Thursday, April 30, 2009


Toads are amphibious.
They breed and lay eggs in water, but spend the rest of their time on land. Their mating is rough and tumble. They breast stroke across the water surface after each other, jumping onto and shoving each other under. They make an all consuming racket. Each toad sings a trilling song in a different key. There might be thousands of them in one place - a thousand distinct notes, some ending in choked burbling when a singer is pulled under. The period of attraction is short; they only mate for two or three days. Over night, the ponds they occupy go from ear splitting to dead silent. I have a friend who thinks that toads are the ugliest things she’s ever seen. I delight in sending photographs to her because I get such a reaction: “Ugly! UGLY, UGLY, UGLY!” she says. To me, they are wonderful. Granted, they have faces maybe only a mother could love. Yes, they have brown lumps and bumps all over them and dumpy bodies. But, their little hands can clutch onto your finger like a baby, and they have the gold eyes of kings. I do wonder though, when the pond goes silent, where do they all go? Do they forget about each other? Does the love end the day the pond goes quiet?
Over twenty years ago, I gave birth to two children. They are fortunate to each be very attractive people. But, even if they were toads, some other toad would love them and think them worth singing about loudly. Come to think of it, some of the people they’ve each dated, I was sure were toads! The older I get, the more I’m convinced that the adage “there’s somebody for everybody” is true, though my children will never have to worry about finding people to love them. They are brilliant, successful and wonderful. For each of them, there will be someone who will hurl themselves across a pond and grab onto them for dear life. I wanted to hold onto them for dear life myself! They changed my life. Sometimes, I felt like I was drowning in the tasks of feeding them, hair cuts, homework, crying, fevers, T-ball, birthday parties, clean clothes, etc. The din of their growing up was often overwhelming. Then, seemingly suddenly, the pond was quiet. In the mean time, they had changed how I saw the whole world. They had taught me about infinity. They taught me the joy of deep, everlasting commitment. They taught me about love.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I have tendencies toward Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. Most people will tell you jokingly that they do, but I really do. Neuro-chemical disorders fall along a gradient of normal to pathological behavior. So, it’s probable that many people actually do have, let’s call them episodes, of OCD. But having rattling little blips on your own behavioral screen is a very different way to live than suffering from a full blown disorder. I’ve never actually been diagnosed with OCD, but I have been diagnosed with other problems in the same neuro-chemical family. I have an Anxiety Disorder, specifically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD and also Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, known as ADHD. Some of these disorders have fit nicely into my past employment, like being a Registered Nurse. An R.N. with OCD and ADHD is a double shift working dynamo! Of course, sleeping wasn’t part of that program and the lack of it always caught up to me. I have at different times been given cesspools of chemicals to manage the symptoms. Now, I merely consume a small composting toilet’s worth. The drugs usually worked. However, they caused other problems, like falling down, and definitely resulted in side effects. I’ve tailored my life to my ‘problems,’ now, so I don’t have to take so much crap in order to function. The alphabet soup of disorders is remarkably conducive to gardening. There isn’t a weed in any of my gardens, nor those I tend for money. I weed with a single minded vengeance that only a neuro-chemical disorder can compel. I don’t have to think nor worry what anybody else thinks. All I have to do is give in to the drive and the tides of chemicals my brain produces. Then, there’s digital photography. I think that anybody who is a digital photographer by definition has OCD and most likely, ADHD as well. Give me a genuine digital photographer and I’ll give you a bag full of diagnostic labels. Get us together and we talk endlessly about equipment: camera bodies, lenses, electronic storage devices, computers, software, stabilizing hardware, monitor calibration and so on. We all have maddening compulsions to acquire faster cameras, bigger lenses, more stuff. We openly display symptoms of full blown, life altering addiction. Photography workshops have huge vendor display areas - the Addiction Resource Centers, where equipment pimps pander enticing wares. Sales people - the great enablers - hawk goods like crack to street junkies. And, all this goes on out in the open, legally! It was at one of these workshops that I learned that a histogram wasn’t something for allergies but a camera function! And, talk about initials! OCD and ADHD equal Xti, 50D, D300, Mark II D5, CS4, PSE 7 and a host of others. If you don’t think so, ask a photographer. “Photogs” we call them, conjuring squinting Golem-like creatures. We also shorten ‘photograph’ to ‘photog,’ as if the images and the person capturing them are one and the same. Ideally, any photog will tell you that they are. How many photographs do we actually take on a given day? Too many is the answer. Expecting an honest answer to that question is about as rational as when your physician asks you how many drinks you consume in a given day. “Oh, I don’t know: I like a glass of wine with my dinner.” Ya. Right. We may hit that shutter 500 times in an hour like we’ve got an agitated tic! We have developed a technical offset to the shakes, though. We call it Image Stabilization, Vibration Compensation or Vibration Reduction, depending on whose product it is. I personally have acquired so much equipment - stuff I needed, mind you, that it’s become a convenient excuse for my steady weight gain: I have to be fat in order to counter weight my enormous lens. When I have my knapsack of photography equipment in the passenger seat of my car, it continuously sets off the seat belt alarm, as if there’s an unrestrained passenger. The only person without restraint is me! In fact, I just bought a new camera body. I am especially impressed with Canon’s new marketing strategy to woman photogs. My new camera comes with a personalized camera strap! Mine says ‘CANON 50D.’ I was amazed that somehow, Canon figured out from data bases that have merged from my numerous past internet purchases that I actually wear that bra size: 50D. At least it feels like it the way my bra straps cut into my shoulders. Or was that my camera strap cutting into my body?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Update: Phippsburg Four

