Thursday, October 28, 2010

Worst and best

Forbes magazine has rated Maine dead last in their rankings of business-friendly states. Let's see, what do they call it? Best States for Business and Careers.

All I can say is, Hurray!

Well, I had better mince that word a little. Even though the table Forbes provides
http://www.forbes.com/2010/10/13/best-states-for-business-business-beltway-best-states-table.html
is inexplicable because the weighting factors are not divulged, one still must admit that Maine is a poor state. No getting around that. There's not all that much to cheer about from the point of view of money.

But the factor in Forbes' analysis called Quality of Life (also that Careers thing in the study title) got me to thinking, and cheering. Herewith, my guesses at what is really going on in this "research."

  • Maine people are too cussed independent for the typical business.
  • It's cold here half the year.
  • There aren't enough German car dealers, local chapters of Ivy League alumni associations, cigar shops, and members-only country clubs for those "C" people (CEOs, CFO, COOs).
  • There aren't enough ballet schools, equestrian venues, Fifth Avenue shops, and private tutors for those "C" people's families.
  • There aren't any big cities.
  • Maine's major border is with a foreign country (also, New Hampshire, which may be the same thing).
  • State government doesn't pander enough (except maybe to wind-power companies).
  • There are no big companies to brag about, measure up to, compete-on-the-charity-circuit-with.

So that's what's really going on - big and fancy and outlandish we don't have. So naturally Forbes calls Maine the worst.

You know what I'm going to say next. Hurray! The best!

I'll also just mention that Maine has one of the better unemployment rates in the country....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Moon-touched, sun-struck

Last night the moon was full and rose across the bay, almost directly out of the east. It came up huge and orange over the southern tip of Sheep Island, whose firs seemed to pierce it for a few minutes. Then it left the land, and I watched it rise for the next half-hour, arranging myself on the couch just so the moon was framed by two pointed firs on this shore, and just so the three red blinking unnatural lights of the turbines on Vinalhaven were blocked by the branches. There's no craziness about a moonrise - just contentment.

The sun this morning came up in approximately the same place, just a few degrees to the south over Vinalhaven. Now the orange color was striated, not round, streaky in the clouds and fading quickly into blue and white. Then the sun flared up, and for the briefest of moments I could look at it, before it struck the eyes like a laser burning flesh. There's a kind of fury about a sunrise.

We can do without the moon, of course. Where the earth's skin is liquid, the moon wrinkles it. On soft summer evenings it inspires poetry, perhaps love. What else?

For me, its shy appearance in the night sky makes me grateful, just like the sight of the stars in a clear country sky does. Daytime, sun glare, strivings, turbines, energy, these are things I navigate to the best of my ability and then rest against their return. I wake up in the night and see tree, wave, rock, star in the pale light, and can touch but the ghostly alter egos of ambition and trouble.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chlorophyll

It seems appropriate that we owe our magnificent fall colors to the withdrawal of one substance, and therefore the revealing of others. Green chlorophyll departs, yellow and orange and red pigments appear. Autumn is like that: heat and humidity leave, adjectives change from lazy and passionate to chill and energetic and astringent, views open up to their essences, insects burrow, birds migrate, grass indulges in a final burst of green, change is rapid.

Except the conifers. My mother on her recent visit to Maine pointed out that Vermont and even Ohio may have more brilliant colors, but Maine has the contrast of lasting evergreen and changing foliage, and that, like the change of seasons, is finally more satisfying. Constancy and change together always seem so obvious in Maine, like the ocean, like the weather, like the winds.

Ian McEwan's most recent novel Solar is about chlorophyll, and about constancy and change. It's been criticized as McEwan-lite, somehow not worthy of the master, but critics fail to see that it's a satire. Its "hero" scientist spends his later life trying to figure how chlorophyll changes sunlight into energy, not to mention trashing most of the lovers and friends in the process; it's really very funny how he fails to understand anything at all, in spite of (because of?) his Nobel prize. In the middle of his formulas and machinery, never once does he think of the beauty of a leaf, in the autumn of his life.

