Life as I know It

My photo
San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Lamp in the Window

Hurricane Irene approached, and we were as ready as we could be for her unwelcome arrival. All the boats were safely stowed and the harbors emptied. Lobstermen worked frantically and hauled out their traps.

The stern of this lobster boat is piled high with traps he is hauling out before the storm.

We piled firewood onto the porch, bought batteries, extra flashlights, a crank radio, emergency candles, a Coleman lantern, and food for ourselves and the birds. We made a final foray to the South Bristol Town Hall and drew our water out of the town artesian spring.

Gamage Shipyard in the Western Gut is empty!

The winds howled. The surf rose and ripped through beds of seaweed, then hurled it onto the rocks. The waves pounded, roared, thundered against the ledges in front of the cottage, and tossed their spume hundreds of feet from the sea.
These rock ledges protect us from the storm surge.

A Mourning dove feeds on black oil sunflower seeds while the waves crash beside him.

Goldfinch riding out the storm and eating

We were uneasy. Would a tree fall on the cottage? Was our car okay parked in the driveway? Would the old Fresh Air Camp, after years of standing on the edge of the sea, finally be engulfed by waves? And what about the birds? The little warblers, thrushes, sparrows, and hummingbirds were migrating steadily above us. How would they fare in this weather?

Watch closely for the hummingbird trying to visit the feeder

By midnight, the shriek of the wind through every crack and crevice in our house was grating. We crawled into bed and stared out at the gray night, lit by the whiteness of the breaking waves. The flash of the Pemaquid Lighthouse (built in 1827) punctuated the darkness every six seconds. Sleep was impossible.

I wandered the house and thought about the birds. Years ago, the Audubon Society had honored me with a scholarship to Hog Island Ornithology Camp in Maine. I got to help with the banding of warblers, caught birds in mist nets, identified migratory species, and learned so much about their migrations (which still remain mysterious and magical to me).

Late these August nights when we are on our walks, I can hear the sounds of the little birds migrating. Although they usually fly at an altitude of 500 feet (and up to thousands), sometimes they dip lower (depending on weather conditions). I hear their peeping, their whistles, their piping calls. They tug at my heart.

I learned long ago when working on the 102 foot Royal Polaris along the coast and lagoons of Baja, California, how birds will fly toward a light and take shelter during foul weather. We would awaken in the morning after a storm and find scores of rare birds perched on lines, cabins, and equipment. This same phenomenon occurs when night migrants see a lighthouse or a strongly lit building. They fly toward the light for shelter.

So last night I turned on the lamp in the window by the sea. The winds blew and tossed the 'Heavenly Blue' morning glory and tugged it from the trellis. And there in its place? A wood thrush, the bird who serenades us with its overlapping songs of "ee-ooh-ee-ooh-lay." This songster has a syrinx, which on us humans would be like having two sets of vocal chords. (Click here for the song of the Wood thrush.) He is able to sing and trill using both sets at the same time. He had seen my welcoming light and fought his way through the winds to a small harbor of peace.

My 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories are torn to shreds and coated with salt spray. The Wood thrush has taken wing and moved on to feed during the daylight hours.

Tonight I'll sleep lightly and send up a prayer in hopes for safety for all the people along the coast and for all the migrating birds wending their way south. Good luck and faretheewell.

Thank you for all your warm and caring e-mails, letters, and comments. We've made it so far and are thankful for the protective ledge of giant rocks in front of our cottage. Until next time, I wish you well.


P.S. Won't you stop by for a quick visit to my Lowe's blog posting? This one is about fragrant plants to include in your garden. Please leave a valued comment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Faerie Handkerchiefs and a Quiet Mind

Half-Tide Island on left (aka Cupcake Island). Birch Island on the right. The Dawn Treader moored in Little Harbor.

"For every time in stress, you need a recovering time in relaxation." 
Emmett E Miller, M.D., 
from Quiet Mind: 
One -Minute Retreats 
from a Busy World 
by David Kundtz

Dear Friends,

Do you ever feel so tired that you're sure you'll never do anything creative or worthwhile again? Well, that is how I felt when we arrived in Maine...emptied out, dull, tired, and frayed. But after a couple of weeks of living a real life here, I feel like Maine has opened its heart and filled me with peace and energy. Thank you, Maine! Now pay attention to yourselves and mind what Dr. Miller said. You need to balance stress time with peace time so that you can function and stay well.

A Maine heart

A few nights ago, the surf thundered and pounded the ledge in front of the cottage. Although the rocks stand about 10 feet above the sea, the waves hitting the rocks shot about 20 feet into the air.
The faint light of the waning moon made a wavering pathway across the sea. We sat outside in our porch rockers and watched the play of water on rocks and the dance of the bats who flew onto the porch, swished up under the eaves, and nabbed moths. The bats are so graceful and do so much good work for us.

The moon path from Pemaquid Peninsula to our house.

