Monday, August 31, 2009

Camden, Inc.

Camden's Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee met the other day and discussed the future. There seemed to be a certain amount of moaning about the present going on: no Class A office space in town, parking problems 4 months of the year, 18-wheelers rumbling through town and discouraging development, a local populace not college-educated, an economy too heavily dependent on tourism. I'm not sure why Camden feels it must be more like Boston, but then this is a "vision" committee composed of businesspeople, and they would naturally want IBM to set up a software unit in the Knox Mill, or MBNA to rise from the dead. Why, in fact, do all peoples and committees and towns and countries believe they need to grow? Is there never a time when Camden would say it has enough? Would it be better off with a Route 1 bypass, a 10-story parking garage, a college, a conference center, a high-rise office building with elevators, broadband and a "news-stand or cafe in the lobby"? Why not just build a casino on top of Mount Battie and solve all your problems?

I happen to think Camden is a pretty good town, a little crowded downtown in August, a little precious in its pretensions, but full of good people in a beautiful place. There's still lots to do to fill and renovate and and modernize and green-ify, and I doubt if its fame and appeal would be enhanced by new industry, however clean. The Committee should buy new glasses to correct its hyperopia.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Olson House


The Olson house is no longer real. It has gone beyond reality into some iconic State of Maine Mind, along with crashing surf and lobster dinners and the noble moose. Some of this has to do with Andrew Wyeth himself, who painted with a sentimentality that ranged from bracing to boring. The rest has to do with our worship of icons, living or otherwise. We seem to need physics to refresh spirits. Seeing and touching and photographing a house conjours up the faith in what that object means.

So it's easy to confuse Christina's World and our world. And that is Wyeth's genius, whether you agree with it or not. He took the ordinary and made it iconic, he painted one place hundreds of times and made it universal. I don't particularly like the way he gets there, but the sanctity of the effort can make me weep. On the day that Ted Kennedy is put into the earth, I am proud to worship in the house of commitment.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Picnics

It wasn't too long ago that picnics by the roadside were common. Families on vacation, couples daytripping, the occasional biker cleaning the bugs out of his teeth, all used the tables that sprinkled the countryside. When I was a kid on vacation, the rule for picnicked breakfasts was that after checking out of the motel, we had to drive at least an hour before we could stop and fry our eggs and bacon on the Coleman. My parents said it made the food taste better; I now know that breaking up long car trips commits an important act of sanity. Besides, bacon and eggs and cinnamon buns eaten outside do not need time to improve them.

There are very few roadside picnic areas left. And those that still exist, like the lovely little riverside park just north of Wiscasset on Route 1, seem either to be closed or severly under-used. Perhaps the two are related. Tables still adorn the wharves of seaside towns, but they serve restaurants like the Cod End and Miller's and the Dip Net in Port Clyde, and some days, when it's hot and the patrons prefer to eat their clams in cool, they too are unused, and are watched over only by people-less cars waiting for the return of the Laura B. Most folks seem to want fast food for lunch, to be eaten on cool plastic seats or, fast food yet faster, on the road behind the wheel in a dangerous ballet of burger and fries and supersized soda. But I ask you: what can be better for your health and well-being than bread and cheese and chocolate and fruit at an outside table, or on a hillside, or on a slab of pink granite slanting into Penobscot Bay?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Surf

Not in Maine yesterday for the big waves. We left Saturday noon just as the ocean was stirring itself -after a long period of very calm seas - in response to Hurricane Bill. For much of this month we could have been living on a lake somewhere in the country's interior: no surf, hot temps, little breeze. But then it's been a strange summer all along, from the deluges in June to unsettled lives in July and early August, and now as summer finishes, my mother will come to visit and my daughters will travel to France.

I would have liked the shore yesterday. The power of the water is stirring. Big waves seem to bring a message from the ocean: "This is what I do, I am alive and powerful." To me this is comforting. A still ocean is more frightening than a rolling one. As long as it's flexing and bending and moving, I don't really think about doldrums and emptiness. I think about life, even though it can be dangerous.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vroom vroom

The news that Portland might soon be requiring motorcycles to keep the noise down would be most gratefully received by this ligyrophobe. (Noise is on my mind - yesterday, a most beautiful one, seemed to bring out the loudest of airplanes to Knox County Regional.) All Portland, or any US city or town for that matter, has to do is follow the law, specifically the regulation passed by the EPA that requires all new motorcyles to bear a stamp or label proving it does not exceed federal noise levels. Simple! Of course, the regulation came into effect in 1983....

On second thought, if we enforced the law in Maine, I wouldn't have had the pleasure a few weeks ago of an excellent example of cycle mentality. Traffic was inching into Brunswick from the north, along that stretch of Mill St. just before the right turn on to Pleasant. A motorcyclist on the dangerous side of 39 was directly in front of us, ambling along in half figure-eights, side to side, merrily vrooming every once in a while. We approached two people tending their lawn. One was a blonde, in shorts, and our Lothario in leather immediately gunned his engine, vrooming like there was no tomorrow. His turns got tighter, his stare more intense, his face redder. He of course wore no helmet. I'm surprised his head didn't just pop as he drove past, slowly leering.

