The flowers in our front bed seem to like the rain, too.
It’s been dry up here — so dry that even the most taciturn Mainers have actually remarked on it. We might get the light spritz from the morning fog, or a very heavy dew, but real rain has been rare over the past weeks.
Until yesterday, that is. Yesterday, we got one of those long, soaking rains, where the clouds seem to be especially low to the ground and just hover overhead, content to drop their watery contents onto the ground below. It was the kind of incessant, day-long rain that knocks a few leaves from the trees and produces big puddles on rocks and gravel driveways. And today and tomorrow we are supposed to get more of the same.
You can’t overstate the value of a good soaking for the plants. Watering is nice, and even essential when it has been especially dry, but it is a limited form of relief from the dryness. The best thing about a good soak is the continuous nature of the rainfall, with the earlier rain moistening the soil and making it more receptive to the raindrops to come. That’s why a good soak always leaves the plants looking better than a passing thunderstorm that might deposit a lot of rain that simply sluices off the hard-baked ground. With a good soak, you know the rain is really reaching the deeper ground and plant roots.
And another good thing about a good soak is that it means there’s no need for repeatedly filling up the watering can and hauling it to those remote places that are beyond the reach of your hose.
As a kid, I hated the good soak days, which seemed to unfairly cut into summer vacation. Now, as somebody who’s just working from home anyway and is interested in seeing some plants do well, I welcome the good soaking days. I’ll be interested in seeing how the plants have fared when the rainfalls end and the sun comes out again.
Many of us are familiar with the German word schadenfreude. It refers to the pleasure you feel from observing another person’s misfortune. Think about the guilty but nevertheless real surge of joy you get when your arch-rival sports team loses a big game, and you’ve captured it.
Schadenfreude is a very useful word. So why does a specific word for that sensation exist in the German language, but not in English? What caused the Germans, at some point in the past, to identify that very particular feeling and coin a term for it, and why didn’t somebody in merry old England do likewise? You can’t tell me that, during the period of one of their countless wars, the British weren’t happy to see the French take a pratfall. Why didn’t they come up with a word to capture that specific unseemly yet nevertheless real surge of pleasure?
Schadenfreude doesn’t stand alone. In fact, the Germans have been pretty good at creating lots of words that capture unique feelings or circumstances. Here are some:
Futterneid — translated as “food jealousy” or “food envy,” it refers to the feeling you have when you go out to dinner with someone and they order food that looks much better than what you ordered, and you then suffer through the meal wishing you’d ordered their dish.
Fernweh — translated as “distance sickness” (the opposite of home sickness), it refers to the overpowering desire to be traveling, preferably to somewhere far away.
Fremdschamen — the uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment you experience when watching someone else go through a personally humiliating experience, like telling an unfunny joke to an audience or having way too much to drink at a work-related function.
Kummerspeck — translated literally as “grief bacon,” it refers to excess weight that is put on by emotional overeating.
Torschlusspanik — translated literally as “gate shut panic,” it identifies the fear that certain opportunities or activities are being closed to you as you get older.
Weltschmerz — the sensation of melancholy and resignation that you experience when your hopeful expectations about what will happen in the world fall disappointingly short . . . again.
We could use such words in English, so the word creators need to get cracking. And isn’t it interesting how many of those German words describing unique, very precise feelings or conditions can be applied to what we are experiencing in 2020?
I don’t often plug products on the blog, but it’s such a pleasure to find a well-conceived, well-designed product that delivers what it promises that I feel I need to say a few words about my Skullcandy Indy wireless headphones.
I like listening to music when I take a morning walk or work in the yard. Previously, I used the standard iPhone earbuds that would connect to my phone with a cord. After a while they started to bug me, for two reasons. First, it was hard to keep them in your ears. And second, if wasn’t unusual to snag the cord on something and yank the earbuds out of your ears, which was supremely annoying. And don’t even talk to me about the issued posed by cord connection with you’ve got a leaping, oblivious dog in the vicinity.
