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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

From the sublime...

Successive stories on Maine Things Considered last night, with no editorial comment between:

A timber management company is buying 3,200 acres on Maine's Schoodic Peninsula, a parcel formerly under contract with a developer who, under the banner of eco-resort, was intending to build hundreds of houses plus the usual amenities. The "eco" part was a small nature center. The new owner intends to place at least half the land under a conservation easement.

Hundreds of homes were also the subject of the next story but the locale is hardly so pristine and wild as Schoodic. A Maine company won a contract to put up cedar log houses on an artificial lake in China, to be sold to the nouveau riche and priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

My only written comment today will be to ask which country is on the rise and which is on the decline.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dead last

The governor steps in it again. When Forbes named Maine as the worst state in the nation for business, LePage apparently phoned them up for ammunition for his political agenda and claimed Forbes told him, among other things, that Maine's welfare costs were ruining the state. Forbes denied it. In fact, welfare isn't even a part of their formula. But LePage is desperately trying to get rid of 65,000 MaineCare recipients and will say and do almost anything to achieve Teabagger politics, as Maine residents well know after a year of it. Those recipients are of course poor and old and sick and should have the decency just to go away and die in the woods.

Politicians are notoriously shortsighted, but this one is dead last in that category. Balancing budgets on the backs of the poor is not only immoral, but idiotic. Denying basic medical care to those 65,000 will cost more health dollars, higher insurance rates, more ER visits, and higher unemployment among the people who take care of them even while tax cuts for the better-off continue. In some ways I'm proud that Forbes rates Maine so poorly. People don't act like businesses here. There's a tradition of taking care of people here. There are communities here. There is tolerance here. None of these attributes are exactly hallmarks of business, are they?

I'm also happy to report that Forbes ranks the US's other paradise state - Hawaii - at number 49.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The color hour in winter

That would be 4:00 pm, when the sun goes down and the sky in the east, out over the islands, turns subtle shades of blue and indigo and violet and even a little red, and if you look closely, you'll see them all in the water too. That would be 4:00 pm, when green turns to gray, gray to black. 4:00 pm, when there's little left to look at on the bay, no boats, an occasional flash of white gull in a shaft of sun, or a few hardy ducks still diving, when you look back at what you've accomplished during the day and it seems a glowing golden edifice, or a black heap of ashes, or (more commonly) an average piece of granite on the shore, a little pink if you're lucky. At 4:00 pm the stock markets close, and it is permitted to see if you're in the red or in the black. It's the time you sink into a brown funk or soar into an azure high, until a silvery drink and a creamy cheddar level the world again. But most of all it's a time to stare at the sea, at the surf breaking in white necklaces, at the surface of the water turning from blue to match the purples of the sky, at the bluing patterns of the breezes, at the edges of the island where the water is a calm blush or a ruffled pink, depending on the direction of the wind. The ocean is that most perfect of oxymorons, an ever-changing constant. Every day's color is a different show, or sometimes no show at all, just a quick graying into night - except that deep in the bay light and color and the concerns of humans do not reach at all.

Soon it will be time to turn on harsh electric lights. Or maybe I'll just sit on for a while in the dark, waiting for the full orange moon to rise.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Trending into Maine

Feeling somewhat at sea (more than two weeks now since I've been in Maine), I went to the library and reviewed the 974.1 section of nonfiction. Not too much I hadn't already read, or decided not to read, except for an old copy of a book called Trending into Maine. Just the thing to soothe anxiety, I thought, taking it down from the shelf, and noting with further anticipation that it was written by Kenneth Roberts, one of those few authors whose books last from boyhood on, published in 1938 by Little, Brown, my old company, and illustrated in color by N.C. Wyeth, father of Andrew. Very promising.

At least it started off well. Chapter 1, "A Pretty Good State," is a paean to Maine's people and landscapes that routed the anxiety and roused the blood. Here's a quote: "My provincialism is so pronounced that I freely admit that I have never seen any other part of the United States that seems to me as desirable a place to live; but I know at least a hundred spots in Maine where I am eager to have a home."

Sorry to say, Mr. Roberts, that I don't have too much to say about the book past page 15. It devolves into long quotations from letters about dead Mainers, strange pronouncements that Maine food like baked beans and hash and fish chowder is infinitely better than the fare in New York and Paris restaurants, lists of boats built, lengthy exploits of war, endless sea stories, a chapter on Benedict Arnold's expedition to Quebec that Roberts told much better in his novels, quotidian chapters on hunting and fishing, and someone's else's memoir about a Maine country character. Oh, and the Wyeth illustrations were tepid and corny. The final chapter, "Vacationland and Real Maine," was better (except for numerous and weird lists of road signs seen in various sections) and its last few pages on Aroostook County was good again- a return to Robert's feelings, not facts, about the state.

So I've discovered a good cure for place-sickness. Read a bad book about the place you love, and it will curb your enthusiasm for a while, perhaps just long enough for you to return. Read a good book about it, and you'll only feel worse.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


As one of Maine's largest employers, Bath Iron Works is often in the news around here. New federal contracts provide a steady supply both of news and of jobs and will so for years to come, thanks to the strong Maine work ethic and the political and DoD connections of General Dynamics, BIW's owner. Shipbuilding on the Kennebec is nothing new, spanning some 250 years. Making warships started over 100 years ago with various precursors of BIW, and WWII completed the transition to complete dependence on Washington. These government programs, by the way, are perfectly acceptable to most politicians and most people; building engines of mass destruction is necessary to maintain the peace on our shores, and the jobs are pretty welcome too. War will always be lucrative, and self-justifying.

Other parts of the economy aren't so lucky, or so protected, and therefore need new justification for their increasingly marginal activities. The main rationale for approving casinos these days is that they will create jobs. Some Republicans are against any new taxes on the rich, because the wealthy create jobs. Democrats propose extending the payroll tax cuts; not to do so would increase joblessness. Most states, even those like Maine that are controlled by various blends of Tea Bags, continue to take federal money because to reject it would increase their unemployment. (Maine finds itself in the illogical position, for example, of participating in lawsuits against Obamacare, yet accepting federal grants to set up healthcare exchanges.) Pipelines from Canada, fracking, new child labor laws, relaxation of clean-air and wetlands standards - all justified by the terrible jobless rate. Earnest estimates of job numbers are now part of standard press releases, to obscure the ideology that's driving them.

What's hardly ever discussed are job training and re-training programs. Businesses will train people only for new contracts won, not re-train people if old contracts are lost. Old industries collapse suddenly, or die slowly, both at immense human cost. The individual is apparently responsible for adaptation even though the new world is far beyond his control. In Maine skilled jobs are going unfilled and the administration mouths some token works about needing to revise educational curricula, but in reality blames teachers and their unions for somehow failing the public.

In a job market so rapidly changing, shouldn't all levels of government, and perhaps even business, make it a priority to help the workforce adapt? How about taking just a bit of the Pentagon's largesse and turn it into something humane?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hull Creek

Just finished reading Hull Creek, a novel by Jim Nichols. It's a good, strong book about lobster fishing on the coast of Maine - mid-coast, actually, and Camden, Rockland and Owls Head at that. Camden is very thinly disguised as Pequot but Rockland and Owls Head appear pretty much in all their glory. It was fun to read about local landmarks, sad to read about the increasingly pinched lives of local Mainers, and disturbing to read about the onslaught of people from away ("swanks"). Mr. Nichols might have been a little less unrelenting in his treatment of the foreigners - some of them (us) are harmless at worst and may actually do some good at best - but I can see his point, that there's a helplessness, an inevitability to this slow tide of money and manners. And sometimes not slow but a grab and a pounce at any price.

The book's descriptions of fishing and wildlife are excellent, and I expect that one take-home from the novel is that there's a chance there will be fishing and wildlife for years and years to come. The Maine way of life may be powerful enough to convert even the grabbiest of swanks, so long as the birds and the lobsters and clean water and humility survive. Even Camden's pretty nice in the off-season.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Red alert - human stuff

Humans seem to use red much like plants do - to attract attention, whether it's a large flower pot placed at the end of a driveway or a door painted red in contrast with grey cedar shingles and still-vivid November grass. Being self-aware, we also use red to flirt and seduce, or warn of danger. At the very least a conscious vitality is implied, if not overtly advertised, a way to live on in minds and memories. Our blood is stirred.

