Category Archives: Living in Place

High Summer in Maine

The end of July and the beginning of August is a very sweet time in Maine, and this year, with its warm days and cool nights, has been even sweeter than usual. It feels like an old-fashioned Maine summer, a welcome relief from the past few years where it has been blisteringly hot during July and August.

Clif and I have been soaking up this fine weather. On Friday, our friends Alice and Joel came over for drinks and appetizers on the patio. There were bike rides on Saturday and Sunday. We still don’t go far, but we figure it is better to go eight miles a ride rather than no miles a ride, and we feel as though we are gaining strength.

On Sunday, our friends Dawna and Jim invited us and another couple over for dinner. Dawna and Jim have a lovely home by the Upper Narrows Pond, which truly is large enough to pass as a lake. The Upper Narrows is no farm pond.

The food was terrific.

As was the view.

The company and conversation were, of course, superb.

I wish I could bottle these days and release them during the drear days of late February and March, when everything seems to be gray drizzle and hard, dirty snow.

Away with those thoughts! August, buzzing August, is just around the corner, and Clif and I intend to squeeze every bit of delight that we can out of this lovely month.

Why, on a recent ride down a back road, I even came up with a haiku in honor of this best time of year.

Queen Anne’s lace in bloom
White ducks waddling on green grass
High summer in Maine

Welcome, welcome, high summer!

Of Sunny Skies and Bluegrass

Yesterday was a lovely, hot summer day with a blue sky, puffy clouds, a slight breeze, and not a hint of humidity. To paraphrase a Facebook friend,  yesterday’s weather more than made up for the misery of March, and it’s why people come to Maine in July. So far, summer in Maine has been splendid, and may it continue.

The first order of the day was to go on an eight-mile bike ride. Slowly, slowly, Clif and I are building up our strength. But after two years of being sedentary, we can’t expect to be super bikers after only two months of steady riding. Still, I am impatient to be the strong biker I once was, and by the end of the summer, I hope to be going on much longer rides.

Our town sponsors summer concerts at Norcross Point, a little park by the lake in town. This week’s featured group was The Sandy River Ramblers, and they play bluegrass and country music.  We therefore decided to bring a picnic lunch to have after our bike ride and then go to the concert, which started midafternoon.

We ate at the Winthrop’s Public Beach, just down from Norcross Point. When our children were young, we spent many happy summer days here, and it was fun to watch children and their families swim and play in Marancook Lake.

After our lunch, we headed to Norcross Point. The Sandy River Ramblers comprise two men and two women. The men had decent enough voices, but my how those women could sing. “She’s a good-hearted woman with a good timing man. She loves him in spite of his wicked ways, which she doesn’t understand.” The downfall of many a woman.

Unfortunately, The Sandy River Ramblers don’t have a website, and their Facebook page isn’t up to date. Also, there was no program. The long and the the short of it is that I am not able to identify any of the singers.

Ah, well, the concert was free, and it was a fine thing to listen to this band on such a nice day. We sat in the shade of a flowering tree.

Two boys played soccer at the edge of the park. In matching smocks with smiley faces, little twin girls ran by, tumbling over each other like puppies. On a nearby swing set came a steady creak, creak, creak and the laughter of children. By the lake, a boy rested on a large branch of a birch tree. And on the lake, there was a cluster of boats full of people who had come to listen to the music as it carried over the water.

A day in Maine in the summer.

What a Day for a Bike Ride

Despite what the calendar might say, summer is here. The leaves are deep green and mature, and the heat has come. While I enjoy summer, I am always sorry to see sweet spring depart in such a rush. Stay, stay a little longer, I always wish, but of course she never does.

On Saturday, summer’s arrival was more than evident. The day was sunny and warm—perfect for a bike ride. We decided to extend our ride from eight to twelve miles, with a mile of it being steady uphill all the way.

Clif packed our bikes on the car,

and  we headed to the parking lot by the public beach.

We pedaled from Winthrop to Readfield, the town next to us,

where we moved from lake views to prospects of fields and a mountain.  How lucky we are to live in such a lovely, rural place with  many fine places to ride a bike.

On the way back, it was downhill for a good part of the way. My bike tires hummed on the road, the wind blew across my face, and I could smell the warm grass of the fields and the cool balsam of the woods. Finally, we were back to the water.

At the beginning of May, I decided the time had come to get back in shape. For various reasons—chiefly, working on my novel Maya and the Book of Everything—I had let exercise slip by the wayside. At my age, it is never a good thing to do this, and I felt flabby and weak. So I went on the exercise bike, the road to nowhere, six days a week.

And now, in the middle of June, I see the payoff. I am not as strong as I want to be, but my oh my the progress I’ve made since the beginning of May. Very heartening.

