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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Being and Doing, rather than Having

The American Dream isn't always straightforward.  The idea of owning a big house with a picket fence, a huge green lawn, and two cars in the garage has never been particularly attractive to Damon and I.  And since Damon's little incident, we've become even less enamored with owning the American Dream and all the stuff that comes along with it.  

It was a nice house, wasn't it?
Our disinterest in home ownership turned into action last year, as we sat in an Italian restaurant staring at each other over our pasta.  I'd just run a marathon (literally; the sweat wasn't even dry).  We'd also just found the perfect boat, at a very reasonable price.  But we couldn't pull the trigger on buying it, try as we might to convince ourselves as we slurped up our noodles (well, Damon was done eating well before I was, so I slurped and he watched).  That was both a terrible day, and a terrific day.  A turning point.

I keep a folder on my browser at work with boats we might want to look at.  Sailboats; all between 35 and 40 feet, in our price range, capable of blue water cruising.  Some are pipe dreams, but most are boats we can afford when we feel like it's time.  I click on this folder once a day and choose "open all tabs"; checking to see if any have dropped in price to the point where they should be moved up the list to the top.

Last May, the Friday before I was to run my third marathon, I was getting antsy as I waited for Damon to finish his work so we could load up the car and get down to Providence for the pre-race activities.  I waited and waited.  I cleaned my lab.  I graded a few papers.  And I opened that folder one more time.

A boat we'd been considering, a Pacific Seacraft 37, had dropped drastically in price just that afternoon, and suddenly it wasn't just a good deal -- it seemed to be a great deal.  I was out of my office and at Damon's desk in a minute.  He tore himself away from the all-important email he was composing, checked out the listing, we looked at each other with stupid grins on our faces, and he called the broker right away.  Was there something wrong with the boat making the price drop so much?  No, it was an estate sale and the family just needed to get rid of the boat.  Was he available to show it this weekend?  Sure, Sunday would be great.  In the afternoon.  Right after I ran 26.2 miles.

I crossed the finish line at around noon; tired and cramped after a particularly difficult morning (I had to walk about 2 miles of the race; disappointing but not devastating).  I found Damon, cried on his shoulder for a minute, and told him to stop me if I ever suggested I wanted to run another marathon.  He laughed; I say this every time.  He pushed a turkey sandwich into my right hand and a candy bar into the other, and we set off towards Boston and this interesting boat.  Along the way I stripped out of my sopping clothes and into something more acceptable (not so easy in the front seat of the mighty Kia as we sped along I-95).

The boat was indeed a good boat.  It was in relatively good condition; it needed one major repair, but otherwise seemed a perfect fit for our needs.  It was a great size; it had a nice layout; it was well outfitted.  We poked around all the lockers and made small talk with the broker.  Another couple stormed around the boat finding (unfounded) fault with everything in an attempt to make the broker think a lowball offer was reasonable.  One of our rules is to NEVER say bad things about a boat in front of its owner or broker.  Ever.  Your job is to make them like you; to sell yourself; especially if multiple bids will be coming on the boat.  This is the guy (or gal) who has the power to make your dreams come true; don't piss him off.  The broker rolled his eyes at these jerks, and basically told us if we made an offer anywhere near asking price, the boat was ours.

Whoa.  We'd talked about buying our "forever boat" for, well, ever.  We'd saved our pennies.  We'd sold our little boat.  We'd looked into where we were going to put it and where we were going to go in it.  And here it was, knocking on our door.

But there was a catch.  We weren't as ready as we thought we were, now that the moment had arrived.  As we sat eating pasta, we realized what a stretch it would be to own both a big house and a big boat.  We were already struggling to take care of the house, given our summer schedule.  Each year, we get back from Kent Island in late July and realize we have to replace that trim, paint that siding, rebuild that deck rail; you name it, it has to be done in August, because as they say in Westeros, Winter is Coming.  And if we bought a boat, that simply wouldn't get done.  Either the boat would go unused, or the house would fall into disrepair.  And so we stared at each other, struggling with the idea of letting this perfect boat pass us by.

That was a painful moment, but also a wonderful moment.  That was the very moment we decided to get off our cans and sell the house.  That house was nice, but it was keeping us from doing what we love, and besides, it was clownishly large.  Four bedrooms?  For two people?  What?  It was intimidating thinking about all the work that had to be done.  The fixing, the painting, the decluttering.  But we did it.  We fixed the banister that'd been loose for over a year.  We painted the dining room. We installed a new counter, sink, and fancypants faucet in the kitchen (and painted the walls and cabinets for good measure).  We spent spring break cleaning out the basement.  Had yard sales and went to Goodwill and made not a few trips to the dump.  We shampooed the rug and cleaned the windows and bought new bedding.  We trimmed the bushes and raked and generally made the place look awesome.

And then we called a realtor.

And a week later, sold the house.