I was especially pleased to see this grave bouquet in Ash Point Cemetery, red leaves and red berries commemorating Ms. Libby's apparent immortality.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Red alert - berries

Okay, so the red berries and fruits of late fall can't compete with the grandstanding strawberries and raspberries of summer. The fruits, like rose hips and crab apples, are pretty lively in October but wither in November. The berries, both those more orange in hue and those that are spectacularly red, are gorgeous even though they don't provide food for the exalted human taste. Just as important, they sustain our fellow travelers, the deer and the birds. I like their wildness, their bravery, their inspiration, their modesty - muncher and munchee alike.

The winterberry, however, is the most heartbreaking of all. Its growth can be delicate, a few sprigs against a mossy spruce, or it can be profligate, spreading like fire along a lane. I cut a few twigs, and when I get back to the house, put them in a vase. Throughout the winter the berries will dry and fade and carry us through. For even months later, they will retain a kiss of red, a promise of cardinals and lilacs, a resurrection of spirit.

Next time: red human stuff.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Red alert - leaves

Now that the fancy display of sumac and maple and oak and burning bush is done, it's a little harder to find the beating heart of optimistic red around us. But a walk in the not-yet-barren November woods does just fine (forgive the amateur pictures via phone camera). It's a wonderful time of the year, quietly sandwiched between the blaze of October and the garishness of December. Red is such a joyful color, and once you start to look for it, it's everywhere. Bah, therefore, to any political or financial connotations. Look at the world with your blood.

Next time: red berries.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Eats Leaves and Rots

Just finished raking the lawn and depositing the leaves on the garden beds (we think it helps the flowers survive the winter). The raker appears to be a dying breed. Here in the country he has been replaced by the riding lawn mower which doubles as a mulcher. In the city lawn services and their multifarious motors rule the mornings: at the end of our street the other week, three guys wearing leaf blowers herded the little beasts into corrals, the guy with the monster yellow mower beat them to pieces, whereupon the blowers regrouped the remains for the benefit of a big tube that sucked them into a truck, which, even though it had a cover over its bed, leaked leaf particles like a dust storm. And we wonder why allergies are on the increase.

I shouldn't cavil about the motors (if I had to do yard work all day every day, I'd want it mechanized too). But at eight o'clock in the morning? And wouldn't requiring rakes and bags actually create jobs? for which nothing is more sacred these days.

The green lawn is actually a tyrant, isn't it. I wonder if anyone's calculated the waste of chemicals and water and gasoline it requires. I'm tempted some years just to let the leaves rot where they fall, but of course peer pressure and the glories of your own patch of conquered wilderness prevail every time. The natural world is perfectly capable of taking care of its own -why don't we let it? Maybe next year....

Friday, November 11, 2011

The edge of winter

Back in Massachusetts for a spell, after another week of wrong-season weather in Maine. It wasn't quite warm to sit outside, but for a couple of those days it felt mild and bright enough to be the edge of summer rather than the edge of winter. It was as if the Halloween weekend blizzard in New England was the shortest winter on record. Perfect weather for hiking, of course, including an especially invigorating walk up Bald Rock with friends on Saturday.

"Invigorating" is the word people usually hide behind to disguise their fear of winter. Also, "loving the change of seasons," "fresh and healthful," "pure." All of those words are true; we've evolved to be conscious of the power of abstractions, self-delusion and even beauty. We've also evolved towards helplessness. Most higher animals deal pretty well with winter - migrating, hibernating, storing up food, making weather-proof burrows and nests. Modern humans have progressed even farther; no more stocking the root cellar, drying the deer meat, banking the foundations, communing with the family in the candle-lit darkness of the evening, now we're able to maintain our lives at the same level of comfort no matter what the weather. (Some think to escape to Florida but that's just trading in the tyrannies of oil heat and blizzards for A/C and hurricanes.) But when a big storm threatens, we find we have not progressed at all. We are totally dependent on people we don't know, on systems of delivering food and electricity and heat that are foreign and unfeeling. We last a day or two and then beg help from an anonymous utility, or government. We depend entirely on switches and ignitions, and if they don't work, we don't work. How humiliating for an apex predator.

What ultimately saves our bacon is the other human trait that's evolved so well - our social safety net. To see that under attack, devolving and shamefully underfunded, now that's real fear.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Deer yard

For most of the summer and the fall, the deer have mostly avoided our little patch of civilization, leaving the hostas and phlox and other edibles in our yard alone. I see them just as frequently in the woods in back, however, as they cross and re-cross the several roads going down to the water. Including today.

We're well into hunting season here in Wildlife Management District 25, for moose as well as deer, although an appearance of the former in this semi-rural coast would cause a stampede of hunters more heavily armed with cameras than with cannons. I have eschewed the wearing of any orange hats, not expecting hunters to work so close to Hondas and picture windows. Yet the two deer I saw this afternoon, young does, I theoretically could have shot, had I an antlerless deer permit, a weapon stronger than words, and the proper temperament. They were standing in what I've always thought of as a deer yard, even though it's about as different from a real deer yard as it can be. It's a meadow-like place, with raspberries in July and fireweed in August, with some "weeping" trees whose branches form tents, with a few old apple trees on the edges, with larger trees all around. Sounds like a perfect place to gambol and all the other silly things we impute to wildlife. In reality, it's a terrible place to hang out, too open, too exposed, very unlike a real deer yard which is a place of shelter in the winter, acres of conifers on a south-facing slope that provide shelter from deep snow and high winds.

One of the deer was properly sheltered from attack under some of the weeping branches. I wouldn't have seen it at all if it hadn't been that its companion stood stock-still in the open, glowing in the sunshine like a holy thing. We watched each other for some minutes. I even picked up the dog so she could see, but her eyesight is no longer that good and she was indifferent when I whispered, "See the big dog?" When at last I turned away, I scuffed my foot slightly on the tar. Immediately, the two deer bolted away, white tails flagging.

As I walked back home, I tried to imagine aiming a gun at that creature who stood so clearly, so confidently in its own backyard. I couldn't.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


In this part of Maine (probably in most parts) we have red squirrels, and on our property at least one. That is, I see only one at a time but for all I know, there may be many, taking turns running across the ground and jumping from branch to branch. They seem to be more tree-oriented than the gray squirrel that so bedevils urban dogs; in fact, the red I saw the other day was climbing to the very top of a 40-foot fir on the shore. It might have been up there for the view, for it was a particularly pretty day. More likely it was seeking fresh buds and needles and even cones, the seeds of which are its favorite food.

The red squirrel is quite cute, being not much bigger than a chipmunk. Beyond that, I doubt humans think much about squirrels except to curse them in their attics.

Nor am I sure how the squirrel feels about humans. It scolds me, from the safety of a tree of course, when I'm out splitting wood. It finds the deck railing a convenient place to pick apart a cone, leaving its tell-tale midden of discarded cone bits behind. I've even seen it climbing directly up and down the outside walls of the house, presumably using the cedar shakes (an ex-tree) for toeholds. No nature-based reasons for the last-named exercise come to mind; recreational or psychological ones do.

Climbing to the tops of things fulfills all kinds of desires. My house is bigger than yours; my dad is taller than yours; the seeds are always greener at the top of the tree; I'm at the top of the world, on top of my game, high on Jesus. You'd think that getting closer to the infinity of space would make us humble. On the contrary, it seems to make us proud. Thank goodness the red squirrel chides us for our hubris and runs up things just for the hell of it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In praise of brown

The foliage season this year has been brief and brown. We saw lovely color on Columbus Day weekend but had to travel north of Ellsworth to do so. The mid-coast never really reached the full left-hand side of the spectrum. In the suburbs of Boston most everything is still green. Late October snowfalls are completing a somewhat dismal picture.

At least the brown colors are amazing. Not usually a word to associate with "brown," I know, but the richness of the array on hillsides and next to roads has been outstanding this past week. I say "rich" deliberately; although individual bursts of reds and oranges and yellows are rare, most leaves have something of them, and they blend together in a huge variety of shades of brown. I've never appreciated its complexity until now. And the contrast with the bare white birch, the blue sky, the dark green firs, the bright green of hay field and lawn and verge makes the color sing.

