“The lobstah will come”

 

Last night after an eco- boat ride around Barnstable harbor, Sandy Neck and the marshes, we decided on dinner at Osterville Fish Too.  It’s a small dockside fish market, with take out and picnic tables.  Diane and I discovered it on the way home after several days on Nantucket (a post Cape trip).  At the time I had swordfish and commented how much better it was than swordfish I had in a fancy, expensive Nantucket restaurant.

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But last night, I went for the boiled lobster with fries and slaw.  I sign priced 1 1/4 lb. at $13.00 /lb.  My platter was $22.  Although I struggled a bit with cracking and spilled the melted butter in the dish, the lobster was fantastic.  I had lobster rolls twice on this trip, at the Guilford Lobster Pound in CN and another at Young’s, Rock Harbor, outside Orleans.  Guilford uses drawn butter; Young’s mayonnaise.  I like both but favor butter.  Most years we have a lobster feast at the house but wasn’t sure it would happen with so few days left.  If it does, I won’t complain.

 

I had my first lobster on a trip to Maine in the early 1970s.  I don’t recall where we stayed or for how long, but I remember stopping at a roadside stand.  Lobster, corn on the cob and a baked potatoe.  I was hooked, or maybe trapped is the better term.  Another memorable lobster experience was at a private party in Point Pleasant, PA.  The lobster was flown in from ME, one of the hosts, a lawyer was a pilot.  I think I had three lobsters that night.

 

But probably the best lobster I’ve had was two years ago on Mantinicus Island off Rockland, ME.  Mantinicus is a lobsterman/family Island.  We were visiting friends, David and Judy Sears.  They had ordered lobsters from a lobsterman friend who delivered them to the kitchen door when his boat came in.  Can’t get them fresher.  And as much as you wanted.  Dave has been painting on  the island, the map (left) and stones are examples of his work.

We ocassionally buy lobster in Yardley.  Have even tried the small frozen ones, forget where they are from.  But they never come up to the tenderness and taste of Maine lobsters boiled and eaten in New England.

 

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I just finished reading “The Last Lobster: boom or bust for Maine’s greatest fishery” (2018) by Christopher White.  Read a review and ordered it to read while on the Cape.  Several years ago, I read “Skipjack: the story of America’s last oystermen” (2011) also by White.  Soon afterwards we traveled to Deal Island in MD to see some of the last operating Skipjacks.  We found them including one being restored, it may have been the Lady Katie or Kathryn.  Need to check my journal or photographs.  There is The Last Skipjack Project which promotes restoration and preservation of the boats.

White who is from the Chesapeake turned his eye to lobsters, Maine lobsters to be specific.  His opening chapters are an interesting tour of the culture of the Maine coast.  The lobster fishery has been changing.  Many of the classic, traditional, quaint, picturesque lobster villages have been gentrified. Property prices rise; lobstermen families are pushed back from the waterfront.  Check where lobster traps are stacked.  Fancy restaurants and shops mushroom in the downtown.  Tourists fill the streets.  The traditional character becomes an attraction, a postcard image.

 

 

There are other forces of change.  Warmer waters have pushed the lobster north.  Decades ago there were lobster in Long Island Sound.  They are gone, north; the fishery in CN and NY collapsed. Harvest is limited in Cape Cod waters.  White explains how the center of the lobster industry has crept north.  For his research, he wants to settle in a “traditional” town with an active fishery.  He tours the coast. Some towns are familiar to me, in the south, Boothbay Harbor, Port Clyde, and  Searsport.  Others furthur north, Beal and Cutler are places I’ve never visited.  Hopefully in October we will visit the Sears (they have a winter home in Cushing) and we’ll do a lobster village tour.

 

White decides to settle into Stonington on Deer Island, south of Acadia and Bar Harbor, off the Blue Hill peninsula, east of Penobscot Bay in what’s known as the Down East area.  Furthur out are the Isle Au Haut and Vinalhaven Islands.  Mantinicus Island where the Sears summer is even farther southeast.  All of this area is prime, is the current center of the lobster fishery.  At least it was, annually global warming pushes lobster furthur north.  Eventually White predicts American lobster men may be in deadly competition with Canadians.

