Thursday, March 31, 2011

smell the birds

lille and lizzi sprint out the door and circle the backyard, their labrador noses hard at work snuffling the ground, in places a heavenly snow-free, brown, muddy dirt, zigging and zagging across the open spaces and then along the perimeter where lawn meets woods. they stop and lift up their heads, noses twitching, and look wistfully at the place in the air where tantalizing wings flash by.

everywhere birds! the dogs smell feathers at long last, the scent sweet and nostalgic to their winterized noses which have lain dormant far too long in sleepy central-heated air. they are also alert to every new spring sound; their floppy ears lift up and settle back on their heads to acknowledge even the faintest forest noises, like gentlemen from a bygone era lifting their hats to a lady, as they listen to scolding bossy red squirrels, screeching jays, chirping chickadees, and small rustlings of the wind.

the birds who flew south for the winter will be returning soon, and the birds who have been here all along are more vocal, more visible. robins, winter wrens, finches, pine siskins, juncos, crows, blue jays, chickadees, flycatchers, phoebes, mourning doves, nuthatches, titmouse, cardinals, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, flickers, wild turkeys (did i leave anyone out?), all in search of food, all in search of a mate, all chirping, chirping, chirping, their brains zeroing in on the rituals and urges of springtime, surprisingly like humans.

tomorrow is the beginning of april, and it is the beginning of much ecstatic activity in the woods and in the air, here in our little maine part of the world....

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the writing room

i'm flying off for a few days (but i'll still be posting) and i've got to finish packing my bag, but i thought i would write a note about this little digital place i occasionally inhabit. shhh.....don't tell my husband, but i am still having a love affair with words. i can't get enough of them! words move, excite, grab me, fascinate me, dazzle me, make me go weak in the knees, and at times make my head hurt. i fell into this nook on the web to gush about the glorious state of maine, to express my thoughts and observations, to utter rhapsodies about the lushness (and brutality) of nature, to weave stories as they pop into my head - hopefully something more substantial than the i-drank-a-great-cup-of-tea-and-ate-a-hot-scone-two-seconds-ago kind - and, quite simply, to have some fun.

in general i don't hang out in the big web much; frankly, i am not often connected to the cyber world. i'd rather be outside enjoying the fresh maine air; or heading out on the road; or hanging out with the family; or laughing with friends at gritty's; or reading a good book or my hot-off-the-press copy of the new yorker; or i'd rather be scribbling ideas in little notebooks and on scraps of paper.

when i do find myself stuck in the web (at times it's an awful struggle to get out!) i manage to read a few noteworthy blogs. i like ones which offer up great writing and which are often poignant, introspective or humorous—especially longer pieces of writing. there's some incredibly eloquent stuff out in blog land. the brits seem to have a good thing going, with posts that are thoughtful, humorous and well written. evocative. ah, only in the land of shakespeare.......

i like my quiet, simple bloggy home. some nice faithful readers drop by; they aren't necessarily "followers" and they hardly ever comment (are they either shy or left speechless by my scribbles?), but they are out there and i appreciate them. i hope when they visit they are entertained or amused, or they like what they see and read, or they are a little moved by my more serious and reflective posts.

so hello to you my dears. do come on in, grab a seat, get comfortable, take a peek and join me. that's great. welcome, welcome. i like some company after all. and i'll be right here, happily gathering my thoughts, taking a few pictures as i travel around in maine and elsewhere, and writing, writing. as long as i keep having something to say (!) and as long as i keep having fun saying it, i'll stay right here in my online "room."

this is just my own little place, my writing room, to be myself, to do my thing - a little bit of this and a little bit of that....exploring, observing, asking questions, stretching my brain, tossing around ideas and opinions, dreaming up stories (some are fiction, some are not), happily creating with words.....all for the love of writing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

fishing for bony fish

the beech tree rises up tall and wide like an umbrella on the hill beside the water at the old homestead on boston's north shore. it can be seen across the pond, a majestic sentinel for all seasons. in mid-february it stood in three feet of snow, but the big old beech by the pond already had tiny buds forming. the wind whipped up across the frozen, snow covered water, and sent shivers through the naked, budding branches, daring spring to arrive in another month. the beech tree stood firmly in the snow. spring would arrive.......eventually.

