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A Canajun in Maine, eh? Love that place: northern, coastal, progressive, backwards, homespun, a perfect place to launch a ship and sail around the world. It doesn’t hurt that I go there to stay with my soul sister Cocky and her partner, my pal, Peter, who live in a quiet Maine Audubon wildlife sanctuary. They can swim just minutes from their home in the ocean at high tide and are protected by the peacefulness of a forest from the consumer insanity of the LL Bean shopping mecca of Freeport. It also doesn’t hurt that Maine is just a timber toss from Canada, so if all hell breaks loose in the good ol’ US of Eh, I can scoot north and cross the border to my homeland real quick like.
Cocky and I got out swimming every day but we had an even more important mission and that was to dance as much as possible in the time that we were together. Although perhaps we can never dance enough, we certainly managed to dance a lot in those two weeks to a variety of music provided by many local bands in numerous venues.
Portland, just south of Freeport, was just starting to get busy with summer tourists but it is a young town and at any time of the year there is live music on every corner and seafood on every table. The day I arrived, rolling off an all night bus run from Montreal, we feasted on crab cakes on the salty dog wharf at the Porthole Fountain, followed by amazing Mushroom Spring Rolls at Havana South in the Old Port. These were so delicious we had to have two orders, and although I swore I would get back there for another round, sadly it never happened.
Havana South provided the first of two opportunities to see a very smooth, tight band called Primo Cubano. As you can guess, they play sweet Cuban son, ready for dancing. They have a regular early evening gig at Havana South on Wednesdays – between the mushroom rolls and the band, I can’t recommend it enough.
We finished that first evening by catching Eric Bettencourt, a local hot songwriter/guitar player and gravelly-voiced singer who performs in various musical incarnations, one being Giraffe Attack. That first night he was with his trio on a relaxed patio on the water’s edge, and a couple of nights later he was rocking with the band Velourasaurus at Buck’s Naked BBQ in Freeport. I love a versatile musician who plays both original music and cool covers – and makes you wanna dance.
I have to take a moment to rant about bars and restaurants with big screen TVs on every wall. It’s an obvious draw for the television-addicted masses who like to go out but don’t want to miss a ball game, but it drives me mad when they don’t have the decency to turn the screens off when a live band is playing. On more than one occasion I’ve asked a bar to lose the TV so that it doesn’t disrespect the band. Televisions draw your eyes and attention even when you have no interest in what is on. In the case of Buck’s on this night, even the band was distracted by the baseball game playing on the various screens around them. Minimally, the TV screens closest to the stage or the dance floor could be blackened for the few hours that the boys and girls in the band are performing. Please. Most people live with televisions cackling constantly in their homes – it would be healthy and appropriate to take a break while a live band is giving you a musical alternative.
In Portland they hold First Friday Art Walk – similar to Hamilton’s 2nd Friday Art Crawl. The difference, from what I could tell, is money (well, and the salty sea air). Many of the galleries and restaurants that participate in Portland are well established and deal in sophisticated art. My hometown of the Hammer has been building its James Street North Art Crawl over the last few years and new edgy alternative galleries have been popping up like mushrooms but even though it is a wonderful showcase for emerging and established artists and a chance for local businesses to shine, I doubt that many make large sales during the festive artsy event – yet in the long run I expect that it is very good for the businesses. My friend Cat Schwenk is an artist and member of the Nine Hands Gallery on Congress Street in Portland and I know that they have made some significant sales during the Art Walk.
Each time I visit Maine, Cat has new projects on the go – from her finely mounted butterfly maps to concrete casts of babies and books (one beautifully reads: You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be…I had a mother who read to me). Check Cat’s work out at www.catschwenk.com.
This time she was working with her carpenter husband Jim to make adult toys – as in swings and teeter totters for full-sized bodies. The idea came to them as they thought of this stressful world in which adults, like children, need time to play. So now Jim and Cat come home at the end of a busy day and unwind together on the teeter totter that Jim built and continues to refine. It helps them find balance in their relationship, build communication and get a little outdoor exercise. Brilliant! I”m hoping they’ll build a push carousel by the next time I visit.
