The Great Post Cap Mystery

Recently we noticed that the post cap on one of our fence posts was missing. The post cap is that bulb-like fitting that sits atop the fence post and is designed to have both an ornamental and a practical function. The ornamental element is the sphere that helps to give the fence a pleasant and more finished appearance, and the practical function is to keep water from getting into the interior of the post and rusting it out.

We wondered how the post cap was removed, and what happened to it. I looked around in the front beds and the general vicinity to see whether I could find it, but had no success. Columbia Gas workers have been working on gas lines and using heavy machinery on the street, and I thought perhaps they had inadvertently knocked into the fence post and dislodged the post cap, and someone had picked it up as a random item on the street. Whatever the reason, we knew we would have to get a new post cap to protect the fence post, and were trying to figure our who to call or where to go to get that done.

But this weekend the mystery deepened. When we returned from a walk, we noticed that the post cap had been restored securely to its rightful place. Where had it been, and who replaced it, is anyone’s guess. It has markings on it that could reveal a collision with construction equipment, but for all I know the markings have been there for years. (I confess that I had not previously carefully inspected the post caps of our fence.) The post cap might have been returned by a member of the construction crew, or perhaps it was found by a neighbor. No note was left to explain the post cap’s absence.

Wherever the post cap had been, and whoever was the Good Samaritan, we’re just glad it’s back. Who knows? Maybe 2020 isn’t that bad after all.

Shuffle Season

Good news — Shuffle Season is upon us.

Shuffle Season is that rare, all-too-brief time of year when the trees have dropped some — but not all — of their leaves. There is color in the canopy of leaves above and color on the ground and sidewalks below. And when you reach a stretch of leaf-covered sidewalk, the temptation to shuffle your feet through those drying leaves, to hear the rustle and crackle and crunch, and to kick some leaves into the air and let your inner kid loose, is irresistible.

I’m just old enough to remember when people routinely raked their leaves into leaf piles, let their kids play in the piles for a bit, and then raked the pile to the curb and burned the leaves. The authorities ultimately outlawed the burning, but I remember liking the distinctive autumnal smell of those burning leaves. The specific spicy smell is no doubt stored deep in my amygdala.

I’m too old now to play in leaf piles, but I can still enjoy Shuffle Season and those dried sidewalk leaves. You can, too.

Back To Ohio

We completed our trip back to Ohio yesterday, returning to the Buckeye State after an absence of four and a half months. As we rolled under the curious new Ohio border sign — offering its curt and cryptic instruction to “find it here,” without even a friendly “welcome” or “how do you do?” or the exclamation points and promises of excitement you see in other state border signs — the chords of The Pretenders’ Back to Ohio echoed in my head.

This last four months has easily been the longest continuous Ohio-free period I’ve experienced in at least 35 years, and maybe for my entire lifetime. As we rolled toward German Village, Kish and I wondered if we had been gone from Ohio for four months straight during the years we lived in Washington, D.C. — when we often came back to Ohio for holidays, family gatherings, or birthday, graduation, or anniversary celebrations. If we didn’t hit the four-month mark during our D.C. years, then we’ve just set personal records.

And, it being 2020, the four months we’ve been gone from Columbus has been a pretty momentous period, too. We missed a downtown riot and periods of unrest, the closure of favorite restaurants, the sale of the Golden Hobby building down the block, and continuing struggles to deal with the coronavirus. Stonington, Maine is pretty removed from all of that — that’s kind of the goal when you go to Maine — and I wondered what, exactly, we would find when we got back to Columbus.

When we reached German Village, we found that our normal entrance way was torn up due to the ongoing construction projects at Children’s Hospital, and our street was partially closed thanks to a Columbia Gas rerouting effort. I had to parallel park for the first time in a long while, but we were glad to find our place still standing and were also pleased to see that, pandemic or not, our neighbors in the Village have made some improvements. After we unpacked, made the beds, wiped the dust off the counters, and settled in to watch some TV, I realized that Ohio still felt very much like home to me. Maybe that’s the “it” the sign was telling me to find.

A Great Day For A Hike

The weather gods looked kindly upon us today, giving us one last beautiful day in Stonington before we head back to Columbus. The skies were clear, the sunlight sparkled on the waters of the Penobscot Bay, and the temperature hovered around 60. It was a perfect day to hike the trails of the Settlement Quarry and take in a breathtaking view — and we weren’t the only ones who thought so.

A day like this makes you sad to leave, but eager to return.

The Deer Get The Last Laugh

Thursday night the Montauk daisy buds were out in force and on the cusp of blooming —finally!—and the only question in my mind was whether we would see the plant in its full-flowered glory before we returned to Columbus.

