Two weeks ago, on May 9, it snowed in Maine. Here is the picture to prove it.
Today, in the shade, the temperature was over 80° Fahrenheit, probably 85° in the sun. What a difference two weeks can make in Maine.
This afternoon, I was going to divide and move some hostas but it seemed too hot to do this, both for me and the plants. I will go out tomorrow morning and tackle those hostas. (Frances Williams, one of the hostas, is a formidable plant to divide, especially now that I have arthritis in my hands, knees, and feet.)
In truth, the whole week has been warm but not too warm to take a picture of this cardinal,
and this little red squirrel peeking out.
And finally a couple of not too bad pictures of a hummingbird.
Again, I will keep trying to get better pictures.
In the United States, Sunday, May 10 is Mother’s Day, but because of the pandemic, most of us will not be able to get together with our children, no matter how close they live. Many of us will make the best of it through Skype or Zoom, and that is exactly what Clif and I will be doing on Sunday morning. Despite having bad points, technology really is a blessing. Being able to see and talk to my children makes me feel ever so much better.
Recently, as I was scrolling through my vast library of pictures, I came across Mother’s Day photos taken seven years ago. I was younger and in better shape. My hair was still dark. Liam was alive, and my daughter Shannon and son-in-law Mike lived in South Portland, an easy drive from where we live. (Dee, in New York, was too far away to join us, but she would come later in the summer.)
For a Mother’s Day treat, Shannon made her signature low-flour chocolate cupcakes with peppermint cream. Oh so good. I could have one right now.
The day was cool and green. We took the dogs for a walk and then had cupcakes and tea when we came back.
These pictures make me both wistful and grateful, aware of both loss and happy memories.
Life is like that, isn’t it?
On Saturday, the weather was so fine—at least by Maine standards—that Clif and I had our first lunch on the patio. The temperature was about 65°F with a gentle breeze. For two winter-weary elders, it was warm enough for us to leave our jackets inside as we sat and ate.
Clif made potato pancakes for our lunch. In the picture, they look like regular pancakes, but they had a lovely mashed potato and Parmesan taste. We slathered them with butter and liberally sprinkled them with salt. Very tasty indeed. Especially when eaten on the patio.
As we ate, we were treated to all manner of fluttering birds and their spring songs. The wary goldfinches, cheeping loudly, clustered in a big cedar as they waited for us to leave.
But this bird was a little braver. (I’m thinking it’s a flycatcher. Eliza, what do you think?)
And the mourning dove felt perfectly comfortable patrolling for spilled seeds not far from where we sat.
Watching over everything was the backyard Spirit of the Woods.
I know. It’s really a dead tree that should come down before it falls where we don’t want it to fall. But I will be sorry when the tree no longer stands. Not only will we lose the wood spirit, but the birds will lose a place to hunt for tidbits.
But there. For several years, Clif and I have talked about taking that tree down, and still it stands. I am hoping the tree will be there for several more years.
After lunch, I worked on removing leaves from the beds in the front yard. Why is it that outside work is more satisfying than inside housework? It probably has something to with the sun and the sky and the birds, none of which are as present when you are inside.
Later on during the weekend, thanks to technology, I visited with my daughters and my son-in-law, and much of the talk was about politics and the coronavirus.
I also “attended” Rassemblement, a yearly gathering of Franco-American artists, writers, and creatives. Usually it is held at the University of Maine at Orono, but in this time of the coronavirus, it was held virtually.
The theme of this year’s gathering was legacy. This is from the Franco American Programs website: “The dictionary definition of legacy is, ‘Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past.’ As Franco Americans, what was handed down to us? And how does this gift act as both an impetus to create and as a restriction on our creations? What are we handing down to those who come after us? What was and is our legacy?”
Someone—ahem!—might have brought up that one of the legacies of Franco-Americans is that it was a patriarchal ethnic group, with an unhealthy separation of men and women. A spirited discussion ensued.
But more about that later.
