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

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.