Diane and I first visited this area with John and Barbara Paglione in the early 1970s.  I had read “The Maple Syrup Book” and “Living the Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing. Scott, an economist was fired from University of Pennsylvania for communist leanings.  He and Helen began homesteading in Vermont in the 1930s.  When the ski industry transformed VT mountains, they moved to the Blue Hill village of Harborside.

 

Scott was in his 90s when we visited, building a new stone house.  We spent an afternoon touring the property, talking, helping to stack firewood and gather seaweed for fertilizer.  The Nearings had become gurus of the back to the earth movement and their homestead was a Mecca.  About ten years ago we were back on the Blue Hill pensiula, we drove to the Nearings, now The Good Life Center, but staff were all at the local festival, where our son-in-laws band, Cabin Dogs was playing.  A house on the property is rented; would be a historic rental for us.  Did we eat lobster or either or both trips.  Maybe.  (More about traveling in ME, checkout my blog, Maine on my Mind.)

 

White and his companion settle into the Stonington community.  They meet lobstermen and their families.  Go out on boats.  Haul traps and document their experience.  They eat lobster and try to learn about the boom several years ago.  The catch and price rose.  Will it last or will the bubble bust. I found it interesting that so many lobstersvwere shipped to Asia, especially China.  Trumps recent tariff policies may have dented that market.

 

I won’t try to repeat the arguments, concerns, and theories about the boom and bust. Time will tell.  It seems lobster catches have gone down in the past few years.  White’s “The Last Lobster”  is an interesting read.  He covers the life of the lobster, the ins and outs of the fishery, including family holdings, competition, marketing, distribution, the boom smiles and bust scowles.  His reporter/journalist style leads him to meet people.  He frequently becomes a friend of the family.  And it seems, so do we.  White (and his readers) experience everyday life;  the community rituals and festivals.   I’ve read other books about lobster and Maine but I recommend White.  Not only do I  want to eat lobster, I want to explore the culture.  I’m hoping it’s not the last lobster. Most lobstermen are confident, “the lobstah will come.”

Some photographs mine; some from the Internet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maine on my mind

 

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I have Maine on my mind.  I recently  read, “Maine Farm: a year of country living” by Stanley Joseph and Lynn  Karlin.  In the 1980s, they bought Helen and Scott Nearing’s original farm house and garden in Harborside, Maine.  The book was a gift from Dave Sears who lives summers,  with his wife Judy, on  Matinicus Island, Maine.  The book led me to find a Nearing DVD I sometimes used in class, “Living the Good Life” —  Bullfrog Films, 1976.  It’s still available for $59.  One reviewer wrote, “His laugh and her singing make it magic.”  It brought back many memories from our visit in the early 1970 (recalled in a previous blog, “Down the Atlantic Coast”).

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A few weeks ago, Melody and Garret Bonnema from Bethel, Maine visited us in Yardley.  They moved to Maine from Bristol in the early 70s and opened a pottery studio.  This visit they delivered several pottery pieces we had ordered as a wedding gift for Libby Paglione and Steve Vedder.  It’s been years since we have seen the Bonnemas.

 

Last week we drove to Rockland Maine and spent a night at The Ledges — a great motel overlooking the bay.  Next morning, we bought ferry tickets to Matinicus.  We were off to visit David and Judy Sears who bought a house on the island following retirement.  Diane and Dave taught together back in the beginning.  While waiting for the ferry, We met Martha Trower, from Chebeague Island just north of Portland.  Amazing, she knew the Nearings, had taught at Gould Academy and knew the  Bonnema’s, and knew David and Judy Sears from previous trips to Matinicus. Together we reflected on Maine — it’s amazing mix  of traditional and hip cultures.

Maine  on my mind.

Our first trip to Maine was about 1973.  We were living on Old York Road in New Hope with Barbara and John Paglione.  Although Diane and I were teachers and John worked in a Trenton hospital, our lifestyle reflected the “back to the earth movement.”  Not really a commune but we sometimes referred to our arrangement as an “intentional community.”  Summers John and I worked on two Pineville farms owned by the Daniel brothers.  Barbara and Diane worked in Japan Artisans, a great and missed New Hope shop.

