Snips About Snails

Yesterday’s constant rain and drippy, overcast conditions brought the snails out of their normal hiding places and onto our driveway and other wet surfaces.  I took the picture of the little guy below just outside our front door.

Snails are common in Maine — so commonplace that the University of Maine has a web page entitled “slugs and snails” devoted to helping gardeners deal with the little creatures, and people have written entire academic papers about the “slugs and snails of Maine.”  Snails are interesting creatures and actually kind of fascinating to watch, as they move slowly but surely ahead.  Little boys are supposed to be made out of them, in part (“snips and snails and puppy dog tails”) so it’s worth knowing a few facts about them.

Terrestrial snails are part of the phylum Mollusca and the class Gastropoda and are closely related to slugs.  The name of the snails’ class comes from the Greek words for belly and foot, because snails move through the progressive expansion and contraction of one large, muscular foot under their shell.  The snail’s foot has a gland that secretes a coating of mucus, and the snail then glides on that coating of slime.  The fact of a single foot and the need for slimy mucus generation helps to explain why snail movements are so deliberate. 

There are dozens of different species of snails in Maine, some of which were actually brought to the state from Europe.  (Why Europeans did this is anybody’s guess.)  Because of their need for slime, snails avoid direct sunlight and wind and prefer moist, damp areas — like gardens, where they are commonly found.  If you’re trying to get rid of slugs and snails, which can cause harm to some plants, the U of Maine webpage helpfully notes that “removing boards, rocks, logs, leaves and dense growth helps” and that it “is also wise to minimize shaded areas, rock walls, rock gardens, or forested borders and leave bare ground or close-cropped grass next to vegetable or flower beds.”  No stones, or rock walls, or rock gardens, in Maine?  Good luck with that!

Interestingly, the snails of Maine all are supposed to have shells with whorls that move from the center in a clockwise direction.  Nobody really knows why.

Snails don’t bother me, and I try not to disturb them when I’m gardening.  I don’t think they are doing much harm to our flowers and plants, and I figure anything that is living in slime with only one foot deserves a break.   

The Lure Of Lobstering

The official welcome sign outside of Stonington says the town is Maine’s largest lobster port, and the visual evidence around here supports that assertion. You see the paraphernalia of the lobster business pretty much everywhere, from the lobster boats at anchor in the harbor to the brightly colored buoys, coiled ropes, and stacked rows of lobster traps seen on the properties around town. Especially traps. More traps than you can imagine!

And it appears that the younger generation is embracing Stonington’s traditional occupation. According to statements from this year’s graduates published in the local newspaper, a number of the 2020 graduates of the Deer Isle-Stonington High School — both male and female — are planning on “lobstering” as their career. It’s the kind of future plan you wouldn’t see from a student in, say, Columbus, Ohio.

My hat is off to the kids who are going into the lobster trade. It’s a tough, physically demanding job that requires you to get up before dawn and spend your days on the water, going from buoy to buoy, hauling traps up from the ocean floor, removing any catch, rebaiting the traps with yukky objects that lobsters like, and winching the traps back down again. But it makes a living, and you get to be your own boss. From the decisions of the local high school kids, that’s still an attractive option.

Our Blue Feathered Friend

Our cottage in Maine is built into a steep granite hillside that tumbles down into the western end of the Stonington Harbor.  As a result, our deck is at the treetop level of the pine trees, birch trees, and even a buckeye tree planted on the the hillside down below.

59859171-480pxThat means that we get a bird’s-eye view (pun intended) of the birds that call Greenhead peninsula home.  And because we are on a coastline, there are lots of birds, and an interesting mix of different species at that.  We get seagulls coasting in on the ocean breezes that land nimbly on our tiny chimney, cawing crows and ravens that add a touch of noise to the foggy mornings, an occasional hawk, wrens and sparrows and chimney swifts, robins forever hunting for insects and worms in the downyard area, and gray doves that like to take a dip in the waters of the little creek that runs down the hillside.

But our favorite feathered friends are the brilliant blue jays that swoop in on the updrafts and like to perch in the trees right at our deck level, so we can get a good look at them.  They are beautiful birds, with their bright blue plumage standing out from the green leaves of the trees, and instantly recognizable both for their color and for their distinctive tuft of feathers on the crown of their heads.  The blue jays move briskly from tree to tree, apparently scouting for something with their lightning quick, quirky nods and other head movements, and then they are gone in a flash of blue across the landscape.

