Wednesday, February 25, 2015

York, Snowshoeing, and Oysters in Portland

We're coming to what we hope is the end of a hard winter.  The snow is still deep, and every few days we are blessed with a little more.  And it's still cold.  But there are hopeful signs all around us in Maine.  The sun is getting stronger, and doesn't set until well after 5:00.  And Sunday it got above freezing for the first time in forever.  Next week we'll see Daylight Savings begin, and then it will really feel like we've turned a corner.

Until then, we've been fighting cabin fever.  Damon had a big snowshoe race last weekend, so I tagged along and we made it into a little escape.  We stayed in York overnight, just so I could sit by the fire at the Ship Cellar Pub and have a few glasses of wine.  (It was great, but I forgot my camera and my cell phone wasn't up to taking photos in the dim light.)  On Sunday we tried to tackle the Fisherman's Walk along York Harbor.  In summer, it looks something like this:

But last weekend it looked more like this:

Note, this is the same location as the photo above -- you can see the stone wall.  Except the snow is about 5 feet deep in there.  Hopeless, even with snowshoes.
So no snowshoeing for us in York.  Luckily, we'd been thinking of checking out the East Coast Greenway, and picked up the trail in Scarborough.  It was warm, and the sun was out.  A path was nicely packed down, so it was pretty easy going.  Boredom set in pretty quickly, though, since the path is straight and level.  Like most Americans, I know what to do when bored -- eat.  So we packed back into the car, stripped off our wet snow gear, and headed to Portland.  Damon was craving some oysters, and with the sun shining it seemed like a great time to hit the waterfront.

First stop, DeMillo's.  I admit that I've never been there before.  DeMillo's always seems so touristy to me; plus the main point they make in their radio ads is "parking is free while you eat" -- which doesn't seem a very good reason to eat there.  But heck, why not check it out, if for no other reason than we got to take a look at the ice scraping up against the boats at the docks.

Our thirsts quenched, it was time to hit one of our faves:  J's Oyster.  J's is a classic hometown dive.  Don't go for the ambiance.  The yellowed ceiling tiles, crappy carpet, and dated paneling hold very little appeal.  The spirit of the place is in the people, the food, and the location.  You know it's going to be good when a guy in Grundens comes out the door just as you get there.  Inside, the seats are always filled, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a table right away.  The crowd is hometown, and in a city full of foodies, there is a happy dearth of hipsters.  Not a lot of skinny jeans and lumberjack beards; no one asking for the latest microbrew.  Just regular folks looking for the best old-school food on the waterfront.  Some of them look like they've been sitting on their bar stools for years; and probably that's not far from the truth -- the regulars are always out in force at J's.

We have a saying in Maine:  "Cold as a clam-diggers crack."  Apparently it's colder than that.
What do you have at J's Oyster?  Oysters, of course.  Damon started with a half-dozen on the half-shell, while I had the sampler.  Both came with a side of cocktail sauce and horseradish, and they went down too quickly.  Fortunately, sandwiches weren't far behind.  A classic lobster roll (you know I can't resist) and haddock for Damon.  All of it washed down with a coldie as we peered out at the ice covering Portland Harbor.

Classic oyster plate.
The sampler.
The best way to eat an oyster!

I love this graffiti:  "I love J's Oyster Bar."  "Who doesn't?"  "Oysters?!"
The giant pile of oysters, on ice, in the middle of the bar.
Alas, it had to end eventually, and we headed back to the car and our regularly-scheduled winter.  The sun had weakened behind thin clouds and the chill was back in the air.  But it felt like the we'd moved beyond the endless winter that seemed to face us a few weeks ago.  Of course it'd snowed a few inches while we were away on our trip, but Bobby our neighbor had plowed our drive with his ATV.  And it's bitter cold now, but I just peeked at the 10-day forecast, and we were right:  winter is starting to lose its teeth.  There are a lot of thirty plus degree days in our future.  Things are looking up.  But if it doesn't get much better soon, maybe I'll just take the advice on the sign board at Ri Ra's:

Friday, February 13, 2015

We're seeing red when we see white

I know it's been awhile since I posted, but a lot's been going on here in Maine.  The legislature has been debating the pros and cons of naming the Labrador Retriever as our state dog breed.  They've also been working on legislation that require a pint to actually be a pint

And oh, yeah, we have over six feet of snow on the ground, and more to come tomorrow.

Dory peeking out the window at the winter wonderland.  She is not amused.
We keep a path to the gas tanks cleared.  The snow banks are about 4 feet high.

We won't be using that wood anytime soon.
Six feet of snow is not a trivial amount.  Mainers are struggling to keep up.  We rise early to clear the driveway before heading off to work.  We strap on snow shoes to walk around the house and rake the roof.  We wade in over our waists to dig out the furnace outlet, lest we die of carbon monoxide poisoning.  We walk to work in blizzard conditions to avoid driving.  We drag the Florida-born dog out into the cold and force her to walk around the block, even as she shivers and complains that her feet hurt.

The brave and hard working facilities crew at Bowdoin shoveling the roof of the gym.  That pile is over 20 feet high.

Students practicing mountaineering skills on the big snow pile.
They've pretty much given up on clearing the side roads in our town.  No place is left to put it.
All the while, we look around with a combination of awe and disgust.  Some of us revel in it; strapping on skies and snowshoes (like my crazy husband, who currently leads the Master's division in Granite State Snowshoe Series).  Our southern relations send us taunts via Facebook ("it's a sunny 70 degrees here!" or "It's cold here too -- I had to wear a long sleeve shirt today!").  We start to wonder just what's going on in the Pinetree state.  The more cynical amongst us snark about climate change.  But in reality, climate change is exactly what we should be talking about as we stumble around with our snow shovels as the wind sends yet another drift into the driveway.

Damon doing something he kicks butt at.
When I was younger, I thought about climate change as just a series of warmer and warmer years.  That seemed logical; if we're trapping more of the sun's energy in our atmosphere by producing more carbon dioxide, then shouldn't it just get warmer?  Overall, that's right; we can expect average global temperatures to rise, and that's just what's happened (courtesy NASA):

The data look like this:

But it's important to remember that the world is an amazingly complex, and the reaction of the Earth to increased temperature isn't straightforward.

Which brings us back to our very snowy winter.  It might not sound logical, but the amount of snow we get here in New England might actually increase as temperatures rise.  Think about it.  The low-pressure centers that are currently barreling across the country aren't dropping ridiculous amounts of snow anywhere but here, are they?  Why the target on New England?  Why the coast in particular?

This year, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are high.  Way high.  Like, this map should be on the front page of every newspaper in the region high:

 Red is hot.  Red is bad. (Climate Change Institute, U Maine)
All this heat doesn't just affect the ocean.  It affects the land, too.  All this snow?  It's a good chance we're seeing it because of sea surface temps.  In other words, we're seeing red.

As ocean temperatures rise, there is more moisture in the air -- and this moisture is ending up on my driveway.  Storms roll out over the Gulf of Maine, suddenly cool all that moist air, and convert it to snow.  And because the ocean is warm, storms can grow in magnitude; warmer oceans increase temperature contrasts on the East coast, strengthening storms.  Because low pressure causes winds to spin counter-clockwise around the center, all that ocean-based snow is being driven right into the coast of Maine.

Now, I'd better get going.  We've got another big storm on the way, and I've got to get to the store to stock up on milk, bread, and of course beer.  This time, when I don my snow pants to dig us out of the snow, I'll be thinking of the ocean.  And eventually, maybe I'll even get there.  One can only hope.

Yup, that says 18-24 inches for us.  Sigh.  (Weather Channel)