The woman, to her eternal credit, never even turned from her flowers.

Legislators in Portland, go at it. But first, let's get those folks in Augusta to pass a helmet law. If you're just another anonymous helmeted dude revving up, what's the point of showing off your pistons?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ospreys manque

Last night I took a glass of wine out to the deck for that dusky hour between dinner and dark. I knew from past years that these warm late summer evenings are perfect for watching osprey fish the bay, and it's really been too cool and wet, certainly from my point of view and probably from theirs, to do so until now. I was happy to find that the pleasure was still intense even without the bittersweet edge of having to leave Maine in a day or a week and go back to work.

The ospreys, however, weren't there even though the conditions were good for patrolling the calm, warm water. In fact, we've only seen a few osprey this summer, and zero thrilling dives. I had to be content with the gulls and terns and their insolent flights overhead, and the fast-cooling air, and a cadre of dragonflies canvassing the space above the lawn.

These last are the 5-inch monsters that look like they too could plunge into the water and snatch up fish for the little ones back in the nest. But presumably they're after smaller fry like gnats and the tiny vicious mosquitoes of August evenings. They look agile enough to catch anything, with tremendous zigging and zagging, speed to burn, stopping so quickly in mid-air that they look like they're going backwards.

I used to marvel at the endless hours of work expended by the osprey in circling and flying and diving, just to catch a mackerel or two. Now I wonder about dragonflies. Are they such perfect machines that endless work does not tire, that bugs in quantity do not sate, that acrobatics are passe? Do they never rest on branches and just sit back with a drop of dew and watch, say, the finches fly for fun?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Haze

The definition of humidity in these parts is the inability to see Vinalhaven even though the weather is clear. At last we have it this summer: moisture that's not flooding us in rain or smothering us in fog; it's just plain hot southern haze.

For several days now the breeze has been as quiet and the water as calm as I can remember. The kayakers are out in force. Children's voices carry over the cove from Crockett's Beach. Not much else moves, including the brain.

Walking in the heat up on the road, suffering, we might as well be wearing black like Haze Motes, in Wise Blood. We might also be preoccupied, like him, by matters mortal. We come back to the relative cool of the shore, of the imagination, of words. They help lift us out of the doldrums.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Towers

What a difference a few miles makes! On Vinalhaven the Fox Islands Winds project is well underway. The big, 120-foot blades have started to arrive in Rockland, the final concrete for foundations will be poured next week - all in all, a well-thought-out, collaborative endeavor that shows the best of private and public partnership.

Across the bay on the mainland, the Maine Supreme Court has just ruled that the town of Lincolnville, after 4 years of litigation, must allow a 195-foot cell phone tower to be built at the base of Bald Rock. Bald Rock, of course, affords one of the finest views on the entire coast, which, for most of its hikers, will now be marred for the sake of a few phone customers.

The towers on Vinalhaven, taller at 250 feet and three in number, are carefully situated to be least obtrusive; the tower in Lincolnville singly achieves maximal obnoxiousness. Will the owner of the land on which it is to be built come to his senses and remove the blight of steel from forest and sea? Not unless there's a Supreme Court of Beauty.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Going and coming home

Back in Maine - two weeks ago tomorrow we got a phone call from my brother saying it seemed to be time for the family to assemble; an hour later he called again, saying it was too late. My father had just died.

I flew out early on Sunday morning. My parents now lived in the same city where I was born. Their first stay had been short, just two years; their second followed Dad's retirement so they could be near my brother's family as his kids grew up; their third, after some years in Maine to be near my growing children, started five years ago. If you add up all the pieces, it might have been as close to home as they got in their transient life.

We had been expecting the call for more than three years, ever since he was diagnosed with cancer. He fought hard, determined to last through their 60th wedding anniversary celebration in June. Then he got a respiratory virus of some sort, and stopped fighting.

At the funeral, a number of people came up to me and said they were his student, or the daughter of his student, or served on his school board, or had baby-sat me (!!!). They had all stayed in the same city for the last 60 years, same church, same friends, same God. They were sure, as my parents were, that dying was like coming home.

Like eternity, time meant little last week. My father's two brothers, and a cousin I had not seen in 40 years, all of whom have lived in the same area all their lives, drove a thousand miles from South Dakota, stayed overnight and attended the funeral service in the morning, drove a thousand miles back. They had done the right thing, and were anxious to get back. My mother scarcely knew what day it was; but she knew she would not move again. My brothers and I re-lived the moves we had made from home to home across three states and the province of Ontario, and gained no further wisdom. I read novels, looked at all the scrapbooks, played Scrabble, was restless in the night.

Home seemed to be portable in our family. Then my own family arrived and I was instantly wrong. Their faces were like the sun rising in the east, promising love and a new day and pangs for the home we had made. We drove back east on Tuesday, returning to Boston and then to Maine, where our sense of home is as strong as any Christian's for his heaven.