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

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Atlantic Ocean, then

A couple of afternoons ago, we followed Rockland's harbor walk, which runs between the two industrial areas that still define Rockland in spite of the recent invasion of the artists and the sailors and the gourmands - the hulking warehouse of Dragon Cement on the south side and the boatyards and fishing wharves on the north. The contrast of views between middle and ends is actually not all that great, except for the fancy boardwalk constructed in the heyday of MBNA. Rockland's waterfront is still pretty gritty no matter where you are on it. The contrast of use, however, is great. The downtown part of the waterfront now serves the tourist, from the big festivals honoring lobsters and the blues to the hundreds of sailboats and motor yachts crowding the moorings. When we first starting coming to Rockland 18 years ago, the harbor contained only working boats. Now the lobster smacks and the Coast Guard and the shrimpers tie up well away from the Top-Sider set.

In due course we reached the northern end, and walked partly out on the Municipal Fish Pier. The dog was most interested in the smells of bait and rotting ropes; we looked at the utterly utilitarian scene of piles of traps and rusty barrels and fish shacks of tin and the huge blank warehouses of the boatyards next door. Esthetics might be the absolute last consideration on a working waterfront.

As we were leaving to return to the 21st century and the 1%, I saw a older man taking pictures of a fish shack sliding into the bay. He stood next to a motorcycle fitted out for long-distance travel: the comfortable seat, the large windshield, the double metal panniers painted bright red. He too was properly fitted in helmet and leathers. As we left the pier, we heard a very loud female voice coming from what seemed like the motorcycle itself. It seems he had rigged up some kind of loudspeaker to his phone, so he could talk over the roar of his machine and through the plastic of his helmet. He was keeping in touch with someone, and that someone was saying, "So you're at the Atlantic Ocean, then. How is it?" in a broad Midwestern accent.

Vividly, this Midwestern boy remembered the first time he ever saw the Atlantic: at age 13, on Popham Beach, with family on a windy day full of surf and gulls and the breathlessness of adolescence. For 50 years the ocean has been in my nostrils and my bones. If our motorcycle man was seeing the Atlantic for the first time, and rehearsing the scene for his wife or friend, then I can't imagine a more different way to do so: nature worked for its bounties vs nature stripped to its elements. I hope neither of us ever loses that thrill.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The tanker in the bay

Looking out on a bay that shows no sign of human activity but a monstrous tanker is an odd experience.
Let's assume that oil is being transported - even stranger.
The tanker slips past Fisherman and Sheep Islands as if they didn't exist. I wish the tanker didn't exist.
Here I am, yet another silly romantic, enjoying a balmy August evening and ignoring the world of petrochemicals that got me here.
Is that what we have to do to find peace?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sun and fog

The sunrise this morning was spectacular, and brief. The sun rose red-orange over Vinalhaven, intense and clear. The sun path on the bay reached for me in bed like a furrow on fire. High clouds turned pink, purple, white. The sun rose until it was perfectly framed between the horizon and the thin band of dark clouds just above. I wished I could stretch this moment to last longer, I wanted to stay bunched on my side in the bright clarity of morning, dreaming the possibilities of light, viewing a simple, clean world. The earth actually goes around this thing! For millions of years! The moment lasted but several minutes before the dark cloud took over. Time to face verticality, and coffee, and clocks ticking.

One hour later the fog had come completely in. I could barely see the water, let along the sun. Time to face the outside world, traveling blind through cyberspace: the news of the Times, reviews of books I'll never read, an array of environmental disasters flagellating me via Twitter feeds, the usual mess ever-, and never-, changing. It's better to travel "away" when you can't see the beauty in place.

Soon enough, fog and sun were mixing. This is a better metaphor for the confusion of daily life. We take the dog for a walk she doesn't really want. We struggle with words. We struggle for energy to struggle with words. We hope and regret at the same time. We try to pin down the wispy ineffable. We calculate the carbs of lunch and cars.We worry needlessly about our children. The future breaks through but occasionally. Cosmology no longer seems simple. In my beginning is my end.

From T.S. Eliot, East Coker section of The Four Quartets

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Yesterday afternoon, the resident flock of seagulls, aided slightly by the crows on the shore, decided to raise ruckuses. Three or four times, for periods of 10 or 15 minutes each, they flew back and forth over the water screaming or squealing or squawking, or however English describes their calls. As with so much of animal behavior, it seemed inexplicable, at least to me. Naturally, I've been imagining reasons ever since.
  • War/rain dance/sabbath/mating rituals - not that there was any discernible patterns to the workings out of their various religious passions
  • Insouciance - see how we can fly so expertly and you can't
  • Practice for the Feast of Flying Ants night 
  • Bird Olympics - some infinitely complex synchronized flying competition, in heats?
  • Noise continuation - my own strong suspicion, for all day yesterday on our shore, a couple of lots down from us, there was the buzzing rasp of a chainsaw cutting down and chunking up trees and the banging and groaning of an excavator digging up stumps, and the seagulls, being warlike and insouciant and hungry and competitive, were trumpeting their approval of this destruction, while this Homo sapiens was listening and watching and wondering about the new house to be built there, and how big it is to be, and more specifically, what is the wisdom in clear-cutting the lot, except for the thin borders of trees providing a buffer with the neighbors on each side, considering that trees are pretty much the only friends that Homo sapiens has in the fight against climate change, and although I'm sure there's a good, explicable reason for the clear-cut, not merely
  • A matter of convenience for the big machines
  • A larger expanse of lawn
  • A better view
yet this Homo sapiens want to change his species name to Homo tristis.