So I decided to go cordless and wireless. But, what to buy? I’d heard good things about Skullcandy products, so I decided to buy their “Indy” product. It turned out to be a great decision. It’s easy to sync the earbuds with your phone, even for a technophobe like me, and the product delivers great sound quality. You charge up the earbuds in a little charging station and remove them when you are ready for use. They turn on automatically — with a great, authoritative “Power On!” statement delivered by a female voice with a faint accent that I inevitably try to mimic — and have a kind of foam insert that allows you to place them securely in your ears to prevent slippage. And best of all, there is no cord to be tangled. They are ideal for walking, gardening, or otherwise sitting outside and listening to your favorite music.
I admit it: I’m a Skullcandy fan.
The fog bank is out there. You can see it on the water, lurking and looming, just beyond the little island in the middle of the harbor. The fog bank is so thick that it totally obscures all but the highest hilltop on Isle au Haut, wiping it clean from the photo.
It’s been pretty foggy here for the last few days, and for the native Midwesterner the speed — and seeming perverseness — of the fog movement is breathtaking. You might see fog in the distance, and the next thing you know it has barged into town and your bare skin is covered in moisture. On other days, the fog might wait out on the horizon, keeping its own counsel and deciding if, and when, to roll in and blanket the sun. And on other days, the fog is simply gone, and you can see for miles out into the harbor without a hint of fog to be seen anywhere.
Dr. Science would tell you that fog is a natural condition caused by a process called advection, when warm, moist air passes over a cooler surface — in this case, the bracing waters of the Penobscot Bay and the Atlantic Ocean just beyond the islands in the bay — and water vapor in the air condenses to form water droplets that make the fog opaque. That’s a very scientific explanation, but it doesn’t quite capture the almost human, unpredictable qualities of fog.
Because we know the fog is out there . . . waiting.
The official welcome sign outside of Stonington says the town is Maine’s largest lobster port, and the visual evidence around here supports that assertion. You see the paraphernalia of the lobster business pretty much everywhere, from the lobster boats at anchor in the harbor to the brightly colored buoys, coiled ropes, and stacked rows of lobster traps seen on the properties around town. Especially traps. More traps than you can imagine!
And it appears that the younger generation is embracing Stonington’s traditional occupation. According to statements from this year’s graduates published in the local newspaper, a number of the 2020 graduates of the Deer Isle-Stonington High School — both male and female — are planning on “lobstering” as their career. It’s the kind of future plan you wouldn’t see from a student in, say, Columbus, Ohio.
My hat is off to the kids who are going into the lobster trade. It’s a tough, physically demanding job that requires you to get up before dawn and spend your days on the water, going from buoy to buoy, hauling traps up from the ocean floor, removing any catch, rebaiting the traps with yukky objects that lobsters like, and winching the traps back down again. But it makes a living, and you get to be your own boss. From the decisions of the local high school kids, that’s still an attractive option.
Russell has the proverbial green thumb. He’s been growing his own vegetables up in Detroit for some time, and before we came up to Maine he gave us some plants to bring along.
We’ve replanted the vegetables into a little bed I’ve created among the rocks, with some garden soil and cow manure mixture added to the native Stonington soil to give them a kick start. I’ve been attentive to watering as do weeding, and I’m happy to report that our Detroit transplants are thriving in the cooler Maine climate and are growing like crazy. They are pretty to look at, too.
Our little garden plot includes broccoli, celery, kale, lettuce, and Brussels sprouts. We’ve already eaten some of the kale, which was quite good — but I suppose it’s natural to think that when the food is fresh and something you have grown yourself. Now, if only I liked broccoli . . . .
Our cottage in Maine is built into a steep granite hillside that tumbles down into the western end of the Stonington Harbor. As a result, our deck is at the treetop level of the pine trees, birch trees, and even a buckeye tree planted on the the hillside down below.
That means that we get a bird’s-eye view (pun intended) of the birds that call Greenhead peninsula home. And because we are on a coastline, there are lots of birds, and an interesting mix of different species at that. We get seagulls coasting in on the ocean breezes that land nimbly on our tiny chimney, cawing crows and ravens that add a touch of noise to the foggy mornings, an occasional hawk, wrens and sparrows and chimney swifts, robins forever hunting for insects and worms in the downyard area, and gray doves that like to take a dip in the waters of the little creek that runs down the hillside.