     I took these photographs yesterday. The fox kits are warier now and harder to photograph. In search of food, they are roaming further from the den and for longer stretches of time. They are becoming more solitary and not spending as much time together in a 'puppy heap.' They look much more like their parents with lots of red in their fur. This is a skeleton of a chicken carcass, I'm guessing. It had been picked clean and was discarded by the den door. A concerned citizen posted this cautionary sign. Since there are fewer than six cars a day on this dirt road, it's amusing!

Friday, April 24, 2009


When I was growing up, my mother did all the cooking and the grocery shopping. My father cooked only when my mother was giving birth to my siblings. When he cooked, he crowed like a rooster at his creations. His proudest achievement in the kitchen was what he called ‘Rack-and-Condoodle.’ Overcooked elbow macaroni was mixed with a can of tomato soup and hot dogs cut up into chunks. Even to my child’s pallet, it was disgusting, but he loved it. He made it every night in my mother’s absence. The hot dogs were the only saving grace for me. Mercifully, there were plenty of hot dogs on the first night. But, each night further from the last day my mother had shopped, the hot dog count dwindled. The culinary raft drifted further and further from the island. For breakfast, it was fried eggs the way he liked them: crunchy rings with a dollop of snot in the middle. Like most families in the fifties and sixties, we belonged to the Clean Plate Club. So, we had to eat all of what was served to us. I couldn’t wait for my mother to come home so I wouldn’t have to choke down those eggs. My mother was an inventive cook and could make a lot of nothing go a long way and tough, cheap cuts of meat quite appetizing. Most of what she cooked, I loved and couldn’t wait for it to hit the table. My father loved her cooking, too. And he could really eat. “Peter! Don’t be such a glutton!” she’d carp. Always struggling with his weight, she was perpetually putting him on diets. He’d whine and mewl around that she was starving him to death. He said he’d faint one of these times. “I’ll drop in a dead faint and hit my head on the pavement! I’ll live! You know I will and I’ll be rendered a simpleton by the blow, but I’ll STILL be fat! You wouldn’t want that, would you!” he’d wail theatrically. “Oh quit bitching; you’re a simpleton already! Go for a walk or something, will you?” she’d shoot back. One day, returning from a grocery shopping expedition, my mother was barely out of the car when calling to my father, “Peter! Peter! I’ve finally got it! I’ve found the thing you can eat until your head blows off! You can eat this by the ton and not gain any weight!” She was genuinely thrilled to have found the magic food item that would keep him quite.
Grocery days were big events for us. Excitedly, we’d all unload the bags and boxes from the car swarming around like wolves. We could smell the meats, cheeses and bread and begin to salivate at the thought of biting into it. Usually, there were a few pieces of juicy, expensive fruit for us to share. My mother would describe fervently what she planned to bake, making us drool. Food may have been the religion in our otherwise irreligious household. While we unpacked the groceries, my father eagerly poked amongst the packages for his promised prize. From the heap, my mother culled two, waxed cardboard quart containers. “Here you go, Peter. Dig in. You can have all you want. I promise you, you won’t gain a pound.” The cold, white cylinders had the distinct look of delicatessen fodder. Potato salad? Macaroni and cheese? What could it be? We gathered around closely to see. The second the lids popped off, the tang of pickling brine hit the air. Usually, my mother had to command that we keep out of food stuffs so she would have what she planned to cook with. Not this. My father peered into the containers, “Sauerkraut?” Yes, sauerkraut, but not just any sauerkraut, she explained. It was fresh sauerkraut from Morse’s. Famous state wide for their product , she had gone all the way to Waldoboro to get it. He could eat all he wanted but not worry about weight or competition from his children. He was suspicious. His mother, who he hadn’t spoken to in years, was a German immigrant. And my own mother was not only good at baking, she excelled at cooking up cruelty. Was this a trap of some kind? But, like a ravenous coyote to a poisoned carcass, my father attacked that sauerkraut consuming both quarts that very day. By nightfall, his moaning and groaning could be heard for blocks. He paced the house, flushed the toilet, fouled the air and complained all night long. Muttering to himself like a crazy man, he could be heard in the yard in the cool, blue air of night. The next morning, he looked haggard, as if he’d been on a drunken bender. He had a yellow cast and smelled bad, but he did look as if he had miraculously lost a lot of weight! For many years, he would tell that story and jokingly say that his dear wife had tried to kill him. My mother maintained that she had served him right. I will always believe that she really did try to kill him with Morse’s sauerkraut.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Near our house, there is a Red fox den with four kits. I'm estimating that they are about 3 weeks old. They are old enough to roam from the den and play at catching grasshoppers and other quarry. They are not terribly shy. I took these photos without getting out of my car. I had to be patient, though.
     I read a book for a while, waiting for them to pop out of the den. The book was an autobiography of a woman with bipolar disorder. I understand a lot about her life; when I see beings like these baby foxes, my heart and mood soar in a very bipolar way.
     I waited for them alone, deep in the spruce woods, which some people would find uncomfortable. It's very still and after awhile, a little spooky. You could have heard the famous pin drop on the lush pads of emerald moss. I was careful not to make noise by inadvertently clunking the camera or leaning on the car horn - something dumb like that. I'm sure that Marlin Perkins never did anything that stupid. After all, the man advertised insurance! I had my camera ready, in case the foxes appeared and I was rewarded. Eventually, the mom showed up. I had heard her rasping bark coming through the woods. Her rust colored fur was beautifully highlighted by the sun. She was quite vocal with the kits issuing a growling purr to them. They barked back at her grubbing around for what ever food she had brought to them. She hacked up globs of stuff she'd brought which they enthusiastically 'wolfed' down. They rolled around on the ground, leaped from rocks into the brush, made mock attacks on one another, and then curled up together and went to sleep on the moss.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


