Memories By Maude

My maternal grandmother, Maude Neal, had a remarkable memory. Locked in her brain were hundreds, if not thousands, of poems, sayings, and song lyrics that she could summon and quote at will on any occasion. Her repertoire ranged from silly ditties she learned as a kid (“Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a look at France. Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his pants.”) to sayings about hard work, fortitude, love, family, death, and just about any other topic.

Back in the ‘70s or early ‘80s Mom decided to sit down with Grandma, have her deliver some of her sayings, and make careful note of them. Mom then carefully typed the poems and sayings (with a few typos and strike-throughs) and assembled the pages in a handmade booklet, decorated with stick-on flowers and held together by yarn. All of us kids got a copy. We still have my copy, decades later, and keep it on a table in our upstairs study. It’s a cool piece of family memorabilia that reminds me of Grandma Neal and Mom whenever I see it.

And while I lack Grandma’s facility with remembering and quoting poems, I remember her reciting some of the poems in this little booklet. Like this one, which I first heard as a little kid when I came home and made some complaint about something trivial:

I do not ask to walk smooth paths

Or bear an easy load.

I pray for strength and fortitude

To climb the rock-strewn road.

Give me such courage and I can scale

The hardest peak alone.

And transform every stumbling block

Into a stepping stone.

Grandma’s poetic message was clear: suck it up, kid! It’s still good advice.

One Last Stonington Sunrise

I’m back in Columbus, after a happily uneventful travel day. It was weird to wake up in our German Village bedroom and not see a scene like the photo above, taken one morning earlier this week, right outside our bedroom window. So I’m going to indulge myself by posting this last sunrise picture before transitioning fully back to Midwest sights and sounds.

They say that people who live around physical beauty eventually become indifferent to it. So far that hasn’t happened with me and the sights presented by living somewhere with a view of water and sun. Maybe it’s because the harbor views still seem so novel after decades living in the landlocked Midwest, or maybe it’s because my time in Stonington is broken up by returns to Columbus, or maybe I just like sunrises that have lobster boats in the picture. I hope I never reach the point where I can pass by a striking sunrise without stopping to goggle at it, and looking forward to seeing more.

The View From The Rocks

It was a beautiful morning yesterday. The sky was blue, the sun painted the eastward facing houses on Greenhead peninsula with a brilliant, glowing luminosity, and the tide was out, which allowed me to walk far out onto the rocky outcroppings along the shoreline and get a good view at the long pier fronting the water.

I wanted to get a good, long look at this pretty little part of the world, which I have called home for the past few months, and lock it securely in my memory before heading back to the Midwest. I took this photograph because sometimes a photo app can help the memory, too.

Pumpkins Please

Kish is a big pumpkins person. As soon as the pumpkins show up at the grocery store, she’ll buy a carload and put out as many as possible to make for a colorful autumn. That’s okay with me, because I think pumpkins are pretty pleasing, with their bold colors and rounded shape. In Stonington we have a nice shelf on our front step that is perfect for displaying pumpkins, where they go well with the remnants of this year’s crop of Black-eyed Susans and the dusty white plant the locals call “snow in summer.”

It’s still fairly warm here; yesterday the temperature may have briefly touched 70. But pumpkins aren’t the only sign of the cooler autumn to come. The edges of the leaves at the tops of the trees are starting to turn, there’s more animal activity, and the summer tourist season has ended. It’s a good time for pumpkins.

Trailblazing

I’ve spent a few days working over at Russell’s property this summer. He has multiple acres of some lovely, largely wooded property at Cape Rosier on the mainland, and among many other projects he’s been working on creating hiking trails through the property to particularly scenic spots. Earlier this summer Richard, Russell, and I worked for a day on clearing out a path and glade along a cool, stony brook that spills out from a natural spring on Russell’s land, and on Sunday I continued the path along the stream and then turned inland to follow an obvious animal trail and see where it led.

Trailblazing is hard work, but it is also a lot of fun. Basically, the goal is to identify the logical route for a trail and then convert landscape that looks like the photo above into something walkable, like the photo below. That means breaking up and removing rotted logs, gathering up and moving fallen timber that blocks the way, and cutting down scrub trees and dead trees and low hanging branches along the route. Armed with a small saw and limb-cutting shears, I let my pathfinder instincts run free, cutting and chopping and hefting armloads of branches and fallen twigs. As the trail signs turned inland, I followed what looked like a deer trail, shown running through the moss in the photo below, that led to a pretty natural clearing where sunlight dappled the ground under towering trees.

Russell’s property is beautiful and full of surprises—like the brook, the spring, a big round boulder I dubbed Cannonball Rock, and a natural granite promontory that affords a view of Cape Rosier and Castine in the far distance, and others yet to be discovered—and there are lots of ways the trails could run. I’ve finished my trailblazing work for 2021, but I’ll gladly return in 2022 for more scouting, brush cutting, and trail clearing.

A Tall Ship In The Morning

This morning’s walk produced a surprise—a “tall ship” in the harbor, towering over the outboards and the lobster boats. It was a perfectly clear morning with barely a breath of breeze, and I walked out to the end of a jetty to get a good look as the masted vessel rode at anchor. With my time in Stonington drawing to a close, I’m going to take in as many harbor and boat scenes as possible.

