Once upon a time, towns and small cities in Maine were thriving, busy places. Maine is a state with many rivers, and along those rivers were factories that made shoes, spun wool, and produced paper. There was a downside: Those factories polluted the water and the air. But they also provided good jobs. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s, the factories left, one by one, to go to places where there was cheaper labor, first in the southern part of the United States and then out of the country all together.
The devastating effect of this on Maine, a small, rural state with only a million people, cannot be overstated. No big tech companies rushed in to fill the void, the way they have in more populous states in southern New England. Therefore, young people left—Maine has the largest percentage of senior citizens in the country. Many of those who stayed behind pieced together a patchwork life of part-time work. Or, full-time jobs that barely pay enough to raise a family, buy a house, and pay for a college education. (Hannaford Supermarkets is one of the largest employers in Maine, along with Wal-Mart.)
Not surprisingly, when the great factories fell silent, once flourishing downtowns went into a tailspin. Business after business closed, and all over Maine there were so many empty store fronts that Tim Sample, a Maine humorist, joked about the “Vacant Building Festival” in Eastport, Maine, where the locals supposedly quip that “If you could buy a Greyhound bus ticket with a food stamp, we’d all be outta here.”
Funny, but ouch, and this applies to much of Maine, not just to Eastport. It certainly applies to central Maine, to Augusta, the state capital, whose downtown on Water Street has been moribund for so long that only an old timer like me remembers when it was thriving.
However, lately there have been sparks of life on Water Street, and those sparks have burst into a little flame. Appropriately enough, Cushnoc Brewing Co., a brewery that also serves pizza baked in a wood-fired oven, seems to have been one of the first to light the spark in Augusta. (My son-in-law Michael maintains that breweries have done a lot to revive communities. Perhaps he is right.)
Along with Cushnoc came other businesses—Otto’s, Circa 1885, and most recently Huiskamer Coffee House, where we went on Saturday to hear our friend Claire Hersom read poetry along with Jay Franzel and Bob MacLaughlin.
Huiskamer Coffee House is a delight. There are couches, comfortable chairs, tables, and Vermeer and Mondrian prints. (What a contrast between the two artists!) Wonder of wonders, there was good tea—Harney & Sons—as well as good coffee. Grace Fecteau, one of the owners, let us use our own mugs for tea and coffee, but there are ceramic mugs and plates.
Here is a view of the coffee house from our table.
And here is a picture of the delightful Claire.
As the poets read, subjects ranged from the Red Sox to back country roads to being poor in Maine. To having a father with Alzheimer. Some of the poetry was intense, some of it was funny, and all of it was close to the bone.
How nice that the coffee house was full of people listening to poetry. Tea and coffee were drunk, scones and soup eaten.
When Clif and I left, it was still light out, and on Water Street, there were cars parked on both sides of the road. People walked on the sidewalk.
Even five years ago, Water Street was deserted on nights and weekends. Not anymore.
May this spark continue to grow.
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 Repellent. Readers, 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.
The pine pollen is flying, and the mosquitoes are out in force. June has come to Maine, and it’s time to finish the spring gardening chores. Fortunately, today is a bright and beautiful day, and this afternoon Clif and I will be outside.
The last week of May, when our daughter Dee came to visit, was cool and rainy. Still, we had a good time. We are all movie buffs, and the rainy week was a perfect time to go to the cinema as well as watch films on Netflix. Our favorite was Avengers: Endgame. I know. Avengers is a blockbuster movie about comic-book heroes ranging from Spider Man to Thor. But it also addresses one of the most serious issues of our times—overpopulation—in a way that smaller movies seldom do. While Avengers has the usual mega fight at the end of the movie, it also gives the characters plenty of breathing room, allowing them to mourn the terrible loss of having half of Earth’s population wiped out by the supervillain Thanos. (For an economic discussion about Thanos and his plan, check out NPR’s Planet Money.)
I realize I’m going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that nowadays, comic books, fantasy, and science fiction are doing the best at addressing the major issues we face. On the surface, these stories seem to have a lot of folderol and fighting, but underneath they have a moral seriousness and scope missing in most mainstream or literary fiction. I’ve had this discussion in book group and on Facebook. Naturally, I’ve received push back, all of it thoughtful and respectful. The push back hasn’t exactly changed my mind—I continue to think that fantasy, comic books, and science fiction should be taken seriously. However, perhaps not all mainstream stories are entirely vapid, and I was too quick to dismiss an entire genre. Anyway, readers, if you have thoughts about this, please chime in.
Back to last week…
We went to the Kennebec River on a misty, cool day, and Clif took these pictures of the moody river and the bright chairs.
We also went to Cushnoc in Augusta, one of our favorite places to go for pizza.
We had cocktails and beer.
And, of course, pizza.
All in all, a good rainy week.
First the words—I reached my goal of 45,000 in Out of Time, the third book in my Great Library Series. Woo-hoo! I am halfway done, more or less, and right on target. A great feeling.
And lest you think I have stayed inside the whole time, here are two pictures of hummingbirds to prove this isn’t so. My wee camera can’t capture these little whizzing beauties as well as other cameras can, but I know these shots will please readers who don’t have hummingbirds come to their backyards.
Dee, my New York daughter, will be arriving on Saturday and will be staying for a week.
I’ll be back to regular blogging the first of June.
Every once in a while, I have a time crunch in my life, where it becomes necessary for me to pare things down to basics. Right now is such a time.
I am working on the appropriately titled Out of Time, the third book in my Great Library series. For Out of Time to be published in 2020, the first draft must be finished in 2019. After the first draft, there is still a lot to do—editing, revising, and more editing. When the book is written, the work is far from over, and I have to allow for that when I plan the publishing schedule.
Anyway, we are nearly halfway through the year, which means that if I’m going to stay on track, I need to be halfway done writing my book by the beginning of June. With 39,500 words written, I’m nearly there.
But—isn’t there always a but?—it is also gardening season. Because I live in Maine, there isn’t a big window of opportunity for spring chores. Spring comes to this northern state at a mad gallop, and I only have the month of May to get things done.
Therefore, until June, I’m going to take a break from writing for this blog so that I can concentrate on my book and on my gardens. I’ll continue to read other blogs and comment when I can. Sometimes, I might only be able to “like” a piece.
I’m sorry to have to pare down like this, but it is necessary.
See you in June!