All posts by Laurie Graves

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

Some Thoughts on a Mostly Gray October Day

IMG_6703A chilly, gray October day. Yesterday, thinking it would be sunny—as forecasted—I foolishly hung laundry on the line. Let’s just say that the laundry is still a little damp, and if it’s that way by the end of the day, I will take the clothes off the line and put them on racks in the basement. I’m also cancelling my plans to go on an afternoon bike ride. Too cold! Instead, I’ll spend some time on the exercise bike as I listen to the Diane Rehm show and her Friday round-up of the news.

No doubt some of that round-up will include a discussion of the man who brought the Ebola virus to Texas. I try not to get too anxious about the virus, but I must confess that the Ebola virus, like flesh-eating bacteria, completely freaks me out. In the global world we live in, it was and is inevitable that the disease should spread. I only hope our medical system is better able to cope with it than the systems in West Africa. If ever a case could be made for a strong, concerned, and humane government to become involved in the welfare of its people, then this is it.

Pushing thoughts of Ebola virus away, I am planning ahead for the weekend. Tomorrow morning, Clif and I will be going to Railroad Square to screen a movie—The Longest Distance, a Venezuelan film. Clif and I are part of a committee that plans and hosts a film series called Cinema Explorations. Either at home or at Railroad Square, we watch screeners that have been sent to Railroad Square and then discuss our reactions through email and meetings. Clif and I have been on this committee for about ten years, and we so enjoy the whole process of watching, discussing, sometimes arguing, and then selecting six movies that we hope will appeal to the general public.

After the movie, we have to zip back home so that I can make an apple pie for a potluck we’re attending. Our friend Margy, who throughout the year hosts potlucks at her home, is hosting this one for Craig Hickman, who is running to be reelected to the Maine house for District 82, which comprises Winthrop and the neighboring town of Readfield. Craig will be bringing signs, and we’ll gladly take one to put on our lawn.

When Craig ran two years, against a very nice man who is from the area, I wasn’t sure if he would win. Craig is most definitely “from away” as we say in Maine, and I wondered how clannish Winthrop and Readfield would be. However, Craig, who is both outgoing and hard working, soon become involved with the community—with the soup kitchen, with Rotary, with the Theater at Monmouth, to name a few organizations. To know Craig is to like and respect him, and although he is a Democrat, he appeals to both parties and, of course, to Independents.

How nice to live in a town where both parties are respected, and voters frequently vote for candidates who are not in their party. This tolerance, along with the natural beauty of the area, is one of the things I especially love about Winthrop.

As I finished writing this piece, the sun came out. Maybe there is hope for my laundry after all.

Enter October

IMG_6678Once upon a time, August used to be my favorite month. The days were hot and dry, the nights were cool, and the mosquitoes were pretty much gone. But as with so many other things, August in Maine seems to have changed—it’s rainier, muggier, and filled with mosquitoes. I was not surprised to read in the Boston Globe that in Maine “precipitation has increased by more than 10 percent, with the worst storms bringing significantly more rain and snow.”  Yes, indeed, and those of us who were born here and have stayed here will find ourselves nodding in agreement.

September, on the other hand, appears to have removed itself from the rainy cycle. In fact it almost seems as though it’s the new August. The days are sunny, dry, and, if not hot, then at least warm. The nights are cool. The mosquitoes are pretty much gone. This September was nothing short of glorious, with plenty of days for bike riding, sitting on the patio, and listening to the crickets sing and the loons call.

But like all good things, September had to come to an end, and now we have October, which I am hoping will also be good, albeit in a cooler way. There is no more bike riding when Clif gets home from work. However, we do sit on the patio for a bit before heading in to make supper. By seven o’clock, it’s dark, and we now pull down all the shades to make the house feel cosier and warmer.

The leaves are falling, and I spend a fair amount of time sweeping the driveway and patio. The hummingbirds are long gone, but the year-round residents—the nuthatches, chickadees, finches, titmice, woodpeckers—still make a jolly flutter and racket as they come to the bird feeders.

Yesterday, I began cutting back the perennials, a daunting task now that my knees are so creaky. “If you didn’t have so many gardens, then it wouldn’t be so bad,” Clif reminds me.

Yes, yes. I know. But I love my gardens, and I will continue to tend them until I can’t anymore. (I hope that day is a long way off.) As with any other task, once I get started, it somehow doesn’t seem as bad.  I began as I always do, with the hostas around the stump in the front yard. This afternoon, which promises to be nice, I’ll do some more cutting, and by the end of the month, all the gardens will be cut back, waiting for the big freeze that will harden the ground. And then snow. If the past few years are any indication, then there will be plenty of it.

