Category Archives: Uncategorized

Day to day Dramatis Personae Uncategorized

TRUSTY David Trust

Is the ice safe? A reasonable question, since every winter, somewhere, someone goes through. But not David Trust, and not his daughters. David has been an ice fisherman for most of his life, as were his dad and his grandfather. When David’s girls came along, he taught them how to fish, too. Along with being safe, he passed on other rules of ice fishing and of life: keeping your line untangled, being neat, knowing when you can trust the ice.

“We’d be out on the ice, get a flag, and off one of my daughters would go,” David says. “I’d dig one of my buddies in the ribs and say, ‘watch this.’ And we would all look. She concentrated so hard she didn’t know we were following her every move. And sure enough, just like I showed her, she would see if the reel was spinning. If it was, she’d set the hook and bring her fish in, coiling the line into the neatest pile.”

David speaks lovingly of his girls, and the special family times they had out on the ice. “I raised ‘em like boys, but they still turned out like girls,” he says, blue eyes gleaming. “They’re grown now, and they still love to fish.”

But times have changed, and so has the lake. David says that only ten years ago there were kingfishers, redfin shiners, crayfish, polliwogs. The water was brimming with life and vitality, diverse and healthy. Today he says the lake is barren, no forage fish, just bass, some lake trout, some pickerel. “Some asshole brought bass in, they killed everything, they killed the lake,” David says.

And indeed the fish are not there in the numbers they used to be. But this lake is where he learned to fish and where he taught his kids, and so he tries to fish here every winter, making it a family affair. “We have bonfires, hot dogs, hot cocoa,” he says. “It’s all kids, dogs, food and fish. Last time there were six inches of slush, but it didn’t stop anything. The kids were soaked to the bone and still tearing around, racing out to check a flag.”

But for serious fishing, he heads to inland Maine. Out on the ice, on the frozen surface of Green Lake, is his winter home, his winter castle. David’s icehouse, where he spends every minute he can, is 56 square feet of pure luxury. Copper counter tops, Alpine stereo, gimballed stove, weather instrumentation mounted on the roof for wind speed, barometric pressure and humidity. The comfortable dining benches fold out into an equally comfortable bed, and there is a solar panel and 12-volt brass lamps. “Last one I’ll ever build,” he says. And indeed it would be hard to top this one. Fishermen for towns around speak of his icehouse with a mixture of awe and incredulity.

David squints out over the brilliant white surface of the lake. “This is what it’s all about, nothing but fishing, and eating. Then fishing some more and eating some more.” He gets up an hour before sunrise and fishes until dusk. Then he stops. “End of the day, you’re done,” his says with finality.
A pair of eagles flies by, flying close, then parting. David pauses in mid-sentence to follow their flight. Yes, it is the fish that bring him here. But it is not quite as simplistic as fish then eat, fish then eat.

Teaching kids to keep their lines untangled, meticulously crafting a 56-square-foot model of luxury, and the casual acceptance that stopping what you’re doing to watch the eagles play is the proper use of time—this is life on the ice for David Trust. And great life lessons to pass on to his daughters, even though they are girls.

Excerpt from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.


Common Cause

When we hear of quilting bees and barn raisings, we are mentally transported to colonial America, or perhaps a 1950’s sewing circle. That same spirit of camaraderie prevails today. Brothers, sisters, aunts, nephews, neighbors, friends, kids and dogs converged and helped clear the land for my sister-in-law’s new home.

It was one of the best parties I have gone to. There were family and friends I had not seen in a while to hug and exchange news with. There were the friends and relatives of my sister-in-law I only see at her house for Thanksgiving or family events. There were her old school chums, her soon-to-be neighbors, and in-laws of in-laws. There were golden labs, boisterous mixed breeds, and a steam machine of red hot dogs.

We all had a common cause. Little orange flags on wire stems marked a septic field in the midst of the forest, and a track through the snow indicated the future driveway. The septic field and a twenty-foot swath around the driveway had to be cleared of trees. It was a tall order. Well over one hundred trees had to be cut down, cut up, dragged and burned.

By nine thirty there were three bonfires, and three chainsaws buzzing non-stop.

Liz, commander in chief, was a relaxed overseer. Buckets of coffee, water and juices were available at a tented outpost along with donuts and homemade muffins. We worked, ate, chatted, ate, worked. One neighbor hauled hardwood logs as tall as she was. Every time I looked up, there she was, dragging a big log to the pile being saved for firewood. Trying to keep up with Emma became my mantra. Blue skies, soft air and festive spirits defined the day.

