The Year is Complete!

Please feel free to look back through the 365 days of 2010 sunrises, but "a year of getting up to meet the day" is officially completed. There will be no more new posts.


Thank you so much for visiting.
A one year blog project in which I share a process of transitions: emptying of the nest, reacquainting with my rusty intellect, plowing onward with my first full length book, entering the second half of my first century, and generally reflecting on life.

(see Dec. 29th, 2009 entry for further explanation)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


sunrise:  4:53

Early this month at the final meeting of my book group we had a Yankee book swap, and I ended up taking home a book about birding in Central Park in New York City.  I did not expect it to be a page turner, but it was!  I lent it to my neighbor when I was through and she finished it in one day.  It is a surprisingly engrossing tale of the wildlife in the 800 acre park, particularly a 4-5 year saga about a pair of red-tail hawks who nest and raise their young amongst the skyscrapers at the park's edge.

It is called "Red-Tails in Love," by Marie Winn.

The book came to mind this morning when I awoke in a house that was empty except for J and me.  After work last night, T went to the premier midnight showing of the newest Twilight movie with a group of girls, planning to spend the night afterwards.

I started thinking about the empty nest analogy, which is quite apropos.  To fine tune the metaphor a bit,  I came up with this thought, inspired by the story of the Central Park hawks.  Our nest isn't entirely empty yet, because we are still in the fledgling stage. 

There is a period of time where the baby birds are trying out their wings.  They fly, or hop a little ways along a branch (or to a lower ledge on a building, in the case of the NYC hawks).  Then they rest there a while.  They return to the nest for feeding after the exhausting exertions of learning to fly.  Over time their absences increase in length, bit by bit, until they return no more. 

One could argue that the fledgling stage for humans lasts until after college, when offspring move out officially.  Or when they find a job and a home of their own.  Of course, some may stay home and work from there for a while, which makes for a fuzzy fledgling period.  The nest analogy kind of falls apart in that scenario (sometimes to the dismay of the mother and father "birds").

I think, really, that the departure for full time college or a full time job is probably an apt time to label the offspring fully fledged.  The nest is officially empty.

So we're in T's fledgling stage.  It's a practice round for the final departure.  She only comes home to feed once in a while, when she's really tired out and needs a boost before heading back out there on her own. 

(Ironically, after all this profound thought, I noticed a note taped to our bedroom door - from T.  She came home after all, at 3am, and is sleeping in her bed.  Still fledging.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

blue tarps in the yard

sunrise: 4:53

I went to a reading of a new play by Travis Baker the other day.  Travis is a local playwright and English teacher at UMaine - moved here from New York City about 6 years ago.   I've never done this before - attended a reading of a new play, still in a draft form of sorts. It was performed beautifully by actors reading their parts in folding chairs at the front of the theater. The author sat in the audience with everyone else and took part in a discussion afterwards.

The play is called "Under One Blue Tarp." It was hilariously funny and reached me on several levels. First of all - J and I have had this old broken John Deere lawn tractor under a fraying blue tarp in our yard for going on 2 years now.

The conflict in the play was between an old time Mainer, defending his right to keep all of his old junk under a blue tarp in his own yard, and a newcomer "from away," who has garnered power in the town government and helped pass a new ordinance disallowing tarped junk piles in yards.

Characters, timing, one-liners, sideline story developments -- all so skillfully done. With my praise and congratulations, however, I also told the play's author after the reading that I was disappointed in his ending. His quick and humble response was, "I'll work on that," but it was not my intention to suggest he change it.  Part of the power of the play is that it introduces a very real and all too common controversy in small towns in Maine (and in other states as well, for that matter).

I couldn't stop thinking about it - sure sign of a great piece of writing.  So I had to write down some thoughts.

Transplants from out of state are often charmed by the quaint, simplified lifestyle, the beautiful scenery, the old time neighborly pace of life in Maine.  So they leave their bustling eastern corridor lives behind and move northeast. Then begins the knocking of heads: Newcomers gently but insistently push the locals in their new home towns to change things just a little bit, and maybe a little bit more, in order to make their new surroundings more comfortable, more aesthetically pleasing, more progressive, more wealthy, or more attractive to even more newcomers.

Some dyed-in-the-wool locals are open to the idea of change, others are not. Who says that everyone wants growth and homogeneity and focus on the superficial appearance of things and elevated property values? In town after town all over Maine, especially in the tourist-centered coastal towns, that kind of change has priced old timers right out of town – out of the homes that have been in their families for generations. Transplants “from away” move in and create a whole new kind of community.