These spring days in April are wonderfully tantalizing. Though there is a bite in the harsh winds left from winter, the sun is delicious. It's strong and warm, like a good yellow mustard that surprises you in a sandwich. Everything is coming alive and gathering strength for the full roar of summer. During the winter, I would look out of the windows and count a day's meager ration of birds, a few chickadees, a couple of nuthatches. A good day might have brought a flurry of Pine siskins, though plentiful, dull in color. Now, suddenly the birds are everywhere! And the colors are astonishing - bright yellow Goldfinches, red Cardinals, even the Blue Jays look bluer. Black and white birds, like these Common Eiders are sharply contrasty in checkerboard feathers. Chasing after one another, they kick up silver splashes of water like fist-fulls of diamonds thrown across the surface. The hens dive and hustle away, sometimes biting back to keep the drakes at bay. I don't know why some of them don't just drown from exhaustion. The whole world has erupted in frenzied colors and displays. "Look! We're here!" shout the flowers and the birds. After a winter of listlessness, I feel full of energy, too. It's very easy to overdo with a rake.When I start cleaning out gardens it seems as if I've got to do it all at once, to make room for the tender little shoots to push toward the sun. Each day, something new comes up. The face of the garden changes as often as every few hours. I don't want to miss a thing because I left it too long to languish in last year's brown debris. David is positively intoxicated with the elixir of longer days, too. He has already painted one side of the house, put in a new kitchen faucet and painted a set of Adirondak chairs. He has a spectacular energy level; it's like living with a chipmunk. He wakes before first light and begins hauling tools out for projects. He'll start to trim with hand clippers, see a bigger shrub that requires the larger Electric Man Pruners, get those out along with five miles of extension cords, tangle them all over the yard, get out a step ladder, then an extension ladder, pull all the rakes out of the shed looking for a spade, leave half a bag of fertilizer on the front steps, and a tarp for leaves to be snatched by the wind. While doing this, he will have put on a ball cap, taken it off and thrown it into a chair, replaced it with a second one and repeated this process until there are six or seven of them scattered around the property. A little 'Wife Game' I play with myself is to count how many of them I put back on the rack every day. A good day is at least six. In a full blown thrash, he's been going at this pace nonstop for two weeks. At sixty three, he does not understand why he is tired already and it's not yet Memorial Day. Today, in response to his dismay at being exhausted, I did something I've never done before; I took away his tools. That had the effect of throwing a bucket of water on a flaming squirrel. Smoldering, he continued to run around, more aimlessly, but with plenty of energy. Now, I'll have to come up with another plan just to keep him from hurting himself. In the mean time, I will watch the antics of the birds, the flowers unfolding, and the skies for possible rain.

"Hey! Beat it! That's my girl!"

"Listen, both of you clowns back off!"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


