Tuesday, February 23, 2010


                                                          Everybody should have at least one party trick. Mine is to show people that lobsters have teeth. I don’t often get to show off my trick. After all, how often does a person eat lobsters with people to whom this has not already been demonstrated?
      One summer, we were invited to dinner with friends who had family visiting them. Our friends served lobster. Ordinarily, I don’t like eating lobster with strangers because I like to splash around in it. Pulling and cracking apart a ‘bug’ is messy business. Juice, bits of meat and shell invariably fly all over the place. Additionally, I like to suck the hot broth from the claws which even by most lobster consumers' standards is gauche. I pick the body apart scavenging every morsel which is also vulgar and at the least, tedious for the other diners. Julia Roberts, in the scene from Pretty Woman when she flings an escargot across the room, has nothing on me. 
     But, this was a special event, so I just had to be on my best behavior, even if that meant not savoring every crumb. As if this wasn’t enough of a sacrifice for me to make, God was clearly punishing me. I was seated between a stone-deaf aunt and a sullen, twelve-year-old boy. I was polite to the aged aunt, but I admit I gave up quickly. I asked the boy if he had eaten lobster before. Not bothering to look at me, he mumbled, “Yup. Twelve times.” I should have recognized this cue to shut up, but I didn’t. I asked the ill-mannered sulker if he knew they had teeth. “Nope.” He continued working at his Homerus americanus. I could see plainly he did not know what he was doing, either. I was smart enough to leave that alone; a twelve-year-old boy’s ego is not a thing to mess with. He tossed an entire tail into the discard bucket. Like an idiot, I asked, “Do you want to see where the teeth are?” “Nope.” NO? No one, not man nor beast, has ever said no to that question. Not ever.
      I suddenly realized that I was seated next to the Anti-Christ! What kind of twelve-year-old male child isn’t interested in that? A cat-killing, ax-murderer of tomorrow, a creature with no interest nor regard for any other living thing, that’s who! I know my assessment sounds harsh, even preposterous in the context of tearing apart lobster, but he was raised by parents, not wolves. And, they were therapists. It was my father who taught me love for the natural world. He taught me about lobsters’ habits and their teeth. Even he had a party trick and was gracious enough to pass it on to his children. I can only hope that the child was momentarily channeling the essential being of his lobster dinner. Lobsters are after all, cold carnivorous beings that will eat their own children.
     So, I know you’re dying to know: where are the teeth? Split the stomach apart and therein are three hard teeth. The detail is usually missed, as the stomach is not edible.

My brother-in-law, an ardent Catholic, says there's a Madonna in the guts. To me, that’s a stretch.  Perhaps I don't have enough faith.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            This lobster had eaten lobster itself shortly before capture; you can see the shell pieces.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Thing So Beautiful - Mute Swans

I have to confess that my whole notion of New Jersey has been the opening scenes of the Sopranos. The words "New Jersey" have conjured the worst  stereotypes of guys named Guido and gum cracking dames with whiny voices and bad red hair. Both of these cartoon characters wear gobs of hideous, big, cheap jewelry. So far, I haven't met these people, though they may be lurking in any of the multitude of shopping malls around here. Until yesterday, it had seemed like New Jersey was endless parking lots, malls, concrete and cars. Though I had not met up with any hit men or hookers, New Jersey wasn't redeeming itself to me. But yesterday, David and I went south along the Garden State Parkway to Oceanville to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Brigantine Division). There, I saw one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, these Mute Swans. Birders refer to this Atlantic County wildlife refuge as  simply "Brigantine," though it's not actually in the town of Brigantine. It is an amazingly beautiful expanse of some 40,000 acres of southern coastal salt marsh which are visited by 275 species of birds, some of them rare like the piping plover. Compared to Maine in winter, and the concrete jungle we had  been visiting to the north, the place was alive with birds. The stands of reeds and rushes were pulsing with the calls of Red-winged  blackbirds, Meadowlarks, mallards and honking geese. The sun was shining and it felt for all the world like spring. That alone would have  been exhilarating. There was not a soul there but us, either. We stopped several times just to kiss each other and exclaim about the birds. We came around a corner on a trail and there, in a meager slip of open water were these swans. I could not get enough of them and took an embarrassing number of photographs. Mute swans are native to Europe, not the Americas. They were introduced here to beautify parks and estates. Some of them escaped and have successfully established breeding colonies. They have become a problem as they are very aggressive and compete with the naturally occurring birds. They are big, too, bigger than the Canada geese which are in the millions in New Jersey and are also a problem. Nonetheless, we brought the swans here because we are in love with them. They are the epitome of grace, beauty and romance. When David and I first saw these, in fact, we just sucked in our breath in awe. Maybe it was because we saw them in the wild or maybe because we had been so starved for anything seemingly natural. It's too bad that they are actually a big, bullying bird, an ornithological wise-guy mobster that will stomp on native ducks then take their lunch money.