My Planting Map

Last year I carefully harvested lupine seeds and planted them on the last day before we headed back to Columbus. Unfortunately, by the time spring rolled around, I had only a dim recollection of where I planted the seeds. As a result, the first few weeks up here were a time of constant discovery, where I had to carefully scour the ground for the radial leaf pattern of tiny lupine plants grown from the seeds I had sown months before.

This year, I’ve harvested more lupine seeds, and I’m going to be more organized and systematic in my planting. I’ve drawn a “planting map” that will guide my lupine planting before I leave and also make sure I reserve the areas where I plan to put parts of the colossal Montauk daisy plant that I’ll be splitting up and replanting in the spring. The map is not a super accurate depiction of the down yard—actually, it’s pretty bad and not at all to scale—but it’s good enough for my purposes.

I’ll keep the map up here in an easy to find place. With my handy map to remind me, next spring I should be able to avoid a repeat of this year’s treasure hunt for lupines.

The Steps Project

I am calling my last big yard work initiative of the season the Steps Project. It’s been an interesting, challenging, “dirt under the fingernails” bit of work that combines archaeology, tricky balance, digging, pulling, and lots of roots.

The Steps Project began when our 80-year-old neighbor visited our down yard as part of our earlier tree-cutting work. He’s lived in this neighborhood since he was a kid, and he recalled the hillside being a treeless expanse with stones that the kids used as steps to come up and down on their walk to and from school. Steps in that location would be a good thing because the hillside slopes at close to a 45-degree grade, and getting up and down on a dewy morning can be a slippery proposition. But the steps he recalled were long gone, covered now by a thatch of moss and weeds.

Obviously, stepping stones don’t just vanish; they were under there somewhere. And I think having a kind of stairway to get from top to bottom of the slope would be useful. So the archaeology part of my Steps Project involves figuring out where the stones are buried. When I find them, I cut through the thatch, pull out the moss and weeds, and then cut or pull out the tree roots that grew over and around the rocks. Then I use a brush to clear off the dirt and other debris so the rocks—now exposed for the first time in decades—can dry out in the sunshine. The balance part of the project comes in because I’m doing all of that while trying to hold myself steady on the slope and not taking overly aggressive actions that might send me toppling down the hillside.

Yesterday I finished with the last two “steps,” and now I’ve got a rocky, ersatz set of stairs on the side border of the down yard that you can see in the photos accompanying this post, from the above and below perspectives. Of course, the steps aren’t perfectly aligned like a staircase, and you have to zigzag and take different length steps to get up and down, but they are definitely a safer way up and down. And they are kind of fun, too. In fact, I feel like one of the kids in my neighbor’s old gang when I use them.

Appreciating A Wet Walk

It rained for most of the day yesterday, rained some more throughout the night, and is raining still this morning. As this look down our road/driveway shows, my walk today is going to be a wet one.

I don’t mind a wet walk. In fact, I appreciate them as a real change of pace. You’ve got to adjust your mindset for a wet walk, because you’ll need to really pay attention to what you’re doing. I don’t wear my earbuds and listen to music on the wet walks, because I want to stay actively engaged with my surroundings. No wool gathering is permitted. You’ve got puddles to dodge, and an umbrella to maneuver against the windblown raindrops, and potential splashes from passing pickups to watch out for.

But once you get out into all that rain and wetness and puddled terrain, you find things to like. The road has a special shine to it. The rain makes drumming and popping sounds against the fabric of the umbrella and the leaves on the trees and the surface of the puddles. The wet air almost seems to hug you, and the watery breeze smells fresh and clean and good. And when you get back, wetter than when you left, you feel pretty good about going out at all.

At The Midpoint

Well, we’re at the midpoint of our three-day Labor Day weekend. And with a beautiful sunrise this morning to spur us on, we are at the moment of decision. What should we do today, knowing that tomorrow is also a day off? Hiking? A long walk? Yard work? Grilling out? Reading? Watching football and savoring a cold beer?

That sounds a lot like exactly what we did yesterday—and it also sound like exactly what we should do today, too. That’s the beauty of the Labor Day weekend.

Gardening Winners . . . And Losers

With the coming of September, we are, regrettably, nearing the end of our summer growing season in Stonington. It’s a time of year when gardeners can survey the fruits of their labors and make some judgments about what worked and what didn’t. Rationally identifying the winners and losers is a key step in thinking about next year’s efforts and avoiding any repeat of mistakes.

I’ve done my analysis and identified winners, losers, and plants where the jury is still out. Fortunately, there are more winners than losers, which means it’s been a pretty good year in the garden.

Winners

Marigolds—Initially planted because they are supposed to help repel deer, these flowers bloomed repeatedly over the growing season and added lots of bright color to our beds, as shown in the photo above. And whether the marigolds are responsible or not, we had a manageable year on the deer decimation front. I’ll be planting marigolds again next year and giving them a bit more room to spread out.

