From the Bottle Boneyard

It seems like every time I go to work in the down yard I find a new bottle that has emerged from the soil during the long winter months. The latest entrant in our bottle collection is this distinctive Nesbitt’s bottle, with its beveled ridges and the script Nesbitt’s name in raised lettering on the front.

Nesbitt’s of California sold a number of fruit-flavored sodas by the bottle in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ’60s, but the most popular was Nesbitt’s orange soda, which was supposed to be made from 10 percent California oranges. The brand later fell out of favor and has been sold and owned by a series of different companies since some unknown kid drained their Nesbitt’s orange soda and left the bottle in our yard, but the internet indicates that you can still order Nesbitt’s orange soda on line. It looks like the design of the bottle has changed, however.

It’s interesting that a bottle of California soda pop could end up in a yard at the tip of an island on the coast of Maine.

Remember The Alamo Article!

Allow me to don the proud parent garb for a minute. Our son, Richard, had an article published in the Washington Post over the weekend, about the controversy in Texas about what to do with the Alamo site. You can find the article, which is a pretty nifty piece of reporting on an interesting topic, here.

Richard is a talented writer and careful journalist, and I think it is pretty darned cool that he got an article published in the national section of the Washington Post.

The Great Marigold Experiment Begins

In our little neighborhood on the Greenhead peninsula, talk of the marauding deer population dominates the conversation. Everyone is trying to come up with ways to protect their flower and vegetable gardens from the pesky, voracious herd of Bambis that is roaming the local woods and yards, eating everything in its path.

This weekend we opened up our front in the Stonington Deer Wars by going to Mainescapes, a great garden store in Blue Hill, to get multiple flats of marigolds, which the locals believe are among the most effective non-spray, non-fence deer repellants. Then, on Saturday and Sunday I planted all of the marigolds at strategic locations in the side yard (above) and the down yard (below), hoping to create smell barriers that cause the odor-sensitive deer to steer clear of our yards and go out to eat somewhere else.

Whether any of this will work is anybody’s guess. But at least we’ll have a riotous collection of yellow and orange marigolds to add some color to the yards–if the deer don’t eat them first, that is.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to my wife, my mother, my grandmothers, and all of the mothers and grandmothers who have meant so much to their children and grandchildren. Your voices and sayings and teaching will always echo through our minds and help to shape and guide us as we encounter life’s challenges. That’s why you deserve a special day!

Fiddleheads Come Forth

Winters in Stonington can be harsh, and spring comes later than it does in the Midwest. But it does arrive . . . eventually.

One sure sign of spring is the emergence of the fiddleheads. Our down yard is fiddlehead territory, with lots of ferns growing among the rocks. They get wiped out during the long winter, but they are hardy plants that are used to the cold, wet, windy conditions. When spring growing season is upon us, these little fiddleheads shoot up from last year’s dead debris. Soon they will unfurl like flags to expose their fronds, and then the ferns will grow like crazy. By mid-June we’ll have ferns and their bright green colors dappling every nook and cranny of the down yard.

When the fiddleheads come forth, it’s time to start planting your flowers.

Gardening Muscles

Yesterday was my first gardening day of 2021. I did a lot of weeding, picking up fallen twigs, and clearing away dead leaves and stalks. I also lugged a few bags of cow manure into position and started to dig out a new flower bed in our side yard.

Today, I admit that I’m a bit sore.

Gardening may not provide the most aggressive workout, but you definitely use a different send of muscles than you do in, say, walking. There’s obviously bending, kneeling, and stooping involved, and also a lot of stretching and working with your arms as you pluck weeds behind your plants, spade out the soil, and use your weedpopper to dig out those stubborn dandelion roots. When you add in some rock hefting, which is an inevitable part of the gardening process in Stonington, you’ve got a pretty good exercise regimen going.

This morning, I’m feeling yesterday’s gardening workout in my hamstrings, lower back, and upper arms. It’s going to take a while before my gardening muscles are back in shape. Today, after it warms up, I’ll go out for another workout and try to build up that gardening tolerance again.

The Crack Of Dawn

I’ve always been an early riser. Grandma Neal liked to say that I got up at “the crack of dawn.” This morning’s stunning sunrise reminded me of that favorite phrase, because it looked like a crack in the sky, with light beaming in through the break and spreading over the sleepy town and boats at anchor in the harbor.

