Tag Archives: Maine

December, also ambivalent

It's just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

It’s just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

We made it through hunting season in November and I don’t have to walk around looking like a pumpkin with legs anymore, and now we’re well into December and it all comes back to me, the things to love and the things to, well, not so much.

I like the snow and as I write this we’re expecting a decent dump starting late tonight.  I’m a night person so I often do a preliminary shovelling of my sidewalk (is it the only one here in Monroe?  Might be.) so that I don’t have to move huge amounts at any one time.  Snow falling is magic and December is usually about the first snows that everyone enjoys.  The snow in April is enjoyed by far fewer folks.

That co-dependant holiday is just around the corner and the millions who do the obligatory gifting are crowding the venues.  A bit closer to the day and you might wonder if no one ever eats  except two times a year if you dare the grocery store.  It took me a couple of times but if you live in Canada and go to someone’s house for Christmas dinner you still need to shop before the holiday anyway, because ALL the grocery stores are closed on Boxing Day.  Weird.

But my real love/not-so-much with December stems from my life with Mr. Ever-Vigilant/ Scourge of the Forest, Murphy.

Who me?  I'm a love puppy.

Who me? I’m a love puppy.

The temperature is cold enough that he has lots of energy to patrol and bark which it is in his nature to do.  The leaves are gone from the trees and the air is crisp and a good barking rhythm can carry across the valley quite nicely, reminding all residents of the woods that they might better avoid this particular stretch.

Until there is a good amount of snow on the ground to make the excessive (in my mind) patrolling difficult, nearly every day it is possible that Murphy will not return from our afternoon foray up the hill and instead will move back and forth barking.  I would take him in the truck to Northern Pond and do our walk there so he would have to finish with me but in December the ice is not necessarily frozen enough and I do not want to repeat the Reverse Lassie. (See my post, The Thanksgiving Song: https://garbethegoddess.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/the-thanksgiving-song/  for that story.)

Usually he waits for me to at least start the walk with him but today when I came out he was already in full voice.  I started up the hill directly because he was already too close to the neighbour who doesn’t like him patrolling and never forgets an infraction.  I try to get ahead of where he is going so that we can meet in the woods but Murphy was already across the right of way and in the woods on the other side.  There is a loop trail on the neighbour’s property where we used to walk with permission until permission was revoked.  One too many times Murph opted to return in his own time and swing through their dooryard for a friendly chase of a cat if possible, alas.

So today I ran down the snow-covered upper part of the loop to get ahead of him.  I was just looking for the place where we used to cross a little stream when Murphy can running full tilt toward me.  He was all, hey! cool to meet you here! and I was all, what a surprise to find you here too!  I gave him a couple of cookies from my pocket and hooked him up.  He thoughtfully chose to backtrack my trail since it’s good not to go right by the neighbour’s house and give her more fuel for the stories.  ( She never forgets an episode and still uses as an example something he did when he was a juvenile.)

Across the right-of-way we followed my trail up the hill above our garage.  With the little bit of snow it’s hard to see the lay of the ground but traction is not too bad because the moisture from the ground has frozen so some steps are into eight or so inches of ice crystals which gives some traction.  Still there are rocks and piles of branches and some ice so it’s good for the balance to walk such uneven terrain.

So far, I’ve managed to bring him home every time he’s gone on barkabout, but it interrupts my work and I worry that he might get shot by one of those Maine hunters who feel entitled to the deer and erroneously think Murphy threatens that or that he might end up in a trap somewhere where I can’t find him.

Note, the day after:  The perfect winter storm started late last night.  We woke up to 8 inches and I shovelled my way out to the driveway, then barefooted (no snowshoes) down the unploughed driveway with dog and shovel to clear a walkway for my neighbour who has a dodgy heart.  ( Her heart’s in the right place, it’s just not up to heavy physical exertion .)  We walked down the road that the snowplough had done already and the reason I didn’t wear snowshoes.

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

So it’s all good now.  Murphy  and I love to run downhill in the snow, me with snowshoes.  He steals my mitten and flips it into the air, a playful moment for a usually serious guard dog.  Snowshoes were needed for the walk up the hill but not so much that Murphy couldn’t offer to break trail for me, but just enough that he came home from the walk and now is out on his long lead, letting the nearby world know that this hill is guarded, go elsewhere if you are a ne’er-do-well.  Today December is good.

Ambivalence about November

DSCN3141

I have a love/hate relationship with November in Maine.  November has long been my favourite month.  I love the ice in the wind presaging snow, the bare trees revealing their spooky branches against the grey skies, and I love Thanksgiving, the best of all holidays that is all about food and no co-dependent expectations.

Alas, it is also deer hunting season so the woods that are normally the domain of the wildlife and Murphy and me have hunters with guns who think that the deer belong to them, as if they are anyone’s.  We wear our blaze orange to signal that we are non-combatants in the deer war but I worry that Murphy will encounter some stranger in our woods and be misunderstood in a deadly way.