northeasters make a mess of the frozen pond. growing up at the pond, in order to ice skate and play pond hockey, we had to work hard clearing off the snow to make a spot for ourselves. when i was in high school, before i had my driver's license, the pond was my short cut home, reducing my one mile walk from the school bus stop in half if i could get across it. i had to stick to the road when deep fluffy snow blanketed the ice. sometimes ice fishermen set up their huts in the direction i was headed. then i was in luck: the fishermen made great snow shoe trails over the snowy expanse. if the snow was heavy and wet during a raging storm and then the temperatures dropped, i did ok, too, because i could walk on top of the frozen deposits of snow.

those little make-shift houses perched on the icy pond were cozy, with unexpectedly homey touches. the fishermen "decorated" with comfy chairs and tables, radios softly broadcasting sports talk or country music, bags bursting with beers and sandwiches, thermoses containing steamy fresh coffee, portable heaters pulsing hot air - a brief tenuous intermission from the frozen drama that is winter.

the ice fishermen were friendly and waved and said hello. i usually didn't know them; they were from other towns and were willing to drive the distance to our out-of-the-way pond because it was so peaceful and pristine, not at all built up, with only a few houses and one road leading to it. and oh yeah, i almost forgot, the fishing was great, too.

those guys pulled out eel, black bass, pickerel and other pike, perch and catfish (and sometimes a small pondweed/pickerelweed encrusted snapping turtle!) from their carefully drilled holes. good stuff, except for the turtles. what we called sunfish were actually yellow, flat, round perch, tasty but full of bones. same with pickerel - nothing but bones, bones, bones! plus, watch out for pickerel. in addition to a body full of bones, they also have a mouth full of teeth. i have never had patience with eating bony fish. all those tiny, piercing splintery bones! what a nuisance! too much work! too awful if you swallow a bone and it gets stuck (yuck) in your throat! besides, what kind of self-respecting fishermen bring home small yellow sunfish (so manly sounding!) after a day of fishing, to proudly show off to family and friends? i only know two fishermen who fit that description.....

in the summer when we were kids, my brother and i dug up worms, pierced a bit of gooey worm body on a hook, and fished from our little rowboat, usually tossing back the fish we caught, unless our grandmother was visiting from germany. when she was in residence we were only too happy to present her with a bucket full o' fish. she liked to fry up our haul, bony sunfish and all. she removed most of the bones for us after she cooked the fish. bless her. we would sit in the shade under the beech tree and with our fingers pick at and eat the delicious fried pond fish. finger licking good! to this day, eating any kind of fish reminds me of summer, even if a snowstorm is howling outside.

my grandmother and my parents, however, knew how to eat tediously bony fish by removing the bones one by one with the proper fish forks you used to be able to buy. i wonder, can you still buy those fish forks? in europe you probably can. we americans have no clue about fish forks; we seem to only eat the wonderfully "boneless" species of fish, such as salmon, cod, trout, sea bass, and haddock fillets, swordfish, tuna and halibut steaks. we opt for shells instead of bones when having to commit to the serious and time consuming work of eating certain fishy types of food: i say bring on the clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, and *yum* lobster.

the days of fishing for and then nibbling fried bony fish near the big old beech at the pond are long gone. no more bones to stick in my craw! hmmm....i wonder, wherever did our clever little fish forks go, anyway?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

domestic bliss

a service call by our friendly plumber and his assistant a few weeks ago prompted my ernest contemplation of the absolute importance of plumbers (and electricians, carpenters, exterminators, roofers, snowplow and backhoe operators, everyone and anyone with important looking tools and big machines!), not only to society in general, but to one's domestic sphere as well. without them we are doomed, we are lost. without skilled handymen the smooth operation of the domestic realm would cease to exist. handymen (not to be discriminatory, ladies, but let's face the facts: most plumbers, electricians et al. in the category of handypeople are men), in my opinion, are gods who bring us ordinary, unhandy people the gift of domestic harmony, domestic bliss.

