As incredible as it might seem to this lifelong Mainer, summer seems to have arrived, even though it’s only the end of May. (In years past, it wasn’t uncommon for summer to wait to show its pretty face until the Fourth of July.) The lilacs are nearly gone—usually they are not in bloom until Memorial Day—the leaves are fully grown, and the lupine, normally a mid-June flower, are beginning to bloom. Then there is the heat, more like July’s than late May’s. I can’t help but wonder what the rest of the summer will bring. Will there be a rainy stretch in June? Or, will our summer be dry? Will the heat hold? Will it get hotter? Much as I like the heat, I hope not. Ninety in the shade is hot enough, thank you very much.
Last night, my husband, Clif, and I went to our friend Claire’s house for dinner. Because it was so hot she made a variety of salads—chicken, pasta, coleslaw, and green—and nothing could have been better. The heat also allowed us to eat outside, and the mosquitoes weren’t too bad. I suppose it’s because it has been so dry.
Claire also invited two poets—Steve Cowperthwaite and Jay Franzel—and the conversation was as good as the food. We talked, not necessarily in this order, about Monty Python, the Dalai Lama, the nursing shortage in Maine, health care (and how it is indeed the right of all citizens to have it!), and hobos on trains during the Great Depression. We helped ourselves to the various salads. Pickles were passed. Iced tea was poured. Most of the bran muffins I brought were eaten. The sun set late, the air was hot and close, and a nearly full moon rose, casting its glow between the branches of a tree. Occasionally, a slight breeze rustled the leaves, and the sweet smell of night settled over us.
One of the most interesting facts I learned—from Steve, who as well as being a poet is also a history buff—was that at one time a forty-mile (or so) canal ran from South Portland to Long Lake in Sebago. Lumber, apples, and firewood, among other things, were transported down the canal to Portland. This morning, I did a bit more research and discovered that the canal opened in 1832 and that the project cost $206,000, quite a bit of money back then. On a towpath next to the canal, horses hauled the flat-bottomed canal boats while boatmen steered with poles. Passengers could hitch a ride for one-half cent per mile, and manufactured goods were hauled inland as well. But in the 1850s trains came to replace the canals, and finally, in the twentieth century, roads and cars came to replace the trains.
You never know what you are going to learn when you have dinner with poets.