Maine’s Common Ground Fair has a cult following – and we’re going

It’s like a state fair in the hippie, organic, granola-mind reality. There’s no midway with carnival rides, for sure, but for truly inquiring-minds folk, it’s an autumn equinox slash harvest-time celebration.

Yes, let’s declare a true Thanksgiving, minus turkeys.

Shortened in its post-Covid resurrection, this year’s gathering in Unity, Maine, is the premiere event of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), and runs Sept. 23 through 25.

Now that we’re living in Maine, we can identify as members and look forward to attending, even though in New Hampshire we were surrounded by devotees. Yes, it’s that boffo.

As an aside, I can attest to enjoying my best-ever souvlaki ever, from a wood stove, no less, at an earlier fair. Gee, and I hate standing in line. It was worth it.

This is definitely a hippie-vision positive manifestation of the radical mindset of nirvana. And there’s no honky-tonk.

This year’s poster will no doubt be displayed on a wall of our new abode.

See you there?

Has our drinking water quality really improved?

Eastport’s tap water last summer took on a greenish color and a definite off-taste. It got to the point that we started running everything we’d be drinking or using for cooking through an activated charcoal filter.

The explanation was that the supply came from a large but shallow lake a dozen miles away and that every summer the algae bloomed. The private company that provides water to the city then had to heighten its use of chemicals for treatment, resulting in the offensive character.

Water to the Sipayik reservation also came from the same source but was delivered via a different pipeline and was, by reports, much more troubling.

In its attempts to redress the issue, the company announced it would be using an alternative to treat the water, and I have to say we haven’t noticed the off-taste or discoloration this year. We haven’t yet seen a chemical analysis yet, however, or heard about the current situation on the reservation.

Still, public water quality is something most Americans take for granted.

Funny how often we overlook a problem, even when it has, as I hope, been clearing up.

 

Gee, has it seemed I’ve been a bit AWOL lately?

Have to confess the Red Barn posts have been moving along on schedule, but just not as many or as varied as usual.

Seems I’m not alone that way, here on WordPress or other social media, for that matter.

On this end, I’m knee-deep in trying to get a big project in gear – the part that follows the publication of a new book, which is just around the corner. These next steps are time-consuming and emotionally a roller-coaster. I’m always feeling I’m way behind there, as well as uncertain of the way.

As a complication, about a month ago I suffered a physical fall in the middle of the night and was reminded once more how fragile the body gets in older folks, aka the elderly, and how risky that can be when living alone. I’m still feeling some of the aches after the bruises and what else and won’t be resuming the twice-a-week fitness classes till after Labor Day.

Quite simply, that’s slowed me way down.

And then there was my week at the annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quaker) off in Castleton, Vermont, now that we’re gathering face-to-face again. Getting across northern New England, however, is a remarkably drawn-out trip, no matter how stunning some of the scenery can be. I did see parts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont for the first time.

Weighing on me especially has been the surreal political and social nightmare unfolding here in America. It’s not just Trump, either, but closer to home the threatened return of Paul LePage to the governorship of Maine. Trying to write about that has been paralyzing, and the news developments keep mounting at a dizzying pace.

So here we are and summer’s almost over. It hasn’t exactly felt lazy.

Some common fears

  1. Intimacy. Oh, my, this could lead to another Tendrils. You know, the ways we feel vulnerable.
  2. Poverty. This one even gets twisted up in white superiority and racism, if you look really closely.
  3. Being pulled over while driving. Though it’s unlikely to be a death sentence for me.
  4. Lawsuits. Which can lead to poverty, above.
  5. Being held up or robbed. Well, that can be like a lawsuit plus potential violence.
  6. Rejection. Which also leads back to intimacy, above.
  7. Shame. Well, usually shame is linked to something you’re born with, but it still connects with fear, along with its first-cousin, guilt – arising from something you did bad, really bad.
  8. Hunger. Not that most Americans actually go without food long, but just watch their reactions when they have to fast or go more than two or three hours without a nibble.
  9. Debilitating illness or physical handicap. Blindness, deafness, dementia, for starters. Or falling off a ladder at my age.
  10. Dying as a failure. You know, without achieving something big to advance mankind. Or just plain going to Hell.

Do these all involve pain?

What would you add to the list?

Chickens and the meaning of life, chapter whatever

A couple of incidents regarding my daughter’s chickens have me thinking about human affairs.

Her hens were increasingly picking on one another and squabbling until an incident with a neighbors’ dog posed a terror. In response, they instinctively banded together, including their otherwise useless rooster. For weeks after, their antisocial behavior was transformed, focused on a common enemy.

A year later, the same thing happened when a red tail hawk picked off two of the hens in the yard.

That leads to the question:

Do we humans really need some villain, however small, to make our own lives meaningful?

We see it in politics, for sure. And in sports. As for personal development and ethical living?

I am convinced we need to keep an eye on Satan, in whatever garb, but also need to be careful we don’t start “preaching for sin,” as early Quakers cautioned. The fact is that in fiction it is much easier to create a believable bad guy than a good one.

So even secular novelists must make sure to avoid exclusivity in their vision.

We also need to keep another eye on the Light and its leadings. Otherwise, well, we’d still be chickens at the mercy of foxes and weasels.

Murder capital of Maine

With a population of only 31,121, Washington County is essentially rural and small town. It’s 90 percent white, five percent Native American, and has a fourth of its residents over age 65.

At first glance, then, it’s not the kind of place you would expect to be suffering a homicide in each of the past six months.

The entire state reported only 22 in 2021 – two of them in Washington County, starting the six-month count. Quite simply, the county can currently be seen as the murder capital of the state.

