Friday, July 29, 2011


Some people were born to be hermits, and I'm turning out to be one of them. Since I quit my day job nearly eight years ago, there are entire days--in the winter, sometimes entire weeks--when I don't leave our paltry four acres. I found last winter that I'd lost all my small talk: At parties, the only way I survived was by pretending I was interviewing someone and peppering him/her with questions.

Also, my greatest pleasure is when some great thing presents itself just outside the back door. In the winter, I'm happiest when the snow's deep enough that I can step off the porch, strap on my skis, and glide off into the woods. This time of year, I'm all aquiver about berries.

When you cut down a bunch of aging spruce trees, as we regretfully did the winter before last, raspberries are the first to take advantage of the sunny patch. After that the hardwood (deciduous) trees pop up, followed by softwoods. I adore berries, and especially the raspy ones, so earlier this summer I waded into the patch behind the dahlias and ruthlessly did away with anything that wasn't going to enliven my Cheerios.

Here's the result:

The corner of wood poking up from the bottom of the photo is the deck railing, so nirvana is roughly two dozen steps from my cereal bowl.

Tomorrow's breakfast and the day after's. The raspberries are being very clever about ripening--just enough ripe at one time to eat in one day. Thus avoiding the torture of jam-making, which I hope never to experience.
Blackberries will be coming along in a couple of weeks, although not where I'm accustomed to them. The patch down by the vegetable garden has been taken over by bittersweet and needs to be razed and started over. Meanwhile, so many poor old spruce have fallen down out front that there's a prolific new patch there. I'm watching them so hungrily, waiting for the first signs of ripening, that I know I'm going to wake up one morning and find a bear got them all.

As I gathered this morning's cereal-garnish, it occurred to me that, if I were inclined to drone on and on about Life Lessons, a raspberry patch has them all. The best ones are on the oldest and scraggliest plants. New perspectives --bending over to look at the plants upside down, or turning to wade out of the patch past plants you've already harvested--reveal a treasure-trove that was hiding before. If you get greedy and go after more than you need, you always tip over your berry basket and lose half of what you already had. (Congress, take note.)

Fortunately, I hate Life Lessons.

The Writing Report: Still in research mode. I was struggling through A Brief History of Time, but then I met an actual physicist who assured me that it is, in fact, incomprehensible. Instead I went to the library and took out Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, which is much more fun.  I also got Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates (about the New England Puritans), which is an absolute hoot as well as being informative.

The Knitting Report: I have to find some cotton yarn for a top-down sweater, which I have to start knitting before my friend Lisa goes home to Minnesota. If I start it without her there's a chance I'll throw the whole thing into the fire.

* A play on NIMBY , which means "not in my back yard." Around here, it usually refers to someone who loves the idea of, say, wind power, as long is it's in somebody else's neighborhood. I suspect I might be one of those, actually--I love the idea, but would hate the noise. We should put them all out at sea--it's sort of noisy out there anyway, isn't it? (Oh dear oh dear -- I bet I'm being stupid.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Normally, Summer officially ends when our friends Linda and Michael pack up their dogs and toys and leave for Providence, RI, after a pandemonious week in a seaside cottage down the street. This year, L&M came up a month early, so we've had our climactic week and there's still a month and a half until Labor Day.

Normally, summer reaches its midpoint when I trek to Portland for lunch with my college roommates. That happened Monday, the day after Linda and Michael packed up the dogs and left. So the summer's midpoint came after its end, which is extremely confusing to the well-regulated mind.

I have reacted to this by spending today puttering. Peace of mind dictates that I get to work pronto. Time being in an upheaval, pronto apparently will not take place until tomorrow.

Highlights of the L&M week included a garden tour for Linda and me--of which she took pictures and I, being time-addled, did not--and matchstick sailboats, kits for which Michael assembled and sent up ahead so Rob and our friend Eric could make them in time for Michael's arrival. Rob was grateful that this year's boat wasn't as complicated and time-consuming as last year's, a miniature catboat with radio controls.

Also, we went to the Stonington Opera House for their annual Shakespeare in Stonington production, which this year consisted of two plays rather than one. With the usual mixed crew of Equity actors and local folk, the Opera House staged Much Ado About Nothing (with men playing Beatrice and Hero, as they would have in Shakespeare's time) and Elizabeth Rex, Timothy Findley's modern play set in Queen Elizabeth's barn the night before she caused Essex to be beheaded. Eager for distraction, she spends the night with Shakespeare's troupe of actors, who have just performed--yup--Much Ado About Nothing.

