Monthly Archives: April 2011

Town-Love

Baby & Me

Dear Reader:

Spring has brought daffodils to my flower beds, leaves cluttering my lawn, owls hunting for peepers in the boggy places, and a chance for me to bottle feed a baby goat at Downhome Farm (isn’t that the cutest white baby goat?).

Spring also brought me back to 1987, freshman year at the University of Maine at Farmington, the season I took my first (and only) poetry class, ate Gifford’s ice-cream for the first time, took beginner rides on the back of a motorcycle, and began the slow process of falling in love with the man who would eventually become my husband.

And I DID fall in love. With the town. I’m still smitten.

This month, I drove up to UMF to meet my college roommate and two of our friends from down the hall in Scott South, the all-female dormitory where we ended up freshman year–me because my parents wanted to protect me from co-ed distractions and the other three by chance, I think. We lived on the first floor, not a bad set-up, and because we were the only all-female dorm, we also had the only co-ed bathroom on campus (for the visiting boyfriends to use). Oh, the irony.

We were to meet in the Gifford’s Ice Cream parking lot. Arriving early, I grabbed a cup of coffee at a new cafe “overtown” where a pizza place used to be, walked around the block to stretch my legs, admired the gazebo still standing in the tiny park. I drove back past the big, old Main Street houses, now repainted and divided up into apartments, and parked my vehicle in front of Giffords to watch the traffic turning onto the Intervale Road. There were kids playing tennis on the courts beside Hippach Field and a group of Little League players trying out the baseball diamond where my father and uncle played for the Farmington State Teacher’s College team in the mid 1960’s.

(Farmington State became UMF later on, but it still remained primarily a training college for future educators. Now it presents itself as “the liberal arts college of the UMaine System.” Once there were first-generation-to college Mainers wearing sweatpants and L.L. Bean boots to class. Now, it’s topless parades to protest inequality for women. No matter. It’s still UMF. The “Beach” in front of the main dining hall may be called something else now, but it is still the same old hangout. There’s a great athletic center with a pool, indoor tennis courts, weight rooms, and the like. The library has been slightly remodeled. A beautiful education center was constructed where the little white psychology building used to be, and I hear a new art gallery is going in. It’s all good.)

Down to Giffords, I stared, dreamy-eyed, at the yellow Victorian Chester Greenwood mansion high up on the hill overlooking the Sandy River. I gazed at the square, brick campus building, remembering Alice Bloom’s booming musical rendition of a poem by Blake, remembering watching THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY on Sunday movie night in the auditorium there, remembering the buzzing of a lawn mower and the scent of fresh-cut grass while trying to pay attention during Russian history class my final spring at UMF.

I glanced over at the golden arches of the McDonald’s where a bunch of us used to walk after a Wednesday evening children’s lit class. Remembering. Remembering. Remembering and missing the Farmington Diner where my parents met, where my husband-to-be treated me to giant platters of fried clams and french fries loaded with ketchup while we listened to lame eighties hits on the individual jukeboxes situated at every booth. “Lady in Red” and “Lean on Me” and “Maggie May.”

Heart-bursting love for everything.

I rolled down my window and sniffed . . . yes, Farmington has its own scent, probably something to do with the river water but maybe also the farmland surrounding the town and once in awhile, when the wind is right, a whiff of the paper mills in Jay. I recognized this smell. It was the smell of home. Or of a homeplace.

I have family roots deep in Farmington and the surrounding towns. While I was growing up, my grandparents lived here, in a white-sided farmhouse built by my grandfather’s father out on Rt. 4 in West Farmington, on an embankment next to a cornfield beside Temple Stream. My parents took my sister and me to visit often, and for two years of college, I rented a room in the house, sipped camomile tea out on the granite steps, typed up college papers in the old, screen porch office at the front shaded by big old oaks that dropped so many acorns it hurt to run across the lawn in bare feet.

My grandmother’s family tree goes all the way back to some of the first settlers of the area, the Butterfields, who built homesteads up on Porter Hill. My grandfather’s family goes back aways, too, though I don’t know as much about them. My mother grew up here. My parents met here. I met my husband here. I dream of moving back, someday. Maybe.

Bill Roorbach's Book

Mostly, though, I just want to continue to love this town with its human-scale Main Street shops, its steepled churches, its college campus, its river. Others have moved here and felt its magic pull. On our recent visit, my friends and I ducked into Twice Sold Tales, a wonderful used bookshop housed in part of the old Newberry’s five-and-dime store, and I picked up Bill Roorbach’s memoir, TEMPLE STREAM. Professor Roorbach came to UMF to teach just after I graduated, but I enjoyed his first memoir SUMMERS WITH JULIET and wished I could have taken a class taught by him.

With the new book, Roorbach had me at the title, but I was impressed on every single page. Funny, insightful, informative, and warm, TEMPLE STREAM made me fall in love with the area all over again. Thank you, Mr. Roorbach.

The visit, the spring season, the memoir all worked a kind of magic and inspired me to write a new poem. I will leave you with the new, spring-inspired poem plus an old, winter-inspired poem written back when I was in college. Both are about the Sandy River in Farmington, Maine. Happy Spring, Dear Reader!

WINTER WATER (old poem)

It is not black
but deepest blue
piercing the whiteness
of snow crusted over
a somnolent river . . .
Chilled blue
water gurgling beneath
that hardened surface, I imagine . . .
Walking this bridge
from there to there
and wondering how it would be
to be a stone
rolling on an icy current,
opaque whiteness for a sky . . .

