October 8th 2017
Today marks one week since I first arrived in my new hometown. It is stating the obvious to mention that it is a different way of life in Stonington, Maine than it is in Delray Beach, Florida. Delray has a population of over 67,000+ is bordered on either side by even larger towns. Stonington has a population of 1,200. To my friends in Florida who have never been this far North, it is hard to describe. There are no traffic lights on Deer Isle. There is no trash collection – you take your own waste and recycling to the dump. If I crave a chocolate bar at 9:30 p.m. at night, it is an hour’s drive off island each way to get one. There is one hair salon, one doctor’s office, one dentist’s office, and one veterinary clinic that is open two days per week. My brain relaxes because there are fewer choices to be made.
It is dark at night and very quiet. The moon appears close enough that I almost feel I could reach out my finger and touch it. There are porcupine and foxes, skunks and deer, bald eagles, osprey, owls, and many other species of birds, and of course squirrels and chipmunks that Gabriel loves to chase, and even bear, though I have yet to see one. And of course there is abundant life in the ocean which provides Stonington with its main industry, the lobster and fishing trade. There are mosses of every kind, lichen and mushrooms, and evergreen trees that perfume the air into something I wish I could bottle and send to you. In the forests, the earth is soft underneath my feet. The red spruce and balsam fir needles crunch against the soles of my shoes. Mr. Two-Bits and his little paws have to negotiate the tangle of exposed tree roots that cover our walking paths. The roads wind and curve and go up and down and everywhere the ocean is winking at you from the side. Deer Isle is a granite island surrounded by other granite islands and wherever the stone is exposed it is absolutely magnificent. There are endless coves. There is water everywhere and it changes colors throughout the day depending on the angle of the sun and the weather. On a cloudy day like today, it seems almost turquoise. In the midday sunshine, it is a shimmering cobalt blue. Sometimes it is a steely grey. Today the tide rose and fell by over twelve feet and so what you can see with your morning cup of coffee is quite different from what you can see at lunch.
I feel as if I went away for 8 years to learn a new way of life and the gift of it all was that I finally got to come home. That is a strange thing to say upon arriving in a brand new place. But the truth is that Deer Isle is not new to me. I came here for many years throughout my twenties and thirties. It feels as familiar and natural to me as the blood flowing through my arteries and veins. My brain relaxes here. My heart speaks to me a little more loudly. And my soul breathes freely and expands. I am completely and instantly at home. That is what I noticed when I came in June when I crossed over the bridge and that is what I notice now. Any sense of aloneness has vanished. I find it impossible to feel alone in nature.
It has been helpful for me over the last eight years to become increasingly clear about who I am. To understand my strengths and to acknowledge my weaknesses. To be honest with myself about changes that I am motivated to make and changes that I have no interest or intention of making. I know that I like quiet. I benefit from a lot of time on my own and I enjoy moving like a turtle through my day. I don’t handle stress very well. I adore teaching yoga but I have no hustle in me. I can’t tell you how liberating it is for me to admit this. I will happily pour my whole heart and soul into creating programs that I hope may bring value to the men and women who attend but I simply want them to be there for whoever is interested in showing up. I don’t have the stomach for anything that requires a marketing push. I truly don’t care if I have one person in my class or seven. I am happy to share about things I believe in and that I am passionate about. But beyond that I really prefer to let things unfold by themselves.
When I started Yoga for All, I connected with a brilliant young woman (who happens to be a dear friend) who specializes in PR. She very generously offered to come up with a marketing plan for me that might help our little community yoga project to grow. It must have been a miserable few months for her of working with me because everything she suggested, I resisted. She suggested adding images that would slide across the screen for my website, and I would say “No! I want my website to create a sense of peace. I want people to feel a sense of calm when they look at it.” She suggested a pop-up on the website with the option to sign-up for a newsletter and I would say “No! Too aggressive.” Together with another brilliant young woman (who also happens to be a dear friend), we made a video about 45 seconds long in the hopes of giving people a sense of what it might be like to attend a retreat with me. It was for promotional purposes and I have never used it. The video was exquisitely made, the artistry superb, and the whole thing carried out with enormous sensitivity on the part of the filmmaker, and yet I squirm seeing myself on camera in this capacity because it just doesn’t feel like me. It was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I am not interested in becoming a brand. I don't care how popular I am or how many followers I have. I want to teach yoga.
Some of the best advice I ever received was from Carl Schulte about five and a half years ago. He said, “Caroline, if you want to be a yoga teacher, the best thing I can tell you is this: reduce your monthly overhead.” His point was that as long as I was willing to live simply, I could do what I love and have a wonderful life. He also told me that I didn’t need to attend expensive trainings to keep growing as a yoga teacher but that I could study medical anatomy books and massage therapy manuals and that he’d be happy to go over stuff with me if I ever wanted to learn. I never took him up on his offer but I am grateful to all of the people along the way who have been willing to stand in his place. It makes me think of the story of how yin yoga started with Cho Chat Ling teaching Paulie Zink daily classes for almost a decade and never charging him a penny. I love that.
The last two years of my life since Paul died were hard. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone the whole time. There was grief itself, morphing into different shapes and delivering its punches to the stomach out of nowhere. I missed my best friend. I think mostly I responded by working harder than I ever have before. It was a creatively inspiring time and deeply satisfying in its own way but no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t make ends meet as a yoga teacher in South Florida. And it was slowly eating away at my joie de vivre. Except when I was teaching and except for my lunch dates with my wonderful friend Cathy, I really lived like a hermit. Gabriel, Mr. Two-Bits and I became a tight pack. I am not complaining! I feel impossibly blessed by it all. I am grateful for every second of life experience that got me to where I am today and now… to Deer Isle.
Arriving in Stonington, I feel like I am detoxing from speed itself. I can’t tell you how good it feels to know that there is time in the day for me to stack wood or to pick up apples off the lawn or to make homemade ginger tea or to meet a friend for coffee or to go for long walks in the woods with my boys without a watch or a phone. I am excited to learn new skills like how to fix a broken door knob or repair peeling paint or set garden stones. A new friend invited me to her home this week. She is a talented artist and gardener and going to visit her I felt like I had stepped into an enchanted fairy land. Every inch of her home was an expression of her creativity, her love, her thoughtfulness, and her care. Each and every item and texture and color and smell was a conscious choice –the handmade stool I sat on, the handmade mug in my hands, the aromatic tea. There was beauty and whimsy and heart in the air.
Some people think I am crazy to look forward to winter but I am. I can’t wait to settle in and slow down for real. I have canceled my trainings in Tuscany so I can do just that. I am excited to see the first snow. I’ve got two cords of wood on the front lawn, storm windows, an excellent furnace, and blankets and down comforters galore. I have a beautiful space in which to practice yoga. It has a wood stove, floor-to-ceiling windows that face Stonington Harbor and Greenhead Cove. The entire house is filled with light.
Everybody I have met has been so welcoming and to my delight many people seem interested in giving yoga a try – men and women, young and old. I am going to start classes at the Island Community Center the week after Thanksgiving. All I know is I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. I truly feel like I have arrived where I am meant to be… HOME.