SHANNON’S WEDDING SHOWER: WHEN WOMEN COME TOGETHER

My daughter Shannon’s wedding shower is less than a month away. We will be having it at the Grange in East Vassalboro, in the lovely, restored old building that was such a big part of my mother’s life. (She passed away two years ago, and for more about the Grange, see my post Tea at the Grange with Esther.) 

Let’s just say that plans are afoot. The invitations have been sent, RSVPs are coming in, and we already have a nice little group who will be coming. I expect there will be more RSVPs in the next couple of weeks. 

Last year, I went to a wedding shower for Sara Clark, the daughter of our friends Beth and John Clark. Beth and her youngest daughter, Lisa, put on a charming bridal tea for Sara, and, as I like to say, I stole the idea from them for Shannon’s shower. The bridal tea was served in three courses, which is what we will do, and all the food for Shannon’s shower will be homemade, just as it was for Sara’s. 

Right from the start, I knew I would need some help. Twenty-seven guests have been invited, and while this is not much bigger than some of the parties we have at our little house in the big woods, it would nevertheless be quite a stretch for one person to do it all.  My eldest daughter, Dee, is helping me host the shower, but she lives in New York and is coming home only a day before the shower. So I asked my friends Claire and Kate if they would help, and they graciously agreed. Ditto for Andrea, one of Shannon’s bridesmaids, and for Gail, Shannon’s future mother-in-law. What a relief to have so many helpers who will cook, make sandwiches, help set up, and most important, wash dishes afterward. (There will be no paper, and, I hope, hardly any trash. I want this shower to be as green as possible.) 

But then other offers came in. Esther, a good friend of my mother’s, said she would make egg salad sandwiches; Debbie, Andrea’s mother, offered to make some kind of dessert; Rose, my sister-in-law, volunteered to make a fruit salad to be served as the first course; and Beth Clark will bring her luscious blueberry cake that Shannon and I are so crazy about it. (I could eat a piece of that cake right now.) 

Both Shannon and I are incredibly moved that so many women will be pitching in to help with this very special event. This outpouring of help feels like the best of the old days, and how fitting this is for a shower that is to be held at the Grange. It is also in keeping with my mother’s philosophy. She had an unwavering commitment to community, family, and friends, and she understood how necessary they all were to live a good life, a life rich with connection and meaning. 

Many, many thanks to Andrea, Beth, Claire, Debbie, Dee, Esther, Gail, Kate, and Rose. And if you need me to cook or to help with some event, I will be there.

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TO PORTLAND TO CELEBRATE KATE’S BIRTHDAY

Last Friday, I drove to Portland to have lunch with my friend Kate and to celebrate her upcoming birthday. Because I work at home and because I try to drive as little as possible and thus reduce my carbon footprint, most of my time is spent in Winthrop. Now, Winthrop is a pretty little town with lots of lakes and ponds, and I am perfectly happy to walk and bike and stay close to home most of the time. But it is nice, now and then, to go on an excursion to the big city, especially when it involves meeting a friend and going out to lunch. As my mother would have put it, these little trips “change the mind.”

As luck would have it, the day was sunny and warm, and the ride to Portland was an utter delight. As I drove, I listened to alternative rock on WCLZ, and I felt enveloped by the lush green of June. The lupine, still a deep purple, covered the banks of the highway. Off to the side along one stretch was a farm, complete with pastures and cows, who were doing what cows should be doing—grazing on grass. There were even a few little ones to admire.

My daughter Shannon is also a friend of Kate’s, and as Shannon works in Portland, she was able to join us for lunch. The three of us have established a birthday ritual of meeting in Portland for lunch (the birthday girl gets to choose the place), strolling around the Old Port, and then stopping somewhere for tea so that we can sit and chat some more. We are all in complete agreement: These outings are as much fun for the ones who aren’t having a birthday as they are for the one who is.

