Stepping Into The Same River Twice

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon PaddleWhen you find something that works, stick with it, goes conventional wisdom, but aren’t we so used to throwing out the bathwater in our quest for the latest and greatest that we end up missing what the baby might teach us?

Yeah, right. I’m the master baby-tosser.

An almost-full moon paddle last week was so transcendent that, uncharacteristically, I decide to do it again.  It’s rare for me to repeat something; I’m more of a seismic shifter. But clearly, the impetus for good fortune was announced in the I Ching reading that day – a metaphorical thunder-clap not only reflected in the coin toss, but in its riverside perch between sunset and moonrise. I knew not its full impact, and perhaps I still don’t, but the reverberations were sonic. The ‘Changing’ occurred and it was enormous, but internal. (No packing my bags for foreign shores this time.) Fortunes truly can flip with a switch, New England work ethic notwithstanding, and I’m ready to meet providence. (Well, I imagine there will be 99% perspiration on my part…)

It had been a less than desirable day, but I redeemed it by climbing inside the kayak I gifted myself a few years ago on my 40th birthday. The luxuries we afford ourselves reap far more than we realize at the time, and I’m ever grateful I treated myself to that little blue boat. For years I coveted one and after I took the plunge, my world widened. Pledging allegiance to enjoyment has made a profound impact on life; I highly recommend it. That small craft has not only altered my perspective, as sitting down low in the water can do, it has also provided opportunity to explore intimacy, balance, trust, and wonder – all while nestled in the watery bosom of Momma Nature.

Not setting out to step in the same river twice, per se, I unexpectedly arrive under the full moon again, albeit in a different body of water, the following evening, soon to don spray skirt and life vest. The bathwater was still warm…

Port Clyde Kayaks

Whenever I crave a change of scenery (as if Penobscot Bay’s world class playground pales) I tour down the St. George Peninsula, roughly following the Georges River out to Muscongus Bay. I pass through Owl’s Head, Tenant’s Harbor (never missing a meal at Cod End’s back deck…fried scallops and belly clams this time),  and round past Marshall Point Lighthouse (of Forrest Gump fame), all the way down to Port Clyde, with its Finisterre atmosphere.

Cod End Tenant's Harbor, MaineThere’s a whitewashed barn across from the harbor with an art gallery upstairs and backgammon tables downstairs that serves shrimp cocktail and bottles of Shipyard Ale for the summer folk. It’s the kind of spot where you walk in thirsty and walk out with a handful of new friends, as I did one June evening. I forsake it this time, however, and consider the clear skies and looming sunset. Maybe I’ll take a Puffin cruise on one of the tour boats…

Port Clyde pierI roam the quaint general store, rueing modern supermarkets with their massive parking lots and bad lighting. Who knew you could buy Spam, motor oil, and oysters all in one creaky floorboard shop? This alone makes me want to settle in for a spell. I ponder an ice cream cone, then see that Port Clyde Kayaks is open and wander in. Cody, the proprietor, who I learn homeschools his kids so he and his wife can winter in locales like Puerto Rico and Maui, strikes up a lazy conversation. We chat about living off-peak, on our own terms, and find commonality, laughing as we realize we grew up only 45 minutes apart…kindred Hudson Valley spirits. I take him up on his offer to brew me a cup of Hawaiian coffee, despite quitting the caffeine habit months ago. Directly imported, these beans are not to be shunned; abstinence seems downright ungracious in this context, don’t you think?

It’s exactly these kind of exchanges that sets Maine apart from anywhere else I’ve traveled: unassuming encounters that seem to have the timeless tucked into them. Completely charmed, I sign up for the night’s full moon paddle, and I’m struck, yet again, by how many people I meet whose fulfillment arrives outside of the mainstream, and wonder why we call it the main stream, when it’s the customized tailoring that counts?

Honeymooners from Northern Ontario and a suburban NY couple with three kids filter in and we gear up. Cody takes his time while explaining safety and technique while the group gets to know one another. Once we put in, we paddle west, heading towards Deep Cove, where the depth reaches 150 feet, enough for the dozens of harbor porpoises that live there. Paddling towards the westward horizon, we watch melting oranges and pinks along the skyline, like softening sherbet, then turn to see the luminescence of the moon framed in darkening lavender behind us.

Full Moon rising over Muscongus Bay, St. George Peninsula, MaineWe float amid flourescent lobster buoys while glistening fins crest a gently undulating surface.  Sounds of their breathing, of exhaling, shiver me into gratitude and I am awed by their proximity. These gorgeous creatures breach repeatedly within feet of my kayak and I am spellbound.

Psshh.           Psshh.           Psshh.

I follow with my eyes, watching intently for the next surfacing. Over and over they crest and dive. I’m riveted. And then a harbor seal playfully pokes his head up.

