprees, pointing and clicking, and hoping for free shipping and a lifetime return policy. Yup, I used to be a Maxxinista. Now I’m a “remote” working-at-home-in-the-woods technical writer who works almost as hard to figure out just the right Rangeley outfit for any given moment. So far, I’ve been a couple weather patterns and a couple layers short of hitting it right.

As I said back in Fashionably Late, we don’t actually have summer, fall, winter and spring in Rangeley. We have summer (for about two weeks in August), almost winter, winter, and not-quite summer yet. Being weather-ready means having a huge row of deer antler hooks draped with all manner of L.L. Bean basics close at hand. It also makes putting anything under the bed or up in the attic because it’s off-season seem pretty silly. And you can bet I never bother to just “accessorize.” I don’t buy a plaid top just because one stripe matches a pair of mauve slacks waiting to be completed in my closet. All purchases must go with at least two other layers and, ideally, be water-repellent and wind-proof.

“Look at this cool top I’m buying,” I said to Tom. He gazed at the sporty little Spandex jacket on the Land’s End website and nodded his approval. “I’ll wear it over my bathing suit when I want an extra layer for snorkeling. It matches my suit perfectly! Plus it’s got some sort of sun shielding properties in the fabric.” Even so, long after I clicked “Buy,” I wondered whether I’d really get $50 worth of wear out of a bright aqua piece of beach wear called a “rash guard”.

“Hey, Mumma, do you think I’ll wear this?” Becky asked last month, “or will it just put me over the weight limit? I don’t want to pay a huge baggage fee for a yellow sweater that only goes with a few things.” Standing amid a sea of clothing, she was holding up a daffodil colored cardigan she’d plucked off one of her “maybe” piles. After spending a couple years living in the desert, a winter on the slopes in Colorado, and then a month rafting the Grand Canyon, she was packing to go teach in the Bahamas for a year. She was climatically confused, for sure, and coming to stay in Rangeley in May and June had messed her up even worse. “Maybe it’ll be good for layering if it gets cool at night,” she concluded, and stuffed it in the side of one of her honkin’ duffel bags.

“Hmmm, maybe,” I said halfheartedly. I was in her room to offer moral support and, hopefully, a bit of motherly advice. But what did I know? I was confused and more than a little off kilter myself. Stretched out on the bed, I was gazing listlessly at the tan still showing on the half-inch of skin between my sock ridges and the cuffs of my fuzzy pants. And I was pretty sure there was still some sun-kissed skin on my forearms where the sleeves of my little aqua Spandex jacket had left them bare and warm, even though I’d been too bummed to look for a month. You betcha, I’d worn the thing—not in Rangeley yet…maybe not ever in Rangeley—but on the balmy island of Bonaire. A month ago, it matched the Caribbean blue sea perfectly and had been my must-have layer for snorkeling and then sitting for hours sinking my sockless feet in the sand. “Yeah, layering is good, Becky,” I sighed, envying her upcoming destination but not her current location in cold, damp Mooselook surrounded by four seasons of gear busting out of giant Tupperware totes.

Ah, this was the year I was going to return to Rangeley with spring in full swing. None of that still winter, not-quite spring crap. This was the year I’d keep my island clothes close by instead of waiting to haul them all out again sometime in August. After all, ice out had come wicked early and folks told me on Facebook that, the minute I went away, it was 80 degrees in Rangeley—”the same temperature” I thought required a long flight south. Strategizing on the plane ride home, I had a smug grin a lot like the girl in the TJ Maxx commercial. I was going to think positive, stay on top of my fashion game, and swap tank tops for sweaters the minute I got home because I’d need that summer stuff soon! And, for the first year in my adult life, I’d done just that. I had all my woollies stored and my light ‘n airy clothes handy. No procrastination. No digging through Tupperware. I was ready to enjoy quality time with Becky, to guide her in being practical yet fashionable, to get her in the tropical spirit.