Of course, we need a place to live.  But we wanted to make sure our next place wasn't going own us -- we wanted something small and easy to maintain.  For us, the solution was a tiny, funky condo, just over a mile from work.  It's in an old farmhouse; it's just two bedrooms, and it's small.  Really small.  This has several benefits.  Not only do we not need to take care of the outside of it, the inside is so small it will be easy to maintain.  And of course, it's a lot cheaper than a big house to have.

The old farmhouse our condo is in.  We're the bottom floor, right side of the blue door.
 There are downsides, but all of this is helping us to BE and DO, not HAVE.  Like so many Americans right now, we're realizing that you don't own a house -- a house owns you.  This is our attempt to free ourselves from being owned by our stuff.  This place is so small, there's not a lot of stuff around to own us anyways.  And for an Ocean Lover, this is a good thing.  We'll have more time to explore the ocean and more time to write about it.  Maybe even more time (and money!) to buy that perfect boat next time it falls into our lap.

The kitchen.

The living room.

The view from my walk to work.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Syzygy

At some point every summer, there is a "lowest tide".  Low tides (and high tides) aren't created equal; some are lower than others.  This occurs when the earth, moon, and sun are all in alignment -- in syzygy.  Ain't that a grand word?  Three y's, no need for ordinary vowels, rhymes with "misery".  I encourage it's use at your next dinner party.

Every month, there are particularly low tides during new and full moons (spring tides).  And sometimes, these spring tides are really, really low (due to all the astronomical stuff going on around us -- how close our neighbors are; where the planets are, etc).

This week we had a particularly low tide, and at Kent Island that means an expedition to the intertidal.  You never know what you're going to find out there, and that's part of the fun -- it's like an Easter egg hunt -- one that's a bit cold and slimy.  But we all bundled right up and got out there, thankful for good weather on this special day.

First we had to hike down to the south end of the island, wading through the tall grass.  That pole is a sensor that picks up signals from tagged herring gulls.

Headed past the driftwood down to the rocks! 
Our first find -- hermit crabs!
And gigantic Littorina snails -- we have the biggest periwinkles anywhere!

Claire seems unimpressed by this urchin.  But who can resist it?

I'm a huge fan of kelp holdfasts.

And sponges!  This species turns green due to a symbiotic algae living in it.

A giant waved whelk.  Predatory bad ass.
Snail fish.  A favorite!

Aho!  What's this?  The first baby lobster we've found.  You know it's a low tide to find these guys.

Scale worm.  These bioluminesce when preyed on.

Two seastars -- an Asterias and a brittle star -- probably Ophiopholis aculeata.

Lots of Cancer crabs down low.

We took turns flipping over cobbles and catching rock gunnels.

Like this one!

Who knew there could be a waterfall in the ocean?
Interested in tidepools?  Check out these guides:  How to tidepool and Where to tidepool in Maine.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Canada Day, Grand Manan, and the Greasy Pole

Some traditions should never be broken.  That's how we feel about spending Canada Day over on Grand Manan.  For Kent Islanders, the holiday falls squarely in the middle of our season, when island fever is setting in and we all just need a break from our work.  Plus heading over to Grand Manan allows us to take part in all the celebrations you find in a small town (one surrounded by the Bay of Fundy at that!).

Anticipation built all week here on the island, with students anxiously watching the weather and asking about departure times, schedules, and where to get the best ice cream.  So it was a relief when the day finally arrived, and at the crack of dawn, our caretaker, Russ Ingalls, came to get us aboard Island Bound.  Not surprisingly, it was a gray, foggy day, and the boat dripped with condensation as we headed over to the big island.

Heading over to Grand Manan in the foggy light of dawn.

Can you tell who the real Canadian is?
Once we arrived on Grand Manan, we had to get ready for the festivities.  Red face paint from the dollar store is always a good choice!

We tried to disguise ourselves (pictured here is a Frenchwoman and an American)!




But there wasn't much time to dawdle; the main event was before lunch:  the greasy pole competition.  The greasy pole is just about the funniest sport I can imagine.  It's held in the village of Seal Cove, and can only happen at high tide, as the creek is dry at low tide.  A long, tapered pole is suspended out over the water, and a barrel is pushed over it.  The pole is "greased" with dish detergent.  Competitors launch themselves off the wharf on the barrel, trying to ride it all the way to the end and grab the tiny Canadian flag at the end.  If you don't get the flag, you fall into the (bracingly cold) water; if you do get the flag, you also fall into the (bracingly cold) water -- but you win $5. 

Three generations of the Ingalls family set up the pole.
Soaping up the pole.
And adding the tiny flag to the end.
The greasy pole always draws a crowd.  Young and old try to get their hands on that flag; and young and old also like to watch as the competitors are dumped into the frigid water. 

The crowd starting to arrive.





A brave competitor!

He looks determined!

Our student Katie; a fierce young lady.

She came close to getting it!