We had a large garden, put up corn, tomatoes, and other vegetables.  Made preserves, condiments, bread, most of our beer (very crude) and wine.  We all cooked and rotated house chores.  We discovered Helen and Scott Nearing through “The Maple Sugar Book” and “Living the Good Life.”  I wrote the Nearings asking if we could visit.  We invited my father to join us and were offered to use a “plexiglas cabin” Bill Lynn from Bristol was building on a small piece of Maine real estate.  (Bill worked for Rohm and Hass and the plexiglas was scrap.)

In the 1930s the Nearings had begun homesteading in Verment.  Scott, an Economist, had been fired from the University of Pennsylvania and another college for socialism.  Helen, some years younger, could have had a career as a concert pianist.  In Vermont, maple syrup was their cash crop.  By 1952, the ski industry was taking over Vermont, the Nearings moved to Maine.

They bought a farm on the Blue Hill peninsula south of  Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor.  Their property was in Harborside, on a small cove off Penobscot Bay.  In the 1960s, the country was being introduced to a new youth culture, alternative life styles, back to the earth, eastern mysticism, gardening, communal living, hand crafts, flower power, and in media language —  “hippies.”  The Nearings were quickly becoming the “gurus” of homesteading.

We left Yardley in two aging VW bugs (one red; the other black), spent the night at Lynn’s “A” frame, just enough room for 5 sleeping bags.  The next day, headed to Harborside.  It had become a “Mecca.”  Our invitation to visit Forest Farm wasn’t necessary, visitors showed up every day.  Helen and Scott sat outside their frame farm house, mending netting they put over their blueberry bushes.  The berries had replaced maple sugar as a cash crop.  Several “in” people sat with them.  Although they had a bowel of grain for lunch, we weren’t offered any although I read that sometimes visitors were invited to lunch.  Some stayed for days, camping on the property and helping with farm chores.

That afternoon we helped Scott cut up some sapling size wood for heating, “warms you twice,” he said with a twinkle in his eye,”when you cut it and when you burn it.”  Later we headed in a pick up truck to Orr cove to collect seaweed to fertilize the garden.  The Nearings grew most of their food in a stone walled garden.  They were vegetarians, “we don’t believe in enslaving animals or people,” Helen explained.

They took us on a farm tour.  Quite proud of a new stone house  they were building  (Helen taped a rock, “it’s solid, strong).  At the time Scott was 90; Helen was in her 70s.  Scott lived until 1983; he was 100.    Helen continued to live in the stone house; she died in 1995, 91 years old.  After Scott’s death, Helen sold the frame house and some of the property to Stanley Joseph and Lynn Karlin, authors of “Maine Farm” mentioned in the beginning of this blog.

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Nearing stone house — today the Good Life Center

As evening approached we said goodby to Helen and Scott.  Scott had been extremely open, friendly, constantly offering funny aphorisms, “Pay as you go.”  No borrowing or credit cards for Scott.  In contrast, Helen seemed a bit sour, maybe tired of the constant visitor stream.  They suggested we stop to meet their neighbor, Eliot Coleman, who was establishing (much to the amusement of regular Maine farmers) an organic farm.  Eliot was working in the garden when we arrived — raised beds of rich soil, lush with vegetables.  On our trip to Matinicus, Dave Sears gave me a copy of “This is in Your Hands: one dream, sixty acres, and a family undone” by Melissa Coleman, Eliot’s daughter. On the to-read list with several other Maine books.

 

Stanley and Lynn and Eliot were not the only homesteaders that followed in the Nearings footsteps.  A few bought land from them in Harborside.  Jean Hay Bright, wrote “Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life.”  She wasn’t always complimentary to the Nearings.   The Nearings may have lead thousands of others, “hippies and homesteaders” that flocked to Maine in the 1960-1970s.

I recently discovered a Bangor Times slide show, “The Good Life.”  It had five chapters —  Seed, Root, Bloom, Harvest, Preserve.  They wrote  “Sixty years ago Scott and Helen Nearing inspired a movement that changed Maine forever.”  Today the Good Life Center,  at Forest Farm, in the Nearing stone house, promotes the self-sufficiency, basic life style in tune with nature and community, the message Scott and Helen lived and wrote about.  The original frame house can be rented.  Maybe a Paglione-Profy Maine reunion.

Our next trip to Maine was in 1975.  Melody Bonnema had gone to Pratt in NYC with Barbara Paglione.  After college she studied with an established potter, Toshiko Takaezu.  Melody  opened a studio in Bristol with her husband Garett, who would leave teaching to become a potter. The Bonnemas were part of the movement of homesteaders and craft artists discovering Maine.  They bought a large Victorian with an attached barn on Main Street in Bethel.  The town was picturesque but not a major tourist stop. There was an Inn across the street and National Training Laboratory (NTL) was headquartered in town.  NTL was known for its T group training that sought to improve interpersonal relationships and communication skills — very 1960s.  Gould Academy was also located in town.   So in the 70s, there was a small flow of outsiders through town.  That would grow when Sunday River Ski resort was developed.

We moved in with the Bonnemas their first summer in Maine.  I did some carpentry work in the barn and the building of display shelves for craft fairs.  Diane worked with Melody, actually learning to throw her signature minature hanging pots.  We traveled with them to several craft fairs.  It was pretty clear we weren’t in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, or the East Coast corridor any more.  Maine was different.

Although Bonnemas worked hard, there was a flowing, rhythmic pace.  Lots of friends visited and I remember Melody (like the Nearings) explaining, “Today is a working day.”  But tomorrow . . . I think we hiked in the Maine White Mountains at least twice, or three times a week.  Usually the Presidential range — Jefferson was a favorite because a road took us  far enough up, that above tree line was reached with minimal effort.  There were also hikes through local forests — I remember feeling lost on one hike.  No houses, no roads, no signs of civilization.  We eventually emerged.

The sense of community was amazing.  And it was made up of locals, born in Maine, heating the house with saw dust types,  and the migrants moving in.  Somebody needed to move a piano, a group got together one afternoon, moved the piano, cracked open cans of beer or Boones Farm Apple, guitars came out, and there was a jam.  I think his name was Douglas, was building a log cabin outside of town.  Could we help?  So for a day here or there we lifted logs, forming the cabin walls. Saw my first Moose on one of these cabin building days.

We became regulars at some businesses in town.  There was a small coffee shop, Bonnemas like Sunday morning breakfast out.  The hardware store-lumber supply  was a frequent visit, “Charge it to the Bonnemas.”  Then there was the small grocery where we bought milk and eggs and Boones Farm.  We learned that firewood was important, there was a wood stove (we learned about Vermont Castings) in the kitchen, some of that heat seeped upstairs (needed in the winter).

In the Bethel area in the early 1970s,  there weren’t any organic farms or farmers markets, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, artisan bread or craft beer.  I don’t remember any craft artists except the Bonnemas.  Since then it changed with the new Maine.

When we went to Bethel in 1975, I thought I would write.  But except  for my daily journal, I didn’t write.  In August I saw an ad for a photographic workshop in Rockport.  I could save my artistic honor.  Photography not writing.  The Maine Photographic Workshops were new.  Dave Lyman’s inspiration; professional photographers, talented students and a utopian setting.  We took a sailboat to a small island and spent a week photographing on 35 mm ecktachrome (it could be self developed).  The instructor, Bruce Curtsinger, a National Geographic contract photographer, opened my eyes to light and composition.  Particularly composition.  He taught the traditional rules but pushed us to go beyond the accepted.  Sunrise, sunset, ocean calm and ocean waves, seaweed and rock and rock. Wide angle (Bruce lent us an 18 mm lens), close up.  Color, light, pattern, texture, repetition.

The next year I returned to the Maine Photographic Workshops to take a course with Ernst Haas — color and color,  “Keep your finger off the shutter until you know you want the shot.”  Bruce Dale, “You need to shoot people.”  Both were great experiences influencing my life and photography.

