#1: Our Arrival
Kerryl and I arrive to our log cabin in Maine around 2 a.m., amidst a blizzard. Normally an 8 hour trip, this time it takes us 13 hours. Not much fun driving, we battle the bad weather, the poor visibility and the post Christmas traffic. No stopping in between, except to pick up a fish sandwich at Burger King somewhere off the Massachusetts turnpike, both of us complain of lower back pain, a consequence of sitting too long in the car.
We are irritable, mostly with each other, fighting during the car-ride and fighting prior to leaving. We fight mostly over money. Had we more of it, there would probably be no problems, no fighting and of course more bliss, somehow money this great elixir that will seemingly extinguish our pain and make life better.
Even living a simpler life in Maine comes with a price, as this is a vacation home, one that serves as a luxury rather than a necessity. Our resources drained by keeping up the expenses of two homes and not deriving enough income to support our complex lifestyle, we get by month to month, worrying how to meet all of our expenses, drawing from different sources to help us continue leading a double life.
Can we admit that there are some aspects of our life that may not be sustainable? Yet we go on, despite these conditions, reluctant to give up some of what we have?
Christmas and holiday season brings that out of me, as the circle of family grows and I feel obligations and expectations which demand my attention. And consumption. Our society is commercially driven and we are programmed to receive and to give and to receive and to give….
I could go into my own lack and make excuses for the thousands of poor choices made in my past, how my life could have been different if I had not done such and such, but why beat myself up, when the bottom line is that I have today and today is an open book, one that has not yet been writ.
And of course, circumstances are relative. How can we not look to Africa and India, to poverty around the globe, to the sickness of others, only to greet our own condition with sobering maturity. How can I really complain, as I sit by a warm fire, penning some of my most intimate and private thoughts, recognizing that I’m one of the lucky few who have arrived where I want to be?
Admittedly, I have survived these trying years. And so have you. Yes, you! For no life escapes some regret, a could-have-been scenario driven by some higher dictate in yourself, something more noble which you did not live up to.
We have survived these trying years and we will go on surviving. That I know.
Arriving in Maine, we unpack the car, shovel snow, and tend to the wood burning stove; Kerryl busies herself straightening up the cabin. I pass out on the couch around 4 a.m. with a beer in hand.
#2: Settling In
I wake up around 10 a.m., feeling refreshed, with Kerryl and our two dogs, Gigi, a 7 year old Maltese, and Chiquita, a 3 year old Chihuahua, stirring and ready to give lots of love and kisses, our morning ritual.
Then eager to start my day, I go downstairs and make the coffee. I fill the wood burning stove and shovel a path outside the cabin, clearing it for our dogs. They are let out and then brought back in. Gigi, being Daddy’s girl, stays downstairs with me while Chiquita, mommy’s girl, goes back to bed with Kerryl to catch up on more sleep.
I pick up a current biography on George Washington and begin the 900 page trek. Poems by W.B. Yeats and another historical novel on John and Abigail Adams also await.
The first day back in Maine, nothing eventful happens. We hang around the cabin most of the day, trying to revive ourselves from the long drive. Generally, it takes two to three days before we find a groove. A typical morning for me consists of reading and/or writing. We have no internet, no hot water, no dishwasher, no shower, no bathroom. We do have a TV but no reception. We do have propane and a stove, an outhouse, a barbeque, a stereo, a refrigerator and delicious fresh cold running water from an underground spring that Kerryl helped to dig. And we do have electricity.
After an hour of reading, I shovel snow again, as there is another several inches on the ground since last night. The weather is blustery, the sky overcast, and intermittently more snow falls. I stay outside for over an hour, shoveling large paths around the cabin, cleaning ice and snow off the car, and stock-piling wood. The fresh air and heavy outdoor activity rejuvenates me.
At 12:30 p.m., Kerryl is placing birdseed in the feeders as I make lunch. By 2:30 p.m. the weather is nasty, the winds picking up. I shave, first heating up a kettle of water. Then I start doing yoga excercises and push-ups.
The last several months I’ve been out of balance, spending too many days on the computer, hunched over, preoccupied with work, neglecting aspects of my relationship with Kerryl. Neglecting myself…. And then there are the continual worries over money and life’s challenges.
