New

When the original settlers first arrived in the New England, they found a world that was, well…just that: new. Indigenous plants such as corn, beans and squash dominated the landscapes. Furthermore, the land was populated with strange natives who didn’t speak their language or worship their God (two challenges which, let’s face it, those of Anglo-Saxon descent haven’t always handled with the utmost poise).

Even animals were different. For the first time they encountered medium sized mammals with a masked appearance on their face, that quickly lived up to the Native folklore for being tricksters and thieves:

Pilgrim Child: Dad…Dad…where’d the corn go?”

Pilgrim Father: I left it outside, in the “Coleman’s Anti-Raccoon Cooler”.

Child: Are you sure?

Father: They’re gone!?!

Child: Yea, and there’s a note here that says “nice try”…

Score: animal kingdom: 1, profanity sputtering so-called “Puritan”: 0

On the oh-so-temporary bright side, the first few settlers found amusement from chasing black cat-like creatures, which were sluggishly slow and walked in a manner guffawingly equated to the French. It was quite a thrill to sneak up on the buffoons and give ‘em a good scare. That is, until they learned just what could be produced from the rear end of a startled skunk. Score: animal kingdom: 2, befuddled and suddenly-ostracized-from-the-community-until-further-notice pilgrim: 0.

It really was a strange, strange, new world… kind of like me getting a desk job.

As I mentioned earlier, my post summer plans didn’t pan out the way I had expected. After much debate, and a few more “don’t call us, we’ll all you’s” from employers outside of Maine, I came to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, the big man upstairs didn’t want me to leave. This wasn’t exactly a calling to martyrdom. With a national park as my backyard, world-class skiing a couple hours away and a box full of “must-read” books, I could ask for nothing more.

Well, except perhaps a job. Problem is, you can’t exactly guide kayak tours through the winter. The ocean freezes over after all…right?

So I resorted to several part-time jobs to support myself (and my antics) through the winter. One such job was with a non-profit agency just off the island. Their administrative assistant was taking a maternity leave and they needed a short-term replacement. I applied for the job and (wonders never cease) was offered it within two days. They told me I would start the next week training with Ashley (the actual administrative assistant) before she was scheduled to leave.

The thing is, I’ve never really had a- oh how shall I say this?- real job. Eh, okay. Maybe that’s a little too black and white. Perhaps we’ll call it a desk job. Sure. Yea. Whatever.

The point is, somewhat like the pilgrims, I had spent the past few months working on the open ocean. I’d lived in salt stained shirts and duct-taped Tevas, rescued capsized family members, created beautiful fiction, chased trailers down rainy streets and, for the most part gotten away with general doofuscity while on the clock. Suddenly, I was expected to adapt to this culture that demanded paperwork, showering, professionalism and shoes.

What a strange, strange, new world.

I showed up for my first day clean-shaven, sporting ironed dress pants and with my hair…well okay, not combed but presentable. Ashley lead me to my desk, right next to hers, and assigned me to the immediate task of setting up my computer and going through a list of items she’d prepared for me to work on.

I sat down and turned on my computer.

It asked me for a password.

I typed in “password”.

I was rejected.

I tried “thisisyourpassword”.

Nothing.

“password123”?

Zilch.

“Eh hem.” I jumped; Ashley was behind my chair. “You need to set up a new account,” she said, patiently, “maybe start by clicking the ‘new account’ button in the corner?”

Well, wasn’t that the proverbial equivalent of chasing a moronic black creature only to have it fart deadly chemicals into your face? Yes, this was going just spiffy.

I set up my account and Ashley gave me a crash course on accessing the company’s database. She handed me a stack of envelopes and asked me to look up phone numbers for each of the donors, so our boss could call and thank them personally.

“Sounds great!” I said. Look up numbers? I could handle that.

“Oh, and when the phone rings, feel free to answer it.”

“Okie, doke.” Easy enough.

But then the phone actually rang. I turned to Ashley; she was on the other line so I picked it up:

“Bryn Clark,” I said, “how can I help you?”

“Hey,” came the crackled response, “this is (in-coherent muttering) with (in-coherent muttering) can I talk to (incoherent muttering).”

