I probably won’t be able to note on Facebook that I’ve written this, because despite years of promises to the contrary, the phone company or whoever is in charge of these things has yet to bring high-speed internet out to my Nana & Papaw’s place in West Virginia to replace the dial-up that they’re still using ten years after the rest of the world switched.
I spent 2½ days in the woods in Maine, in Camden Hills State Park on top of a big rock outcropping near a winding up-and-down trail. One of those days I sat there in the thick carpet of fallen oak leaves and just meditated on how nice it was to be in the woods with birds chirping incomprehensibly around me. But what I did more was I went on walks. All barefoot, of course, and as I walked I constantly looked out for edible plants. I found a fair few, too—bunchberries, blueberries, raspberries, milkweed, white lettuce, Solomon’s plume, old acorns. Trouble was, I was such a temporary visitor that I arrived out of the season of most of them. The bunchberries were barely more thatn swollen flower buds, and the blueberry flowers must’ve only just dropped off; the raspberries were still in flower. The white lettuce, meanwhile, had mostly already gotten too old and bitter. Last fall’s acorns obviously did me no good. I did enjoy the one Solomon’s plume root I dug up, and I was set to boil some milkweed stems too, but then I ran out of time. I read a book while I was there, called A Small Farm in Maine, and though I got annoyed by some of it, I’m glad I persevered to the end, because the author came to a conclusion that I was coming to too: that familiarity with plants really only comes from years of living with them and getting to know them through the seasons. As such a temporary visitor in these woods I couldn’t hope to learn anything about how to use its plants in a serious way; all I could maybe get would be a cursory survey of some of the plants that grow there that I could maybe build relationships with later on. So, put “learning edible plants” on the long list of things I can’t do ideally until I settle down.
You may have detected a certain wistfulness about me in the past few weeks, for when I eventually do settle down. As much as I love getting around and seeing new things, I do wish I knew where I’m going to end up, and I’m really looking forward to calling someplace home. I just don’t want to make the wrong choice. Of course, I could make myself happy in a lot of places, but which one would be the best? Why settle for something that isn’t? That’s the question that keeps driving me on. And I am getting closer, bit by bit. Maine impressed me a lot. It has a strong independent bent to it, with farmers all over the place providing Maine produce for Maine residents, who buy the stuff because they like Maine and because it’s good stuff. A woman working at a coffee shop in Portland gave me a lot of perspective on this, and explained that for a long time Maine was basically an island, or the Wild West, and had to develop that spirit, or I suppose become a depopulated ghost state. At the same time, there’s also a lot of youthful energy and a drive to keep things going, not modernize away all the good traditions. I met a goat farmer who’s just 31, and thrilled about her work—she says that after working a few other jobs, now that she’s had this one land in her lap, she finds that she can finally feel good saying what she does: “I’m a farmer!”
While I was in Wisconsin at that campsite with the wild food trail, I met a couple who had also come up for the trail; she was permaculture design certified, and he thought the issue was interesting but, I think, was less invested in it and kind of just followed along with her. At any rate, though, he was the one who had the insight that I thought was most salient: that permaculture and local farm sorts of things are the building blocks of the new society that needs to emerge, but they can’t function as those building blocks yet, because it’s only the haves who are starting these, just to prove that they can, and the movement won’t start building its own momentum until the have-nots start doing permaculture because it’s a practical way to stay afloat nutritionally and financially in the real world. Well, the goat farmer I met says she and her peers are headed back to the land not just because it’s a good thing to do philosophically, but also because “we’re just too damn poor.” Got a little land? Turn it into something besides a property-tax suck. With those words she made Maine look even better to me. Though it’s entirely possible that people in Wisconsin or Colorado or any other state are also moving back to the land for the same reason. It’s one more thing for me to gauge.
Sadly, Maine is really far away from everyone I know. For a while I thought of West Virginia being in the same general sort of region, which I conceived of as a sort of “the colonies and the states that broke off of them” region. But of course, the thirteen colonies, though way smaller than the country we’ve got now, were still a really big place, and span a huge range of latitudes, and so from Portland, Maine, to Nana & Papaw’s house is about 12 hours by car, or 2½ days by thumb. (It could’ve been less if I hadn’t chosen to take the quaintly wooded but unfortunately deserted US-50.) To Ohio add another several hours. I haven’t decided yet how heavily to weigh proximity to all my folks in the search for The Right Place. But however I decide on that, it’s one of the few strikes against Maine. (Having given Maine such a glowing review, though, I’ll also point out that its ocean culture is something I don’t feel very connected to at all, whereas Wisconsin’s lake culture feels homey to me, thanks to all the formative time I’ve spent at Crowduck and Manito-wish.)
Anyhow, to get to the present, I made it safe and sound to Nana & Papaw’s as you’ve already deduced, and now I’ve commenced a nice long period of mentally relaxing. It gets exhausting after a while, all this planning the next move forward and trying to memorize things about new places. I’m going to be pretty content over the next three weeks to have other people in charge of each new thing, and arranging all my transportation for me with nary a minute spent by an onramp with my thumb in the air. Out here I’ve gotten a good old feeding for my travel appetite, and we’ve sat out on the porch watching the sun come down behind the hills and talking about everything we need to catch up on. And I’ve still got days to relax in the woods here before anything else really happens. This is me sighing contentedly: Ahhhhhhh.