Rainbows and Writing in Bass Harbor

Rainbows are a meteorological and optical phenomenon that can cause the most jaded person to leap from their chair and dash outside, camera in hand. The definition I like most is this simple one: a rainbow occurs when raindrops and sunshine meet in a particular way. This one, over Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine, looks more like a painting. The day had been blustery, with a few squalls and hardly any sun. That bit of magic was a fine surprise; emblematic of our time away.

This trip to the Maine coast was not idyllic in the way we have come to expect. My one-bag packing job that seemed so sensible bit me when Delta sent it to Detroit instead of Bangor. It eventually arrived two days later, but in the meantime I continued to wear the Florida-style white cropped slacks I wore on the plane, plus a black undershirt and soft old flannel shirt courtesy of Buck. Luckily, I had put a pair of socks and jogging shoes into his duffel bag, and so was able to put my sandals aside and keep my feet warm.

There is a point in the life of an old house where it goes from charming to . . . something else. This was the year when the old cottage we’ve stayed in several times before turned a bit, like milk left too long in the fridge. You know that point where it’s not quite sour, and the non-squeamish will go ahead and pour it on their cereal.  (I am not that person). And yet. Had we not gone, would the breakthroughs we experienced have come for either of us?

Something about an old wing chair gives a person cover for their thoughts. I took 100 pages of my manuscript to work on, a copy of Brian Kiteley’s remarkably helpful book, The 3 a.m. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction, along with several outstanding books downloaded to my Kindle to work through, including Jerome Stern’s utterly wonderful Making Shapely Fiction and the vintage The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner. Many people have sat in that dilapidated chair. The place on the arms where people clutch and tense their hands is threadbare, and the seat has been reinforced with a folded bed sheet. I bolstered both height and comfort with a pillow from one of the beds upstairs, and there I sat every morning to watch the big tides rise to cover nearly all the rocks, and ebb away again, exposing everything. I watched the sun rise or the rains come. And I read, studied, wrote, and thought. Buck worked mostly at the table. We broke only for rainbows, to marvel at a young eagle flying right in front of the picture window, or for a half-sandwich or cup of soup at midday, and smoked salmon tidbits with red onion and capers or some such treat in the evening.

I thought I was writing a quick-read, supermarket paperback kind of mind candy book. And maybe that’s what it will grow down to be. But of the two main characters, one has a near pathological fear of commitment and the other a near pathological need to connect and dread of loss. Emerging themes cover the waterfront: Who am I? Who can I trust? Why can’t things be simple? Why can’t good things stay the same? Some things can’t be fixed.

This is beginning to get interesting.


Buck and I saw the older model gun-metal bronze pick-up truck first. It sat between the path to Back Beach and the rocks Maine folk call a beach.  It is a beach, of course, just not the barefoot-friendly confectioner’s sugar I know in Pensacola. Some might call it a beach with character.

The old man wasn’t tall or short. He wore faded dark navy twill long-sleeved coveralls. He stood holding the rim of a barrel, staring inside.

We found a large boulder built for two and sat. We listened to the sussurant surf. We talked quietly.  I watched the old man pick up an armful of kelp. He moved slowly and dropped it in the barrel.  I saw him move from the line of seaweed to the barrel several times. Then he twisted the barrel over to the truck, put his arms around it, slung the barrel upward onto the tailgate, and pushed it into the truck bed beside a second one.

After awhile, our bottoms grew numb and cold from sitting on the round rock. We moved toward the water, picking our way carefully among the rocks, the broken urchins, the lone thick rubber glove, the mussel shells and bits of shattered light bulbs. We watched a great blue heron take up a place by a tidal pool with the stolid gulls and preening cormorants.

Approaching twilight brought no-seeums. We turned back toward the path to the main road and the cottage.

The old man had three plastic crates on the rocks. He filled each one with kelp, then trudged back and forth to the truck and dumped them into the second barrel. Just as we passed, he looked up and spoke. “It’s fertilizer.”

Buck and I stopped, turned back toward the man. The three of us converged at his truck.

“Lots of minerals in seaweed,” I said, admiring the glistening green-gold brimming from the full barrels.

Buck spoke to the man. “You use it for compost?”

“Yes,” the man said, “The soil here is thin, so you have to . . .”

“Amend it.” I thought this sentence, not realizing I had spoken aloud.

He nodded. “Yes. Amend it.”  He took his time with the word, as though it was one he liked, but hadn’t heard for a long time.

A bug landed on the man’s forehead. Buck said, “There’s a mosquito on your forehead,” and reached as if to brush it away.

The man waved it from his face. “That’s the least of my problems, but thank you.” He and Buck were like old dogs greeting one another. “Where are you folks from?”