Looking buff in his hunting vest

Looking buff in his hunting vest

The thing is, that Murphy is a Great Pyrenees mountain dog by temperament and, ever vigilant, he is serious about keeping all unauthorized intruders from our hill of woods.  Worse, with the cooler weather he has more energy and the bare trees and drier air allow for barking to carry nicely across the valley.  All summer he stays out all night because it is cooler and is quiet but come November, when I tie him outside after his dinner, he barks non-stop until I decide that neighbours need a break.  It’s my compromise, he gets to bark some but not past 8PM.

Then, there is the chance now, until there is a lot of snow ( another reason to wish for lots of snow) that Murphy will not come home from the afternoon walk in the woods and instead do his bark about thing.  Basically he stays at the top of the ridge and roams from one end to the other, covering 100+ acres, barking.  Ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff.  Repeat.  I’m fairly sure that he could keep this up all night.  It’s the Pyr way of avoiding actual close-up repelling of evil-doers.  Any bad-ass predators will hear him and hunt elsewhere.

So, a couple of times a week I get an additional walk, near dusk, up the hill to entice him home.  He won’t come if I call him of course, because he KNOWS that what he is doing is far more important than any agenda I might have.  Ah, the independent Pyrenees.  So I try to position myself so that he will be moving toward me.  I act suspiciously, make random noise, stay still.  When he is within twenty feet or so I address him conversationally and usually he’ll come over as if to say, hey, Lynn!  You’re in the woods too!  I hook him up, praise him for his excellent job patrolling, give him a couple of treats I happen to have in my pocket and suggest that it might be time to come home.  So far I have always succeeded although a couple of times I’ve walked back in the dark with  the dim circle of my headlamp lighting my way.

Smarter than the average human am I because I have learned not to call out to him as I close in because, like as not, he’ll go into silent running mode and it is just not possible to find a dog that isn’t barking.  Yet another thing to be ambivalent about because if he’s quiet the neighbours aren’t alerted to him on patrol.  It’s a fine line I walk between allowing enough activity within his genetic parameters to allow for well-adjusted dog behaviour and controlling enough so that he complies with societal regulations.

We, that is, I, bend the rules.  After all, I’m the one who has to live with the Captain of the Palace Guard.

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Have you eaten your head of broccoli today?

the tomatoes have grown and the cages are working perfectly

Two months ago I spent a couple of days labouring to make rebar cages for the tomato plants I’d acquired and I’m here to report that this has proved to be a most excellent way to stake tomatoes.  Other than the one I’m leaning on, most are taller than I and staying well off the ground.  So far there has been just a handful of cherry tomatoes but there are a couple of romas ripening.  Soon we’ll be swimming in tomatoes (can you ever get enough out of the garden?  I think not.)  Of course, I had only intended to get seven or eight plants, so the twelve that we have will keep me hopping I think.

Meanwhile, we are in the high season for broccoli.  Yum.  This year we have a surplus of broccoli as well because is appears that the Fedco  seed packet that was labeled “Brussel sprouts” actually  contained broccoli seeds.  They look the same until they start to bear the edible bits and now Ann and I are eating a head of broccoli a day, each, to keep up.  It seems that every time I look in the fridge there are three heads.  Mostly I lightly sautee then steam in my frying pan and eat with quick fried tofu (ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, cumin, curry leaves and hot peppers) but today I just put the broccoli on top of my quinoa salad and topped with dal powder (hot, crunchy, yum).

The really good part about living here in mid-coast Maine is that it is a centre for excellent local food.  The tofu, Heiwa Tofu, is made locally by my drum teacher and his wife.  And there is now excellent local yogurt, three different brands including one from Monroe, that are yummy enough to eat plain.  There are local organic growers and a great farmers’ market every week to supplement what we (Ann really is the farmer)  grow.

In our garden, peas and green beans are ready now and I can pick a yellow (summer) squash every day.  The zucchini (Ann’s fave)is also starting, and my job is to see that she stays on top of eating everything before they get so big as to require those dishes designed only to use up unwanted zucchini (zucchini bread, stuffed zuchini).  Soon everyone will be giving the tasteless things away…… why is there never a surplus of eggplant?

Well, must eat another head of broccoli…………

A change agent lamenting change….

From: saflters.com

Change, oddly enough may be the one constant in life as we know it.  Many people resist change, hang on to what they know, sometimes when what they are clinging to has long ago lost its usefulness.  The familiar has a degree of comfort and requires less active participation.

I’ve always embraced change, different experiences, places to see or live, new foods to try and things to learn.  There are often ways to improve how things are or how they are done.  I go places and change comes with.  I push for the new experience whatever that may be.  Change is challenging and requires paying attention and some effort.  I tweak and tinker and fix and am most at home when there is movement.  I’m from Earth,  where many places can feel like home and I yearn for the stars.

