How To Reboot
© Copyright 2019 by Amy DeMatt
Every year we take a summer vacation. It reminds me that my daily job, while useful and generally fulfilling, is just a small piece of the mosaic that is life. The rest of it: my love of running and fresh air, of that good tired feeling when I’ve exerted myself, bonding with my family, also makes up the mosaic. When we vacation, I try to “reboot,” that is, see things with fresh eyes, with renewed curiosity, and to experience things with all my senses. Never was there a more perfect place for a reboot than Acadia and Bar Harbor, Maine. I hope that my memories remind you to awaken your senses as the trip did mine.
I have two teenagers, Owen and Allie, who are 14 and 12, respectively. My husband and I are both lawyers, but more significantly, both hikers and lovers of the outdoors. That was why we had selected Acadia National Park in Maine as our summer vacation destination. We were on a sixteen-hour trip with our teenagers’ earbuds firmly implanted in their ears. I’d grown tired of the daily routine, which seemed rushed. I’d rush to workout before work, complete a busy day at work, interrupting to rush to bring the children to and from a summer job and practice, then we’d rush home for a quick dinner and to throw in laundry, and rush back to go to bed and do it all again. Vacation would give us all a chance to be taken out of the routine, to be refreshed, and to spend quality time together.
We’d decided to take the long way to Acadia, so that we could see the scenery along Route 4 in Vermont and New York. The day was gorgeous. The sky stretched big and blue overhead, adorned with cottony clouds. We passed little farm towns with flowers and crabapple trees, tiny bed-and-breakfasts and green grass wherever the eye could see. We’d stopped for lunch along the way. We ordered simply: a grilled hot dog on a buttery toasted bun that looked like a piece of white bread rolled around it, a steak and cheese sandwich, and a few other snacks, some hard-boiled eggs and a pickle. How strange, we thought, to serve a hot dog in a grilled piece of bread, how much saltier was the deli pickle than those in a jar at home, and how funny the lady at the cash register was when she told us that we could find forks under the “wahmah.” It was our daughter who figured out that she’d said “warmer.” We practiced New England accents when we got back into the car.
I’d chosen Killington, Vermont, and the Turn of the River Lodge as our destination. The mileage was right, and I’d had fond memories of a ski trip I’d taken with my dad and younger siblings when I was in high school. We were tired when we pulled in. The tiny Turn of the River was rough-hewn, made of dark wood like a little swiss chalet, with boxes of pink and white petunias in the front. It was a ski lodge. The lobby had a giant unfinished ski rack, and when we entered, I could see from the look on the children’s faces that they wondered if there’d been a mistake. There was no maître ‘d as was customary with the large chain hotels, no exercise room or magnetic card. There was, however, a tiny dish of candies that the children eyed eagerly and snatched.
Our hostess came down the stairs in a tank top and flip flops, and she smiled at us on our arrival. She handed us a key, the old-fashioned kind, metal, and led us to our room, which was just across the lobby and down the stairs. The room was tiny, with a double-bed and a bunk, crammed in, but what it lacked in space, it made up for in coziness. There was recessed lighting which was warm and bright and a new hardwood floor. The sheets on the bed smelled fresh, and bright quilts and pillows lay upon the bed. The shower was tiny. There was just enough room for one at a time, and we took turns removing our contact lenses and getting ready for bed.
When we’d put down our suitcases, we decided to look for a downtown area where we could explore, but there was none. Nearby Stowe was more of a tourist destination, and I wondered if I’d made a mistake in booking us in this tiny lodge during the off season. We decided to play some games, instead, the hostess having mentioned that there were some stored under a cabinet in the main lobby area. We chose a card game, Uno, but I couldn’t help notice an abundance of drinking games, and I wondered what good times were had in the winter after a hard day of skiing or boarding, or when a blizzard came through. Our hostess noticed us with curiosity and seemed in equal parts shy and charmed. She sized us up and correctly chose music on Google Play, rock classics and some current rock, 21 pilots and The Who, and we made mugs of hot chocolate and played with brain teasers.
At home, I found it difficult to talk to the kids. They were teenagers and rarely wanted to play games, favoring television or their cell phones or other electronics. However, on vacation, with the host suggesting it, it seemed natural, and I was grateful for it. Our hostess told us that breakfast would be at 8, and there would be plenty of fresh coffee, watermelon and an apple cake. She wanted us to give feedback on the apple cake. It was a recipe that she’d been tweaking, adjusting the recipe to make it with less sugar. That night I tucked into my bed and felt satisfied. There would be fresh coffee to be had in the morning, and I was happily surprised that we could have fun in a simple, rustic lodge, just playing games and being together.
The next morning was cooler than at home. I fixed myself a bowl of oatmeal and had a big mug of good strong coffee before I left for my morning run. I took my cell phone, partly because I use headphones when I run, but also because I wanted to take pictures, because that’s what is done on vacation. This forced me to look around me. I saw mountains almost black green with trees. They reached up to the sky, but when the sun began to crest the mountains, there was no prettier sight to behold. Queen Anne’s lace and prodigious phlox lined the roadway, and as I turned to run up Big Bear Mountain, an old blue pickup truck driver rolled down his window and waved at me. All the cars in Vermont had bike racks or ski racks or both, and despite the early hour, I felt kinship for the bikers, hikers, and runners I saw, setting out to get a start on their day.
After a half day’s drive, we arrived at our destination, located less than a mile from the entrance to Acadia. It was a log cabin, light and bright inside, filled with wooden furniture painted white. I noticed a cabinet full of more board games, shelves filled with books of all types, and a television with a shelf or two of family movies. I wondered if we would get to any of them. We were tired but had fortunately stopped to buy a carload of groceries, which included a frozen crust pizza. In our new surroundings, everything tasted better. The pizza I’d popped into the oven was hot and fresh, and my husband cracked each of us a local beer, so nutty and strong that I could feel myself unwinding after the first long sip.