While I am sorry to see the end of September, I must admit that I like October—the apples, the fall harvest, the turning leaves, the birth month of my eldest daughter. All these things make it special.

This time of year, I really enjoy making apple pies for family and friends. Macoun apples—so crunchy, so sweet, so tart—are ready, and I have been greedily eating two a day. (To keep the doctor really far away?)

The trees are already splashed with color, and I am looking forward to bike rides by Lake Maranacook when the trees are in a dazzling blaze. While it might be too dark to ride when Clif comes home from work, we can still ride on weekends, and I take rides by myself in the afternoon.

Pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins. Stews of all sorts, and there’s a new red lentil recipe that I want to try out in the next week or so.

And who knows? Maybe the weather will even allow us to grill a pizza or two before it becomes too cold to eat on the patio.

Dare I hope that October is the new September?

Clif’s Birthday

The birthday boy
The birthday boy

Last Saturday was Clif’s sixty-third birthday. This year, we decided rather than exchange presents for our birthdays—mine is in September, too—we would do special, fun things on each birthday.

The day of Clif’s birthday just happened to be such a beautiful, warm,  sunny day that we could hardly believe it. By midmorning, the temperature was over sixty degrees, and by afternoon it was so warm that records were broken. As soon as we got up, we knew what we would do in the morning—go for a bike ride.

We went on our favorite ride by Lake Maranacook, where the sky was a deep, deep blue, and below it the lake shimmered in response. Across the lake, the trees were in their first blush of fall, and purple asters bloomed by the side of the road. There is not much traffic on Memorial Drive, the road that goes by the lake, and this, along with the beauty of the lake, is one of the reasons we like the ride so much.

Across the lake
Across the lake

We pedalled, pedalled, pedalled with the sun warm on our face. The miles just seemed to slide by without any great effort on our part. It was one of those “zen” rides where you are completely in the moment and in the landscape, with all thoughts of chores and what to do next pushed firmly aside.

In the afternoon, we met our friends Joel and Alice at the local cineplex to see The Boxtrolls, a stop-motion animated movie about, well, boxtrolls, little scavenging creatures that live below ground and come out at night to raid the trash that humans leave behind. They wear boxes—recycled, of course—and are despised and feared by the humans, who falsely consider the boxtrolls to be a dangerous threat. This fear and loathing leads to an eradication program—now that’s never happened in real life, has it?—and a boy whom the boxtrolls adopted must find a way to save them.

In The Boxtrolls, the animation is terrific, the characters are well done, and the storyline resonates with both children and adults. Two side characters—Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout—nearly steal the movie. They come from a long tradition of sad-sack comedic tramps who question the meaning of life and the universe. Readers, if you go to this movie, do stay until the credits are over to see and hear one of the funniest exchanges in movie history. In fact, the four of us were laughing so hard that we missed some of the dialogue between Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout, and we all agreed that we would need to see the movie when it came out on DVD so that we could watch the scene again.

We were probably the only adults in the cinema without children, but it didn’t bother us one bit. There were plenty of children in the audience to laugh loudly in all the right places, to make pointed comments about what was going on in the movie, and to even console one another when the action grew a little too scary.

After the movie, we all went to the pub The Liberal Cup, one of Hallowell’s hotspots, for some tasty, hearty food. Because it was Clif’s birthday, we even ordered dessert.

When we were done eating, Clif and I returned to our home, and it was still warm enough to have drinks on patio. As we sipped our rum and Cokes, we listened to the crickets sing, and on the nearby Narrows, loons called to each other.

“We won’t have many more nights on the patio this year,” I said, a little sadly.

“No, we won’t,” Clif agreed.

But we had that night, and we both enjoyed it very much. In fact, Clif pronounced that the whole day had been a very good birthday filled with simple pleasures.

Sustainable Seafood?

On Wednesday, on MPBN’s show Maine Calling, the subject was sustainable seafood. While I made an apple pie, I listened with interest because lately I’ve been wondering if there is such a thing as sustainable seafood, and I was curious what the gist of the show would be. The program was hosted by Keith Shortall, and the guests were Jen Levin, Sustainable Seafood Project Manager, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and Barton Seavor, chef and author of four cook books.

Shortall began the program by acknowledging that we “know some of the most popular fish are in trouble because of overfishing,” and much of the show revolved around encouraging people to turn to “underutilized fish” such as dogfish, Atlantic pollock, and whiting, all species that, according to Jen Levin, are flourishing.