The softwood and branches went into the fire, hard wood was set aside for warming a home next winter. One in-law of an in-law was a showstopper. I am not sure I ever saw him pause, except to be sure the next tree he felled had a clear path. Wisely protected with chaps and hardhat he danced among us. We would pick away, dragging branches from downed trees and almost have a section clear, when this chainsaw master would take a few more down for us to remove and burn.

It was beautifully orchestrated, and in spite of the many people, we never got in each other’s way. If I picked a log a bit hard to handle, suddenly there were three pairs of arms helping to hoist it and toss it onto the pile. Just as suddenly they were gone, as we all went right back to work.

“Am I on fire?” someone would call, and we would brush sparks out of a hood, or off a back. A few minutes to grab water, and pause by the lunch wagon gave us a chance to admire those working in the woods. As the morning went on, the woods became field. It looked not unlike my images of Dante’s Inferno. Sweating, laboring workers could be glimpsed through billows of drifting smoke, and orange flames were the only color in the landscape of gray snow and wet dark-barked trees.

A quick glance at any face there made it clear we were not in hell, however. There was satisfaction, or a smile, on each and every one. And the smiles, while they were individual, filled the air with one big giant group smile.

What a great party.


Looking for a sign

Rabbit tracks, the neat silhouette where a deer has slept, the sharp outlines of a coyote’s claws, these imprints are crisp and clear. After a long stretch of single digits and snow on top of snow on top of snow, the melt has begun. The now grainy surface takes an imprint as clear as the concrete in front of that Chinese theatre with hand marks of the Hollywood famous.

There is still a deep base covering the undergrowth in the forest, the dark tree trunks rise from the smooth expanse of snow, and there is no indication of a path or trail. With snowshoes, the woods are open in every direction. It is so free and different from summer walks, when paths are followed and trails lead around rocks and stumps. These obstacles are now deep beneath the surface we walk over.

There is so much to see. Years ago I took a class taught by a student of Paul Rezendes, author of Tracking and the Art of Seeing. He emphasizes sign as well as track, and I find his big picture approach gives a more complete understanding of whatever animal we might be tracking. Instead of just looking for the next paw print, going where the animal went, we crouch to see what it saw, notice when it paused to eat, and where it sat and scratched, leaving a small tuft of fur.

One of my husband and my first dates was a hike up the Pot Hole Trail on the side of Cadillac Mountain. The trail begins and ends here in our village of Otter Creek, Maine. The pitch pines were shrouded in fog, there was ice along the rocks, and I bent to poke at coyote scat with a twig. He bent too, and together we speculated on this animal’s recent meal, and where it had been to find it. A bond was formed.

We hike regularly, as much for what we can see and learn as for the exercise. We spend this afternoon in the forest behind our house. A raven’s call causes us to look up, and we see a pair spiraling together. We sniff an astringent scent, and then see the straight focused path of a red fox. Signs are all around. Bright orange drops of urine dot the snow, possibly part of a courtship for snowshoe hares. One of a mating pair of will leap in the air, scattering the orange spray as the other hare runs under it.

The art of seeing is a part of Rezendes’ book title, and it is a phrase I am cognizant of every day. I extend it to the other senses, and as we walked the distant rhythmic crash of waves was constant. I hear it now. We passed a ledge that had spent months deeply encased in frozen water, and was now dripping from a thousand tapering points of ice. Quick high-pitched splashes kept beat with slower louder drops. There was the smell balsam fir as our heads brushed a branch. And for touch, there was the spongy softness of a new polypore. This is the season when they grow on the sides of birch, and their creamy freshness stands out brilliantly, a contrast the to white snow and black bark. And we are back to sight.

We went seeking signs, and found them, but they also they found us. As I left the woods for our back yard I passed a dead poplar trunk, broken off about five feet high. There was a thump on my arm and a whinnying call, and I watched in amazement as a downy woodpecker flew past after hitting me, and landed on the branch of a nearby tree. The small round hole she came from was two feet from my shoulder. I left quickly, hoping she will return and nest there.

We saw sign- scat and fur and stained snow and hare chomped twigs. Late winter is a time of connecting with the world out there, and I am not ready for this season to pass. The downy woodpecker gave me an irrefutable message however, for she is surely the sign of spring.


