Today is my twenty-fourth birthday. Cricket and I left shortly after dawn and went to hike my mountain.
We spent almost eleven hours on the mountain and it was both the best and hardest day I’ve had in a long time.
The last time I was here, I was twelve. That was half my lifetime ago, and it was before all the bad things happened.
Last night I wrote out everything bad — everything — from the last twelve years. I wrote it out and then I burned the papers and collected the ashes in a bag. I carried all those ghosts of myself with me up the mountain.
I sprinkled the ashes on the wind at the tree line.
I felt as though I was standing with the child I was before. The child who climbed this mountain twelve years ago had no idea what her future held. She was full of life and she felt like she could conquer the world.
I lost that feeling somewhere along the way, but I realized I had it again as I stood there today.
Hiking my mountain this time was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I’m still dealing with chronic health issues that made the seven-mile hike tricky at times, but the mental and emotional elements wrapped up in the trip were the hardest things to deal with.
Coming back down my mountain, my heart was full of light. I felt present and connected and I was so full of joy I couldn’t stop smiling.
I’m a writer. A storyteller. But I’ve never known how to tell my own story.
I don’t want to be seen as a victim. Even to be seen as a survivor often makes me uncomfortable, because I rarely see myself that way. I mostly see myself as a human who had hard battles to fight. There is more to my existence than the trauma and I’m at a point where much of my existence is outside of those experiences.
Some time ago I wrote a poem with this line; I don’t remember the rest of the poem but this line is engraved in my mind:
“Survival is not who I am; survival is what I did. When you speak of me, call me by my name.”
I am Annie.
I don’t know what lies ahead but I do know two things for certain: one, that I am loved beyond comprehension, and two, that at the end of this incredible journey called life, I’m going home.
Earlier this week I had an Impromptu Rangeley Day. I needed to take some time away and had limited options, but I had a full tank of gas and the afternoon was free, so I grabbed my dog and we headed north.
Our first stop was the Maine Department of Transportation rest area on Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley. There’s a picnic area and bathroom facilities, and a tiny little trail that leads down to the river. This was my first visit this year; the rest area is closed during the winter months and opened in just the last few days.
The river water was pretty cold still. How do I know? I stepped in it and soaked my shoes, obviously. I was wearing the right shoes for it, so it was all good.
The entire trip was unexpected and I didn’t really have any structure. We headed up to Stratton and then through to Eustis, and stopped to take photos at Pines Market on Flagstaff Lake.
Flagstaff Lake is gorgeous, and one of the largest lakes in Maine; I have a love-hate relationship with it that I don’t entirely understand.
As a teenager I learned about the history of Flagstaff Lake. It is a man-made lake, created about seventy years ago when the Long Falls Dam was built, causing the Dead River to flood the valley. There were several small towns in the valley; the property was bought, many of the houses were moved, graveyards were exhumed and relocated, and the lake replaced the townships of Flagstaff, Bigelow, Carrying Place, and Dead River.
I’ve been told by local pilots that on a clear day they can still see the roofs of some of the houses under the water.
I know how strongly some people are bound to the land here in New England and I can imagine the grief of having to unearth more than a century of community history for the sake of a corporation.
I think in some ways the story of Flagstaff touches on my own grief and my own feelings of un-belonging. I have Native American ancestry, but I don’t know much more than that. Many of the records were destroyed when my great-grandmother Annie’s house burned down, and others were lost or obscured or forgotten about. I know that my ancestors lived in what I know as Maine and Canada, but I don’t know what tribes they belonged to and where they called home.
I often find myself standing in the woods, knowing that I know this place, and not understanding why or how. I feel invisible threads pulling me to the woods and the waters and the mountains, and I feel two conflicting things: I feel like I belong and that I know this place, and at the same time I feel like I am completely and entirely lost and that I don’t know where I am.
This spring I had the unexpected opportunity to listen to a man singing at the ocean. The words, the tune, and the rhythm were unfamiliar at first but as I sat on the rock and listened, I suddenly felt as though I knew what he was singing: he was singing about healing, and being, and part of the song was a prayer. I still couldn’t understand the words but I felt the same way I feel when I come home from a long time away and see my mountain for the first time; I felt like I was in a space where I belonged. It made me cry, sitting there on the rock.