further along in my contemplation i realised domestic bliss and marital bliss form a union. the two are wedded together, which is really where all this is going. quite simply, a household, to be strong, unified, and functioning well, cannot have one without the other. marital bliss (therefore, domestic bliss - hopefully i won't have to repeat the fact that they are one and the same thing too many times, dear people) is like a well-oiled machine. to achieve marital bliss, all the parts of the bliss machine must be checked, rechecked, maintained, adjusted, lubricated (i'll leave you to your own lusty visions), and kept in good working order for the thing to keep running smoothly.

which brings me back to the plumber. in the bliss department, part of our bliss machine was not in good working order. were it not for our wonderful plumber jim (a master plumber, in fact), domestic bliss would have shriveled up and broken apart long ago. he has come to the rescue many times over the years, to tidy up dangling wires (he also happens to be a master electrician) and exposed pipes when we have torn various rooms apart in order to make them (hopefully) better than they were before (i think that's called save-a-few-bucks-do-it-yourself-never-ending home renovation). but this time it was different. this time the need was far more urgent. we were not renovating, but our domestic machine was in deep trouble. we had waited too long to fix the problem.

our problem was the master bedroom toilet. it was not functioning well. things were getting bad. the toilet issue had been dragging on for a couple years. at first the toilet wouldn't flush properly. then the tank wouldn't fill back up. then the handle always needed to be jiggled in a certain, very specific way to get a good flush. then the toilet just kept on running. and running. the water wouldn't stop. jeez louise, you had to lift off the back cover, plunge your hand into the deep dark recesses of the tank (the stuff nightmares are made of!), and pull up on a long thingamajig housed in there. ick, ick, ick! when our son was little he used to say there are slobs living down in there, mommy. such a wise child. i heartily agree - there was definitely something down in there causing us a lot of trouble!

the hard fact hit us one day: domestic bliss cannot be maintained with a broken toilet. that cranky old toilet was sorely testing the strength of our bliss, and the strain was too much. bliss was losing, the toilet was winning! why did we wait so long to do something about our problem?

thankfully dear jim arrived just in time with a sleek, high tech, top of the line, water-saving toilet. no more leaning over the toilet tank and staring into its murky nether regions! no more wondering if the bowl would ever be free of you-know-what! and the most delightful thing of all - no more flush handle! our new toilet has a nifty push button on top. (i think it kinda looks like a funny fanny. no joke. don't you think so?) oh, happy day! our home's harmony was restored and domestic (and marital!) bliss would continue merrily along until our well-oiled machine.....what? started to rust?

Monday, March 21, 2011

under the pier

in winter, with everything on top of the pier boarded up for the season, to me the place to be was under the pier. on a fine, sunny, not-too-cold afternoon i took a look around down there on the underside of the historic wooden pier at old orchard beach. the tide was on its way in again, but still fairly low. i liked the white sea ice and the briney green growth on the wooden pilings, and the sound of the waves as they crashed and sent a glorious spray into the pilings at the end of the pier. the sand was light brown and smooth, startlingly clean - no rocks, shells, seaweed or debris of any kind -- no offerings from nature or man.

i looked left and then right, up and down the beach, and saw a few people, mostly couples and people with children, out enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. a young man and woman in their 20's walked past me as i took pictures under the pier. deep in conversation, they saw only each other. when they got to the other side and out of the pier's shadow they stopped, turned to each other, and leaned in. they spoke words lost on the wind and the woman buried her face on the man's jacket. her face rested just below his shoulder, pressed tight, secure and warm against his bones. she lifted her head and they slowly kissed and moved away together along the sand.

