About webnerbob

A Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan who lives in Columbus, Ohio

The Great Unmasking (Cont.)

Yesterday I was on the road and in an airport for the first time in months. It was my first exposure to a mandatory mask environment after weeks of mask-free or at most temporary entry/exit masking on Deer Isle, where you see fewer and fewer people—residents or tourists—wearing their masks. I adjusted to a no-mask existence pretty easily and quickly, so being back in a mandatory mask environment was a bit jarring.

My travel day got messed up due to mechanical and weather issues, so I spent a lot of time in airport concourses, watching the world go by. And based on one day’s experience I’d say people are a lot laxer about masking now than they were at the height of the pandemic.

In part, I think this is due to the reopening of most businesses in the airport concourses, especially food businesses. Once you plant your behind in a chair in an airport restaurant or bar, you’re magically freed from the mask mandate. It’s kind of weird to think that food consumption creates a magical no-mask zone, but it’s a recognized loophole and people were taking advantage of it. I had dinner in a typical pub/restaurant place in Reagan National, and it was packed with people, crammed into seating areas that, like every airport dining option, was set up to leave you elbow-to-elbow with other patrons, and everyone had their masks off, chatting and laughing and inches away from unmasked strangers. No one seemed troubled by that. And yet, when you leave that magical mask-free zone, you’ve got to mask up again. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it makes me wonder if patrons are lingering longer, or consuming more, just to enjoy a few minutes more of unfettered breathing. I would guess it is boom times for all airport bars and eateries.

And speaking of consumption, travelers seemed to be taking advantage of the food consumption loophole to doff the mask and chow down in the gate areas, too. I saw one guy buying an armload of every kind of junk food you can imagine being sold by an airport concourse outlet—chips, soda, popcorn, jerky, cookies, and candy—and later saw him, mask off, noshing away on his calorie hoard. Others had bought take -out from fast food places and were taking their time and enjoying multiple gulps of maskless air as they ever-so-slowly ate their food. And one guy at National casually walked around, mask cinched up on his upper arm, carrying a cup of airport coffee, as if holding a beverage and taking a sip every few minutes excused him from mask requirements. He talked to a gate agent for a while without masking and she didn’t call him on it, either.

In this food loophole setting, the dire broadcasts over the loudspeakers about wearing only approved masks (no “gaiters”!) and being disciplined for not fully complying with mask mandates seem almost antique. Airports and airplanes will be the last bastion of masking, but I wonder how long it will be before they give it up. Yesterday’s food exception experience suggests the population is ready to bare their faces and accept the consequences.

Driftwood

One of the great incidental benefits of living in a seaside community is driftwood.

I like pretty much everything about driftwood—starting with its name. It’s not “washed-up wood,” it’s driftwood—as if it has been out for a pleasant journey, leaving the forest behind, taking its time and seeing the sights, without a care in the world. And the physical characteristics of driftwood reflect its ocean journey. Driftwood has a special feel. Its bark has been washed away, and the water and salt and sun and wind exposure somehow have left the driftwood with a smooth, silky feel. It’s warm to the touch, but also feels lighter than branches of similar size, as if its waterborne experience has sucked the weight away, leaving just the essential sturdiness behind. It’s one reason why gnarled pieces of driftwood make great walking sticks.

And the other great thing about driftwood is its innate air of mystery. Where did it come from, and how far has it traveled, and how long did it take for it to reach its destination on a rocky beach? Consider this huge piece of driftwood, below, that we saw on the beach at Barred Island this past weekend. From the notching, it’s clear it has been shaped by human hands for some purpose—but what? We’ll never know for sure, which makes it all the more interesting.

That Ol’ Marigold Magic

Beneath my veneer of civilized rationality, deep down in the ancient, primordial part of my consciousness, I admit that I am a believer in curses and jinxes. Being a Cleveland sports fan, how could it be otherwise?

So, I really hesitate to say this for fear that the fickle Gardening Gods will lash out and punish me for my heresy, but . . . the marigold approach to the deer problem seems to be working. Following up on local knowledge tips from local gardeners, I planted dozens of marigolds at strategic locations in the side yard and the down yard. They’ve all come in well and are pleasantly fragrant–which is supposed to be what keeps the sensitive deer, which purportedly don’t like the smell of marigolds, away from flower, plants, and shrubs. And, so far at least, the deer have avoided our yard.

The area in the crack between the two gigantic boulders in the down yard is a good example. It’s the spot that is farthest away from our house and close to a small creek, so it’s prime deer territory. Last year the deer repeatedly ravaged the plants in the crack and chewed the daisy in the foreground, just behind the marigolds, down to the ground. The other plants in the crack experienced similar depredations. But this year, the deer have stayed away, and the plants are looking much better.

