Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Like a little child all prepped for a blizzard, I hunkered down Monday, prepared in every way for Hurricane Sandy. But despite some 15-mile-an-hour gusts of wind, nothing much happened until after sunset.

Then the wind picked up and gusts hit perhaps 30 m.p.h., not enough to cause concern. By bedtime, it blew in earnest, but still not yet enough to create alarm. And like the little child waiting for that big snowstorm that would cause school cancellation the next day, I harbored something akin to hopeful anticipation for hurricane winds and torrential rains.

Don’t get me wrong…I was hoping and praying that the worst of Sandy would bypass Mid-Coast Maine and my prayers were answered. But still, that feeling of unfilled expectation lingered. Just admitting this helps to get a certain feeling of guilt off my chest. And now I think I have a slight inkling of the thing that possesses extreme athletes to risk life and limb, that pushes race car drivers to the fullest measure and that causes people to do any number of otherwise irrational and probably stupid things.

Looking danger in the face and coming out the other side unscathed does something for the psyche. It probably even provokes beneficial chemical changes in our bodies. So when we go to bed thinking that the biggest storm in 200 years is about to swoop down upon us only to wake up to complete serenity, something in our innermost beings looks out at the world and says, simply, “humph.” 

At noontime Tuesday, the day after “Frankenstorm,” the sun broke through the overcast and shone upon my little cabin in Waldo, Maine. Dragonflies swooped about, darting here and there, picking some unidentified insects from the air. The rain from the previous night, what there was of it, had obviously benefited my Swiss chard, since it stood thick and green.

Meanwhile, I must now pour out all that water I had stored up in a dozen different containers. And the oil lamps will go back into storage, as will candles and lanterns.

Am I pleased and grateful that we were spared the big hit? Absolutely. But somewhere deep down, that little child begrudges having to get up and go to school.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Scarcity Of Beech Nuts

This past season was a busy one for me and unfortunately, my travels precluded my making regular posts to this blog. But things have slowed down to a more manageable pace.

So here we are in late October and temperatures remain on the mild side. In fact, we here in Waldo, Maine, saw only two frosts so far this season. And wouldn’t you know it, these were severe freezes and although few in number, sufficed to kill most of my garden vegetables.

The hardy survivors, parsnips and Swiss chard, can stand up to most anything nature throws at them. Parsnips, I leave in the ground until spring. The prolonged freezing makes them much sweeter. Besides that, it’s reassuring to know that as soon as the ground thaws in my garden, I’ll have some delicious fresh vegetables.

The chard I just keep using, although eating chard every day does lead to me becoming rather tired of it. But it’s green and it’s fresh, two big points in its favor.

One of the things that took my time this past summer and fall involved taking photos of Maine’s nuts and berries for a new book I just completed. At the beginning of this project, it never occurred to me just how difficult it can be to find nuts and berries at just the right stage of ripeness for photographing. I soon learned that I had undertaken a daunting task.

For instance, since we have so few wild nut trees available, beech nuts were one of the biggies in my book. But despite me searching Knox, Waldo, Penobscot and Somerset Counties, I could not find one beechnut. My salvation came when on hands and knees on my own woodlot, I found an intact beech nut from last year, one that the squirrels and chipmunks had somehow missed.

Juneberries, or serviceberries, were another tough subject. What few I found had some kind of blight and were wrinkled like little prunes. I shot photos of the best of the best, but it was difficult to get a keeper shot.

And barberries, those thorny, often invasive shrubs with the little red, oblong berries that dangle from the branches, proved evasive. I finally recalled seeing some on the (wouldn’t you know it) opposite end of Sears Island. It took three trips to this location to finally find the berries in their red-ripe stage. It seems that barberries don’t ripen until quite late in the year.

By the way, the berries are useful in jellies. Wear gloves if you go to gather some, though, since the thorns are quite sharp.

But finally my picture-taking came to an end and I sent my photos in, along with the completed manuscript. The book probably won’t come out until some time next year at the earliest. I find that these bigger publishing houses have something like a governmental bureaucracy. They have the copy editor, the proofreader, the project editor, the assistant editor and the associate editor and every one has a shot at messing with a new manuscript. It’s tough dealing with these people, since most of them know little, if anything, about the topic at hand. In fact, I had to wrestle with someone who kept changing correct grammar to bad grammar. Even worse, one bright light changed botanical names from what I had, the correct usage, to outdated and otherwise wrong usage. Frustrating beyond belief, it was. 

Far better, it seems to me, to deal with a smaller publisher and work hand-in-hand with that person. That’s just a suggestion to any would-be book authors out there. Of course the topic has much to do with the difficulty of dealing with publishers. Guidebooks are terribly structured and the editors are professional nit-pickers. Books on other subjects are far easier to deal with. In fact, the biggest names in publishing are the easiest of all to work with, or so I'm told. The trouble there is getting them to go with your project in the first place.

But enough of my trials and tribulations with the publishing world. I’ll soon be posting blogs on what I hope will be an array of interesting topics. Until then, happy fall.