“Pensacola, Florida,” Buck said.

“I played football once in Tallahassee at Florida State University. It was hot. The humidity made everything wet. We lost.” He almost smiled.

He was on the South Carolina team at Furman University in 1956. I tried to identify the man’s accent, or rather lack of one. He told us he and his wife had come to this “godforsaken island” from North Georgia, up near Chattanooga, Tennessee. They planned to stay for a little while, maybe two years. He smiled this time, a pretty good one that revealed the young man.

“That was forty years ago. We raised all our kids here. It was a good place for kids. Great schools. Safe.”

“That’s no small thing in this world,” I said.

He had a penetrating way of looking at a person. He nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”

We three talked about nearby Flying Mountain and Echo Lake.

Another mosquito landed on the man’s temple. Buck reached out in a gesture full of a sort of masculine tenderness. The man inclined his head. Buck pressed the mosquito against the man’s skin with the palm of his hand and killed it. Buck looked at the smear of the man’s blood on his hand.

“Thank you,” the man said.

“I’m afraid I bloodied your hair,” Buck said, then wiped his hand slowly, almost a pat, on the front shoulder of the man’s worn coveralls. “Blood brothers,” Buck said. They chuckled.

“Yes,” the old man said.

We stood together without speaking for several seconds. The man spoke first. “Well, I guess I’ll finish my work.”

We pivoted to find our way home in the gathering dusk.

August Walk-About in the Longleaf Woods

The honey bee crawled in a circular motion around the ruby heart of this Man-of-the-Earth flower until he emerged, slow, heavy, his pollen baskets full.

It has been so long since I walked the forest fire lines, our woods have forgotten me. Networks of vines, roots, fallen trees and monsoon-like rains have eliminated any trace of footprints I may have left from years of walking from the house into the woods, my two-mile circuit a labyrinthine mantra. Selective forgetting is a good thing.

Standing water from the daily rains has been here so long I believe we could grow rice in this low spot on the fire line road.

I tread lightly at 7:30 this morning. No one, not bird, nor reptile, nor four-legged creature, nor sun-facing green-eye is expecting me to show up on this, one of the steamiest August days in memory.

Bright Balduinas stick their heads up from wind-tossed twigs.

Everything goes about its business like children do before they become awareness of parental observation, and I, too, am free to speak to no one, to poke about, to squish in my sodden, tick trefoil– covered old jogging shoes. When I was a child, we simply called those sticktights by their common name, beggar-lice.

Something has been nibbling on this ‘shroom.

The very woods themselves exuded the earthy scent of fungi. I crept into a copse of young pines to get a better look at a colony of reindeer moss. The mushroom smell there in that damp ground was so naturally strong that it seemed a primordial soup, seeping up from the ground or poured on my hair.

One of my favorite spots is a sandy depression that has become a small hollowed out space with a ledge overhanging it. It is always damp, and surrounded by hat pins, wild bachelor’s buttons, pink sundews and other bog-loving plants. Sometimes it is merely damp. Other times, like today, there is a miniature waterfall. I saw it teeming with tadpoles once, and hope to see that sight again. The sight made me feel incongruously privileged  — I guess, because the fact that I saw those changelings was strictly an accident of timing. I came back the next morning. They were gone.

I walked with a cross-body pouch containing my cell-phone, tissues, sun glasses to trade for my clear ones, two peppermints and my Lady Smith and Wesson 350 magnum pistol. The grass was high in spots, it’s prime rattlesnake season, several coyotes together might decide I looked like breakfast, and one is never wise to blindly tip-toe through the wildflowers, discounting the possibility of  a two-legged wandering opportunist (a rare, but potentially lethal creature).

The great news I got yesterday from a sports medicine doc who diagnosed a partially torn rotator cuff in one shoulder and a bruised and angry one in the other, then injected cortisone and sent me off with a prescription for physical therapy, lightened my step. Maybe that doesn’t sound like such fine news, but when the alternative diagnosis was degenerative osteoarthritis of the shoulder, I came away a relieved and happy woman, ready to do the necessary to re-hab my wings.  We’ve rejoined our local health club starting October 1, which coincides with our homecoming from a return visit to the Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. The club has yoga classes now, in addition to the usual machines, weights and other classes. I have this dream of being lithe at 98. A yoga practice is a seed I intend to sprout and grow.

I returned to the house, sweaty and content. Buck was gearing up for the day. Granddaughter Andie was snoozing upstairs. I shucked my wet clothes, donned an old, seldom-used bathing suit, and plunged into the rain-cold water.

