Lately, I have been walking a lot.
When I was a very small child, my mom had one of those very typically English, old-fashioned, black and very Victorian prams. She used to push me around our very typically English village. There is an old photograph of me, somewhere amidst the piles of those old family photos that my brother and I swear we will do something about one of these days in which I am very gleely grinning in a pink sunhat whilst sitting in the pram. I am chubby-cheeked and one arm is held up in the air as if to wave at the photographer. I am told by my mom that I used to pick the leaves off plants at that age, especially strawberries, and eat them.
So. Perambulation. Life gives us these tricky twists and turns sometimes. Most of the time we are clever enough to at least expect them and see that there may be pitfalls along the road. Some other times, though, when you are marching along with your head held high and confidence is radiating from your poor, suffering heart, life’s surprises can hit you something fierce.
I have been house sitting in a town called Seal Harbor for the past two weeks. The house is too big for me; there is an entryway and a kitchen, three bedrooms, a bathroom, a dining room, a living room and a semi-creepy basement. Despite it being a tad bit too large, it has been a wonderful place to be myself for a while. This is the house that started me walking everywhere, because I sold my car just before moving over there. It has been a while since I have had no car, and in Austin it wasn’t a big deal really to not have a car for a while. Your perceptions of being mobile in a car change when you move to a rural area with no consistent public transportation and large distances between tiny towns. I love walking and have since I lived in San Miguel de Allende, when I was 23-24 years old, but it is rare to get an opportunity to really walk, all the time, just like people used to do.
There is a lady who lives here whose name is Nancy and she was the librarian at the Jessup Library for many years. Nancy is average height and a skinny-minny. She wears glasses and a dress and a smile every day, rain or shine. She also walks everywhere. My neighbor told me a couple of weeks ago that Nancy used to live out near my family’s home and that she would walk into town every day, all ten miles along a highway, even in winter, even bare-legged in the winter because her dress didn’t stretch all the way down to her ankles, so that she could get to the library and be the town librarian for all the people of Bar Harbor.
So Nancy was an inspiration to me, as was Tasha Tudor and her purposeful anachronisms. As was Fly Rod Crosby and Isak Dinesen. I have an absolute affinity for old things: old photographs, old books, old ways. I truly fantasize about an end of the world that is just mostly enjoyable, no violence or desperation, just a lack of electric overhead light and an ability to be for a little while without all the pressures that make us rush around like chickens with our heads cut off, driving from point A to point B.
About a week ago, I had Indian chai on the rocks at the beach at Seal Cove in Acadia National Park with a friend. We stretched out in the sunshine and drank hot chai from glass mason jars. We were lazing around on long fingers of brown-pink granite that was formed here by old volcanoes and sculpted by slightly younger glaciers. As I lay there in the sunshine, I looked out onto the water and noticed two things: birds flying high in the sky, swooping and diving, and lobster boats, methodically moving across the horizon. They are such purposeful boats. The chai was delicious, as always, but mostly the experience was feeling the heat of the sun on your body as it reflected off the rocks, jumping slightly when the incoming tide splashed on those same rocks and got salt water spray into the “tea cups”, discussing whatever comes into your head on sunny days at the end of the summer in Maine. Staring out onto the water through sunglasses and realizing that this heat, this sunshine that warms the very essence of you, as does the tea, is ebbing ever so slightly away. It’s like you have to drink in the sun; it is so rich and you know, so quick to change.
One of the more interesting facets of my temporary house is that the house sits a mere 20 feet from the border of Acadia National Park. This may be obvious to some, but there is no cell service in the park. This means that if I wish to use my cell phone, I have to walk to the beach. No small feat! I discovered during my first day or two that it was taking me about twenty minutes to walk to the beach, down past the houses that dot this neighborhood of Seal Harbor.
The house is on Jordan Pond Road, a road that is very residential, something that is atypical here. As I walk, I pass over a small granite bridge that spans a carriage trail, a long walking road that was built by John Rockefeller all those years ago. Past the bridge comes a set of small houses, all adorable and slightly different. All gardens are well kept and dotted with cute yard decorations and old cars. Past the houses is another small bridge that spans a mountain stream about 10 feet wide. The stream’s water is brown with the tannins of the trees’ tissues that surround it and grow and form its banks. The stream falls down, down, down, plummeting into the forest of the park.
