Salt Life

People up here live the “salt life.” That means they are out on the water frequently— in fact, pretty much all the time. This couple was kayaking into town, probably from one of the islands in the harbor, first thing yesterday morning, around 7 a.m. Very impressive!

There’s something about the water that pulls you to it. The people here have stopped resisting the lure of the salt life, and they seem happy about it.

Resolution’s End (Cont.)

Of course, exercise equipment isn’t the only item that you might buy when your blood runs high and you are charged with enthusiasm — only to find that, a few months later, you desperately regret ever making that purchase.  Do-it-yourself projects generally, and yard projects specifically, also can suffer when someone loses their edge.

If you studied the arc of yard projects, the study would no doubt conclude that you’ve got to strike quickly — right after you go to the garden store to buy those heavy bags of mulch, manure, and garden soil.  The study would show that, for every day that passes before you open the bags and actually start working on your project, there is a cascading likelihood that the project will never get underway at all

Delay quickly becomes fatal.  After one or two days, you’re down to the 50-50 range on the odds of actually getting started, and after two weeks it’s more likely that you’ll buy the winning Powerball lottery ticket than that you’ll haul yourself outside and begin digging and spreading.  By then, the bags have just become part of the landscape.  You’ve clearly accepted, privately, that you’re never going to get started, but you can’t bring yourself to publicly acknowledge your failure by removing the bags.

So, the bags remain.  Eventually, they burst.  And it’s really bad when weeds start growing out of those sad, tattered bags, taunting the non-do-it-yourselfer and adding the mulch and weed smell to the ever-present reek of failure.  

That Old Wooden Floor

Our kitchen up here has a hardwood floor that is likely original to the house.  It’s one of the features of our little cottage that I like the most.

A wooden floor typically tells a story.  This one certainly does, even though we can’t know all of the details.  It’s been burnished to a warm glow by the tread of thousands of footprints.  It bears some visible scars that attest to its hardiness and longevity.  You notice them when you sweep and have to adjust the broom and angle the dustpan to make sure you extricate the sweepings from those little nicks and marks.  Something was dropped long ago that left that gouge, and something was dragged to leave that scratch, but the floor carries on.  In time the fresh marks have been softened and assimilated into its appealing patina.

We know that other parts of the house were carpeted at some time or another; we pulled up some of that carpeting after we bought the place because we like the hardwood floors better.  I suspect the kitchen has always featured these same, plain floorboards, however. 

Wooden floor and carpeting have a different vibe.  Carpets are softer on the feet, and more luxurious, and reflect a decorator’s touch.  Hardwood floor are straightforward and no-nonsense.  Carpets cover things up.  When a carpet gets old and worn and discolored, it is removed and replaced.  The old story of a place is thrown out, and when the new carpet is laid a new story begins to be written — until that carpet, too, gets pulled up and discarded, and the cycle starts over again. 

The hardwood floor, meanwhile, endures.     

The Maskfog Factor

Eyeglasses and masks really don’t go together.  The masks cause warm, moist air — i.e., the air that just was exhaled from your warm, moist mouth and lungs — up onto the lenses of your glasses.  The result?  Fogged glasses, and the familiar embarrassing, blinded, stumbling sensation that the bespectacled among us really hate.

jimmyBefore anyone jumps down my throat, I’m not suggesting that fogging is a reason not to wear a mask.  Masks are a basic precaution when you’re going into an enclosed area during the global pandemic, and people should wear them in public places.

But I am saying that foggy glasses are unpleasant and a pain in the rear.  And there doesn’t seem to be a good response to the maskfog factor.  When I donned my first mask and experienced my first maskfog, I checked the internet for suggestions on how to deal with the issue.  I found pages like this one.  I tried the suggested approaches, I really did.  I pinched the nose of my mask until it felt like a binder clip on the bridge of my nose.  I tried using my glasses to “seal” my mask.  Neither of those approaches worked.  I admittedly didn’t try taping the mask down, because I don’t know how to do that, and in any case it doesn’t seem like a practical solution for the instances where you put on a mask to enter a commercial establishment and remove it when you leave the place.  And “soap and water” typically isn’t readily available in that scenario, either, unless you’re supposed to keep a supply with you at all times.