Brown this year is not muddy. It is warm with licks of flame, hints of sun, flashes of the tropics. It represents the way I want to go into winter, not with a tourist blast, then nothing, but with a soft, slow falling into black and white.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Passing of time

Watching television can best be - kindly - described as passing time. Slightly more elevated is the excuse that it's a recovery mechanism from the rigors of the day. (Public television, they say, needs no excuse.) Philip Larkin, librarian and poet who famously declined to be England's Poet Laureate, implied such therapy in an answer to a question about his day (part of an interview -actually, written answers to written questions that took him five months to complete - published in the Paris Review):

"My life is as simple as I can make it. Work all day, cook, eat, wash up, telephone, hack writing, drink, television in the evenings. I almost never go out. I suppose everyone tries to ignore the passing of time: some people by doing a lot, being in California one year and Japan the next; or there's my way - making every day and every year exactly the same. Probably neither works."

I'm guessing that time was Larkin's friend. For the folks who rush about, time must be an enemy to be defeated or overcome or ignored until, well, until it kindly stops for them. Those of us of the rural persuasion empathize with Larkin. He had his routines, as do we, our circadian rhythms, our tides, our mornings of cerebration and afternoons of perspiration, and if our evenings also include cop show re-runs on the idiot box, then we too must be poets.

Actually, I'm looking forward to the state of mind of the 90-year-old mother of a friend who, when asked if she watched television, said, "No, I'd rather sit in my big, comfortable chair and watch the memories in my head."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The last "One last time"

OK, so today is absolutely, positively the last time the deck is sit-out-able. I know I said this 10 days ago, and then had the embarrassment of Columbus Day weekend when all three days were warm enough to be outside from morning till evening, even so far as to cause a little gentle perspiration. But today is it. It's a little cool, around 60, but the wind is from the south following two days of an ocean storm, and the surf is strong and sensual, and I'm reasonably comfortable in a sweater and double socks (a chorus of crows makes me look up and see a bald eagle flying just 50 feet away along the shore), suffering one last teasing hint of summer.

But I suppose there will be some kind of Indian summer later this month, and the agony of all this emotion will be repeated. With luck I'll be in Massachusetts and not succumb again to fresh air and uplifting heart. Let's just be done with this beautiful weather. Let winter come and let me sit by the wood stove in the dark and once again think clearly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Columbus Day foliage

Three lovely ladies and I took a foliage tour yesterday, up Route 1 and 1A to Bangor, and then over to the Union River watershed east of Bangor and north of Ellsworth. There were several highlights: LL1's unbridled enthusiasm for the colors, houses, and character of New England; LL2's expert pictures as seen below; and for me, sitting at a picnic table on the Bangor's urban, slightly seedy waterfront and watching two bald eagles soar over the Penobscot River. Then there was LL3. She, being a dog and having one or two genes left that at least hint at wildness, was not particularly happy being in a people mover for 6 hours, especially when her highlights including obsessive lap sitting (which she can get at home) and a few pit stops - at an Irving's gas station (I doubt she looked up to see this pretty tree gracing the parking lot),

and a short jaunt along a country lane, but note the taut leash pulling me back to the comforting laps of the LLs in the car.

She just wasn't into it like we were, oohing and aahing at hills and lakes and fields. She was cut off from her world - the world of scents, deer and dog, scat and pee, sandwich bits and rabbit hair and cigarette butts and Coke cans and emanation of squirrel. She was in a car, not knowing what would happen next.

We drove hoping what would happen next, and were rewarded. Blueberry fields are stunning at this time of year....

as are shores of rivers and lakes.

One also hoped for a moose to step out of the woods, but then one should be grateful for what wildness still remains, still so close, still so beautiful, even in the overactive nose of a dog, and the romantic tinge of human eyes.

Friday, October 7, 2011


A first glance it looks only like some wire lobster traps, a common sight even on semi-suburban lawns in Maine. On second glance, and I do get a second glance, since I'm walking and not driving, there's an apparent configuration and order.

About 10 of the traps have been laid end-to-end in a row on the grass, and lead up some porch steps to the house. In the middle of the row, two more have been stacked vertically and contain what looks like a tree of sticks. A kind of pet run, I think as I pass by.

On the return trip up the lane, I pass the traps again and this time speculation is proved - a house cat dutifully trots from the house, down the steps, to the end of the run. Inside the traps, of course. I don't care to embarrass it in its little wilderness, so I don't stand around to see if it also jumps into its faux jungle gym, whose stick tree I now see is hung with objects to bat.

I suppose this is the owner's idea of giving his cat a taste of the great outdoors without any danger. He's knocked out the ends of the traps and lined them up for maximum length. His catwalk both confines and protects. The woods are all around, after all, and upon one's loose pet might spring a weasel, a fisher, or a marten - or a pickup. This way, our lovely can preen and strut and tease for the paparazzi outdoors as it does for the family indoors.

Clever? Yes. Sad? Yes. There's a stunted suburbanity at work here - pets need to be outside, but only under controlled conditions. They - and we - need protective equipment to take to the woods.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One last time

You finish your duties for the day - reading, writing, a little arithmetic multiplying the wood pile - and hurry out to the deck. There's a soft warmth to the air that you know in your gut won't last another evening. Also, you've looked at the forecast. The nights fall fast now, and the coolness faster; there's maybe an hour and a half before even diehards must give in to shiverbumps.

You bother with no props today but your G&T and a little cheese and crackers. The clean smell of rockweed, the summer birds still flying over the water, are better than any book. You welcome the last of the mosquitoes. You drink in every sensation you can, not to store them against the winter, not to be brought out like snapshots, but in the intensity of last things that will be last things only if the world comes to an end before next summer.

Otherwise, this evening will live in emotion and feeling, and not images: the feel of warm air on bare arms and legs, and a closeness with everything around, from dragonfly to limpid bay. The retreat behind double-paned glass and bulky parkas will be fine too; I'll just have to work a little harder to be moved. But now, I truly feel cyclical tides of eternity: how an hour in a gentle evening like this one was, is, and will be.

Then again, a little eye candy for the end of summer won't hurt.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Walking on yellow-line roads

The country road is a wonderful invention for walking, mostly. Your trail in the woods has no houses or cars, of course, and is delightfully quiet and peaceful. Your two-track dirt road, also usually through woods and pretty rare in these civilizing days, carries only the occasional vehicle and maybe one house at its end. Your country lane, dirt or tarred, is built for access to houses, however widely scattered, yet affords lovely woods and fields and vistas only occasionally interrupted by the automobile, and then it's usually a car belonging to a resident and therefore justified. One's problems start with those paved roads that carry traffic sufficient enough to warrant the central yellow lines.

Such a road can still be breathtakingly beautiful, with scenes of mountains or ocean or just a quiet meadow, and well worth walking. The contrast with loud, speeding, dirty cars, however, can be disconcerting. Not dangerous, mind you, not really. The yellow lines are usually double and unbroken, for these roads are typically hilly and curved, and the speed limit is on the low side, not that that limits some folks, and the vast majority of drivers do not try to pick you off as you walk the narrow shoulder.

I deal with the disturbing contrast by being grateful for most drivers' courtesy, and noting the the amount of space an oncoming car actually allows me. Some move completely over the double yellow into the opposite lane. Some more or less straddle it, still providing plenty of room. A few, just a few, make the minimum of effort, adjusting the steering wheel by a millimeter or two to give me the maximum rush of air and exhaust, perhaps even intentionally.

As I walk, I think of some kind of study to account for these varying amounts of courtesy, a study related to sex and age of driver, kind of vehicle, state of registration....But even these small numbers of variables are too much to hold in the brain at once, and while perhaps I'd like to tell you that the closest shaves are administered by young men driving pick-ups from Massachusetts, I just can't retrieve the data.

After some minutes of fruitless brain work, I shake myself and chide myself for ignoring this beautiful day. So often one retreats into numbers, or daydreams, or get-rich-quick schemes when faced with the ugly and the incongruous. How much better just to appreciate the courtesy, wave at the drivers, and take pleasure in the simple movement of the limbs. How much better to know this is the Emerald City, you've already reached it and the proof is in the stunning autumn flowers, the cool deep woods, the glimpse or two of Penobscot Bay, and even in the shining blue-and-silver can of Red Bull fallen in the ditch like a patch of sky.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bear Killed in City

This was a prominent headline in Maine today. A black bear gets herself up a tree in suburban Portland, finds herself surrounded by police, starts to act "a little strangely," takes off for the woods nearby, whereupon she's shot by a game warden. Apparently, there was menace to people and traffic (!), and no time to wait for a tranquilizer gun. Even if a tranquilizer gun had been available and the bear returned to the wild, a spokeswoman for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said they couldn't risk, since it's now bear season, "having a hunter harvest it and ingest the tranquilizer chemicals." The clearance rate for those chemicals was not given.