To those who value independence over superficial appearance, “more fitting to a common standard of aesthetic taste” is not a worthy goal – even if it improves the economy, even if it attracts more tourism, or perhaps especially if it attracts more tourism. A lot of Mainers just want to be left alone to carry on in the simplicity that has been Maine’s humble calling for generations.

I recently wrote an article about a man who built a crazy house of colors in Corinth, Maine.  He is the quintessential Mainer – loves to do things for himself and to be left alone.  He worries about building codes and enforced standards that officially disallow creativity and individualism.  The whole point of life’s endeavors is to determine your own sense of place and style and identity.

One of the things we loved about moving here was the fact that our realtor told us:  “no one will care what kind of car you drive or if your lawn is perfectly mowed or your house has fresh paint.”  That’s part of the beauty of Maine, and what attracts people here. 

Too many people want to come and remanufacture what the Maine culture should be, according to their own vision.  Yes, they may provide many improvements.  But improvements often come with strings attached.  It's not always worth the strings.

As it stands now, Travis Baker’s play comes out too heavily in favor of the newcomers (in my opinion).  Personally, I was disappointed, but by no means does that mean it should be re-written.  Opening controversy, provoking thought and discussion is one sure sign of the highest quality literature. 

I would love to have an audience filled with Mainers of all kinds see the show, then open the discussion and let the sparks fly.

Monday, June 28, 2010

well fed by one farm share

sunrise:  4:52

A nice gentle rain is falling this morning.

The rain and sun balance for this summer has been wonderful - quite a relief after the washed out mess of last June in Maine.  A lot of things bloomed early because of our unusually warm and friendly spring.  There are concerns about some early blossoms that got hit by frost, but so far things look okay.

We ate our first fresh strawberries this past week thanks to the generosity of friend.  She introduced me to the concept of a farm share.  For one annual fee they get fresh produce from a local farm (Fisher Farm in this case, but apparently a lot farms do this) every week from May to October.  Since our friends were going to be away last week, they offered us their farm share for last Tuesday.

I should have taken photos - it was beautiful.  One giant, leafy bunch of Swiss chard, a handful of arugula, the biggest head of Romaine I have ever held in my hand, 10 twisted curls of garlic scapes, bag of field greens, some of the first young carrots of the season, three foot scallions, a bouquet of field flowers, and of course a box of strawberries - all organic, washed, and ready to go.

I don't know if I can ever go back to those hard, bland commercial strawberries - all show and no substance.  I know some people like that.  I'll take the real ones in all their humble sincerity, thank you.

One of the first things I had to do was figure out what Swiss chard and arugula were.  Luckily the farm offers some recipes with their goods.

In addition to the strawberries and carrots for snacking, last week we ate pasta with pesto and arugula, Swiss chard enchilada casserole, and a lot of great salad, including one yummy chicken Caesar.  All straight from the earth a few miles away.

I feel both well educated and well fed. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

illusion of a rescue

sunrise:  4:51

For the second time in a week I had to rescue an animal from my little dog pack.  Ugh!  This time it was a neighborhood cat.  I've seen her before, but have no idea where she lives (calico cats are all female, right?).  Once I dragged the mighty hunters indoors, I went back to check on the cat, who had disappeared.  I hope she's okay.  While I wait for my heart rate to slow down, I'll load my pictures for today...


Here is another rescue story from my cousin's blog.  He is usually a political blogger (with a more conservative take than mine), so this show of compassion for a dragonfly was a standout for me.


Take note that the latest sunset of the year is this evening (several days after solstice).  So after tonight - the days are getting shorter, the sunrises later, and the sunsets earlier.  It doesn't feel right, does it?  The summer is only just beginning and we have already begun the slow descent of daylight towards the darkness of December.

There's no rescue for a decaying year.  Its descent is as inevitable as the daily rising of the sun (which won't go on forever either, but from our human evolutionary perspective, we can consider it inevitable).  Every rescue, in fact, is an illusion of sorts.  Dragonflies, cats, fawns, people...  We do not really save anyone or anything, we only facilitate the delay of a final endpoint, that place where every creature on Earth is headed.

But the illusion is a worthy one - and wonderfully uplifting.

That's life.

Friday, June 25, 2010

time travel and hot flashes

sunrise:  4:51
reflection at sunrise - pond and sky

I'm in the middle of reading The Time Traveler's Wife - debut novel of Audrey Niffenegger published in 2003.  It came out as a film last year and had mediocre success.  It is about a man who travels through the times of his own life constantly, and the challenging lifetime relationship he has with one woman.

