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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Vietnam in Owls Head

It was a shock the past couple of nights, seeing in episodes two and three of Ken Burns' "The Vietnam War", the face and voice of our neighbor down the shore, Bob Rheault. (I should say former neighbor, as he died four years ago.) We had met him a couple of times, but it was a bit awkward since we knew that he had been famous (or infamous) as head of Special Forces in Vietnam during the war.

Bob's humble words on screen were much more powerful than the mealy-mouthed non-statements, obfuscations, and even lies of the politicians and generals - Kennedy, McNamara, Johnson, Westmoreland - of the time. They were shocking in how terribly they brought back the events of more than 50 years ago. Then as now, public words seem to mean nothing. Private words, as captured by the journalists and the novelists and the film-makers, mean volumes.

I would have liked to have known Bob better. He was a man who perhaps came to the coast of Maine to clear away the awful memories of military service in Vietnam, and certainly a man who devoted himself in Maine to service of another kind: outdoors education at Outward Bound, and land conservation at Georges River Land Trust. Ridiculously, his obituary in The New York Times spends 99% of its words on his few months in Vietnam, i,e., almost nothing on his 44 years in Maine. Is war really so much more interesting than peace?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Venturing out

Last night, in the old-age aftermath of Harvey - wind, rain, surf, but he destroyed nothing here as he did when a teenager in Texas - we saw something unique in our 22 years of watching. It was dusk, nearly night, and Cindy spotted him in the gloom just a few feet from the window. He was munching windfalls from the crab apple tree and occasionally stretching a beautiful neck to pick fruit right off the branches. Lord knows we see plenty of deer in the yard (10 of them one memorable, late-winter dawn) but they've always been does, or we've identified them as such. This was a young buck, judging by its small, teenage antlers. We crowded the window, staring intently for a few minutes, until he cleaned us out of apples and wandered off.

 A buck is no more gorgeous than a doe (but then I've never seen a mature male with a full set of antlers), so why the personal hoopla? It's because we never see males, I guess, and a rare thing is noteworthy. I also find it curious that he chose to come down from the woods on a stormy evening, as if assuming that any predators would be inside, oiling their rifles and planning for November.

Males of other species are not so skittishly smart. They'll drive right on into a flooded interstate.

Friday, September 1, 2017

A plethora of preserves

In our newfound freedom, we've been glorying in some of Maine's best mountaintop views the last few days. It also helps that these are relatively short hikes for those of us a little out of shape.

Maiden Cliff

Bald Rock Mountain

Blue Hill

Thanks to state parks and land trusts for preserving these marvelous places. Up here we're not exactly ignoring the world, but the views and the peace and quiet make its difficulties a little easier to bear. And we're thankful for a stretch of perfect weather when so much of the world is suffering the opposite.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book report, part 3

This last part of reviewing my Goodreads history has to do with the classics. I was trained in English literature, so I guess that makes me biased, in the sense that I know the huge majority of modern novels will not stand the test of time, which of course has always been the case. Why read them then? If a book isn't great, why spend the time with it? Easy questions to answer: first, one is always hoping to discover the next Kent Haruf, one who will give pleasure and inspiration for a lifetime; second, one reads not just for enlightenment but for a host of other reasons. Reading can be fun, entertaining, educational, etc., but most of all it carries one into another's world and mind, both character's and author's, and this is a great tonic for daily care and struggle and pride and worry. Getting out of yourself is the key to sanity, and this is what most decent books do to some extent, and what the classics do entirely.

So I find myself re-reading. Here are titles I've re-read in the last six years, in no particular order until the end of the list.

  • One Man's Meat, E.B. White, many times now
  • several novels by Robertson Davies, for at least the fourth time
  • Thoreau's Walden, again for the nth time
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
  • Gorky Park, Martin Cruz-Smith, one of the few detective stories I'll ever re-read
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig, surprisingly fresh in places, understandably turgid in others
  • A Year in the Maine Woods, Bernd Heinrich, third time? fourth time?
  • The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett, must be approaching ten times now
  • a couple of Elisabeth Ogilvie's Bennett Island novels - time to re-read the whole series
  • Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner, still unbelievably good, need to re-read everything
  • Anthony Trollope - see below
  • all of George Eliot, Middlemarch for at least the fifth time
  • all of Jane Austen, in what must be my sixth or seventh time through

You can guess that the 19th century English novelists remain my ideal. In graduate school of course I fell in with the pantheon of white American 20th century males - Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Bellow, Roth - but only Faulkner makes me want to re-read. Whereas Eliot and Trollope (the six Barsetshire novels, the six Palliser novels, plus a few more) and Austen, especially Austen, are as alive as ever, writing for me and for the ages, the perfect combination of character and plot and wit and laugh-out-loud humor and the great themes of birth and love and death. Dear reader, they say (often literally), come along and watch me display the eternal joys and follies of humankind, and when you're done, you won't remember I was there.