Category Archives: Living in Place

A Splash of Red in an Odd, Gray November

There are no two ways about it—November has been an odd month. In the midst of the pandemic, which sticks its ugly spoke in everyone’s wheel, November in Maine has been the warmest I have ever seen.

Recently, my cousin posted a picture on Facebook of a snow turkey that she, her sister, and a cousin had made in honor of Thanksgiving. When I commented on all the snow, my cousin responded, “Back then, we had snow by Thanksgiving every year.”

Back then was the 1960s, and my cousin lived about fifty miles north of where we live now. Not that far away, really.

This year, in central Maine, we’ve had only a dusting of snow that was soon gone. In deference to the pandemic, we have left four chairs and two little tables out on the patio. We have never had patio furniture out this late, but needs must as the saying goes.

And by gum, my friend Judy came over yesterday for a socially-distanced patio visit. She brought me this beautiful poinsettia. (Or poinsettah, as we would say in Maine.) What a lovely red splash on a gray day or any other day.

Another friend is coming over mid-week to pick up a copy of my YA fantasy Out of Time for her grandson. She told me he has read the previous two books and is keen to read Out of Time.  I always like to hear this, of course, but it especially pleases me when a young boy likes a series that, let’s face it, is girl-centric.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case with boys, who often prefer stories where boys are the main characters. From grandparents and parents, I have heard this sentiment repeated many times at the fairs where we sell our books. Even a brave, spunky character like Maya will not entice some boys to read my novels. Sigh.

But yay for my friend’s grandson!

Almost Like Haiku

In Maine, late fall is a time of subtraction. The golden glow of October has been replaced by the more austere pleasures of November. Gone are the brilliant autumn leaves, and instead we have a landscape that is marked by the dark bones of leafless trees.

However, I find trees beautiful during any season, and to me a tree with bare branches is spare and poetic, almost like haiku.

This picture of our friends’ home—a classic New England farmhouse—illustrates the beauty and sweep of the bare trees.

If you click on the picture, it will enlarge the photo, and you will be able to better see those bare trees and the red roof, which I absolutely adore.

Until spring comes, I will be admiring the bare trees whenever I go for walks.

Less is not necessarily more, but seeing the essence of the trees somehow brings me closer to them.

 

 

Walktober: Back to the Narrows

“Walkers have walked to gain a sense of place, to improve well-being, to harness attention, to cultivate awareness, to gain new experiences, to explore new territories, to march for freedom, and to express care and devotion for others.”  –Bonnie Smith Whitehouse

Robin, at Breezes at Dawn, is hosting Walktober, where you take a  walk or a bike ride or a paddle and then share your journey. I borrowed the beginning quotation from Robin because I thought it beautifully expressed the many roles that one simple activity—walking—can provide. Symbolic, practical, protest, curiosity, devotion, exercise— all from walking. No fancy equipment necessary. Just a pair of sneakers and willing feet.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, not long ago walking was painful because of my weight and my arthritic knees. After having lost thirty pounds, walking is no longer as painful, which means I can go short distances and actually enjoy it. (Looking forward to losing more weight and going for longer winter hikes.)

One of my favorite walks is to the Narrows Ponds, about one-quarter of a mile from my house. There is lots of water in Winthrop, but surely the Narrows are among the prettiest.

Yesterday, was one of those October days that makes a person glad to be alive. All the humidity was gone, the air was crisp, and the sky was a piercing blue.

Leaving our driveway, Clif and I turned left, down the long hill to the Narrows. See? I am not exaggerating one bit when I refer to our home “in the woods.”

On the way we saw a yellow fern glowing in the sun,

a chipmunk on a rock,

and walls made long ago when the trees were chopped down and fields stretched all the way to the Narrows. Hard to imagine our road looking like this and comforting to think about how forests can make a comeback.

At the bottom of the hill, we saw a glimmer of deep blue—sky and water—through the bright lace of leaves.

Then a sign reminding us how important this water is to Winthrop.

A short ways later,  the Lower Narrows glittered to our right,

and the Upper Narrows to our left.

There’s not much color this year with the changing leaves. Perhaps it’s because of the drought. Or maybe it’s the many storms we’ve recently had, bringing relief to the drought but blowing the bright leaves off the trees. No matter. It’s a place of beauty, with or without colorful foliage.

