Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nothing fried

Nothing pleases me and my cholesterol level more than fried clams, so when we decided to go out to eat the other night, it took a great lack of self-interest to agree to go to Miller's. I recited the menu more than once to the party attending, and they were perfectly fine with the lobster dinners and the crab rolls served with chips. "There's nothing fried, you realize," I mentioned casually at the end of the recitation. "It sounds good," said my helpmeet, echoed by her mother and my daughter in a chorus of healthfulness. Upon arriving, they proceeded to order lobster rolls and a lobster dinner, loaded with mayo and butter, complete with the above-mentioned Lay's, and when one package of chips inexplicably was missing from the order, they made sure its replacement was received before the end of the meal. I had steamers, and spurned the dipping butter.
It's only been two days out of state, and already I can't help but write about one of the perfect experiences of a Maine August. As if to sit at a picnic table on a wharf, looking at the boats bobbing in the cove, the sun going down from a cloudless sky wasn't great enough, the owner came by and pointed out the osprey nest on the island across the water, and mentioned the bald eagle pair living down the shore. The steamers were even sweeter than the lobster.
Who needs Revere, or Old Orchard?
If you have to spend the last day of August not in Maine, then the simplest of images will get you through.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Unreality


On a day when I go back to Massachusetts for a while, I think of our little bit of heaven. It's cloudy and cool and will rain later, a kind of prep for re-entry into the "real" world. We're always trying to understand what's real and what's not. We saw this painter on Beech Hill; she was standing on the porch of a house restored from a lost age, on a property preserved from modern development, in a setting of unworldly beauty, trying to capture something. What did she see as real? A column of the house's porch, a lone tree, the Camden Hills and the ocean to the north....in paint, on canvas. The photo seems to capture the several layers of this dilemma, through a glass darkly, you might say. She was trying to understand it for herself, and for others to lift out of themselves for a moment, to experience another world, then go back down the hill or out of state and try to think how this changes your life.

We made kind of a joke picture that same day, although it's really more of a tribute to Wyeth than a satire on his fame. The very best art takes you to another world but doesn't take you out of yours. "Christina's World" looks at the harsh beauty of Maine straight on and shows what's real, even though the Olsen House doesn't really look like the property Wyeth painted and he used his wife as the model - doesn't matter. The important thing is the capture of an image no matter how fleeting or permanent.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Beech Nut house


When we first came to the midcoast and would take the girls to Chickawaukee Lake for a swim, we saw what looked like an abandoned house on the top of a bare hill a few miles to the north. It was immediately dubbed the "California house" as if that state doesn't have a tree to its name. Over the years we made one or two half-hearted attempts to find a road or a trail to the house and at last, just a couple of years ago, stumbled on the Beech Hill Preserve on one of our many drives through the lovely Camden Hills. California had been discovered.
Thanks to the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, nearly 300 acres of blueberry barrens (organically farmed), open fields, and woods are preserved, topped by a house and a view that defy description. Suffice it to say that the house has been beautifully restored since we first saw it, and the blueberries are delicious, and the vista incomparable.

The Camden Hills don't quite have the cachet and the spectacle of, say, Marin County. Last I looked we don't have any sea lions, 10-foot surf, or redwoods. The drama is reduced a notch or two, Camden is a pale imitation of Tiverton and Mill Valley (thank God), and the word lifestyle was not invented here. California is a great place to visit; midcoast Maine is a great place to live.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

First day of school


This bell at Vesper Hill reminds me that most of Maine's kids went back to the classroom today, on one of the most spectacular days of the summer, unfortunately for them. No matter how much someone might actually like school, even the blindest of bookworms would miss the warm sun and bright skies and tranquil waters of a day like today.

I wonder if one ever shakes the approach of September as a time of change. No question that the end of summer, short as it is in New England, would be enough to rue, without the prospect of more walls than trees, more work than vacation, more cold than warm staring us in the face. September and October can be the most beautiful months of all, we tell ourselves, but the statement is not necessarily heart-felt. And in typical New England fashion, I'm not sure if it's regret or dread that drives us - regret that another summer is in the books, dread of another winter on lay-away.

