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A Taste of Massachusetts

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Self-promotion is a fact of life for authors. Unless you're Stephen King, nobody's going to plan and underwrite a book tour for you. If you want a book tour, you plan it, you book the speaking engagements, negotiate the terms; you purchase and haul the books, pay for the hotels. I happen to enjoy traveling to speak, but it's not just a merry jaunt. A lot more goes into it than just showing up signing books, and accruing fame.

Because I believe that life should, if at all possible, include beauty and fun at every turn, I've learned to budget in time to visit friends and family, see some beautiful places, and that has been richly rewarding. It makes me want to do these speaking tours. It's the carrot I reach for. 

My longtime friend Alan Poole, for whom I did over 200 drawings when he was Editor of The Birds of North America: Life Histories for the 21st Century, has been inviting me to come see him in So. Dartmouth, Massachusetts for years. I finally took him up on it when I was in Massachusetts in December. I wanted to see where he lives, what it was about that place that clearly has a hold on him for good. It didn't take long to figure it out.

Here's his new house. It's small but mighty beautiful, lit clear through with windows, furnished simply and tastefully--a house to die for. Walking into it, I felt as I sometimes do when looking at a Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware catalogue. I know I, with my endless crap and clutter and art gear, could never live this tastefully or simply, but oh I'd love to. 

 And he's got these amazing garden beds. This is early December in Massachusetts, and Alan's still harvesting all kinds of delicious salad greens and the most exquisitely sweet, brittle carrots I have ever tasted. Who knew that South Dartmouth has a microclimate like North Carolina? The Gulf Stream comes up and warms this magical corner of Massachusetts' coast. And there are truck gardens all over the place, taking advantage of this secret boon. Amazing.

The giant pinnate leaf is cardoon, eaten like fennel. There was spinach and mache and mesclun, sprinkled with fresh salads in December!

Heaven can wait if I can have these carrots, right out of the Massachusetts soil. 

Alan, cooking local bay scallops for us in his kitchen. 

His neighbor and culinary muse, Eva Sommaripa, well known among Boston area restrauteurs for her business, Eva's Garden, supplying them with incredible microgreens and herbs. Eva's a dear friend of Alan's and purveyor of such amazing and intensely delicious local food. I was humbled and star-struck to meet her. And I loved her outfit, perfectly suited to the New England climate. Layers!

Alan took my friend Erin and me to the beach just down the road from his home. 

He said, "This is my loon lookout." We climbed the dune and as we popped over the top, a common loon yodeled mournfully. If you click, you'll see him!

I couldn't even believe the sky.

Crab tracks.

Alan bent to pick up a handful of slipper shells. 

"Crepidula fornicata! "

I thought fast. Hmm. Crepidula would imply a crackling sound, crepitation, and -ula means small. Fornicata, well, hmm. I chuckled and gave up. Tell me!

"So a bunch of these guys pile on each other, and the one on the bottom changes its sex in response!" 

Well alrighty then! I was sasified.

That beach kept revealing its treasures, like the micro-leopard prints on a lady crab's shell. The closer we looked, the more wonderful it got.

And then standing up, the expanse and the junipers, the water on either side of the spit we were was all too beautiful, even under a heavy December sky.

I love those winter days when you can't even tell what time it is. It could be morning, late's as if the sun itself forgets where it is.

This glimpse of a person living fully and well, in perfect harmony with the local climate, foodstuffs, people and landscape, was deeply moving and inspiring to me. In the end, it's love of place that speaks to me most of all. People who truly love where they live are the people I want to hang  with. That passion runs deep, and it's passion, after all, that I respond to. Well, that and beauty. For what else is there?


Mmm, to have that beach access so close! I would go daily.

Also, thanks for the flashback to invert class in college!

I'm flying from Austin to Providence this Tuesday to get my fix of RI and Bristol counties RI & MA!! Will pm in case connecting in Cambridge or RI might be possible:-)

Absolutely love the glimpse into Alan's house! Beautiful. I think you're wise to fold pleasure into your work trips. It's always tempting to condense but often it's best to expand.

I LOVED this. Huzzah for the Gulf Stream!
You're welcome Massachusetts.

Beautiful story, beautiful pictures, beautifully written!

Oh my, now that was quite a jewel of a day. Welcomed into a lovely home by a friend with good food, a local beach, and treasures to share. These are the best, best days.

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