It’s been rainy and cool all weekend, and today fog and a ground-hugging mist were added to the mix. Fog and mist don’t stop the intrepid lobstermen of Stonington, however. Betty and I watched this solitary fisherman navigating cautiously through the murk and returning to dry land—although, given the wet conditions, it would be more accurate to say “solid ground”—this afternoon, just before another cloudburst drenched us all.
This morning, to commemorate Memorial Day, I hiked up to the Stonington town cemetery to pay my respects and walk among the headstones of veterans and the small American flags and metal service medallions that had been placed at those gravestones by the groups that recognize how important it is to always acknowledge our veterans and their families.
The cemetery is located inland–given the literalist approach of Stonington street namers, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s found on Cemetery Road–and it is neatly kept, regularly mowed and maintained, and surrounded by towering trees. Like many cemeteries, it is a quiet, peaceful place. A misty, rain-shrouded morning, as this one was, was a good time to visit and reflect on the veterans who served and to say a silent “thank you” for the sacrifices they and their families have made on behalf of all of us.
Deer Isle, where Stonington is located, has a long tradition of military service. It was mentioned several times in the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War, and the Stonington cemetery reflects that tradition of service. There were gravestones for Civil War veterans–the headstone in the foreground of the photograph above is of John M. Gookin, who served in Company B of the 7th Maine Infantry, a volunteer regiment that fought at Antietam, Gettysburg, and most of the other major Civil War battles in the east theater, as part of the Army of the Potomac–and there are markers that indicate that some of those who are laid to rest in the burial ground served in just about every war since. The many small American flags and medallions that were visible in the mist demonstrate that Deer Isle has held up its end of the bargain involved in living in a free society. Sometimes, unfortunately, our soldiers and sailors and pilots must fight for our freedoms.
Thank you to those who serve, those who have served, and the families that have supported them in their service. America really can’t thank you enough.
My destination on my jaunt down Indian Point Road this morning was the place the locals call the beaver pond. It probably has a different, official name, but nobody uses it. The beavers have exercised adverse possession—you can see their two ramshackle lodges that look like wood piles across the pond—and they have acquired de facto naming rights in the process.
The pond is a mile or so down the road, after it veers from the shoreline and meanders inland into some piney forest. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and your timing is right, you’ll see the beavers swimming in the pond, hauling wood to the lodge, or gnawing away at the wood at their lodge, and if you’re really lucky they might notice you and slap their flat tails on the surface of the water and then swim away in a huff. This morning, though, I didn’t see any of the critters. I expect they were keeping themselves warm in their lodges, probably enjoying a warming cup of coffee before getting to work.
Kish says I am a creature of habit. She’s absolutely right, of course: I’m about as wedded to routine as any non-OCD human could be. But every once in a while I like to mix things up a bit.
Today, I decided to vary my walking route. It’s a cold, damp day in Stonington with lots of rain in the forecast, and I wanted to get a decent amount of exercise before the raindrops start falling. So when I reached the top of the Granite Road hill I turned right, rather than my customary left, and rambled down Indian Point Road, heading away from downtown. It’s a winding street the hugs the shoreline then jogs inland.
It was low tide, which means the scenery looks a lot different than it does at high tide. I liked this vista of a homeowner’s dock left high and dry by the retreating seawater, pointing out at the boats at anchor and the many small islands in the harbor.
If you like purple—and who doesn’t?—Stonington is a great place to visit right now. The lupines have bloomed earlier than their traditional Father’s Day arrival, and the vast majority of them are purple. Couple the lupines with the lilac bushes and their fragrant purple flowers, and you have a sweet-smelling purple festival in the works.
Why have the lupines arrived early? Some locals say it’s because we’ve gotten less rain than usual, some say it’s because it’s been sunnier than normal, and some say Mother Nature just decided to give us a post-COVID break and let us enjoy some pretty flowers earlier than she usually does.
The other day I called up Google on my phone to do a quick search. As always happens, clickbait articles popped up, including this one on Yahoo about Harry Windsor sharing some new photos of his son and reporting on some of his child’s first words.
