May and a Walking Wheel

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Our drought is officially over. April did it in. We have had a soggy, misty, cold-footed, gray-skied, sodden-lawn spring.

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April’s wet and chill delayed the emergence of new growth, but in May, we are greening up.

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Trees are blooming, leaves popping out, and a few flowers are showing their colors. Our lawn is so green it feels more like Ireland than Maine.

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As I raked up the “mummies,” old apple drops from last year, I found that some were germinating the seeds within.

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It looks as if something chewed this and spit it out.  But it’s just the rotting apple with its seeds sprouting.  A perfect medium for growing.  I planted these in a pot.  It will be fun to see if I can bring some apples up from seeds at the same time we raise them from grafts.

In May, the birds and the bees are back.

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Rose Breasted Grosbeak

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Our bluebirds and swallows have been jousting over the most select bird houses, but seem to be settling into the same ones they chose last year. Several birds have checked out the new houses we put up, but last year’s houses seem to be the preferred real estate.

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When I cleaned out last year’s nests, I found the bluebirds had lined their nest of grass, twigs, and assorted vegetative matter with about an inch of compacted but soft, downy, white something. At first I thought it was sheep’s wool, but then realized it was Zoe’s fur. I like to brush dogs outside in the spring and summer and throw their fur to wind. It’s an easy way to dispose of the fur and I thought some birds might use it. Little did I think that I would find a lovely reminder of Zoe in a bird’s nest almost a year after she died. I hope Capp and Alice’s fur will line nests this year.

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As for Alice, we have discovered that she is a beast in the water. Her father was a hunting retriever and she obviously has his genes. I suspect she would retrieve to her last breath. When Alice is happy every bit of her being exudes pure joy in doing what she is doing.

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Capp, in the water, prefers retrieving sticks to bumpers. So far, he is an enthusiastic farmer boy, inspecting (and eating) all we do in the yard. A gorgeous bundle of swagger and sweetness, he is full of adolescent male curiosity and loving intelligence. We are fortunate to have two dogs packed with personality and love.

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Both dogs are garden marauders, though. George had to dog proof our raised beds to keep pups from cavorting in them. They love to eat every kind of green and brassica, charcoal bits, weeds, sticks, and Capp eats tulips (not good for dogs!).

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Our hillside is starting to look a bit like a little farm.

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Cold frame is filling up.

The strawberry patch is doing well, the asparagus shoots are poking up, our orchard trees are swelling with buds and we are putting in new beds for flax and more vegetables.

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George built a holder for the tractor’s shank ripper.  Looks like a throne or an electric chair.

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Even our mushroom logs look like they might produce something.

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The white is mycelium growing (so they tell us).

We are tearing out almost all of the rugosa roses that lined our parking area and the front of the house in a scraggly hedge want-to-be.

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I hate to destroy someone else’s vision for the property, but after two years, both George and I came to harbor a sort of hatred for the spiny invasive devils. Allowed to grow wild in a hedge, they might be wonderful. But they were not planted in wild-hedge territory. They sucker up huge unwieldy shoots and creep everywhere underground, through lawn, gravel, wood–persistent little spiny monsters. And for much of the year they are really very ugly.

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So, we dug most of them out and righted their severely listing retaining wall. We are planting a variety of sweet-smelling pollinator-attracting shrubs instead. RIP prickly invaders. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of you.

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We have installed a new package of bees in the hive and, on our few sunny days, they have been bringing in loads of yellow pollen.

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I did a post mortem (I wish–what do I know, really?) on the hive and concluded that I killed the bees through my worrying and ineptness. The hive was loaded with honey and I could find no obvious signs of disease. Without getting into too much detail, I believe that I should have insulated the hives and should not have opened them for what turned out to be totally unnecessary winter feedings of sugar cakes. I had large bee die-offs both times I opened the hives, so there clearly was a connection. The good news is that it doesn’t look like the bees died from mite infestations or other diseases. The bad news is that I probably killed them. Live and learn. In any case, I harvested one frame of delicious honey and the bees this year have a good head start.

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May also brought me a walking wheel.

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I am having a sort of love affair with antique spinning wheels. I now have three wheels. Mudd Sharrigan did a beautiful job in restoring the flyer and bobbin for my Connecticut wheel.

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The flyer, bobbin, and whorl, broken and chipped.

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Mudd retained the original flyer as much as possible, while rebuilding the arms and filling in the chipped areas.  

I took the ancient flax off of the distaff–it has been on there longer than I have been alive–and found that the distaff was made of a sapling, stripped of bark, with the branches curved upwards.

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The distaff on a flax wheel holds the prepared flax to be spun. 

Such distaffs are not uncommon, but just think of someone going out in the woods and picking out a young tree and shaping it so long ago. I love the history of these old wheels.

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A comparison, of the size of the Connecticut flax wheel with the New Hampshire Walking Wheel.

