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

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I'd like to think that Maine has exclusive rights to the wonderful loon, but sadly it's not true. Other states apparently are allowed to host them, there's a franchise in Europe, and Canada must have a few, since their one-dollar coin has the queen on one side and the bird on the other and is bilaterally called the loonie.

Some aficionados here pay $20 extra for the loon license plate, some buy elaborate mailboxes. I understand the desire to capture the magic. The loon's sleek and painted body, its need for pure water and solitude, its eerie call, and most of all, its amazing dance are reminders of things we're losing. When we still had our camp in Smithfield, there were three or four pair on the lake, and every once in a while, quite rarely actually and usually in the late evening at the end of summer, they'd gather in a circle and go crazy, or so it seemed. The water was in a froth, the air full of calls and screams. There wasn't any danger around (the supposed reason why they do it), just a primitive, or joyous, or mating, or migratory, or drunk-on-life dance.

On the day we saw this mailbox, we also saw the real thing, four of them floating and diving, dignified and leisurely, like bankers on holiday. All propriety, no savagery, much like the civilized folks who try to capture them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I used to tease a certain member of my family about her laundry obsession. Now that I'm doing a bit of whites and colors myself, I might re-consider my position.

It's not the wash cycle, which is boring in the extreme. It's the drying, ie, the obscure satisfaction gained from hanging clothes outside. Obscure because I haven't figured it out yet. Here are the elements:
  1. Planning all week for a sunny day, or morning, or afternoon, or please just an hour.
  2. Taunting the electric dryer.
  3. Taunting the power company.
  4. Taunting George Bush?
  5. Watching the sky for rain showers.
  6. Taking down the sheets and wrapping your head in them to experience the smell of sunshine.
  7. Getting into a bed with clean, air-dried sheets, drying yourself with a clean, air-dried towel, putting on clean, air-dried tighty whities, etc. etc.
  8. Making your grandmother proud.

Is that enough for pleasure, or epiphany? You'd think so, although there is the unmanly embarassment, and twenty years of comments, which will take a while to undo. At least I resolve not necessarily to tease when my helpmeet starts the laundry before breakfast.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


The fridge mostly died on the weekend. Using the freezer (which still worked, barely) and the ice chest, we managed to save nearly everything except some leftovers. Of course, even throwing out that bit of pasta and one last serving of tuna salad bothered me a little.

Throwing out a whole fridge, however deceased, should have been worse. But we never really considered repair. Well, I did, briefly, but the thought of trying to find someone on a Sunday morning, waiting days for a service call, and probably it couldn't be repaired anyway, and then what about the Chicken Fajita frozen pizza and array of condiments? So we did what everyone does and went to Lowe's (open 8:00 to 7:00). Less than 24 hours later, decay departed, life resumed.

So what happened to Yankee ingenuity and thrift? Wouldn't it have been more satisfying to get the old brown relic repaired? After all, I called appliance repair back home in Massachusetts, when the heating element of the oven shorted out. And in Maine I'm more inclined to try to fix things myself, as if the heroes of the 19th century - Emerson and Thoreau and all the rest - were still alive to help. But of all the conveniences of our convenient lives, fresh food always to hand is sacrosanct, and anything that interrupts our ability to make ice must be rectified, ASAP. We believe in Freon, even in self-reliant Maine.

Monday, July 28, 2008


For the part-time gardener, daylilies are the perfect plant. They grow anywhere, need almost no care, last for years, and winter over nicely. The flowers are gorgeous; the foliage stays green all summer and covers large areas where otherwise we'd have to plan for something else, probably risking the agony of defeat. Lilies trump both hostas and ferns, our other standbys for square-foot maximization.
Your serious gardener probably doesn't bother - too easy, too common, they grow in ditches by the side of the road, for heaven's sake! Gardening, like life, should be a constant struggle against the elements, insects, too-much or too-little hydration, and in-laws bearing petunias in pots, and bringing one's rare roses or orchids to flower year after year, with military precision and planning, apparently guarantees the thrill of victory.
I'd rather observe than battle. You see your life in the arc of one flower: the vigorous morning, opening to dew and hummingbirds and energetic growth; the afternoon sun and full flowering of your ambition and maturity; the gentle evening and its contented wilting and spent stamens; night-time, when you humbly fall to the grass and sleep. Your younger brother does the same the next day, and your nephew, your daughter, your third cousin twice removed. This daily miracle pleases me more than any prideful campaign of cultivars.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Peace and contentment are hard things to find, but your chances of happening upon them seem higher at the side of a lake. The water comes invitingly, without menace or surf, up to the grass of the lawn. Storms are unlikely to blow off your roof. Trees are everywhere the symbol of shelter but at the lake they protect without reservation. You can fall off your dock and be refreshed, not challenged. Loons swim closer, seem friendlier.