This time for her birthday, Kate chose the The Salt Exchange Restaurant on Commercial Street, and I was especially eager to eat there. I had heard good things about this restaurant but had never been there. The same was true for Shannon and Kate.

The Salt Exchange, with its brick walls and high ceilings, manages to feel cozy and airy at the same time. On the walls were paintings by a local artist —unfortunately I didn’t get the name—whose vivid use of color made even a grouping of buoys seem fresh, no small feat in buoy-saturated coastal Maine. Best of all, the tables were not crowded together, which meant there was no hemmed-in feeling, and our conversation was our own.

The menu at the Salt Exchange is small. Nevertheless, it took us a while to make our choices. Everything looked so tempting, but finally we decided on tempura fish and shoestring potatoes (Kate); a Brie sandwich with roasted tomatoes along with a bowl of artichoke soup (Shannon); and barbecue braised duck sliders along with a bowl of artichoke soup (me).

The Salt Exchange bills itself as serving “seasonal small plates,” which means, of course, that the portion sizes aren’t huge. No basins of pasta and no mounded servings of fish and shoestring potatoes that would prove daunting even to “a good eater.” While teenaged boys probably would not be thrilled by the size of the portions, Kate, Shannon, and I thought they were just right. And the food itself was terrific—the fresh rolls, the tang of the barbecue sauce, the moist and tender duck, the mellow artichoke soup, the smooth, purple coleslaw, as mellow as the soup, a chocolate dessert that was a cross between mousse and fudge.

Kate’s fish and shoestring potatoes were, in a word, amazing. Essentially, what she ordered was a fish and chip dish, and I was tempted to do the same. I am a fish and chip fanatic, and I usually have them once a week. (Which is why I decided to branch out to barbecue duck.) What Kate got was unlike any fish and chip dish I have ever seen—light tempura-battered chunks of fish on top of a bird’s nest of potatoes cut impossibly thin. (Who has shoestrings like that?) The dish looked so ethereal that it might have been served to Oberon or Titania or any other of the fairies in their retinue. Kate let me have a bite of the fish, and it tasted as light as it looked.

My one complaint with the Salt Exchange was with our server. While he was friendly and polite, he was so zealous about clearing our plates—even when they still had food on them—that at one point I wanted to slap his hand.

As a foodie and a good eater, I have mixed feelings about Portland. On the one hand, there are so many good places to eat in that small city that I wish I lived closer. (Every place we have chosen for our birthday meals has been smashing.) On the other hand, this would not be good for either the budget or the waistline. Perhaps it’s best that I live in Winthrop and don’t make it to the big city very often. I know I would give in to temptation much too often.

So three times a year, on our birthdays, we go to Portland and splurge. While eating out in Portland more often would be good—I won’t deny this—only going a few times a year makes it all the more special. A real treat.

BEAUTIFUL EGGS—DELIVERED TO MY HOUSE

EggsA while back, during Earth Week, I met a woman named Monika Riney, who belongs to the Winthrop Green Committee and helped organize some wonderful activities to celebrate that special week. These activities included movies, a tour of a farm that was hosting community gardens, and a public supper featuring local food. My husband, Clif, and I thoroughly enjoyed the week, and one of the pleasures was getting to know Monika, who has a farm called Wildermirth Farm in East Winthrop, which, as she puts it, is “a vegan farm where nobody is killed.” And on that farm, she has hens, who do what all good hens do—they lay eggs. In a recent email, Monika wrote, “The yolks are a yellow/orange because the girls have a varied diet that includes cracked corn and a lot of fresh greens.(They’re the middle managers in my compost factory.)”

Last night, Monika came to our house to deliver two dozen of her beautiful eggs. Talk about service! I can’t remember the last time anyone delivered food to my house. (And, no, I am not interested in becoming acquainted with the Schwan’s man.) She had taken her children to Tubby’s in Wayne, and thought she’d combine things by bringing the eggs to our house. (Earlier in the week, I had emailed her and told her we were interested in buying some of her eggs.)