An elevated deck that allows you to do some casual bird-watching is a nice feature at the end of a warm summer day.

Tiered Up

My gardening challenge this weekend: figuring out what to do with an area of tumbledown rocks and boulders that abruptly drop about eight feet in height from top to bottom. My plan is to try to use the enormous rocks and the drastic change in height to establish tiers dropping down the slope like the steps of a staircase. The tiers will then become beds where I can plant flowers and attempt to replant some of the lupines, rose bushes, and ferns that have sprung up in some of our other garden beds.

So far I’ve placed some smaller rocks to define the outlines of the tiers, using the big rocks as immovable borders, and have started shoveling dirt into the newly created spaces to form the beds. This weekend I hope to complete the bed formation and do the rose bush and fern replants. The weather is supposed to be nice, so I should have two full days for the work.

This is the kind of project I really like. There’s a creativity element to it, some problem-solving and design challenges, a physical labor component, and then finally a chance to see if an experiment succeeds or fails. I’m looking forward to getting to it.

Wildflower Maine

I’ll be happy if the flowers I planted over the weekend do well, but if that does happen It probably won’t have much to do with my gardening abilities.  The summer in coastal Maine is just about the perfect climate for growing flowers and other plants:  it’s not too hot, so the soil doesn’t dry out like it often does during a broiling Midwestern summer, it rains every few days (and often with real gullywashers) so there’s lots of water for the plants, heavy morning dews are commonplace, too, and there’s plenty of sunshine.  Basically, Maine supplies everything the native flowers need — if you just leave them be.

As a result, flowers seem to grow pretty much everywhere, on their own.  The lupines that are framing the harbor in the picture above are thriving In an untended area off the berm of a very busy street.  And the lupines and the other wildflowers in the photo below are growing in profusion in a huge area that presumably isn’t being actively weeded and watered by a human gardening crew.

So what does it all mean?  It means that if I can’t grow flowers here, I’m undoubtedly the world’s worst gardener.

Buried Treasure

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  In our case, that saying is literally true.

On Sunday, when I was digging in the area between the rocks in the down yard to try to loosen the soil to plant our flowers, I came across two totally intact bottles that had been totally buried about six inches deep in the dirt.  One looked like a generic, amber liquor bottle, but the other was a clear glass bottle from the “Fairview Wine Company of Maine.”  The 4/5 quart bottle features some cool raised script lettering and depictions of grapes and grape leaves.  My limited internet research skills found some efforts to sell similar bottles on line that indicate that the bottle dates from the ’30s. 

It’s not unusual for us to find broken glass, old cans, and other debris in what we call the “down yard,” which probably was an overgrown area.  At some point somebody must have sat on the rocks, enjoyed some wine, and then just left the bottle in the crack between the rocks.  The bottle then got buried over time — only to be found 80 years later and viewed not as a commonplace item from a functioning nearby business, but as an antique curiosity from days gone by, produced by a company that apparently no longer exists.

We’ve cleaned up the bottle — the cap crumbled into dust when we tried to remove it — and put it in a place of honor on the shelves in our main room, to connect the present-day cottage to its past.  

F and F vs. S and S

If you’re ever going to visit Maine during the summer, especially if you’re going to head up north of the southern coastal areas, plan on checking your smartphone weather app regularly.

5e217fada5253478210383b5395ca68d-thermometer-vintage-sIn fact, plan on consciously rooting for specific weather developments — like increases in the daily high and low temperatures — even though you are well aware that puny humans have no ability to change the weather that’s heading your way.  You’ll be hoping to see temperatures in the sixties and seventies (S and S) rather than temperatures in the forties and fifties (F and F).

You would think that, by the middle of June, the F and F squad would have been chased off the field, but you would be wrong.  Even now, when the Midwest is getting slapped with temperatures that are in the upper 80s and even hitting 90, the low temperatures in Stonington on many days stubbornly remain in the 40s, and it’s a desperate, furious battle to get the high temperature out of the 50s.  Even now, looking at the weather app and its forecast for the next 10 days, we still see only one day where the high temperature is in the upper 60s.  (Brace yourself: a week from tomorrow the temperature is supposed to reach a scalding 66.)  And days in the 70s in June in Stonington are apparently as rare as hen’s teeth.