Even though it is slotted as a romance / science fiction story, it has reached me on an entirely different plane.  It is full of thought provoking themes of fate, free will, and self-direction, which intrigue me.  The other thing that I find myself weirdly attuned to is the phenomenon of the protagonist's time traveling affliction. 

While his sequential life is carrying on, his time traveling self is lifted out of place at random moments.  He appears at 15, or 24 or 42, or any age, some place and time in his past or future.  He arrives completely naked and famished with hunger.  Sometimes the time travel makes him sick to his stomach.  With experience he learns how to cope with feeding and clothing himself, and he also learns how to recognize the feeling that he is about to disappear - move on in time once more.

To me, the most interesting concept here is the idea that people can have a condition in life that is entirely beyond their control, that alters the state of their present and requires constant response and adaptation.  He can't drive a car, for example, for fear that he might zap away to another time and leave an empty car speeding down the road.

It reminds me of descriptions of various mental disorders, or fainting disorders, seizures or narcolepsy.  And on a more benign note, it reminds me the hot flashes of menopause.  I can be in a meeting, or driving the car, playing tennis, cooking dinner, sound asleep, or in deep conversation with someone.  Then I begin to get that sense at the back of my neck, and I know it's coming. 

There is nothing I can do to stop it, so I just have to let it happen.  I never know if it will be a mild episode that I can mask easily, or a full blown flush of heat that burns in my cheeks and requires escape from all excess clothing.  It changes my present, pulls me out of one world (of sleep, of concentration) and drags me into the full presence of my body's thermal condition.

Generally I have always been one who can roll with the punches.  I just take what life throws my way and go with it, make whatever adjustments I need to make in the moment.  It has worked pretty well for me, and continues to.  I do experiment - try to see if there are strategies for diminishing the severity of a hot flash.  Sometimes I imagine I'm making it better, but it's hard to confirm.

It seems to me that people of a more exacting character (unlike the "whatever" attitude of those like me) would have a much harder time with phenomena like this one.  There are drugs to try, and nutritional treatments.  I have tried some of the natural food store supplements that are supposed to help (especially black cohosh), and it seems like they did.  Again, though, it's hard to know since periods of flashing come and go for months at a time, then dissipate on their own. 

If you're interested, here is what says about hot flashes and treatment.  The bottom line, it seems, is that it's just part of life.  Trying to fight it could create more side effects, cost, and inconvenience than the problem itself. 

It's like being afflicted with the genetic disorder of time travel.  In fact, it is a symptom of time travel - it just happens to be the sequential sort of traveling through time.  Sometimes life throws things at us that make us sick, or really hungry, or disoriented.  All we can do is react, adapt, and make the best of it.  It is what the passage of time does to all of us.  What is it we're all doing after all, if not traveling through time, coping with the inevitable changes and surprises that come our way? 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

summer quiet

sunrise:  4:51

A quiet morning, muted by a drizzly mist.  Summer is in all its fullness.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

a raccoon called Michael

sunrise:  4:50

Today I saw a hawk fly out of a tree right over my head in the back of the field.  I'm not good enough to identify it, but there is no mistaking that it was a large, soaring, light brown bird of prey.

In spite of all of the slightly traumatizing encounters with dogs, my brushes with nature in our back yard are a gift.  I can still feel the warm, wet fur of the fawn that I lifted onto its feet yesterday before it bounded off to the woods.  It feels like a privilege, somehow, to witness and even hold in my hands those creatures that still live according to their natural design.  They have not shut out their connections with the Earth behind walls of steel, prefabricated wood and plastic.

I try to sort out exactly what it is that gives us such fascination with wild creatures.  Some connection with an Earth that we are forgetting?  A reminder of our own most basic animal nature?  The simplicity of life unencumbered by cerebral meanderings?  An encounter with what we share with other living animals - beating hearts, hunger, fear, curiosity, parental protectiveness, the search for warmth and shelter?

I think it is this and more.  If I broaden my boundaries of credulity, sometimes I feel that there is something more profound going on -- like what happened when our family spent one lovely month with Michael the raccoon.

Four years ago my father-in-law was in the final days of a 10 year duel with cancer.  He had been winning for a long, long time, which was no surprise to anyone who knew him.  WMW was the kind of man that one imagines might live forever, if anyone could.  He was charismatic, intelligent, full of compassion for all comers (which made him a beloved town doctor to generations), physically indestructible, and unflaggingly, joyfully enthusiastic about life.

