Passport, Part III

Normally on ferry rides with Short Stack I get to enjoy a bubbly and entertaining conversation with him. Like most his age, he converses almost entirely in the form of questions and we have a great time looking for new things and then discussing them. This trip however, I was going to be second banana to the Shuttle. We’ve watched videos of various launches roughly forty-three zillion times and in these videos, most of the camera angles are very, very tight. Many of the actual movie feeds come from cameras bolted to the shuttle, the external fuel tank or the solid fuel boosters themselves. Because of this and because my detail driven son is a stickler for.. well… detail, he insists on reliving the experience as closely as possible with his own Shuttle. What this means is that he holds the toy up to his face, keeping his eye so close to its surface that it would be within reaching distance of an aphid. His mother and I have tried to dissuade him from needlessly endangering himself this way, but you might as well try to convince a horse to lay off the clover. It just ‘aint going to happen. So, for the last few months, Short Stack has essentially gone about the house with a Space Shuttle for a face, making eye contact with him all but impossible. As I sat and watched him launch STS-2452, I realized that what I hadn’t brought along with me today was daddy entertainment. No magazines, no laptop, no book. Luckily conversational salvation came in the form of Doug.

Doug is a new friend who has recently moved back to Maine and is in the process of getting his various ducks in their assigned rows. Today, he was headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his license changed and the two of us enjoyed chatting away about home construction, the weather and especially the entertainment value of watching small children play when they are totally absorbed in what they’re doing. The red headed object lesson across the table from us obliged by resting the point of the orange fuel tank on the tip of his nose and, with a aspirated “FWOOOOSHHHHH!” separated the Shuttle from its back as it continued to his own personal orbit.

“He’s pretty obsessed, isn’t he?” Doug smiled at my boy as Short Stack hummed audibly while flying his Orbiter over his head for a few seconds, then back to the table for landing and a quick reassembly of the component parts as it was prepared for it’s next mission, STS-2453.

“Oh, you have no idea. This is all we see or hear. It’s going to be great taking him to the Kennedy Space Center, but it sometimes feels like I’m chumming the water, you know? Like he doesn’t get enough of rockets already.”

I then explained to him that every morning, Short Stack got a dose of NASA with his dose of medicine.

For the first three winters of my son’s life, things were pretty horrible. He’d get sick with cold after cold. He had croup, which made his cough sound like he had swallowed a harbor seal whole. He was always run down and tired. He’s a real trooper when he feels sick and never lets it dull his enthusiasm for living but to watch him go through it was simply awful. We were first time parents then and were wary of becoming “those” parents who treated their children like precious snowflakes, freaking out when they all but sneezed by dousing the house in antibacterial soap and Clorox wipes. Short Stack is a tough little customer and we did what we could. Besides, this was normal, right? He’s a kid. Kids get sick, right?

Wrong. Not like this.

It took us two years longer than it should have but a late night trip to the emergency room and some seriously frayed nerves finally got us to a specialist and an answer, He has asthma. One of the reasons if faked us out for so long was that it isn’t the kind of asthma that you’re used to encountering. He doesn’t get winded easily. He can play all day and laugh his little belly sore with joy and never show the slighted sign of distress. It’s just not that SORT of asthma. There are, as it turns out, a variety of asthmas out there and his is subtler than the wheezing, inhaler needing type. His creeps up on him and will slowly make his life miserable until it blossoms into full blown pneumonia, which he’s had three times now in the distance of his short time spent on this planet. The fix was long in coming but it has thankfully, arrived.

The medicine he takes is taken in with the aide of a device called a nebulizer. All it is essentially is a vaporizer that he claps in his mouth and breathes in until the vapor stops. All in all, it takes roughly six minutes to suck it all down and as some of you might know from personal experience, six adult minutes translates into roughly four and a half hours in three year old minutes. A distraction, if not entirely necessary, does at least keep things from getting needlessly antagonistic in the father/son relations category. Essentially, it’s better for all parties involved. I plunk my computer down at the table, set up the nebulizer and then find something for him to watch. In the beginning of this ritual, it was cartoons that he wanted. Now, it’s the “orange tank” video, and nothing else will do.