Black-eyed Susans—We’ve got Black-eyed Susans at multiple locations in our yard, and they have always come through like champs, producing clusters of pretty flowers that hold up over time. I bought the plant shown in in the photo above from the local garden store and planted it in May; it has grown to about three and a half feet tall with lots of flowers and provides a nice height contrast with the marigolds.

Geraniums—we planted geraniums in the ground and in pots, and they all grew beautifully. The plants in the ground produced new flowers all summer and grew to tremendous size. We’ll want to give them even more room when we plant them next year.

Verbena canadensis—I discovered these flowers this year when I was looking for something to fill in the small space in front of one of our patches of Black-eyed Susans. The plants hug the ground and spread out somewhat and produced very cool, bold colors, with deep crimson and purple petals. I’ve got big plans for these guys among the down yard rocks next year.

Losers

Phlox—I’ve tried different varieties of phlox in different locations, and they all have failed to perform. One died outright, others never produced flowers, and the one that did produce flowers did so only for a short period. I’m done with phlox.

Grass—Let’s just say our yard isn’t going to be featured in any grass or lawn care commercials. Maine grass seems to thrive where you don’t want it—i.e., garden beds—and promptly surrenders the yard itself to dandelions and other weeds. Figuring out the lawn issues will be the big challenge next year.

Jury still out

Day lilies—I bought two of these at the Deer Isle Garden Club sale in May. The plants have done okay, but no flowers so far.

Lupines—Most of the lupines that I have tried to grow from seeds survived, but only one of those plants has produced the distinctive flower. I’ve harvested more lupine seeds and will be planting them this fall before I head back to Columbus, and I’ll be looking for a big step forward from the existing plants grown from seeds, and some new lupine seed growth, next year.

Scott’s Landing

Over the years we’ve hiked around most of the properties managed by the Island Heritage Trust, but one of the sites that we hadn’t yet checked out was Scott’s Landing—until yesterday. It’s located on the edge of the island, at one end of the causeway that connects Deer Isle to Little Deer Isle. And that means some good waterfront views, in this case of the Eggemoggin Reach that separates the islands from the mainland. You can climb up White Rock Point—an outcropping of sun-bleached Ellsworth schist, the bedrock of this part of the island—and enjoy a good view of the Reach and the suspension bridge to the mainland.

The property includes a long stretch of rocky beach. We were there when the tide was out, and a family was digging for clams at the waterline down the beach. Clam digging is a popular activity here, especially in the area near the causeway.

Scott’s Landing is an easy hike, with wide grassy trails and gradual inclines. The trails branch off in multiple directions, and inland the site features pretty meadows filled with wildflowers. The property is a popular spot for birders, although we didn’t see many of our feathered friends yesterday. We did, however, see lots of honeybees buzzing among the flowers. That’s a good summer sound.

We also saw some sailboats on the Reach taking advantage of a good breeze to let the wind fill the canvas and take the ships along at a good clip. The Reach is a long narrow channel that is popular with boaters, and it seems like there is always a sailboat on the horizon. At one end of the Scott’s Landing preserve the wildflower meadows rises up an incline, affording a good views of the flowers, the Reach, and the sailboats moving past. I found myself wishing there was a bench at that spot, so I could sit for a spell and just enjoy that scene.

My Pal Stumpy

Since we cut down some of the trees and cleared out the underbrush in the waste area between our house and the neighbor’s outbuilding, I’ve got a new companion when I’m out doing yard work in the down yard. I call him “Stumpy.”

Stumpy is the remnant of one of the trees that came down during the clear-out effort. I’d guess he’s between three and four feet tall, growing out of a rock ledge, with bulges at the top where the main branches were removed. On several occasions, Stumpy’s size and configuration and location, seen from the corner of my eye while I worked, made me think with a jolt that someone was watching me from the top of the yard. I then decided if Stumpy was going to startle me now and then, I might as well give him a name.

As yard work companions go, Stumpy’s not bad. He’s not a chatterbox, so he doesn’t disturb my work. He doesn’t offer advice or laugh at my little shoveling mishaps, which is appreciated. He doesn’t pitch in, either, but he stands watch over the hillside resolutely, rain or shine. I’ve grown accustomed to his presence. That’s probably a good thing, because his location next to the granite outcropping means it’s going to be a challenge to remove him from his post.

The Tough Guy In The Deer Isle Gang

On my walk yesterday morning, I encountered the deer that gave Deer Isle its name in the town cemetery. Perhaps a half dozen deer were there, grazing among the headstones and picking at some of the planted flowers and shrubs. The deer herd seems to have kept largely to the wooded area behind the cemetery this summer, much to the relief of gardeners and flower lovers across the island.

The deer noticed me before I noticed them, and all but one promptly headed, with leaps and bounds, back into the trees, disappearing with a final flash of their white tails. This deer, however, stood its ground and stared me down as I took its picture. Because I didn’t want to recreate scenes from When Animals Attack I promptly took my leave. As I walked down the road, the deer kept pace with me for a bit, as if to show that he wasn’t afraid, and then finally turned and headed into the forest.

It’s nice to know that there’s a tough guy keeping an eye on the town cemetery.