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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ground wars

To look at the lawn from a ways away, especially in this wet and humid summer, is to pretend it's a real lawn, green and quiet. Up close, however, there's an awakening. It's green, but it's not quiet. That is, there's a war of weeds going on. The tangle and jangle amongst the puny tufts of grass is deafening.

Actually, I don't mind this war. In normal summers, most of the grass is browned by now and the various dandelions and worts provide some illusion. This year, it's almost lush. Nor do I care to have the kind of trophy lawn prized in certain sections of certain suburbs: far too much work, far too comfortable. And the kicker: I like to weed.

Well, let me qualify. I don't particularly like to weed gardens, for that keeps the mind too active thinking about past failures and future fixes. The point of lawn weeding is not to think. Also, you can't really sit in a garden.

So the proper technique for lawn weeding is as follows: each day, go around and behead the tall stems of dandelions, or if you're feeling ambitious, pry the enemy combatants out of the ground. This postpones the task of mowing; if you can sit on the deck and see that no stem or flower exceeds, say, six inches, you're OK at tomorrow at least. Then, as a reward, sit on a suitable section of lawn, sunny if it's cool, shady if it's hot, and engage in battle. I recommend sitting with your back to the bay. It's far too easy to get distracted from the task of mindless reverie if you're always looking out at things of beauty and thinking about how your initials could stand for John Keats. Use your dominant hand, please. The other one is awkward and gets in the way of smooth nothingness. Every once in a while close your eyes and murder by touch. You can easily discover those little weed nodules, above which leaves sprout and below which roots debouch, without the use of radar such as eyes. This is important for appreciating that weeding is an endless, dark and hopeless task, especially in a lawn like this one. Stop after half an hour, in the interests of mental health.

There. You've satisfied your blood lust, made a square foot of yard safe for suburbia, and composed your next blog post.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Air wars

The fog and rain of the past day and a half lifted this morning and the temperature immediately jumped 15 degrees in sympathy with the rest of the East Coast this hot and muggy July. I was grateful to the fog not only for Saturday's cool but also for cancelling Day 1 of the "Wings and Wheels Spectacular," an annual event now 35 years running at the Owls Head Transportation Museum that I look forward to with some dismay. Various vintage aircraft strut on the tarmac and circle and buzz in the air and manage to be louder two miles away than your average lawnmower is next door. This year war materiel were to be featured, biplanes from World War I, a WW2 German bomber scale replica, an Air Tanker, and a Black Hawk Helicopter. The usual air show of loops and dupes was scheduled each afternoon.

Today the morning started promisingly with heavy rain accompanying the fog but deteriorated into blue sky. At 1:30, the time set for the air show, beautiful heavy black clouds started to roll in and I was momentarily happy. Alas, they cleared too quickly and the familiar buzz, like a dentist's drill, commenced in the distance. I gave up on my nap, I mean, my hour of afternoon novel reading, and went out to weed the gardens, an activity not unlike sitting in the dentist's chair. If you're going to suffer, suffer doubly.

A chunk of this fascination with old airplanes must have to do with war (as witnessed by the pedestrian inclusion in this year's show of a plane that performs that exciting task of refueling in the sky). Another part concerns birds, of course, and our desire to slip the surly bonds of earth. The merging of the two tropes gives us the eagle clutching its arrows, the symbols of our country and its deadly ambitions. Count me out; give me instead the hummingbird darting into the campanula, the robin strutting peacefully on the lawn, the sparrow drinking or bathing or fishing(?) in our gutters after a rain; the lovable American goldfinch swooping and tweeting along the shore. Birds don't do war as we do.

This summer even the air is warring. We struggle in a constant stream of humidity; the rains come but unlike normal years, in which cool air follows, the heat just stays. At the edges, where cold fronts try to mount the ramparts, even a violent storm like the one on Wednesday night (more than two hours of thunder and lightning and rain, just sitting on the coast like a curse) produces no salvation from Canada, just fog and more moisture. Maybe if we get all the war planes together to make their own thunder....

Tomorrow: Ground wars

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Beach town

"Beach, n., the shore of a body of water, esp. when sandy or pebbly," says my dictionary. So you would think that when Travel and Leisure magazine picks the best small beach towns in the US, they'd feature lots of Florida and California and Carolina expanses of sand. And they did, for the most part. So what's Lubec doing at number 3 on the list?