The video actually has a lot more to it than just watching the Shuttle’s orange external fuel tank for ten minutes, though honestly, I think he’d be fine with that too. It’s actually a very well done production from off the NASA web site highlighting the STS-129 launch of Endeavor that took place a little while ago. The music is good, the editing is well done and it follows the launch from the rollout of the massive Vehicle Assembly Building all the way through liftoff and the eventual separation of the orange external tank in upper orbit. My son lives for this video and it always gets him running over when it comes time to sit down and beat back his asthma with the miracle of modern chemistry. It’s sort of Merry Poppins for the twenty-first century.

“Just a short NASA video, makes the medicine go down…”

The end result is that my son can function normally for a kid his age and also, he can tell you in detail what the launch sequence is for the Shuttle program, and will until you beg and plead with him to talk to you about something else… which isn’t so normal. All in all, I call it a worthwhile trade. I do rather wish we could watch some cartoons sometimes, though.

As the boat pulled into the dock, I picked up our coats and hats and to mild protests, the little wooden space shuttle as well.

“I was going to play Space Shuttle!” The miniature scowl on his little round face looked more comical than menacing but I knew it was the look of displeasure with my actions. He’s a cautious kid and I know how to play that.

“Buddy, we’re about to walk off the boat on the plank. You wouldn’t want to drop your Shuttle in the water, would you?” That made him stop. Besides being neck deep in the freezing temperatures of winter, the water is also way, way down there as you cross the gangplank. The handrails are good and sturdy, but anything dropped while you walk across it is pretty much doomed to the frigid waters below. He thought about this and came back at me with the best that any three year old has to offer:

“Why?”

“Well…” I had to think for a sec. There were a lot of answers to ‘why?’ but only a few right ones. He’s a smart kid and does not cotton to the one word answer, ‘because.’ I’d need to do better than that. “Because if it did drop, there would be no way for me or anyone else to get it. It would float under the dock and you wouldn’t have it anymore.”

That did it. The scowl vanished and the protest ended. We said good-bye to Doug and I wished him well in his battle with the DMV: The Place Where Things Never Go Well.

I had my son, his birth certificate and a check. Our first appointment was a quick stop to get some official pictures of him and then it was off to the Post Office to fill out paper work. The only error being that “quick” and “three year old” never go hand in hand unless you are dealing with a small mountain of chocolate. After paying the seven dollar fee at our local AAA office, I watched in pained fatherhood-ness as the photographer tried time and time again to get a good shot of my son. Over the last sever paranoia laced years, the US has implemented strict guidelines on how passport photos must be aligned and set. Getting a small child to adhere to these rules, even for a tenth of a second is kind of like trying to push water up hill. You can do it, but you’re going to loose your mind in the process. In the end, the sixth try was the winner and the frazzled cameraman happily gave it his resounding stamp of, “Meh, close enough!”

With the hard won pictures in hand, we moved on to the Post Office, place of Passport submittal. I vaguely remember doing this as a child, back in my hometown on some sunny day in a forgotten season. As a kid, the Post Office only meant two things: Boredom and wanted posters. As my Mother stood in a lone that would have made the ones at Disney World look tame in comparison, I would inevitably drift off to look around. Besides the slow moving caterpillar of humanity that zigzagged though the velvet rope obstacle course which I was not allowed to play with, there was little else to do other than study the faces on the FBI’s most wanted criminals which were always posted prominently near the door. Could one of these individuals be coming through town right now? Should I look around at the others here even now? The topic would tantalize my mind for whole seconds until I’d wander away again to have my eighth drink form the water bubbler and start playing with the velvet ropes that made up the customer corral until garnering “the look” from Mom.

Getting my passport was a different experience. We walked right by the twisting line and got to go into a previously unseen office. There was a desk, a smiling clerk and no wanted posters or ropes to amuse my self with. That, and the fact that the attention was somewhat on me, made its mark on my memory. I though about that long forgotten experience as I walked into our local post office with my son hoisted high on my shoulders and proceeded to the one window set aside for such transactions. Apparently, an entire office was no longer needed.

“Sorry. We can’t use this birth certificate.” As the clerk handed it back to me, I was more than a little confused. The paper work had specified that what they needed was an official certificate with a raised stamp, which this one was and had. What it didn’t apparently specify was what KIND of official certificate was needed. Silly me.