Not all lakes are so comforting. I can remember plenty of shallow puddles, flat, treeless shores, birdless waters, and some of them even in Maine. The Great Lakes are like oceans in their magnificence. But a Maine lake is usually different and Megunticook is the essence. It's not as wild as Upper Richardson or Moosehead but just as beautiful, it's largely developed but tastefully, and even the power boats seem to understand the peace of the shore and drive kindly in the middle of water. We walk along this shore hand-in-hand and see the beginning (or end) of a wedding celebration, three boys clowning on a dock, a large extended family, all ages, sitting on lawn chairs on the shore, a couple photographing the four loons just a few score feet away and then playing the photos back, arms draped around each other. If water views were music, this would be Mozart, a harmony of nature and people, as close to perfection as we can get.

Although if push came to shove, I slightly prefer Beethoven.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Maine granite was a big industry for a long time. The feds in DC were a big customer, and cities with streets to be paved, and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York. These days its customers are kids jumping off sheared quarry walls. One of the fondest memories my children have of Maine is swimming in the quarries of Tenants Harbor, especially the danger of the rope swing and the question: is this the year we dare to swing way out and drop twenty scary feet to the water?

It's one of those quaint things that make Maine special, or is it? Clark Island in Spruce Head holds a former quarry - deserted, peaceful, gone to nature. There are quiet trails, lovely ocean views, those deep blue-green quarries, a generous inn at the edge of the causeway. Imagine it in the 19th century, however: the rough barracks for the workers, the explosions, the steam drilling, the hammering, the pollution. Stone is a difficult, noisy, obstinate thing to handle. Life on Clark must have been a little less than idyllic.

So the paradox. To get to, to enjoy, to preserve the places we love, we have to make a mess of the earth. Mining, logging, fishing, agriculture - you don't want to know. But at the least, let's put things back the way we found them if we can, and when we find a place we love, let's try to understand how it got to be that way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Maine Woods

I've been working on an essay about Thoreau in Maine, and found an original copy of The Maine Woods. Incredible world we live in: I didn't go to the library, or a museum, or an antiquarian book store; courtesy of Google Book Search I now "own" a book published in 1864 by Ticknor and Fields in Boston and given to the Bodleian Library, Oxford by E. J. M. Buxton in 1959.

Maybe we can somehow preserve the Great North Woods too. Old growth, slow growth, little and big treasures, alone-ness, the primitive - it's still there, not all that much changed. Pixels are wonderful but I'd really rather touch the lichen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Water Lilies

It's almost never true that art is more beautiful than nature. Portraits, still lifes, industrial stuff, abstracts, yes, but your average, or even highly skilled, painting of a natural object or view does not compare to the material thing. Except the Nympheas.

The water lily is a beautiful flower. But Monet's water lilies (he painted 250 canvases during a 30-year obsession) defy description except to say that water and sky and air and flower all respire and inspire together. The colors alone make you want to go half-blind, like Monet was toward the end of his life. Failing that, at least you get to see the ultraviolet light he saw.

A postcard, an art book, a photo in a blog will not do the paintings justice. You have to see them in person. My family and I went to Paris this past March and spent an afternoon in L'Orangerie; the two oval rooms in the interior of the museum were specially built for eight of the Nympheas paintings, which curve along the walls and give the illusion of surrounding you. It was perhaps the greatest art experience of my life (that, and the David in Florence) because the setting is perfect for the masterpiece.