So I appeal to the glasses wearers out there.  Have you found a way to solve the maskfog dilemma?  If so, I’d definitely be interested in hearing it.

Out Of An Abundance Of Caution

The Stonington airport is basically a strip of asphalt, a windsock, and some outbuildings, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t appropriately focus on safety and faithfully report on pertinent federal regulations. This particular federal regulation, though, is a curious one. You wouldn’t think that this kind of regulation is really necessary. It conjures up images of an unfortunate walker incident where a person using a walker was out on the runway trying to dodge an incoming aircraft—and not quite as nimbly as the Cary Grant character evading the crop duster in North By Northwest.

But it’s the second part of the regulation that is the real head scratcher. No wheels on the runway? Hey, doesn’t the landing gear of all planes feature wheels?

Resolution’s End

You see some interesting things at the Stonington town dump (technically called the town “transfer station”). This exercise equipment no doubt started out its existence with an owner who was full of promise and and enthusiasm and resolution. Now, it’s been brutally discarded — perhaps because the owner just couldn’t stand the pangs of guilt they experienced when they looked at it, unused and gathering dust in the corner of their bedroom — and it has landed at the dump, among the broken down lobster traps.

I’m confident that lots of the stuff at the dump has an interesting back story., but pitched out exercise equipment has got to be at the top of the list.

Pathfinding

My latest project is the classic definition of a “yard project.”  It is absolutely not necessary.  In fact, some people would undoubtedly consider it to be pointless “busy work.”  Life could go on quite easily without it, and no one — not the birds, or the trees, or the insects that call the down yard home, or the folks who live in the neighboring homes — would care.  But it’s something I have pictured in my head, I want to see if I can bring it to fruition, and I like having a project to work on during my leisure time.  How many “yard projects” start in that way?

Basically, the project is focused on doing something interesting and hopefully attractive with the area shown in this photo, which is at the bottom of a very steep, rocky outcropping.  The first step happened several years ago, when Russell and I chopped down the scrubby trees that had overgrown this area between the rocks.  Last year I tried to keep the remaining tree roots from sprouting new trees, and this year I’ve dug out all of the stumps and tree roots of the scrub trees — about 20 stumps and root systems in all — to create an area for some planting.  Most recently, I’ve been building stone paths that will allow us to readily reach the little garden plot where we have planted Russell’s vegetables, and in the process make some productive use of the abundant supply of rocks we’ve got around here.  The next step will be to figure out what kind of ground cover, consisting of hardy, and hopefully somewhat colorful, native plants, can be planted in the areas between the paths and on some of the rocky slopes around the areas.

Digging out the stumps was hard work that left me as dirty as an adult can reasonably get, but each day I made some progress, and each stump that was successfully removed was satisfying.  The pathbuilding was challenging, but also interesting because it involved trying to find routes for the paths that made use of the existing boulders that are found in the area and also worked around the root systems of the two large birch trees that are immediately overhead.  So, perhaps “pathfinding” is a better word for the work.  And trying to find the right rocks to fit in the right spaces has been a nice creative exercise.  

I’ve enjoyed working on my utterly gratuitous “yard project,” and at night I look down on the area, compare it to the mental image that got this whole process started in the first place, and look forward to the next step. 

A Future Of Dancing Robot Dogs

Sports franchises across the globe have struggled with how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.  In some places, like the United States, sporting events for the most part haven’t occurred at all.  In other places, like Japan, the games have been going forward, but without any spectators due to contagion concerns.  And that raises a question:  what do you do, if anything, to substitute for the fans in the stands?  Do you play the games in eerie, empty, silent stadiums?  Or, like some Korean teams have done, do you put cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats?

A Japanese team, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, took a different approach: dancing robots and robot dogs.

