Quiet Friends

It’s the high season in Maine and it seems like every advancing wave on the beach washes up another family toting cameras, sunblock and a cooler big enough to put a complete thanksgiving dinner for twelve in. I don’t begrudge them their visit. It’s beautiful here! If it wasn’t already my home, I’d probably be tromping up the sand, ready to lay claim to some quiet corner of costal summer with my own sofa sized cooler. As it is though, we, the locals, get used to being the only ones here for much of the year and it’s always a little jarring to suddenly have to share. We know each other, who’s doing what and most importantly, where we need to stand to be out of the way.

No so, the tourist. They are everywhere and move about the place like a bunch of deranged and possibly concussed, chickens. Trying to get through our little downtown area gets aggravating but trying to drive out by the shore practically becomes an Olympic sport. Out on the ocean road, away from the docks, piers and tightly placed houses, tourists travel in packs of four to fourteen and decorate the roads. Blind turns and crests of hills become extra exciting when driving along these stretches. At the last possible second, the tourists will look up and gasp in disbelief that someone would actually choose to drive a motorized vehicle on their chosen path. Only begrudgingly will they make room. This is usually accomplished by the flock splitting in two like an amoeba and lining both sides of the road, thus insuring that if another car is coming from the other direction, one of you must stop and let the other go first.

For this reason, I try to take my bike as much as possible. That, and the fact that gas is now… what? Sixty two bucks a thimble? The reason for all the driving or bike riding is my son, Short Stack. You show me a two year old who can be successfully “put down” in his own bed for an afternoon nap and I’ll show you a bottle spiked with vodka. It’s out of the question. At least as far as MY two year old goes. What does make for a successful nap? Two things: lunch and motion.

After feeding him one or two of the six food items that he will let pass his lips, I take him out for a ride. He’s wise to this as a nap inducer, so I usually have to mask our trip as an adventure.

“Hey, Buddy! Let’s go see if we can find the sea ducks!” or…
“Hey, Short Stack! Do you know where the blue boat is? Let’s go find it!”

You get the idea. He’s only mildly interested when I’ve pointed out ducks before and as far as the “blue boat” goes, I just plain made that up. We might spot one but it would be pure luck. The point is to get him ramped up to go out. Nap? Who said anything about a nap?

So, since it’s not blowing snow in my face at the moment and I’m starting to feel a bit fluffy around the middle, I decided to pull out the bike trailer and my trusty mountain bike. The trailer is a really nice, top of the line “Chariot” which I was able to afford only because it was last years floor model. The bike… Ah, the bike…

My ride is a Gary Fisher Tassajara that has done some serious thundering over the years. Its been dumped off rock faces, gone end over end due to the roots of old and malevolent trees, been wheel deep in questionable brown water and carried my butt while flying through the air and praying for a solid landing, wheels first, if at all possible. The mud that has covered its frame could have build your dog an adobe house of their own. Action Girl and I have had some fantastic times flying through the forest at break neck speed. Now, it sedately tows my sleepy son as he questions me about the location of these dubious ducks.
He’s asleep within five minutes.

The crowds are pretty think and just trying to navigate amongst the day-trippers is starting to frazzle me. That, and the alarming frequency of having one yell to another of their group just as I pass with my snoozing cargo. I have to find a place to hide.

The beaches are, naturally, packed so I have to go somewhere a bit off the beaten path. The problem is that even the unbeaten paths tend to be filled with berry pickers or teenagers testing out what they learned biology class last year. Where to go?

I pedaled along for a while longer and then thought of it. In just a few miles, I quietly pulled into my favorite, secluded cemetery. I parked the bike and Short Stack in the shade, got out my book and leaned against a stone. After some time reading in the July sun and listening to the ocean breeze blow through the trees, I put the book down and simply soaked up the moment, place and peace.

I love a well kept cemetery. I find them peaceful, welcoming and above all, full of wonderful stories and affection. The white marble stone I was resting against belonged to Margaret C. She was born is 1842 and died in 1922. Not a bad run at all. She had lived through the American Civil War, had seen the first automobiles, watched the boys come home at the end of The Great War of 1914-18 and lived in the era of the giant airships. Across the top of this monument, even above her name, was simply inscribed, “Mother”. This was someone’s mother, and here I was leaning against her monument and looking at my sleeping son as father, born long before Margaret was gone. I smiled and pointed my boy out to her as if she was sitting next to me and in a quiet voice, told her how special he was.

