Ten big renovation and maintenance projects we did

In absolute numbers, I suppose you could say we lived in the place for free, once you compare what we paid for the place and added as renovations against the selling price two decades later, but I’m not sure that would hold up if we factored in inflation or what we might have earned if we’d placed much of that money in the stock market.

Even so, here’s some of what we had done:

  1. Reshingled the roof.
  2. Lined the chimney. And then the other.
  3. Replaced the cracked boiler.
  4. Saved the barn from collapse, created a mother-in-law apartment, later removed the second-floor deck from the house to the loft, and wired the loft.
  5. Replaced the downstairs windows.
  6. Remodeled the kitchen.
  7. Remodeled the upstairs bathroom.
  8. Restored the downstairs bathroom as more of a utility room and added a kitchen pantry.
  9. Replaced the sump pump, this time sunken into the floor.
  10. Replaced the rotten bulkhead with steel.

And that’s not counting all the garden beds and plantings or tree work.

Old soldiers never die, as we used to sing

My novel What’s Left began percolating as I considered the dimensions of the hippie movement and realized it had never really died but continued disguised in many streams of action. Yes, I’d published my Hippie Trails series but so much still felt unfinished.

And, as a consequence of Cassia in the new novel, I went back and transformed the others into Freakin’ Free Spirits.

Looking at the world today, what pressing issues do you consider unfinished?

~*~

My novel is available at the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Scribd, Smashwords, Sony’s Kobo, and other fine ebook distributors and at Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.

Within a daughter’s own living Greek drama

Why I love tracking the hip groove of the underground

The paperback cover …

My subways novel started out to be my big hippie tome, building on a metaphor of hitchhiking, which was ubiquitous for us, but the extended concept ultimately got to be too unwieldy for one book. The supportive details were stripped away for what’s become Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, leaving the metropolis altogether.

Spurred on by Richard Brautigan’s “Trout Fishing in America” with a dash of William Burroughs, the initial drafts played surrealistically in a tension between the wide-open roads of the countryside and the underground realms of the biggest cities.

Then, four or five years after taking up the project, I was pawing through a used books bin in the desert of Washington state and came across a 1915 engineering volume, “Building Subways in New York,” which included “Elevated Railway Steelworks.” I still have it. How on earth had it ever landed out there amid the sagebrush?

I had already lived in Upstate New York four hours from Manhattan, and nearly all of my friends, housemates, and lovers were from The City. That was followed by my residency in a yoga ashram two hours away in the Poconos, so yes, I had learned to ride the trains. (Nowadays, it’s mostly Boston’s a little over an hour south of me.)

… and the back cover.

The original “Subway Hitchhikers” had a structure that ran like trains passing in opposite directions, which readers could find confusing rather than energizing. It also had a lacy air that reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s pop art “combines.” Gone, too, in the revisions is the protagonist’s hippie handle, substituting a more conventional nickname that better links this story to the others.

In the revised version, Subway Visions, there’s more focus on characters, plus new sections on Kenzie’s encounters of Tibetan Buddhism in a tenement near Greenwich Village as well as a graffiti artist known as T-Rex.

What’s evolved has a much straighter narrative and more arresting development, now linked to Kenzie’s ongoing life in the hills to the north. And elements of fantasy and heightened playfulness now augment the earlier surrealism.

I suspect I still have some classic coin tokens in my possession, somewhere.

Just what’s drawn us to Sunrise County?

Naturally, there have been moments when we find ourselves second-guessing our decision to relocate to a remote fishing village at the other end of Maine. Technically, it’s a city, reflecting its peak as the sardine-packing capital of the world, though today’s year-’round population is a mere 1,300 – about the same as the enrollment in my high school minus the 700 freshmen.

I could easily do a Tendrils on what the place doesn’t have – a Laundromat, Chinese or Mexican restaurant, even a pizza takeout, for starters. It’s in an economically challenged region, to put it politely, and the county has a population of only 32,000 stretched across an area about 2½ times the size of Long Island, New York. That comes to about 10 residents per square mile. What, three households? Around half of the townships have no residents at all or at least not enough to incorporate – they have to rely on the state for local governance.

