The setting sun casts a shadow of pink and orange reflections on the shiny gray ice far larger than the fiery fading orb itself. The cold breeze pushes my body back as I skate into it, my blades grinding in rhythmic metal swooshes. It may be mid-March, however, winter still holds this lake and me in its cold, tightly clasped fist. Sure I’m sick of the cold and the snow. But spring will come. It always does — I’ll read seed catalogues tonight in front of the woodstove, and have already begun pruning my fruit trees. In the meantime, this afternoon, this lake, the setting sun, this smooth ice are winter’s finest offering.
Today was a 2-lake skating day – Chickawaukie in the morning and Megunticook in the afternoon. The ice wasn’t great, but getting out and about was.
One of the best things about skating on lakes around here is checking out the ice fishing shacks. These fishermen’s homes away from home are extraordinary examples of whimsy combined with practicality. Utilitarian shelters designed to keep fishermen warm and provide a cozy refuge on the cold, windy ice, they also are lovely examples of creativity.
I have seen shacks painted all sorts of colors, such as bright blue and red ones. Some are sided in spectacular sheets of steel that relflect the blue sky and white snow. Others are rigged on skis to make transportation easier. Today, I saw a shack with a rounded roof and gables that looked like halved wagon wheels. The owner invited me inside to share the bacon and eggs that he and his friends were cooking on a small woodstove. Overhead hung a miniature set of deer antlers (it’s small because this is a small house, the owner said) and a fan of pheasant feathers. The owner explained he designed his shack to have lots of head room since he is tall. He sheathed it in treated canvas to make it light enough for him to move and set up without outside help.
I’ve read about Minnesota where people tow huge houses onto the ice, complete with large screen TVs and kitchen. Here in Maine, ice shack architecture, like the landscape and its people, is economical and functional, but also quirky and wonderful. Why waste money on something big and gaudy when smart and small will do?
Many years ago I wanted to write a book called “Finding Home.” The plan was to write a series of profiles of people in the state, asking how they knew when they were home and what that meant to them. It’s a rich topic that has engaged many writers far better than me. That may be one reason why the book never got off the ground.
Still the question lurks in my consciousness each time I write a story, and especially now that I am editing a magazine celebrating life on the Maine coast.
A couple of weekends ago I asked myself again about home as my husband and I headed up to Mt. Desert Island for a friend’s 70th birthday party. I spent 10 years on MDI back in the 1990s, some of that time as editor of the local newspaper.
Our first stop was lunch in Ellsworth where the man behind the counter rang up my sandwhich while saying, “Hi Polly. How have you been?” It took some serious brain rummaging and a quick phone call to a friend to come up with his name. But then the memories started to flow.
Next stop was with Putt at the Stihl dealership in Trenton. Every year for at least 10 years I’ve stopped in to see Putt and pick up the latest Stihl calender for my husband. They feature buxom, scantily clad blonds posing with chain saws and weed whackers and other stuff like that. Putt thinks it’s hilarious that I come all the way up from Camden to see him. “I don’t know about this year’s calender,” he said, as I flipped though, a tad shocked at images a lot closer to run of the mill pornography than usual. “I’ll tell the dealer I had a complaint,” he said with a chuckle as I hurried out with my head down.
We decide to drive through Somesville past a house I once rented, and stop at Long Pond to check out the ice. It looked great. Some people were playing hockey and there seemed to be ice fishermen everywhere. Scraped out by a glacier during the ice age, Great Long Pond is 4 miles long but nowhere near as wide. When I lived on MDI we used to skate there often, down and back. I have a photo at home of me with my old terrier Calhoun on a particularly windy day. Once my brother and I skated the whole way around during an exhausting weekend effort to spend time on every lake on the island.
On this day we got halfway down and stopped to talk to two bundled up ice fishermen sitting in chairs. They told me two ATV’s went through the ice nearby earlier and to be careful. They and all the other fishermen on the lake this weekend were competing in the Tremont Ice Fishing Derby. As we chatted, one of them looked at me sharply. “Is that you Polly?” It’s a guy I used to know when I lived there. He did a bunch of housepainting and carpentry for me.
