Aloft in color

Hardwoods along the high school athletic field.

The Columbus Day weekend is typically touted as “prime foliage” across much of New England, though we can quibble. In truth, the leaves of the deciduous trees change color in waves rather than all at once. Many are already bare, while many others are still green. And this year, severe drought has taken a toll, too.

Sometimes they seem aflame.

While Allen Ginsberg once quipped, “New England, famed for red leaves,” the reality is that few trees fulfill that vision. Far more are golden or buttery. Still, we keep looking.

By the end of the month, our landscape will emerge monotone – and likely remain that way well into March. Knowing what’s ahead, we savor what we can now.

The Cocheco River at Whittier Falls.
Don’t forget to look underfoot, too. And don’t overlook the impact of purple.

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For my in-depth thoughts and photos reflecting New England’s fall folige, check out my posts from September and October 2013 at my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog.

We’re coming up on what would have been the big 50th anniversary Revels Christmas production

Every December, the Boston Revels produces a new winter solstice celebration that now plays to 18 sold-out performances in Harvard’s historic Sanders Theatre. Or did, before the Covid-19 restrictions.

From their first round in 1970, the shows have grown into a unique hybrid of storytelling, theater, dance, concert, audience singalong and other participation. Each year focuses on a different corner of the world or a historical event.

Guest artists bring their traditions to the company, and the costuming and sets are always spectacular. Nobody could forget the big canoe that came flying out over the audience in a Canadian show a couple of decades back.

Well, this year’s production won’t be live in the flesh, but rather a streamed online retrospective. I don’t really know how to count it. Still, if you go to the revels.org website, you can attend a virtual show wherever you dwell. Admittedly, it won’t quite be the same.

Here are ten we’ve especially enjoyed.

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  1. Leonardo da Vinci. This was founder John Langstaff’s final appearance with the troupe, and it focused on three different cities in Renaissance Italy.    
  2. The road to Campostela. The culture of Spain’s Galatian region was featured in this homage to the pilgrimage known as The Way. Storyteller Jay O’Callahan was captivating, the flamenco was quite moving, and you wouldn’t forget those Spanish bagpipes.
  3. Wales. There’s more to the British enclave than Dylan Thomas, though it did provide the timeframe for this production.
  4. England’s Crystal Palace. How truly Victorian.
  5. Venice in the 1500s. The music wasn’t all Italian and Latin, by the way. The Croatian, Sephardic, and Turkish pieces were all hits. And the story was a delightful comedy.
  6. Acadia and Cajun. We followed the life and expulsion of this French-speaking people from Canada to New Orleans. The big tree at the back of the stage kept shifting color as needed, and the stream of immigrants into exile seemed to be endless, even though it was only the chorus of children and adults repeating their exodus toward the audience.
  7. Nordic. Six languages, including English, big slices of the Kalevala myth, and a lot of polkas. The Scandinavian fiddles are distinctive.
  8. Armenia and Georgia. I loved the economy of this one. The first act centered on a pilgrim in Armenia, where the Christian church took root at the foot of Mount Arrat, the landing place of Noah and his ark. From there, the second act followed him one locale over, to the Republic of Georgia. Though so close together, the traditions were also strikingly different. The Revels headquarters is in Watertown, a major center of Armenian population and culture, so finding a great cantor was no problem.
  9. Scotland. Langstaff had a passion for Britain, and its folk culture is deeply engrained in the Revels DNA. We didn’t get to the acclaimed Irish show, but this one included reels we still dance in New England as well as songs familiar and rare.
  10. American roots.  Last year’s show started at a rural radio station somewhere in the South and covered a lot of ground by the end.

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What live Christmas season events have become part of your tradition?

 

Prime time for an afternoon along the Atlantic

Fellow blogger Mark Bialczak’s recent posts about his romantic getaway from his home in Upstate New York to the Cape (as we New Englanders refer to Cape Cod) kinda guilted me into giving myself a day off and taking a few hours at a beach a bit over a half-hour’s drive from my little city farm.

Yeah, I know I’m retired (or was, before signing on as a Census enumerator … yesterday was a day off for me). Still, somehow, I get tied down at home. Haven’t swum in the ocean in the past three years, for that matter, not since getting the city pool pass. I always think there’s too much other stuff to tend to.

So yesterday, telling myself the season’s running out, I hopped in the car a tad before noon and simply took off. I thought about heading north to the mountains, but I’d already done a work-related drive in the direction earlier in the day, so I veered east into Maine and settled on Fort Foster, a Kittery town park situated at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.

Regular visitors here at the Red Barn have seen many images from this tranquil alternative to the more popular beaches just up the coast from it. For us, it’s closer than the beaches in New Hampshire, and always less crowded. During the summer, there’s an admission fee, which limits traffic, and for several seasons I opted for a season pass, sometimes spending an afternoon in the water before heading an hour inland for an evening shift in the newsroom. Even so, as I said, for the past several years, I’ve just been more of a homebody, with writing and revising as a top priority.

After Labor Day, the park gate is open only on weekends through September, but it is possible to park outside and walk in, which was the case yesterday. Despite the number of cars lined up along the road, I encountered few people in the park itself, most older couples or individuals walking a dog.

En route, I stopped at the Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier for raw oysters on the half shell, which is always a rare treat for me. It’s a lovely setting, a deck over the water in a narrow tidal passage off Pepperell Cove, and typically crowded. Some diners even arrive by boat. After Labor Day, though, the tourists thin out, making for a perfect time to enjoy our  local attractions. Maybe it has to do with Covid somehow, but the oysters yesterday were smaller than usual, especially for this time of year, when they’ve fattened up for winter. No complaints, though, they were still tasty. If only I could learn to shuck them myself. It’s a skill, one that can lead to emergency-room stitches for an amateur.