Huuuuuuh? “Uh…yes. Sure, ma’am.”

Voice deepening. “Um, not ma’am. I said it was (incoherent muttering).”

“Oh, sorry sir…uh…who did you want to talk with again?”

“SIGGGGHHHHH, I said, I wanted to talk to (incoherent muttering).”

I was at a loss. “Okay. Yes, one moment, I’ll forward you to them”

I clicked a button and placed the phone back in the receiver. I stared at the other buttons; they might as well have been the controls of a Boeing jet. I can hardly operate my cell phone, let alone figure out how to forward a call to Miss  “Fhumboa Humhumhoo”.

I glanced at Ashley but didn’t want to appear clueless (which I am) or inept (which I also am). I picked up the phone.

“Hello sir? I’m sorry, but it appears she called in sick today…can I take a message?”

I heard a dial tone; I glanced at the phone board and realized that I certainly hadn’t pressed the hold button and certainly had hung up on Mr. Humba Gooma.

Woops.

“Okay!” Ashley said turning back to me.

I jumped a little and placed the phone back on the receiver.

“Oh, sorry; we’re you in the middle of something?” she asked.

I shook my head, perhaps a little to eagerly.

“Okay, great! Now I’m going to show you how to update the website!”

Whew.

Ashley logged me onto the company’s website.

“Okay, so here…” Ashley clicked on a link, “is where we put updates for any program cancellations.” She opened a text box. “Whenever there’s a lot of snow or anything, it will be your job to make sure these cancellations get posted.” She “x’ed out” of everything.

“Now go ahead and show me how to post a cancellation,” she said, “just grab my attention when you’ve finished.“

I nodded and Ashley returned to her desk. I repeated the steps she’d shown me, and opened up the text box under the “Cancellations” tab. Now what might be a good reason for cancelling?

Ah-ha!

In the text box, I typed:

“EVERYTHING IS CLOSED TODAY ON ACCOUNT OF THE APOCOLYPSE. HIDE YO KIDS, HIDE YO WIFE, AND HIDE YO HUS-”

“Eh hem…” came the jump-prompting response from behind me.

* insert rapid pounding of the “Delete” key*

“Looks like you’ve got it down, eh?”

*insert extremely embarrassed and I-swear-I-can-be-professional blushing*

“Yea…um…think I got it down.”

Ashley laughed and returned to her desk. “Good. So why don’t you work on those letters for a little bit?”

“Sounds good,” I said.

And then the phone rang.

“Hey, could you get that?” she asked, without looking up from her screen.

“Absolutely!” I said out loud. “Heaven help me,” I said in my head.

“Hello, how can I help you?”

“Hello, this is (incoherent muttering) I was on the line a couple of minutes ago and someone hung up on me!”

Gulp. “Well I’m sorry to hear that, sir, can I hel-“

“It was you! I know your voice! You also referred to me as a female! Just what is your name, Mr. Smart Alec?!”

My palms were getting sweaty…

“My name?”

“Yes, your name!”

I glanced at Ashley, who apparently had no clue as to the incompetency of her replacement.

“Bunky,” I said, “Bunky Deadwillow, and I’m very, very sorry. It was unintentional I can assure you.”

“Hmph. Unintentional or not, I don’t appreciate this type of attitude, you can assure you I’ll report this to your supervisor. Now can you PLEASE forward me to (incoherent muttering).”

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir. I’m so sorry, sir.”

I covered the receiver with my shoulder.

“Hey Ashley,” I said.

She looked up.

“I’m really sorry, but I’m having trouble working the phones and there’s a man on line one who’s asking for someone and I can’t understand him.”

She smiled. “No worries,” she said, “I get that a lot.”

“Thanks so much.”

And there you have it. It’s official. I would have never made it as a pilgrim. Not if it’s anything like getting a desk job. There would’ve just been too much for me to handle in that strange, strange new world.

Ashley picked up the receiver. “Hello-what? Oh? Oh-I’m sorry. Yes…yes… I’m sorry, wait…Bunky who?”

Yes…too much indeed.