I head back up the lake, spreading my arms wide at the glory of the mountains all around reflected in the smooth ice. Some of you may know, I am a skating fanatic. Some people do drugs, I do ice.
By this time, John, nursing a sore ankle, had turned back for home. I promised not to go too far, but it was hard to force myself back. By the time I did return to John near takeout, I was high on skating and memories.
Next stop was tea and gossip with several island friends. Later at the birthday party, we saw still more familier faces. By then, after forgetting that first time, my memory had come back and I knew the names. Dinner was a buffet and we sat at a table of strangers. But even they felt like old friends by dessert. John and I love boats, islands and fish stories and the people at our table wanted to talk about all three.
As we drove home late in the evening, fighting back drowsiness, I was happy to my core.
Home is a state of mind. You can’t explain it like a dictionary definition. But you know it when you feel it. Home is skating on a favorite lake from the past with my best friend and love of my life; home is reconnecting with familiar faces. Home also is kissing my sleeping children and letting the dogs out when I get back to my own house after a day down memory lane.
Home is Maine and it warms my heart.
As the gentle January snow fell outside, I decide to make a lovely beef stew with carrots and onions from the cold cellar, celery grown in the kitchen window and tomatoes put up last fall. Seems a pity to pollute all that goodness with store-bought thyme (currently masquerading as lint in my pantry). So down to the snow-covered garden, we trudge (the dogs come with me). Despite a December defined by subzero temperatures and deep snow, January has been warm. Today’s snow marks the return of winter. Still, even in the silently falling snow, I do not need either a hat or mittens. Shriveled brown stalks of last fall’s broccoli point this way and that over my raised beds like small scarecrows, and straw insulation protecting garlic bulbs pokes through the snow. I have to dig a little to find the thyme. But the reward is a handful of stalks with fragrant green leaves, shining like emeralds. It’s a reminder that even when snow and ice turn the landscape black and white, the color remains for those who look, a hint of tenacious life and of the promise of spring.
Every year John and I forget our anniversary and this year was no exception. That’s ok because we celebrate our marriage all year long. This year, though, we made up for missing the exact day, by planning a short, belated celebratory overnight cruise. As we sailed out of Rockland Harbor, I felt like the owl and the pussycat in Edward Lear’s wonderful children’s book. Only instead of sailing for a year and a day to the land where the bong tree grows, we went to North Haven, picked up one of JO Brown’s moorings and rowed ashore just as the setting sun was working its magic.
We rowed around the North Haven Casino which is celebrating its 101st birthday by getting new underpinnings. It has been moved off it’s flimsy pilings onto a sort of steel teepee while Prock Marine rebuilds the piling.
A lovely end of the season party at a friend’s house, followed by dinner at Nebo Lodge where we saw more friends, reminded us why we love this small island. We rowed back out to Wild Rumpus in the moonlight across the glassy smooth water — rowing to the light of the moon, not dancing, but it felt just as joyous.
After coffee on board the next morning, a shoreside inspection of work being done under the house my brothers and I own, and chats with more friends, including a cousin who was taking delivery of one of Peter Ralston’s gorgeous photos (he took the photo of the two of us above), we hauled up the sails and headed back across the bay, waters sparkling and just enough wind the keep the engine silent.
A last summer sail, bittersweet but so lovely. It will give us memories to share over the winter and fodder for dreaming about more cruises next year.
The skipper says see you on the water next year!
The other day we ate lunch outside in the sun and all agreed it was one of the nicest days ever. I think that’s because in September we never know how long the late summer sun will linger. We enjoy each warm bright day with extra pleasure, because it might be the last time we can wear sneakers with no socks, or a short-sleeve shirt outside. Knowing winter is just around the corner seems to make the sun brighter.