After dinner we walked up to Acadia, drinking in sights along the way. Up the road a little bit was Sunset Farm, a little farm on the very top of the mountain, which overlooked Acadia. It had Moravian designs in cedar shake shingles on the outside, and was aptly named, for we could see the last rays of light painting the sky around it azure and pink, then green and finally deep lapis. We went home and played cards and ate ice cream, a concoction of chocolate pieces and caramel and peanut butter, and the day felt like pure heaven. We slept dreamlessly in our tiny beds that night, eager for our adventure to begin.
The sun rose on the side of the house opposite our bedroom, so I didn’t see the first rays of light until I began fixing our coffee for the morning. It was quiet, and I’d bought whipped butter which I slathered extravagantly on a thick homemade bagel, as I sipped my coffee. The morning run revealed beautiful vistas of sunlit farmland, curved roads, giant sunflowers. Each view was like a picture postcard. That day we hiked Cadillac mountain, stretching our legs over boulders like giant stairs until we finally made it to the crest, where a cool breeze blew softly. Green islands lay below us, and we ate apples and salami sandwiches on rye, and thick soft cookies that we’d packed in tiny plastic tubs. The sun had tanned us without warming our skin, and we were tired and happy when the day was done.
Acadia is close to Bar Harbor, and after we’d hiked, we decided to swim in a tiny pond and beach close to Bar Harbor. I enjoyed people watching. They came from all over, French Canadians, Brits, Germans, all enjoying a sunny day at the National Parks. We’d eaten ice cream, and, tired from our day, we came home to a dinner of lobster cakes and shrimp, served with couscous the size of pearls, and tender sugar snap peas. The next day, we decided to do something different: we’d drive to Bar Harbor and take a cruise to see the harbor. Captain Eli, our guide, drove us to Frenchboro, a tiny island that was home to holdouts, those who endured and remained on the island after the Industrial Revolution brought electricity to the mainland. There was a tiny schoolhouse on the island, and the novelty of remaining in a place so secluded made me wonder what mettle it would take to choose a life so removed from the average one. In a small way, I understood. I’d felt the urge to explore, to escape the everyday routine, to feel the elements instead of the cold blue florescent light of the office.
There was a museum on Frenchboro, with black and white photos of lobstermen, holding oversized lobsters. There was a book of poetry, by one author, who marked such events as Mother’s Day, and the building of a new barn, with poems for each occasion. There were handicrafts and ornaments, and modern books for sale, for tourists, and we drank an old-fashioned “Moxie” soda and ate a lobster roll and homemade slaw before returning to our boat. We saw seals cavorting in the water, and an island covered in tall black birds. There were porpoises and sunfish. Captain Eli pulled up a lobster trap and taught us how they worked, what lobsters could be kept, and which had to go back into the water for preservation of the species. We learned about the local economy and a Nobel-prizewinning economist’s work on lobsterman culture and how it preserved the species. At the end of the day we drove home for a driving tour through Acadia, where we saw the famous Jordan Pond, and we caught glimpses of Bar Harbor.
The next day we went out in Bar Harbor. There were tiny shops that sold all kinds of tourist hock: T-shirts, ball caps, mugs, magnets, recipe books and blueberry muffin mix. We examined the wares and walked around the harbor, browsing at gardens and bed-and-breakfasts, at tourists and locals, and that evening we splurged on a whole lobster dinner each for the four of us. The tiny table that the waitress had given us barely held us all. We had to shift plates and stack bowls to hold the lobster crackers and shells, lemons and baked potatoes, side vegetables and drawn butter. When we were sated, we went home and tucked in for an early bedtime, so that the children and their father could tackle Beehive, an infamous Acadia hiking path, the following morning.
Beehive is famously daunting for its spectacular views and dizzying heights. We therefore divided, I did the Bowl hike, which is easier and longer, winding gracefully up to the peak where Beehive ends. My husband and the children hiked Beehive, moving slowly across a ladder and onto a ledge that plunges famously downward. When we met one another at the peak, the children were invigorated by a rush of adrenaline on the famous ledge. They were laughing, smiling, obviously relieved at having completed the daunting section of the hike, so different from the teasing that had been characteristic of the weeks before we’d left. They wanted to do more. They planned to do another hike the following day, climbing ladders and achieving greater heights.
Leaving home is
necessary. It is like a reboot for one’s soul. When we left
Jordan Pond, I bought a tiny balsam candle to take with me. I hoped
it would remind me of the smell of the sweet balsam trees and prompt
me to drink in my surroundings from time to time. What was odd is
that I live in an area in western Pennsylvania that many would also
consider beautiful. I suppose I just hadn’t looked lately. Where I
live, there is also a beautiful sunrise each day, it’s
just that I’m usually reading my book or the news when it
happens. The countryside is covered with lush, green trees, and we
often hike in dense pines, with spectacular views from mountain
peaks. I only have to run in the right direction from my house to
see beautiful farmlands, cows, ducks, chickens and golden sunlight
streaming from the clouds. When I’m not doing these things,
however, the appreciation disappears. Work creeps in and I start to
think of the paperwork that the kids need for school, what I need to
do the next day, the laundry and groceries, and small things that
distract me. If only I could remember from time to time to open my
eyes, to take note of what I eat, the colors, the shapes, the taste
and the sensation. Why is it that it takes a reboot to remind us of
the abundance that surrounds us every day?
DeMatt is a writer, lawyer, runner, hiker, wife and mother of
She enjoys spending time in the outdoors in addition to reading,
writing and (literally) chasing after her husband and two teenagers.