 

 

Wonder

Running has always been an escape for me. I’m currently not nearly as much of a runner as I used to be, but I still try to push myself. I would like to pause for a moment and assure my readers that this, by no means, insinuates that I am a good runner. Over the years, it’s been pointed out to me that my form could certainly use some work (“it’s like Flubber on wheels” one track coach commented). Furthermore, whenever I push myself beyond my comfort level, my breathing takes on a panicked pattern, and I have a tendency to spit into the wind, thus right back into my own contorted face. Combine that with a head of hair that inevitably goes “poof!” by the first mile marker, and I can assure you that at the completion of most of my workouts my image resembles less of a Lance Armstrong in running shoes and more of a misfit white boy who drools habitually and stuck a fork in an outlet right before collapsing in a panting heap on the ground. It’s disheartening really.

The point is: I run because I love to run. I have very little going for me in the running world and the day it becomes anything short of rewarding and personally enjoyable, I will probably stop. Yes, I am aware this makes me a freak. I’m also a boy named Bryn, so this is a running theme (pun!).

So I’ve begun running again. The other day, I woke up early on an overcast but unseasonably warm November morning to begin a 14-mile training run (Training for what, you ask? Well, follow my blog religiously for the next six months, and you’ll find out! Click subscribe now!). I set out in running shoes, shorts and a light pullover, and by the first mile I was already sweating.

From my house in Southwest Harbor, I set off down Seal Cove Road. About three miles outside of town, this street enters Acadia National Park and turns into a gravel road that leads to a network of similar roads all through the most remote sections of the park. In the winter, gates at either end of this road are closed and the route is completely abandoned…except for me. Few things excite me more than an empty gravel running path through the heart of otherwise untouched wilderness.

I passed the closed gate and kept running into the heart of the park. About four miles from home I reached an intersection with a right hand turn onto another branch of the road. I usually go straight; in fact, I had never turned at this point before. But something got a hold of me this morning, and I decided, what the heck, why not?

The path answered my question shortly after I made this decision when it immediately angled up hill. The next quarter-mile or so was a steady up-hill gait, and by the time the path had flattened out, the sound of my breathing resembled a whoopee cushion, and several spots of spit had ended their boomerang flight on my face. I kept jogging and the road remained flat, giving me a chance to catch my breath.

And that’s when I passed a trailhead. It wasn’t much but on the side of the gravel road was a small wooden sign next to an overgrown trail, which read “Mansell Mountain” above a right facing arrow.

I’d never hiked around Mansell Mountain and honestly couldn’t remember ever hearing much about it. The prospect of running up it that morning was tempting, but I needed to focus on my mileage. So I kept running.

About a mile up the road, though, I saw another trailhead. I stopped at the sign:

“Razorback Trail Head leading to Mansell Mountain” the sign read.

Now this just wasn’t fair. Razorback Trail? What a masochistically enticing name! Here before me was a path that lead to an unknown peak along a trail that promised the ability to slice objects (such as, say, lost runners) to shreds.

Furthermore, this was the second trail marker I’d passed in the last ten minutes, which obviously meant that God really wanted me to go up this mountain today. Please don’t question my logic on this one.

And so I turned and took off down the trail. I skirted a muddy path and splashed water up onto my legs. The trail steepened as a light drizzle began and the mud gave way to portions of open rock face. I quickly came to understand why this trail was called “The Razorback”. Several portions were narrow, spiked sections of rock, barely wide enough to walk across, with a four to five foot drop-off on either side. These portions were particularly slippery. I had to slow to somewhat of a speed walk for fear of losing my footing. Being in road shoes didn’t help either; I felt much as though I were running along a tile floor in fleece socks.

The tree line opened up and behind me I could see the section of the park I’d been running in, as well as Southwest Harbor off in the distance. Mansell Mountain appeared to be up to my north, with a valley and another peak (the name of which I also didn’t know) on my left. A mysterious fog settled above the trees between these two mountains. It was like I’d stepped from my house that morning, and just a few small steps later found myself in a world that was right under my nose, and yet completely unknown.

