The spiders of Stonington— industrious creatures that they are—have been busy these days. Every morning the grass spiders have left dozens of their distinctive funnel webs at various locations on the ground and between the flowers of our flower beds. And other spiders, not to be outdone, have left more traditional radial webs on the eaves and railings, as well as the occasional plant.
The spider activity seems to increase as the temperatures cool, and their handiwork is even more noticeable on dewy mornings. Part of my daily activity involves knocking webs off the flowers, which otherwise would look totally mummified and covered in dried leaves and other debris in a few days. And walking just about anywhere poses a risk of stumbling into stray spiderwebbed filaments.
In fact, if you wanted to adopt a scary natural Halloween look, you’d just let the spiders spin their webs undisturbed. By the time Halloween rolled around you’d have a creepy, cobwebbed house and grounds suitable for a slasher flick.
Sometimes the morning fog makes the world of Stonington look . . . different. This morning, the mist shrouding the sun as I returned from my walk gave this scene of the harbor from the foot of the Greenhead peninsula a kind of flat, monochromatic feel that looked like something you might see in a National Geographic article on Southeast Asia.
If you’ve ever been out west — into the countryside, not the big cities like Denver or Phoenix — you know that people who live there tend to have a different sense of property, and physical space.
Out west, things tend to get left where they are likely to be used again, rather than carefully returned to a garage or shed, stored, and locked up. There’s plenty of space and room for everything, it never rains so what’s the big deal, and who’s going to come by and steal the stuff, anyway? If you go out into the countryside, you’re likely to see things strewn about the property around many of the houses and trailers, whether it’s a car being worked on with parts left on a tarp, or a half-completed structure that looks like it hasn’t been worked on for a while. Some people might think it looks junky, but others would say it is trusting, and relaxed, and practical, besides. The owner bought all that wide-open space for a reason, so why not use it?
Maine has a bit of that devil-may-care quality that I usually associate with the west. As you walk around, you’re likely to see things just left outside, right where they are going to be used again. Boats, kayaks, canoes, oars, lobster traps, buoys, and boat trailers dot the landscape, and nobody seems to notice or care. It’s a much more relaxed mindset. Where city dwellers would have reflexive concern about potential theft, Mainers know from experience that it’s not likely that someone is going to steal a green kayak. And they are right: the police report section of the local paper really doesn’t report much in the theft department.
Getting used to this attitude requires Midwestern city dwellers like me to make a bit of a mental downshift, but once you get comfortable with it, it’s actually quite pleasant.
Sometimes it’s worth going out onto the rocks to get a photograph. This is a picture taken yesterday morning of the houses along the waterfront of the Greenhead peninsula, just to the west of Stonington’s city center. There wasn’t a breath of wind, and the water was as reflective as a looking glass.
Tonight we tried a new place for dinner. It’s called the Burnt Cove Boil, and it was great. I only wish we’d found it sooner.
In Maine, if you’re talking about a “boil,” you’re talking about shellfish. The BCB offers you a prime picnic table right next to the waters of Burnt Cove, paper towels, a succulent Stonington crab, steamed corn on the cob, a whole lobster, a wooden pick to extricate the crab and lobsters meat, and an ice cream sandwich for dessert — all for a very reasonable price. Oh, and one other thing — a baseball-sized rock to smash the assorted claws, legs, and tails as part of the participatory dining process. Beverages are BYOB.
The food was terrific and fresh from the boat, the setting was beautiful, and the shellfish smashing felt pretty darned satisfying after a long day of remote work. Burnt Cove Boil, in Stonington, is highly recommended. Be sure to ask for Jake.
A heavy fog moved ashore last night, leaving the world mist-shrouded and opaque for my walk this morning. As I walked down Main Street toward the center of town, this scene seemed hauntingly familiar. It reminded me of a vista from a dream, where everything lacks sharp edges and seems somehow unfinished.
The pier at Greenhead Lobster provides a pretty good view of the west side of Stonington. The houses are built into the hillside and rise in rows from the water’s edge. The slope of the hillside is so abrupt that houses that are not right on the water still can have a commanding view of the bay. In local realtor parlance, they are not “waterfront,” but “water view.”
When you look at the town from Greenhead, you notice the colors. Most of the boats and houses are white, which itself gives a very Maine-y look, but some bolder colors are mixed in here and there — bright yellows and blues and reds, stately gray, and Opera House green. For some reason primary colors just look natural on the waterfront.
It’s been years since I’ve had my hair cut by anyone but the Platinum Stylist. After a disastrous experience getting a hair cut on a Florida vacation several decades ago — when I emerged from the barber shop looking like a patient who’d gotten a bad buzz cut during a stay at a ’50s-era mental institution — I’ve learned that you should just find somebody who cuts your hair well, as the PS does, and stick with them. So I do.
