Those From Away

IMG_8026In Maine there are two classes of people—natives and those from away. As is the case with many rural states, in Maine there is a tension between these two groups. The natives sometimes resent those from away, who are often more affluent and bring new and outlandish ideas to the state. The latter was especially true in the 1970s, when hordes of young people came here to go “back to the land.” It has also happened more recently with the foodie movement, where so many chefs and cooks have flocked to Maine that many places—especially Portland—have developed quite the foodie reputation.

Those from away often feel as though they will never truly belong, no matter how long they live here, no matter how hard they might work for their communities. A friend of mine once asked in frustration, “How long do I have to live here before I’m accepted as a native?” I wisely refrained from answering. To qualify as a Maine native, you have to go back at least two generations. As Mainers like to say, just because the cat had kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits.

My husband and I are natives, and we both go back at least five generations. Maine is in our blood and in our bones. We have a history with the state, and this is reflected in the way we speak, think, and even dress. (Oh, yeah! We dress like a couple of Mainers, that’s for sure.)

As natives, Clif and I believe that those from away bring a much-needed vitality to Maine. Any state, any country that is closed becomes inbred, both literally and figuratively. Nevertheless, we understand why there is resentment. To someone who has sold a house in, say, Massachusetts or New York or even New Hampshire, houses in Maine are quite the bargain. For Mainers, not so much, and in some coastal communities, people can barely afford to pay taxes on property that has been in their family for several generations.

Several years ago, I was at a gathering where those from away commented gleefully about how unsophisticated the Maine food scene was when they first moved here.  One woman observed, “Mainers didn’t even know there was such a thing as square plates.”

This might be true, but I winced a little when I heard her say that. Did she really have to speak so condescendingly and unkindly? Of course not.

Fortunately, at least with the people I know, this attitude is rare. Most people from away come here because they love Maine and its unpretentious ways. They rejoice in not having to keep up with the Joneses or anybody else. Often those from away become very involved with their communities, donating time, energy, and money  to various organizations.

Recently, I read a book called The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam. It’s set in Yorkshire, England, and the interconnected short stories revolve around natives and those from away. Over a span of twenty years, a Yorkshire family forms a tight bond with a family from London. The London family rents a house called Light Trees from the Yorkshire family, and while there are tensions at first, they are soon smoothed over by the children, Bell and Harry. Bell grows up to have a child of his own, and at the end of the book there is a conversation between, Anne, Bell’s daughter, and Harry, who is considerably younger than Bell. They are discussing the possible sale of Light Trees and whether people should stay put.

Harry states, “We always knew we didn’t own it [Light Trees]…. Maybe people should stay where they were first put.”

Anne replies, “You great daft thing…What sort of a world would this be if people had stayed where they was born? What sort of a country this? There’d have been no Vikings bringing bees and honey…and no Celts with bronze and jewels and no Romans fixing up roads and laws and no Saxons with books and paintings…”

What sort of country, indeed? And what sort of state would Maine be if people had stayed put? As a native Mainer whose long-ago ancestors didn’t stay put, I can emphatically agree with Anne’s sentiment. Maine would be a much poorer state without the influx of those from away.

 

From Farmer Kev’s Carrots to Ginger Carrot Soup

From Farmer Kev's carrots...
From Farmer Kev’s carrots…

The other day, I looked in the crisper of my refrigerator and saw that I had carrots—lots of them—from Farmer Kev’s winter CSA. The carrots were all still perfectly good, but I knew the time had come to make a serious dent in them.

Ginger carrot soup came immediately to mind. Clif really likes it, and especially with Farmer Kev’s lovely carrots, which only need to be scrubbed and not peeled, it is an easy soup to make.  A food processor for chopping the carrots makes the soup even easier to put together, and this device, along with an immersion blender, should have pride of place in all frugal kitchens where most of the meals are home cooked.

The following recipe is adapted from a recipe I picked up somewhere—unfortunately all I have is the card with no identifying name. However, I’ve fiddled with the recipe so much that I can safely call it my own. There is as much of my own writing and instructions on the card as there is of the original recipe.

Ginger carrot soup is good anytime, but it is especially good in the spring. Its bright color is matched by an equally bright and spicy taste. Just the tonic for coming out of the long, cold winter. Serve it with a salad, and you have an utterly healthy meal. Add biscuits or bran muffins, and you still won’t be too far over the edge. But any way you serve it, enjoy!