I was sure that the roaring surf would keep me awake, but if anything, it lulled me to sleep. What finally woke me in the early morning was silence. Not a sound of wind and leaves, no water against rocks, no thrumming lobster boat engines, and no bird song. I sat up in bed and looked outside at a wall of white. The fog had rolled in and blotted out everything.

We took our tea out onto the porch, and there, spread out before us, like a child's dream, were dozens of what my Grandmother called faerie handkerchiefs everywhere.

Faerie handkerchiefs in the blueberries, bayberries, and on the meadow grasses.

And joining the faerie handkerchiefs were mushrooms of every size and shape.

A parade. 

A ghostly Indian Pipe pushes its way through the leaves.

These sweet little faerie seats are tinier than my baby finger.

Yellow Chanterelles...get out the skillet and the sweet butter.

Plump earth buttons

When the fog lifted and the skies shone as blue as the sea, I wanted to kiss the ground (but I was afraid I'd never get up!)

Treat yourself to a quiet walk to replenish your spirit.

Or put your feet up, sip some tea, and watch.

 Try to remember how it is to be a child and to notice all the tiny and beautiful gifts that nature offers. I send you peace and joy.



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Notes from the Fresh Air Camp

Summer isn't summer without 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories on our front porch.

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
Marcel Proust

Hello dear friends,

I hope you are all enjoying these last, fleeting moments of summer. I love the summer here in Maine because it is not about hot weather, but about changes in the weather. One minute sunny and blue skies, the next moment foggy and gray, then thunder and lightning, rain, and mists. I love, love, love the changes in the light, and the scents and sounds.

Inside the popcorn misty outside that I can't see the ocean

Our living room has a peaked roof so the patter or pounding of rain is magnified. Oh, and the red squirrels, who run up and down a tall fir that we call the "elevator tree," drops green cones onto the roof throughout the day. Sometimes it sounds like we are living in a popcorn popper.

Sou'wester and rain boots for our walks (rain or shine)

I don't know if I ever mentioned that our tiny cottage, which in Maine is referred to as a "camp," was once the bunkhouse for the Miles Fresh Air Camp. In the 1920s, children were given the opportunity to have a camp experience/vacation beside the sea. I love the history of this old place and recently learned that Babe Ruth stopped by to visit with the kids. Imagine, the great Babe Ruth may have walked these floors.

I am so happy to be here. Every day holds new adventures, meetings with old and new friends and family from far away. We share meals on the porch, crackling fires, and walks under the stars. Last week we could see the star showers (Perseid Meteor Showers), and we reveled in the beauty of the full
moon over the sea.

We walk a couple of miles every night. Here is our goal, our touchstone; we stop where we have a view of Hay Island on the left and my favorite little Crow Island on the right.  Look at that moon!

For many of us, it is a big deal to visit the post office everyday and today WAS a big deal. Waiting in our post box was a gift all beautifully packaged and wrapped from my girlfriend Susan (My Mother's Apron Strings). Inside was a bag of fabulous cookies, a gorgeous California poppy (my favorite flower) necklace made by Susan, who is a well known paper artist, designer, author, chef, gardener, and great mother and grandmother. Tucked inside was also a jar of her own freshly made cherry cranberry jam. How did I get so lucky? Thank you, Susan, for being so giving!

Susan's box of goodies

I received an e-mail from a lovely young mother who wanted me to stop by her garden and see the sunflower house they planted for her daughter. It is a small one in great shape, and it has the requisite morning glory roof. Every summer I receive lots of letters and photos of sunflower houses planted throughout our country and abroad. It is hard for me to believe that my first book Sunflower Houses will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in just a couple of months, and it is still in print.

A bit of canvas cloth for the flooring, a chair, a table, and lots of imagination.

And now my friends, will you forgive me for posting a random group of photos that I think you may enjoy seeing? These are all bits and pieces of why I so love New England, but especially Maine.

This new barn is down the road from us at Bittersweet Landing. I had to include this "topping out" tradition found on homes and barns in Maine (and in many European countries). See the skeleton of a pine tree atop the barn? This is placed on the peak of the building when the last beam is set into place. It is supposed to bring good luck to the owner of the home or barn, but I have heard different versions of this story, too.

Found these great vintage signs (from Cherry Gallery) to hang in the kitchen at our Comfort Found Literary Lodging.

It takes a village? In this case, a village for the birds.

A great visit with a garter snake.

The potager at Arrows Restaurant in Ogunquit. I want this garden.

The sweet, front garden at Arrows. Look at that edible windowbox! Well, the windowbox isn't edible, but the contents sure are.

Pie in the Sky Bakery...simply yummy. You'll find it in Cape Neddick, Maine. The aromas will draw you in if the gardens, windowbox, and sign haven't already grabbed you.

