Thursday, August 25, 2016

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

The state of Maine received stunning and wonderful news yesterday: after landowner Roxanne Quimby transferred the deed of more than 87,000 acres to the U.S. government, President Obama announced an executive order creating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. When I first moved here more than 20 years ago, talk was beginning about Quimby's hopes for a new national park, but there was much local nastiness. One of the founders of the Burt's Bees cosmetic company, she had used her earnings to buy up large swaths of timberland, pissing off paper companies and irritating hunters and snowmobilers who felt they had rights to use the property. "Dump Roxanne" bumper stickers proliferated on pickup trucks. But as milltowns in the region have begun to die, it has become clearer that conservation is really their only economic hope. And so little by little Quimby and her son Lucas St. Clair, who is now the face of the project, made their case for its protection.

This is Wabanaki country, Thoreau country, Audubon country. Its 87,000 acres are the giant version of my tiny 40-acre plot: running water, vernal pools, massive trees, lichens and stones and teeming animal life. I cannot tell you how jubilant I am about this. And our horrible reactionary governor is powerless to stop it.

If you're wondering about how the cretin and his cronies are taking the news, well, here's a headline in today's Bangor Daily News: "LePage conservation chief: 'Swampy woodlands' should not be a national monument." Go ahead and tell that to this moose, you moron.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

For the past several weeks my garlic harvest has been curing in the barn, and yesterday I cut down the bundles and trimmed up the heads for storage. It was a beautiful crop: fifty-plus heads, fat and white and firm. Under normal circumstances I'd now separate out about a third of the crop for seed, but I have no idea where I'll be next spring so I cannot plant garlic in October. This makes me a bit melancholy. A friend fighting cancer once told me that seeing her garlic sprout in April was how she knew she'd managed to stay alive.

Ah well.

I looked at the news this morning: a morass of earthquakes and bloodbaths and racism and Donald Trump. But I have reliable heat in my house. And my cat hasn't run away from home again. And Paul and I will hug Tom at an early-morning diner breakfast on Friday. And my sister will meet me in Vermont and we will spend a giggly night together after we unpack Paul. And I have figured out an alternate route to the college so I don't have to drive over the bridge that scares me. None of this is fair, and it all makes me cry, and it all makes me angry, and it all makes me ashamed, and it all makes me wonder what grace demands, and what travesties loom, and where, and why, and when.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Today will be another running-around day, mostly for the sake of getting out of the house while the propane-company employers install a Rinnai heater in my living room. With this expense, we will cross another line: we will no longer own a house entirely heated by wood.

Other than the uglification factor involved in adding a boxy white heater to the living-room decor, I am relieved about the change. If we sell the house, we will need to have backup heat so the buyers can get a mortgage. If I live alone in the house, I will need to have backup heat because Tom hasn't cut any wood for the winter. Last year's leftovers won't get me through January.

Yesterday I taught the boy how to sew on a button. I read about a sadistic commander's horrific regime on Australia's Norfolk Island at the turn of the nineteenth century. I copied out some of Rilke's Duino Elegies. I made curried coconut soup with lemongrass. I mowed grass and picked dahlias. In the evening I closed the windows and put on my thick red bathrobe. Autumn crept through the cracks, and the boy played the piano in his room. In a few days I will be back to living alone, but at least now I know what I'm facing.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Buckets of rain, and Tom's headlights driving away into the wet dark. Another Monday.

* * *

I didn't write to you yesterday because I was distraught about my cat, who'd been gone for 24 hours . . . the longest he's every vanished. But just as I was steeling myself to accept the likelihood that he'd been eaten or run over, he reappeared at the back door, snarky and insouciant and demanding brunch. So the little jerk is back, and I am relieved and exasperated, in equal parts.

