Posts Tagged 'Maine'


A month ago Sita and Tessa told me to block off the days from December 1-4. They had planned an extended birthday party to celebrate ‘en famille’ at an undisclosed location in Maine.  It was the thing to look forward to after so much else to in our future was dominated by the unthinkable horribleness of our new administration

And so, after lunch in Manchester, we drove to the location. I was not allowed to see Sita’s phone that told her where to go. She hid it on her lap. We arrived at Commercial Street in Portland; I thought: a houseboat? But then we lined up for the ferry to Peak’s Island. It is good that my birthday is in late fall. The island was quiet and the tourists were gone, making it possible to get the car on the ferry every time.

While we were making our way to Maine, Tessa and Steve made their way across oceans and continents from New Zealand to Pembroke, NH. She joined us on day 2 of the birthday party, with plenty of stories, good NZ wine and chocolate.

We explored Portland with the kids in the morning and then walked around town, window shopping the fancy stores where a baby’s ‘onesie’ costs 44 dollars and vintage knitted baby diaper covers cost 88. We didn’t buy anything there; though we did buy a couch that cost a lot more. We had been couch shopping for over a week because our kids were upset with us not having anything comfortable to sit on in our living room (except one chair). There was a risk to upend our Christmas plans, and so we bought the couch which was the nicest we could have in our house before Christmas.

And now it is the day that I officially become a senior. I can no buy a discount pass for transport, check the box on Amtrak reservations and get the movie discount. We now have two seniors in the house. A brave new world!

Needs and wants

We realized early on that our ‘three generation’ days in the Camelot cabin are gone. We have to find something next year that we all fit in with more ease and where Faro doesn’t have to sleep in a tent on the porch. We explored, without much enthusiasm, some other options on the internet and by phone but came up short either on price, number of rooms or the presence of pets.

We made a list of the criteria for the ideal summer cottage and discovered that our house in Lobster Cove filled all the criteria except the one that it wasn’t a summer cottage. But we counted our blessings anyways. We left our vacation cottage to go to our year round home knowing it was actually better than a vacation cottage, on the water, with a yard, enough bedrooms, friendly to dogs, requires no travel and the rent is already paid. But it is home, there is internet and phone service and there are always chores to do.

In the mood for making more lists I listed the criteria for a great family, for a great husband and a good job. I am doing pretty well on those criteria right now; I have few needs and the ‘wants’ were put into perspective by this exercise.

Bridging divides

We are in Maine. After a 3 hour drive it felt as if we were deep into Maine but when you look at the map we barely made a dent into this gigantic state.

We came to visit F. and his American homestay parents. He is on Christmas break from his college in New Mexico. About a year ago we said goodbye to him at SOLA in Kabul before he headed out to a high school in Maine. That is how it all started. Now he is one and a half year shy of his International Baccalaureate.

His American mom has become like a another volunteer SOLA teacher, except that she does it from Maine. Twice a day she is on video skype with SOLA, and helps F, F’s cousin, to get her English up enough to get into college in the US and follows her cousin’s footsteps.

We talked with her for about half an hour on video skype, the first time I had seen her since I left last September. What progress we noted in her English!

She is in the middle of her college application, a very challenging task for someone who never learned how to write essays in her Afghan schools. Her ‘mom’ stayed up long after we had gone to bed to help her improve her essays.

The education at SOLA, which is to help them get into schools in the US or elsewhere in the western world is incompatible with traditional Afghan education. The SOLA boys and girls have learned to ask questions and be critical thinkers, not a quality Afghan teachers like.

Several of the SOLA girls find themselves in a no (wo)man’s land where they are not up to snuff for American school but with too much snuff for Afghan schools. Not unlike many other places in the world, the kids who are pulling themselves out of the mediocre mass to create a better and different future for themselves find themselves kicked back into place. I can only hope it makes them more resilient – on top of a resiliency that everyone in Afghanistan has already developed.

We watched F’s video about building a tennis court for the girls at a Kabul school. It is a wonderful example of having a vision and then creating it. He did this is less than two months. The whole process from A to Z is shown in the video though the work of mobilizing the resources is not shown; he raised about 2000 dollars and managed a workforce part volunteer part hired. He’s the kind of person you would want on your team!

We also watched a slide show of the Christmas party, including tree and ornaments and gifts, that was organized by and for the people that either run SOLA and its household or benefit from its existence.

Seeing the laughter and smiles, watching them unwrapping gifts and decorating themselves with the bows and ribbons, seeing them enjoy the special meal made for a Christmas present all by itself.