Here's an alternate scenario.

"Suburbanite Killed in Country"

A pale accountant goes on a hike, finds himself surrounded by wildlife, starts pointing his cell phone wildly about and crying for help, tries to climb a tree, whereupon he's dragged back and mauled by a moose, a black bear, and two crows. "He was a menace to the kids," said "Bull" Alces, spokesmoose for the community. "That cell phone could have been a gun. Even if it wasn't, he could have been calling hunters. There was no time to return him to the city. We had to eat him."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


For most of the past decade, we've been watching the very slow development of 6 acres of former mixed woods on Lucia Beach Road. I'm pleased to report excellent progress this summer, i.e., a house finally going up after all those years of fits and starts and tree cutting and brush clearing. As you can see by these pictures (I apologize for their quality - they were taken by me on my Blackberry, not by my usual expert), what we have here is a great improvement over those messy woods. Note the strong clean lines, replacing helter-skelter tree limbs. Note the square design, like nothing in nature. Note the height, better than any tree for viewing the distant ocean. Note the cleared area waiting for instant lawn. Note the concrete walls of the first floor, impregnable against marauding chipmunks. Note the remaining birches, now so artfully displayed. Note the great expanse of land cleared of pesky life, waiting for more progress.

Friday, September 16, 2011


One evening it's foggy, wet, humid, warm. The next morning it's clear, dry, cool. The on/off switch between summer and fall has flipped overnight.

Not that there won't be warm days ahead. Hurricane season isn't finished, for example. But this was the magical moment when the grasshopper starts to panic, when shorts and tees are worn not for comfort but in defiance, when one concedes to a new world by putting an extra blanket on the bed (but not turning up the thermostat, oh no, not yet allowed).

In Maine that moment used to happen in late August. It seems to get later and later; we're halfway through September now, and the end of official summer is almost here when Canada finally flips the switch, and that makes us more like Connecticut, or even New Jersey. I'm attributing this assault on our character to climate change, or more precisely and less controversially, to more hot air blowing up from the south. Any allusion to Washington, D.C. is purely geographical.

Whatever the cause or the circumstance, today one feels that overwhelming blend of excitement at the purity of the season, and of anxiety (well, not really anxiety, more annoyance) at the idea of sleet and snow and cold in the future. Silly ant, to worry about what's not here, and won't be here for a long time.

However, it is also perfect weather to go out and replenish the woodpile.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


The usual confederation of ducks in the cove was replaced the other afternoon by an alliance of loons. There were four of them, and in contrast to the loose chaos of their cousins, always diving and squabbling and paddling helter-skelter, the loons' formation was tight and geometrically sound, a kind of diamond shape going forward. Occasionally, one would turn up its white belly to groom, seeming to capsize in the process, and the watcher remembered again how sitting so low in the water masks their true size. Two had classic, strikingly beautiful markings in black and white. Two had markings slightly duller, and one was tempted to think that these were the females, and that the alliance was an afternoon outing of couples. The sex of loons, however, is not easily distinguishable; males do not show off . The change in markings occurs with the change of seasons, as the loons leave the inland lakes for the ocean. It did seem to be an outing, however. They moved almost imperceptibly (each animal should have its own jargon for its behavior - the words amble or paddle or meander don't quite fit here), staying together, toward the south. No other creature can be so calmly wild.

That half-hour of watching loons was a most subtle tonic at the end of summer. There's no need to panic.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Department of Environmental Peculation

Here is a list of Patricia Aho's clients in 2010 when she was a lobbyist before the Maine legislature (Press Herald story 9/10).

  • auto companies
  • American Chemistry Council
  • American Petroleum Institute
  • Casella Waste Systems
  • Dead River Co.(heating oil)
  • Poland Spring
  • Verso Paper
Ms. Aho is Acting Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

I suggest that DEP changes its name at the end of September. That's when the Senate is expected to confirm Governor LePage's nomination of Ms. Aho to be Commissioner. That's when the probability increases greatly that those chosen to protect our resources become those empowered to steal them.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A tale of two women

The news this week that Roxane Quimby has secured another almost 1,000 acres near Greenville and Baxter State Park is almost insanely pleasing. It's hard to describe the feeling: I don't live particularly near the area, I've visited it only once, I don't work to save like I do land closer to the coast, yet I guess you only have to visit once to understand. It's elemental to the core. The forests of hardwood and softwood; the fast, clean, rejuvenating rivers; the meadows of berries and grass; the big lakes full of mystery, the small ponds full of calm; the wildlife, so much of which is endangered; the hills and mountains rising like temples of a different time - at least to me, this landscape makes us see our place in the world, or what our place could be, more than any in the world. I love the Maine coast, but it is alternately precious and overwhelming. The woods are inspiring. Probably this feeling has a lot to do with the seven summers I spent in the Michigan north woods during a lousy time of adolescence. Did you know that a trout stream can save a teenage soul?

What a wonderful contrast to the actions of another Maine woman in the news! See Colin Woodard's piece on the sleazy tactics of the American Legislative Exchange Council and its Maine representative Ann Robinson - shameless mix of lobbyist, lawyer, and LePage's pet.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Adventures in contentment

I'm re-reading E.B.White's essay collection One Man's Meat for the umpteenth time, mostly because there's always something new to think about. This time I see that he quotes a professor and critic named Morris Bishop, who apparently said, when he heard of EB's plan to move to Maine, "I trust that you will spare the reading public your little adventures in contentment."

Isn't this every writer's fear, to be hacked at the wrists for lowering oneself to a state of happiness? One should grieve for the world, engage in it, save it, not hie oneself to some far-off shore and write about chickens. White felt the criticism especially keenly, as the Great Depression was still killing people and events in central Europe were killing even more. But he had the satisfaction of having his book distributed to the troops, and of receiving praise therefrom, and understanding that his wonderful blend of nostalgia and savage truth meant more to them than any number of wool socks.

And today, when the Obama administration is building pipelines to encourage our addiction to oil, not to mention the ravishment of the Alberta tar sands, and is relaxing air quality standards, and is granting deep-water drilling licenses, let us re-read White's essay on Walden, specifically his address to Thoreau upon reaching the house site: "There were the remains of a fire in your ruins, but I doubt that it was yours; also two beer bottles trodden into the soil and become part of earth. A young oak had taken root in your house, and two or three ferns, unrolling like the ticklers at a banquet. The only other furnishings were a DuBarry pattern sheet, a page torn from a picture magazine, and some crusts in wax paper."

This is the kind of despairing exhilaration that great writing can produce. Adventures in contentment indeed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Compared to the relative scarcity of the wild raspberry in these parts this summer, there's a profusion of blackberries. They grow here along the roads, on the sunny side, in somewhat isolated groups of two or three plants that are somewhat hard to see among all the tall weeds. (I've heard tell, from my adventurous daughter, that in some glades in the real woods, they take over in masses, but the pleasure of one's gorging is sometimes blunted by the presence of bear scat.) At this time of year each branch holds all three colors of ripening, white, red and black, but not all the black ones are ready to eat. You have to pick the fattest ones to get any taste of sweetness.

Unlike its three more famous cousins, the strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry, the blackberry is mostly neglected. Its seeds are quite fearsome for its size, sticking in your teeth with great tenacity (and serving well as spitting missiles once you pry them out). It's not terribly sweet, so it doesn't cater well to John Q. Public, which is to say that huge, overgrown, monstrous varieties are not common in supermarkets. Its taste is subtle, not blending well with milk and cream, or lard and flour. Therefore, one must love it in season and treat it kindly and purely. I eat a few on my late-morning walks, a slightly exotic amuse bouche before my slightly pedestrian lunch of sandwich and yogurt and fruit. It's a gentle taste, perfect for the end of summer.

So it was a good walk, with the blackberries, and three deer strolling across in Bay View Terrace in nicely spaced succession (I started to wonder how many deer would actually come out of that phone booth) before bounding into the woods, and two ospreys perched at the top of dead trees, screeching, and a number of bright monarch butterflies to say farewell to August.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Every once in a while, I think to mention the fact that it's been a mosquito-free summer on the coast, in spite of the deluges of spring. Then I forget, because how can one remember what isn't there? Well, today I remembered the mosquito. Wow.