After gazing at the water and taking pictures, we headed back up the hill, where we saw mushrooms by the side of the road,

as well as our neighbor’s chickens pecking and looking for tidbits.

Finally, our own snug home tucked in the trees.

Once inside, I made cup of cranberry-orange tea, given to me by a friend, and wrote this post, a record of a short but oh so lovely walk in October 2020,

 

 

 

 

 

Slowly, Slowly Getting Back into My Schedule

Last week was truly a gift. The weather was August perfect, a reminder of why people come to Maine in the summer. The days were hot, but not too hot, and the nights were cool enough to need blankets for sleeping.  Much of my time was spent on the patio, where I read, napped, took pictures, and ate. It was absolutely wonderful not to hurry through the day.

One night we had shrimp and Farmer Kev’s corn on the cob. Delicious!

Every evening we had drinks.

As we sipped our drinks and chatted, hummingbirds visited the last of the blooming bee balm. Soon those little lovelies will be gone, winging their way south to warmer weather.

Cardinals also came. But instead of bee balm nectar, they wanted to eat seeds at the brown feeder.

Truthfully, I could use another week off, but there is much work to do over the next few months. However, I am going to ease back slowly, first with blogging and then with other writing—my podcast and the final editing of my book Out of Time.

But all is not labor and toil at our home in the woods. This week we are having a Tri-State Virtual Film Festival where one night the whole family watches a movie and the next evening we get together—via Zoom—to discuss it.

We’ve already seen two movies, and I’ll be writing more about this on Friday as our Tri-State Virtual Film Festival is definitely making me happy.

Brew Well. Do Good. Have Fun.

Last night, we went to Winthrop’s very own brewery, aptly called Van der Brew. It was trivia night, sponsored by Bailey Public Library and hosted by Nick Perry, Adult Services Librarian.

The modest exterior of Van der Brew, previously a Paris Farmers Union (a farm, home and garden center) belies the good vibe of this brewery.  

But the sign’s logo says it all: Brew Well. Do Good. Have Fun.

The spirit of this logo infuses the brewery. This is from Van der Brew’s website: “Making great beer isn’t just about the brews. It’s about building community, bringing people together and supporting local businesses and organizations that make our towns great places to live, work and play.”

Yes, yes, and yes, and Van der Brew is certainly making our community a better place.

Confession time: Not to put too fine a point on it, but I am not a beer enthusiast. Instead, I am more of a cocktail girl, and Van der Brew doesn’t serve cocktails or wine—only beer and soft drinks. But Clif is a beer drinker, and the atmosphere, which encourages all ages, is so much fun that a soft drink is just fine with me.

Yesterday we arrived early to get a good table and chairs for our trivia team, the Great Library, named after my very own series of YA fiction.  Here are pictures of the interior before the crowds arrived.

And here is a picture of our fearless trivia leader, Nick, who has been leading trivia nights at various places for ten years. Go, Nick!

By the time trivia night started, the place was packed, and there were around eighteen teams. Liz, one of our team members, told me that a couple months ago, on Van der Brew’s first trivia night, there were about six teams. Clearly, the word has spread about Nick’s trivia nights at the brewery.

Along with being a fun night, donations were also taken for the library for a much-needed proposed parking lot nearby. By the end of the night, the box on the stand was filled with donations.

Also, at various times the line for beer and soft drinks was long, which meant Van der Brew also had a good night.

So how did Team Great Library do? Well, I am sorry to report that we weren’t at the top. We bombed on questions regarding sports and geography, but we did pretty well with books and movies. Big surprise! We talked ourselves out of the right answers a couple of times, which was irritating. As a result, we came in ninth, smack dab in the middle.

But we had a lot of fun, and Clif and I will return on February 14 for the next trivia night.

Many thanks, Nick, and many thanks Van der Brew for this fun event that brings our community together.

 

Living in Place

For a New Year’s resolution, Clif and I have made a plan to use our car less and thus reduce our carbon emmissions. Our intention is to cut 1,000 miles from our yearly total, which was 7,800 last year.

Because we live in a rural community with no public transportation, a car is a necessity for us.  We must drive to the grocery store, and we must travel to sell books. Nevertheless there are plenty of ways to cut back, and one way is to become more involved with our town—Winthrop—which has a fantastic library and a new brewery, both of which sponsor many events each month. (This Friday night at the brewery is trivia night. Yes, we will be there.)