For me it was usually the former, since summer represented a hint of that thing that's hardest to attain - living in the moment. There's nothing wrong with worries and responsibilities; unfortunately, they like to control us and the classroom and office are the most obvious symbols of the predicament. The kid that has to go in the space of a day from the responsibilities of center field in the gloaming evening, to the worries of algebra and peer pressure under fluorescent lights, may not be the better for it. The bell does not ring for his education but for his indoctrination. September is not so beautiful if your life is cramped.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blueberries


Uncharacteristically, we seemed to have missed much of blueberry season this year. It hasn't been the same, to be sure, since a couple of years ago someone converted the open field just down Ash Point Road, where free picking with the girls was a regular event of the summer, into a cemetery. Still, we've usually had a pie by now, and to leave our first hike to Beech Hill and its blueberry fields until the 24th of August seems criminal. Will we be allowed back into the state?

It's not the same to pay for them at a farm stand, even one as lovely as Beth's. A pie baked with berries you've picked in a field just tastes better. You know that all those berries would just have gone to waste if you hadn't happened by, you feel just a tiny bit that you're living off the land, as you eat that pie, the crick in your back stirs up something primitive. A few handfuls from Beech Hill are nice but a few quarts from your own private patch are heavenly.

When I go back to MA later this week, I could stop at a roadside stand advertising "Blueberrys" and stock up for a pie back home. There's a lot of choice this year, for the number of stands corresponds directly to the state of the economy. But I probably won't stop. The end of summer is poignant enough without invoking memories of the blue lips of children.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lydia Franz

Yesterday Lydia's ashes were scattered in the ocean in front of her house. It was a remarkable day that began at the Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde, where her daughter gave a wonderful speech and in Lydia's name the staff dedicated a bench overlooking the harbor. She passionately believed in education, the ocean, Maine, the environment, and the Center - a splendid vision for someone who spent her life in real estate at the national level. At noon we all returned to Owls Head. She and Kathleen and Harriet had moved into the house next door to us around 1998, from high-powered jobs in Chicago, and settled into Maine life with respect and enthusiasm. She was ill for much of the time she lived here, and with our limited vacation time and her sickness, we never got to know her well. But after yesterday, I felt I did, because of the dignity of the memorial celebration, and the unplanned, almost glorious, things that happened. As part of the service, Kathleen took Lydia's ashes aboard a boat as the congregation (I use church words here to describe the power of these moments, even though there was nothing religious whatsoever here) waited some 15 or 2o minutes on the lawn and the decks. We gazed out to sea in reverence, at the islands, the surf, the fog in the bay. The boat rounded Ginn Point and skirted Little Island and cut its engine in front of the house. Two trumpeters, one in the boat and one on the deck, played "Taps" as a round, three times, answering and blending with each other across the water. And then something else started contributing. The sun broke through the fog, lighting the white lobster boat like a chalice. An osprey flew over our heads. Two sea gulls called out their own "Taps" down on the shore. And just as Kathleen was finished emptying the urn, a jet flew low overhead. It was as if nature and man combined to honor this paragon of a woman: her sunny, indomitable disposition, even through the thrice-weekly dialysis and the weakness and pain; her love of the wild things of Maine; her proficiency at piano and love of music; and the loud machine overhead honoring her high-level crytography work in World War II.
I learned a lot yesterday about how to conduct one's life, how to celebrate its conclusion, and how to inspire those who remain behind.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Outward Bound


