Sunday 27 Jul 2014

Island Time

We spent last week in Maine with my mother and stepfather, John, at our favorite place, the island where we got engaged. The farmhouse overlooks a vast meadow, ocean and islands; in back, the woods and organic garden. We walk the meadow trails, play poison-style croquet, cook extravagant feasts, read and knit in the Adirondack chairs.

This year it was just the four of us. We had sun and fog, shady-porch and huddle-by-the-fire weather—all great by me. That meadow view, in the changing light, is sublime. A sense of slowing down, of profound peace, comes over us here—a slice of an older way of life, internet-free, attuned to the outdoors, and centered on the country kitchen, where we usually have something roasting or simmering. All of us convene around sunset hour to pick vegetables, pour cocktails, and fire up the grill.

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My mother and John have a new dog, Magpie, inherited from a dear friend who died recently. Our friend, Mary, had rescued Magpie from abusive owners. She’s an Australian Cattle Dog mix, with a lovely sleek black head and mottled gray blaze, a gray-roan coat, spotted legs, and feathered tail. She’s understandably skittish with new people, but smart and loving, quick to learn tricks, quiet at night and sweetly overjoyed to say good morning. Following John’s advice, Philip and I played it cool when we met her—we said hello but didn’t reach to pet her—and within an hour she was sidling over to us for attention, letting us scratch her neck. I imagine it helped that my voice sounds like my mother’s. Maybe our doggie-detected scents are similar, too.

Photo by Philip

Photo by Philip

The farmhouse is a square Victorian with dining room (née shed) and workshop-with-loft in back. The house was abandoned and bird-infested when my grandfather bought it. He hired a local guy to restore it, using stones from the beach to build fireplaces, running power from a generator behind the garden. Now Eddie, son of the original caretaker/contractor, looks after the property. He composts seaweed and grass clippings for über organic fertilizer. A week with that garden is heaven—digging potatoes with those curved mini pitchforks, the vivid, luminous skins of carrots and onions pulled from the dirt, lettuce clipped half an hour before dinner time, peas so sweet you end up eating half of them as you shell.

I’ll post recipes; stay tuned.

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One evening we all walked without flashlights down the mowed path to the dock. Too dark to see the path, so we navigated by the trees we knew, silhouetted against the paler silvery water, and the feel of longer grass deflecting us from the path’s edges. Fireflies sparked in the meadow. The flat-calm water made no sound; we heard, all the way from the orchard pond, the frogs’ chorus of gulps, and from out in the bay, the slow peaceful gong of the bell buoy. The four of us lay down on the dock, alarming Magpie, who couldn’t think of a good reason for us to do that. We reassured her, and she stopped whimpering. Soon she was sniffing our faces, and in bold moments, licking us. We all saw one bright shooting star, a precursor to the Perseid meteor showers due in a couple of weeks. On our walk back to the house’s lantern-like glow, the smells enveloped us as we stepped onto land: rose hips, lilies, and meadow grass.

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Wednesday morning at 2:00 a.m., a thunderstorm tore in from the south. From our bed under the window, the light and noise seemed to break directly on our heads. Stage-bright lightning and deafening cracks, then the long ripping sound that reverberated across the sky and seemed to carry the storm away. Thunder reduced to a distant, extended crashing like boulders down a ravine. Close by, the soothing rush of water flowing off the house. I experienced all this in a dreamlike, half-sleeping state. Then a burst of heavier rain pummeled the clapboards, blew sideways through our cracked-open window, and soaked the tops of our pillows. Whereupon I woke up completely, with that mildly fearful, springing-to-action feeling, and wrestled the slippery peg that freed the window to close.

Our second-to-last morning, my mother, Philip and I canoed and kayaked (my mother in the kayak) to some rocky islands where seals hang out at low tide. We approached in what felt like a stealthy manner, but even so they hurried into the water in that belly-flopping way they have. But they didn’t go far. We drifted and they bobbed around us, rising curiously, groundhog-style, or edging toward us and diving with a showy splash.

My mother's photo

My mother’s photo

The island’s south side is a wonderland of moss-covered trails, sunlight slanting through trees, waves sloshing on rocky shoreline below. Philip and I took one last walk our final morning, before hitting the road. On the woodland trail we saw a large dark animal ahead, black-lab or bobcat sized. It dropped its head and lumbered into the trees with a slow-motion-rocking-horse gait: back legs, front legs, back, front. It had tall haunches and a long, sleek tail: an otter! We stood stunned for the moment it took us to figure what it was—that heart-racing sensation of surprising a wild animal. Back at the house, we asked Eddie if our guess sounded right. He said he’d seen an otter once in the front meadow, heading for the orchard.

Scene of the otter sighting

Scene of the otter sighting

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Where Eddie say his otter

Where Eddie saw his otter

Leaving this place sends everyone into a mildly depressive state. But Philip and I were itching to get to the farm and see what the vine and tree work had unveiled—start of the transformation. The Maine garden gives us something to aspire to.

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More cruciferous beauties (the third is an ornamental kale):

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A foggy-day walk:

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More feasting:

Salmon and potatoes, sautéed greens, and roasted cauliflower

Salmon and potatoes, sautéed greens, and roasted cauliflower

Making stock with organic chicken and garden veggies

Making stock with organic chicken and garden veggies

My shellfish-allergy dinner on lobster night

My shellfish-allergy dinner on lobster night

Vintage kitchen, with a "don't break the stove" sign

Vintage kitchen, with a “Don’t break the stove” sign

Hard to leave these magnificent views:

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Photo by my mother, Anne Meyer

Photo by my mother, Anne Meyer

Another of hers

Another of hers

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