Now Lubec is a wonderful place. But as far as I know, there's no sand, no honky-tonk, no babes, no hunks, no mai tais, no surfing, actually no swimming at all considering the cold Atlantic. If T&L gave an award for best small rocks-rockweed-high tides-nice people-amazing bay and island views-fresh food-quiet-cultured town, then Lubec wins. But please don't put her in with hot, placid, boring towns in Texas; she's not their type.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Man, in Maine

Maine hasn't been this much in the national news for a long time. The President arrived in Bar Harbor at noon today with the financial reform package securely in hand, thanks to three Republican senators, one from Massachusetts and two from Maine. The welcoming party featured a bunch of Democrats, including Governor Baldacci, who presented the Obamas with Maine-made gifts, and one of Maine's US Reps, Mike Michaud (the other, Chellie Pingree, was fogged in on North Haven, which sounds good to me). Senators Snowe and Collins were not there, having already delivered their Washington-made gift. Let's not go overboard with this bipartisan stuff, after all.

The Prez must be feeling pretty good this weekend. The BP well is even temporarily capped. And of course he's in Maine, or at least I think Bar Harbor qualifies as Maine. In summer it's debatable. I grant that Bar Harbor sports at least a couple of differences from the scenes of his recent battles: temperature at 70 (DC 94, Baton Rouge 95); water and skies that are clear and blue and untainted by petroleum or invective; friendly people, not adversaries or the despairing. As long as the First Family experiences Acadia's hiking trails and pink granite ledges, carriage paths and wildlife, I'll forgive them their rebuff of the real Maine. It's only two days, I know, not enough time for a canoe trip on the Allagash or a sail on Penobscot Bay or blueberry picking on the barrens of Washington County, out of the glare of the cameras. In the real Maine you could thank Olympia and Susan in person, over a Whoopie Pie and a Moxie.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I can see clearly now

The fog started to lift on Sunday afternoon, leaving just clouds and rain and a very boring World Cup final. Up till then, it had been four days of insularity - no, I take that back: for an hour on Friday the fog moved enough to reveal Sheep Island two miles away, including a thin blue line in the water between the island and the mainland, as if a hole in the clouds were illuminating the "gut," the channel that boats take between Rockland and points south; and for a similar hour on Saturday, it retreated from our shore to hang around the edges of the islands and the points, and the tops of the island firs poked out of the fog as if they were reeds in a lake, and the first floor of the house on Ginn Point was blanketed, but not the second. So for the vast majority of 96 hours, we were bound to short views - a hundred yards at best - and the cool, moist air. This morning we awoke to blue skies and hot air, although fog still sat in the gut for a few hours more, reminding us of its caprice.

We almost always get a foggy stretch like this in early July, as the warm currents coming up from the south hit the cool currents from the north. It's most useful. It means the city is hot, and we're not. It lovingly disrupts air traffic. It prevents chores like mowing and weeding. It clarifies the mind, especially when one has an essay or a story going strong.

Of course we want it eventually to end in a day like today. The phrase "in a fog" is quite descriptive of the dangers of piloting boats or negotiating hangovers, of the boredom of watching TV, of obstruction in the pursuit of fun. But walking in it is other-worldly, and staring into it takes us out of ourselves, and we'll desperately miss it when we have to go back to the city and clearly see again all the distractions in our way.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sounds of the shore

The deck hour between dinner and dusk usually brings the sound war between humans and nature to a peaceful conclusion. The ducks' grumbling and gabbling gradually abate; take-offs and landings at Knox County Regional have quit for the day; ospreys appear but their high-pitched "cheeps" are surprisingly soft for such a big, aggressive bird; the robins continue to produce jazz-like songs surprisingly loud for such a small, tame bird, but then they do that at 4:45 am as well; lawnmowers have been silenced in their garages; the surf flattens and diminishes; the goldfinches and chickadees perch more and chirp less; fewer breezes rattle the leaves of the birches leaning over the yard. By 8:30 all is quiet.