For any other masterpiece of nature, look at a million settings in Maine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Moon Rise

Last night's moon rise was dramatic, though not quite as spectacular as this picture from last year. It was low and large and apparently (I had to look it up) in the waning gibbous phase. Somehow it was comforting to see the moon just before falling asleep, perhaps an echo from the endless hours of reading Goodnight Moon to the girls.

The stars at night in the country are also spectacular, an infinitesimal grasp of heaven. But they are unknowable, unimaginable. The moon is familiar. There's a man in it, men have prayed to it and stood on it. Unlike our closest star, the one that drives everything on earth, our CEO if you will, you can look at it without burning your eyes (or career) out. It's like a star for the rest of us, not doing much except move ocean waters around a little, inspire a bit of poetry, aid insomnia, and - just one other little thing - cause people to go lunatic with love.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Which Way the Wind Blows

A season-shifting kind of day: definitely summer this morning, wind out of the south, warm and so humid that a couple of minutes of playing with the dog produced more than enough sweat for me and ennui for her; then the wind shifted to the north and east late morning, and it was suddenly cool enough on the deck for me to seek the sunny corner where we usually huddle in September; by the time I started my daily afternoon project (window washing today) the wind was back in the south, with attendant results.

I would hardly notice such changes in the city, where the wind needs thunderstorms and blizzards to get publicity. Here it's a significant fact of life. We have no windows on the north side of the house; there are storm windows all along the east side; a couple of the firs tilt lovingly toward us and will have to come down some day; the National Weather Service breaks into radio broadcasts (even Beethoven, who doesn't really mind) with storm warnings; wind direction determines the take-off and landing patterns at the nearby *&^%$# airport. In the country we live much closer to, and are more aware of, the personalities of the winds, which used to be gods with names and adventures, but now are homogenized by the headline writers and marketers into slogans - winds of change, war, jihad, dawn, praise, and all manner of Four Winds seaside hotels.

Oh, and we don't need weathermen either.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Here If You Need Me

Towards the end of her book Here If You Need Me Kate Braestrup talks about how the death of her first husband Drew, so loving and loved, holds itself in paradox. If he had lived, she wouldn't have gone into the ministry, met wonderful people, became deeply rooted in Thomaston, completed books, married happily again. She can hold both realities - his senseless death, her rich life - "on the one hand and on the other, just like that."

Setting aside any religious reasons for this remarkable point of view (she is a Unitarian Universalist, after all!), I hope that the state of Maine has a good deal to do with the state of her mind. She hints that it does - the mix of natural and human discourse, the sense of community, inspiring beauty all around. There's plenty of tragedy here too but small-town Maine seems to provide the tools to deal with it. My favorite story from the book: Warden Hannah Robitaille sets out to do some repairs on a remote warden camp in January. Her snowmobile quits in the middle of the lake on the way over, and she has to walk, in bitter cold and snow and dark, winds blowing, her life in danger. She prays but not for help. She prays, "God, this is great: I'm getting paid for this!"

And if she had died, a thousand people would have attended her funeral.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Why are there 1200 varieties of barnacle? How many different expressions of go-nowhere, do-nothing, look-the-same hermits do we need? It doesn't seem fair that Nature effortlessly produces such complexity when humans have such trouble.

We try to think things through, but secretly we'd rather be simple. Complexity may be beautiful but it gives you ulcers. Charles Darwin went the other way. He was the first to study the barnacle thoroughly, to get all the details of one species lined up and on paper before broadcasting his great theories. Imagine the tedium that most of us would feel - lousy English weather, scraped knees, eight years of minute observations. It takes a genius to use boredom wisely. Most of us sit in our shells and try to think great thoughts, but really we're just opening our armored plates every once in a while to take in plankton or procreate. Maybe the crab is a better role model: comical, malign, mobile, aggressive, tasty, vulnerable. Fascinating, though, that Darwin chose the barnacle.

Friday, July 18, 2008

More on Raspberries

It seems a very good year for raspberries. Once or twice a day, walking the dog, I pass the patch and get my fix. It must be the recent hot, dry weather that's making them so plump and sweet and numerous.

