Category Archives: Living in Place

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!

Once More to the Frozen Lake

Yesterday, on my way to pick up the Sunday paper, I decided to swing by the lake to see if the ice-fishing village had expanded.  It had.  And although the pictures don’t indicate this, it was actually quite lively on the ice, with people calling to each other and moving between shacks.

I think this little green shack looks especially fetching as it peeks through the branches.

And this shot gives an idea as to how close to shore some of them are.

While I was taking pictures, I heard the muffled roars of far-off snowmobiles, which, as someone who cares about the environment, I know I am not supposed to like. However, as a Mainer who rode on snowmobiles when she was  young, I have a soft spot for them.

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I had what is now referred to as a “free-range childhood.” When I was eight, we moved to the rural town of North Vassalboro, and I was allowed to roam the fields and woods as I wanted.

This was not unusual back then. My friends had the same freedom, and somehow we set reasonable limits on ourselves, with our range being about a mile’s radius from where we lived.

We climbed trees, we rode ponies, we picked strawberries in backfields, and in the winter, as we got older, we rode snowmobiles. My parents had a little Arctic Cat with a pull starter that was easy for me to use. And off I went, sometimes by myself, sometimes with my friends, buzzing around the countryside but again, never straying much farther than a mile so so from home. Not exactly good for the environment, but oh so much fun as the sharp air hit our faces when we went up hill, down hill, and through the woods. Then back to a warm house for hot chocolate and cookies.

Funny how a trip to a frozen lake will bring back memories.

Everything’s Coming up Hostas

All right, folks. The furious digging is done. (How I love digging. I swear I must be part terrier, except that I dig for plants, not rats.) All the bare spots in my garden—and there were many—have been mostly filled by—you guessed it!—hostas. Fortunately for my budget, which is as big as a minute, I already had quite a few hostas in various spots in my gardens. Those hostas have been there for a while and were ripe for dividing. With spade in hand, I went to work.

Now, as I’ve previously written, my preference would be to have gardens with glorious bursts of flowers from May through September. And when my blogging friends feature their bright, beautiful gardens, I am filled with conflicting emotions—admiration, awe, and envy. But we live in the woods, and while there are many pleasures to be gained from this, riotous blooms aren’t one of them.

So onward, ho with hostas. Here is a picture of the front yard. I have a hard time getting pictures that reflect the simplicity and tranquility of my hosta-filled gardens. (When life gives you shade…) However, this picture  does capture a little of this feeling.

Here is another look.

Confession time. Perhaps I might be exaggerating a teeny-weensy bit when I write that my gardens are all hostas, all the time. Observant readers will note that there are a few other plants tucked here and there among the hostas.

There are chives, which seem to thrive wherever they are planted. (There must be a lesson in this.)

And my beloved irises, which tolerate some shade.

Later in the season there will be evening primroses, some lilies, and black-eyed Susans.

Recently, a friend gave me a plant—tough as nails, she assured me—that does well in shade. It’s called Persian shield, and it’s noted for its foliage. I planted it less than a week ago, and so far, so good. May this plant thrive in my shady garden and bring a little splash of color to it.

But back to hostas. Although they do well in dry shade, they are magnets for slugs and snails. By summer’s end, the slugs and snails chew the hostas leaves into green lace, which sounds prettier than it actual is. The hostas always come back in the spring, so no permanent damage is done, but by the end of the season, they look pretty sad.

Recently, I heard that a way to deter snails and slugs is to mix one part of ammonia to five or six parts water and spray the hosta leaves. Somehow, I am leery about doing this. Ammonia doesn’t seem like anything I want to be using in my gardens. But I must admit that I am tempted.

Blogging friends, what do you think of this method of controlling snails and slugs? Am I right to be leery, or is it a safe method?

Don’t be shy. Tell me what you think.


The Solace of the Seasons

Yesterday, the calendar flipped from September to October, and I could not have imagined a more perfect fall day. The night before, the temperature dipped to a little below 50°F, and during the day it rose to 65°F with nary a hint of humidity.

A perfect day for a bike ride by Maranacook Lake. The cloudless azure sky was a sight to behold, and the water—I know.  I see it everywhere—was Maya blue. Best of all, there were no snakes on the road, very common in Maine in the fall. I suppose the warmth attracts them.

Oh, for three or four more months of these perfect days. For the farmers and the nursery garden owners, rain at night, between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. until there is enough water to satisfy those who grow things. Then warm, sunny days for those of us who like to bike, walk, and sit on the patio. I realize that’s asking for a lot, but if I were in charge, that’s how the weather would be.

Right now, the leaves have just a hit of color, and there is still a lot of green.

Apples have begun to ripen, and I bought a small bag of Cortlands, crisp and tart, at the grocery store. My plan is to go to Lakeside Orchard and by a big bag of the beauties. That way, when I invite friends over for coffee and tea, I can serve warm, fragrant baked apples with just a touch of vanilla ice cream on top.

I’m always sorry to see the end of summer—the profusion of flowers, the nights on the patio, the warm weather for bike riding. But the apples, the blue of the sky, and the asters remind me that fall brings its own pleasures.

At night, the crickets are still singing and should continue until the cold silences them.  However the hummingbirds—those feisty yet ethereal creatures—are gone, and yesterday I took in their feeders and gave them a good scrubbing. Out the feeders will come next spring, when the cycle begins again. a cycle that is old but is never stale, always a delight, always renewing.

With all that is going on in our country, in the world, this cycle brings me great comfort.

This photo is for you, Quercus



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.