A Lobsterman’s Work Is Never Done

All over coastal Maine, the lobstermen are hard at work. Even though it’s the de facto off-season, when lobsters are inactive and the fishing is at a lull, there are boats to be examined and rekitted, motors to be tuned, and traps to be cleaned and tested. The smell of paint is in the air.

Our lobsterman neighbor worked all day yesterday on his gear, getting ready for the day when the boat goes back into the water and the traps and their identification buoys are placed in the old, familiar spots. The life of a lobsterman is not an easy one.

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A Question For The Gardeners Out There

In the past, I’ve dabbled with gardening.  I particularly enjoyed planting flowers at our old suburban home and watching them bloom and grow and flourish.  I liked getting my hands dirty and seeing the product of my manual labor, and I even accepted weeding and watering our small flower beds as a useful weekend activity.

img_0090But all of my experience with flowers is Ohio-centric, from having a sense about the kind of flowers that seem to do well here, like the zinnias I planted at our old house, right down to following Mom’s admonition that you shouldn’t plant flowers until after Mothers’ Day.  I’m guessing that a different rule of thumb would apply in a different climate, like Maine, where the weather might not really warm up until well into June.  Drawing exclusively upon midwestern Ohio experiences and trying to apply them to a rocky northern coastal area that is constantly exposed to salty air and experiences periodic nor’easter storms seems ill-advised.

So, a question for the expert gardeners out there:  if you want to learn about gardening practices in Maine, or any other new location, where should you go?  Is there an authoritative guidebook or website that provides information by region and can get into detail about the basics, like the native plant life, the safe time to plant flowers and which ones are most likely to thrive given the climate and soil conditions, whether planting seeds or seedlings is the best course, and whether particular kinds of grasses or shrubs are more prone to succeed or fail than others?  Can you trust the folks at the local hardware store or gardening shop to only offer plants that have reasonable prospects for success given the local conditions, or is that approach doomed to failure?

I feel like a newbie here, and I’m not sure that doing random internet searches and trusting to the Google Gods is the best way to go about gathering information.

Mainely Winter

I guess it just wasn’t cold enough for us in Columbus, so Kish and I came up to Maine for a short visit, looking for even more wintry weather.

We found it. Here in Stonington, many of the boats and docks have been pulled out of the water and stored — even if it means just placing them on the nearest rocky outcropping — and the temperature is so cold that rocks along the waterfront are sheathed in briny ice. It’s bleak and beautiful, all at the same time.

Toasting Regionality

One of the great things about traveling to different parts of the United States is the chance to experience the differences that exist from one region to another.  Whether it’s mountains versus seacoast versus rolling prairie, odd local food favorites, or curious accents found only in one part of the country, the intrepid traveler strives to check out, and appreciate, the unique aspects of different sections of our large and diverse country.

Regionality was once in danger of being lost, back in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, with the rush toward sprawling national brands, like McDonalds and KFC and WalMart, that used the power of economies of scale and familiarity to put a lot of local concerns out of business.  But the tide seems to have turned, and craft beers are leading the way.

Wherever you go — whether it’s Asheville, North Carolina, or San Antonio, Texas, or the Pacific Northwest, or Columbus, Ohio — small local breweries are creating their own unique brews, with labels and brands that typically celebrate some element of local culture.  Even better, these entrepreneurs of the suds have been able to convince local pubs and grocery stores and gas stations to carry their offerings.  Boosters are touting their successful local breweries as examples of the special qualities of their communities and how small concerns can thrive in their business-friendly towns.  And virtually every sizable city and town lays claim to being one of the premier craft beer settings in the country.

Our recent trip to Maine was no different.  New England generally, and Maine specifically, offer a lot of local beers that you simply can’t find here in the Midwest.  I felt honor-bound to sample some of the distinctive offerings we found in restaurants and at the grocery store — it’s one of the duties of the intrepid traveler, in my view — and all of them were good.  A particular favorite was Allagash White, a light, fizzy, crisp beer that went especially well with a steaming bowl of haddock chowder and oyster crackers on a rainy day.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try the Smiling Irish Bastard, but I did get a kick out of the name and the label.

It’s interesting that breweries have become a source of distinctive local pride, and it’s a trend that is good to see.

At Settlement Quarry

You’d expect an island with a town called Stonington to have an old, abandoned quarry somewhere. But, since most quarries are low-lying places — the whole point of quarries being to dig down into the ground, of course — you wouldn’t expect to find an old quarry atop a hillside, with a commanding view of more than a dozen islands. But that’s what you get when you venture up the trail to the Settlement Quarry on Deer Isle.

Settlement Quarry is one of a number of sites that the Deer Isle preservationists have turned into cool hiking jaunts. It’s an easy stroll up the old Quarry road, and once you reach the top you can admire the view, then take another trail through the surrounding pine woods. We chose the path that wound in and around the impressive piles of castoff granite, which are slowly returning to their forest state, with pine trees sprouting from the crevices.

With the breeze off the water, and pine trees everywhere, you’ll just have to look at the photos and imagine how fresh and crisp the air smelled.

End Of The Season

The lobster season in Maine is over for the year. Those tasty crustaceans get a break for the holidays — and a chance to grow and replenish before next year’s season rolls around — and as a result the Maine countryside is awash in yellow. That’s because the old-fashioned wooden lobster traps you see in some seafood restaurants have long since been replaced by these bright yellow, metal traps, which are a lot more durable. The traps are all removed from the water during the off-season and are stacked just about everywhere.

Maine lobstermen and lobsterwomen work very hard, even during the off-season Along the coast you see enormous pick-up trucks, the lobster fisherman vehicle of choice, carting mounds the yellow lobster traps from dockside to workshop, where they will be examined, one by one, and repaired over the off-season. Our neighbor here has 500 of the traps, which he says is the legal limit. The traps are neatly stacked on pallets, and he uses a front loader to maneuver them into his workshop for repair. They’ll keep him busy this winter.