The Opera House production was in repertory, so the actor who played Beatrice in Much Ado scuttled across town to the Elizabeth Rex stage in the Historical Society's barn, where he portrayed the actor who played Beatrice. All the other parts matched, too. It was very, very cool. And since S in S loves to switch genders around (for example, the friar this year was played by the same woman who played the Duke/Friar in Measure for Measure last year) Findley's play fit like a lady's glove, men's size nine. Elizabeth, who rules England by playing a man's role, confronts Ned/Beatrice, who survives by playing women. Elizabeth is about to kill her lover. Ned's has killed him by giving him syphilis. Shakespeare's purported lover is about to die with Essex. Makes for an interesting conversation.

Usually, S in S takes place in August, but they switched it with the Jazz Festival this year. More time confusion. Tomorrow may be Thanksgiving for all I know.

Anyway, here are some pictures by Linda of the great matchstick sailboat regatta.

The gentlemen launched their boats at low tide, with Linda and me in kayaks to round up any craft that made a break for freedom. Here, I am pursuing one of Michael's two boats (the little sail in the center distance), while Rob's matchstick boat (right) makes for Linda, who's taking the picture. In the center foreground with the red sail is Rob's radio-controlled boat from last year, launched just to make things more interesting.

Ah, summertime in shallow water. Dudley and Mollie, L&M's dogs, wander around pondering mayhem while I lounge in decidedly unapproved kayak technique. My kayak is a Loon, the elastic waistband of the maritime world--very beamy and stable, with a huge cockpit that lets me free my legs for lounging and makes me less claustrophobic than a regular kayak.

The gentlemen , admired by Mollie.
 And, just to humiliate us all, here are my college roommates plus one. Claudia (known to all right-thinking people as Dane) and Laura and I met at Wheaton College in 1971 (actually, I met Laura in 1970, I guess) and shared a house off campus with six other women in 1972-73. Dane and her partner Juanita live in DC, but come to Maine for a week or two every summer. About four years ago, we started meeting for lunch in Portland, which is about equidistant from Brooklin and Laura's New Hampshire home. The amazing thing is that we hardly communicate for a year, and then pick right up where we left off...the nature of old friends.

Juanita, me, Dane, and Laura after an extremely long and loud Monday lunch.

The knitting report: There is none. The secretary wishes to point out that this is not her fault, as there has been no activity since the last report. Oh wait, maybe I started a new sock. I'll have to check.

The writing report: Again none, and the secretary refuses to take responsibility. Except I did get the rough draft of CONOR'S BANSHEE spiral bound so I can give it to some kids to read. Oh, and I'm reading A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME for undisclosed research purposes having nothing to do all the other time-related aspects of the day.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Review Club: July

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@Barrie Summy

I suppose I should suggest beach reading, something light and frothy. This book is far from that, although it is FUN so doesn't that qualify?

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Monsters of Men
By Patrick Ness
Candlewick, 2010
Young Adult

A month or so ago, away from home and requiring an immediate book, I bought THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, the first book of Patrick Ness’s CHAOS WALKING trilogy. I’d heard about it over the past couple of years and had always kinda figured I’d read it sometime.

What. Was. I waiting for.

I finished the first book in 40 seconds flat, and casually mentioned it to our town librarian. She went online, liked what she saw, and before I could get my head together to buy the second book, THE ASK AND THE ANSWER, the whole flippin’ trilogy appeared on the YA shelf beside the circulation desk. (I love our library.)

MONSTERS OF MEN, the third and final book, just won its author the Carnegie Medal, the UK’s version of the Newbery Medal and a big, huge deal. (The first two books were short-listed.) While I have a minor bone to pick with this final book, I’m deeply happy that Ness has been honored for it.

The books are set on a planet that humans are beginning to colonize, despite the fact that it’s already home to the gentle, humanoid Spackle. (Avatarish, yes. More on that later.) The first group of humans finds immediately that something about the planet allows everyone to “hear” the thoughts in a man’s head, resulting in a cacophony quickly dubbed “Noise.”

Human women can hear the men’s Noise, but generate none of their own—a man’s thoughts and intentions are visible to everyone, and a woman’s to no one. (A friend of mine said: “And this differs from reality…how?”)

All Spackle have Noise, regardless of sex. It’s how they communicate.

Animals can communicate that way, too, although at an elementary level. Here’s how the first book begins:

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.

“Need a poo, Todd.”

“Shut up, Manchee.”

