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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No Chicken on Any Plot

Camden can rest easier tonight - noisy, foolish, strutting domestic fowl have been banned from town. Nor will unbridled commerce in eggs and drumsticks sully your streets. Unless one has at least 2.5 acres, non-pet animals cannot be kept in Camden. (Of course, one has trouble imagining the kind of person who at the same time can afford 2.5 acres in Camden and is interested in chickens.)

Tourists are also noisy, foolish and strutting, but Camden presumably will allow their unbridled commerce. Ah, it's a fine line we walk in Vacationland.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Into Every Life....

Might as well be on the Maine coast in a storm these past two days, with the wind and the rain and the temperature unmoving at 41 degrees. There are few redeeming features to March in Massachusetts. The warmish days are a tease. We expect snow/sleet/freezing rain any minute. There is unconscionable cruelty to crocuses, snapped shut and shivering their little pistils.

Global warming has made March the cruelest month.

Mr. Eliot would still feel at home in Maine in April, however. Think all of the above, plus mud.

At least we won't have Rick Wagoner to blame for climate change anymore. GM's champion of the pick-up/SUV/Escalade/Hummer family of gas-guzzling monstrosities was forced by the government to resign as CEO (but not from the company - apparently his golden parachute is too expensive!). So he's only half-gone, still leaning, barely, held up by his friends, still burning through the billions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Houses and Trees

A new bill is being discussed in Augusta that would require developers of large subdivisions or commercial properties to consider climate change in their plans. If a project cuts down trees or builds inefficiently, fees would be assessed. Not bad, huh? Pay a little more for building suburbia or Walmarts, get a lot more in kindness to the earth and our descendants. Such is already the law in Massachusetts and California.

Predictably, the construction industry is against it, blathering about bad economic times, losing jobs, etc. In a stunning display of unlogic, a builder in Westbrook (name omitted to protect the ignorant) told the Press Herald today that there is no lack of forests in Maine and trees don't need protection. I hope he was misquoted.

Too bad we can't put a complete moratorium on suburbs and big boxes. Too bad we have to niggle and time them. Too bad we can't just re-purpose all the buildings made empty by the greed of the builders and the bankers and the flippers. Too bad we can't have a development footprint for each town: only under the most pressing of circumstances can you build where nothing has been built before. Too bad we can't let the poor trees be.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Places we sit

A friend once suggested that she'd love to see a book that describes - in words and pictures - favorite outdoor places to relax. Maine would be particularly fertile ground to mine, the way people use the banks of a river, coffee shops, almost anywhere around a harbor, the semi-famous practice of garage-sitting, beaches, backyard decks, front porches, mountain ledges, lawn chairs on driveways. (That these three women sitting on a bench on the Santa Monica pier actually look more rightcoast-ish than leftcoast-ish just reinforces the idea.) Baby boomers want to be outside, are losing a bit of energy, don't have money to travel far, try to recapture community, enjoy beverages and snacks, will have lots of leisure time - sound promising?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Man's Dog

This sign perhaps translates as "beware of the dog" (attention: French scholar-daughters), although it was seen in Venice Beach, CA where one imagines any number of alternative interpretations. One could have used such a sign when one first started walking the roads of Owls Head some 15 years ago. The number and variety of dogs was significant: shepherds and goldens and hounds and mutts displaying the gamut of social and anti-social behavior. Canine activity has lessened greatly in recent years (on my walks this week I've seen none), whether because of leash-law enforcement, complaints by terrorized walkers and owners of dirtied lawns, or economic conditions, I don't know. Of course, it's still winter and dogs with any sense are dreaming by their woodstoves.

I take it back, I did see one dog, the magnificent black standard poodle Mozart, who lives next door with Kathleen and Harriet and two more wonderful standard poodles. Mozart is special though, being a huge version of our own black miniature poodle. Mozart was walking Kathleen up the road as I was walking down. He asked where Mia was, she asked if I was lonely without her. (Mia had opted to stay in MA this week to be with her older sister on break from college.) Without thinking, I said, "Yes." Then I thought about it and said, "Yes."

Dogs do become part of the family, part of the soul, in spite of the walks and the throw-ups and the grooming and the expensive boarding when the parents want to travel and the disdain/fear/condescension towards any being with more than two legs and the unvarying insistence on playing tug at exactly five o'clock every day - our very own chien bizarre. This from a guy who always thought he was a cat man.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Muscle Ridge

There are some 200 islands in and around Penobscot Bay. A few are inhabited, and famous: Isleboro, Vinalhaven, Isle au Haut, North Haven, Monhegan, the Cranberries. Most are neither. The ones guarding the southwestern entrance to the bay are perfect examples of the latter.

Some maps call them the Mussel Ridge Islands, but their cartographers must have been de-poeticized. When you look at the islands from Lucia Beach, they look very much like muscles, flexed on an arm, or a back, bulging from the surface. On a bright clear day like today, they seem to ride slightly above the water. The Channel between them and the mainland is a well-known shortcut for ships coming to Rockland from the south, and a dangerous one, for although there are three or four miles of water in the Channel on the southern end, it narrows to a few hundred yards in Owls Head Bay, and the elegant three-masters and the groaning lime and granite boats sometimes paid dearly for the hours potentially saved - not to mention the danger of the incessant fogs between the warning horns of Whitehead Light and Owls Head Light. Not much problem today: electronics makes purposeful travel in such well-known waters boringly safe. And kayakers and windjammers buckle no swash.

In the 19th century a dozen families lived on these islands, fishing mostly. There was a brief flurry of granite mining. Now in the press and pressure of the 21st century Muscle Ridge is beautifully, ironically deserted: fishermen have motors now and three miles is nothing; rich people need big lots and croissants; regular people need something to do; only a few artists are as well-off as Jamie Wyeth; mad people need their anti-psychotics; and mixed-up romantics such as me like only to look. Yet it's good to know that just off-shore, just out of reach, there are no phones, no cable, no internet, where they can't get us if we don't want to be gotten.

Monday, March 16, 2009


The news that sales at Maine's seed companies are up as much as 50% is most heartening. The high cost of supermarket food (notice how the prices have not come down in spite of the drop in demand for corn and oil, the recession, and near deflation in most other prices), interest in local foods, and of course the bad economy are contributing, they say. These companies are hiring, not firing. Once again, some good may be growing from evil.

It's still winter (we strictly follow calendar rules here in Owls Head, no rejoicing until March 20) but even today, in spite of the cold east wind off the water, the sun has that little extra warmth that allows a slight - not too loudly now - whimper of pleasure. We have to wait a while for the snow drops (seen yesterday in MA) and the brave green tops of daffodils and crocuses; we don't have to wait for the general uplifting of spirits. It appears that it won't get worse anymore before it gets better. The miracle of seeds - thawing, stirring, pushing out - is about to happen again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Land Urchins

This cactus garden at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles inevitably reminded us of sea urchins in Maine. Of course, Maine has nothing so exotic as cactus, or for that matter, the Getty Museum, an amazing display of resounding plazas, swooping rooflines, the requisite hilltop location and billion-dollar (inflation) view, and a bit of pretty good art as a bonus.

There isn't enough guilt money in Maine to build such things. As far as I know, no huge fortunes have been built here (Plum Creek is trying). Quite a few huge fortunes used to (still do) come to Camden and Bar Harbor and various private peninsulas, but leave only large houses and a scattering of cash to the locals as legacies. Maine is a modest place, generally. No oil reserves, or film industry, or vast fields of thirsty fruits and vegetables - just various renewable things that soon, come to think of it, may have large implications and possibilities far beyond the size of the state. I'm sure we'll have our own monuments to wind and tide power, in about 50 years, by which time California will have dried up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

LA Beaches

When we were in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, we OF COURSE walked on beaches: Manhattan, Venice, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara. It was pretty nice, especially as it was February, in the 60s and 70s, and surfers were out in force, and machines made the sand level and pretty, and at least one guy let it all hang out.

Note, however, the somewhat faint praise. I hate to complain (well, not quite true, it's fun to complain about California) but all the city beaches were the same: wide, long expanse of sand, volleyball nets, one pier for each town, waves all about the same height and intensity all the time (how do the surfers choose which beach to use, which waves to ride, which tourists to impress?), boardwalks, houses crowding cheek by jowl to the sandy edge of whatever local ordinances allowed. They would be different in the summer only in the number of people doing whatever it is people do on beaches. Santa Barbara was better, just a little beach, with mountains, not smog, as the backdrop.
So: no granite ledges; no tidal pools; no long stretches of infinitely variable rocks; no lobster pots; no cold, diamond-edged sparkle off the wintry bay; no sea smoke; no rockweed, or crabs, or starfish; no loons, ducks, seagulls, cormorants, osprey, eagles; no deer tracks in the snow, no fox dens in the cliffs; no pointed firs growing at water's edge and leaning picturesquely, seductively, towards you alone.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Literary Map

The Portland Press Herald has a map of Maine authors on its site. It's fun to see the state's familiar shape dotted with pleasures not depicted on the Delorme Atlas.


Cathie Pelletier holds down the north, Gladys Hasty Carroll the south. Farthest east is Sarah Graves, farthest west Louise Dickinson Rich. I've read none of these women's novels, and they're now on the scribbled list I carry in my wallet and consult in the library.

A very large percentage of the authors are women, including the two greatest of them all, Elisabeth Ogilvie and Sarah Orne Jewett, on the mid-coast. Eliz(s)abeth is a popular name (Coatsworth, Gilbert, Ogilvie, Speare, Strout).

