Looking into the past

Apponegansett Friends meetinghouse in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Sometimes when I stop at old Quaker meetinghouses, I’ll try to take a photo of the interior through the windows. Reflections make it tricky, in this case casting an image of me and my camera back at  us. What remains is the rustic interior of the 1790 Apponegansett Friends meetinghouse in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, viewed from the former women’s side of the house, with a set of cedar dividing shutters lifted out of sight in the middle. The gallery for ministers and elders is at the left, and seating for the general membership is at the right. Does it get any simpler than this?

Truly New England

Here I am, running errands around town, realize I’m driving with my car window rolled down, the temperature is 56 degrees, Fahrenheit, and it’s still February. Look, the reading was only 20 degrees this morning, and the frost was heavy. Still, having the window open feels natural, and the fresh air’s wonderful.

At the next stoplight, I look around and realize half of the other drivers also have their car windows open. Makes me think of the joke about how the drivers in Florida would all have their heat turned on if it was ten degrees warmer than here.

As I move on, I start wondering about the drivers who still have their windows rolled up. Is it because they have their air conditioning on?

We still have March and the potential for some heavy snowfall ahead.

Why presidential hopefuls brave the ice and snow

Its first-in-the-nation presidential primary has the Live-Free-or-Die state in the headlines these days. We want to meet and evaluate them all. It ain’t always easy.

The state’s presidential primary originated in Town Meeting Day, which is traditionally conducted on the second Tuesday in March each year. Since everybody had already come out for this unique form of grassroots democracy, it made sense to add one more item to the warrant, as the agenda is called, rather than make yet another trip to the town hall. (Besides, being winter, we’d have to heat it.) As other states have tried to jump into the spotlight, the presidential part has moved forward on the calendar. Theirs, though, don’t have organic roots like ours.

Contrary to what some candidates label their appearances, a real Town Meeting is not a political lecture or Q&A opportunity but rather a community session for debating and then voting on local government decisions for the year. Everyone can speak up and be heard. The town and school budgets are major considerations.

Now for some other perspectives on the Granite State:

  1. New Hampshire is bigger than it looks on the map. Rotate it 90 degrees and you’ll see it’s larger than Massachusetts, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island. It’s slightly smaller than Vermont. When water is included, Massachusetts and Hawaii jump ahead.
  2. Small-business owners comprise 96 percent of the employers in the state.
  3. An estimated 87,000 residents, mostly in the southern tier, commute to jobs in Massachusetts.
  4. It’s the only state where seatbelts are not required and one of only a handful where motorcycle helmets are not mandatory.
  5. The state has no income or sales tax. Property taxes make up much of the difference.
  6. The state ranks dead last in its support of secondary education.
  7. New Hampshire has the longest running state lottery in the continental U.S. Originally, the numbers were not drawn at random but based on results from the Rockingham racetrack.
  8. Dover, settled in 1623, is the nation’s seventh-oldest permanent community.
  9. The first potato crop in America was planted in 1719 by Scots-Irish immigrants in Nutfield (now part of Manchester).
  10. Although the state has only 18 miles of ocean frontage, the 6,000-acre Great Bay 10 miles inland is one of the largest estuaries along the Atlantic coast. It’s crucial for sustaining fish populations in the ocean.


Ever been to the Granite State? What can you add to the list?

On thin ice

Contrary to the petroleum-industry pawns in public office, there’s no shortage of evidence of global warming – or climatic instability, to be more precise.

In the 20 years I’ve lived and gardened where I do, we’ve moved a whole growing zone ahead – out of 11. In effect, we’ve gained two full frost-free months.

For perspective, consider a friend who recently moved to town. He took cuttings of one shrub in his new yard to the local nursery and asked what he could do to assure their flowering next year.

Nothing, he was told. Our weather’s now too warm for that species to bloom.


Which brings me to January.

It’s typically the coldest month of the year, the one where we get subzero temps and freezing water pipes, if we’re not vigilant.

What we’re not supposed to be getting is readings up into the 60s, as we are now. Not 6 or minus 6. Sixty-three, yesterday.

We haven’t even had many single-digit numbers this season. A few in the teens.

