Monday, October 26, 2009

Maine sites

Among the websites I look at most days for news are four based in Maine: VillageSoup (Knox County), DownEast, Portland Press Herald, and MPBN. Each has its charms.

VillageSoup http://knox.villagesoup.com/ : local news in all its glory; the weather (every day when we're resident and some days, out of longing, when we're not)

DownEast http://downeast.com/ : trivia (today's answer is 611 miles - see the site for the question - or if you're reading this later than today, see below*); blogs; (for everything else I get the magazine)

Press Herald http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/ : general Maine news; Bill Nemitz

MPBN http://www.mpbn.net/ : news stories that I as an effete liberal snob am likely to like.

The sites are especially useful when we're not in state, useful for crying and moaning and wishing and hoping, that is. Do we use place-based websites differently depending on the place in which we access them? I think so: I'm especially hungry for information when I'm elsewhere. It got bad enough the other day that I clicked on the Ultimate Maine Wedding ad on DownEast just to see the pretty pictures of the coast I figured would be there. It's like carbo-loading: I've been out of Maine for more than a week; and tomorrow I'll load up on eye candy and facts fat and empty trivia calories especially greedily, for in the evening we're going to France to visit our daughters, and except for the coast of Britanny, which apparently resembles Maine, I expect to go cold turkey on the sights and sites of the Pine Tree State.

*the length of the Maine-Canada border

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More "dubious" distinctions

1. The Pew Research Center reported recently that Maine has one of the highest divorce rates in the country. Refreshingly, Pew has no opinion about the reasons for this, claiming to see no correlation with other relevant data such as age at marriage. Other folks have no compunctions, citing Maine's high working-class population, high poverty levels, tolerant attitudes and less religion (see No. 2), low percentage of college education, and the fact that divorce is relatively easy to get. A mess of reasons sounds about right - if there were just one reason for a phenomenon, we'd have nothing to gossip about.

One guess for the state with the highest rate.

2. Maine is also right up there in religion, or lack of it, tied for fourth in the country (with Washington, after Vermont, New Hampshire and Wyoming) for the highest percentage of people who say they have no religion. Phone polls conducted by researchers at Trinity College say so. (By the way, can you imagine being called to the phone, during dinner of course, and asked if you believe in God? Would your response be different if your burger was burned? If you had a bad day? If you just won the lottery?) There are absolutely no data that could explain this and I haven't seen anyone try.

My guess? You don't need religion so much when some of the most beautiful places in the world are all around you.

One last speculation: does any of this have anything to do with Question 1 on the Maine ballot this November? Earlier this year, Maine became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage, but opponents got enough signatures to try to repeal the law by referendum. Well, it's no accident that in Vermont now and New Hampshire as of 1/1/10 same-sex marriage is legal. Vermont and New Hampshire also have divorce rates well above average. To keep pace with its distinguished neighbors, Maine really must vote No on Question 1 and preserve the evil reputation of northern New England in the minds of Mississippi Baptists and Minnesota Calvinists and the Catholics of southern California.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Islands

We can see a lot of islands from our environs: Little Island in our cove; Monroe and Sheep behind it to the northeast; Vinalhaven behind them (and the three turbines of Fox Islands Wind are up now, just barely visible and more so at night when three red eyes wink at us); Fisherman with its two lonely buildings straight out to sea; Ash if we walk down to Ash Point, where we also can view the lovely chain of Muscle Ridge Islands off Spruce Head. I've discovered recently that Maine Coast Heritage Trust has been working in this area, on Vinalhaven, of course, with its marketability, but also on small and pristine Monroe, one of the first examples of an island given in trust, in 1973, to the state, whose easements were further strengthened a few years ago by MCHT; and Ash Island, where it's working to raise the million dollars that will convince the owner to tear up the hundred-year-old zoning that theoretically would allow the construction not only of houses but a hotel. So why? not why would MCHT want to preserve such a lovely spot as Ash Point and Island, but why would anyone want to build on an island separated from the mainland by just a few hundred yards? Don't build your big house for all to see, crying "I'm islanding!" If you're going to be isolated, do it right.