My new/old wheel probably dates from the 1800s in New Hampshire. Walking wheels–also called great wheels–were used for spinning wool and are huge compared to the Saxony style flax wheels.  My new wheel is as tall as I am.  What a beauty.

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She has a spindle–the Sleeping Beauty prick your finger kind of spindle– with an accelerating head (also called a Minor’s or Miner’s head) patented in the early 1800s.

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I am just learning the ins and outs of spinning on her. It will take a while.  When I hit the sweet spot, it clicks, literally, with a tick-tick-tick sound of the spindle and wool. I can see that it is a dance of wheel, wool, and spinner.

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More on this wheel later.

Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay

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I just spent a week with my mother in Florida, navigating the perils and indignities of very old age.  My mother is ninety-three and some of her body parts have outlasted others.  She is still doing pretty well physically, but two strokes and creeping dementia have limited her ability to talk and to remember.

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This trip was unexpected.  I did not have much time for photographs (or blogs).  But, even so, the photographs I took show why we are trying to keep my mother living in her own home as long as possible.

IMG_2317Her yard is full movement and color, with anoles, flowers, and birds.

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Her dock is a fish magnet and the sunsets and moonrises are extraordinary.

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Fortunately, most days she manages short walks around her neighborhood circle or down to the jetties, where there are ospreys and manatees.

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It’s hard to tell from these shots of a bit of back and flipper, but this was a manatee mother and calf.

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It’s a lovely place, although getting very crowded.

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My mother’s mother would hardly recognize it.

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But it has been a constant in my mother’s long life for almost 60 years.

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My mother’s favorite expression these days is ay-ay-ay-ay-ay.  That pretty much sums up my feelings about this trip–full of stress against a backdrop of beauty.

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Practicing Patience and Waging War

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I am tired of March. The weather has been properly capricious, with spring advancing, receding, advancing, and disappearing altogether. More than anything, it is the unvarying black and white landscape that is wearing me down. Gray skies, soggy snow, black trees, sleet, ice, fog–all color has been leached away.

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We had a couple of days with brilliant blue skies and robin song.

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I took a delightful, leisurely walk comparing birch and poplar bark and admiring pussy willows.

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This birch bark had Frankenstein-like stitches

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This birch’s bark looked like petroglyphs or Roman numerals

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Delicate peels

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Golden peels

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The poplar looks like it’s bursting out of its bark

It seemed as if we might be on the brink of spring.

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Poplar

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Willow

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But another cold front moved in, coating everything in ice.

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Ice-coated pussy willows

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Pussy willow-cicles 

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Apple buds

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Azaleas

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Queen Anne’s Lace

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I should be grateful for all this precipitation after last summer’s drought, but I am starved for color and a few flowers.

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While we tried to become resigned to out-waiting winter’s siege, we faced a sneak attack on another front. Some wily chipmunk decided to have a vacation under the hood of our car.  This was not the first time we have had rodents in our vehicles. It is a hazard of rural life in Maine. We don’t have a garage and our parking area is bounded by stone walls and a wood pile, which provide perfect cover for mice and chipmunks.

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We have tried every kind of deterrent, from peppermint oil, to dryer sheets, to fox urine.
Our previous damage, including chewed wires for our car’s moon roof, was from mice. After setting some traps, we thought we had it under control.

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The chipmunk was another story. Exactly one week ago, last Wednesday, our car’s heater fan started making an alarming noise. It is still cold and icy here, and we need that heater and defroster to get around. So, I brought the car in immediately and found that some little critter had torn out most of the cabin air filter for nesting material and the filter debris had been sucked into the heater fan. The mechanic cleared out the material and put in a new filter. All good, we thought.

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The second destroyed filter.  One day’s damage.  There were maple seeds and pine needles stashed in it.  

Not so. By the next afternoon, same noise. Another trip to the mechanic on Friday, another eaten filter, and this time, there were bits of hood liner added to the mix. Another clean out, another new filter, more smelly deterrents, traps set. The mechanics all surmised that it was a chipmunk, not a mouse, that was the causing the damage.

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Hood liner.  Lovely, soft nesting material.

Now, I hate to trap a chipmunk. They peg the adorable meter for rodents. Charming, fun to watch–I LOVE chipmunks. But this little rodent was costing us a lot of time and money. We had tried to peacefully coexist, but we cannot provide our car as chipmunk housing.

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It burrowed under the hood liner here.  Again, one day’s damage.

The traps seemed to work. Not in actually catching anything, but they must have made the chipmunks wary. We saw no signs of them.

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Until Monday. A third trip to the mechanic, a third filter destroyed, more hood liner gone. This time the mechanic installed wire screening across the entire opening for the heating ductwork. We have our fingers crossed that it will work. So far, so good. In the meantime, the car smells like a balsam-scented laundromat (we may add mothballs to the mix). We will move our woodpile and stop feeding the birds for a while in hopes that will clear out some of the chipmunks. The war continues.