Onward and Onward!

For Derrick and Jackie: A Drink on the Patio

On April 1, while snow fell on central Maine, I was in England, at least in spirit, visiting Derrick and Jackie’s glorious gardens.  (Oh, the wonders of the blog world and the Internet. )

I practically inhaled picture after beautiful picture of daffodils and tulips. It might have been cold and snowy outside my home, but I could feel warmth and sunlight pouring out of my computer as I toured Derrick and Jackie’s garden.

Then, at the end of Derrick’s post, I came to this: “For the first time this year we took drinks in the rose garden before dinner. I hope it is not too long before Laurie and Clif can do the same on their patio.”

Well, I thought. Well, well, well. Our patio is still buried under snow, but where there is a will, there is a way.

Derrick and Jackie, this post is dedicated to you as Clif, on our patio, raises his glass to daffodils and tulips and spring and the glory of an English garden.

The Golden Slant of Autumn’s Light

Autumn is here. As I work in my office, I can hear the rat-a-tat-tat of acorns as they fall on the roof. Sometimes it is so loud and steady that it sounds as though a mischievous tree-imp is throwing small rocks on the house.

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For the most part, the humidity is gone, and on nice days, the air is cool and dry. The nights have become so chilly that it won’t be long until we put down all the storm windows. Indeed, we have begun pulling the shades at night.

Autumn brings with it many chores to be done by winter. The chimney needs to be cleaned, and there is still wood to be stacked. Clif takes care of both of these things. At sixty-five—Clif’s birthday was Tuesday—he still feels spry enough to climb onto the roof with his long brush. Chim chimney, chim chimney, chim, chim, chiree.

In the fall, I cut down the spent perennials in the gardens. However, Jason, of the blog Garden in a City, doesn’t cut his down until spring. He feels there is more visual interest in the garden in the winter when the plants are not trimmed. I considered following his example, but spring is such a busy time that I was afraid it would add too much to my gardening chores. I am, ahem, not as quick or spry as I was in my younger years.

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It is also time to take in the hummingbird feeders, clean them, and tuck them away until next spring. Those fluttering beauties no longer fly with a whiz around the backyard. They have begun their astonishing migration to warmer lands.

Autumn, to me, feels like a time of subtraction. Yes, we have asters and golden rod, a delightful duo. But along with the hummingbirds, the thrushes have left. I have not heard their piping song for several weeks. Soon, the loons will be gone as well. The nipping frosts will come, turning the landscape to an austere brown.

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If it weren’t for the golden slant of light that autumn brings, this subtraction would be almost unbearable. But the light is so beautiful that it fills in for what we have lost.

And then there are the apples, another addition rather than a subtraction. For someone like me, who enjoys making pies and crisps, this aspect of fall is most welcome. No more apples from away, thank you very much. From now until April, all of my apples will come from central Maine.

While I am always sorry to see the passing of summer—farewell, my lovely flowers and hummingbirds—in truth I enjoy all the seasons. They all have their own beauty, from the exuberance of spring to the rich maturity of summer to the golden light of early fall to the glittering cold of winter.

The only season I don’t like is March. Yes, I know. Technically March is a month. But in northern New England this drear month feels like a season unto itself.

But never mind! March is nearly six months away. Right now, I will enjoy the thumping of acorns, the golden light, the bounty of apples, and cats in the garden.

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Maya and East Vassalboro, Maine: A Sense of Place in Fantasy

My upcoming book, Maya and the Book of Everything, is a fantasy, and much of the action takes place on a fictional planet called Ilyria as well as in the mysterious Great Library. But some of the novel is set in East Vassalboro, Maine, a real town where my mother lived for over twenty years. I chose East Vassalboro because, through my mother, I came to know it well, and though it be small, East Vassalboro has a keen sense of community.

When Maya and the Book of Everything opens, Maya and her mother, Lily, are on their way to East Vassalboro to spend the summer with Maya’s grandparents—Mémère and Pépère Turcotte. (In another post, I’ll write about Maya’s Franco-American connection.) Maya comes from New York City, and although she loves the city, she also loves the little village of East Vassalboro with its homey charms. img_4587

It has a corner store that smells of oiled floors.

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A grange hall, freshly painted inside and out, where there are public suppers, plays, and book sales.

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A historical society housed in what was once a school.

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A little stream that runs through the center of town.

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And most important, a small brick library, surprisingly new. (The old one, a converted cottage, burnt down years ago.)

Why do I use a real village in a fantasy novel? Because it provides a  sense of place that grounds the story. From East Vassalboro, Maine, I can move Maya across the universe, but no matter where we might travel, Maya and I always know where home is.