What a glorious evening, yet so different from the previous night’s paddle. A sudden shift has definitely taken place and I can feel gestures of fluidity both around and within.

In fact, my whole day has been a series of blessings, each one almost making me blush in embarrassment as they accumulate like moths around the porch light.  I struggled with some prioritizing the last few days, and knew the answer would only be found by seeking relief. Once I cleared the air and let go, I relaxed into spaciousness, leaving tension and dilemma behind. As soon as I chose the better path, which was to step away from a form of income that wasn’t proving beneficial anymore, a new revenue stream miraculously propositioned me within hours. When one door closes…

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon Paddle Muscongus Bay

As I paddle across the bay, I reflect on how my day unfolded – each time I turned a corner, a desire manifested. I lost a top of the line knife (given to me by a chef I used to work for) and I found an exact replacement that afternoon. I admired a blue t-shirt a woman was wearing last week, and Cody, for reasons unknown, decided to give me one, the same shade, right off the hanger. I finally achieved a move in yoga I’d just about given up on. And I’d been wanting to get up close to some of the islands lately, get off the coast and explore, and that’s exactly what we did, vigorously – we paddled around Caldwell and Little Caldwell Islands, billionaire-owned Teel Isle, and larger Hupper Island, where we needed a power bar break after crossing the channel  – not easy working against the tidal currents at 10pm. Was I really out on the open water at night?

I even got up close to Andrew Wyeth’s house, which I’ve pined to see since becoming a member at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland. His paintings evoke a windswept and lonesome life whose origin I wanted to understand better. Cody shared the story of the island house being pushed across the frozen bay from Caldwell Island for relocation to the mainland many years ago. After spending the past winter here, I am at no loss to imagine such a thing. I’ve felt windswept and lonesome, too.

Perhaps I’m getting closer to the life that beckons, and I don’t need to make such drastic changes anymore. Maybe I’ll just keep paddling around under the moon and see what happens. It seems to be working out well.

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon Paddle Muscongus Bay

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Stapled To The Chicken

Why did the dead baby cross the road?

Because it was stapled to the chicken.

Stay with me here.

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My regular yoga practice was going strong this winter, until I put it on hiatus for the past 3 weeks.  I’m still figuring out how to be mobile and maintain a routine; usually something has to give, and this time yoga got sidelined.  Back in Maine after a jaunt south to celebrate my sister’s birthday and get a B-12 shot of Gotham, I barely made it this morning to an early Vinyasa Flow class.  Returning to the mat I felt like a blue square skier on a double black diamond slope – is this what happens when the pause button gets pushed?  Damn!  If Plank and Cobra didn’t make me feel like a traitor, then ‘resting’ in Downward Dog was far from soothing.  In fact, while the blood was rushing to my head and my shoulders were painfully strained in this upside-down vee, I began feeling a HUGE resistance.  Of course, I thought it’s been awhile and I’m out of practice.  But it was more than that – it lodged massive and imposing like a mountain.  I’d never felt so much physical force inside me.  Little did I know I was on the verge of having emergency psychic surgery.

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Quickly a vision of the resistance entered my awareness like a camera snapping into focus:  a large ball, perhaps 3 feet in diameter, seemingly composed of milky white cartilage, smooth as a ball-bearing.  Solid.  Firmly half in and half out of my body, from my navel to my philtrum, nestled like an asteroid that just hit earth, I clearly felt this imaginary (?) object emerging from my mouth, my throat, my heart, my gut.  I tilted my head back to give it room.

Immediately the asanas dropped their struggle, or I against them, and I  effortlessly continued on through Pigeon, Tree, and Warrior III, while this otherworldly cartilage protrusion, still as stone, remained as real as the wood floor under my mat.  When I finally came to the supine poses, nearing the end of the session, I lie there wondering… what next?  Then this pearly, foreign sphere rolled up and off my chest, across the floor, into oblivion.  I didn’t feel lighter, there was no crying or any other inclination to release.  The only notable result was that I suddenly wanted a freshly juiced glass of green vegetables.

Back home, after stopping by the local grocery for all things green – kale, kohlrabi, celery, fennel, parsley and cabbage (as well as a bag of Willow Bake Shoppe donuts) – I reflected on the strangeness of my morning.  I wasn’t compelled too much to figure it out, or understand any symbolic representation.  Instead, what most interested me was feeling that I had just witnessed the boundary point of my unconscious and conscious minds.

I had no intimation of this coming nor did I feel afterward that anything paradigm-shifting had really happened – all I wanted was some raw green juice. But somehow I think something had occurred.  I think there’s a whole world down there that I’m completely unaware of, with burrowing voles and tectonic waltzing that sometimes erupts.  It’s just the first time I was keen to it.