The closest city of any size and resources is St. John, New Brunswick, population 68,000, an hour and three-quarters drive mostly east – once the U.S.-Canada border reopens.

Next, and more likely, is Bangor, 33,000 population, a two-hour-plus drive to the west. (Practically speaking, it’s also the nearest Toyota dealer, when we need serious work on the Prius, the closest medical specialists, the closest U.S. airport providing commercial service or even an Interstate highway.) Portland, seemingly cosmopolitan, takes four hours – with Boston an additional two or so beyond that. (More in the tourist season, when traffic backs up forever at the turnpike toll plazas.)

Are we crazy?

Yes, I’d have to say.

We’re also enchanted.

Crucially, Eastport – on the Bold Coast in what’s aptly dubbed Sunrise County – does have an active arts community, making me think of the TV series “Northern Exposure” and its quirky characters.

And there’s all that North Atlantic water and maritime activity. What makes an ocean so mesmerizing, anyway? The appeal goes far beyond romance for those who rely on moody appearances. This new realm is also deadly and terrifying and constantly changing, unlike anything I knew growing up in landlocked Ohio, for sure. Not even the then far-off Lake Erie.

Somehow, Eastport quickly revives my memories of Port Townsend on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, back in the late ’70s. At the time, it was an eclectic blend of working-class, outdoors types, and marginal artists, many somehow connected to the Fort Worden state park for the arts. Its proximity to booming Seattle, a mere 2½ to 3½-hour trip, plus any down time waiting for ferry connections, does put it in a cosmopolitan orb, unlike Eastport’s seven- to nine-hour drive or bus ride from the Hub of the Universe, Boston.

When I lived in Washington state, I harbored dreams of moving from our home in the desert orchards east of the Cascades Range and resettling somewhere like Port Townsend, perhaps even up in the Alaska Panhandle or on coastal British Columbia. That was crushed after the eruption of Mount Saint-Helens and career upheavals that had me reeling back to the Midwest and then Baltimore and finally New Hampshire. I really missed opportunities to spend time in the wilderness during much of that. Even small pockets of forest could be rarities.

Eastport, though, has rekindled that awareness. It’s not just the deer all over town or the eagles or the seal and then whale I saw from the lantern room of a lighthouse across the channel. There’s also the First People’s presence, which was a part of my Northwest experience. Did I mention you have to drive through the Passamaquoddy reservation to get to town?

In ways, I’m sensing the move promises me a chance to get down to some serious unfinished business. Me, with my certificate in urban studies, my yoga training, time among Plain Quakers and the more liberal end of Mennonites, my labors as a poet and novelist, and all those years in the newsroom.

We’ll see.

People of today I admire

OK, I’m counting couples as one here. And I’m excluding some nominees I celebrated earlier in the year in my ten fine couples list. Here goes:

  1. The Obamas, of course.
  2. And my wife and daughters and the two guys they bring into my life. Natchurally. Think of this as a team.
  3. Noah Merrill, the ever patient and faithful field secretary of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends.
  4. Brown Letham, energetic painter and activist and father of one very fine author.
  5. Jim and Eden Grace, holy peaceniks on a global scale.
  6. Timothy and Nijmeh Curren, Orthodox priest and presbvtera.
  7. George and Althea Coussoule, welcoming stalwarts of Dover’s Greek community.
  8. Sherry Wood. See my dedication in Hometown News.
  9. Jay O’Hara, free-Gospel minister and Quaker activist.
  10. Gary Snyder, American poet and Zen Buddhist.

~*~

So what if this adds up to more than ten individuals in all?

Who’s high on your own list?

Also on the plate

Why does the restaurant business sustain so many immigrant families? Just look at all our ethnic options in dining today, even in small cities. Not just Greek-American, like the one in my novel What’s Left.

What’s your favorite food stop? Is it run by a single family? Does it have an ethnic identity?

~*~

Look at all these Greek specialties!