The YouTube clip above shows a recent performance of the choreographed moves of jersey-wearing robots and a number of ballcap-wearing, four-legged, black-and-yellow machines (which are supposed to be dogs).  The annoying song they are “dancing” to is apparently a kind of theme song for the Hawks, and the moves they are performing are normally performed by human fans.  The whole thing comes across as pretty creepy to me.  Is the future of live sports a future of dancing robot dogs?  And I thought furry mascots like Slider were annoying!

One good thing about this:  after watching the robots and robot dogs cut a rug, I’ll never feel embarrassed to dance at a wedding again.

Uneasy Rider

I was saddened to read about the recent death of Charlie Daniels, who was an iconic American musical figure.  In 1973, he recorded one of my favorite protest-type songs:  Uneasy Rider.  It’s still on my playlist, nearly 50 years later.  I’ve linked to a YouTube clip of the song, with lyrics, above.

Uneasy Rider tells the story of a long-haired hippie type who gets a flat tire while driving through Mississippi and interacts with locals who aren’t exactly enamored of his hair or the peace signs on his car.  It’s got a catchy, countrified tune, but the real reason it is so memorable is that it is light and funny.  Sometimes the best way to make your point is with humor, rather than heavy-handed and ponderous pontificating.  Uneasy Rider strikes that chord.  (There are other examples of early ’70s music that, like Uneasy Rider, managed to combine a good tune and deliver a message with some humor — like Cover of the Rolling Stone, by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, which deftly lampooned the pretensions and money earned by rock bands of that day.)

Unfortunately, we seem to have lost the ability to make a point with a light touch these days.  In my view, we could use more protest songs along the lines of Uneasy Rider.

Rest in peace, Charlie Daniels.

Corn Reborn

Last night we had fresh corn on the cob as part of our outdoor cookout — and once again I realized just how much I like to eat corn on the cob.

It’s an annual rite of self-discovery.  At some point every summer, corn on the cob is on the menu for a cookout, and I chomp through one ear and enjoy it so much I promptly have another.  (You can’t stop with just one ear of corn!)  And thereafter corn on the cob remains on the summer dinner menu for as long as it is available, and then it vanishes from the plate — forgotten until next summer comes, a new bumper crop of local corn waiting to be shucked hits the stores, and the cycle of food revelation happens all over again.

Corn on the cob is one of those seasonal foods that is so closely associated with its season they are almost synonymous.  You can’t really imagine eating ears of corn when it’s 10 degrees outside and there is snow up to your kneecaps.  Corn on the cob demands to be eaten outside on a summer’s day, so you don’t have to fret about the flying debris that is produced as you bite and bite and bite again, in staccato fashion, moving down the rows of corn like the ear is an old typewriter carriage, until your mouth is filled with juicy sweetness and your lips are slathered with butter.  It’s just a fun thing to eat, and you can’t help but feel a bit like a kid again when you’re doing it.

I like mine lightly buttered, with no salt.

 

The Deer Factor

During our unseasonably cool Fourth of July weekend, I noticed that many of our flowers were just getting ready to bloom.  Having planted a number of them and watered all of them, I was eager to see the splash of colorful blossoms and how the flowers looked in our setting.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.  When I left yesterday morning to take my walk, I saw a flash of a white tail in the distance and a deer bounding away through the underbrush.  And then when I checked on our flowers, I was disappointed to discover that something had neatly clipped off, and presumably happily consumed, the flower buds that were just ready to burst, leaving only the bristling stalks behind. 

I’m guessing that the deer is the culprit.  And when I checked on other flowers we’ve planted, I saw that some had also been trimmed of their tender and delectable buds — although some had been left alone.  Apparently, the deer of Stonington have discriminating tastes.  Only the flowers that are in the fenced-in part of the yard, and the thorny wild roses that grow from the rocks next to the house, were totally safe from the scourge of deer teeth.

