Open for Business

Did someone declare last Saturday Official Yard Sale Day?

No doubt about it, summer’s public marketplace otherwise known as the roadside is open for business. Though it’s not even August yet, yard sale activity has launched full throttle. As Bob and I wound our way down to Boothbay Harbor, we found evidence on every roadway, including the island’s own Route 15. Indeed, given the plethora of hand-written signs – whether tacked to utility poles, pounded into the ground at important intersections, or wired onto Stop signs (definitely adding a more emphatic directive for would-be shoppers to “hit the brakes”) and whether hand-painted, stenciled, or artistically rendered in multiple colors – yard sales seem to be striving for near epidemic proportions.

Clearly, as the effects of the Great Recession linger, there may well be economic reasons behind this seeming influx. Perhaps it offers proof that as a consumer driven society, we’re all sinking beneath the weight of too much stuff. For some, this is likely a mere matter of recreation, though I suspect that surely, in some households, a summer past-time of cruising a few local yard sales may have evolved into a competitive, or, possibly in the case of early birds, a combative sport. Whatever the reason, yard sales are a sure indicator that peak summer has arrived. 

More than to the long-standing establishments with clever “If We Ain’t Got It, You Don’t Need It” signage and a wide – often very wide – range of merchandise that attract customers to their doors, yard sales are more directly linked to the myriad enterprises that annually sprout up on lawns, in garages, on driveways, or at curbside. Here on the island and peninsula, we all drive by them on a regular basis – seasonal stands of camp wood or zinnia bouquets, run-from-home operations offering picked crabmeat or Adirondack-style lawn furniture. Gone, sadly, are the island “pie ladies” who once set up shop from their cars parked beneath a shady tree. Or my neighbor down the road who sold whoopee pies and doughnuts from a small umbrellaed table in her yard, but two summers ago made good on her pledge that she was “this time, and for sure, retired.”

Fortunate for all of us is the increasing number of farm stands popping up along our roads. Once, options were few. At Grandview Farm just over the bridge, the former owner informed us daily via shorthand on his roadside chalkboard what was in season. “Cukes and Glads”needed little explanation then, but, I wonder, does anyone grow gladioli anymore? Not so clear a communication resided at the island spot where you can still get your chairs caned or upholstered but now can also buy caught-the-same-day lobsters and made-on-the-premises goat cheese. There, for a few years, the large decal on the local fisherman owner’s delivery truck read “Bandit and the Bitch,” prompting a visiting grandson to ask, “Is that some kind of rock band?”

Here, as is the case elsewhere, somebody’s cast-offs are someone else’s finds. But maybe this is especially true for islanders, a throwback to leaner times and days when pre-bridge transport to the island wasn’t so easy, when the life cycles of commodities increased triplefold because they had to. When being frugal and inventive was required and it was imperative to consider that in one’s possessions there may well be another use just waiting to show itself.  Such ingrained recognitions may help explain the chockablock barns, garages, attics and cellars or, of the not so tidy, the dooryards heaped with what, if you’re tempted to call it “junk,” you do so at your own peril. Maybe, too, it also points to the popularity of our Take It or Leave It shed at the island dump, or as it’s officially known, the Transfer Station. Transfer not only inviting my metaphorical musings but suggesting that what was mine may now be yours, one giant loop of give-and-take, use and re-use, and a much nicer notion surely than heaps of dumped chemicals and plastics that no one wants and do not break down and increasingly find their way into oceans or engorge landfills, those pieces of earth that might otherwise have been an open field, a park, a bird sanctuary.

Each year, in the beehive of enterprising roadside activity, I find evidence of ingenuity, talent, and necessity but also a reassuring sign that summer weeks are yet to come. Too soon, I know, signaling another season’s end, a plank of plywood spray-painted “We Shrink Wrap” will again be erected in the yard of a white clapboard house and storage building just outside the village and beside it, as proof, a trailered boat with tightly-wrapped hull. About then, too, after all recipes have been exhausted – or possibly when more than a few islanders sit down to their dinner tables and ask of whomever does the cooking, “So in what did you try to hide the zucchini this time?”—card tables heaped with fat zucchini logs will appear in driveways. No signs are required. That they’re free for the taking is universally – well, almost – understood.

Soon after, card tables will be stowed, possibly out back or down cellar, along with all our myriad possessions, some of which may be poised for re-invention, some new purpose that has yet to reveal itself, and joining perhaps the new, burgeoning pile of candidates some of us will haul out to the yard when the roadside calendar of sell-swap-donate-give away announces that once again another summer has arrived.