“Ok…. Why not? What do I need?”
“This is from the hospital. It’s not official. You need to get one from the city where he was born.” That was unexpected.
Luckily, we live in the city where our son was born so I wouldn’t have to send away for it. In fact, City Hall wasn’t that far away at all, so other than having to deal with yet another layer of beaurocracy, the situation wasn’t so bad.
“Ok,” I said with a pleasant grin which I hoped gave the feeling that I was not boggling at the foolishness of having to get another official birth certificate while I held a different one in my hand, just as official but not official in the right ways, apparently. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with the right birth certificate.”

As I gathered up what I had, the clerk hit me again. “And don’t’ forget to bring the child’s mother with you too. She needs to be here.” That stopped me.
“Pardon?”
“Both parents need to be present when a child pass port application is submitted. You both need to sign the form here and with me as a witness. You’ll also need to make sure you bring correct identification before you are allowed to sign.”
After a brief, “are you kidding me” pause, I just had to ask. “So… What would be considered proper identification for us to bring?” I waited and was rewarded with the reply I most suspected.

“A passport would be fine.”

For reasons unknown, all I could envision was a snake devouring itself. Around and around we go!

In the end, Short Stack enjoyed his time with me as we skipped along though the various public buildings in search of the correct documentation for his very own little blue book with the eagle on the cover. I’m reasonably sure he has only a vestigial grasp of why we were going through all the trouble, but like most kids, he’s used to going along for the ride while having little knowledge of the final destination. Come to think of it, that’s a fairly accurate summary of much of the time one spends from age zero to eighteen. Some even manage to draw it out longer.

As we finally stepped off the ferry and back onto our island home, we happened to bump into Doug again in the small herd of passengers that disgorged from the boat. In our brief reunion as we walked up the hill and away from the landing, I made a discovery that made me feel a little better. He too had been thwarted by the bureaucracy and was returning home empty handed. At least we weren’t alone.

Short Stack, at least wasn’t empty handed. He clung lovingly the bag containing his Space Shuttle. Within ten seconds of waking back through our front door he was already launching mission STS-2454 in the living room. If only our civil servants were so dedicated in their duty.

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Range Day

“You should go to the range this week.”

These are words that will always get my attention. When they come from Action Girl, they can almost bring tears to my eyes. This is how I know she loves me.

Things are finally getting warmer here in Maine and the snow banks are slowly creeping back into the woods. All this makes me itch to get my rifles back out after a long winter’s hibernation and spend some quality time making loud noises and punching holes in pieces of paper. Hey… the paper had it coming.

The problem that I’ve encountered lately is defining the time that I should get to go and play. Since I’ve left the Monday through Friday, nine to five world and put most of my energy into caring for the kids and working on the house, it’s been really hard to set aside time to go and do the things that I love. Don’t get me wrong. I love being with my three year old and one year old every day. It’s something that is invaluable and immeasurable and I am unbelievably lucky to have the opportunity. It’s just… sometimes Dad needs some downtime… or rather, Dadtime.

Going off to play does make me feel a little guilty on some level though.

It makes me think of a public service announcement that ran on TV when I was a kid. The ad showed a father going away on yet another golf trip as he left his wife and kids alone and sad looking in the dooryard, one child asking him why he wouldn’t stay. The message was something like, “Did you ever think of having fun with your family instead of being selfish? Dick!” (I’m assuming here that his name was Richard)

I know that I’m hardly in the “absentee dad” category and that I do indeed, get to go have some fun sometimes but it does run through my mind when I’m going off to enjoy myself by myself. Just a few more years of this and maybe I’ll have a little companion who will want to come with me.

Target shooting, one of my very, VERY favorite things to do, has become exceedingly difficult to get around to for several reasons. The first thing that makes it tricky is the fact that I live on an island, and though blasting away with .22’s at the dump might have been perfectly fine a generation ago, those days are most defiantly gone for good. I need to get to the mainland if I’m going to justify owning firearms, and that takes time.

There is no such thing as a “quick trip” to town.

luggage

Pack up your bag, walk to the dock, get on board, find a seat and wait. Dock, disembark, walk to the parking garage, find the car, toss everything in and NOW… you’re ready to start. It takes a long time just to get rolling and if you forgot something back home, say… your car keys, you get to use some very colorful language and toss all your plans out the metaphorical window.