The same thing goes for fall sails. Each time I rig Frolic and take her out into the bay, I savor the gurgle of water along the hull, the gentle shaking of the wind in the sails and creak of the spars as though I am hearing them for the last time in a very long while. Perhaps if I breathe in really deeply I can pull into my head and heart the color of the deep blue sky, dark green mountains, rippling ocean, and the dusky pink glow of my sails filtering the sunlight. If I’m lucky they will stay there long enough to sustain me through the cold months of winter — like extra special spiritual vitamins.
Today as I watched the sun reflect on the bay out my office window I decided to leave early to go sailing, because you never know how much longer this will last. Frolic and I headed out in the late afternoon with the schooners. In less than 15 minutes we were out in the bay, sailing past the bright white lighthouse on Curtis Island and beating towards the Graves. I thought of my father who loved doing stuff like this and my husband who persuaded me to buy and restore Frolic. Thankyou.
I turned back just as the already light wind heaved its last sighs and stranded Frolic and me at the entrance to the harbor. Two guys sailing a pinky schooner just downwind hauled in their sails and picked up speed. They would get home before dark, thanks to an engine.
I have an electric engine down below, but do not know how to use it (That’s always been John’s department. It may be time to learn for myself). But my long oar worked fine as a paddle and with a bit of effort it got me to my mooring, just in time to watch the sky turn pink and dress the harbor with its glow. Once ashore (where I had to pull my rowboat across the beach and then up on the dock thanks to the extra low tide), I watched the full harvest moon rise over the bay, emerging from the land in a blaze of orange almost as bright as the sun that just set.
Bring on the cold weather. I’m stocking up on my September sailing vitamins.
So glad John helped me sail Frolic back to Camden from North Haven. The wind was blowing hard and the seas were rough. As we emerged from the Thoroughfare and were preparing to tack to avoid some rocks, I heard a clunk on the deck.”Did you hear that?” I asked John. Just as he said no, we heard it again- a slightly metalic thud. We both looked forward and then back at each other in shock. The leeward side stay was swinging free and looping around in the wind. If we had tacked, the mast would have fallen over. I was ready to panic, but John, calm and collected crawled around the mast where, miraculously, he found not only the shackle that connects the stay to the deck, but the crucial pin that keeps it in. Both were lying loose on the deck. My hero carefully balanced on the slippery deck and dodged waves as he reattached the stay. Then he found a piece of wire down below to make it more secure. “I do not know what I would have done, if you hadn’t been with me.” “You would have been fine. You would have fixed it.” “I would have cried and tried to take the sails down and then called you for help.” “You would have been fine.” I love my husband. He is so nice to me. The rest of the trip was fast and fun. We surfed to Camden in record time. Frolic is home and summer is over, but, luckily, my adventures with John are not.
Picking green beans is like walking in the dark with no light. At first you cannot see anything; after a bit shapes begin to emerge; and soon you can see more than you want to. It’s called night vision.
For days I’ve been checking my green beans wondering when I would harvest some. Yesterday: nothing but leaves and stems, or so it seemed. Today, an explosion of green goodness. They grow fast, but not that fast. I’ll call it bean vision.
After an hour weeding in the garden this morning, I came inside to read the newspaper and drink my coffee. A small green inchworm hitch-hiked a ride. By the time I noticed, it was dancing its way across the front page of the Times — a tiny, but graceful ballet that brought joy to the otherwise dreary news of the day. mobile
When I was a child, my parents called the last meal before one of us went away to camp or school the “deathhouse dinner.” It was meant to be a feast of the departee’s favorite foods and we four children posted notes in the fridge noting what we liked best. I always thought the name was morbid. It was as though they were sending us off to die. Last night the garden and I made dinner for Jack and Sam as they head off for three weeks of camp. The last of the peas, the first potatoes, the first cucumbers, grilled chicken. It was delicious and I thank the garden for blessing us with such bounty. But I have new insight into the “deathhouse” thing. It’s what my home will feel like while my children are gone. I will miss them so much and so will the garden, which will keep producing its bounty, but there won’t be enough of us to eat it.