It’s weird to pay so much attention to your weather app, but there’s a significant difference between temperatures in the 40s and 50s versus 60s and 70s.  In the 40s and 50s, you’re still donning coats and sweaters.  When you reach the upper 60s and — God forbid! — the 70s, the air has that sultry, summer feel that is simply absent when the F and F squad is in command.

None of this is a surprise.  In fact, many people come to Maine specifically to escape the broiling summer heat — and Maine doesn’t disappoint in that regard.  The temperature will warm up, and we’ll be in the toasty 70s when the rest of the country is groaning about the intense heat.  It will be nice to the S and S team prevail.

Coronavirus And Commerce: One Town’s Story

The coronavirus pandemic, and the shutdown orders issued in response to it, have affected pretty much everything, and everywhere, over the past few months. Stonington, Maine is no different.

There’s no doubt that there has been a huge economic impact on this beautiful little town and the surrounding community. Stonington’s economy has two primary engines — the lobster trade, and tourism. Tourism clearly has been affected by Maine Governor Janet Mills’ orders closing hotels until June 1, and requiring visitors to Maine to quarantine for 14 days before interacting with locals. There aren’t many visitors to the town, and the businesses that depend on tourists have felt the resulting pinch. Three of the tourist-type shops in town are closed, and it isn’t clear whether they will open at s as you time this summer. One restaurant has announced it won’t be operating at all this year, another is running at dramatically reduced hours, and a third isn’t nearly as busy as it normally would be. There isn’t much foot traffic in town, either.

The lobster trade has been affected, too. The word is that prices are low, due in part to reduced demand caused by restaurant shutdown orders. The locals are hoping that prices increase when the Canadian lobster fishing season ends and only the U.S. supply is affecting the market.

2020 is going to be a tough year for all of these businesses. Stonington doesn’t have big box stores, chain restaurants, or franchises — it’s a small business haven where all of the businesses are locally owned, and the summer tourism provides a huge chunk of their annual cash flow.

The real estate market, on the other hand, is reportedly very strong, with places going on the market and being sold promptly — in some instances, solely on the basis of a video tour. Realtors are attributing the strong market to East Coast residents who want to establish a second home far away from the overcrowded cities where “social distancing “ is a challenge.

So, the coronavirus giveth, but the coronavirus mostly taketh away. It’s sad to see businesses closed and favorite restaurants going unopened this summer. We’re just hoping that the businesses can ride out 2020 and will be back in full swing in 2021, when things get back to normal — hopefully.

Eating Out (Again)

Last night, to celebrate the end of our 14-day quarantine, we went out to eat at the Harbor Cafe. It was our first dinner out in three months.

It was a little weird, being served by masked wait staff, but the restaurant had erected plexiglass barriers between booths and had implemented procedures to address social distancing, including having a designated “in” door and “out” door to ensure that people don’t bump into each other. And patrons are required to wear their masks until they are seated.

The masks and procedures made it a different experience, but it was a great pleasure to be served a hot meal and an ice-cold beer again. I got the fish and chips, and can honestly report that french fries truly are a revelation after a three-month respite.

We enjoyed our meal and gave our server a hefty tip. Working in a mask can’t be fun, and waiters and waitresses still have to make up for their shutdown period. We all should be generous with the people whose jobs were closed down due to the coronavirus.

At Quarantine’s End

Some time ago, earlier in the coronavirus crisis, Maine’s Governor imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all “non-essential” people entering the state. We’re deemed non-essential — which delivers a severe blow to my sense of self-worth, incidentally — so we’ve been complying with the order and have kept to the footprint of our little place for the last fortnight. We understand and respect why the Governor issued the order, and we want our neighbors here to see that we do. It’s important for “summer people” like us to acknowledge and abide by the sensitivities of the year-round residents.

Some time last night the quarantine period ended, so this morning I seized the opportunity and took an early walk to experience the newfound freedom and get some fresh air. It’s hard to overstate what a pleasure it is to stretch your legs and get some exercise after two weeks of being cooped up, and to see some different scenery, too. I enjoyed the flowers, the abandoned boats, the deep whiffs of harbor air, and just about everything I saw.

You can’t fully appreciate the simple pleasures of a walk until you’ve been deprived of one for days on end.

Maine’s State Hat

Politicians like to designate state symbols.  In Ohio, for example, we’ve got a state bird (the cardinal), a state flower (the scarlet carnation), and a state tree (the buckeye).  Our state is also, by legislative designation, represented by such things as tomatoes, flint, ladybugs, and the white-tailed deer.

