‘Nine-to-five’ rarely fits what I saw

I used to be surprised by all the working-age adults on the street and in stores on weekdays, not just housewives, but now more likely the invisible off-hours employees on the job nights and weekends, especially at minimum wage in a 24/7 economy.

Not that I was that much on that schedule, either. I mean, I was working nights and weekends.

Think, too, of all those who work holidays – police, fire, nurses, ER personnel, toll-booth collectors, air traffic controllers, bus-train-plane-airport staffers, restaurants, convenience store, even grocery and pharmacy, plus journalists, entertainers, utility line, gas station attendants, theater crews.

The 9-to-5 bit starts to look spoiled. Besides, an 8 o’clock start was more likely, to allow for a lunch break.

Some related history books I’d like to see

Assuming they’re well written.

  1. A biography of Sir Ferdinando Gorges. He was the godfather of New England, after all, but failed to fulfill his dream.
  2. Ditto for father and son Alexander and Nicholas Shapleigh (especially the trials of being royalists as the Puritans and their commonwealth emerged).
  3. Especially a bio of Major Richard Waldron in all of his shenanigans. He made much of Dover a personal fiefdom and ignited decades of warfare that followed his death.
  4. How early colonial economics really worked. Start with the charter holders who “owned” the province but not the land.
  5. A clearer understanding of Puritans, Unitarians, and Baptists, especially as they evolved within New England.
  6. A closer examination of the Dover Meeting minutes, especially the Revolutionary War disciplinary actions as well as more on the recorded ministers and elders.
  7. Hampton Meeting and Salem Meeting … and a comprehensive history of New England Yearly Meeting and its Friends.
  8. Devonshire folkways and ways its Puritans may have deviated from those …
  9. How the four towns differed, then and now.
  10. Dover in its textile mill glory days.

For my own contributions to the field, see Quaking Dover. Order your copy at your favorite bookstore. Or request it at your public library.

Much more than a spring tonic

It was fairly common in the wild when I was growing up in the Midwest, and its red roots and polymorphic leaves of one, two, and three lobes all on one tree made it distinctive. But the tree is rather rare where I’m now living.

It does, however, play into my Quaking Dover story, as I’ll explain.

Here are ten things of note about sassafras.

  1. Found in the eastern North America and East Asia, the tree can grow to somewhere between 60 to 100 feet in height (the maximum keeps growing in the versions I’m encountering), though I associate it mostly with shrubs in the forest undergrowth. For others, it was seen as an aggressive plant quickly cluttering old fields.
  2. Traditionally, it was famed as spring tonic in the form of tea boiled from its dark red, aromatic roots, although the leaves and bark can also be used. More recent research cautions not taking it for more than a week, and it was pulled from commercial markets after experiments in 1960 found that safrole, a compound prominent in its volatile oils, caused liver cancer in rats and mice.
  3. Commercial oils used today in foods, cosmetics, and soaps are safrole-free and safe for consumption.
  4. Root beer, a popular soft drink, was traditionally made from sassafras roots, often cooked with molasses. Charles Elmer Hires, the first to successfully market the brew, was a teetotaler who wanted to call his extract “root tea” but found it sold better among Pennsylvania miners as “root beer.” And, for the record, it was long used to brew a backwoods beer.
  5. French Acadians relocating to Louisiana discovered its spice qualities from the Native Choctaws. Its dried lemony-scent leaves are ground to create filé powder, a green aromatic dust that thickens Cajun gumbos or is later sprinkled atop the dish.
  6. Its blue berries on red stems, forming early in the fall foliage season, provide a high-energy food for migratory birds on their long southward flight. The birds are attracted to the color.
  7. The tree’s leaves turn a spectacular variety of purple, orange, yellow, and red. That alone earns it consideration in landscape design.
  8. The straight-grained, durable wood was commonly used to make horse-drawn sleighs, though the runners were usually hickory, a harder substance. Sassafras has also been popular in making buckets, cabinets, cradles and other furnature, woodwork, and even utensils such as spoons.
  9. Native Americans valued sassafras in a range of medicinal uses, including a poultice for open wounds. Fascinated by the applications, Europeans soon attributed the exotic plant with supernatural qualities, including the retardation of age, making sassafras a rival to tobacco in importance as an export from America.
  10. How medicinal? It was the reason 23-year-old Captain Martin Pring, in 1603, became the first European to lead an exploration of the Piscataqua River. Sassafras was valued as a cure for the French pox, which you may recognize as the name the English and others called what we refer to as syphilis. (If only it had actually worked.) Failing to find many of the trees in today’s Dover and vicinity, he sailed on to encamp at Truro on Cape Cod, where he indeed harvested sassafras but was interrupted when his rude behavior greatly upset the Natives, making for one of the first sour episodes in English relations with the New World locals.