“You know, of course, that Tubby’s is coming to Winthrop,” I said to her.

“In nine days, but who is counting?” she replied, laughing.

Everybody in Winthrop seems to be counting the days until Tubby’s comes to Winthrop. I find it both humorous and heartening that this new business is causing such a stir in our little town.

“We’ll be there on Tubby’s inaugural day,” I said.

I expect a lot of other people will be there, too. I’ll have Clif bring his camera so that he can record the big event.

But back to the eggs. After Monika left, I opened the egg cartons to take a look, and I just marveled at the lovley variety of shapes and colors. Some of the eggs are blue, some are brown, some are tan, some are speckled, and one is a ghostly white.

What to do with those eggs? Why, an omelet for supper, of course, along with a spinach salad from my very own little garden.

DINNER WITH DIANE: GRILLED VEGETABLES OVER PASTA

Yesterday, Election Day, was fine and sunny, and so to town I went on my bike—first to do my civic duty and vote and then to do other errands. After I had voted, ever mindful of the cars, I rode down Winthrop’s small Main St, past the soon-to-be-opening Tubby’s, and to the Food Pantry, where I volunteer, to drop off some paper work. Then, it was on to Dave’s Appliance, to get a new front burner for the stove. The night before, we had quite a little flare-up as the burner decided to self-destruct. For a moment, I even considered going for the fire extinguisher, which has been on the wall for so long that I’m not even sure if the darned thing works. Fortunately, the fire went out before I had to put the extinguisher to the test.

“Well, that one burnt right out, didn’t it?” the clerk at Dave’s asked when I handed him the old one. Before setting out on my bike, I had tucked the old burner in my trusty knapsack, so that I would be sure to get the right replacement.

“Yes, it did.”

“Unfortunately, this burner is one of the expensive ones to replace.”

“How much?”

“Twenty-five dollars.”

“Well,” I said, digging in my knapsack for my wallet, “seeing as how we bought the stove in 1991 and have never had to replace the burner, I guess we got our money’s worth.”

“I guess you did,” he said, smiling.

After being warned that the burner’s connector might be going as well—the plug-in end of the old burner was a telltale black—I headed home. The new burner worked just fine, and I was all set to make dinner for our friend Diane Friese, who would be joining us that night.

Diane lives in Brunswick and works in Augusta, which means that it makes more sense for her to come here after work than to make a special trip from Brunswick. In doing so, she saves both time and gas, which ultimately means less carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.  And if she’s going to come after work, then she might as well stay for dinner. After all, my husband, Clif, and I have to eat, too.

I decided to serve grilled vegetables over pasta. As far as grilling is concerned, Clif and I have come late to grilled vegetables, and we really only started with them last year. But, as the saying goes, better late than never, and Clif and I are now grilled vegetable fiends. Last year, we only had one pan for grilling vegetables, and it really wasn’t big enough for more than a couple of servings. However, this spring, I saw one on sale for half-price at Hannaford Supermarket, and I scooped it up, knowing that with our new-found love of grilled vegetables, it would get a lot of use.

Now, I don’t like to brag, but Clif is already known far and wide for his grilled bread—which we also made last night—and with this additional new pan, I expect he will soon become known for his grilled vegetables. Naturally, there are many possibilities with grilled vegetables, but last night I used mushrooms, sliced thick: broccoli, cut small; sweet red peppers, also cut small; and zucchini, sliced fairly thick.

