Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year-End Clean-Up


It seems very appropriate to spend a couple of the last hours of 2008 cleaning up a mess. The early winter storms on the coast left a number of trees down and Dave the tree guy - Owls Head's busiest man in December - finally got a chance just before Christmas to chainsaw the trunks into stove lengths. By arrangement that's all he did, leaving me the branches to haul to the gardens (now little evergreen igloos) and the cut logs to haul to the killing, I mean splitting, grounds next to the garage. I got the first of those two tasks mostly done today, at some cost to gloves and hair and jeans from sap. One tree had fallen right in the middle of a dense forest-lette of little firs, all about 6 feet high and fighting for sun and water in the space that the last round of fallen trees had opened. So I waded into their midst, pulling out branches and retrieving logs and generally aiding the survival of the firrest. In summer, with the mosquitoes and spiders and weeds and Bushes and God knows what mistakes of evolution lurking in the roots, the expedition would have been loathsome. In winter, such Southern nasties are gone and the scents are bracing and the wind off the water is bitingly fresh and January 20 just 3 weeks away. Very pleasant to work and sweat when it's 20 degrees.
One more slightly unpleasant task ahead - moving the logs in the wheelbarrow - and then the whole unprincipled mess will be cleaned up and the joy of splitting can begin. I would have liked to start the new year with the logs already hauled, but the postponement of pleasure can be pleasurable as well. If that is true, 2008 has postponed all pleasure for so long that 2009 will be a happy year indeed. There is nothing like the scent and sight of new wood opened to the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Real Winter


This picture is posted in honor of the way life used to be in December. I don't remember all these horrible ice storms and nasty southeasters bothering us in years past. (Well, there was Maine's Ice Storm of the Century in 1998.) We used to get just plain snow, and could count on skiing at Tanglewood on the Duck Trap River or skating on Hosmer Pond next to Ragged Mountain. After a big snowfall the air would be crisp and cold for days, i.e, it wouldn't rain 24 hours later. Poor precious fir trees! They're built for shoulders of light and airy snow, not 70 mph winds and the wet stuff that breaks their limbs and our backs.

And when we do have the possibility of a real snowstorm, like tomorrow maybe, everyone panics and floods their refrigerators with milk and cancels school hours before a flake has fallen.

These days snow on the coast is so unlikely that a local jeweler will refund any money you spend with him if it snows on Christmas Day. (Although he's probably got it hedged with collateralized frozen precipitation obligations.) And if we do get some, I'm sure the Global Warming gods (I picture them living in Miami, gleefully spewing clouds of smoke and CO2 from their Cuban cigars) will decree that a warm front must immediately follow, leaving us but a few hours to shovel and gambol and watch the dog disappear in the yard.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ice


What little snow we had was gone by the time I left Maine yesterday afternoon, courtesy of another southern storm that rattled the bay and spiked the thermometer to 52 degrees. It rained all the way home, sometimes as heavily as a summer thunderstorm. It's getting so we can have all four seasons in the space of a week. When our President-elect discusses change, he could include the weather.

Must everything in the 21st century be subject to dislocation, even the semi-precious brilliance of a Maine winter? You never know from day to day what to expect anymore, a pink slip, a restaurant bombing, a bad diagnosis, a fallen tree. The media is very good at this stuff and we fall for the way they sell news. I used to be good at un-media-ting as soon as we got to Owls Head; it's not so easy now. They're getting to me, and the only safe place is outside (splitting wood, hiking, staring at waves) or in books. In the middle of the night I'm getting quite accomplished at combining the two, a hike with Thoreau to Katahdin, for example, or a "mug-up" with Elisabeth Ogilvie on Criehaven. Tonight, however, it sounds like pleasant reveries in Maine will be impossible; the southern storm is changing to sleet and ice, and the wires may come down, and there will be cars in the ditch and sparkling trees across the road. Something halfway between summer and winter, an ice storm leaves the most brilliant of fantasies in its wake, and the most dangerous.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cold


It was almost comically cold yesterday (9 at sunrise, struggled to 15 for a high by sunset). Once again I forgot to start out going north on the dog's walk, which meant facing the forehead-freezing fury of Canada's best winds on Ash Point Road. The walk possibly set a personal best - usually we are sniffing and detouring and turning around to gaze wistfully back (or see what's gaining on us) - well under 20 minutes for the loop. In the afternoon the three of us tried to think of a more sheltered place to exercise and eliminate; unfortunately, our geography was off, for Beaucaire Road in Camden is on the south and east sides of Lake Megunticook, and the lovely houses and stately trees did little to protect our collective noses and toeses from the northwest winds. It was a personal worst for that walk, the usual hour embarrassingly shrunk by a sprint for the warmth of the car after 20 minutes.