Add to this to our list of items made obsolescent in our lifetimes

Even before many folks switched to unlisted numbers, in part to evade obnoxious ding-a-ling solicitations, the annual telephone book began shrinking. The migration from landline to cell phones was apparently the final straw, along with Yellow Pages regulars who turned instead to website searches or FaceBook.

What was long a standard reference volume for local communities is now long gone.

When’s the last time you saw a phone book?


A few islands in comparison

Islands come in all shapes and sizes, and even that can change dramatically with the tides. Now that I’m living on one, I’m really beginning to appreciate their variety. Some you can drive to or from, while others require a ferry or even an airplane. The better-known ones seem to be vacation or travel destinations.

Here’s a sampling, starting with home.

  1. Eastport, Maine, including Moose, Treat, Carlow, Matthews, and a few more: 3.6 square miles (12.3 with water)
  2. Manhattan: 22.7 square miles
  3. Staten: 58.5 square miles
  4. Martha’s Vineyard: 96 square miles
  5. Nantucket: 48 square miles
  6. Grand Manan, New Brunswick: 55 square miles (198.4 with water), but one side is a 20-mile wall of tall bluffs – the same length as Martha’s Vineyard.
  7. Sanibel, Florida: 16.1 square miles
  8. Mount Desert, Maine (home of Acadia National Park): 108 square miles
  9. Santa Catalina, California: 75 square miles
  10. San Juan, Washington: 55 square miles

Care to tell us about others?


What’s off with Microsoft’s log-in algorithm?

You know, the changing photo that keeps appearing when you log in. The calculations have no idea, really, of what I like or don’t. My sensibilities are far more complicated than its simple “mountains” or “seashores” calculus.

In one photo, for instance, a single bright-colored backpack at the bottom of the scene threw off the entire wilderness message. It looked like trash. That sort of thing. I didn’t like the particular photo for that reason, but I loved the bigger landscape.

It’s like living with a painting and one day you finally observe something that becomes a flaw. You loved it up to that point. And then?

It’s a binary switch rather than a scale of one-to-ten.

For now, I’m finding some comfort in that, sensing they still aren’t outsmarting me.


Not all firewood provides the proper heat

Living in places where firewood is readily available – unlike, say, Manhattan or the Arctic Circle – has made it relatively affordable to heat by a wood-burning stove, at least when we’ve had one. (Let me repeat, it’s high on our renovations and home improvement list.)

OK, my Eagle Scout training left me quite aware that green wood – that is, freshly cut – burns inefficiently, unlike wood that’s had time for the sap and related moisture to dry out. That said, here are some other points.