Onto the grill they went, and Clif came up with a system for cooking them that verged on being an algebraic equation, based on the cooking time of the various vegetables. Since I’m horrible at math, I only partially understood what he did, but it went something like this: After slathering the vegetables with olive oil, he started the peppers and the zucchini in one pan and the mushrooms in another. When the mushrooms looked pretty much done, he dumped them in a bowl and then put the broccoli in the pan. (Note: While Clif was juggling the mushrooms and broccoli, the zucchini and red pepper continued to cook.) Clif let the broccoli cook for just a few minutes because, as he puts it, they tend to get a little too charred otherwise. When the edges of the broccoli began to get black, Clif put them in the bowl with the mushrooms, finished cooking the zucchini and red peppers, and then dumped the mushrooms and broccoli on top of the zucchini and peppers, to warm them a bit before dumping everything into the aforementioned bowl. The heat was on high for the entire time, and Clif estimates cooking time was ten minutes or so from beginning to end.

Phew! I’m exhausted just writing this description, but readers, all the vegetables turned out exactly as they should have—a little charred, a little crunchy, but not too charred and not too crunchy, and most important, none were overdone. What can I say? Alchemy on the grill.

Diane, Clif, and I tucked into those vegetables as though we hadn’t eaten vegetables in years.

“What is it about grilled food?” Diane asked.

I couldn’t answer that question, but one thing is certain, food always seems to taste better when it’s cooked over some kind of flame.

Grilled Vegetables over Pasta

(I’ve already outlined the cooking technique for this dish. What follows is another somewhat inexact recipe for getting to the grilling point and then what to do afterward. What can I say? That’s how I cook much of the time.)

1 very small head of broccoli, cut small
1 sweet red pepper, chopped in big pieces
1 small package of mushrooms, sliced thick
1 very small zucchini, sliced thick
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 or 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil (Or more, depending on how much you like basil. To me, it is food of the gods.)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Grated cheese
12 ounces of pasta (I used penne.)

This is a dish that requires team effort—one person to grill and one person to tend to the pasta and garlic. While the vegetables are being grilled, start cooking the pasta according to the directions on the package. (The vegetables and the pasta should take roughly the same amount of time to cook.) When the pasta is nearly done, sizzle the garlic in a small frying pan in a tablespoon or two of olive oil just until the garlic starts to turn a nice golden brown. (Don’t let it burn! Remove from heat if the timing isn’t quite right and the pasta still needs more time to cook.) When the pasta is done, drain and rinse with hot water, and dump the pasta back into the pot. Add the garlic and olive oil and put the cover on the pot. When the vegetables are ready, put the pasta into a large bowl, and add the vegetables and the basil. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring the bowl to the table along with a little plate of hard cheese and a grater. Dig in. And as you eat, give thanks for summer, for friends, for grilling, and for vegetables.

TO HANNAFORD WE WENT—ON OUR BICYCLES

Last weekend was a wet weekend, close and humid, with the rain, at times, coming down hard. There were also tornado warnings, very unusual for Maine, which made us all anxious. Whatever their size, tornados are a terrifying event, and even small ones can do a lot of damage and can even take lives. Fortunately, no tornados came to the Winthrop area, just a lot of bad, humid weather. 

However, last Friday was a lovely day—the calm before the storm—and as my husband, Clif, only works half-days at home on Friday, we decided to go on a bike ride in the afternoon. In fact, we had rather ambitious plans. Not only would we go on a bike ride along Memorial Drive, our favorite lakeside ride, but we would also do errands along the way—go to the bookstore, the post office, and the library, and, finally, pedal to Hannaford to pick up a few groceries. We only live a mile or so from town, which means that in theory pedaling to all these places is not a big deal. However, sometimes theory and reality collide, and this is certainly the case when it comes to riding to Hannaford, which is at the top of a steep hill. A very steep hill. An incredibly steep hill. 

All went well with our Memorial Drive ride and with our bookstore, post office, and library errands. The ride up the hill to Hannaford was, shall we say, a bit of a challenge, and it was with great relief when we finally rode into the parking lot and hitched our bikes to the wooden fence that is off to one side. After catching our breaths and regaining our composure, we adjusted our backpacks and headed into the store. The reactions we got made that hill completely worthwhile. 