You remember Harry, I’m sure. He’s the guy who moved to the United States from the U.K. because he desperately wanted to get away from the suffocating attention paid to him and his extended family and go his own way with his wife and child. But poor Harry seems confused. He doesn’t seem to get the notion that if you want to live a private life and make it on your own, you need to actually live a private life. That means not giving interviews with famous celebrities and participating in docuseries and sharing details about your life that are sure to attract more of the public attention that you claim to abhor.
Harry’s evident problem is that he seem to really like the attention, which he’s gotten his entire life. But it has to be the right kind of attention. Positive attention is just fine with Harry, but negative attention, or any criticism, makes him wonder why journalists and paparazzi and commentators can’t just leave him and his family alone.
Harry’s approach reminds me of our kitchen screen door during the summer months when I was a kid. We didn’t have air conditioning, so the only way to get air circulation in the house on a hot summer’s day was to open the inner door and let any precious breeze come through the outer screen door. But with five children in the family and a neighborhood that was chock full of rug rats, kids were constantly going in and out through the door, which had one of those spring devices that made it shut with a loud metallic clang. After putting up with a few dozen unsettling bangs, Mom would say, in exasperation: “In or out?”
And that notion applies equally to Harry. When it comes to celebrity status, you’re in or you’re out. If you want privacy, live privately. But if you crave some of that celebrity adulation, don’t come around whining when somebody makes a joke at your expense or raises questions about whether you are profiting from your family connections.
In deference to Harry’s tender sensibilities, I haven’t included a photo of him with this post, and because I’m writing this in America, where we don’t have titles–except for nicknames, like the Sultan of Swat or the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air–I’ll just call him Harry Windsor. And in further deference to Harry’s apparent wishes, I also promise that I will never write about him again.
I’m always astonished at how far you can see on the clear days in Stonington. On the last part of my morning walk I climb Pink Street, which winds ever upward, cross School Street by the old schoolhouse that is now a community center, and then jog over to the aptly named Highland Avenue. That street bends in the direction of the harbor and, after you pass a few homes, stacks of lobster traps, and piles of lobster buoys, you suddenly emerge into the open, far above the harbor and the houses on Main Street below, and are rewarded for your climb up Pink Street with the sweeping vista shown above.
Standing at that point and trying to take it all in, you feel like you can see for miles—and you can. Isle au haut, the island with the notch in it in the background, is about 6 miles away from this point. And all of the islands and boats in the foreground are so distinct you can see individual people moving on the boats and individual trees on the islands rustling in the breeze.
It’s as if you’ve never really seen something clearly before. On clear days like this one I always wear sunglasses because everything is so breathtakingly bright.
Writers whose prose can reliably make me laugh out loud—really, audibly laugh, and not just smile and think “LOL”—are rarer than hen’s teeth. David Sedaris is one. Bill Bryson is definitely another.
I picked up Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid from the Stonington Public Library and it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s hysterical. Bryson, who is the “Thunderbolt Kid” of the title, recounts his life growing up in Iowa during the ‘50s, and no detail is too small to mine for laughs. His Mom’s failed cooking and absent-mindedness, his Dad’s cheapness, the throngs of kids in the neighborhood, his weird relatives, what he ate, what he watched on TV, and disturbing incidents from his youth—like the time his Mom made him wear his sister’s Capri pants to school—all are recalled in hilarious fashion.
And Bryson also artfully weaves in humorous, and interesting, information about the America of the ‘50s, with its passion for cars, television, major appliances, atomic bombs, new products good and bad, and producing more babies to feed that Baby Boom. It was a time when Americans routinely accepted risks without a second glance, doctors advertised cigarettes, every town had its own stores, restaurants, and ways of doing things, and many of the devices and practices that we now take for granted didn’t exist. It’s fascinating stuff about an innocent America that is gone forever and will resonate with people, like me, who really grew up in the ‘60s.
If you think about it, many of us had childhoods that featured failed meals, oddball relatives, strange TV shows, and other topics that could be recounted in a funny way—if we only had the talents of Bill Bryson. Until that happens, I recommend reading this book and enjoying some hearty laughter.