He went to bed in the recycling basket, and the rest of my day improved considerably. Tom and Paul had the good idea of canoeing out to the point for a picnic dinner, so I made BLTs and corn salad and brownies and then sat queenlike in the middle of the canoe, shrieking slightly as we tipped and wobbled across the choppy lake. Tom, who usually paddles stern, formally gave up that spot to Paul. He joked that it was a Harmony bar mitzvah: "Now, son, you are a man. Steer us through the waves." And Paul did.

It is nice to be bossed around by your kid when your kid really knows what he is doing.

Here's what we saw just before sunset.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I've mostly spent this week focusing on Paul . . . i.e., trying to cram an entire summer's worth of getting-ready-to-leave-for-college into the space of two weeks. But I've also starting working on Frost Place plans for next summer, and that has been both exciting and elegiac, given that my dear Teresa Carson has retired from her position as associate director. There will be big changes in 2017, yet I have confidence that our program will keep climbing and striving.

I have to say that it feels good to write those words "I have confidence." We had such an extraordinary session this past summer, and I know that some of that success was due to radical changes I made in scheduling our visiting faculty. It's always tricky to take over a program from another person; and when that person is a charismatic, as Baron is, the trickiness is intensified. So it's taken me a few years to figure out how to create my own version of the conference he began, how to adjust it to my own personality and to the ever-changing needs of our participants and the world in which they teach.

So as this difficult summer draws to a close, I look back and wonder why I spent so much of it in tears. Both of my boys are thriving. My husband is content in his new job. My beautiful old dog died graciously and gracefully. Two really nice young people are thinking about buying my much-loved house. My esteemed colleague Teresa is happily retiring into the next stage of her life. I wrote some poems that aren't terrible. You are my friends. I play in a band. My cat bosses me around. The dahlias are in bloom.

Friday, August 19, 2016

I suppose I ought to get out of my chair and frantically tidy up the house for the real estate agent who's dropping by this morning. Then again, there's nothing I can do about the fact that we need a new roof, so I might as well let myself enjoy this hot coffee. I am hopeful that the agent's visit will be the penultimate step in the "will they make an offer?" drama that's been keeping us up at nights. But who knows? I've never sold a house before; it's all a mystery to me.

I've been busily cooking for boys, weeding in the garden, accumulating dorm-room supplies, mowing grass between raindrops, and reading about crime in Georgian England. Did you know that "impersonating an Egyptian" (i.e., a gypsy) was a capital offense? So were "cutting down an ornamental shrub" and "appearing on a high-road with a sooty face." I am learning a lot from this Hughes book.

Yesterday I asked the boys (two of the least criminal types you'd ever hope to meet) whether they agreed with the author's generalization that "crime is, was, and always will be a young man's trade." They thought for a moment and then said yes.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Notes from my home: Two 18-year-old boys frying eggs and chattering and listening to Spotify and reminiscing about high school and teasing each other and nervously comparing future college roommates, and all of a sudden one cries out, "I love music!"

* * *

Thanks to everyone who chimed in about Hughes's Fatal Shore. It seems that I have gotten lucky. Here, for instance, is are the opening paragraphs of the book. When I read it aloud to my son, he got very quiet, and then opened his eyes wide, and then said, "Wow."
In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonize Australia. 
Never had a colony been founded so far from its parent state, or in such ignorance of the land it occupied. There had been no reconnaissance. In 1770 Captain James Cook had made landfall on the unexplored east coast of this utterly enigmatic continent, stopped for a short while at a place named Botany Bay and gone north again. Since then, no ship had called: not a word, not an observation, for seventeen years, each one of which was exactly like the thousands that had preceded it, locked in its historical immensity of blue heat, bush, sandstone, and the measured booming of glassy Pacific rollers.

* * *

Notes from my home: . . . and now the other boy shouts, "Want to hear the greatest key change ever?? Listen to this! . . . " [Quickly messes around with his iPad and pulls up Arcade Fire's "Every Time You Close Your Eyes." Both boys and I instantly get very excited about the key change.]