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White-tail Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 27, 2014


If you do enough wildlife photography, you know a drop-everything moment when you see one. 

November 15, 2014, 7:53 AM.

Two herds of deer coming together in the slanting sun on the first morning after a heavy hoarfrost qualifies.  The light was ravishing. Something was going to go down, I could feel it.  Even if all they did was stand around like lawn art, it'd still be a great photo op.

I grabbed my camera, threw a jacket on, and eased the deck door open just enough to admit my 

The animals were more than halfway out the long meadow, and I didn't have time to rig up a monopod, so I leaned against the doorframe and steadied the lens on it, too. 

Sure enough, one doe from the first group broke out and approached another from the second group.

It's not hard to read the menace in Doe 1's ear position and stance. She's loaded for bear. 
I wondered if she knew Doe 2 from some other altercation?

Oh, man. Heraldic whitetails. I can't believe what I'm seeing. I really can't believe I'm getting it, either. 

I hate you. I've always hated you. 
I hate you, too.

Speechless. This is happening in my backyard, and if I'd decided to make another cup of tea, I'd have missed it all.

Doe 2 decides to get the hayull out of Dodge. One of the wonderful things about deer is those flexible spines. I'm not at all sure a cow (the only other bovid with which I have much experience) could crouch like this. I guess it's all about speed and leaping ability, and you need a flexible spine for those things.

Getting gone!

Doe 1 doesn't do more than a half-hearted charge. She knows she's bluffed her way to supremacy.
I'm glad no hoof met flesh.

The altercation ends, and the dominant doe and her herd trek slowly down into the west woods. Four minutes have elapsed. It's 7:57 AM. 

There are minutes, and then there are moments. These were golden. 

Red-headed Polar Bear, and Magic in the Air

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We went north from Brunswick, Maine, to visit a piece of land I inherited from an artist friend in the mid '90's. An acre and a half of low-lying Maine coast.
I know. Me, a waterfront landowner? Read on...

I got quite a thrill photographing our spawn on this hallowed ground. We don't get up there much. More, now that Phoebe's our reason to go.

Yes, it's beautiful, and there are ravens and bald eagles flying over it, and it's got an ocean view. It seems now, with rising ocean levels, that it has a little too much of one to be buildable, unless you're very creative, or are into stilts. 

Buffleheads on the yard list, so close you could hit them with a well-thrown oar. Imagine!! But I don't really let myself imagine it, because I don't have the means to make this my yard. I am neither a visionary nor a dreamer. I'm a worker, pragmatic to a fault. I get down and deal with things.

Not sure what to do with it, other than to scratch up the shekels to pay the frankly ridiculous taxes on it every year. Because hey! Like all freelance artist/writers, of course I always have two grand I wouldn't miss just lying around at the end of the year. I pay more in property taxes on this 1.6 acre than we do on 80 acres with a durn fine house in Ohio.

 If there's one thing I've figured out in the last couple of decades, it's that a freelance artist/writer can't  even hope to build a vacation house on a little parcel of waterfront 16 hours away by car. This year, I wrote the tax collector to ask when the appraised value might possibly be brought into line with the actual value, and received no answer.  Tax collectors in coastal Maine probably start the morning fires in their Jotul woodstoves with politely querulous letters like that.

photo by Bill Thompson III

Here I am with the kids on my bit of land in Maine. So beautiful. Achingly so. But damned if I know what to do with it. Visit it every time we visit Phoebe, I guess. That's a start. Wish I could afford to erect a small hovel on it, but local zoning prohibits hovels. Yurts? What about a yurt? Nope, no yurts either.  I know they won't let me put so much as a pup tent on it, because if I put up a pup tent I will eventually need to poop. On my own land. And landowners' association rules won't let me do that, either. One of these days I'm going to sneak up there, dig a little hole, and poop. In the spruce forest, on my own land in Maine. And you'll be the first to know about it when I do. I think I'd just said something to that effect when Bill took this slightly cracked family portrait. Caption contest, anyone?

The last day we were in Maine, it rained. And poured. And poured. And it would all turn to snow by the Sunday morning after Halloween. But we'd be out by then, home, by the hair on our chinny-chin-chins. So that last Saturday, we planned to visit the awesome little Peary-Macmillan Arctic Museum and the equally awesome Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Both of which are hangouts for Phoebe, yay! We looked at a bunch of art depicting the myth of Psyche and Cupid, then watched a mesmerizing animation telling the whole story. It sticks with me to this day. Such are myths--applicable for eternity, because they are rooted in our most primitive centers.

In the Peary-Macmillan Arctic Museum, Inuit art: amongst my favorite in the world. I have a couple of pieces, a weighty soapstone walrus (from the same artist who left me her land!) and a woman's face pendant that I've been wearing since 1983. Also a gift. Riches, in simple stone.

Musk ox of soapstone. Hard to pick up without dropping it, I bet. 

Dancing polar bear. Maybe she's skating on the pack ice.

Snowy owl, saying BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!! I love this piece but don't think I could put it where I'd look at it every day. It's too primal, too upsetting; it speaks to me of a bird laying out everything it has in self-defense, the last thing it does before it either lives on or dies, right there.

Polar bear, not dancing. Eider and puffin, considering their collective fate: standing, quietly collecting dust, atop a sofit for all eternity. No preening, no pooping allowed.

photo by Bill Thompson III

Zick, clowning. Forgot meh toga, and meh laurel, but I got meh digi. 