Diane and I have traveled in Maine a number of other times.  I remember driving up the coast, stopping at a roadside stand and having my first lobster, corn , maybe a baked potatoe.  Lobster never made it to Bristol when I was growing up.   Delicious.  I remember horse back riding in Arcadia National Park.  And I have mental images of coastal towns, Kennybunk, Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Friendship, and Tenants Harbor.  One year when Jenny was about 8, we spent a week in Searsport.

We returned to the Blue Hill pensiula several years back when the Kwait Brothers were playing at the Blue Hill festival.  Jenny and Rob with a young Eli camped; Diane and I stayed in a B and B.  One afternoon we took a driving  tour and in the Brooksville historical society saw a sign “Condon’s.”  Diane recognized it immediately, from children’s author, Robert McCloskey’s (“Make Room for Ducklings” fame),  “One Morning in Maine.”  Our guide in the small museum said, “Drive down the road and you’ll be there.”  Within minutes we were in Buck’s Harbor with Condon’s Garage and store just as they are illustrated in the book.  McCloskey has a home on a small island in Penobscot Bay.

I don’t think we realized we were in Nearing territory until we noticed a mail box, “Nearing.”  We drove up to the stone house but everyone from the Good Life Center were off to the Blue Hill festival. We drove next door to Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm.  We talked to some interns, “Yes, Eliot still lives here.”  As we toured the farm and small market stand, I noticed someone coming out of the farm house.  It was Coleman and I couldn’t resist stopping him and relating how we’d met 30 years earlier.  Today Coleman is the go-to spokesman when something is happening in the organic farming movement.

Two years ago we planned a September trip to visit David and Judy Sears on Matinicus.  Dave required surgery and the trip was cancelled.  We had credit at the Percy Inn in Portland, so in April 2015 we took a trip to Concord, MA and Portland, ME.  Downtown, historic Portland reflects the “hip” culture that migrated to Maine in the 1960-70s.  Waterfront properties with boutique shops and a lively food scene.  Unfortunately  we couldn’t get reservations at Eventide Oysters — the hot oyster bar — ended up next door at Hugo’s, one of Portland’s first national known restaurants.  There was an expensive, if interesting price fixe tasting menu.  Another evening we ate at Street and Company, a favorite for us and discovered lunch at the dive bar J’s Oyster on the waterfront.

Last year we again planned a September trip to  Matinicus.  This time I ended up in the hospital and my surgeries lasted for months.  This year Dave emailed encouraging us to visit in September, 2016.   I was determined to make the trip.

On September 7 we left for Rockland.  It’s a long drive but the day was cool and clear.  We held off lunch until Kittery, just over the border between Maine and New Hampshire.  We had discovered Young’s Maine Grill on the Portland trip.  Deceptively simple, it’s a great seafood stop on the bay.  Instead of lobster rolls (you know your in Maine) we had oyster rolls.  Crispy batter; juicy, tasty oysters, with an Allagash White — there was a case in the car headed to Matinicus.

For part of the trip up the coast, we drive Route 1.  Although it has its share of tacky motels, chain restaurants, and other tourist attractions, it’s spotted with unique Maine establishments, true craftsmen, potters, woodworkers, iron workers.  There are farm stands and mom and pop (several generations) restaurants.  Some of the cabin- motels from the 40s and 50s even have an appeal.

In Rockland, Dave and Judy recommended The Ledges.  Our second floor motel style room had a beautiful view of the bay.  No need for a B and B.  We had reservations at Primo, described as “the ultimate farm to table experience.”  It’s claimed the chef, Melissa Kelly, started with a garden, a few hens, and a couple of pigs.  Wednesday night in September, the place was packed.  Our 7 o’ clock reservation was pushed to 7:30, so we had a drink at the bar.  Knowing I would have plenty of seafood in the coming days,  I ordered a signature dish, Pork Saltimbocca.  It was quite good.  Diane had a lobster Ravoli which she felt was lacking.  The drinks, beet salad, dessert, homemade limoncello were good but overpriced.  But the fact that Primo exists and  succeeds is a testament to the organic pioneers of the 1970s.

