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The Lincolnville Blog

Summer Winds Down

Diane O'brien - Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I’m pretty sure you don’t want to hear this, but Summer 2015 is coming to an end. For one thing, it’s dark at 4 a.m. now; we’ve lost nearly an hour and a half of daylight since June. The tomatoes are ripening at a quickening pace, and zucchini wisecracks proliferate. A fellow at church yesterday (I won’t give his name to protect the poor guy) offered to take everyone’s humongous zucchini – sheer zucchini suicide – for the popular relish the church sells.

            Our hens, worn out by their year-long egg laying marathon, have started moulting, and consequently production is down. Meanwhile, this year’s crop of pullets run circles around them, clear-eyed and clean-feathered; they’ve yet to lay their first egg and have no idea of what lies ahead. Something like I felt at 11. Not a clue.

            The shore birds are moulting too. The beach is littered with the soft under-feathers of ducks and gulls, especially along the sea wall. I imagine they might hug the wall at night, sleeping against its warm, solid surface, protecting them from night attack, on one side anyway, though I don’t know what their enemies might be.

            Like all jobs, being on the inside of the Beach trash gig has its perks. Wally has his, and I have mine. Just this morning (wait while I check my pockets) I found a tiny red car, barely an inch long, with wheels that turn, both halves of a snap-together green plastic ball (also tiny), and a small red ring that I’ll add to my stitch markers (a knitting thing). Wally’s aspirations are greater than this. As you might imagine, there are returnables in those trash cans of soggy potato chips, lobster shells, and pizza boxes; raccoon-like he goes through each one, looking for treasure.

            And keeps track. Yes, he has a notebook, and can compare each day’s take with last year’s on this day. As we reach the end of the summer, the competition he has with his last year’s self heats up. While he surpass that total? What was his best day? What does it mean for the overall economy? Oh yes, he has his theories about what people are drinking these days. Domestic versus imported beer, micro brews versus Bud. And what about wine? A few years ago he regularly pulled wine bottles out of the trash, but these days, not so many. A bad economic sign he thinks.

            What do we talk about while going on our daily rounds, as the sun rises and the gulls call and the traffic picks up?  Lately, it’s all speculation about the phantom wine drinker who, every night, consumes a whole bottle, sometimes two, of Oak Leaf wine, neatly replaces the cork, and tosses the empty into the same trash barrel. We assume he (I always mention it could be a “she”) is drinking after dark, and apparently always sitting on the same bench. A restaurant worker relaxing at the end of another long day? A pair of lovers? Since Wally and I are safely tucked in before it’s totally dark outside, we’ll never know.

            The end of summer used to bring the Monarch butterflies, remember? When did you last see one? The first assignment for Ann McK.’s kindergarteners, before they even came to school, used to be to find a Monarch chrysalis and bring it in the first day so the children could watch the miracle of a butterfly emerging. I remember hunting with each of our two oldest granddaughters, unsuccessfully with one. We scouted out all the milkweed, their preferred – only? – food, in the area, and didn’t even find much of that. It turns out that, due to a combination of factors, the Monarch is in danger of disappearing, at least from much of its range. (I’d like to find some supporting websites here, but my modem got messed up during this summer’s frequent thunderstorms, and my internet connection is spotty.)

            The one thing we can do is to encourage milkweed growth on our property; don’t mow it down. If you don’t have any, collect a ripe pod from the roadside or wherever you see it, and let the seeds disperse where it can grow unimpeded along with the other grasses and beneficial field plants that the Monarchs and bobolinks, redwing blackbirds and bees love.

            Tom C. wonders where the mackerel are. Are other fishermen having the same experience? I remember the mackerel runs in the late summer, cooking them every which way, briefly considering canning them, though a cooler head in the household prevailed. Then, years later, we learned the best way to eat them was smoked; Frank S. perfected the method, brining, then smoking the fish he and Wally caught in Rockport Harbor.

            Ruth F. saw a moose the other day, a large cow moose, crossing the road near Stevens (Bald Rock Trail) Corner. That’s the spot where, several years ago, a yearling moose wouldn’t get out of the road. It kept trying to walk into traffic, which understandably, stopped there. We walked right up to it, touched its rough fur, and then Wally hooked an arm around its neck and walked it up into the woods, where it finally trotted off. Moose spottings used to be fairly common; Ruth’s moose is the first one I’ve heard of in at least a couple or three years.