But the coronavirus affected that approach, as it has affected so many others. After going three months without a haircut, I just couldn’t take my shagginess anymore. And in Stonington, getting a hair and beard trim means going to one place — Suzy’s Scissor Shack, housed in a quaint little building on Main Street near the post office. I walk past it every day on my morning jaunt.
In addition to being a real tongue-twister, Suzy’s Scissor Shack is strictly a one-chair affair, where you are tended to by Suzy herself. I am happy to report that she did a great job of freeing me from all of those annoying long hairs and returning me to my customary reasonably professional look. And while I sat we got a chance to chat a bit about everything from Stonington to lobstering to the issues involved with small businesses, like Suzy’s, trying to navigate through the red tape for the PPP loan program. It was an educational half hour where I feel like a got a glimpse of what it’s like for a person to run a small business in modern times.
It feels very good to have lost the shagginess, thanks to Suzy’s deft clipping. And now I know that, if I need a haircut up here, I can rest assured that I will be in good hands.
Last night we took a boat trip and headed due west to North Haven, an island community that is about a 45-minute boat ride from Stonington. On the way we enjoyed the sunshine and the salt air and the sailboats and the sighting of some seals lounging on a rocky outcropping in the water.
Our destination was the Nebo Lodge, an inn and restaurant on North Haven that is a favorite of ours. We had a fine meal at Nebo and brief walk around North Haven before we headed back to reboard the boat so we could make it back to Stonington before nightfall.
Our timing was impeccable, because the skies were clear, the sun hung low on the horizon, and the wispy clouds etched dazzling patterns high above as our boat steamed back east. We sat on the stern and watched the boats sail past, silhouetted by the sinking sun.
Dr. Science, the ultimate rationalist, observed the the sun was just the equivalent of countless hydrogen bombs exploding in an empty void. But the GV Jogger, Kish and I scoffed at his clinical analysis, knowing deep down that Old Sol was painting a brilliant canvas just for us, and we were going to enjoy every minute of the show — and take some pictures to remember it.
As we drew nearer to Burnt Cove, the sun dipped inexorably down and the horizon flared orange, leaving the waters a deep purple and the clouds fully backlit and glowing.
By the time we reached Burnt Cove harbor, the western horizon sill blazed with a warm but dimming celestial fire, while darkness was falling to the east. Our captain deftly steered between the docked boats as we took in the last scenes in the sun’s big show.
To the east, the clouds high above still caught the sun’s bright rays, and looked like wisps of pink cotton candy reflected in the waters of Burnt Cove. The blue sky looked vast and endless.
As we docked and disembarked, the sky was the color of cinnamon and salmon and every hue in between. Dr. Science may be right about the sun just being a colossal hydrogen bomb, but it really does put on a pretty good show.
It’s been blistering hot up here. Of course, “hot” is a relative term. “Hot,” by Stonington standards, means any temperatures above 70 degrees, and “blistering” means the thermometer touches 80. (Given their sensitivity to heat, I don’t know what the good people of Stonington would do if confronted by a true Midwestern or southern summer, where temperatures in the 90s and above are commonplace. Probably, they would be grateful they live up here, nod and say ayuh, and then stolidly retreat to these rockbound shores.)
But I digress. On the days that promise to be hot and dry, I try to give our plants a good watering. Because of the configuration of our yard and flower beds, that means using different watering devices and following a circuit.
I begin with the beds by our front door, where I can use a hose. We don’t have a spray nozzle, so I use the thumb-over-the-water-flow method to achieve a sprinkle, and give the beds a good dousing. They are on the western side of the house and won’t get sun for a while, so the water will get a chance to really sink in and do some good before the day heats up. The hose water gets very cold against my thumb and helps me to wake up, and I do the watering while I’m making coffee so I can get a hot cup of joe when the watering is done and the hose is rolled up.
The next stop on the watering circuit comes later, after I’ve taken a walk and given the ever-hungry neighborhood deer a reasonable opportunity to eat more of the down yard flowers. Because the down yard is in deep shadow in the morning, it can wait. There’s no hose, so I need to use a watering can that I fill to the brim in our basement sink. I carry the can down the steps and hillside and water three areas: next to the outside stairs, where I’ve tried to transplant a lupine and set up a little flower bed, the flowers I planted in the crack between our two big rocks and next to the creek, and finally the vegetables we got from Russell. It usually takes three trips and helps me to get my daily stair climbing in. I also inevitably fill my daily quotient of obscenities when I survey the damage the deer have done to the flowers in the crack between the rocks, where we’ll probably never get the black-eyed susan blossoms — they always get neatly clipped off by deer teeth just as they are ready to bloom. As I trudge back up the hill, cursing inwardly and trying to figure out some new, actually effective way to discourage the rapacious deer, I’ve become mentally ready to face the work day.