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Maybe we should have gotten Terriers

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Something Other Than Dogs

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This past year was dog-dominated.  Zoe’s illness and death, building a dog fence, searching for a pup and adult dog—we had eleven months straight of thinking about dogs.  But now our little pack is complete again.

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Our house feels satisfyingly full of life and just right.  We can finally can turn our full attention to other things—and bring the dogs along.

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So, here we are, heads full of outside projects and bodies eager for physical work–primed and ready to go.  Only to be thwarted by weather.  Last year, March found us pruning, moving our raised beds, digging drainage, and preparing for planting.

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Last March

Not this year.

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This March

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Closer up, the little swale is solid ice.

March has been kind of a brat.  The deep snow from our February storms lingered for weeks.

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By the time March pranced in, all lamb-like and sweet, it was mostly melted.  The soft air, smelling of new growth, lasted for two brief days before we descended into an icebox.

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Lilac buds before the cold

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Sticky pine buds

Not a surprise.  March in Maine is notorious for weather extremes.  And, sure enough, after the first cold, mild weather returned, which combined with longer daylight teased us for a few days into thinking that spring might be approaching.  I walked the property looking for the emergence of some of the bulbs that I planted last fall.  Not a one.  I was disappointed, but not for long, because temperatures plummeted again giving us the coldest weather that we’ve experienced since we moved to Maine.

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New poppy growth on the south side of the house had emerged and then got zapped by the cold.

The temperature kept dropping  after we got up yesterday until it hit 4 below zero (Fahrenheit) mid-morning, with screeching winds, driving wind-chills to about 25 below.

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Perhaps the bulbs knew better than to poke their delicate stems into an impending arctic blast.   If my bees were still alive, I would be very worried about them surviving these extreme variations in temperature.

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Unhappy rhododendrons

This late deep chill cannot be easy on our local wildlife.  The ground is frozen solid and any emerging shoots have had all succulence stripped by the cold.  We have seen a few signs of the fox near last year’s den, but our fenced-in area comes much closer to the den now, so I suspect the fox will not be raising its kits there this year.  We have had plenty of rabbit tracks in our woods, but very little sign of deer this winter.

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Therefore, we were surprised when, during the warm spell, we saw a dead deer, lying about twenty feet off of the road in a field on the hillside down our road toward town.  It was a full-sized adult and had already been partially eaten by some largish animal.  We suspected coyotes, but there weren’t evident tracks and little sign of a struggle.

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Lots of deer tracks on the roadside but no coyote tracks

A neighbor had seen a deer the day before that had seemed “not quite right,” so we wonder if it had been grazed and injured by a car and then easily taken down by a coyote or, perhaps just died on its own.  We did hear coyotes howling the next night, for the first time all year, right below our property.  In any case, the deer carcass attracted eagles, which hunkered in the large trees lining the field, overlooking the bolder crows and ravens.  The smaller birds cawed and called at the eagles, flying up to the trees near them, whether to try to warn them off or not, I don’t know, but it was fascinating to watch.

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Immature bald eagle.  He was huge.

The cold is not all bad.  It has given me time to finish up my indoor winter projects.  Spring cleaning—ugh, I hate housework—is underway.  And I finished my kaleidoscope quilt.

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The quilt is made of fabrics that reflect our life here in Maine—foxes, birds, cows, the ocean, the sky, garden flowers and vegetables, wild flowers and plants, apples, bees—all in there, in little triangular pieces, forming larger circle-like kaleidoscope designs.

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New potholders from the quilt scraps.  That’s a stuffed opossum on the floor, not a dead animal.

Now that the quilt is finished, the sewing area–with a bank of southern-facing windows—will be converted to our seedling nursery.

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I started onions and leeks two weeks ago and am planting celery, chard, lettuce, and herbs today.  Last year I used a variety of pots for the seedlings—peat, plastic, and yogurt cups.  The best planters by far were gallon water jugs.  I poked drainage holes with scissors and cut around the middle.  I left a hinged area last year, but probably will cut off the hinges as I plant more this year, because the hinged tops take up too much room.

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Little greenhouses

I left the tops down, cloche-like, when I wanted an extra green-house effect and lifted them up when it got hot and moist.  I had read about this method on-line and decided to give it a try.  They worked brilliantly.  I didn’t need a heat mat or grow lamps.  Granted we get a lot of sun in our windows, but the greenhouse effect of the bottle really made a difference in heating the soil.  When it’s time to harden off, again the tops serve to heat the soil and protect the plants from wind when they are set outside.  They transplant easily and I had no problems with damping off (I did with some of the peat pots).  I was converted and will be using only water jugs this year.

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While it feels like mid-winter outside, the chickadees’ sweet mating calls continue, and we have warm soil and seedlings inside.  Happy March.

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To the Moon in a Blizzard

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The bad news first.