I haven't seen the Outward Bound boat in our cove yet this year. Usually it drops anchor in the early evening and leaves early the next morning. The boat is small (maybe 30 feet) and open and is packed with teenagers, not quite like sardines but close. One year I counted 14 of them, miserable-looking in their yellow slickers (granted, it was rainy and foggy that night). I suppose during the day they are kept pretty busy with the sails and the sights, building teamwork, trust, and appreciation for the elements, but I can't quite imagine being stuck for a week or two in approximately 25 square feet per person. Even the spirit of adventure must quail before such conditions.
We did see them just off Marshall Point last week. They had just dropped anchor in the fog - too far away to judge their mental health. It is a beautiful spot, near the lighthouse and Port Clyde harbor and lovely Hooper Island (where Chief Justice Roberts took sick last year), and a sunny day or a clear night, or even just a couple of hours of partly cloudy, would go far to ameliorate the 25 sq ft and the pork and beans for dinner. If I were 17 again, I'd do it in a flash.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Changing colors


Certain species of hydrangea can be forced to change color, pink to blue or vice versa. It has to do with the amount of acid in the soil, which the ambitious gardener can of course modify quite easily. I'm not sure why one would want to do this, aside from a sudden switch in political orientation, but there it is. What color are Joe Lieberman's hydrangeas?

On a bigger scale, I wonder if a place can change a person's affect. Say a friendly Midwesterner moves to New York: does she become suspicious, insular, and acid-tongued? And if a Bostonian decides to live in Indiana, does he slowly go back to the basics? I think it would be great to look in the mirror and see yourself in a new color - then you can truly assess if where you came from is worth going back to, if the place that originally made you is your true color. If not, fine. Take on a new color. But at least you'll know that the global village nonsense is not for you.

And if someone lived half his life in the Midwest, half of his life in Boston, and then has the chance to live much of the time in Maine? All the colors of the rainbow appear at once.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vacation


Some folks don't mind leaving a phone number or taking a Blackberry on vacation. I used to hate it, especially when we came to Maine. It was so wonderful to be here that I anticipated coming with a visceral longing, as if the point of the whole previous working year was to earn enough time to leave it behind. It wasn't particularly healthy, I guess, to have this split. The first few days off were spent just cleansing the mind of all the work stuff, the last day or two (the last day always seemed to be a Sunday, bringing back horrid memories of school on Monday and many hours of homework still to go) were spent dreading going back, and if you only had a week off, what does that leave you with? Gastrointestinal reflux....

It might be better to integrate a little better, to take more time away from work but in the modern telecommuting way bring it with you. Or should we keep the sharp split between work and leisure? Unfortunately for most, work is so demanding or tedious or dangerous or just plain distasteful that you have to get away, resulting in the peculiarly American frantic vacation. Europeans seem to take more leisurely holidays; of course, they have twice the time off we do. But they work harder during the year, or at least that's my impression, or maybe it's that they don't mind mixing business and pleasure, say on weekends, knowing they can be completely free in the Dordogne for weeks at a time.

Now that I'm doing a different kind of work, and am spending a lot more time in Maine, the boundaries are blurring and I don't mind doing a little email on a Thursday morning. The world seems much kinder when you're not striving so hard.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Camden



Say what you will about it, Camden is quite a beautiful town. The river comes tumbling into the harbor down shelves of rock. Mount Battie towers above, looking like it's just a few yards away. The houses are New England-white and very well kept (there must be a law). There are three(!) bookstores. For the tourist, it's close to heaven, with the shops and ducks and galleries and boats, all varying shades of cute; with the Camden Hills so close for camping and hiking; with the tasteful restaurants; with the schooners for hire and the yachts for gawking and the sailing club for kids and "Lobster Adventure, 1-hour trip, see seals and eagles!"

For the resident it could be heaven, I guess, if the hereafter excludes Main Street in July and August when it gets pretty thick. You can't walk at any speed on the sidewalks; traffic backs up a mile in both directions; the glare of pastel is blinding. But just one block away from the seething madness is peace and quiet. It's a very charming and seductive place. But maybe too quiet: when we walked around town the other day, away from Route 1, we saw an old man walking his dog and a young guy going to work at the Camden Harbor Inn. That's it for pedestrians in the space of 30 minutes. One man was working in his yard, no one was sitting on porches. I got the feeling that one doesn't mix with the crowd if one is resident in Camden. One serves tea in secluded back yards, one shops after five, one spends one's morning managing investments. And if children are part of one's life, one sends them down to the sailing club for training as the future ruling class.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Buy Art Redux



A good thing about Maine is that you can use the words open, trusting, unguarded with more assurance than in most parts of the country or world. Lots of rascals here too, but at least on the cynicism scale, Maine must rank near the bottom. And sometimes things are so accessible that you have to scratch your head and wonder what's going on.

