Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bringing Myself Home

The movers are here again.  Can I really have been working in Washington, DC, for over a year?  It seems only weeks ago that the movers were unloading my household effects fresh from Romania.   Just as during pack out from Bucharest, friends are holding my hands emotionally through the day.  Last year it was P.E., B.D., T.J., and several others who saw me through the day.  This year it is B.N. and D.U., respectively one of my newest and one of my oldest friends, two persons as dissimilar as night and day but yet united in their love and friendship for me and me for them.  Together we watch my apartment by the railroad tracks empty out.  To my own surprise, even this noisy little apartment became a home this year, the scene of dinners with friends and family, of laughter, and of hugs. I am sad to be leaving, but this is what we do in the Foreign Service.  We are always saying goodbye.

That was a week and a half ago.  Now I sit in Maine in my little home that is still a work in progress.  Alas, the builder stretched the truth beyond the breaking point when he promised a livable home by the time I arrived; a completed bathroom and kitchen are still weeks away by my guess.  Still, it is my own, the only home on this planet that is mine completely without any pretensions from any other person or bank.  Like my own life, it is a work in progress.

 CSC HST PASS Reunion Picnic
My unplugging from Washington began the weekend before pack out.  Friends from my old company, CSC, organized a reunion picnic for those of us who had worked together for many years on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) PASS project.  People drove from as far away as Huntsville, AL, to spend an afternoon at a park not far from Baltimore.  Some I had seen two years ago at a lunch get-together when I was in the US on R&R.  Others I had not seen in more than a decade.  Needless to say, they had not seen me either, so this was yet another “coming out” with old friends.   Together we had put together much of the ground systems for HST, had been through launch and servicing mission support, and had put together a two-gyro control mode when Hubble's gyros began to fail.  Beginning the day of the picnic and continuing through the coming two weeks, I was on a journey of remembering and looking forward to the next phase.

With my 23-year-old station wagon fully loaded, I drove out of Takoma Park, MD, for the last time on Thursday evening, August 14.   B.N. gave me dinner and lodging for the night. On Friday morning I was up and out early.  I drive a car so rarely that getting behind the wheel of Hillary, my 1991 Colony Park station wagon, is a special occasion.  Although a lifelong cyclist and almost exclusively a cyclist and pedestrian while living in Washington, I'm not anti-car as such.  Like everything in life, driving a car should be something done in appropriate measure.  Hillary may not be new, but she's big and strong and attracts admiring stares wherever I go with her.  Getting behind the wheel on that Friday morning, I smiled to think that I was at the start of a new adventure.

I had decided in advance to take the road less traveled to Maine. My route was to be circuitous and take me places I had never been.   Speed was not important.  The journey itself was what counted.

Overlooking Harper's Ferry
The first part of the trip was familiar.  Rather than heading north on I-95, I went first to Harper's Ferry, stopping there to do a day hike on the Maryland Height's Trail.  Is there any better view of the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah than from the Maryland Heights?  The song Take Me Back to Harper's Ferry by Magpie played through my mind.

From Harper's Ferry it was westward to Little Orleans, where I stayed for a night at my favorite Potomac Appalachian Trail Club cabin.  This had been a spot of refuge for me for many years. Only two hours from Washington, the Little Orleans cabin could be hundreds of miles and decades away.   I remember being here with my son and others from his boy scout troop for the Leonid meteor shower in 2001.  The boys stayed up all night to watch the meteors that reached storm numbers just before sunrise.  I was there again for a week in 2004 in the short break between my farewell at CSC and the start of my new career at the Department of State.  How well I recall that week as I said farewell to the past and looked uncertainly to the future.   I spent several days there again in August 2007 shortly after my return from my Moscow posting.  It was during those days that I firmed my decision to divorce, not yet knowing where that decision would lead.

At my Favorite PATC Cabin in Little Orleans
This time, however, my visit to Little Orleans was one of peace and celebration.  My next posting in Kazakhstan will bring new challenges, but I have now been with the Department of State long enough to know that I can handle all situations.   I rocked in the hammock at Little Orleans, remembered past visits at times of change and decision, and smiled to think that I have, after so many decades of journey, become myself.  As I left, I borrowed borrowed a book, Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille, the story of a woman who built and lived in her own cabin in the Adirondacks in the 1960s.  There I am, I thought, an aspiring woodswoman apprentice from northern Maine.   (The more I read the book, however, the more I realize the extent of Ms. LaBastille's accomplishment that I may not be able to duplicate.)

I lingered over a long breakfast at Little Orleans on Saturday and only finally left in the early afternoon.  My next stop was not far away, at the Paw Paw Tunnel.  Here, too, I recalled earlier visits by bike and by foot, by myself or with my son and spouse.  Both the memories and the present brought a smile.  I hiked over the tunnel on the tunnel hill trail and then returned on the C&O Canal towpath, carefully holding the towpath railing in the dark so as not to slip.

Paw Paw Tunnel
A bit further to the west and then, at Cumberland, it was time to turn Hillary northward.   It was after 6pm when I crossed the Pennsylvania border.  Where would I stay for the night?  A quick look at the AAA guide showed there to be a campground in Bedford, PA, so I headed there.  D.U. had loaned me his tent, ironically also named Hillary as in Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to conquer Mt. Everest.  Only after I had pitched the tent and gone to explore did I realize that the entire campground had been turned into one large fundamentalist gospel revival meeting for the weekend.  I did feel a bit out of place, to say the least, but I relaxed after an older woman in the restroom commented that I was dressed real purdy.