When he lay dying in his own bed in that final week, it felt like the sun was going out for the last time.

The day before J left for New Hampshire to be with his father, the kids and I discovered two baby raccoons in the driveway.  We left them for a while, hoping they would find their way home, or their mother would retrieve them.  When we heard from a neighbor that a dead adult raccoon was nearby on main street, we feared the little critters were on their own, so we went to find them.

Only one was still around.  He hissed at us a bit.  We were properly intimidated by his tiny teeth.  We coaxed him into a plastic trash can, put in some grass and leaves for shelter, and waited for Dad to get home from work.

Growing up in New Hampshire, J had had two extensive relationships with raccoons - babies found lost or near a dead parent.  His family took in the baby raccoons and cared for them.  One lived with them for almost half a year and is still the stuff of many a warm family story.

About five minutes after he pulled into the driveway, J had coaxed the little fur ball out of the can and was holding him in his arms.  J named him Michael.

I am quite sure he never even realized it, but I believe it was no coincidence that he gave the raccoon the same name as his childhood teddy bear.

Michael travelled with J to New Hampshire and provided one small ray of sunlight into the sorrowing, waiting, watching household.  By the time the rest of us arrived the next day, Papa was gone and the grief was terrible.  Still - Michael's presence was a tiny thread of connection to another world where life went on.

Back at home in Maine in the ensuing weeks, Michael became a source of warmth, distraction, and laughter in our wounded home.  For J in particular, he was an uncomplicated, inspiring little friend.

Raccoons are charmingly curious beasts.  Michael stayed upstairs in our house most of the time, since dogs and raccoons do not mix well.  He slept in a box in our bedroom.  At least, that was the plan.  The other thing about raccoons is that they climb and explore and nose around pretty much wherever they want.  Michael ended up in the warmest spot - in our bed and under the covers - more than once.  One morning J found him inside his pillow case.

We knew this couldn't go on.  Once we got him off bottle feedings and on to solid food, we decided to move him outdoors, to at least begin acclimating Michael to life in nature.  J re-routed the dogs electric boundary so that they couldn't enter the barn, and created a cozy spot for Michael out there.  J spent hours working and puttering around the barn, keeping Michael company.

Sometimes we took him for walks around the pond.  Michael would waddle through the tall grass, poking his nose into the ground or the water's edge.

Nights were difficult at first.  We tried to make him as comfortable as possible in the barn, but nothing was as nice as under the covers on a temperpedic mattress with two other warm bodies.  He kept showing up back at the house, up on the stair railing outside the back door, crying to come in.

Of course the dog situation was not improving, and I had one horrifying night walk with three dogs who went into full attack on poor Michael, who was en route back to the house, and tried to hide under a lawn hammock.  Yesterday's fawn encounter brought it all back to me.  Somehow, Michael and I both survived (as did the dogs, though I was tempted in the moment to knock them over their heads).

A month passed by, and we had to go away for a weekend.  We left a friend in charge of feeding (chicken pieces, dog food, a dish of water) and walking Michael once or twice while we were gone.  All went well, except -- when we got home Michael was gone.

We were so sad, and worried that he was likely to have perished in one way or another, out in the tough world on his own.  A week or two later, our daughter N was up early one morning and saw an enchanting sight out the window.  A mother raccoon was waddling across the yard, trailed by three baby raccoons just about Michael's size.  She was sure one of them was Michael, and we all agreed.  Why not?  It was as likely an ending to his story as any.

We missed Michael a lot - especially J.  But truly, he had come into our lives at a time when we needed him most.  Who knows about the workings of fate, or the balance of the universe, or karmic destiny?  All I know is that Michael was like a magical gift, and I will be forever grateful.  People might say we rescued Michael, but we all know that Michael rescued us. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

guest blog - Argentina y un techo para mi pais (and a baby deer)

 sunrise:  4:50

My 21 year old son sent in a guest blog from Argentina - a sunrise outing and an amazing day.

But first ---- I include one photo only for its suggestion of my episode in the back fields this morning.  I COULD have taken a photo of the 20 pound fawn that I held in my hands after screaming at the dogs to get away from him, while his mother huffed and bleated from the woods.  But I was too caught up in the moment.