We had an interesting sunrise this morning. The sky was cloud-covered, but the clouds were thin enough to allow a fair amount of sunlight to illuminate the harbor. The diffuse sunlight left the water looking like hammered metal and cast all of the boats resting at anchor into shadow, thereby creating a landscape that, with a battleship gray dock in the foreground, covered pretty much every shade of gray in the gray rainbow–from pewter to slate, lead, flint, charcoal, dove, and every other shade of gray you can imagine.
It was a beautiful scene as I stood there at the edge of the expansive dock in the early morning stillness and quietly took in all of the awesome, overwhelming grayness. I like this picture of the scene very much, but even so it doesn’t fully capture the live moment.
We’ve had a bit of a coffee quandary in our household recently. The nagging question was about the size of our coffee pot.
We admit it: we like coffee and drinks quarts, if not gallons, of it each week. But that reality doesn’t really address the optimal pot size issue.
We had a small Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, shown above at right. The pot indicates it makes four cups of coffee, if you fill the pot to the brim, but that’s pretty misleading. Coffee pot “cups” are as arbitrarily undersized as the mysterious “servings” you see described on food packaging. This particular pot might hold four dainty cups that could be sipped by effete French elves, but it basically made enough for one steaming American mug of the black brew. It wasn’t wasteful, because we promptly drank every drop in the fresh pot, but we ended up making new pots constantly and walking around with partially filled cups so everyone could get their share of that precious caffeine. This clearly was not an ideal situation.
So we upped our game to the 12-cup Black and Decker model, which makes more than enough coffee to fill three cups—the kind with handles that you actually find in your cupboard—and more besides. We’re making fewer fresh pots of coffee, for sure, but estimating proper water intake to get the right pot size under the circumstances is more of a challenge. With the shrimpy model, you made a full pot every time, but the increased pot size requires careful consideration of your household’s likely coffee intake over the next hour or so. You’re aiming for the sweet spot that allows everyone to drink their fill of joe without leaving that remainder in the pot that boils down to an oil-like sludge that will curl your teeth if consumed. (Of course, on some days that oil-like sludge is precisely what you need to get that extra jolt.)
So, big honker, or elfin? All told, I’ll go for the bigger pot.
Richard continues to rack up some impressive clips. Earlier this month he had a piece published in the Washington Post about the controversy swirling around the Alamo, and now he has co-written, with Edgar Sandoval, a piece in the New York Times about the impact of SpaceX and its rocket launch site on the tiny community of Boca Chica, Texas, and towns like Brownsville that are in the vicinity. You can find a link to the Times article, entitled “A Serene Shore Resort, Except for the SpaceX ‘Ball of Fire,'” here.
Getting articles in two of the country’s leading newspapers is a terrific accomplishment. Congratulations, Richard!
And the article by Edgar and Richard in the Times raises an interesting and really difficult question: what is the price of progress for a community like Boca Chica, and how do you balance economic development and jobs creation against the impact it may have on individuals?
Every where you turn in Stonington, you’re likely to see lobster buoys—the colorful plastic bobbers that float on the surface of the water and mark where a lobster trap can be found on the ocean floor below. The lobster buoys have different color combinations so the lobster captains can easily identify their traps as they chug alongside in their boats to haul them up.
When the buoys aren’t in the water, though, what should you do with them? Some people pile them in colorful heaps on their property. Others, like this homeowner, make more creative use of the buoys. Why have a plain old chain-link fence when you can have an explosion of color to mark your your property line?
The old saying is that all politics is local. That’s definitely true in Stonington, where residents recently had an in-person town meeting at the local baseball field, so as to allow appropriate social distancing. At the meeting, the attendees discussed and voted on a number of issues. One of them was what whether to proceed with the town purchasing the building shown above.
It’s the former meeting hall for the local chapter of the International Order of Odd Fellows, located on the western edge of Stonington’s small downtown area. There aren’t many Odd Fellows left in Stonington, so the organization offered to sell the building to the town. Town officials were supportive of the idea and put it on the agenda for the town meeting, where residents voted to approve the purchase.