The last step in the watering circuit comes in the early evening, where I use a different hose to water the beds in the side yard and a little tree that has always struggled. The side yard is starting to get shade by then, and the hose water feels cool and crisp after a hot day. Watering, with its mindless back and forth motions to try to fully cover the relevant territory, is a good way to wind down after work and let the brain wander a bit. The side yard beds also are a bit more uplifting to water, because the yard is fenced and deer don’t bother it, so the flowers are actually blooming rather than being consumed. At the end of the day, it’s nice to see some fruits from your labors.
That’s my hot day watering circuit. The deer appreciate my efforts, I’m sure.
My morning walk takes me on a short stretch of Bayview Street, which runs along the eastern part of Stonington’s harbor. There are some old wooden stairs, worn smooth by the feet of the countless lobstermen, that lead from street level down to the colossal boulders edging the waters. This morning I interrupted my walk to capture this dramatic scene, as rain clouds began to roll in from the west.
There are always outboard boats coming into and heading out of the main pier at Stonington harbor, but you can tell whether the lobster fleet is out in force by the number of boats tied up at the floating outboard dock.
The lobster crews take the outboard boats out to their larger craft and anchor them in the harbor before they board the bigger boats to head out to sea for some serious lobstering. If the floating dock is empty, that means the big boats are out and hauling up hundreds of lobster traps, hoping for a good catch. If the dock is full, as it was this morning, that means the lobster crews are taking it easy and bracing themselves for tomorrow’s work day.
For the lobsters, Sunday tends to be a day of rest.
There are a number of reasons why you would wake up at 5 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in Stonington:
(1) It was warmer than normal last night, so you slept with the windows wide open to get some of that cool seaside air;
(2) At 5 a.m., the pick-up trucks carrying the sternmen are racing to the piers, and some of the early moving captains have their lobster boats revved up and moving out to the open water;
(3) With the sun peeking over the eastern horizon, the birds decide it’s a good time to call out to each other to make sure that all of the other birds in the neighborhood made it through the night okay; and
(4) When you get up to shut the windows and look outside, you see a sunrise that looks like a painting and you decide the better course would be to enjoy it for a while.
When we lived in our first suburban house in Columbus, on a street with about 30 other houses, our address was a four-digit number. When we moved to another street in the same suburb that also had about 30 houses, our house number was an even higher number up in the thousands.
But the most ridiculous example of suburban address creation came when we moved to New Albany, where we lived on a stubby street that was a small cul-de-sac with only eight houses — and our house had the highest four-digit number of all.
Why do so many suburban houses have such absurdly high house numbers that bear no relation whatsoever to the length of the street, the number of houses, or any other discernible objective fact? Did some property developer do a study at some point that found that houses with totally arbitrary four-digit numbers are somehow much more attractive to potential buyers and fetch higher prices? Or are house numbers assigned by some crazed urban planner who has a weird fetish for meaningless four-digit numbers?
I’m happy to say that Stonington doesn’t go in for such nonsense. The house numbers on streets start at 1, and on most streets don’t get higher than the low double digits. And the house numbers seem to relate to an actual count of the number of property parcels that have been platted out on the street. In short, the house numbers have some basis in objective fact, and the numbers do what numbers were originally created to do — keep count.
It’s refreshing, and actually kind of cool, to see real house numbers.
Stonington is a town built on hills, like a San Francisco writ small. There are hills everywhere. In fact, you can’t walk 30 yards from our front door without encountering a hill. But on my morning walk, two hills in particular loom large.
I’m a creature of habit, and I always take the same path on my 6:30 a.m. strolls. I follow Main Street to reach the downtown area, then turn right to head down to the mail boat dock and the east end of the harbor — encountering a few mild hills on the way. But after I enjoy the smell of the ocean air and sight of the boats on the water, I turn left and head up Granite Street — and I do mean “up.”
Granite Street (pictured above) is aptly named, because the Granite Street Hill is hard and brutal — like the stone that gives the street its name. The hill rises like a massive fist from the harbor, heading directly up at a constant 45-degree angle, so abruptly that you need to lean forward into the hill to keep your balance. The only redeeming quality of the Granite Street hill is that it is short in length. By the time I reach the top my legs are groaning and I’m breathing hard, gulping down big mouthfuls of that seaside breeze but feeling good that the first hill is behind me.
Then it’s down a gentle slope that heads back into town, past the coffee shop and library, where the second hill challenge is found. Pink Street (pictured below) heads north from town, past the motel cabins, and then winds to the left in a giant arc that skirts a stream that runs down to the harbor. The slope of the Pink Street hill is blessedly more gradual than its Granite Street counterpart, but the path is much longer, running about a quarter mile, at a constant 30 degree uphill slope, past houses, lobster traps, and the old high school turned community center. Every morning, I wonder if the Pink Street path will ever end.
Of course, it does, and when I reach the end I’m far above town and sea level, ready to head down a few more hills rising from the west end of the harbor to get back to our place. I’ve got one last little hill to climb, just before turning onto our street, but it’s puny compared to what I’ve done already. With Granite Street and Pink Street behind me, I’m ready to face the day.