Short Stack woke up about an hour later and once he got his bearings, we spent some time poking around this grassy place of memories. He’s been there many times with me and so knows what to look for. The puddle that’s ideal for tossing pebbles into, the best walls for walking on and even the which stones he can hide behind. We spent some time soaking up the sun and running over the short, mown grass. Eventually, we packed up and headed back to the house, weaving our way between the wandering sunburns and returning home to play with Lulu Belle.

It was a wonderful way to spend some time with Short Stack and I fully expect to do it again. Our friends at the cemetery don’t talk much, but their epitaphs say volumes. That’s the kind of folk who always make me feel welcome.

When the visiting tourist and summer crowds get too deep, it’s always a safe bet to look for us at Margaret’s. She’s always there and I hope, happy to see us. Also, she has the best place in town to nap under the whispering, July trees.

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A Hierarchy Of Worth

I spent a large chunk of my youthful summers by the sea shore. There’s a little community on the Maine coast where, back in the fifties, my Grandfather built a vacation house to take his sizable family on weekends. How a man from the hills of New Hampshire came to find this place is another interesting little bit of history. As a very young man thrown into the armpit of a hellish war, he made a friend. Both of these young men had become captains of large, specialized landing craft in MacArthur’s island hopping campaign. The branch they belonged to was the Army’s Combat Engineers and the fact that they both survived to the end is a minor miracle in its self.

His good friend was named George, though most everyone, with the exception of myself, called him Skip. I was a little kid and in those days, a child did not refer to an adult by nickname. George had grown up not merely on the coast, but on the water. He was a lobsterman by trade. One of a rugged bunch of men who made their living harvesting bugs from the ocean floor. George was gruff, big and instantly likable. At some point during the war, he told my Grandfather that if they ever got out alive, he should come see where he lives. George thought he might like it. He was right.

After they all came home, my Grandfather bought a piece of property from his friend’s mother-in-law, just across the street from George’s own house, in fact. The two friends set to building what would become our family’s cottage. Fast forward about twenty years and now there was a little boy, tottering around in the grassy lawn looking for toads and bugs. That, was me.

That place was magical to go to. By the time I was old enough to walk down to the little market in the village on my own, or ride my bike to the sea wall down front, I knew exactly where to go to find the most sought after kid-treasure of the ocean. I knew where the sea glass was.

I always remembered being amazed that it was there just for the picking. It was like finding jewels on the beach left behind by a careless lady, just waiting to be scooped up and dragged away by the incoming tide. The part that I liked the most was that just finding it wasn’t enough. For it to be any good, it had to be “done”. No sharp edges, no clear, unscuffed bits and yet, not over cooked either. The pieces had to be big enough not to slip through the hole in the corner of your pockets. It was like sifting for diamonds.

We had a particular place that we liked to go to and the few of us who knew about it, guarded its location carefully. It was set up as the perfect mechanism for grinding glass into jewels. A natural outcropping of rock funneled the sea through a small gap where the stone was warn smooth by a billion waves. As the sea surged in, it ground what ever it pulled along over a blanket of fine sand and pea sized rocks. We called it “The Gates” and it was natures polishing wheel on the Southern Maine coast. The gates look directly out to sea, but for some reason, an amazing quantity of glass was refined and deposited there and for those of us who knew the secret, we were its stewards. All this would have been a boon for any treasure seeker but there was another surprise. This place was rich in one of the rarest of commodities: blue sea glass.

There was a hierarchy of sea glass that was pretty universal. Kids could understand it and take to it quickly and no one who I ever heard of, disputed where the various colors were on the list. From the least to most sought, they run like this…

Brown,
Green,
White,
Light Blue,
Blue,
Oddities.

Oddities were bits of pottery with intricate designs or glass colors that were just so rare that they belonged on a list of their own. The oddity that was claimed the most was red glass, but calling it common is not right. It was simply the most common of the rare. I can say that I’ve probably only come across a dozen or so pieces of it in my life. You never expected to find them but when you did, it was big news.

No, blue was the color to look for. The pieces were usually small. Smaller than any of the browns, greens or whites. Nothing back then was still being sold in blue glass jars and so what we were finding were the remains of inkwells, old medicine bottles or bits of depression glass. They had been rolling around with the sea for a long, long time and had been reduced to tiny fragments that were easily missed. A honed eye could find them, though. So, like a bunch of wet footed truffle hunters, we scoured the sands at The Gates, sun burning the backs of our ears and chins welded to our chests. When the incoming waves finally chased us off our patch and the last glance down was torn away, our eyes focused upwards and we would go home to count our bounty.

First came the sorting. Color piles were made and sandwiches were provided by smiling mothers. The potato chips and pretzels were always a little soggy from the humidity but it was never minded by the happy hunters. After that, the vetting process began. Pieces that had been picked up in haste were scrutinized by the group and if they did not pass muster, then they were voted down. They were not done yet and need to be returned to the ocean. The piles must all be of high quality. Then, the trading began.

