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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fisherman Island

The day is busy meteorologically and meetings-ologically, and then, during the last meeting of the day, is busy both ways at once, when another tropical downpour hits. The board room is like an island curtained off from the sea, pounded by the surf of the storm cell, and we are nearly completely distracted from the business of the day. The tumult lasts but ten minutes, and windows are re-opened, air freshened, minds tightened, sky and agenda back to normal.

When I'm back home, sitting on the deck, the sun re-appears just before setting. But the sky grants it only a sliver of opportunity, and it takes immediate advantage to stream like a laser and light up the islands in the bay. Little, Sheep, Monroe and especially Fisherman glow with a radiance as if lit from within. Fisherman is just far enough away that its details are usually not clear, but tonight the slanting sun against the dark clouds still flooding the east seems to act like a magnifier, or a purifier, and binoculars inspire the two or three trees and the old abandoned white house to a shout of eloquence. Their agenda may be past, there are no motions to second or resolutions to approve out there, but like a tropical downpour, the images come freshly alive.

An island is a troublesome beast, spawning ideas of independence and freedom where there really are none. Fisherman is small and desolate, like the rocks and grasses and surf and heath of Dogs Bay in the west of Ireland. You believe you can be married to the land on an island, or an Ireland. Where there are no people, there might be peace. But the contrast is the thing - between dark sky and gleaming light, between a fisherman and the sea, between a Board and a preserve, between an official and a druid, between a human and his Nature.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Just one flick

We both stopped dead at the same instant, me, the buck, walking up the slight hill on Bay View, and she, the doe, stepping out onto the lane. We stared at each other, human and deer, for a minute or two, not moving. That is, we were far enough apart that she looked to be still, but perhaps was tensing the muscles under her skin, her defense against deer flies, perhaps tensing her leg muscles for the first sign of danger. For my part, after the first few seconds, I fought that crazy desire to make a movement just to see her make a movement, like obnoxious people in a zoo pounding on glass, yelling, throwing twigs to make the fish/snake/ape/lion jump. Animals are not allowed to rest in peace, it's not who they are. Their movements define them. Something's wrong when a orang just lies there like a couch potato, watching us gesticulate behind the glass. Sorry, guy, the pleasures of TV are reserved for humans. We require animals like you to remind us that we too are animals. We also used to move freely.

In this standoff I was successful in holding my fire, having nothing more pressing on my plate than a walk for recreation. Soon the doe flicked her tail just once, waited a bit more, then ambled across the lane to the woods on the other side. Her walks are more than recreation, she needs to keep moving, for her plate is always empty, no leftovers await her in the fridge, that's the price of freedom. Or maybe with that flick she just wanted to see if I was the prisoner, if I would jump.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Joy of June

Still in a somber mood these days, although the perfect weather of the weekend, and the assault of June flowers - rhododendron and lilac still going strong, every last little lupine floweret now popped out, honeysuckle and spirea and a bunch of other flowering bushes well on their way to glory, beach roses taunting us with their uncultivated proliferation - are doing their best to cheer us up. It seems quite right to think about dying, at this time of lushness. Not in the angst of April, in which cold and warm, fear and faith battle, but in the joy of June. If our friend David had died in January, it would have been much harder to bear.

An Owls Head neighbor did die in January, He was older, no longer in the prime of life, but he still seemed active until the end, mowing the lawn, driving his little pickup to Rockland, fiddling with his antique Ford. Although he was buried in Rockland, where he worked his whole life, there is now a striking memorial to him on his property. Just up the hill from his house, on a large stone carried by glaciers from somewhere else and therefore called an “erratic,” his family has had his last name carved - incisively, eternally. The rock rests on the edge of the lawn that he was so particular about, just in front of a half acre of magnificent purple lupine, that wildest and most ordinary of flowers, and backed by a dark stand of spruce. Plainness, and ordinary strength, and a strong sense of home got him through life, and death. I walk past that rock every day. Cells grow and slough, and pine needles push and fall, and deer flies hatch and wait, and the hummingbird flies in a frantic arc of courtship, and the bald eagle tears at an eider duck in its talons, and my nephew's baby waxes, and my lost friend's body wanes, but the spirit and the atom go on forever.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A death, and a life

Back in Maine after an absence of 10 days. The length of the absence was planned, but not its character. A dear friend died on June 2 and we drove to Michigan for the memorial services.

This is neither the time nor the place to think about agony and what it means - that a 58-year-old at the height of his career, in a place he loved, with the most wonderful wife and sons, could die of a brain tumor - but rather about community. Our friend, after some years of wandering the halls of academe, came back to the part of the world in which he grew up, a conscious decision to embrace a community that has numerous faults of insularity, racism, and pride as well as its virtues of kindness and industry. Yet that's where he came from, that's where many of his family and in-laws still lived, that's where he felt he could make the most difference, even though in Massachusetts and Ohio and Indiana and the innumerable places abroad where he and Pat taught, they inspired hundreds, perhaps thousands, of us to work for peace and justice and tolerance and love. He could do more, and did.

The visitation evening at the funeral home was so packed with people that it took us half an hour just to reach  Pat and sons and give them brief hugs and tears. Next morning the church was completely full for the memorial service. I stand in awe of a life that was so full of people, but David had the ability to make every one of us believe that, except for an accident of time and space, we would be his inseparably best friend.

His religion played a large part in this outpouring of love and support.But if there ever was strong evidence that religion is just another way in which humans differ, David was it. It did not seem to matter to him. A community, a friend, was a matter of love, not doctrine. That I had left the place and beliefs he went back to seemed to mean nothing. He still loved me, and that's what I now take back to a very different life of small family and limited friends and much time spent alone in Maine - that I must try to understand the person behind the pose and the posturing and the fearfulness, even in these mean and divisive times.