When I worked on the mainland every day, I could decide to go shooting during lunch and simply bring a rifle along with me in the morning. Now if I want to go, it’s a special trip and I have to set aside a big block of time and these days, those are few and far between.

So, with taking care of the kids and desperately trying to get a few things done on the house, I just don’t get to go shooting much. That, and the small fact that winter in Maine will make just about anybody think twice about sitting at an out door bench for an hour while you try to feed frozen ammunition into your frozen rifle with your frozen fingers. Some how, frostbite always seems to suck the fun out of any occasion.

This morning, with the help of Action Girl handling the kid wrangling and the lovely spring weather if not full of the scent of tulips and daffodils, at least holding off the rain, I headed out with a bounce in my step. I’d done the right thing and called several friends to see if they wanted to come along, but being the middle of the week, all replied that they just couldn’t make it. I enjoy taking others out to shoot but this was just fine. Time alone at the shooting bench is a wonderful thing.

As I steamed into town working on the first of my two coffee thermoses, I chatted with a few friends and enjoyed the notion that I would have the whole morning off. A rare and blessed thing. The obligatory stop at the local doughnut shop to pick up provisions and I was ready to start the morning right.

The drive there is an easy one and if not exactly beautiful and pastoral, it is at least quick. By the time the first chocolate glazed was reduced to crumbs on my shirt and lap, I was pulling in and switching off the car. It was still early and all the ranges were silent, but not for long if I had anything to say about it.

I’ve been here many times before, alone and with friends, but it’s always more relaxed when I’m there on my own. No one to wait for when setting up targets. No botching a shot because you flinched when the person on the next bench fired just a half second before you. No worrying if you’re going to bean the guy to your right with a hot and freshly emptied shell casing when you pop the breach open with the enthusiasm that comes over you after a perfect shot. None of that for me today!

The last and best thing about shooting alone is music. I don’t know who invented the “ear bud,” but to them, I shall always be thankful. In addition to looking slick, cool and coiling up in your pocket, the little buggers also nestle beautifully under a set of ear protection, thus saving your hearing from the sudden concussion of rifle fire so you can crush it under the din of your favorite music.

music-protection

It was a Motown morning for me as Dianna Ross and Supremes joined me for a while during target practice.

After an hour and a half, I stood seventy-five yards away from a well holed paper target and just to the left of a sizable pile of empty brass. It was a great morning. Just as I was picking up, our range safety officer happened by to check on things. He’s a nice old gentleman and I’ve been privileged to chat with him on a few occasions. After our initial greeting his eye fell to the bench as his eyebrows arched. “So, what do we have here this morning?” I pulled the bolt open and handing it to him.

“It’s my Grandfather’s Mauser K98k. His brother brought it back from Europe for him and he had it sported into a deer rifle. I don’t usually care for sported combat rifles but this is a top notch job and obviously, it’s got the family history going for it. It’s actually my favorite rifle to shoot. I can’t wait until my kids can come with me to do this.”

He looked on approvingly as I cleaned it in preparation for its ride back home and we talked about shooting. He told me about how he used to go with his son when he was younger and how much fun it was. “He doesn’t like shooting any more though. It’s too bad. I have quite a collection to pass on but no one to pass it on to.”

“Oh…” I groped for a way to ask without being prying. What would cause that? He solved the problem for me and volunteered the answer.

“He joined the Navy and that was fine. He still liked to shoot and we had a lot of fun when he was home, but then he joined the Navy Seals and well… lost his taste for shooting after that.”

I can only imagine what might have happened to cause that change and to be honest, I’d rather not imagine too hard. I’ve never been in the situation where I had to shoot at another human being and I hope to God, I never will. I have the same hope and prayer for my children. I looked down at my rifle and thought about the young German soldier to whom it must have been issued. I wonder what happened to him? I wonder whom he shot at or if he ever even had the chance. Whatever his story, it was lost to time. The rifle was mine now and I was in charge of its use.

As I drove back to my island home and awaiting family, I thought about how enjoyable it was to have some time to practice a hobby that I enjoyed so much and then about my range-friend with his futureless collection. I truly do enjoy the sport but what he told me was sobering.