‘Course all that “it’s so warm we’re drinking beers out on the deck here in April” was only a cruel joke. When I got home, summer was still way far around a cold, rainy corner. It  didn’t get here till after Becky left and had been gone long enough to wonder what ever possessed her to bring a daffodil colored cardigan to the Bahamas in June. And, when summer finally did come, it blinded me. Still in the sweatshirt and flannel-lined pants I’d hauled back down from the attic, I was sweeping trailings from having to get the wood stove cranking in June out the back door. Suddenly, the sun came blazing out from behind a cloud and stayed there, intensely hot! I spun around on my slipper-shoes and went to dig out my cute little Spandex jacket, knowing it would double as a windbreaker over my bathing suit when summer changed its mind again.

Songs of warmer weather

South of here, the sounds of spring would call me out of my seasonal semi-stupor even if I  was still hunkered down and had barely cracked a window yet. I’d be driving somewhere in a fog or maybe stuck in my kitchen, hoping that first blast of fresh April air would blow some dust off me. Suddenly spring would reach in and knock me upside the head.

Peeeeeep…..Peeeeeeep…..Peeeeeep!” Peepers! Their familiar falsetto was loud enough to jerk me awaketo make me look hard for daffodils and other boisterous signs of the season I’d probably missedand mesmerizing enough to make me leave the window open till the heat had to kick back on.

Once they caught my attention, I’d be all ears for the peepers. Standing on my back deck in my fuzzy pants each evening, I strained to hear them bring every little pucker brush puddle back life. As the tundra thawed, the crescendo swelled until, by May, hundreds of teensy frogswound to a frenzy in the circle of lifesurrounded me in one, long tumultuous chorus.

Peepers weren’t the only species to wake me from my hibernation. During one particularly belated spring, I didn’t even need to open the window to hear the rhythm of pent up instinct bursting forth outside.

“FWUMPPP….Fwapp, fwapp, fwapp, fwapp….flop.”

I lay in bed listening and wondering. An early morning illusion perhaps, a figment of a pre-dawn dream state? “FWUMPPP….Fwapp, fwapp, fwapp, fwapp….FLOP.”

The only other noise it resembled was the coffee maker. But, this was way before Mister Coffee came with a computer chip to automatically respond to my brewing habits andunless wishful thinking had somehow started it perkingthe thing wasn’t even on. I shuffled out toward the kitchen to be greeted by the roundest-breasted robin ever perched on the deck railing staring at my dining room window. He peered up at the glass so intently it was obvious he wasn’t just admiring my African violets on the other side of the sill. He’d cock his head from side to side, take a running leap and FWUMPPP… right into the window he’d go. Then he’d hover and peck, perch and fly…FWUMPPP and repeat. Over and over and over and over.

Our first explanation was that he had the worst case of jet lag in bird history and was disoriented and starving. Five days later, we were still waiting for Nature to help him get his groove back when we finally went out to observe his view from the deck on the other side of the window. “He sees another big robin sitting all fat and sassy in a tree in his territory and he’s fighting back,” Tom concluded. And judging from the appearance of the deck railing, this feisty fella was at least a pound of food a day away from starving. Two days later, he was still defending himself against his own reflection and driving us completely batty. “What is that bird’s problem?” I hollered for the 15th time in a row.

Way too much bird-and-bee kind of energy, I figured. I was grateful that my friends the peepers could keep their spring fever percolating out in the swamp where it belonged and didn’t use it to propel themselves headlong into the house!

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate my little heralders of spring and their constant background noise. I didn’t realize that moving north would trigger a complete role reversalthat I’d be the one busting forth announcing to the world I’m ready for spring, yearning for an answer to my call. Sometimes I’m drawn to go outside in my PJs or even out in the yard till my slippers get soaked. Other times, I find myself on shores even more exotic than Mooselook.

Ruck…ah…caaaauuw!” I sang off my lanai. It was early spring a year ago and, after a winter in Rangeley that almost froze off my tail feathers, I was more than thrilled to answer the call from the nearby plumeria trees. “Ruck…ah…caaaauuw!” (A couple mornings later, I’m pretty sure the folks from California on the balcony next to me were much more curious about my mental state than where I’d traveled from on the mainland.)

Luckily, by the time I migrate back to Rangeley, the songs of spring aren’t far behind. But, more than ever, I need to go out of my way to listen. “WhaWHO….WHO…ha…WHO….WHO…ha…WHO!”
Filtered through my R-25 insulated log walls, the first loons on the lake beckon. I rush outside, closer to the sound, tilting one newly-naked ear to the night air. Sometimes I answer, especially if Jim Beam comes with me. But mostly, I look out over the dark, ice-rimmed water, and smile. Soon, the Joy Birds will join in the song!

