Salt Life

People up here live the “salt life.” That means they are out on the water frequently— in fact, pretty much all the time. This couple was kayaking into town, probably from one of the islands in the harbor, first thing yesterday morning, around 7 a.m. Very impressive!

There’s something about the water that pulls you to it. The people here have stopped resisting the lure of the salt life, and they seem happy about it.

Out Of An Abundance Of Caution

The Stonington airport is basically a strip of asphalt, a windsock, and some outbuildings, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t appropriately focus on safety and faithfully report on pertinent federal regulations. This particular federal regulation, though, is a curious one. You wouldn’t think that this kind of regulation is really necessary. It conjures up images of an unfortunate walker incident where a person using a walker was out on the runway trying to dodge an incoming aircraft—and not quite as nimbly as the Cary Grant character evading the crop duster in North By Northwest.

But it’s the second part of the regulation that is the real head scratcher. No wheels on the runway? Hey, doesn’t the landing gear of all planes feature wheels?

Resolution’s End

You see some interesting things at the Stonington town dump (technically called the town “transfer station”). This exercise equipment no doubt started out its existence with an owner who was full of promise and and enthusiasm and resolution. Now, it’s been brutally discarded — perhaps because the owner just couldn’t stand the pangs of guilt they experienced when they looked at it, unused and gathering dust in the corner of their bedroom — and it has landed at the dump, among the broken down lobster traps.

I’m confident that lots of the stuff at the dump has an interesting back story., but pitched out exercise equipment has got to be at the top of the list.

The Deer Factor

During our unseasonably cool Fourth of July weekend, I noticed that many of our flowers were just getting ready to bloom.  Having planted a number of them and watered all of them, I was eager to see the splash of colorful blossoms and how the flowers looked in our setting.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.  When I left yesterday morning to take my walk, I saw a flash of a white tail in the distance and a deer bounding away through the underbrush.  And then when I checked on our flowers, I was disappointed to discover that something had neatly clipped off, and presumably happily consumed, the flower buds that were just ready to burst, leaving only the bristling stalks behind. 

I’m guessing that the deer is the culprit.  And when I checked on other flowers we’ve planted, I saw that some had also been trimmed of their tender and delectable buds — although some had been left alone.  Apparently, the deer of Stonington have discriminating tastes.  Only the flowers that are in the fenced-in part of the yard, and the thorny wild roses that grow from the rocks next to the house, were totally safe from the scourge of deer teeth.

I’ve checked into what you can do to discourage deer from eating your flowertops, and frankly the cure sounds worse than the disease.  The Better Homes and Gardens website notes that smelly things might work, at least temporarily, and suggests placing odorous objects like mothballs, fishheads, and “processed sewage” that might repel the deer.  The problem is that they would no doubt also repel us.  The other alternative is to try to create physical barriers like rigging hidden fishing lines, putting up netting or fencing, or hanging shiny objects like aluminum pie plates.  Again, this seems like it would interfere with our enjoyment of the grounds, and in any case is unworkable due to the size and nature of the area that needs to be addressed.

The last option is to go for “deer-resistant plants.”  But the BHG website page on “deer-resistant plants of the northeast” cautions: “There aren’t really any plants you can truly say are deer proof. And the animals are smart and unpredictable — so the deer in your yard may love a particular plant, but avoid it in a garden down the block.”  And it seems like planting presumably deer-resistant plants that hungry deer might decide to eat anyway isn’t going to keep them from devouring the other tasty perennials that I’ve already planted.  

So it looks like we’re stuck.  I guess I’m just going to have to start appreciating the rare beauty of denuded flowerstalks.

Ground Fireworks

As was the case in many communities, Stonington cancelled its annual Fourth of July fireworks show due to coronavirus concerns.  Of course, that didn’t stop people around town from setting off strings of firecrackers, with their familiar staccato explosions, now and then.

And if you like the color of fireworks, you’re not going to be deprived in Stonington, either.  With the arrays of brightly colored lobster buoys that you see just about everywhere — even in the back of bright red pickup trucks — you can get your fireworks colors fix just by keeping your eyes open.

The Lone Dory

Coastal Maine is a scenic place, and Stonington has its fair share of photo opportunities. Sometimes, if you keep your eyes open, they just appear in front of you, the result of a combination of weather, viewpoint, circumstance, and just plain luck.