One of my Grandfathers taught me how to shoot and the other has supplied me with my two favorite guns to take out. I hope that someday I’ll get to take both my children out to enjoy days like this with me but if they don’t, I’ll hang on to my collection for as long as I can. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get the chance, years from now to sit down with a cup of coffee, my Grandfather’s .22 and my own grandchildren. I’ll explain how their Great-Great Grandfather got it for Christmas when he was just eight, and then I’ll show them how to use it. When they’re strong enough, I’ll get out the Mauser too.

Firearms are nothing to be taken lightly and I treat them with the respect they deserve, just like I was taught to. I feel that it’s an important lesson to pass along. Short Stack and Lulu Belle may not want to have anything to do with them, I know, but they will understand how to handle them. I hope they will at least humor their Dad at times and go with him to the range for a sunny morning of shooting.

It’s warm and bright this morning. The wind is barely perceptible and I still haven’t had breakfast. It’s just right for heading back to shoot some more. Not today though. It’s time to work; shooting can come later. Anyway, waiting for it makes it all the more special when I do go.

Maybe next week…

Power For The People

As I wrapped up my various projects at work, I glanced at the clock.

“Crap. It’s getting tight!”

Living on an island makes you a slave to the ferry schedule. In years past, missing a boat would have just been mildly annoying, but now with kids to pick up from daycare, simply going across the street and having a beer while I wait for the next boat is no longer an option. I HAVE to make the boat. No excuses.

As I bolted out the door and headed to my car, I was quickly reminded that living in New England means that the weather is never to be trusted. Though the tiny, high windows at my shop, I had noticed that it was raining out. This, as it turned out was not accurate. What had been actually happening was freezing rain. As I bolted out the door to the parking lot, I noticed with an expletive flourish, that my car was neatly encased in a quarter inch of ice. When I needed to hip check the driver’s door to encourage it to open, I knew that the scraping necessary was going to be athletic. Boy, was I right.

Peaking through the tiny holes I’d managed to clear and with a judicious use of sneaky back roads and a lot of colorful language, I did manage to get to the boat just in time and picked up the kids when I reached our little home off the mainland. When Action Girl finally ended her shift and made it home as well, it was pushing eleven o’clock. The rain continued to fall and freeze everywhere it hit. Trees were starting to bow and the roads were truly treacherous. We were asleep by midnight, pots of water filled and sitting on the counter in anticipation of the power taking a hiatus and giving us that “Little House on the Prairie” experience that we’ve come to expect in bad weather. This is far from our first ice storm and with both of us being native to New England, we’ve gotten used to Mother Nature trying to freeze us to death every year or two. You make the preparations you can and hunker down.

Confession time. Power outages don’t worry me any more. I don’t have to since I can make my own. I have a generator.

Growing up, I had gotten used to the power going out for prolonged periods and since we had a wood stove, the most a blackout meant was a game of Parcheesi rather than TV and sandwiches and popcorn instead of something warm. Honestly, I liked it. It was sort of like an adventure and best of all, it gave a valid excuse to get the hurricane lanterns out and play with fire! Action Girl had it a little rougher growing up in rural Vermont. They too had a wood stove to keep the children and pipes from freezing, but they also had a well. What that meant was that no juice equaled no water. If they suspected an outage was on the way, anything that could hold water was filled. I, having lived more suburbanly, had city water and could flush the toilet with reckless abandon.

When we moved to the island, we essentially combined aspects of our two, different childhood environments. Our neighborhood is packed pretty tightly like any suburb yet, we live on a well. If the weather is bad enough, no one is going anywhere and it wouldn’t matter much any way since everyone else on the island is in the same situation you are.

A few years ago, we experienced a North Atlantic thrill. It was dubbed the “Patriot’s Day” storm, after the holiday it occurred on and man oh man, was it a good one. This was our first instance of island living during hurricane-type weather. Our son was only about eight months old at the time and since my wife was out on the angry, frothy sea trying to get people back to their various costal homes, it fell to me to take care of things here.