Sunday Morning Musings

The adolescent-looking doe and her spotted baby fawn stood at the edge of the gravel road to the house just at dusk yesterday.  They watched as I opened the gate, drove in, then got out to close the gate behind me.  By the time I reached for my camera across the seat, they had melted into the woods.

Lovely sight. It's that time of year here, when  fawns are dropping, huge banana spiders hang in their substantial webs across the fireline roads, and amethyst asters mix with spiky goldenrod and the startlingly purple American Beauty Berries (French mulberries).

We have only been home since Tuesday night and will be gone again Wednesday morning. We'll be near Jasper, Georgia in a house atop Sanderlin Mountain for a few nights, and then continue to Waynesville, North Carolina to visit with our old friends in Rice Cove (the Beaverdam Community in Canton), hike the Smoky Mountains and osmose some of that high mountain inspiration.

I awoke this morning to the news that Bernard, Maine, where Buck and I were hiking exactly one week ago, is under a tropical storm watch (of all things).  Hurricane Kyle is expected to move into the Gulf of Maine today. 

In case you have the good fortune to visit the Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine, there is a book I highly recommend:

IMG_1557It was written by Tom St. Germain and published by Parkman Publications in Bar Harbor, Maine.

It's the best hiking guide I have used. We have handwritten notes in it going back to 1993.

Just as we were leaving the rental house in Bernard on Bass Harbor, one of the owners, Tom, arrived with two of his pups. Tom is originally from California, but has been in Maine long enough to be considered a local. He is a retired high school teacher, a kayaker, surfer, distance hiker and a writer.

His love for the Maine woods and waters shines through his words and gestures. He and his wife, Leslie, have a great place here, even without the fabulous view.


IMG_1577  Bass Harbor from the retreat 

Well, we've washed our hiking shorts, tshirts and socks, and are ready to hit the road again on Wednesday!  Words and pictures to follow. . . .hope you all have a great week, too.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

I awoke this morning at five, lying on my back in bed, hands clasped tightly under my chin like some anxious child in prayer.

I heard Buck's breathing; a gentle percussive sound on inhalation; the hint of tender endearments in each exhalation.

My hands relaxed.

For half an hour, I listened, remembered the night's rich tapestry of dreams, and then awoke fully with the fresh cold water of an epiphany. Feet on the floor, I slipped from the room, smiling.

Life Is Like. . . A Path In The Woods


Great Long Pond on Mount Desert Island in Maine is a water source for the local community. On one side is Beech Mountain. We climbed to the old fire tower there on Saturday, then returned on Sunday to hike two miles of shoreline on (what you see as) the left side and then turned upward and inland toward Bernard Mountain and Little Notch.

Buck and I are packing for the trip home tomorrow, so there's only time for a few photos and word snips from Sunday's hike. It was something else.

It's called the Western Mountains hike. It begins at the Long Pond pumphouse and continues for two miles of the most spectacular shoreside scenery one could imagine. Buck observed that one reason this part of the trail is so dangerous is because the sheer gorgeousness of the lake draws the eye to it and away from the sharp rocks at ground level ready to trip you up.


We stopped for lunch at a huge outcropping of granite hanging over Long Pond.  Later, when the trail turned sharply upward toward the notch between Mansell Mountain and Bernard Mountain, the trail deteriorated dramatically. When we weren't balancing on rocks and avoiding the black muck in the path, (which looked like it would be a running stream during wet season), we were duck-walking over a complex latticework of heavy tree roots.

IMG_1541  This is the path.


 IMG_1544 And this is the path. 

IMG_1546 And so is this.

The sharp, clean aroma of spruce was exhilarating.

Evidence of storms was clear in some places, where large falling trees took smaller ones with them, coming to rest in a pile of wood, foliage and cascading boulders.

Each difficult portion of the trail was followed by a smooth, chartreuse pathway of moss, ferns and comic red toadstools.

IMG_1536  And then, suddenly around the next bend there would be a wicked witch's idea of fun, as though the trees had been hurled into the air and slammed back down again all helter-skelter like a giant's package of all-brown pick-up sticks.

This is life, I thought. Again and again, this is life. Get ready. Stay ready. Buckle up and hunker down. Don't be deluded.

With each new footfall safely placed, I thought: Yes. There is satisfaction and pleasure in the solving of this small problem. Maybe we will make it home for supper, after all.


Notes from Mary Beth’s Kitchen (in Maine)

It wouldn't be a complete trip to Maine for Buck and me without a lobster dinner and a roast chicken. We had a few leftover morsels of lobster and enjoyed them another night as an accompaniment to scrambled eggs! It was great. The roast chicken made dinner one night, then sandwiches the next day, and then supper one more time — a generous bird.