  1. Seasoning can take as little as six months, though old-timers prefer at least a full year. Or more, if stacked in a way that allows sufficient circulation to avoid rot and fungus.
  2. Softwoods – generally conifers like pine, juniper, spruce, and cedar but also including poplars – ignite easily and burn hot, but they don’t blaze long. They also have a lot of creosote, which will need to be cleaned from the chimney as a housefire hazard.
  3. Hardwoods – maple, oak, hickory, ash, and birch – are denser and burn slower and longer, and while they release less immediate heat, there’s also less smoke and they add up as a layer of radiantly hot coals.
  4. All firewood has creosote, so annual chimney cleaning is recommended. Some sources say every two cords. Chimney fires are especially vicious.
  5. In colonial New England, a house typically required 40 cords or more of firewood a year. Imagine cutting, splitting, and stacking all that – even before bringing it indoors.
  6. Salvaged wood – such as lumber, poles, and fencing – often contain preservatives that release hazardous vapors as they burn.
  7. Destructive insects and plant diseases can be spread when transporting firewood more than a few miles from its source. That’s why it’s illegal to import firewood into Maine. Now I’m wondering about the guys from Maine who delivered to our house in New Hampshire.
  8. A cord is a stack 4-by-4-by-8 feet of standard 16-inch wood. Many stoves, though, require a shorter log.
  9. Do you really get a full cord when it’s delivered? I’ll spare you some old jokes.
  10. Favorite woods include apple and tamarack/larch, both for their aroma and a clean burn that leaves little ash.

As for air pollution? I really don’t want to go there. It could be a Tendril all its own, once we find the right tech geek to sift through the varied reports.


When you see someplace you’ve known now in the news

The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, has me mentally revisiting a part of my landscape from forty years ago.

At the time, I lived two counties to the north but was a member of one of three old-style Quaker Meetings in Columbiana County, where the accident took place. So I was down there at least once a week most of the year. The county was a mix of industrial and suburban, especially where it bordered Rust Belt Youngstown, and rural Appalachia along with touches of New England. One corner abutted the Ohio River and West Virginia.

The rail line in the headlines was like those running through a small city where I had worked in another corner of the state, a place I call Prairie Depot in my fiction. And East Palestine itself could be adjacent to the city at the core of my novel, Hometown News.

Churches included Mennonite and Brethren, in the peace tradition, as well as Evangelical Friends at the other end of the Quaker spectrum.

Retracing the terrain via satellite maps, I was struck by how much I’ve forgotten, even parts I had known fondly. Others were pretty gritty, even back then.

From a distance now, it’s like encountering a ghost in a haunted house I thought I’d left behind.

Sometimes a small city can have a big impact

Bangor, Maine, has about the same population as Dover, New Hampshire – 30,000-plus.

But it’s the center of a wide region and has the spotlight to itself. In fact, though I live a 2½-hour drive away, it’s the place we often turn to for what many folks take for granted.

Here’s some perspective.

  1. It’s where the Penobscot River meets the ocean, so historically it was the world’s leading producer of lumber, which was floated down from the North Woods, milled, and then packed on ocean-going ships.
  2. Well, that did lead to Old Money, which can be seen in the remaining stately homes and churches built by lumber barons in the 19th century.
  3. The river also separates the city from Brewer, which adds another 10,000 or so to the metro population and provides some of the services and products we seek.
  4. Not just the mall and big-box stores, though some of them do deliver way out to our fringe of the state. Don’t overlook new auto dealerships and their service departments, either. Well, we do have one dealer out here in Sunrise County, but it’s not Toyota.
  5. The vast Northern Light Eastern Medical Center on the bank of the Penobscot River is the hub of an integrated health system spanning much of the state. Frequently, that means this is where your specialist is.
  6. Bangor International Airport. It’s where you have to go if you need to a commercial airline connection or are meeting an arrival.
  7. Media. Starting with the Bangor Daily News and Maine Public’s studio.
  8. University of Maine in neighboring Orono. Well, its impact spills over into downtown Bangor, should you be looking for funky.
  9. By the 1880s, Bangor was also a leading producer of moccasins, more than 100,000 a year. Should that be a footnote?
  10. The downtown was struck by major fires in 1856, 1869, 1872, and 1911 – the last one destroying the high school, post office, custom house, public library, telephone and telegraph companies, banks, two fire stations, six churches and a synagogue, about 100 businesses and 285 residences.