I lost my bees. It is startling how much we miss them.  They are short-lived, fascinating to watch as individuals, but not something you are likely to get attached to on a bee-by-bee basis (although there is an interesting recent study on bee personalities).  As a hive, however, the bees become a community that takes on a presence of its own.  I cannot help but feel that I let them down.

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I had been worried about the bees since late November when there seemed to be an unusual amount of dead bees in front of the hive and–on a few warm days–the continued presence of drones, male bees that generally are kicked out of the hive before winter.  I could hear the bees when I put my ear to side of the hive and they continued sounding strong until early January, when their sound seemed to lessen. They were eating the supplemental sugar I was feeding. But in mid-January–ominous silence. I continued to press my ear to the hive daily, thinking perhaps I could hear a little buzz, but it was just my imagination.

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On a warm day, I took a quick peek inside the lid and confirmed that the bees were dead. I have several theories as to what happened and may know more when it is warm enough to really open up the hive. Or it may be a mystery. I have heard that that losses have been high in our area this winter. I have already ordered bees for next year.

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On to good news. We have a new pack member. Her name is Grampian To the Moon.

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Alice, for short. She is almost three years old, a yellow lab, who just had a litter and is “retiring” from breeding. She loves her walks, will retrieve until the cows come home, and is an extraordinary snuggler.

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Capp trying to worm his way onto the bed with Alice.

She settled in beautifully with Capp, with–fittingly–a sort of Alice and Ralph Kramden relationship.

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He wants to be the boss, but she knows better.

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Capp at seven months

In predicting how Alice would get along with Capp, Alice’s owner said, “bitches always win.”

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In this case, she was right.  It’s been a joy to watch the two of them together.

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We had two days of sun after Alice arrived.

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Then were hit in quick succession with snow, a blizzard, and more snow.

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Our rarely used front door with the snow piled about a foot high.

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George kept a track shoveled in the back yard so the dogs could go to bathroom, but in the high winds it drifted over pretty quickly.

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The dogs were ecstatic in the snow, racing around the track and leaping through the drifts.  IMG_1609.jpgIMG_1621.jpg

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They were wiped out by the time the sun went down.

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Fortunately, we did not lose power and have been warm and cozy.

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The roads are plowed, the foxes are out, and the days are getting longer.

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Several mailboxes on our road were snowplow casualties. Fortunately, ours survived.

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We had a sudden reminder last week that life is fragile and short. So, we are doing our best to slow down and savor it.

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Stitching, Sleuthing, and the Cuckolds

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It is sunny now, but much of January was cold, cloudy, and icy.

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Not inviting for outside activities.  But there were wild turkey tracks,

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brilliant skies,

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windy blue water breaking up the ice,

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bluebirds in the apple trees,

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bluebirds checking out the swallow boxes,

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and I was happily engrossed in sewing baby quilts for my niece’s twins.  Transforming fabrics I love into fox and hedgehog faces.

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Those faces greeted me every morning for weeks and I admit that I felt a pang when I wrapped up the quilts for their new home.

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I finished the quilts just in time for my niece’s baby shower in Connecticut. There were several quilters at the shower (including my niece) and I know the quilts will be well-used and well-loved.   Twins.  My best friends when I was young were twins.  How sweet to welcome twins into the family.

After handing off my quilty creatures, I stayed overnight with my brother and sister-in-law and came home with a new treasure–another antique spinning wheel. This wheel is personal. It has been in my mother’s Connecticut family for generations.

IMG_1131.jpgWhen I was growing up, the wheel stood at the corner of the living room, a decorative antique curiosity. It was a petite, pretty wheel, with black striping and a whorl of flax. When I was 16 or 17, I became interested in spinning and weaving. The wheel must have been in decent shape then because I set it up with a drive band and learned to spin on it. Soon after, I left home, went off to college, and then Alaska. The wheel stayed behind. I continued to spin with a drop spindle, but that also was left behind on one of our cross country moves.

I went decades without spinning. So, it seemed serendipitous that after retirement and our move to Maine, we spotted a neglected old wheel in our town’s only antique store. Cleaning that grime-encrusted wheel to bring out her lovely, glowing wood was rewarding on its own. But to get her sweetly spinning again was a real thrill.

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The Maine wheel has similar, but simpler, lines than the Connecticut wheel.

There is something about these old wheels that captivates me. I am not the slightest bit “spiritual,” whatever that means, having apparently received the skeptic gene instead. Yet, in the tactile, soothing, rhythmic occupation of spinning, it almost seems as if the wheel has a personality, infused from the generations of people–probably women–who touched and worked it before me.

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And, in fact, the wheel’s quirks and feel today may be a result of the way those women spun.

To me, spinning is a lovely, soothing occupation. I imagine women, maybe old, with weakening eyesight and muscles, gently working the wheel, grateful to sit with the musical whir and clutter-tap sound of a task so familiar as to be second nature. But who knows. Maybe the spinners, old or young, were gritting their teeth in frustration as they had to sit inside, housebound on a glorious day with hours of tedious, endless, mindless spinning. Whatever they felt, I will never know. All the spinners are long dead, but the wheel remains.  And the imprint of their feet.

