Cutting Your Own Path

Speaking of metaphors . . .

We lost power in Maine early Sunday afternoon.  The storm felled an oak tree across our road, taking out the power lines and blocking the way.  Without that immediate problem we would have lost power anyway, as the entire area went dark Sunday afternoon.  One wire lay on the ground. The oak lay suspended on the others, with its top hung up in other trees. Without the potential for electrocution removing the tree would have been a bit dicey–it will spring and move when either end is cut free–but I would have done it.  I don’t mess with electricity.  I left the tree alone.

Neighbors shared our Sunday dinner–pasta with tomato sauce from tomatoes just picked from our garden, cooked on the gas stove–and as darkness fell we played Scrabble and read by flashlight.

Monday’s weather was glorious.  When I swam at 7 am the lake–roiling, churning mud washed from its banks, choked with broken branches and torn pipe weed 12 hours earlier–was perfectly still.  The air, its temperature in the low 60’s, felt scrubbed clean and the sky was free of clouds.  The water, still a bit turbid, was remarkably clear given it’s recent chaotic pea-soupy condition.  It promised to be a wonderful Maine day, with two large overhanging questions:  when would the fallen tree be cleared, and when CMP restore power?

I prepared to deal with things as they were, without total success.  I pictured the day unfolding–a bike ride around the lake (I’d walk the bike through the woods around the felled tree and downed wires), a few hours work preparing for the semester until my laptop battery died, swimming, reading on the dock, more Scrabble, grilling all of the meat in the freezer, dining outside by candlelight as the sun set.  Very idyllic, but I could not forget that my fully-powered house was 150 miles away.

I considered this as I headed to bike.  Walking through the woods around the blocked road the solution began to form.  Most of the trees were saplings spaced many feet apart, and it seemed possible to cut a large enough path between the large trees to squeeze through my truck. The bike ride confirmed that power would likely be out for a while.  There was not much tree damage but the electricity was out all around the lake, which meant the outage was widespread, which meant that three houses with blocked access on our dead-end road would be a low priority.

Meanwhile Judy had already lined up a ride to Portland where she and Nate could catch a bus back to Boston. The bus was not an option for me–or more accurately, for the dogs–and the appeal of remaining powerless at the camp for what could be many days was waning fast.  I called the neighbor who owns the land where I’d bypassed the road and explained that I wanted to remove just enough trees for my truck to fit. He said “like I give a shit about those trees.”

I enlisted the support and help of another neighbor and we went to work.  Two hours later we’d driven out my truck and the neighbor’s Volvo wagon.  (Getting it through required widening and regrading the path a bit.)  I relaxed once I knew we were not dependent on anyone else’s help to leave. We enjoyed the rest of the day on the dock. I took a long swim. We emptied the refrigerator and freezer.  We were on the road shortly before 6 pm.

Now, almost 72 hours after the storm hit, the power in the camp is still out.

Sunset Story

A Maine neighbor recently said there were vestibular bats roosting at her house.  “Vestibular?”  It’s her idiosyncratic locational, not species, description.  The bats hang upside down in her vestibule in the middle of the night, resting and digesting for a while before flying off for another meal.  On the dock for tonight’s twilight swim I discovered umbrellic bats (bumbershootal bats for Anglophiles).  The lake, completely calm, reflected a reddish-orange band of light filtered through the low clouds on the horizon.  Entranced by the sunset I did not initially register the nearby squeaks.  They persisted, I heard them, and knew bats to be their source.  Two market umbrellas on the dock are the only places a bat could hide; the squeaks came from the larger umbrella on the right.  I loosened its ties, slowly spread its ribs, and looked inside.  A furry brown knot perched at the top of the pole, a short distance from the umbrella’s highest vents.  It was difficult to distinguish the knots features but it looked to contain at least two bats.  I did not want to disturb it further, gently closed the umbrella, and sat with one eye watching the sunset and the other watching for the bats to crawl from beneath the canvas.  Ten minutes later the sun was down.  Despite many squeaks from within the umbrella no bat emerged.  I tired of waiting and returned to the house.

Better than Chelmsford

At 9:15 last night I left class and stepped into the empty Chelmsford parking lot. A waxing moon rose over the warm summer night.  We planned to drive to Maine Friday morning but listening to the night sounds and breathing the humid air under soft moonlight I thought this time tomorrow night I could be enjoying the summer night on the lake.  And that’s what I did.