‘Nuff background. Here’s a sampling of what I enjoyed a mile or two later.

The road into the park splits, with one branch crossing a marsh filled with cattails. As I walked along it, I was struck by the way Whaleback lighthouse seems to pop from the trees, rather than its usual position surrounded by tides.

For the most part, I had the oceanside trail to myself. Autumn was definitely in the air.

This pebble beach is my usual place to swim. It’s less buggy than the sandy stretches further on, and less crowded than the pocket beaches along the river. My fingers indicated the water was still warm enough for swimming, though I hadn’t brought a swimsuit. September can be some of the best times for swimming, but the cooler air can be a problem. The current also looked a bit rough, not that you see it in this photo.

A wave pours into a tide pool. Had I come prepared, wearing old sneakers and a swimsuit, I would have been in the water, looking under rocks for starfish, urchins, anemone, and other colorful life.

 

When the price per pound comes down

No longer the cheap, plentiful seafood it once was in New England, lobster is still a specialty. We usually wait till later in the season, when prices fall and fresh corn on the cob is available, before feasting. (Photo by Rachel Williams)

 

Here I am with my buddy Harlan for a repast in our Smoking Garden. He had rubbed their heads in a way to hypnotize them and stand them on their heads before they went into the boiling pot. Said it’s an old Maine tradition. (Photo by Rachel Williams)

 

 

Takin’ the ferry in New England

Washington state isn’t the only part of the country where ferry service is important. The Staten Island ferry makes appearances in my Subway Visions novel, strange as that sounds. Check it out.

A bit further to the northeast, here in New England the boat service can also be impressive. Most of my trips here, I should add, have been as a walk-on passenger.

Now for a look.

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  1. Casco Bay. Portland (as in Maine, not Ory-gone) overlooks Casco Bay and some of its neighborhoods are on islands. A state-created ferry service makes daily stops on four islands within the city limits plus two in towns beyond. The little yellow-and-white boats are rather picturesque, truth be told, and the fares are quite reasonable. We’ve become quite fond of the mail run, which has six stops on five islands out and then back.
  2. Portland to Nova Scotia: Also out of Casco Bay is a catamaran ferry that zips to Nova Scotia in half the driving time. (Looks like there’s one stop en route, at Bar Harbor.) Back when it was a conventional boat, much of the appeal was in overnight gambling, once you were out in international waters.
  3. Nantucket. There are several routes, mostly from Cape Cod. The island likes to think of itself as a world all its own.
  4. Martha’s Vineyard. Like Nantucket, but maybe more exclusive.
  5. Boston to Provincetown. The catamaran zips from downtown Boston to the Cape in just 90 minutes, half of the time of driving in good conditions. I might mention some Boston Harbor commutes for shorter ventures.
  6. Block Island. Out from commercial fishing Port Judith in Rhode Island, it’s a fine daytrip. Rent a motor scooter when you land for a quick tour.
  7. Isles of Shoals. Just downstream from us, there are several services linking Portsmouth and the Isles of Shoals. The small islands split by the New Hampshire-Maine boundary include the Star Island summer retreat run by a Unitarian-Congregational church arrangement.
  8. Mohegan Island. Penobscot Bay in Maine has several ferry trip choices available. Mohegan Island is a prime destination served from several points onshore.
  9. Lake Champlain. Several crossings connect Vermont to New York State. Of the ferry trips on this list, these are the only ones on freshwater, not saline. One even follows a cable from one shore to the other.
  10. Campobello Island. OK, that’s in New Brunswick, Canada, but it’s once again served by a small ferry from Eastport, Maine. Sometimes the boat goes further, too, out on the world’s biggest tides.

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Ever been on a ferry or whale watch? What’s your experience?

A Casco Bay ferry passes one of several historic harbor fortifications in Portland, Maine.

Made my own sashimi!

We’ve once more subscribed to the community fishery’s summer season weekly catch selection, which we pick up every Friday at our natural foods grocery. Often, what’s offered is a sustainable variety not often even sold at the supermarket, but this time, it was tuna. A beautiful, fresh, one-pound sirloin, which indeed looked like a steak.

Yes, sirloin is the term I found used in the recipes.

So far, I’ve never attempted homemade sushi, but looking at our tuna and then the recipes, I took the leap into sashimi, which I first encountered in a four-table Japanese restaurant in San Francisco back in the ’70s and maybe two times since. And yes, that first time remains memorable, even the plum wine accompaniment.

In a restaurant, it appears so daunting. As one recipe said, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Sashimi is a staple dish in Japanese homes.

I had no idea this would be so simple. Using a very sharp chef’s knife, you firmly cut long strips across the grain – no sawing. One swipe! And, by definition, no cooking. Sashimi is raw fish from the ocean, not fresh water.

It just happened that we’re growing daikon radishes for the first time, as an experiment, so I went out to the garden and pulled one, which turned out to be larger than we were expecting. No problem. Came in, sliced it, put those rounds into a ramiken, and covered them in rice vinegar as my side dish.

The dipping sauce was a ramiken of soy sauce mixed with the juice from half a lemon.

That was it. Easier than making a salad, actually.

Accompanied by a cup of sake (which we also chanced to have in the cabinet), this made for one of the most heavenly meals ever, at least from my hand. And this wasn’t even sushi-grade fish, which gets flown immediately to Japan for a much higher price. I can only imagine.

Still, this was fresh, and that’s much of the secret.

Great cuisine is about respecting the ingredients.

Sorry I didn’t take pictures.