August 2, 2020
At this time of year the first sound I hear, when I get up in the mornings when it’s still dark and I listen at the bedroom windows, is frogs burping gently in the beaver pond in the backyard.
The last sound I hear at bedtime is birds being talkative in the trees.
Wildlife can be cozy.
However, in the mornings after I’ve exercised and showered and got myself together, when I step outdoors to say, “Good morning, Morning!” I look both ways to make sure a bear isn’t coming around a corner of the house, especially from the path out of the woods that Don and I dubbed “The Bear Highway” because bears mostly seem to favor this approach.
Recently my sister asked my niece’s husband, a biologist, why I had so many bears at my place. He replied, using a scientific term to describe my locale, “Ruthie lives in bear heaven.” The environs are perfect.
I haven’t yet seen a bear this year, but probably only because I haven’t been looking at the right time. One morning I did see evidence of a bear’s presence overnight: the big metal trash can, in which I store sunflower seeds in the winter and which, empty, I move to a spot beside the shed in the spring, was knocked over. Last year I discovered it knocked over and partly but vigorously crushed by a bear who must’ve been disgusted because although it smelled yummy, it was empty.
More wild wildlife:
As usual, there’s the occasional howling of coyotes during the night, the Wild West out the bedroom windows.
Back to coziness:
The sight of a big flock of wild turkeys swarming across the lawn, investigating the backyard, silent and seeming almost like soothing water swirling and eddying.
The time I was weeding the garden and happened to look up to see a deer and fawn nearby across the pond, the deer grazing, the fawn bouncing.
I remember a sight I didn’t see but Don vividly described. He saw a beaver leap off the pond’s opposite bank, creating the biggest splash he’d ever seen one make, “like a kid cannonballing into the old swimming hole.”
And always there’s the amusement of watching chipmunks. Last month on Maine’s WCSH TV morning news program, the daily “stumper” question asked, “How many acorns can a chipmunk fit into its pouch—seven, twelve, eighteen, twenty-seven?” I guessed seven. The correct answer: twelve! I also learned they can fit in seventy sunflower seeds and thirty-one corn kernels. Clever chippies!
July 26, 2020
In Site Fidelity I had fun mentioning the Maine reading material that Puddles and Blivit put in the guest room in which Snowy and Tom stayed while visiting them: “A little bookcase held a selection of books by Louise Dickinson Rich, Kenneth Roberts, John Gould, and other Maine writers, and also issues of Down East magazine.”
So I turned eagerly to a feature about Maine books in the June issue of Down East, “100 Books Every Lover of Maine Should Read,” chosen by the Down East staff. The books are listed in alphabetical order by title. Of the twenty-nine that I’ve read, here are my favorites:
Arundel, by Kenneth Roberts. His historical novels are Maine classics. I grew up with an assortment of them in my parents’ bookcases, his name a sort of “household name.” And when I was old enough, I read them.
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey. His Make Way for Ducklings was the McCloskey book in my childhood, and I loved it. I was introduced to Blueberries for Sal by my niece when she was about ten years old and told me its plot to scare me when she and my sister and I were picking blueberries and keeping a wary watch for any bears who might join us.
Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White. Another book I read later in life, White’s Stuart Little being the one in my childhood.
Come Spring, by Ben Ames Williams. His name was another “household name” I remember seeing on several books in my parents’ bookcases. Two of those books survived to reside here in our bookcases Don built.
The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett. A beautifully written book; another Maine classic. During a Maine trip, Don and I explored the Tenants Harbor peninsula using as a guide an article (probably in Down East) about the actual locations of places in the book. We found them. I don’t think I often use the word “thrilled,” but I remember realizing that this was the emotion when I looked out at a view of a little house facing the ocean.
High Tide at Noon and My World Is an Island, by Elisabeth Ogilvie. Thanks to my sister’s discovery of Elisabeth Ogilvie’s books in a Maine library, I was already a fan when Don and I moved to Sandwich and learned that one of our neighbors, Lib Kennedy, was her cousin. Lib invited Don and Penny and me to meet Elisabeth at her home in Cushing, Maine. Talk about being thrilled! After the visit, Elisabeth and I corresponded for several years; I wrote a piece about this for “Ruth’s Neighborhood” after she died.
Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field. In my childhood I read this book about a doll over and over.
An Island Garden, by Celia Thaxter. I’ve long loved her books and poetry. Penny and Don and I visited her garden on Appledore in the Isles of Shoals.
We Took to the Woods, by Louise Dickinson Rich. She was a very entertaining writer, funny and honest. Don and I read this book in England and it made us decide that when we returned the States we too would take to the woods and live a homesteading life. Instead, we ended up in Boston!
July 19, 2020
This Sunday is National Ice Cream Day—and I’m thinking about garlic ice cream!
