So the Wabanaki call their ancestral homeland: their territory contains all three sites where one can first lay eyes on the rising sun from the North American continent (Cadillac Mountain claims the honor from Oct 7 to March 7). Very Private Person was closest to such a viewing on our last morning in Blackwoods, rising at 5 a.m. to hike a quarter-hour through forest to the seashore. She was no doubt on time but the skies were overcast. The seafog and mountain mist are as spectacular as the sparkling sun. Our touristing was surely no more unique or special than that of the earliest rusticators, although I admit to being impressed with how much material we generated for memory’s sake and as resources for future spin. Perhaps our story can complement the story cycles of the Micmac, which “appear to begin and end, but the People often took particular episodes and stuck them right in the middle of other story cycles, because there they would best illustrate the points the storyteller was trying to get across…” (p. 6, Six Micmac Stories). “Kisiku’k wikuomk,” begins the storyteller, using a ritual opening phrase, “The Old People are encamped…”

“It only hurts a little in the beginning,” Just-in-Time informed Lizuca as I handed her my business card. “You’ll get used to it.” (She really wanted to know, too, but Just-in-Time shared an old Chinese proverb: “Don’t trouble the trouble until the trouble comes to you.”) My first “american moment” had already occurred, two days previous, when we promptly lost each other after the initial rendezvous. Just-in-Time radioed (“Breaker Breaker”) that I was the only one who believed vacation begins when we set up camp; everyone else had already begun (he was only about forty minutes behind schedule). Ah, but I was the only one who knew what we were headed toward! Why delay on the highway? The peddle factor and some downhill momentum got us up to the astonishing speed of 64.73 mph – twice. All the crises occurred early in the trip, though, so we got them out of the way: one suicidal squirrel (“I’ve a bomb strapped to my belly!”), a missing CD case and, later, missing cell phone (“Dammit”), and one missed exit.

We got the tents up and raced off to catch a Park Ranger-led hike. After a few loops driving around trying to get oriented, we found – and rapidly dismissed – the Rangers’ staid presentations. The info was interesting but too much like school. Do not ask me how we got sucked into filling out a survey (torturing the examiner with our critical questions concerning literality and precise parameters of the questions in order to give accurate answers) after conquoring Gorham Mountain!

All but one of us made it to the false summit, and two of us continued on to the real summit – all whopping 525 vertical feet of it! I was apparently the quasi-leader as only part of the group knew from the beginning where we were heading (nice compliant followers that they all are. Ahem.) We spent hours on the mountain’s rocky trail and outcroppings looking, talking, resting, snacking, teasing, joking, and looking some more.

We detoured to the beach on the walk to the car, everyone submersing appendages (hands for me, feet for everyone else). I’m learning all the while, y’know? About going with the flow, letting time just be, adapting to the expressed needs of the group, enjoying the pleasure of relaxing – especially since I didn’t have to worry about food!

Dinner the first night set the tone for the weight-gaining, waist-expanding, eating extravaganza. Mostly we ate, waddled to the tents, campfire, water spigot, bathrooms, and back to the table to eat more. The first night’s chili was remarkable for its high notes. Sleep came quick for yours truly, as I postponed my shower – by independent decision – until the morning. I was also the last to awake. Did I actually accrue some courtesy points for sheer age? πŸ™‚

Friday (Day 2) was full. We actually made it out of camp less than ten minutes after our targeted departure time. Mt. Champlain was calling to us! We took the Bear Brook Trail, taking it slow and easy, eating wild blueberries along the way. “Other than Concord grapes and cranberries, wild blues are the only other naturally occuring berry variety in North America” (p. 19, Out and About in Downeast Maine, August 2007). We learned the berries were safe to eat from a couple in their seventies, who blew by us on the trail. They were spring chickens compared with the couple who must have been in their nineties who we met already on their way down!

Once we reached the summit most of us sought shade, although a couple of hardy adventurers tried to tackle The Precipice (somehow not seeing the WARNING: CLOSED TRAIL sign – and this, despite our hour-long jam session on the environmental impact survey!) The sun and air were HOT. The coolness of the stone shaded by the rough scrub trees felt heavenly. I definitely dozed off. Eventually, it was time to head down so we could take in Echo Lake. Did I mention it was HOT? I cranked the AC while The Lord of the Sky and The Ever-Smiling Evil Indian surprised us with ice-cold Lychee sodas. “This is very civilized,” Very Private Person announced. Indeed!

