From apples to cider

A little over seven bushels of apples ready for pressing

A little over seven bushels of apples ready for pressing

We have about five big apples trees on our property but because we do not spray them, the apples are only really good for cider. One year we tried making our own with an antique apple grinder and press that we borrowed from a friend. A day later, we had managed to make about two gallons of unfiltered cider. Not only did it taste bad, but it also made us sick.

Instead we now collect our apples and take them over to our friend Bob Sewall’s place. He runs an organic orchard and is known for his great cider, as well as his cider vinegar.

Loading up the cider press with apples, one bushel at a time

Loading up the cider press with apples, one bushel at a time

Bob specifies that the apples must not have been sprayed or picked up off the ground (his cider is certified organic and he does not want to risk contaminating his press). He also requires a minimum of at least five bushels of apples.

Gathering enough apples for the pressing is one of my favorite parts of the process. For weeks before my appointed time on Bob’s press, I drive around with empty bushel baskets in my car, looking for apple trees whose fruit has not been harvested. This also allows me to come up with a blend of different varieties.

I always get some from my mother’s backyard- she has a nice old red delicious. Sometimes I get some from my doctor who has a Wolf River tree outside his office — really big apples with a fairly bland taste. This year I found some pears in the backyard of a house near my office — they taste great in cider.

This year we had help from our neighbors, the Cranes. Jon Crane is just as much of a scavanger as me. He found some Tolman Sweets, a very sweet green apple, Northern Spies (tart and crisp), and Macouns (sweet and crisp). We added these to my Cortlands, Empires, a few Golden Delicous and some UFOs from a friend’s orchard for a total of seven bushels and headed up to Bob’s place on the edge of a mountain. It’s a glorious place to be on a fall afternoon. You can stand in the doorway of his pressing shed and and see the ocean in the distance.

Bob has an old press he bought second hand. We poured the apples into a hopper where they are hosed down. They are carried up into a grinder and the mush comes out of a fat hose. Bob lines each tray with a heavy cloth, fills it with the mush, wraps it up and piles another tray on tap. When he has a stack of enough trays, he puts them under the press where powerful hydraulics extract every bit of juice, leaving behind only a thin mat of skin and seeds — all the pressings from our apples fit into one big rubber bucket, which I brought home and put in my compost bin. Of course the whole time during this process, juice drips down the sides and into the big vat underneath. The fruity smell of apples is intoxicating.

Filling trays with apple mash

Filling trays with apple mash

Juicy juice!

Juicy juice!

Eventually when our load has been pressed, Bob bottles it in plastic jugs. Always important is the taste test. Delicious. Sweet, but not to sweet and a nice backbeat.

Our seven or so bushels make 28 gallons of cider and it only took about 45 minutes. We will freeze most of it to drink over the winter. Each time I drink some I will remember this lovely fall day, the apples, and the neighbors who made it all possible.



Glorious beacons of beech


First walk in the weeks after almost two weeks away. Last week’s three-day storm accelerated fall’s progress, tearing down leaves and limbs and throwing rotted tree trunks onto the path the dogs and I follow. But we saw a way around them, and on the way back through the beech woods, found that the glorious gold understory has so far evaded nature’s Hoover winds and fall’s relentless clawing fingers. Luminous in the mist, the glowing beech leaves helped us find our way home.

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


A lake and lots of funky boats=fun

The theme of the 10th annual Polly’s Folly Fall Regatta on Megunticook Lake in Camden was cool boats. In addition to the usual Laser crowd, the race included a classic wooden moth, a sailing canoe, a Lightning, a Bluejay (sailed by the fleet’s youngest racers), a GP14, a rowing shell, and a kayak. The wind had gone elsewhere, so the second theme was cheating. Several racers were seen using paddles to move up in the fleet.


And in a first for the regatta, there was a near sinking. One of the Lasers was rigged without its plug and began to sink out in the middle of the lake. Luckily, a race organizer was able to get there in time to rescue the boat and her sailor. The deeper question here is: was JKHJr trying to sabotage his old friend Carl?

The first race course was a windward leeward around a big rock; the second involved a small artificial duck that was hard to see in the gorgeous fall light reflected off the mountains and lake.

Below are some photos:




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.

Fall blooming

Some plants, like blueberries, grow faster after they have been pruned or burned. The stress forces a reaction — a frenetic, last-chance, all-out blooming. Fall has that affect on me. Each day of warm sun seems so extraordinary. Each sail out on the bay feels like the best ever.

A glorious hike up Maiden’s Cliff — do the lake and ocean sparkle brighter this time of year because they are closer to a sun that now sits lower on the horizon; Or is it the contrast to winter’s creeping shadow?

In my garden a week ago I found as many as eight large cucumbers a day and had picked so many tomatoes I’d run out of counter space in my kitchen to line them up on their way into the canner and freezer. Still, even though we’ve been eating gifts from the garden since June, a tomato warmed by the late September sun somehow tastes sweeter than one harvested in mid-August.

Winter hangs in my awareness this time of year, like the Camden hills, heavy and majestic.

Canadian geese flying south above our field screech the message that colder nights and eventually snow approach. I hear you. I hear you. I’m walking faster. I’m sailing harder. I’m soaking in the sun. I’m getting ready.



Hugs, poetry and poop

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.

Tiny homes on ice


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.

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?

3nightshack 7insideshack 4skishack

Finding home


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.

belovedOn 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.

IMG_1051Next 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.

IMG_1043Home 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.