Perhaps that’s because last week I saw in my diary a July 15, 2015 entry that said, “I hoed the garden and pulled up the first garlic.” I grew garlic for many years, and I had two cookbooks devoted to garlic. In one there is a recipe for garlic ice cream. I liked to try culinary experimentation so why didn’t I try making garlic ice cream? I guess the only explanation is that we didn’t own an ice-cream machine and I didn’t want to spend the money to buy one for an experiment I was pretty sure Don wouldn’t like. (He liked chocolate best and I liked everything, and I could be lazy and buy these at the store or a dairy bar.)
For years I’d grown onions and scallions and chives, but I’d never had any luck growing garlic until we learned that one of Don’s former students and her husband who live on an organic farm in northern New Hampshire grew a lot of garlic. I asked them for advice about their methods.
In August 1999 I wrote a piece describing this for “Ruth’s Neighborhood” on my website, titling it “Glorious Garlic”:
. . . Adapting their methods to my smaller garden, I at last found success, which still strikes me as unbelievable.
Every Columbus Day I plant rows of garlic cloves, fretting that the little nuggets won’t survive the winter. I spread some hay over them, and soon enough there’s snow on top. Throughout the winter I gaze out the window beside my desk, seeing snowdrifts across the garden and shivering for those cloves. But early in the spring, as the snow melts down to the layer of frosty hay, green shoots valiantly stab upward. Hooray!
That feeling of triumph never really lessens during the summer while I weed and water. Those rows of garlic are the most satisfying sight in the whole garden. Along about mid-July, stalks [or stems] start to curl, forming a small bulb, a bulbil; I cut them off so the main bulbs’ energy won’t be sapped. [These curly stalks are the “garlic scapes” that eventually we all learned to put in salads instead of on the compost pile.]
Around the second week in August, I carefully dig up the garlic, shake off as much dirt as possible from the damp bulbs, and lug basket-loads up to my office (a garret) where I spread them out on newspapers on the floor to dry.
That’s where they are right now, and the aroma is heady as I write.
When they are dry, I’ll brush the remaining dirt off the bulbs, trim them (this hard-stemmed variety can’t be braided), and put the harvest in mesh bags for storage. But I’ll set aside the best of the bulbs to replant on Columbus Day, once again doubting their survival.
I may not have garlic ice cream on hand today, but I do have vanilla in the freezer. Happy National Ice Cream Day!
July 12, 2020
Penny (my sister) and Thane (my niece) have been here to celebrate their July birthdays, staying at a lakeside cabin colony where they’ve stayed these past few years. A birthday means cake, and what kind to make this year is a very important subject we’ve been discussing on the phone in three-way “conference calls” for months.
Last year they made a cake that Penny had made in Thane’s childhood, a Zebra Cake, the icebox cake of chocolate wafers and whipped cream. When sliced, the cake has stripes. The whipped cream proved to be a challenge because the cabin’s kitchen didn’t have a whisk or an eggbeater, nor did the owners in their cabin. Thus, while Penny and I watched in admiration, Thane whipped the cream with a fork for a great amount of time with great success.
We finally decided that we would repeat this cake and they would bring a mixer or borrow mine. But this year the challenge became the wafers; Penny couldn’t find any. Another pandemic shortage? Eek, what other cake to make? During the last-minute phone discussion before their trip to their cabin, Thane said that because Penny is a big fan of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream, how about a chocolate layer cake with chocolate ganache and a cherry filling and topping? And whipped cream. Yes!
Penny and I have never made ganache, have only seen it done on TV, and this was rather like a cooking show as we sat in the cabin and again watched Thane create. Penny and I also reminisced about our childhood birthday cakes. Our mother always made an utterly delicious Fannie Farmer’s chocolate layer cake with white seven-minute frosting. For special birthday parties she did buy a cake from Laconia’s Laflamme’s Bakery, a yellow cake with white frosting and pink and blue Happy Birthday piping and rosettes. In my novel The Cost of Living, Polly say that something was “all pink and blue, like those sunsets I used to call birthday-cake sunsets because the colors were like the decorations on the birthday cakes Mama used to buy at Picard’s Bakery.” I still call those sunsets “birthday-cake sunsets.”
Penny hates coconut, so of course I reminded her about Don’s tales of his mother making a coconut cake for his birthdays. (In fiction, I gave those birthday cakes to Bev’s husband, Roger). During our early-married years I made Don one at least once; then he decided he preferred chocolate and together he and I “invented” a chocolate cake frosted with whipped cream and coconut. And then he suggested a combo he remembered fondly from a Laconia drugstore frequented by the older kids. (Penny and I remember only venturing in once or twice, in awe of those kids in the booths. Was one of them Don?) He recalled that this drugstore served, in addition to sodas and frappes and sundaes, a slice of “fudge cake with hot-fudge sauce and chocolate ice cream.” So we made that for his birthday-cake dessert one year.
To return to July 2020: Penny and Thane’s cherry-chocolate birthday cake with whipped cream was luscious and loving.