When the question arose of what exactly sustainability meant in terms of seafood, Barton Seavor did recognize that one aspect involved promoting thriving, resilient species. But, and it’s a big but, he went on to state that “ultimately the measure of sustainability must fundamentally be measured by the ability of human beings to thrive.” Levin did add that a growing population needed to live within its means.

Now, I’m distilling an hour show into a post for a blog, and as such, I can only include snippets of what the guests discussed. Readers who are interested in this subject—sustainability and seafood—should listen to the podcast for a longer, more complete version of what Shortall and his guests actually said.  However, not once during that hour-long show did I hear about the importance of abundant fish to the vast, interconnected chain of life in the ocean or of how quickly humans can change abundance to scarcity, even when fish seem to be plentiful.

For this we must turn to Sylvia Earle, author, marine biologist, former chief scientist of NOAA, and “National Geographic explorer in residence.” As Sylvia Earle eloquently puts it, “[T]he ocean is the cornerstone of Earth’s life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of the life on Earth. It is the blue heart of the planet.” (I must admit that I was surprised to learn that most of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is generated by life in the sea. I thought that trees and plants had a much larger role.)

I am currently reading Earle’s book The World is Blue, where she clearly and beautifully explains the importance of the abundance of fish and other creatures to the health of the ocean and indeed the planet.  Earle writes, “There is no surplus in a natural, healthy system. What appears to be overabundance to human observers is a natural insurance policy against population reduction by diseases, storms, ups and downs of predators and food supply…” and “[S]pecies do not live in isolation. They are integrated into exceedingly complex systems…the first fish to be taken from an unexploited population are the largest…the ‘old timers’…They are also the ones that produce the most offspring.”

So here are my questions: Does anyone know what a truly sustainable harvest of dogfish, Atlantic pollack, and whiting would be? Are we viewing them as so abundant that we think we can eat them on a regular basis? If so, is this a correct assumption?

Sylvia Earle indicates this is not the case at all. On NPR’s The Bob Edwards Show, Earle said that she doesn’t eat fish and instead eats a plant-based diet. In a recent interview in The Guardian, Earle was asked, “What about eating fish sustainably? For instance, trading top predators for smaller fish?”

Earle replied, “I think that’s disastrous, really…. The large fish have to eat the small fish. We have choices; they do not….  And there’s another aspect as well. All fish are critical when you think of them as middlemen, because they consume phytoplankton and zooplankton, the little guys that the big fish cannot access….we shouldn’t take fish on a large-scale basis; there’s simply no capacity left to do this.”

Except for island nations that don’t have much of a choice, Earle believes that fish are wildlife that should be left in the ocean, Earth’s “blue heart,” from which most of our oxygen comes and has developed over hundreds of millions of years.

So, two opposing views. The first, espoused by Keith Shortall’s guests was that even though fish such as cod have been overfished, there are plenty of overlooked and underutilized fish in the sea to eat. And we should do so eagerly. The second, put forth by Sylvia Earle, is that the oceans are in such peril that we shouldn’t be eating fish and seafood on any kind of regular basis. Once in a great while, at the most.

Even though I love seafood and could eat it several times a week, I’m casting my lot with the marine biologist. Sylvia Earle has been studying the ocean for decades and has lived long enough to see the terrible degradation of the world’s oceans as we humans eat our way through the fish and other creatures that live in the sea.

For me and for my husband Clif, it will be mostly plants that we eat.

 

 

A Winthrop Food Pantry Supper: A Compelling Story of our Times

IMG_6637Last night, Clif and I went to a Winthrop Food Pantry supper for volunteers. Clif has taken pictures for the food pantry, and I have volunteered in various ways since 1997. Seventeen years! A long time, and I think there was only one other volunteer—Lee Gilman—who has been at the pantry longer than I have.

There was a good turnout—about thirty came to the supper. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera went, and I didn’t think to bring extra batteries. Therefore, I only got a few shots of the event. Ah, well!

After we ate sandwiches, salad, and soups, JoEllen Cottrell, the executive director, and Mike Sienko, the president, spoke about the food pantry. Naturally, they thanked everyone for their hard work, which, astonishingly has come to 2,360 hours so far this year. (The food pantry has about fifty volunteers, and there is a sign up sheet so that the hours can be tracked.)

But there were more astonishing numbers to come. When JoEllen took over as executive director in 2011, there were about forty families per month that came to the food pantry. The sessions were leisurely, and often the volunteers had time to sit and chat between taking people around.

