Thursday, August 25, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Searsport Haunted House... Oh, No!

Your Maine postcards will be arriving here in a torrent shortly. Regard them as you would any stack of cards from a nutty old-lady friend — with a tolerant eye.

Let's get the sad, bad news over with first. One of Maine's most romantic ruins, the picturesque, melting Victorian on Route 1 in Searsport, is being slowly dismantled by its owner.

Along with many other intrigued passersby, I've photographed this house a few times in recent years. Here's a photo from this past June:

When we drove by early last week, there was a large truck trailer parked in front, obscuring part of the house, and we didn't stop to take pictures. I knew something was up so I did a little research and found news stories from June and July.

I was surprised to find a link to A Proper Bostonian in this article in the Bangor Daily News.

Here's another story from WABI-TV. 

In a nutshell, the owner is taking the house apart, plank by plank, and nail by nail, because the town code enforcement officer decided it was too hazardous to exist — in spite of the No Trespassing signs.

I never walked around to the back of the house or even got very close to it (tall grass, ticks, possible snakes, vestigial sense of propriety, twelve years of Catholic school). The back of the house collapsed after the hard winter of 2014–15, making it more dangerous for explorers. I would have liked to have seen it.

It didn't stop this intrepid Maine artist and blogger, whose posts about the house include her recent photos of the interior. (Now I will forever wish I had less propriety and Catholic schooling. But her adventure proved the code-enforcement officer's point.)  She also talked to the owner and wrote about the early history as well as the more recent history of the house.

Here is a photo of the house in its heyday, looking perfectly groomed:

Photo by Harriet Hichborn. Courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, Maine. 
The Museum has an extensive and interesting online photo database and 
the Harriet Hichborn Collection will be added to it soon

Details about its history are hazy. It was built sometime in 1830s or '40s by Joseph Park, a sea captain (Searsport was full of sea captains). Captain Park and his wife Susan raised a family there and he became a farmer. He died in 1884. The current owner, a Mr. Brown, of Belfast, bought the house in the 1990s, planning to tear it down and start a flea market and antiques business. When eBay came along, he changed his mind about the viability of such a business. He abandoned his plan and the property.

While the house's destruction was inevitable, I still hoped it would never happen, or that it would collapse from exposure to the elements, without human intervention. It's sad, but at least Mr. Brown is being meticulous and respectful about removing its valuable woodwork and other details.

Naturally, my husband and I were dying to see the house on our drive home — perhaps for the last time. I had my iPhone at hand to film it as we drove through Searsport in a light drizzle, with eyes peeled for the house and the truck in front. Route 1 is a busy road so you can't slow down as much as you'd like to.

We never saw the house. We found ourselves passing through Belfast, having missed it. We assumed it has been dismantled completely during our week in Southwest Harbor. We decided we had no interest in turning around to see an empty lot or pile of wreckage. We mourned.

Along with many other fans of the house, I refer to it as "haunted," but I don't mean it literally. It simply looks the part. It may or may not have ghosts; it's not an interesting question to me. In my reckoning, any spot can be "haunted" or not. It's naive to assume that ghosts are tied to a particular location. Why would that be? It strikes me that spirits are free to roam as they please, making the job of a "ghost-hunter" frustrating indeed. That's my theory anyhow, based on a few fleeting but memorable encounters. I also imagine that anyone who loved that house in its elegant prime might not want to witness its decay, especially without any occupants around to amuse them. (I can't help feeling sometimes that I'm entertaining our resident ghosts whether I want to or not. Apparently they like cats, too.) But what do I know? The Parks and those who lived there after them may still find their house even more mesmerizing and lovable than I do.

Yesterday I had the idea to contact the used-car shop across the street from the house, just to make sure it was gone. I looked up their info and called, and a friendly voice told me it was still there, looking pretty much like its usual, wrecked old self.

How could we both have missed it when we were looking so hard? Damn! I can't wait to go back.

Or can I? Will it be there when we return in early October? I am already anxious about it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Postcards from Maine . . .

. . . will be arriving soon. I thought I'd post at least a little while we were up there, but I never unpacked my laptop. I ignored it for a whole week, and that was surprising and nice! I confess I still spent plenty of time using my phone in similar ways. Still, it was a good break from a routine I don't cherish, and freed up extra time for poolside fun, chatting, wandering, and enjoying Mount Desert Island. I also confess that, despite many hours spent reading in the steaming hot tub, it's still only May 31 in Old New Yorker Land. I squeezed every particle of information and entertainment out of each damp, limp issue.

After all the fur is vacuumed off the carpets and the laundry is folded, I'll have some photos and stories.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Starfish

I keep a bowl of shells on the mantel in the summer. You can see it here (note that Harris has just dispatched Bernie Sanders to the floor and Trump is next). Harris can do as he pleases with his toys but  I give him little sermons about leaving my shells alone, and he listens and obeys pretty well.

I've had many of my shells since my college years, when I often went "down the shore" to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, on summer weekends. The shells on the beach weren't exciting but there was a good shell shop on the boardwalk and I stocked up. Among my purchases was a little brown starfish. After more than 30 years, it has developed attitudes that are in direct conflict with the beliefs of my cats. You will not see the starfish sticking above the bowl in its customary spot in the photo above because it had been thrown to the floor every night. (I foolishly only told Harris to leave my mollusks alone, not my dried echinoderms. My mistake.)

