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...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Summer Respite in Maine

Harry's first trip to Maine

The end of the summer is always a little melancholy, although I'm not sure why. Weather promises to remain agreeable for another few months, and there's still plenty of time before snow falls. Maybe it's as simple as what fall used to signal, and still does long after such days are past: going back to school. At this point in life, the end of August for me isn't about school, it's about tee shirts and hot afternoons. Yet the feeling that change is just around the corner -- that maybe it's time to order some firewood -- is the same. Soon, it'll be time to hunker down, stay inside, get busy.

Stencil House at Shelburne Museum
This year, as I have in years past, I left town in August to visit friends Gloria and Ed who have a lovely old farmhouse on the coast of Maine, in a tiny place called Machiasport on the eastern-most point of the country. I left on August 12 and, before arriving at my final destination, spent two days in Middlebury, Vermont with pal Mark. Our mission there was to visit the Shelburne Museum
 http://shelburnemuseum.org/visit/about-the-museum/museum-story/, a remarkable repository of 150,000 artifacts established by philanthropist and collector Electra Havemeyer Webb. Mrs. Webb was a pioneer in the collection of folk art and Americana, founding this museum that is made up of 38 individual buildings, 25 of which were purchased and relocated to the museum from around New England and New York, and including the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga. Of special note is one of the buildings, The Stencil House, which we discovered was once in Sherburne...or Columbus...or Sherburne...or Columbus. Even the museum docents weren't sure, and have apparently argued for some time about where in fact the house originated. It was moved to the museum in the mid-1940s because Mrs. Webb learned of its stenciled walls, decorated (we were told) by journeymen stencilers from the 1800s right here in Columbus (or Sherburne). I promised the arguing docents that I would set about discovering where the house was located -- Sherburne or Columbus -- and let them know once and for all (clearly this a job for the folks at Sherburne's Historic Park Society).

View from the back yard of full moon rising over the bay
We arrived in Maine on August 15 and were greeted by shingle houses, blueberries, blue blue skies, bluer water, and lobstah. Lots and lots of lobstah. We relaxed and talked and listened to music in a house with no TV. We went to the local fish fry, and the fabulous blueberry festival. We wandered down to the Machiasport Historical Society's annual lobster luncheon and ate still more of the succulent sea meat, along with corn on the cob and fish stew and blueberry cobbler. Gloria and I sat in the screened-in tent overlooking the ocean and full moon until 3 a.m., and would have stayed longer had a black bear not drifted by, snorting and clacking its teeth. Harry, who remains unaware that he is only 15 pounds, scared the bear off. The bear, however, scared us off. We scrambled into the house dragging a snapping Harry behind, tripping over each other and slamming doors. We're told black bears are more afraid of us than we are of them. I doubt that, considering both Gloria and I came close to losing bladder function in our mad dash to safety.

lobster dinner
Bears and bladders aside, there is something truly special about Maine. It is not unlike central New York in many ways with its green fields speckled with late summer purples and yellows; with its cows grazing and peaked roofs on white houses. Yet there is a difference: a calmness of Downeasters, as the residents there are known, with their unusual Katharine Hepburn accent ("Yes, deah"); a rosy-cheeked honesty from fellows named Fuzzy; the enduring "Ah-yuh" signaling the affirmative from the bearded lobstermen. The seniors there are so senior, not in action but in age: "I'm three months into my 97th year, Deah" says Gloria's cousin Billie, who by looks appears to be in her seventies (if that). Billie's sister is 100 and going strong. The air is fresh with a touch of brine, and sunrise is worth getting up for (or sometimes, worth staying up for if not for bears). Maine is the tranquil land of Stephen King, who so accurately describes her clouds in 'Salem's Lot as moving across the sky, always west to east, white ships with gray keels. Maine gets into your bones, and when you leave there is an ache to return, having to do with an inexplicably nostalgic desire to be in a place of Revolutionary War sea captains and lighthouses warning fishermen away from rocky shores; of old wallpaper and velvet chair arms worn thin by generations of elbows; of family cemeteries, ancient and tiny and heart-wrenching (Little Frankie, carved on a tilting headstone, who died at six); of bald eagles circling fields and musical trees rustling an age-old song; and of people, who grow old with beauty and grace and who seem to understand that quiet simplicity in day-to-day life may be the elusive peace for which we all search.

Next year, I may go back for a month.

