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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Maine Heritage Village

Sounds great, doesn't it? A place on Route 1 just south of Wiscasset where, according to the developer, people (viz, tourists) can learn about and enjoy the culture of Maine, a farmers’ market, a lobster pound and restaurant, an art gallery, and a pharmacy. Free exhibit space will be offered to all Maine non-profits. It will open in May.

The reality, as far as I can tell, is quite different. I had driven past the place a number of times and wondered what the heck was going on with all these baby buildings: a two-story lighthouse, a little yellow shack, what looked like a miniature church, a one-room school house, etc. Obviously, a tourist attraction, but for the height-challenged? For American Girl doll lovers? Now I know.

So far, all the advance activity seems to revolve around food: lobsters, of course, and a farmer's market, and little stalls for vendors of berries (move those roadside stands selling "BlueBerrys" into respectability!) and jams and corn, and in the corner of the sugar shack, the item I'm looking forward to most, lobster-flavored popcorn.

I guess I should allow for the possibility that this is a sincere effort to educate and inform. Will MHV eventually "focus on Maine traditions like lobstering, fishing, canoe building, agriculture and hunting," as promised the town? (The developer also hopes to have some involvement with Maine’s Native American tribes, including the Wabanaki tribe, just to complete the picture.) I hope so. For now it smells of profit-making, and it sure is ugly, I mean, quaint.

Ample parking will be available for tour buses.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dunkin' Debate

Should Dunkin' Donuts be allowed in downtown Camden?
1. Yes, if lobster crullers are on the menu.
2. No, if the traffic study required by law finds that it would take a minute more to drive through town.
3. Yes, if another gift shop entrepreneur cannot be found to lease the space.
4. No, since formula franchises cause brain injury.
5. Yes, if the shop is disguised, ala McDonald's in Freeport, as a B&B.
6. No, donuts are bad for you.
7. Yes, Camden needs a jolt of real joe.
8. No, DD is headquartered in Massachusetts.
9. Yes, but hours must be 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. only.
10. No. Just say no.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Congratulations to Elizabeth Strout on her Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge. She's the antithesis of the academic: she writes books with great characters, an evocative setting, and a good plot; she's a Mainer (born in Portland) even though she lives in New York; it takes her many years to write a book; she's a failed lawyer. What a great combination!

Fiction like hers upholds the grand tradition of story-telling. She reserves self-conscious musing for the characters, not for the author. She uses language for its place in her heart, not just in her mind. Her characters are stand-ins for no one but themselves. She doesn't worry about the "role of the novel," "the death of the novel," "the meta-novel" - she's a writer.

As long as fiction has writers like this, it will have readers.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I'm not discussing the weather today, although with another cold front approaching, the meteorological interpretation is appropriate. Today's word apparently applies to Rockland, ME, which readers of Budget Travel magazine have voted the second coolest small town in America (just edged out by Owego, NY in the Finger Lakes, which must have worked harder on PR among the locals).

Maine is many things, but "cool" as it's been used for more than 50 years now is not a meaning that jumps out. ("Cool" as it's been used for hundreds of years is right on.) Of course, who knows what it means anymore? People of a certain generation use it as a general acknowledgement of appreciation and agreement, more or less a grunt, but people of a certain younger generation use it in a sharper sense (shades, the color black and its multiple avatars, New York) as if retreating out of the bombardment of modern plastic media and returning to the beats. Budget Travel seems to equate it with the availability of good coffee and art galleries, very bourgeois. I wish for no applicability but its effect on hot summer days. Thank God we're preserved in Maine from inclusion on any list of hottest small towns, in whatever sense of "hottest" your age and politics desire.

I'm glad for Rockland, actually, which has suffered enough. Just don't send the tourists up Talbot Avenue towards the dump and the old limestone quarries (also a dump in these days of municipal revenue enhancement) - the smell will get the town on another kind of list entirely.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I just finished the spring clean-up of yard and gardens. We went all-out to protect the gardens this year: a thick layer of leaves, and pine and fir boughs downed by the storms on top on that. Will it make a difference? We're such amateurs that we'll never know. Even if the gardens are gorgeous this year, maybe it was the wet spring, the constant storms, extra worms, the recovery of the economy, fate.