Clara flushed him out, all three joined the chase.  I was much slower to catch up and saw Guster making jabs at the poor thing, but at least they finally backed off in response to my hysterics.  Little guy seemed paralyzed, but after I lifted him to his feet he ran off.  I hope he's okay.

Here they are.  All wet and panting and wishing they could go back for more hot pursuit.  Guster is bound by a belt I had on.

I'm wet and panting too.  Time to get in better shape.

Well - vamanos a la Argentina -- Gracias S!

 Report from Argentina - courtesy of S.

Inspired by my sister’s guest blog a few days back, I finally decided to take the plunge and get up to watch the sunrise at…8:00, the wonderfully not-so-late time that the sun rises here in the southern hemisphere.  I actually got up at 6 on Sunday, just as I had on Saturday, to bus out to one of the many poor suburbs of Buenos Aires and build a house for a young, impoverished family.  We worked with Un Techo para mi País (A Roof for my Country), a wonderful non-profit organization that fights poverty by building simple, but sturdy, houses for families that could not otherwise afford a decent roof over their heads.

Unfortunately, this meant that I had to watch the sunrise from a moving bus. 

But that didn’t stop me (as my girlfriend T. will attest) from doing everything I possibly could to capture it on camera.  Here’s a (very) small sample of my efforts.  I apologize in advance for the photo-heavy blog.

T. wasn’t really paying any attention anyways.

I loved how sometimes the blurred billboards and wires and buildings would almost seem to become transparent, allowing the impressionistic sunrise to glow right through them.

A halfway-decent job – certainly nothing like the stunning pinks and oranges of N.’s guest blog (even though I did start watching a full 40 minutes before official sunrise time), but some nice images nonetheless.  It got especially beautiful as we approached the poor neighborhood, right around 8:00, and I could shoot straight out the back of the bus (much more effective than the side)…

And because we had to travel so slowly over the dirt roads that I could snap quick shots of side roads like this one:

The barbed wire has an ominous effect juxtaposed with the glowing sunrise.  In any case, I think that a bus on South American highways may prove to be one of the more unique sunrise locations featured this year. 


By the time I finally caught a glimpse of the sun, so long obscured by buildings and billboards, we had arrived.

On Saturday, we had dug holes (pozos) and put posts (pilotes) in them to support the floor,

as well as moving all the prefabricated walls (paredes) and floors (pisos) off the truck and through winding passageways between crumbling structures to our lot.

When we arrived on Sunday, we had nothing but a slightly-raised platform.

Over the course of the day, we would transform it into a house that would provide 20- and 18-year-old Germán and Daniela, along with their 10-month old baby Jessica and their tiny puppy Cucaín, with a sturdy, dry home for at least the next ten years.

I loved how the Techo program was designed – we spent the entire time with the family as we built, drinking mate together, eating meals together, and even building the house together (Germán was a machine).  Unsurprisingly, the unbearably cute Jessica and “Cookie” were a constant source of distraction for the workers all weekend long.

Although it was difficult in many ways, the two days I spent building that house were two of the most rewarding days of my life thus far.  I had a lot of fun with the other kids in my program, and loved spending time with the family and the Techo folks.

Also, although the lack of high-quality building materials or power tools made the job slow and frustrating at times, I was thrilled to rediscover a love for construction work in this simple job – a love for simply working with my hands.  It’s something that’s been lacking in my life while I’ve been away at college, as well as in my last two summer jobs, and it was nice to recapture that a bit.

All that was secondary, though, to the inspiring experience of attempting to make some small difference in the lives of these people.  Meeting this young family and seeing all that they had already had to struggle with in their short lives was overwhelming.  I was unbelievably excited for them – I couldn’t wait to watch them enter their new home at the end of the weekend.  But I was also filled with sadness when I realized that this was but the first step, that they had a long, long way to go before they could escape the slums that were constantly pressing them down.

We encountered some difficulties at the end of the day putting on the roof, with some wayward insulation and problematic corrugated tin,

but we were able to finish with plenty of time to spare, leaving us with a little time to just hang out in the house that we’d built and enjoy the moment.  The family is in the near window.

As the sun set, we hurried out of the poor barrio, no place to be at night.  On the way out, I caught a nicer glimpse of the sunset than any look at the sunrise I’d gotten that morning.

I turned around and got one last look at what we’d done.  In just two days, we had built a house, one that would soon become a home.  I felt a wide range of emotions – excitement for Daniela and Germán, sadness that we were done, pride that we had succeeded, disbelief that it had been possible, and maybe above all the rest, a strong desire to do it again someday soon.