Two years ago, we moved to Maine.
Today, I have gallons of maple sap I have evaporated down to—well, more sugary maple sap, on its way to becoming syrup. I put hen-healer balm on a chicken today that seems to be a victim of a rather aggressive rooster. I placed a stock pot in the fridge filled with brine and the body of our (previously) MOST aggressive rooster, who was butchered and skinned and gutted by a friend who is also the reason I’m multiple spreadsheets deep in planning an off-grid she-shed/guest-house/future-sleepover-dreamhouse.
And, I ordered seeds.
It’s time—past time—for seed ordering.
I lost all of them last year. I went out of town and left the drawer with my seed packets sitting outside. It rained while I was gone, and because I am the one who thinks of such things, the drawer stayed out where all the packets got soaked. Some of the seeds sprouted and I tried to plant them, but most of them washed out of the thin paper packages, mixed together, mildewing beneath labels whose ink was no longer legible.
A lot of those seeds I bought in Tennessee, in my early 2020 version of panic buying, where I worried less about toilet paper and more about growing food in case the grid collapsed and grocery stores were no longer an option. Some seeds came from Virginia, when growing food was more for enjoyment and quiet protest than it was survivability.
And a lot were from Maine, purchased after we moved when I had to learn an entirely new climate, with longer winters to examine my relationship with this new, rocky, buggy, often unforgiving land.
Moving away from all of our friends and family has not been hard emotionally. Before we had signed the closing papers, we had a strong community waiting for us in Maine than we formed in the 2+ years in Tennessee, and that community has only deepened. We are still connected to people from Virginia, and I talk to my friends about as often as I was talking to them even when they lived in the same neighborhood. We can’t have spontaneous meals together, or meet for playdates when it’s nice outside, but the adult connection to people from the past is still present. Covid threw a wrench into a lot of the in-person things we would have done anyway, and coming out of that feels less like we can’t because of distance and more like we can’t because of a very real global shift in priorities.
What I am struggling to adapt to, in ways I never expected, is the loss of my native land.
I didn’t realize how connected to Appalachia I was, until I left. Sure, my mom’s family is from deep in the Tennessee mountains, and I broke in my hiking boots along the Blue Ridge Parkway. But I also lived in Arizona as a child, and always romanticized going back to the desert. Add in that Richmond isn’t mountainous or rural, that in my time there I went to the beach, to Washington DC, as often if not more than I went to the mountains, Appalachia was always…a neighbor. A place I drove through, to get to somewhere else.
Community-wise, it still is. Or at least, was. But as for the land itself, Maine is still new. A shorter growing season. Snow that never seems to melt. and once it does the mud closes more roads than the ice. Trees that used to herald spring are nowhere to be found. I listen to podcasts set in Appalachia, and watch my favorite TikTok-er forage a world that I used to know, and I never thought of living somewhere that it didn’t exist. I find myself missing pokeweed, and wondering that the dogwood—my mom’s favorite tree and a location name so common it was almost a cliche—means something entirely else up here.
I miss the land. I miss the vegetation that was in the background for most of my life. I miss the trails I hiked and never got to hike.
New England still feels like a place I am on vacation. I am in so many facebook groups where people gripe about invasive species I’ve only vaguely heard of--but the grocery store clerk has to ask me what okra is. Daffodils were my favorite flower for most of my life, their smiling yellow blossoms poking out of the morning frost in February. Here, it's mid-March and there is still a good 10” of snow covering most of the ground with more in the forecast.
Maples, are my new daffodils. It may still look like winter, but when the maple sap starts to flow, it means spring is almost here.
Instead of watching the national parks service cherry blossom report for the tidal basin in Washington, D.C., so I can plan my pilgrimage to spring, I am watching weather reports for daytime temperatures above freezing.
I miss the south. Not my life there, and certainly not the politics, but I miss the early spring. I miss pokeweed, and stinky Bradford pear trees, and dead nettles, and dogwood blossoms, and azaleas, azaleas EVERYWHERE. I miss going to the nursery in March and smelling the wet dirt and buying flowers when I know it’s too early to plant them but just wandering the wet gravel and seeing color after months of grey and brown makes it hard to resist.
I miss knowing the land.
I might not ever know the land here the way I did in a place I was once a feral child, making forts in thickets of Virginia creeper, lapping at honeysuckle and chewing on sassafras. Here I have to learn with the brain of an adult instead of just absorbing with the blind acceptance of a child.
But here I have the maple taps. And chaga I can barely carry. And sunny days in the mid-40s where I wear a t-shirt, and work on making syrup, while the kids are still sledding at the neighbor's house.
And it's good.