With all that, I am here to report, with sadness, the end of an era.  My first fabric store, the one all others must be compared with, is closing and with its closing a fabric mecca is gone.

Saflter’s in Whitman, Massachusetts, was a family-run fabric store that came into being in 1919.  It was housed in a large building on one corner of a major intersection, across the street from the famous Toll House Restaurant (home of the original Toll House cookie.)  Saftler’s was dedicated to all things fabric and as such had no space for the aisles of crappy craft stuff you see dominating so-called fabric stores these days.  They did have a wonderful corner of yarn with knitting and crochet pattern books but the bulk of the store was fabric and notions and trims.

My first memories of Saftler’s, in the 1950’s, was accompanying my mother as she wandered around the store fingering the fabrics or leafing through the pattern books.   When I was really young, I was bored, hanging around, but the Saftler men, likely the second generation, were jovial and entertaining and most helpful in all things related to sewing.  Most of my clothes were hand-made, an economy for the times, and one I secretly lamented at the time because my clothes were always different from the clothes of my classmates.

I bought yarn for my first sweater at Saftler’s.  I was eleven and the yarn was a beautiful dark brown heather acrylic.  I knitted a plain stockinette pullover that I still wear sometimes in the fall when I’m working outside stacking wood for the winter.

By the time I was entering junior high, I began to learn to sew for myself and discovered the pleasure of walking down aisle after aisle of fabrics, attracted by colour and moved to touch, to feel the texture, then test the drape.  Only then do you check the price.  It’s all about the feel.

The summer after I graduated from high school, grounded for the summer and told I must have constant adult supervision, I went to Saftler’s with my godmother and purchased an array of embroidery floss and for the first time began to embellish my clothes, something to do in my captivity.  My canvas was my bellbottom jeans.  I stitched a snake wrapping up one leg and the Cheshire Cat in a tree on the other ( I still have those too.  It’s a Leo, hang on to things trait, I’m told.)

Through my twenties it was my go to place for fabric and so much  more than that.  A fabric store is  a store of potential, a place of dreams.  You wander the aisles, deep in thought with hand out-stretched, touching the bolts and imagining what could be made from the fabric at hand.  Consider a place where creative thought dominated the energy of the place for more than ninety years.  Everyone who came through that store had a project or an idea, to make something where nothing had been before. All that creative energy permeates the walls.  As I think about that I realize, no wonder they were always so jovial.  What a lovely atmosphere.

This past week I was passing through the South Shore on my way back to Maine from Martha’s Vineyard and for a change decided to spend a night or two enroute.   I moved to the west coast in the early eighties and only four years ago came back to New England and I wondered how my old stomping grounds had fared.

My friend and I headed to Saftler’s in the evening.  Even in the dark and rain I remembered the way but my mouth dropped open when I saw the sign that said, ‘Closing, 25-50% off.  Everything must go.’

Saftler’s is open for one more month and there’s not much left, alas.  We arrived with less than an hour to check it all out but that was not too hard because much of the space was empty, little yarn, no fabulous silks, hardly any cottons other than quilting cotton, some wool, notions, trims.  I bought a few things I needed like elastic and twill tape and we left.

The next morning I decided to go back, make a big loop through my old stomping grounds, even though I really don’t need any more fabric.  There were more people there in the morning and with the reduced inventory it was easier to see.  We are the same tribe, the sewing tribe, wandering slowly through the fabrics, fingering the textures, checking the drape, imagining the potential.

I spent close to two hours imagining what I could do with the fabrics there.  Last chance to buy fabric from Saftler’s and great deals to be had.  I bought a 3¾ yard piece of black melton wool with a soft, smooth feel for less than $5 a yard; all that was on a bolt of heavy woven cotton, 12 yards of indigo with tiny dots of white, a dollar a yard; ten yards of  a finely woven indigo and white rayon; some linen and a piece of rayon for a shirt maybe; a couple of yards of blaze orange fabric that oddly enough is hard to find in Maine; and  not enough of an amazing black wool, heavy coating with one face having a vague herringbone pattern.   There were bins of buttons by the pound  to sift through like big, colourful grains of sand, so I bought  enough for two double-breasted long coats and an assortment of others that caught my eye.

I could have purchased more, canvas or soft denim or velvet but I have lots of fabric already that wants to be something and being there that morning wasn’t so much about buying fabric for a project as it was adding a last bit of creative energy to the mix and paying homage to the end of an era.  Good fabric stores are hard to find these days.  In Maine where I live the pickings are slim and the one big chain nearest to me (40 minutes drive) has me fuming more times than not with the lack of quality fabrics and the junk wasting half the square footage.

I know where there are good places to buy fabric in Vancouver and Victoria and even in Ontario but I know for sure there will be one less,most fabulous place for imagining wonderful garments into the world.  Saftler’s  will be gone at the end of June and will live on only in the memories of those who like me were raised in that creative environment.  That’s a change I lament.