There are many ways to get to know a place. My first three months in Lincoln County are highlighted by local advice, curiosity, a sense of adventure, and a low-key search for the best French fries.
I now know where to fill up my car for less, restock my vitamins, pick up tab dividers for my three-ring binder, grab a slice of pizza, and where to go for a private, mind-clearing moment.
I love the process of provisioning shop to shop and meeting people who gave up fancy titles in shiny cities to make and sell cheese, for example.
It’s tempting to settle into a well-worn path of comfortable weekly Lincoln County rounds now that I know where to find, for example, croissants that taste like those crafted at the best Montreal patisseries.
But a fire call in Whitefield at the beginning of the month reminded me that the best way to really get to know a place is simply to get lost.
That’s almost impossible these days with a GPS system built into everything. But a dead Fitbit battery and one bar of service on my iPhone Oct. 4 had me crisscrossing fields and farmlands relying on the compass in my nose to decide which way most expediently led back to Route 1, where I could confidently navigate my way home.
Fortunately, I drove by the Sheepscot General Store, where I visited once before, led there by popping the business name in Google Maps and streaming it to the console through Apple CarPlay.
As I sat in the farm’s driveway only a little bit lost now, I realized that the more I rely on GPS guidance, the less I pay attention to landmarks.
If I were on a boat without access to GPS, I would really be in trouble not knowing my waypoints.
Waypoints help you know where you are and where you are going. It’s easy to get turned around on the wide blue sea and as it turns out on the rural roads of Whitefield.
I bought a small bag of Bit-o-Honey penny candies and a loaf of wheat bread at the store, and after confirming that Wiscasset was roughly “thataway,” I headed out again.
This time I paid attention.
How did I drive by Sheepscot Links on my first trip to Whitefield and not notice a golf course? Waypoint added.
Fuzzy Udder Creamery and Chase Farm Bakery? I recognized those names from the Bath Farmers’ Market. Waypoints added.
And there was the Whitefield Elementary School. Always a handy waypoint. You’re never truly lost if you find yourself in a public school parking lot.
As I drove, I thought about how I got here at all, lost in Lincoln County.
One minute it seemed like I was in a Zoom call leading professional development for adult educators, picking up speed on the trajectory of my education career, and the next – as if time warped and teleported – I am chasing fire calls in far-flung places. Again.
The truth is I longed for it.
When you lose something you are pretty sure you will never get a second chance at, there are wistful moments of regret and longing, not thoughts exactly, but something that comes from the body, like a psychic tug in the right direction. Easy to intellectualize away for all the grown-up reasons. But still. A persistent semi- “if only … if only … if only.”
Despite my commitment to be the best adult education professional I could be, sometimes I’d look out the window of my office for a siren screaming in the distance, wondering what happened. Where and to whom?
Ah well. Not my job to tell those stories anymore, I would think, turning back to shuffle enrichment class proposals on my desk.
But I never lost my instinct to wonder … well … what happened next?
“There is always a road back. If we have the courage to look for it, and take it,” Chief Inspector Armand Gamage says in my beloved Louise Penny mysteries. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know. I need help. These are the signposts. The cardinal directions.”
They led me to The Lincoln County News, a home port the likes of which I never thought I’d see again.
I hope you will join me for “The Way Back,” a monthly column of reflections and revelations as I crisscross back roads and byways. Look for it here on the way back page around the end of every month. If you know a good place to get lost in Lincoln County, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Advice on French fries welcome, too.