Category Archives: Living in Place

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.

Birds on the Lake

Despite being quite built up—at least for Maine—Maranacook Lake attracts various kinds of birds. On a bike ride not long ago, I took pictures of three different kinds of birds.

The first was a seagull. I guess nobody told this bird that the ocean is about fifty miles away.IMG_4383

The second was a blue heron. The lakes and ponds around Winthrop have many blue herons, but I don’t usually seem on someone’s float. This bird very obligingly posed and gave me plenty of time to get a picture.

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The third was a loon, and as with blue herons, we have many loons in Winthrop. At night, Clif and I can hear them as we sit on our patio. Unfortunately, this bird was too far out for my little camera to get a good shot.

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Summer continues to ebb, but the heat and humidity stubbornly persist. Supposedly, a cold front is coming to clear the air. It can’t come too soon for me.

In the meantime, I work on my YA fantasy, Maya and the Book of Everything. Clif has set me up with Google Translate so that I can hear my story read back to me. LibreOffice, the word processor I use, has a read text extension for Google Translate so that my English text is read back to me in English. I expect other programs have a similar feature for Google Translate.

Sometimes the pronunciations are a little funny, and there are glitches from time to time. But all in all, the Google Translate voice is very good, and I have found it enormously helpful just to listen, not to read, Maya and the Book of Everything. I’ve caught a mistake or two, and it really makes me aware of the cadence of my prose. I would highly recommend Google Translate as a useful tool for anyone who is working on a book. It’s slow going, but that’s just fine with me. Too much speeding during the editing process can lead to undetected errors.

Finally, in honor of National Dog Day, here’s a picture of my dog-buddy Liam. He’s unfortunately dealing with a major infirmity, which I will write about more in another post.  But he’s still our boy, and we still love him.

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Of Hot Days and a Cool Park

Summer, with its hot days, has finally come to Maine. Since we live in the woods, warm weather isn’t much of a problem for us. We don’t even need air conditioning. A ceiling fan in the hall cools the whole house.

We do have to plan on when to go for bike rides, though—the heat of the afternoon can be a bit much. Yesterday, Clif and I went late morning, and with the temperature in the mid-80s, we both decided we should have gone earlier. Still, one of the things about bike riding is that there is always air moving around you as you pedal, which is great in hot weather but not so good in cold weather. (Oh, I have had some cold rides.)

Clif and I have made good progress with our biking, going to the end of Memorial Drive, about an eight-mile round trip. Our next accomplishment will be to head up Beaver Dam Road, with its long, long incline that could be dubbed Misery Hill. In past seasons, we have found that going up Misery Hill on a regular basis makes us strong enough to go up most any hill in the area. This is a good thing as central Maine is not exactly flat and has plenty of challenges for bike riders.

“When do you think we’ll be ready to go up Misery Hill?” I asked Clif.

“Sometime in July,” he replied.

As the saying goes, time will tell, but I, too, am optimistic that we’ll be strong enough to tackle Misery Hill sometime in July. Then, it will be on to Route 17, giving us about a fifteen-mile round trip ride.

When we got back to our car at Norcross Point, there were lots of people enjoying the water and the shade on this hot day, and I snapped a few photos.  It seems to me that the pictures I took could have come from any time—now, when I was young, and even further back.

Somehow, during these jittery times, this gives me comfort.

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The First Day of Summer, 2016

Yesterday was the first day of summer, that loveliest, bittersweet time of year when the day is as long as it ever will be. Yesterday’s first day of summer was hot and fine, and the evening cooled nicely—all in all a grand way to start the season. To cap off this day of days, there was also a full moon, the strawberry moon, and in Maine, appropriately enough, the strawberries are just beginning to ripen.

To celebrate, Clif and I went for a twilight bike ride. (In fact, Clif and I don’t really need much of an excuse to go on a bike ride, but when there’s a special occasion during the summer, we often go on a celebratory ride.)  We’ve been riding regularly for a few weeks, but after a long, inactive winter, the riding has been slow going. (Last year, for various reasons, we hardly biked at all.)

However, last night, as we zipped along, I felt the possibility of becoming the strong rider I was a few years ago, when I could ride for fifteen or twenty miles and still feel like going on another bike ride the next day. Clif and I have talked about going on some long bike rides this summer, and by gum I think it’s going to happen. How good this feels!

I brought my little camera, of course, and Clif and I took some pictures of Norcross Point.

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When we got home, there was still plenty of daylight left so that we could have supper on the patio.

We duly and joyfully toasted the beginning of summer, and we are looking forward to many more bike rides before the cold weather keeps us inside. (Unfortunately, because we live in the woods and the sky was a little cloudy, we didn’t see the rising full moon.)

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Finally, today is the anniversary of my mother’s birthday. Mom died eight years ago, and this would have been her eightieth birthday. I am so sorry that she did not live to celebrate this milestone birthday, and it makes me a little teary eyed to think of her.

In honor of my mother’s birthday, I am posting this prom picture where she looks like the Queen of June.

Happy birthday, Mom. Wish you hadn’t passed so soon.

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Rochelle June Dansereau, June 21, 1936–May 28, 2008

Stories Rippling Through Time

Yesterday was a sunny day with a clear blue sky.  Before going to a meeting at the library, I stopped to take pictures at the lovely old sliver of a cemetery in the middle of Winthrop.

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As to be expected, there were tree spirits in the cemetery, and I caught a picture of one.

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Then I turned my attention to four very old gravestones.

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I decided to focus on one of the smaller ones, which I expected would mark a child’s grave. In part, I was right, but the stone, in fact, marked the graves of two children, both with the name Susannah.

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The first Susannah died in 1771—when we were still a part of Britain—and she was five years old. The second Susannah died in 1784—we were then the United States of America—and she was twelve years old. If my math is correct, the second Susannah was born a year after the first Susannah died.

To modern parents, it is a very strange notion to use the name of a dead child for the next sibling of the same sex. Somehow, it seems morbid if not downright creepy. However, it is my understanding that this was fairly common practice in America in the 1700s when the child mortality rate was appallingly high.  Names, often ones that had been in the family, were reused if a child died.

Different sensibilities for different times, and that little gravestone marks the story of one family’s grief in losing not one but two Susannahs.  I understand that parents  in the 1700s were not unaccustomed to losing young children. Nevertheless, it is my belief that these parents grieved, too, even if a child’s death was all too common. To mourn is human, whatever the century.

Indeed, in the mid-1800s, a time when children still died at an alarming rate, Louis Pasteur would write in a letter that another one of his dear children had died of typhus. Three of Pasteur’s five children would die from this illness, which influenced his decision to study infectious diseases.

With all these morbid remembrances of lives ended too soon, you would think the Winthrop cemetery would be a grim place. But somehow, it isn’t. Like so many New England cemeteries, it is peaceful and serene, a place of beauty, even.

I especially love how snippets of stories, the human story, are told through the gravestones and remind us of how things were both different and the same back through the centuries.