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.
Back when I was a newspaper editor in Belfast, Maine, one of the more unusual aspects of my job was judging the newspaper’s pea contest. Each spring, the newspaper awarded a prize to the reader who grew the first “mess” of peas.
A recent college graduate from the city, I had no idea what a mess was, other than what my office looked like on a regular basis. Back in those days, you could not just turn on your computer and find instant answers. You had to do your research the more conventional way. Just what is a mess? I asked my colleagues, silently imagining gardens wildly strewn with errant peas and shells. Turns out a mess –- the word comes from a Middle English word for course of a meal — is enough peas to make a dinner. No one I asked knew just how many peas that would require.
This was serious business. Local pea growers were known to plant their peas with heat tape to accelerate the growth or to heat the soil with fresh manure – competitive gardening at its best. But no matter what they did, or when they planted, the peas seemed to be ready at the same time. There would be that day in mid-June when the newspaper phone would ring all day with people calling to let me know their peas were ripe. And I would drive out, up hills and down dirt roads to inspect, visiting each garden and interviewing each grower.
I think of those days often now that I have my own garden and rush in the early spring to plant my peas as soon as the ground has thawed enough for digging. But I’m not worried about winning contests; my goal is to have peas by July 4. Each year I tell my husband that next year I won’t plant peas; we’ll buy them instead. But each year I relent and into the ground they go.
Peas talk to me of summer, past and present. I’m entranced by the curling tendrils that seem to pull the lush green vines up the trellis, by the speed with which star like white flowers morph into succulent green pods. I love sitting outside in the light that seems to last forever this time of year and shelling the peas, eating one every now and then and feeding the husks to my dogs who greedily consume them. When I was a child I would shell peas with my grandfather who used to challenge me to find the pod with the most peas. His record was 11. That pod and its contents sat on his mantelpiece for at least a summer, faded, shriveled, but glorious in its bounty. The very first poem I learned as a child was about peas:
I eat my peas with honey.
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes them taste quite funny;
But it keeps them on the knife.
We ate our first mess of peas tonight. I’m sure the farmers in Waldo County already have harvested many meals, but I’m happy. I beat the fourth by a few days and the peas were delicious.
This time of year the sun rises behind Mt. Battie and shines through my bedroom window right into my eyes, like a teleprompter telling me to get outside.
I love this early morning time in the garden, checking on seedlings and weeding. Too early in the year for many pests and diseases, everything looks green and hopeful. The growing plants with their different shapes and shades — spiky garlic, rounded swiss chard, stubby broccoli — bring visual order to my life. A distant woodpecker’s gentle rhythmic beat, the wind in the trees, the murmur of birds going about their business soothes my brain.
It’s a momentary feeling, but the effect is long lasting. Solving problems here is as simple as pulling unwanted grass shoots from between the rows of beets. The hardest decision is whether to let the freelance dill grow among the rows of leeks, or to remove it.
Living in the moment is therapeutic. The essayist Montaigne described it well: “When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep; yes, and when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling elsewhere, I lead them back again to the walk, the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, to myself.
Everybody loves a parade. Especially me. But until now I never got to walk in one. I’ve always been a spectator. Until today, that is.
Today, I walked with my son, Sam, and his Little League team in Camden’s Memorial Day Parade.
What makes this parade so wonderful is that the spectators sitting in their canvas folding chairs and holding small American flags, know the people marching by and vice versa. They yell hi and wave their hands and their flags and we wave back. We walked by my friend Dan and his mother, Gigie; my friend Jackie who was selling raffle tickets in front of the local market; Scott sitting in front of his real estate office; and Jude who rushed out to give her son a sip of water as we passed. In front of us, the high school band played but all we heard was the staccato beat of the drums. Behind were antique cars, local clubs, the humane society and the Lincolnville Band playing in the back of their huge tractor-trailer.
Today, the sun came out after 10 days of rain. The crowds lining the street and those of us marching the two miles from start to finish felt happy just because at long last we could see blue sky.
Before moving to Camden, my experience with Memorial Day was on the island of North Haven, just off the coast from here. There a town official each year reads off all the names of local sons and daughters who died in the service of their county, going all the way back to the American Revolution. Then some one plays Taps and memorial wreaths are dropped off the ferry landing to float out to sea.
Camden is too big to read off the names of all the veterans. Instead, the parade stops at each memorial on the way through town. And when we reach the main cemetery, the high school band plays the Star Spangled Banner and the Naval Hymn and a lone trumpeter plays Taps. A minister recited a blessing; and a veteran read touching lyrics from a country western song about “our boys in blue.”
Memorial Day is when we take time to honor those who gave their lives for our country. But the Memorial Day Parade also celebrates community and the people who hold it together.