Kerryl lays on the couch waiting and watching for the birds to return, sipping her coffee, as I resolve to regain balance in some Yoga posture. Finally, I get off the floor and go to her. I rub and massage her feet, pull her toes, pinch her Achilles tendon, and kneed her calves.
In the midst of the massage, the lights go out. Not to worry though, as our cabin is self-sufficient, with propane lights, water supplied by gravity feed with no water pump needed, and a wood burning stove for heat.
Actually, Kerryl loves when the lights go out, as it takes her back to a simpler time. She happily pulls out an oil burning lamp and candles and before long our cozy cabin is well-lit. We kiss, we caress, we hug with no hurry to see the electricity go back on. The evening works out just fine.
Sometimes the only electricity required is between two people.
#3: A Time of Desire
The cabin in Maine gives us time to reflect on some of our desires, of the past and future, a few of the dreams that were, a few of the dreams yet to be.
Flashback to summer’s end, with a tinge of Autumn in the air, when Kerryl and I stop at Popham Beach State Park, located southeast of Portland. We make it a point always to stop somewhere on our sojourn, either going from or coming to the cabin, in all the season’s of the year.
Our favorite destinations include the southern beaches of Maine with always an eye towards finding a quaint place to eat, preferably overlooking water. We are foodies and enjoy a quality meal, although occasionally we resort to that Burger King fish sandwich when circumstances are difficult.
Popham we discover is a beautiful state park, one that could have inspired the line “Oh beautiful for spacious skies.” Here you’ll find magnificent vistas, fresh air, pungent sea breezes, the sound of rolling waves, squawking gulls, and unique land forms, that given the right light, pop to the eye. That’s Popham.
We take our girls, who run round and round the beach with glee, intoxicated like we are, chasing each others tails as if playing some game of tag that kids play on an open playground, running free. Something seems to happen when they are at a beach, the ocean spirit surging through them and the sand underfoot, empowering them to run at top speeds. We marvel at the expanse of sea that lies before us, and at the crystal clear blue sky, and the A+ weather, the distant islands and pine forests surrounding the area. We give thanks to God for today’s creation.
It is 8 a.m. and time is scurrying forward, the moments fleeting, the sun moving quickly overhead, changing the lighting and altering our feelings, sometimes bringing us closer, sometimes moving us apart.
We walk to the edge of the water, climb a hill overlooking the sea, breathe deeply every moment to bring in the sweet sea air, as we know our schedule demands that we must soon depart. There are the occasional sighs and sorrows because we will be kissing this beautiful day goodbye.
I take pictures of the land forms. Of the Girls happily running and playing. And Kerryl picking up shells. She comes to me and says "George, look what I've found." In her hand, there is a sand dollar. "It's amazing George. I always receive gifts from the sea and nature." Feeling very blessed, we continue to ambulate around the beach and she finds another sand dollar. At this point she says, "This must be a sign that "coins" are to come.
Should everyday be so full, my God, how rich a life we would have to look back on. Could we not strive for that simplicity found in nature, one that doesn’t require more from us than our mere presence? Kerryl does have that special ability to take in and tune in to nature's divine presence.
In the winter months at the cabin, I pine for those days of lost summers, the Maine beaches, the warmer weather, carefree living and worry free times, especially when I’m outdoors on freezing cold winter mornings, stacking wood, shoveling snow from our driveway and surrounding cabin area, battling cold winds, wondering why the hell I’m here and not in the Caribbean listening to Kenny Chesney. Is it God’s plan or something that has simply gone askew?
This morning I continue to read, write, and shovel more snow. I much prefer my mornings alone, when there is peace and quiet, when I can hear my thoughts, when I can get in touch with that part of myself that brings me to me. These are the winter months, a time for hibernation, a time for stocking wood and feeding the fire, and watching the interior self reflected on the glass of a wood burning stove.
Some of the birds are beginning to return now. I count one, two, four…. Kerryl will be happy to know that they are back. She is sorely missed when we leave the cabin to rejoin civilization. The feeders dry up and there is nothing for several months when we are gone. But the birds are back again, the chickadee coming out in large numbers to feast on the overflowing niger, white safflower and black oil sunflower seed bursting forth from all the feeders.
