Rear Window

I know. The title of this post evokes Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and murder. However my rear window is a lot  different from the one portrayed in the movie. Instead of giving a view of a neighbor’s apartment, my rear window looks out into the backyard and the forest just beyond.

However, I will admit that from time to time there is murder. We have bird feeders in the backyard, and occasionally a hawk or an owl will attack one of the many rodents or birds that come to eat. Not something I care to see or dwell on, but of course predators have to make their living, too.

Mostly, however, aside from some harmless squabbling, there is relative peace at the feeders. The rear window in our bathroom gives me a perfect view of the birds and animals, and it serves as a sort of blind. If I raise the windows ever so slowly, I don’t scare any of the creatures, and I am able to get some pretty good shots with my wee wonder of a camera.

Here is a picture of a nuthatch and a goldfinch. The nuthatch appears to have a seed in its beak, and I love the black dot of the eye set in white. If you look closely, you will notice a fizz of snow going across the feeder.  Yes, it was spitting snow again, but it is after all February in Maine, which means that we are only halfway through winter.

Squirrels, of course, come to our feeders as well, and we even throw a bit of seed on the ground for them and for the other animals that feed on the ground. I know squirrels are not universally loved by those who feed birds, but as long as they don’t raid the feeders, then I don’t mind them at all. In fact, I enjoy watching them. On the feeder by the squirrels, there is a baffle on the pole that does a fine job of ensuring that the seed goes to the birds.

I’m always tickled with the way the stalks of bee balm look against the snow. They remind me of the legs of some skittering animal that perhaps comes to life at night, when no humans are looking. Then, at dawn, it returns to its snow nest, and only the spindly legs are visible.

Finally, here is a shot of the cool, green, mysterious forest that begins at the edge of our yard.  While I love the colors of spring, summer, and fall, I also am taken with the muted colors of winter. I find them restful, soothing even. To me, winter is a welcome respite from the joyous burst of life—birth, growth, and preparation—that the other seasons bring.



A Frosting of Snow

Yesterday, for most of the morning, it was spitting snow, as we Mainers like to say. It fell softly on the trees and  the yard.

It frosted our shovel, which we keep handy by the front door.

It frosted the fallen down tip of a branch

and a crow’s beak.

It frosted a beech leaf

and the top of our bird feeder, where this chickadee can stay dry while eating.

Winter can be soft and hard at the same time.

News, Fake or Real

Yesterday, Clif and I went to the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) for a panel discussion hosted by its Senior College and the College of Arts & Sciences. The topic, as indicated in this post’s title, was News, Fake or Real. The panel consisted of Bill Nemitz, a noted Maine journalist and columnist; Mal Leary, a senior political correspondent for Maine Public Radio; and Jessica Lowell, a journalist at the Kennebec Journal.

Fake news is an issue very dear to my heart. Indeed, the notion that facts do matter is a central theme in my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything.

It is my guess that as soon as humans acquired language, despotic leaders have told lies to maintain power and stroke their egos. However, in the United States, the current administration has brought lying to a new high—or low, depending on your point of view. On Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s advisors, even came up with a term—“alternative facts”—that many of us had never heard before. When Chuck Todd, the host of Meet the Press, insisted that alternative facts were falsehoods, Conway did not even have the grace to look ashamed and instead barrelled on with her talking points.

At yesterday’s forum, Marilyn Canavan, the moderator, ended her introduction by asking, how are we to distinguish between news and opinion? How will we know if news is fake?

Jessica Lowell suggested that readers need to think critically to separate news from opinion. And fact from fiction. She noted how easy it was to share things on Facebook without knowing where the news was coming from and even admitted to having done this herself. (So have I.) Now, Lowell is more careful, and she stressed how important it was to stop and pause before sharing anything, to check the source.

Mal Leary spoke of how fake news often has a sliver of truth. As an example, he used a recent story about chocolate becoming extinct.  The bombastic headline was designed to draw people in, providing the site with lots of clicks, which in turn gives data and potential customers to advertisers. As it turned out, the article explained how climate change might affect chocolate production at some time in the future. But right now, there is no reason to hoard Hershey Chocolate Bars. Leary warned the audience to beware of websites that have weird endings such as .co. For example, is not the same as Leary also warned us to beware of websites with no “About” section and of single-source stories.

Bill Nemitz told an amusing but sobering tale of how his publicity photo was stolen by “T.S. Hunter”—most certainly not the author’s real name—whose website was putting out information to disparage a victim of a police shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma. T.S. Hunter had even constructed a snappy bio that described how he was a poet, the owner of a health food store, had two goldendoodles, and was in love with a muse with a guitar. (I must admit that as a writer, I was impressed by these specific details.) Nemitz pursued the matter, and eventually the blog was taken off the Internet.

Nemitz then defined fake news. First, it was news that was 100% false, such as many of the stories found in supermarket tabloids. Second, there was a gray area, which included news with a slant or a bias but had a grain of truth. Third, fake news could be pure propaganda. Fourth, it could be pieces that misuse data or scientific evidence. Fifth, it could come about because of sloppy or imprecise writing. Sixth, and perhaps most important, fake news is not news with which you disagree.

A Q & A followed the panel discussion, and many good points were raised and discussed. This forum started at 2:00 p.m. and ended at 4:00 p.m. Such a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon and such a relevant topic. Many thanks, UMA.

To end this piece, I am posting some pictures of UMA’s small but lovely campus in winter. And readers, not one of these pictures is fake.


