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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Settling In

Over the past few weeks, the storm  of searching for work in Boston has settled and the sky in Maine has remained blue for days on end.  I felt relieved by this decision made for me.  On my interview trips to the big city,  I witnessed a lot ofthe everyday trauma. It reminded me of my first job in Boston when I worked  second-shift street outreach with homeless and runaway youth. The screech, grime, and neglect of the MBTA were too familiar. The streets and buildings were spiffed up and more glamorous than before, but the people still rattling their paper cups for spare change on many corners had not changed in the 30 years since I had worked there.  

Now refocused, my days meld together with a daily list of the projects and tasks inherent in making a  life in the rural north.  I am doing a couple of pro-bono contracts with nonprofit groups to build relationships and keep my head in the game.  There are stimulating conversations, enthusiastic cover letters, a new love-affair with Cross Fit, and more projects in the garden.  I am reveling in the simple pleasures of reading newsprint and magazines, feeling the cool air of an incoming storm, and checking off the hikes on the Southern Mid-Coast Summer Trail Challenge.
The myriad of places one can go are pretty staggering. 

Current events over the past weeks of July--not only the horrific domestic terrorism incidents but also the damning report on the Cambodian Prime Minister’s riches followed by the suspicious assassination of a beloved political activist with a Ph.D.-- has made me look more closely at the culture and customs of this new home.  There are differences and similarities. The ubiquitous motos in Cambodia with the large people on loud and enormous motorcycles with optional helmets.  It is not uncommon to see bareheaded riders zooming past my car on the highway, engines rumbling deeply in throaty power. Do the helmetless riders have children?  I wonder. 

 Unlike Cambodia’s largely young population, Maine has an average age of 43.5, the oldest in the nation. I now have a new appreciation for what it takes to age well.  In a semblance of democracy, the current governor was elected by only 38% of Maine residents in 2014 for a second term, due in part to the technical details of having more than 2 candidates on the ballot. There are thousands of miles of legally protected land conserved by  multitudes of local Land Trust organizations who have members that pay dues and help with maintaining the trails.  Like Cambodia, the government does not agree with protection. In recent months, Govenor LePage wrote a strongly worded letter on the State of Maine letterhead to donors of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, lambasting them for impeding economic development because of "locking it up"- a refrain familiar from Alaska.
The view from Eagle Island to Casco Bay at low tide.

The shopping centers in Maine are asphalt deserts, with large islands of air-conditioned oases where everything is neat and the staff wait patiently at the registers. There are only a few opportunities to buy direct from a single merchant, except on Maine Street.  I miss cycling to Central market and stepping through the goo in the wet market section, but not the expat markup. America's imperfections are showing their heads in this rural state of Maine, with the highest rate of prescription opiate addiction in the nation (CDC), and the percentage of students who graduate with a Bachelors degree is slightly below the national average.  People here drive very long distances for work. See this great link for the image.

I applied for a part-time (keep 'er busy) job last week and as I hit the submit button I could feel the vestiges of my work experience in Cambodia drifting away. That period of my life now distant on the horizon, buffeted by the winds of change and the choices.  Each day, I am reminded of the transience of this one life we have to live.  Just last week I'd just finished fueling the car when I saw an older gentleman waving me over.

"Could you go in and find someone to pump my gas for me?"  He looked at me kindly.  His tissue paper hands, discolored by age spots, held the steering wheel. His cane was propped up on the seat next to him, and his back supported by a ventilating seat cover behind the wheel of a newish Subaru wagon.  I hesitated for only a second and said, "No problem. I can do this for you."  He handed me his L.L. Bean credit card and as I watched the gasoline meter tick away. I was struck by the risk management inherent in being an old person alone and to have the courage and humility to ask for help from a complete stranger. He only needed a few gallons.

The next day, I went out on a work trip to Admiral Peary's summer house, just off the coast south of Brunswick. I was the youngest volunteer there.
From the 1985 Arctic Explorers series 
Peary was a difficult, driven guy but depended on the people close to him- his trusted associate Matthew Henson, his wife Josephine who traveled to arctic while pregnant and birthed the first caucasian baby in northern Greenland and their cook, who worked for them for 50 years. Peary's explorations were all based on Inuit survival tactics with a strong backbone of resilience and resourcefulness.

Peary's personal credo: Inveniam Viam Aut Facium “ I will find a way or make one.” This next phase to search for my next livelihood, however long it will take, will involve surveying the scene, building my community and readying for whatever unfolds next.