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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

Fall cruise

 

The Camden Hills viewed from the ferry

The Camden Hills viewed from the ferry

Jack on the almost empty ferry headed to North Haven. He was too busy reading to notice the light. Rhapsodies about the setting sun don't start happening until you are older anyway.

Jack on the almost empty ferry headed to North Haven. He was too busy reading to notice the light. Rhapsodies about the setting sun don’t start happening until you are older anyway.


Last year John and I sailed alone on an overnight to North Haven to celebrate our anniversary. This year we brought the whole family, dogs and all. Jack and I came late to the party since we had to drive up from his crew race in New Hampshire (his team won!) and catch the late ferry. The setting sun turned the white ferry pink and the ocean an extraordinary shade of purple blue. It was one of the most gorgeous rides across the bay I’ve ever had, made all the more lovely by the knowledge that I was with my son and headed to spend the night with my husband and other son — the people I love the most in the place that I love the most.

Jack with his medal. The Megunticook team beat out a dozen other men's novice junion 4 to win at the New Hampshire Rowing Championships

Jack with his medal. The Megunticook team beat out a dozen other men’s novice junion 4 to win at the New Hampshire Rowing Championships

John and Sam had sailed over earlier in the day on Wild Rumpus with the dogs.

Nature smiled on us and the temperature did not drop too much. The full moon on the flat calm Thoroughfare in the middle of the night shone through our the portholes. I got frequent glimpses, since truth be told I was awake quite a bit as the dogs roamed from bunk to bunk, nails clicking on the floor, and small whines, before trying to crawl into my bag and settling for sleeping on top of me.

Penne and Roger had a good night's sleep with me in my small bunk.

Penne and Roger had a good night’s sleep with me in my small bunk.

The next morning was warm enough to eat on deck. John cooked us all eggs and bacon served on toast.

The chef

The chef

Dining on deck

Dining on deck

 

The sail home, a hustling, bustling close reach was a fitting end to the fall sailing season.

Farewell North Haven until next summer

Farewell North Haven until next summer

 

Last Sail

 

Me taking Frolic for her last sail

Me taking Frolic for her last sail

Sitting in my office looking out at the harbor, deep blue with just the right amount of wind, sunny with enough clouds to make the sky interesting, I knew.  It was time for The Last Sail.

Crisp September days with their strong breezes and bright sun make for some of the best sailing of the year. But this also can be a time of strong storms and the weather can change on a dime. Deciding when to let go of summer and have your boat hauled can be tough. Pull it too early and you might miss another week of fabulous weather. Wait too long, though, and you can get stuck spending a sleepless night listening to the wind howl and worrying about what’s happening down in the harbor.

Heading out Camden Harbor

Heading out of Camden Harbor

This time I knew.

I had been spending my afternoons like the grasshopper, playing on the water, when I should have been thinking like the ant and getting ready for fall, and winter.

Putting off working in my garden in order to frolic on the boat meant a delay in digging up the sweet potatoes — some lucky field mouse had time to eat most of the crop before I got there. There were apples to pick; cucumbers to pickle, yet more tomatoes to can and the rest of the potatoes to dig.

It was time to move off the water.

The last sail is special. Time to savor the rustle of the water along the boat hull, the gentle clunk of rigging and the creak of wooden spars rubbing, turning, working. Relish the salt spray that leaves a rough crust on my cheeks and hair. Stretch my eyes out along the blue water, past where it meets the blue horizon and uncoil all those internal knotted lines. Then store it all in the memory bank.

Looking up at the mast and gaff mainsail

Looking up at the mast and gaff mainsail

 

Leaving the Camden Hills behind as Frolic and I sail in Penobscot Bay

Leaving the Camden Hills behind as Frolic and I sail in Penobscot Bay

Thankyou, Frolic, for all those great outings this year, for carrying me away from the mundane and into the blue. See you next spring.

Frolic is a Dark Harbor 17, built in the 1920s and restored in recent years by Artisan Boatworks.

Frolic is a Dark Harbor 17, built in the 1920s and restored in recent years by Artisan Boatworks.

Hugs, poetry and poop

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Some mothers get breakfast in bed, fancy bouquets, or maybe even taken out for breakfast on Mother’s Day. I am luckier than that. My Mother’s Day celebration was a bumpy drive to Appleton in John’s old Jeep truck to pick up a load of lovely composted manure from Cheryl at Terra Optima Farm for my garden.
To top it all off, just at the end of the day, Jack and Sam came in with a small bouquet of cheery daffodils, and better than even the flowers, big hugs for me.

The boys wrote me this poem a few years ago on Mother’s Day.

Lizards have them
Little frogs have them, too
But no one in this world
Has a mother who’s
As sweet and fine as you!

Poetry, poop, and hugs. These boys know the way to their mother’s heart.

Still winter

 

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.

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Tiny homes on ice

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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.

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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.

1redshcakI 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.6domeshack 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?

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Waiting for spring

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.

Sailing vitamins

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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.

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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.

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Bring on the cold weather. I’m stocking up on my September sailing vitamins.

 

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