Friday, October 21, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Outside the Searsport House

On our drive to Mount Desert Island two weeks ago, we were eagle-eyed as we took Route 1 through Searsport. We were determined not to miss seeing our favorite ruined house. Somehow, despite our best intentions, we'd missed it on the drive home back in August. And I had since learned that it was being demolished.

We had no idea if it would still be standing, but there it was, at one end of town, looking as poetic as ever in the late-afternoon autumn sunlight:

A large truck container was parked beside the house. I had read that the house's owner was slowly taking the house apart, board by board and nail by nail, salvaging as much of its fine old building materials as he could, to sell.

We parked at a used-car dealership and crossed Route 1, planning to take a few last photos and hoping we might meet the owner. 

The path to the house revealed signs of his presence. There were items on display — mostly old wooden chairs — visible from the road:

There were also a few more unusual items:

 Then we spotted this sign on a dining room chair.

I was startled to note the quality of the sign. As a copyeditor, I knew it was rare to find such a thing on a rural road. Written with impeccable grammar, spelling, and punctuation, it was gracious, informative, and precise. It revealed its author to be polite and patient with visitors. It was set in boldface and all-caps with good reason. Italics provided more emphasis where necessary. It was tacked to a piece of scrap wood and placed in a spot that was hard to miss. 

It was a a masterpiece of signage, a little work of art to those of us who care about such things. I went looking for the owner.

He was near the container, busy on a phone call. As I waited, I looked around:

While the main house was still standing, sort of, the addition on one side had been demolished. It had been in even worse shape than the main house because it had a huge open "skylight" (i.e. gaping hole) in the roof that had enlarged considerably after the hard winter of 2014–15. Foundation stones, boards, refuse, and scraps were all that was left.

Is it not still the most picturesque old ruin ever? I love its weathered paint and the way the two front bays are tipping towards each other companionably, as if they are old friends who want to be closer:

The owner — tanned, tall, and of a certain age — finished his call and came over to me. He extended a hand so covered in dirt and dust that I initially thought he was wearing gloves. As I hesitated to touch it, he looked at me. "Um, your hand is pretty dirty. . . but I'll shake it anyway," I blurted, surprising myself with my own rudeness. (At my age, I guess I'm hopeless.)

He ignored my remark, being a gentleman. His name is Mr. Brown.

He said that hundreds of people had parked their cars and come for a visit as he's been working. Some have bought the items he's dusted off and put out for sale. He hopes to sell everything. The old wood is valuable.

My husband came over, introduced himself, and we told Mr. Brown how much we've loved seeing his house over the years. He told us a story we already knew: that he had bought it to house an antique business but changed his mind. And now he had to take it down because the town considers it a safety hazard.

He looked us over and noted that we were wearing sturdy shoes and long pants. Then he had us follow him closer to the house, through the high grass ("Ticks," he said). He moved some boards to reveal an opening in the wall, went up a short ladder, turned, and beckoned. The ladder looked rickety but I didn't hesitate.

And we went inside. Stay tuned for more.

Possum in the Morning

When I wake up, I often find Possum curled up on the sofa like this — elegant, dignified, and already thinking hopefully about second breakfast.

Elegance and dignity disappear as sleepiness takes over.

But his cuteness is eternal.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Happy Birthday, Lion

Lion turned 3 yesterday, or thereabouts. He was born outside, in Maine, so we can't be sure. 

To celebrate the occasion, his foster mother, Connie, sent me this 2013 link to her Tails from the Foster Kittens blog about his arrival in her kitten room. When he and his siblings came, they were already big enough for adoption but were skittish and "all fur and bone," so her job was to fatten them up and nurture them to become confident, friendly kittens before they went their future homes.

She succeeded very well with Lion, aka "The Cowardly Lion." Lion is sweet, playful, chatty, and affectionate, but he tends to be nervous, and I think it's his nature. I don't think that could ever change very much. He likes a quiet home, a set routine, and a secret hiding place. He hides when he sleeps during the day, rather than lolling around on the bed or a chair like the others. I think he's often under the sofa, but I'm not sure. He doesn't want to be found so I don't look for him.

He has strong likes and dislikes — in his worldview everything is black and white, just like him.

Lion's round eyes look innocent, nervous, owlish, or scared, depending on his mood.

He doesn't like strangers, or shoes and boots when we wear them in the house. He hates the vacuum cleaner even more than I do. He hates trips to the vet even more. He hides when he knows we are going on a trip; we can never find him to say goodbye. He also dislikes being cornered and will flail and fight to get free. Yet, every other night, he lets my husband gather him up to have his teeth brushed and claws trimmed. Lion lies docilely in his arms as I do thing that would make other cats go ballistic. Lion seems to believe in personal care.