47 Jordan Pond Road
Keep walking and you will pass an old mechanic’s shop that looks to be almost falling down but houses two beautiful old cars. 47 Jordan Pond Road is a beautiful building: beautiful but impossible to do anything about. After the mechanic’s shop come more houses, but these ones are more spread out as you approach the town of Seal Harbor, all four buildings of it. There is a coffee shop, a post office, a church and an amazing shop called The Naturalist’s Notebook. Just a little bit further is a grassy park studded with old trees and benches to sit on, and just past the park is the sandy beach of Seal Harbor. Off to your left the road goes up, corkscrew-style, into The Hill, where the really fancy people live.
Every day I have walked down to this beach three or four times. After realizing how long each trip was taking, I decided to track how far I was walking to use my cell phone and discovered that each way was exactly one mile. Two mile walk just to use the phone. That’s time in Maine. If I do the math, it makes me realize that I have been walking 6 – 8 miles per day just to use the phone, not even to mention all the other walking.
Let’s discuss this idea of walking through a rural area in summer. Walking is easy, but most people do not do it. Walking helps you really see your surroundings because you slow down enough to see everything. Lately I have been mentally collecting spider webs that I see on my walks. I started to take photos of them, but they didn’t turn out so I decided to just catalogue them in my mind instead. When I walk, it is almost always with headphones in because I love having a soundtrack to my walks. Some people like to listen to the sounds of nature, and I do, too sometimes, but mostly when I am sitting still. When I am moving, I like to hear and feel the beat of music: sometimes I like to sing even as cars pass me by.
Lately, I have been internalizing the theme of Wordsworth’s poem, The World Is Too Much With Us, which I have copied here for you.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. –Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn. (1802)
Walking has helped me start a process of the discovery and discernment of my true feelings about the ideas of self and others, self and nature, self and career or the exterior world. When the world is too much with me, I go on a long walk and after a few minutes, a voice pops in my head and I almost always return home with a solution or an idea or at least a feeling that a solution is coming.
It was during one of these walks, late at night a couple of weeks ago, during the full moon in fact, the Blue Moon, that I sat on the edge of the ocean in the dark. The water was still as glass, more like a lake than the ocean, and the moon shone down onto water so dark black it was inky and velvety and glimmered, all at the same time. I was sitting at the top of some steps and the waters of high tide covered some of the steps at the bottom. I watched some lobster boats buoy around in the water out in front, just bob up and down in the nighttime current. It was during this walk, and at that specific moment, that I realized that I didn’t want to leave Maine, and in fact, that I had made the decision to stay. I felt the decision transition from my heart and mind down through my body until, finally, this long body of mine felt anchored to the Earth in a way that it hadn’t been in a very long time. I felt, in that moment, as if something was pulling me to the ground, encouraging me to just stay.
A few days later, I missed the bus. (I know that I mentioned above that there is no public transportation…truthfully, there IS a bus but only in summer. But the bus in summer is fantastic!) I was trying to get to Northeast Harbor to run some errands, but I arrived at the bus stop five minutes late. I realized, coffee in hand, that I would either have to wait another hour or just walk the four miles to the next town. I finished my coffee and started walking. It was a blissful morning where there was a touch of fog but not an overwhelming amount of it, so that everything glimmered and was slightly warm. As I walked, I passed a small cove that I have never noticed every time that I had driven past it. I had never noticed how the coastline swept in a perfect arc, and that the stones that made up the shore are almost black, that the seaweed stretches and mirrors the shape of the cove itself and is a brilliant shade of mustard yellow and deep brown, that the sky complements the earthy tones of the land with its bright, deep blueness.
As I walked, I saw people’s houses and gardens, I was passed by cars and trucks. Sometimes I walked on sidewalks, but mostly walked on the shoulder of the highway and got lots of gravel in my shoes. I hadn’t switched to my fall uniform of cowboy boots yet, so by the time I flagged down the next bus that came my way, I had to tip out my shoes and watch a small flood of sand and grit fall onto the ground. I walked over three of the four miles by the time I was picked up and probably should have just kept going. But everyone loves a ride, right?
Perambulation. Taking the time to look up, look left, look right, and look down. To notice the white spiky flowers that grow in the gravel pits to the side of the road. To notice two spider webs next to each other. To notice three hawks flying up above you as you walk along a highway. To notice the bait-y smell of the last lobsterman house in Northeast Harbor. To notice the rise and fall of roads, the details of shingles on the sides of buildings. To notice others; their clothes, their shoes, their sunglasses, their way of holding themselves. To notice the crunch of rocks and glass under your feet, the tightness of your body lengthening and stretching to move from one place to another. To notice your temperature and movement in a way that you never notice, otherwise.