Honor System Rewards
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Summit Rewards (Part 1)
Black Crow Bakery & Mount Pisgah
Somewhere around 2010, I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I was living in New York City and my toughest decision of any given week was which happy hour I should attend with friends. It was probably the most carefree I’ve ever been in my entire life - so why I decided to pick up the book then is beyond me.
Even in my blissed out state, an idea within the book deeply resonated with me. The concept is monumentally simple, but continues to serve as a daily compass for me: even though I might like the idea of any activity, and though it might be fun for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s fun for me. There are things people enjoy - things that I wish I liked - but I simply don’t. These activities, the ones that I try to convince myself that I like, are usually ones that I think are fitting for me or ones that appear noble, clever, or valid.
My background is in theatre - and you know what? I wholeheartedly despise listening to cast albums. Absolutely abhor it. I’m an actor, so I should want to belt Hamilton on repeat - but each time I put it on, I know I’m doing it for someone else. It’s to try to feel legitimate, because are you really an actor if you don’t enjoy singing “My Shot” over and over again? It doesn’t make me happy whatsoever - I just wish it did.
I continue to try to convince my husband that he likes getting a massage - because what person on earth wouldn’t like getting a massage? He just hasn’t had the right one, I think, and I’m sure this gift card at this luxe spot is going to convince him otherwise. But it never does because he really, really doesn’t enjoy getting a massage. It’s not a relaxation method that he finds fun or enjoyable, it’s my preferred method.
So, when I approach an activity for fun, I stop and ask myself: do I actually enjoy this or do I wish I enjoyed this?
I’m generally a half glass full kind of person. I’m inclined to look at situations with a healthy amount of optimism, and don’t consistently allow fear to drive my bus. Except, during the occasional 48 hours that it does. During these truncated episodes, Worry and Fear grab the wheel, proceed to knock my glass over, emptying it without regard or mercy, in a swift, triumphant manner.
It seems that I bottle it and for two unrelenting days, allow it to completely make itself at home. Come on in! My mind is yours for just a quick 48 hours, so we better get to work as efficiently as possible. For this consolidated time frame, I’m a ball of anxiety, I don’t sleep and it takes a concerted effort on my part to up my happiness dose.
Last week, on Day 2 of my 48 hour spiral, enough was enough. I allowed myself the next day, without guilt, a chunk of time purely dedicated to my happiness. I deeply enjoy solo hiking - so, easy, I mapped out a new hike. The idea of hiking with a friend always seems like something I would or should enjoy, I’m pretty social afterall - but on hikes I crave the silence and I like to unapologetically linger for a weird amount of time taking pictures of moss. It’s strange and that’s cool. Hiking solo is something I truly enjoy.
Before the hike, I swung into an honor system bakery in the area that I have been pining for. Black Crow Bakery in Litchfield - a no-frills, family run bakery operating out of an old antique farmhouse - specializes in breads made with freshly milled flour and slow-rising natural starters baked in a wood-burning brick oven. Owners, Mark and Tinker Mickalide, trust patrons at this unstaffed store to gather their goodies and leave the correct total in an ancient cookie tin on the table. The hours are loosely 7AM-7PM Tuesday-Sunday, but as Mark continues to tell his customers on his Facebook page, the best time to visit is around 3:30PM when the bread comes out of the oven.
I slowly opened the rickety door to a warm, flour-kissed bakery. Loaves were piled on a shelf next to me - choices like Olive Herb, 7-Grain, Poppy Seed Wheat - along with cookies and freshly baked pastries. I swirled throughout the store, completely alone, almost slipping on flour, smiling. The notion behind honor system bakeries in Maine really gets me: instill hesitancy-free trust in your neighbors and watch how easily echoed and adored it is in return. My total came to $26 after grabbing a Poppy Seed Wheat Loaf ($6) and a t-shirt ($20), but I left $35.
With a gigantic loaf stuffed into my hiking bag and spikes on my feet, I began my climb to the top of Mount Pisgah in Winthrop, about 20 minutes from the bakery. I winded up the Blueberry Trail (1.3 miles) - a moderate trail featuring stone walls, streams and a small clearing which was used as a seasonal cattle pasture that has since been cleared to encourage the growth of wild blueberries in the warmer months. At the summit of Mt Pisgah, you’ll find a former Maine Forest Service fire tower that is accessible to the public, providing exceptional 360-degree views of the area.
After a steep climb up the tower steps, I unzipped my bag and was treated to the smell of perfectly baked bread. I ripped off a piece, bit into a true labor of love, and watched the breeze ripple through the millions of trees in front of me.
And I felt happy. Undeniably, soaked to the core, happy. The 48 hour doom spiral was behind me.
Was it the uninterrupted quiet in the woods, in the tiny bakery? The inherent feel-good-quality of supporting a humble business in Maine? A literal summit reward? Good bread? Or simply just the work of the tried and true happiness booster: exercise?
I don’t know. But it certainly felt like my perfect happiness concoction. Though extremely specific, it’s luckily easily replicable in Maine and why not repeat it when I’m feeling blue? There are copious honor system bakeries waiting for me to twirl in, endless summits to be conquered. And while I hope Part 2 to this series doesn’t come soon - when it does, I’ll repeat this summit reward one-two punch to up my serotonin levels and share with you another honor system bakery + killer hike to check out. My personal merriment elixir, my buck-up potion.
Only pursue these two adventures, of course, if you genuinely enjoy those type of things.
As I began my descent from the tower, heading for the aptly named Tower Trail (0.7 miles) to complete the loop back to my car, I stepped directly on top of this note:
And while I don’t normally condone graffiti on beautiful bestowed gifts, I’ll let this one slide.
—> What is your tried & true happiness concoction? I would love to know! Reply to this email to share it with me - or if you’re a paid subscriber, you can leave a comment on this post.
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Discounted spa trip anyone?