The first thing to know is that we had just done some major construction on our house. What we bought when we moved here was a hundred year old structure that was built as a summer camp. So far as we know, we are the first people to ever spend a winter within its walls and I had been doing a lot of insulating. Because it was just a cottage, it also had no basement. The house sat on posts and the posts sat on flagstones. When the ground heaved in the spring, the whole structure would groan and twist. The kitchen was a downhill walk form the living room.

After a couple of years with our undulating floors and nowhere to store the Christmas decorations, we decided that it was time to fix this permanently. With only a truckload of money and several months of crazy work, the house was raised, the ground under it, excavated and a basement poured. Our house wasn’t going anywhere again and a marble, dropped by the front door, no longer makes a beeline for the back.

houselifting

Then, the storm came and our beautiful, new basement transformed its self in to an indoor pool. No power also means no sump pump. As I stood in my cellar watching the water rise, I was keenly aware of my son asleep up stairs, the foolish amount of stuff about to be ruined before my eyes and that the house was getting colder. When the house was lifted, we had to take down the chimney and thus, had no wood stove. Things looked pretty bad. As luck would have it, the self inflicted isolation of island living comes with some really fantastic community support. A neighbor, spotting a despondent looking, young father standing on a front porch asked if he needed any help. Within about ten minutes I had a small army emptying my basement ahead of the floodwaters and a couple of nice ladies caring for my infant son.

It all worked out fine in the end. We stayed for several days at a good friend’s house who had a guest room, a wood stove and tolerance for a baby waking up twice a night. The storm passed and the waters slowly receded and I waded back to deal with the mess at our place. With my Father’s help, I also got a generator. He had to look like hell to find any, but he came through.

As last night’s storm pelted the already heavy power lines and trees with yet more ice, I thought about the generator, topped up and ready to go in the shed out back. It made me smile. At three-thirty in the morning a huge crash from a tree giving up the ghost and a “Kra-KOW” and accompanying blue flash of a transformer going with it, got my attention. The power flickered, went out, and then back on. It did this a few more times, but always came back again after a second or three.

This morning we walked around the house resetting digital clocks and emptying emergency pots of water, no longer needed. Every surface out side was covered in ice and it looked like a world made of blown glass. Tree branches bent low or lay snapped, on the ground, encased in an heavy, clear skin. On the lawn, ever blade of grass was entombed in it’s own icy sheath.

frozen-grass

As it turned out, I didn’t need the generator this time, but I’m really happy to have it. I have children I can use as an excuse for owning it, but to be honest; I’ll never be without one again. Living the simple life is great when it’s your own choice, but me, I like to plan for it.

As things sit now, my plan runs on unleaded and produces about six thousand watts.

The Sewing Circle

Every day, I get to learn more about my neighbors than is normal, or sometimes, comfortable. I hear about whose car is dead, whose child is having trouble at school, and why someone I know isn’t speaking to someone else I know and how someone else’s vacation went. All this information comes to me daily and none of it is solicited for. Well, almost none of it.

How many of you have struck up conversations with the person in the seat next to you on a flight to somewhere? Perhaps you’ve made a connection with a total stranger on a long bus ride and said things that really out to be reserved for loved ones, the confines of your own head or a therapists couch. Oddly, it seems to be a fairly universal occurrence. A strange phenomenon happens to people when you throw them together on some form of transportation. We seem to open up and talk with people whom we would normally pass right by with nary a nod or a smile.

Over the years, I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this experience. The nice girl I met as I flew home to the States from Brussels. She had just finished visiting friends in Europe and was returning home to find a new job. She would be living with her mother for a while until she got her feet under her. Or the young man that my father got to meet on a flight to Hawaii. He was nervous because he would be meeting his fiancé’s parents for the first time. He was Caucasian, she was Japanese and the prospective in-laws were very traditional and old fashioned. It could be any one you meet. All you need to do is add forced confinement with moving in some form of public transport. Amazingly, it almost always seems to lead to loosened tongues and open conversations in my experience, any way.

talking

I have even had a brush with celebrity… sort of. He is famous, at any rate. I recall vividly the two hours I spent chatting happily about nothing in particular with a bearded, old man at a gate in Newark airport. He was animated, extremely interesting to listen to and a great listener in return. He told me about growing up in New York City when he was a little boy. About the day his mother, who was sweeping the front steps of their town house called to him excitedly to run to the front door. When he emerged and looked up, he was just in time to see the Hindenburg pass quietly overhead, heading for Lakehurst. Two hours later, it would be a smoldering wreck. We talked about this and that: kids, parents, friends and history. In the end, we boarded our flight and he wished me well on my trip. It was a pleasure to meet the distinguished Dr. C. Everett Coop, past Surgeon General of the United States. Of all the random chats with strangers I’ve had, his name alone do I remember.