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My brother and his wife have taken good care of the old family wheel. I had been thinking of getting it spinning again. I took a look at it while I was staying overnight with them in Connecticut. A flyer arm had broken off, one of the leather maiden bearings was missing, but it seemed to otherwise be in good shape.

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So, we decided to get it fixed and spinning again. I wrapped the wheel for a trip to Maine. It is probably the first time the wheel has left Connecticut in 200 years.

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Once I got home, I decided to see what I could find out about the wheel’s maker, “J Platt,” whose name is prominent on the front side. What followed was two days totally immersed in internet research up and down various family trees–my own and those of Connecticut spinning wheel makers.

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I immediately found a Pennsylvania woman with an antique spinning wheel blog, who several years ago had restored a J. Platt wheel almost identical to mine. She had tentatively concluded that the wheel was made by a Josiah Platt, who married Sarah Sanford in 1758. Sarah’s brother Samuel made spinning wheels.

My sleuthing–I became obsessed for days–turned up another possibility. There are a few well-documented Connecticut spinning wheel makers in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Samuel Sanford, John Sturdevant, Solomon Plant, and Silas Barnum, for example. I looked at examples of their wheels and found that the lettering and placement of Silas Barnum’s name on the wheel was almost identical to J. Platt’s. Interesting. Silas Barnum’s mother was a Sturdevant and his sister married wheel-maker John Sturdevant, so there was a family wheel-making connection. And Silas’s wife, was–BINGO–a Platt. Martha Platt, with a brother named James Platt, who was born in 1775, just a year after Silas, and living in the same town. So, my bet is on James.

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Cleaned and beeswaxed.

I discovered that antique wheel obsession is not an uncommon malady. There is a Spinning Wheel Sleuth newsletter, a similar group on Facebook, and various other on-line resources. I have also been trying to find out more about my Maine wheel. It has simpler lines than the Connecticut wheel, a result of Shaker influence. But I don’t think it is a Shaker wheel. The research continues …

Yesterday we carefully wrapped the Connecticut wheel again. I unwound the wool from the bobbin. I had spun that wool “in the grease,” meaning that the fleece had not been washed, over forty years ago. It was pretty stiff and crusty now–more like a dense twine than yarn. I removed the distaff with its flax, which is brittle and musty-smelling, likely a hundred years or so old.

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We loaded up the wheel and Capp and drove to Wiscasset to drop the wheel off with Mudd Sharrigan for repairs. Mudd is a master and I feel fortunate to have him nearby.

Since we were in Wiscasset, we decided to explore the Boothbay Region and to check out a supposedly dog-friendly beach. The beach was a disappointment–short, narrow, and right on the road.

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Capp was entranced with the smells.

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Lots of stinky stuff.

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He started to venture into the water, and then danced back.

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The water was frigid, so we we didn’t encourage him. Plenty of time for swimming come spring.

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Boothbay Harbor is charming. Really charming. And it has the feel of money. Some Mainers refer to the “Volvo line,” a north/south demarcation below which the Volvo/BMW/Mercedes/Audi-driving tourist and second-home people from lower New England states tend to cluster. The area below the line just feels different. More money on display, more high-end shops and restaurants, more people who exude entitlement, and more impatient horn-honking drivers. Boothbay is right about on the line. Midcoast, where we live, remains above the line. Just barely.

From Boothbay Harbor, we drove to Southport Island and Cape Newhagen. Off the Cape, with its tricky waters, lies the Cuckolds Light. Such a name. The light sits on the Cuckolds, two small rocky outcrops in a string of reefs and shoals.

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The name supposedly comes from a point of land on the Thames River granted by King John to the cuckolded husband of one of his lovers. Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised, with the Maine dry humor, if there wasn’t more to the name than a longing for the Thames River.

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Name aside, Cuckolds Light is notable for the rockiness of its underpinnings. Nothing there but the light and the rock. It must have been a limiting world for the lightkeeper and his family. The light was decommissioned as a working lighthouse in the 1970s. Now it is the Inn at Cuckold’s Light, a place of “pampered luxury,” which is available for about $1500 a night. I guess that puts the Boothbay area firmly below the Volvo line.

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Weather

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One of the reasons we moved to Maine was because it had “weather.” No monotonous parade of days, one just like another. Instead, here we are treated to wildly careening weather moods, a bipolar medley, where an afternoon can seem to change seasons in just a few hours. These past weeks have been weather-filled, shaping our days around the world outside.

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We had too many days with low-ceiling clouds, reminding me of Anchorage winters, dark and gray. It’s my least favorite weather, making me feel a bit gray myself. Even the starlings looked a bit depressed.

img_0819Of course, being Maine, the gray didn’t last long.  The skies cleared, with brilliant sunrises, acting like rose-colored glasses on the morning.