In three years, that number has tripled, and on average, 120 families come to the food pantry each month. The volunteers no longer sit and chat, and often the pantry stays open long past its closing time of 2:30 p.m.

As far as I know, there has been no increased publicity or effort to encourage more people to come to the food pantry, and it’s my guess that more people are coming because it has become increasingly difficult to make ends meet after the Great Recession. In Maine, good paying jobs are far and few between, and many people are still looking for work. While it’s great that the food pantry is around to help people in need, it’s sad that there are so many more people that need the help.

And here’s another number: Rick Dorey and his wife Sheila get food for the pantry at the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn. Last year, they brought 70, 000 pounds of food to the Winthrop Food Pantry, and Rick told me that he expects to exceed that number this year.

The Winthrop Food Pantry provides food for Winthrop (population 6,200) and Wayne (population 1,189). Wayne is a more affluent community than Winthrop, but neither is what you would consider poor. Yet so many people qualify for receiving food from the food pantry.  (The food pantry uses the federal guidelines.)

Numbers are one way of telling a story, and the numbers at the Winthrop Food Pantry certainly tell a compelling story of our times.

A Seaside Birthday

Kettle Cove
On the Edge of Kettle Cove

My actual birthday was last week, and at the beginning of the month, Shannon hosted a party for Clif and me. (His birthday is this Saturday.) However for the past five or six years, the tradition has been to have lunch in Portland with Shannon for a little extra birthday celebration, and we were joined by our friend Kate.  (Naturally, we did the same for Shannon’s and Kate’s birthdays.)

Alas, our friend Kate moved to Pennsylvania and can no longer join us. (Thanks, Kate, for the delicious raspberry tea, which I am drinking as I write.) However, Shannon and I decided we would still like to meet for our birthdays, even though we will miss Kate very much.

Yesterday was the day that worked best for both Shannon and me, and our original plan was to have lunch at The Green Elephant, a Portland restaurant that specializes in tasty vegetarian food. But the forecast was so fine, so warm and sunny, that Shannon suggested, “How about if you come up a little early, and we’ll go for a walk on the beach?”

Now, there’s nothing this inland girl loves more than a walk on the beach, and I readily agreed. As it turned out, the day was as perfect as the forecast predicted, and as I was driving to Portland I thought, “Why not grab sandwiches somewhere and spend the whole time at the beach? There will be plenty of time for lunch indoors.”

“Sounds good,” Shannon said, when I suggested this to her at her apartment.

Unfortunately, we had to leave the dogs behind because Crescent Beach doesn’t allow dogs on the beach until October 1. But, we went to Scratch Baking Company, not far from where Shannon lives, and bought everything good that we needed for a picnic—sandwiches made with a spicy black bean spread, roasted peppers, a sunflower seed pesto, and mixed greens; drinks; chips; and a brownie and short bread. (That sandwich was especially good! I can still taste it.)

That black bean sandwich!
That black bean sandwich!

When we got to Kettle Cove, which has benches and is adjacent to Crescent Beach, there was a bit of wind. Actually, there was a lot of wind, and I parked the car so that it overlooked the ocean, just in case we had to eat inside.

“Shall we eat in the car?” I asked, watching the wind whip over the grass.

“No, let’s eat outside,” Shannon said. “We’re in all winter.”

True enough. We set up on one of the benches, and the wind lifted our hair. It also tipped over Shannon’s drink and spilled some of it on the ground. No sooner had she righted the drink, then our chips flew off the bench, and our pastries followed not long afterwards.

The line-up, before the wind created havoc
The line-up, before the wind created havoc

“Do you want to eat in the car?” I asked again.

“That might be a good idea,” Shannon said, and we both laughed as we thought about the flying chips and pastries and the spilled drink.

In the warm, wind-free car, we ate our lunch, watched the waves curl and break on the rocky shore, and talked about many things, including the excellent Ken Burns documentary about the Roosevelts.

After lunch, we went for a walk on the beach, where the wind was only a gentle breeze, and the sun was so warm we had to take off our jackets and tie them around our waists. We walked to the state park, where we sat on a log on the beach, watched more curling waves, and, of course, talked about matters large and small.

The view from the log
The view from the log

As is our tradition on birthday outings, we took a selfie.

The two beach lovers
The two beach lovers

Such a lovely day of simple pleasures—I found a round rock speckled with mica to add to my collection on the kitchen window sill. In fact, it was a finest kind of day, and I want to do exactly the same thing next year, if the weather allows.

Rocks on the beach
Rocks on the beach