Monday, January 21, 2019

Shutdown but Out in Maine

On Snowshoes
Three weeks of Furlough-di, Furlough-da! are coming to an end.  Funds were mysteriously found last Thursday with which to pay State Department employees, and thus my young friend Catriona and I are in her Land Cruiser somewhere between Bangor and Augusta, ME, as we make our way back to DC.  We’re supposed to report to work on Tuesday, but who knows?  We’re racing a winter storm.  The sky is sunny here, but it won’t be for long.  We’ll overnight in Hartford, CN, and indications are that we’ll wake in the morning to more snow and ice than we may be able to handle.  What will be will be.  There are worse things in life than an extra day in Hartford.

Sigh.  I’d be returning to DC whether or not funds had been found.  Last Wednesday I was re-classified as excepted (essential) and told to report to work without pay.  At least now we know we’ll get some pay, even if it’s unclear how long the mysterious funds will hold out.

Three weeks at home in Maine.  That’s the longest stretch I have been able to spend at home since NN came with me on R&R from Kazakhstan in 2016.  Three weeks is just long enough to feel one has settled in at home, not merely come for a quick visit.  I had been scheduled for a week of vacation at New Year’s, but the government shutdown took us all by surprise.  I decided to stay put at home and canceled my return ticket.  Catriona, also on furlough, drove up to join me mid-way through my second.

Maine is the one place on the East Coast of the US that reminds me of both Romania and Kazakhstan, the countries that came to feel the most like home to me while I served overseas.  The hills and mountains of Maine are like those in Romania, as is the maple syrup.  The snow and wind are like Kazakhstan.  January temperatures down to -18C are normal in my part of the state.  A patch of brown earth would be worthy of shocked surprise.  I love winter.  I love snow.  I love my home in Maine.

How did I spend my time?  I couldn’t get Hillary, my 1991 rear wheel drive station wagon, out of the driveway, and thus I stayed close to home.  I arrived in Bangor by bus on December 29 and did my grocery shopping before paying a princely sum to a Lyft driver to take me all the way home from Bangor.  I easily had food for a month, and my little town’s general store supplies the daily needs of bread and milk.

On other visits home I would drive to Baxter State Park or to Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument for my hiking or winter snow shoeing.  Not getting there turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it forced me to look for alternatives right where I live.  To my happy surprise, I discovered Maine’s Interconnected Trail System (ITS) for ATVs and snowmobiles.  One of the main routes passes through my town, and during the work week there is no one on it.  I could snowshoe for as long and as far as I wanted and not meet any person or any vehicle.  The woods and hills were just as winter quiet and beautiful as those I usually drive to get to.  I was thrilled to find that I have this outdoor resource treasure right at my doorstep.

I also have my own 32 acres, the front 7-8 acres of which are partially cleared.  I clipped on the cross country skis that I brought with me from Kazakhstan.  I have a long way to go before I qualify even as a novice, but I am able to push myself around on the skis, not to mention get a good aerobic and upper body workout as I do it.

I set my own time at home in Maine.  I mean that not only in the sense of doing what I want when I want but also in the sense of choosing my own time zone.  With a deferential nod to those who determine boundaries, my part of Maine has no business being in Eastern Standard Time.  If the zone boundaries were drawn without reference to borders, we’d be in Atlantic Time with the Canadian maritime.  That’s the time zone I choose to live in while at home.  It lets me see the January sun set at 5pm, not 4pm.  I love nothing better than to sit on my porch even in January and watch the sun go down through my trees.

Evenings were for music, reading, movies, and serials.  Even in Maine I enjoy watching Russian serials, if not Russian news, and after Catriona’s arrival we would take turns choosing what to watch.    She introduced me to The Terror, a fictionalized account of Franklin’s ill-fated 19th century expedition to find the Northwest Passage.  What better place than Maine to watch a serial about explorers locked in ice and eternal winter?  I rejoined by playing Stan Roger’s Northwest Passage, a song that both Sultana and my son love.

Shutdown but by all means out in the great outdoors:  those were my three weeks in Maine.  Only 32 weeks remain until my mandatory separation for age, an event that I look at more as high school graduation than retirement.  Maine is now home, and I feel a pang of regret as we leave.  I want more time in the Maine woods, but if there is a plus to our return to DC, it is that we will be able to participate in person in whatever protests are being organized.  I’ve already appeared in protest once in front of the White House.  There undoubtedly will be more such appearances.

We’re nearing Augusta now.  The sky has already darkened as we head south to the equally dark politics of Washington.

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