Speeding east from Michigan, which I last blogged about, we made two quick and lovely stops in PA with friends and neighbors, spent a month at a family-style campground in CT while Michael did a Sol LeWitt job at Yale, and then wandered up into Vermont for a week of family downtime. We badly needed it after spending 4 weeks cozied up to mostly cliquish neighbors who were "seasonals" and all knew each other, and whose kitchen sinks and flickering TVs we could easily see. We're slowly learning how to choose campgrounds, and going with the smaller family-run ones that have few seasonal spots seems to be the way to go.
We reluctantly packed up our VT hideaway, which was the nicest campground to date, and started towards friends and work in Bangor Maine on the back roads. We've come to realize that small towns aren't as scary as we thought in a 55' long rig, that Matilda really can pull us over the mountains (Eastern ones at least), and that there are ways of finding places to park that open up more meal possibilities. I've come to hate the travel plazas on the highway, aside from the fact that parking is easy. The food just sucks, and it didn't help that at the last one we stopped at, I came into the dining area after Michael and the boys were already seated and eating on the far side of the room, and Michael chose to holler at the top of his lungs "BETHANY! WE'RE OVER HERE!" and then smirk as every single eye in the place watched me waltz/slink across the room to where they sat. Yup.
So we took two days on the back roads to get from SW Vermont to Bangor, including truly boondocking for the first time at a trailhead parking lot right on the NH/ME border. We finally got a second battery hooked up, and now have enough power for a night or two. After poking around roadside stands, playing on the banks of the Kennebec River, and watching Fynn for signs of concussion as he landed hard after falling 8 feet out of a pine tree (thank God for Arnica!) ... we arrived at the Drown's place on a Saturday afternoon, their open arms a very welcome sight.
We know Tim and Karen from waaay back, before they were married, and though we hadn't seen each other for about a dozen years, it was like nothing had changed. We immediately felt right at home. It's really a funny thing though, this staying in people's driveways business. We're guests, but we don't sleep in the house. We're working on projects a lot of the time, so we tend to stay a bit longer than the typical guest anyhow and are in/out of the house constantly, while our hosts are going about their work and usual commitments. It doesn't take too many days for the "company face", if there is one, to fade. We seem to become a part of the landscape, learning how much socializing is desired, and when to stay in the camper and do our own stuff. The balance is different at every stop.
It takes a certain vulnerability to let us in, trust that we'll all get along, work out the best boundaries for each family, and leave before we start to get too tiresome. It's been a huge learning curve but it's getting a bit easier I think to read the signs. We're finding that we can't really commit in advance to arrival dates, as it puts way too big of a crimp in the feeling that we need to stay as long as it takes to be done, whatever Done is. Whether it's finishing a project, a conversation, an outing, or simply the feeling crystalizing that it's time to Go. It's a product of being wayfarers, but something that I didn't really understand before we started out.
I'm struggling to find the words to describe it, but this life feels a lot like boating to me. Nothing is ever fixed, there's always a bit of a rocking motion even if you're anchored, and progress is hard to see but there's no doubt that we're moving towards something. I'm finding my sea legs, perhaps? I'm seeing though that the more at home I feel somewhere, the more I get a bit antsy/wistful and feel like I need to move on before I lose my nerve. I'm a homebody. Yes, the camper itself is completely and entirely home, and I love it. It's just big enough, cozy enough, and nicely portable ... and I always have my own bed! But there is a goal at the end of all this, which involves community of some sort, and when I find a particularly delicious bit of fellowship somewhere, or a super homey home, it makes me a bit hungry to have more consistent access to things like that. To build our own stuff, not just things for other people.
That time is coming, but it can't come until this trip is done. And when that will be is just as vague as how long we're staying at our current stop. (We're in Shadyside MD, by the way, in case you're wondering). We'll know it's over when it feels like time to stop, and I trust God to make it clear to both of us. In the meantime, we're learning more than I ever thought possible, in both heart-knowledge and building/fixing/creating skills. People keep letting us do all kinds of fun projects, trusting us to get it done even when we don't have a portfolio that shows any real experience in that particular arena. It kinda surprises me every time, but it's a lovely trust to have.
Have I mentioned lately how much we truly love working together? It's keeps getting sweeter, and just plain feels really really good when we get to. I don't know if it has anything to do with people trusting us to get stuff done, but there's something about combining our skills and thought processes that gives us a joint confidence that's almost started to erode our ability to work separately. Feels like a somewhat dangerous comment, but it's true. When you get in the habit of trading responsibilities back and forth, trusting the other person to fill in your gaps, it becomes a lot more like swing dancing, and a lot less like YMCA. The possibilities increase, as do the risks. I wouldn't have it any other way.
So ... back to Tim and Karen's driveway, where we ended up parked for 2 weeks. They're both teachers now, having made a career switch nearly a decade ago when Tim was diagnosed with MS. They have a big rambling old house that's full of charm and character and love. Their 5th (and last) child left for college right before we arrived, but the house isn't empty as they have 3 high school exchange students living with them, two from China and one from Vietnam. The dinner table was lively and lingering, the flow of the house harmonious, and we all completely relaxed.