Of course, it’s always difficult to determine cause and effect. Is it that old marigold magic, or is it the fact that the deer have found some other food source, or the fact that we’ve got a dog living in the house now, or the fact that the deer herd has migrated to a different part of the island, or something else? I don’t know for sure, obviously, but based on our experience this year marigolds are going to be a perennial (pun intended) part of the planting mix going forward. And they look nice, too.

The Path To Barred Island

They say that timing is everything. In the case of the hike to Barred Island, that’s literally true.

We’ve taken the rooty trail out to Barred Island multiple times, but when we’ve reached the vantage point of the photo above we’ve always encountered a full channel of frigid, leg-numbing seawater—which is why it’s called Barred Island. But on our hike on Sunday, we timed our arrival perfectly, and instead of seawater we found that at low tide a sandy, golden path had appeared, beckoning us over to Barred Island itself.

Once we got to the little island we learned that there were no interior trails, because of an ongoing restoration project. The only option for the visitor is to scramble around the shoreline, which can be treacherous due to slick, algae-covered rocks along the channel separating the island from the mainland. You really have to watch your step, and our sturdy, gripping hiking shoes came in handy.

Once you turn the corner and start to circle the island, the rocks—primarily striated granite—become larger, sun-baked, and a lot easier to navigate. In this area of the shoreline we saw a small furry critter—perhaps an otter?—scampering among the rocks. At this point of the circumnavigation of the island, you begin to see the other islands, and the lighthouse out in the Penobscot Bay.

On the far side of the island, the big rocks give way to a stunning collection of different kinds of smaller rocks, which meant that careful attention to path planning and foot placement was important. It was fun to hop from rock to rock and enjoy the colorful mosaic of the different colored rocks in the bright sunshine. If you like rocks and subtle colors, it’s a very cool area.

Following the shoreline inevitably took us back to the sandy spit linking the island to the mainland. We were glad we timed our visit so as to finally allow us to cross over to Barred Island and see what it had to offer. And speaking of timing, as we noticed the sun moving slowly toward the western horizon and glimmering brilliantly on the water, after a full day of yard work and hiking, we decided the timing was also perfect for some soft-serve ice cream.

Wildflower World

Early June is a pretty time in Stonington and throughout Deer Isle, thanks to the wildflowers that have just started to bloom. This hillside next to the Stonington Opera House is typical. The slopes are too steep to tend, so it’s a survival of the fittest battle between the weeds and the wildflowers. Fortunately, sometimes the wildflowers win.

The “Knowledge Check”

Our firm requires everyone to take data security training from time to time. A few days ago I began completing the modules that make up the training. When I finished the first module, I was invited to click on a link that said “knowledge check.”

“Knowledge check”? I hoped, forlornly, that that meant the data security company would be sending me a check for paying rapt attention during the training, but that hope was unfortunately in vain. When I clicked on the link it became clear that the “knowledge check” did not involve the transfer of funds, but instead was a test–more of a “pop quiz,” really–to see whether I’d paid attention during the training module I just completed.

So what’s up with calling it a “knowledge check’? Are they afraid that people would be overwhelmed by the prospect of taking a “test” to see whether they had assimilated the lessons from the training? “Test anxiety” is a real issue for some people, but if you could solve it by using “knowledge check” rather than “test,” “exam,” or “quiz” every school in the United States would long ago have made that change. Coming up with a new euphemism doesn’t change the fact that you have to answer questions and you get a grade at the end depending on how you’ve responded. Anyone with test anxiety is going to recognize the “knowledge check” as a test, no matter what you call it.

Somewhere, someone sits around and comes up with these innocuous, and often ridiculous, euphemisms to replace perfectly good, and typically much more clear, words. Whoever came up with “knowledge check” comes from the same school that decided “sanitation engineer” sounds better than “garbage man” and “downsizing” is more socially acceptable than “firing.”

And the process goes on. Yesterday I saw an article with a headline contending that people should stop “networking” and start “relationship marketing.” Leaving aside that “relationship marketing” is a pretty awkward phrase that sounds like how a gigolo might describe what he does for a living, now we’ve got someone seeking to replace one euphemism with another. When will it end?

This Weekend’s Project

I like having a good weekend project. I think having a project to work on, sprinkled in with some fun stuff, makes the weekend seem longer. And if it’s an outdoor project that allows you to see the visible fruits of your labors on Sunday night, so much the better.