I caught this picture of a lone boat at anchor just off the shoreline east of the mail boat dock during my early morning walk yesterday. The calm waters allowed for a clear view of the floating seaweed and the huge rocks just below the water’s surface.  At the same time, the fog in the distance left the boats farther out in the harbor shrouded in mist. while totally obscuring the islands beyond, making the top of the picture look like a kind of unfinished artist’s canvas. The colors are subtle and subdued.

Against that backdrop, I was struck by the sharp image of the lone boat — which I am pretty sure is called a dory — all by itself on the placid water.  The scene seemed to perfectly capture an almost mystical feeling of calmness, and solitude, and quiet.   

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.

Masked Market

Stonington holds a farmers’ market in the parking lot of the community center every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.  Last Friday we paid our first visit to the market during the COVID-19 era.

There’s no doubt the coronavirus has had an impact on the market.  For starters, there were fewer tents and tables set up by sellers, and they all were all distanced from each other, which gave the market a more spread-out feel.  There were fewer people walking around, too — and of course everyone was masked.  There was a pleasant young woman at the entrance to the market who was the designated “masking enforcer,” tasked with keeping the unmasked from entering.  She reminded us of the need to be masked and had hand sanitizer that she was ready to share with anyone who wanted to scrub up.  The potential customers weren’t supposed to touch or handle anything and also were supposed to keep their distance from each other — as the posted signs indicated.  As a result of all of these factors, the market didn’t have the bustling, crowded atmosphere that you associate with a good farmers’ market and that we saw at this market last year.

Still, in a weird year where all kinds of performances and events and community gathering opportunities are being cancelled outright, it was encouraging that the Stonington farmers’ market was being held at all.  And my sense from interacting with them was that the artisanal farmers who were participating definitely appreciated just having the opportunity to sell their vegetables and fruits and smoked meats and farm fresh eggs directly to the public.  If you are a small-business owner who is counting on different farmers’ markets as venues to sell your products, outright cancellation of all of your sales outlets would be devastating.  If the economy is truly going to recover, and the recovery is going to small-business owners like artisanal farmers, it is crucial to have events like farmers’ markets.

As has been the case throughout the coronavirus reopening period, Kish and I spent more than we really needed to, just to try to help the sellers get back on their feet and recover from a challenging time.  We bought eggs and cheese and smoked meat from multiple stands, and it all was great.

We’ll be going back to the farmers’ market on Friday, and will try to pay the market a visit on every Friday when we are here.  And I bet that we’re going to see a definite pick-up in the number of people selling and the number of people buying, as the word gets out that you can do so safely and people decide they are willing to accept the risk.  While appropriately masked and distanced, of course.

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.  

A Class In The Mist

The Class of 2020 hasn’t exactly been the luckiest class in the history of the American high school system. 

Just as they were nearing the end of their senior year, getting ready for prom, and their senior class parties, and their graduation ceremony, the coronavirus pandemic hit, classes in most high schools across the country were abruptly cancelled, social distancing and limitations on congregation were imposed, and everything had to happen remotely — which isn’t exactly the ideal setting for your last hurrah with your high school chums and besties.

In Stonington, as in many U.S. cities and towns, the community has rallied behind the Class of 2020 and tried to give them a memorable graduation notwithstanding all of the limitations.  In the downtown area, small posters of the members of the graduating class have been put up on light posts and telephone poles to recognize their achievement.  Stores are displaying signs to congratulate the seniors, and the town organized a parade in which the seniors rode, individually, in back of open-air cars while they were cheered on along the parade route by members of the community — all of whom maintained appropriate social distancing, of course.

High school wasn’t the favorite time of my life, and I didn’t feel like high school graduation was a particularly big deal.  At the same time, I enjoyed the graduation parties and senior prom and the graduation ceremony itself.  For me, at least, it gave a sense of closure of one chapter in my life and the message that it was time to move on to college, and beyond.  Thinking about it now, with the knowledge of what has happened to the Class of 2020 in mind, I think I probably would have missed the whole process if I hadn’t experienced it.

I’ve written before about doing what we can to help people whose lives have been turned upside-down by COVID-19 to make up for the loss and disruption — by frequenting restaurants, giving very generous tips, and so on.  The same goes for the Class of 2020, and it’s nice to see that communities like Stonington, and other communities across the country, are doing special things to recognize the unique impact the Class of 2020 has sustained.  If you know of a 2020 graduate, give them an especially hearty congratulations, will you?  And when the Class of 2020 gathers for their 10th, or 25th, or 50th reunion, we can hope that they’ll have some positive memories about parades, and signs, and special recognitions to recall. 

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.