Monday, October 31, 2016

It's Halloween

I hope you had fun. Here, Halloween was better for some of us than for others.

Some of us had several of the new "Crispy" Snickers bars and called it dinner.

One of us was happy to wear her beloved witch costume for a few hours. That would be me. I feel very at home in those clothes. When I decided to be a witch for a Halloween event a couple of years ago, I found I already had everything I needed for a great costume — a fitted black velvet top with outrageous leg-o-mutton sleeves. A long, sweeping, black damask skirt. Suitable boots, jewelry, shawls, and even a warm coat. All I was missing was a hat. I bought a big velvet one with a wired brim, and trimmed it with a cluster of old brooches.

As a witch, I walk my neighborhood with a stern expression, and I get respect. Sometimes I wish we could move to Salem and buy an old house. There are many wonderful and affordable houses there, unlike here. And I could dress as a witch whenever I wanted and no one would bat an eye.

Tonight as I dressed, it occurred to me that the last woman in this house  struggling to button her very tight bodice while trying not to trip over her ankle-length skirt was probably Dr. Sabine. She wore Edwardian clothing, or reasonable facsimiles, well into the 20th century, probably right up until she died in 1950. I suppose many Boston ladies of her era did so. She thought ankle-length skirts made her look taller. I think she had a point.

But I digress. (Soon I will tell you what the Sabines were doing on October 31, 1916. I just happened to read about it today — a day they never forgot.)


Not everyone feels as I do about witch hats. Every Halloween we try to persuade the cats that they look fabulous wearing witch hats. And they strongly disagree.

This year, our most cooperative — "most" and "cooperative" being very relative terms — model was Possum. His ever-expressive eyes speak volumes in these photos:


"Go ahead, make my day."

"Just kill me now..."

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pumpkin Puss

Lion is looking spooked for Halloween. So many things make him nervous.

"Oh, noes! Gourds on my table! It can only mean one thing!"

"They are going to make us try on stupid pointy hats soon. I must hide. NOW!"

You're right, Lion — I almost forgot about those little witch hats, and one came all the way from Salem. Come here, my pretty . . . .

Concord's Sleepy Hollow

We like to visit Concord on weekend afternoons, to stroll around downtown and browse in its bookstore and antique shops. On Saturdays, the excellent cheese shop is open, as is its old-fashioned hardware store. It's the quintessential New England town; I fantasize about living there, especially in the fall, when each of its lovely old houses has pumpkins on the porch and the leaves are bright against the sky and crunchy underfoot.

Last weekend, we went for a walk in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The destination there is Authors' Ridge, where Alcotts, Emersons, Thoreaus, Hawthornes, and others are buried. We walked on paths thick with pine needles to get up there.

The cemetery's plan is more natural than many 19th-century cemeteries, such as Mount Auburn. The plantings and trees are native species, rather than the carefully placed ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers that give Mt. Auburn its elegance. Sleepy Hollow looks untamed and rural in comparison — but that is how it was planned to look back in the 1850s. We are supposed to feel we're walking in the woods rather than in a garden. And we do.

Many of its monuments are simple and unremarkable, but there are always surprises. The marker below looks very old, but it's from the mid 20th century. I guess we could call it a Colonial Revival tombstone:

It has so much more character than a typical stone from the 1940s. I've often thought it would be a good idea to start a company that reproduces historic tombstones, but I lack both capital and carving skills.

Here's the Alcott family's simple marker: "Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy," in order of age:

Fans of Little Women and her other books leave pens and pebbles as tributes by Louisa's stone:

Sleepy Hollow lacks Mt. Auburn's artistic landscaping, specimen trees, and fancy monuments. But I feel an even greater sense of peace in its simplicity, and in the wind rustling the leaves up on Authors' Ridge. It's an eternal sound — perhaps it comforted Alcotts, Emersons, and Thoreaus as they visited their dead amid. 

When the cemetery was consecrated in the fall of 1855, Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke:
When these acorns, that are falling at our feet, are oaks overshadowing our children in a remote century, this mute green bank will be full of history: the good, the wise, and the great will have left their names and virtues on the trees... will have made the air tuneable and articulate.

Yes, the air there is "tuneable and articulate": wind and leaves making music together in perpetuity.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

October Afield

Since October is my favorite month, I've been pretty successful at nagging my husband to stop working for a few hours on a weekend to go outside to enjoy it with me. To me, cold air is a blessing after the long, miserable summer. The flannel sheets and an extra quilt are on the bed, and I'm happy to be reunited with my sweaters, coats, and boots. 

The rain we've had recently is a blessing, too. I've been volunteering to water some of the young trees on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall a couple of time a week, and that ends in October, so the rain we had last week came just in time to keep me from feeling guilty about my tree children.

We went apple picking at a farm near Fitchburg on a bright, chilly day. We are still stocked with apples two weeks later:

One of my favorite fall colors is the cinnamon-sugar brown of cider donuts. The farmer in Fitchburg is a friend of the friends were with, and he loaded us all down with extra bags after we watched him make them.

It's good to get far away from the city even for a few hours, to get some fresh air, quiet, and perspective:

Friday, October 28, 2016

Happy 4th Gotcha Day, Harris!

Harris is our self-declared Most Important Cat. When another cat is claiming our attention, Harris makes a flurry of an entrance into the room, worthy of a member of the corps of the Boston Ballet. Then he pauses for a moment in a graceful pose, as ballerinas do, so we can admire him. Then he proceeds to insert himself between us and the other cat.

Because he believes that we would always want to be giving him attention, not some lesser creature.