The next morning we did some last minute food shopping.  Judy wanted several quarts of homemade yogurt from a health food market.  We purchased donuts from a recommended bakery.  The ferry only runs to Matinicus three times a month.  And it was out of service for our trip.  We were taking the “island transporter.”  Basically a work boat, capable of carrying several vehicles and twenty-three passengers.  We were told to get there early.  We waited; met Martha; and watched the stream of passengers for Vinal Haven, then Matinicus.  There were family types, older couples, young couples and a few in pick ups, tattoos, and dangling cigarettes, that I couldn’t help stereo-typing as Trump supporters. How will Maine vote?   On board, there were six plastic seats for passengers in a large closet space.

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Seas were calm.  Matinicus is 23 miles out.  It’s a two hour trip.  Fog was fairly heavy at times.  In comparison, Nantucket, our summer destination for years, is about 30 miles out.  We arrived at Matinicus harbor in a light mist.  There were half dozen high piers with a fishing shacks where traps are stored and a stern man may live above.  The main pier was crowded with people and trucks.

Dave and Judy loaded  our bags in their truck and gave us an island tour.  It’s about 2 miles by 1 mile.  Maybe 125 residents in summer; 25 in winter.  There are no stores or restaurants.  The school has 3 students.  There is a non-denominational church, town hall, post office, playground, cemetery, airport, recycling station and a new library.  Until recently the library building was a “house of the rising sun” across the street from the Sears.  They bought the property and donated the building to the town.

Dave and Judy rented on  Matinicus for years.  When they retired they decided to buy.  Their house has been renovated, furnished with antiques.  Beautiful.  Dave began painting and with some inheritance built a studio.  They have a big productive garden — if you want fresh vegetables, you grow them.  There are also berry bushes and crab apple trees.

Five o’clock, wine glass in hand, there is a knock at the door.  A young fisherman, just off his boat is delivering lobsters (8) and crabs (5). With corn from Bucks County and tomatoes from the garden, we had a delicious meal.  Leftover lobster and crabs were the basis of a Maine chowder, Judy made for day two.  Reality check: Sears rarely eat lobster and at a  recent island picnic there was a basket of cooked lobsters; no one ate them.

In the next two days, we walked a trail to a typically Maine rocky coast;  another walk to Condon Cove with the ocean rounded granite stones that are the inspiration for some of Dave’s paintings.  We also explored a beautiful sandy beach, not typical of Maine, one of two on the island.  We went to the harbor and watched a few boats coming and going;  similarly, at the airport, a plane landed and took off with two passengers.

Life on Matinicus is slow, measured.  It’s very different from life on the mainland.  Dave constantly suggests that if you live here you must contribute to the island.  It may be  keeping one of the walking paths cleared or volunteering at the recycling station. It’s small town.  Everyone keeps in touch.  As we drove around the island, we ocassionally stopped to talk — small talk — who is off island?  Whose relatives are visiting?  Is someone back “fishing?”

“Fishing” is used for lobstering.   No one on Matinicus fishes for fish.  They fish  for lobsters.   It’s hard work.  There are regulations on size, number of traps, and where someone with a license can put their traps.  There is a line for instance between Mantinicus and Vinal Haven, a larger nearby island.  It’s important to keep your traps on your side of the line.  If not someone from the other island might cut you lines, losing not just lobsters but expensive traps and line.  But it happens and lobstermen have known to get rough.  There is no police force on Mantinicus, so island standards of behavior and cooperation are regulated by the community.  Punishment can be harsh, including banishment from the island.  A few years ago there was a shooting on the town dock. “Don’t mess with my traps.”

With regulation, in recent years, lobster catches have been good.  Some fisherman  — families have fished for generations — make three figure salaries. They may have a house on the mainland for winter and take get aways in Rockland.  Some even have a home in more southern, warmer shores.  But they work hard for what many  of us experience as the ultimate seafood.