My back has been killing me. It’s the beginning of the gardening season, so it stands to reason. I'm a gardener. I ‘warm up’ to the jobs I do for other people by getting my own gardens ready for the new year. I go from a winter of hardly moving, to the work of Hercules without so much as a single stretching exercise. Every year that I get older, it’s harder for my body to make this leap, though my mind still does it quite nimbly. My mind must drag my body behind like a great sack filled with rocks. I know this isn’t good for me, and that one day, I’m going to pay with crippling back pain. As it is, I have to have Ibuprofen available most of the time. Vodka seems to help. Plus, I whine a lot. So far, that serves as the Therapeutic Triumvirate. I know I should do stretching exercises, to say the least, but I have an aversion to it.
In 1968, when I was thirteen, yoga swept the United States. Growing up in Maine, I was largely oblivious to trends sweeping the United States, but I did find out about yoga. I had a paperback with step by step instructions for bizarre positions and poses. On the cover, a woman wearing a red leotard was twisted into a surreal pretzel shape. The author, Indra Devi, seemed so exotic! Like most thirteen year old girls, I was fixated on things from far away. I think I had a worse case than average, though. I also desperately needed to impress my father. In those days, my every breath was spent trying to get his attention and approval.
Carefully following Indra’s instructions, I practiced with dogged determination. I believed that if I mastered those poses, everything in my life would change; I pined for the transformation. I concentrated until I was able to sit in the Lotus position for an hour without moving. I could crouch on all fours and place my knees on the backs of my elbows cantilevering my body onto itself. I was so limber that I could almost turn my head three hundred and sixty degrees like an owl. Once I had conquered standing on my head for unlimited lengths of time, I decided it was time to show my father. My mastery was sure to impress him. Calling him to my room to demonstrate, I showed him Indra’s book. While he thumbed through it, I got into position. Without faltering, I raised myself from the floor into a free-standing head stand. I could have stayed that way forever. The room was quiet. I was sure my father was expecting me to waiver and fall, but I didn’t. I was so proud of myself! I could see him upside down when he spoke. “When you can suck a lotus up your ass, I’ll be impressed,” he said as he left the room. I maintained my pose, but I never did yoga again. Over the course of my life, I have spent a great deal of energy in other ways, twisting myself into odd and unnatural shapes while still trying to breathe.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Today, April 5th, is my birthday. Happy birthday to me! Or should I say 'Bird-day' to me? These are some of the gifts I got. I took the Common Atlantic Eiders right here from the pier. They don't look so common to me. They look quite elegant. The eagles were at Winnegance, about 10 miles north of our house. I had just been commenting to my husband that it was an unusual day as I had not taken one photograph, when there they were! And, of course, I had my camera. The little guy on the bottom is a Horned Grebe. He's taking a bath. He was at the end of the pier. He had a girlfriend and I think he was prettying up for her. My friends, Ed and Les, gave me a bottle of really good vodka, Grey Goose.' Seems appropriate, doesn't it? Frank N' Boo made chicken wings and a carrot cake and gave me cool gifts. My friends know me well. I'm lucky to have friends who love me very much. I wonder what my mother is thinking about today.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

