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The Meaning of Dive Buddy

How could the magical woman who accompanied me through hundreds of dives, from Galapagos to Haymarket, VA and Panama to Bonaire, be stricken with a disease that will progressively encase her more deeply than any ocean? The first word in ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — is Greek: translation, no muscle nourishment. The Gods don’t know what enchantments Meg has wrought in Neptune’s kingdom. They don’t know that she can twirl at 30 feet below the surface, the sunlight combing through her flowing hair, with fish of many colors swirling around her like faithful subjects. How can sclerosis laterally rob her of those powers?

For me, this is the dark side of leaving Washington for Maine. I haven’t dived with Meg in six years, not since I transitioned north and largely let kayaks replace dive tanks. I hadn’t even seen Meg since right before I packed up and left.

Until yesterday.

My visits south have become increasingly less frequent, and shorter. But for this  trip I tagged on an extra day with the purpose of visiting Meg.

“We’ll swap dive stories and tell lies,” I’d written to her in my e-mail. Because divers are notorious liars; it comes with the sport. Like one friend we know who photo-shopped six speckled gray whale sharks in the backdrop of her underwater gliding.

But Meg and I really did see amazing whale sharks circling one of the Galapagos islands as we hung onto underwater ledges to watch. We were the lucky ones. Many other divers missed them.

We sat around a take-out deli lunch in her home, with seven cats and her husband Sandy, also a diver but not one to venture deep and wide in the ways that Meg and I once did. Meg’s long flowing hair is cut close to her slender face, but her smile is still, well, magic. Two other diver friends were with us, one — my dear friend Al — kind enough to drive me to see Meg. Health care workers came and went.

But I’d been Meg’s dive buddy, and I wouldn’t let anyone else position her napkin as she wanted it, put dressing on her salad, and hold her thin shoulders in my hands. I had no problem understanding what she said, though her words are low now and garbled.

We dived together so many times, when I could communicate with her in the darkest of waters, sharing looks and hand motions as others do words.

We had this wonderful ‘happy dance’ that we performed after spotting something rare like a tiny seahorse in soft coral or an octopus outside its den after dark. We swiveled our torsos inside our buoyancy vests and wriggled our hands high above our heads.

What a dance we did after seeing those whale sharks. Meg recalled how she noticed the hammerhead sharks getting agitated. She knew.

So much joy. For years, we camped on the rim of the Haymarket quarry, especially during full moons. At midnight, only women swam.

“Nude,” Meg reminded us. “We always did it nude.” A bevy of us would howl at the moon.

Sandy would sit by the tremendous bonfire with the other guys, those not peeking. “Good times,” he said.

Yes, they were.

Right about now, Meg would be sketching for the underwater pumpkin-carving contest. She’d plan for this weeks in advance. Then, on the Sunday before Halloween, we’d put on our heaviest wet suits and take the seeded pumpkin down to a platform 15-feet deep in the quarry. I would mostly just hold the soon-to-be contest winner as she worked all her magic on carving crowned frogs and other exotics from the orange squash.

The quarry is closed now; as is our dive shop.

But Meg is still very much Meg. Leaving, I promised to send her elaborate tales as often as I could, for her to determine their veracity.

“I can barely type now,” she told me. Her fingers have gotten so thin.

But we can always communicate, as deeply encased — or distant — as we become. That’s the meaning of dive buddy.

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Is it ever too late to apprentice?

It’s heady, being a respected professional. Through many decades, I’ve honed the writing/editing/communication skills that give me status, and a livable income. And I love my work. Finally, I can pick who I work with and what I work on. But now I find that’s not enough.

I reached the top of a precipice, looked around, and spotted a new challenge. Heck, I live in Maine now. There’s islands out there to explore; what better way than in a long, slim sea kayak. About a year ago, someone (known as Wild Bill) came up with the idea that I should become a certified Maine Sea Kayak Guide. So I called an outfitters and signed up for the course.

I had all winter to get excited, since the course would be in the spring. Two weekends of training on Gay Island in Musgongus Bay. I couldn’t wait: I geared up for this course for weeks, trying on my new tow belt, packing and repacking my sleeping bag in its dry bag cover, going through the handbook, tying knots, considering how one uses a compass. Seven of us went out that first weekend with two instructors. We unloaded our gear on the island and then went back on the water — 46 degree water. First thing we learned was a wet exit. Then we learned rescues; every kind of rescue.