“How many light light blues for that good blue piece?”
“I have a white that looks like a horse’s head. I’ll trade you for five big browns.”
“This once still has some pattern to it. Any one want to trade? What do you have?”

It was a great way to spend a summer day.

Now when I walk the beach, I can’t help but look down. In various boxes, forgotten to the basement or shed, sit bags and bags of old, hard won treasures, far too special to dump. I don’t need any more sea glass but I still can’t seem to keep my gaze away from my feet for long. I’m more particular about the pieces that go into my pockets now and try like hell to leave most of it where I find it, but old habits die hard. Blue is not as rare as it once was, now that it’s back in bottling use. I tend to walk past it now. An old bottle rim will stop me though, as will a piece with some printing on it. Though I don’t get down to the family cottage much anymore, I have found little places here and there near my new home. The pickings aren’t as good, but then again, no place ever could be. Some day soon I’ll have to make a pilgrimage back and be sure to bring my treasure hunters in training. Once they get a little older, I think they’ll be good at it. After all, they’re closer to the ground and have better eyes than the veteran, showing them the ropes.

The Fog Monster vs. Action Girl

Spring is starting to get down right summery out there and since we live on the coast of Maine, this means one thing for sure: Fog.

At the moment of this writing, I’m sitting on our couch. Lulu Belle is lying down next to me, happily making “Nook, nook” noises as she chews the ever loving bejeezus out of her pacifier. The day is early, earlier than I prefer to see it, but in a bid to get Action Girl some badly needed sleep, I’m taking over as the first shift warden for our two month old and have moved her to the living room. As she wiggles away, I’m watching thick rolls of fog out side, moving through the neighborhood, making my already tired vision seem that much blurrier… but that’s okay.

I have fond feelings for fog. When I was a kid, I spent as much of the summer as possible at the family camp in Maine. We lived in New Hampshire and though it got foggy there too, it was mostly down in the swamps, which rather lacks romance… unless you’re an amphibian, I suppose. When we were in Maine, you could hear the fog horn distantly blowing from the lighthouse off shore. You had the sounds of sea gulls, hidden from view, wheeling in unseen air. The fog, like thick, wet bats of cotton would visibly roll down the streets and cover everything in beads of water. To me, it was a big part of the experience of being on the coast and I loved it. Still do, really. I’m nostalgic by nature and today’s foggy morning takes me back to those times of my youth.

Action Girl… she has other feelings. To her, the mournful, far away call of the fog horn makes her stomach drop. She hates the fog. It makes things harder than they have to be. It makes her day longer and means that she’ll be that much more exhausted when she gets home. You see, Action Girl is a sea captain. She dives rather large vessels for a living and to her, a day of fog means a day of driving by radar, never taking your eyes off the bow and watching out for knuckle headed bozos in other boats who don’t know what they are doing. Judging by the stories she has told me over the years, the bay isn’t short of knuckle headed bozos.

Her feelings about fog have become seared into her being. After visiting at a house not too far away last night, I decided to take the coastal route home, rather than through the village. It was dark out and the tide was in and I was hoping to take a peek at the breakers on the shore. I figured, “Hey, we live on the coast, we might as well enjoy it form time to time”. As we came around to the shore road, the picture was one of quintessential Maine. Rough rock faces were being slammed by towering white waves in an endless fight between land and ocean as lobster buoys bobbed some distance off and a bell buoy could be heard clanging in the distance. The air was warm and the whole scene was shrouded in fog. I immediately smiled and was happy we went this way, then I heard the groan from the passenger seat. Sitting next to me, Action Girl looked out at the exact same scene. What I saw as an oil painting waiting to happen, to her looked like a lot of work.

In just a few days now, Action Girl will be going back to work after a long hiatus following her pregnancy and birth of Lulu Belle. It’s been ages since she’s had to deal with fog and now it looms large in her mind. It’s just another factor that makes her job that much harder, and I sympathize.

As I look up now, the sun is shining warmly and the fog is quickly burning away. The warning horn from the nearest lighthouse is still blowing, but will stop soon. By the time she gets up today, I’ll be on my second cup of coffee and Lulu Belle will be on her third diaper, but the fog monster will be gone and I won’t mention it to her. She has enough stress in her life.

Secretly though, I’ll continue to enjoy the sight when it comes. It’s part of living in Maine and thus, part of why we’re here. I’m just glad that I don’t have to drive in it too. Sorry, Action Girl.

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