Another way is to go for walks and appreciate the natural beauty of the town itself, including our very own wooded road.

Whatever the season, there is something to notice. Sometimes the trees even look back.

As we walk, the crows are always watching. I was lucky to snap a picture of these two before they flew away.

Then there are the brown leaves on the winter trees,

and the little stream that winds through the woods not far from where we live.

I call this kind of close attention “living in place,” and it seems to me that focusing on what is nearby is a kind of meditation, which, in turn, can lead to an abiding of love of where one lives—town, city, country, or suburb.

In this time of climate crisis, a love of place is of utmost importance. Because in the end, we pay attention to what we love. We nurture it. We take care of it. We don’t destroy it.

Viewed in this light, living in place might be the most important thing a person can do.

Welcome, July!

July is here, and what a beauty of a day with sun, low humidity, and a temperature that is just right, warm but not too hot. The window by my desk is open, and as I work I can smell the sweet air coming from the trees and the woods. The birds are singing, and when I look outside, I see green, green, green. Nature is calling “come outside.” Unfortunately, I must work at my desk.

June was a cool, rainy month, and while it didn’t bother me personally—I am comfortable in a broad range of temperatures, from 65°F to 82°F—it has not been good for vegetables and hay. Everything is late, late, late, and farmers are worried about how they are going to feed their animals. The fields are too saturated, and the hay can’t be cut. This sounds like an old-fashioned concern from bygone days, but Maine is a rural state blessed with farmers young and old. We have plenty of goats, sheep, cows, chickens, and horses as well as tourists. While drought is never welcomed, I do hope that July, August, and even September will bring abundant sunshine so that the hay can be cut, and the farmers can feed their animals this winter.

The perennials in my gardens are doing well, and here is the view of our front yard.  Still mostly green, with a touch of yellow. I have made my peace with having a garden with subtle colors and have even learned to love it. (But, oh, how I still drool over the gardens of some of my blogging friends. You know who you are.)

Here is a closer look at some of the yellow against, of course, a hosta.

July is the time for fledglings, young birds that are mostly grown up but still follow their parents around and depend on them, at least to some extent, for food. I have an extremely soft spot for these fledglings who are on the cusp of independence. Such a harsh, dangerous world for them, and it touches me to see how the parents tend to clamoring offspring that are no longer small.

Because we live in the woods, we have the opportunity to see the fledglings of many birds—crows, nuthatches, gold finches, to name a few. The other day, it was a woodpecker, eating from the bird feeder and then feeding the fledgling who waited patiently underneath.

Best of luck, fledgling woodpecker! May you thrive and mature to raise families of your own.

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.

 

 

Enter March and the Return of Snow-Gauge Clif

Today, I flipped the calendar from February to March, and I said in a grumbling voice, “Oh, boy! Here it comes.”

Long-time readers might recall how much I hate the month of March, and I know many, if not most, Mainers feel the same way. March—damp, muddy, and soggy—is such a miserable month in Maine that it deserves to be labeled a season unto itself. Potholes the size of the Grand Canyon open in our roads, and yesterday I almost lost the car in one not far from our mailbox. (Yay for the Winthrop road crew, who bravely came this morning to fill the hole. I don’t think any of the crew disappeared, never to be found.) Little kids lose their boots in the mud. Adults walk hunched over, waiting for spring. Dear blogging friends, if ever you decide to come to Maine, do not come in March.

For those who have birthdays in this month, thank goodness for you all. I salute you, even though you didn’t have any choice in the matter. You are the bright points in otherwise dismal month.

In anticipation of the March blues, I have filled the month with interesting activities—a concert, a lecture, a movie, a friend over for pizza, See’s chocolates, and—ta, dah!—an anniversary outing. Yes, Clif and I got married in the not-so-lovely month of March. What can I say?  We were both college students and getting married on our spring break seemed like the thing to do. It was the 1970s. We were more casual back then.

This first day of March brings the return of Snow-gauge Clif, who will be making weekly appearances until all the snow is gone, probably sometime in mid-April. He was such a hit last year, that we decided to bring him back.

Here is snow-gauge Clif in the front yard.

And here he is in the backyard.

Will there be more snowstorms this March? Does New York City have the best pizza? You bet there will, and one is slated for Sunday and Monday, eight inches of wet, heavy snow.

Until then, bring on the chocolates, bring on the movies!