Some in the course had dry suits, but not me. I toughed it out in my old scuba wet suit. Unfortunately, so did my very thin young buddy who I had to save first. He was shivering. “I need to get him chicken soup,” I yelled.

“Just get him back in his kayak,” the instructor retorted.

Nearly reaching hypothermia, when my legs couldn’t get themselves back into my kayak, we returned to the island lodge. Then the navigation lessons began. I never knew what a nautical mile was until that night. And when it made sense to me, I realized how far I had to go — how many nautical miles — to achieve this new goal of mine. But it began to make sense: a nautical mile is one minute of latitude. That realization was my breakthrough.

Six of us returned for the second weekend of training. My wet exits were faster, and I could put more oomph into those rescues. Hypothermia returned, but I refused to quit. We all guided through scenarios that went from dangerous to hilarious. I loved it when the instructors turned over their kayaks and began fist fighting. So, the course ended and it became time to prepare for the test.

Maine is the only state that certifies its sea kayak guides and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries doesn’t make it easy. Just driving to Augusta was traumatic for me. I did great on navigation, fine through the oral part, and then the wizened guides gave me a scenario I couldn’t crack. It involved young campers I’d taken to an island for an overnight; one gets burned by boiling water. All my responses were correct. Except, I didn’t think to also mention that I would call my outfitter and tell them I’ve had to have someone evacuated from the island. Liability. I just didn’t think of it. Most people don’t pass the test the first time, so I shouldn’t have felt let down. But I was devastated.

Rather than go back a month later to retake the test, I decided to become an apprentice. Is this something that I really want to do? I mean, I have work, more work than I can handle. Do I really want to be a sea kayak guide responsible for people’s lives?

I kayaked plenty this summer, exercising my new skills, enjoying all the touring, finding people who would join me as we paddled on the Maine Island Trail. Then, suddenly, impulsively, just last week, I walked into the Port Clyde Kayak shop and asked if they needed an apprentice. They did.

I went the next day. The owner, Brian Cody, gives me a VHF radio and tells me to stay at the end of the line and let him know if anyone capsizes. The winds were really picking up, from the north, which can be dangerous. An older woman (let’s say, someone a good decade older than myself) couldn’t get herself away from the rocks. I used the radio to call Cody and ask if I should tow her.

“Roger that.”

I managed to get her to the group, and things looked alright for a while. We paddled by the Marshall Point Lighthouse and then landed on islands that are closed until August 15 because of nesting birds. This was August 16. We sat there as juvenile eagles flew everywhere.

Going back across the channel was rough. Very rough. I stuck close to Molly, the older woman. One of the tandems was going off course. Cody was already towing one kayak. I knew I would have to steady my kayak and grab Molly’s. The waves were going in many directions. I couldn’t even think about capsizing. I just grabbed, hooked up my tow line, and managed to get her across the channel. I’d radioed Cody to tell him about the tandem going off course. We met up and I suddenly realized that I’d lost the radio in all the yanking about with the tow rope.

Well, I said, wouldn’t you rather have the two of us safe. “Actually,” he replied, “I’d want the radio too.”

Today I returned for my second attempt at being an apprentice. The waters were calm. I’d replaced the lost radio. And the group was easy: college students. I did everything I was told to do. It’s humbling, to realize at my age that being under someone’s tutelage is not interactive. Cody tells me what to do; I do it.

And I learn. I make mistakes; then figure out how to correct them. The ocean can be unforgiving. In my own small way, I’m trying to respect this amazing force of nature. Cody is also a force of nature, and he’s already shown me a great deal. Can I make that drive to Augusta again and make a second attempt at that three-hour test? Can I become a certified guide? Cody and Wild Bill insist that I should.

Right now, I’m understanding the merits of being an apprentice. This is an amazing journey that I’ve been fortunate enough to take at a point in life when I can truly appreciate what others know — and I don’t.

 

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Just saying, about writing …

I’m writing all the time, my fingers on the keyboard like a runner’s feet on the treadmill. I’ve been in Maine as sole proprietor of Word Sharpener for nearly six years and I’m the victim of my own success. Sure it started slow. But then the gale-wind force of my past life grabbed those sails and I soared across, well, at least a body of water as large as my own Sampson’s Cove. I’ve developed a roster of clients that closely resembles my Washington life.