“Poo. Poo, Todd.”
Ness has a wonderful time exploring the implications of Noise. Some human men become resentful and suspicious of the women, some women a tad contemptuous of the men. The lack of privacy drives some men nuts but inspires others to use Noise for personal power. Young people—who’ve known no other planet—accept Noise as the air they breathe.

The “Todd” whose dog needs a poo is just such a young person, our narrator for all of the first book and large parts of the other two. The first book follows him as he escapes his home village, called Prentisstown after its despotic Mayor, under a threat he doesn’t understand. As he flees through the woods, he meets Viola, the first female he’s ever known because Prentisstown’s women died mysteriously in his infancy. Viola is the vanguard of another wave of human settlers—she and her parents took off from the fleet on a scouting mission, and her parents were killed when their ship crash-landed. She’s already been threatened by Prentisstown’s madman minister, so she and Todd join forces, mutually suspicious.

The first book is a picaresque adventure, as Todd and Viola make their way to what they hope will be a safe haven, pursued for enigmatic reasons by the minister and, eventually, an entire army from Prentisstown. It’s also about the growing trust between Todd and Viola, and eventually their love for one another. In the second book, they are separated but still bonded, managing to survive the rival forces in yet another dictatorship.

In the third book, MONSTERS OF MEN, the humans are at war with the Spackle, who have had about enough of being subjugated and enslaved. Two factions battle within the human camp. Noise is explained, as well as the Spackle’s Zen-like relationship to it and their planet. It turns out Noise can be manipulated if a man gets it under control. We see the politics of the human factions but also among the Spackle, as narration flips from Todd to Viola to the freed Spackle slave 1017.

In this final book and as a whole, CHAOS WALKING is one boy’s coming-of age story but also a fascinating look at larger issues: why societies fester, why dictators thrive, why we conform, why we kill, why we go to war, and what will stop us. It sets up a series of almost unsolvable conundrums, in which everyone on every side has an unarguable reason to fight, and yet fighting will probably kill them all. There’s a cliffhanger about every ten pages. Don’t plan to sleep much until you finish it.

This last book does come perilously close to being just another Clueless European Colonist vs Noble Savage story, particularly because the Spackle are so psychically entwined with their planet. (They call themselves The Land.) It mostly escapes the yech factor because Noise is such an oddball concept and because the characters are so wonderfully complex and involving. Even the biggest, baddest villain has achingly sympathetic moments.

For me, the one problem with this book is the relationship between Todd and Viola. We keep being told that they will do anything to save each other, even if it means violating core ethics, and yet the bond between them is never as deeply felt as it is in the first book. This reads as an oversight rather than a deliberate plot point.

Fortunately, there’s so much going on and it’s all so much fun that the reader—this one, anyway—accepts what she’s told and gets on with it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Grueling Grilling

Every season has its tortured pleasures: Freezing the tomatoes in the fall, putting the lights on the maple tree for winter, the tax ordeal to usher in spring. For me, summer's annual Dreaded Good Time occurred yesterday, when the Brooklin Youth Corps (the summer work/self-esteem program of which I'm president) barbecued chicken for at least 350 of its neighbors and friends. This was our fifteenth attempt.

The Fourth of July barbecue has been a tradition for decades. When we moved here 27 years ago, the event was handled by the Grand Masters of public cooking: Louise and Rocky Rockwell, George and Georgene Allen, and a host of others. Not sure if there was an organization involved--they were an organization unto themselves. Many of them have moved on to the Bigger Supper now, or anyway have passed their aprons and charcoal briquettes to another generation.

When the BYC started up in 1997, the elementary school's PTF had been doing the honors but had requested relief for some reason. So we took the barbecue on--gulping, because it's such a tradition--and survived to grill another day. It's particularly harrowing in that the BYC season is but a week or two old at this point, so we're not quite the well-oiled machine we'll be in a couple more weeks.

Every year has its little jaw-clencher, usually related to the supplies order. Last year, the order came in with skinless, boneless chicken--it turned out scrumptious anyway because we have Paul Brayton the Master Griller on our team, but he almost had apoplexy worrying about it. This year, the order came in without plastic forks, and we didn't notice until a half-hour before the hoards arrived. This necessitated a frantic run down the street to the Brooklin General Store, which donated every plastic fork on the premises, including the ones they had in a drawer for their own customers.

The chief peculiarity of the event is its timing. The parade starts on the other end of town at 10 a.m., and the color guard makes it to the town green at 10:30, followed for the next half-hour by a succession of floats and antique cars and horses and bicycles and whatnot. The first year we did the barbecue, we figured nobody in their right minds would want barbecued chicken, corn, potato salad, cole slaw and watermelon before 11 a.m. Wrong. The minute people's feet hit the grass of the town green, their noses get a whiff and their mouths start watering. They walk right past the sponge toss and other kiddie games to get in line. Go figure.