They overcame the hesitance that usually accompanies the celebration of days that are holy in another religion. The girls learned that Christmas preceded Christianity by a long time and that good Moslems can celebrate being together and give gifts to one another just for the sake of being grateful and appreciative. Much like good Christians can celebrate the specialness and gratefulness that Eid is all about.

Small Point Trilogy – part three – Clams

Today is our last morning in Maine of this vacation. It is a still and cold morning, the air is crystal clear after yesterday’s winds and rains, and it feels like fall. Fall comes early in Maine and I believe it has arrived. People are leaving, summer houses are cleaned out, students go back to school, all the traditional summer activities have been played out, the play, barley bright, the tea party with the handwritten invitation. Andrew left last night with the kitties so no one is meowing or wanting attention of me and I can sit here and write in peace. Only the cat hair on my computer is there to remind me of them.

Yesterday started with sun at low tide and an ominous cloud deck in the south that eventually brought us wind and rain. But that was later. We clammed in the early morning sun. It was my first serious attempt at clamming. When Axel asked where the rakes were KB clawed her fingers, indicating they would have to do the raking. I got injured on clam number 3 when I sliced the top of my finger on its sharp edges; this left me a one-handed clammer for the rest of our outing but that did not slow me down. We produced enough clams to provide lunch to five people. The thrill of the hunt got a hold on Axel. Once he got his technique perfected it was hard getting him up to go home. He would spot the unmistaken hiding place of the clam (a tiny hole in the sand) and was back on his knees, digging again, shouting from time to time, “got yah” as he pulled out another clam; “one more,” he pleaded, over and over again. We had to drag him away.

When we arrived home, the clouds moved in. Wind and rain kept us inside for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. In between visiting relatives (the place is awash in relatives of our hosts) we kept busy with indoor activities, water colors for me and oil painting for Axel. I tried to recall my lessons on mixing colors and dragged up what I remembered with the help of a book and then through trial and error. I rediscovered that French aquamarine is grainy and leaves an edge while cadmium red or yellow does not. I had not painted in a long time and realized again how much fun it is. I only like to paint objects, alone or together as a still life; land or seascapes, no matter how breathtaking, frustrate me. On our walks I would look for interesting colors and shapes to find them in abundance: dried seaweed, shells, stones, shellfish remains, flowers; when you look for inspiration it is everywhere in the most ordinary places.

Later in the afternoon the clouds had gone and the sun sparkled on the water again, leading us out on another walk to another point. We followed a path that provided more abundance, this time of huckleberries, blackberries and the most stunning views which we took in listening to more stories about days gone by, family celebrations, tragedies and the simple life.

Evening brought more relatives who helped us clean out the refrigerator. We said our goodbyes to Andrew who needed to get back to work, and the kitties and settled around the big hearth with a roaring fire for more conversation. I took up my knitting, which is nearly a reflex when it is cold and joined the others in front of a fire with intense conversations going on to my left and to my right. I was happy as a clam (even though the real clams had come to an unhappy ending, alas!),

Small Point Trilogy – part two – Warm

Today it is Tuesday morning, August 19. When I started my computer this morning to write, a reminder popped up. It said: vacation. As if I might forget!

I woke up from a dream that had me back in a leg cast. First I was in a wheelchair but I forgot it someplace and a nice gentleman came to my rescue with crutches and accompanied me to a hospital that was without power. During a rare moment when power returned we took the elevator up to a floor with cancer patients and premature babies. It made my handicap feel very insignificant. The rest of the dream had vanished by the time I started writing.

We are living entirely by the tides; a sharp contrast with the life back home that is controlled by the clock. I have not worn my watch since we got here. It is lying uselessly on my bedside table. I will put it back on when it is time to go home, which is, much too soon, tomorrow already.

This morning the Cambodian cat is sitting by my side, wanting attention. She too has a motor that roars as she purrs like there is no tomorrow. She is skinny with a black and fox red fur that makes her look more like a wild animal. Her orange coated sister must have gone out hunting; she’s nowhere in sight. This is a good thing, writing with two purring machines that try to walk over my keyboard and rubbing my screen would have been a bit much.

I woke up at my usual time, the crack of dawn, an hour before dead low tide when we will go on a clamming expedition. We had planned to do that yesterday but not everyone was up. Axel slept in and we felt no need to wake him. Instead Katie Blair and I sat on the deck overseeing the sweep of the bay and the cloudless sky. It was a 10 plus day and we spent it entirely outdoors. A long walk to one of the many points, along a path cut through lush poison ivy interspersed with ripe blackberries on each side. I was the mosquito attractor and allowed the others to have a free ride; still it was wonderful. We sat overlooking the ocean and listened to Katy Blair explaining family relationships and landholdings, and when we had enough of those (there is no end to these stories), she told us classroom stories about children with Asperger or underdeveloped sensory nerve endings. Since we are reading much about brains and nerves, these stories are fascinating to us; beside, KB is a gifted story teller.