In a little swampy swamp just down the road, the peepers have finally started singing their spring song. For those who are unfamiliar with peepers, here is what they look and sound like. Peepers are tiny—one inch according to National Geographic-–but when they sing together, they make a sound and a fury. Clif and I wait for their song every year, and it wouldn’t be spring in Maine without peepers.
A post or two back, I wrote about giving a toy dinosaur to the boy next door for his birthday. Via Facebook messaging, his mother sent me a short video she made of him thanking us for the dinosaur. He was wearing a dinosaur t-shirt and was holding the dinosaur we had given him. Oh, that made us smile. Ingenuity in this time of the coronavirus.
On Facebook I also read some sad news. Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe is closing their sweet little store in Hallowell. Recently, I posted a picture of some of the delectable chocolates that I had ordered online and had come through the mail. Here they are again. After all, who gets tired of looking at pictures of chocolate?
Fortunately, Scrummy’s is not going out of business entirely. They will continue to have an online store and a Scrummy’s van that will go to events when they are allowed to do so. But still, a blow for Hallowell, and I fear a harbinger of things to come for many small businesses.
But I am going to end this post on an upbeat note of how I saved some soup I made at the beginning of the week. It was a white bean soup. I simmered three cups of white beans, and when they were tender, I dumped them into a crock-pot. I added a bay leaf, dried thyme, sage, oregano, a little soy sauce, celery, and carrots. Onion and garlic and more water. When it was done, a half-cup of nutritional yeast.
And how did the soup taste? Well, it was edible, but it was blah. The thought of eating this for the next few days did not excite me. In truth, it filled me with a sort of dread.
But then I remembered something that the cook Samin Nosrat explained in her excellent series Salt Fat Acid Heat. That is, most soups and dishes benefit from a dose of something acidic. Lemon would have been perfect for this Mediterranean-flavored soup, but I did not have lemons.
I did, however, have diced canned tomatoes, which are acidic. I didn’t want the soup’s flavor to be dominated by tomatoes, but what if I added two cups to this big batch of soup? What then?
I’ll tell you what then—those tomatoes saved the soup without overpowering it. It jazzed up the soup in exactly the right way. No longer did I dread eating that soup until it was gone.
Instead, I actually looked forward to it. Clif felt the same way, and we ate every single bit.
I think this falls under the category of an old dog learning a new trick.
“When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines.”
–Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees
Being a Mainer, I love trees too much to live in a place without them. All my life I have been surrounded by trees—first in a neighborhood, then in the country, and now in a small forest.
Around our home we have tall dark pines, massive oaks, solid maples that blaze in the fall, and slender beeches that keep their leaves all through the winter. When I sit on my patio and look up through the tree branches, I feel as though the trees are holding me.
Trees tell the story of the seasons. They harbor birds and give shelter to many other creatures. They provide food, oxygen, and shade. According to the writer Peter Wohlleben trees are even able to form a kind of society.
Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.
On a deep, psychological level, trees give us rich material for myths and stories, and Arthur Rackham’s illustration is a haunting example of this.
And who could forget Tolkien’s ents, sentient creatures that lived in a slow time of their own?
Is it too much to claim that trees embody the life-force of the planet? Not for this tree lover.
Therefore in honor of Earth Day, here are a few pictures of trees through the seasons, in my yard and around town.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
And now for a complete change of tone. Shannon is our Earth-Day daughter, born on April 22 many years ago. This is a hard time for celebrating much of anything. Therefore I am posting a picture of happier times, when our dear Liam was just a puppy and Shannon was having a jolly trot with him along the public beach in town. Makes me smile just to look at it. Happy, happy birthday, Shannon.
Last night, I dreamed I was walking on a steep snowy path in the woods. When I turned, I saw Liam running toward me. He was at his peak—young, beautiful, and energetic. So very sad to wake up and realize it was only a dream. That dog has been gone for two years, and I miss him still.
