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

Progress


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

Overnight

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

Loons

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.

 http://portland.thephoenix.com/news/126378-lepages-koch-brothers-connection-revealed/


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

Blackberries

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.