We start selling at 10:30. We're sold out at noon.

Herewith, a few snapshots. Sorry I didn't get any of the parade or the other festivities. I was up to my elbows in cole slaw at the time.

The rush begins, and the brave BYCers begin an intense hour of slinging cole slaw. (The red t-shirts have "BYC--Brooklin Youth Corps" on the back, so they're advertising their services even when hunched over and weeding.)

BYC Steering Committee members Judith Fuller (foreground) and Sherry Streeter sell tickets to...

... This crowd. This is probably 10:45.  Note that some people are already eating.

Steering Committee member Ann Brayton, whose husband, Paul, is our grilling genius, cuts up watermelon. Ann's kids were in the BYC years ago, and now she's serving a life sentence on the steering committee.

Our coordinator, Doug Mangels (in red, naturally) gives Paul a break at the grill. This was fairly late in the game--at the start, the entire grill is covered with chicken. I actually don't know the guy in blue who's helping Doug, but I think he was the Braytons' house-guest. That's what happens to the unwary visitor so come here at your peril. (This message brought to you by the Greater Blue Hill Chamber of Commerce.)
My one non-chicken-related photo. It's the sponge-throwing booth run by the school. I love the reaction of the girl in the left background.

After the clean-up, we went to our own neighborhood barbecue. I drank three (light) beers and ate, I think, four desserts. Fueling up for next year.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Gardener's Moan

One of these things gave rise to the other:

I took these photos in early May, when I got out the dahlia tubers that had overwintered in luxury (paper bags in Rob's studio). Last summer's perfect growing season had given the plants, and therefore the tubers, a burst of energy the likes of which I can only vaguely remember from my teen years.  I ended up with 27 potted tubers, which would inevitably result in 27 potted plants, which would all require homes in the perennial garden.

Which had room for about twelve. 

I've pretty much exhausted the willing recipients of dahlia plants. (My friend Kim took two or three this year, but only because she was already hooked before I admitted that her husband had previously refused them.) So, even though I had a book to finish and Places to Go later in the month, I decided, naturally, to expand the back flowerbed by roughly two-thirds. (I like to think I wouldn't have done it if I'd known I was going to be felled by the Cold that Wouldn't Die two weeks later. But we'll never know for sure, will we?)

If this had just been a matter of digging up some sod, adding compost and lime, and sticking in some dahlias, it wouldn't have been so bad. But the complication is that I've run out of sunny spots for flowerbeds, so this new bed was half-shade and unsuitable for dahlias. I had shade plants that now were in the sun because of massive tree-cutting the winter before last, plus I had newish apprentice perennials that had proved unmanageable and had been sentenced to exile in the wilderness.

So, while I finished the first round of CONOR'S BANSHEE (emailed to agent and editor yesterday, thank you very much), I also was playing perennial pinball in the garden. Dug up euphorbia and campanula, put in dahlias. Transplanted blue-flag iris, put in dahlias. Also put dahlias in their usual place, except more crowded than usual. Bought some new astilbe and astrantia (shade-lovers) and stuck them partly in the new bed but partly in the old bed. From which I transplanted violets and some other thing whose name I can't remember.

Here (below) is where it stands at the moment. The new bed is in the back, definitely a work in progress because I'm leaving lots of space for growth and the crap soil needs several more applications of compost and seaweed. The new astilbes etc (plus some old astilbes which are in the lower left.

Hmm. This isn't sounding like as much of a horror show as it was. Did I mention that we've had a weird late bloom of black flies, coinciding with the regular bloom of mosquitoes? I have your attention. One of the little suckers found its way under my shirt and bit me just above the naval. The rest were content to swarm around waiting for my organic bug-repellent to wear off, which it does about once an hour.

There are other seasonal miracles. A leopard's bane, which flowers in late April, burst into life today and emitted one more perfect bloom, which we hadn't even seen coming. Maybe the rapture is due after all.

Not a miracle (except in the broadest possible sense) but the peony's looking good, too. Kinda makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it?

The knitting report: We don't get television once the trees leaf out, so I'm a little less productive. But I'm on the second sock of another cotton pair, which will make FIVE total since I started. And yet I am not bored.

The writing report: Bye-bye Conor, at least for the moment. A day off, maybe two. Then I'm either starting something new or refurbishing something old. Not sure which.