During the first days back in Maine, we seemed to experience every season possible, either as harbinger or departure.
We arrived in a mini-caravan of cars: the dog, friends who were driving me back from Massachusetts where I’d been recovering from surgery, and an absurd amount of gear. I’d tried two months ago to limit what I was carting across state lines, but whatever talents I have cultivated over my lifetime, prudent and efficient packing isn’t one of them.
That mud time had already begun came as a relief to me; slick as the ground was, it wasn’t ice or snow, the two forms of water that the whole region had wearied of during the tough winter. It took about 10 minutes to unload the vehicles and about 10 seconds for me to realize I had too many possessions and would have to face a yard sale come summer.
Summer. Months had passed since that season even seemed a remote possibility. But I had left Maine in the dead of winter, and the little snow left under the shade of trees in the thick forest seemed to indicate the worst of it was over, that the usual warm weather irritants would soon apply: ticks beyond numbering, biting flies, mosquitoes whirring like helicopters, weeds so various and vibrant that they would redefine the concept of “lawn” into something thicker, more wild and mostly unworkable.
Things had changed in other ways around the little house in the woods where I live. Half my firewood had been stolen, and uninvited intruders obviously had been in the house, leaving furniture askew, moved into arrangements more suitable for their self-appointed stay. I had covered everything with sheets before leaving to limit dust and track the movement of mice, but there were no sheets in sight.
The clotheslines had been slashed into random lengths and lay strewn like linguine over the boulders at the side of the yard. The unpaved drive to the house was scarred with the deep impressions of tires.
“Of course they stole your wood,” a friend from up north emailed me that night with philosophical acceptance of conditions gone to chaos. “Nearly all wood-burners like myself had to order more wood for this terrible winter. Knew you weren’t there, so wood was fair game. At least they didn’t take it all, right?”
That sounded the one message from Maine that was loud and clear upon my return: “Cold” was a term that applied to more than weather this year, an adjective that could be as accurately ascribed to people’s attitudes and actions as the extreme temperatures.
My friends from the commonwealth were hesitant to leave, given the condition of things at the house and my own still-hobbled state.
“This really creeps me out,” said one, twirling the end of a severed clothesline like a fuse in her hand. “You gotta get out of here. You should move as soon as possible.”
I suppose, I thought later, as I fell exhausted into bed and considered the day’s discoveries. But I wasn’t so much frightened as sad; I am always disappointed that a plague of problems – poverty, hard winters, the vulnerability of a woman living alone – turns others, however temporarily, into predators.
My dark thoughts dissolved overnight as an inch or two of fresh snow fell silently. The new day brought sunlight, balmy temperatures and the sense that order could be restored now that the dog and I had renewed our residency and gotten a good night’s sleep.
Faith is a harder conviction to resurrect after trouble hits. But the landscape is full of promise now, the first signs of spring growth sprouting from the ground and swelling in the saplings. Birds sing all day long.
And the dog is smiling – a canine expression I hadn’t seen much when I was too laid up to walk her or even allow her near, lest she dislodge my new bionic knee with her delight.
But back here, in wilder Maine, I could let her roam the property – which is enough space to simulate a world and make an energetic young golden retriever feel like queen of the universe.
She came home the other morning looking like a black lab, her golden color dyed dark from head to toe by mud.
“You’re so happy to be back home, aren’t you?” I said, welcoming my wagging, filthy, exuberant companion indoors and herding her to the tub for a spa shampoo. Afterward I positioned her by the wood stove – which still had reserves enough to thrum and bellow – wrapped her in a blanket and left her to enjoy the sleep befitting the lady of the manor.
It was the best day we’d had in months, though we accomplished next to nothing, only the infinite art of simply being.
Take my wood, plunder my possessions. I have something permanently mine, something indefatigable – joy in living, deep gratitude and love.
North Cairn can be reached at 274-0792 or at: [email protected]