A COLLECTION OF QUOTATIONS
July 5, 2020
In the never-ending effort to keep my various desks and tabletops tidy, the other day I went through one of my batches of notes, this one a collection of various quotations I’ve come across and jotted down. Here are some:
“Many go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”
Henry David Thoreau. His observation is being quoted on the TV screen on Maine’s WCSH Channel 6, as a sort of calming station break. A fly fisherman is standing in a brook, and his graceful fly-casting reminds me of my father fishing.
“Music is perhaps the most powerful of all art forms.”
Malachy McCourt. My sister gave me his Danny Boy: The Legend of the Beloved Irish Ballad, in which he made this statement. Being involved in another art form, I hesitated to agree but because of his “perhaps” I did.
“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.”
Rudyard Kipling. At this stage in our lives, Penny and I look back in awe at all the hard work we have put into our gardens, all the dirt under our fingernails.
“You just go on and on until you fall over.”
David Hockney. In a TV interview, the artist said this about continuing to paint in his old age, and I fell over laughing.
“I’m much happier when I’m writing, rather than playing golf or being retired. Writers don’t retire; they can’t—it’s not a job. What would you retire from?”
Paul Theroux made this closing remark in a Publishers Weekly interview.
I’ve always meant to read Ursula Le Guin but I never did until my niece recently gave me No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters. There is much to laugh over and remember and quote in this collection of her acerbic, forthright blogs, but what I jotted down was:
“I’ve lost faith in the saying ‘You’re only as old as you think you are,’ ever since I got old . . . If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.”
Doan Sisters Go to a British Supermarket (April 5)
National Poetry Month 2020 (April 12)
Dining Out (April 19 )
Singing (April 26 )
Results (May 3)
Laconia (May 10)
Schedules & Sustenance (May 17)
The Passion Pit (May 24)
Sunday Drives, Again (May 31)
Riding and "Broading" Around (June 7)
Learning (June 14)
Hair (June 21)
Best of New Hampshire (June 28)
JANUARY - MARCH 2020
Audiobook Travels (January 5)
Catalogs (January 12)
The Cup & Crumb (January 19)
Ironing (January 26)
Mailboxes February 2)
Books Sandwiched In (February 9)
Bathrobes or ? (February 16)
Two Audiobooks and a Magazine(February 23)
Social Whirl in February (March 1)
Food for Hikes (March 8
Pandemic and Poetry (March 15)
An Island Kitchen (March 22)
Red Hill (March 29)
OCTOBER -- DECEMBER) 2019
Pumpkin Spice (October 6)
Houseplants, New and Old(October 13)
Pumpkin Regatta (October 20)
An Over-the-Hill Celebration (October 27)
Joy of Cooking (November 3)
The First Snow (November 10)
Louisa and P.G. (November 17)
In the Dentist's Waiting Room, Again. (Nov. 24)
Portsmouth Thanksgiving. (December 1)
Phyliss McGinley and Mrs. York (December 8)
Marion's Christmas Snowball, Again (Dec. 15)
Christmas in the Village (Dec. 22)
Christmas Weather (Dec. 29 )
JULY -- SEPTEMBER 2019
The Lot (July 7)
This and That, Again (July 14)
Out of Reach (July 21)
Maine Foods (July 28)
Summer Scenes (August 4)
Old Home Week (August 11)
Sawyer's Dairy Bar (August 18)
Reunions (August 25)
Maine Woods and Matchmaking (Sept 1)
New Hampshire Apple Day (Sept 8)
Castles and Country Houses (Sept 15)
Shakespeare and George (Sept 22)
Wildlife (Sept 29)
APRIL - JUNE, 2019
National Poetry Month, 2019 (April 7)
National Library Week, 2019 (April 14)
Dorothy Parker Poem (April 21)
Spring Is Here! (April 28)
Department Stores (May 5)
Archie (May 12)
It's Radio! (May 19)
The Big Bear (May 26)
A Boyhood in the Weirs (June 2)
Pinkham Notch (June 9)
Latest Listening and Reading (June 16)
Setting Up Housekeeping (June 23)
Pizza, Past and Present (June 30)
Squirrels (January 6)
Mills & Factories (January 13)
Kingfisher (January 19)
A Rockland Restaurant (January 27)
Home Ec (February 3)
Ice Fishing Remembered (February 10)
Our First Date (February 17)
Sandwiches Past and Present (February 23)
Snowy Owls & Chicadees (March 3)
Car Inspection (March 10)
Latest Reading & Listening (March 17)
Frost Heaves, Again (March 24)
Signs of Spring, 2019 (March 31)
March, 2018(first entry)
Earlier: See Ruth's Neighborhood
The Old Country Store (March 25)
The Galloping Gourmet (April 1)
The Poor Man's Fertilizer (April 7)
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms (041518)
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing;;
Food & Drink Poems (April 22)
Recipe Box and Notebook (April 29)
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