Five for Friday: Cushnoc Brewing Co.—A New, Hip Place in Augusta

According to Wikipedia, Augusta, Maine, with its population of about 19,000, is “the third-least populous state capital in the United States.” ( Vermont’s and South Dakota’s capitals are smaller.) Augusta is also an old city, established in 1629 by English settlers from the Plymouth Colony. Augusta was originally called Cushnoc, from its native American name that means “head of tide.”

However, while Augusta might be small and old, it isn’t quaint. With its major roads blighted by strip development and its empty shell of a main street, Augusta is a charmless city that gives you the feeling  the sky is gray, even when the sun is shining.

Augusta wasn’t always like this. My memory goes back far enough to remember when the main street was a bustling place filled with shops and other businesses. Vintage postcards indicate that those major roads, with their current scourge of strip development, were once charming tree-lined streets with lovely homes.

As to be expected, Augusta mostly has chain restaurants, ranging from McDonald’s to Ruby Tuesday. Clif and I don’t eat out very often, but when we do, we mostly go to Hallowell, a little city just outside of Augusta. Hallowell has a snappy collection of restaurants—none of them chains.

However, a new place has come to Augusta’s downtown—Cushnoc Brewing Co., and as its name suggests, it is indeed a brewery.  Cushnoc Brewing also specializes in pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven, and they serve other food including nachos and salads.

On Monday, Clif and I decided to check out Cushnoc Brewing Co. As soon as we went in, we looked around in wonder. Could this place—one that could be considered hip, even—really be in Augusta, Maine, the land of strip development and chain restaurants?

It seems that it could. But as the saying goes, handsome is as handsome does. Here were the most important questions: How was the food, and how was the beer? We ordered a pizza to share, and Clif ordered a beer, All Souls IPA. Clif told me it was light and had a citrus flavor and went down real easy.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I ordered a root beer, but beer isn’t my thing. In honor of the beer lovers in my family, I’ll leave it at that, and I’ll return to my root beer later.

The pizza—half mushroom and half pepperoni—was one of the best I have ever had. The sauce was slightly sweet, and later I would discover that the secret was balsamic vinegar. The crust was cooked to perfection, and I ate more than I should have.

After Clif and I were done eating, we went to look at the pizza oven, and I was allowed to take  pictures of it. The oven has a name—Stacy—in honor of this building’s previous store, a tempting gift shop where I have bought many things.

Now let us return to my root beer, which had something to set it apart from most soft drinks served in restaurants. (Yes, I know. This is picture number six. Let us consider it a bonus picture.)

Perhaps it isn’t obvious from the photo, but the straw is paper, not plastic, and I consider this to be one baby step in the right direction. In truth, I’m perfectly happy to sip directly from the cup itself, and the next time I go, I’ll tell the server I don’t need a straw. Why waste paper? Nevertheless, Cushnoc Brewing Co. is the only area restaurant I have been to that provides paper straws rather than plastic.

Will this hip place revive Augusta? Only time will tell, but it’s my guess it will give the restaurants in trendy Hallowell a run for their money.




In Transition

Yesterday, Clif and I went to the Winthrop Center Friends Church to see In Transition 2.0, a movie about Transition, a movement celebrating community and the environment. It also re-imagines a different economy, based on supporting local stores, farmers, and artisans. Transition began in the United Kingdom, and some of you have perhaps heard of Rob Hopkins, one of the founders of Transition. (Transition provides a more detailed account of the movement and its various aspects.)

Released in 2012, In Transition 2.0 follows the usual rah-rah trajectory common to upbeat documentaries about the environment and social change. The gist of the movement is explained, and then big and small examples of action from around the world are featured—community gardens (relatively easy); a group that focuses on personal action (again, relatively easy); local currency (a little harder but manageable); and starting a small power company that is based on renewable energy (very hard).

I’m aware that the above paragraph makes me sound like a cynic when it comes to movements such as Transition, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a Mainer, I am very much aware of the problems addressed by Transition, especially climate change and the decline of small communities. I’ve already written about the weird winter we’ve been having and how this seems to be the new normal. Climate change is here, no two ways about it.

However, I haven’t written about how Winthrop, the small town where we live, has gone from having a vibrant downtown with clothing stores, a craft store, a five and dime store, and a little grocery store to having a few sandwich shops, some thrift shops, and not much else.  It’s been sad to witness this decline. There are many reasons for this, including the closing of major businesses and poor leadership. I could go into great detail about this, but I’ll stop here.

Therefore, my sympathies are with Transition, but having once been a part of a failed Green Committee, I am also aware of how difficult it is for people to come together to make a change.  And, to be fair to In Transition 2.0, the movie does acknowledge that groups do fail and even highlights one that has.

After the movie, the handful of us that came discussed what we had seen.  Maggie Edmondson, the Friends pastor, did a fine job of leading the discussion. However, because most everyone came from a different community, there was really no possibility of starting anything in Winthrop.

And yet. The movie and the discussion made me think more about what I can do to live a greener life, about how I should use less of everything, throw away less, buy more local food, and drive less. (This is very difficult in central Maine as there is not much in the way of public transportation). In fact, I grapple with these issues on a daily basis, and seeing this film has made me resolve to do better, do more.

The title of the movie, In Transition, aptly catches what we are experiencing regularly in this country and, I think, around the world. Fires and mud on the West Coast. Dreadful hurricanes in the South. Twelve inches of snow and frozen alligators in North Carolina. Flash floods in Maine in January.

We are, indeed, in transition. Now it’s up to us to decide what to do about it.

The Kennebec River in Augusta, Maine, on January 22, 2018. More rain, more ice dams are predicted tonight and tomorrow, and these, in turn, could lead to more flooding. Good times.


A blog about nature, home, community, books, writing, the environment, food, and rural life.