Growing peas and boys

As I gently held the fragile pea shoots close to the supporting wire and willed them to grab on, I was reminded of my teenage sons. As they grow, they reach out in all directions seeking handholds to help them along the way. It’s my job as a parent to make sure they hang on in the right places. They can get tangled up with distracting bushes and other riotous gangly green pea shoots. Some even fall all the way back down to the ground when they can’t find any support; those plants don’t die, they just creep off again, often in the wrong direction, horizontal instead of vertical. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that, it just takes these wayward shoots a bit longer to reach the sun and maturity. The good news is that they do all seem to get there in the end, producing lovely, plumb, pea-filled pods of goodness.
I feel a little silly comparing something so transient, and perhaps trivial, as pea plants to my robust, inquiring, amazing boys. A quiet morning in the garden away from the telephone and internet and other life detritus, will do that.

The Wild, organic, free-range Christmas tree

Our glorious, wild, organic, free-range Christmas tree

Ever since I was first married, my husband and I have always harvested our Christmas tree from the woods out back. It’s become a tradition in our family. I scope out Balsam firs through the fall during my walks with the dogs and then a week or so before Christmas, my husband and two sons troop out with me to cut one down and bring it home. In recent years, we’ve included the neighbors in our forest forays. The best trees usually are tall and we trim off both the very top and bottom for the best shape.

Bringing the tree in from the woods

When we first started we settled for fairly small trees. They got bigger over time.

When we first started we settled for fairly small trees. They got bigger over time.

Each year when we get the tree in the house, I exclaim, “this is our best tree ever.” And everyone else rolls their eyes because inevitably our trees are bit lopsided, and maybe a bit sparser than the ones you find at commercial tree farms — ok a lot sparser. But I like them that way because when we put the tree in front of our living room window, we can still see through the limbs to the view outside of the forest, the mountains beyond, and the seasonal Christmas star that lights up at night on top of Mount Battie.

The view out our window to the mountains

The view out our window to the mountains

The great thing about living in rural Maine is that other people get their trees the same way. The other night at our annual Christmas party a group of us got to talking about the concept of the wild tree. One friend recounted that he used to drill holes in the trunk to add extra branches and bushiness. Another said her husband has been pleading with her to let him wire two trees together. We all agreed, though, that we hate it when people coo about our “Charlie Brown” trees. Somehow that demeans this fragrant, wild piece of the forest. I’m convinced that it’s really just a matter of marketing. Don’t call it a Charlie Brown tree. Call it a “wild, organic free-range” Christmas tree and I’m sure everyone would want one and maybe even pay extra for fewer branches.

Fall fog on the lake

IMG_2687There’s a transitional period in the fall when chilly air combined with water still storing summer’s warmth creates fog on the lake— like last Wednesday when I went for an early morning row surrounded by a thick mist that swirled in and out.

One moment I was bathed in bright sunshine, the next engulfed in a cold, gray void. As the fog and sunlight battled each other, I took this photo right at the edge. Looking at it later got me thinking about how we see things. An optimist might say the fog was the blank canvas. Blue sky and green trees emerge as the brushstrokes of light expand.

Me? I know that these misty lake mornings, like the red leaves on the maple in my yard, mean winter’s black-and-white palette is creeping relentlessly closer — the fog is just the advance guard.

By Friday as the temperature rose again, the mist was gone and the lake felt summery enough for me to go swimming after my row.

But the grey will be back, and it will eventually erase all the color.


First light on the islands

The weather in Maine this summer has not been as hot as some of us might like, but as far as I’m concerned the sunrises and sunsets have more than made up for the mediocre midday action. I spent last weekend with my family in a small cabin perched on a cliff jutting over the water at the eastern entrance to the Fox Island Thoroughfare.

3shotI’m not sure what awoke me. Maybe the absolute stillness, no waves lapping at the rocks below, no wind rustling the pine boughs. Maybe it was the intense glow, like a fire, a good fire, though.

Once I sat up in bed and saw what was happening I was transfixed.

I couldn’t stop taking photos. The sky and the water were one. The black silhouette of the land was as sharp in the water as it was against the sky, like an ink smudge along the crease of a folded piece of paper.

2shotWho could tell whether the mirror was above or below. A few clouds added softness. The fir trees watched the scene with me.

8shotThe sliver of moon took it’s time going to bed for the day.

14shotThis is the country of the pointed firs, after all

13shotOur little cabin looked like a fairy tale house when I looked back at it from the dock.

12shotThe view toward our boat on the dock and North Haven beyond reminded me where we had come from and which way was up.

11shotThe Schooner American Eagle was moored in the Thoroughfare.