On some days, I ask Kerryl, “Honey, didn’t we just buy seed for the birds. Do we really need more?” If it were up to me, they would have nothing, as I would go about my daily business, first feeding myself. “Oh yes darling, the birds have to eat too. There needs to be enough. They are so grateful to us in the winter. It’s nothing really. It’s just a little seed.”
The birds seem to spread the word to all their friends that we have returned, that food is now being served banquet style. Kerryl has a way of rationing just so much in one day for all of the birds. But when the red squirrels realize we have returned to the cabin, they too partake, joining the birds to feast until Chiquita runs out and chases them away, as she and Gigi are on constant squirrel patrol.
Later, when Kerryl fills the feeders, she discovers a dead mouse outside, which wasn't there before. Puzzled, we are curious as to how it died. Kerryl throws the mouse into the woods and then comes back indoors, where we sit together on the couch and watch the birds, noting the different species that are now discovering we're home.
First it was the Maine state bird, the black-capped Chickadee, and now the red breasted nuthatches arrive, along with the Woodpecker, that are eating the suet that Kerryl has added to the feeder.
The birds dart in and out, ever mindful of predators and dangers that lurk in the forested regions surrounding the cabin. I am now in such a forest I think to myself, although seemingly protected by the shell of a house, with a warm fire that gives the appearance of security. What predators lurk outside, what predators grip me from within?
As we watch, we are both in our own worlds, a realm where troubles lie, memories of the past, hopes of the future, while being right here, right now, where the bird meets the eye, feeling the warmth of each other's hand.
I’m off now in another world, reflecting on my desire to make bird feeders, of all shapes and sizes. I sometimes dream of a summer when I have nothing but time and money to do the things I desire, to construct feeders, to brew beer, to clear land, to plant an orchard of fruit trees, to cultivate gardens – these are the kinds of desires and experiments yet to be.
Maybe to write a book of poems, a short story, a novel, a treatment for a television series, a reality show extolling the simple life in the Maine Woods that rises higher and higher in the Nielsen Ratings and that is sold to audiences around the globe with commercial breaks leaving viewers wanting more and more....
Or just maybe some humble little journal, something I can share, that contains a pearl, a line or two that resonates with someone, somewhere.
These are my little dreams, some fantasies that do not require fulfillment. I know myself well enough to know that some things are better left alone. I'm trying to keep things simple.
#4: Venturing Out Into the Woods
Walking-Hiking is one of our favorite activities, one we engage in almost everyday when we are in Maine.We are surrounded by woods with 22 acres of our own property, giving us the freedom to go where we want with plenty of privacy. Then there is Kerryl’s brother, Kenny, who lives next to our property, with 50 acres bordering ours. He came to Maine 30 years ago to hunt, and never went back to Bergen County, except to get his things. Between the two properties, there is plenty of woods to explore. And many trails leading all the way up to the Canadian border.
One trail that we enjoy hiking extends beyond the house and crosses into her brother’s property, taking us higher up the mountain, where we can see the heavily forested Maine woods, cascading mountain ranges, and open skies. This is one of our favorite trails to walk, but not always, as the main road also provides interesting scenery and variety and sometimes becomes a necessity when we can’t get to our own backwoods without snowshoes. “Mud Season” in early spring, after all the snow melts, also sometimes will keep us out of the woods.
Our first walk of this trip, because of the blizzard, takes us to the main road, which has been plowed. It’s a dirt road, but well packed and maintained. Not far up from the road is a small, quaint cemetery on the left hand side, with names of individuals who are buried as far back as the Revolutionary War. Kerryl’s brother often refers to it as the place “he’d like to be buried someday.” It seems to have a special energy, where even the moose love to visit.
I’ve made frequent stops here myself, as I seem to be drawn to this spot. I like to look at the old tombstones and the names of the departed. When I enter this hallowed ground, something always stirs inside of me.
On an earlier walk, a tombstone dating back to the Revolutionary War, with the name Isiah Foss etched in aged concrete, captures my interest. Currently reading about the Revolutionary War and George Washington’s life, I connect my reading of history with experiences like this. But words can’t convey my feelings when I encountered a more current tombstone, one that simply read Mother and Father.