The appeal of islands is obviously strong, but I confess I don't fully understand why. The beauty is compelling, but it implies the desirability, the need for isolation. The rich apparently need to escape the pressures and importunities of the business and professional worlds just to stay sane, but who would want that life the rest of the year? Regular folks need to get away too and I understand that (retreating and escaping is a character flaw), and an artist's need for solitude I get, but think about it: once you've retreated to an island, to a hotel room for a weekend, or a cottage for a few weeks, or a house in retirement, where else can you escape? It's just the ocean, brothers and sisters, and that is an environment hospitable only to water-breathers, sailors and other irrational beings. I'd rather be on the edge of the land, escaping just enough, keeping my retreat options open.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fixed wings

The wind has been blowing steadily out of the north and east the last few days, and this gives the gulls a chance to strut their stuff. I use the word strut deliberately, not only because what gulls do in the wind is like walking on it but also because they do it with fixed wings, bound to their bodies as if by metal struts. On Friday morning just after dawn I watched for half an hour as the gulls sailed straight into the storm, fast, scores of them all moving north, hardly moving their wings, certainly not flapping them, in what can only be described as the perfect use of a natural body.

I'd like also to use words like joy and pleasure, and that's fine for me but not for them. Even if a gull could suddenly speak English and describe what he's doing, I still wouldn't understand him. I don't know how a bird weighing a few pounds can glide seemingly without effort into a wind gusting to 25 mph. I don't know why they're all going north and none south. I don't know what new marvelous perspective they get on rocks and waves each time they twitch their wings a bit to take advantage of some unknown lift and drag. It's a miracle.

Airplanes used to seem miraculous until I had to fly too many times in them. And now they're just fearful, roaring, groaning, crude approximations of flight. I suppose the gull and the plane use the same principles of aerodynamics. But one is grace and the other grease.

The next time those beasts using Knox County Regional haunt me, the sightseeing prop that needs a muffler, the antique biplane buzzing joylessly in some airshow, the commuter jet bringing people from Boston for the wrong reasons, the rich-boy Gulfstream that roars in the middle of the night, I'll remember the northeast wind, and laugh.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Goodwill

A new Goodwill store opened recently in Rockland, and the parking lot has been full the several times I've driven past. I don't know enough about Goodwill to know if what looks like a large number of cars is normal, unusual, due to the bad economy, due to Mainers' thrift, new-store factor (it's actually fairly handsome), or all of the above. In any case it's good to see this kind of recycling happening, especially since the store is located just down the street from a Walmart and its aisles of junk.

Most people want new, of course (lots of other adjectives also apply: shiny, mine, virgin, improved, not-yours). It's the same impulse, I guess, that builds malls and houses, sells new cars, promotes the latest fashions, and re-brands tired tubes of toothpaste. Has the recession helped make us less infantile, drool less, save more, want less? Maybe. For how long?

I wonder if that fabled 70% of the economy that consumers supposedly control applies to Maine. If we buy used and recycle old, how many points of GDP does that count? Has anybody ever measured that part of the economy?

I'm reminded of the book by Rosamond Purcell called Owls Head, a tribute to William Buckminster and his incredible eleven acres in the village completely filled with "junk" like scrap metal and lobster traps and windows and birdhouses and clocks and chandeliers and pretty much everything under the sun, all busted and gently decaying in the rain. Like any good New Englander he never knew when he might just need that iron wood-burning cookstove, or better yet, when someone from "away" would buy it from him. Does Goodwill have an "antiques" section?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dubious distinction

Here are three rates that at the very least are surprising:

Maine is the whitest state in the nation.
Maine has the oldest population in the nation.
Maine has the highest cancer rate in the nation.

