Ahoy, oh boy, what a surprise

Popped into the Chamber of Commerce the other afternoon, thanks to the Public Restroom Inside board set up out on the street, and immediately found myself awash in pirates.

They were assembled for some kind of banquet, which I later learned was one of the fundraising murder mystery dinners in advance of our pirate festival.

I can report it was well attended.

This was once the sardine capital of the world

Don’t laugh. Sardines were once big business.

The first sardine canning in America happened in Eastport in 1876, and at its peak, 18 canneries were packed in against the waterfront downtown, along with the fishermen’s dories and fishing boats at the docks.

One of the few surviving cannery buildings. This one was small in comparison to others right downtown. 

The largest of them, the L.D. Clark and Son factory, extended far into the water from the north end of Shackford Cove only a block where I now live. It was the world’s largest sardine cannery, employing 500 men and women who packed 4,000 cases of 100 cans daily when the small Atlantic herring were available.

Heads and other parts were cut from the fish and dumped into the harbor, where they were devoured by bottom-feeders that then attracted whales close to shore.

Over the years, though, the fishery was depleted, though whales can still be seen in season.

And then the market and American tastes changed.

Does anyone eat sardines anymore?

Few signs remain of the city’s once flourishing industry.

The 1908 Seacoast Canning Co. plant, which made sardine cans.



Like brother monks on the road to nirvana

Cassia’s conversations with Rinpoche lead her to crucial new understandings of her father.

In earlier drafts of my novel What’s Left, I considered these possibilities, but rejected them as, well, too wordy, esoteric, or preachy:

Your Baba was on the cusp of some original thinking about Christ as Light, Rinpoche tells me. He was connecting that with an ancient line of Greek philosophy about a term known as Logos. It was all very, very exciting. He was seeing Christ as much more than the historic person of Jesus, much as we see Buddha as something much more than a historic person — you know, Gautama — too.

Well, that happens to be a hobbyhorse I ride. Let’s give her father a break!

Rimpoche continues. Your Baba had scorn for those who claim a personal spirituality without any disciplined tradition. He wanted to encourage people to delve into a practice — not that they’re all equal, but they have their own unique wisdom to impart — and that led to his organizing some fascinating ecumenical dialogues, ones that included your Orthodox priest, plus a rabbi, a Sufi or yogi, an evangelical, and so on.

Maybe we’d better leave all that for a later discussion? Cassia has more pressing questions, many of them regarding his photographs and family.

Throughout his monastic studies and labors, he’s pressed to concentrate totally on what’s happening in the moment. Even while sleeping. Looking through a lens would, according to Manoula, place a filter between full experience of that timeless breath and himself. It would place a mask across his face when he most needs to be fully naked, as it were. Who knows what he wears in the monastery, for that matter. We can guess from the photos he took later, on his return visits — and his portraits of his teacher and fellow practitioners. For now, he needs to see not just with his eyes — and his Third Eye — but also with his nose, tongue, lips, ears, and especially his fingers and extended skin. And from there, to embrace the eternal realities rather than the ephemeral illusions flickering and dashing around him. Through this stretch, he heeds fellow monks who create beautiful colored-sand mandalas and then scatter them to the wind rather than preserve their work. This emphasis on the present while pursuing eternal truth may seem to be a paradox, but he submits to the instruction and its flowing current.

So that, too, was filtered out of the final revisions. As was this:

Baba and Rinpoche had grown close when they were both residents in the monastery. Rinpoche was then just another of the aspirants, albeit a Tibetan refuge with a lineage. Their teacher blessed their venturing into the Heartland to establish the institute here, and Rinpoche, with his mastery of Himalayan languages, took up an offer to teach academic courses at the university while leading a spiritual community from the house.


Like Rinpoche, Cassia’s father was in many ways a teacher. In their case, they were dealing with ancient Buddhist lore. Good teachers, as you know, are rare.

Tell us about your favorite teacher.


Orthodox Christian iconography can be out of this world. Just look at this church ceiling!

My menagerie

There’s a story behind these figures atop one of the bookcases in my studio. The chrome squirrel is also a nutcracker, one my wife found at a yard sale. Squirrels have been a big problem for us, including the ones who have devoured large sections of the crown molding on the barn. You also know about us and rabbits. This one is a bookend, from one direction, or a candle holder, from the other. The upright stick is a piece of driftwood. Oh yes, behind them is a piece of beaver labor, a branch stripped and chewed from both ends.