The taste is marvelous, of course, but I must confess to another pleasure: the seeds that stick in your teeth. They are of the perfect size to lodge creatively, and for the several hundred yards back home, I explore and excavate, which is pleasurable enough, but the highlight is the satisfying compulsion to spit them out, or more correctly blow them out, concentrating on accuracy and distance. With the Olympics coming up, we're going to be hounded with personal bests, the year's best, American records, Olympic records, world records, Lithuanian records, and dreaming of a raspberry seed world championship is as important as any hundred meter fly. I especially like it when there's a breeze out of the west, although of course any record thus established would be wind-aided.

If I'm unlucky, I'll find a seed hiding between gum and one of my implants, often much later, in the house. Dental implants are a decidedly un-boyish thing, with few Olympic records, and since I don't quite dare to bombard the wife or the dog, I must step outside or swallow. When I was a kid in the early 60s, my brothers and I had no such compunctions and my mother would have to intervene. Fortunately for her, the raspberry canes that Dad planted behind the shed at our summer cabin lasted only a year or two before he gave up. At the slightest hint of redness, the deer got breakfast, and he did not want to get up early enough - it was summer, he was a teacher - to prevent it. The boys waited for watermelon season.

I'll wait for tomorrow, and another swing at the very definition of carefree: walking in the woods, eating berries, imagining the podium.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I've seen deer more often this year than others past. I'm here more, of course, and have settled into a routine that apparently coincides better with the animals'. This morning it was a young doe on Bay View. It stepped out of the woods, saw the dog and me, stood still (ears twitching) and let us get within 20 yards. Then it bounded (the perfect word for what they do) away.
This afternoon it was the trio of fawns, sans mother this time, or more likely, mother was hidden just out of sight. Last week the four of them played on the lawn of the two-family house on Canns Beach; today it was the lawn of the house that shelters handicapped kids. We didn't get too close either time -mothers, you know.

Wildlife is getting used to humans. They really don't have a choice, I guess, as we poke our way into every corner of every habitat. Do deer prefer lawns? Lawns tend to have good things to eat in and around them, so the danger represented by the bipeds is waning in favor of the calories they can provide. Evolution in our lifetime: is the Peaceable Kingdom next?

See, dear, our young and tender hostas are players on a much bigger stage.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fairy Houses

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, in Boothbay, admirably is trying to attract kids, or at least provide some diversion when parents (or grandparents - there were an awfully lot of older folks when we visited last week) undertake a family outing. There are a couple of kids' gardens, an educational tent, and a designated place in the woods for building fairy houses. There were even a couple of children in that area bounded by quaint twig fences, moms watching from a bench, but they appeared to be more interested in dragging sticks around from place to place or throwing them at each other than actually building anything. Hence, perhaps, the rather flattened appearance of some of the establishments.

The more ambitious dwellings lived outside the fences and away from the path a bit. Clearly, big kids or kids-for-the-moment had laid hands here. There was a certain cabana-like aspect to many of the houses, as if they'd really rather be in Hawaii. Or maybe I under-estimate the sophistication of kids these days. Certainly, no kid over five believes in fairies anymore; so here's to other fantasies.

While the collections of indigenous Maine flowers at the Garden were beautiful and nicely laid out, with a meditation area and a gazebo for rest and contemplation, there was a minor lack of spontaneity, perhaps by design. A couple of hundred yards of the trail winding through the property was labelled the Maine Woods trail and at least there the underbrush hadn't been cleared away. But I doubt too many children take that trail, and the shore of the Back River of the Sheepscot is chicken-wired off to prevent mishap. Just plain playing in the woods doesn't really fit here, or most places actually.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Today the President lifted 20 years of executive orders banning the drilling for oil and gas off the shoreline. It's a gratuitous move: Congress has its own ban and is unlikely to remove it. It's stupid: or should I say, political (same thing). And it's downright unfilial: Bush Senior signed the first ban.