To ginger carrot soup
to ginger carrot soup

Ginger Carrot Soup

2lbs of carrots, peeled (if necessary) and chopped
6 cups of water or stock
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
Pepper to taste
1 large potato, chopped
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, large chop or crushed
1 teaspoon of grated ginger or 2 teaspoons of ground ginger

In a very large stock pan, heat the oil and add the carrots, potatoes, and onion. Sauté them for several minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute more. Add the water, the salt, and the pepper, and let simmer for at least  45 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft. Purée the soup and add the ginger. If using ground ginger, add 1 teaspoon, then taste. Add the next teaspoon according to taste. (Clif likes it spicy, so I always add more ginger.)

Joy Joy Happy Happy

Finally, finally, spring seems to be coming to Maine. Yesterday, when the dog and I went for a walk, I needed neither hat nor gloves. The sun was warm upon my face, and I know it was probably just my imagination, but it seemed as though I could feel my body absorbing vitamin D.

As we went up the Narrows Pond Road, I saw a sight that few would consider beautiful but was oh so heartening to me—water running in the ditch.

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When I looked down the road, I could see how much the snow has melted and pulled back.

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A little while later, we met Megan the dog and her person, both back from winter in a warmer place.  Liam has known Megan since he was a puppy, and I remember how she used to nuzzle his little back.

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We continued on our walk, and on the way home, I saw budding trees against a deep blue sky.

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More running water where the stream has finally broken through the snow.

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And back to our very own little house in the big woods where we can actually see bare driveway.

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Yes, there is still a lot of snow in our yard, but joy joy happy happy. Spring is coming!

 

A Stand-off in Winthrop and the Blessings of an Ordinary Life

IMG_8009Yesterday, when I went to the Credit Union, I met a friend who asked, “Did you hear there is a police stand-off in Winthrop today? The schools are in lockout.”

“No kidding!” I said. To put it mildly, I was surprised. Winthrop, population 6,000, is normally a safe, placid town, and it’s one of the things I love about living here.

The tellers at the Credit Union joined the discussion.

“It’s on Spruce Street,” said one of them said.

“There was a gunshot,” another said.

Spruce Street is only about a couple of miles from the Credit Union. “Is Main Street closed?” I asked. I had planned to go to the library after I was done at the Credit Union.

“No,” my friend answered. “Just High Street and Spruce Street.”

At the library, I discussed the stand-off with Richard and Nancy, and we all agreed it was a shocking incident for little Winthrop.

But shocking incidents can happen anywhere, even in a town of 6,000. No matter where they live, people can snap and do terrible things. As it turned out, this was a case of extreme domestic violence, but fortunately the wife and child escaped without harm. Unfortunately, the husband killed himself, and this was the gunshot that was heard.

After going to the library, I headed to Augusta, to a place I have been going for nearly five years—the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care. In 2010, just before my fifty-third birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first, I went to the Cancer Center every four months. Now it’s every six months. In September, on the fifth anniversary, I will start going once a year.

I was lucky. My cancer was “lazy,” slow-growing and not aggressive. My prognosis has always been good. Nevertheless, when I go to the Cancer Center, I am nervous. Will the blood work reveal something terrible? Will the oncologist find a lump?

Yesterday, the answer was no and no. Everything was good, and I could carry on with my ordinary life, which, since breast cancer, has become very dear to me. I could continue my volunteer work with the library, which means so much to me. I could check on an acquaintance who is going through hard times and offer to make soup for her. I could plan an Easter Brunch. A summer of bike riding. Nights on the patio. My ordinary list goes on and on, and how grateful I am to be able to enjoy that list.

Today I have been thinking about the people involved in that stand-off—a man who is dead; a woman without a husband; a child without a father. For the man, of course, his ordinary life is over, and I can only assume there was too much pain for him to bear. For the wife and child, I expect it will be quite a while before they can enjoy an ordinary life, and there might be scars that never quite heal.

An ordinary life, like being useful, sounds flat and boring. But for those of us who have had our ordinary lives tipped upside down, it is anything but dull. For me, at least, my ordinary life is rich and fulfilling, and I hope I have many more years of this life.

 

Virunga

Virunga (2014) Poster

Yesterday, our friend Alice came over to watch the movie Virunga with Clif and me. (Alice’s husband, Joel, has been gripped by March madness—college basketball—and Alice was eager for a diversion.) Virunga is a compelling  documentary about Virunga National Park, located in eastern Congo and home not only to endangered mountain gorillas but also to many other animals such as elephants and lions. Virunga National Park is a lush and beautiful place guarded—and I mean this literally—by a group of dedicated rangers who must carry automatic weapons and grenade launchers and who  are sometimes killed protecting the park.

Virunga National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is under constant threat from poachers as well as an oil and gas company called Soco International, whose headquarters are in London. It seems that along with an astonishing biodiversity, Virunga also has oil, and Soco, to put it mildly,  is extremely interested in the oil. With its vast resources, Soco bribes its way into the poor community around the park, making the job of protecting Virunga even more difficult.