Am I transformed?  That remains to be seen.

So what was with the donuts? I sense they were my ‘dead baby:’  that which no longer serves me, but I haven’t relinquished yet.  I’m crossing that road, and little is going to stop me, even if it resorts to absurd stapling tactics.

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Weebles Wobble, But I Don’t Fall Down

For a significant time in my life, I tended bar and waited tables and eventually reached a level of mastery that only comes after years in the profession.  In order to get and stay employed at upper tier establishments, you must meet demanding criteria with excellence, and make it look second nature.  Once, a fellow apron-in-the-trenches, Raven, observed that while it may seem to someone peering in from outside or to a server-in-training all graceful and effortless, it’s actually harder than it appears, and can be interpreted as a more accessible job than it really is.  Cultivating an efficient, hospitable presence in the midst of crying babies, hungry diners, first dates, and VIP business deals calls for a complex recipe.  Oenophilic knowledge, reflexive prioritization, vast patience, and a fluid physicality with an intimately choreographed and fast-paced dance among tables, swinging kitchen doors and moving human targets are all ingredients that create an illusion of a seamless, well-edited film.  She was right, we made it look easy, and we earned our Oscar every single night.

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Despite proficiency and agility, it’s not always wine and roses.  Steve, another veteran colleague, adds one crucial perspective that can make the difference between a shift feeling like an Amazonian jungle drive with no struts or shocks, and cruising the Autobahn in a cushy, air-conditioned Beemer. In industry jargon, being ‘in the weeds’ means you’re on a sinking ship, you NEED HELP NOW, all hell’s breaking loose, and the wreckage is piling up.  Sometimes no amount of technical ability can save you from this kind of disaster.  With his signature wry wit, he offers this wise salve, “Kellie, you can’t be in the weeds, if you just. don’t. care.”

Contemplate that for a moment.

When pressure mounts – a raucous table tries to flag you down for their third bottle of wine, another wants to send back undercooked steak that they ordered rare, the chef is yelling for you to pick up hot plates, crema on an espresso is fading at the counter and your barista won’t be too pleased to make it over, and the host just seated an ornery family of eight in your station – it’s hard to all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  The last thing that will help is grasping for perfection and squeeeeezing tight.  Instead, give up.  Stop caring about the mess, the stress, doing your best.  Embrace chaos and move through the madness.  Keep humor in your pocket; toss the-sky-is-falling panic.  Once you stop caring that you’re in the weeds, sanity and order swiftly return.

This is how I finally came to write.  For too long, I harbored lofty views of what writing should be – gazed up on vaunted writers as gods – Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, Twain – as anyone with literary ambitions would.  I intensely pulsed with visions of grand words and clever turns of phrase like the masters.  I toted high ideals, yet felt low and too intimidated to put pen to paper for fear that I could nary craft as expert a sentence as theirs.  Nothing I wrote would be good enough, much less perfect, so why even try?  In essence, my wish to be a great writer actually prevented me from ever seriously commiting.  What use is that?  So I alternated between fits of private prose and artistic abstinence, but always ended up disappointed in myself.  Journals got filled, shelved, forgotten.  Yes, Mr. Famous Author, follow me right this way to your corner table.

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Then I remembered how I did what I did for a living, and the philosophies of Raven and Steve.  There was the answer, the road to freedom. I acknowledged that it would take years to achieve mastery, if ever, and I stopped caring about being top-notch.  I didn’t need to be a great writer.  I didn’t even need to be a good writer.  I laid down striving for perfection.  Starving for expression, all I had to do was write.

At once, my first gig waiting tables, back when I was far from competent, came rushing into memory.  One night early on I dropped an entire tray of frozen pina coladas and other frou-frou drinks all over a poor little girl who had the misfortune of sitting beneath me.  Out of mortifying embarrassment I laughed uncontrollably, while she burst into frightened tears.  It was all so horrible, but I cleaned up the mess, got on with the shift, and went back to work the next night and then the night after that.  I persevered, got less clumsy, and built up skills.

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We’re rarely good straight out of the gate;  so when I ask a friend, a best-selling author, for beginning writerly advice he offers up the same, wise morsel – make as many mistakes as I can.  So I do, continually, and it’s OK because now I’ve learned not to care about looking foolish or amateur.  All I want to do is write and have fun doing it.

This week, I sit cross-legged in yoga class, prayerful hands in front of my heart, post-OM, pre-asanas and the instructor, about to lead the group in a series of balancing poses, suggests we set an intention for our evening’s practice.  Before I can think up one, she shares hers – to wobble.  She actually intends to sway, to teeter.

Let go, whispers the universe!