JRR Tolkien said (via Bilbo Baggins) that it’s a dangerous business stepping outside one’s door because you never know where you might be swept off too. As I continued running, I couldn’t help but wonder where I was, wonder where Mansell Mountain topped off, wonder how I’d never explored this section of the park before, wonder if “he died on the Razorback” would be a cool enough eulogy, and in general, just wonder at the wonder of it all. I wasn’t quite sure where I was, and really didn’t know where I was going. It was great.

Suddenly the trail flattened out and a small mound of rocks marked the top of Mansell Mountain, elevation 979 feet. I hit the pause button on my stopwatch and stood staring at the sign for a moment. I was covered in sweat, so a single gust of wind on the exposed rock sent shivers down my spine.  I took a quick glance around  but was hit with another chill, so I decided it best to start running again.

I hope I never lose my sense of wonder at the world because with it comes a sense of peace and understanding that I can’t quite explain. It propels me into a creation that is so vast, so magnificent, and so beautiful that I find myself with a comprehension that some things just can’t be comprehended. It’s only with this wonder, only with this fascination with all that lies outside my door, that I find peace in playing a small role in something quite large and wonderful itself.

I returned down the trail the way I’d come, much more slowly than the way up for fear of slipping while going full speed. That’s when I noticed what I hadn’t in my final push: a small but distinct trail leading to the right of my homeward route. I glanced at its muddy tracks, twisting and turning into the foliage and out of view.

I couldn’t help but wonder where it might lead.

Waves

As October began winding down, the days became increasingly cold and short. For most of the summer, I’d been longing to do a little camping, but hadn’t had the chance. When my parents visited for my birthday (prior to Dad taking a dive into the Atlantic), they had generously given me a lovely backpacking tent. This, of course, was code for: “by the way, we rented out your room back home…” Nonetheless, I was stoked and all the more eager to try it out.

Thus, on an overcast Saturday afternoon, I piled some gear into the back of my Subaru and headed up Coastal Route 1.  I had recruited my housemate, Justin, to join me for a one-night trip and we set off with a vague destination. I’d heard tell from some locals of an area called the Cutler Coast Reserve and deemed it worthy of inspection.

The Cutler Coast (or “Bold Coast”) is a large plot of public land that’s been converted into hiking trails with backcountry campsites right up against the ocean. The camping is free, the only restriction of any sort is that backpackers fill out a registration card and deposit it in a box at the trailhead, in case of “needing rescue”. I scribbled down a fake name (“Bunky Deadwillow”) left my ex’s phone number, and we were on our way.

Due to a late start, dusk was fading as we began our trek through the woods. It was a cool, cloudy evening – not promising of rain but certainly not against it. We hiked for about fifteen minutes and came to an intersection.

“Which way?” Justin asked.

I produced my trail map, which, in reality, was a computer print-off and appeared to be a Crayola production. I turned on my headlamp and scanned the page.

Important life lesson: it’s hard to read crayon in the dark. All I could make out was a blotch of green (which I assumed was the forest), a brown line (the trail), an area of bluish hue (the ocean) and a couple large X’s (treasure!?).

“Um,” I said, “I think the ocean’s that way.”

Justin looked in the direction I was pointing. “That’s what the map says?” he asked.

“’Says’ is too strong a word,” I held the map towards him, “I think ‘implies’ is better suited for our situation.”

Justin glanced down at the map and shrugged carelessly. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do it.”

And just like that we were off to the tune of The White Stripe’s “I Can Tell That We Are Gonna Be Friends” whistled for the occasion by yours truly.

Soon complete darkness set in and we both turned on our headlamps. Hiking with a headlamp is not as simple as it seems and can be somewhat terrifying. Even with powerful illumination, a headlamp hardly reveals more than a step or too in front of you and sometimes even this area is still a mystery. Rocks, roots, and gopher holes, easily viewed by daylight, become proverbial land mines come nightfall. There’ve been hikers who knocked what they perceived by their headlamp to be a large rock, only to discover a very angry raccoon suddenly latched onto their toes.

