A view into our side yard

A wet day at the end of the fall foliage season can still be quite lovely.

I’m still offended

I hate being labeled in a demographic targeted with mailings that ask questions like this:

Is it hearing loss, or just … EARWAX?

I can still use a Q-tip, thank you. Now will they please go away?

 

A missed opportunity

One of the delights of my small city is the waterfall at the heart of the downtown. It has powered mills since 1642, and with the addition of the dam atop the cataract, ran the textiles looms that made Cocheco calico world-famous.

The Central Falls and the dam atop it span the Cocheco River where it drops to the tide.

The river – seen here resting at the end of summer – rages in the springtime, with snowmelt and heavy rains, and plunges into the tides that fluctuate eight to ten feet every six hours. Hence, the fish ladder for salmon, herring, and migrating eels.

With the retraining wall on the south side of the site in danger, a new wall was installed during the summer – a major construction project that tied up traffic for months.

The new retaining wall is seen from the Central Avenue bridge.

When the old wall and the ground behind it were being removed earlier in the year, the excavation suggested that a much different design was in the works. Getting a clear view of the falling water has been difficult. The old walkway was charming, but you really wanted to get down lower and closer to the water. I envisioned a set of small terraces stepping downward beside the fish ladder.

 

The fish ladder ascends next to the retaining wall.

 

Here’s how the ladder and wall appear from a pedestrian bridge next to the mill.

Alas, that’s not what happened. We don’t even have the charming walkway anymore.

I’m hoping the new wall weathers quickly. Right now, it strikes me as an eyesore.

They bill this as Fish Ladder Park. No kidding. The tree-lined walkway and quaint lamps are gone.

What would you eat in Kittery Foreside?

The square where it’s happenin’.

Kittery, Maine, is a few miles downstream from where I live. It’s also across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, which is loaded with eateries – maybe as many per capita as Manhattan.

For much of its existence, Kittery has been pretty blue-collar. It’s home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard – the U.S. Navy’s oldest continuously operating yard – and now tasked with the upkeep of nuclear submarines. It’s also home to a lot of lobstermen.

When I first came to New Hampshire, the Kittery Grange Hall was the scene of a monthly contradance – both the grange and the event now ancient history.

Oh, yes, and its strip of discount outlet stores along U.S. 1 is a major tourist attraction. Seriously. As is the adjacent sprawling Kittery Trading Post.

But with Portsmouth booming and the cost of its retail space skyrocketing, Kittery has been undergoing a transformation. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Wallingford Square, which used to be a gritty cluster of bars around one of the shipyard’s two gates. Today it’s been rechristened Kittery Foreside and is the center of some enterprising fine dining and food sellers.

Here’s what you’ll find.

The keystone restaurant.
  1. Anneke Jans. Upscale trendy dining with a devoted following. It’s the culinary anchor.
  2. Rudders Public House. Specialty: Kittery Fried Chicken.
  3. Lil’ s Café. Crulers, anyone?
  4. AJ Wood Grill Pizza. Get the picture?
  5. Anju Noodle Bar. For that Asian touch.
  6. Wallingford Dram. Artisan cocktails in “that walk-in closet, timeless gem of a bar,” as one critic describes it.
  7. The Black Perch. Duck-gravy laden pontine.
  8. Festina Lente. Rustic Italian.
  9. Authentic India. As it says.
  10. Tributary Brewing Company.

~*~

Nearby is the Beach Pea bakery, the best baguettes around, and Loco Coco’s Tacos, with its wonderful fine Mexican cuisine.

Naval shipyard viewed from the square.

 

On seeing pileated woodpeckers

The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest members ot the family, rather comical and awkward looking, at that. It’s also not commonly seen, so sightings are always exciting, at least if you have an eye for birds. (Pronounced PIE-lee-ay-tid or PILL-ee-ay-tid, by the way.)

I remember one of my first encounters was while having dinner with the Ostroms at their house perched atop a wooded ravine outside Bloomington, Indiana. One alighted just outside the window, to our shared surprise and wonder.

More recently, as I was driving with my elder daughter down a road in Maine, one was flying just ahead of us but veered off before she could look up.

A week later, on a different road, the same thing happened.

She accuses me of making those up.