But when I awoke on Friday morning I found that the marauding band of deer had paid us an overnight visit, come right up to the stairs, and chewed off dozens of the buds, leaving only one or two sad and shaken reminders of what the daisy could have been. And so two of the principal gardening storylines of the summer — the Great Deer Battle of 2020 and the Waiting for Godot-like delay in the blooming of the Montauk daisy — have coalesced, weeks of anticipation have been dashed, and the thuggish deer herd of the Greenhead peninsula has had the last laugh. May those white tailed reprobates be consigned to some flowerless hell!

But one battle does not determine a war, and the deer’s triumph in 2020 just means I will have to redouble my deer resistance efforts in 2021. I guess you should plan on that when you decide to try gardening in a place called Deer Isle. In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for the hunters of Deer Isle to shoot straight and true when deer season rolls around in a few weeks. In this clash, I could use some allies.

The 2020 Garage And Yard Sale Report

2020 has been a bad year in more ways than we can count, but it’s been a pretty productive year for us in terms of garage and yard sale acquisitions.  After an early slack period in deference to the coronavirus, the ads for sales started to appear in the local paper, and by the end of the summer the Stonington-Deer Isle area was back to its normal complement of Saturday sales.

I’m not the big garage sale expert in our household — Kish and Russell are the true aficionados — but in my limited experience there are two types of people who put on garage or yard sales.  In the first category are people who are really hoping to make a lot of money on their unwanted items.  The people in this category tend to overprice their stuff, not fully realizing that it is, after all, unwanted stuff of dubious provenance that doesn’t carry any special memories or value for the potential buyer who is just looking for a bargain on a used item.  The people in this category tend to be kind of stiff and rigid.  The other category features people who just want to get rid of stuff, have put an ad in the paper in hopes that people will stop by and take stuff away, and have priced everything to sell.  I like garage sales put on by people in the second category better.  Last weekend, we went to a sale put on by some people who were leaving to move to a different state, and after chatting with them for a while they were basically trying to give us stuff just so they could get rid of it and not have to cart it to their new house.  

Garage and yard sales are interesting for a lot of reasons.  One reason is that they show you, in tangible form, just how much stuff people tend to accumulate over the years — stuff that, at some point, has moved from useful to unwanted, from prized possession to clutter, from key parts of a new hobby to nagging reminders of past failures, from potential treasured heirloom to junk.  Another reason is that garage sales tend not to be organized in any meaningful way.  Normally, when I am going to buy something, I know exactly what I want, go directly to get it, and then end the shopping excursion.  That doesn’t work with garage sales.  Even if you go to one with a specific thing in mind, it might not be there, and even if it is what you’re looking for is going to be mixed in with a bunch of stuff that is totally unrelated.  And, of course, in looking over tables of household debris you might just find something that you hadn’t thought of but really could use.  Once in a while, the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” really turns out to be true.

This year we’ve used yard sales to buy a nifty circular painting of a ship that is now hanging in our main room, acquire a sturdy used wheebarrow and some useful yard and gardening tools, get the cream pitcher and sugar bowl pictured above, and fill in some of the gaps in the household.  It’s all stuff we like and can use–for now, at least.

Of course, at some point in the future it all could end up in a yard sale of our own, on a table filled with other bric-a-brac.    

One Last Lobster Roll

Our time in Stonington is rapidly drawing to a close. After more than four months of working remotely from the salty shores of the Penobscot Bay, we’ll soon be heading back to the Midwest.

When a very pleasant sojourn is ending, it’s important to lock in those memories about things that make a place special. That means large gulps of salty air on morning walks, and feeling foggy mist on your arms and face, and touching rough granite rocks, and hearing a few more locals talk with those unique Maine accents. And of course it means a lobster roll, too, because lobster is one of the flavors of Maine.

Fortunately, the Harbor Cafe in Stonington makes an exceptional lobster roll: a split-top bun, toasted and lightly buttered, loaded with fresh lobster in a light sauce. You get heaping amounts of lobster with every crunchy bite. We headed there for one last lobster roll yesterday, and got something to savor.

All In Gourd Time

Kish bought some gourds on her trip to the market the other day. They are now on our kitchen table, adding a flash of bright colors and an unmistakable “fall is here” message to the kitchen.

I’ve always liked gourds. Even as a kid, I preferred the gourds that looked creepy, with their curving, duck-like necks and warty bodies that wouldn’t stand upright. Mini-pumpkins have cornered the market on solid orange, but the gourds usually feature an arty and much more interesting mix of greens and yellows and oranges that are an important part of the autumn color palette. I like picking the gourds up and feeling their ridges and curves and pebbled exterior in my hands.

If there are gourds in the kitchen, can Halloween be far behind?

