On the last night we were in Wells Beach, Maine, it was drizzling rain and very foggy. Charlie and I and two surfers were the only people on the beach. Perhaps coming from Oregon we were oblivious to the moisture. In Oregon if you avoided the beach on rainy or foggy days you would drastically limit your walks.
As we walked into the fog I thought I heard bagpipes. Before I concluded that I had definitely lost my mind thinking of my favorite old movie Brigadoon, I asked Charlie if he heard any bagpipes coming from the fog. Thankfully he heard them too. Either we had jointly lost our minds(always a possibility) or there really were bagpipes. But no matter how far we walked into the fog, we never came upon the piper.
The next day I asked someone at the local store if they had heard bagpipes the night before. A customer told us that a very small wedding had taken place the previous evening, complete with a bagpiper. Knowing that it was true didn’t spoil the magic. But we were relieved that we hadn’t jointly imagined the same sound!
Our several days at Wells Beach, Maine, reminded me of how much I know about the beach, the tides, the undertow, the textures of sand and the sensation of the elements on my feet. From 1949 until we left Oregon in 2001, I was at the Oregon Coast countless times. Once I was 10, I was frequently on the beach either alone or with friends and siblings. In order to be safe, I had had to learn a great deal about the ocean, much of which came back in Maine.
The first and prime lesson was “never turn your back on the ocean.” “Sneaker waves,” unusually far reaching ones, could occur at any time. We were constantly reminded of the time our friend’s mom had noticed the ocean unusually far out. She grabbed her kids and ran up to the edge of the sand. A huge wave would have swamped them if she hadn’t been paying attention.
The second, equally important lesson, was to never climb on logs which were in the water. Each year an unsuspecting visitor was caught by a wave tossed log rolling over him. There were no logs at Wells, but I remembered the warning as if there were!
Thirdly I learned to tell if the tide was incoming or outgoing, not just by consulting a tide table. We observed the sand and the motion of the waves. When I was a kid we could only wade or swim on an incoming tide since the undertow of the outgoing was so treacherous. This came back to me as we walked at Wells on an outgoing tide. I asked a native about the undertow. She said it was very strong. Later we saw a sign warning of the same danger.
I grew up without helpfully stationed lifeguards. We were responsible for keeping ourselves safe. We learned our lessons by heart.
We spent three nights last week by the ocean in Wells, Maine. I will write more about that in the coming days, but wanted to start with a Robert Frost poem that came to mind when I saw a row of ocean facing benches. They were occupied at the time, but this photo shows the same perches when no one was on them.
I have always loved Frost’s attempt to understand our fascination with staring at waves, ships and sea birds. We literally can’t look out too far or down too deep. Of course, he is playing with the idea that we are in deep contemplation as we gaze, hoping for some profound insights otherwise unavailable.
But as he says “when was that ever a bar?” I keep looking too, deep insight or not. Mostly not.
I love cookbooks. I love looking through them at bookstore. I like buying them and bringing them home to read peacefully. But true confession time: I like reading them much more than I like actually using them to cook. In fact, when I want a specific recipe these days I am much more likely to print one off the internet. Most of what I cook requires no recipe since I basically cook the same things year after year. By the time a cook is 74, that is not unusual.
But still I love cookbooks. So in the great restructuring I added a comfortable chair, a tea stand, a lap blanket, a foot stool and a lamp to the converted sun porch on our first floor that serves as a travel library, toy chest, art supply room, puzzle storage and shelves for our books not needed for writing or genealogy. To the right of this photo you can see my thorough cookbook collection. It includes many about baking, both sweet and savory. My earliest Fannie Farmer cookbook for kids rests there. Laurel’s Kitchen, essentially the Bible in my back to the country days occupies a space as does the Berkeley Coop Low Income Cookbook I wrote about some years back which I used in my totally without funds days.
They no longer chastise me as I walk by asking why they are ignored in favor of the internet. Instead they welcome me to sit with a cup of tea and do what I love best. READ cookbooks.
Any skeptical reader, seeing yesterday’s minimalist look, might reasonably wonder “where is all the other stuff in her office?” The above two photos show the other two corners of the room. Somehow the combination of the four pictures from yesterday and today make the room seem much larger than it actually is. In reality it is about 11X14 feet and was originally one of three bedrooms in this 1929 house.
On the left are the file cabinets and working desk space. Here in a box are the scattered papers formerly resting next to my computer. Previously they called out to be dealt with, taking my focus away from writing. Now they have their own space, complete with stamps, tools, a bulletin board and a comfortable chair. Behind them are the two file cabinets where everything is stored, from paid bills to medical records.
On the right you can see all the supplies needed in an office. An over the door shoe bag holds things like replacement ink cartridges, pens and envelopes. The closet, minus its door, houses paper of all types, note cards and greeting cards. The bookcase to its right holds all my genealogy resources. My other main passion, besides writing, is continuing to flesh out the stories of my forebears. Eventually I will turn this research and mountains of notes into biographical sketches which do more than give dates and location. I hope to answer such questions as “why did great-Aunt Lucy go to China in the late 1800’s to work in a school for blind girls?”
Rest assured that the desk on the left is extremely unlikely to stay that pristine for longer than it took to write this post!
I have finally finished the first stage of my restructuring process I mentioned a while back. I took a long time to consider how I now want to use the spaces of our home. When we moved here twenty years ago we had to quickly put furniture in somewhat appropriate places and resume our lives. I was working then and didn’t have the opportunity to do much more than unpack.
Above are two views of my office. Previously a calming yellow, it is now an energizing blue. Everything extraneous to my present needs are gone. On the left is my computer for writing. the desk no longer also housing unpaid bills, unanswered correspondence, and other miscellany that tends to accumulate on any horizontal surface I come near. To the right is the bookcase holding all my books about writing, both nonfiction and poetry. I relocated them from my downstairs library so that they would be close at hand as I compose.
The poster highlights a motivating quote from Sojourner Truth, reminding me of why I write. The dog and eagle on top of the bookcase represent two basic human drives: to connect(the shaggy dog) and to protect(the eagle.) I honor both when I share my writings in public.
My desk’s new position looks out a French door into our yard. It is a calming view, great for pausing for just the right phrase or word.
It is wonderful to be writing in this space and I am glad to reconnect with all of you in the months (and years, God willing) ahead.