Bedford was an appropriate place to stop in that U.S. Route 30, the original Lincoln Highway, passes through there.  My own journey to the north was in the spirit of long-distance adventures undertaken by motorists in the 1920s when travel by automobile was still new and a night's lodging was likely to be at campgrounds.   My own travel was to the north, but I detoured briefly to drive E-W on Rt. 30 in honor of those early adventurers.  Returning via local roads to my own northbound route on I-99, I passed a covered bridge.  I truly had traveled back in spirit to an earlier period of travel.

I stopped that afternoon in Wellsboro, PA, to hike down into the gorge that is the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, making friends with and exchanging photos with another family that was doing the same.  That night I camped by a river in Owego, NY, making friends with the family at the next campsite after losing my matches in the dark.  Dinner was black beans and rice that had come with me in the cooler from home and that I heated over Sterno.

At the Rim of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon
On Monday, August 18, I passed through Cooperstown, NY, stopping just long enough to buy a tee shirt for a baseball-loving friend.  My own aim was the Adirondacks, but I may have chosen my route poorly.  I was surprised by how over-developed and tourist-ed the southern Adirondacks are.   Instead of camping there for the night, I pushed on to the Lake Champlain ferry at Ticonderoga, breathing a sigh of relief when I got to the relaxed Vermont side.  I found a quiet campground where a young Russian woman in the US on summer work and travel was staffing the camp store.

That evening I finally opened Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game, a book that had been recommended to me by several people as good background reading before going to Central Asia.  There on the cover was a quote from Jan Morris, “Peter Hopkirk is truly the laureate of the Great Game.”  I doubt there is anyone else at the Department of State whose eyes immediately latched on to that quote.  In her earlier life prior to transitioning in the 1960s, Jan Morris had covered the Hillary expedition up Mt. Everest.  Her book Conundrum had played a pivotal role in my life in the 1970s, the means by which I, in the pre-Internet world, learned that I was not alone.  Now here she was again, commenting on a book I was preparing to read as my minds turns to the next transition in my life.

It was that evening that I christened my car Hillary.  Jan Morris and the Hillary expedition, a tent named for Sir Edmund, and Hillary Clinton and her role in adding gender identity to the non-discrimination policy at the Department of State – somehow Hillary needed to be honored in my personal life.

On Tuesday I passed through the Green Mountains of Vermont, stopping long enough to do a short day hike on the Long Path to Silent Ridge.  By back roads and U.S. Routes, I made my way through Montpelier and then St. Johnsbury.  That was the only place where my route intersected briefly with a previous trip, my 2010, pre-transition drive to Maine.  This time, however, I headed north and camped on Lake Francis near the Canadian border in New Hampshire, spending some time in the morning discussing the advantages of different tent types with another lone woman traveler who had camped next to me.

Camping with Hillary
On Wednesday I crossed into southern Quebec, passing through Lac Megantic, the scene of a horrific train derailment, explosion, and fire in 2013.  Here, too, my path briefly intersected with an earlier trip.  In 2014 I traveled and car-camped to upstate New York and Quebec with my spouse and five-year old son.  We stopped in Lac Megantic for the night before re-entering the US via Maine.  That was my first-ever visit to Maine, and it was the event that first planted in me the thought of moving here permanently.   I smiled at the memory of what had been one of the best family trips of my married years.  In 1994 we entered Maine in the direction of Rangely, but this time I chose a different route through Jackman and, from there, to Greenville and Moosehead Lake.  I camped for my last night on the road at Lily Ponds State Park, enjoying both the stars and a wood fire.

Thinking of Friends in Romania
My journey to Maine on the road less traveled was not quite over the next morning, as I continued on to Millinocket on what is known as the Golden Road, a private dirt road passing through the Maine North Woods that is owned by the timber countries.  I passed lakes and streams that are accessible only on those private roads.   I stopped at Abol Bridge and admired the view of Katahdin.  I had last stood there in 2010 in the days before departing to Romania and making the decision to make a fourth lifetime attempt to transition.

On the Abol Bridge
Hillary rolled up to my little home that Thursday afternoon.   I'm camped out in a sleeping bag in my own home, but I have hopes that I will have water and a working bathroom by this week's end.   I've set up the furniture that I brought with me from Maryland and unpacked my bags as best I could.   I've brought myself home even if that home is a work in progress as my builder and his helpers work around me during the day.

That, dear readers, brings me to the end of this phase in my life's story.  N.O., a good friend and excellent engineer, asked me at the CSC reunion picnic when I might get around to writing about something other than what it is to be transgender much as I used to do in chatty e-mails before transitioning.

B.N. was a voice of conscience at my ear through much of this year.  My transition in full public view at the U.S. Embassy in Romania has played an important role in making life easier for other trans* employees at the Department of State.  The days when an Foreign Service Officer could lose a security clearance and a career by virtue of being trans* are over.  So is my own story of what it was like to transition as an FSO.  B.N. is a great believer in making one's garden grow.   It is now time for me to take care of the garden that is the rest of my life.  Also, as Mara Keisling one remarked to me, “Being transgender is not a career path.”  It is time to move on.

This is my final entry in Transgender in State.  Thank you for reading and for following my journey.  I hope it has been a useful window into one woman's experience.  It has been an honor to write here and to know that what I have written is being read.

If you wish to follow my continuing journey, I will be starting a new web journal called, simply, Robyn in State, once I am in Central Asia.  Although I will not forget LGBT issues, they will not occupy central place.  My adventure on the Silk Road is about to begin, and there will be much to write about.  Please consider yourselves welcome to follow.

In the meantime, farewell and best wishes to all my readers.  May your own journeys bring you to peace, fulfillment, and much love.   Robyn has found hers as she completes her transition journey, bringing herself home.