            Monarchs. Mackerel. Moose. What else is missing from our world? Or, another way to look at it, what’s new? Japanese beetles. Turkey vultures. Cardinals. Land snails. Green crabs. Coyotes. None of these were here 45 years ago, my own personal Maine timeline. We barely had a ripe tomato by first frost, picked them all green and wrapped them in newspaper. Getting a pepper to mature was unusual. But that was then. Today

             I’ll be making Gazpacho with all the tomatoes piling up on the top of the woodstove – it calls for a pound and a half of them (peeled), 2 cloves garlic, a chopped onion, and a chopped green pepper. Put all (raw) in the food processor with a fourth cup each of olive oil and red wine vinegar, a spoonful of lemon juice, salt, paprika, and a cup and a half of ice water. Puree it, then serve with diced cucumber and croutons. We eat a whole baguette worth of croutons, fried in butter, olive oil, herbs and garlic with this recipe.

            During my perennial barn cleaning this year I uncovered several “Free Kittens” signs, and got thinking how rare they’ve become. You used to see them tacked below the mailbox on every road in town. People don’t generally have mama cats giving birth to scads of kittens like they used to, thanks to the campaign by the animal shelter folks to have pets neutered. We know all the good reasons to do this, but it’s certainly changed alot. 

            Summer really started for our boys the day they discovered a litter of kittens, eyes barely open, crawling out of their nest in the hayloft. They’d be occupied for the next several weeks making mazes and traps for the three or four or five little fur balls, each named – Stripey, Spitty, Whitey. You get the idea. I was supposed to remember them all. Mama was likely semi-feral, a barn cat that lived on the milk Wally put down for her every morning and night, as well as a bowl of kibble. He said that every summer there was one cat that learned to drink the milk he squirted her way as he crouched next to the cow, filling the bucket. The others just got soaked in milk, then licked their fur clean.

            One day in late summer the sign would go up, in spite of protests from the boys – “Promise you won’t give away Stripey!” But they understood the inevitable; Spitty and Spotty and Whitey, et al were getting big, summer was ending, school was starting. Other people’s children came and picked out a kitten, the boys said good-bye (no tears), and life went on. Once the boys grew up, though, those cute kittens, with no one out there playing with them and civilizing them, grew into feral cats; one summer I gave away 23 kittens. We were willing to neuter the mamas, but couldn’t catch them.  We did finally trap them in the Havahart and got them all fixed, including a big Tom cat that wandered by occasionally to visit our girls. We never found out who he belonged to, and I doubt he revealed what had been done to him ….

            Yesterday, while out on her weekly hike with our dog, Fritz, Corelyn S. spotted a small white dog lying on the bank of the Ducktrap, deep in the woods off Cobbtown Road. The dog was on the Tanglewood side, so she couldn’t approach it, but noticed that it appeared weak or tired, not lifting its head much. As she hiked out, back to her car, she formulated a plan to rescue it that involved returning Fritz to us, taking a leash and driving down to Tanglewood then hiking along the river trail. She’d bring it home, and then try to find its owner. But on the way she ran into a friend who said they were looking for a little white dog.

            Within minutes Corelyn had a team following her to Tanglewood – the family of the dog’s owner, (who’d left, broken hearted, for home earlier in the day), Fritz, maybe the friend. They hiked to the very spot, and sure enough, the dog was still there. Bonny, the dog, had run off at the sound of fireworks on Pitcher Pond the night before; at each new volley she ran further until she was hopelessly lost. At some point she must have crossed the river, and then had no idea how to get back.

            Finally, the true meaning of these end-of-summer days: school’s starting soon. We still have a teacher in the family, so know better than to mention this, as if he needs reminding, but there are also the grandchildren, all ten of them. One was launched this past week-end, off to his first year of high school in another state, by a gathering of grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins. Several will start in a new school, while still another batch simply move up to the next grade at LCS – Lincolnville Central School. And one, the boy who had us all on edge for over a year as he battled for his life, starts kindergarten. Our family will never forget the support that came our way from the community…the best part of living in this small place.

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