Irene must have brought them from the south, or at least excited them out of some state of hibernation. I was doing yard work, and watched them swarm out of the grass, riled by the rake or something, out for blood and retribution. They found it. I calculate that several thousand eggs would be laid by those successful females, using my blood. Yes, it is only the females that bite; they need blood proteins not for food but to develop their eggs. For food both sexes eat nectar (how sweet).

At best, the mosquito is a completely useless animal. Not even birds and fish would miss them - mosquitoes are a minuscule part of their diets. At worst, they infect hundreds of millions of people with malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. It's rare that a creature of nature has no benefit. Even politicians do some good, here and there.

In effect, I've found that nothing that buzzes or whines is any good - not mosquitoes, wasps, flies, historic biplanes, or Republican presidential candidates. Don't you wonder why there are these evolutionary (or creationistic, for that matter) dead ends? Michelle Bachmann, who seems to have a direct line to God about his use of earthquakes and hurricanes for retribution, might know. Even better, let's ask Rick Perry - he was autographing Bibles recently, and one can only assume he signed as Its Author.

Monday, August 29, 2011


If you're an alien just landed on Maine's midcoast this morning, you would see little evidence that a big storm has passed this way. There are a few twigs and leaves on the lawn, the surf's up and making noise, the sea's color is browned near the shore and over the ledges where the rockweed is a bit roiled up, a lobster buoy floats 10 feet from shore. On a walk to Lucia Beach, you would see a few limbs fractured, and on Bay View Terrace, a tree fallen down and cleared away from traffic. In the cities to the south, you would see a lot more, a lot of trees down, for example. Granted that Irene's winds were a little stronger down there. Yet how much of the problem results from the essential rootlessness of city species?

Irene made some of those species prepare the French Toast defense (buy scads of milk, eggs and bread). Others did windows, filled tubs with water, stored lawn furniture, pulled in boats. Some of this was actually needed, but everyone got a good scare, thanks to the incessant blare from media screens. Mainers were reported to moor a few boats a little more tightly. I like to think that the cold Atlantic protects us from many southern things, including monokinis and beach volleyball.

Being less than a Mainer, I took my scare manfully, wasting time inside like a good boy, unable to focus, but at 4:00, seizing a break in the wind and rain, I went for a fast walk, worrying only slightly about our strong-rooted trees. By 5:00, the sun came out for an hour of cocktails on the deck.

Haiku for Irene:

Storm fizzles, only drops
Pine debris in G&T
Needles seeking kin

Oh gee, I almost forgot to point out to you the best feature of a hurricane's aftermath. A warm, breezy, clear, sunny day, and the prospect of a whole week of same, to be enjoyed equally by city and country and alien folks, I'm sure, but for different reasons.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


It's a quiet day on the coast, foggy to start, a bit of sun at noon, fog again at 3:00, no winds, no surf, generally very calm (of course it's calm, it's the day before a hurricane).

"Calm" does not describe the media/government/grocery store frenzy, however, as Irene approaches. I succumbed a bit, having planned to stay in Massachusetts for the weekend but then imagining, just as all the media hoped I would, downed trees and power outages and storm surges and chaos and destruction. I scuttled north early this morning to protect the house as best I could (wandering around outside like Lear, cursing?). A number of signs along the highway helpfully advised me to "Make plans. Severe weather expected."
The media have us so well trained, don't they? Endless shots of boarding up windows, pulling in boats, emptying store shelves, people earnestly describing their preparations, or lack of them, and then saying, "But what can you do." When the disaster turns away, there is never any apology given, no shots of windows being unboarded up. When the disaster hits full force, the media also disappear (except for that one intrepid reporter being blown about near a sea wall or under a palm tree, possibly the same shots that were used during Bob, or Katrina), until it's safe, of course, and then the real frenzy begins, the long tracking shots of broken stuff, the awed but strangely self-congratulatory voice-overs, and the patently false sympathy.

I have somewhat more sympathy for government officials, who are just trying to do their jobs instilling panic. If they didn't over-react, over-plan, (evacuate, shut the subway, call in the Guard, invoke FEMA) they would be roundly roasted by, guess who, the media. Also, by Republicans who only like government when they need it.

We have no idea what to do with nature anymore. We ignore it, or try to control it, and when we can't, when nature proves to be too powerful, we panic. No one "rides out a storm" any more. I can't imagine old-time Mainers rushing to the general store to buy gallons of milk. They already would have had what they needed. They were prepared all the time for the whimsy and beauty and cruelty of nature, not just when the radio told them to be.

The surf should be terrific tomorrow, after a very calm and placid summer.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ye Olde Walmarte

I've previously mentioned the Super Walmart that's going to be built on Route 1 in Thomaston, and won't dwell again on the fact that there already is a Walmart, though just a regular one, in Rockland just 5 miles away. (I have this image of a huge map in Bentonville, divided into tracts and populated by battalions of flags in various colors - the map is titled Total Domination.) This week was to witness final approval of the project by the Thomaston City Council. It almost happened.

Besides kvetching about various tiddly bits like parking and run-off, the councilors in their aesthetic wisdom voted 3-2 for one more delay, this one to address a burning concern on lovely Route 1. They asked Walmart for a new exterior design that would be "more New England."

Hoo boy, is there some guilt finally surfacing? Isn't it a little late to have a conscience? What's wrong with brown?

I'm shocked this suggestion hasn't come up for all the businesses already operating on this execrable stretch of Route 1. But never fear, I have some suggestions.

1. for Lowes - re-shape the building to look like a friendship schooner.
2. for the McDonald's presently going up on the Lowe's parking lot - build a pleasant white clapboard house ala Freeport.
3. for the several car dealers - stock horses and buggies.
4. for the Hampton Inn - install some lace curtains, a widow's walk or two, maybe a turret; populate the lobby and every surface of every room with Victorian bric-a-brac.
5. for the multiplex cinema - convert to a drive-in, or at least hang a sheet on an outside wall.
6. for Appleby's - raise cows and chickens out back for the locavores.
7. for Touch of Glass Redemption Center - don't do anything at all, you're perfect.
8. Now for Walmart - make all shopping carts look like dories; devote part of the parking lot to a continuous yard sale; dress greeters in Pilgrim costumes; cut the big box up into a hundred boutiques; sell nightcrawlers.

OK? Now at least we won't look like Route 1 in Homestead, Florida.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Red sun in morning

Dawn arrives today with a calm sea bearing a faint, ragged red path leading directly east. A sliver of sun peeks through the fog over Vinalhaven. The sliver is pink-red. Slowly the sun inflates out of the fog until it's round, now big because of the refraction of the atmosphere, now bright red because all the moisture in the air steers away the blue part of the spectrum. It is red like a sunset, like blood in the arteries. Maybe this is the shortest day ever, a backwards day, a warning to sailors and planners and marketeers.

For 10 minutes it could be true, for the sun takes that long to rise completely out of the fog, carving an increasingly sharp trail of light on the water, turning ever so slightly orange. Birds sail through the air, unconcerned with beauty. Boats cut through the water, concerned with commerce. Any humans watching think briefly about storm warnings, then give over to the vastness of sky, the perfectibility of ocean, the balance of a speck of rock held in thrall by 93 million miles of light. They might want to go backwards, or at least hold these minutes in hand. They turn away only when the sun escapes the fog in a violent yellow burst and becomes too bright to understand.

The fog and the humidity remain over the bay for the whole day. But there's no sign of a storm tonight, except over the wires.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fox in the hen house, part 47

It's been a slow summer for political outrage in Maine. We had the winter of our discontent, with the Governor's various outrageous actions (saying "kiss my butt" to the NAACP, getting rid of the labor mural in the dead of night, attempting to bring back BPA, wanting to open up 3 million acres in the north woods to developers). We had the spring of the lobbyist, with the Governor's special adviser and lobbyist for the fireworks industry writing successful legislation to legalize same, and the appointment of the chemical industry's chief lobbyist as acting commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. Now the other shoe has fallen in the Department of Conservation.

