A quick take of my first year here

Whale watches, the ferry to and from Lubec, plus the Fourth of July, salmon, and pirate festivals were all fun. I even observed a beluga that lingered just offshore my first time out on the water here.

The island’s ten degrees cooler than the mainland in summer – I wore shorts only three times, all of them when I was off to run errands elsewhere. And supposedly the temps run ten degrees warmer in winter, though this house is still cold. We really do need to replace the windows and thoroughly insulate.

We missed gardening, apart from the little fenced-in patch in the front yard, but not the weeding, though the rabbits still happily devoured anything I brought in. Rather than squirrels as a menace, we have deer – especially when the wild apple tree starts bearing. They eat nearly everything in sight, including tomatoes, as I learned before reinforcing the rim of our little garden. Still, I nearly got a doe to eat a cookie from my hand one evening. My wife wasn’t so daring. And tomatoes? They really don’t grow well around here. But the oxeye daisies, basil, and lettuce continued merrily all summer.

None of the big renovations we’d anticipated got done. Contractors are booked out a year in advance, and the one we had lined up backed out before tackling the roof that our insurance company wants replaced pronto. Well, even if we had gotten started, prices on building supplies did more than double. We’re hoping they drop – soon.

Anyone else feeling a bit dizzy?

Let me admit that looking at the Red Barn posts as they popped up during the past year often left me feeling a bit schizoid.

As this blog has evolved over its nine years so far, its revolving categories run like a merry-go-round, and that’s led me to plan far ahead and schedule accordingly. If I tried to post right as things unfolded, I’d never have time to write anything else. Besides, this way allows me to get in a groove with each of the categories and explore them in more depth as a series rather than one-offs.

Two things I wasn’t expecting at this time last year have intervened with what I had scheduled and uploaded.

The Delta variant of Covid was one, leading to renewed closures and limitations. For me, the jolt came in bits that included seeing pictures of me standing in Canada from a few years earlier. Well, it was a reminder of what we’re fondly looking forward to doing again. In case any of you were wondering.

The bigger jolt came in the posts of Dover and our usual rounds there, especially in the garden. The problem was that I was no longer there, not after we closed on the house sale back in April – the event that sent me off to Eastport and a lot of our possessions into storage. I really didn’t expect the seller to accept our offer, but we bid in good faith and some hard budgeting and a shared dream.

That’s meant I’ve been exploring an exciting new place and learning about it, which I’ll be showing you through the coming year. What I saw on the Red Barn, on the other hand, was what I would have been experiencing through my old routine. And I must admit I’ve really, really missed those heirloom tomatoes. They just don’t grow up here, much less ripen. (Sigh!)

For the most part, my attention has been consumed by the revisions on my upcoming book – one based on a contrarian history of Dover. So I’ve been connected to the old community anyway, along with Zoom meetings with its neighbors and Friends. Be warned: I’m very much looking forward to sharing a lot of the outtakes and thinking with you through the next year. I think it will change your understanding of New England.

During much of the year, I’ve felt slightly AWOL when it comes to social media. I’m really happy to be getting back.

The perfect tomato

If you’re going for taste over looks, the heirloom Goldie is as heavenly as it gets in a tomato. I prefer mine in a sandwich lathered in mayo and Old Bay seasoning, skipping the bacon and lettuce. One slice is the width of the bread. It’s worth waiting all year for these to kick in.

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?


What I like about gardening

Candidly, I’m not the gardener in our household, but I still have to pitch in with the work. Let me look on the bright side. Plus, when it comes to dining, I definitely enjoy the benefits.

  1. There’s less grass to mow, thanks to the beds that take up at least half of what would have otherwise been lawn.
  2. The sequence of blossoms and produce give me a heightened seasonal awareness. Every week is different, from mid-March as far as mid-November, in the progression of blossoms .
  3. The selections and placement of plants reveals my wife’s mind with its shifting palate of color. She designs English-style clumps, unlike my straight rows. Yes, it really can be a feast for the eyes, even as we look out from our windows.
  4. Asparagus, in a permanent bed, is a delight to cut and eat almost immediately each day through the month of May. It’s the first of our you-can’t-buy-it-this-fresh revelations and reminds me of my years of living in the Yakima Valley of Washington state, where it sprouted like a weed. There, our goal was to sate our taste buds for the coming year. Besides, the delicate ferns are stunning foliage all summer.
  5. Fresh greens. Salads, especially.
  6. Berries, starting with strawberries and extending into blueberries and raspberries. We also have a bank of currants.
  7. Real tomatoes, not the poor substitute you find at the supermarket. We always raise a variety of sizes and shapes, and you’d be surprised how much their flavor varies. One year, I think we had 14 different kinds. Nothing surpasses a tomato and mayo sandwich every day through August and much of September. The king of France should have been envious. You can forget the bacon or even lettuce, as far as I’m concerned, they detract from the star attraction. Again, it’s enjoy it while it’s so gloriously available. (We also freeze a lot for deep winter – the soup, especially, can be heavenly while you watch the snow fall.)
  8. Weeding, which I’d normally avoid, has become a quick means to collect food for the rabbits, which they so greedily and efficiently compost.
  9. Which brings up composting, a lesson in patience and the importance of worms, as I feel virtuous in turning what would have otherwise gone to the landfill into a miracle mixture that’s revived much of our property from what my wife termed “dead dirt” into something soft, pliant, and fertile.
  10. Hummingbirds. They make their rounds through everything flowering, but you have to be alert to see them. Sometimes they’re even right behind your back.


Well, gardening does also serve as an item of conversation.

What would you add?

I’m feeling suspended in time, as in limbo

A curious set of emotions has set in for me. As much as I love living in Dover, I feel myself separating from it. There’s a sadness, as well as the excitement of new adventure ahead, though we have no idea exactly how soon.

Next week? Next month? Next spring or summer? We don’t know yet.

We had enough surprises in trying to buy this place, in what seems a life ago to me.

So I anticipate a crush of time-consuming work ahead in packing and then unpacking our goods, as well as the rounds of changing address and establishing new connections, and that in turn has me hesitating to step up to volunteer for tasks in the groups where I’m a member. Yes, I’m distancing.

It’s happening at home, too.

Moving around the garden, for instance, when we realized we wouldn’t replant garlic bulbs this fall, not here. Or looking at my fern beds and asparagus patch, knowing I’ll definitely miss them.

Or facing household breakdowns, which seem to be multiplying. You know, let repairing them become someone else’s problem. They probably wouldn’t like the color of paint we use, anyway.

Things we’ve never really liked about the house itself but somehow accepted now are acknowledged as irritants. That sort of thing.

I keep thinking we could easily pour another hundred grand into this domicile, if we had that much, but it would never be want we really want or, at this point in our lives, fit what we need.

This all feels so strange, given that I’d settled into a kind of familiar lazy comfort with things.

All of them about to be uprooted.