A vital extension opens on the community trail

Dover’s four-mile-long community trail is a gem and has provided more than a few photo ops I’ve shared here at the Barn. Its southern leg starts at the Amtrak station downtown and, until recently, ended unceremoniously at residential Fisher Street with some delightful scenes in-between. Considered the urban leg, it’s paved for bicycle use as well as pedestrians and runners.

The northern leg kicks off at Fourth Street and follows the Cocheco River up to Watson Road, with its waterfalls and dam. One kink in that route – approaching at the Spaulding Turnpike bridge – was cleared up a few years ago, as was improved access to the trail itself at Fourth Street more recently. Some memorable cross-country skiing from the Watson Falls down to the Spaulding and back had me feeling I was up in the White Mountains rather than still inside the city limits.

Now, after being on the drawing board for more than six years, a 2,000-foot-long portion of the rail-to-trail pathway has extended the southern end almost all the way to the Sawyer Mills apartments and made ready access for middle- and high-school students.

No motorized vehicles allowed. What a delightful luxury! I think of the trail as Dover’s own Central Park.

There were complications getting permission to skirt some commercial properties along the way, as well as drainage issues and some serious poison ivy. Remaining railroad ties made walking difficult – forget the bicycle or the baby stroller.

Now that winter’s over, the stretch has been graded and paved and, where necessary, fenced off – in a stylish way, I’d say – and while some final touches remain, it’s already attracting happy pedestrian traffic.

You can bet I’ll be checking it out on my return visits.

It’s somebody’s back yard. Really. An industrial parking lot is just ahead on the trail.


What I don’t like about gardening

If you’re still on the fence about breaking some sod and scattering seeds or selecting six-packs of young plants, think about this.

  1. Gardening is time-consuming. There’s a lot to do before planting and harvesting. Even before and after. Wouldn’t you rather be doing something else?
  2. Heartbreaking. There’s always a sacrificial crop each year. You never know which one it will be.
  3. Demands weeding. And more weeding. Especially if you’re largely organic. They’re back in a flourish overnight.
  4. Messy. You have to have someplace out of sight to hide all the pots and bags you’ve pulled out of the shed or garage. As for those weeds you uprooted? They get thrown somewhere.
  5. Debris-producing. You can’t compost it all, especially the woody stuff. And, yes, you can put that in those big brown-paper bags and haul them to the dump, or you can find somewhere to establish a brush pile. And then, at some point, you’ve got to do something with that brush pile before it requires a building permit.
  6. Anxiety-producing. Just listen to my wife watching the weather report or me anticipating the water bill when we’re having to water intensely through a dry spell. And that’s before hailstorms or frost warnings or …
  7. Unforgiving. For example, when a crop arrives, it’s often a flood that must be picked pronto or spoil. And just picking it isn’t enough. You can’t eat it all, so somebody has to can or freeze it. Now! Before it starts rotting or wilts.
  8. A magnet for invaders. Birds, picking out sees and later berries. Slimy garden slugs, taking bites out of anything fleshy, like strawberries and tomatoes, or greens. Squirrels digging mindlessly, often planting walnuts as they go, which then sprout into stinky treelets with tenacious roots. Woodchucks, which can devour a row of their choice overnight. (See item 2.)
  9. Costly. Those bags of potting soil and additives and pesticides (even organic) add up, as do the flats of seedlings, even once you’re past the round of catalogue orders at the beginning of the year. As I was saying about the water bill?
  10. Let’s not overlook replacing broken tools. Or lost ones.


Well, all those benefits do come at a price. Best you know now!

Fellow planters, be frank. What other downsides would you acknowledge?


When siblings and their spouses work together

My novel What’s Left includes reflections on a first generation of a family business dynamic, somewhat like one I also describe in passing in Nearly Canaan.

In reality, the model of a restaurant run by two brothers and their wives was one I observed in a small Midwestern city where I edited the local newspaper. In this case, their roots were Italian, not Greek, and the economy was essentially farming and two large factories, without a university or county seat to boost business.

Do you have any insights on ways siblings interact when they run a business together?


Comment allez-vous, Yvonne

in outward affairs, a broken toe and off I went, steering in late snow to the emergency room blizzard, too, in sandals now, finally wearing eyeglasses for reading, blame the computer screen and more balding Maine coast from time to time, plus some light rowing and canoeing, and chamber music in mountain villages . still, the annual boat dance with live country folk band and callers cruises Boston Harbor Smell the breeze in its permutations of loving

Some facts related to Prairie Depot

My novel Nearly Canaan starts off in a railroad crossing called Prairie Depot. It’s imaginary, of course, a blend of several small cities I’ve encountered. But, for the record, let’s say this.

  1. It was a dozen or so miles from the nearest Interstate Highway.
  2. It sat in what had been the Great Black Swamp that covered roughly 1,500 square miles before being drained to open up some of the best farmland in the world … and some of the flattest, stretching for miles.
  3. There really were some surviving patches of original prairie nearby, as well as new reservations harboring restoration. The ecosystem had reached westward to the Rocky Mountains, especially in a broad swath through much of the Midwest.
  4. Five different railroads once interconnected in the town. It could lead to frequent delays for drivers and pedestrians alike, as well as interrupted sleep.
  5. It was also a good place for grain elevator dealers to ship from.
  6. The real center of town was a small restaurant owned and operated by two brothers and their wives.Back to the novel!
  7. The town library had a translucent marble exterior wall and a fine collection, thanks to a resourceful director who managed to deflect criticism. He could be a fictional character all in his own.
  8. The region was the scene of a big oil boom, back in the early 1900s. Petroleum was still being pumped at the time of the novel, on a smaller scale, though the grade was lower grade than the market desired.
  9. The place was best known for its collectible glass, before the company relocated to West Virginia, where the name lives on, if not the quality, at least in the estimation of some.
  10. The most celebrated resident dwelt quietly on a shaded side street, her secrecy preserved by the locals, even though she was rumored to have been gangster Al Capone’s mistress. Yes, the one.
The astringent Greek Temple Revival appearance of Omar Chapel, in Seneca County, Ohio, not far from the prompt for Prairie Depot in my novel Nearly Canaan, continues to haunt me. It says so much about the dreams of its benefactor, out on what was then still frontier.