I don't know what these mean, if they are related, if they're significant (other than the obvious: send us some young, healthy people of color!). Statistics are often damned lies, at the selective, hypocritical beck-and-call of politicians on the air. Yet this particular group of stats makes me think of Olympia Snowe and the heroic effort she's making to keep calm in the middle of the lies. "It's an historic moment," she says, implying that even in the face of an aging population, intransigent insurance companies, conscience-less lawyers, overpaid doctors, and 50 million poor people at the mercy of disease, even then the huge majority of politicians will not see past their parties' rhetoric, their re-election campaign, their donors and benefactors. I'm no Republican, and actually disagree strongly with Senator Snowe, but what other lawmaker is actually thinking about the people? The President is, I believe, but on the floor of the Senate, there never has been a time when Ted Kennedy is more missed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Insouciant species

As I was driving up to the house today, having been away for five days, the car startled two deer browsing in the little ditch next to the driveway. They jumped out, bounded to the leaching field, and stopped, not at the edge of the field near the safe woods, but right in the middle, just 30 feet away. I also stopped (the car). We stared at each other for a couple of minutes.

Clearly, a moving car spooked them but a stopped car did not. Or could they see me through the glass, even recognize me from previous encounters? They didn't care about the human or canine smells about the place (our poor hostas have proved that all summer), they apparently think a house and a garage are as dangerous as a tree.

My dictionary defines "insouciant" as "marked by blithe unconcern; nonchalant." It could have inserted a picture of these two deer and achieved the same result: the stare, the nearly haughty lifting of the noses, the jaunty ear-twitching. I moved the car. They moved into the woods.

The definition begs the question, unconcern about what? It seems like deer have reached that state with humans, or at least are getting there. (I doubt they would be so blithe about wolves, should we be so lucky as to get them back in Maine again.) Also seagulls, who go about their business more efficiently than any animal I know, who are nonchalant towards any species you might name.

And Homo sapiens? We might be the only species that practices insouciance on itself. We pretend to ignore the animal world, but secretly fear it; the plant world is altogether beneath comment; and any power greater than Homo sapiens is either slavishly courted or angrily denounced. I vote for the deer's approach: most things are neutral until proven otherwise.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Invasive species

It's appropriate for Columbus Day that the Press Herald today carried an article on Eurasian milfoil. The plant had been discovered last year in Salmon Pond of the Belgrade Lakes, near the outlet into Great Pond, and was proliferating rapidly enough for the state to take some special attention, first with divers trying to uproot the stuff last year and then with application of 2,4-D last month. (Milfoil forms thick mats of gooey, feathery green stuff, de-oxygenating water, smothering other plants, potentially harming fish.) Apparently, the herbicide is considered safe, although swimming was banned for three days and if your dog likes to drink lake water, you were advised not to let him.

Salmon Pond is small and undistinguished; Great Pond is large and semi-famous, for clean water and lovely resorts, for fishing, although the glamorous species of salmon and trout are rapidly yielding to that cultivar of modern lake life, the voracious northern pike, and the inspiration for "On Golden Pond," although the movie was shot on Squam lake in New Hampshire. Hence the big effort by the state. Milfoil in Great Pond would be a PR disaster. Oh, and an ecological one too.

We used to have a camp on one of the Belgrade Lakes. In some ways we felt more than an invasive species there than we do now on the coast. North Pond seemed largely a place for the camps of Mainers, and our few weeks a year didn't exactly qualify us. It had jet skis and motorboats and water-skiers, and even a pontoon party boat that putt-putted along with its freight of old folks. We liked canoes. We didn't shampoo our hair in the lake.

Not that being a real Mainer is ever in the offing, although one tries. I spend half my time now in state, and have progressed as far as receiving a nod, but not yet a wave, from the local patriarch down the shore. Of course, we're all foreigners in fact, invading from somewhere. And for all the good we've brought to the land since Columbus, we might profitably dive down into our souls and uproot some tendencies. I might go so far, if I could have, as to apply a good strong dose of 2,4-D to Christopher himself.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Foliage


We were probably a week too early for peak color on our local foliage tour the other day. But the colors were more than satisfactory already, thanks to all the rain early in the summer. Of course, Vermont and New Hampshire get all the foliage press, but Maine is no slouch and we were very happy with the scenery just west of here: Damariscotta Lake and the hills around it; Lake St. George (how can you beat a lunch of baguette and goat cheese and apples and chocolate on the shore of a lake ringed with green pine and red maples?); the fields and dairy farms of Liberty and Searsmont; Appleton's gorgeous blueberry fields, now almost as red as the maples. Color splashed along the edges of roads and fields and lakes, and just started to speckle the woods. And unlike VT and NH, there were no tourists. And no tour buses. And no shoppes.