the first pier was built in this sand in 1898. it was 1770 feet long. through the years, countless northeasters and blizzards have damaged the pier; the great fire of 1907 destroyed the whole structure. it was rebuilt many times, and each time the pier was reduced in length, leaving today's pier, the 1980 version, at only about 500 feet.

the old apple orchard on the hill (no longer in existence) for which the town was named, was an important landmark for sailors when sailing vessels dominated the seas. today the main part of old orchard beach has become, sadly, a little run down, a little worn out. tacky tourist shops and amusement park rides dominate the scene on the beach.

in a bygone era, old orchard beach served as a holiday resort for america's rich and famous, a place where large homes and fancy inns welcomed them, and where thousands danced on the pier above the sparkling waves. there used to be a casino up on the pier, too. guy lombardo, rudy valle and duke ellington all visited old orchard beach years and years ago, when the pier was known as a glitzy hot spot of the night.

from where i stood underneath the pier, if i listened very closely, i could just make out the faint sounds, high above my head beyond the waves, of many shiny and glittery pairs of elegant evening shoes moving and twirling with the rhythm of the music on the old dance floor on the pier......

Friday, March 18, 2011


icy crusty snow still lies across the yard and down into the woods. no bare patches yet. difficult to believe spring is only two days away. a satisfying melt is under way, though, as first persistent rain, then some determined sunshine, and then temperatures in the high 50's (wow, i'm sweating!) warm the sleeping earth and turn the cold white ice crystals clear. the melting droplets seep down, down into the snowpack, deeper, deeper, racing toward the brown dirt which waits hard and silent and thirsty for spring.

onto the dark, frozen ground the nourishing moisture falls and is greedily sipped by the slowly awakening earth. there exists under the seemingly silent snowpack in reality a roar of activity which announces spring. audible only to nature's ears, the ground below the snow lustily breathes in the warmth of sun and rain, and the seeds and roots of renewed life tingle and stir with excitement and start to grow under the white that was winter....

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

three hundred sixty-five days

he wakes up. he gets up. three hundred and sixty-five days later, it's another one. another birthday. another day, just like any other. drives to his office. reads a hundred emails. handles one more crisis (or two, or three). listens to some birthday jokes about gray hair, senior discounts, fading memory, aches and pains, viagra.

he says he feels like he's 28, make that 29.

tonight we have other plans in town, a previous engagement, not birthday related.

but tomorrow night when he gets home i'll cook fresh salmon and scoop some ben and jerry's. maybe bake an apple tart? pour a nice dram of macallan. we'll turn down the lights, snuggle up, watch netflix. doesn't get much better than this.

happy birthday, eddy james.

Monday, March 14, 2011

sleigh ride

seventy-five winters ago there was still a shaky peace in the land. there was also a short-lived independence between the two big wars for the small baltic countries - latvia, lithuania and estonia - one they would not see again until 1991. in a few years the second world war would start and embroil these tiny nations in feuds not of their own making. german and soviet soldiers, horses and tanks would trample over latvian soil, changing forever the lives of thousands of people.

but that was later. for now marta and her family and the farm's workers, would keep on doing what they had always done. many years ago in latvia, the family lived on a farm called three lindens, named for the three largest trees on the property. the three linden trees stood proudly by themselves in a cluster beyond the terrace, like three beautifully dressed girls showing off at a garden party.

three lindens farm provided much of the food for the people who lived and worked there, any surplus was sold or bartered. sugar beets were the main cash crop. old grandmother, marta's mother (a widow), owned three lindens and, with marta's help, ran it well. (marta's husband was a university professor who lived and taught in riga during the week.) she supervised baking bread and cakes, slaughtering chickens for dinner, milking cows, planting flower and vegetable gardens, and landscaping the grounds. sugar beet production she left to the farm's manager.

not only was this a prosperous farm, it was also a home, and old grandmother firmly believed in the beauty of nature. the barns and other outbuildings were built a distance from the house to keep the business of running a farm separate from the business of running a family. old grandmother surrounded the big, yellow farmhouse with tall lilacs and hedges, planted for their beauty as well as for privacy. colorful flowers, shrubs and fruit trees grew in a dense profusion, and fine gravel pathways laced around the manicured garden. beyond the garden, an unobstructed, panoramic window-like view through the tall pine, birch and linden trees was carefully maintained all the way down to the bank of the little daugava river.