That hour the other night, however, was complicated by two boys, maybe 8 and 12, playing on the rocks down the shore. I use the word "playing" loosely. It seemed to consist of two activities. The first was throwing rocks, not out to sea to make big splashes, not skipping stones in a contest, or any other creative way that I could remember using stones, but merely banging them on other rocks, presumably for the sound or for proximity to toes. "Crash, bang, bonk" for an hour....The other activity was a constant, loud, aggrieved, passive-aggressive, whining chatter, from younger to older, complaining about past slights, current rock tampering, future retribution. "Why did you do that? Don't touch that rock! I'll get you!" for an hour, at volume.... Every once in a while the older brother (for they must have been brothers judging by the intimacy of the insults) responded tauntingly. Younger brother occasionally screamed in frustration, which brought some kind of weary and generic admonition from Dad sitting on the enclosed porch, perhaps with the Wall Street Journal, a Blackberry, and a Scotch in hand. I wonder if the boys would have bickered so if Dad hadn't been there. Then Mom called the boys in, and their arguments were swallowed up by the big house, and the plasma TV. Darkness fell. But unhappiness still echoed from down the shore.

I saw them the next morning, putting out several large garbage cans, still in the comforting war of words, before getting into the Volvo for whatever activity their schedule demanded for the day.

They didn't re-appear in the evenings. Night falls again to the lulling sounds of birds and surf and the natural way of life on the shore.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Deer fly

Accompanying the hot, still, humid weather of the past two days are swarms of deer flies. This must be the most useless creature on the face of the earth. If one were inclined to believe in personality or purpose in the universe, would the deer fly be an avatar of the devil? Even in biotic terms I'm hard pressed to understand where the thing fits in except as a chance mutation, an evolutionary dead-end that happens to bedevil mammals in the woods. There shall be blood.

I'm grateful for the dog these days. On our walks she attracts the flies more than I do, and a mantilla of bugs floats and buzzes around her head and back as she trots along. I get the occasional F-22. Mia's excess of hair must be trumping my output of heat and carbon dioxide, but think of the poor deer and its abundance of all three factors. You'd think that if the universe named the pest after the deer, it would at least give the victim a long tail to defend itself. But the universe is funny that way; it gave me hands and arms, but waving and windmilling them only seems to make the plague worse.

Hats apparently work as a shield, or deterrent, but I'm not about to wear one, nor is the dog. Hats with sticky strips pasted on them apparently work even better; I shall recommend them to my wife as she strides forth on her walks, beautiful hair all bound up and tucked under her "No Fear" baseball cap. According to the YouTube video I watched, one strip mired as many as 25 flies in a 4-minute excursion in the Michigan woods. ("Nothing could be simpler than disposal. Simply peel off the strip and drop it in the trash.") At 50 cents a strip, she'd be accomplishing much: aiding the economy, decimating the pestilence, encouraging the vanity of hatless mammals, and adding purpose to the universe.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ex of the city

Two years ago today was the first day of my semi-retirement, and the feeling of Mainely joy hasn't diminished. There were a few moments yesterday when I thought it had. Upon arriving from the city, I didn't get the immediate sense of release and relief that usually accompanies that first look out on the bay It took a few hours this time.

Put it down to a difficult June, whose usual pacific and beautiful days were filled with obligations, early heat and humidity, the threat of a double-dip recesssion, the incredible despair in the Gulf of Mexico, and the continued tragedies of Iraq and Afghanistan. Little time in Maine was registered. The lupine and the lilacs were barely glimpsed.

Not that the difficult times of life don't happen up here as well. But if they do, it somehow seems easier to bear. In times of stress a young Maine acquaintance says, "We're just living on a ball spinning in space." It's hard to remember that in the antics of the man-made city.

I won't go so far - yet- as to agree with Thoreau: "You cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature." But getting cantankerous and crabby is worrisome, and you wonder if you're getting old, or your inner hermit is demanding unconditional independence. Maine arrives just in time, and you remember that Massachusetts drivers are always rude, and one's ability to move furniture is naturally diminished by age, and the markets will undoubtedly revive, and there's nothing you can do about the Taliban, and there is something you can do about BP.

And you are happy to agree whole-heartedly with lonely, ugly, transcendent Thoreau when he wrote, "I felt a positive yearning towards one bush this afternoon. There was a match for me at last. I fell in love with a shrub oak."