PS: I didn't see a moose,
in spite of roadside warnings
I arrived home yesterday to face other music: the seasonal tune. Yes, summer is coming to an end...again. And that's okay. When I have such dear people in my life as Mark and Gloria and Ed with whom to spend the waning days of summer in New England, I count my blessings. Now, with Maine behind me, it's time to order some wood.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

SSIRP Launches Indiegogo Fundraiser

Save The Sherburne Inn Restoration Project's fundraiser on Indiegogo has launched! Please take a few moments to visit the site:


Here you can read our story, see interior shots of the current building, and watch our video about the project. PLEASE SHARE this link with your friends, family, and all other contacts. All the tools you need are there. Get perks, make a contribution, or simply follow updates. The fundraiser will run for 60 days, help us reach our Indiegogo goal!

Indiegogo is a fundraising site seen worldwide.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

“To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of strong men.”

The following op-ed piece appeared in The New York Times on August 3. Dr. Clark hits the nail on the head. We aren't just saving buildings, we're saving culture.


Appalachian Hope and Heartbreak

BIG STONE GAP, Va. — A PERSON just passing through Big Stone Gap may not notice the corner drugstore on Wood Avenue with the fading sign, its windows dark and hollow like so many others in these rural coal towns. But for people who live here in the heart of central Appalachia, the Mutual Drug Cafeteria was a community hub, an extension of the family kitchen. It’s where residents could fill a prescription, pick up an oil lamp or a strawberry huller, find a plastic pirate sword for the school play and get a good cup of coffee with a plate of pork chops, soup beans, pickled beets and blackberry cobbler.
Opinion Twitter Logo.

I learned a lot about people in places like the Mutual, as I was raised by a family who believed that shopping local was as important as going to church.
I found comfort in the store’s dark paneling, the creak in the floor, the aroma of kraut and franks, the first names of everybody from the pharmacist to the cooks. My grandparents drove 30 miles past chain pharmacies to get medicine here. The pharmacist’s daddy was a lifelong neighbor and family friend, after all.
In the store, books by local authors like Adriana Trigiani were displayed beside tiny sculptures made of coal, all stamped with blaze orange price tags.
The Mutual inspired the setting for Ms. Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap novels, where her main character, Ave Maria Mulligan, works as the pharmacist. “It seems like such a small thing, a corner pharmacy with a cafe in a small town,” said Ms. Trigiani, who grew up here. “But the Mutual was everything to me when I was a girl.” She added, “The greater world lived in our corner pharmacy."
The Mutual is steps from Poplar Hill, where Victorian homes of 19th-century coal barons still stand. Many predicted that Big Stone Gap would be the Pittsburgh of the South. And years ago, the Mutual’s neighbors had big-city names, like the New York Cafe and the Monte Vista Hotel. Today, lower coal prices, fewer jobs and chain stores mean the Mutual has joined more haunted, vacant spaces in towns with decreasing populations.
Residents were still lining up for breakfast the week the Mutual closed. But in recent months, talk in the cafe had turned to hard times: a nurse worrying about the layoffs at the local hospital, or a teacher and her aide talking about losing their jobs. Miners, their hardened hands wrapped around coffee cups, were anxious about a changing industry.
I had hoped my children would have memories of the Mutual, that they would have studied the old pictures on the wall and learned about community while eating lunch in those brown booths. Memories aren’t made in superstores with their beeping and bar codes, with their automatic doors and drive-through windows. As the town inches toward homogenization, it loses a little more of its history, language, architecture.
I’ll miss the old display case in front of the pharmacy counter that holds medical relics. Beside those brown glass bottles was a quotation written on a worn notecard: “To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of strong men.”
There is wishful chatter about somebody opening the Mutual again, a cafe in the space where people can come together, where tourists can eat a piece of pie and see the fog rising from the river like spirits against the backdrop of ancient mountains. They could step over to a new tourist center, they dream, where they will get directions to landmarks like our museums and recreational trails.
They might find their way to the used bookstore owned by Wendy Welch and Jack Beck. Ms. Welch’s memoir, “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap,” chronicles how she and Mr. Beck managed to sustain a brick and mortar bookstore in a digital world, and became a ray of hope in a community where decades-old businesses can no longer compete.
They might run into Jack McClanahan, the chairman of the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority of Virginia. His and others’ Spearhead Trails project aims to turn our mountains into year-round recreational attractions.
There is potential in our rural community and those nearby for landmarks to be renovated and reopened, and crumbling buildings replaced with gardens, spaces for farmers’ markets and theaters. If towns want to thrive again, they have to focus on preserving and promoting their signature attractions. Small businesses like the Mutual must be part of that plan to draw people back.
After all, no one ever takes a road trip to see a CVS or McDonald’s.
We must make an agreement to support our small businesses and make the hope of saving our towns a reality.
Amy D. Clarkassociate professor of English and director of the Appalachian Writing Project at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, is co-editor, with Nancy M. Hayward, of “Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity and Community.”

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum