The Old Apple Tree

Apple

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This photograph is of an old apple tree growing on the edge of my brother’s field near Rockport Harbor. A week or so ago, one of its main branches broke in an ice storm and now lies twisted, touching the ground. My brother’s wife will probably get him to cut the tree down this summer as there isn’t much left of it anymore.

The old apple tree doesn’t mind being cut down now. It’s had a long life and even in the day when there was a commercial orchard on the land, the apples it gave the farmer to sell weren’t what made it happy. Making money was fine but what the tree really liked were the times when all the busy chores were done and it stood alone by the edge of the water in the warm sun and listened to the waves rustle the little stones that covered the beach below it.

The tree’s place in the orchard, when there had been one, was at the very bottom of the row nearest the sea and in the fall and spring when the migrating geese were passing through,  a flock of them would sometimes cluster nearby burbling softly to each other as they ate the grass under its branches. When the birds had finished eating, they would settle down in the soft grass and sleep with their heads under a wing. The guard birds stayed awake of course and if all was quiet and no foxes or people were near, they would tell the tree stories of flying all night above storm clouds in the dull silver light of a crescent moon.

In the mid 1800s the farm had been sold to a rich man from Philadelphia as a summer vacation place, then sold again to someone else and finally cut into smaller pieces for yet more summer houses. The tree no longer was expected to make money for anyone and since it wasn’t commercially valuable, it wasn’t fertilized or pruned or sprayed to keep the worms from digging into its wood or fruit. That was OK because the geese still passed through and told stories of their travels and children of the summer people would occasionally come by to try to climb it or even bite into the small wormy bitter apples it still produced. 

I’ve known this tree since I first came to Maine in the early 1950s. I was one of those children of summer and I will miss it. 

On Baking Bread (By one who can’t)

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I’ve always thought of baking as a fussy, magical, messy kind of enterprise. Part math, part Merlin and part “how did all that stuff get on the floor”.

I’ve occasionally tried baking myself with mixed results. (That assessment is a little generous.) When my boys were young I went on a sourdough bread baking jag and was OK at it for a while. But the problem with sourdough is that you need what the pros call a “starter”. Simply put it is a bunch of bacteria (lactobacilli) that live in a bowl of warm flour and water and multiply like crazy as they feed on it. One needs to replenish the bubbling stuff regularly and use it as a leavener for whatever you’re baking or the little bugs get nasty, smelly and die. This leaves a stinky mass of stuff that needs to be thrown out and making the “starter” has to be started all over again. I didn’t use my “starter” often enough and attend too many disgusting funerals.

My enthusiasm for baking lessened with each baking failure. The coup de grace, while not exactly technically a baking failure, was when my attempt at making pasta resulted in numerous clumps of damp, limp and very sticky extruded flour and water lying all over the kitchen floor. 

The loaf that headlines this article is apple bread. Sarah baked it quickly and professionally to use up some of the applesauce she had put up this summer in our freezer. That temperamental beast died of electrical failure a couple of days ago and we needed to find some creative uses for an overabundance of applesauce. The loaf pictured is still warm and the chunk out of it was my doing. It was delicious! (The fact that Sarah served it with vanilla ice cream didn’t hurt a bit.)

Bon Appetit! May you bake better than I.

A Grubby Maine Day

 

I don’t like the weather today.

So far this winter we have been having lots of snow and bitterly cold temperatures and that’s OK. It’s often been hard to go outside but, it’s winter in Maine and occasionally freezing one’s ass off is the price one pays for living here. However, today is different.

For one thing it’s warm. Warm, 47 degrees to be exact, and that is warm bucko. The snow melts when it’s this warm of course and that’s a good thing. But when warm air sits on top of cold snow-covered ground, fog forms and that’s bad because that kind of fog lays waiting in what seems like almost random places. One minute you’re tooling along at 60 mph on a clear road and the next you are in pea soup fog with a visibility of, at best, 50 yards. Rear-ending someone or getting run into yourself is really easy today.

Maine license plates have the slogan “Vacationland” on them. Really?! Maybe in the summer when the waves sparkle silver on the bay or fall when the leaves of the hardwoods are brilliant red and gold.

But now?

In our dreams.

Nobody in their right mind would come up here. It’s gray, raining like hell, streams are flooding and the roadside snow is turning a grimy greasy brown. Not only that but more of the same is coming tomorrow.

Welcome to “Vacationland”.

Do yourself a favor and stay away.

 

Doug’s Barber Shop

 

In Rockland, Maine this little place is the ground zero for local news and gossip. Its walls also echo with strongly expressed opinions about the shortcomings of the contemporary human condition.

Dennis Rodman does North Korea

This kind of thing is, I guess, is occasionally to be expected in a democratic society where free speech is valued but, Rodman is a total nutcase and what he is doing is absolutely terrible. Craving publicity is a sickness of the ego and boy is this lad ill.

Dennis Rodman apologizes for North Korea outburst – CNN.com.

Black Granite and Ice

On the way to Portland today I came across this rock face just covered with ice.

On the way to Portland I came across this rock face covered with ice.

Traveling To Boston and the Trident Cafe

Trident Booksellers Cafe

Trident Booksellers Cafe

Getting down to Boston from where we live in midcoast Maine is somewhat of a hassle, especially in winter. The first hour or so, until we get to Portland, is spent on roads that do not get the maintenance of the big  interstates. They don’t get plowed as well and when it’s really cold out the salt doesn’t melt what’s left sooo they can be sneaky dangerous. What looks like black top is actually black ice and that stuff is murder.

Once south of Portland though things get a lot better. Interstate I 95 takes over and the next 2 hours are pretty easy. I like to stop in the middle of the Maine Turnpike to use their familiar facilities and get a hit of Starbucks medium bold plus one of their outstanding oatmeal raisin cranberry cookie. Sarah gets a small mocha with no whipped cream and on we sail with a fine caffeine breeze at our backs.

I used to live and work in Boston when I was younger and Sarah and I have lived there on and off over the years. We had an apartment on Beacon Street here but sold it three years ago. 

Everything you hear about Boston is pretty much true. It is packed with rabid sports fans. Its drivers are terrible (so are its pedestrians). It is loaded with history and brainy college students and, I as an ex-Bostonian am ashamed to say, it could keep its streets and sidewalks a lot cleaner.

All that being so, it has one thing that you probably have never heard of and that’s too bad because it the most terrific local hangout we’ve ever found. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you the one and only Trident Booksellers Cafe. It sits in the last block of upper Newbury Street and has been there for at least a decade. It sells a winning combination of good food, (their corned beef hash is fantastic) good coffee and intelligently curated books and periodicals. 

Our waiter yesterday morning summed up the appeal of the place when he said the liked working there because “It’s a comfortable blend and they’re all young here”.

Our errant elderly presence not withstanding, the place is indeed “all young”. Engaged young, intelligent young, happy young and, speaking for ourselves, well-fed young.

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