In Winthrop, it is somewhat unusual for people to ride their bikes to the grocery store. All right, it is very unusual. Most people come in their cars. So when the young man collecting the grocery carts gave us a double take, it was completely understandable. 

“Did you come on your bikes?” he asked. 

“We did,” I answered. 

“Wow!” He replied. “It’s pretty hot.” It might have been my imagination, but I think there was admiration in his voice. 

Once inside, an employee, about our age, helped us find garbage bags and spent a few minutes talking to us about bikes. He is also a biker—he has two—and he briefly told us about a bike ride he took from New Hampshire to Maine. A long way with lots of hills. 

The young man at the checkout gave us a bemused look as we put our knapsacks on the bag counter. Into the knapsacks went a rotisserie chicken, rolls, sour cream, garbage bags, and a few other things. Clif carried most of the groceries, but I tucked a few around the library books in my bag. Everything fit, and after we paid and were about to head out, the young man said, “Have a safe ride home.” Again, it might have been my imagination, but along with the concern there seemed to be a hint of admiration in his voice. 

As we left, I had two thoughts, pretty much simultaneously. That is, if we keep this up, we will become known as the town eccentrics, and yet  I couldn’t help but think that along with being eccentrics, we were also being good examples. We were coming to the store in a way that was not only healthy but also environmentally friendly, and it seems to me that example is far more powerful than preaching. If we live our lives according to our environmental values then maybe, just maybe, we will encourage others to do the same. 

That is the hope, anyway, which goes right along with Bill McKibben’s eearth, the book I bought that day at Apple Valley Books. In eearth, McKibben writes that climate change is here, and the centuries of our “sweet time” on Earth are over. We are living on a new Earth, one we humans have changed, if not irrevocably then for a very long time. Because of this, we will now be facing harder times as the climate becomes harsher and harsher. As McKibben puts it, “The planet on which our civilization evolved no longer exists.” 

McKibben is right, and it is easy to fall into a kind of hopelessness when reading his book. However, this I refuse to do. Instead, I will hang my laundry outside, drive as little as possible, and ride my bike as much as I can. I’ve written this before, and I will write it again: I know I am only one person, but it is my firm belief that it is my responsibility to do what I can, to live as lightly as possible. 

That Friday night, I made chicken tarragon salad and broiled some homemade bread with olive oil and oregano. My husband and I were both good eaters, and the food was especially delicious. We had earned our supper. 

We discussed the hill, that dratted hill, and how it was our summer goal to become good enough riders so that the hill isn’t a problem anymore. And after that, who knows? To the pub in Hallowell? To the Theater at Monmouth? This is central Maine, and there are lots of hills along the way to each town. 

But our philosophy is this: bike on, dudes!

JUNE 2ND—FIRST WEDNESDAY LUNCH

Chicken salid with AlmondsThe lovely month of May sped by, bringing us June and another first Wednesday lunch at my house. The first Wednesday guests always vary, depending on schedules, and this time Sybil couldn’t join us. This zesty senior was helping a friend with the opening of a nightclub in Hallowell. Now, Hallowell, population 2,400, seems an unlikely place for a nightclub, but in central Maine, Hallowell is quite the little swinging place. It has The Wharf, a rowdy bar that features music; a pub (The Liberal Cup): a reasonably good Chinese restaurant (Lucky Gardens): a quite good restaurant that serves “progressive” American Food (Slates):as well as other sundry places to eat and drink. So who knows? This new nightclub—Club 223—might be a huge success.

However, even though we lost Sybil, we gained Roger, Alice’s husband. This is the first time Roger has been able to join us. Popular man that he is, someone is always clamoring to have lunch with him on first Wednesdays. This time we got lucky, and Roger was free. Claire almost couldn’t come because of a last-minute mailing that her boss requested, but she tucked to, as the saying goes, and was able to join us, albeit a little late.