I may not understand much about photosynthesis, but I know at least that Maine foliage transcends science.




Monday, October 18, 2010

Mushrooms

On our recent hikes through the north woods, we came upon a wonderful variety of mushrooms.
For once I have no desire to classify, name, assort, capture, or even identify for eating (although I do have a vivid memory of my only time mushroom hunting, conducted by a German fellow publisher in the forests of Denmark, mostly because the morels we found tasted unbelievably good sauted in butter). Just enjoy these marvellous images.












Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wild!

Friday's storm was a humdinger, 12 hours of winds gusting to 55 mph, continuous rain, heavy surf (indeed, waves broke the length and breadth of the cove, not just on shore), little sleep (it started at midnight), water leaking in at the French doors, and a tree falling literally an inch off the corner of the house. By noon the wind abated and the rain stopped and I went out to look at the damage.

There wasn't any. The tree had falled as precisely as if directed, missing the propane tanks and the window and the shingles. A few small branches brushed the house, as a tease. It did fall squarely on the ornamental evergreen at that corner, bending its double top completely over. But it was not snapped and when I delimbed the tree and freed the squashee, I just bent the tops back into shape. Try that with a house.

Just another scary storm coming out of the east, off the water (he said calmly), so big that it was still blowing, now out of the north, and showering until Saturday afternoon. They seem to be increasing in frequency the last few years, at least in our short experience since 1995. Old-timers will scoff, I'm sure.

The force of the sea was seen most vividly on Crockett's Beach. It is a rocky beach, with stones ranging in size from baseballs to basketballs. In the wake of the storm these stones were winnowed, in peaks and valleys, like rows of potato hills. I've never seen anything like it; the surf had re-created itself, frozen in hundreds of tons of rocks.

The second-best thing about a big storm is the beautiful weather that follows, re-vivifying all the brain cells you lost in those hours of anxiety. The best thing is that you stand in awe of nature.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Waterfront

The other day I walked as much of Rockland's waterfront as I could, starting at the ferry terminal and going south. There's no real "harbor path" in North Rockland as there is in the touristy area, so following the shore really meant walking out and back along the various wharves and piers. It was a Sunday and there were few fishermen, dock workers, and teamsters to stare at (me). Needless to say, no pleasure boats except for the two windjammers on the new Windjammer Wharf cluttered up this area, unless they were hauled out, in dry dock. It's all business. The Coast Guard is down here (two cutters were tied up), a big marina, lots of unidentified buildings, falling down, standing up barely, used and unused, marine supply companies, and the studios of WBACH, incongruously I would have thought, although the state of classical music these days probably demands cheap housing. Crockett's Point, that spit of land that used to host a huge herring/sardine processing plant, is occupied by FMC Biopolymer in buildings that appear to be unchanged in 50 years, now exploiting seaweed instead of fish for its livelihood. I looked at the FMC website to see what biopolymers are, and left it unenlightened - possibly the blandest, least informative website in the world. Is seaweed important for secret national defense or something?

Past the huge Journey's End Marina a second Rockland begins: parks, restaurants, marinas with slips, not wharves, and the fancy boardwalk constructed in the glory days of MBNA. This is the Rockland that the 2,500 cruisers from the Jewel of the Seas (scheduled to arrive on Monday) will see, that and the shops and galleries of Main Street, of course.

Past the photo ops is South Rockland, a calm and real neighborhood of modest houses and quiet views, ending in the decaying waterfront, complete with railway spur, owned and apparently still operated sporadically by Dragon Cement.

I'm not sure there's another place in Maine that boasts such a schizoid shore. The working waterfront is only partly working. Harbor Park is starting to look like Camden. South Rockland could easily be Peoria without an ocean, substituting limestone paraphrenalia for grain.

And what will the cruise passengers enjoy? Yet another stereotypical view of Maine.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lucia Beach Road

A favorite walk around here is the pretty road that ends in a pocket beach. There's a bit of suburbia as Lucia Beach Road splits off from Ash Point Drive, a few sprawling ranches with lots of vehicles - cars, pickups, boats, trailers - in their driveways. Then it takes a turn towards the ocean, and you get a first look at the Muscle Ridge Islands flexing in the sparkling sea. There are woods on both sides, hardly a house in view, for some hundreds of yards.