There was a lot of this going on!
Some people needed a little help.
That flag looks pretty far away from this perspective!
Of course, it wasn't all fun and games.  After the Greasy Pole, our students got down to the real business of the day.  They ate ice cream (twice), hiked, had lunch at a greasy spoon (not the same as the Greasy Pole), took in a baseball game, and had a grand time all around. 

Eating breakfast; a bagel and ice cream.
Dulsing dories on the beach at the Whistle lighthouse.

It was a long day.  Luckily, one of our students had baked a cake the night before, and when we got back, everyone tucked right into it.  We were tired, but well fed.  And we'd had a great break from the every day grind here on the island.  With only three weeks until the end of the season, we're refreshed and ready for whatever the Bay of Fundy throws at us (good thing, because the fog has come back with a vengeance here on our island!)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Pond Cove, some big things, and a blogging hiatus

Headed to Kent Island on our caretaker's boat, Island Bound
So I've been a little busy lately.  And it shows in the number of blog posts I've been making.  But as can happen, life has gotten a little crazy.

Damon and  I are embroiled in the midst of our normal annual craziness -- getting ourselves, a dozen undergraduates, all our gear, and most of our food out to Kent Island in New Brunswick.  This involves finding a dog-sitter, stopping the mail (although I am realizing just as I write this that I forgot to do that!), packing two giant bins of ratty field clothes, cleaning the house as spotless as possible, reassuring parents, getting our office work done, and then herding cats all the way across the border, onto boats, and over to the island.

Since this regular brand of craziness hasn't pushed us over the top (yet), we decided to add a little more into our lives:  we are selling our house in order to downsize to a smaller home (and life).  I'll write a bit more about it when the ink is dry, but in essence, we had too much house, not enough warm weather to work on it, and a hankering for "less".  In the meantime, it's meant lots of home repairs and staging, paperwork to be signed, and extra stress added to our spring.

That hasn't stopped me from getting out and exploring, but has dug into my writing time by quite a lot.  So I'm going to take a little blogging break, in order to get through the next month.  We (hopefully, if all goes as planned) pass papers to sell our wonderful house AND buy a little condo on June 19, and after that I feel like I'll be able to breathe again.

Before I go, I wanted to share a terrific visit I had to Pond Cove in Cape Elizabeth with a Meetup group called "Southern Maine Tide Poolers."  This awesome group is the brainchild of Megan McCuller, a young biologist from Portland. It's just a bunch of people who like to look at cool stuff in the ocean, who meet up at dig around in tidepools.  Brilliant.  
Tiny barnacles that have just settled out of the plankton and onto rocks.  They love rough surfaces best, so you tend to find them all lined up in the cracks of rocks.  Note you can see this pattern in the big ones too.
We met this month at Pond Cove in Cape Elizabeth.  I'd never been there, so it was really exciting to find a new spot to tidepool.  This is a great place -- parking at the land trust lot, good rocky tidepools full of cool stuff, and a terrific shallow cobble pool perfect for kids to get into.  If you'll forgive me, I'm going to just post some pics and get onto the work I have to do on the island today.  But if you like tidepooling, check out the Meetup group -- it was really fun!

A tidepool out in the breaking waves

This green crab was carrying eggs -- but was dead.  Interestingly, we found TONS of Asian shore crabs and no green crabs.  This is a trend I've heard others mention this spring too.  What's up with that?

Horse mussels and coralline algae

Poking around in a tidepool

The cobbles are a great place for kids to turn over rocks and find cool stuff
TO GET THERE:  From US1 in Portland, take Rt 77 south; cross the bridge over Portland Harbor. In South Portland, Rt 77 turns right and becomes Ocean St -- do not turn with it but go straight on Broadway to Cottage Rd and turn right. This road becomes Shore Road.  After Fort Williams State Park, go another Mile and look for the parking lot for Robinson Woods (thanks Cape Elizabeth Land Trust).  Look just across the road; you'll see a path with a little "Pond Cove" sign.  Follow this and you're there!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Investigative Reporting: Warren's Lobster House


How could you resist a place with a giant lobster out front?  I never can!  And the Seacoast's finest salad bar?  I mean really.  

Anja and I headed down to Ipswich Mass last weekend to check out the grand opening of my friend's 1634 Meadery, and we just had to stop in Kittery to check this place out.  I've always wanted to eat over on Badger Island (because it's in a cool spot), but the lobster place over there lost its lease.  So Warren's it was.

It was a good sign that two priests led the procession of people as we all jammed in just as they opened.  Warren's looks to be the after-church-lunch place in this town (but they let heathens like me in too).  

And yes, they did have a great salad bar.  And a great JUMBO lobster roll (with a jumbo price of $29 to go along with it . . . .)  But it was a great stop.

That's a lot of lobster!

The view from our booth.

Anja doesn't really like seafood I guess.  She had chicken.

Old time kind of place.

A good lobster roll is always worth the drive.