Monhegan wild gardens

Yesterday we made an impulse trip to Monhegan Island. The forecast for Sunday called for calm and bright so we packed water, apples and granola bars, windbreakers and extra camera batteries, a watercolor pad each and made reservations for the ferry.

The Monhegan Boat Line has made three trips a day from the island to Port Clyde and back again (weather permitting) since 1914. It’s a small, sturdy boat with a stalwart captain who will slow down to allow the birdwatchers to get a good look at the bald eagles roosting along the shore and a rotating crew of very hardy high school girls wearing MBL sweatshirts and the ubiquitous Maine shag haircut. You couldn’t be in better hands. Especially Sunday, when the slightly rolling seas flashed with sunlight and the temperatures stayed in the balmy 60’s.

The trip takes about an hour. We were delayed for a few minutes docking to allow a man to ferry a cow in a rowboat across the inlet from Manana, the tiny island next to Monhegan. As we left they were ferrying goats who seemed much more unhappy about leaving their summer pasture, or maybe about being in a rowboat – it was hard to tell.

We hiked from 11:30 – 3 with a break for lunch. Monhegan is renowned for its rocky headlands and breathtaking cliffs; Black Head, White Head, and Green Point, but my lasting impression on a hot September mid-day trek was the vast amount of plant and animal life. Asters, several varieties of goldenrod, feverfew, and late roses were all in full bloom. The bayberry bushes and ash and apple trees were heavy with fruit and wasps, there were kinglets and cedar waxwings gorging on seeds and berries and making a ruckus.  We saw three varieties of butterflies  and in every warm hollow filled with flowers there were dozens of Italian honey bees. I didn’t see any hives in passing through the village, but perhaps there’s someone out there? It seems improbable that a colony would survive a Monhegan winter in the wild, but who knows – it will be worth investigating when we make the trip this spring.

Garden days of yore

Well, say around 1997. Our first garden was hemmed in by pine and hemlock forest, sited to take best advantage of the south-facing strip of land that had been cleared to put in the well at our new house.

Ten years ago we cleared some land to the left in this photo, put in a driveway and, five years later, a plot farther across the new driveway for an orchard. Last season we cleared to the right. Those spruce had grown 15′ to 20′ over ten years and the western half of the garden had become “shade plants only”.

We grew the same plants then as we do now with one exception; I used to have Asiatic lilies. White Madonna lilies and “Strawberry Fields”, red, orange and striped, they grew tall enough to tangle in the apple trees and leave great swaths of orange pollen on the sleeves of my garden clothes. Sadly, they attracted deer and repelled my partner in equal (and staggering) amounts. I couldn’t even pick them as bouquets for the office without feeling like I worked in a funeral parlour. I finally dug them out and carted the bushel-basket sized bulbs to a friend’s garden where I imagine them blooming still.

Old work

We’re between snow storms on the island, with about 3′ on the ground and more coming Wednesday. The paths are shoveled and the birds are fed and the inside of the house is warm and bright so, cleaning! We’re planning to rearrange the first floor of the house now that The Boy is living in another city so cleaning in this sense means “cleaning out”.

I’ve surrounded myself with piles of old recipe cards from my mother and her sisters to be sent to one of my nieces, boxes of Irish crochet pieces to be assembled into something I can wear or given away, a satisfyingly large bag of trash, and some old paintings.

I gave up on oils nearly five years ago. The switch to dry media was driven by time and method considerations that haven’t changed so I won’t be going back any time soon, but it’s interesting (for me) to see what I was doing with a brush and liquid. This small painting of grapes in a bowl purchased with Morton salt coupons in the 40’s was done about 10 years ago.

Now, back to editing my life. We’ll see what else turns up. . .

Night off

My family is on the road tonight and it’s been a long day, so instead of doing anything productive I’m sitting at the kitchen table reading old cookbooks. I’m learning about chicken and dumplings, the proper use of marjoram with fish (don’t over do it), all the various uses of lard and how to roll out pie crust in the 1860’s. I found this bill being used as a bookmark in the pie section and had admire the fine copperplate hand of the person making out a list of gas fixture parts for great grandfather Miller’s wife’s father in NYC.

Wikipedia Commons has a photo of a display of Archer and Pancoast chandeliers – very impressive! I’ll keep reading, and see what else I run across.

Mr. Flood’s Party

This is my favorite New Year’s poem, written in 1900 by Edwin Arlington Robinson. He grew up in Gardiner, Maine and the inland winters probably contributed a great deal to his outlook on life. He also wrote “Richard Cory” and “The Mill”.

Here is Eben Flood, and his party.

Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:
“Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird.” He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will.”
Alone, as if enduring to the end
A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
He stood there in the middle of the road
Like Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.
Below him, in the town among the trees,
Where friends of other days had honored him,
A phantom salutation of the dead
Rang thinly till old Eben’s eyes were dim.
Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
He set the jug down slowly at his feet
With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
And only when assured that on firm earth
It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
Assuredly did not, he paced away,
And with his hand extended paused again:
“Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
To both of us, I fear, since last it was
We had a drop together. Welcome home!”
Convivially returning with himself,
Again he raised the jug up to the light;
And with an acquiescent quaver said:
“Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.
“Only a very little, Mr. Flood—
For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”
So, for the time, apparently it did,
And Eben evidently thought so too;
For soon amid the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—
“For auld lang syne.” The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered; and the song being done,
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below—
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.


The New Year is almost upon us – must be time to start a new daybook. I use the Exacompta “Space 24” weekly desk planner. At @ 6 x 9 inches it has plenty of space to record weather, appointments and lists day to day, a generous “notes” area, and the paper lends itself beautifully to drawings. Meetings, conference calls and on-line seminars are just doodles waiting to happen.

The Donut Dragons

The amount of stress relief available from a black pen on smooth, heavy, finely finished paper is amazing. The Exacompta books start with the month of December of the prior year, so I’ll be switching over to 2011 tomorrow after recording notes about the “Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010″ (15” of snow over two days here on the island) and what we had to eat on Christmas day in 2010. It’s always a wonderful feeling to start in on newly opened pages. Below is a small beastie from a short staff meeting in 2010 – Happy New Year!

Farmington, July 13 1883

I have a copy of a letter from one “William Millar”, my great grand uncle, to his Dear mother (Ann Bell) and Dear uncle. He was born in Ballymena Ireland and I believe the letter keeps the rhythm of that language, even though the words are English and written more than a century ago. The transcription is below. Substitute “they” for “the” throughout, mostly.

Farmington July 13 1883

Dear mother I know take the pleasure once more to let you know that we are all well at present hoping that this will find you all enjoying the Same blessing of good health. Dear mother I may let you know that my uncle John would do nothing for us. Bill sent letters to him and told him in the letter John Bell and John Moore had ten pounds for us and She said that if She would sell her place that she would have plenty to pay her debts and plenty left She said not like some of her friends and she said that the all could keep my grandma when she was able to do nothing She said the could Send her too them I said that she did stand her kind of treatment long Bell rote in the letter that made L10 pound since for butter and she says the with get along well know when the have not ten pounds year and she say the have flax 4 feet long I said it would be like the girl and new shift it would not be their neighbors that would need it and she give me plenty in it to I think she knows more about me nor know myself.

Well Dear mother we will be able our self to send the tickets for you and four little ones in about week from this date so you may be getting ready and be rest that you leave behind you fixed in places for stopping over the winter I would like to know how John is doing in my Uncle matthew my father is working and has 6 shillings a day and has not heard to work I am always with the one man our health is all as good as it was Ireland and Jane is in one place and has 2 dolers weeks. You may yet your house made we well Send you some money to make ready for road Jaems Miller ready to do

Dear uncle Aunt I received your kind and welcome letter which I got all right and I was glad to hear that you are all well doing well you may let my friends know that I have joined Farmington true blues No Surrender and good free country Bell band that James Harper got my grandma feather bed I don’t believe that the took it we send our true love to James harper and family Dear uncle I have got little more to say present that remains

Yours truly unto death

William Millar rite Soon

Salad Days

The winter garden cares for itself; I don’t need to be out there tending the kale and the leeks, the horseradish will bury itself and sprout again without me – probably even better without me. Which means that I’ve been inside tonight working with the genealogy software.

My son J. is the “home person” for our family tree. You can start with a source ancestor, but frankly I had no idea who that might be when I started this project. And it’s fun to enter someone’s name and have them pop up as “fourth cousin twice removed of J___”. Tonight, I got as far as “eleventh great-grandfather of” with William J. Pitkin. Born in England in 1608, William J. received his MA from Oxford and was a headmaster. His “medical condition” is listed as beheaded, so I’m off to do some further research on that one.

This is a picture closer to our time, but still far enough away that it comes with an obituary. Charlie is the boy with his arms crossed at the far right and tonight I entered notes into the family tree from a press clipping about his son and daughter, his love of farming and the hayfields, and his burial in August, 2009. Goodbye, Charlie – I’m glad we took time out and stood together on this gravel road, on some sunny day back in ’73.

Left back to right and left again: Sarah, Melissa, Charlie, Raymond, Kimmy, Doug, Amy, Dickie, Heather and Mary Beth.


Earlier this week R. came home from the village and reported it gone. Whole blocks, down by the waterfront; the confused jumble of decrepit housing wiped clean with some alt-Photoshop tool. A large hotel is planned, very clean and bright until a few decades of the local weather sets its teeth in it, and then the cedar siding and glass will peel back and fade like the little houses before. It will take a while, but I’m looking forward to it.

This is the back yard of the houses that faced West St. and the harbor, taken from the municipal parking lot. Not a very typical description of pricey real estate, but these little shacks were much too dear to stand.