Kapow!  I finally get it… Validity exists in shakiness as much as in stability.  When we’re trying to ground, find steadiness on one foot, arms akimbo, torso bent forward, and we falter – indeed, that is exactly when to accept imbalance – it’s integral to the pose, and not as I’ve long thought, failing.  I’ll never be in the weeds again.

As soon as I embrace the wobble, the imperfection, I stop falling down, and finally begin.

Community Life In A Northern Town

Being away for so long, almost three weeks this time, I felt a tad disconnected upon returning to Maine life.  It’s like I’m moving here all over again.  This was mostly intentional, in that I allowed myself to BE exactly where I was – in New York with friends and in Connecticut with family, which was my most successful trip back home yet.  I gave myself permission to not write over the Christmas holiday, and while I missed it, I am glad I did so – it freed me up to immerse myself in Broadway shows, dinner dates with friends, and the revelry of end-of-year merrymaking.  But now that I’m back up north, I want to jumpstart my life here.  I want to welcome Maine back with haste and open arms.  Indeed, my heart did grow fonder…

Years ago I took a quiz in Utne Reader, one of my favorite alternative magazines, about how consciously I integrated community into my daily routines  – questions ranged from how often did I speak with my neighbors to my interactions with the people in my peripheral world, like my mail carrier, the local deli cashier, and the guy who picks up my garbage.  I did alright on the test, probably because I had been living in the same place I had grown up.
However, I learned that quality can shift when you’re somewhere new and it takes deliberate effort to incorporate the ancillary population.  I didn’t realize how much the fabric of community life is strengthened by those types of relationships until I lived in NYC, where people go out of their way to avoid eye contact and even discussing the weather is sometimes considered TMI:  too much information.

It’s easy here, though, to talk with people – it’s expected, even.  Hence, my first couple of days back have been entirely pleasant.  Politeness rules the incidental.  At the post office, I wasn’t just greeted with a foot-high stack of mail:  holiday cards, January issues and (happily in the age of online banking) almost no bills,  but also a warm “Welcome back!  How was your Christmas?”   My postmaster would make Emily Post proud.  She even enquired about my pre-holiday cold and if I have fully recovered.  I value these moments more than ever before.

I proceeded on to the local health clinic, where I needed to get a refill on antibiotics for a lingering ailment that pretty much laid me out for most of Christmas week.  Health always seems to top everyone’s list of resolutions with good reason, doesn’t it?  The nurse practitioner I met with was friendly, efficient, and chatted me up for a good 15 minutes after we settled the bill.  Another reason I like living here is that even without health insurance, I can see a medical professional without breaking the bank, and get more personal attention than I have since my family doctor of many years passed away.  She recommended a new pharmacy to get my prescription filled, Jensen’s, in Rockland and what a treat it was!  It was minimalist in decoration and display and had the feel of an art gallery/cafe – complete with coffee, tea and muffins and a comfortable seating area in which to wait.  I’ve never been in a drugstore as peaceful and well-designed as this, and the pharmacist was as helpful as could be.  Even here I was engaged in conversation with him and another customer.  No rushing in and out;  we had time to share small talk.  These benefits of small town living are really having an impact on me.

Next, I wandered around Camden, doing a little post-holiday shopping for next year, and took a moment to appreciate the winter harbor – the late afternoon  light in January is magical, isn’t it?

Heading back to my car, I cross paths with a paisley Prius with vanity plates that said GANESH.  I wonder if the driver’s intention is to remove all obstacles for the Green Movement to flourish in 2011?  If so, he has my vote – heck, I’d drive a funky-designed car if it meant clearing away environmental impediments.  As much as I’d like to give up driving to combat climate change, I must admit I love it too much – so my next vehicle will be either have to be electric or at least a hybrid, but that’s another post.  In any case, the driver nodded, smiled and waved as he rolled by, continuing to brighten my day.

Lastly, I signed up for a free yoga class that I found in the local newspaper, The Free Press, easily the best regional weekly in the Midcoast area.  I plan my week by their cultural and community listings, and am never disappointed.  I meet many people this way, and really am beginning to feel a part of the rhythm.  The Shivashakti School of Yoga hosts classes in a repurposed school building that also features art instruction, a dance studio, and a coffehouse/open-mic night.  Rachel, our yogini, led us through a gentle, but intense hour and half that was more than enough to hook me for the next few months.  Her grounding and approachability won me over;  that she trusted enough to offer a free class was icing on the cake.  I am so looking forward to stretching, toning, breathing, and just plain being with her as I attend to my health and well-being in the new year.

Such simple pleasure to be found in everyday courtesy and community – how cynical we can become when the world races past us and we lose the kindness of small moments of connection.  It was so nice to get away, and it is so nice to be home again, getting back to writing and hiking and the daily encounters I’ve come to cherish.  It’s like sinking into a hot tub of fragrant bubbles and soaking away the cares of the rush-a-minute world.

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