But our favorite feathered friends are the brilliant blue jays that swoop in on the updrafts and like to perch in the trees right at our deck level, so we can get a good look at them. They are beautiful birds, with their bright blue plumage standing out from the green leaves of the trees, and instantly recognizable both for their color and for their distinctive tuft of feathers on the crown of their heads. The blue jays move briskly from tree to tree, apparently scouting for something with their lightning quick, quirky nods and other head movements, and then they are gone in a flash of blue across the landscape.
An elevated deck that allows you to do some casual bird-watching is a nice feature at the end of a warm summer day.
For the record, the best pasta sauce bought from the grocery store is vodka sauce. Rich, creamy, and stoked with ground beef that you brown yourself, served with some warm crusty bread, it makes a perfect dinner at home meal. A nice glass of wine is the perfect accompaniment.
Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge Of Courage, a great story about a boy who comes of age and makes some discoveries about himself while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. The “red badge” refers to a bullet wound received during a battle.
I’ve got a few red badges of my own — from gardening. Except my red badges don’t reflect bullet wounds, thank goodness! Instead, they spring from bug bites, nicks, rashes, scratches, welts, thorn punctures, and other minor wounds inflicted while digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, clipping off and carting off dead branches, levering out and lugging off rocks, roots, and tree stumps to clear the ground, and doing the other things that gardeners do. Oh, yeah . . . and a decent sunburn, too.
I think gardening is fun, but it isn’t the bucolic, pastoral experience you might suppose. Plants have defense mechanisms, and so do the insects that live on and around them. Pesky weeds and overgrown wild rose bushes and raspberry bushes are happy to give you a scratch or two while you are removing them from their patch of ground, and Maine is home to some ferocious biting insects. During this time of year, the biting insect brigade is led by the Maine black fly, as well as the mosquito and horse fly. The black flies apparently can bite through the hide of a moose, so I’m an easy target. And after suffering the indignity of a bite, you’ve got several days of itchiness to remind you that you’ve invaded the black fly’s territory.
I look at my arms and survey my backyard battle scars, and realize I’ve probably got more marks than I’ve had at any time since I was a kid and summertime was spent outside all day long. My red badges of gardening are just the price you pay for a little outdoor activity, but boy — I could do without those maddening black flies.
Major League Baseball is tying itself in knots over the decision whether to have some kind of baseball season this year. So far this summer — and we’re more than two-thirds of the way through June, the third full month of the normal baseball season — we’ve had no games, and the baseball coverage has been all about fitful negotiations between the players and the owners.
It hasn’t exactly been a rewarding season for a baseball fan.
The current proposals don’t really resemble baseball as we know it. The players and owners are debating a season that will have somewhere between 50 and 70 games, whereas the normal season has 162 games. The owners apparently have withdrawn their proposal for expanded playoffs and also are offering a universal designated hitter for 2020 and 2021, which means National League fans won’t be able to watch pitchers at bat or the managerial strategery that flows from the fact that most pitchers can’t hit worth a lick. And all of the wrangling is happening against a backdrop of the country opening up after the coronavirus shutdowns, with some states experiencing increases in the numbers of cases and hospitalizations. Already there are stories about how some players are testing positive for COVID-19, and we can expect to see more of them. Ultimately, if the players and owners can’t negotiate their way out of a corner, baseball’s commissioner may have to unilaterally impose a dramatically shortened season — which some players could simply refuse to participate in.
It’s a mess, and it raises a fundamental question: should there be a baseball season at all this year? What’s the point of playing a truncated, gimmicky season that will amount to a small fraction of the normal season? On the other hand, can baseball afford not to play, when viewership and attendance have been declining for the past few years and the stench of the Houston Astros cheating scandal remains in the air? If there is no Major League Baseball this year, will the sport be able to recover in 2021?
