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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In praise of brown

The foliage season this year has been brief and brown. We saw lovely color on Columbus Day weekend but had to travel north of Ellsworth to do so. The mid-coast never really reached the full left-hand side of the spectrum. In the suburbs of Boston most everything is still green. Late October snowfalls are completing a somewhat dismal picture.

At least the brown colors are amazing. Not usually a word to associate with "brown," I know, but the richness of the array on hillsides and next to roads has been outstanding this past week. I say "rich" deliberately; although individual bursts of reds and oranges and yellows are rare, most leaves have something of them, and they blend together in a huge variety of shades of brown. I've never appreciated its complexity until now. And the contrast with the bare white birch, the blue sky, the dark green firs, the bright green of hay field and lawn and verge makes the color sing.

Brown this year is not muddy. It is warm with licks of flame, hints of sun, flashes of the tropics. It represents the way I want to go into winter, not with a tourist blast, then nothing, but with a soft, slow falling into black and white.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Passing of time

Watching television can best be - kindly - described as passing time. Slightly more elevated is the excuse that it's a recovery mechanism from the rigors of the day. (Public television, they say, needs no excuse.) Philip Larkin, librarian and poet who famously declined to be England's Poet Laureate, implied such therapy in an answer to a question about his day (part of an interview -actually, written answers to written questions that took him five months to complete - published in the Paris Review):

"My life is as simple as I can make it. Work all day, cook, eat, wash up, telephone, hack writing, drink, television in the evenings. I almost never go out. I suppose everyone tries to ignore the passing of time: some people by doing a lot, being in California one year and Japan the next; or there's my way - making every day and every year exactly the same. Probably neither works."

I'm guessing that time was Larkin's friend. For the folks who rush about, time must be an enemy to be defeated or overcome or ignored until, well, until it kindly stops for them. Those of us of the rural persuasion empathize with Larkin. He had his routines, as do we, our circadian rhythms, our tides, our mornings of cerebration and afternoons of perspiration, and if our evenings also include cop show re-runs on the idiot box, then we too must be poets.

Actually, I'm looking forward to the state of mind of the 90-year-old mother of a friend who, when asked if she watched television, said, "No, I'd rather sit in my big, comfortable chair and watch the memories in my head."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The last "One last time"

OK, so today is absolutely, positively the last time the deck is sit-out-able. I know I said this 10 days ago, and then had the embarrassment of Columbus Day weekend when all three days were warm enough to be outside from morning till evening, even so far as to cause a little gentle perspiration. But today is it. It's a little cool, around 60, but the wind is from the south following two days of an ocean storm, and the surf is strong and sensual, and I'm reasonably comfortable in a sweater and double socks (a chorus of crows makes me look up and see a bald eagle flying just 50 feet away along the shore), suffering one last teasing hint of summer.

But I suppose there will be some kind of Indian summer later this month, and the agony of all this emotion will be repeated. With luck I'll be in Massachusetts and not succumb again to fresh air and uplifting heart. Let's just be done with this beautiful weather. Let winter come and let me sit by the wood stove in the dark and once again think clearly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Columbus Day foliage

Three lovely ladies and I took a foliage tour yesterday, up Route 1 and 1A to Bangor, and then over to the Union River watershed east of Bangor and north of Ellsworth. There were several highlights: LL1's unbridled enthusiasm for the colors, houses, and character of New England; LL2's expert pictures as seen below; and for me, sitting at a picnic table on the Bangor's urban, slightly seedy waterfront and watching two bald eagles soar over the Penobscot River. Then there was LL3. She, being a dog and having one or two genes left that at least hint at wildness, was not particularly happy being in a people mover for 6 hours, especially when her highlights including obsessive lap sitting (which she can get at home) and a few pit stops - at an Irving's gas station (I doubt she looked up to see this pretty tree gracing the parking lot),

and a short jaunt along a country lane, but note the taut leash pulling me back to the comforting laps of the LLs in the car.

She just wasn't into it like we were, oohing and aahing at hills and lakes and fields. She was cut off from her world - the world of scents, deer and dog, scat and pee, sandwich bits and rabbit hair and cigarette butts and Coke cans and emanation of squirrel. She was in a car, not knowing what would happen next.

We drove hoping what would happen next, and were rewarded. Blueberry fields are stunning at this time of year....

as are shores of rivers and lakes.

One also hoped for a moose to step out of the woods, but then one should be grateful for what wildness still remains, still so close, still so beautiful, even in the overactive nose of a dog, and the romantic tinge of human eyes.

Friday, October 7, 2011


A first glance it looks only like some wire lobster traps, a common sight even on semi-suburban lawns in Maine. On second glance, and I do get a second glance, since I'm walking and not driving, there's an apparent configuration and order.

About 10 of the traps have been laid end-to-end in a row on the grass, and lead up some porch steps to the house. In the middle of the row, two more have been stacked vertically and contain what looks like a tree of sticks. A kind of pet run, I think as I pass by.

On the return trip up the lane, I pass the traps again and this time speculation is proved - a house cat dutifully trots from the house, down the steps, to the end of the run. Inside the traps, of course. I don't care to embarrass it in its little wilderness, so I don't stand around to see if it also jumps into its faux jungle gym, whose stick tree I now see is hung with objects to bat.

I suppose this is the owner's idea of giving his cat a taste of the great outdoors without any danger. He's knocked out the ends of the traps and lined them up for maximum length. His catwalk both confines and protects. The woods are all around, after all, and upon one's loose pet might spring a weasel, a fisher, or a marten - or a pickup. This way, our lovely can preen and strut and tease for the paparazzi outdoors as it does for the family indoors.

Clever? Yes. Sad? Yes. There's a stunted suburbanity at work here - pets need to be outside, but only under controlled conditions. They - and we - need protective equipment to take to the woods.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One last time

You finish your duties for the day - reading, writing, a little arithmetic multiplying the wood pile - and hurry out to the deck. There's a soft warmth to the air that you know in your gut won't last another evening. Also, you've looked at the forecast. The nights fall fast now, and the coolness faster; there's maybe an hour and a half before even diehards must give in to shiverbumps.

You bother with no props today but your G&T and a little cheese and crackers. The clean smell of rockweed, the summer birds still flying over the water, are better than any book. You welcome the last of the mosquitoes. You drink in every sensation you can, not to store them against the winter, not to be brought out like snapshots, but in the intensity of last things that will be last things only if the world comes to an end before next summer.

Otherwise, this evening will live in emotion and feeling, and not images: the feel of warm air on bare arms and legs, and a closeness with everything around, from dragonfly to limpid bay. The retreat behind double-paned glass and bulky parkas will be fine too; I'll just have to work a little harder to be moved. But now, I truly feel cyclical tides of eternity: how an hour in a gentle evening like this one was, is, and will be.

Then again, a little eye candy for the end of summer won't hurt.