Much as I love peepers and loons, if I ever had to set my feelings for my Maine home to just one melody, it would be the Joy Bird’s. He’s been calling me back here ever since I was a kid, letting me walk without ever missing an IPod. “BOO..DOO…bum-ditty…bum-ditty..bum-ditty…bum!” To sing that sweetly, I imagined he had to be prettier than anything that came to my feeder before the squirrels took over. Must have lots of red on him to sound like that, or maybe blue, I thought. Then, when I finally got my first good look at the lusty whistler, I stood in disbelief for a long time before consulting Audubon and finding out my Joy Bird was actually a white-throated sparrow. A rather nondescript brown and white-throated sparrow, he was, with the tiniest thatch of yellow on his fervently singing head. “Fondly known as the ‘Whistler of the North,” my bird book said, “this sparrow heralds spring in the woods with his familiar song: Oh sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada.

“Really?” I thought. I guessed BOO…DOO…bum-ditty…bum-ditty..bum-ditty…bum was too much of a mouthful for the Audubon folks.

Back outside with the bird book closed, my Joy Birds concurred. “BOO…DOO…bum-ditty…bum-ditty..bum-ditty…bum” they called, reminding me that the simplest creatures often sing the most beautiful songs. “Sweet Canada, my ass!” I chuckled, these little guys know the sweet spot is right here 40 miles from the Quebec border. Throwing my blonde-tufted head back until my parrot-bright tie dye peeked out from under my almost-summer fleece, I answered: “Oh, sweet warm, weather warm, warm weather!

Season of passage

(Author’s Note: The following was first published in my column in the Rochester (NH) Courier on April 21, 1987. I’m reposting it 25 years later in honor of my late father-in-law, Lee Clough. Thank you, Lee, for getting the dream off the ground and showing us that it was possible—and only a little bit crazy—to own a place on a big lake way the heck up in Maine.)

Ice out. You won’t find those words on any calendar but, for our house, the event marks the beginning of vacation season. Now that there is open water in Alton Bay, we will be making regular outings to Winnipesaukee. In May and early June, when the sun has thawed more northern waters, we’ll be spending time in the Rangely Lakes region clearing brush on our special spot of the shoreline so our new camp can be built. And, naturally, we’ll be fishing a bit while we’re at it.

But no matter how big the fish or how spectacular the sunsets, our minds are sure to wander even further north to a handsome little A-frame on Moosehead Lake that we won’t be visiting this year.

“That’s camp,” Helen has said, pointing to the picture on the refrigerator, from the first moment she was able to put a name to the home-away-from-home where Daddy doesn’t have to leave for work every morning and life is one continuous picnic.

We have been going “up to camp,” three or four times a year since she was a newborn and we laid her in the handmade log playpen. The place was brand new then, too, just a big open room with a roof over it that Tom, his father, Lee and I had built ourselves the year before.

The photo that Helen likes to keep permanently displayed shows the final results of four summers of family labor. “Rustic simplicity at its finest,” I always imagined a real estate ad would say about the hideaway we had finished with sliding glass doors along the whole front and a large sleeping loft facing a custom designed pyramid of windows that stretched all the way to the 21-foot peak in the roof. From the loft, we could watch the sun rising over the lake before we got out of bed or just lay back and watch the tree tops billowing in the breeze.

Tom and I were sitting up there on the floor one evening last year, our legs dangling into the livingroom area below, when we first admitted out loud that “camp”—at least not this particular one—might not always fit in with our plans as a family. We hadn’t said a word for about half an hour and, normally, that would have been OK. We were used to just relishing the silence that descended there with the darkness and letting our thoughts go still. But this night was different. Our minds were churning enough to drown out the faint sputtering of the gas lamps and, when we finally spoke, we were quietly defensive.