January, 1990.

and


POETRY & FARMING (new poem)

There is something
about this town
that invites
poetry & farming.

Town born of a river
rushing thick in spring
with sticks
& mud & thrown-away
stuff like bottles, rubber tires,
cardboard, rags.

Does the rushing & roaring
of the water seep
into the brain cells?
Permeable membranes susceptible to river notes,
gurgles like syllables,
voice of water whispering
“This and This and Thus” &
“Write it Down! Remember!”

After the floods in spring
the river draws back
gifting the plains
with organic riches, minerals
dredged from the riverbed or scraped
with a scour of deep ice.

This river made
lush green fields shot through
with meandering streams
like fool’s-gold threads. In later Spring,
swaths of pasture grass are dotted
with buttercups & milkweed & vetch.

The dairy cows lie beside
the water, listen
and chew while their udders fill
with sweet, white milk.

April, 2011

Growing In The Shade

Red sky in the morning . . .

“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”

Dear Reader:

The above quote is an old adage I learned as a child. Basically, it means that if there’s a red sunset you can expect clear, sunny skies the next day, but if you have a red sunrise, watch out for a gloomy day ahead. (click HERE for a scientific explanation.)

I say, with all the news we’ve had lately about oil prices, revolutions in the Middle East, mega earthquakes, nuclear power plant problems, our national debt ceiling about to be reached come May, and a stalemate over our Washington budget, we are seeing a red sky in the morning here on planet Earth. Will we heed the warning signs?

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard about Peak Oil yet? If you haven’t, I encourage you to find out about it as quickly as possible. The Post Carbon Institute has published a Peak Oil Primer (click HERE to read it)that will give you an overview of the issue. Basically, Peak Oil is the point in time when we have used up half of the original oil reserves in the world. If graphed on a bell curve, the extraction and production of oil would form a “peak” at this point, and from that point on extraction and production will become more difficult and less efficient over time. Another term for this is “energy resource depletion.” Or, as I like to call it, “running out of gas.”

You can also watch a few documentaries:
COLLAPSE with Michael Rupert (click HERE)
THE END OF SUBURBIA (click HERE)
ENERGY CROSSROADS (click HERE to view the trailer)

These are just a few. I encourage you to explore and share what you find.

In essence, what these films (and the myriad books that are available–more on those in another post) tell us is that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in our current way of life depends on oil. Our food is grown with oil-based fertilizers applied by oil-run tractors that are manufactured using oil. Irrigation pumps to water the fields run on oil. All plastics are made with oil. Obviously, our transportation is mostly oil-fueled. We heat our homes and hot water with oil. Our clothing (and just about everything else in the stores) is shipped to us via a fleet of trucks that run on gasoline. Suburbia depends on the automobile to get its residents to and from work, school, stores, and hospitals. We have fewer and fewer walkable, liveable communities.

I am aware that this all sounds alarmist. It is. I am alarmed. The more I learn, the more I read the news, the more I think, the more alarmed I become. All my little projects here Outside the Box have been attempted because I believe the only way to make a difference in this alarming scenario is to go local. Even then, deep down, all this square-foot gardening/buying local milk/knitting socks feels more like child's play than a real answer to the disaster-waiting-to-happen. Unless everyone else begins to localize, too.

A couple years ago I tried to bring Peak Oil and its implications to the attention of my homeowner's association–asking that we begin to think about some changes to our bylaws that would allow us to become more sustainable and less dependent on oil and outside resources. Opening up the canopy to let in much-needed sunlight was my biggest plea. I said we needed to be able to learn to grow our own food in our own backyards, and and that takes eight hours of sunlight, minimum. I also said we could become more energy independent if we used solar technology to heat our homes and hot water, possibly even selling excess energy back to "the grid" and easing some of our home economies and off-setting increases in our association dues.

As you can imagine, nobody took this seriously. Maybe it was because I also mentioned raising goats.

I understand that some people moved here to "get back to nature." Our development was created as a vacation community, after all. I understand that people "up to camp" like the old, Maine pine trees swaying above the cottage while the sunlight sparkles on the lake. It is beautiful. I like it, too. I wish our way of life could continue on just the way it is now, driving outside the community to go to work and coming home to our nice houses and power boats and microwave ovens and the wind sighing through the pines while we sip our pre-dinner Merlot on the deck while the steak sizzles on the gas grill. It's a wonderful life.

I just don't happen to believe it's gonna last. Hopefully I'm wrong.

While we wait and see what the future holds, I'll keep on playing around with my projects. I can't do much about what other people chose or chose not to learn. To give up entirely would mean giving in to fear.

In the spirit of doing something even if it is a drop in the bucket, I am plunging ahead this year with more garden boxes. I am going to focus on vegetables and herbs that can be grown in the shade and hope to trade for some tomatoes and peppers and squashes from someone with a sunny garden spot. I’m also going to experiment with those Topsy Turvy planters . . . growing tomatoes upside down on iron hooks stuck into my septic field–the sunniest spot in my yard. I’m also contemplating growing a few tomatoes in large pots . . . on top of my septic tank, the area of my yard that remained mostly snow-free all winter despite record snowfalls due to the heat underneath the dirt.

If you have a shady area of your yard, if your entire yard is shady, and if you want to give gardening a try, HERE is a list of plants that will grow in 3-6 hours of sunlight. Compost heavily. Water regularly. Read the article about Peak Oil and share it with others. Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.