Change of scene

There is comfort in the familiar. I wake every morning and before rising I can lift my head and view the profiles of Dorr and Cadillac Mountains. They are landmarks in our village of Otter Creek, and are part of Acadia National Park. The asymmetrical gap between the two is called The Notch. I see it every day. It is a constant in my life, though no mornings are identical.

There may be snow dusting the flanks of the hills, or wet rocks gleaming. Each dawn brings a new, never seen before combination of color and light. The sun rises behind my house. Its light first hits the top of the mountain, and then grows, deepening as I wake. It eventually illuminates the valley. I am up and out by then. I know not everyone wakes to sunlight on mountains, as I do. I cherish each morning as unique, and yet constant.

So why go elsewhere? I have a morning view that leaves me at peace, content, and ready to meet the day. I do not think I will ever grow tired of it. Yet off I trot to an alien and less predictable space. It is February, and D and I go on our annual ski trip to Quebec. He was doing this long before he met me, and now we go together. He introduced me to a place that I share a heart with. It is a change of scene.

This yearly trek, skiing at Mont Sainte Anne and sleeping in the stuffy elegance of the old world Frontenac Hotel, has become familiar. But it is not the same familiarity I have at home, with the cat at the bottom of the bed, soft brown flannel sheets, and my morning mountain view. Instead I wake to diffused daylight, angular rooflines, and walk cobbled streets for an almond croissant I would never normally consider as breakfast. Things are different.

I hear French, and speak a bit. It does not fall smoothly from my tongue. The mountains here are bigger than in Otter Creek, and the city full of noises. The whispery sighs of the electric bus, the stamping of horse hooves on stone, the tinny music from the speakers at the skating rink, these are the reasons I come. Everything is fresh and new. I cradle the deep handle-less bowl filled with hot chocolate. I spin through the revolving door twice just for fun. I exclaim over the jewel-like quails eggs in the market. Different noises, tastes, smells, my senses go into overdrive to take it all in, and I know I am not taking it all in.

I never feel I am blasé about the magnificent scenery in Otter Creek. I believe I really every day appreciate what we have here. It takes a change of scene to show me I have indeed gotten just a bit less sharp in my perceptions.

A change of scene changes the way we look at things. It frees us from our everyday responsibilities and habits and allows us to see how different everything is. What is no doubt everyday in Quebec, the man strapped and clinging to the high roof to pull off snow, the seconds counting down on a display at street crossings, a door panel with women’s figures, are to us novel and exotic. We are delighted with the handrails on the buildings, to which we cling as we climb the steep icy sidewalks. For those who live here they are as mundane as our guardrails.

Quebec is a destination for skiing, the exhibits at the Museum of Civilization, or watching the bateau races on the St. Lawrence. These are all good reasons to go. But I go for a change of scene, to find novelty in someone else’s commonplace, and to remind my senses just what their purpose is.


All that glisters is not gold…

My jewelry collection includes beach stones, spirit-filled levels, seaglass, arrowheads, washers and nuts from the hardware store, but not very much gold. I like gold jewelry, but I tend to lose things, and losing a gold bracelet is not a position I want to find myself in. The most valuable pieces I own are the least worn, out of fear. The most loved pieces I wear with pleasure. Since losing them would cause me more unhappiness than a losing costly piece, this is a bit difficult to explain.

I have tried various ways to manage my continually growing necklace collection. When I was ten, I had a pink box with a ballerina that popped up when I opened it, spinning to the tinny notes of the music box. Little one-inch square depressions covered in pink fuzz held my gold-plated Plymouth Rock, a tiny vial filled with mustard seeds, and a silver ballerina. All were suspended from delicate chains. The sturdier pieces were coiled and arranged in the larger area below the removable shelf of pink fuzzy squares. Fresh water pearls, a strand of silver beads, and a souvenir choker of small conch shells started out nestled side by side, but ended tangled and intertwined.

As I grew older, the boxes got bigger. At some point I graduated to multiple boxes. The dyed cocoa bean strands I liked in high school took up a lot of space. The three tiny brass bells on a leather strap were worn daily for almost two years before they disappeared from my locker. Finding a nicely divided box was not easy, and far too often I casually tossed my pieces into their box only to spend frantic minutes untangling them when I wanted to wear one.