But heck, I live in Maine now. And I finally finished my long tome on rock politics, a memoir but also an interesting slice of the late seventies in Manhattan. Eighty thousand words. I poured my guts out, exploring so many things about my life, and life in general. I kept journals and letters from the period, and writing this book allowed me to relive my past. I pushed present day aside to walk through the streets of Manhattan with people that I miss a lot. I revived the moment the Rolling Stone magazine moved from San Francisco to New York. Those five nights in Madison Square Garden of NO NUKES when Springsteen first played songs from his album, The River. I even explored why my charming handsome brother Robert took his own life. I came to grips with my past, but did so in a volume that is every bit as funny as it is poignant, and personal.

Now the hard part. It’s sitting with a book doctor and I’m awaiting a prognosis.

I have to become an author again. Six years is a long time to publish in other people’s names, even those as haughty as Barack Obama. I just called the Maine Publishers and Writers Association to rejoin. I’d let my membership lapse since they didn’t really have a category for economic and policy writers. Joshua, the wonderful executive director there, talked to me for far longer than one should with a simple renewal. I guess he heard it in my voice: I’m a writer rediscovering that she is a writer.

There’s this very hard part to being a writer. The waiting, wondering, what will the verdict be on this book that I’ve allowed to ooze out of my long-ago psyche. Should I be pitching articles to magazines? Or should I just drink martinis by the fire and hope for the best?

 

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Eulogy for my Mother

A true Baltimorean author, Anne Tyler, opens “Dinner at the Homesick Hotel” about a dying mother speaking with her heartsick son. “You should have got an extra mother,” she can barely say to him.

“How shortsighted of you,” or so the son imagined his mother saying, since she could no longer form words.

He hears her say, or imagines her saying, “You should have arranged for a second-string mother.”

I read this book many years ago but that exchange stuck with me. Losing a parent is as natural as it is difficult and heartbreaking.

I was lucky to have my mother for 62 years.

As for getting an extra mother or a second-string mother, there is no substitute for your own mother.

As you all know, Annette Patz was a very patient woman. She didn’t mind waiting for her meal in a crowded restaurant, or for her doctor or dentist to see her. She could be nearly Zen-like.

Well, no, that’s not right. I must be thinking about that second-string mother that I’ll never get, or want.

My mother was not a calm person nor a Yoga master. Of late, too many trips to the ER pushed all this to the limit, perhaps. She’s been known to sign herself out of rehab centers. And, not so long ago, simply walked out of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, no walker; no wheelchair, and hailed a taxi back to her assisted living facility.

We’ve know that she had lost patience with living. She’d been through a lot, and many of the people she’d loved were gone.

I think she looked around at those still living: myself, her grandchildren, great grand daughter, siblings, and felt that we were OK.

She knew in fact how lucky she was to know little Abigail Rose and to know there was another great grand child on the way. All of her time with us, all of us, was precious.

She said goodbye knowing we would all do well.

I don’t have an extra mother; Justin, Jenna and Reid don’t have an extra grandmother; Naomi, Shirley and Howard don’t have an extra sister. Life isn’t fiction, as much as perhaps we would want our life stories to play out like novels.

There is no second string Annette Patz. We say goodbye today to the original, and each of us is lucky for knowing her.

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Ending Welfare

Exactly two decades after the first (I hope) President Clinton signed a massive welfare reform bill that ended an entitlement in place since the New Deal to take care of the poor, poverty is still very much a national deal. The real difference is somewhat equivalent to batters in a baseball game. The 1996 legislation gave states and localities considerable latitude to distribute federal dollars. Some stepped up to the plate and swung homers. Others chose to simply walk.

This two-decade anniversary is getting considerable media attention today, but the focus is on the national picture. The real stories are closer to the bone, and often unsung.

I was surprised last evening to have dinner with two very intelligent New Yorkers who had no idea what former Mayor Mike Bloomberg had done through his flagship agency – the Center for Economic Opportunity, which launched more than 60 initiatives aimed at reducing poverty, some tried-and-true strategies and others bold experiments. You can read more about it: http://washingtonmonthly.com/2016/06/29/how-to-lead-a-new-national-war-on-poverty/.