I should say, "there were woods on both sides." To the west they are no more.

Some 5 or 6 years ago we noticed some cutting going on. "Could be for firewood," we thought, seeing that the cutting seemed selective and spared a stand of tall and beautiful birches. Nothing much changed over the next few years, a few more trees cut, some clearing of brush, until the recession hit, and nothing happened at all. Small trees were coming back.

Until this year. Almost everything has been cut down, except for a thin beauty strip along the road, and maybe half a dozen trees oddly placed like random islands in a plot of land that I discovered, upon asking a woman who was trimming branches down the road, was more than six acres in size. "I heard," she said, "that three houses are going in there. I better walk my property line, they might have strayed a bit over it."

A monster chipper was eating branches and brush as we spoke, creating great conical piles of chips and mulch. "Think I'll go talk to them," she continued, "to see what they're going to do with those chips. I could use some."

She didn't seemed too concerned at the loss of hundreds of trees, including those stately birches, nor at the prospect of mansions on two acres, lawns, ornamental trees from nurseries. I remonstrated, gently out loud and loudly inside, that I didn't understand why they had to cut down all the trees. "Wouldn't it be better at least to keep some for shade and beauty?"

Increasingly, I don't seem to fit in the world. I understand less and less of the drive to accumulate, push out, conquer, consume. Only a temporary lack of capital, or advancing age, or possibly governmental regulations can temper our enthusiasm for burning.

Just past the pocket beach at the end of the road is Birch Point State Park, a lovely stretch of rock and sand and tidal pools, backed by woods, known to the locals as Lucia Beach. What I call Lucia Beach is half a dozen houses crowded around a pocket of sand and big rocks. The former, officially re-named apparently, welcomes the public to its shores. At the latter I stand nervously at its edge, trespassing, watching for critical faces in the windows of the big houses all around.

Not only do we consume; we like to do it in maximum privacy. To my chagrin, that's where I still fit in the Zeitgeist, preferably, however, with trees.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Northern Maine - Day 6.5

Only a last morning in northern Maine, as we drove back to Owls Head today. You could argue whether anything south of Greenville is northern Maine, in which case we had only breakfast and the half-hour drive down the west side of Moosehead Lake to boast of. The idyll was meant to be extended through the whole morning by a canoe trip down the Moose River into the big lake, but morning fog

blanketed the river and packed the car and escorted us out.

I was depressed to leave. The Great North Woods has been kind of a talisman to me, a last redoubt against progress and development, a pristine place that evokes religious feelings in an irreligious man, and leaving it was like leaving a church and venturing into an evil world again. The ironic part was that we didn't even really experience the woods, just skirted the southern and eastern edges of the immensity of the real northern Maine, drove in a car, slept in beds, ate in restaurants, hiked short and level trails. The true pilgrim would have camped and cooked outside, sleeping on spruce boughs like Thoreau did and catching brook trout for dinner. The true disciple would have combed the woods and bogs at dawn and dusk for moose. We slept in, had cocktails at dusk.

Yet the Great North Woods may be just as important as a dream and an inspiration and a symbol. To know they exist, to realize that it's vital to protect and preserve them, is as rejuvenating as being in them. Well........., not quite. Nothing prepared me for the beauty of Katahdin rising out of the woods beyond Daicey Pond, and my respect for life and the world is much richer for it. I'd like to export such peace and wonder to every trouble spot in the world.

Or maybe my depression was simpler. Our list of wildlife seen was a little scanty - a bald eagle, 3 ducks/geese (possibly redbreasted mergansers, I've discovered), a mink dashing across the Tote Road, a grouse (or ptarmigan or quail), a deer in Maynards' back yard, and 3 foxes on the road to Jackman - and the only moose, kind of a god-like animal when you think about it, alternately savage and meek, shy and aggressive, hidden, that we saw in 7 days was this fellow standing in a park in Houlton.


It doesn't matter - like Thoreau I'll still worship you.