Alice brought a cool, crisp mint-infused three-pea and bean salad—snow peas, sugarsnap peas, and green beans as well as leeks, chives, mint, and lemon. The recipe recommends serving this dish hot, but Alice decided to serve it at room temperature, and we all agreed it made a fine salad that was a perfect accompaniment to the tarragon chicken salad that I had prepared. Homemade bread, corn chips, and cherry parfaits rounded out the meal. There was also plenty of hot coffee and iced tea.

Food is a central part of these lunches, but the conversation is also equally good, and one topic was human genetic diversity, a topic that should be more broadly discussed. Even in America, we tend to think of ourselves as belonging to a specific group. Sometimes it’s ethnic—I consider myself to be a Franco-American and Claire considers herself to be Irish American. Sometimes it’s by color. We are white or we are brown or we are black. But, as genetic testing has shown us, there may be little surprises in our background, and especially for those of us who are of European descent, we are most often a complete mix of ethnic backgrounds with nary a whiff of “racial purity.” Even those from other parts of the world are often not what they seem. I remember reading in the New York Times that a prominent African American—whose name escapes me—discovered a Chinese ancestor in his family tree. Nobody in his family had any memory of this Chinese ancestor, but genetic testing revealed that this ancestor was indeed part of their family history.

Roger spoke of his own family history and of his surprise in discovering that some of his forebears had come from the Baltics. When I talked about my Norman ancestors, he mentioned how they were a combination of the French and the Norse, who had zipped down from Scandinavia to invade France. Thus we get “Norseman” hence Normans, who would later invade England and conquer the Anglo-Saxons, with whom they shared a common ancestor—those marauding Norse. (This was back in the Dark Ages, long before Scandinavia became one of the most peaceful and progressive places in the world.)

Oh, what a tangle! It’s high time to dispense with any notions of ethnic or racial purity. Most of us are “mutts,” whether we know it or not, and as time goes by, we’re getting even “muttier.” Science is showing us the reality of our ancestry, now it’s up to us to broaden our horizons and accept the broad sweep of humanity that comprises homo sapiens. Then, maybe we can move on to accepting the value of other species.

Chicken Tarragon Salad

(This is the type of recipe that my husband, Clif, and my daughter Shannon hate. It is one without any exact measurements. Still, even a beginning cook should be able to figure it out.)

The meat from one small roasted chicken, say 4 or 5 pounds. I usually cook the chicken the night before and remove the meat from the bones so it is ready the next day. You could also use a precooked rotisserie chicken from a supermarket.

Sour cream, about a cup

Mayonnaise to taste

Chopped celery, anywhere from ½ cup to 1 cup. It all depends on how much you like celery.

1 teaspoon or so of dried tarragon or 1 tablespoon or so of fresh tarragon, if you have it

Salt and pepper to taste

Roasted almond slivers, ½ cup or so

Cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks and put in a large bowl. Add chopped celery. (Onion lovers might want to add some chopped onions at this point, but I am not an onion lover.) Add the sour cream, a bit at a time. Add a few tablespoons of mayonnaise. Mix until you get the consistency you like. I like mine a little on the dry side. You might like a moister salad, which means you would add more mayonnaise. Add the tarragon. Taste. Add more if you think it needs a little more zip. Ditto for the salt and pepper.

Arrange a bed of lettuce on a large plate. Make a nice mound of chicken salad on the lettuce. Cut up some tomato triangles and edge the salad. Cover the top with roasted almonds. Take a few minutes to admire this pretty salad. Serve with bread, crackers, or corn chips.

THE BIG DAY APPROACHES: TUBBY’S IN WINTHROP WILL BE OPENING JUNE 18TH

On Memorial Day, my husband, Clif, and I decided to give ourselves a day of rest with no household chores or projects. (The day before, we had had a feast honoring our ancestors.) Except for hanging laundry and watering plants, we stuck to our plan. The day was sunny and warm, the blackflies were gone for the season, and we spent a pleasant day on the patio, where we ate both breakfast and lunch, read, and, yes, even dozed a little.