As a young adult I had been given an amazing box of costume jewelry that my uncle Freddie won at bingo. A cigar smoking, beer drinking, concert pianist bachelor, he did not consider this a cherished prize. There were green plastic shells trimmed in brass and encrusted with purple glass and fake pearls, a three-inch circle of turquoise and cream colored something and a golden Cleopatra neck ring. I was astounded and grateful my older sisters passed on them.

Between the pieces from Uncle Freddie, and my own flea market acquisitions, the boxes were just not big enough. I bought tie holders at yard sales and mounted them on my wall. My necklaces hung visible, untangled and glistening. This was satisfactory for many years. I just kept buying more tie racks. These are often given as gifts to men who have one or two ties, and so are not unusual cast offs at yard sales. I choose only the all wood ones. The ones with hinged brass holders tended to fall apart.

When I moved to the old farmhouse I renovated in Otter Creek, my tie racks and necklaces came with me. My future husband eyed them. He had a lot of ties, and had never had a tie rack. I had been feeling my tie racks were inadequate.

“Those would be great for my ties,” he said. “You can have them if you help me make a necklace box,“ was my reply. “Of course,” he answered, and before his words had faded away I was unscrewing the tie racks and setting my necklaces on the bureau.

I drew up plans for a hinged box with pegs for necklaces. We mounted the tie rack and hung his ties. My jewelry languished. I put the jewelry boxes on Christmas lists, birthday lists, asked his contractor friend to help, and finally put my necklaces in a plastic bin. They were at least in ziplock bags so they did not get tangled, but I could never find the one I wanted. And ziplock bags in a plastic bin is not a way to celebrate my corals and tourmalines, chunky amber from Mexico, Brazilian topaz and Larimar from the Dominican Republic.

This Christmas a treasured gift was a pair of glistening, glittering gold boxes with pegs, built to the sketches I had made years ago. What delight to free my pieces from plastic and hang them. Many had been buried in that bin for years. Some I had not seen in years.

The plastic tub now stores off-season clothing in the attic, a big tote of used ziplock bags is out in the shed, and every morning I open a jewelry box door and look at them all. I stand still, admiring, until one calls, “Me, me, wear me today.”

I select a necklace to work with my outfit, and look at the mass of bracelets, and bowls of earrings. They are next.


Thirty-six eyelets, or, these boots were made for walking

Winter in Maine and the annual Clam City Ball is again crowded with rhinestone sparkling women and top-hatted men. Boas drip off shoulders, and a fox grins its last grin coiled around a swanlike neck. Taffeta skirts swish, and gloved hands keep time in softened claps. We are all decked out, and loving it. This ball has been going on annually for over one hundred years, with the same set of songs, and never varying intermission sandwiches provided by the men. The food is crab rolls, egg salad and chips, and I am glad I ate before I came. The dances are circle and line dances, and I would rather hike up my skirts and swirl and twirl. But I am not here for the food or dance. I am here because I can dress. I have ringlets in my hair, elbow length gloves, paste earrings, a full flowing skirt, and my soft leather lace-up boots with thirty-six eyelets.

These amazing boots were given to me by an antique dealer friend of my mom when I was a sophmore in high school. How I had the patience to lace them up then I cannot fathom, but I did, not everyday, but when the mood struck. I wore them with frayed bell bottom jeans or long Indian print dresses. The soft leather molds itself to my foot, the short heel gives support, and these are about the most comfortable shoes I own. They are over one hundred years old.

I treasure them, although I do not care for them as I should. But they are forgiving. They have trudged through snow, gotten soaked in puddles, the laces have been replaced several times, and they are still in fine shape. At one point I decided to retire them thinking I did not have the right to wear out these fine historic specimens, but I could not resist donning them yet again. They just never seem to show abuse, and now I wear them without guilt. I do not know what adventures they had before hooking up with me, but I am sure they danced, went shopping, visited friends, and raced through a rainstorm or two. I am also pretty sure they will outlast me, and go on more adventures when mine are done.

I don’t like to think I have a shoe fetish, but I do own a rather large number. In addition to the thirty-six eyelets I have rain shoes, garden shoes, swim shoes, comfy shoes, rhinestone studded heels, silver, gold, red, lots of black, sandals, flip flops, pointy toes and squared. Red suede flats, turquoise beaded pumps, and my mother’s alligator kitten heels sit side by side with my white leather Jill Sander ankle boots, a steal at Marden’s discount store. These last were originally marked $678.00. My entire shoe collection couldn’t be much more than that, and I am not sure I know anyone who would spend that on one pair of shoes.