Weather or Not, Redux

Rain. Rain. And more rain. And when it’s not raining, fog – this morning’s thick soup even obscuring nearby Heart Island.

But, before I overdose on my Vitamin D tablets, or am tempted to throw in the (very damp) towel as I survey my garden blighted with slugs and beginning to succumb to fungus and wilt, or become convinced that this summer’s fare will be a continuous string of roasts and stews, I have to remind myself: the forecast is showing some glimmers of promise. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll soon see the sun again. Maybe, before I need a photograph to remind me of it, the white thick o’fog curtain may well be parted to reveal my much-beloved view of sea, sky, and distant islands. And once again, the blunt-nosed blue-and-white profile of my neighbor’s lobster boat will materialize and connect with the muffled sounds of its thumping diesel, the only assurance I’ve had most mornings that he’s headed out to check his traps.

We are after all making progress in that direction. A friend’s greeting yesterday: “So, at least it’s not raining.”

Rain has always been a mixed blessing here. With no freshwater aquifer upon which Deer Isle rests it granite haunches, those of us with wells – meaning nearly everyone – are reassured by what rain promises in our water table levels. Rain certainly assists in keeping the threat of forest fires low. And, yes, our gardens certainly need it – though, please, might we have fewer drowning downpours? Still, come each May, most of us are likely to grouse over any abundant rainfall that’s come our way, certain it’s a harbinger of an impending soggy summer. About rain, we seldom say it’s “just enough.”

May has long come and gone – a wet May following a wet April. Even June, with its higher than normal levels of rainfall, has now officially and rather unbelievably – I mean, how did that happen so fast? – been ticked off the calendar.

Maybe we can’t help ourselves in comparing this spring to last year’s, with its abundant sunny days and summer-like temperatures that even invited some shedders to make their appearance in warm Bay waters as early as April. Our current weather pattern isn’t, of course, unprecedented. A reminder of that came by way of a lobsterman of many decades who this weekend claimed that one summer not so many years ago, he fished 35 days straight in the fog. A reminder too that once through these seemingly epic conditions, we tend to wear such records like a badge of honor.

Not that we have to reach back so far. Yesterday, checking the weather fare of previous short – always too short – summers, I consulted my summer 2010 blog post, “Weather or Not.” On June 2 of that year, I wrote: “Simply put, it’s been glorious. Day after day of abundant sunshine, modest rainfall, warmer than normal temperatures.” The trees, I reported, had leafed out early. Some kitchen gardeners planted seedlings before the last full moon of May. By the time June arrived, most lilacs had gone by, more boats were on their moorings, and a steady stream of pickups loaded with stacked lobster traps were making their way to the harbors. But in that 2010 blog I also wrote this, and am posting here as a redux, not only to point out the difference a year makes but in the hopes that we’re not poised for a repeat of the July of 2009:

“To think that just a year ago, we were staggering toward summer after a brutal, snow-blizzard-punching winter and an extraordinarily wet April and May. June hauled in more seemingly endless days of rain, fog, wind and cool – okay, cold – temperatures. Then, amazingly, July held a gun to our heads with more unrelenting fog and rain. Mushrooms ballooned in unlikely places. Mold grew as though on steroids. Slugs thrived. Wet towels never dried. A friend confessed that her summer cottage had gotten so damp that every night she tumbled her sheets in the dryer before getting into bed. Another friend claimed she found her hands straying to her neck, as though checking for the eruption of gills.

Not surprisingly, fewer tourists and cottage renters made their way to the island. And those who did, who bucked the odds of a grim forecast and crossed the bridge, they grumbled louder as each day of their time-limited and dearly-paid vacation ticked away.  By the second it seemed, their faces grew more dour. At the Periwinkle, one island visitor was overhead to ask: “It can’t rain like this all summer, can it?” Of course he didn’t know this is a question he’s not supposed to ask. Or, if asked, should not expect an answer. Because, as an old island truth explains it, to an outsider whatever weather we’re having is exactly as we planned.”

Yes, but allow me to ask: It can’t rain like this all summer, can it?




Inclined to Recline

So, from the few folks to whom I’ve shown my new writer’s digs located in the woods adjacent to our house, the most animated responses have not been to the inviting expanse of built-in desktop. Small notice is given the pine-planked walls pocked with interesting knots or the green-and-blue view beyond the window above my desk. There’s little exclamation over the generosity of afternoon light pouring in. Instead, it’s the daybed tucked into a corner, a sort of boat cushion mounted on a platform that elicits the most attention.

