River of Change

Last Wednesday the weather was so warm for February in Maine that it broke records.

The driveway was filled with puddles and melting ice.

On that warm February day, Clif and I went on a rare outing where we got take-out from the Red Barn in Augusta, about ten miles from our town. Mostly we cook and eat at home, and our meals are vegetarian. However, while we will not eat mammals or birds, we do, from time to time, eat shrimp, clams, and scallops.

At the Red Barn, we ordered fries and the Barn’s delectable shrimp. Then we headed down the road to Hallowell, to the parking lot that overlooks the Kennebec River, which is neither wide nor mighty but is nonetheless dear to us.

As we ate, we watched the river. It was iced over, but because of recent rain and the warm weather, there was a skim of water on top. A strong wind blew the water this way and that, as though it were sand.

When we were done, we headed to another spot on the Kennebec, where there’s a turnout with a deck, and you can look down the river into Augusta, our state’s capital. In the distance, a little to the right, is the white dome of the capitol building.

The cropped picture reveals a small black smelt shack, also in the distance. If the thaw continues, the owner will have to remove it lest the shack be carried downriver.

On the deck are posters, in both French and English, that describe how important the Kennebec River was when goods were moved by boats and ships. Back in the day, rivers were superhighways. Because of  this, Hallowell was once a bustling community, and there are many fine old homes that are remnants of a more prosperous time.

But times change. Trains and trucks displaced river ships, cement displaced granite, and refrigerators displaced ice. The Kennebec is no longer a superhighway to and from the Atlantic Ocean. Deprived of a vital economy, Hallowell fell on hard times, and in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a dumpy, depressed place. The river, too, fell on hard times, becoming dark and dirty, polluted by the many factories lining the banks.

But all is not gloom and doom. Thanks to the Clean Water Act of 1972, wildlife now thrives on the river, and the Kennebec is a place of recreation and rejuvenation for humans. Artists and creative types, drawn by affordable homes, moved to Hallowell, and the once depressed town has become funky and vital.

The Kennebec River and Hallowell are object lessons in how change can be both good and bad. Sometimes change is out of our control, and we just have to cope with it as best we can.

But sometimes it’s not. And to borrow from the Serenity Prayer, it’s up to us to have the wisdom to know the difference.

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Nifty Posts from Some of the Lovely Blogs I Follow

Ju-Lyn, of Touring My Backyard, featured the fascinating bat flower.

Despite these turbulent times, small pleasures abound in this post from Thistles and Kiwis.

Tootlepedal’s blog always features fabulous photos, but in a recent post, with some help from his son-in-law, he outdid himself

In a timely post on Robby Robin’s Journey, Jane provides maps of Ukraine that really clarify the geography of the area.

Katie, of the Cozy Burrow, never fails to amaze with her beautiful creativity. Sew on, Katie!

On Retirement Reflections, Donna does her bit to spread peace with with three travelling copies of The Little Book of Inner Peace. What a wonderful idea!

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This is more than a little Christmasy, but I couldn’t resist sharing Aimee Mann’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s The River. The song is so lovely, and it fits beautifully with my own river post.

 

 

 

When World Events Dominate

Most of the time, the posts on this blog avoid the political, and world events are seldom mentioned. Instead, the focus is on life in the hinterlands of central Maine. I’m a homebody who seldom travels more than twenty miles from my town. I dwell in the particular, on the edge of a small forest where the wind moves through the tops of the pines and a snake sometimes suns itself on my patio and a bear once smashed flat our bird feeder.

However even in central Maine—far from the center of things—world events can dominate. With Russia invading Ukraine, now is such a time. If there is one thing the pandemic has taught me is that there is no “there.” What happens across the globe ripples outward, touching all countries, no matter how far apart they are. Once upon a time, what happened in a Neanderthal village might have stayed in a Neanderthal village. But those days are gone, and the United States is now inextricably linked to the rest of the world, from Africa to China to Russia to Europe. And as the twentieth century has illustrated, especially to Europe.