The thought that our gorgeous coasts would be subject to spills and slicks is almost more than I can bear. It's bad enough to catch glimpses of the huge oil tankers moving to and from Searsport at the top of Penobscot Bay. But Maine is working hard for new forms of energy (wind, tides, solar) and always has, apparently, if this old sign in Belfast is any indication. And what about conservation, Mr. President? Come out to the bay and watch the lobstermen tend their traps - they don't drive fast anymore, they don't gun the engine when they turn like they used to. They move slowly and steadily, saving fuel.

Perhaps the oilman in the White House doesn't spend enough time in Maine (when he does come, I bet we won't be treated to pictures of Bushes in cigarette boats). Perhaps Augusta could propose a drilling platform off Walker's Point. When January 20, 2009 finally comes around, where will he go?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer Berries

The raspberry patch at the top of Bay View is terribly overgrown, and getting worse. There used to be makeshift paths among the prickers, but no one seems to care anymore, and one guy without pith helmet, machete, and thigh-high snake boots is unlikely to be the first. I have to be content with just picking a few berries at the edges while the dog strains to get away from the menacing jungle.

But the taste (oh, the perfect taste!) makes me want to add "Civilize raspberry patch" to the list of projects for the summer. They say that smell is quickest to prick memory; well, for me it's the taste of raspberries, and everything else worthwhile besides. When the children were young, we would make an entire ritual of them. From my walks I judged the best day for picking. All put on long pants and bug dope and walked up Bay View carrying the same stained green berry containers from years past. It took our collective forty fingers about an hour to get 3 quarts, enough for one large spoonful each at lunch and then, the highlight of the week, Cindy made a freshly baked pie, luscious, bright-red, that we drooled over until it was cool enough, usually at the end of the first round of Wizard, to eat. Sometimes there was even a piece of two left over for the next day, but it wasn't as dramatic anymore, nor were the pies baked from farm-stand berries when we got too lazy to pick our own.

It's still a shock to me to see raspberries in supermarkets, or on dessert menus, in January. The taste should stay intense, fleeting, full of summer sun and air. The only carbon they consume should be the CO2 you expend as you walk to the top of the road.

We also picked blueberries, the kids and I, in the field on Ash Point that is now a new, as yet unembodied cemetery. Blueberry pie is almost as superb, but the wild blueberry seems a tougher species, not quite so precious or fragile (it's harvested by mechanized rakes, after all), and the cultivated ones are hardly worth mentioning.

Later in the summer, blackberries ripen along the roads, and we stand there eating but not saving. The girls didn't particularly like them, pies and jams are too seedy and require too much sugar, the blackberry has little cachet, little spirit - unlike its intense red cousin that embodies the idyll of summer.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Artist's Life

We were in Belfast last week, on a Friday afternoon, on the eve of a city-wide art show. I'm not sure if this fellow is meant to represent the artists or their public. I certainly used to feel this way at the end of a long week.

Artists are of course thick on the ground on the coast. Like everything, there is a huge range of talent and expression but I'm always struck by the strong and universal and repetitive need to capture our common icons of surf, lobster pot and pointed fir. The worst of our efforts are indeed like capture: trite phrases, brushstrokes, camera angles to be set in little cages. The best snap you out of the frame instantly and into the mind of the image. But in either case the act of trying makes even the most ordinary seascape speak out loud with memories.

Friday, July 11, 2008


With only a little bit of effort, you can put yourself out of time. The shore is particularly good for this exercise: the ocean seems limitless, the rocks immoveable, the air clean and clear. Standing there and soaking it in is not ignoring the concerns of your life or pretending to be someone you're not. It's reminding you that beauty usually trumps ugliness, if only for a few minutes. A few deep infinite breaths, and you can go back with some confidence to the parking lot and the SUVs and the tourists walking to the lighthouse hidden at the top of the bluff.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The breakwater

A walk to Rockland Light is one of the good things to do around here, especially when it's hot. It's nearly two miles round-trip, with all the sea breezes you'd want, and the dog, although she hates jumping the gaps between the rocks, doesn't complain too much and keeps a reasonable pace for once.