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Monday, February 15, 2010

"Get On The Bus, Gus!"

David and I are in Tom's River, New Jersey right now visiting family. There is tons of snow here, much more than at home. When we left home, our yard was down to lawn, but here, there is about 2 feet of the white stuff on the ground. Three more inches are expected tonight. That will close the schools and businesses for days. My calculations are that for every inch of snow, there is a closure day. The polite thing to say is that they don't specialize in snow removal down here. They seem to be just waiting for it to magically disappear. Walkways are sheer ice and David took a nasty, flat on his back fall at the hotel entrance. He did a back flip, double gainer with a triple rotation that rivaled anything I've seen going on at the Olympics so far. What snow has been plowed has been left as mountains blocking views of all the intersections where a driver is obliged to simply pull out blindly into oncoming traffic and hope for the best. It's exhausting just trying to drive here. There is traffic galore and "jug handles" to negotiate because you can't make a left hand turn anywhere. A jug handle is someone's idea of traffic engineering brilliance where to turn left, you must get into the right hand lane and go around a loop to face the intersection and go through where you would like to have simply turned left. This is a lot to get my head around at 75mph in four lanes with a busted thumb. We've been to a wedding (which was also the bride's birthday), a family dinner with fourteen of us including two babies, a post wedding brunch with the whole wedding crew and guests on Valentine's day, where we also celebrated a loved one's 70th birthday. Somehow, at the raucous wedding reception where we danced wildly all night, I managed to break my right thumb, or at least sprain it terribly. Half of that hand is black and swollen. This is the kind of thing that happens when one of my advancing age tries to keep up with the twenty something bunch and abuses my chubby little temple. Now, I'm going to go punish myself on the hotel treadmill. We are going to try for some birding and photography, but the snow may not allow for that. Wish us luck. We'll be coming home to the Land Of Milk And Honey on Wednesday, back where the wind don't blow so strange. 

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Saturday, February 6, 2010


A British researcher has come up with a mathematical formula for calculating what will be the most depressing day of the year. This year, it was January 24th. His formula is as follows:
[W + (D-d)] x TQ M x NA
These are the seven variables of the equation: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (NA) the need to take action.
Though the days technically start getting longer after December 21st, lousy weather patterns set in resulting in dark, cold days. About six days into the new year, people have already broken their New Year's resolutions to eat and drink less and quit smoking; the reality of debt incurred from holiday spending is kicking in and any yuks and feel goods from Christmas have evaporated. Statistics from internet search engine companies reveal that the most 'googled' word is depression. And so, I have taken it upon myself to do something about this. For the sake of all mankind, I have created a cabin fever reliever video. Well, no, not really. I created a video that I think will lift the lowest spirits of the depressed and downtrodden, but I didn't do it for mankind. I'm sure that surprises you to no end. I was asked to speak at the opening event of Brunswick, Maine's Longfellow Days. The program, a benefit for The Village Improvement Association was called Gardens Galore. The gala shindig was held at The Frontier in Brunswick, a wonderful venue for sharing food, art, music and film. I gave a short speech and then played the video. Click on the sunflower and you can see the show. There is a full screen option on the Picasa site that this link leads you to and remember, give it a minute to buffer. Kick back with a comforting beverage and have your volume up. I hope you enjoy it. Below the video is my speech and my poem, 'Promise.'
From Videos  