Life on Matinicus wouldn’t be for everyone.  I don’t think I could live there most of the year, year after year, unless like Dave I was painting, writing or involved in some other art.  Bo Bartlett, a painter, whose exhibition at PAFA became the background for Jenny and Rob’s wedding, has a house and studio on Matinicus. They recently bought a large Bartlett print and I have a copy of his new book for their anniversary.

Go to : dsearsart.com for more of Dave’s paintings

What I really like about Matinicus is the focus on basics.  You are isolated from the usually hectic, over stimulating, sometimes depressing mainland life.  Islanders sometimes refer to the mainland as “America.”  It’s a different place.  Everything you need must arrive by boat or plane.  You are constrained by the weather.  Some days the planes don’t fly; and the boats may remain in the harbor.  Go with the flow.  This trip we left one day early due to the weather forecast.

I remember teenage dreamy talk about being able to sit on an deserted island (usually under a palm tree), enjoying the sun and waves, sipping a glass of cold lemonade.  There was romance to Peter Pan, Robinson Crusoe, and the Swiss Family Robinson. Matinicus isn’t paradise but has some of those special qualities remembered from childhood.

Maybe it’s  the focus on basics, the time sitting on the beach, climbing on the rocks, listening to the surf, the sights and smells of the ocean,  the seas, storms and calms.  Maybe I would write more; or better.  Maybe I would find the time to develop my photography — my personal Maine photographic workshop.

On Saturday we left Matinicus with Captain George who ferries passengers to Rockland.  On the mainland, we bought some Cod and headed to the Sears new house in Cushing — about 10 miles from Rockland.  It’s an 1990s house built by a carpenter — great woodwork — a basement studio for Dave, large open kitchen, dining room with a view of the river.  A cosy escape from Matinicus in the winter.  That’s not to say  that Maine winters can’t be harsh but when you don’t need to commute to work, snowy, cold days can be spent in front of a fire, time for reading, writing and reflection, maybe painting, photography, or some craft production.

I’m hoping we can spend more time in Maine (and Matinicus).  I doubt we would move there.  But I like viewing life through different lenses.  Maine and Matinicus offer this.  There are lessons that can be brought back to Bucks County.  We may have missed our chance in the 1960-70s to be part of the exodus to Maine but have learned from our experiences there.  Im keeping Maine on my mind.

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Homesteading — living the good life

imageRecently in the Doylestown bookstore and Terrain Garden Center, I noticed quite a few  books on homesteading. And now the January-February issue of ” Yankee” magazine has a large feature, “A Guide to Simple Living: a More Handmade Life” — homesteading. Farmers make their living raising one or more crops.  The homesteader raises, grows, makes for family. The Yankee Guide provides brief descriptions about where in New England you can take cheese or bread making lessons, learn to raise or butcher animals, preserving and canning, basic carpentry, gardening. Want to learn spinning and weaving, open hearth cooking, bee keeping.

The current interest in a simpler, rural, self sufficient life echoes the “back to the earth” movement,  communal living, trendy in the 1970s.  Armed with a copy of the “Whole Earth Catalog,” drop outs from the New Left political movement of the 1960s, followed Helen and Scott Nearing back to the earth. Was it the future?

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Stewart Brand was the founder of the first 1968 “Whole Earth Catalog.”  It was basically short articles with addresses, access to tools and ideas, a complete guide to homesteading.  A catalog of catalogs.  Today you can follow “Whole Earth”  on Twitter and show support by purchasing books and other items through their Amazon account.

Helen and Scott Nearing were the grandparents of the back to earth movement. Scott had been an Economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, fired because of his socialism. He and Helen bought property in Vermont during the 1930s.  They were classic homesteaders — gardeners, vegetarians, intellectuals, pacifists.  They became  the gurus of the back to earth movement.

In in the early 1970s while Diane and I were living (homesteading) with John and Barbara Paglione in New Hope, we read the Nearings  — “The Maple Syrup Book” and “Living the Good Life.”  I wrote them asking if we could visit.  In the 1950s when the ski industry began to transform Vermont, the Nearings sold and moved to  Blue Hill peninsula  in Maine (just south of Arcadia National Park).  My letter was answered positively and with my father in tow we piled into two VWs and headed to Maine.