Most folks, I suppose, would attribute this strange opening up of personal space to the rational that we will son be leaving our new found confidants in the next seat and can walk away with no worry of seeing them or any one they might know, ever again. Well, it aint true. It’s got to be something else. I don’t know what, but I know it’s not that. Here’s how I know.

I live on an island and every day, I take a ferry ride to the mainland. The ferry is the great equalizer for the folks who live on the rock we call home. People from big houses and people from small houses alike must ride the boat. It doesn’t matter if you own, rent or are staying with a friend. If you want to get to town, we all ride together. The ride is not a terribly long one. Adding the time you spend sitting in your seat and waiting for the boat to depart on schedule, you’re looking at anywhere from twenty to twenty five minutes. In that short time though, we all get to reacquaint our selves with what’s going on with who.

Conversations are struck up with people whom you only ever talk to on the boat. You might never get together over a cup of coffee and a danish out on the island, but you could easily wind up chatting with this person every day for the length of the boat ride. Even if you don’t participate in the great chatterbox that is the ferry, you still get the benefit, if you can call it that. Though topics of conversation might be a little more restrained than if you knew you had anonymity, you do still hear the details of your fellow islander’s lives as the chatter floats among the seats of the cabin.

A woman down the street from me is going to a conference for a couple of days. She’ll be talking a cab to the bus station and then will be heading for Boston. She’ll get to the station early since she anticipates it being crowded. Her husband is worried about the roof on the building next to his new office. Snow is coming and it looks like it needs work. I find out about a private marriage ceremony on a boat in the marina; the parents, uninvited and the bride, many months pregnant. The public works guys a few rows back are explaining to a fellow islander how the budget for their department works versus the fire and police, and just what they think of that. A young couple I know will be going on a camping trip to Hawaii soon. They don’t know where they will be camping, but they are excited since neither one of them has ever been there before. One of the local fishermen experienced a hernia while he was out working. He made himself a girdle out of duck tape to hold things together until he could steam back to shore and get to the hospital.

None of this information was part of a conversation that I was active in. It simply came to me like radio waves, broadcast across the aether. There is a simple truth to living where I do. There are no secrets. People talk about six degrees of separation, but here, it’s more like two. Though I am continuously amazed at islanders I know doing foolish things such as having affairs, I conclude that they are either just that naive or simply don’t care that they will be inevitably found out. We all know each other’s business and if we don’t, we will soon.

And the truth of the matter is, that’s okay with us. The vast majority of islanders simply don’t mind. Who cares? In many ways, it’s defiantly helpful. There’s less to hide about your life, mostly because there is no point in expending the effort to hid it. We all know each other far better than we should. It also means that we tend to take care of each other pretty well. We know who’s sick and we bring them soup. We know who needs a ride to work and we offer it to them. We know who’s having a party and we show up with clam dip. It’s not quite communal living, but it is community living, to be sure. News travels fast here, good or bad and I rather enjoy that. Why invest in a telescope and a wiretap when all you really need to do is make sure that you’re on the five o’clock boat heading home.

“She’s been seeing HIM? No way!”

Living Inside the Moat

The sun has come up on our little corner of Maine and as the chilly night air of autumn finds its way back into the dark corners and hollows, it makes room for warmer breezes and evaporating dew. This morning I find myself driving slowly around the neighborhood on a pleasant Saturday morning. The combination of encroaching cool weather and the start of the school year has sent most of the summer visitors back to their primary billing addresses and leaves the roads wonderfully navigable again. Things are quieter now and the folks who I see enjoying the fresh, new day tend to be folks whom I know well. I love this season.

At the moment, there are just two of us in the car. My daughter, Lulu Belle sits, wrapped in pink and flowers as she takes her early morning nap. The only visible movement being the miniscule bobbing of the pacifier as she does her best to suck the beejeebee’s out of it. Action Girl has left for work and Short Stack is no doubt still dreaming about locomotives, little white bunnies with scooters and possibly a dump truck or two at his Grandparent’s house. That is, for my folk’s sake, I hope he’s dreaming. A night with a two year old is always a crapshoot.