The tranquility of this cemetery, surrounded by woods, provides peace and serenity that I think I could handle for eternity, if I were buried there. Or so I think. I am a wandering soul who likes to travel and see things. Would I get bored here? But Kerryl then reminds me “Only your bones are buried here. Your soul can wander anywhere it chooses.”
When Kerryl and I walk past the cemetery, I say “Honey, maybe this is where we will be buried.”
“I want to be cremated,” she replies “with my ashes spread over my favorite places: St. John, Block Island and Maine.” Then I ask her, “What about Greenwood Lake?” “Oh, there too,” she says. "But then on second thought, maybe I need more time to think about this."
We walk down the hill, where we choose to follow a trail called Towner’s Rd, a private land association, but quickly turn around for fear that our girls’ paws might be getting cold, wanting to ensure they can get back in comfort, especially with all of the salt on the road.
The next day, we decide to venture out on the trails on the property, to see if we and the girls can wade through the powdery snow from the big storm. Kerryl is concerned that we won't be able to walk in the back because of the depth of snow from the recent snow storm. The fact that our neighbor wasn’t around to pack it with his snowmobile caused even more concern. Nor have we gotten our snowshoes yet.
We plod along the trail, dragging our feet through the snow, so that Gigi and Chiquita can follow in the tracks of our footprints. If they were a Golden Retriever or a Labrador, there would be no problem but because they are so small and low to the ground, they won’t be able to get through it. Nearing the top of one of smaller trails, Kerryl sits on an old stump, which also gives respite to the dogs, who jump on her lap to retreat from the cold and wetness under foot.
Then, Kerryl calls me and says, “Do you want to make angels with me?” I decline, entranced by the yellowed windswept leaves skimming the surface of the snow, dancing like ballerinas, making their way into the pockets of large animal tracks where they are huddled together.
Kerryl then falls back into the snow, rotates her arms slowly up and down, creating the wings of her angel. When she gets up, we admire it. We then proceed to observe the leaves, which we agree look like angels, resting in their heavenly homes.
We return home earlier than usual, as we can no longer battle the deep snow. Plus, I feel a cold coming on, which is worsening by the minute. “I told you should have worn a hat while you were shoveling during the blizzard, ” Kerryl says.
Unfortunately, the following day we have to skip our walk as I am much too sick to go outside. I hang out on the couch, cling to Kerryl, sleep and continue to read the biography of George Washington as she nurtures me throughout the day. We really dropped the ball by not making sure we had a bottle of our liquid Goldenseal Echinacea, which Kerryl swears by for being a “surefire remedy from getting sick.”
On the next day, I’m feeling a little better, and we decide to go for another walk. Much snow has melted, and so we go back out on our trail, and this time we go further, finally encouraged both by the weather and the melting snow. We take our long winding trail through the woods, passing by trickling streams not yet iced over, although some present interesting crystal formations. There is a bench where Kerryl and I and the dogs sit to take in the beauty of the scene.
Our surrounding landscape, with trees barren, allows us to see the interior of the woods, where a family of deer gallop off in the distance while felled trees lay rotting all around us. There is more wood here than we would need to burn for a lifetime.
Soon we cross a bridge handmade by Kerryl’s brother and a neighbor, which has broken spots from 4 wheelers, snowmobiles and we think moose. We pick the girls up, who are too scared to cross the bridge and I think to myself how I would love to return in the spring to rebuild it. With nowhere to be, no pressing appointments, could I get to that space in time where projects such as this become an everyday quest where there is nothing to prove.
Then we see large tracks, footprints, concluding that it is a moose, and we begin to follow them. Kerryl is excited, a detective who wants to follow the clues to wherever they may lead in hopes that we might see one. She says, “Let’s not talk so loud and keep our eyes out for them. If they see us, they won’t move. They usually stand silent and still and you could easily miss them.”
I entertain the possibilities of running into a moose on foot, never having experienced seeing one, except from a distance and safely in a car. As we are walking, we are listening to the sounds of the stream and the crunch of snow underfoot, looking at all kinds of scenery and of course hoping we will come across the moose. Kerryl’s brother thinks we’re crazy walking in the woods without a gun. He says, “I never go back in the woods without a gun knowing that hungry coyotes, mountain lions, bear, etc… may be lurking there as well.”
We follow the moose tracks for some time up the mountain with no luck; however it is still fun, knowing the moose were here as we can feel their presence.
