Saturday, February 28, 2009

Declaration of Independence

The wars between the public and private sectors are starting to heat up. On all levels government is a force to be reckoned with again, with stimulus money coming, and Obama's huge budget in debate, and tighter financial regulation looming, and private bank shares now in public hands. Some Republican governors, in a shameless display of ideological hypocrisy, are saying they'll refuse some of the stimulus money now ("intrusion, welfare state, socialism"), where they had no trouble taking similar money in the past ("national defense, homeland security, compassionate conservatism"). I suppose it makes sense if you think of politics as the endless urge to get re-elected.

Individual rights have suffered recently. Now it's states' rights, and corporate rights, that have to bend before the onslaught of bad news and federal fixes. Laissez-faire doesn't work anymore. If the fixes work, let's hope the Democrats can retreat from big government as gracefully as the Republicans didn't. None of us wants colonial rule again.

It's a difficult balance. How do responsibility and freedom mesh? Were the Massachusetts Minutemen really justified in revolting? Was Maine really justified in breaking away from Massachusetts? Is the TSA really justified in asking me to remove my sweater at LAX?

The news that Wiscasset has lost its fight to get back the printed copy of the Declaration of Independence it once owned is symptomatic, the sort of dispute that happens every day in this country. Some guy in Virginia paid a lot of money for it. Wiscasset had it for nearly 200 years but was careless. Who's right?

In 1776 every town in the Commonwealth - some 250, including Maine's - received its copy. Each copy should have been instantly protected for all time, but apparently only a handful remain. Where governments fail, individuals must shine. In times of crisis, the reverse is required.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Water

We've just returned from a week in the Los Angeles area. A few days before we arrived, Southern California had gotten deluged by storms, and we saw the aftermath: mud here and there on the roads, streets closed in Santa Barbara, green grass on lawns, lush weeds in the canyons. Usually, it seems that the chance of winter precipitation, if it's coming, is in the 20% range, and it's likely that said possible showers wouldn't even make it all the way to the ground; judging by how excited the local ABC weather guy got at 30% on Monday, he must have had a heart attack the week before last. Those of us on the ground on Monday (in the gardens of the wonderful Huntington Library) actually got a little wet - a light little ten-minute shower that dried so quickly that it might never have happened, an illusion like much of California life.

Weathermen must be looking forward to climate change. They would never be so downbeat (ratings, you know) as to mention on the California airwaves that desalinization projects may be needed, hotter, drier summers are coming, snowpacks are melting too early. I bet they're salivating, though. Weathermen are going to get a lot more airtime in the future.

Climate change predictions for Maine are rather the opposite. Things will get wetter. Poland Spring could become Poland Flood, exporting water not in bottles but in tankers.

You'll be shocked to know that this is not the only difference between the states. Fresh-squeezed orange juice; endless featureless wide sandy beaches; meeting stars (Richard Jenkins on the plane out, Tom Hanks on the Sony Pictures tour); money oozing down hills named Beverly and canyons named Laurel; robust, manly, stunning, guilt-amelioration (Getty Museum); commerce written as large and wide as the ocean - everything just right for six days of fun, and no more.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Mighty Wind

The feds start blowing mighty money at the states today. Maine expects somewhat over a billion, which seems like chump change these days except when you remember that it still takes almost 32 years to count to a billion at the rate of one number per second. Another way to look at it is that the money equals about $1,000 for each of Maine's citizens. It will really have an effect. And healthcare and education will get the majority of the funds.

Camden might be blowing mini-money back. Apparently, the winds at the top of Ragged Mountain are consistent and strong enough to make wind turbines profitable. Since the mountain is already partly developed (the Snow Bowl ski area), and far enough away from NIMBY-ites (and Ted Kennedys), it sounds like a good plan. The view from Hosmer Pond might not be quite as attractive, and the hiking and snow-shoeing trails may have a new sound to accompany the babbling brook and the birds, but these are small prices to pay. I wonder if Maine gets any money for alternative energy?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Stimulus

I don't want to know how the figure $787 billion was arrived at, just as I don't want to know how sausage is made. I do want to know how it's possible that all but three Republicans voted against it. "We're mortaging the future of our children, this is the return of liberalism, big government will have its hands in your pockets," were some of the idiocies voiced, these from the party that presided over eight years of unregulated greed, intense debt, disdain of children, and big bankers with their hands in our pockets. A spokesman for the bankers opined (on limits on executive bonuses), "This is a big deal. This is a problem. It undermines the current incentive structure."

