Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Counts in the County

My husband and I visited Aroostook County last weekend and felt like we were in another country.

The landscape was incredibly beautiful in its summer height, and unlike the seaside beauty we witness every day, we saw acres and acres of rolling hills, green farms, pastures, old trees, vegetable gardens, modest yet substantial houses, and blossoming potatoes, all as far as the eye could see.

The rural towns were also unlike the cityscape we experience every day. There were fewer storefronts and restaurants, friendly, conversant folk, minimal car traffic and the occasional horse-drawn buggy or gigantic farming vehicle tooling down the street.

We arrived in Fort Fairfield on Friday about five hours from our home. Banners on lamp posts announced a welcome from "Friendly Fort Fairfield". Everybody seemed to know everybody else, and there was a lot of energy surrounding the ongoing, week-long Fort Fairfield Potato Blossom Festival.

Our trip was multi-purpose: a visit with friends, a work-related appointment, and to participate in the Potato Blossom 5-Mile footrace the following day.

There were literally no available places to stay in the county on account of the festival or the Maine Land Speed Races at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, but we lucked out with a Friday night cancellation. PJ and Rene picked us up at our Caribou hotel room and treated us to dinner at a favorite haunt. We were joined by Susan, Thomas, Marie and Dillon. Good food and good times followed, including a preview of the race course. And before we parted ways, Susan offered us a place to stay the following night. Awesome.

The road race course was tough - uphill for a couple miles, then a mile across a potato field before a nice, mostly downhill finish. There would be no shade and high temps, as the race went off at 9:00 am.

We were ready to go on race day having done an early (beautiful!) warm-up and arriving in Fort Fairfield with plenty of time. We toed the line and ran our races. I thought it was a fun, albeit challenging run, with pregnant Rene cheering from the sideline, a frolic through a rocky potato field, and two young Amish fellows spectating from their wagon.

PJ, Susan, Paul and I all received recognition for our efforts. The awards were made out of wood and shaped like guess what? Potatoes! I will cherish my trophy and tee-shirt from the county since this was my first visit.

We had a fun night grilling at the aforementioned free (thank you Susan and Chad) cabin in Stockholm (did you know that there is a distinction between cabin and camp in Maine?) and visiting at the local bar, before rising to the occasion of a Sunday morning group run in and around Caribou, followed by a hearty breakfast at Reno's.

If I can capture the essence of our visit to Aroostook County in one word, it's hospitality. We were welcomed, taken care of, and reminded of what it important. Friendship, camaraderie, running and keeping things simple. Thank you to our friends up north.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ryan and Philip

Yesterday was a steamy sunny Sunday in southern Maine with a low tide at 12:50 PM and everyone had the same idea. My choice destination was Pine Point Beach.

As I walked off the path from the dune grass the first thing I saw was a small pack of familiar runners easily making their way on the flat hard-packed sand, shirtless and tanned, one in bare feet. The scene made me smile and I felt a warm wave of kinship.

Fast forward about four and a half hours. The tide is well on its way in and my husband reluctantly removes his fishing pole from its stand after the last unsuccessful surf cast for the day. I sit very contentedly watching him and many others as they play in the water, walk, chat, read and do any number of things one does at the beach.

I watch a little guy as he runs past, and even though the sand is no longer hard-packed where he runs, he is light on his feet with a very quick turnover and seems to be moving with purpose. And I mean he is little, no more than four years old. He holds a large broken quahog shell and wears a black baseball cap, tee-shirt and yellow Sponge Bob shorts. The little runner catches my eye and I watch him go by.

And I keep watching because this little guy is alone. There is no adult chasing him and he does not veer up to his family's umbrella. He keeps going - running and running and looking. I stand up to keep him in sight knowing that this is not right. He's lost.

I set off in a jog behind him clad in my long beach skirt and cap, and realize he has covered more ground than I thought! Finally, he stops, looks and circles around a bit just as I approach him. I say in my friendliest non-threatening voice, "Hi! Are you looking for your mom?" He says "No, my dad," and starts to cry, except he really doesn't want to cry and now he's nervous. So in my most confident voice I say "All righty then, let's go find your dad. What's his name?" "Philip" he blurts out, and "Yours?" "Ryan," his voice slightly panicked and holding back the tears.

I feel completely confident we will find Philip and only want this little guy to know he is safe. I ask him if he'd like to hold my and he refuses but sticks close as we head back in the direction he came. I start chatting, mostly asking questions, and saying over and over "We are going to find your dad." I tell my husband what we are doing and grab my water bottle as we pass. Ryan refuses water and to hold my hand, and says he isn't tired when I ask.

This little guy is precious. When I ask about the broken shell, he easily tells me it's his tool for digging holes in the sand and in fact had dug a REALLY BIG hole that day. We laugh and I say "Okay, let's find that hole." (Seriously.) He tells me about the waves that had toppled him over and how much fun that was, and as I scan the people on their blankets and chairs I wonder out loud if Philip "might be asleep on his towel?" "No," Ryan is certain that's not possible.

As we near the municipal beach area, a woman rushes toward us asking if this is my child. I start to respond, understanding she's somehow involved with his situation, and Ryan takes my hand. Apparently a full blown search is underway and poor Philip is a wreck. Many others are up and about looking in the water and two police officers have arrived.

Just then Ryan tells me he has a really funny joke so I bend over to hear, and he gleefully shares about four words which I can't understand and he laughs, so I laugh. It's funny and it's a happy ending.

As I walk away, I feel an obvious sense of satisfaction but greater than that is another, much more complicated feeling that takes me a while to articulate. It's related to the connection between people and more specifically the resilience of children. I am reminded of the day I met my daughter in an orphanage in Cambodia. Within an hour after leaving, she realized I was "it" and she let me take care of her. She connected.

This little guy too gave me his trust, he connected, and I feel honored.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter White

The temperature reading was negative 12 degrees Farenheit this morning in southern Maine, with nearly two feet of snow encasing the landscape. Not perfect running conditions for sure, but beautiful in its way. The ocean was steely blue and there wasn't much movement in the air. Everything was still.

Yesterday morning was a bit milder and I met a hardy group of runners in Cape Elizabeth to run the Mid-Winter Classic 10-mile course. In my last blog entry I mentioned registering for this race, which is now less than two weeks away. Yesterday was my first run over the course this season! Historically, I train there most of the winter but this winter has been very different - much lower mileage. My husband reminded me tonight, "You're not training for the Boston marathon." I do hope the run on race day is better than yesterday's debacle. Frozen eyelashes combined with sunscreen in my eye, and a frozen balaclava on my forehead like an icepack just resting there for the final four miles. Tough.

One thing I have been doing this winter is getting together with Nor'easter Run on Tuesday evenings for a workout. We run for about 45 minutes then do a light weight-training session at World's Gym in Portland. I love the instant gratification from lifting weights. All of a sudden body parts have muscle definition. It's so cool.

Still working on those resolutions to become better disciplined about going to the gym, running no matter the weather, getting consistently good sleep and nutrition, and thinking good thoughts. I can check off taking a yoga class and snowshoeing when possible, and working full time.

I guess it's a damn good thing I didn't get in to the Boston Marathon this year!