that winter seventy-five years ago, when marta's daughter, ani, was six years old, was a cold, snowy one. ani and her friend sylvie could not walk the two miles to school in the huge snow drifts. until the weather warmed up, one of the farm hands hitched a couple horses to the sleigh every morning. marta fluffed up the fur blankets, tucked the children deep into the sleigh, and watched as they drove off to school. along the way they would stop and pick up other girls and boys who were walking to school on the road.

shouts of joy greeted each new rosey-cheeked passenger as they climbed in and snuggled under the warm furry coverings. with sleigh bells jingling, the children would sing and chatter and laugh as they slipped across the icy land on their way to school. riding free, free to let their voices ring out loudly across the fields; free to announce their happiness to the world; free to slide along in a sturdy sleigh with beautiful horses pulling them down the snow-packed road; free to just be children.

when the war came, many of the farm's workers left to become soldiers. when the soviet tanks got too close, the school closed. when the tanks drove away again, the school reopened. when the town's food supplies dwindled, marta's family did not go hungry, nor did their neighbors. they stayed on the farm for as long as they could. then one day in springtime when the soviet army returned, closing in on the retreating german army, marta and her family fled under the protection of the germans, taking only what they could carry. they assumed they would return home when the fighting was over.

the sleigh disappeared one night near the end of the war. the sleigh bells hung silently on a peg beside the barn door, mute and forgotten. old grandmother, marta and ani never saw three lindens farm again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

the bluescreen of death

last summer, when my son, james, and his friends came back from their adventure in maine's mighty wilderness (story about that here), we got into a conversation about computers. james's friend happened to mention a nasty sounding thing called the bluescreen of death. i had no idea what he was talking about. (these guys know computers inside and out, while i, embarrassing to admit, know absolutely nothing about this electronic device i hunt and peck away on....) he told me that's when your computer instantly seizes up; the bluescreen of death is the grim reaper of the computer world who announces life is essentially over for the machine. there is no cure. i forgot to ask him if the screen actually turns entirely blue, kind of like this patient is suffering, he can't breathe, he can't get oxygen, he's turning blue.

recently, i turned on my computer and instead of my normal desktop and friendly wallpaper, i was surprised to find the screen filled up with lots of alarming numbers and words, meaningless words, words i could not understand. the words were in english, yet i couldn't comprehend them. to me they were gibberish. it was as if the computer was urgently trying to tell me something, but in a foreign computer language.

and that's exactly what was happening. some of the stuff the computer flashed on the screen i could understand. it "told" me do this, do that, shutdown and start up again, press F8, F10, F11, or something like that. i don't recall all the detailed instructions. i do recall, however, the computer caused me great stress and anxiety. nothing on earth makes me want to pull out my hair and scream except a computer that won't do what it is supposed to do! again and again i tried to help the ill-fated machine. the pc was frantically struggling to survive, and even though i did as i was instructed, nothing helped.

then slowly, starting at the edges and creeping along, not all over the screen at first, the computer displayed a frightening symptom: the deathly shade of  infectious blue i had heard about over the summer. diagnosis: the never-ending boot loop, caused by the bluescreen of death.

note: happily for me, i am now pecking away on a new macbook. the blog suffered no interruption.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ice skating

so it goes with winter. we are hit with flurries, sleet and ice, blizzards and whiteouts. we withstand howling winds that snatch at our clothes and slap our skin red. going outside requires preparation and time. it is a struggle, a daily chore, to defend our vulnerable bodies with boots, underarmour, smartwool socks, l. l. bean fleece jackets, ski jackets, a shirt or two, wool hats, scarves that wrap 'round and 'round, and fleecey gloves. this is basic survival gear for a maine winter.