Ten years later, the results of the Center for Economic Opportunity is a poverty rate in NYC that is the lowest among the biggest cities in America and could yield a vast number of useful lessons for a new national war on poverty. So I explained last night to my friends.

Much has happened over the long tenure of the ’96 welfare reform. At its signing, I was VP for Communications for the American Public Welfare Association (APWA), and living in Washington. Kevin Concannon was Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner and president of the APWA. I recall his turning to me after listening to the welfare director from Georgia discussing how punitive the state would be once they had control over the federal funds. “Be happy,” he said, “that we don’t live in Georgia.”

Kevin might say that now about Maine. Currently under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kevin is often critical of his home state. Governor Paul LePage is exactly the kind of state leader that we all feared back in ’96. He has used everything in his control to not take advantage of expanded Medicaid dollars, curtail food stamps, and generally expect people to pull themselves up by their own boot straps.

Welfare reform gave Mike Bloomberg, and others, the impetus to be innovative and launch programs that are already being replicated on a national scale. Yet it also put the bat in the hands of many like LePage, who simply bunted, walked, or turned around and pounded the heads of those in need.

 

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No mom, I’m not sending you to camp.

But I might as well be, for all the hoopla it takes to place an elderly parent in assisted living. I’ve filled out enough forms about her culinary likes and dislikes, preferred activities, and her background to make me consider–really consider–how roles have switched. Suddenly there are so many details going into her care, and I’m responsible. She’s, of course, watching closely over my shoulder: “Don’t forget to tell them fried chicken is my favorite food.” “What do you think, Sue, should we put name tags in my clothes? I hear that things get lost in the laundry.”

This did not start out as an easy, nor amusing, process at all. I’m an only child, though I wasn’t always. I currently live over 500 miles from my mother in Baltimore. As luck would have it, I managed to break my wrist here in my seaside Maine retreat just as my mother was slipping from her able-bodied self into a fragile woman. She had 24/7 care that promised to dry out all her savings within the year. She’d also had a few trips to the hospital, which were filled with hysteria (her) and mismanagement (hospital administrators).

Although I’m an only child, my mother is actually one of four surviving siblings, of which she is the oldest. She has more nieces and nephews than I could list on those endless forms. Yet no one in her family contacted me (except for one cousin by marriage), if for no other reason than to offer a sounding board for next steps.

Yet the help I got was amazing. Her grandson Justin became her financial agent, chief light bulb changer, advocate, and all-around miracle worker. His mother Charlene took care of her mother-in-law with all the majesty and generosity imaginable. She’s gone to the store for my mother every week, escorted her on one of those aborted trips to the hospital, and just became a selfless soul.

With my arm in a cast, I did what I could from Maine. Perhaps my most major accomplishment was convincing her that she had to go into assisted living. She’s living where she has since 1975, and expected to die there. She also still smokes 6 cigarettes a day, and hated the idea of being somewhere managed and restrictive. I talked to her, explained that she would be stuck on the top floor of her townhouse for the rest of her days, since she wasn’t getting the PT–nor the energy–to take the steps any longer. Finally, I just cried to her. I sobbed, telling her that I couldn’t bear her living like a hermit with a medley of caregivers that came in shifts. The next day she called me: “OK, since it upsets you so much, I’ll do it.”

Two days after my cast came off, I flew down to Baltimore, rushing to visit three care facilities in short order. I’d done lots of groundwork and had a good idea of the terrain. They were all nice places: clean, lots of activities, kind people. This was nothing like the nursing home I remembered from when my great-grandfather reached his final days. Making a decision wasn’t hard: one place stood out from the rest for it’s size, allowing her to smoke outside in a specific area under shelter, and the general ambiance.

Of course, both Justin and Charlene backed me up every step of the way. We’re a triad, each has specific roles. I’ve also brought in outside help to coordinate the move and the medical procedures. I figure these women bill at roughly the same rate that I do with Word Sharpener, and I have more than enough work to keep me busy 7 days a week. I’d rather pay them to do what they do well and use my time to do what won’t frustrate me.