Although state legislators seem to love designating state symbols — it’s pretty much a no-lose proposition, since the losing candidates for state bird or state insect are unlikely to complain — they’ve left some territory unexplored.  It’s somewhat surprising, for example, that more states haven’t name a state hat. 

Texas has led the way in this regard; some years ago it named the cowboy hat its official state headwear.  But other states haven’t followed suit.  That’s somewhat surprising, because officially designated hats can tell you a lot about a state.  New York, for example, would be well-represented by the kind of pork pie hat that Rocky Balboa wore during his debt collection days in Rocky.  Minnesota would probably choose the “mad bomber” fur hat.  Florida might go for a sun visor with two beer cans with sip straws on each side.  And California could opt for the kind of effete, snobbish beret that the Hollywood types wear.

If Maine ever designated a state hat, it would definitely be a ball cap.  Everyone around here, male and female, seems to wear one.  But it couldn’t be just any ball cap.  No, it needs to be a nondescript, ancient, battered ball cap, preferably with some salt stains on it and a bill that has been repeatedly bent and features a fair amount of fraying.  And the cap has to be in neutral shades — blue, gray, or khaki — and bleached of most of its color by repeated outdoor exposure.  Once you’ve got the right kind of hat, you’ll never get rid of it.  In fact, some ball caps you see have probably been passed down from generation to generation through the family patriarch’s last will and testament.

We’re still working on getting our ball caps into appropriate Maine shape.  We’ll know we’ve done it when we wear one to town and one of the locals looks at us, nods, and says: “Ayuh.”

Flower And Stone

If you’re anywhere near coastal Maine, you’re going to be around granite. There are outcroppings pretty much everywhere.

The granite makes a nice setting for flowers, if you can get them to grow on or about the rocks. The sun-bleached stone makes every color of a flower seem more vivid, and on a sunny day like today the hues can be eye-popping.

These purple beauties are just wildflower ground cover that grew naturally in the crack of the huge rock near our front door. You couldn’t have planned a better presentation if you hired a landscape designer.

A World Very Far Away

It’s been foggy the last few days.  This morning the fog is so thick that the rising sun is about as bright as a street lamp looming over the harbor, as the picture above shows.  When it comes to fog, Maine could give Sherlock Holmes’ London a run for its money.

As this morning’s sun shows, fog is a natural shield of sorts.  It obviously blocks your view of things that, on a clear day, you could see distinctly, and narrows your universe to the small realm that you can see.  It swallows and engulfs sound, too.  Sound waves fight to get through the legions of water droplets in the air, then just give up and fade away.  The silence of a foggy day is about as silent as the busy modern world can get.  Your ears will search diligently for any scrap of noise, simply not believing that it can be so quiet.  Even the sharp barking of a neighbor’s dog become muffled and softened.

It’s odd to be encased in fog as the country slowly emerges from a global pandemic.  On a foggy Maine hilltop, the coronavirus, and the harms and divisions it has caused, seem very far away.

Giving The Wave

On our recent trip to the Pine Tree State, we stopped in Camden, Maine to visit some art galleries.  “Stop Wait Wave” is painted on the sidewalk next to the crosswalks on Camden’s busy main street, substituting for a Walk/Don’t Walk sign.

The painted sidewalk notice is similar to the x-shaped “Stop, look, and listen” signs that you used to see at railroad crossings.  In Driver’s Ed class we were taught that you were supposed to stop at the railroad tracks, look both ways to see if the crossing was clear, and then turn off the radio and listen for the whistle of an approaching train before you decided to proceed.  The “Stop Wait Wave” signs are based on the same principle, except the “wave” is to ensure that you’ve alerted the oncoming drivers that you’re crossing.

As a committed pedestrian, I’m a big fan of the wave when you cross the street — especially in these days of distracted, texting drivers.  In fact, I give the wave even when I’m crossing with a “Walk” sign.   The wave is a friendly gesture, and the motion can help to get the driver’s attention.  If you wave and you get some kind of wave, nod, smile, or other acknowledgement from the driver in response, you can be pretty sure that the driver isn’t going to proceed into the intersection and knock you down.  It’s a sound defensive walking strategy, and it was nice to see that the Camden, Maine authorities agree with my view.

If it were up to me, I’d paint “Stop Wait Wave” on every downtown Columbus crosswalk.