Oh, and boots, I have red Hunter boots, and a pair of furry white goat boots I have named Schwani and Snowflake after the goats in Heidi. There are zippy ankle boots, lace=up work boots, waders for fishing, thigh high seven league boots for fencing, and fins for swimming. There are Sorel Joan of Arctics in which I can stand on the ice for hours in cosy-toed comfort. I have snowshoes, too, of course. So many choices, and I do wear them all now and again, but I tend to rely on a few core pairs.

For comfort, my Merrells come a close second to the thirty-six eyelets. I am on my second pair. The first, classic brown jungle mocs, have worn out to the point they are saved for dirty work, and not worn in public. They are close to fifteen years old and I have no complaints, but they will clearly not live to be one hundred. They are the kid’s version, since I have small feet, and designed to be tough. I wore them hiking, gardening, and just out and about. They went to the horse barn to visit my daughter, forded streams, hopped rock to rock keeping up with my fly fisherman husband. They were with me stacking wood, and foraging for mushrooms. They biked, since even with all those shoes I have not yet opted for fancy bike shoes. They got stuck in the mud, and stepped in something stinky more than once. My socks are now peeping through cracks, and they have a few spatters of paint and house stain, but they sure are easy to wear.

They will get tossed out at some point, though. This is what happens with most of my dress shoes. They just do not have the stamina to keep up with me, or with anyone.

It would be expecting a lot from a scrap of leather or synthetic to go the course, and I tend to run when I could walk, walk when I could ride.

At some time I may pass them on, or they may end up in an estate sale or thrift store. But whatever their next destination, these boots have a lot more walking to do.

So how is it I am still wearing shoes from the 1890’s? I do not know the answer, and they aren’t telling. They do not look tough. The leather is thin and soft. The soles are hand-stitched and also a seemingly soft leather. They have endured more and lasted ten times longer than my next toughest shoe.


Finding things

What delighted surprise, what eye-widening happiness, what an unexpected burst of joy accompanies finding something you had thought lost and out of your life.
Finding solutions to problems, the path to happiness, or a new recipe are all certainly fine, but they lack that brilliant moment of discovery and the spontaneous exclamation that unexpectedly finding a tangible, touchable thing generates.

Today was a day of finding. The snowshoes had been missing for several weeks, along with a snow shovel. They were not in the barn, nor in the car, nor up at the garage where we keep some things. We concluded they had to be leaning against the woodshed, which was now covered in two feet of snow. New snow beckoned, so we hauled out the guest pair again and tossed them in the car. We finished shoveling the path from the house to the parking space and tackled the taller than me mound left by the snowplow. Clank. It was the snow shovel. We jumped up and down and shoveled with renewed energy until we dug it out enough to pull free. With mounting excitement we probed deeper, and soon had both intact and ice-coated snowshoes unburied and back into circulation. The joy of finding them had us smiling and thumping each other like kids. We had been very pleased when we bought them a few months ago, but finding them was far more fun.

The other find was our cat Drosselmeyer, although he might object to be classified as a thing. I was in a workshop all day Saturday, and came home to be told there was bad news. Our cat was gone. It is winter, and he dashes out a few times a day to avoid a litter box, but spends most of this season in a ball near the fire. He had gone out in the morning, and it was after five when I returned home. We called, rattled food, looked in shed, attic, basement, any place he might have gotten shut into, but no cat. I wandered the street, checking with neighbors, but no Dros. Well after midnight we went to bed, assuring each other he was holed up somewhere waiting out the snow. The morning was clear, the snow had stopped, and there was no cat at the door. I was told a bobcat had been seen lately, and coyotes and fox are always a threat. “Might have been a fisher, too,” my husband said. “He’s gone, I’m so sorry,” and he gave me a sympathetic hug. Wiping the counter after lunch I paused. I didn’t hear anything, but knew I had to check the basement again. I went outside, opened the cellar door, and out popped Dros.

Finding things when looking for them is rewarding, Other finds come completely out of the blue, and astonishment adds to the pleasure. I donned a coat for the first time in months, and reached in the pocket to find the mate to a favorite pair of earrings. And I still had the odd one.