I remember wondering in December when Bill Beardsley was appointed Commissioner. He had spent 23 years as President of Husson University and by all accounts had done a fine job there. The questions came from his years as head of Alaska's energy office and as a power company executive, and from vaguely remembered political positions - for offshore drilling, for more nuclear plants, for Industrial Wind, not to mention believing in creationism and paving over vernal pools - publicized when he was running for governor. But he's not been in the news, until now. Now the fox appears: he's working on an inventory of Maine's natural resources, all of it, pure drinking water, minerals like uranium (!) and gold, hydro- and tidal power, granite, wind, anything that can be exploited.

He claims it's just a tool to assure balanced use of resources. Almost worse, he calls it an "almanac." If I weren't so worried about its obvious potential mis-use, I'd rail about this insult to the English language, this cynical throwback to some Yankee state of heaven. For now I'll just say that Maine's current administration has little respect for the land or for the passion and intelligence of its inhabitants, and resolve to watch Mr. Beardsley closely.

Monday, August 15, 2011


News of a gyrating stock market, a wildly dysfunctional Congress, the death of a good friend's mother, disastrous storms, all the bad things that graze a privileged life, may in fact be good things. Not in themselves, as those who are not privileged know, but for the warnings they give. It's very useful to know that in the big things, humans are basically not in control.

For control freaks, for the ambitious, for CEOs, for the greedy, this is news they don't want to hear (but need to). And for those of us who live on a lesser plane, we also need to hear it. We may control much of our lives, the small and daily decisions of white or whole wheat, walk or drive, split some wood or weed the garden. We don't control the big stuff.

Some folks patch up that wound with religion, giving control to someone else (and put themselves in constant danger of hypocrisy). Others do their best with what they see and feel, taking comfort in the randomness of nature (and put themselves in constant danger of innocence).

A wild thing, whether the needle of a fir, a barnacle, a fawn imitating its mother's bounds, even a bald eagle in its majesty, has no control. It has no higher power, it adapts to chaos, it makes no plans for budget meetings or regional domination. It rests. It skitters and flows and respires. It seeks stasis in the middle of growth.

Living in the country provides such daily inspiration. Seeking a natural routine is the best answer to fear. When the news gets most depressing, think of the old joke: The easiest way to make God laugh is to show him your five-year plan.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Owls Head Transportation Museum, with Moose

A banner week: for the first time ever (that's 16 years' worth of ever, and counting because I don't ever expect to again) I set foot inside the OHTM. Mind you, I don't tour it, just look in on the lobby, and walk around outside a bit where the antique-car-auction action is starting to build for next weekend. Motors aren't quite my thing, a necessary evil at best and often a curse. I'm not surprised to glimpse Model Ts and biplanes and muscle trucks. I am surprised to see a stuffed moose standing by the door just inside the lobby. One wonders who rode him around town, besides deer flies.

Walking back on Museum Road to my car, I'm equally surprised to see a path leading into the woods. It's an Owls Head exploration day so I take it, walking at least a couple of miles in those woods before finding the road again, where a sign enlightens me as to where I've been. It is the Paul Merriam Nature Park, adjunct to the OHTM. Ah, I say to myself, somewhat ashamed at having laughed at a similar sign next to the museum. There's more to this park than just a picnic table, a climbing structure and a quarter acre of trees. There's a couple hundred acres of very nice, quiet, undeveloped woods (and the trails total four miles, as I discover later).

Helluva world we live in. This largish block of preserved woods sits right next to two shrines of development, the OHTM and the airport. A museum dedicated to man's motors contains a moose, no better symbol of wilderness. (I guess there's some law mandating a moose in every Maine museum.) The walking trails, ironically, ban ATVs and snowmobiles. If I had been driving down Museum Road, I would have missed the trails. One doesn't know what exists in one's own backyard.

I applaud the conservation of this land, but is this the future of the environment, development "mitigated" by the setting aside of a few acres here and there, resulting in sterile ecological islands bounded by asphalt? Get out and walk, my friends, while you can.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


A day of rain, although I'm not complaining about it as I did in June, and May, and April...

I've been thinking about why the sight of wildlife enthralls me so much. The latest was yesterday, a doe and a fawn running through the slash of those six acres being developed on Lucia Beach Road, a pair perfectly matched in color and grace and bounding jumps, one just smaller than the other.

So beautiful compared to piles of brush and rutted dirt and the ugly concrete foundation of a house on the rise.

So physical compared to the prison of mind.

So free compared to my slavery to mealtimes and TV times and the awful clang of the market-opening bell.

So full of awe compared to my mundane rounds of store and car and chair and bed.

So naked compared to my shame for warmongering and politics.

So simple compared to my self-consciousness.

So graceful compared to fumbling for glasses and toothbrush.

So hassled compared to my life of ease.

So vulnerable compared to my stronghold of walls.

So close to the divine compared to my distance from it.

So thrilling.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More raptors

Little Island is a, well, little island in our cove. At high tide it's just about the size of a bus: a few rocks, bushes, and tufts of grass. At low tide it elongates into a kind of ugly, green-headed squid, proboscis pointing into the bay, tail pointing at shore (and nearly reaching it at full moon). It's not the kind of place I'd expect to see a bald eagle, what with the proximity to shore and the lobster pots all around and the airplanes overhead and the tourists in kayaks.

Yesterday, however, I wondered if I was suddenly transported to Alaska, for there were four eagles on the island. Three came in a group, possibly the same three as yesterday's fly-by, and then a fourth flew up. Almost immediately I lost track of two of them, the two adults, but watched the other two for some 20 minutes, just sitting there. Usually, the island has a dozen or so of crows, cormorants, and gulls - not today. The princes had claimed their kingdom. The only other bird around was a tern, confident of its maneuverability, I guess.

The two I watched through my binoculars were on the edge of adulthood, their heads still a little streaked with brown. One sat on a stone, the other on a piece of driftwood 10 feet away. I was of course entranced observing the birds doing absolutely nothing.

A couple of minutes before the phone rang, the two juveniles lifted off together and flew back towards the big bay. I'm afraid I was not very coherent in my conversation with the city, for the two adults - no mistaking their snow-white heads - came back, did a majestic fly-by, and disappeared.

I haven't seen the eagles today. Constant peering at the sky and keeping the binoculars close to hand hasn't produced them. The cormorants are back on Little Island.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Raptors close and far

The other evening we attended a party for Coastal Mountains Land Trust, a 25th anniversary party for the land trust in fact, at a lovely seaside estate in Rockport. I could wax on about the 200-year-old house, the gorgeous gardens, the happy occasion, the people committed to such a good cause, but - you know me, I'd rather talk about the wildlife.

We didn't see the two ospreys and their nest, but the owner told us they have been there for 12 years, perhaps even the same pair. A couple of babies fledge every year. Of course, osprey are fairly common on the coast but in this case they nest in a tall spruce in the middle of the lawn, within 50 feet of the house. Clearly they tolerate the close presence of humans, and their noisy parties, including, according to the owner, a birthday do whose fireworks drove away the piano player but not the birds. The fishing must be very good off Deadman Point.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing three bald eagles above our cove. They were too high for me to get a good look, but two of the three were adults and the other a juvenile, it appeared. I imagine them scouting: no, not there, Junior, too many out-of-state plates; how about here? no, it may look good but see the house peeking out of the trees? there's some conservation land but it's not nearly enough; sorry son, I'm afraid there's just too much development of this side of the bay, let's go back to the islands and the preserves, after all we're not osprey who'll nest just anywhere.

I don't care how far an osprey lowers itself; I'm just thrilled to see one anytime, anywhere. That an eagle would come close to my house, my car, my pollutants is even more thrilling. We don't see bear or moose in this part of Maine, so raptors are our symbol for wildness. To me it's much less a matter of wildlife getting used to humans. It's that humans, through lands trusts and their benefactors, are working hard to keep wildlife wild, in all its guises.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


I'm in Massachusetts for the weekend, after more than a month in Maine. I'm happy to say it still feels good to come "home," although one wonders if the definition is changing.

Last weekend, when we should have come back to MA (we were heat-wimps), Owls Head had its annual community potluck at the Old Homestead. I'd been thinking about going this year, but of course I wasn't going to be in Maine and the date never stuck in my head. I didn't remember until the morning of the day - a couple of people were starting to set up tables as the dog and I walked by. "OK, I'll stop in later," I told myself and proceeded home.

Needless to say, I forgot again. On our afternoon walk, Mia and I started to hear music as we walked up Canns Beach (I assume Mia heard it too - she didn't remark on it), saw the cars parked on Ash Point Drive, watched people dancing to a old-time country band and eating hot dogs and watermelon and clearly having a good time on a lovely hot day, and walked on by. Yes, we walked on by without stopping.