The map being Google-ized, it offers directions to and from...it's not quite clear to and from what. I asked how to get from (A) Newton, MA to the icon marked Carolyn Chute. The result (B) was a long set of numbers, longitude and latitude, I assume, described as Merrill Hill Road in North Parsonfield, and a very eerie and somewhat alarming photograph of a lonely intersection, presumably Merrill Hill Road. Is this where Chute lives? Or the Beans? Who took the photo? Who decided which exact geographic point represented her or her book? Is this art becoming life?

Other than the Google intrusions on literary dreams, it's a wonderful and inspiring list. Thank you, Press Herald, for many pleasurable hours to come.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Our recent visit to Los Angeles coincided with the Academy Awards. We did not get an invitation from Brangelina, I swear the coincidence was completely accidental. My better half was happy though, and the children couldn't imagine us in LA in the first place, let alone anywhere near Oscar.

We had naive thoughts about trying to hang around the red carpet on Sunday, quickly dispelled when we found ourselves on Hollywood Boulevard on Saturday afternoon, thought we'd just take a peek. The place was already mobbed, and I had visions that some of the mobbees would be there for the next 24 hours, in a permanent state of gawk.

The place is less than impressive, tourists included. It didn't help that the threat of a sprinkle put plastic coverings over the proceedings (plastic on plastic on plastic?), that you could go into the Kodak Theater but briefly, just under the red staircase with its dual golden Oscars guarding the sanctum, then had to wind your way out through a maze of gray-painted corridors, that the Boulevard is hardly grand, that commerce seems to limited to pizza joints, head shops, bong emporia, tattoo parlors, and the cheaper brands of national chain stores. For this the Academy left downtown? I expect they thought it a redemptive kind of nostalgia.

Unreality hangs over the city like Dumbo's ears, both more and less impressive than you expect. Hence the disconnect. But they sure make it look nice on TV, which I watched for nearly the entire show (first time ever), except for a happily arranged and leisurely solo stroll to the local strip mall for Chinese take-out, to be consumed just in time for best supporting actress.

In case you were wondering, Dumbo (the movie) did win an Oscar, for Best Score. Best Body Parts wasn't a category yet.

The Dumbo in this photo adorns the theater in Belfast, Maine, which has few redemptive illusions left except those brought by tourists, having lost its chickens and shoes and very nearly its MBNA. It's now a very nice town.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More on regulation

Seems to be the theme of the week: the place of government in our lives is on everyone's mind, I imagine, if only subconsciously. Maine is a particularly good place to think about this, with its tradition of independent, self-reliant people. Even transplants get the strong feeling that the beauty of the state, while not exactly exempting Mainers and their visitors from compliance, at least makes the laws of Washington seem not so consuming. (So too with worries, petulance, 5-year plans, shaving, dressing up, the blues.) The other night at an editorial dinner I sat next to a biophysicist from Johns Hopkins by way of Mexico City and Bowdoin College. He vacations every year up by Blue Hill and told me that somehow Maine has got the right balance between public and private. There are a lot of reasons for that - Maine is small and governable for one - but the best one is still the ability to walk out on a cold, bright day like today, through the woods, along the shore, and know that these healing places will not be given up to despoiling progress without long, hard fights, the people working with and against their officials as necessary.

Financial regulations need the most healing. Can we not get the folks who require those voluminous and impenetrable monthly and quarterly and annual reports to take a walk in the woods and re-think the whole mess? I guess they think that burying the average investor in paper will prevent the despoilers from ill-doing. But of course the complexity of regulations merely makes it easier to get around them. For my part, I've taken to trucking the mass of paper up to Maine to start fires in the wood stove, and thus have the pleasure of watching them go up in smoke.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grandeur of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has announced that Grandeur of the Seas won't be stopping in Rockland this June. We owe this news to the North Atlantic right whale. In December NOAA announced speed restrictions in certain areas of the Atlantic, including a section of ocean off Cape Cod through which the GOTS would have to travel, to try to prevent ship strikes, a leading cause of right whale death. Apparently, slowing from 22 knots to 10 knots makes it impossible to keep the date with Rockland. It sounds a little fishy to me - I wonder if RC doesn't have enough bookings.

Some 2,500 disembarking passengers might have brought a lot of southern dollars to Rockland and Camden. It's a measure of how bad things are when my own sentiments, normally so firmly on the side of anything Natural, feel a moment of regret for this loss of income for the beloved Mid-Coast. But only a moment: something as magnificent as the right whale needs to be protected at almost any cost. There are only a few hundred left. According to some back of the envelope calculations, the entire weight of GOTS passengers and crew approximately equals the weight of only two right whales. Well, maybe three: these are cruise ship passengers, after all.

Rockland takes some comfort in that the visit of Jewel of the Seas, an even larger monstrosity (3.5 whales?) is still on for October, when the spring speed restrictions no longer apply. The only whales in danger will be those on yellow pants.