Summer Wanes

This morning’s swim was extra wet, Hurricane Danny’s peripheral rain plopping on the lake’s still surface.  The lake was 20 degrees or more warmer than the 52 degree air temperature and especially quiet, the rain and chill keeping inside the occasional fisherman I see during my just-out-of-bed ritual.  I don’t know how many more morning swims this season holds.  Likely they could be counted on one hand, and certainly no more than two.  Classes start in five days and life swings back to the city.  Judy and I have been in Maine seven of the past eight weekends, missing one for my bike trip around Lake Champlain and her family visit to the Garden State.  We had Maine guests every weekend save one, and loved it all–which does not mean we won’t enjoy time off from being hosts.  This weekend’s guests are long-time friends with whom we used to own a house.  They require little hosting, and we can dial back the relentless attention to detail required to make the weekend run smoothly.  Relaxing, but with the first taste of fall weather the past few days–and with Hurricane Danny dropping buckets of rain outside–this weekend is a transition.

I felt this keenly while I swam.  Rather than don a post-swim rain-soaked robe I left it in the house, walking to the dock wrapped in a towel.  Diving in was a relief, the lake so much warmer than the air and rain above.  I started fast to shake off the chill from the walk and swam to the rock ledge off the south end of our cove, standing in neck-deep water to adjust the goggles. Mist pockets drifted at the cove’s far edge and here and there across the lake.  The gray sky and water set off the dark green trees climbing the hills around the lake.  The boat and swim raft floated motionless in the cove, no wind disturbing the lake’s glassy rain-pocked glassy.  I tried to brand the image into memory, then swam 500 feet to the submerged rock off the cove’s northern point.  I swam fast, pushing myself, enjoying the rhythm–inhale on the breath stroke, water rushing past head and arms, loud burbling exhale.  This summer I swam anywhere from a half- to one and a half-miles each day at the lake and slip easily into good rhythm.  I never sprint, though, and almost out of breath was relieved to spot the large algae-slicked rock looming a few yards ahead.  It sits two feet below the surface 20 yards off the point, in six feet of water–a lurking hazard for an inattentive boater with a outboard motor.  After catching my breath on the rock I slowly swam back to the dock.  Each breath stroke brought a view of familiar water, rocky bank, mottled green foliage, gray-brown trees, and gray sky, a rolling series of snapshots skewed right 90 degrees.  I peeled the goggles off at the dock and floated on my back.  Not for long–the rain was falling too hard on my face for comfort.  Wrapping the towel around my waist–I left it in a tight roll so it was soaked on top–I walked back to the house for my morning coffee.

Splashes in the Dark

I arrived at the lake a few minutes after midnight after teaching the first class in Current Topics in Law and Ethics at the Chelmsford “campus,” a pleasant suite of classrooms and offices in a suburban office building.  I parked my car in the shade outside the first-floor classroom, windows and sunroof open, to keep an eye on the dogs.  The drive north was much longer than I expected.  I unpacked, opened windows to air out the stuffy interior, found a towel and flashlight, and went to the dock.  The moon had not risen.  Stars dotted the sky, the Milky Way a pale smudge.  Walking parallel to the lake I heard a distinct splash hear shore.  A fish?  I heard another splash, then another, and then more as I walked on the dock.  They didn’t sound like the splashes fish make when they jump, and there were too many. I listened mystified, playing the flashlight beam over the lake’s glassy surface.   There was a splash to my right.  I  turned and saw concentric ripples and, at the edge of my vision, a flitting shadow.  I heard another splash in front, then one to my left, and I understood.  Bats were darting about catching insects, swooping low, drinking from the lake, then resuming their hunt.  I raptly watched and listened for ten minutes. The lake and night were perfectly still, no sounds save the cries of loons and the splashes from the leathery flying acrobats.   I broke from my reverie and dove in.  Unfortunately my splash was louder than the bats’.  It alarmed the dogs back in the house, who starting barking.  They wouldn’t stop until I walked back and shushed them.

Summer Begins

Today it all came together.  The beginning of a long weekend in Maine; a temperature near 90 degrees; the annual boat- and car-registrations at Otisfield Town Hall; buying plants–tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, basil, melons, sage–for the vegetable garden; putting out deck furniture; and an evening swim that rinsed off the day’s sweat and grime.  The lake was . . . let’s call it refreshing.  Cold but not heart-attack cold, clean, clear.  Cleo and Chelsey retrieved, swam, and rolled in the dirt and are curled up on the floor, asleep.  The Sox are up on Toronto 4-0 in the 4th.  I’m pleasently tired.  Life is good.