My excuse was the dog, of course, who would beg for food and get in the way of the dancing and be the object of gushing. The real reason was timidity. It's easier to avoid people, to shirk responsibility, at a party to stand in the corner looking at your host's book shelves. I kick myself for this behavior, so middle-school. Doesn't one ever grow up?

It's said that most people have an injury somewhere, sometime, in their childhoods that they're forever trying to heal. I expect a big one is the loss of community, either forced by circumstances or embraced by madness. My own sense of community only started to grow when we moved to Newton, some 20 years ago. I should be experienced by now, and also had those 30 years of the forced, glad-handing, screw-your-courage-to-the-sticking-point responsibilities of the business world, but I still find it difficult and intimidating to walk into a roomful (in this case, yardful) of strangers. Unless, of course, it's business, for which one puts on a different person. But slowly and surely, Maine is bringing out my real person for others to see, just as our friends and neighbors in Newton did. You have to talk to yourself, and scold yourself, to put yourself in the way, and you're always happy you did. Next year for sure I'll be dancing in a circle with strangers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Murder on the rue Bay View

The deer flies have been dreadful this year, even on cool, wet days such as yesterday. They were especially deadful (the mis-spelling is deliberate, for I have become adept at killing them) in the hot and still and humid days of last week. I'm aided in the murders by the dog, on our walks.

With her abundance of black, fragrant hair, Mia attracts the flies like, well, like flies to a honey. They are drawn to her as if she were a tiny black deer (dear?), which has the advantage that they leave the somewhat less hairy, somewhat more vindictive, character in this story for the most part alone. They circle her in squadrons, and seem especially bad where the trees overhang the rues we walk. To her credit, she mostly ignores them, or pretends to, except when they fly around her nose, whereupon she snaps her jaws and sometimes catches one.

This is not the murder part of the story. A fly buzzing in one's mouth is sufficiently disconcerting that she opens and releases.

I'm not so nonchalant. The flies' sole mission in life is to burrow under the hair and reach the skin and the blood. This is gross on several levels, not the least of which happens when a fly sneaks by all vigilance and crawls out when we're back home and flies to a window (why? trying to regain the wilderness?) and I smash it there, forgetting about the blood it's collected. So: in the first place, I hate to see my baby's blood needlessly spilled; in the second, prevention of same has become a sport to relieve the discontent of the day. I now look constantly down as we walk, waiting for a fly to alight and start to burrow. Timing and practice: move too quickly and the beast flies away. Move too slowly and the beast is gummed up in hair. My success rate for pinching out lives exceeds 50%. Next step in the game will be to try to pull off their right wings.

Can you imagine being so constructed that you'd brave anything - terrible fingers descending from above, Fox News fusillades - to achieve your purpose? You know you're going to die, or at least be terribly embarrassed, but you don't care, the blood, the prize, is so close. In this pestilential summer, is the danger worth it, ye plagues upon the body politic?

Post-post: a reader has commented offline that the description above hints at a comparison between deer flies and certain politicians. Since politicians are reptiles, any error in comparing them to biting bugs is mine.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

White and Black

Why is it that seagulls don't sit in trees? Something to do with their webbed feet, I suppose, although they seem to have no trouble with pilings and dumpsters and the roof line of Lowes. A tree is clean, without rotting crabs or Big Macs, so what's the point of spending time there?

I could ask, equally, why crows don't sit on water. Probably a good scientific reason there, lack of oily feathers, no diving gene, no ability to steal from ducks. No worms in the water, either.

The twain do meet on the shore, however. They seem equally adept at poking through the rockweed, cleaning up garbage, yelling at their spouses, hunting invasive crabs. And they don't seem to fight with each other, there's clearly enough food and room for all, and that's another reason to try to make the whole world an intertidal zone.

Friday, July 22, 2011

110 in the sun

Everyone else in the country seems to be writing about the heat, so why not me? Of course, it's very unusual to have such temps as these in Maine, especially on the coast. It's very unusual to have almost no breeze outside. It's very unusual to have to resort to artificial breeze inside. Only now, at about 5:00 pm, is there a hint of a rise in wind and a drop in heat.

I was out with the dog this morning, when it was still tolerable, although I could have predicted just by the number of deer flies we attracted that more torture was forthcoming. When I came back, I saw that the thermometer read 110. Granted that it was in direct sun, and granted that I've suspected it of being over-excitable, but that was enough to keep us inside, with iced coffee and heroic fan, for the rest of the day. The dog got no second walk, but did get a run through water from the hose at the appropriate time. The humans got wet from mere sitting.

For a few minutes around 11:00, when the sun moved behind the spruces, Mr. Excitement fell to 90. There was hope (the house faces east, and mornings are almost always warmer than afternoons). But not today. The big fat wet muffin of air reclaimed the deck and pushed the thin red line well over 95 and even now, hours in the shade, he continues to flirt with three digits. We have taken, therefore, a leisurely afternoon, a few tropically guilt-free hours of reading and napping, as if we were on an equatorial beach. Let's set up those G&Ts, sir, and see about braving the deck, and order up some natural air-conditioning.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pathetic fallacy

My rant last week about the lack of raspberries this year is fallacious, although it remains to be seen how pathetically. There are a reasonable number now ripening and there's even the beginnings of a path through the canes, a sure sign that the experts also believe. The only question now is the sweetness and length of the season. Samples today were a touch sour.

The walk with the dog also included a display of tumbling in the middle of the lane. Out of the woods ran two juvenile squirrels (I'm assuming they were still young by their size and by the not-yet-red color of their fur), and they proceeded to roll head over heels in play right in front of us. It was a tangle and a tango, somersaults a due, a dance that might have been violent if it weren't so much fun. After a minute or so of tearing around on the tar, they chased each other back into the woods.

I see I'm wrong again. The words I used to describe that scene are humanoid, anthropocentric. Who can say if squirrels play? Have fun? Tango? I should try to use more neutral words, try to convey the excitement of this encounter sans sapiens. Do we really need humans in the middle of the raspberry patch?

Nature - and nature writing - doesn't need the human touch (or hammer, or earthmover, or stretched simile). Indeed, it seems to me that I am most human at two points anent any particular experience: during the act of watching that teenage squirrel-ness (or eating that raspberry), and while working as hard as I can to remove pathos when telling it for others.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I'm starting to fret about the raspberries. The patch I walk by every day bears little resemblance to the remembrance of years past. What few red berries exist are small. The canes, which start to shrivel and die as the berries ripen, a most dramatic example of motherly sacrifice, seem more shriveled than usual. There are berries coming, still white, but they too seem fewer and smaller than normal. Some of the berries actually have blackened. Even worse, the usual pathmakers (those folks who live closer to the patch in many more ways than I do) have not yet broken the weeds and blazed the trails that allow the tyros in.

This potential disaster of a failed crop stands in contrast to the riot of growth everywhere else. Everything's so big this year. But perhaps what is good for flowers and weeds is not good for the more delicate of fruits. Perhaps weeds are choking the patch. Perhaps there was too much spring rain. Who knows the ways of wonders?

Or maybe it's just too early. Pray that's the case. I can't imagine a Maine July without that fix on my daily walks, that antidote to the deer flies, that precious handful brought back to the house like a love offering, and most of all without the sine qua non of pies, the single-crust beauty mounded with berries, simultaneously sweet and tart and the emblem of happiness. I suppose one could buy raspberries at a market. Such a pie would taste fine, but would not have essence of OFF, tinge of sweat, hint of pride, value of free, ache of back that comes with picking one's own. One might as well be in Massachusetts. As usual Thoreau, thinking about hot summers in Concord, said it best: "It is so much the more desirable at this season to breathe the raspberry air of Maine."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fuzzy seeing

No, it's not only the humidity in the air today, it's that I went for several hours without glasses. For no reason but great age, they weakened at the nose bridge and broke at the optician's and couldn't be repaired until the afternoon, leaving their owner to drive back to Owls Head without them. I did not cross any yellow lines (I think) and did not hit anyone or anything (I know), but there was a scary moment when a police car pulled into traffic directly in front of me as I was leaving the optician's, and I just knew that he knew that I was now a menace on the roads. He kindly did not stop for me.