I spoke with him briefly afterwards, and I asked what he had sung. He told me that he had sung healing songs, and spirit songs, and prayer songs.
When I think of Flagstaff and the villages that were destroyed, I remember my own history that holds so much that has been lost or destroyed or erased.
All of this was rattling around in my head while we were at the lake, so I decided to leave and head west to Quill Hill. It was my first trip there this year, and the day was lovely and I thought I would be able to get some good photos.
Quill Hill was created by Adrian Brochu. He engineered and designed the road up the mountain and the overlook at the summit, which gives 365 degree views of the entire Western Maine region. He also created the Ira Mountain overlook and picnic area.
I met Adrian once, while I was working on an article for the paper. He and I got to chatting and he asked about my writing. I explained that I write books as well as news articles, and he got excited for a moment. “Well,” he said, “I want someone to write a book about Quill Hill and Ira, and why I made them.”
I gave him my business card and he said he would get in touch in a few months when he was prepared to tell the whole story. He wanted to tell the story so his grandchildren would know it.
Adrian passed away a few months after our conversation. When I go to Quill Hill, I still wonder what stories he could have told me.
From Quill Hill we continued west into Rangeley. By that point I was pretty tired out and Cricket was getting a little warm, so we actually didn’t stay in Rangeley for long. We picked up snacks and headed south towards Smalls Falls, where I knew Cricket could get out and cool off and relax.
Smalls Falls is one of my favorite parts of a good Rangeley Day. Standing on the foot bridge over the river and listening to the water rush down the rocks into the pool is one of the most emotionally healing and cleansing experiences I’ve ever had and I always leave there feeling stronger and brighter.
There were people at the lower pool, so we crossed over the river and went up the other side to take photos of one of the upper pools.
One of the reasons I love Rangeley Days is because I get to see so many of my favorite places. Another is because I always find something unexpected. Sometimes it’s something external, and sometimes it’s something internal. Sometimes, it’s both.
On this Rangeley Day, which had started out so badly, I found a little bit of peace. I felt that I was part of this place and this place was part of me. When I got in the truck to drive, I felt like I was falling into a black hole in the universe. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I drove, and I took photos, and I tried not to think too much.
And by the end of my day I wasn’t anywhere near a black hole. I was here: in my world, where I belong.
It was an impromptu Rangeley Day but it was exactly what I needed.
Cricket and I went to the coast for a mini vacation this week. I was careful to pick weekdays, not the weekend, when there would be less traffic. I picked Freeport because of Wolfe’s Neck State Park, which is open year-around and allows dogs.
Wolfe’s Neck State Park
My family and I went to Wolfe’s Neck last year and I fell in love with the place. Given the pandemic and everything going on, I was looking forward to some time away in an outdoor setting.
Walking trails lead throughout the parking with a variety of terrain and lengths of trails. One of the trails is wheelchair accessible, which I love. It follows along a ridge to the overlook where you can watch the ospreys nesting on the island.
Our first day there I intended to buy a season pass to get into all the Maine State Parks. The website said I could buy one online and have it mailed to ne, which obviously wouldn’t work out since I was already a hundred miles away from my mailbox. Or I could buy one at the park.
I decided to get one at the park. We arrived and I found a park ranger emptying the self-service payment container. As it turns out, while the park is open year round, it’s self service for part of the year.
I had pretty good timing, however. The ranger was there when we got there. He was very helpful and went off to get me a season pass from the office since the park station wasn’t open and didn’t have any passes. We waited in the parking lot for him and he brought a whole bunch of goodies along with the pass, including a Maine State Park Passport and Geocache record. I’d never really heard of geocaching so the passport was a good excuse to get into it.
It was a rainy sort of day but we went for a long walk on the trails. I made the mistake of letting Cricket take the lead and she went off at a jog for two miles. She wore me out!
We didn’t see too many people all three days we were there. The first day, we met a family with small children. Cricket wanted to keep them and they wanted to say hello. Their grownup was very sweet and told them to wave hello to the dog.
A couple hours south they’re well into spring. Things are green and soft and warm, and it makes me happy.
Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Factory
I accidentally scared the living daylights out of two of my brothers so I had to buy chocolate to make amends. That called for a visit to Wilbur’s of Maine to get homemade chocolates for the boys and a few for me.
Island Treasure Toys
I didn’t pack any kind of art supplies and realized it was a terrible idea, so I hopped over to Island Treasure Toys and got watercolor paints and paper. Honestly it’s the first time I’ve had real watercolor paper, and it is AWESOME. The rest of the shop was a lot of fun to explore and I will probably have to do some birthday shopping there for my nephew.
Two Brothers Books
My mum and I found Two Brothers Books in Freeport and have been checking them out regularly on our Portland trips over the last couple years. We usually find something good hidden away in the shelves, and I just had to stop in and take a peek while I was in the area.
It was a great trip. We had lots of time to relax and rest, and we got to explore and check out different places and reconnect with favorite places.
I borrowed my youngest brother and we went off wandering. We did have a specific goal in mind and we didn’t make it that far, but we had a good time anyway.
Shiloh Pond is the brand-new conservation land in Kingfield, and we went up to get some photos for work. It’s not necessarily ‘open’, but there’s an easement on the road, so we could get in.
By “get in”, I mean, we could trudge in. The last section of road is dirt and in early April in Maine, that means mud. I don’t want to destroy the road so I parked at the end of the pavement and we walked in halfway before the boy decided he was tired and didn’t want to brave the rest of the walk on the snowy, muddy road.
“Leave no trace” is a phrase I’ve been taught my whole life, and I try to follow that rule. I tread softly.
We packed in a snack; the brother had cheerios and I had a cookie and milk from my favorite little shop in town. We stopped and snacked before we headed back out. As we started back out an eagle glided overhead, wings spread wide to catch the breeze.
Several turkeys had been through before us, and a chipmunk rustled the leaves, and dog prints led in towards the pond ahead of us and back out again.
I’m so excited that this little pond will be part of this community. I’m going to enjoy visits up there and wandering around the pond. Cricket loves it up there. Last summer she found bear droppings and it was the very stinky highlight of her week.
It was fairly warm, but the wind was rough. That was one of the bigger reasons we didn’t go all the way in, but we will another time. There will be plenty of opportunities later on.
Being outside was such an important thing of my growing up and I’m so excited that the kids in this community will have the chance to go get lost and be wild and adventurous. I think it’s really important for a healthy and balanced appreciation and interaction with nature, and this is going to be good for the whole community.
I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Had to stop in and get a Fatty from Rolling Fatties on Main Street. Next weekend is their last weekend before they close for the spring, so I had to get one more Fatty in before the break.
Fatties are burritos, made with local ingredients as much as possible. The basic Fatty has oat groats and black beans wrapped in a fresh tortilla with salsa and creme. I usually add lettuce and chicken or beef to round out the meal. You can get the Fatty in a bowl if you prefer and the options for customization are almost endless.
If you’re feeling super adventurous, go with the Freedom Fatty, which is just whatever the cook fancies. I haven’t tried that one yet because I’m still working through the rest of the menu, but one of these days I’m going to have to check it out and see what’s what.
Rolling Fatties is run by Polly and Rob MacDonald, and I love their enthusiasm and energy in taking care of their community.
Check them out on Facebook, Intsagram, and online at RollingFatties.com
For our snack, I had a cookie and chocolate milk that Kate gave me when I delivered some stuff for her. Kate and her husband Brian run the Maine Beer Shed and they carry local groceries and produce from local farms, including baked goodies from Nicole up at Bigelow Fields.
Once I started the cookie, I realized that just one was simply not acceptable. These cookies are INCREDIBLE and I had to go buy more for later this week.
It’s getting to be evening time and the girls are herding me off to bed, so I’d best sign off for tonight.
As it turns out, I’m not necessarily super good at talking. I have a tendency to transpose my words and put them in the wrong order which sometimes means that I very seriously and earnestly say things like, “Here in Maine, the hills grow on the trees, and that really limits the visibility.”
I’m sure it’s very bad for visibility if the hills are on top of the trees.
I dozed off no less than three times while finishing this post and when