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

Therapy

"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.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Little Women

"So long as women do not go cheap for power, please women more than men."

Excerpt from Wendell Berry's poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

It's a kind of reverse sexism, I know, but I really do think, along with Wendell Berry, that women tend to be better creatures than men. Let's just mention, for example, that companies run by female CEOs tend to be more profitable, that matriarchal societies are less violent, and that philandering is rare among female politicians. Sexual philandering, that is. Financial philandering may be another story, especially judging by the latest moves of the LePage administration in Maine, as reported by Colin Woodard

First, the Maine legislature is about to legalize the sale and use of fireworks, thanks apparently to the work of Ann Robinson, chief lobbyist for the industry. Ms. Robinson also serves as the Governor's special advisor on regulatory reform even as she continues to lobby for numerous companies, and was co-chair of his transition team.

Then we have Patricia Aho, just appointed as Acting Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (the previous appointee was a developer whose business conflicts forced him to resign). Five months ago, Ms. Aho was still principal lobbyist for the chemical industry.

I suppose women are equally entitled to lord it over, rake it in, and share the spoils of government as men have been doing for centuries. Their talents as lawyers and shadow-writers of legislation and biceps sockers and arm twisters should be equally recognized. Who am I to judge what circumstances of poverty or discrimination motivate Robinson and Aho? I just wish they would practice their testosterone in New Jersey or Florida, far away from us romantics who believe in heroic women.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reaction (II)

Back to socks, jeans, and sweatshirts: the weather page on Village Soup shows rain and cold through Sunday. I know summer is short in Maine, but this is ridiculous.

Or not. The firs and spruces on Sheep Island across the bay glow in the low-hanging clouds, nearly fog, slightly lit by a little brightness on the horizon. Flowers blaze away in the grayness, drinking in the rain. Grass looks even greener than yesterday. Air traffic is curtailed. I'm planning on being terribly productive today: no drooling on the deck, no aimless walking in the sun, no staring into nothingness. It's a soft and gentle day, and there are no wars or tornadoes or floods in the immediate vicinity.

Beauty is bought by judgement of the mind, to paraphrase Shakespeare, and while the eye has to look a little closer on the so-called gloomy days, the mind will find beauty in spite of the facts. Optimism like this may be a chemical reaction, a set of pre-determined pathways run by genes and their messengers, but it may also be a matter of will, determination, faith or any other inexplicable, non-scientific chimera. Fog is a natural home for optimism - you can imagine all kinds of wondrous beasts wading in from the sea to embrace you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reaction

In some kind of response to the long, cold, wet winter and the short, cold, wet spring, the flora of summer are bursting with life. I can't remember such a flowering: the lupine spread lushly on meadow and roadside; the beach roses are as big as your hand; the grass and weeds and trees are deeply green; late-blooming lilac bushes are so heavy with flowers that the branches bow to the ground; the ferns are huge and sensuous; little yellow flowers teem perfectly where they should be (buttercups) and grossly where they shouldn't (dandelions); the profusion of poppies makes me drunk just looking at them; some hostas are sprouting bushy purple flowers I've never seen before; but most of all, the rhododendron bushes are so full of pink and red that you can't see a bit of green. I'm lucky enough to see them twice in glorious bloom, for a couple of weeks in MA and now a couple of weeks in ME. Every bush is a bouquet packed for a lover.

I'd like to say we deserve it. I'd like to say that nature took pity on its conscious denizens and provided some recompense for their long-suffering. I'd like to believe there's purpose to all this fecundity. But that would be a mistake. Can you imagine a world in which humans mattered so positively? Almost as scary as the one in which we matter so negatively.

I suppose the perfect growing conditions are just a chemical reaction, the flowers' colors merely a lure for pollination. I suppose, equally, that the sharp catching of breath and the warm glow enveloping the heart and chest and the eyes so full of joy that they water are also just chemical reactions. Maybe so, but not on a fecund summer solstice day when the debauchery of flowers beggars all science.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Saving Maine


My nonfiction book, Saving Maine, is now published on Amazon for the Kindle. Here's the link:

The picture was taken by Cynthia Dockrell and shows Daicey Pond in Baxter State Park, looking at Katahdin. A glorious place and an inspiration.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Capitol for a Day

The Governor was running around the Midcoast yesterday, being ferried from business to business in his Capitol for a Day program. Had I been in Maine, I could have caught him at Windjammer Cruises in Camden, Dragon Cement in Thomaston, O'Hara Corporation in Rockland, or even in Owls Head at the Breakwater Vineyards. I would not have seen him at a land trust office, a half-way house, a hospital, a homeless shelter - people there would be, well, inconvenient, and worthy not of help from the state but of as much new legislation as possible to deny help.

While he was away from Augusta, the Maine House (no debate) and Senate (31-3) passed a non-binding resolution, to be sent to the US President, Secretary of the Interior and Congress, stating opposition to the idea of a national park in the Maine woods. No explanation, little discussion, overwhelming support. I'm dumbfounded - do these legislators really represent the people of Maine? Or is it a case, once again, of special business interests influencing the process? Which group drafted the resolution? The paper companies, with their out-of-state owners? The developers, also from out-of-state? Roxane Quimby, with her stated desire to seed a national park with her 70,000 acres, must be a scary woman to inspire this resolution, more nonsense from an Administration (you just know LePage was behind it) much more interested in the negative than the positive.

Or maybe I'm just dumb, out of touch. Maybe the people really don't want it, maybe the legislature really is doing its job. I think it's more likely that a way of life - logging, hunting, independence - is doing battle with a quality of life - clean air and water, perpetual forests, mystery - and neither side admits that their ultimate goals are the same. How about Capitol for a Day at Big Niagara Falls in Baxter State Park?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Graduation

My daughter Emma graduated from Union College on Sunday. The rain held off, Judy Woodruff and Marvin Bell gave inspiring speeches, and friends and relatives (including 170 years of combined grandmother-ness) made the occasion even more special. A tremendous thing, these small, liberal-arts colleges - it makes one very hopeful for the future of the world. And not a little proud of this graduate's many accomplishments.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Purple

It's the time of year when passions run high, the rhododendron (purple tending to red) just starting to burst, the lupine (tending to blue) halfway exploded, the lilacs (just plain perfect purple) in full bloom and glorious scent. The morning was so brilliant I wanted to put on a purple robe and swagger about. June was made for all kinds of life-changing events, like graduations and weddings and sitting outside without a sweatshirt.

Although this being New England, with its vestiges of royal British turpitude, things change. The wind switches to the southeast off the water, high clouds at noon drop the temperatures a bit more, and optimistic shorts become practical jeans. High-born thoughts turn to lunch. The lawn suddenly needs mowing. The poppies put off their opening for another day.

But the whole hot and passionate summer lies ahead, when nobody in Maine needs a purple robe to feel like a king.