Sunrises like this are best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee, and make getting up at the crack of dawn worth every lost minute of sleep.

Garlic Power And Marigold Magic

We’re getting close to the spring planting season in Stonington, and I’m working on a strategy to try to deal with the marauding deer population that decimated the flowers in the lower, unfenced part of our yard last year.

On a walk over the weekend, I ran into a fellow gardener who was out working in her yard and asked if she had any recommendations for non-chemical, non-fenced—yet effective—ways of keeping deer away from those tasty flowers. She recommended garlic, and lots of it. She said you crush the cloves to increase the smell and place them around the perimeter of the area you want to protect. The deer apparently hate the odor and supposedly avoid the garlic aroma area.

Garlic: it’s not just for vampires any more!

I don’t want to use any kind of chemical spray, which will just wash down into the harbor, and I don’t want to put up any wires or fencing, which would ruin the rustic look of the down yard. I’m therefore going to try the garlic approach this year, and combine it with another tip I got from a gardening neighbor. He said that when he planted marigolds last year he was surprised to see that the deer not only didn’t eat the marigold flowers, they avoided the marigold area of his garden entirely because they find that smell unpleasant, too. Some other locals also endorse the marigold approach.

So, this year I’ll be crushing and placing garlic cloves around the down yard, and planting marigolds as a kind of protective barrier for other flowers. If garlic and marigolds work alone, imagine their impact in combination! And I hope this technique works, because this morning I saw a huge herd of deer at the end of our road—and they looked hungry.

Taking Crust

The other day I was characterizing somebody’s action that was pretty darned brazen. The phrase that immediately popped into my mind was “it takes crust,” so that is what I used. To my surprise and disappointment, the other party to the discussion had never heard that phrase before and had no idea what I was saying.

I can identify the source of this particular phrase with precision. It was one of Grandma Webner’s favorites, and always said with a look of abject disgust. It meant that the person in question was acting with unmitigated gall, impertinence, recklessness, and a complete lack of regard for social mores and Grandma’s accepted rules of behavior. Usually there was a certain element of hypocrisy in the mix, too. For example, if somebody with a well-earned reputation for sketchy and dubious behavior insisted that another person be held to the highest standards of conduct in their personal affairs, Grandma would get that look and say “it takes crust for so-and-so to do such-and-such.” And everyone who heard her knew exactly what she meant.

It’s a great little bit of American slang that apparently was much more commonly used in the early 1900s, although it seems to have fallen out of favor recently–as the bewildered reaction to my use of the phrase indicated. I’ve always thought that the phrase must draw from the meaning of “crust” as a kind of protective coating, and reflects that the impertinent actor must be hardened or oblivious to how polite society will react to their conduct. But “crust” is just too good a word to fall out of slang usage entirely, and according to the Urban Dictionary it is now used to described a particular kind of fast and garbled punk music, and it can also refer to a thing or person that is unappealing.

I like Grandma’s sense of the word better, and I’ll continue to use it, explain it when necessary, and do my part to ensure that “it takes crust” doesn’t fall completely out of usage.

My Beatles Birthday

Today I turn 64. It’s a memorable birthday, thanks to a Beatles song from the Sgt. Pepper album. Ever since I first heard it, When I’m 64 has established a kind of old-age milestone–one that I’ve now reached.

As other people of this age have recently remarked to me, when Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote When I’m 64 that age was viewed as pretty darned old. It was not only “many years from now,” the character in the song speaks of needing to be fed. I haven’t quite reached that point, fortunately. (At the same time, the character in the song is somehow able to stay out until a quarter to three–long past my bedtime–so he is both feeble and capable of partying into the wee hours, which is a pretty impressive combination.)

I’m not much for birthdays, but thanks to the Beatles, 64 is one I’ll remember. It therefore joins my 10th birthday, when my parents threw a fun “bowling birthday party” for me and my friends at Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio, and my 30th birthday, when Kish and I had a big party at the Grandview Cafe, as memorable birthdays. I don’t have any distinct memories of the big “milestone” birthdays, like 13, or 18, or 21, or any of the decade-marking birthdays.

Does anyone know of any songs about turning 65, or 70?

Larry McMurtry

I was very saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Larry McMurtry, the prolific Texan who wrote many great books, as well as screenplays. His works were a favorite of Hollywood and were turned into a number of great films, like Hud, The Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment.

