All posts by Laurie Graves

I write about nature, food, the environment, home, family, community, and people.

Some Thoughts about Plastic from the Snail of Happiness

Nowadays, plastic is everywhere—in our homes, in our businesses, in our landscapes, in our oceans. It is a fact of everyday life. Because of its inability to breakdown, plastic has been called the devil’s resin. I am trying, with limited success, to reduce the amount of plastic that I use, and I am sure this is true for a lot of readers.

Recently, Jan, from the blog The Snail of Happiness, wrote a post about plastic and how it might be used appropriately. She has agreed to let me link to this thought-provoking post.

Here are the first two paragraphs from Jan’s piece:

Today I want to discuss plastic… it’s in the news a lot at the moment and it is always portrayed as being evil. Well, I want to say that I disagree. Please stick with me on this and I’ll explain why I’m worried about the huge number of “plastic-free [insert town name here]” initiatives that are springing up and the way that plastic is presented currently in the media.

Language is very important, what we call things affects the way we perceive them. Call it “global warming” and the immediate image (in the UK at least) is nicer summers; call it “climate change” and that just means things are going to be different, and, after all, we all know that “a change is as good as a rest”; but call it “catastrophic climate breakdown” and there are no comfortable images to hide behind. See what I mean?

Click here to read the full piece and Jan’s take on the use of plastic in the modern world.

In some ways, Jan has made me reconsider my position on plastic. But her piece has also emphasized what I think is the need for a circular economy, where materials are seldom discarded and instead reused for other things. This should be done as locally as possible as shipping trash to China is rubbish. And could local centers, where material is recycled and remade into useful items, actually be a boon to towns and cities? A sort of mini resurgence in manufacturing? Maybe so.

Anyway, thank you, Jan, for this terrific piece.

 

 

Epic Mosquitoes, Lush Gardens

This year because of the cool, rainy spring we had, the mosquitoes (and ticks!) are epic, as the kids would say. In my thirty-five years of living in the woods, I have never seen the mosquitoes this thick and furious. (The Thick and the Furious. A name for a north woods horror movie?) Even a short stroll to the mailbox across the street brings a squadron of those biting buzzers, and clutching the mail as I hurry down the driveway, I am all too happy to be back inside.

The Herbal Armor insect repellent helps a lot, and we will be ordering more of it. I’ll be praying to the weather gods for a stretch of dry, sunny weather to hold back those dratted mosquitoes. (Not dry enough for a drought, mind you. Just enough to shrink the standing pools of water.)

But as the saying goes, there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Except for the basil, which is languishing in the chilly weather, the gardens are lush, lush, lush. What a pleasure to look at the various shades of green. I have finally made peace with the fact that because I live in the woods, I will never have a cottage garden bursting with color. (Sigh!) In making that peace, I am actually enjoying the modest beauty of a garden that mostly has plants known for their foliage. (Hostas, I’m talking about you!)

Here is a shot of the front garden.

A few modest blooms provide color.

The chives are nearly ready to open.

And out back, Eliza’s iris is in soft, white bloom. (Thanks, Eliza, for giving me this beauty.)

This weekend is Father’s Day in the United States, and on Saturday, Clif and I plan on going for a bike ride on the rail trail in Hallowell and Gardiner. Weather permitting. There just might be Chinese food for lunch. And possibly a zombie movie on Sunday.

A very Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!

A Spark on Water Street in Augusta

Once upon a time, towns and small cities in Maine were thriving, busy places. Maine is a state with many rivers, and along those rivers were factories that made shoes, spun wool, and produced paper. There was a downside: Those factories polluted the water and the air. But they also provided good jobs. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s, the factories left, one by one, to go to places where there was cheaper labor, first in the southern part of the United States and then out of the country all together.

The devastating effect of this on Maine, a small, rural state with only a million people, cannot be overstated. No big tech companies rushed in to fill the void, the way they have in more populous states in southern New England. Therefore, young people left—Maine has the largest percentage of senior citizens in the country.  Many of those who stayed behind pieced together a patchwork life of part-time work.  Or, full-time jobs that barely pay enough to raise a family, buy a house, and pay for a college education. (Hannaford Supermarkets is one of the largest employers in Maine, along with Wal-Mart.)

Not surprisingly, when the great factories fell silent, once flourishing downtowns went into a tailspin. Business after business closed, and all over Maine there were so many empty store fronts that Tim Sample, a Maine humorist, joked about the “Vacant Building Festival” in Eastport, Maine, where the locals supposedly quip that “If you could buy a Greyhound bus ticket with a food stamp, we’d all be outta here.”

Funny, but ouch, and this applies to much of Maine, not just to Eastport.  It certainly applies to central Maine, to Augusta, the state capital, whose downtown on Water Street has been moribund for so long that only an old timer like me remembers when it was thriving.

However, lately there have been sparks of life on Water Street, and those sparks have burst into a little flame. Appropriately enough, Cushnoc Brewing Co., a brewery that also serves pizza baked in a wood-fired oven, seems to have been one of the first to light the spark in Augusta. (My son-in-law Michael maintains that breweries have done a lot to revive communities. Perhaps he is right.)

Along with Cushnoc came other businesses—Otto’s, Circa 1885, and most recently Huiskamer Coffee House, where we went on Saturday to hear our friend Claire Hersom read poetry along with Jay Franzel and Bob MacLaughlin.

