Thursday, April 22, 2010

Acadia

Acadia National Park will be getting $2.6 million in federal stimulus funds, to be used to improve roads and rebuild walls. It struck me at first as odd (especially today, on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day) that a place named after a Greek province meaning "idyllic place" would devote funds to repair the ravages of the automobile. But then I remembered that the Park gets nearly 3 million visitors a year, almost all of them in cars. That's the price of an idyll so close to urban centers. That's the price of getting people out of their normal lives and into beauty, even if they get out of those cars only at Thunder Hole, Sand Beach or Cadillac Mountain.

Much of Acadia still is unaffected by motors, thank goodness. Ironically, the park owes its existence to a motor, in a way. The invention of the portable, gas-powered saw mill was going to be the death of the forests of Mt. Desert, so some rich summer residents thought in the early years of the 20th century, and they put together the land trust that eventually became the Park.

How about some money to get people out of their motors and into the hills, on to the ledges, out on the waters? That would be a real stimulus. They don't even have to worry anymore about gun people openly carrying their weapons. Earlier this month the Governor signed a law permitting only retired police officers and those already owning concealed-weapon permits to carry guns in Acadia, the first state law in the US to contravene the recent odious national law permitting all kinds of carries in national parks. Even Maine and its strong tradition of hunting thought that a bit ridiculous. At least the law allows states to opt out, and of course opposition to the feds is a tradition well-worn in Maine, a state of "cussed orneriness." God bless the ornery, but God bless also those guilty-rich Bostonians and New Yorkers who saved Mt. Desert, if only to preserve the backyards of their cottages in Bar Harbor.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Play time

"There's this really nice lawn, see, where me and my brothers and cousins can kick up our heels and chase each other around. There's not much to eat yet, but pretty soon the bushes will be blooming and some flowers coming up, and pretty soon after that, our favorite snacks will be there near the houses down by the shore. Spring is great! June is even better, when the hosta leaves are nice and tender."

"The lawn is right next to the woods so when Mama and Aunt Hilda snort at us, we can run back in. 'Course we're big now and know when to run in ourselves. All five of us grew up together around here so we know about the other animals, the nice ones like the dogs and the not-so-nice ones."

"Some of them run right at us, making funny noises out of their mouths, and we have to run away although we know they're not going to get us, we're faster and jump high and get away really well. A tall skinny animal on two legs usually makes loud and high-pitched sounds and the dogs go right back. Sometimes, though, a different kind of dog in the woods keeps on coming and chases us for a long time, and Mama tries to kick it away, but once it got a little friend of ours and we didn't look back to see what happened. Our Dad tells us to be careful near the houses, because the two-legged animals are dangerous, they got his brother last year with a smoking stick, but we don't care, it's so nice here. We just worry about the yellow dogs."

"We see shiny animals too, on the road, and they run really fast and are loud. Yesterday, a pretty blue one stopped on the road near the lawn where we were playing, and just looked at us. I mean, the animals inside the shiny animal looked at us, it was two of those skinny ones and a little black dog thing. One of the shiny eyes opened and we heard a little growling, like a miniature bear. Mama and Aunt Hilda froze for a second, and so we did too, but it was OK and we laughed and jumped around some more. The shiny animal just stayed there, like it was fascinated with us, maybe it wanted to play too. But then it left. We played some more and then after a while, we decided to go back into the woods and see if there was anything for dinner. See you next time!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Geocaching

Geocaching is now 10 years old, although I've just heard of it recently. It sounds kind of neat at first blush, like a high-tech treasure hunt where the reward is in the hunt, not the treasure. A hider finds an out-of-the-way spot and places a box with a logbook and a few goodies inside, then posts the GPS coordinates of its location on a website. Seekers use their GPS devices to find the box, record their success, and exchange the coins or books or CDs inside with something of their own. Variations on the game and the contents of the boxes are legion. It sounds great for getting people out of the living room and into the world. Except, of course, if they bury their eyes in yet another screen, chalk up another find, and don't see anything of the wonders around them.

I'm reminded of the interactive map on the Portland Press Herald website showing the locations and a bit of bio/sample writing for 100 Maine authors. The pop-up box for each author has a connection to Google maps for directions, and finding Carolyn Chute (for example) eventually gives you a string of numbers, presumably GPS coordinates, and a photo of a lonely road somewhere near North Parsonfield. Is this geo-biblio-caching? Can I use my GPS to find the treasures in her books? Can I pay homage to her by going to that lonely road and hoping she's somewhere around?

We often do grasp the wrong end of the stick, don't we. Why does a walk need a device and a treasure chest at the end? Why does an author, and not her books, need to be located, like some kind of life list? What's happened to the pleasure of the journey?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spruce desert

Some years ago, maybe as many as ten, a storm blew down a tree on the northeast corner of our lot. The tree guys came and cleared it out, giving us firewood and a new view of Crockett's Beach and the road out to Ginn Point. Almost immediately the newly opened ground was covered with hundreds of baby spruce, feathery, tiny things that looked more like moss than trees. They responded to the new light now unlimited by their parent, soaked up the free sun and water, and colonized the place.

Gradually, the pioneers grew bigger, now competing with each other for resources. Their numbers grew fewer, but the space was no less dense. Soon, we could no longer see the water, just the land on the other side of the cove. The strong trees, by whatever accident of genetics or luck or plan, prevailed over the weak.