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On winter solstice, the sunrise was particularly spectacular, with a light pillar, created by ice crystals in the air.

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It started smallish and very red.  Soon the pillar grew much taller and turned golden, with the ice making a partial rainbow over to the left.

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Then a jet, with its contrail, appeared to fly right through the pillar.  A nice way to mark the return of light.

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The clear days brought frigid temperatures.  Too cold for photographs. I tried in vain to get pictures of the cardinals, brilliant on the snow and all fluffed up red against the cold. But my fingers gave out before the camera-shy birds ventured close.

img_0909We had several heavy snow dumps, silencing and softening, challenging our snowblower, and making lace of our fence.

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One night brought a nor’easter, a stormy turmoil of warm Atlantic and cold polar winds, making the house creak and groan through the dark hours and leaving, mysteriously, caterpillars on the pristine morning snow.

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Where they came from, I don’t know. But some were still alive and crawling futilely across the frigid crust. Capp was fascinated. He may have eaten one. **Update** the caterpillar mystery was solved by arlingwoman.  They are Noctua pronuba, or winter cutworms–a nasty garden and agricultural pest.  Yuck.

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The snow was followed by rain, then a quick temperature plunge, which transformed twigs and berries into icy works of art.

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More gray days, more frigid days, and then–boom (the winds actually were somewhat booming) –today we had a January thaw. In Alaska, we called the warm southern winter-melting winds Chinooks. I don’t think the thawing winds have a specific name here, but they feel like Chinooks, transforming winter into a brief spring in a blink.

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My walk today was warm, blue and blustery overhead, mud-filled at feet level, and lichen-filled at eye level.

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Somehow the warm weather and sun seemed to make the lichens and moss pop with map-like landscapes and fractal faces.

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As we roll with the weather outside, we remain busy–too busy actually–with hunting for another dog, pup-training, quilting, spinning, tree and seed ordering, library volunteering, spring planning, snow-clearing, fire-wood gathering, cooking, and winter maintenance.  Maybe, just maybe, we will slow down for a month in February.

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Textiles and Dog Profiles in Two Parts

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Winter is here, our fence is completed, snow is settling in, and we can finally take some deep breaths and relax a little. But we have not been idle. I am immersing myself in textiles and we have been on another dog hunt–navigating the maze of doggy adoption. This is a long post, with two entirely different topics, so it is divided into two parts.

PART ONE:  TEXTILE DREAMS

Winter is the time to indulge my long-simmering love of textiles.   When I was young, I sewed, spun, knitted, and wove, but during the years of child-raising and working, I seldom had time to do more than an odd project here and there.  Now I have all the time in the world.  I wake in the winter-dark mornings, anticipating the pleasure of a day in which I can indulge in making things. It is a seasonal occupation, solitary, soothing, slow-moving, and satisfying a creative itch.

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This year, my preparation for winter textile time started early.  In full summer, when plants were at their most lush,  I learned ecoprinting–the process of transferring plant dyes directly onto fabric to create almost fossil-like impressions of plant materials. I was introduced to ecoprinting through Amelia Poole’s beautiful fabrics at the Common Ground Fair.  The post Wood, Fabric, and Water has a section about ecoprinting and Amelia.

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In July, I attended a day-long workshop at Amelia’s studio, Ecouture, on Cape Rosier (not far from the Nearing’s home in the previous post Good Life).

It was pure pleasure. I gathered plants from home the night before and we spent the day experimenting with different plant and fabric combinations. I drove home a happy woman, with a bundle of fabrics imbued with my own garden.

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Rolled and tied for steaming

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Oak leaves and geranium petals

I decided to buy some mordanted fabric from Amelia to do ecoprinting with our grandchildren on their August visit. So, George and I combined our trip to the Nearings’ home with fabric pick-up at Amelia’s studio. To me the whole process is a kid’s dream–gathering leaves and flowers, laying them out in designs on fabric, rolling it up, steaming it, unrolling it, and magically, your own personal botanical fabric is created.

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After the grandkids made their fabric, we sewed it into doll blankets and sachets with garden lavender.

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Another summer-into-winter textile activity involved my spinning wheel. After stripping layers of crud from the little antique flax wheel that I bought for a song last year, I was able to spin, but still had a few issues to address. I only had one bobbin and it had a broken piece. In addition, many of the hooks on the flyer were missing or badly bent.

Fortunately, I attended Maine’s Fiber Frolic this spring, an event celebrating all things fiber-y, and met Mudd Sharrigan, an 89-year-old competitive swimmer and former hot-rodder, who makes sought-after boat rigging knives, and also, occasionally now, repairs spinning wheels. Mudd’s wife, Esther, is a spinner and she had a collection of antique bobbins. We found one that fit my wheel, and Mudd took home my flyer and broken bobbin for repair. A few weeks later, George and I stopped by their house in Wiscasset and picked up a beautifully repaired flyer and bobbin. Where but in Maine would this have happened? My antique wheel now is as sweet as can be for a winter of spinning.