9shotAs I watched from my perch on the narrow porch, boat-builder Foy Brown drove by in his small outboard, commuting to Brown’s Boatyard in North Haven from his houseboat in Perry’s Creek. The buzz from his engine and the ripples from its wake hitting the rocks broke the stillness, but only for a few minutes.


4shot5shotGood morning North Haven; Good morning Vinalhaven; Good morning Maine. I love being a part of you.





Snowshoeing with my shadow

Years ago when I got my first pair of snowshoes I thought I would be able to dance across the top of snowy surfaces without sinking down. Not so. Snowshoeing through deep snow — however powdery — while easier than walking in boots, is still a sweaty slog. Tonight the dogs and I went out at dusk. Tugging first one duck-shaped foot and then the other up and forward, I waded along, getting increasingly hot and wondering why I hadn’t just gone for a walk along the plowed road. Then panting up the final hill toward home, I noticed a faint glow in the snow ahead and looking more closely saw that my shadow had appeared to urge me on. Turning my head to see the moon rising behind me, I mentally thanked her for the company.

Skating the issue

Penne on ice that looks as fluid as water

Penne on ice that looks as fluid as water

As we glided across the gray ice on Megunticook Lake and then stopped to bask in the setting sun’s purple, pinkish glow, John looked at me and said “skating is really your favorite thing isn’t it?”

He might be right. As we stood by ourselves in the middle of a huge expanse of winter water, the slowly disappearing sun was going out in style, shooting rays of color into the clouds, the sky, and the mountains. All of it was reflected in the ice, which became brighter than even the setting sun. The darker the sky became the more the ice looked liquid, just with its ripples and wind-blow waves frozen in time.


Swimming through the water in the summer takes effort — the joy it gives comes from the soft feel of the water on my limbs. Skating over frozen water, on the other hand, is about the speed. It’s like that surging rush in a sailboat when the wind suddenly catches the sails and pushes the boat forward. Except on the ice, I get that feeling of speed with no boat or sails. Just me and my long blades.

I can go so much farther with so little effort.


On Saturday, knowing that a blizzard was on the way, John and I and the dogs went out for a morning skate. I headed out ahead of John across the smooth surface, left blade carving a long line, then the right blade, then the left, right, left, in a gentle rhythm marked by quick scraping sounds.

We met a lone woman skating back to the shore. “Great out here, isn’t it,” she said.

Further along, we saw a bald eagle perched in a tree watching us, especially Roger. The eagles hang around ice fishermen looking for handouts. This one was contemplating whether Roger might taste better than a dead fish.

An eagle assessing Roger's potential as dinner

An eagle assessing Roger’s potential as dinner

Roger says catch me if you can

Roger says catch me if you can

Ice brings out interesting characters. Last year we met a man riding a bicycle with studded tires on the slippery ice. Sometimes I have run into a guy who golfs — I have found his lost balls stuck into the ice. There also are ice-boaters and ice-fishermen. Most of them use untended tip-ups with flags that alert them when the bait has been taken. Saturday, though, we saw an elderly fisherman who was jigging for white perch. He sat on a small overturned bucket next to a gas heater and was using a small rod to catch the fish and pull them out. Perch travel in schools, he said, and when you catch one, you can be sure you will catch another right away. More than a dozen silvery green perch lay next to him on the ice, one or two still slowly flopping.


9fishHe told us he had seen a man jogging on the ice earlier with a dog.

“I think he was lost,” the fisherman said. “He asked me which way to go to get to Moody Mountain.”

We were not lost. We went all the way down the lake to the other end, where we removed our skates and hiked over a short spit of land and onto another smaller body of water, Norton Pond. We skated to the end of that, and just as the snow started to fall quite heavily, we headed home.


Woody woodworkers

Woodsmen have been out in force in our neighborhood over the past few weeks clearing up the mess from November’s freak storm — the metallic whine of their chain saws cuts harshly through the air.

Today as the dogs and I picked our way through the crusty snow out back we heard some more gentle and natural woodsmen at work: pileated wood peckers.

The first one flew in a zig zag over my head as I was walking up a hill. It squawked a slightly frantic, whinnying “keykeykey” before landing on a nearby ash tree and looking down at us, with its big red head cocked to one side as if to say “what are you doing in my woods?” As he watched us and we him, we heard the drumming sound of yet another woodpecker echoing up through the trees and then yet another, or was it the same one trying out another limb. Were they part of the same crew or were they fighting over territory? Whichever, the dogs and I walked home content that nature’s clean-up crew was hard at work.


