Yesterday I took a break from the never-ending battle against the onslaught of dandelions and built two walls in the down yard. One is intended to screen off an area where we’ll be composting yard waste, dead and dried weed carcasses, and other assorted debris, The other one, pictured above, will mark the edge of what will be a little flower bed in a narrow crevice between two huge granite outcroppings.
I used stones for the walls, because we’ve got a virtually inexhaustible supply of them, and thought about Robert Frost the whole time. I learned that trying to craft a stone wall can be a very enjoyable project. It’s messy and muddy, and you get to see what kind of crawly creatures cling to the undersides of big rocks, which adds to the overall experience. You get to lug stones around, too, so it’s pretty good exercise.
From an engineering standpoint, the key seems to be a create a level base for the wall, then find the right stones to fit into the right gaps, using the weight of the stones above to hold them all in place. After some trial and error and experimentation with different stones in different places, I ended up with two walls that seem to be sturdy and level — at least until the next big rainstorm. In the meantime, it was satisfying to actually do some manual labor with my hands, and see the immediate fruits of my effort. For white-collar workers, that’s not something that happens every day.
The view tonight from the deck of Acadia House Provisions. A spectacular view to go with a spectacular meal.
One of the great things about Stonington, Maine is that it’s far off the beaten path. So far, in fact, that it’s totally franchise-free. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks here. In fact, you’d have to drive dozens of miles into the mainland before you hit your first franchise fast food restaurant or coffee shop.
Located at the tip of Deer Isle, out in the middle of Penobscot Bay, Stonington is just too small and too remote for the big franchise chains. That means if you’ve got to start your day with some kind of Starbucks brand caramel-topped pumpkin spice latte grande, this just isn’t the place for you. (It also means that you won’t find a discarded Starbucks coffee cup or a McDonald’s wrapper around town, either.)
That doesn’t mean that Stonington lacks for coffee or the other amenities of modern life. Instead, locally owned businesses have filled the niche that would otherwise be filled by the big chains. There’s a great coffee shop called 44 North where you can get your java fix, and there are really good restaurants, ranging from the classic home-cooked offerings offered at the Harbor Cafe (pictured above, where the haddock chowder is addictive and you have to save room for dessert) and Stonecutters Kitchen and the Fin and Fern to the more high-end fare found at Acadia House Provisions and Aragosta. The other businesses in town are locally owned, too — and some of them are employee-owned co-ops.
The local ownership adds a certain indefinable quality to the buying experience. There are signs around the island noting that buying from local businesses means local jobs, and that’s clearly the case. It actually makes you want to shop at the local options and support the local economy, in a way that just doesn’t apply to stopping at a national chain operation.
It’s all a pretty old school approach. There’s nothing wrong with the big companies and their franchises, of course, but it’s nice to be reminded of what America was like before large-scale national brands took hold and unique local businesses lined the sidewalks along Main Street.
I admit it — sometimes I buy products on name alone. It sounds shallow, but some names are just so evocative and intriguing that I’ve got to tip my cap to the company that came up with the moniker and buy their goods in acknowledgement.
So, when I ran across the Cushnoc Brewing Company Lawyer Up Coffee Porter at the beer cooler of the local grocer, I had to give it a shot. A porter that combines coffee and lawyers? That’s got to be a pretty darned strong brew!
In fact, now that I’ve bought the Lawyer Up, I’m a little intimidated to even try it. What’s the right time to sip a beer that sounds the heady notes of coffee and counselors? Probably not late at night, because this beer clearly packs a wallop and might keep you up, besides. Noon, when your system maybe best suited to withstanding a coffee and legal advice jolt? Cocktail hour, when your system might need the kind of kick that only a lawyer and a cup of coffee can bring?
One of the local shops in Stonington, The Dry Dock, always has a bookshelf in front of the store that offers free books. It’s impossible not to stop and take a gander at what’s available, and yesterday I noticed a book that brought back memories — a volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.
I’m not sure whether Reader’s Digest still comes up with “condensed books” — or, for that matter, whether Reader’s Digest itself is still published — but there was a time in the ’60s and early ’70s when our family subscribed to the magazine and got the condensed books, too. I remember Mom reading the condensed books and remarking that you wouldn’t even have known that the books were condensed. Of course, unless you had done a side-by-side comparison of the actual novel and the condensed book, you wouldn’t know what had hit the cutting room floor in the “condensation” process. Significant subplots, back stories, ancillary characters, scenes that helped to fully flesh out the contours and personalities of the main characters — they all could be lopped out by the Reader’s Digest editors who wanted to shrink novels and non-fiction works down to a manageable size for the busy person who just didn’t have the time to read a full-blown book.
I don’t recall ever reading one of the condensed books that were delivered to our house, although I occasionally wished that Reader‘s Digest had done condensed versions of some of the ponderous tomes we had to read in high school. (This was before I discovered Cliff’s Notes.) I always wondered, though, how the authors involved reacted to the finished, condensed product. I’m sure they liked the payment they received for allowing their work to be condensed, but how did they feel about the liberal editing that occurred as part of the process? Did the authors actually read the condensed versions to see how their work was affected? Did they think that the condensation cut the heart out of their books, or changed their focus, or did they feel deep down that the editing process had actually improved their work? Given the amount of time and effort writers put into a novel, it would be tough to come to the conclusion that the book you labored over was better without some of the subplots and character-building scenes.
A few days ago we went to buy groceries. In the coffee aisle I found a bag of ground coffee sold by a local company that was called the “Einstein Blend” and featured a drawing of Albert Einstein sipping a cup of coffee. The slogan under the drawing read: “An intelligent, medium roast blend of African and Costa Rican coffees.”
Albert Einstein, that unique, world-changing genius, probably the most famous scientist in history, on the cover of a coffee packet? What’s the world coming to?
The value, and price, of being famous is that your image has value. But at some point your image and likeness is no longer your own. When a notable person dies, the clock starts ticking, and ultimately the right to publicity expires and the famous person’s image and likeness slip into the public domain for anyone to use. That’s why it’s not unusual to see Abraham Lincoln, stovepipe hat and all, in TV ads for car insurance and other products of the modern world. In the case of the Discoverer of the Theory of Relativity, who died in 1955, a 2012 court ruling concluded that his post mortem publicity rights had expired. As a result, Albert Einstein’s grandfatherly likeness, with that familiar halo of hair and wise, kindly look in his eyes, is now fair game for advertisers.
At least coffee is a product that Einstein actually used (and enjoyed), unlike Abe Lincoln and car insurance. And by the way, I bought a pack of the Einstein Blend — how could I not? — and it’s pretty good coffee. Drinking it, I feel smarter already.