Why don't more people get off the beaten path? Why do we all travel the same routes, clutching our guidebooks? Some answers:

  • Lives are run by the clock.
  • Do they speak English in Maine?
  • Tours take care of us, we don't have to worry.
  • There's not enough time to get lost.
  • We might not get good pictures if someone hasn't already been there to tell us about it.
  • Gotta get home - NCIS is on at 8:00.
  • We like the pre-paid chicken pot pie at Old Harry's Green Mountain Eatery.
  • You went where for a color tour?
To me there's nothing better than a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, the DeLorme Maine Atlas, and thou. (Can't do the wine anymore, it makes us sleepy.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Treats

The dog and I were outside on Monday when a little shower passed seaward. I moved under the trees but she stayed out in the middle of the lawn, sitting wetly and patiently for a treat I may have forgotten to give her. We had been playing her favorite game (and now I have to type very quietly, for she goes bananas when she hears the words), called Go Outside, Play with the Ball? in which she chases and retrieves a tennis ball and is properly rewarded. She loves chasing and she loves any food that's not kibble, equally it seems, although only a human would try to decide between them. Dogs do not catalog against the future. They love the moment, however foolish it might make them look.

When I see sun and rain together I always think of a Korean phrase. "The tiger came," they say, nodding wisely, from the slants and stripes and variations that falling rain makes in sunlight and from, no doubt, the foolishness of the tiger in their folklore and art. The phrase also implies the happiness and marriage of elements coming together. I think the tiger just likes standing in the rain waiting for treats.

When we were done playing and went inside, the shower was over the islands and the human treat appeared. A rainbow is such a happy thing in spite of its turned-down mouth, so rare and colorful, so full of happy metaphor like harmony and coalition and pots of gold. And it's at its most beautiful when you don't think of ROY G BIV or Jesse Jackson or leprechauns but just stand quietly in the moment, mouth upturned in a smile.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Secret Jewel of the Seas

I woke up this morning to the sound of an unfamiliar foghorn, a deep one singly sounded, unlike the Owls Head Light horn that is higher in tone and occurs in doublets. It took a few fuzzy minutes to realize what it must have been. Rockland would be graced today, 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, by a visit from a Caribbean-style cruise ship, 962 feet in length and 5,000 feet in passengers.
I looked out the window to see if it was out there, cruising up the bay from Portland and Boston - could barely see the water, let alone a fantasy.
Calmly, I went about my morning routine, even though this was the biggest THING TO HAPPEN IN ROCKLAND IN YEARS. After lunch (since I was going to town anyway for books and food), I thought I'd just see what's what. The fog had lifted slightly in OH but it turned out to be worse in Rockland, an occurrence itself worth a press release. No large white thing anchored near the breakwater could be seen. Good - I wasn't sure I was ready for Rockland's future. But of course it was there, just secreted away in the fog, and the town was full of its passengers.

Random observations, overheard conversations, and sights from walking through town:
  • A brass band greeted the cruisers as the shuttles landed, to scattered applause.
  • Lots of people and conveyances in Harbor Park, tour buses, the town trolleys from the Lobster Festival, taxis, Chamber of Commerce folks, all flocking together to provide interesting ways to relieve the tourists of their money.
  • The Rockland Cafe must have been well-written up in the hand-outs - customers were lined down the street for lunch.
  • Lots of couples, lots of older couples.
  • Overheard:"The biggest sales opportunity of the year and I haven't sold a picture yet. But I'm not discouraged."
  • Overheard: lots of southern accents.
  • Overseen: lots of sweatshirts from Texas and Michigan.
  • A fair sprinkling of orange stickers signifying the purchase of an ticket to the Farnsworth, so not all shopping and eating (my vision of cruises).
  • Judging by the number of colorful plastic bags being carried around, the local merchants did well. There were as many as 2,500 opportunities, after all.
  • Watched the disembarking of a shuttle from the ship (very fancy shuttle, could have been an Amsterdam canal boat). The load looked like a bunch of normal Americans, coupled up, of course, and quite white, and a little older than your average mall crowd, but a surprising number of young folks and people of color, and even a few kids. Several wheelchairs brought up the rear.
A half hour of this was enough and I went to the library.
TJOTS supposed to be back next year. Did Rockland make grade? Did the stores make enough money? Was the fog to be judged quaint? Or yucky?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Car-less in the battle

