Here’s the thing about whoopie pies: They aren’t that good. Never were.
The official Maine State Treat is a century-old tradition with a similar shelf life. Made mostly of sugar, flour, lard, and cocoa, they live somewhere between a cookie and a cake and are decidedly not pies. They are ubiquitous at the check-out counters of small-town grocery stores, like the Levant Corner Store outside of Bangor.
Thanks to my son, I received a delivery of these fist-sized, brown and white units from the Levant store yesterday. Plastic-wrapped and slightly misshapen by the 3,000-mile journey, they brought me instant glee and satisfaction.
So as not to choke, whoopie pies must be consumed with a beverage. Coffee or milk are best. I had mine with wine. After carefully unwrapping one, I sliced it in half, placed it on a plate, and ate it ceremoniously while sitting before the woodstove.
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I ate the second half and reminisced over the ingredients of an upbringing: mudflats, black flies, pot-holed back roads, deep woods, and ocean. Lobster, mussels, spudnuts (doughnuts with potato flour), and whoopie pies.
Now there are pot-holed back roads, juniper, piñon, rattlers, and the long, clear vistas of the Western Slope. There is craft beer and venison stew. I live at 7,500 feet elevation, exactly 7,470 feet higher than my childhood home in Harpswell. The expanse of public land is the biggest appeal to life here. Within minutes, I’m out on it.
With my two dogs, I travel south toward a BLM parcel and hike a mile of fence line, hoping to come across an elk shed. (Deer and elk often drop their antlers when they hurdle fences.) I find none.
On a sloping bench, there are doghouse-sized boulders that have, over eons, found themselves in the middle of meadows. We climb one and stop for some water and a pause. The LaPlata mountains are about 20 miles north and gleaming in white. New Mexico lies a few miles south. Around me, there are hundreds of square miles of public land, one small town, and a few thousand fellow quarantined humans.
I see no one as I move down a steep ravine, holding onto tiny branches of mountain mahogany and scrub oak to keep from falling. I spot elk and deer tracks, some coyote and maybe bobcat prints.
Being alone doesn’t bother me. Like a lot of writers and trekkers, I crave it, honor it, and celebrate it. Being “isolated,” however, feels different. The pandemic has addled my brain and altered my wilderness experience.
I was watching “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” (Like whoopie pies, Harry Potter is perfect pandemic fodder.) At the 67th minute, Hermoine is describing Cho’s feelings after kissing Harry:
She’s feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying…confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry. She’s feeling guilty, thinking it’s an insult to Cedric’s memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she’ll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry…All very mixed up and painful. Oh, and she’s afraid she’s going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quidditch team because she’s been flying so badly.
Ron says, “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode!”
My cerebral gyrations:
· Glad to talk more often with family and friends, but sad to not be with them
· Struggling to adjust to the new communication routine. Am I calling too much? Not enough?
· Grateful to have horses and dogs, and happy to get out with them
· Fortunate to have a healthy brain with which to think critically, to be observant, and to write
· Rattled that I cannot keep anything straight – from my toothbrush to my appointments to this essay
One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode!
My mind graciously augmented the whoopie pie moment. Thank you. Then it infected my wilderness time. Dammit.
I talked with my friend, Chris, a fellow writer and adventurer. He sounded equally weary and frustrated. At home in California, he was struggling to get any work done or do anything, for that matter. “Pandemic? How ‘bout Pan-dumb-ic?” he said.
With horses, it’s easier to function and focus. If you don’t leave stuff at the door, your lack of presence will wreck your ride. If you’re too distracted to realize it, your horse will let you know.
It’s harder when there is no thousand-pound animal moving and breathing beneath you. How to soak in the expanse of my nearby Menefee Mountain and stop the seepage of pandemic preoccupations?
Lately and quizzically, I’m calmer about things I can’t control, like the economy, public health. I’m less calm about things I can control, like my mental well-being. I view my own mind suspiciously as it alternates between being an arch adversary and consoler-in-chief.
Be kind to yourself, I say. And yet, in last night’s dream, I am on a sidewalk, waiting to enter a grocery store. I stand six feet behind one person and six feet in front of another. Abruptly, a big, hairy hand enters the frame, grasping a giant rubber stamp. It is pressed down on the scene and leaves the inked date: December 1.
Tell me it ain’t so.
Maddy Butcher has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and High Country News. She is the author of “Horse Head: Brain Science and Other Insights.” She lives in Mancos.