IMG_1553  IMG_1419 

Feet Have A Memory

The last time I fell down a mountain was July 4, 2001. Buck and I had taken son Richard, daughter-in-law Sharon, and their two youngest daughters, Ariel and April, to the Shining Rock Wilderness in Crusoe, North Carolina for a day hike.

I had already lost my tree-branch hiking stick in a scramble up a granite rock pile. It was an in-and-back trail that day, not a loop, about ten miles altogether. We had just begun the return when it happened. The path was very rocky, root-woven and wet in places. April is a champion soccer goalie now, and her sister, Ariel, is a first year architecture student, but on that day in the woods seven years ago, danger was on my mind. I guess that's why I took it upon myself to be "hiking coach" to April, who was walking right behind me in our single file convoy.

Pretty funny. Here was my advice: It's dangerous out here. Watch where you put your feet. Take your time. Focus. Be careful. The rocks are slippery. Don't take your eyes off the trail unless you have come to a complete stop. And, oh yes, don't be running your mouth talking instead of paying attention to your. . . . . BAM!!

BAM!! Yep. That's the sound a know-it-all who didn't follow her own advice makes when she trips, slips and falls face first into a pile of sharp rocks. "Granddad!!" (That was April to the rescue.)

The older girl, Ariel, led us down the trail into the by-then dark parking area. Those last four miles were tough; me bleeding and limping; Buck holding onto me; and the rest of our group highly vigilant and upset.

The next day brought a doctor visit and a tetanus shot. We decided against xrays for possible broken ribs, because bruised or broken, the treatment was the same. My doc pointed out how lucky I had been — no punctured lung, and no other broken bones. One wrist was very swollen, shins a genuine mess and my face had clearly had an encounter with a gravel bed. I spent the next couple of months trying not to breathe hard, laugh or God forbid, sneeze.

Feet remember. Bones and muscle have a memory. It has served me well on mountain hikes since that day in 2001. Yesterday, for example.  Focus and foot placement were tools; a transcendent experience the result.


My true guide 


Buck is not only my True North, but my teacher and my guide. (More photos and a description of yesterday's hike up to the Beech Mountain fire tower later!)

Sunrise Over Bass Harbor

Foggy sunrise at Bass Harbor

There are no curtains or shades over the windows in the bedroom downstairs. Lovely in theory. The king-sized bed nearly fills the room. It is surrounded by a floor border of polished wood. Bookshelves line the space underneath the bank of windows, which face directly onto the working harbor. 

The lobstermen begin to leave their precise moorings at 4:30 each morning, local time, the distinctive diesel rumble unmistakable through the four inch space in a raised window.

After the first night in the cottage, Buck and I sought retreat from this early morning splendor in the smaller, child's bedroom upstairs. It has a solid wall on the easterly side. We found a way to block light from the room's two windows, and piled pillows on the twin beds like children playing at building a fort.

This morning, I opened that upstairs bedroom door, stretching like a contented old cat and rubbing sleep from my eyes, grateful that my body was singing rather than complaining from yesterday's mountain hike. I stepped into the other upstairs room. It's set up as an office for the architect/owner. I literally gasped at the sight of the sunrise burning off fog in the harbor, and almost cried at the beauty. Even now, listening, I hear gulls, low murmur of engines (and the change in tone as gears shift), one man's voice and his companion's answer. Sunlight is on my fingers as I type, on my coffee mug which is white and adorned with gold moons and stars, and even on the mostly gone chunk of pumpkin chocolate-chip bread I bought at Gott's Store yesterday.

Bass Harbor early morning

Dream Glasses

About an hour ago, I walked out the door of our cottage and up the road to Portside Books. On the way, I stopped by an antique shop called The Little Red Schoolhouse, owned by a very nice person named Michelle Marks.IMG_1452It was stuffed to the gills with all sorts of interesting bits: glass frogs (the old-fashioned kind used for flower arranging – I don't know why they are called frogs); a miniature carved box with tiny lions' heads on the corners, all sorts of old-fashioned kitchen implements, including decorative molds from Germany, a small rectangular diary written by a man in the 1800s that I almost bought just because I liked the feel of it and the idea that someday some bit of mind lint that I scribbled on a notebook might end up in a little red schoolhouse type store and someone might pick it up, take it home and treasure it for some mysterious inexplicable reason.

On my way out, I felt the six wine glasses calling to me. I turned back, saw them, and could hear the soft intake of my own breath. I have seen these glasses before. They have a stem with a slender gold band around the bottom, and a graceful body like an upside down hoop skirt. Faint vertical marks suggested whalebone. Another slim gold band encircles the tops.

These six glasses have appeared in my dreams. Who knows why?

Michelle is going to mail them to me.