Like this table we saw in Port Clyde the other day. It was placed near the street. No one seemed to be at home in the little white clapboard house. There was no sign proclaiming For Sale, For Rent, For Free. There were no price tags. No artist sitting on the picnic table, not even a clue if the table was the output of a child's play date, an adult's quiet evenings, a supplement to income or the goodness of someone's heart. There were just painted stones on a nice white tablecloth, real, without pretense.

They must have been for sale. But to conduct commerce so disarmingly, even elegantly, puts all the galleries to shame.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Stone wall

I find stone walls bittersweet. When you happen upon them in the woods, they're usually falling down and terribly picturesque, but of course they mean that the land at one time had been stripped of its trees and given over to muck and cow manure. That the trees have reclaimed the land is not an entirely perfect consolation. When you happen upon one in the suburbs, it usually means you're in a rich part of town and a specialist has assembled it beautifully, from other stone walls, without mortar, with great historical accuracy, in front of the huge, California-style mansion on the knoll above. You don't happen upon them at all on working farms - modern cows must be very athletic.

And then there's this one, in Rockport, Maine.

It stretches for hundreds of yards along Calderwood Lane. There's only one entrance. It's unvaryingly uniform. Note the perfect toupee of moss along its top, and the dark green moss near the bottom to signify age, and the grass mowed on the outside. Undoubtedly, the mortar will preserve it for another hundred years. It won't be allowed to fall down. It calmly suggests owners with too much money, and in any dispute of property, it will "engage in delaying tactics" until the lawyers prevail. My American Heritage Dictionary should have used this picture to illustrate definition 1 (a).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Picture-perfect day

The urge to paint must be strong today, or I assume so with weather like this. It's a clear blue day, shocking after so much fog and humidity this summer, a perfect Sunday in August on the coast of Maine, made for plein air. The artists must be out by the thousands, and the tourists who buy their pictures by the car load must be roaming the galleries, for the urge to buy art must be just as strong today. We want to take back home a reminder of the beautiful places we've seen - too bad the art is so often banal.

A beautiful place inspires a huge range of talent in the arts. The truly talented have to work extremely hard to get viewers (or readers) to see something new, and I suspect they mostly don't even try, or work in the off-season when the light's more interesting and the crowds are done shopping. The merely talented work nearly as hard but have a keener eye on the commercial scene. Weekenders paint or write mostly for themselves, and let themselves dream a little. The schlock guys set up their assembly lines and think about wintering in Florida.

It's hard to find great representations of the perfect. The test of time works, so we can recreate beauty by gazing at Bellows and Kent and the Wyeths in museums. But in the art galleries, of which there are hundreds on the coast, I find it nearly impossible. The contrast with the real thing just outside the door is too great to overcome for us ordinary mortals, artist or viewer, and this artistic nitwit (whose efforts in Pictionary inevitably are greeted with cries from the peanut gallery of "Pigs in space!" after a memorable drawing moment some years ago) usually exits the gallery quite quickly, as if he's in a No Parking zone and the meter maid approaches.
I hope she doesn't give me a ticket for ignorance.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Drift Inn Beach


It was a beautiful sunny afternoon on the beach, for about 15 minutes. Then the fog bank (the same one, I swear, that lurks around every corner this fog-filled summer, waiting for us to set up on the deck before pouncing) rolled in. I could have spent another 15 minutes strolling and gazing, for Drift Inn is a pretty little number, decent rocks, reasonable sand at low tide, and lovely islands offshore. I'm not sand-beach silly, however, and I was just as happy to pack up the dog and drive down to the lighthouse at Marshall Point and the real rocks there. Millions of folks seem to crave the beach, lying low and looking around and lounging in some kind of vegetative state. I get bored, and I'm not easily bored. Reading is too difficult, the flies too persistent, the waves unvarying, the preening too obvious. Walking down the sands is OK, as long as there's at least a mile in the offing, also watching little kids work so diligently with buckets of water and sand. For the other 364 and a half days of the year, give me rocks and firs and tide pools and tidal zones.