I’m hoping that my mother will like the other residents, will eat better than she’s been doing at home, get involved with the activities. I’m flying back to Baltimore in a short bit to ensure that she gets settled in. I’ll probably have lunch with her there the first day. But then I’ll have to leave. I wonder if I will cry?

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Bartlet for America

I confess, I disappeared into Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing series for much of the past year. Thanks to Netflix, I could come home at night and watch an episode, trade in the day’s political reality for an evening’s political fantasy. I didn’t watch it every night, but I knew that I could. I fell in love with Josh Lyman all over again. Cried when Leo McGarry died. But I really cried when the seasons came to an end, and I watched CJ Cregg go off with Danny Kincannon and Matt Santos take over the Oval Office. I wanted to crawl into my TV set and live in that world.

My depression lasted for several days, until around the time that Speaker Boehner resigned after a prayer with Pope Francis. But then I looked at the picture of Trump on the cover the New York Times magazine and slumped back into political disgust.

We have no charismatic political figures right now. Hillary Clinton has lost the allure she magnified eight years ago, and I don’t sense that either President Obama or today’s West Wing staff can carry out the miracles that I relished in reruns. One of the many ironies is that Gene Sperling, who wrote the West Wing episode where Social Security is fixed, is now working in the real West Wing as a chief economist. Last I checked, Sperling hasn’t figured out how to make Social Security fiscally responsible.

I loved the episode when President Bartlet walks the final mile to the Capitol to meet with the Speaker of the House after the government has shut down. He outwits the Speaker in a chess-move maneuver, and the government reopens. There were no Dr. Seuss filibusters or internal party squabbles.

Another irony: Ted Cruz, who delivered that 21-hour stall tactic that mingled Green Eggs and Ham with Obamacare to prevent passage of a spending bill to keep the government running, is now running for president. Cruz is no Santos.

Beam me back. I want to be able to applaud politics and politicians again. I want to feel something other than disgust.

 

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Emma at rest


Truth be told, Emma entered our lives somewhat like that unexpected child who suddenly appears in your life, tugging at your heart and at your patience. I didn’t intend that morning nearly 12 years ago to get a dog. It was just a working mom’s Saturday, nothing to think of past the errands. I dropped Reid off at a birthday party and went to the store for a gallon of milk. I’m not sure whether she spotted me or I spotted her, among the dogs primped outside the Safeway for adoption. She rolled on her back as I approached, putting her foal-like legs into the air and fixing me with almond eyes, each fringed in a different color. White, speckled, freckled and sly. They called her Lemondrop.

Adoption was nearly too easy. I filled out a form. Neighbors walking by vouched for my good citizenship. Of course, this was the same couple whose home would be bombarded several years later by a dozen eggs thrown by my son. But that story has already been told.

This pup, I figured she was about a year or so, had been rescued from a kill shelter in West Virginia. Anything else I know about her early months/years is merely conjecture. Her fear of loud sounds made me wonder if she ran off while being trained as a hunter. Of course, I learned quickly that this was a dog that would never accept boundaries. She might have run from anywhere, for any reason. Ironically, she also attached herself to people — the Greyhound in her would lean in, push against a person until they gave her the affectionate feast she so desired. Her ability to dazzle humans must have been learned from once-loving owners. She interacted well, acted the good dog. And an actress she was, as I would learn.

I decided to surprise Reid when I picked him up at the birthday party. Lemondrop came in the car, along with our five-year old Shenandoah, a sweet Labrador more than happy to open her heart to another dog. We’d lost our older Lab — Ouija — the year before and there was a gap in our lives. I think that Lemondrop sensed that.

“Whose dog is that?” Reid asked, when I opened the car door.

“Yours.”

Although he never admitted it, I think that Reid wasn’t ready to replace the other dog. He saw this long-legged pup as a bit of a usurper. But it was too late, cause Shenandoah and I were smitten. Still, Reid decided her name should be Emma, for no other reason than that was the name that Rachel gave her baby in the TV show Friends. And so she became Emma, often Emma Bean, for her West Virginia roots; later Emma Lily Bean, as she eventually grew gracefully into a mature dog.