What a lunch we had! Again! Vegetarians eat really well: “tasty, might tasty!” I was kinda in a funk, though, “dammit.” The middle and low notes of the red pepper tortillas just couldn’t do it for me; I needed green spinach. “Is that a boy I’m seeing or a man at a distance?” The Lord of the Sky goes down in history. “It was a very relevant question when I asked it!” The gang went swimming, I got (partially) sketched. Mostly I slept while the young ‘uns cavorted in the water. Time passed, as it will. Eventually the chill of the water took its toll and the kids came out, dried off, and we began the meander back to camp. I’ve begun to seriously worry about the left rear tire’s incessant squeaking and intermittent thunking, so I start shopping for a mechanic.

The uncertainties of life-in-a-tent-on-an-island are wearing on at least one other camper. Just-in-Time thrives on thwarting established structures, but in their absence has become a bit obsessed with scheduling each day’s events. Chai becomes a tradition, if only to feed a particular addiction.

Dinner, once again, is delectable. We gather ’round the campfire, serenaded by a gallant mix of American pop tunes and plaintive Indian ballads. (Who knows what the neighbors think.) There are two, count them, One, TWO smores virgins! Serious initiation rites are undertaken. Both survive. Graham stickers are invented! (Variations for breakfast on the last day.)

Sleep comes deep, again, not only for me. Rumors of strange noises in the night animate the breakfast conversation on Saturday (Day 3). Someone’s bad gender joke is being counted, threateningly, against various fellow campers: “That’s one.”

Plans take shape haphazardly. Threats of thunderstorms abound; the sky is deeply overcast above the campground. My early foray out to cell phone range reveals high clear skies: we are socked in by fog. Something gets decided; we leave camp. En route, it seems we’ve forgotten about going up Cadillac and plans are revised. Will we beat the clouds? A French saying keeps coming to mind, one that had come up the previous day: “She doesn’t lose the North.” Now there’s a compliment, and an ambition! What goals do we set our sights upon? What is worth winnowing to a finely-tuned focus for guidance through the confusing swirls of postmodernism’s continuum of responses to the ongoing primitivities of modernity?

There are clouds; at the Blue Hill Overlook the prospects for a view from the top appear grim. We take (what will no doubt become) our infamous group shot and forge ahead. Only to be surprised! The view is not clear, but we are above the clouds and their contoured, patchwork blanketing of the land and islands is magnificent. We piddle along the summit path, with nary a care (except to stay on it!) After the extreme exertion, we stop at the car for snacks before proceeding to the Gift Shop. Structure/Schedule Man gets anxious and chases us out before we spend our fortunes; Jordan Pond awaits!

We ate on the upper balcony, expressing our delight with the food – the full palate of notes is invoked…I collect a honeybee friend, we ponder the life of the upper class, spread across the luxurious lawn sipping high tea and eating trademark popovers. I have been having one of “those kind of times” – plagued by memories, a difficult dream, that dang blasted perennial sense/fear/perception of not belonging. It’s hard to shake, but I’m doing my best. We decide coffee would be a real treat, and indeed, hokey as it may be, the sentiments on the cup capture our experience:

Seize the day.

Seize the difference.

Seize a cup.

Ceasar salad.

Julius Ceasar.

We have dutifully seized upon everything that has come our way, noticing and embellishing upon difference, sharing cups, tomorrow night Lizuca will eat a ceasar salad, and Just-in-Time confesses he has subtly been manipulating us with his brilliant behind-the-scenes leadership all along. I cannot stop myself – and I don’t want to. How do I get myself back “in” to the group? They have not perceived me outside of it. We banter playfully with plenty of thoughtfulness about cultural differences as well as those instilled by individual life/family experiences. “Our collective intelligence,” as I said that day, “is higher than the sum of our individual smarts.” We consider our compatibilities, ultimately deciding . . . to go for a walk.

Raindrops have fallen, so there is shade of urgency to get out there and see some of the pond. We walk a short ways, some ten minutes, to a fork. I point left, “short way”, and right “long way.” Two voices (at least) simultaneously call “Short!” So we go long.

A deer off in the distance draws attention and we forget (I guess?) that turning around is an option. The walk is gorgeous. The rain trickles. We dance, prance, play around. Have I been being primed for this moment? My chi is ready, whether or not the rest of me knew this opportunity was coming or not. We’ve been on the trail about an hour; I’m about to learn about Vipasana meditation. The mist is thick, we cannot see the other shore. Just-in-Time is reminded of The Hounds of Baskerville. I recall The Mists of Avalon. A stone stairwell looms up along the forest path.