Fortunately—or unfortunately depending on your perspective—our down yard provides an endless supply of such projects. One ongoing problem area is found at the base of the big granite outcropping in the middle of the yard. It quickly becomes weed-infested, because it can’t be mowed with all of the big rocks, and it also floods after a heavy rain, due to the rocks just below the surface. The flooding makes it impossible to grow pretty much anything, except weeds and a hearty fern plant I’ve been cultivating. So this weekend’s project was to weed out the area between the rocks, dig out as many rocks as possible to increase drainage, and level out the soil to expose more of the big rocks and reduce pooling of rainwater. The last step would be to cover the area with a dark mulch to highlight the colors of the ferns and rocks and (hopefully) discourage rampant weed growth while giving the ferns a chance to flourish.

Fortunately, the weather fully cooperated with my plans. I pulled out bucket after bucket of weeds, dug out countless rocks, broke up the soil, leveled out the sloping, and then mulched until I ran out of mulch. I also got sunburned on the back of my neck. There’s still work to be done, but I’m happy with how it looks—so far. The acid test will come when we get a good rain and get a chance to see how the area drains, and whether all of that mulch gets washed out.

If that happens, it will just mean another weekend project.

Day’s End In Castine

We drove over to Castine to grab some food and listen to some live music. Castine is a pretty seaside town that is a lot bigger than Stonington. And Castine is very much of a recreational boating town , whereas the boats in Stonington’s harbor are almost all working craft.

Usually the Castine harbor is filled with sailboats and motorboats. By the end of the day, however, the boats are gone, and the harbor seemed vast and totally empty under a yawning sky that was trending towards twilight—except for one rogue boat.

Framed By The Fog Bank

We haven’t had a lot of fog in Stonington so far this summer. Earlier this week, though, a fog bank that was a real pea souper rolled in and thoroughly blanketed our little promontory on the Greenhead peninsula. Last night it was clear, but when Betty and I went for our walk this morning, it became obvious the fog hadn’t gone away—it just withdrew to a more strategic position offshore, creating a situation where it was bright and sunny ashore but grey and obscured on the bay. When we passed the mailboat dock, we could see the fog out there, squatting on the surface of the water, clutching the more distant boats in tendrils of mist, and making it impossible to see even the nearby islands in the harbor.

On days like this it’s hard not to think of the fog as being almost like a living thing.

Lupinalia

I’ve been working hard on the lupines in front of our house this year, and have been careful about weeding and watering and trying to do whatever I can to make them thrive. I’m happy to report that my efforts have been rewarded, as both of the big plants are doing well and have produced lots of blooms, which will mean lots of lupine seeds to harvest come August.

In fact, the lupine tending has been so successful that other lupines have taken root in the front of the house and seem to be doing well, too. That’s good news for me, because I think the lupines are pretty cool plants and look especially good against the rock outcroppings next to our front door.

Cane Fighting

For some reason–probably having to do with my birth date–I received a notice on Google, or Facebook, or some other on-line source about this book on Amazon: Cane Fighting: The Authoritative Guide to Using a Cane or Walking Stick for Self-Defense. I imagine that there is no surer sign of advancing age than being prompted to buy a book that schools you on how to ward off attackers with the cane that you are assumed to be using.

In Victorian times, using a cane for self-defense wasn’t limited to the elderly. Many British gents carried walking sticks as part of their regular high-class ensemble, and if you’ve read the Sherlock Holmes stories you’ll recall Holmes and Watson intentionally taking their “sticks” along on their adventures, so they could lay into any ruffians that might accost them as they rambled along on London’s foggy streets in search of clues. Alas, social affectations have changed, and healthy adults now typically don’t walk around with canes or walking sticks, ready to start thrashing away at any attackers.

Instead, these days canes and walking sticks seem to be limited to two categories of people: hikers who are out on a hike, and the elderly and infirm. You wouldn’t think that hikers in the wilderness would need to use Cane Fighting techniques against others they might encounter on the trails, although these days, I guess, you never know. Instead, the notion of using canes for self-defense seems to be reserved for people who actually need canes to help them stay upright as they are out and about. And the book I got the prompt about isn’t alone in this area–there is lots of information on the web about cane fighting. As the step-by-step illustration above about the “defensive two-handed jab” to an assailant’s chest indicates, there is even a “Cane Masters International Association” that has identified and catalogued specific cane fighting moves.

The problem with the idea of cane fighting is that it basically presupposes two things: the person using the cane probably didn’t need it in the first place, and therefore isn’t going to topple over while they employ the “defensive two-handed jab” or another quick-moving maneuver, and the assailant will be standing still while the tottering grandpa makes his big move. I’m not sure how valid those assumptions actually are. And why worry about a specific move if you can just start whaling away at any attacker and clouting them about the head and shoulders until they go away or are disabled by laughter at your feeble efforts?