Midafternoon, we roused ourselves for a bike ride along Memorial Drive, a fairly flat road (for Winthrop!) that goes by Maranacook Lake. As we rolled along, the water sparkled on one side, and a loon swam in a small cove. Young boys with nets patrolled the water for minnows. We smelled hot dogs and hamburgers cooking on grills. A large flat-bottomed boat, with lots of people, made its slow, serene way not far from the shoreline. We went about six miles, and when we were done, we decided we needed a sweet, refreshing reward. In short, we needed an ice cream from Tubby’s. (For the complete “scoop” about Tubby’s, see my post Tubby’s Is Coming to Town.)

Tubby’s in Winthrop was supposed to open the end of May. However, as is often the case, actual construction has fallen behind opening plans, and although the place—a once drab industrial building—is coming along nicely, it clearly isn’t ready to be open for business. This meant we had to drive to Wayne, seven or so very hilly miles away from Winthrop. (Clif and I both agreed we weren’t in good enough shape to bike up those hills. Maybe we will be by the end of the summer.)

“I wonder when Tubby’s in Winthrop will be opening?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” Clif answered.

“I’m going to ask,” I replied. “How cool will it be to go for our bike ride and then swing by Tubby’s for an ice cream?”

As it turned out, I didn’t have to ask. There was a sign on the window at the Wayne Tubby’s. It read: The take out window at our Winthrop store will be opening June 18th. Or something to that effect.

June 18th! Yes, Tubby’s is behind schedule, but in a few weeks, we’ll have our nice, relatively flat bike ride and our ice cream, too. We weren’t the only ones who were excited. A couple from Manchester, a town just outside Augusta, had driven all the way to Wayne to get some of Tubby’s ice cream, and they were thrilled they would only have to drive to Winthrop for their Tubby’s fix.

As luck would have it, the great man behind it all—Skip Strong—was resting on the deck in front of Tubby’s. He looked tired, but he wasn’t too tired to speak enthusiastically of all the wonderful treats that would be coming to the Winthrop Tubby’s—the ice cream, of course, the lobster rolls, chicken tenders, and, eventually, even breakfast a couple of times a week. He also spoke of how thrilled he was with the way the building was shaping up.

The woman from Manchester said, “Maybe this will bring back some life to downtown Winthrop.”

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Skip replied.

So are Clif and I. When we first moved to Winthrop, the downtown was full of little businesses—a hardware store, a five and dime, a pizza place, a craft store, and two clothing stores for women. One by one, they blinked out. How could they compete with the chain stores in Augusta? And, during the day, too many people were working someplace other than Winthrop. As a result, there were too few people in town to keep those shops going during regular business hours.

Other businesses have come and gone, and the main street, while not exactly vibrant, is not totally shabby, either. With a little effort, it could make a comeback, and as Winthrop’s population ages, there are more and more people in town during the day. While an aging population is not so good for the school system, it might very well give a boost to the community in other ways.

When I think about community, I am reminded about something the Dalai Lama said in a film called 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama: “When traditions are good, keep them. When traditions are not good, don’t keep them.”

Community is a tradition worth keeping, even though we let it slip away, first with the automobile and then with strip development with its miles and miles of parking lots. How good we are at tarring things!

Perhaps one of the great benefits of peak oil will be a return to community. As gasoline becomes ever more expensive, people won’t be able to drive as much, and they will rediscover the virtues of their own towns. Perhaps they will haul out their bikes and begin riding again, with the sun shining down on them as they hear the sound of children playing, and the smells of summer surround them. If they are very lucky, there will be an ice cream waiting for them at the end of their ride, and because they have gotten so much fresh air and exercise, they can relax and enjoy their ice cream, knowing they will burn off the calories on the way home.

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