“You know, once I’m up here I love it, I’m totally happy and relaxed, but it sure would be nice to not have to spend a whole day driving and loading everything in and out of the boat to be able to enjoy that feeling. It takes me a day just to wind down from the trip,” Tom said. He was looking into the blackness beyond the windows, arguing not with me, but with each of the timbers around him he could remember pounding into place.                  ‘

“Well, you certainly know how I feel about this old lake and how I hate saying goodbye to it,” I said,” but maybe we could find a place closer, one we could get to by car, that we could work on off and on and still have time to fish and everything. We always feel like we have to accomplish X amount of work putting up paneling or cleaning up the lot so it will be better for next year. And the next year comes along and we can only make it up here two, maybe three times.”

“Too bad it’s so damn far away,” I finally blurted out and Tom nodded slowly, still staring into the night.

“You know, Dad would understand. He was thinking of selling for the same reasons,” he said. Now he was looking up at the great A-shaped rafters they had erected with ropes and pulleys and a good deal of sweat. His dad hadn’t lived long enough after that to fully enjoy what they had made. But he was a practical man, one who soon realized that a lot of money and effort was going into a camp that sat empty for 50 weeks out of the year.

Tom and I and Helen won’t be at “camp” for ice out this year, but another family will—a family bought the place because they loved its rustic simplicity and they lived near enough to take advantage of it regularly. They plan to generate electricity and do all the little odd jobs we never had time for. Maybe they’ll even have running water before long.

And this year will be the first time in a while that the Cloughs won’t have a camp to go to. We’ll have a beautiful lot though, on a large, quiet lake three hours from Rochester. We’ll have plenty of plans, too, for a new camp with indoor plumbing, electrical appliances and a nearby road accessible during all four seasons.

Best of all, we will have full knowledge that it’s not those amenities that make our vacations memorable. Our happiest times—moments we haven’t been able to recreate in luxurious motels or posh restaurants—have surprised us when we’re 20 miles from a telephone and badly in need of a shower. I’m sure we won’t have trouble reminding ourselves of that as we watch Helen—and her soon-to-be-born sister or brother—swimming, catching trout and having fun “up to camp” in years to come.

(Author’s Note: We figured out later that Lee most likely looked at our Rangeley lot before buying the one on the northern end of Moosehead. My girls, now 28 and 24, still call the year-round home we built out of the tiny original cabin “camp.” And, I am delighted to report they have spent every moment possible here with us—trading card games by the wood stove for Nintendo and long bike rides for hanging out at the mall—never once telling us there was any other place they’d rather be.)

For more “Rooted in Moosehead, too” stories, see

March of the medicines

“Grammy’s cookies come from big trays out of the oven!”  Helen announced when she was just big enough to teeter next to the counter on a stool. “And she showed me why those bread things are called rolls…’cause you’re supposed to make dough and roll it out with a big wooden thing and then cut it into circles. Did anyone ever show you?”

“Of course,” I told her. I’d spent enough hours watching my Grammies bake that I decided it was called “from scratch” because of their fingernails scraping the counter top as they endlessly kneaded and squished and scratched the last morsels of dough out of the cookie bowl inches from my eager face. “But Grammies usually have more time—and a lot more  space—for things like that.”

Time and space. Before the Big Move to a better kitchen and a simpler life, those were the elemental ingredients that forced me to defer to the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Keebler Elves. On any given day, I’d have sworn I just didn’t have enough of either. Looking back on it now, though, I’m pretty sure I might have found the extra hours in my stay-at-home mom days to channel more Betty Crocker. But I still would’ve needed more space—lots more kitchen counter space.

Back in the days when “food processors” were out in the field, the coffee maker wore an apron and stood by the stove, and the microwave was still a Jane Jetson fantasy, my “roll model” cooks had miles more counter space. And while I needed half a drug store’s worth of inventory stretching from stove to sink, they got by with a jar of honey that doubled as cough medicine and a bottle of elixir for all other ailments not eased by chicken soup. Come cold and flu season, Nana didn’t have much of a choice. She kept her head bent to baking—making use of all that prime kitchen real estate—and hoped that hearty, homemade food got the family through till spring. I, on the other hand, had so many vials of medicine on my counter top by the end of March that God knows what I may have greased my cookie sheets with or substituted for vanilla extract in her old-fashioned recipes.