We’ve actually got a cane or two that we’ve inherited, and keep them in an umbrella stand in our front hallway. Maybe it’s time to get them out, buy this book, and work on a little cane fu, just in case.

Maskambiguity

To mask, or not to mask? That is the question.

We’re in the midst of the transitional period after the COVID pandemic, when you don’t know quite what you’re supposed to do in the masking department when you go into a commercial establishment. Some of the places on Deer Isle have signs that ask the unvaccinated to wear a mask, tell you that masks are optional for everyone else, but then include a kind of generic, bland exhortation about masks “keeping everyone safe.” It’s as if the signs are designed to maximize mushy maskambiguity, a word that I just made up.

Does the proprietor of an establishment with that kind of sign really want the vaccinated among us to wear a mask as a kind of social nicety, or are they just trying to just cover all the bases and not upset the pro-mask and anti-mask factions in our society? In view of a sign like that, if you wear a mask, are you indicating that you are unvaccinated? And then, often, you go into the place, and the employees may not be wearing masks but some of the patrons are, or the employees are masked but the most of the customers aren’t. And you might see a masked person in the midst of shopping glance around furtively, assess the masking quotient in the establishment at that point in time, see that most people aren’t wearing masks, and remove their mask and wonder why they ever put it on in the first place.

I’ll look forward to the day when the maskambiguity is gone, and no one is wearing masks or is expected to wear masks. Until then, I appreciate places that give you clear mask instructions. One place in downtown Stonington frankly states that everyone who enters the store right now must wear a mask, period. I don’t have a problem with that. If the proprietor feels more comfortable with masked customers for now, that’s their call. It may take a while for people to get used to the idea of unmasked people in an enclosed space again, and that’s okay. But at least they should be clear about what they want.

Sunset Lobster At The Burnt Cove Boil

Tonight we paid our first visit of the summer to the Burnt Cove Boil. This classic outdoor venue operated by owner Jake McCarty became a favorite of ours last year, and I’m happy to report that it’s still terrific.

Why is the Burnt Cove Boil great? For one, you get a great view looking straight west at the sun setting over the islands in Penobscot Bay. For another, you eat sitting outside at picnic tables, and there’s just something fun and kind of magical about eating outside on a cool evening. And for still another, the natural remains of your meal get tossed back into the water, to return to the marine ecosystem. If you don’t think it’s fun to fling an oyster shell or crab claw or lobster tail into the seawater after you’ve finished with it, you’ve got another think coming.

But here’s the best thing about BCB: the food is excellent, and Jake is a great host. Tonight we started with local oysters, followed by stone crab caught about a mile away, then corn on the cob and lobsters caught just offshore. Everything was absolutely fresh, and that’s a big part of the reason why it was delicious. We used some rocks —also local—to crack open shells and made a merry mess of our picnic table.

While we waited for our next course to cool we enjoyed the quiet of the cove and the setting sun reflected on the water next to our table. The sky had cleared a bit and it was pleasantly warm in the sunshine. It wasn’t a bad view, either.

By the time our lobster arrived our paper trays were pretty well drenched, but we carried on anyway, ripping the steaming lobsters to shreds in search of every last morsel of succulent lobster meat. And after the lobster came the piece de resistance—individually wrapped ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

By the time we polished off our ice cream sandwiches and took our last swigs of Allagash White, the sun was a blaze of golden glory sinking low to the west and the seagulls were bobbing on the surface of the water. it was a beautiful scene to top off a great meal.

“Yes,” we thought, “we’ll come here again.”

Pent-Up Demand

Our local newspaper, Island Ad-Vantages, reported in its most recent edition that it’s looking like it could be a very good year for the Stonington and Deer Isle tourist businesses. An article said that the “summer people”–that is, the visitors and part-time residents who drive the tourist part of the local economy–have come to Deer Isle earlier than ever before, and the hotels and motels are reporting full bookings. I got visual confirmation of that when I walked past Boyce’s Motel in downtown Stonington over the weekend and saw its “no vacancy” sign.

The owner of Boyce’s Motel is quoted in the article as attributing the surge in visitors and reservations to what he calls “revenge travel,” in which people who have been staying put at home make a special effort to get out and about. My sense, too, is that there is a pent-up demand that was created during the prolonged shutdown period, and people now just want to get away from the too-familiar surroundings where they waited out the COVID pandemic. And taking a trip to get a welcome change of scenery is a good way to make a personal statement, to yourself and to the world at large, that as far as you are concerned things are getting back to normal.

Whatever the cause, the increased tourist traffic is good news for the town and those businesses who suffered through a lean lockdown year in 2020. I’m hoping to see a lot of that “no vacancy” sign this year.