Call me on meh digi. 
(a billboard we saw years ago in Trinidad and still quote weekly)

Phoebe, made to stop in mid-flounce. She has only to lift her chin a bit to strike me dumb.

In July 2013, we brought Phoebe and Liam to Bowdoin to see the place and meet some people. We had a wonderful student guide named Mark who showed us all the best napping couches and alcoves. It was exactly the kind of thing that spoke to us. We don't need superlatives (though there are plenty to be had, the academics and food being two). We need napping couches and well-lit alcoves, and Mark understood that.

The two things that seemed most important in Phoebe's college selection criteria were architecture and food. A child of my heart: looking to send down roots, seeking quality and beauty in the most basic things. Excellence in both, non-negotiable. 

On that July visit, Phoebe stopped to investigate a restroom in Hubbard Hall, and upon exiting, she was wearing a polar bear mask we'd bought in the Arctic Museum's tiny gift shop. It was her way of telling us she wanted to be a Polar Bear. She'd made up her mind in Hubbard Hall.

 We understood, got her message at that psychic root level. No matter where she was admitted, and there were many colleges that wanted her, it was Bowdoin she wanted.

photo by Bill Thompson III-still has The Eye for the shot. I just copy him.

We re-staged the shot on a rainy Saturday in October 2014, when she had become a Polar Bear. Arctic Museum Ancillary Exhibit: Girl, unmasked, living her dream.

I thought about it all the way home, gazing out the window at pillowed cloud layers. Thankful for the girl we'd left behind (again), for her sweet brother, for the love that had made them both.

 Still amazed and beyond understanding at how we could lift off in a metal tube with engines powerful enough to make it go fast enough to become airborne, how a man in a snappy hat could fly that thing and set us down a little roughly in Boston an hour and a half later, so we could drive a couple more hours and end up in Maine on the same day we left Ohio, with our arms around Phoebe. And then that gaily painted jet would bring us back home again in another magical hour and a half, for far cheaper than we could drive it.

Grateful for the friend who helped us get there, for those cheap, nonstop Southwest flights from Akron to Boston, for the tiny airport where you can walk from your car to the gate if need be. CAK, you will see us often.

Part of me just doesn't understand it all. It's like the way I know there is an afterlife, but I don't quite grasp how it works.

I promised the clouds never to become blase about that. About any of it.

And I never will. Part of me, no--most of me-- will never get over dropping down into the bumpy stratocumulus--
me! up in the sky! flying!
leaving the sun and the pink pillowed sunset

and seeing Canton, Ohio, burning auburn, appear suddenly below. And with that sight, a rush of emotion I can neither explain nor contain, Celtic knots intertwining feelings of joy, loss, anticipation, sadness, and wonder. I know, because this is how it's all going, that this is how it all should go, but I keep hoping there's something more coming, a good, surprising, unexpected next. Because it can't all be just about saying goodbye now, again and again. There has to be a good hello out there somewhere, too.

Moody's Diner

Sunday, November 23, 2014

We spent our time at Bowdoin well, letting Phoebe take us to all her favorite places. It was such fun to follow her as she flounced confidently across the campus like a supermodel. 

We noticed that the food, always excellent (top rated in the country, and don't think THAT didn't play into her decision to attend!!) was probably better for Parents' Weekend.

Bill's brunch on Saturday....

and Phoebe's...

poor little thing is going to starve. That is a SCONE on the fruit plate, in case you were wondering. And pancakes and green beans and hash and quiche and yogurt of many yi yi. I haven't sent another food care package since Parents' Weekend. My college food experience was nothing like this, and that's what I was going on. She does not suffer.

Still and all, we had a car and we wanted to get her out, and food was part of that.

So we headed north, to Waldoboro and beyond!

The Maine coast and skies smiled on us.

Moody's Diner was waiting, just like I remembered it. The framed photos all over the walls are people wearing Moody's Diner T-shirts, all around the world. 

When I Get Hungry, I Get Moody.

I hit the Moody lottery with my order of Maine Lobster Stew. This $12 bowl of chowder with a scrim of lobster-colored butter atop the milk had a tail and two claws in it!!

I know. Just looking at this is torture. Know that I am suffering along with you, typing in a high school cafeteria, waiting for poor Liam to get done with play practice. It's 9:30 PM and there is not a fresh Maine lobster, much less a bowl of lobster stew swimming in lobster-colored butter, within 100 miles of here. 

Not sure how they get their meringue so high, but it was a point of pride with the wait staff that I would photograph this unnaturally large, nay, this supernormal meringue. You can see two of them standing next to me, reflected in the back of the pie case. They insisted on opening the glass door for me. Tee hee hee. Maybe they thought I was some species of food critic/travel writer. Not sure I fit the profile...hmmm. I took the meringue picture after I got the stew, so I don't think they were trying to impress me by tossing extra lobster in it. They just make a fine, fine chowdah at Moody's.

Gawrsh, now I'm digging through my purse hoping to find a Kind bar in there. Nada. Twapped! without food! in a cafeteria!!

10:15 PM. I'm blogging about food, sitting in the high school cafeteria, while waiting for Liam to get out of play practice so I can take him home. Which is another 40 minutes away. This, um, blows. Well, Becky the janitor and I have had a lovely time talking horses, donkeys, veterinary medicine and pedometers. She's walked almost 8 miles tonight, sweeping and running the Zamboni on the floors. Come on, people. We have to be up at 6 tomorrow morning. 
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