“Medicine time!” I’d announce, and two mouths would automatically appear for up-to-the-minute treatment of various symptoms. On good days, they’d get vitamin pills and whatever antibiotic was keeping their little bodies free from the latest viral attacks. On bad days, they’d get an antihistamine and/or a decongestant and/or an anti-diarrheal, salve for any topical reactions, and enough chewable fever reducer to keep them comfortable until the next round of antibiotics. Between bouts, when their facial openings were dry and their cheeks were glowing rather than “burning up” red, I’d begin to see the Formica near my sink and the light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly my optimism would build and, one by one, symptom by symptom, I’d remove the syrups and salves out of the mainstream and into temporary storage.

“All better,” I’d declare, whisking away the Pepto Bismol, the Robitussin and the Tylenol bottle that had given me arthritis in one hand. The girls would each suppress a cough and go on about their business of absorbing germs. They couldn’t understand why I’d bother to move the bottles, having a visceral wisdom about a fact I’d refuse to accept. They would need each and every one of those medicines soon, probably that very night when I’d have to thrash through the darkness of the hall closet, hoping the plastic bottle necks beneath my hands belonged to cold remedies rather than cleaning solvents. Within 24 hours, I’d have my over-the-counter prescriptions back within easy reach out in the kitchen.

At least the girls learned their colors while I dolled out relief. Red pills meant “stop my runny nose,” while the green stuff meant “go night-night and not wake up coughing.” And that pink medicine did not taste as pretty as it looked even though they sipped it out of an alligator spoon. Still, the rainbow was never quite long enough and, deep down, the girls knew that. Their little membranes were always one step ahead of any full alert, color-coded homeland security plan I devised.

“Ears feelin’ O.K.?” I remember asking Becky en route to Rangeley when she was about three. She nodded. “Coughing stopped? Nose better?” She moved her head up and down, up and down. Medical update positive. All secretions in check. My therapy was right on course, I thought, especially crucial since were were going “up to camp” for the weekend. Then she looked at me.

“Becky, what is that coming out of your eye?”

She shrugged and dug at her left tear duct.

“Yucky stuff,” she said after a brief observation.

Nasty infectious stuff, it was, untouched by pharmaceutical fluids already administered—not even that pink panacea we brought from home which was so expensive it should’ve been prescribed with smelling salts in case I passed out while reaching for my wallet. First thing Monday morning this yucky stuff required a detour to the drugstore for special ointment—a tiny tube that kept getting wedged between my stove and the edge of my counter. It was the one thing not in my northern arsenal against sneezing, coughing, stuffy head, drippy orifice attacks. Even though I had a “one butt” kitchen here back then, I backed up my line of defense until I needed a spreadsheet to track which half-congealed or partially disintegrated medicine was in which house at any given moment in time.

“Hey Mom, where do you keep the red pills now?” Helen asked shortly after we moved up here full time.

“In the bathroom drawer!” I announced proudly.

After a delightfully brief search there, she came back to the kitchen, pills in hand, wondering why no one ever told me I wasn’t supposed to keep Sudafed that expired in 1998. Her tone was reminiscent of her Grammy cookie questions 25 years ago, with only a tinge of sarcasm. I hadn’t rotated my inventory since consolidating houses, I told her. Plus, as long as we remembered to wash the Walmart guck off our hands after long runs to Rumford, her dad and I were making it through the winters just fine with my hodge-podge of under-the-counter stash.

And wouldn’t you know, now that I have gorgeous expanses of new counter top, the only family member who needs medicine within easy reach is one of the beagles! Twice a day I administer a plain white pill so tiny I have to be careful it gets in Toby’s mouth and not lost somewhere en-route.

I can’t tell you that all this space has turned me into Nana reincarnated in the kitchen yet. But it has given me room to spread my wings farther than ever before. I do make my own bread, sort of, out of a machine that moves off the counter only if I have to search for a dog pill underneath it.  Tom now rolls out perfect homemade pizza dough like nobody’s business. And Helen, when she visits, makes great use of my uncluttered kitchen, showing us what she learned at culinary school. As for me, when no one is looking, I take a deep Rangeley cleansing breath, run my un-floured hands along my long, sleek counter top, and smile.

Snow dancin’

If I stood on the porch and really listened, I could almost hear it. Carried on the wind gusts off Saddleback and sweeping through town before blowing across from Haines Landing came a song of celebration—of voices lifted in chorus. So thrilled were we with gratitude, yet so stunned with disbelief, we sounded like Whoville when the Grinch brings back Christmas just in the nick of time:

Welcome snowfall! Welcome snowfall! Welcome snowfall, come this way!