As if poachers and a greedy oil company aren’t enough, there is a third force to bring misery to Virunga and the people in the surrounding area. That is, the rebel force M23, who is fighting against the Congolese government. As Emmanuel de Merode, the park’s director, calmly observed, Virunga was between a hammer and an anvil, caught in the middle of the battle between the government and the rebels.

The film focuses on four people: André Bauma, who cares for orphaned gorillas; Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, head park ranger; Emmanuel de Merode, whom I mentioned above; and  Mélanie Gouby, a very brave and plucky French investigative journalist. The film takes you undercover with Melanie Gouby and Rodrigue Katembo and then throws you in the middle of the war as the rebels and government do battle, right in the park itself.

I can’t put it any better than Ronnie Scheib of Variety  when he writes that Virunga is an “extraordinary documentary” with “enough action, pathos, suspense, venal villains, stalwart heroes and endangered gorillas for a dozen fiction films.”

After we watched the film, Clif said, “Virunga sure puts snow and cold weather in perspective.”

Both Alice and I wholeheartedly agreed with him.

Do see this movie if you get a chance.

The First Day of Spring: Let It Be Known…

Today—March 20, 2015—is officially the first day of spring. Let it be known that I am officially tired of the following:

  • A yard buried in snow. Is there grass somewhere lurking beneath? A patio?  Maybe, but all I see is white.
  • An icy driveway that I have to creep across when I’m taking the dog for a walk.
  • Wearing a hat, gloves, and a heavy coat. Oh, the freedom to step outside without bundling up—a hatless head and gloveless hands seem like a dream from the past.
  • The restless feeling that comes from staying inside too much while at the same time not wanting to go out because it’s too darned cold.
  • The biting wind that makes the cold even worse. It blows down the Narrows Pond Road, and walks are downright painful.
  • The high heating bills that come with all this cold weather. In our house, we keep the temperature low, but it doesn’t matter. The bills are still high.

Evidence, taken on the Narrows Pond Road, to support my complaints:

The swamp, covered with snow, where the frogs still slumber
The swamp, covered with snow, where the frogs still slumber
Dried flowers from last year
Dried flowers from last year
More dried stalks with pods
More dried stalks
Bare branches against blue sky. (All right. I admit it. This one is pretty.)
Bare branches against blue sky. (All right. I admit it. This one is pretty.)

These complaints are now duly noted, and we can only hope that the weather comes to its senses, that we will soon feel the soft touch of true spring.

And maybe, just maybe, see a bit of bare ground.

 

After Thirty-Eight Years: Thoughts on Marriage

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Two goof-balls, after thirty-eight years

On this day, thirty-eight years ago, Clif and I were married. Who plans a wedding in March, Maine’s most unlovely month? We did. We were both students, and we decided to get married during spring break.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the wedding except that it was unconventional—I wore a red velvet dress made by a friend, and Clif wore a gold velvet tunic that he sewed himself. My father and brother also wore gold tunics, and my mom dubbed them the “Star Trek” crew. (She had a point. Those tunics did have a Captain Kirk look.) I was also very nervous, as most brides are, and I was glad when the whole thing was over.

Every year on this date, I muse about marriage and divorce. How in the world have Clif and I managed to stay married for so long? I don’t think it can simply be chalked up to love because I believe most couples really do love each other when they get married. But for some people, over time, love fades. The reasons can be varied, but I suspect a prime reason is that when the heat dims, as it must, many couples realize that they really don’t have much in common, that they are no longer a team.

I know. This sounds about as romantic as a pair of walking shoes. Nevertheless, I believe common interests, common goals, and the sense of being a team can form the basis for an enduring relationship that leads to friendship, another unromantic concept. To all of this, a very liberal dose of devotion should be added.

My recipe for a long marriage is not the only recipe—there is no one way to do anything, especially marriage—but I do believe it is a good one. It has worked for Clif and me, and it has worked for a lot of our friends, who have also been married for many years.

Do we get on each other’s nerves, from time to time? Of course we do. We have even been known to bicker. But we get over it and usually fairly quickly. Then, we move on to the things we like to do—bike, read, watch movies, get together with family and friends, and cook. (Clif makes the best pancakes and waffles. Ever. And his grilled bread is legendary.)

Tonight, I’m going to cook a homely but special meal of baked chicken, potatoes, and some kind of vegetable. (Because we infrequently eat chicken, it falls under the heading of a treat for us.) For dessert, Haaggen-Dazs ice cream and cookies with Belgian chocolate. I’ll light candles on the table, and we might even have a glass or two of wine.

It will be a cozy and very happy anniversary meal.

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