I enjoy baseball and follow the Tribe, but I find I am not missing watching games or following the team this year. 2020 has been such a weird year already that not having baseball just seems like another, easily accepted feature of this masked and misbegotten period we are experiencing. We can expect that money will call the tune — it always does in professional sports — but if I were the Commissioner I’d just call the season off and plan for baseball’s return, for a real season, in 2021.
And by the way, there is still some baseball being played in 2020. My Facebook feed features pictures of little kids’ games. If you like summer baseball, there’s still a way to get your fix.
I’ve finished with my tiers project — for this weekend, at least — and am reasonably happy with the results. I created the beds, planted some spider plants I picked up at the farmers’ market from the local garden club, and replanted the ferns. Unfortunately, my efforts to replant the wild rose bushes failed. The root systems of the rose bushes are just too difficult to dig out. And speaking of digging, I successfully removed some tree stumps, too, which was satisfying.
After two solid days of yard work, I’m ready for a celebratory beer.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the Dads, and grandfathers, and great-grandfathers out there who have tackled one of the most important jobs in the world. May you and your families have a great day!
My gardening challenge this weekend: figuring out what to do with an area of tumbledown rocks and boulders that abruptly drop about eight feet in height from top to bottom. My plan is to try to use the enormous rocks and the drastic change in height to establish tiers dropping down the slope like the steps of a staircase. The tiers will then become beds where I can plant flowers and attempt to replant some of the lupines, rose bushes, and ferns that have sprung up in some of our other garden beds.
So far I’ve placed some smaller rocks to define the outlines of the tiers, using the big rocks as immovable borders, and have started shoveling dirt into the newly created spaces to form the beds. This weekend I hope to complete the bed formation and do the rose bush and fern replants. The weather is supposed to be nice, so I should have two full days for the work.
This is the kind of project I really like. There’s a creativity element to it, some problem-solving and design challenges, a physical labor component, and then finally a chance to see if an experiment succeeds or fails. I’m looking forward to getting to it.
The Stonington 600 is a running and walking event put on the by Island Community Center to promote health and wellness among residents of Deer Isle. Yesterday we passed a sign announcing that, with COVID-19 and the interest in promoting social distancing, the event will be a “virtual run/walk.” When I saw the sign, I thought: “A virtual run? Finally, a running event I’d be willing to participate in!”
Imagine my disappointment when I learned that, if you are participating in the Stonington 600 by running, the “virtual” nature of the event means that you are still supposed to actually run! You’re just supposed to do your distance by yourself, running whatever course you wish during a three-day period, rather than being part of a group that runs the same course at the same time.
This approach doesn’t seem to fully embrace the “virtual” part of the concept. So, this morning I am taking a virtual run around town. In fact, I’m doing it right now. I’ve left our house, trotted down the gravel path, and turned left to head down the hill. I’m starting to feel loosened up as I turn left, so I pick up the pace on the short stretch of road and then head onto the main road, where I’ve got to keep an eye out for the over-sized pickups roaring past on their way to the lobster co-op. By the time and turn right and head down the hill into town, I’m moving with a fluid, elegant pace. I check my watch and realize that I’m making pretty good time this morning, which makes me feel good.
I dash past the town hall and the Harbor Cafe and the hotels, then turn right to sprint down the hill toward the mail boat dock, turn left, then turn left again onto heartbreak hill. I hate this part of the run! I’m huffing and puffing as I head straight up the 30 degree incline. Why don’t I run down this stupid hill, rather than up? When I finally reach the Catholic Church, I’m laboring. Feel the burn! Then it’s back to the main road and down the hill to trot back through town again. I’m back on pace and grateful that it’s a nice cool, clear morning, so I’m not getting overheated. I check my virtual watch and take a swig of virtual water, and I’m on the home stretch. I dodge some more trucks, turn left onto the road to the lobster co-op, and then charge up the final hill, with my legs feeling a little rubbery. When I finally reach our place I towel off and revel in that runner’s afterglow.
Hey, that virtual run was pretty good! Later today, I’m going to do some virtual power-lifting.