I watched the first flakes fall with childlike fascination. Just like a snow globe, living in Rangeley in the wintertime was…at least that’s what I’d come to believe. Last year it nearly buried us in our tracks, barely leaving room for our little green-roofed village to peak out above the drifts before Mother Nature shook down a fresh blizzard. While I didn’t relish a repeat of that landscape, I felt a flutter of hope as the first flurries turned to serious powder piling up on the porch railings and turning my mudslide of a driveway white again.

Content to be settled in and no more than a couple slipper shuffles away from the wood stove, part of me did long to be out and about. Rangeley folks love a get-together and—especially this time of year—we drum up all sorts of reasons to see how our neighbors are “making it through” and if our friends from away still think we’re worth the trip. We hope Mother Nature will cooperate, of course, by keeping enough snow in Snodeo weekend, and letting us dance on the lake during our Icestock Music Festival. But if she doesn’t (which certainly seemed to be the case this year), we’re almost as happy bringing the party back indoors—warming our spirits at the Chamber’s chili/chowdah cookoff and brightening our mood at the flashiest Fat Tuesday party this side of the bayou. But nothing, I bet, rivaled the revelry of winter returning to Rangeley! Up on Saddleback, staff from behind the ticketing desk must have burst into the night, joining the trail crew in a huge circle of merriment. All over the land, from Loon Lodge to Bald Mountain Camps, pockets of happy dancing erupted as proprietors joined with winter vacationers on the verge of giving up and going home. And there were just as many silent prayers, too, I imagined. Uttered from faces lifted to the night sky as folks at the IGA and Oquossoc Grocery turned off the lights and started dreaming of a busier tomorrow, an echo stirred: “God, it’s about time!”

Those of us already home in our snugglies watched winter make its comeback via TV satellite. Our hopes grew as the Maine weather map turned the western mountains from a green “could be slushy” hue, to that in-between “we’ll get three inches if we’re lucky” pinkish purple, and finally to white—pure, glorious white. We posted the colorful NOAA maps on Facebook like kindergarteners proud to have something worthy of tacking on the fridge. Come morning, when snow actually had covered the landscape once again, we shared more Facebook pictures of it than if we’d seen a bull moose walk into Tall Tales Tavern and order a Sam Adams on draft!

Yes siree, Rangeley was back in business! With the hum of plows and snow machines signaling our pulse had returned to normal, the heavier the drifts got, the lighter we all became. I could feel it, way out here, even though I don’t ski and I rely mostly on my own fuel to get out on the trail. A huge weight lifted as we surveyed our fresh horizons full of new possibilities. In my neck of the woods, the turn in the weather meant I could change my footwear, a momentous event indeed! I could rip off the serious grippers that kept me vertical but feeling like a drunk penguin and go back to my basic Bean boots, walking softly in the snow that now graced my luge track of a road. I could relax, pick my head up, and fully appreciate Nature’s clean slate.

White…is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black…God paints in many colours; but He never paints so gorgeously…as when He paints in white.”
— G. K. Chesterton

Living in Rangeley through the winter has brought its share of pleasant surprises, and becoming a full-fledged, year-round outdoor person as well as active in my new neighborhood is at the top of the list. Turns out, I can be as solitary or surrounded by people as I desire. Instead of just toughing out the cold as I once envisioned, I immerse myself, appreciating the stark beauty in my big backyard and the colorful community of hearty, like-minded souls outside my doorstep. “We bring our own slippers this time of year,” my new friends told me last January, stomping off the snow and leaving their boots just inside the back door. It was a simple routine, a natural rhythm that told me I’d fallen in step with the right people in just the right place.

I do love warm white, too–especially warm white sand that gently slopes into tropical water. But I’ve discovered nothing quite compares to winter white in Rangeley. It is, as Da Vinci said, “the first of all single colors,” the backdrop that makes all seasons relative. Out here, softly enveloped, I watch the trees wait against the sleeping shore. I feel the promise of new-leaf green and lupines. And, if I really listen, I can hear the hum of ice-out fishermen trolling the lake for trout, bringing us full circle.