Another find was my brand new slick, light and gorgeous black biking jacket, worn twice. How can you lose a biking jacket? It wasn’t in the closet, in any of the bike bags, or in the laundry. I tossed everything out of the closet looking for it; I opened all the suitcases in the attic. Did my husband borrow it, or put it away someplace strange? I was sure he had. I, of course, could not have left it someplace and forgotten. Biking up the hill near the house one day I looked right, saw the small building Acadia National Park uses to house tools, and I remembered that hot day six months ago. We had started on a ride, and I was overdressed. “I’ll leave my jacket here, and get it on the way back,” I said. Six months later, memory jogged, I went around the building and there it was still tucked in the corner where I had left it. But oh, that jolting moment when I saw the shed in my side vision and was slammed by the knowledge my jacket was there. I had biked by it dozens of times without it clicking, but then, not quietly but with a loud hurrah, the memory (and the jacket) came back.

After eye surgery I treated myself to some outrageous and probably unflattering sunglasses, and wore them only a few times before they left me. I searched coat pockets, car, asked friends, but they were gone. Periodic random searches subsided, and like the seventh stage of grief I accepted their loss. Sunglass season ended without them, and the winter passed as well. That spring I was clearing the little artificial stream in the yard, scooping up heavy wet leaves, when up came my oversized, round, tortoise-framed sunglasses. How, oh how, I wondered, did they get there? They must have unobtrusively slipped out of a pocket as I was unclogging the filter, or rearranging a rock.

Few things in life give such happiness for so little. There is no planning, you needn’t do anything, go anywhere, make any effort. One moment life is simply moving forward. Then, totally unexpectedly, something lost has decided to come home. It does not just slip back in quietly, but re-enters with a shout, and mouth dropping surprise.

Just wish I didn’t have to lose something first.


If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter has another flight

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, winter will not come again.

The coldest part of winter lies ahead, but each day the light lasts a bit longer. Candlemas falls on February 2, midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and is a celebration of the return of llght. It is the time to get rid of the old and make way for the new.

Several winters ago when we were going to camp for the weekend it happened we would be there on Candlemas Day, a not obscure, but not commercialized holiday. It has always intrigued me, and this was the perfect time to learn more. We made crepes. Candlemas is also Pancake Day, or la Fete de la Chandeleur. Round foods, including crepes, are a Candlemas tradition, as they are symbolic of the sun, source of our lengthening days. We also made a pot of cock-a-leekie soup on the woodstove and invited all the neighbors. We ate by candlelight, perched on chair arms, and crowded on the couch. All glowed with affection, shared food, good spirits, a bit of wine, and so a tradition was begun. We have celebrated Candlemas every year since.

When Candlemas falls on a weekday, we celebrate here in Otter Creek. We could move it to the nearest weekend and continue to celebrate at camp, but Candlemas is a quarter day, and it just does not seem right to celebrate a quarter day plus two, or minus one.

This is a holiday that has mysteriously escaped Hallmark. It has so many marketable, appealing traditions: candles, food, bonfires, and plenty of superstitions and lore. It is another chance to make resolutions, to make a clean sweep of bad habits, to look forward to the coming spring. We burn our old Christmas tree and any decorative greens, light candles throughout the house, and invite people over to eat round food, and toss their own offerings into the bonfire.

Candlemas is the holiday that in America became Ground Hog Day. Before it was Candlemas, it was Imbolc. Its traditions are rooted in prehistory, and carry a strong sense of ritual and connection with our past. From Pagan to Christian to whatever Ground Hog Day is, there is underlying connection between them all. A German saying goes:

If Candlemas brings wind and snow,

Then spring will very soon show.

But if it’s clear and bright,

Then spring won’t come so right

It is not difficult to see the ground hog and his shadow in that.

But Ground Hog Day doesn’t have candles, pancakes or bonfires. Ground Hog Day, Imbolc or Candlemas? Another tough decision. Do I want the speeding ticket, or the car detailing? Here in Otter Creek, Candlemas it will be.

Many traditions associated with Candlemas and Imbolc:


Simple Pleasures: My Sister’s Washcloths

Washcloths are fairly uniform in size and shape, but their qualities beyond that are sometimes overlooked. They can provide an invigorating, sensual ten minutes of eyes-closed, skin-tingling pleasure. Or a dismal, nose-wrinkling moment when picking up a stretched and frayed cloth headed for the trash.