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The shiny hooks are the new ones that Mudd inserted.  There are more on the other side.

I have been spinning and working on quilts for my niece, who is expecting twins. Later this winter, I will start knitting my spun wool and pull my loom from the basement for some significant repair work before I can start weaving. Enough to keep me busy and contented in the cold and snow.

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PART TWO:  DOG DREAMS

On to dogs. While we continue to enjoy gorgeous sunrises, to watch turkeys and assorted other birds on our walks, and to do some snowy cross-country skiing, we are looking for another dog to add to our little pack.

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Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be so difficult to find a dog. Years of education and rigorous spay and neuter programs apparently have had an impact on reducing the number of dogs in shelters in Maine. Most dog rescue agencies here import dogs from southern states or even from other countries. I am thrilled that the number of unwanted dogs has been greatly reduced, but it makes for a sometimes bewildering process of competing for rescue dogs.

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When we lived in the Atlanta area in the 90s, we adopted two golden retrievers from the Atlanta Golden rescue group. One was 9 years old, with medical issues, and the other a fearful young girl who had been abandoned and living on the street. We had such a good experience with those dogs, that we thought we’d look for another.  Atlanta’s too far, so we applied to a different, local Golden Retriever rescue organization, filling out an extensive application and submitting a $25.00 application fee. Within two days we were informed that our application was denied because our yard fence height did not meet their 4 foot requirement.

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Capp enjoys our totally inadequate fenced yard.

Now, I understand the reasons for the fence requirement and that the group does not want to have to quibble and negotiate these things with every adopter. Nevertheless, the group indicated on their website that they will grant exceptions to fence requirement. So George and I both sent polite emails explaining that our fence is only 4 to 6 inches short of their height requirement (depending on the slope), that we are home all day with our dogs, we don’t leave them alone in the fenced yard, we walk them daily, we are loving, knowledgeable owners, yada yada yada.

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Birdwatching

The response was immediate, negative, and rather rude: “Our fence exception is for experienced owners who may live in apartments or condos and cannot have a physical fence. They have to give us a glowing vet reference and tell how they will exercise their new dog. We cannot grant a fence exception just because someone is unwilling to raise the height of their fencing.”

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Capp and the fence

So, let’s see. We are experienced owners (we have had four Goldens, with two special needs rescues), live in a house (no worries about changing landlords or angry neighbors), have almost seven acres with a fenced area of an acre, can provide glowing vet references, give our dogs daily walks, bring them swimming regularly, hike with them, and are home all day. But because we are “unwilling” to raise the height of our fence, we are summarily dismissed.

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Well, that makes all kind of sense. Actually, I was spitting mad. Some dogs are fence jumpers and climbers and the higher the fence, the better. But our fence height is more than adequate for most dogs. This group obviously has plenty of homes for its dogs, but you would think they would be more careful about alienating potential adopters. Aside from wanting to adopt, we would have donated and volunteered. Now, nothing would induce me to help this group.

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Instead, we found another rescue group here in Maine, with people who really seem to care about finding the best homes for their pups.  They think our fence is just fine.

Capp, of course, enjoys his only-child status and is thriving.

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Capp in the pink light from the sunrise below.

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I am worried about my bees, though. We have had huge temperature fluctuations, with temperatures warm enough for the bees to fly in the day, followed by hard freezes at night. I have quite a few dead bees on the hive bottom board and around the entrance. I suspect that they have been caught out from the winter hive cluster and freezing.

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On sunny days, we have had flocks of bluebirds checking out the bird houses. I love to see the bluebirds in the winter. Next spring, we will put up two more houses in hopes of attracting more bluebirds and swallows.

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We are looking forward to solstice and Christmas this week. Have a wonderful, festive holiday season.

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Good Life

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Unexpected events caused a hiccup in my blogging. First, the election addled my brain. Fueled by middle-of-the-night insomnia, it has been struggling to reconcile our good life with twilight-zone flashes of disbelief and helplessness over an increasingly bizarre new reality. I had no heart to blog about puppies and bees.

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While I grappled with strategies for moving forward (hunker down? become militant? Rip Van Winkle?) my camera gave up the ghost. It just died. No photos, no blog. I had not realized how much a part of my life my camera had become. I felt as though I had lost an appendage.

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I have a new camera and am trying to develop a new perspective. As I imagine the parade of horribles challenging our more-fragile-than-I-thought system of goverment, I remind myself that we have been through dark periods before.

I have been thinking particularly of Scott Nearing, likely because this summer we visited his final home, Forest Farm, about an hour-and-a-half drive from here on Cape Rosier. I have been meaning to write about that trip, which we took in August after Zoe died. Now is as good a time as any.

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Scott Nearing was a pot-stirrer extraordinaire–a radical, outspoken pacifist and socialist from the time he was a young man until his death in 1983 at the age of 100. Interestingly, like Trump, he attended Wharton School of Business. The similarities end there. If you imagine Donald Trump and then imagine his polar opposite, you might come up with someone like Nearing.