In my view, McMurtry’s greatest work was Lonesome Dove, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986. I think Lonesome Dove is one of the greatest works of fiction by an American writer, ever. It is a huge, sprawling novel that was later made into the masterpiece television TV mini-series of the same name, starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call. The book follows those two legendary former Texas Rangers who lead their band of ranch hands and a herd of stolen cattle on a long drive up to Montana and encounter adventure, death, and a host of memorable and often terrifying characters along the way. Every character in that book, from Call to McCrae to Newt, Deets, Lorena, Pea Eye, Jake Spoon, Clara, Blue Duck, and many others, was so finely drawn that you felt as if their personalities were etched into the pages of the novel.

I remember reading Lonesome Dove on a beach vacation shortly after it was published in paperback. Reading that book defined the vacation, because I could not put it down and, when I did, I looked forward to picking it up again and reading on to find out what happened next. As I continued with my reading, I remember feeling horribly conflicted, I desperately wanted to know what happened to all of these extraordinary people moving through this extraordinary landscape, but I also didn’t want the book to end, ever. Of course, it did, and the ending had an enormous impact. I’ve reread it at least once since then, and also have read many of the McMurtry books that looked at the Lonesome Dove characters at different times in their lives.

Reading Lonesome Dove made me chase down the meaning of the motto Gus McCrae adopted for the Hat Creek Cattle Company: “Uva uvam vivendo varia fit.” It was pretty clear in the book that Gus didn’t know precisely what it meant, but he liked the classy association of their dusty Texas ranch with Latin. Finding out the meaning of a Latin phrase was a challenge back in those days, before the internet allowed us to discover stuff like that with a few taps of the keyboard. It turned out that the phrase is bastardized Latin–which seems about right for old Gus–and it means something like “a grape changes color and ripens when it is around another grape.”

In other words, we affect the lives of those around us. That seems like a pretty good epitaph for Larry McMurtry, who managed to affect the lives of grapes like me that he didn’t even know.

The Arc Of A Year

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown of our office and the beginning of the remote work period. I’ve been reflecting on that year and our ever-changing, shifting, constantly morphing reaction to it. We’ve all gone through our own stages during the past 12 months, in a way comparable to the classic notion of the seven successive stages of grief: at first shock and denial, followed by pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, and finally acceptance and hope.

The first stage, for me at least, involved feelings of newness and trepidation; I’d never worked from home before, so the technological and behavioral challenges of doing so were interesting and a bit daunting. And there was a certain giddiness to the idea of not going to the office; I remember sharing photos with colleagues of what we had made for lunch during that first week of remote work, and doing a lot of texting.

Then that constant texting stopped, the interest in making different lunches ended, and there was a creeping realization that what was initially presented as a brief interlude was going to last a lot longer than people thought. Weddings, vacations, sporting events, and other things on the calendar got cancelled or delayed indefinitely, and those developments packed a punch. And we wondered, with an element of deep concern, about what a prolonged shutdown would all mean for the economy, our families, and our friends.

This was followed by a settling-in period, where people accepted that remote working was going to be the rule and the work needed to get done, so we would just have to deal with it. New routines were established and adopted, home working spaces were identified, defined, upgraded and reconfigured, and Amazon got a workout.

Then the sameness or staying inside and working in the same setting, day after day, set in, and people began to think more creatively about the situation and whether they could combine working remotely with a much-needed change of scenery. People moved around to change things up. Some people started going back to the office more frequently, while others changed their base of operations to lake houses, second homes, or rentals just to break up the monotony.

As working remotely went on and on, ultimately we hit the trough. I think it began in later autumn, as the pandemic continued to rage and we were heading into winter with no apparent end in sight. That was followed by a grim realization that we would just have to put our heads down, take it one day at a time, and just soldier on through the bleak winter months.

The current stage seems to be one of vaccine-fueled hope that the true end of the shutdown is coming someday soon, coupled with an uneasy wariness. I think the wariness recognizes that there could be more disappointments and case spikes and the discovery of new coronavirus variations ahead, but also involves an acknowledgement that there might be a different “new normal” lurking ahead that we’ll also have to adjust to, somehow.

Dare we say it? We want this to be the last stage, but this year has trained us not to get our hopes up too high.

Breaking In The Hikers

We did a fair amount of hiking last summer and really enjoyed it, and this summer we plan to do even more. But this time, we decided to go out and actually buy some legitimate hiking footwear to better deal with the rooty and rocky trails of Maine.