The breakwater also makes the harbor pretty safe for large boats - the windjammers, the Coast Guard, the trawlers, the Navy warship open to visitors during the Lobster Festival. Now we hear that Rockland is getting the ultimate touristical compliment. The big cruise ships are coming. There have been some little ones here and there, the 50- or 100-passenger teenagers sailing the coast from Bangor, but in the fall of 09 we're supposed to get the kind that, if the ship were full and all the passengers came ashore at once, would increase Rockland's population by nearly 50%. What will Rockland do with 3,000 tourists? Disembarking from a ship owned by Royal Caribbean? Which, if the town fathers are really nice to them, might deign to dock overnight?

I'm definitely going to track these itineraries. Maybe even get a glimpse of the monsters from the safety of my deck.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


The other day we actually walked through the village of Owls Head, parking the car in the lighthouse lot and walking back. Not much here: the general store, the post office, a library open 5 hours a week, and of course the paraphernalia of fishing - the town dock, traps and barrels, skiffs, lobster pound, boats at their moorings. Apparently, Owls Head un-developed itself. A hundred years ago it bustled a bit, with inns and restaurants and dance halls and the train that brought sand-seekers directly to Crescent Beach. Isn't Maine increasingly relying on the tourists? Why are we blessed?

We sat for a while at the picnic tables on the dock. The building behind us looked suspiciously like it once was a clam shack, with something like a take-out window. "Wouldn't it be great..." we started to say. Nah, then the lighthouse people would come down here too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Our first summer here was 1995 and everything was new, including all these ocean birds. We immediately started a list of species spotted. Of course, after a few weeks, the possibilities were exhausted (although we didn't see a bald eagle until relatively recently, by which time the list was abandoned, even discarded). This doesn't mean I can't still get excited by a day like Sunday, when a great blue heron flapped overhead, a large hawk sat in a tree and performed a kind of screeching whistle at the dog and me, and an eagle flew fast along the shore on its way to an important appointment.

Then there's the little fellow above. He's actually the product of the paring of a pear - having quartered it, I was cutting out the core - and appeared spontaneously, in full feather. The adults in the room became wracked with laughter and took lots of pictures. The teenagers smiled but looked askance at each other.

"Look!" I managed, "Owls Head, get it?"

One replied, "It's funny, Daddy, but not hilarious."

Worlds continue to diverge.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Purple Flowers

There's a riot of purple in Maine in the summer: lupine, purple loosestrife, fireweed, irises, campanula, coneflowers, foxglove, clover. Many of these are weeds, wild and even invasive, rooting about like kings. Then there's this viney-stuff I can't identify that thrives along the edges of lawns and roads, that smothers and kills other plants (also like kings). I pull it out when I see it invading the gardens and the rose bush. But it looks rather nice along the road, hiding the tossed coffee cups and cigarette butts.

A weed is a plant in the wrong place. Purple is the color associated with royalty. When the President invades Maine this summer, does he therefore fit right in?

Let's just say that Walker's Point is not really Maine. Let's say that one man's meat is another man's poison.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


I don't know if it's laziness or cussedness, but the world seems to vacillate between Owls and Owl's, sometimes in the same document, when talking about this town. Of course, if you don't use the apostrophe, there's little sense in it (a head with multiple owls?), which is why I don't. It's good to be nonsensical. Besides, no one can even say how the town got its name in the first place. From the way the promontory hosting the lighthouse looks? From a transliterated Indian name? You have to be cross-eyed in the first case, and starry-eyed in the second. Or just be ornery. (I wonder if town meeting has debated this?)

I'm for accepting both little mysteries. Grammar and sense should fail every once in a while. Don't try to explain sun and fog.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Beach roses

A couple of years ago the rose bush at the back of the ocean garden was looking pretty spindly, so I put on thick gloves and attacked it, cutting it down to half-size and clearing out the dead stalks. The violence helped; it's looking good this year, although never so full and lush as the wild bushes growing along the lanes and the edges of beaches. We don't know if our bush grew there naturally, or if the previous owners planted it. It's a little precarious, right on the edge of the bank, between two firs, battling with the lupine and the lilies in the garden. It needs the occasional human touch.