The cold made for wonderful views of the bay, however. Sunrise saw a flinty ocean and sharp racing clouds above the horizon and freezing sea fog below. Sunset was an astonishing palette of the BIV end of the spectrum. The cold made for fast and furious burning in the woodstove. It was most conducive to thankfulness. And it made for a wonderfully cozy evening of stir-fry and hot cocoa and a movie by the fire.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Stop the Messes

Every winter the town of Rockport blocks off the undeveloped section of Beauchamp Point Road. A hill of dirt and a stop sign at either end do the trick. This stretch of coast, protected from development by the Rockport Conservation Commission, is lovely: the forested hills slope steeply down to the shore, and the shore is wild, with several ledges clearly designed for sunning and poking. The dog remembers those ledges and pulls on the leash to be liberated (fat chance).

The banning of cars in winter doesn't quite make sense, of course. There's almost no traffic, it's too cold for sitting on the rocks, tourists don't stroll on icy dirt roads. I can only think that the lawyers have spoken: the road is hilly, and slippery, and narrow, and there are no guard rails to catch Cadillacs in mid-spin.

The high-minded among us would ban cars in the summer, to preserve the illusion that this serene half-mile is not surrounded by hundreds of millions of dollars worth of real estate, and to make it a little more difficult to carry in picnics and leave messes. But that would raise the perennial problem of parking. The mansions on the south end would not be interested in a glut of cars on Mechanic Street (how would the lawn guys, the cooks, the maids get in?), and on the north end, the saltwater farm could make a strong case that cars are not a crop. Best leave the road open but unimproved, just bumpy and dirty enough to discourage the punters.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First Snow



It wasn't much, just an inch or two, but it does qualify for the annals of wonderful things: all the positives so loved by us northern European types - clean, pure, white - and not yet any of the negatives - dirty, tiresome, icy, dangerous. I think it's also the contrasts we crave. Early snow is childhood innocence. It masks experienced greys and drab greens. It highlights the overwhelming sky, it etches the illimitable ocean. We like to think we can define the world in black and white, nature and development, good and evil. A view like this outlines us a little more clearly against the prospect of infinity.
Never mind that we don't really matter; that doesn't matter on a day like this. Ignore for the moment that this photo is taken from a paved road looking down on a green of the Megunticook Golf Club. It still makes me glad. (Although in the summer, the view contains beetling golf carts and large men in yellow slacks and slim women in Bermuda shorts - who are busy defining their own places in the cosmos, they imagine.) Snow is such an amazing contrast with, say, cornflowers, that not even the presence of uber-silly civilization can detract from the whole-nature, four-season view. And the sight of first snow makes it certain that I'll never give in to pre-packaged Florida.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Working Waterfront Covenant

A couple of weeks ago the new owners of the Ship to Shore wharf in Owls Head got wonderful news. (They had purchased the wharf on October 14, Black Friday, while both the stock market and lobster prices were in free-fall, and needed some!) Maine's Department of Marine Resources and the public trust Land for Maine's Future announced the state would buy a covenant to make sure that the property will always be used for fishing. The money comes from public bond programs to preserve shore access for fishermen, voted in by enlightened Mainers in 2005 and 2007.

Basically, the state is buying development rights. It's depressing to think that's the only way to preserve these places (11 properties so far) from condos. But it's also exhilarating to know that an independent and colorful way of life will continue at least around here. Mr. Mason wants to expand both his wholesale and retail lobster business, and thus increase the number of boats unloading at his wharf. Can a clam and lobster shack be far behind? I hope so, I hope not.

There's an interesting sidelight to this story. Apparently, the Town has an easement on the wharf, a three-foot-wide right-of-way for the public to enjoy the waterfront. (We were on the wharf this summer and I'm glad to know that our trespasses will not come to trespass against us.) The deed runs out in a few years, and I predict a small battle. Mr. Mason sounds reasonably enlightened about his intentions (and his actions so far - cleaning up years of junk left by the "public" - speak louder than words), although I note that he is presently chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Just one example of the many great conservation programs in the state. Kudos to Maine and the wise people in it. And may I also say that I love the word covenant, implying that the laws of man might indeed be everlasting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Darkness at Four

Still a couple of weeks to go before darkness is complete at the same time the markets close. I watch Little Island (about 500 yards offshore) until it's invisible, at 4:25. There are no lights on in the house, except the diodes on the router, the clock on the Bose, a flickering flame behind the sooty glass of the wood stove's doors, and the computer screen in front of me, my window to the world's bad news.