We visited the L.L. Bean store at Easton and were helped by a very knowledgeable staffer who is a hiker himself. (That’s a good reason to go to L.L. Bean for hiking and outdoor gear, in my view — you are helped by someone who knows what they are talking about from firsthand experience.) After assessing the various options and important qualities like weight, tread, and heat retention, I decided on the Oboz Sawtooth II low summerweight hikers. I also bought two pairs of the excellent, well-padded LL Bean socks.

Since then, I’ve been wearing the hikers around the neighborhood in order to break them in before using them on the trail, in hopes of avoiding unwanted blisters when we start hiking in earnest. The Oboz are heavier than my sneakers, obviously, but they are very comfortable and really hug your foot when you get them fully laced up. And the difference in the sole and tread, and the kind of grip you feel, is quite noticeable. So far, though, I’ve resisted the temptation to step in puddles just to test the waterproofing and have limited myself to tromping around on the sidewalks and streets, and the only climbing I’ve done is stepping up on curbs. Still, I think the breaking-in process is working pretty well.

Kish had to prod me a bit to buy the hikers, because I am a notorious cheapskate by nature. But I’m glad she prevailed on me to do it, because I think they will make the hikes more enjoyable, and having the shoes makes me think with pleasure of the approaching summer and the hiking to come.

The Weirdness Of Sleep

After more than 60 years of direct, personal experience, I’ve decided that sleep is weird.

Some nights I’ll go to bed and sleep as deeply as the dog shown in the picture above. I’ll be out for hours without any periods of wakefulness, and so far as I can tell during that time I’ve had one long, continuous dream that is like an extended feature film. I wake up and feel refreshed, but the sleep state lingers and it takes me a while to sharpen up and get going.

Other nights I’ll start off with a good period of rest, but then hit the sleep wall at about 3 a.m. I’ll wake up and struggle a bit to get back to sleep, and from then on until I get up for good, sleep will come in hour-long snatches, with lots of tossing and turning in between and dreams like sitcom episodes. When I finally give up trying to sleep any longer, I don’t feel particularly well rested, but I’m immediately alert.

And then there are nights when I hit that same sleep wall, wake up long enough to realize that I’m awake and need to try to get back to sleep, and then shift immediately into vignette mode, where I have brief, strange dreams interrupted by a minute or two of awareness before plunging back to get the next dream snippet. It’s as if my brain is shuffling the deck to sift through the day’s events and needs to lurch back to consciousness briefly before moving to the next selected short on the dream roster. And when I have one of those nights I finally wake up abruptly and get up immediately, wondering just how much strange stuff is lodged up there in my hippocampus.

I’m sure there are a lot of things that affect sleep patterns — what you’ve had to eat and drink that day, things that are going on in your life that cause concern, stress, physical fatigue, and so forth — but I suspect that much of it depends on subconscious stuff that just needs to be expressed for some reason. Sleep is intrinsically weird, and there’s not much we can do about it. Every night when you go to bed you just need to get ready for the show.

That Outdoor Urge

Yesterday the temperatures were still cold, but it was bright and sunny. It’s clear that we are on the cusp of spring, and I felt this irrepressible urge to go outside and do something. Not just take a walk — actually do something that would fall into the “outdoor chore” category.

So I gave in to the impulse, bundled up against the cold breeze, put on my sunglasses, and went outside ready to do just about anything. I swept out the back porch to remove all of the leaves and dirt and dust that had gathered there over the winter, swept the patio stones and the brick walkway, surveyed the trees and shrubs, and picked up leaves and twigs so that the backyard and patio would be free of debris and our little pod of grass would have the best possible spring growth conditions.

Then I moved to the front of the house, swept the front steps and the brickwork, swept the front sidewalk, and collected and disposed of the flotsam and jetsam that had emerged from underneath the accumulated pile of snow in our front beds. I even retrieved a plastic grocery bag that was blowing down the street like a tumbleweed, and then used it as I walked up and down the street to pick up some of the inevitable post-snowmelt litter, so that our neighborhood would be ready for spring, too. At the end of the process I surveyed my efforts and internally pronounced them as good.

I’m a big believer in the notion of human beings reacting, instinctively, to seasonal changes. I certainly feel that I do. The days grow longer, the sun shines, the world grows greener bit by bit, and you can feel a surge of energy after the winter doldrums. It’s a good feeling.