Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mosquitoes

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

Storm

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

Calm

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

Control

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

Thriller

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.