What will happen next with Russia, Ukraine, and the world? Naturally, no one can know. But Clif observed that while Afghanistan felt like Vietnam, Ukraine feels more like Poland. I hope this impression springs more from a sense of unease than from any kind of foresight. A world war with an authoritarian leader who has nuclear weapons is terrible to contemplate.

Amidst the gloom, there is a glimmer of hope. In the New York Times, I read, “Thousands of protesters took to the streets and squares of Russian cities on Thursday to protest President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine…Many Russians, like people across the world, were shocked to wake up and learn that Mr. Putin had ordered a full-scale assault against a country often referred to as a ‘brotherly nation.’ At the protests, many people said they felt depressed and broken by the news of Russian military action.”

But this is just a glimmer. Unfortunately, as we have seen in our own country, tribalism and nationalism are always lurking, and authoritarian leaders know how to whip up a frenzy for conflict and war.

Frank Bruni, also in the New York Times, gives this sobering assessment of Putin and Ukraine: “Embarrassment, vanity, viciousness: History never moves on or gets past these forces, which drove invasions and conquests in centuries past and will drive invasions and conquests in years to come. There should be no great shock about Russia’s audacious attack on Ukraine — only profound sadness and painstaking thought about what to do and what’s to come.”

When I shared Bruni’s quotation on Facebook, I got some pushback from a friend who wrote “As long as most people say war and destruction are inevitable, just part of life, it will be.”

I sympathize with that sentiment. How nice it would be to say war and destruction are not inevitable, and then have no more war.

If only it were that easy.

Christmas in February

After going through two years of pandemic quiet, we recorded last weekend in the excitement column in the Ledger of Life. (Thanks to Tootlepedal for introducing me to this term.) The cause of the excitement? At long last, our daughter Shannon and our son-in-law Mike came for a visit.

With them they brought the inimitable Holly

and sweet Somara.

The title of this post gives a clue as to how we celebrated this weekend. The Christmas tree behind Holly in the first picture is also a clue.

For various reasons, Shannon and Mike were unable to join us in December to celebrate Christmas. But because we knew they would eventually make it to Maine, we decided to keep the tree up until they did come, which happened to be last weekend.

We had a jolly time of gift giving and conversation. We played Christmas music, and outside there was a soft sprinkle of falling snow. Although it was February, it felt like Christmas.

After presents, we introduced Shannon and Mike to the board game Horrified, which they both liked very much.

On Sunday, Shannon, Mike, and the dogs left Maine to head home, and we bid them a sad farewell.

On Monday, we got up at God-awful o’clock—3:45 a.m.—to bring our eldest daughter Dee to Portland to take a bus back to New York, where she has various things to take care of.

Now it’s just Clif and me, and, yes, it’s more than a little lonely.  Yet I can’t help but think how grand it is that we so enjoy being with our kids. Both Clif and I feel that there is no better company than Dee, Shannon, and Mike. We are lucky parents, that’s for sure.

When we returned from Portland, we each took a little nap. Getting up at 3:45 certainly isn’t our thing. Then, down came the tree.

The living room is now back to normal.

As soon as her business is taken care of, Dee plans to return to Maine for a while, and in March, we will to go to Massachusetts to visit Shannon, Mike, and the dogs.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to play a game we bought Shannon for Christmas—The Big Book of Madness, recommended by Carol Ann on her fabulous blog Fashioned for Joy.

More good things to record in the Ledger of Life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Gives You Temperamental Weather, Cook

Maine weather tends to be—ahem—temperamental, but for the past two days, it’s been a real whiplash. On Saturday, the temperature soared to 50°F. In Maine in February that, my friends, is akin to a heatwave.

For the first time in a long while, there were puddles in the driveway, and patches of tar peeked through the ice. (The stripes across the driveway are tree shadows.)