Let's celebrate the vastness of a certain feline ego with a stack of baby photos from 2012. Even as a baby, Harris knew what to do in front of a camera, having been trained at Miss Robin's School of Modeling, an affiliate of Kitten Associates, the shelter he came from.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Harris: Ready for His Close-Up

Harris never misses a good photo opp, although I think he's been watching too much film noir lately:

As you can see, he's doing his darnedest to look mysterious, sinister, and ominous. 

But it's hard to pull that off when you have a cute little pink nose.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Inside the Searsport House, Part 2

Shall we continue our tour of the famous Searsport house? Okay, then, without further ado ——

Inside, there were doors we couldn't open and rooms we couldn't enter:

There were ceilings open to the sky:

Yet the house had a pleasant personality, or "feeling." As we walked around, it felt welcoming in spite of all of its issues. Some nicely maintained houses have given me the creeps when I've been inside for an open house, or to visit a friend. (Maybe you know what I mean; some people attribute this to ghosts. I'm not convinced. For one thing, ghosts come and go; they aren't stuck in one place like wallpaper. And they don't automatically make a place feel creepy. I think it's more a question of the house's overall history that creates an enduring mood. Or else it's ugly paint, bad lighting, and grimy wall-to-wall. . . .) 

Back to the tour. I can report that this house felt just fine, messy and ruined as it was. It's a nice house, even so.

A close-up of a baby's toy. The house's owner, Mr. Brown, thinks people may have left a few tokens in the house over the years.

Ceilings and walls were crumbling, and there were many chairs. But not many you could sit upon:

This room is like a clubhouse for unloved seating furniture.

I think that room was upstairs. Now let's go back downstairs. 

Here's a view of some warped bay windows from inside. Mr. Brown said the bays were a later addition to the house and may never have been structurally sound — another reason why the house is in such fearful structural shape, along with the failure of the roof and overall neglect.

Some windows still have curtains:

Some walls still have pretty, old-fashioned paper:

I think my husband and I were slightly in shock the whole time we were on the property. In 20 years of driving past this house, we dreamed and imagined seeing the inside. But we never believed for two seconds that it would ever happen. 

And there we were. 

It was like magic.

Mr. Brown helped me climb down the ladder as went outside.

He still has a lot of work to do. I'm hoping it takes him several years. We'd love to say hello him next summer on our next drive through Searsport to Southwest Harbor. (But then I'd also like to go up again this winter, to see the island with snow.)

I'd say there's a decent chance Mr. Brown will still be at work in June . . .

And in the meantime, we wish him well. He is a gentleman, a good storyteller, and an unusually cultured demolition expert. I wonder if he let the house decay for as long as he did because he, too, recognized it as the most poetic, dramatic spectacle along Maine's Route 1. It's a picturesque road to begin with, and his house was the crown jewel of its many memorable sights.

During his ownership, the house slowly became — and may it remain if only for some months, a year, maybe a little longer — a work of art.

Now that its interior is no longer a mystery to me, I think I will not mourn it so deeply when it's gone. Instead I will remember the magical time we spent there, the way the late-afternoon light filled the rooms, the beautiful staircase, Mr. Brown's interesting stories, and the gentle, good feeling that lingered inside its rooms in spite of decades of neglect. 

All that was real, and sometimes reality is better than fantasy.

But, even now, I still can't quite believe it all happened. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Inside the Searsport House, Part 1

Let's finally go inside the house in Searsport. You know, this house:

The staircase, walls, and floors were far safer and more intact than you might expect, given the decrepitude outside. But the inside wasn't exactly in the "fixer-upper" class, either.

My husband and I both took photos. His are good, whereas many of mine are blurry. I was rattled because we were actually in the house.

Parts of walls were gone, so the house is more open to the elements than ever:

It still holds many of the previous owner's possessions. The lady died in the 1990s, I believe, and had lived there for a long time, "deferring maintenance," as they say. Vagrants and vandals have since invaded the house, treating it badly.

It was difficult, if not impossible, to enter the rooms so we stood in doorways and took pictures.

Even though it is a wreck, I could still see the graceful proportions of those rooms. The windows let in plenty of light; in summer it must have been airy and cool, open to the breezes. In winter . . . oddly, we didn't see a single fireplace mantel. The house must have had central heating: oil or coal. And perhaps the mantels were removed or stolen long ago.

Below is part of the chimney wall and what I think is the brick hearth, jutting up from the floor. My husband reminds me that Mr. Brown told us that he had just finished dismantling it. (Maybe there were some lovely mantels in the truck container parked outside.)

This is the central hall; you can see some of the original woodwork still framing the doorways to the two main, bay-windowed rooms on either side. (The ceiling is no longer with us.) Straight ahead is the front door, which once had glass sidelights:

Carved, beaded detailing:

The central staircase is still intact. It was, and still is, the most impressive and elegant feature of the interior. Mr. Brown said it was made from cypress, a rare, expensive, wood in New England. It was probably imported from Georgia or somewhere else in the South. It was still sturdy — we took many photos as we ascended. 

Fine cypress paneling, still in lovely condition, covered the underside, too:

A handsome newel post:

The ancient carpet runner might be original:

The staircase is for sale, as is everything in the house.

I love the dramatic, "ski jump" curve of the railing. Our photos didn't do it justice:

This empty window frame on the landing may once have held a stained-glass window:

Almost all of the balusters were still intact; I think only one was missing:

From the landing, looking down toward the front door, you can see more  cypress wainscoting in the hall. Note that swoopy, curved railing on the right:

I'll show photos of more of the rooms, upstairs, and down, in the next post.