Finally we decide to return home and stop at her brother’s hunting camp, where I sit upon some old logs and look at the interesting array of things her brother has collected over the years such as street signs and posters from old political campaigns, while Kerryl goes inside to reminisce about all of the fond memories she shared with her brother, family and friends in this little hunting camp.
There is never a time when we don’t commence our walk by sharing our joy of being out in the wilderness and end it with the same sense of joy and satisfaction. We are so happy to be out here, forever grateful to the powers that be for giving us this opportunity to share in its blessings.
#5 – George Washington in Maine
Reading the biography of George Washington, I reflect on my cultural heritage, the time I was born into and my own particular station in life. I can’t say I’m even remotely close to following in George’s footsteps, nor that I have a desire to do so, considering how difficult life was back in his day. There were many hardships along his own journey while carving out a successful life as soldier, plantation owner, husband and first president of our country.
Washington seemingly had little time to let down his guard or stray from a daily regiment of responsibilities characterized by austerity and self-discipline. His life and ambitions tended towards accumulating more, whether in distinction/honors, land/property or financial gain. This depiction of his life has led me to reflect on my own desires and goals. Do I want to live a life where I’m constantly chasing this or that, or do I want to settle into something simpler, where there is more time for just being rather than always doing?
Staying in our cabin, I enjoy getting up early, sometimes at 7 a.m., yet I have no qualms about sleeping in, laying around or simply doing nothing. Maine is a time to chill, especially in Winter, when the season takes on its own life, one where everything seems to be at rest. And I’m at rest when I can forget about responsibilities, put aside the hectic schedule, or stop driving myself to get things done. Kerryl continues to remind me that we need to “Be” more, versus “Do” more, although I find that hard advice to take coming from a Western tradition and culture that encourages a more materialistic lifestyle.
Here, in Maine, there are the basics, the everyday necessities to take care of like washing dishes, shoveling snow, going to the local country store and getting food, making dinner, splitting firewood, and stacking wood for our daily use.
Outside of that, in winter there is not much driving me, except when I undertake a project such as writing in this journal, going for a walk, taking pictures, chatting with visitors and neighbors who frequently drop by unannounced, planning projects for the spring and summer, and taking an occasional excursion here or there…. But compared to the life of George Washington, I feel very grateful for having more time for rest and relaxation and the kinds of transcendental moments encountered similar to what David Henry Thoreau wrote about in Walden Pond.
Cabin living gives me ample time for reading – generally 2 to 3 hours a day. Although not a life destined for material riches, I am content enough in myself to live out my years quietly and modestly, engulfed by books, the ordinary doings around the cabin, warm and wonderful companionship with Kerryl and our friends and family.
Should tomorrow bring an end to life as I know it, then I just might be content to find myself resting in the old cemetery across the road.
#6: Moments of Reflection
Living in the cabin, surrounded by woods, the outside world and time disappears. Yet family members and neighbors rouse us from our insulated world, the phone rings, and the internet calls me to engage again with the outside. Although we are remote, we are not disconnected.
I would like to begin the New Year with great resolve, for there is a part of me that does not relinquish my belief in a heritage founded upon hard work, and that through hard work, I too may relieve some of my burdens, and be recognized for my talents and make a difference somewhere to someone. Yet how does that free me from living in a more complex world?
Sometimes I feel like I’m a player in an existential play, grappling for meaning in life while finding it absent. Work awaits me, the daily chores, cleaning and scrubbing, more dishes to be washed, firewood to be hauled, breakfast to be prepared, and all of the details that accompany taking care of property and the execution of living. It piles up and one wonders “what's it all about?” Yet we keep making more plans as life keeps hurrying by and seemingly getting more complicated.
But then there is that glimmer of hope, when that existential mountain of thought that I harbor thaws and melts and trickles into a fine stream of water where divinity clearly reflects in a pool of water; I realize the world has something more to give us and we have something more to give the world. Drop in your pebble and watch how it ripples outward. Even from Maine, from this log cabin, I sense water rippling outward, extending to all corners of civilization.
A simple life is filled with more than enough to do, and although it may not seem momentous from the outside looking in, it satisfies me. And in that simplicity I find revelation, peace, comfort....