So the other day, after a meeting at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in Durham, I noticed two people in the parking lot who were staring at something in the trees just beyond. I caught the red head and then the full bird. Yup. Amazing, considering this was an urban neighborhood.

And then, on another trunk, I spotted on more red head and big body, which then swooped down to join the first.

The pileated ‘pecker is a large bird – 16 to 19 inches long with a wingspan up to 30 inches, as I’m reading, likely the largest of its family in North America – and they can do some serious damage to trees they decide to nest in. Think of a beaver with wings. Again, from some quick referencing online, I’d guess you can look for a nest based on the pile of wood chips below.

My companion, in her early 90s, apologized that she’s never been able to really see birds, not even as a child. “My eyesight’s always been poor,” she apologized. So much for a witness. At least she could attest that two others were also commenting on the birds before us.

As for said daughter? She insists I’m making this up, too.

For the record, I don’t think I ever seen more than one classic redheaded woodpecker in my life. Hairy woodpeckers and downeys and flickers, of course, are another matter. Old friends, I’d say.

Of course, the Woody Woodpecker cartoons don’t count, do they?

Not my picture, alas. Bird photography is truly a specialty.

Retired six years now

Through much of my working career, the question lingered: What do I want to be when I grow up?

The answer finally shaped up: Retired!

So it’s hard to think I’ve been retired six years now – make it seven if you include the early buyout that allowed me to work more flexibly in the newsroom for a year.

Frankly, I don’t feel retired – whatever that is. I don’t play golf or spend all day at the beach or play evenings of card games like bridge.

For me, what I wanted was more time to read and write and attend to Quaker matters and be out in the wilderness – that sort of thing. Do what Gary Snyder would call the Real Work.

My wife scoffed when she saw some of my early plans for retirement. Would I devote regular blocks of time to each pursuit? Would I rise at five to meditate and do yoga before moving on poetry or fiction?

Scoff? She was more infuriated that I wasn’t including time for household chores or gardening or togetherness along other kinds. Saw it as being self-centered.

~*~

Suffice it to say those early scheduling ideas are far from what emerged. They didn’t include swimming laps every weekday, thanks to the brilliant Christmas present of an annual indoor pool pass from my elder daughter, who wisely decided I needed more exercise, seconding a motion from my physician.

Nor did they include being performing in incredible choir in Boston, which takes up the better part of a day. Or, more accurately, an afternoon and evening. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate making music on such a high level.

Nor was blogging on those blueprints. It’s wound up occupying more time than I expected, but it’s also freed me from the submissions process in getting work published – so timewise, I think it’s a bargain. And that includes having my own small-press imprint on my Thistle Finch line here at WordPress.

~*~

I have been able to devote more blocks of time to the fiction, which has been satisfying, but I still feel myself pressed for time when it comes to doing all I want or should.

I’m still trying to make adjustments for the domestic needs, especially now that my wife’s back in the workforce.

The joke is I’m not really retired – I’m just not receiving a paycheck.

In retrospect, I’m surprised by how much writing I actually accomplished in my own time all those years I was employed. It gives me a deep well to draw on.

When a Chinese student stayed in our home

Last summer, we had a college student from China stay in our home while he worked an internship at the children’s museum in town.

We found it to be an enriching experience.

His big desire was to improve his English, which he did, but he also wanted to “eat American.” That meant, as we learned, that he really loved our homemade Mexican more than a Big Mac … and my fried rice more than the Chinese restaurant downtown. And don’t overlook the brownies and potato chips.

Lobster, on the other hand, required too much labor to dissect, as his friends agreed.

As a city boy, he was annoyed by the insects when we dined outdoors. Alas, we ate indoors a bit too often.

In return, we’ve been endowed with some of the best green tea in North America, along with some great memories.

His English was, shall we say, much better than my Spanish (my point of reference in trying to translate to another language), but our great discovery was of an effective way to translate when we got stuck on an interpretation. No, it wasn’t a dictionary. It was the ubiquitous cell phone.

Like when he wanted to buy some sleepers.

Pajamas?

No, sleepers.

After a few rounds of that, he pulled up the image online.

We were in the drug store.

Oh, flip-flops! Now I understood.

That is, slippers.

Made sense to me. An “i” can, after all, be pronounced as “ee.” It is in Spanish, for that matter.

We headed for the aisle behind him, found a suitable pair for under three bucks – made in China, actually. Small world?

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