He can be adventurous: he's the only cat interested in trying almost any food I offer. I consider this a sign of intelligence and trust. He will eat any kind of cheese and many vegetables, from corn-on- the-cob to lettuce. He is also our most skilled hunter. He knows how to hold the string on a pole toy against the floor while he has the toy in his mouth, so I can't pull it away so easily. He knows how to "worry" or shake the toy to break its imaginary neck. And then he clamps it tightly in his mouth, puts his ears back, and triumphantly drags me around the house by the string.

He is so clever that he has us wrapped around his paw. He is demanding, waking me up every morning with meows, nose-kisses, face-washing, and biscuit-making. When I come into the living room, he is waiting on the back of our velvet chair, which is as close as he can get to my face, meowing so I will fuss over him and let him and his pals chase a pole-toy.

He is confident, fierce, and hugely affectionate — when he wants to be. In other words, he is a cat. Happy birthday, Lion!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Shooting the Somesville Scene

One the road through Somesville, there's an iconic spot that is usually busy with photographers:

The focal point is the graceful footbridge, of course, but the rest of the composition is important, too. Taking photos is a bit tricky — partly because you need to keep the other photographers out of the frame. And then there are tourists, who like to walk over the footbridge, lingering on it while their friends take their picture. Tourists like to wear baggy shorts and message tees so they are rarely picturesque enough to complete with the scenery. So, patience is necessary.

While you wait for the people to all go away, you might be tempted to try some different shots of the bridge, and so on.

As you can see, just showing the bridge, the stream, and the trees is not so hot. From that angle, it looks like a construction crane went all bendy and fell over. 

It's better to stick with the tried-and-true. So, first, you have to find a spot to stand so the cute little white building (the town selectmen used to meet there; now it's exhibition space) fits into your photo. And you might as well include one or more of the colorful planters that conveniently line the wall along the road. 

In the photo above, I managed to get the house, the bridge, a planter, and the orange and gold trees across the stream — with no people or camera tripods. But this photo could be better; it's full of scenic elements but it also strikes me as something of a cluttered mess.

It would help to show more of the stream under the bridge to give the footbridge a purpose. But you won't want to get too close to the water because it's murky and full of rotting plant matter.

In the photo above, that head of ornamental kale is the star of the show as the planter takes over the foreground, covering a lot of the bridge. Most of the cute white building is gone, too. Let's try one more shot, and aim for more sky while we're at it. A brilliant sky is an important element of this scene, contributing to its vibrance and mood. 

In this vertical shot, the sky opens up the photo and makes it more legible. It also balances the water and places the bridge in the center of the composition:

There could be more of the planter and the colorful trees, but I like the diagonal angles and depth of this one. If you look closely you'll see parked cars and maybe a bent head in the upper left corner. You can't win 'em all . . especially when you're using an iPhone 6 and your training was an adult-ed course back in high school. Thank you for your patience!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Pumpkins, Pooches & . . .

Whenever we stop in Wiscasset, we see this dignified dog keeping an eye on Main Street from the steps of his owner's shop.

On Main Street in Southwest Harbor, we saw a fine display of pumpkins. The carvers were working on them as we drove in on Friday, preparing for the weekend's Octoberfest. This one shows the famous Mount Desert Rock Lighthouse:

A topographical map of the island, complete with some of the major roads:

Acadia National Park's Centennial logo:

We met this sociable guy on the Shore Path in Bar Harbor:

And it wouldn't be a Mount Desert Island vacation without at least one popover. (So I had four.)


Happy Gotcha Day, Possum!

During Labor Day weekend in 2009, my beloved Bunnelina died of lymphoma. We been doing everything we could to treat her, but we had to rush her to the hospital late one night and make the final decision. Her loss was a devastating blow to me; I have never been so grief-stricken. 

We adopted Wendy a few weeks later, but I could soon tell she'd be my husband's cat. I began looking for a friend for her. And a cat for me.

This is the one who saved me:

Seven years have passed since little "Passamaquoddy" chatted and sang his way home to Boston from his foster home in Marlborough, Massachusetts. 

Man, he was an adorable baby. His rescue shelter thought he was female. My husband was insisting on a girl but I wanted a boy since we had just gotten Wendy. Then I fell in love with Possum. 

Passamaquoddy and his siblings Abenaki and Ossippee. 
Photo: CaRMaH (Cat Rescue of Marlborough and Hudson)

The night he went for his pre-adoption checkup, they learned he was a boy, and his foster mother emailed me the news. My husband was already in bed and I remember sitting at my desk, yelling: "He's a boy! We're getting a little boy!" 

In those days, he was so tiny and snuggly that he'd try to crawl into the sleeve of my bathrobe to get closer. And even then he had the most winning, wise, and soulful gaze. 

Now he is bigger, even wiser, and far more dignified:

But I will never forget the innocent little guy he used to be. I knew he'd grow up to be a superlative cat and a champion napper. He showed early promise:

Today he's the Top Cat of the household and rules us all, awake or asleep. Cats are our greatest gift.