After Marshall Point and a lovely walk over to Port Clyde village and back, we drove past Drift Inn on the way home. The fog was thicker than ever, the temperature had dropped 15 degrees, and there were now more cars parked along the road than there had been when it was sunny, more people sitting in lawn chairs even though the water could no longer be seen, more kids running back and forth with important news from the waves.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Birthday


We don't yet have a lot of traditions established in Maine, but one we look forward to every August is a birthday dinner of mouth-watering, unvarying delight. Daddy cooks steaks on the grill, there's perfect corn and tomatoes from Fresh Off the Farm, and of course Mama makes a huge bowl of mashed potatoes. Dessert must be chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. This has been true for some fifteen years now.

Today is actually the day, but scheduling difficulties have postponed the dinner for a week. No matter: this gives me a chance to drool in anticipation, and remember the corn of years past, not to mention all the explorations in the tide pools, and the games of Trump and Six Cubes, and the treats of junk food, and dinners at the Cod End, and the arts and crafts and drawing on the computer, and most of all, sitting around the table at dinner in the heart-rending silliness of family. It's not possible our baby is nineteen.

Happy birthday, Emma love.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ordinary Life





















There's a lovely spot on Calderwood Lane in Rockport called Vesper Hill Chapel, the site of a former mansioned estate, then fancy hotel (that burned), then simple open-air chapel and grounds that's popular for weddings. The chapel is rough-hewn, with picnic-table benches for the wedding party; the grounds are small and nicely landscaped, just enough space for a tent if it rains, and just enough flowering plants to show the gardener cares. It perches on a hill, is surrounded by trees, and overlooks the bay. The contrast with the huge houses on the shore could not be greater.

So I'm posting this picture from the chapel grounds. To me, admittedly swayed into lust for the great and beautiful white behemoths next to the water, with their guest houses and extensive gardens and docks long enough to berth ocean liners, the very simple is even more desirable. Or is useful in making sure that it continues to be so.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Hard Rain

It borders on masochistic, on one of the summer's most beautiful days, to write about yesterday's rain. But the contrast suits a Calvinist's soul. Optimism and pessimism always fighting, very handy half the time: when it's raining, you expect it will turn sunny; when it's sunny, you expect rain. Truly, tomorrow is another day (it will probably rain).

And what a contrast! On the 12th, hard rain and a high of 60 degrees. On the 13th, blue skies and 75. Yesterday, a wonderful lethargy (which means a lot of reading and thinking). Today, a lot of energy (which means a long walk and gardening). There's no question in my mind that changing weather and moods and seasons keep you young.

Curiously, when you're on vacation you get dozy in the rain and energetic in the sun. When you're in the office, you work hard in the bad, cold weather (there's nothing else to do) and mope around in the nice, warm weather (there's so much else to do). I'm always surprised that anything gets done in California.

A rainy day also makes you remember how blessed we are in our creature comforts. A sunny day? Let's raise goats, grow tomatoes, gather kelp, bake bread, give up fats, cancel the cable, do good works, live for today! No wonder we're so happy in Maine - it's perfect for lapsed religionists.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bee-stung Lids

Beware the corner of Ash Point Drive and Crockett's Beach Road. As we innocently turned that corner yesterday, taking the dog down to the sands at low tide for a good run, I was attacked, deviously, by something that flew between my left eye and glasses and stung me on the lower lid. It was an extremely efficient operation, and a success, for I've swelled up sexily and smoothly. The bee merely missed its mark by a few inches, assuming it was trying for the Angelina Jolie look.