The shoreline doesn't particularly need the human touch. I'm guessing the tidal zone has stayed essentially the same for thousands of years - the same rocks, rockweed, chaos of waves, with only a stray piece of plastic or invasive species of crab to mar the illusion. I can look out at the bay, of course, and see boats and lobsters pots; there are machines in the sky; houses and stairs and sling chairs bedeck the land above the water. But I also can sit at the ocean's edge and look at the complex of currents swirling around the rocks, always the same, always changing, and wonder what the attraction is to the fancy varieties of rose that are so difficult to grow, when the rosa rugosa gladdens the heart without even trying.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Walking the dog

Somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30 I walk the dog. In Massachusetts she looks forward to it - the familiar routes and smells and chance meetings with friendly strangers who just might have a treat handy. In Maine she's not so sure. No question that she's interested: all day, she tracks my every movement, hoping I might go out to the deck so she can lie in the grass out front and guard us from the finches, but alas, twice a day I go to the back door. Her tail goes down and she stands looking sad. Somehow the leash and a kind tone of voice do not convince her. She doesn't share my joy at walking up Bay View and down Canns Beach. I have to move her along with a tight leash and the occasional gentle tap on the butt.

You see, there are too many animals in Maine. It's not the wild ones she's worried about - the deer and the foxes and the reputed fisher cat in the woods behind the house. In fact, we saw a deer once, and she stood stock still, keenly interested, tail up. She worries about her fellow dogs. A couple of times the yellow labs next door were loose; the old collie at the end of Canns Beach raced down the hill at us, barking and menacing; the three poodles next door on the other side she has only disdain for (her own breed!). I've have to drag her past certain houses, pick her up in emergencies, talk to her in a baby voice about how nice all the doggies are (they aren't).

In spite of these psychological impairments, I love my walks with Mia here the way she loves her walks in Newton. Country mouse, city mouse: I'm for seeing the same trees, field of lupine, raspberry patch, deer trails every day. I have hopes of foxes, fears of lawn mowers. She, bless her heart, likes humans.

The one place our pleasures merge is Crockett's Beach. At low tide the sand is exposed, and she revels in chasing sticks, pouncing on bubbles in the surf, digging at the air holes of clams. Her breeding is discarded (wouldn't that be great?) and together we drink in the salty air.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


The 3-hour trip from MA to ME yesterday was warm and sunny the whole way. We turned down 131 at Thomaston and I could see, off in the distance to the south and east, the bank of clouds sitting low on the horizon. The clouds looked innocent enough, but we knew. Within a mile of the house the trees were draped in grey ribbons; at the end of our drive the water and the islands were invisible. The temperature dropped 15 degrees.

Fog loves Owls Head, especially at this time of year. With water on three sides the peninsula seems to generate it. Fog has a rhythm to it like the ocean, hugging the shore, then pulling back a little, then coming in fast to smother the house.

We ate lunch on the deck, in a moment of relative sun. The firs down by the water were barely visible, soupy, spiritual, happy. We see them and the islands and the surf in all kinds of weather, but fog is good for the soul - when the mist crept back in, we gladly left our duties as watchmen of the bay and went inside to read our novels and purge ourselves of the city.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dominion Day

July 1 commemorates the founding of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. The forces of correctness changed the name to Canada Day in 1982 but it will always be DD in my mind, since I lived there for a couple of years of high school well before the bland eighties began. "Dominion" has a nice bibilical ring to it, not to mention that insecure ambiguity so perfectly practiced by the British; the word means both supreme authority and "a self-governing nation of the British Commonwealth other than the United Kingdom that acknowledges the British monarch as chief of state." Dominion over the earth and all that, and let's keep our illusions of empire intact.

In a very small way it's my dominion day too. Something new is being founded today, whatever it is, trying to understand the world maybe, with time and the governance of words and pictures and our humble speck of ground in Maine as laboratories.

Blake knew.

To see the world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

(Read the whole poem Auguries of Innocence http://www.artofeurope.com/blake/bla3.htm ) for some gruesome couplets of what this too-famous opening stanza means in the real world.)

And also a day to re-connect to the world in another way - nervously sending out writing for publication review for the first time in decades.