Huiskamer Coffee House is a delight. There are couches, comfortable chairs, tables, and Vermeer and Mondrian prints. (What a contrast between the two artists!)  Wonder of wonders, there was good tea—Harney & Sons—as well as good coffee. Grace Fecteau, one of the owners, let us use our own mugs for tea and coffee, but there are ceramic mugs and plates.

Here is a view of the coffee house from our table.

And here is a picture of the delightful Claire.

As the poets read, subjects ranged from the Red Sox to back country roads to being poor in Maine. To having a father with Alzheimer. Some of the poetry was intense, some of it was funny, and all of it was close to the bone.

How nice that the coffee house was full of people listening to poetry. Tea and coffee were drunk, scones and soup eaten.

When Clif and I left, it was still light out, and on Water Street, there were cars parked on both sides of the road. People walked on the sidewalk.

Even five years ago, Water Street was deserted on nights and weekends. Not anymore.

May this spark continue to grow.

 

Little Visitors

The green season—our happy time—has begun. Yesterday was sunny and warm enough for us to wear t-shirts as we worked in the yard. We had tea on the patio, and we will do this every nice day until it gets too cold, probably until the end of September.

We have lots of little visitors in the backyard, and I always bring out my wee camera when we have our tea.

There are the will-o’-the- wisp hummingbirds. (I’ll keep trying for a clearer picture. Unfortunately, the light is always low during tea time.)

Since we live on the edge of the woods, we have lots of woodpeckers. I believe this one is a hairy, but birding friends, please correct me if I’m wrong. After all, how else will I learn? (My other challenge is distinguishing the house finch from the purple finch. Oh, the challenges I face.)

The flash of red of the male cardinal still delights me, and his melodious song is just as enchanting. As I have mentioned in previous posts, cardinals are a relative newcomer to Maine. My mother died eleven years ago, and she never saw one in our backyard. How thrilled Mom would have been to see them here, and I wish she had live long enough to enjoy their beauty.

Because we feed the birds, rodents abound, and as long they stay outside, I don’t have a problem with them. I must admit that I have a soft spot for chipmunks, who stuff their cheeks with seeds and other good things to eat—hence the term chipmunk cheeks for anyone who has puffy cheeks. Chipmunks are a sweet, little rodent, and they never try to come inside.

The same cannot be said for red squirrels. A kindly person might call them saucy. A more critical person might mutter about their noisy, fractious ways. I seen these little animals drive away the larger gray squirrels from the feeder. Ditto for crows and blue jays. Red squirrels don’t hold back. When Clif and I are on the patio, they frequently scold us for being in their territory.

But it’s not all fun and games on the patio. Here is another visitor that’s not quite as welcome as the others I’ve featured.

After the cool, wet spring we’ve had, these biters are out in force. However, thanks to Facebook friends, we have recently discovered All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect RepellentReaders, not only is DEET-free, but it actually works. All right, you will smell like a citronella candle, but that sure beats the chemical smell of DEET. After I sprayed Herbal Armor on my arm, I watched the mosquitoes fly toward my bare arm then veer away. (The above picture was taken before I used Herbal Armor.)

So take that mosquitoes, and welcome, beautiful June. With its low humidity and warm but not hot days, June is the perfect month.

if I had superpowers, I would trade in miserable March for an extra June.

But, I don’t. This means I’ll have to squeeze every bit of pleasure out of this wonderful month.

 

 

Of Superheroes, Pizza, and Cocktails

The pine pollen is flying, and the mosquitoes are out in force. June has come to Maine, and it’s time to finish the spring gardening chores. Fortunately, today is a bright and beautiful day, and this afternoon Clif and I will be outside.

The last week of May, when our daughter Dee came to visit, was cool and rainy. Still, we had a good time. We are all movie buffs, and the rainy week was a perfect time to go to the cinema as well as watch films on Netflix. Our favorite was Avengers: Endgame. I know. Avengers is a blockbuster movie about comic-book heroes ranging from Spider Man to Thor. But it also addresses one of the most serious issues of our times—overpopulation—in a way that smaller movies seldom do. While Avengers has the usual mega fight at the end of the movie, it also gives the characters plenty of breathing room, allowing them to mourn the terrible loss of having half of Earth’s population wiped out by the supervillain Thanos. (For an economic discussion about Thanos and his plan, check out NPR’s Planet Money.)

I realize I’m going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that nowadays, comic books, fantasy, and science fiction are doing the best at addressing the major issues we face. On the surface, these stories seem to have a lot of folderol and fighting, but underneath they have a moral seriousness and scope missing in most mainstream or literary fiction. I’ve had this discussion in book group and on Facebook. Naturally, I’ve received push back, all of it thoughtful and respectful. The push back hasn’t exactly changed my mind—I continue to think that fantasy, comic books, and science fiction should be taken seriously. However, perhaps not all mainstream stories are entirely vapid, and I was too quick to dismiss an entire genre. Anyway, readers, if you have thoughts about this, please chime in.

Back to last week…

We went to the Kennebec River on a misty, cool day, and Clif took these pictures of the moody river and the bright chairs.

We also went to Cushnoc in Augusta, one of our favorite places to go for pizza.

We had cocktails and beer.

And, of course, pizza.

All in all, a good rainy week.