I’ve checked into what you can do to discourage deer from eating your flowertops, and frankly the cure sounds worse than the disease.  The Better Homes and Gardens website notes that smelly things might work, at least temporarily, and suggests placing odorous objects like mothballs, fishheads, and “processed sewage” that might repel the deer.  The problem is that they would no doubt also repel us.  The other alternative is to try to create physical barriers like rigging hidden fishing lines, putting up netting or fencing, or hanging shiny objects like aluminum pie plates.  Again, this seems like it would interfere with our enjoyment of the grounds, and in any case is unworkable due to the size and nature of the area that needs to be addressed.

The last option is to go for “deer-resistant plants.”  But the BHG website page on “deer-resistant plants of the northeast” cautions: “There aren’t really any plants you can truly say are deer proof. And the animals are smart and unpredictable — so the deer in your yard may love a particular plant, but avoid it in a garden down the block.”  And it seems like planting presumably deer-resistant plants that hungry deer might decide to eat anyway isn’t going to keep them from devouring the other tasty perennials that I’ve already planted.  

So it looks like we’re stuck.  I guess I’m just going to have to start appreciating the rare beauty of denuded flowerstalks.

Coronavirus Dreams

My theory about dreams is straightforward:  while your conscious brain is sleeping, your subconscious brain is still at work, sifting through what you’ve read or heard or seen or otherwise experienced recently and trying to organize it into some kind of story — because our brains crave order and are hard-wired to try to put things into patterns.  Dreams are strange and disconnected because it’s hard to turn random incidents into a coherent story, but the subconscious brain does its best.

I think the operative plot elements of your dreams all come from the recent brain input, but ancillary characters, background settings, and other details that fill in the inevitable, yawning gaps in the story line are drawn from your vast repository of memories.  That’s why you might see a former work colleague who has been dead for years suddenly turn up, sharply etched from memory, as the boatyard attendant in a dream that involves some weird effort to take a boat to meet a friend.  And because the settings seem to be based on decades of collective memories, they tend to involve, in some murky, dream-like sense, the world of the past.

That’s why it’s interesting to me that, four months after the coronavirus hit and the world tilted on its axis, I’m starting to have dreams that have some kind of COVID-19 element.  Last night I had a dream in which one of the people in the background was wearing a blue paper coronavirus mask — certainly something that would not have been part of any dream I would have before March 2020 — and I’ve also had a dream where my dream self was troubled to see that there were discarded coronavirus masks on a roadway as I walked past.

So far, at least, I haven’t had any coronavirus embarrassment or anxiety-type dreams, where I’ve humiliatingly shown up for some important event without a mask, or in my dream I’m horribly late for something because I stupidly put off getting a mask and now I can’t find one anywhere.  I imagine it’s just a matter of time before those kinds of dreams get worked into the nightly mix.  

And that’s probably the most disturbing part of all of this.  The coronavirus period has gone on long enough to work its way into our subconscious brains.  If, like me, you still have dreams from time to time about missing an important exam — decades after your last exam ever occurred — you have to wonder:  are we going to be haunted by periodic COVID-19 dreams for the rest of our lives?  We may sincerely hope that a successful vaccine is developed, “herd immunity” is achieved, and the world returns to “normal” — but come night-time our subconscious brains may continue to give us a dose of the topsy-turvy coronavirus world of 2020 whether we like it or not.   

Ground Fireworks

As was the case in many communities, Stonington cancelled its annual Fourth of July fireworks show due to coronavirus concerns.  Of course, that didn’t stop people around town from setting off strings of firecrackers, with their familiar staccato explosions, now and then.

And if you like the color of fireworks, you’re not going to be deprived in Stonington, either.  With the arrays of brightly colored lobster buoys that you see just about everywhere — even in the back of bright red pickup trucks — you can get your fireworks colors fix just by keeping your eyes open.

Some Independence Day Thoughts

It’s Independence Day.  As we recognize our oldest national holiday, dating back to before the country was even formally founded, no doubt many people are thinking that these are strange, difficult times, and are wondering just what the future may bring.  We’ve experienced significant protests across the country — with “Black Lives Matter” signs being seen even on a small road in this remote corner of Maine — and in this presidential election year political passions are running high.  