Duh.

I'm sure some billions are pure Democratic pork, some billions will stimulate only certain congresspersons' egos. But bully for the three Republican Senators who held their noses and voted yes anyway. Two-thirds of them are women from Maine, the state where individual rights and concerns sometime actually transcend political partisanship.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Leave


Quite a versatile word, "leave" (depart, abandon, vacation, bequeath, deposit, permit). I like the fact that it's also a variant on the verb form of "leaf," since that word seems to derive ultimately from the Latin word for "book."

Turning the pages of a book is like walking in the woods and seeing new wonders with each step. At some pages you just want to stop and stare and preserve them forever. Sometimes you race through them like wind blowing through aspen. Eventually those pages crumble and fade, but they've nourished you and, falling to the ground at last, they nourish others.

Sad to say, I departed Maine yesterday, abandoning the woods; we will vacation a bit in California starting next week, bequeathing the dog to Caroline 's care; and I am depositing these images in space, and permitting myself to live on fantasies of the woods and the water for the next month or so.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bookstores

Two more independent bookstores in Maine have closed. If books weren't such a sacred thing, this wouldn't be news. Hardware stores, pharmacies, groceries all are closed out regularly by the various sons of Sam but don't have the cachet to get much press.

I'm terribly conflicted about bookstores. The big ones slay you with abundance and desire and frustration, the little ones with charm and personality and passion. Yet I hardly ever patronize them, of any size. It's heretical, I know, for someone who reads a couple of books a week. I tell myself that books aren't necessarily to be owned, displayed proudly on a shelf. They're to be read, absorbed, passed on. They become part of you. Yes, their physicality is very important; it makes the reader single-minded, undistracted by pixels and websites and advertisements. It's also a commitment to that author, a belief in the word make flesh. Now, if libraries ceased to exist, I'd be in big trouble.

The popular view is that the big stores have narrowed readership to best-sellers. But the sheer numbers of books on their shelves must argue for the opposite. Certainly, Amazon can claim to provide readers to books that otherwise would have sunk into oblivion. True, you don't get the feeling that Mr. Borders and Mr. Barnes actually love books. But to my mind, provision is the thing. Reading is an intensely personal experience that doesn't translate well to talk, the popularity of book clubs notwithstanding. But then I mostly read books long off the best-seller lists. Give me an astute and inspirational reader like Katherine Powers to point me in new directions, not someone tending discount tables.

These are amazing times for readers. Books will last, even as the warehouses that protect them change so rapidly.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Radio

A double treat last night - Jean Redpath was on both Prairie Home Companion and Thistle and Shamrock. I can't remember if I first heard her on PHC or the infamous Morning Pro Musica with my fellow Dutchman Robert J. Lurtsema on WGBH. She sounds as wonderful as ever, a little huskier to be sure, but then she's entitled - she's been singing for 50 years.

To think I stayed home on a Saturday night to listen to MPBN, when I could have gone to the Toboggan Championships and possibly hooked up with the Frozen Ass-ets or Night of the Living Sled for a wild night out in the bars of Camden. (The team names are well worth a look at the end of http://knox.villagesoup.com/Community/story.cfm?storyid=145355 ). Actually, I can hardly think of anything better than American roots, Scottish laments, and Celtic reels on the Bose, in the quiet of a Saturday night in Owls Head. Radio sounds great up here. But Garrison, please try to limit yourself to one singing performance a show. It's your show, I know, but you're an English major and definitely a singing minor.

Once again, Scotland calls. We must go - it's possibly the only true Calvinist place left on earth. Jean Redpath's voice is as bonny as the heather, and the weather, and the scotch, and the hills, and the lochs....

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ice sports


We used to skate on Hosmer Pond at the Camden Snow Bowl, before the winters lost winter and the girls lost interest and the ankles lost muscle. Amateurs like us had to wait for a really cold snap, without snow - that is, we needed a Zamboni surface. When conditions were right, we were champions, gliding for feet at a time, turning without falling, skating backwards for inches, all on a perfect blue day in the white bowl of the hills. If the surface was bumpy and flaky, well, it only took a few introductions of bums to ice to send us home for hot chocolate.

The Snow Bowl is also the site this weekend of the International (Intergalactic, judging by some of the costumes) Toboganning Championship. The chute is freshly iced, the weather has warmed up, parking costs only $5(!), there's TV coverage this year, the crazies out in force.... I'm passing.