She was a terror in her early years. Our house in the suburbs of Maryland was fully fenced in, but that never stopped Emma from escaping. I never knew how she got out, but I’d hear children playing on the block ordering her to go home. If she didn’t listen, they would grab her collar and lead her home and she loved that. Her game with the kids. Once, a stranger noting the address on her tag tried to bring her home. Emma led him right to the open gate, walked in, and kicked the gate shut behind her. She didn’t want this person inside her yard.

She mostly liked other dogs, Shenandoah most of all. But there were those few dogs that just plain irked her. Marley, Coach Kuhn’s black Labrador mix, made her bristle. They were alright off leash in the large park, but should they cross paths on leash, it was all sound and fury. One morning I made the mistake of suggesting that we let them off leash on our morning walk. Emma beelined for Marley and the large dog ripped open Emma’s ear. I had Reid pressing towels to the ear in the car, as I dropped him at school and then got Emma to the vet before going to work. Stitched up, she had to parade around with a bright scarlet bandage. The Kuhn family offered to cover the vet bill, but I declined. Emma went for the larger dog and got what she deserved.

Emma would sometimes disappear into the large parks near the Potomac’s C&O canal. Eventually, after calling and calling, I’d have to take Shenandoah home and tend to Reid. Inevitably, Emma would come skipping up the middle of the road within an hour or so. She’d missed her ride home, so she maneuvered the busy MacArthur Blvd and the quiet roads in our subdivision on foot.

When I decided to move to Maine, I figured Emma would love the 7 1/2 acres that were all ours. She especially liked the wildlife, chasing turkeys, deer, a moose, and, of course, the porcupines. We had a few visits to the emergency vet clinics to remove the quills. But she took it in stride.

Losing Shenandoah, who had gotten old and weak, was hard on Emma, but getting Oscar Wilde six months later was much harder. I brought home this bundle of a puppy, barely two months old, and all mouth, tiny teeth and large feet. Emma growled at the little Lab and Oscar barked back. Emma wanted nothing to do with him and Oscar wanted nothing more than to lie next to her and nibble on her legs. When Emma couldn’t fight him, she taught him all her tricks. Before long, I had two dogs testing the boundaries of my large property and chasing everything from racoons to chipmunks into the trees. They  learned to like the clammers that show up at low tide to work the mud flats. They could suss out where the guys would store their food and cigarettes. So, we’d walk along the shore and the dogs would dig out the packaged chips, cookies and anything else that seemed appealing. The clammers soon learned to string their food from the trees, much as if they were up against bears.

When I noticed that Emma got too close to the busy road, I decided to install an underground fence. That involved wearing a collar with a zapper. Oscar had no problem with the device and would stay far away from the offending line. Emma went on strike. If I put the collar on her, she wouldn’t go outside. She couldn’t escape this fence, as she had the picket fence in Maryland, but she could protest it until she won.

I’m  not sure when exactly Emma began to mellow, when she stopped pushing against boundaries. Maybe last year; maybe last week. She was so wily and agile that I thought she would go on forever. When I found out a few weeks ago that she had cancer, I wondered how she would defy this barrier. We tried, she and I. When she stopped eating her kibble, I began cooking her  things like chicken livers, matzoh ball soup, grilled salmon, Quinoa, sweet potatoes, and farm fresh eggs. She had some wonderful moments right up until the end. Reid came to say goodby and they lay curled one night on the sofa watching a movie. It was a night that Emma just didn’t feel like moving. She was much more perky the next day.

As long as she still had joy in her life, I wasn’t going to take life away from her. Yesterday she grew very tired in the afternoon; I thought I’d head out with Oscar and take care of a few things. But Emma got out the door, unsteady on her legs and sunk down right in front of the car. She didn’t want us to leave. The sun was out and I let her spend the afternoon on the lawn, gazing out at the land that she so loved. Oscar and I stayed close by. Eventually, I had a neighbor come by to help me carry her inside before it got dark.

I knew this morning that she was ready to go. Lying on the huge dog bed in the kitchen, it was clear that she had no more energy left. Emma looked up at me, not vacantly but with purpose. She didn’t seem to be in pain; just spent, like the long roller coaster that was her life had finally come to a stop. She lay there most of the day, peaceful, until the vet could come.

If I believed in heaven, I’d say she’s roaming far and wide. But I think she just crossed that last boundary. She’s at rest.