Meanwhile, the area around you, which isn’t illuminated, is filled with objects and creatures that could all easily contribute to my ex-girlfriend one day picking up her phone to learn that poor “Bunky Deadwillow was mauled by a bobcat on the Cutler Coast” and “would you like us to send you the body?” Running into low-lying tree branches is common occurrences, as well as spider webs and the occasionally unaware bat. I’d even heard tell of one hiker who was trudging along, eyes glued to the ground, and wandered smack into a large object. Although he thought it was a tree, the softness of his impact, and low grunt from a few yards ahead, compelled him to reconsider. It was, in fact, a hefty bull moose. As much as I was yearning to see a moose, I certainly didn’t want to find myself with my head up ones butt, so I made sure to regularly peel my eyes off the ground to check the area ahead of me.

And thus I passed the next hour, trudging along, listening to all the noises around us wondering what sort of carnivorous phenomenon, or moose in need of a gynecologist, was licking its chops and watching the soon-to-be Bunky Deadwillow trudging through the forest. Inasmuch, I was fairly grateful to have Justin along. Not only were we close friends, thus deep in conversation the entire time, but if nothing else I figured I had a good shot of out-running him.

Soon our path took a slight turn to the right and we heard a blessedly familiar sound off to our left: waves. We continued along the path and soon arrived at a clearing. Through the trees we could see the ocean and the sun setting off to the west. Like a moth to the flame, we were both drawn towards the view.

“Whoa,” Justin put his arm out in front of me and pointed down. I turned my headlamp back towards the ground and saw nothing.

“We’re on the edge of a cliff,” he said. And sure enough we were. Though I couldn’t see more than five feet beyond the edge, I could hear the waves crashing what sounded like a good fifty feet below.

Since it was already dark and we had to hike out early in the morning for church, we decided this would make as good a camping spot as any. With the tent assembled, we sat on the edge of the cliff, our feet hanging into oblivion, and munched on some dinner while spending nearly two hours engrossed in a conversation over the sound of crashing waves

Eventually, we got cold and moved into our sleeping bags, but the conversation continued. Eventually, after I’d been talking uninterrupted for quite some time, I stopped to hear Justin’s response.

Nothing.

“Justin?” I whispered. “You awake?”

Again, nothing. He was either asleep, or subtly exiting the conversation, neither of which I could blame him for.

And so I was alone with my thoughts and the sound of crashing waves. Throughout dinner and our conversation afterwards, I hadn’t really noticed the waves. But now that I was quiet, with my resting spot on a cliff up against the ocean, each crash reverberated around me. I was fairly content.

You see, waves are one of the forces of nature that have always fascinated me. I find great comfort in their inevitable crashes and thunder. With each cycle that rolls onto the shoreline, whether it be a mountain of water or peaceful ripple, it’s guaranteed that another will follow. Despite what’s happening on shore, or even further out at sea, despite the circumstances of my individual life, the only thing that’s going to stop the next wave from coming in, is the One who created them. If I listened to them, I could hear them saying something; I could hear them teaching me a lesson. With every crash, every thud of the water against the rock, I was reminded that the world was turning, the ocean’s tides were moving, and everything, yes everything, was just the way it should be.

It’d been nearly six months since I graduated from college, a concept that was hard to believe. As I thought back on this time, I couldn’t help but recall the highs (standing on the top of Mount Rainier) and the lows as well (…ya know…capsizing in the middle of the Atlantic) of the past few months. I thought about my college friends and where most of them were at that moment: many had started their careers, gotten married, were in grad school, etc… For all intents and purposes, they had set a course, they were on there way. I, on the other hand, still felt unsure about, well, most anything related to my futre.

But this didn’t bother me in the slightest. My life was what it was and, like the waves, it would continue to progress under the control of myself, yes, but also someone who was much, much greater than me. Bills existed, jobs had been lost, prospects were blurry, but the waves still crashed, the world still turned, and I was still alive. I found it hard to be forlorn in the face of these facts.

So on that brisk, October night, a certain Bunky Deadwillow lay in his tent, in peaceful serenity. It didn’t matter that he was a college graduate, yet to find a secure job, and still seeking clear direction in his life. It didn’t matter that there were bills to be paid, that he was miles from home, and the future was a blurry question mark. Heck, it didn’t matter that, for all he knew, at that moment there were two wolves sitting outside his tent contemplating: “I dunno, Fred. Do you want to cook ‘em in alfredo or marinara tonight?”

None of this mattered, because Bunky was listening to the waves.