Cosmetic dermatology aside, the bee did get me to think about how far removed most of us are from any dangers of nature. I don't mean weather here, or floods, or volcanoes, or earthquakes. Those are inanimate and irrational. They don't have it in for us personally, and other than the occasional dangerous blizzard or mostly-petered-out hurricane, we don't have them in Maine anyway. I'm talking about animal dangers, snakes and bears and wolverines and mountain lions who might attack our person, with malice, or even a moose that might try to get amatory. We go out in the woods, and don't really expect anything to happen. We're quite removed from nature red in tooth and claw, except of course "Nature," on PBS, in the comfort of our couches. But it might be good for us, to have a little respect, to understand our place, to connect to a place and all its creatures, a healthy antidote to media bombardments from afar, the meteorologists and their rumors of storms, terrorists of religion and oil, political fear-mongers. A plague of bees upon us! Give us a reason to remember how close we are to life.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back Home(s)

Nine days back home went very quickly. The weather was cool and wet, more like Maine than Massachusetts; there was a day of work and travel; the girls were around in all their energetic glory; there were dinner guests to entertain and a soccer game to attend and some fatherly/husbandly responsibilities to carry out, all amid the comforts of a house and a neighborhood in which we've spent more than 20 wonderful years. Even better, there was no sense of a vacation ended, and months of grinding office hours ahead - we would be back in Maine in no time at all.

It was, however, a little harder to get into a writing routine than I expected; the city has connotations of distraction and work that I may never shake.

We drove back to Owls Head yesterday, through a beautiful warm afternoon of grand cumulous clouds, stopping at a farm stand in Warren for vegetables and bread. There was just enough time for drinks on the deck before the fog rolled in. The girls with friends had been here for the weekend and left the house immaculate. I read Scott Russell Sanders while Cindy made fresh tomato salad. We talked about writing at dinner.

In the past Maine has been a refuge, a restorative, a place to read and write and walk in beauty. With a little work, it may also become a home.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ceremonies and Games

The opening of the Olympics was pretty spectacular. Great masses of dancers and drummers performing as one, lots of electronics and fireworks of course, more than a nod to China's rich history and traditions, in fact an unabashed tribute to its painting and dance and literature - one cannot imagine anything more foreign to the quiet life in Maine. Humans are capable of such incredible spectacle, benign and otherwise, that I wonder sometimes why the quiet life has to be desirable in the first place. Why can't we turn our talents for organization and the peaceful arts to consistent use?

The Games that follow will seldom display the philosophy and beauty of last night. They will feature individual competition - back to war in a way. It will be exciting, intense but limited. Perhaps it's symbolic that while I watched the Ceremonies in Massachusetts, I'll watch the Games in Maine, where individual endeavor seems much more natural.

The $300 million was gone in 2 hours. Let the games begin. And then let them end.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Moss


If you think about it, moss stands for everything the 21st century is not: green, soft, slow-growing, of little use. It's prevalent in Maine, with the dampness and the low light. I scrape it from the roof and the sidewalk but only grudgingly - something should remind us that technology is a relatively new species on the earth - and with some glee let it grow in the front lawn in the shade on the south side, and on the roots of the giant blue spruce in the backyard. It's not hurting anyone or anything. It colonizes, to be sure, and spreads, but in a most unwar-like fashion. It has no hard edges. It understands its place and does not seek personal fulfillment.

I'm sure someday someone will discover moss can cure cancer, or grow in space, or reduce to some exquisite scent for ladies of the 16th arrondissement. Moss gets its own branch of botany (bryology), and naturally all -ologists want to win the Nobel Prize, but I hope you moss guys are really there for the fun of it. I assure you that it's all right if some part of nature remains unbaked. Your reward is in the leaven.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Working Waterfront


The public dock at Owls Head is real working waterfront - no ice cream, gift shops or craft beer to be seen. Lobster traps pile high, bait buckets stink, a rat noses around the scattered ropes. A few tourists venture down the hill to the dock, but they tend to stay in the car. The place looks rough, unwelcoming. Most people like their reality a little more quaint, Boothbay perhaps. You can't bring anything home from Owls Head except challenges to your own way of life. Easier to buy a plastic lobster hat.