In Caterpillar Country

I ran across lots of critters in my work in the yard yesterday. Spiders and beetles were out in force, and I also encountered this striking white and black caterpillar crawling on an old birch tree stump.  

My rule in the garden is to look — and photograph, where warranted — but don’t touch.  I let the creatures go their own way unimpeded.  In this instance, that turned out to be a wise policy, because according to the ever-useful University of Maine Cooperative Extension website this particular caterpillar is a Hickory Tussock caterpillar, and those white hairy tufts can cause a powerful and very itchy rash, especially for kids who can’t resist picking up things like caterpillars.  The U of Maine also cautions people to be careful not to come in contact with them when raking leaves in the fall.

The Hickory Tussock caterpillar loves hardwood trees, like birch trees, and will be spinning its cocoon in the near future, using leaf debris and its own white hairs.  The caterpillars then produce tiger moths, which are pretty common up here.

The Proverbial Late Bloomer

At some point, in the autumn of some year in the past, some gardener scratched her  head doubtfully, looked at a flower that had stubbornly refused to bloom even as the leaves had begun to turn, and referred to the plant as a “late bloomer.”  That neat little phrase then entered social discourse as an apt way to refer to people who didn’t really find themselves until a little bit later than everyone else.

I’m guessing that initial puzzled gardener who coined the phrase back in the mists of time was the proud owner of a Montauk daisy.

We’ve got one of these coy plants, having received it as a gift from a neighbor last year and replanted it at the foot of the stairs leading to the down yard.  It’s been a good year for the daisy, which has grown like crazy and is basically taking over the bed we created for it and other flowers.  But even though we’re rapidly approaching the end of the September, and even though we’ve had a few cold nights and some of our other flowers are withering, and even though I can see the buds on the daisy getting ready to emerge, as the photo above reflects, the Montauk daisy still hasn’t produced flowers — which are supposed to be large and very pretty.  It’s kind of frustrating.  Every morning, with high hopes, I check to see whether the blooming has begun, and so far every morning I’ve been disappointed.

In short, the Montauk daisy is just taking its own sweet time and following its own schedule, heedless of my desires and dashed hopes.  Gardeners need to develop a lot of qualities.  For owners of this proverbial late bloomer, patience is one of them.  

The Morning View From Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive is a short stretch of road that splits off from Allen Street and then hugs the shoreline as it runs down to Greenhead Lobster.  At that fork in the road there is a manhole cover — specifically, manhole cover #123, which we know because all Stonington manhole covers bear green, neatly spray-painted identification numbers.  When the lobstermen who moor their boats in the western edge of the Stonington harbor drive to Greenhead to park their pickup trucks and take their skiffs out to their big boats in the morning, they hit old #123 as they veer onto Ocean Drive and make a distinctive “clink CLUNK” sound as the manhole cover rattles under the weight of the passing trucks.  Most mornings, that clink CLUNK is the first sound I hear.

Ocean Drive is a bit of a misnomer, because the Atlantic Ocean is still several miles away, shielded from the harbor by many islands.  But it’s not hard to imagine that, as the lobstermen turn left at the Ocean Drive split, give #123 a good rattle, smell the salt air, and catch the sunrise view shown above in the morning, it helps them get mentally ready for another hard day of lobstering.

Breakfast Mutation

Once, I was a big breakfast person.  Mom was a charter member of the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” cult, and she insisted on our having a “healthy breakfast” before we headed off to school.

In those days, a “health breakfast” meant a big bowl of Frosted Flakes, Captain Crunch, or Quake during the warmer months, and oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, or some other hot cereal — always with brown sugar, of course — and a glass of juice, and a glass of whole milk, and probably some toast with jelly, besides.  Fortified and carboloaded with our “healthy breakfasts” and bundled up against the morning chill, the Webner kids went out to wait for the school bus and take on the world.

But over the years, my tastes and breakfast interests mutated.  Some of it was due to speed; there just doesn’t seem like a lot of time in the morning to make a big breakfast.  Some of it was due to weight; at some point, large mixing bowls of sugary cereal suddenly didn’t seem like such a wise move from a belt size standpoint.  And some of it, frankly, was just a matter of taste.  I got to the point where I didn’t like the feeling of gobbling down a bunch of food first thing in the morning.  Restricting my intake to a cup of coffee and a small glass of orange juice left me feeling a bit lighter and less logy.  And I also figured that if I limited myself to a small breakfast, that would leave plenty of room on the calorie counter for a nice lunch.

Is breakfast “the most important meal of the day,” as Mom’s creed dictated?  Beats me!  Given the ever-changing “science” of human dietary needs and food pyramids, I doubt if anyone really knows.  These days, I pretty much just for go what makes me feel better.  I suppose if I was going out and waiting for the school bus in the chill morning air, then taking a loud, rattling, 45-minute, seat belt-free ride with a bunch of other rambunctious kids headed off to school and charged up by their own intake of sugary cereals I might feel differently.

