I knew it was just a matter of time. I've been in and out of the Togus VA medical center in Augusta rather often lately, and hence have enjoyed my share of downtime chilling in waiting rooms with my fellow vets. I was pretty sure that sooner or later, somebody would launch some conversational gambit — not a tirade, Mainers aren't given to tirades — on the general theme of the Obama administration's nefarious plan to stage a government takeover of the heath care system.
Don't you find yourself scratching your head sometimes while poring over one of those 10 Best Whatever lists? Like, what is Groundhog Day doing here and not Casablanca? You find yourself questioning the judgment of any editor who would run with some crazy thing like this.
Surprise, people — my editor is out of town. And herewith I present the 10 Best Summer Things, Ever, Period.
The classic 1932 film Grand Hotel, set in Weimar-era Berlin, opens and closes with a fatalistic character played by Lewis Stone declaring glumly:
"Grand Hotel. People come and go. Nothing ever happens."
I think the time has come to inquire seriously into whether gardening in Maine might be a symptom — or perhaps a cause — of mental instability.
Yes, I know: gardening is usually thought to be a healthful, centering kind of activity, a nice way of reconnecting with the natural world. And maybe in the end you get a few edible tomatoes out of it, or some flowers to stick in a vase for the dining table. One thinks of the Obama girls rooting about in the organic celery bed. One smiles fondly. But the Obama girls don't live in Maine.
Mainers undoubtedly have faults, like everyone else, but we are not known, at least, for cringing and whining.
One day, circa 1968, I was browsing the shelves at the public library when my eye fell on the bold cover of Making It, a memoir by Norman Podhoretz. I checked it out immediately — I was fifteen years old, and under a hopeful misimpression as to the contents. It turned out Podhoretz, the longtime editor of Commentary and a luminary of the New York literary scene, had written a book about money, success and social class in postwar America.
As a species, it would seem, we are of two minds about terrible weather.
On the one hand, we hate it. Here in Maine about two-thirds of our casual chit-chat is spent lamenting the latest Arctic blast or Biblical downpour or scorching heat wave or freak tsunami. We've developed and field-tested an elaborate range of weapons, both technical and pharmacological, to cope with such things, or at least mitigate their worst effects.
It's hard to know what do with ourselves as the rainy season stretches into June. My daughter has a summer job as the nanny for two young girls — bright and energetic creatures — and her chief professional challenge so far has been finding ways to keep them away from the television.
One of my favorite pieces of writing by E.B. White is an essay called "Clear Days," written in the autumn of 1938 while the leaders of Western Europe were busy dealing with the devil in Munich. White got so aggravated, watching helplessly from a great distance as the disaster unfolded, that he climbed up on his barn in Brooklin, Maine, and installed a cupola.
"[A] barn," wrote White, "is the best place anybody could pick for sitting out a dance with a prime minister and a demigod."
I just had a modest Maine epiphany. I was puttering around in the woods out front, around noon on a showery Sunday, deciding whether to move a self-sown lady's mantle, Alchemilla vulgaris, and whether to whack down a 25-foot fir partly shading my treasured golden-stemmed bamboo, Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Aureocaulis.' (The lady's mantle stayed and the fir departed.)