i am not complaining. as i've said countless times, i like winter. i like the challenge (just how tough am i?) of suiting up in layers to prepare for the intake of lung-numbing frozen air. i like when i am the solitary witness, wrapped in all the previously mentioned clothes, of the pristine, unmarked white beauty left by a northeaster. to those who have no concept of the lovliness of winter in a place like maine, who see snow as a threat, a bother, an interruption of life, who spend their lives fighting winter and cursing it, there is nothing i can say to highlight the positive aspects of this time of year. (i must confess, however, that as i write these words it is in the rather balmy (to maine people) high 30's and raining! i am very ready for warmer temperatures, the big spring melt, and even the mud that comes with it, which are all oh-so-close.)

don't think for a second, though, that i only see winter as some kind of dreamy wonderland. ha! winter is a balancing act. if we slip we fall, and end up bruised and broken. if you'd come over to our house during the last month you'd have had to put on your ice skates first. our driveway was an ice skating rink, with some bumps and ridges, where it circled the mighty white pine and headed down to the road. ice is fun, but it can also be dangerous if we don't select a path carefully and put our feet down cautiously.

winter is scary. during the ice storm in january, 1998, we lived without power for five days, like pioneers, sharing our dim rooms with gloomy shadows cast by burning candles, and hovering over a searing woodstove, staying warm, alive. outside in the woods at night a war raged. giant ice chunks crashed down from the trees, taking huge shrieking limbs with them, the sound in the cold midnight air reverberating like enemy gunfire.

we walk on thin ice during a maine winter, gaging the thickness out of the corner of our eyes, watching for cracks and openings on the surface, waiting and listening for it to give way and swallow us up.....

Thursday, March 3, 2011

in the boatyard

south freeport, maine. january, 2011.
the boats down in the boatyard at the harbor look like icebergs that have been washed ashore by the gales of winter. with the giant white shrink wrap pulled tight in a cozy, protective blanket, it is difficult to tell where the snow ends and the plastic begins.

haven't had any teasing peeks at spring yet. no big snow melts or flocks of migrating birds hanging around at the feeder. just snow, sleet and rain. soon, though, the snow will finally start to disappear and the grass will emerge. and in time the boats will be uncovered, scoured clean, lifted off their resting spots, and set free to play in the wind and waves......

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

the grand finale

once there was a great restaurant in town where we used to love to go for dinner (they served lunch, too) called the grand finale, and eating there was, indeed, a perfect way to end the day. it was quite a small restaurant, only a few tables, thus intimate and cozy. reservations were recommended. it was the kind of place that got you excited about food, which so rarely happens these days. occasionally famous people could be seen ducking in to this unique maine restaurant. they were undoubtedly enticed by its wonderfully fresh, local, inspired, simple and wholesome cuisine, and because they were assured of the restaurant's utmost discretion in assisting them to keep a low profile while in town.

after entering the grand finale, a short flight of thick oak stairs led up to the loft dining area. the loft was bright and airy, with a lovely cathedral ceiling, and post and beam construction. charming. it felt rather like home. in addition, the service in this establishment was impeccable. i must say i have never had a dining experience like the one at the grand finale. if such a thing is possible, the food and wine they served were, quite honestly, perfect. i am sure many other former patrons of the restaurant would heartily agree with me.

too bad the two owners of the grand finale had to close such a sweet place. we have happy, happy memories of that small restaurant with the big name. we just loved it. restaurants come and restaurants go, i know, but this one was different. every meal felt like a special occasion. it was a sad day when they served their last dinner.

but little girls, even ones who own restaurants, grow up. my daughter and my niece couldn't stay five and seven years old forever. while it lasted, the restaurant game they played was grand fun. then they grew up and moved on, as we all do. the girls made up the name. (where did such little girls come up with a name like that? must have been connected with all those piano lessons they had.) they made up the menu and the "food." the things they couldn't make up were the real fun and great times we had at the grand finale.

~today, it must be happily noted, the two "girls" are busy cooking real food for their [very] real husbands!~