Dreaming of spring, Little Miss Watson stared out the window.

However,  despite the warmer weather, none of us—including Little Miss Watson—were tempted to go outside where the dirty snow was piled high and the sides of the road were mucky. Instead, we stayed in and cooked.

Now, the food we make would never be considered restaurant quality or bakery ready. Often, our creations look a little wonky, off center even. Simply put, we are home cooks.

Our pizza wasn’t exactly round.

And our Valentine’s peanut butter cups? Well, judge for yourselves.

But both the pizza and the peanut butter hearts tasted better than their rough looks might otherwise indicate. What we lack in finesse we usually make up for in taste.

The chocolate muffins, on the other hand, had a pleasing muffiny shape. These muffins are egg free and dairy free, but judging from the flavor, you’d never know it. I’ve developed the recipe on my own, and for those who feel daring, I have included it at the end of this post.

Along with food, throw in board games as well as movies and that was our weekend.

And this morning—Monday—when I got up, the temperature had dropped from its high of 50° to a brisk 10°. In two days’ time, the temperature had dropped 40°.

Time to make some more muffins, I think.

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Cocoa Muffins, Egg Free and Dairy Free

Ingredients

  • Three tablespoons water mixed with 1 teaspoon psyllium husk powder  
  • 1 cup almond milk (oat milk or soy milk would work fine, too.)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar plus a little more for sprinkling on top
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter chips or chocolate chips (optional)

Directions

  1.  Preheat over to 400°F.
  2. Grease or spray muffin tin.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the 1 teaspoon of psyllium husk powder with 3 tablespoons of water. Let it set a minute or two until it jells.
  4. Into the jelled psyllium husk powder whisk in the 1 cup of almond milk, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
  5. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar.
  6. Sift together the 2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt, and mix into the sugar/psyllium mixture just until flour is moistened. Note: The batter will be very thick. The muffins come out fine this way, but a tablespoon or two of additional milk can be added for a thinner, batter, which also makes good muffins.
  7. Fold in peanut butter chips or chocolate chips, if using.
  8. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Sprinkle sugar on top.
  9. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the muffin comes out with a few sticky crumbs.

Makes 6 large muffins or 12 medium muffins.

Winter Deepens: White on Red

Deep winter in Maine and another snowstorm last Friday. The birds flocked to the feeders and ate their fill, trying to keep warm in the frigid weather. This red beauty always catches my attention. If you look carefully,  you can see the snow falling in front of the cardinal.

I wasn’t sorry to see more snow. The gardens now have a good layer to protect them from the extreme cold.

But I do wonder: Can a pig fly when there’s snow on his wings?

In the backyard, I like the way most of the bee balm stems stand at attention.

In the front yard, there was also red. By late afternoon, the snow was up to our car’s hubcaps, and we knew the time had come to clean the driveway and walks.

Judging from the snow on the deck’s rail, I would say we got about six inches.

Inside there was red, too, with my little book, which came in the morning ahead of the storm. In a rare example of getting ready way ahead of time, Clif and I have been working on the Dog Angel for the next holiday season, when—we hope—we will be going to craft fairs again.

More white on red, just like outside our home during the winter. I hadn’t made this connection before, but now that I have, the book’s cover pleases me more than ever.

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In the winter in Maine there is no better time for movies, and on Sunday we watched Joel Cohen’s incredible The Tragedy of Macbeth. As a word person, I have been smitten by Shakespeare since I was in seventh grade, when we read a couple of his plays out loud in class.

In Cohen’s version, the words are still there. This is Shakespeare, after all. But oh the cinematography! Shot in black and white completely on sound stages, this play of murder and madness has the pitch and look of a fevered dream—internal,  psychological, and utterly compelling.

Tour de force is often overused, but that’s what this movie is. If you like Shakespeare, do watch Cohen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. The  short trailer below gives some idea of the tone of the movie.

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