Vipasana seeks two goals: awareness and equanimity. There are four steps to achieving the balance of deep inner peace: cognizing, recognizing, feeling, and responding. The first three steps occur within our psyches at such rapid rates and autonomic processes that there is no way to intervene. We can only shape our own minds at the fourth stage, during the step of response. In order, cognizing is the stage of sensory input, anything that we sense via our senses is a “sense object”. This happens as (in my words, according to my understanding of Jean-Luc Marion) appearing. The second step of recognition is probably what needs to be stripped away in later processes of reduction. The sense object elicits recognition based upon whatever prior associations we have with other sense objects of its kind, or similar, or otherwise evoked by it because of our mood and/or other inputs at the time. These memories and thoughts also appear, without conscious effort or even consciousness: they arrive as suddenly as the sense object itself.

The third step is where I get into the most trouble – I suspect this is deeply cultural. (I have some evidence from the research framework of “cultural codes.”) Americans, especially of the middle and upper-middle-class brackets I’ve been most exposed to, tend to privilege “feelings” as the best, ultimate source of authority concerning truth. For over a decade I’ve been learning to parse what is my intuition shaped by grounded knowledge and what are my gut reactions based on various life experiences. Learning how to detect the former instead of the latter is a matter of attention to the smallest nuances of perception. Choosing the former when discerned is a matter of discipline, self-regard, and responsibility for effects upon others.

Thus we arrive at the fourth step, response. Two concepts from interpersonal communication have been sticking more deeply in my mind: the notion of “nexting” and the skill of “joining.” Taking whatever has been given (phenomenologically), what is the range of movement I have to respond in a way that at least has a chance of nudging us toward a productive, happier solution or at least a more peaceful interaction? In other words, how does what I do “next” build on specific elements of the past toward a desired future? How do I find means/methods of “joining” that enable less violence – even if we disagree, even if we dislike one another? Perhaps, a teacher might tell me, I am too attached to outcome. Yet there is a tension: passivity alone can lead to disengagement – the lessening of vitality instead of its enhancement. Clearly, here is the pivot point of my own tipping scale!

Somewhere in the middle of that conversation, we reached what we thought was a dead end, radioing back to the laggers, who sympathized with us to the tune of the Pink Panther. Twas a false alarm, however, just about coincident with the discovery that we were just over halfway around the 187-acre “pond.” We carried on cheerfully enough, nonetheless. πŸ™‚ “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now!”

It was bound to happen. I’d made us a reservation for dinner, predicting bad weather and the mild potential of a desired change of pace from camp cooking. We cancelled it two hours in advance, having decided we wanted more time in camp. Then someone wanted to just peek at the actual town of Bar Harbor, “Can we just stop for a few minutes?” Two hours later we found ourselves at McKay‘s, snarfing lobster and portobellos. The food was yummy. The locally-brewed beer had a nice end note.

When we finally descended on our campsite it was a relief (at least for me) to discover that the tarps held up. The rain was never heavy but enough to accumulate in a few pockets and thoroughly wet the ground. Finally the time had come for cards. We played two cut-throat games of Macau. Two of us had played Uno (a very close cousin), and three of us were rookies. One of the rookies lost the first game, one of the Uno-ites lost the second. “Dammit.” The games went on but bed called.

Our slowest morning – no one wanted to face the possibility of having to pack up. We were all lulled into the hope of my Plan A, which was to stay two more nights while my car got worked on in the shop. As it turned out, I had to go with Plan B, and we were thrust into the flurry of breaking camp. No stress here! Somehow it all happened (as it always does), and we dashed off to the beach for a final picnic, three-on-three cliff frisbee, and kite-flying flurry of must-do’s.

Then the turds left me.

“Go on,” ritually urge all the listeners.

And the story cycles go on, endlessly changing, endlessly staying the same, just as the world does” (p. 8, Six Micmac Stories).

“The circle represents the wholeness of the Native way of life. It is a perfectly balanced shape; it also represents movement. The repeating cycles of nature move in circles – the seasons, birth, growth, death, and decay; cycles of community and social life.” p. xvi in R.M. Leavitt, Maliseet and Micmac: First Nations of the Maritimes

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