"How's February working out for everybody? Are you loving it? February is a tough month. It's not spring yet, but it sure shouldn't be winter any more!
The Village Improvement Association has put together a lovely program tonight that should knock the winter right out of you. At the very least, maybe it will talk you out of moving to Florida until next week.
When I was asked to speak tonight, a coincidence occurred to me. Today is my father's birthday and it's also my father-in-law's birthday. So, the next time you're kickin' February to the curb, keep in mind that it could be worse. You could be giving birth!
I'm Robin Robinson. I'm a gardener, a photographer and a writer. My gardens are on the south end of Phippsburg on the east side of Westpoint. And if you can figure that out, you're Daniel Boone!
I also garden for other people in Phippsburg, Bath and Brunswick. Most of what I do is garden maintenance. It's a program I call Weeding For Dollars. I love to weed! It's how I make my obsessive compulsive disorder work for me.
I've been gardening for thirty years and I come from a long line of gardeners. I learned my love of gardening and flowers from my German grandmother. She was one of the original members of The Village Improvement Association. The hawthorn trees on Maine and Federal Streets were one of her projects. She knew them to be tough, city trees from growing up in Munich. She grew up tagging long with her father, my great-grandfather while he conducted his duties as the last head gardener to the last king of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm.
My grandmother is about to celebrate her 100th birthday in March. She used to complain that she didn't like planting the center aisles on Maine Street in Brunswick because she thought it was indecent to have her fanny in the air all day with Alfred Senter.
I don't mind having my fanny in the air at all and will spend all day like that through the summer.
I am a compulsive plant collector. I can always find room to jam in one more plant. When I acquire something new, my husband doesn't bother to ask me anymore, "Where are you going to put it?"
Besides my family heritage, the keys to my gardening success have been my perseverance, general disregard of all the rules, and I have grown everything at least once and killed everything at least twice.
I am also a photographer. I took up photography because karaoke just wasn't working for me anymore. At least that's what my friends all said. I love photography as much as gardening. I photograph anything and everything. I tell people I'll photograph anything that can't outrun me, but I especially love wildlife and flower subjects. I live on the ocean and have a greenhouse. The greenhouse is part of what gets me through February! That, combined with my gardens and those of my customer's gives me virtually endless photography subjects. I've accumulated a photography catalog of over 100,000 images.
I'm pretty sure that fact combined with my compulsive plant collecting makes me technically a hoarder.
I'm a writer. I have a blog or website where I am able to combine all of my hobbies or some would say obsessions. The blog is a compilation of my photographs and essays mostly about the natural world, but sometimes about people. I have found the internet to be the perfect place to share all of the things I love to do with the world. There is a handout available with the web site address.
Because I have a degree in poetry and I also hoard books, in my personal library I was able to immediately lay my hands on works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I have an anthology of poetry called The Household Book Of Poetry. It was printed in 1878 when Longfellow was still alive. The book was intended to make poetry about many subjects accessible to families and children. It has lots of authors, but of particular note to me was that there were twelve works by William Shakespeare and eighteen works by Longfellow. Longfellow was a prolific writer and an eclectic guy. He wrote about diverse subjects from kings in Sicily to seaweed, but he especially loved the natural world. I'm pretty sure that if Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alive today, he would have a blog!
I've put together a video for you for tonight. It contains a partial poem of Longfellow's and a poem of my own. The photographs are all taken in my garden or from my gardens. I think you'll see that I love the wildlife that lives within the gardens as much as the flowers. There is music to accompany the photographs, all 100,000 of them! Just kidding; the video is only thirteen minutes.
After the video, I'll take questions if there are any. And thank you all for coming tonight."
Robin Robinson

In the dark days of December,
When winter has ground me down
From across the room I look at you,
And I remember
Every year there is a June.
Spend your life with me,
You asked
While all the lilacs flashed
The rhododendrons passed off
To the roses
And the lupines bloomed,
Pink, purple, blue.
You spilled your words,
Like singing birds
And surely as a season's progress
I said yes, I do.
When the moon's cold in December,
And the frost holds hard to snow,
From across the room I'll look at you,
And I will remember
Every year, there is a June.