August 2, 2019 by Jean
A rural retirement is not for everyone. My house at the end of a dirt road in the Maine woods is not that far off the beaten track, only one mile from a main road; even so, rural life comes with inconveniences. Probably the biggest inconvenience for an older person is the necessity of driving. Even a trip to the supermarket is a 15-mile round trip, and there is no public transportation. During our fairly long winter, the need to drive on country roads is a particular challenge. Dependence on a not-always-reliable electrical grid is another inconvenience. Power outages are not rare here; and when the power goes out, we lose not only lights, heat and internet access, but also access to running water from our private wells. (I think I am now the only homeowner on my rural dirt road who has not invested in a propane-powered generator that comes on automatically when the power goes out.)
So what are the compensations that make these inconveniences worthwhile? For me, it is the ability to live a life close to nature. I spend a lot of time looking out the windows at the plant and animal life outside. In the winter months, the long hours of dark away from city lights make for excellent star-gazing. In the warm-weather months, I keep windows open most of the time and enjoy the music of birdsong. I spend time outdoors just about every day: in the garden, going for a walk, eating meals on the porch or deck, stacking or bringing in firewood, or shoveling snow.
At this time of year, I go for a walk first thing when I get up, enjoying the calm of the early morning world before it gets too warm. My most frequent walk takes me a mile along roads in my neighborhood to the Little Androscoggin River. I cross the bridge over the river, looking upstream to see how high or low the river is running and looking for wildlife (a great blue heron can often be seen fishing here). On the other side of the bridge, I turn around and head back, this time crossing on the downstream side and checking out the views and wildlife in that direction. Recently, I have been treated to the entrancing sight of a bald eagle perched on a tree that hangs out over the river. It’s not there every day, but often enough that my steps quicken and I feel a rush of anticipation as I approach the bridge.
Sometimes my wildlife sightings are closer to home, as on a recent Saturday morning when I looked out my bedroom window to see two fox kits exploring the front garden. I watched them for a few minutes, until one looked up and saw me in the window and they ran off.
My other wildlife treat this summer has been on a much smaller scale. Last year, I had a monarch butterfly in my garden for the first time in more than five years. It was attracted to the wild milkweed that I have been allowing to grow here and there, and it deposited some eggs which turned into monarch caterpillars feeding on the milkweed. This year, the monarchs are a bigger presence. The butterfly weed (another species of milkweed) that I planted in the front garden last year has been an even bigger attraction than the common milkweed. One day, I counted at least ten caterpillars of varying sizes feeding on the butterfly weed, and I also saw what looked like a newly emerged butterfly. When the number of visible caterpillars diminished, I assumed they had found hidden places to pupate. This week, I saw two butterflies, presumably one male and one female, doing their spiral flight dance, which seems to promise more eggs and caterpillars to come. And then one evening, as I was strolling through the garden after dinner, I spotted two jewel-like jade-green monarch chrysalises along the side of the driveway, one hanging from a blade of grass and the other from some vetch. I am keeping an eye on these, hoping to see new monarch butterflies emerge from them in the days to come.
Observing all of this requires me to slow down, listen, look closely, and really live in the moment. And this is what I value most about a retirement lived close to the wild.