 

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Winter morn in Maine

I have neither a clock nor curtains in my bedroom. One tells me too much; the other tells me nothing. Upon waking, I’d much rather roll over in bed and gaze outside my bare windows. If I look out and it’s pitch dark, I simply throw the covers back over my head. If, however, there’s a bit — even a tiny bit — of color emerging between the oak and pine trees, I know that it’s time to rise.

A cold slow sun eventually climbs over the foliage as I have the coffee brewing and the dogs fed. The colors change so fast that I stare outside, transfixed, through my first cup of coffee, listening to NPR, anticipating the day. No need to rush. It’s barely 6:30 when I finally look at the kitchen clock. I have a full day of work ahead of me, but all the time in the world to begin. The idea of starting a car engine is more foreign to my current lifestyle than putting on real clothes.

Nope, I put layer upon layer of warm undergarments, and then start with the pants and sweaters. I don’t look at the outside thermometer. I can tell how cold it is by how curled the Rhododendron leaves are on the bushes outside my bathroom. I’m only a wood stove away from the cold blasts, so immersion into the outside is never dramatic.

This morning we had blizzard winds but no towering snow drifts. Seems that the storm veered farther into the ocean. The dogs followed in my snowshoe path and we walked our nice trodden loop. Only inside, did I finally look and see that the day’s temperature hadn’t hit zero yet.

The colors are more vibrant in winter, and that makes getting out of bed simply part of a larger drama. I live in a large panorama. I can’t imagine ever sleeping through a sunrise because each day’s dawning is so different. That the day’s light intensifies and then slowly ebbs in late afternoon, after my work is done and I’ve walked the full scope of my property, to Sampson Cove and back, at least four times. That is magic.

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Meet me at the Narrows – Part I

Every small town should have a tavern where people can collect with as much identify as they choose to reveal. They come with names like Bo, who is currently banned for unruly behavior, or Bo Bo, who lives in the old button factory. Some of us are distinguished by being known as the Wild Women of Waldoboro; others, who come only in the warmer months, got dubbed the Dixie Chicks. The Narrow’s Tavern is where musicians of all kinds frequently jam. Don’t like the music, pull out your own instrument. Got some motion going, get up and dance.

Here is where a cross-section of local personalities are on display. Our mid-coast peninsula juts off Route 1 a nick above Boothbay and a stretch below Rockland, runs southeast through Waldoboro straight to Friendship. Narrow’s Tavern is the only place on this somewhat off-the-beaten-path swath of Maine coastal life. Clamming is the main industry in the shallower flats along Waldoboro’s shore; lobstering takes over once the water deepens into the Atlantic Ocean in Friendship.

Many artists have tried to capture the essence of the Narrow’s Tavern, and some have done it well. There’s an oil painting by a notable NYC via Waldoboro’s Dutch Neck painter that provides a long view of the shiny wood bar, with only one patron sitting there, head nearly in his cup. The sunlight streams in on the hanging plants, hanging mugs, and hanging essence of rural Maine rock bottom.

But often there are more crowds inside here than there are people along the Main Street. There aren’t many places to go in this town; so when you pull up, you’re probably ready for a beer.

It’s a place where one former Wall Street investment firm CEO could sit down at the bar totally unrecognized and order a plain burger with fries. He’s this town’s largest taxpayer, since his estate covers one of the most beautiful coastal points and is criss-crossed by walking paths planned and executed by the Maine trail service. I made the mistake that night of asking a WWW (Wild Woman of Waldoboro) a somewhat personal female question, to which she responded with loud glee about items that included tingly petroleum jelly. Upshot: our man who has seen every side of Wall Street found himself unusually, but delightfully, entertained that night.

One reason for the success of the Narrow’s is the Boss. She runs the place, though it’s owned by her boyfriend (who owns most of the real estate in Waldoboro). Boss doesn’t let anything go past her. Ten people may come into the Tavern and sit down at a table, which frequently happens in the summer. She’ll take everyone’s order simply by nodding at them, takes it in and relays it to the kitchen, all through word of mouth. Some of us like a glass of water when we’re ready to pay our bill; others like a glass of water before they pick out a brew on tap. She knows who we are, and she hears a lot. But none of the ex-CIA types that retire in these parts could ever get anything out of her.

What happens in the Narrows stays in the Narrows.

 

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