Here’s wishing you all could be there

Stephen Sanfilippo is both a wonderful folk musician and a professional historian, two strands that weave together delightfully in his performances and recordings of maritime songs.

He’s a master of the sea chantey repertoire as well as many other seafaring tunes and lyrics – many of which, as he’ll explain, traveled far and wide into the American hinterlands but not back. He does prefer the spelling “chantey” and “chantey man,” for reasons I’ll leave to him to explain. And there are plenty of opportunities to sing along.

Here’s an invitation to his free appearance on Wednesday, January 25, at 6 pm at the Pembroke, Maine, public library, itself an appropriate venue. (I do love the stuffed birds displayed behind him.) The event will be followed by a series of more monthly concerts. Yay!

From his previous appearances here, I can acclaim this is one more facet of what makes living Way Downeast Maine so special to me.

Miss my bunnies

With my elder daughter’s growing allergies to rabbits’ prolific fur, which flies everywhere, Salty and Pepper had to move on. The Lagomorph duo did provide companionship through two deep winters, as well as constant amusement. In late summer, they received a new home with a then 13-year-old and her 11-year-old brother. From what I seen from a distance since, they couldn’t have been luckier. Those are two happy kids.

Still, it’s surprising how many times I start to do something that might involve them – say bend over to pick dandelion greens while out on a walk or gather carrot ends or parsley stems to feed them while I prepping dinner or move an electrical cord or papers out of their reach – only to realize, emptily, their lusty absence.

Here are a few shots as reminders.

 

Here’s why we celebrate the arrival of each New Year twice

Every New Year’s Eve where I now live, folks gather in front of the Tides Institute – also known for the occasion as Tides Square – for the drop of a festive maple leaf emblem at 11 pm and then convene again for a giant sardine sculpture at midnight.

First, the maple leaf.

Forget crowded Manhattan. This is the kind of homegrown affair where you can actually run into people you know, as well as others you’ll be hoping to see more of.

With New Brunswick just a mile or two across the channel and very much a part of our community, Eastport can’t help but mark the one-hour time difference between the two shores. Your cell phone certainly reminds you, shifting from one to the other. And so, at midnight Atlantic Time, we drop the lighted red maple leaf while a small brass band plays “Oh, Canada,” with many of the observers singing along. And then there’s the first burst of pyrotechnics overhead. Yay! Wow! Grins!

Up close, at ground level.

Time for a break, perhaps for hot chocolate down the street or a stop at several diners open uncommonly late, or even a dash home.

An hour later, reflecting the fact that Eastport was once the sardine capital of the world, everyone’s back, awaiting a giant sardine sculpture to descend at midnight Eastern Time from the former bank building that now houses a museum. This round, we all cheer to “Old Lang Syne” and then a festive outburst of fireworks.

Star of the show.

Here’s what we’re looking forward tonight!

This side of being an author is all new to me

Eastport’s senior center has invited me to talk about my new book, and that’s what I’ll be doing Friday, October 21, at 1 pm.

I’ll be focusing on Maine’s Nicholas Shapleigh, who was not a Quaker but played a crucial role in sheltering the missionaries who came to Dover. As a powerful lumber merchant, magistrate, and leader of the provincial militia, he was an important figure in what would become the Pine Tree State. His manor on the Piscataqua River sat directly across the water from Hilton Point, where the action began 400 years ago.

The overall content of Quaking Dover has been generating interest in a way I haven’t encountered with my novels or poetry. Having a handsome paper edition from the start is another plus. As much as I love aspects of ebooks, they are much harder to promote than a physical copy in your hand.

Dover may be a five-plus hour drive from Eastport, but there have long been connections.

The center’s at 9 Boynton Street, where I’ll be greeting friends and neighbors.

It’s the first in a series of presentations I’ll be announcing over the next few months. Please stay tuned!

We just did two live concerts!

Even with the masks, it was an incredible experience. Appearing live in concert usually is.

Not every singer I’ve known enjoys performing in public, a situation that can be anxiety-inducing. Yes, even chorus members suffer butterflies. Going on stage or the equivalent is a much different encounter than singing together in a rehearsal space, perhaps even in a circle facing each other.

Wisely, our part of the program was shorter than usual, reflecting the Covid-restricted rehearsal schedule and our return after two years of distancing and general inactivity. Our vocal cords were rusty and have had to get in running order again.