It's a difficult way of life, and not getting any easier. There are consolations, I hope and imagine, and I'm trying very hard to understand them and learn their lessons: the rhythm of a simpler life, the bracing beauty of sea and sky, the independence (mostly), a family-centered life. I read The Working Waterfront http://www.workingwaterfront.com/ and get a poke or two not only in my imagination but in my complacency. The sedentary among us need it.

Yet past the barrels and the styrofoam cups at the end of the dock lie the boats at anchor, the islands at rest, the gulls at play. I could be in any one of several of the past centuries. This is very comforting, in spite of or maybe even because of the 21st century at my back. I'm part of something bigger and only God knows what it is or where it's going.

Monday, August 4, 2008

18,500

...was the total number of lobsters served at the Lobster Festival in Rockland last week. VillageSoup is the source of this information, not personal presence, as we haven't attended the Festival in years. It was fun when the kids were young - the garish midway, the fried dough, the rides, the local arts and crafts booths - but when we found after some years that an hour there exhausted the possibilities, we knew it was time to quit. It's also slightly embarrassing to claim such mania for Maine and then, upon receipt of the usual comment about lobster, to have to admit no particular love for eating the bug.

Apparently, it's not a good year for lobstering, which makes me feel doubly bad about our indifference. The cost of fuel and bait is obviously a problem; worse, demand seems to be off. Lobster is considered a luxury item, the theory goes, and isn't ordered in bad times. So prices are lower than last year. It's going to be a dark winter for many Mainers. Let's hope for their sakes that the tourists keep coming.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dinner Party

It was slightly worrisome, having to host a dinner starting just a couple of hours after returning from a month away. It wasn't the food; except for grilling the meat, Cindy had prepared most of the meal beforehand. It wasn't performance anxiety; this was summer casual, with friends. It was words. Would my mouth work properly? Could I still understand English? For most of 4 weeks, I had averaged 27 words out loud a day, most of them "Let's go," to the dog.

There were lots of other kinds of words last month: printed (novels, crosswords); air waves (Law and Order, GOOOOOOOOAL!); manufactured (Scrabulous, my own essays); telephony (the nightly call from home). But aside from neighborly greetings and canine exhortations, nothing.

Bravely, I did tongue exercises and practiced talking to drivers on I-95. To be presentable, I wiped the moose drool from my shoes. The guests came, and I think it went OK, that is, nobody laughed and they seemed to respond appropriately when I said something. The young people did talk awfully fast and I seemed to be extra tired at the end of the evening and almost of all yesterday was spent recovering, nose-in-book, but generally I think the ME to MA transition was linguistically successful. By the time the week here is up, I may be able to string as many as seven or eight words together at once, just in time to go back to talking to the dog.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The month of July


I've spent a whole month here, returning today to Massachusetts, and if anything my love of the place has deepened. It's partly the rhythm of a simpler life (not to mention a nearly complete lack of conventional responsibilities!), but also I leave knowing I'll be back soon, and often. Vacations from work are exciting because there's a tinge of desperation in every hike or cathedral or grand hotel; you try your hardest to enjoy every minute. Retirement from work stretches time out. The affairs of the world don't intrude so much, or you can deal with them with more equanimity. Ten days back home may change my mind, but I don't think so. The dog will think differently.

I've had the full array of July flowers, the famous July fogs, three weeks of raspberries, the heat of high summer, and wonder of wonders, there's August still to come. I don't have to obsess about maximizing deck time, waiting for osprey to help purge tension; the hunters will be there when I return, and the tension is mostly gone. I don't have to bemoan the fog that eats up half a week; nobody's keeping track of those weeks anymore. I can still get mad at jets taking off too close and dogs that yip all day in the rental cottage next door, but that's because they're unnatural, reminders of the way life shouldn't necessarily be.