What were the police (I mean, the POLICE, consisting of the State Police, the Sheriff's office, the Marine Patrol, and the Maine DEA complete with drug dog, whew!) doing in Owls Head Village yesterday morning? A routine safety checkpoint, they said. But at 5:00 a.m.? For almost three hours? I don't know their usual batting average but 90 cars were stopped (license, registration, inspection stickers, please) yielding
- one parole violation (how did they know? someone's bad brother-in-law?)
- one marijuana possession (any spliffs in the glove compartment, sir? Or, that dog must have been really good)
- a couple of traffic summonses (who in the world breaks a traffic law with all those police hanging around? oh right, it was early, probably still dark, and the officers were hiding in the General Store)
- and some safety warnings (you really shouldn't drive with lobster traps in the front seat).

Methinks there was a tip in the battle against drugs: lobster guys doing a little more than fishing.

I'm glad I wasn't out and about yesterday morning (side question: who knew so many people drive through the village at that hour?) I might have been stopped for alien behavior (Mass. plates). But the chances were slim to none. When I'm here wife-less and dog-less, I'm also car-less, that is, it's a badge of honor in the battle to save the earth to see how little I can use it, manfully ignoring the siren calls of the foliage (wait for wife on Sunday), the library (read Tony Hillerman again), and food (shopped on the way up). What else does one need? Besides, it's dangerous out there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Brain tease

I've discovered the cure for senility. No, it's not Scrabble or Sudoku or gin rummy or even gin. It's walking on Maine's seashore and negotiating its sharp rocks, tippy rocks, rolling rocks (but not Rolling Rocks, unfortunately). The brain must work very hard indeed in constant assessment. Will that rock about to receive my foot slide, wobble, pierce my Nike, tilt, roll? You are continually planning your campaign for the flat and the stable. You lose yourself in your left brain; you can feel the plaque melting away.

You can walk on elderly sand beaches, like Old Orchard or Miami. Go ahead if you want to go gaga a little faster.

The cure assumes you keep moving. Stopping to look at islands or loons or that really nice house just ahead is right-brain stuff, never proved to be of any use in business or neurology. Trying to do both, looking and walking, gets you into trouble, not to mention silly arm-waving and staggering from unbalance before you land safely on something at least a ton and stop nonchalantly, pretending to look out to sea. Don't chew gum while you walk - it will definitely be too much.

Your ankles are unexpectedly sore when you get home. How much of your right brain did you actually indulge? Will you remember this beautiful day on the shore or will you just plow along, head down, looking for safe landings?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fourth quarter

I'm sufficiently engaged in business that October 1 still means the start of the fourth quarter. In publishing it's usually the quarter that makes or breaks the year. You track the profit-and-loss statements of the book or journal or imprint or division or company in question throughout the year, but it doesn't get serious until now. All the weakness you see in the beginning of the year will surely be rectified by the end, and your reputation/pride/bonus/continued employment(?) will be secured.
That P&Ls are often misleading, full of accruals and bookkeeping tricks and errors, makes little difference. Your life has been measured, and found prosperous, or wanting.
The world seems to have little time for the continuum of life. We're much more interested in discrete things. December 31 is so very different from January 1. At midnight of your birthday you're no longer special. Every four or eight years, on January 20, a President becomes a nobody. Around five o'clock people get antsy, start looking at their watches, think about a drink and some dinner, no matter how long they've been retired.
I guess life is a bit scary when it can't be captured - it just goes along, with or without you.
When I get too wrapped up in measurements and minutes, I like to look at Maine's waters, its unchanging lakes, its clear rivers, the tides that ebb and flow unsupervised by charts and clocks. That's where my hope and security should lie. Thank God they flow along without me. In Maine I keep my watch in my pocket.