Back in November, the victim in Machias was a 17-year-old male from New York. We could shake our heads and assume drugs had something to do with the case.

The rest, however, have been unmistakably local.

Several were domestic violence. One of those, the death of a valued employee, resulted in a family decision not to reopen a popular lobster pound in downtown Eastport, so we see these events having public consequences.

The latest instance had a 43-year-old Passamaquoddy woman as the victim and two of her neighbors arrested on homicide charges. Investigators have been unusually tight-lipped, leading to widespread speculation. Happening within a community of about 600, this takes a hard toll, ripping through at least three extended families.

The news, coming on the heels of a heavier than usual number of funerals in the tribe, adds to the grieving.

We can ask what is prompting this wave of violence and death.

Poverty is no doubt a factor. Individual and household incomes are only two-thirds of the national average, but probably skewer sharply down on one side or up the other, creating a gulch in real practice. The Covid-related closures of the international border to and from Canada have taken a toll on businesses, employment, and families, too.

The despair leads to drug abuse, as is related in everyday conversations around here.

As much as this region can be a paradise, it’s not problem-free. Not by any means.

Mortality and the passage of time

Realizing I really did need to get some regular physical exercise last winter, I finally caved in and ventured into the senior center for fitness class twice a week. It took three friends to nudge me into it, and it’s embarrassing to have to admit what 50 years of neglect have done to my body. I’m a long way from my yoga glory. Well, I’m also the only male in the circle, not that it inhibits the lively, enlightening, and laughter-riddled banter that occurs while we’re plodding through the routine. Their hour-plus dialogue could fill a hit sit-com or bestseller novel, if only I could find a plot. Well, much of the running commentary there is also about ailments afflicting folks in the community, sometimes leading to offering rides to their specialists or food deliveries – what I’ll call “good gossip.” And, oh yes, I much prefer to refer to the place as the Old Firehouse, skirting around the stigma of “senior center.”

That has me recalling an aside years ago when our managing editor told of a phone call he’d received from a reader complaining about being referred to as elderly.

“How old are you,” my boss asked and was told 78. “I see,” was the best he could respond with.

After that, I always struck “elderly” from news copy, along with “little” from child or kid.

Getting older is a multistage passage, most notably with the skin and stiffening joints, but the physical changes are only part of the experience.

One part is an awareness of being on borrowed time. Even when I was editing obituaries, I noted how many of the deceased were younger than me, and that was a little more than ten years ago.

Moving around the country has lessened some of the impact of aging, since I haven’t had to watch us grow older together. My high school classmates, for instance, will always never be more than 18 in my mind. Ditto for others left behind, they’re all frozen in time, even the few who are still in correspondence.

So another part is hearing that more of these colleagues of my generation are passing – a situation akin to personally knowing more people who have had been diagnosed with Covid and the recognition that it’s not just multiplying “out there” somewhere – that is, knowing only the abstract – but close at hand.

I recently posted two memorial minutes of Friends I worked with clerking Dover Meeting and have been reflecting on others in my Quaker circles.

Now I get word of the passing of an esteemed reporter who was six years younger than me, and somehow it hits more than those from the workplace who died earlier. To my surprise, it has nothing to do with how close we were in our daily interactions. (He and I weren’t, apart from a comment or two in passing. I should note that he produced “clean copy,” requiring little editing, and that meant little interpersonal friction.)

In his case, I think the blow comes as a sense of an end of an era. He carried institutional weight in covering the New Hampshire’s political scene and soared nationally during the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. With the decline of newspapers in general, his replacement at the statewide Union Leader will never achieve such prominence or influence.

Food as religion

Perhaps you know the counsel, “’Eat to Live,’ rather than ‘Live to Eat.’”

Still, a big change has occurred in America in the past half century. While the impact of organized religion has declined, a quest for a rich, even exotic, cuisine has flourished. As I posted a few years ago, dining out became the major fine art form of our time, rather than music, theater, film, or dance.  It’s the ethereal experience, the sensual transcendence, that’s the goal – ultimately, subjective rather than objective, heightened by long exposure to the field. Examples? Just look at the restaurant and wine reviews, along with their arcane or cryptic dialect.

Well, that also takes it into the realm of spirituality and religion, too, although that might also temper the feasting with periods of fasting. Maybe all of the limitations that have popped up, usually for health reasons or weight control, fit in here. It has been said that you can’t read the life of Jesus without getting hungry – there’s food or a food event at nearly every turn. (As a rabbi told me, that’s because Jesus was Jewish and in social settings, you always wind up with something to nibble in your hand.)

I’m left wondering how this translates to the home kitchen. Cooking skills, by and large, seem to be less universal than in the past, and time to devote to food preparation usually comes at a premium. Is takeout a kind of sacrificial nod to the food gods?

One thing I will say in all of the transformation. Thank God for the microwave oven.

Ring around the Shead gym

I used to joke that I swam laps to keep my doctor happy, but that ended with the outbreak of Covid. And then I moved to the remote fishing village, one without even an outdoor pool, and, in a routine checkup, my new doctor expressed concern about my blood pressure readings. On reflection, I realized I wasn’t getting enough physical exercise. I wasn’t even climbing stairs the way I was in the old place. And then I learned that the local high school gym is open to walkers on weekday mornings through winter. Voila! I’m now joking that I walk the black track around the gym floor to keep my doctor happy.

Why walk around the mall, even if we had one?

Better yet, there’s a rumor that we seniors are even going to get some exercise machines here, once the basketball season’s over. Remember, nearly half of the school’s enrollment is on the boys’ and girls’ teams.

How many other high schools are that inclusive?

By the way, keep this up, we just might start referring to the place as the Shead Seniors and Senior High School. Those kids should be honored.