When we arrived at the Nearings they were repairing some blueberry nets.  Several visitors sat in a circle with them. Most visitors arrived unannounced, some camped out, a few even bought nearby property.  In Maine, blueberries were the cash crop (it was maple syrup in Vermont).  Homesteaders aren’t totally self- sufficient — trading is common but money may be needed for some things — gasoline, coffee.

Scott was extremely friendly, we piled into an old pick up and drove to the shore, collected seaweed for mulch, stacked some long cut poles that would be used for kindling (“warms you twice, cutting and stacking and later burning” Scott told us).  Next we tourned the new house under construction — labor provided by the Nearings (Scott was in his 90s; Helen was younger and not as friendly) and volunteers who came and stayed days, a week, months.

In the 1970s, in  New Hope we rented a house on Old York Road for 4 years.  In the summer John and I worked on local farms (another story).  We had a large garden growing and canning enough tomatoes for the year. We canned some other vegetables, made sauerkraut and pickles.  We bought corn — 100 ears to a sack — and froze it.  Bushels of  apples from Jerico orchard were turned into apple sauce.  Beef was 1/2 a cow from a slaughter house butchered into various cuts.  Milk was raw and eggs were fresh from the farms where we worked.  Chickens — broilers and fryers — from small freezers in a local farm house basement.  We made our wine and a crude beer.  Apple peels were fermented into a apple wine.  Bread was home baked. We were at least on our way to true homesteading.

But in 1975 our small intentional household dissolved.  John and Barbara headed to Ann Arbor — graduate school for John.  We lived briefly in Bristol and then bought our house in Yardley.  Much of the live simply, hand made, rural style disappeared from our life.  Graduate school, school administration, teaching,  raising a daughter, local politics took precedence.

About ten years ago we began to return to some of the basics.  Our garden got bigger — past few years, I harvested over 300 pounds of tomatoes, many heritage, canning returned.  I freeze peppers and  zucchini, make sauerkraut and pickles, various relishes and salsa.  In the fall I make applesauce and apple butter. Peach butter is another favorite. This summer we picked 10 pounds of wild raspberries — pies and preserves.  We buy several types of pumpkins to make pies and soup and freeze some in 2 cup bags to use off season.  Have experimented with pickled asparagus and green beans.  This year the garden got even bigger.  We have some perennials —  rhubarb, asparagus, raspberries, sorrel.  For two years I planted a Fall crop harvesting lettuce and other greens in early December.

I bake quite a bit of our bread, biscuits, and desserts.  Took a rye bread class at King Arthur Flour Baking School in Vermont.  Diane took a cheese making class and we both took a one day “fun”class in Deerfield, MA in open hearth cooking.  About a year ago I discovered the Farm Cooking School in Stockton, NJ.  I’ve been there for a beer- centric dinner and a class in cooking with peppers.  For Christmas, I gave Diane a gift certificate for a class.  Eli has been there for one class and both he and Viv will go to a pizza making class in January.

About 3 weeks ago John Paglione tasted his first home brew since we made beer in the 1970s.  Much more sophisticated today.  I’ve been wanting to try some beer and wine making for several years.  Jenny turned me in a slightly different direction.  My gift from the Kwaits was a Kombacha kit, bottles and a recipe book.  Beer and wine will have to wait.

Most of our “homesteading” has been limited and related to food.  But it does express values we believe.  And we may continue to experiment.  Diane has expressed an interest in knitting.  And I enjoy (not sure I have the will and energy) woodworking —  I did make  a few pieces of furniture in the 1980s and recently inherited some of my father’s tools. We buy frequently from crafts people.  And have used the wood stove more frequently– heat as well as atmosphere.

I don’t plan on abandoning technology.  I’m writing now on an I-Pad.  And will continue to use a computer, drive a car, buy kitchen gadgets, and carry a cell phone.  But when possible I will try to simplify, become involved in the process of creating, making.  It may not  be real homesteading; but maybe there is a need for a new designation, a new word.  What do I call this hybrid lifestyle I would like to develop?

 

 

 

 

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