Bigger lakes like Megunticook boast other non-professional ice sports, like boating and fishing. Let's just say that it takes special kinds of people, either to careen madly in the cold wind, burning their faces off, or to sit stolidly for hours, freezing their butts off. I expect that in both cases the pain is greatly soothed by alcohol.


My own last remaining ice sport concerns an expert flick of the wrist, dropping four and only four cubes into the gin and tonic. No ankles needed.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Camden by the....

The ugliest acre in Knox county must be the Waste Transfer Station on Buttermilk Lane just west of Rockland, proudly serving Thomaston, South Thomaston and Owls Head. (In a delicious irony, the part of Buttermilk between the airport and the dump is designated a scenic drive, with lovely views of the marshes and its birds.) It also smells.

That dumps stink is apparently news to residents of Camden. Parties have been complaining.

Of course in Rockland, parties have been complaining for years about smells, not from the little dump in the country but from the sewage system. The treatment system has much improved recently (it takes a pretty hot August afternoon to bring back the good old days) but now the quarries stink. I was amazed to learn that the city is still disposing of trash there. It's supposed to be only "Construction and Demolition Debris" but it looks like animal and vegetable has somehow accompanied mineral.

What an ignominious end for Rockland's once-proud limestone industry! Why any dumping whatsoever? How about recycling old quarries? They look to me like Adventure Parks waiting to happen. In a sad irony, perhaps at least some of the stuff called C&DD is plaster and mortar coming home.

Can you take one more bit of irony? The Camden smell seems to be coming from the sulfur in a load of unburied Sheetrock. Which is the modern equivalent of plaster.

Camden and Rockland are often at odds. Camden by the sea, Rockland by the smell...plus ca change...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Counterfeiter

Last summer a counterfeiter frequented the Rockland public library; at least twice I found the result of his/her/its work stuck in a book. The thrill of opening a book still unread was heightened upon discovering what looked like a $100 bill. I'm sufficiently money-conscious that it took me some seconds to realize it was a fake. It's now on our refrigerator door (where novelties and prophecies go).

A fake with faith, I should say. The color is about right, that distinctive green that makes the world go around, and the design close enough to get your heart going (the Lawrence H Summers signature as Secretary of the Treasury a particularly nice touch). But it's slightly smaller than the real thing, and the otherwise convincing back (Independence Hall) proclaims two Bible verses, John 3:3 and John 3:16, and on the front is printed "Jesus Loves You" once and "This is counterfeit but Jesus is the real thing" twice and where Ben Franklin should have been, a picture of a man, a modern Jesus perhaps, with neatly trimmed beard and haircut and a hint of a white oxford collar and a face looking suspiciously like Al Gore.

In these days of market meltdown, I'm re-evaluating my previous analysis of this prophet. Where last summer, in the beautiful weather and an economic sky whose only cloud was the price of oil, I might have discarded the person as your typical religious zealot, I now wonder if hesheit was trying to tell us some cold hard thing. Money wasn't really money anymore, it was figures on a computer screen. Last summer people were treating it as water, not wine. We didn't need to think about it, it just grew. It was in for a fall.

But it's the real thing now, and that's why the fake is still on the fridge door: Jesus and Al and Larry have come to save us from ourselves.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

John Updike

In Updike's honor I'm putting a list of favorite Maine authors at the bottom of the blog. There's no connection that I know of between Updike and Maine except in my own mind, that of things I love. He was a hero of my life. I imagine he has books even in the Owls Head library (open approximately 6 hours a week).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Chimneys

There's nothing special about Maine chimneys, alas. However, there is clearly something special about Mainers who walk roofs to look at chimneys. (That's at least what I think this fellow is doing, unless the Owls Head Ballet is holding special try-outs.) There's a certain insouciance, even deviltry, about the way danger is assumed to be more of a nuisance than an enemy.

I can guess that Maine chimneys get a work-out greater than those in most states. Almost every house these days seems to have a stove burning wood or pellets or even coal. Lumberjacks and chimney sweeps must be happy, if ever they can be in such jobs. Oil and gas are clean; wood and coal are dirty. This doesn't quite fit the Gore formula, but then one assumes his mission has a slightly broader scope than wood stoves in parlors.

Danger does lurk, even for Mainers. A house down on Ash Point had a chimney fire last weekend. Both Owls Head and Rockland fire departments responded. There was danger, but no damage, apparently, according to the news reports. It must have been an insouciant fire.