It’s scary.

We remember the warm spell a few years ago that killed all that year’s peaches in the Northeast. Or, more accurately, the seasonally appropriate deep cold a few days later did.


Snowfall is another matter. Usually, much of January is too cold for it to snow. Instead, we got a half-dozen inches after Christmas, then followed by a slow, misty rain, which then froze solid. The white’s still there, but you have to be careful. You walk on top of it and slide, rather than sink inches into it. It’s treacherous.

Or was until yesterday. Our neighbor was out in his shorts and a T-shirt to finish shoveling his driveway, the part that his monster snowblower couldn’t quite handle.

I was able to get out on my cross country skis a few times in December, for the first time in three or four years. But after that I didn’t dare on this stuff, there was no way to control my movement. At my age, a fall could put me in traction. Banish the thought.

Meanwhile, I hear that the ice on our lakes is too thin for the ice fishermen, who usually populate the expanses with their colorful bob houses this time of year. Nope, not so far this one. Look, there’s a whole subculture devoted to that practice, and I’d bet the majority of them keep voting for the villains. It’s insane.


Well, the prophets of all this were poobahed back in the ’60s when their scientific projections saw it coming. And the self-interests of the oil industry have continued to decry it, shifting their stance along the way from “It’s phony” to “It’s just a normal fluctuation” to “It’s inevitable and we can’t do anything anyway.”

Doesn’t anyone else see how they’re on thin ice, just just as ignorant as the innocent polar bears caught up in their greedy blindness?

And as for the rest of us? I mean, if our temperatures here are running 20 to 40 degrees above normal, I hate to think about summer. How hot would that make it where you live? Maybe they’re hoping to rake in on our increased air-conditioning bills, too.

How about you?

I still don’t feel ‘retired’

Yes, it sounds whiny, even insensitive, but it’s true. Since taking the buyout nearly eight years ago and leaving the newsroom altogether a year later, I still have no idea of what kicking back full-time means. You know, like playing golf or sunbathing or heading for the mountains.

What it has allowed is more time to tackle projects I’ve felt are important – and more sustained focus. The fiction, especially, has gained depth in the process. Remember, in the past two years, I’ve thoroughly revised nearly all of my novels and pulled related volumes from public view.

Curiously, poetry has taken a backseat. I’m not attending readings or society meetings – the latter conflict with other obligations. Meanwhile, submissions to small-press journals and presses have ceased altogether, replaced by my blogging presentations, which I feel are far more effective in relation to the time involved. What I sometimes refer to as collecting rejection slips.

I hate to admit that despite early warnings, blogging takes up more time than I expected – and even then, I’m not reading as widely as I hoped. The WordPress Reader has tons of fine postings to always check out.

Related to blogging is the photography. I’ve always had a strong visual awareness, abetted by four years of strict art training in high school. When I launched the Red Barn at the end of 2011, I expected it to be fully text-driven, but you can see how far we’ve moved away from that. I’m still at a point-and-shoot rather than technically precise attitude – last thing I need is another obsession – but I am proud of much of what I’ve collected and shared.

Quaker picked up with service on the New England Yearly Meeting’s Ministry and Counsel committee and its deliberations throughout the year, but my anticipated daily early morning meditation and yoga haven’t materialized. Frankly, Quaker could become a full-time but unpaid job all its own.

Instead, the daily swimming at the indoor pool has been giving me a cardio workout and a half-hour for clearing my head, and my early-morning Spanish drills just may come in useful if I ever travel to fellow members of the Iglesia de los Amigos in Cuba. The language itself is harder than I remember it being in high school.

Well, I wasn’t planning on being a member of a solid choir, either, or of finally self-publishing as I have at Smashwords. In today’s literary scene, getting a book out is only the beginning of the labor – promotion and marketing, for all but the best-selling authors, is a task left to the creator. It’s a common lament.

Should I mention falling way behind in household chores, gardening tasks, and general maintenance?

On reflection, I still don’t know how I managed all I did while I was still duly employed.

So here we are, beginning year No. 8 at the Red Barn. Let’s see what really happens ahead.