Tale Of The Scale

Our place in Stonington, like many American households, has a bathroom scale.  It’s a small, square scale — which is a good thing, because the bathroom itself is not spacious and the scale has to be wedged into a pretty tiny space.

And this particular scale, like all bathroom scales I’ve ever owned, seems to chronically overstate weight.  Does anyone else have that experience?  Are bathroom scale manufacturers part of some shadowy conspiracy with junk food producers to disappoint Americans who are trying diligently to shed a few pounds and cause them to give up hope, forget the diet, and dive once again into that bag of pork rinds?

To be honest, I don’t really use bathroom scales.  If I’m feeling especially trim, I’ll step on one in hopes that the scale will confirm my optimism, but then I see that I weigh pretty much the same as I have for the past 15 years, shrug, and decide not to worry about the scale going forward.  When I made my one use of this particular scale this summer, I noticed that it goes up to 320 pounds.  320 pounds!  It’s hard for me to imagine a 300-pounder teetering on this puny scale, or the protests the scale might make if a 300-pounder actually tried.  But it turns out that the a 320-pound limit is on the low side for modern bathroom scales.  Amazon offers a number of scales that have a 440-pound capacity.  It’s hard for me to imagine that many people who might test that limit would be using a bathroom scale, but apparently that is the case.  

Bathroom scales have an interesting history.  They first came into popular culture in the early 1900s, when life insurance companies decided that heavier people tended to kick the bucket sooner, and began publishing tables that showed ideal weights for people of certain heights and then factoring that data into coverage decisions and calculating the premiums for policies.  Setting an “ideal” weight helped to fuel a broader focus on personal weight as a measure of both healthiness and attractiveness, and that meant people needed to start weighing themselves more regularly.  Because people worried about their weight weren’t all that keen about stepping onto the penny scales at the local emporium, in full view of the public at large and neighborhood busybodies, a market for a private means of weighing yourself was created, and the bathroom scale was invented to meet the demand. 

People who obsess about their weight have rued that day ever since.

My Interview With RBG

I was very saddened to read yesterday of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, after a long and hard-fought battle with cancer.  She was one of those rare Supreme Court justices who was not only a towering legal figure, but also a titanic cultural figure as well.

As the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg was a role model and iconic figure for generations of women entering the legal profession and, more broadly, women breaking boundaries in formerly male-dominated professions of all kinds.  Her jurisprudence shows that she was a tireless, and relentless, advocate for women’s rights, but also a brilliant and careful legal analyst and deft writer whose considerable brainpower was well applied to every case that came before the Supreme Court.

And in my view, at least, Justice Ginsburg was an important cultural figure in another way as well.  She was great friends with former Justice Antonin Scalia, even though their views on the law and its purpose could not have been farther apart.  They shared a love of opera, enjoyed socializing, and actually performed on stage in a 1994 Washington National Opera production.  It says something about the character and temperament of both Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia that they could put aside their political and legal disagreements and still enjoy each other’s company.  It’s a quality that we could use a bit more of in these bitterly divided, hyperpartisan times.

I had the privilege of actually interviewing for a clerkship position with Judge Ginsburg in 1984, when she was serving as one of the leading, up-and-coming judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and I was beginning my third year of law school.  I had sent resumes and letters to all of the court of appeals judges and was thrilled to get a callback interview with Judge Ginsburg.  (I suspect that her husband, Martin Ginsburg, a Georgetown Law professor who had taught two tax classes I had taken, may have put in a good word for me.)  Alas, when I arrived for the interview Judge Ginsburg told me, with characteristic gentle forthrightness, that she had just offered the position to another candidate, who had accepted, and she said that under the circumstances if I wanted to skip the interview she would understand and be fine with that.

I was disappointed at the news, but figured what the heck — how often am I going to get a chance to talk for a while with one of the world’s leading legal minds? — so I said if it was okay with her I’d like to stay and chat, anyway.  We spent a very enjoyable hour talking about her husband and his great teaching style and a law review article I was working on about the intersession pocket veto, an issue that had arisen before the D.C. Circuit.  Judge Ginsburg asked some incisive questions about the issues and had some interesting observations about them, and then flattered me by asking for a copy of my draft article, which I promptly sent.  I may not have gotten a clerkship out of our brief encounter, but I did get a good story and some insights into an important historical figure from the experience.

When President Clinton appointed Justice Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, I knew she would be an important Justice, and of course she was.  Today I remember not only the leading jurist and influential role model, but also the funny, dynamic person I met more than 35 years ago.  The world is a little poorer today with her passing.