Spring does seem to be here (although some of the leaves were still wet and half-frozen to the ground). The hostas and the lilies are just peeking through, and there were crocuses behind the house at the corner of Ash Point and Lucia Beach . Winter is good for occasional skiing and snowshoeing, warm fires, and contrast with Florida, but very few people in the northern half of the country would say they'd like a little more, please. And nobody will feel unliberated in the warm(ish) sun and the prospect of more.

So it's time to take off the sweatshirts, and the leaf blankets, and the flannel sheets. Unboard your windows and doors, and let the sunshine in.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring inches forward

There was still ice in some of the shaded coves of Megunticook when we walked there last week, in spite of the torrential rain on Monday night. (In the usual northwind aftermath, Wednesday was so cold it might as well have been January.) Hosmer Pond was frozen over shore to shore. The woodstove burned all day every day.

Water runs everywhere, down the hillsides and culverts, over roads, down our driveway, in such abundance that I can't imagine parts of the world where it's so precious. Indeed, springtime New England has too much of it in places. Last week's storm washed out many roads and closed schools. But as much water as there is, pouring into the ocean from all angles, it's wasted into salinity, and the deserts of the world don't want to know about such profligacy.

As the spring and summer wear on, Megunticook's shoreline will recede and Barrett's Cove Beach will have regained its sand. The lifeguard platform will not itself need rescue, and Stab'n Cabin will find its way to more violent shores.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back Home

Clean, rejuvenated, socialized, the menagerie has returned home. They're a little lonely, to be sure, but there's the hope of another outing in ten years or so. Special Person, your place at the end of the line is really quite promiment.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Getting Together

My friend the moose bitterly complained yesterday that I had failed to introduce him as a member of the menagerie. In my defence, there were two problems, (1) that he obviously is made of undrifted wood (he's a Christmas tree ornament in fact, given us by a friend who comes up with something unusual and lovely every year), and (2) that Blogger didn't want me to load more than five photos. So apologies to a special person.

Here is Special Person having a tender moment with the pig.

Dogfish and eel lie down together.

A slightly menacing moment from the whale.

A family portrait (note Special Person in the middle, in the center of everything).

Next posting: back to the mantle.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


The mantle over the woodstove holds a collection of objects we've found over the years, most of them driftwood and most of those symbolic. The more mobile of these recently got up to stretch their legs/fins (also, to be dusted) and allowed us to take their portraits. Introducing:

The whale.

The dog (or perhaps fish, maybe dogfish?)

The eel.

The pig.

The swan.

Tomorrow: in a moment of weakness, we allow some fraternization to occur (not X-rated).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Consider the Lobster

A very odd curio in the history of publishing is David Foster Wallace's essay on the Maine Lobster Festival. He visited in 2003 and published his account in, of all places, Gourmet magazine. Here's the link: http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2004/08/consider_the_lobster?currentPage=1

The Festival got a lot of press that year, from CNN, from travel magazines and from a rival eating mag, but Gourmet's motivation in asking DFW (or did he propose?) to write completely escapes me. True to form, Wallace delivers a long thing (10 screens worth, including 3 of footnotes, which, by the way, are pretty cumbersome on a website) that starts out with the usual facts about the lobster, rather pedestrian, and then veers off and fixes on the issue of a lobster's pain, or not, upon being boiled, complete with neuropsychopharmacology.