You can see Possum guarding the unpopular creature, below. He looks annoyed. It is a very unwanted starfish. I assume the issues are largely political in nature but I don't ask; I don't want to get involved.

As you probably know by now, in our house, objects that most people consider inanimate are known to move around on their own when no one's looking — often with suicidal motives. Taper candles and flowers, for example, take death plunges on a regular basis, as do our new cat-shaped salt-and-pepper shakers and many items on my desk.

The starfish is different. It doesn't leap out of the bowl by itself. I have proof:

In the photo with Possum, you can see that the starfish looks fairly intact; it is only missing one limb. If you look at the close-up with Harris, you'll see that's it's recently become quadraplegic. It will soon be pentaplegic because I keep returning it to its place in the bowl and the cats keep ousting it.

All things must pass. Tomorrow I will look for a replacement starfish or two at the shell shop I like in Wiscasset, Maine.

Nom, Nom, Nom

For years, I've had a theory that highly intelligent cats are more willing to try a variety of human foods than the average cats. I don't have a large enough sample to test this; I've also never met an average cat.

Possum tells me it's a stupid theory because the smartest cats are also the most skeptical of their humans' activities and least likely to eat things just to make us happy. He also claims that intellectual cats are more likely to eat things like vegetables if they are given large quantities of roasted chicken beforehand. He says my observational and critical-thinking skills need work. What I've failed to notice, according to him, is that some cats are just more feckless, greedy, and willing to settle for second-rate food than others. Mental acumen has nothing to do with it.

He may be right; I have no idea. All I know is that, when I offer a new cheese or vegetable to our five, four of them will sniff at it like I'm offering them a piece of cardboard and walk away with confused, disappointed expressions. But Lion will try almost anything, including strong cheeses and vegetables. He enjoys broccoli, greens, beans, and sweet potatoes, in very small amounts. He is anxious about many things but adventurous about food.

I realize that cats are pure carnivores, so he won't be getting a salad and wedge of Brie with his meaty breakfasts and suppers. But I enjoy watching him discover new tastes. So for the past three nights I've coached him on eating corn-on-the-cob. My grandmothers' clan of half-wild, outdoor cats ate it, so I knew it was possible.

You may as well know that a cat or two often joins us at the dinner table, keeping a polite distance and being companionable. Even Wendy will sit a foot or two from me, silently willing me to give her chicken, regardless of whether we are having any. If this custom of ours offends your sensibilities, please read no further and refuse our dinner invitations.

Lion's three-session tutorial began with my letting him try some kernels from my fingers and more on a napkin. He loved them. The second night, when I was nearly finished with my cob, I loosened some of the remaining kernels for him and held it so he could find them:

He quickly figured out that more kernels were harder to get but gettable, and did pretty well at that.

The third night, I left more corn on my cob and let him explore it by himself. He did very well again. I helped him rotate the cob but he figured out how to push and roll it himself:

I made a little movie but it would take hours to load here with our terrible wifi. (The one I posted of Harris took half a day.) 

I have to say that there is nothing like the sound of a happy cat chomping on a corn cob:

I make sure the cats never get into anything I make with avocados, which are toxic to cats, or anything made with onions or garlic. And I don't give Lion fruit; we are vigilant about keeping grapes and raisins far from the cats since those are toxic, too. He might get a wild Maine blueberry or two, however, one of these days.

Friday, August 12, 2016


On these hot days, Harris and Possum are usually found on our bed under the slow-moving ceiling fan. It's cooler in the living room but this is their spot. Wendy and Toffee sometimes join them; Lion never does. He vanishes from mid-morning to supper time, appearing only if he hears us taking cheese or turkey out of the fridge.  

Here, Harris thinks thoughts and then decides to sleep on whatever he's pondering. I don't think he meant to be shmooshing Possum's head like that. And Possum didn't care.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Happy 4th Birthday, Harris and Toffee

Gosh, how tiny Harris and Toffeepot were when they each arrived, in October and November of 2012. (Harris blew in with Hurricane Sandy from Kitten Associates in Connecticut, and Toffee came from the Animal Rescue League around Thanksgiving. We know Harris's birthday so we assigned it to Toffee, too.) 

I've included photos of them with Possum for scale. They're proof of how nicely Possy looked after "his" kittens and put up with their antics. He was paternal and protective, tolerant and playful. He welcomed them both from the moment they came in the door. Thanks to his example, everyone learned to get along. 

At four, Toffee and Harris are still playful and funny, sweet and cuddly. They still get into mischief, especially Harris, who enjoys knocking things onto the floor, eating plastic bags, and running around like a maniac. 

But it's been a long time since Toffee has tried to poison, electrocute, or burn himself. For a while I wasn't sure he would survive kittenhood because he was so curious and adventurous. (It's bittersweet as well as a relief when kittens finally grow up.)

My first Christmas tree–climbing cat.

Harris still considers himself a baby, nursing on our earlobes and our necks daily. He never did grow into his big feet and fangs. 

As a kitten, Toffee had the proportions and presence of an adult cat with his wild-looking markings and bushy, grown-up tail. But now that I look back I can see that his face has matured a little. His nose is longer, his eyes are less babyish. But he was always 

We feel so lucky to have them. We're grateful to all the people who rescued them — and everyone who rescues cats everywhere, so they can find their homes and enrich their humans' lives.