Today, the winners are 10 to 15 feet tall. Those on the outside of the thicket are thick with branches and needles nearly all the way to the ground. We can no longer see the far shore, just sky now. But inside the thicket it's a little desert. Light can no longer feed the lower branches and they are brown and dead. Nothing grows on the ground. All the trees' energy goes into the tops, still shooting up.

Some years hence, we'll have our view back again. The trees will be fewer still, and the dead branches will be broken off in the storms, leaving that tall, skinny look as on tropical ridges, in the Everglades, or on a woodlot recently thinned. The spruce's immense profligacy of seed will have been reduced to a few survivors, waiting for the next cycle, and humans will have had little to do with it.

Homo sapiens, of course, works oppositely: few offspring, overwhelming descendants. When we cut down trees, we do it wholesale, or capriciously, for money or convenience. When faced with the spruce desert of the Great North Woods, in which little else but big trees grow, the few animals that prowl are the famous predators, and the silence is magnificent, the timber surveyor of the 19th century and early 20th saw only endless profits, and laid waste. The paper company executive of today is somewhat better, cutting more selectively, replanting. But the real estate investment trusts, which now own much of the North Woods, see second homes, in suburbs and developments, in a new Industrial Revolution as greedy as the last, and if their plans come true, then we'll really have a desert on our hands.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Zip line

A man named Christien Wilson is looking for land in the Camden area on which to construct a zip line park. It would feature an "aerial trekking confidence course....the real hold on to your pants, big adrenaline rush zip line rides." From what I saw on Google (I had to look up "zip line" - well, it could have been some kind of mass transit from the yacht club to the bars), one is strapped to a cable and one goes down for a few seconds, maybe even half a minute, over hill, over dale, through trees and over scrub, shrieking, and at the end of the line one has been rushed, parted from considerable money, of course gained confidence, and then faces some kind of trek back up to fill the emptiness that speed and a complete disregard for the beauty around you produces. Mr. Wilson apparently would like to attach himself and his heavenly lines to the Snow Bowl, which is the only place in town that is zoned for such shenanigans (and I do mean to include down-hill skiing).

Camden Parks and Recreation will consider this for about twelve seconds, I imagine and hope, even though zip lines have "been the saving grace in many South American and Caribbean countries." (Parted from considerable money indeed!) Cheap thrills won't do in a town that boasts the opening soon of the Smiling Cow gift shop for the 70th straight year.

I wonder what interested Mr. Wilson in Camden. Its population of grey-haired adventurers? Tourists seeking more thrills, say, than a gorgeous coast, magnificent hiking and superb dining? Probably little more than hills of a reasonable size next to a considerable cache of disposable cash. But he's way off base. I personally have seen resemblance between Camden and Cozumel only on Saturday afternoons in August.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Records

In addition to "summer reading" paperbacks and the collection of kids' books awaiting grandchildren, our upstairs shelves in Maine hold an ancient collection of records. It must be stubbornness that makes us drag them through our multiple moves, not to mention keep them, these relics of teenage longings and college partying. Surely no one will ever play on turntables, or pay for on eBay, our scratched LPs of Tom Rush and The Lovin' Spoonful and Led Zeppelin. We still play that music of the 60s and 70s, but on CD or radio, and our daughters listen to some of it on their iPods and laptops, acknowledging that certain bands have a certain immortality to them. In spirit the music remains unbreakable, unlike the vinyl platters of our youth.

But aren't records made to be broken? This is in the natural course of things where sports are concerned, somewhat less naturally in the antics stimulated by the Guinness Company (both beer and book), and most unnaturally in the recent weather, in which rainfall in the month of March and temperatures for several days now in early April have broken historic highs for many places in New England. (I mean, 73 in Caribou??!!) Record-breaking seems to be a symbol for our loud and over-heating world.

I personally broke some kind of character record, or at least did something on a Saturday night that age and temperament would seem to preclude utterly, i.e., attend an indie-rock performance in Harvard Square. Needless to say, I didn't get it, neither the experimentation nor the volume, but was happy to see our friends' son so ecstatic in his music-making, breaking records in his own way. The band was college students, and that's the reason, I suppose, we don't recyle our LPs for the trash compactors. Re-living a bit of tumult and obliteration through Elephantom's efforts shows us youth again, and a shelf of vinyl in a quiet house in Maine keeps our inner LPs playing long.

Friday, April 2, 2010

MExploitation

The President came to Maine and Massachusetts yesterday. Those of us who live in both places can understand the latter stop - for the money - but not necessarily the former. For the love? Indeed, his greeting in Portland was rapturous, the number of protesters was pretty low (and they were reasonably polite), and some people had been in line for the free tickets since midnight the night before. No, the President wouldn't come to Maine for the money - there isn't much. He came because the state is clearly trying to do the right thing in healthcare within its limited means, because the new legislation contains help for small business, which predominates in Maine (and of course the head of the Small Business Administration is Karen Mills, from Brunswick), and perhaps as a little tweak to Maine's two Republican Senators, both of whom voted No. Not to mention that the man deserves a little love after the year he's just had.

So Maine got the populist rally, and Massachusetts got the elite fundraiser. The guest list in Portland was a few dignitaries, plus any ordinary citizen who wanted to stand in line. The guest list for dinner in Boston dripped with bling. Little has changed in 400 years. But I guess history is important only for people like me, slightly obsessed with the contradictions of two different lives, slightly embarrassed at contributing to the divide.