Call them washcloths, facecloths, or flannels, these simple woven or terry-cloth squares have a remarkable diversity. And the choicest, most sublime in texture, symmetrical and intricate in pattern, perfectly balanced between rough and soft, are the hand-crocheted washcloths from my sister. These simple white squares are the epitome of modest perfection.

The linen aisle of any department store has stacks of rainbow-hued washclothes. Some years back they were dark forest green, chocolate brown, deep navy blue, claret and white. Then spa colors reigned. Seafoam, aqua, sage green and white were the colors of choice. Now we are back to chocolate brown, but we call the same color espresso, aqua has become deep turquoise, paired with orange, and, as always, there is white. My sister has gifted me lime green, mango and ivory cloths. But it is a pure white one I select when I want to escape into my leave the world behind personal spa.

I have enjoyed mineral massages and vigorous salt rubs, been wrapped in seaweed, spread with mud, and dozed sleepily in eucalyptus-scented steam. I love the complete abandon of a spa visit. My mind is on hold, and the most effort required is to roll over. Even for that gentle hands are there to help. I will continue to indulge in these self-absorbent delightful treatments when time and budget allows. But a few minutes in a hot shower with my sister’s pure white squares are every bit as satisfying.

What a simple, wonderful pleasure. I stand under steaming hot water, a bar of homemade, not too sudsy soap in hand. It is redolent of pine or grapefruit, or something slightly astringent and not too floral, as is my preference. And I scrub. This wonderful cloth goes between toes and behind ears. It makes my skin tingle, wakes up those surface capillaries. It is invigorating and deeply relaxing at the same time. It is gentle and thorough.

In between scrubs I look at the cloth and marvel. Why does it feel so different from a store bought washcloth? It is the texture? That rough but soft cotton? That contradictory combination of invigorating and soothing? I never felt this until sister Kathy gifted me with two of her washcloths. I think one was white and one green. Color should not affect the feel, and yet it does. I stand under a pounding rain of hot water, in my shower of seafoam colored tiles, and I want the white cloth.

There are no hands to roll me over, knead and massage. I have not had to travel or lay out big bucks. I simply take a perfect white crocheted cloth and step into the shower. Simple. Pleasure. Thank you, Kathy.


Whiteboard white-out

A wonderful winter blizzard brought mounds of white snow to play in and shovel and snowshoe through. Spinning gusts of snow whipped by the wind raced over a field of white, and reminded me of the whiteboard at the showers.

Our modest village of Otter Creek has only a few businesses, but Hot Showers is one of them. It has no other name. It is simply, as the oversized sign in classic 1950’s signboard lettering proclaims, Hot Showers – coin-operated, 24-hours.

A year ago the old tired building was taken apart and the groundwork laid for a new, more efficient one. While there wasn’t anything wrong with the old, it was increasingly difficult to maintain. Constant monitoring and repairs made it a struggle to keep it profitable. The groundwork began in November, we held the grand opening in May.

There were kinks to work out, though remarkably few. But we wanted feedback, a way to be sure there was nothing important overlooked, a way to find out if there were any more kinks we needed to straighten. And so the whiteboard was installed. “Comments? Suggestions?” we rashly asked. And an outpouring began that continued until the showers closed for the season in October. We had expected practical comments, such as “stall seven needs the knob adjusted” “the women’s toilet door sticks” or other useful information. And we were prepared for some disgruntled remarks, in spite of the brand new, clean and green facilities, there always seems to someone who is to be dissatisfied. Instead a communication was started between our customers, and us and from one shower user to another.

We would erase as the board filled, but not without sharing. “Did you see what the couple from Nebraska said?” “A woman from New Hampshire said she took three showers in one day!” While delighted by this we were also perplexed, it seems like a lot. But a morning shower, and then after a swim in the sea, and then perhaps in the evening after a pounding bike ride. We were not really satisfied with this however, and will never know why she took three. “That’s not a shower, that’s a miracle!” wrote Marc from Brisbane, Auckland. “When was the last time 2$ made me so happy?” another asked. We became fascinated, and only realized after several weeks that there had not been one, “Please check the knob” comment.

But now the board is silent for the winter. It is wiped clean and sits waiting, a perfect white field ready for the voices of our customers in 2011. Happy New Year to all, see you in the Spring, but right now we are going to don snowshoes and explore paths through the woods and cross white fields of snow.