The Walpole Barn on the road from our house to Damariscotta. That is Jeff at the counter. You can buy fresh local oysters, wine, local art and handcrafts (my friend Sara Hotchkiss has the big star rug on the wall), gifts, candles, cards, candy, gourmet items....and more. Love this place. 

Our Island Grocery has a great sitting deck and flower baskets and pots that will make you drool.

Our farmers' market is surrounded by meadows, gardens, apple trees, and, in the distance, you can see the Great Salt Bay.

And the offerings at our fabulous farmers' market at the Salt Bay Farm in Damariscotta will make you drool, too. Fridays at the market are some of my favorite times.

Although I am managing to work every day, I am also enjoying LOTS of company, lots of cooking, lots of sitting on our porch and enjoying friends, the sea, the birds, and the gentle passage of time. I hope that you are finding your own special peace.

Thanks for your letters and e-mails. You help define my life, and I love you being a part of it, just as I love dropping in to visit with you on your blog postings. If you have the chance, please visit my newest Lowe's blog posting. I value your comments and thoughts both here and at the Lowe's site.

Love from the Fresh Air Camp,


P.S. And the Grimy Handed Winner is...

Carol Samsel from Wright City, Missouri, of

Congratulations! We'll mail your book out this week. Thanks for joining in.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Rhythm of the Tides

A display at Sweet Pea Gardens and Gallery in Surry, Maine.

"The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it ecomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself." 
Henry Miller

It takes about a week here on our little island before I begin to slow down. I gently ease into the quiet and peace, and realize that the changing tides have swept into my subconscious. I awake in the star flecked darkness and know immediately that the tide has changed and is coming in, going out, or sitting still at slack, where even the sound of a leaping fish is magnified.

Last week, Jeff and I celebrated our 28th anniversary. We took walks, sat out on our porch and watched the sea, and shared dinner at the famed Primo Restaurant in Rockland, Maine. At Primo, they grow their own greens, many veggies, berries, and so much more.

The girls here hope that Primo is thinking of them as egg providers.

"We're here for the eggs, right?" Overheard at the henhouse at Primo.

I had to leave our little cottage and travel downeast to give a talk to the wonderful Castine Garden Club. On the way, we stopped to share lunch with friend and photographer Lynn Karlin and her mom (my adopted mom) Florence.

Lynn's fabulous organic lunch.

Lynn's new calendar. You need it!

In Castine, our hostess Letha Wood, a new friend with a huge passion for the earth, her sweet husband Roger, and her best friend Joan met us for dinner at the Pentagoet Inn, which is where Jeff and I stayed over night. The Pentagoet is an historic inn that serves superb meals. I loved staying there. In the morning, we sat outdoors and enjoyed the beauty of the Pentagoet's bountiful windowboxes and charming gardens.

Oakum Bay, Castine, Maine. View over the rooftops.

Loved this birdhouse mounted over a doorway at the Pentagoet Inn.

My blogging friend Lili of Fearless Nesting and her sweet husband Henri came to my lecture, and we got the chance to visit with them for a few hours afterwards. We were fortunate to be able to visit the elegant home of one of my favorite authors, Katharine "Kitty" Butler Hathaway, who wrote The Little Locksmith in 1942. A highlight for me was seeing her beloved front door with the fanlight she describes in the book.

 Also, the owners of this historic gem let us walk into The Thimble, the tiny cottage where she wrote her book and was visited by such notable authors as Henry Beston (The Outermost House), Elizabeth Coatsworth (one of the first winners of the Newbery), and many others.

View of "The Thimble," which is Katharine's little writing house. Adorable, no?

Our visit to Susan Keating's Sweet Pea Gardens and Gallery in Surry, Maine, was a highlight too. I've been hearing about Sweet Pea from my friend Lynn Karlin who has a "Pedestal Series" show hanging there. Susan has an unerring hand when it comes to decorating and arranging flowers. Take a peek at her creations.

Sue's incredibly well designed window box.

Inside you'll meet Sue. Oh, and would I ever love to have this Monson Slate works antique sink. They scored when they found this at the old salvage store in Portland, Maine. Good work!

I love Sue's "table," which is an old oil drum she found. 

Sue's tapestries of succulents are breathtaking. Wow.

We spent the late afternoon with dear friends at their family camp on the Eggemoggin Reach (which is Robert McCloskey country, ala Blueberries for Sal).

Looking out at the Eggemoggin Reach.

We didn't get home until nearly midnight, but it felt so good to walk through the front door, throw open the windows, and smell the scent of the sea. Home.

All joys,


P.S. Please visit my latest Lowe's blog posting and leave one of your valued comments.

P.S.S. GIVE-AWAY!!!! Hey there Grimy Hands Girls' Club members. Leave a comment on this posting and be eligible for my give-away of Lighthouse Seeds by Pamela Love. This is a charming children's book about bringing soil and seeds to a craggy Maine island. Sorry, Grimy Hands members only. Comments must be dated August 17 or earlier.