Maybe it’s because of missing our dog buddy, maybe it’s because of the pandemic, or maybe it’s because I have a daughter living in New York City, the epicenter of Covid-19 in this country, but I have been moping most of the day.
Life is like that sometimes, and I need to follow my own advice and let myself feel what I feel.
Coronavirus News from Maine
From Maine CDC
Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 107 (On Friday it was 56.)
From the Kennebec Journal:
Governors across the country have imposed tough restrictions on public travel and gatherings to combat the spread of coronavirus, but Gov. Janet Mills is not yet ready to order Mainers to shelter in place, the state’s top public health official told reporters on Monday.
From the Portland Press Herald
Most of us have been advised to stay home, but cashiers have to interact with other humans all day long, although many have changed the way they work…In the United States, more than 3.5 million workers are considered cashiers….a cashier’s annual average income of about $22,400, often coupled with limited or no sick leave, make them less likely to be able to afford to take several days off from work, even if they are sick.
My own thoughts: This pandemic has shown everyone how essential cashiers are to our society. Maybe, just maybe, they should start getting better pay and benefits.
Last weekend, an ice storm was predicted. There was even a weather advisory warning that we might get enough freezing rain to cause power outages.
Whenever there’s the threat of an ice storm, Clif and I think back to 1998 when there was a doozy of an ice storm that knocked out the power to half the state and felled trees with a sickening crack. We live in the woods, and during the worst of the storm, it sounded as though we were surrounded by gunfire as branches broke and fell to the ground.
We were without power for about eleven days, and what a miserable time we had. Every bit of water we used had to be hauled in, and the nights were long and chilly. (Fortunately we have a wood furnace, which meant we didn’t freeze.) It is a time we will never forget, and it certainly made us appreciate modern conveniences such as electricity.
Therefore, when we heard that there might be an ice storm, we sprang into action. Laundry done. Check. Extra bread for peanut butter sandwiches. Check. Plenty of wood in the basement for the furnace. Check. Extra water in big pots on the stove to go with the stored water in our cellar. Check. Check. Check.
We were ready. But to our delight and relief, the ice storm didn’t cometh. Instead, we got rain, which has made everything look miserable, but a dreary landscape is a vast improvement over a frozen, slippery one. And glory be, we didn’t have to worry about losing our power.
Instead of sharing pictures of what everything looks like now, I’ll share pictures I took midweek before the rain washed all the snow away. These were taken in town, about a mile from where we live, of Maranacook Lake.
I hope that we get a bit of snow and that Maine will look wintery again, the way it ought to in January. Not a blizzard mind you. Instead, five or six inches. We always want things to be just right, don’t we? It seems that most of us are a bunch of Goldilocks yearning for that perfect porridge. All too often, we are disappointed. Still, we yearn, and in that yearning lies hope.
Our cats, I think, have found their perfect sweet spot in our living room. Rain or snow or freezing rain, it doesn’t matter.
May you find your perfect sweet spot this week and every week.
Two days ago we had a visitor in our backyard who was drawn by the sunflower seeds. The visitor, unseen by us, came at night and with a mighty strength broke the pole and knocked over the bird feeder. As far as we know, there is only one animal in our woods that has the power to do this, and that animal is a bear. Black bears live in the woods all over Maine.
We have had an ursine visitor before, with the same results. Clif and I stopped feeding the birds for a while, and that took care of the problem.
We will do the same thing this time. Bears hibernate in the winter, and as soon as the snow and cold come, we’ll start feeding the birds again.
In the meantime, Clif will have to put in a new pole before the ground freezes. The actual feeder is in good shape, but the top was smashed into many pieces. We are hoping to be able to find a new top. Being frugal Mainers, we figure there is no point in replacing the whole thing if we don’t have to.
Living in the woods brings its excitements, and bears are one of them. Fortunately, black bears are rather shy, and we hardly ever see them. But every once in a while one emerges from the woods to snack on sunflower seeds.
And so it goes.