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The Nearings’ stone-built barn at Forest Farm.

There was no flip-flopping with Nearing. He was passionate and uncompromising–believing that the wealth of the rich was founded on the misery of the poor. After graduation with a PhD, Nearing was hired as an assistant professor of Economics at Wharton. But, in 1915, the school abruptly dismissed him for his outspoken activism and stance against child labor. He fared no better in his next teaching position, fired for his active opposition to WWI, in a fiercely nationalistic climate. Nearing’s 1917 pamphlet, “The Great Madness,” criticized the war as arising from commercial interests, rather than idealism. As a result, he was indicted under the Espionage Act for alleged interference with troop recruitment. He won at trial, but was blackballed from any further university teaching. He eventually joined the Communist Party, and apparently was ejected from it, as well. Non-conformist to the core.

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The alpine-style home at Forest Farm.

In the 1920s, after separating from his wife and children, he became involved with Helen Knothe, a woman some twenty years his junior (maybe he had something else in common with Trump). Helen was a non-conformist in her own right, with theosophist (some sort of mystical philosophy) leanings, and a previous romance with another strong personality–philosopher Krishnamurti.

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A view of the walled garden, fruit trees, and the back of the house.

Scott and Helen moved to rural Vermont during the Depression in an attempt to build a self-sufficient, “simple” life. They gardened, built stone buildings, wrote, and produced maple syrup as a cash crop. In the 1950s, as ski areas increasingly encroached, in search of a more remote area, they moved to coastal Maine–beautiful Cape Rosier off of the Blue Hill Peninsula.

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I fell in love with the walled garden.

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The caretakers had the garden in immaculate shape, despite the drought.

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By the 1970s, the Nearings had became guru-like parent figures to many in the back-to-the-land movement. Their books, especially “Living the Good Life,” inspired mostly youthful baby boomers to attempt (some successfully, some not) to live a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle.

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It’s hard to say how many moved to Maine because of the Nearings, but the back-to-the landers’ influence can still be felt here in Maine’s rich culture of small organic farms, small support businesses, food co-ops, seed co-ops, and farm-to-table restaurants. Eliot Coleman, now well-known for his books on four season and small-scale organic farming, was a Nearing disciple, buying land from and working with them. His daughter Melissa’s memoir of her childhood growing up in the Nearings’ sphere, poked some serious holes in the picture of the Nearings’ idyllic simple life.

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We took a long look at the greenhouse.  We intend to build something similar (only better).

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I attended two small college-campus talks that the Nearings gave in the 1970s.  Scott was about 90 years old then. He seemed small, spry, deeply wrinkled, and utterly committed to his beliefs–a hard knot of a man. I remember Helen as having spiky gray hair, baggy clothes, a lapful of knitting, and a sharp tongue. I was drawn to the idea of having a small somewhat self-sufficient farm, but was not particularly attracted by the Nearings themselves. I am wary of anything approaching zealotry, and found the Nearing’s strict (and, to me, bland) vegetarian diet, structured hours, ascetic approach, and unyielding ideology off-putting. And the lifestyle they promoted was not realistic for most people, especially those with children.

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Scott died in 1983 and Helen in 1995, but the non-profit Good Life Center keeps their house and garden alive and open to visitors. I wanted to go there primarily to see the stonework in their buildings. The Nearings used a slipform method of building with concrete and stone that can be done by hand and we are thinking of doing something similar for a greenhouse wall.

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A form for building the stone walls.

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The stonework up close.

Forest Farm was the Nearings’ last house. They lived in an old wooden farmhouse during their first decades in Maine. The stone-built Forest Farm was their retirement home–so to speak–with a smallish walled-in garden, a few fruit trees, a greenhouse, and an incredible view over the water. The farm’s caretakers were a young, earnest couple who answered our questions and then let us wander around and take pictures.

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Every farm needs a yurt.

After we returned from the trip to Forest Farm, I read “Loving and Leaving the Good Life,” a book Helen wrote after Scott’s death. My view of the Nearings remained unchanged after reading the book–admiration, undermined by a nagging feeling that I did not really like them very much. Nevertheless, Scott’s life is a good reminder of some very ugly truths about this country’s history. We have recurrent cycles of nationalism, scapegoating, increasing economic inequality, and a dismal record when it comes to protecting dissent and free speech. Perhaps the cycles are inevitable. If so, the question is how to best react to keep them from becoming permanent.

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Nearing paid dearly for his activist reactions and eventually chose to refuse to participate in the larger economic system by living on a small, relatively self-sufficient scale. A solution for him, but not helpful on a larger scale. I do not have any neat lessons learned from Nearing’s life. But I am working on it.

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Meanwhile, back at our little farm, Capp is blissfully unfazed by politics, growing at an alarming rate, and immeasurably sweetening our good life. Back to writing about puppies.

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