Even after some of the pop standards I’d sung in the Boston Revels autumn equinox affair on the banks of the Charles River, I still didn’t expect to be performing a rock hit, much less a five-part arrangement that was mostly counterpoint with some wildly shifting time signatures. REM’s “Shiny Happy People,” anyone? It’s more sophisticated than I would have believed, even with a bass part that felt, well, like playing air bass guitar.

The Wailin’ Jennys’ “One Voice” and Eric Whitacre’s “Sing Gently” were gorgeous paeans to the art of vocal music made when we unite as one, in this case including singers and audience.

There was the premiere of conductor John Newell’s five-part memorial to longtime Eastport arts inspiration Joyce Weber, “Lux Aeterna.” I hope we did it justice.

The traditional spiritual “Keep Your Lamps” was lively fun with a bouncy piano accompaniment and some fine bass lines, something that’s not always a given.

Dan Campolieta’s passionate setting of Emily Dickinson’s “Will There Really Be a Morning” gave us males a chance to sit out and just listen.

The heart of a concert is the audience, somehow completing the art at hand and making it real. I’ll add there’s a parallel with a readership for a writer or poet or a table of diners for a chef.

The arts center’s upstairs performance space seats about 120, so we were close to an audience of family, friends, and neighbors sharing our love of making music together.

How can I not be looking forward to more?

Whew! What a year!

Let’s clink to putting Covid behind us, more or less. Even if drinking the toast requires us to take off our masks. And clink again for better things ahead.

Two olives, for me, marks a festive occasion.

On my end, the year included downsizing earlier than anticipated when I uprooted from ducky Dover to diehard Downeast as a vanguard for the rest of the family. It was their idea, for the record. Not that I’m complaining while some old, long-buried dreams finally come to fruition. And in all of this, I’m still in their good hands.

Along the way, I drafted a juicy, unorthodox history of early Dover in time for the 400th anniversary of its settling. Forget what you thought about Colonial New England, this take challenges a lot of the prevailing view. (You’ll be reading more about that here at the Barn in the months ahead.)

I definitely wasn’t planning on researching and writing another book, but here it is, finished.

Clink once more.

It adds up to a lot of change to digest.

So clink again. Remember, in moderation, it’s supposed to help the digestion. Cheers!

Join us in a free concert for Sanctuary

Dover Friends Meeting is presenting a free evening of song, scripture, and reflection on the essence and intention of Sanctuary as we seek to build and sustain unity in our leading to offer mercy and love to those in need.

The hour-and-a-half celebration takes place Saturday, March 13, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., and you are welcome to join with us via Zoom.

For years, our community of faith has enjoyed an annual Arts & Letters gathering around this time each winter, an event where we could enjoy the wide range of artistic abilities among us, both amateur and professional, by Friends of all ages. Visual arts and crafts, dramatic readings, original poetry and prose, dance, video productions, gymnastics, even self-defense, and of course music have all been abundant. And this year, as a consequence of Covid, the occasion is taking yet another turn, one with a theme and a venue that will allow folks from all around the world to meet with us in our little corner of seacoast New Hampshire. I already know of one song written especially for this occasion.

Welcome to Dover Friends …

Remember, it’s free, but registration is required. Click here!

Facts about the mills in Dover

  1. The Cocheco Manufacturing Company had the largest overshot flywheel in the world. It powered the looms and shuttles inside the long five- and six-story building.
  2. It was the scene of the first all-women’s strike in U.S. back in 1828.
  3. The mills once had 1,200 workers.
  4. There were more than 100 company-owned boarding houses.
  5. The town itself wrapped around the mills rather than to one side.
  6. Less than half of the mill complex remains.
  7. The printworks produced 1,000 new patterns a year.
  8. Mill workers received free milk from the company’s herd on Milk Street. Urine from the cows was essential as the fix (stabilizer) for dyes in the fabrics.
  9. Calico, sateen, velvet, and seersucker were the principal textiles produced.
  10. Fire was a constant threat, on occasion erupting spectacularly.

 

Cheers!

Charcoal-grilled lamb and asparagus are accompanied by German-style potato salad in our Smoking Garden. The gin-and-tonic beside me belongs to the photographer. I’m sticking to beer. These really are some of the best days of summer. (Photo by Rachel Williams)