The spirit of unbridled protest has always run deep in this land.  We’ve fought two civil wars in an effort to define and structure concepts of liberty and freedom, and we’ve experienced other periods where the vein of protest pulsed strongly.  The country has seen the mass civil rights marches and Vietnam War protests of the ’60s, the women’s suffrage movement, the Prohibition and anti-Prohibition movements, and the organized labor movements in the late 1800s — and that’s just scratching the surface.  Each of these protests has changed the country in some meaningful way, and there is no doubt that the current protests will, too.  The spirit of protest is so important to this country that we have codified our right to protest in the very first provision of the Bill of Rights and specifically stripped Congress of the ability to make any law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  People who wring their hands about protests simply don’t understand our history, or our institutions.  In reality, protest is as American as apple pie.  

We often think of the “Founding Fathers” as gentlemen with powdered hair in fancy dress who secured freedom just by signing the Declaration of Independence — the execution of which gives rise to the holiday that we celebrate today.  From our vantage point, more than 240 years later, we tend to forget that country’s first civil war, which we now know as the Revolutionary War, was a harsh, bloody fight that occurred in a bitterly divided land — and the Founding Fathers in their silk stockings were the rebels

Courtesy of a present from Richard, I’m reading an excellent book about the first part of the revolutionary period by Rick Atkinson, called The British Are Coming.  One passage had particular resonance with me, in view of the period we are currently living through:

“John Adams, never taciturn, later would be quoted as saying, ‘I would have hanged my own brother had he taken part with our enemy in the contest.’

“Few were hanged, at least not yet; incivility rarely turned to bestiality.  But no one could say how brutal the war would become.  Conformity, censorship, and zealotry now flourished.  Even small sins, such as ‘speaking diminutively of the country congress,’ might be punished with forced public apologies, boycotts, ostracism, or property confiscation.  A mild word of praise for the British government–or simply being suspected of thinking loyal thoughts–could provoke a beating.  Militias served as a political constabulary, bolstered by the Continental Army.  When Queens County, a loyalist stronghold on Long Island, voted 788 to 221 against sending representatives to the provincial congress, the names of those in the majority were published in the newspaper; they were forbidden to travel, hire a lawyer, or practice a trade.  More than a thousand militiamen and Continentals then swept through Queens, arresting opposition leaders, seizing weapons and extracting allegiance oaths–except from the 250 obdurate men who fled into the swamps to await General Howe’s arrival.

Such measures spread.”

In short, there is nothing new under the sun, and we’ve been through these kinds of challenging periods–in fact, much more challenging periods–before.  Reading accurate histories of America would provide reassurance on that point.  Unfortunately, airbrushing history has also been a tradition in this country.  How many of us who went through the American school system were taught of the horrendous Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre of 1921, or of lynchings, or the role of the Ku Klux Klan in subjugating African Americans — or for that matter the egregious history of lies, broken promises and mistreatment of indigenous Americans, Chinese immigrants, or other ethnic groups, or the Japanese internment camps that were created during World War II?  Those terrible racist episodes are as much a part of American history, and our ability to gain a true and complete understanding of our country, as the lofty pronouncements in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation.  Those of us who were taught that America’s history is an unbroken story of freedom, liberty, and fairness in service to the world were not told the whole story.  We deserved the truth, but we didn’t get it.

I hope that that will be one of the positive impacts of these current protests.  We can only fully grasp the meaning and complexity of American history, and the true importance of crucial historical figures, if we take an unvarnished view of their lives and understand their faults, flaws, and failings as well as their successes.  I hope that the exercise of First Amendment freedoms that we are seeing in these protests ensures that American history is never sanitized again and the full story — good, bad, and ugly — is told from here on out.

The exercise of our freedoms is something worth celebrating.  Happy Fourth of July, everyone!