Why would residents vote to approve the acquisition of an old fraternal organization building? One of the arguments was to keep it out of the hands of a buyer who would turn it into a personal residence, thereby further hemming in the commercial area of town. And while the building may need a lot of work—a point made by opponents of the purchase—the property sits on precious waterfront and includes an old dock, both of which could give rise to commercial uses.
The cost of the building to taxpayers is initially estimated to be $525,000, which is a lot of money for a small town. Town officials are exploring the possibility of getting federal and state aid to help pay for the purchase and the necessary refurbishing work, and also are working on potential uses for the building.
It’s a tough issue. The Odd Fellows’ Hall could turn out to be a white elephant that puts a crimp in the city budget, but towns like Stonington need to preserve their commercial areas, too. It’s a risk, of course, but it’s reasonable to believe that some business somewhere will see the potential of a building that commands a great view of the harbor and will turn a derelict venue into a functioning contributor to life in downtown Stonington. The voters at the town meeting see an opportunity. Now we’ll keep an eye on that building to see if the opportunity is realized.
Yesterday I went to the annual Deer Isle Garden Club plant sale. The event gave me a chance to combine two of my interests: gardening and supporting local organizations that help to bring our communities together. The proceeds of this particular sale benefited the garden club and its work to maintain Mariners Memorial Park here on the island.
Garden club plant sales are pretty cool, in my view. The garden club members grow the plants that are being sold themselves, and the plants are identified by carefully hand-lettered signs, often put on popsicle sticks or plastic picnic knives with a Sharpie. And the club members who are staffing the shows are all passionate about their gardening and happy to offer friendly advice about whether a particular plant is right for you. It’s a great experience for a beginner-level gardener like me.
The sale started at 10 a.m. yesterday, but when I got there at 10 o’clock sharp the sale was already overrun with eager gardeners looking for the perfect plant for that empty spot in their garden. I’d say the plant shoppers were like a host of locusts, except gardeners don’t like to use that “l” word. As I nosed around, getting some guidance from one of the club members, I chatted with other locals and we swapped stories about last year’s deer herd ravages. I ended up buying a big heliopsis plant that is supposed to produce abundant yellow flowers in August—that’s it, post-planting, in the photograph above—some spider plants to fill in the little stairstep beds in the down yard, and two day lilies, which seem to do very well in this climate zone.
Kudos to the Deer Isle Garden Club for a great plant sale and for the work they do at the park. And when next year’s show rolls around, I’m going to get there early.
When I first started going out to eat, and for most of my dining career, restaurants didn’t seem to pay much attention to the presentation of the food on the plate, or the design or decoration of the table, or the decor of the restaurant itself. You might get a sprig of parsley on your plate next to the baked potato as you sat in a dim room, but that’s about it.
The American foodie scene has changed all that—and how. In addition to offering fresh, local food that is packed with flavor, modern restaurants pay much more attention to the whole eating experience, from the point of entry to the end of the meal. The holistic approach makes for a far more enjoyable, and interesting, dining experience, where you can’t help but admire and appreciate the effort that has gone into making sure that your meal is a wonderful time.
Aragosta, where we went for a fantastic meal last night, is at the top of the line when it comes to attention to detail. From the bright interior and huge windows that leave the dining room bathed in light and present a terrific view of Goose Cove, to the little touches like the delicate fresh flowers on the table, to the presentation of the excellent food on the plate, the chef and proprietors have thoughtfully considered every detail. And the plates themselves—shown here by photographs of two of our courses from our meal last night—are like individual works of art, featuring beautifully arranged rocks, mosses, shells, ferns, pine cones, white birch bark, and other accent pieces—all of it local. I’ve never been to Japan, but I expect that the experience of dining at Aragosta is a lot like eating in a fine Japanese restaurant.
I’m an old codger who has to resist reflexively thinking that things were better way back when. But I have no hesitation in saying that the experience of dining out in America has improved tremendously during my lifetime, and is light years better now than it was in the ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s. Aragosta is exhibit A in support of that conclusion.