Friday nights for him are routinely spent at their house. It gives him something to look forward to during the week and to be honest, it give us something to look forward to as well. We love our son, but getting to deal with just one kid, for one day a week is a real treat. We’re all very lucky to have this opportunity, parents, grandparents and kiddos all.

I had driven to my parent’s house shortly after Action Girl had gone to work for the day but upon finding their house dark and locked, I decided that we should go for a drive and try to actually enjoy the place where we live. It’s really beautiful here but between kids, work and the pile of construction materials I like to call a “house”, I rarely get to go out and see this place for my self. Coffee in hand and Lulu Belle in tow, we headed out to see what there was to see. It would be a circular drive. They always are.

I’m going to tip my hand here and let you in on something that I’ve been keeping to my self. The reason that our locals are so “local” and our community so tight knit is that we really don’t have much of choice. The geography dictates it. This is because where we live is pretty cut off from the surrounding area. Very cut off, actually. By water… All the way around.

Action Girl, Short Stack, Lulu Belle and I live on an island off the coast of Maine and the Atlantic Ocean reminds us of that every day. I take a ferry every day to get to work. The only other option is to swim and that’s really not a lot of fun. If I’m very lucky, it’s Action Girl who’s piloting the ferry and I get to kiss the captain and deliver her some good coffee. It’s a definite life style choice to live where we do and it isn’t a good fit for everyone.

We have a local grocery store that does a very admirable job keeping us all fed. There are a few places where you can go and eat out and some really nice people who make living here a very enjoyable experience. There are however, no secrets out here and you have to be all right with that. If you have a skeleton in your closet, you can bet that everyone has talked with it and found out your deep dark secrets. If that bothers you, then this place isn’t for you.

It cuts both ways though. We have barely purchased any clothes for our young kids since they keep appearing by the bag on our front porch. During a particularly nasty storm last year that had us with out power, water or heat for several days, we lived with neighbors who were only too happy to share their home and wood stove. We lock our door when we go out for the day, but it’s really a formality since most folks know where the key is kept. I really like it here.

As our drive progressed, I took the rare opportunity to take some pictures of the things that I love about this place, both beautiful and foolish. Here are the products of my drive.


The apples are dropping now and the island geese are very happy about that. I don’t actually know if these are anyone’s geese in particular. They hang out on this end of the island and cruse the shallows down at the beach. You can find them year round either looking for handouts, hissing at random kids or more often, both.


The cottages and year round houses here tend to date from the early 1900’s. This neat little row, over shadowed by ancient oak trees looks down to the water. The 1950’s era lawn chairs are probably the real deal. It’s such a pain to get stuff out to the island so folks tend to hang on to things longer and take better care of them.


One of the last, old street signs. Its blue enameled face shows the creativity that went into naming the roads.


The view across the swamp of the old gun battery. During the Second World War, German u-boats were known to prowl these waters. The remains of military installations dot the islands of Maine. Ours in no exception.


The view from “back shore” is one of open ocean and other islands. Some are empty, some have towns of their own and others are owned completely by the rich and xenophobic. We can all see each other from our own little rocks in the water, but don’t visit much.


An excellent example of why I like it here so much. An islander’s car wound up in this little swamp at one point and had to be towed out. The road crew out here thought that the event deserved a marker. If you come to visit, remember; no parking in the middle of the swamp!


And back we come to our main street. A typical off season Saturday morning with empty roads and quiet lawns. When it’s time for the ferry to make its visit at our dock there will be a brief flurry of activity but once its gone, all will be quiet again.

So, that was our drive on a nice Saturday morning. Lulu Belle had slept through most of it and by the time I had come back around to my starting point, my folks and visiting son were up and enjoying the day. It’s not often that I get to take stock of my home. We spend so much time immersed in the work of life that we forget to pop our heads up from time to time and actually look around. It was a good morning for that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a pile of lumber that needs to be cut, placed and nailed into the approximate shape of an addition on Lulu Belle’s room. I glad for the mornings respite.

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