"Oh, so that’s what this place is really for, eh? Naps!”

Or, “Huh-huh, work. Right.”

I’ve refrained from referring to several writers known to have written their masterpieces lying down, among them Mark Twain, Marcel Proust and Truman Capote, a self-declared “completely horizontal author” and very adept, he once claimed, at balancing his typewriter on his knees. I’ve yet to try to deflect daybed attention by noting an article that reported Gay Talese pinned pages of his writing to a wall and examined them through binoculars from the other side of the room – albeit without any mention of whether doing so he was supine. I haven’t divulged my preference for revising new work from a sort of recumbent position, even if I’m not as adept as Capote and my hand-written revisions when I'm  reclined border on the illegible.

Nor have I conceded that the daybed may indeed invite the kind of snoozes familiar to a swaying hammock or a screened porch with comfy couch or even a cushy chair that beckons after the consumption of a heavier-than-usual lunch. But to nap in what’s purportedly a work place? Doesn’t that make me a kind of lazy cheat? But of what? And to whom? I mean, in my little domain, who’s the boss?

I confess: I nap. I love to nap. Power nap, to be more precise – those 15-20 minute wonders I often summon mid-afternoon, usually while slouched in a chair and ottoman in my house, but now easily transferrable to a daybed among the trees. 

Research tells me this is good. Power naps supplement normal sleep. If no more than 30 minutes, they render you alert and re-energized upon awaking. More effective than caffeine, a power nap improves memory, cognition, creativity and energy.

Naps aren’t new, of course. They’ve been around for centuries, often known elsewhere as siestas. Typically longer, sometimes a couple of hours in duration, they have long seemed so decidedly un-American, so contrary to our – euphemism alert – work ethic. But power naps are gaining more acceptance, even in the corporate workplace, thanks to the bouts of increased productivity that, say scientists, follow a brief snooze.  No doubt the name also helps – power having considerable currency in what is most decidedly American. 

Neuroscientists claim that short naps help rescue us from “information overload” and provide a much-needed “mental spark.” Monitoring the brain activity of dozing nap-takers, they’ve discovered that the right side – the creativity side – of the brain is a busy chatterer during these supposed down-times. Professor Andrei Medvedev likens it to “housecleaning.” Naps help the brain perform tasks of consolidation, of transferring pieces of information from the short term memory bank to a more permanent one.

For writer William Gibson, naps are essential. They’re part of his creative process. Not for dreams, he says, but “that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.” The pursuit of power naps also puts me in the august company of inventor Thomas Edison.

(Edison laboratory with day bed)

Okay, so I’ve never invented anything – surely not the light bulb or the phonograph. Nor did I help develop the first motion picture camera. And I certainly don’t agree with Edison who, according to a recent Brain Pickings article, regarded sleep as a waste of time, “a heritage from our cave days.” For him, the light bulb helped liberate people from the burden of sleep. Prodigious in work output and parsimonious in sleep, Edison claimed he only needed four to five hours of shut-eye per night. Anything more was a lamentable loss of “time, vitality and opportunities.”

But, claims Brain Pickings, while Edison seemed to wear his disdain for sleep like a badge of honor, he possessed a “duplicitous little secret” – napping cots. Scattered across his property in laboratories and libraries and under the trees were places where Edison could sink into instantaneous and profound sleep, and from which he woke fresh and in, he once boasted, “immediate full possession.” Edison the Power Napper.

(Edison library)

Knowing that Edison napped as do numerous writers – Vita Sackville-West, for example,   possessed a daybed in her writing tower – won’t prevent me from occasionally asking myself, Why nap when I could be reading, writing, taking a walk? But if I wake more refreshed and thus able to engage in such activities? And what of those nap-times when whatever has shifted in my brain’s chattering housecleaning side prompts me to tackle a different route through a difficult passage or to bridge an awkward transition in a new and surprising way?

(Vita-Sackville West writing tower room)

Unlike novelist Philip Roth, I have no lectern in my new writing digs at which to stand and write. And if I did, I wouldn’t, as he does, turn it to face away from the view to avoid distraction. And if, like Talese, I had some desk-side binoculars, I’d likely not use them to review my written pages but confirm that yes, at long last, the purple finches have found the new feeder. I do have a daybed though, and the small blanket and pillow stashed beneath it is a dead give-away of my intention. And why not? “Let’s sleep on it,” we often counsel. Yes, let’s.