So: was he in a joshing, ironic, metaphysical mood? Did he toss this off for money? Why did he raise a hundred questions and answer none of them? Half reporter, half metaphysician, he struggled hard with his life and his art, was obsessed with the overlap of detail and meaninglessness, and in retrospect, considering his suicide last year, this curious essay and its venue form a disturbing exemplar of his tortured mind.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Physics of Reading

I was struck by this phrase in D.T. Max's article on David Foster Wallace in the March 9 New Yorker. It's attributed to Gerald Howard, Wallace's editor at Penguin, and taken from a conversation between them about how to end Wallace's first novel "The Broom of the System." The physics of reading, Howard wrote, is “a whole set of readers’ values and tolerances and capacities and patience-levels to take into account when the gritty business of writing stuff for others to read is undertaken.” Howard advocated a satisfying ending to such a long book; Wallace ended it "I'm a man of my"

Never mind that it's not exactly physics Howard was talking about (more like biology or psychology). Whatever the science, too little attention is paid to the physical act of reading a book: turning a page is a slight jolt of awareness; ending a chapter is a big one; you can look up and about at any time and not lose your place; you can go back to the book's past or your own with ease; you can dream at will, directed by a word or a phrase or the sight outside your window.

That's the real unknown, the ecology of reading. Does it make a difference where you're reading, or what surrounds you? The hallmark of a good book is that it loses one world in favor of another. But it must be true that the lost world somehow affects the imagined one. I'm wondering if it's an inverse relationship, Jane Austen much more powerful in cities, in America, Faulkner stronger in the Yankee North, TS Eliot speaking loudly to London Mayfair, and Per Petterson, whose "Out Stealing Horses" I've just finished today, writing descriptions of the woods and rivers and lakes of Norway that were almost unbearably poignant in the suburbs of Boston, and not quite so much so here as I was finishing the book on the edge of fir trees and ocean.

Yet reading here is one of life's great pleasures, making bad books tolerable and mediocre books good. Great books, I guess, have their own existence, and the environment in which they are read makes a difference only when you come up for air.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Low expectations

We drove up to Owls Head last night (probably a first, driving north on a Sunday night) for a few days of what was forecast to be dismal weather: rain, wind, 40s, floods. Not to worry, we told ourselves, we'll read and write and rest.

The dog's expectations were slightly higher, if only because we had abandoned her for a couple of hours so we could hear a piano concert at the Weston Library, and she had nowhere to go but up. In the car she did seem somewhat less neurotic; her trembling and bad-breath panting lasted less than the usual hour, and (another first), having survived the terrors of Portland she actually volunteered to go into her bed in the back seat, until we reached Brunswick 10 minutes later and had to slow down, and she felt obligated to reclaim the safety of the passenger's lap just in case the back seat suddenly and horribly disgorged her into the grooming shop.

We all should have had more faith. Mia was rewarded by the sight of two young deer standing by the side of Canns Beach Road as we drove in, and she growled as if to say, "See, there really is something out there." We were rewarded this morning by a crystal-clear sunrise and a lovely blue morning. The high had waited for us to arrive.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Maine gain

Maine doesn't wane, it gains, at least according to U-Haul. The infelicitously named U-Haul National Trend Migration Report has come out and we lead the nation once again. Sixteen percent more one-way rentals came into the state in 2008 than went out, more than double the next state, Washington, at 7%. The spokesperson at U-Haul had no idea why Maine is so popular.

"Why" is not the question (isn't it obvious why people want to come to Maine, not to mention why they need to leave it?). The question is, "Who?" That people retire to Maine is well-known, but do they rent U-Hauls? Young people do, but there aren't any jobs and bad winters don't fit the zeitgeist. Mid-careers? Wages aren't exactly top of the scale. And where are they going?

If I extrapolate on the U-Haul data (Maine has about 0.4 % of the US population, therefore its share of U-Haul's 1 million+ trips is some 5,000) I get 2,700 people moving in, 2,300 moving out. OK, so 400 extra do-it-your-selfers is not really a big deal. Just the kind of people we want, in fact.

Now if United or Atlas comes up with similar numbers for huge trucks carrying 40 years of ottomans, curios from Niagara, multiple complete dinner sets, macrame kits, riding lawn mowers, and 27 boxes of dog toys, be afraid, be very afraid.