Black ice


Every so often the stars align to create perfect black ice strong enough for skating — several days of below freezing temperatures, not too much wind (it can create ridges) and no snow. It only happens once every few winters and never lasts long, maybe one or two days before inevitably the ice is ruined by snow or rain. And it’s always a little scary because you have to be sure the ice is thick enough and even then you have to be careful, always carrying ice picks and watching where you glide.


I am an ice skating junkie. I will go out on almost any sort of ice, picking my way through snowy ridges or around high, wind-blown ice bumps. But black ice, well it’s like the most perfect meal you ever ate, the most beautiful sunset you ever saw, maybe even better. It looks liquid, reflecting the sky, the sun, the trees and even me.




We had it here in Camden, Maine, yesterday and today. And tomorrow it will be gone, covered by freezing rain and snow.


My brother, who also is an ice skating nut, is part of a company that makes something called “Kite Wings.” They come in all sizes and recently he has made ones for amateurs like my husband, John and I. He gave us one for Christmas and we tried it out yesterday. Luckily we were wearing our skiing helmets — something I always do when on the ice now — because John fell and hit his head. He’s got a nasty black eye, but is otherwise ok. He wanted to go skating again today — black ice is that way it calls you even when you’re feeling sore — but did the right thing and stayed home resting.

I, however, could not resist that siren call of ice about to disappear and went out for one last solitary set of spins.



Oh Christmas Tree

John Hanson and Jon Crane load the tree onto the truck for delivery.

John Hanson and Jon Crane load the tree onto the truck for delivery.

The only Christmas trees we have ever had in our house were cut in the woods out back. They always look bushier in the wild than inside. My husband, gracious man that he is, says he likes our trees because they do not block the light or view of the mountains from our living room window. I like them because they are natural, and because the annual expeditions into the woods with dogs, children, neighbors and handsaws, are always fun.

A big bushy beauty. Let's cut it down.

A big bushy beauty. Let’s cut it down.

Each year I proclaim, “This tree is the best we’ve ever had.” Even though the boughs bend down at the tips under the weight of our ornaments, we still are proud. Visitors make snide comments like: “Nice Charlie Brown Tree” or “Where did you find that, at the dump?” I do not mind. They are just jealous.

This year I had hoped to recycle a blow-down from that freaky November blizzard, which blew the tops off so many of our firs. Alas, those blow-downs  not only were looking dry, but also the branches had warped in weird directions from being on the ground so long. We had to find two trees, one for us and one for the neighbors. About a half-mile in we found the first one and quickly cut it, sending it home through the woods with the three boys (wondering if either the tree or the boys would make it in one piece). The second took more careful searching — a big beauty, tall and bushy. It was so big it required three adults to haul it out of the woods and load it onto our truck for delivery next door.

Proud lumbermen

Proud lumbermen

Are you kidding? This tree is too big!

Are you kidding? This tree is too big!

Today, I took the decorations and lights off our tree and put them away until next year. Handling each handmade ornament as I wrapped them and tucked them back into a box brought back memories of my children when they were little. My oldest son hopes to go away to school next year. Will he miss the annual hunt for a tree? Will I want to go out in the woods without him? No, we will wait until he gets home. This tree — green, sweet-smelling, natural and flawed like all of us — represents life, rebirth and hope. The adventure in the woods to find it is our family tradition.

A proud tree hunter and his dog and his truck

A proud tree hunter and his dog and his truck




First frost

The snow-covered green bushes on the left are tomato plants

The snow-covered green bushes on the left are tomato plants

Saturday I spent the day harvesting the last green tomatoes, a lone eggplant, peppers, and  a few stray cucumbers, including one that had wedged into the fence around my garden and grown into an orange balloon. I potted all my celery plants and the leeks in big tubs and hauled them into the garage where they will keep for most of the winter, and I put a row cover over the swiss chard.

The garden at its summer peak

The garden at its summer peak

Then Sunday we had our first frost at East Fork Road, Camden, and it was a doozy. An early winter storm dropped over a foot of wet snow. Usually the first frost is a beautiful sparkly thing that paints the garden a glittering silvery patina before killing everything it touches. This storm allowed no such transition. We went from green to white, just like that. I can still see a few shocked green tomato plants under the white mantle, wondering, perhaps, what happened.


When I went down to check Monday afternoon, after the sun came out and the temperature once again rose above freezing, I saw a tiny narrow path across the top of the snow made by the family of field mice that lives under one of my raised beds. Did this take them by surprise, too, forcing some rushed last minute provisioning from my garden?

What can you do with a cucumber like this, except turn it into art?

What can you do with a cucumber like this, except turn it into art?

Up in the house, thankfully, we were ready. As I write this I am sitting in front of my wood stove, warm and dry, dogs sleeping at my feet. The power has been out for two days, but we have a generator.


Bring it on, Winter, we’ve got front row seats.