We painted a couple of rooms, landscaped, roofed, organized, porch fixed, went to church, walked Fritz, and went sight seeing. Acadia National Park wasn't too far away, so we visited Sand Beach, Schoodic point, and Bar Harbor (once frustratingly as Google doesn't know how to get to Sand Beach), and once deliberately so we could go whale watching. We stuffed ourselves with lobster, played ping pong, saw sperm whales, climbed rocks, played with dead jellyfish, watched piles of Star Wars, made new friends, ate real chinese food, and were loved on in countless visible and invisible ways.
We seriously toyed with the idea of heading to NS/NFLD from Maine, but weather and finances dictated a turn south, so after we reluctantly left Tim and Karen waving in their driveway, we wandered southwest to Turner where we'd booked a week at Martin's Creek Campground for down time. It jumped into the "best campground so far" slot on the first morning (after parking in the dark, never fun!) when Fynn and the cats and I skidded down the bank behind our site and perched on a fallen tree that spanned the creek ... only to have a great blue heron land 10' away on the end of the branch we were sitting on, stare at an utterly oblivious Edmund for a minute or two, and then launch himself off again in search of a more likely breakfast! It was truly idyllic ... Michael managed to get a painting done, we found a local cider brewery (yum!), watched a mink plonk it's way up and down the creek bank while we were out canoeing, and soaked up sun and solitude. It felt like we'd finished the unwinding we started in VT, and was truly healthy for us all.
Next up was Mike and Ruth Anne's place, in Brunswick Maine. Ruth Anne and I are birds of a feather for sure, and though we'd only met in person the week before (when she came up to our campground for an afternoon) it was a delight to spend a whole week together, catching up on thoughts and experiences and life ... it felt like picking up right we we left off, even though most of our communicating had been via the web and phone up until then. We share a past in that we both grew up in the same church group, and that gave us a tremendous amount in common. Adding to the delight was the fact that our husbands spoke the same language, and got along famously.
While we didn't do too much to their rental house other than a bit of winterizing, we did do a lot of hiking ... and Ruth Anne is a champion hiker! Their son Bradley was only 7 months old, but no stranger to taking a 5 mile tromp through woods or salt marshes or over boulders, strapped to his mama. While there was a wee bit of initial grumbling by my two boys, they were soon won over by the views, the trees, the remote beaches, and the rocks to run over or build with, depending on the size. Fynn especially caught the bug, and asked to go again and again. It made me wonder why we don't voluntarily hike, but we never really have, at least as a family. Ruth Anne's enthusiasm kindled a real spark though, and the exercise was great for us all. Maine really wormed it's way into our hearts.
It came time to move on however, and we pulled out of our (front yard this time!) spot and got back on the road. Temps had dropped yet again, and we were really feeling the pressure to get further south. We were heading to Massachusetts and family and friends in the vicinity of Boston next, but wanted a night to ourselves in between. I'd reserved a spot at a nearly-deserted campground that was open for a couple more weeks, and just before we got there Matilda started making funny noises. Increasingly funny noises. We hit a rest area, pried her hood open, and started poking around. Dressed up more than usual from going to church with Ruth Anne that morning, and both too short to see much in the engine without climbing half into it, we provided some amusement to the truckers we were parked next to. Eventually suspecting the vacuum pump, we called a mechanic friend for confirmation (thanks Tim!) and limped on to the campground and a late supper.
Our one night turned into I think four, as we found a very taciturn man in a local shop who agreed to put it in, but said the part was over $400 and would take 3 days to get there. After Amazon Prime came to the rescue with a $90 part, he agreed to put it in. I'm not sure more than 50 words were exchanged in the entire process, including bringing the part for inspection, dropping the truck off, and picking it up. Ayuh.
Michael suggested a hike on the day we were waiting for the part to show up, and plotted a 2.5 mile course to a local beach. (We didn't dare drive the truck any more than absolutely necessary.) I packed apples and nuts and some water in a backpack, and we took off. The sun was intermittent, and once we got off the main highway the roads were pretty. Michael ducked off the road into an unmarked side path to go pee at one point, and came back with "You guys better come take a look at this!"
"This" was the stuff of fairy tales. Mossy carpet for a path, ferns, dappled sunlight, and leprechauns lurking in the trees. We took it, despite not knowing where it ended up or how much it would add to the hike. We wound through a forest of huge old trees, a salt marsh, an apple orchard gone wild, and ended up on a crashing rock-lined beach, the same one we'd intended to get to via the road. We left before we wanted to, as the snacks were running out, the path home was long, and the sun was setting and temps dropping. We stopped long enough to fill the backpack with wild apples, got entirely fed up with eating said apples, and managed to get home just before dark. An awesome day.
The next day we had to pick up the truck, but it also happened to be our 15th anniversary. We left the boys in the camper for a couple hours while we wandered through a huge old/rare book store that was in a converted home and super well organized, and then sat at the counter at a local restaurant for a cup of excellent chowdah. Short but perfect.
This trip is so full of delight and growth and pain and humor and connection and overwhelm that I have no real way to describe it. There's a faint rhythm to it, but no real marking of days. There are needs, there are jobs, there are realizations, there are breakdowns. Pain seen, but not fixed. Hearts hurting, bandaids shared. Conversations that rip me open, others that pour in the oil and wine. Days of physical labor and exhaustion that feel like the best workout ever, and I can't wait to wake up and do it again. It feels like I'm truly living in a way I never have, choosing every morning what Can We Do today, and then reaching for it, together. Sometimes actually getting it, often not. There IS joy in the journey. I'll take it, messy bits and all.