Other than the thrilling triumph of the President-elect, there's only gloom in the world. It's gotten so that I will not look at any news site between 9:30 and 4:00. And now serious winter is coming on. Maine has hard ones. I've been reading Lobster Coast by Colin Woodard - the privations and depradations that the people of this state have gone through the last 400 years are humbling: European wars spilled over here; disputes with Massachusetts abounded; British nobles and Boston businessmen claimed vast acreages over and over again; taxes and tolls and fees bedeviled the populace; sickness and Indians and starvation wiped out whole towns; lumber and salmon and ice and herring and granite and and lobster and lime boomed and busted; and the winters were real winters, deep, dark, long, unremittingly cold. At least they're not so cold outside anymore, but many Mainers will take small comfort in that this year, with no way to heat the house.

We all look forward to the winter solstice, time of pagan and Christian worship, when the balance might start to shift again, away from greed, towards hope.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Low-Tide Line

There's a new sign at the end of Ash Point. It's a tasteful one, with nice type and a little design. Even the four messages are kindly stated, something like: "End of town property. Private property deeded to the low-tide line. Picking of beach rocks prohibited. Be respectful."

I'm assuming the sign belongs to the ranch house to the right. The old couple must have moved out, or died, and the new owners are asserting their rights. Have they been having trouble with vandalizing, rock-napping, disrespectful tourists? It's not the work of the big Victorian to the left, prominently marked "Trails End" - it's for sale and doesn't appear inhabited or litigious.

Maine and Massachusetts, the old Puritan partners, are unique in allowing ownership of the inter-tidal zone. With the exception of "fishing, fowling, and navigation," all other activities can be prosecuted, including casual access. (Since almost all of the coast is privately owned, this presents problems for local folk working the sea, and folks from away seeking some peace.) So now, when I walk the gorgeous stretch of shore between Ash Point and Lucia Beach, should I carry rod and reel, shotgun, iPhone with GPS? When the dog and I sample the sights and smells below the embankment at Ash Point, do I pretend to be blind and claim she's my seeing eye poodle?

The rocks and stones around Ash Point are particularly wonderful so I can see the injunction against picking. I've described before (see September 8) the amazing variety of rock leading to Lucia Beach. Ash Point itself has the world's best collection of skipping stones; does that use now qualify for incarceration?

Well, I doubt I'll change my pleasures. I'm a fellow ITZ owner, after all, and upon apprehension will coolly say, "You can walk on mine if I can walk on yours."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

De-Limbing

Undoubtedly de-limbing is not a word but it's descriptive of my first awkward encounter with a chainsaw. In preparation, I had read the instructions, oh, maybe nine or ten times and eventually got the beast going in spite of the uncertainties of the choke. In the course of 90 minutes, I only stalled out twice, stopped for gas once, stopped for aching back once. Besides the branches, I even cut three logs off the top end of the trunk, just for the experience, you know. Probably did it all wrong....
The tree had fallen in mostly open leaching field and so it was relatively easy to get at; I won't attempt the one in front messily embraced by other trees. The experts are coming in a few days and I'll be sure to get some pointers from the safety of the house. They will "chunk up" the trees. I will haul and split, neither of which involve motors or loud noise. Tomorrow being another day, maybe I'll chew a few of the larger limbs for kindling, and then happily return the resistible force to my friend.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Trees Once Again

We got an email from our neighbors in Maine last Wednesday, saying that the 70 mph winds of a tremendous storm on Tuesday night had blown down several trees. At first I panicked, thinking from the description she meant the perfect fir trees directly in our view of the bay and clinging to the edge of the bank. It's only a matter of time, I know, but their loss would have been heart-rending, and I'd just as soon preserve life as long as possible. I called Kathleen on the phone and discovered the icons were safe, that firs on either side of the property had fallen, the one on the north caving in to erosion and gale winds and nearly horizontal, the other on the south still mostly propped by its neighbors. This in addition to a large, nearly dead pine stricken down across our leaching field in back.
By the time I got to Owls Head last night, it was too dark to see, and even in the morning, from the safety of the house, things didn't look so bad. I had to get up close to see the problem: how big the fallen trees actually are and how many others are groaning under the weight. Another tree has markedly increased the angle of its lean (toward the house!). When they fell, the trees tilted up circles of dirt with their roots and it's a little alarming to see how shallow the roots are, how such little horizontality produces such great verticality. I was just as happy to have been in Massachusetts during the storm, not listening to crashes, not waiting for the branch through the window, not worrying about the thinness of topsoil on this hard granite coast.
Tomorrow: the chain saw.