Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peace and quiet

Somehow I missed the announcement in April that Maine is the most peaceful state in the union ( http://www.visionofhumanity.org/info-center/us-peace-index/ ). The US Peace Index, being brand-new, must not be on the journalistic radar yet. The census, though, blinks constantly on the radar, as if its stats will tell us who we are. A recent release of data shows that Maine has held its place as the oldest state in the nation (as the journalists say) or, statisticians would say, as the state whose population has the highest average age.

These are of course related. Graybeards like us don't specialize in the violent crimes and handguns and incarceration stats whose lack is considered peace. We stand in line at Red's, not at gun shows. USPI is really talking about safety, I guess, not peace, and "safe" definitely describes Maine, where I'd bet a significant percent of the population leaves doors unlocked. (Most unlocked state in the nation....) I'm not sure about extrapolating from safety to peace. Personally, I give Maine a lot of credit for any ease of mind and belief in nature and quiet contemplation that I might feel, and it feels right (and a little jingoistic) that southern states have the least peace and northeast the most, but peace, like anger or allergies, is probably spread pretty evenly throughout the population irrespective of state lines or national statistics.

I won't argue with the US Census. What I'm having difficulty sorting out is the worth or harm of the age stats: young people leave and take their energy; old people come and bring their money. Maybe it makes no difference, as long as we don't become Fort Lauderdale.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Extraordinary

One of my favorite sights is a bird resting on the tip-top spike of a fir or a spruce. Today it was a goldfinch on a spruce, an average though lively bird, a smallish, average, slightly droopy tree. The finches fly in and out of tree branches all day, and I'm trying not to impute too much poetry to those few minutes at the top of their world, but it happens more frequently than chance would assign, and I can't help but think that it is, at the very least, joyful. Hummingbirds do it too.

Two ordinary things, in a kind of heroic display. Let me insert a dash into today's title and wonder for a moment about the amazement of ordinary things. The Latinate meaning of "extra" is of course "out of" or "outside of," but I'm slightly obsessed these days with an alternate, more earthy meaning, i.e., "an additional helping" of the ordinary. You know, of course, that I mean natural ordinary things, not spoons or phones or dust bunnies or socks, although they too have a certain stolid utility, and maybe even beauty if you squint or imagine their molecules. Only natural ordinary things have the suppleness and complexity I crave, the extra-strength simplicity to stand up against wars and disasters and ennui. They are what they are, and yet they move and evolve and provide the comfort of fellow living things. Today I must say that blue sky (at last) and warm temperatures and the chance to spend most of the day on the deck or in the garden has made the ordinary things around me that much more special. But even the gray of fog and mist is a color, and a quiet and contemplative one, and is indistinguishable from blue in the eye of a sun or a moon or a god, as are that yellow finch in a tree and that pale human in a chair.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sprung

Grass loves it, was a foot high the other day before I mowed; slugs crossing the perpetually wet asphalt love it; weeds thrive, although today (50, foggy, fickle) even the dandelion flowers were closed up; dealers of fossil fuels are cackling in their counting houses; it just slides off the eiders' backs; moss is in heaven; bottlers of windshield fluid and rain gear pad their IRAs; people who blog about the weather commiserate gleefully...

Sunscreen makers hate it; Arizonans in New England on business stand amazed and cold; trees refuse to leaf out all the way; I saw flowering daffodils on my walk today (what month is it anyway?); birds seem quieter, a little indifferent, depressed, or is that my %$#@& pathetic fallacy talking; lovers of May can't believe it; even Homo Maine-iens, usually so optimistic and giddy, despairs a little...

This delayed spring, this missed spring, this we're-jumping-right-to-summer spring is one for the ages.

Here's a reminder of what blue sky looks like (we had to go to the Netherlands for our spring this year), also a couple of tulips.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Enraptured

Hallelujah! May 21 arrives and at least one person is transported to heaven - me.

Back in Maine after nearly a month elsewhere, back to weeding and gardening and walking and listening to the fog horn and smelling the ocean and gazing in rapture at the pointed firs on the shore.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Netherlands

Just back from 10 days in the Netherlands, and a greater contrast with Maine one could not find.

Maine is almost twice as big, but with only about 40 people per square mile. The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with about 1,000 people per square mile.

From morning to night, Amsterdam was as crowded as the Rockland Lobster Festival. That may be because the temperature was in the 80s and everyone was out.

The Netherlands is heavily industrialized (but also has some 3 million cows and sheep).

There is almost no poverty, at least as we know it.

It is flat, flat, flat. In Maastricht, though, we did climb a "mountain," Sint Pietersberg, one of the highest places in the country at 300 feet.

The Dutch tame the ocean, Mainers fight it.

If there weren't dikes, two-thirds of the country would be under water.

In Maine the thrilling sights are rural. In the Netherlands, they are urban - Rembrandt's House, the Anne Frank Museum, 17th century canal houses, sitting in an outdoor cafe and watching the world, in all its variety and purpose(ful)(less)ness, go by.

The best part of the trip? We kept ourselves so cut off from newspaper, radio, TV and the Web that we didn't know that bin Laden had been found and killed until 6 days after the fact. The joys of getting away - summer in Maine, here we come.