Actually, it was rather pleasant, the rush of air on the eyebrows, the sun caressing bare temples. Things were just a little fuzzy, that's all. I could have distinguished a moose from a man coming down the lane, I could recognize cars and traffic lights and stop signs and speed limits and the latest price of gas - you know, the important stuff. So what that I couldn't tell a Silverado from an F-150, or make out the features of pretty women on the sidewalk, or read street names until practically on top of them, or on my walk see that woodpecker hammering away at a pine. Just practice for old age.

There was an odd feeling of partial nudity, a perpetual notion that I had left something important somewhere, and where was it? Not surprising for someone who's worn glasses since he was six, and not an unpleasant feeling at all, just a brief sense of discombobulation. That too is probably just practice for the hunt of magazine, slipper, watch, book, dog, wife in old age.

The second drive back from the optician's was sharpness regained, pick-ups picked out, youth resurrected, laws obeyed. Too bad. But at least the view of the islands in the bay is still fuzzy, a brief reminder of the freedom of forgetting.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


We spent Friday afternoon on Deer Isle, the large island that marks the southern end of Penobscot Bay on the east side. It's only 20 or 25 miles from Owls Head as the crow flies, but given the way Maine's coast is drowned, the trip all the way up the bay, then down again is nearly 100 miles by land. Deer Isle definitely feels that far away. On the continuum of acculturation, yuppiness, gentrification, whatever you want to call this trend marching inexorably northeast up the coast of Maine, Deer Isle seems to maintain a envied position between the rapidly changing midcoast and the still-poor, still-wild, still-natural coast downeast.

It has its cultural, city tendencies. The Stonington Opera House is now a vibrant place of theater, music, dance. Stonington itself has lost much of the grit that we remembered. Haystack, the well-known arts and crafts school, is thriving. Galleries abound. The waterfront is tamed, mostly.

And it is gorgeous. Coves and inlets and harbors and islands spring willy-nilly into view. Woods are deep. Our tour courtesy of friend Kathie showed a remarkable blend of old and new, fishing and tourism, quarrying and painting. She herself is a perfect blend, from away, but living on Deer Isle for 3o years. I'm sure there is more strife than she lets on (her decade-long effort to overcome local biases and build one elementary school for the island's two villages, Stonington and Deer Isle, is an obvious example), but the evidence of one peaceful afternoon is pretty compelling.

For Cindy and me, it was also a trip into the past. Our very first vacation as a couple was to Goose Cove Lodge on Deer Isle, and it was the beginning of an love affair, for the state and for each other, now nearly 30 years old.

Kathie took us there to see what had happened to the place. It was in trouble for a while, she said, even closed briefly, but has been resurrected, and perhaps subsidized, by a very rich man with local connections, for whom a shrine of a table in the restaurant, complete with full table settings for six and fresh flowers, occupying the best view of the water, is always set in case he arrives without warning. This is a far cry from the plain, family-style dinners we remembered (corned beef, anyone?), but the cabins looked largely the same, and the view of the ocean was as tremendous as it was when it inspired two youngish Bostonians to come north. I've been infected with Maine since the age of 12, but there's nothing like the love of a good woman and a beautiful shore to make my plight one for the book of classic case studies.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

To move, or not to move

In any landscape, the eye is always attracted first to the things that move: birds, surf, blowing leaves, boats. You can't help noticing them. You flit from butterfly to birch. Does this mean we're innately restless? Is a perfectly calm ocean also perfectly boring? Is a hummingbird sitting motionless in a tree interesting only because we're waiting for it to resume darting and swerving? Would you rather watch TV or look at a Vermeer? Did we evolve to move, or stand still?

I'm not going to answer the questions, of course, mostly because we believe the variety of human response to be astounding, i.e., the modern man says there never is only one answer. (Also, self-incrimination is not pretty to view.) I will only mention what my mother said when I asked recently (and somewhat fatuously, considering she's 87) if she had any "fun" things planned for the next few days: "Oh, no," she laughed, pityingly, "It's so wonderful to stay right here at home."

Uh, well, OK, I can't help myself. I'm constitutionally unable to stop from also mentioning the beautiful lack of mowers, boaters, tanners, chain-sawers on a shore; and the wonder of a blueberry barren reddening in the autumn, the grace of a stand of spruce, an island poking through the fog, the other-worldliness of a page of type - all changing, to be sure, all evolving, but not moving from their blessed homes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Birding hour, with G&T

Now this is the way to bird watch:
1. Weather is finally warm enough to sit on the deck at 5:00.
2. Bring out a book and a crossword.
3. Also bring chips and G&T (no, not grackle and tanager).
4. Abandon book and crossword almost at once.
5. Watch the big birds on and over the water first - the duck armada, the crows swooping, the seagulls sailing and stealing crabs from teenage ducks. Hope for osprey.
6. Gradually get lost in the ordinary birds on the land.
7. Little wrens poke humbly in the newly mown lawn, one getting closer and closer (hold still!) until a breeze flaps the pages of the book and scares it away.
8. A robin takes its place, proud, upright, alert and not frightened by literature.
9. Friend hummingbird (I see it almost every cocktail hour in one tree or another) perches at the very top of the spindly spruce, quiet for the moment, replete with nectar (I hope).
10. A dozen goldfinches fly around like crazy, diving and chasing each other and tweeting (the good kind).
11. Have a second G&T to celebrate the little things.
12. Two mourning doves fly down the shore together.
13. Forget to listen to Maine Things Considered, forget for a while about dinner and responsibility.
14. Laugh at the faux birds coming into Knox Regional, going in such straight lines, having no imagination, boringly noisy, going to ground by computer and the need to be somewhere else.
15. Go inside only because it's getting cool.
16. Repeat tomorrow.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A question of crows, and rocks

I woke, or was awakened, at 4:15 this morning, listening to crows. That's also a good time to listen to questions, and rather than do the hard work of trying to reproduce a fuzzy state of mind, I quote the following section from my book Saving Maine http://www.amazon.com/Saving-Maine-Personal-Gazetteer-ebook/dp/B0056J0PHI

"I don’t mean the questions you can look up on Google, or even those that some specialist scientist probably can answer, but the kind that might require mystery along with the facts. I also don’t mean the big questions, the meaning of life and the existence of God, for people are struggling to understand how to live in this world, and not any other. Those answers may be impossible to find, and any time put into the exercise seems wasted. We leave those questions to fanatics, and teenagers.
I do mean questions about the natural world. A crow in the spruce tree in front of my house hops up towards the top, branch by branch. Why does it do this? Why does it preen, stop, move up a notch, preen some more? Why this particular tree all the time, and why do other crows join it there? Many things about the crow are known, why it preens, what its multi-various calls signify, but do we know what makes it move, at what point it moves, why it moves, when no food or danger is in view? Things that move, like weather and wildlife and the human heart, have mystery, and are forever fascinating to the post-religious. All I want, and perhaps you, is to earn my place in a place by fitting in.
That’s where the things that don't move, like rocks and trees, provoke the deepest questions of all. They just are, and what does that mean? They belong to a place, as I now do, as the restless 21st century does not seem to. That’s the answer I know. I might understand the workings of a crow, given enough study. I might never understand the rocks of a beach, unless given eternity."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


"They" say that to prevent brain rot one should be social, do crosswords, read, etc. May I add walking on Maine shore rocks to the list?

Having walked down to Crockett's Beach via roads, I'll often walk back along the shore. Sand quickly gives way to the familiar jumble of rocks and immediately all thought - worries about the family, memories of childhood, to-do-lists, joys on viewing bay and sky - disappears. What replaces it is a kind of animal consciousness of the surroundings at foot. In this business of movement, the brain starts making a thousand decisions unrelated to philosophy or politics. That rock? No, too tippy. There, a big, flat one. Then, too much slimy seaweed. OK, some green stuff on that one but looks mostly dried, won't slip. Pointed-top one, but try it anyway with right foot, ouch, teeter, wave arms for balance, find safe one for left. Small stones, gravel, avoid, makes too much noise for neighbors on bank above, foxes in den down the way. Huge boulder, too big to climb? no, stretch old muscles - yes. Go around. A thousand decisions in five minutes. Rest on granite ledge. Look out to sea, refreshed.

That's my prescription, doctor. Your feet have minds of their own. Exercise them. Walk the same shore hundreds of times on millions of rocks. Imagine trying to take the exact same route as yesterday. Give up in gratitude at the world's grace.