You Can't Save Them All

Eleven years ago today, was the last time I talked to my mother. On the phone, her four, simple words cracked the air, “Your sister is dead.” Four decades of anger fueled her proclamation. I had three sisters, but we both knew which one she meant.
     Only sixteen months apart, my sister and I had been like twins when we were younger. Later, we had our differences and I hadn’t spoken with her for a few years. My sister was a drug dealer and occasionally, a prostitute as need arose. She was forty-two when she died. To this day, her cause of death remains undetermined. But most of us who knew her had our suspicions that her life style choices were the reason, if not the cause. Just the same, she was my little sister.
     I have a snap shot of us, the three oldest girls up in an apple tree. Our scrawny legs are dangling from red shorts my mother had sewed. That moment is where I stopped the memories of my sister.
     Stunned and choked up, I asked my mother for details and tried to console her. But she wasn’t having any of that. I asked about Dad. She hung up. I called our only brother and the one sister who I still had contact with. Nobody knew anything. In a matter of hours my mother flew from Georgia to Maine like a witch on a broom. Her grief and rage must have cleaved the very sky. She had my sister cremated, then without word nor ceremony, she left for Georgia. There wasn’t a funeral or memorial service. None of us saw the body and it’s still hard to believe. I never heard from my mother again. I wish I could have helped her. I wish she would have let me. I wish I could have saved my sister.
     My sister liked seals. Once, she gave me photographs she took of a pair from a boat. When I first saw this Harp seal on the beach, I assumed it was dead. When I walked up behind it, it reared up and roared fiercely. Its white fur made me think it was a baby, even though it had a mouth full of dangerous looking teeth. I found out later it was a year old, a juvenile. It scared the hell out of me! I backed off thinking it might come thrashing toward me like I had seen Sea lions do on the Discovery channel. My feet might have been sucked down into the mud; I’d fall backward, vainly fending it off with my huge camera lens, only to be devoured. I would be remembered like Phippsburg’s own Steve Irwin.     
     However, all it did was mew and groan and flap lamely. Occasionally, it roared. Suspecting it was ill, I decided to call Marine Mammal Rescue (MMR, Dept. of Marine Resources), but that meant I had to leave it behind. I hated to leave it; it seemed so pathetic. I wanted to do something for it, give it a blanket or at least, a cigarette, something. In the end, I had to leave it on the mud. The MMR biologists came and took it to a rehabilitation center. You can’t save all of them all of the time, but you can save some of them some of the time. I thought of my sister.