I collected crab remains that the sea gulls had left on the rocks. I was looking for shapes and colors that made them good objects for my water color painting, anticipating this activity with great joy later in the day. They were added to the fava beans, the raw beans, the cooked beans and the pods which were also waiting to be water colored. I fell for the many shades of green which I hoped to re-create. I brought the instructions from my water color mixing class, a skill I once possessed but have lost since.

The day slowly unfolded; a post-walk swim, a late lunch consisting of cold soups; a boat ride on the other side of the peninsula in white-capped waters and stiff winds that we had been unaware of in our lee-side hideaway; another walk on the beach, and finally the long awaited water coloring; and the day was still not over. We started cooking at 8 PM, a large wild salmon with the new potatoes and various grilled vegetables. Dinner too was a long and drawn out affair, as the entire day had been. But when dinner was over I had nothing left in me. I don’t even remember putting my head on my pillow.

Small Point Trilogy part one – Now

It is Monday morning, August 18. I am in Maine, looking out over a sweeping beach, from one far corner that is called Isaiah’s Head. The distant shore on the other side of the bay is shrouded in fog, the same fog that has kept me from flying to Owl’ Head for months now.

I am trying to write while an orange cat is trying to lick my glasses, my typing fingers and rub the screen of my laptop, all in a frantic attempt to get more attention than anything else. This includes the coffee I just made. The cat glared at the coffee maker and tried to put his paw into my mug, everything to stop me from paying only attention to my computer screen. This intimate cat experience reminded me of our childhood cat, named Poes, who died in our house fire in the early 60s, together with her daughter, a cat that never got a name because we could not agree on one. They were both in the attic, one of their favorite places, and had not been able to get out. Since we never found any remains we think that is what happened. Maybe she was smarter and fled to never come back to us, who had such a flammable dwelling. Both mother and daughter Poes would exhibit the same behavior as this orange cat. Once you gave attention, the heavy purring would start, like a motor. I used to put my ears to her belly and catch the vibrations. The orange cat has the same motor. The vibrations raked up lots of childhood memories.

It took us the entire Sunday morning to depart for Maine. That is not unusual for us because leaving is always an occasion for putting our house in order, quite literally. For me that also included the garden. I harvested chard, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, basil, and lettuce and dug up a pan full of potatoes. All we have to do is buy a daily dose of fish for the next few days so we can enjoy the beach and whatever it is we will be doing instead of planning meals.

We ended up having lunch on our own beach that was the most glorious place to be at. On those moments we do wonder why we get in a car to drive for hours to another glorious place. While we were having our lunch we listened to a radio interview of the new guru and ego chaser Eckhart Tolle, who became famous with his book about Now. He has a new book out that Joe gave us. It is quite striking how much of what he is writing about is the same that Jill Taylor wrote about in her book about her stroke (of Insight) that we just finished. They are both talking about the unhealthy hegemony of the left brain (Tolle calls this the ‘ego’) and what to do about it. Of course it is all about awareness, catching the chatter brain in the act, the repetitive thoughts, the comparison of past and future and with others, the wanting of something that is not (now). These writings have much meaning for us because they resonate with our experience of last summer when we were able, more than any other time in our life, to live in the now, may be forced to do so because of our circumstances. We were not always good at it but when we were, everything changed and we were intensely happy despite our many pains, aches and handicaps; we could truly be with and enjoy our friends, family and each other; we could enjoy the beauty of Lobster Cove and each other’s aliveness, even in all our defectiveness.

We arrived at Isaiah’s Head just a little ahead of the cocktail hour and went for a stroll on the vast low-tide beach and for a short swim in bracing water. We rewarded ourselves with a gin tonic on the deck looking out over the waning activities of a summer Sunday: kids schlepping their toys home, firewood being collected for a beach cook out and the slow congregation of small people shapes on the far side of the beach, into clusters for the activities of the evening, whatever they were. Ours was an Italian dinner, prepared by a niece who had returned from Elba, at the main house of the Lee’s extended family. This family has summered here for generations. The summer homes, added to over the years, have been divided among the siblings who used to be the small kids playing here but now have their own grandchildren. It is fun to imagine that these small children are now creating their own childhood memories of summers in Maine and producing the stories that they will tell their grandchildren 60 years from now. Even as outsiders to this family, we are enjoying the stories the grandparent generation is telling now.

May 2018
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