I was in Maine over the July 4th weekend. LL Bean presents free outdoor concerts on Saturdays and had a special one featuring Red Horse singer/songwriters for the holiday followed by fireworks. Cocky and I were there and I noticed a familiar looking couple walking through the crowd. The Monteverde-small-world-effect kicked in and it proved to be Nat Wheelwright and his wife Genie. He is a biology professor at nearby Bowdoin College who invited me to speak to his class about Wolf Guindon a couple of years ago. We had a chance to talk for awhile. He is now co-teaching a course with a professor in the Music Department called “Bird song, human song.” He described the course as “listening to bird songs and singing along in class”. It sounds magical to me.
While on the subject of Wolf, it was my great pleasure to drive down to Exeter, New Hampshire for a special reunion with the class from Lister Street Academy who had spent this last year in a course designed around our book Walking with Wolf. Back in April the group of seven high school students and their two teachers had visited us in Monteverde and described what has been a life-changing experience for them, reading about Wolf’s inspirational life while studying the many themes in the book – social justice, peace, pioneering, conservation and community. They had worked together to raise the money for the trip and I was amazed at how many adventures they had in the time they were in Costa Rica. Our meeting on Wolf’s farm had been a very moving experience for all of us and it was wonderful to see some of them again and hear how their trip had wrapped up. They have posted many of their class video projects on YouTube.com under ListerCostaRicaClass. One particularly stood out for me called “This is Sustainable Education” by Winston. If you have a chance, check out the work of these students.
I had dinner that night with the teachers Bryan Mascio and Jess Hebert and their partners as well as Wolf’s son Carlos and his wife Lidieth who also live in Exeter. It was a pleasure to see them all and more Monteverde-small-world connections were made. It turned out that Bryan and Lidieth, who also works in education, realized that they had taken a course together, years ago. It also happened that Bryan had started a course that very day and found himself eating lunch with another Monteverdian, Jenny Rowe, a former director of the Monteverde Friends School. I expect Jenny was as surprised as Bryan was to hear that he would be having dinner with Carlos, Lidieth and I that night.
Back in Maine, we did a lot of great eating but of course these days consuming seafood demands research into its sustainability, eating local is environmentally wise, and everything is political, often leaving a bitter taste. We shopped in local Bowstreet Market and at the Brunswick outdoor Farmers Market on Saturdays, and enjoyed the friendly mussel man and his edible bivalves as well as the local organic produce. What a great time of the year!
Maine’s lobster industry is a big one and they work at being sustainable. We found ourselves out one night with Cocky’s friend Ed, a Freeport fixture, retired lawyer and dancing fool like ourselves. The two of them have been suffering since their favorite local dancing spot, The Venue, shut down a year ago. A new restaurant opened up this July on the downtown corner of Freeport, owned by Linda Bean, a heiress in the famous outdoor gear family known for her lobster rolls and her chain of restaurants called Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine. We went to check the new place out, as Ed is hoping to convince her to bring in live bands suitable for dancing. The owner herself arrived and bought our round of drinks. However when we got home, Peter showed me an article about Ms Bean who has been buying up businesses in the tiny coastal communities of St. George and Port Clyde, and is building a monopoly in the lobster industry. She is very conservative, supporting anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, anti-gun control, as well as anti-Canadian when it comes to competition in the lobster industry. Her policies have been dividing the communities that she is monopolizing, though she apparently feels that she is doing everything in her power to help the Maine lobsterman. As I said, food is political, and that will be the last drink I have at Ms Linda Bean’s and I will just have to forego her famous lobster rolls. I also really hope that Cocky and Ed find an alternative place for dancing.
There were other great nights of dancing to Maine bands – Outerspace at Gritty’s and Wiley Coyote at Ciana’s in Freeport, and The Mallet Brothers (great!) at Alive at 5 in Portland. My last night in Maine took Peter, Cocky and I south of Portland to a place called The Landing at Pine Point where that sweet Cuban band, Primo Cubano, had started a regular summertime Tuesday night gig in this big fancy dance hall with a super dance floor. If you find yourself in the Portland area, check them out. Cha cha cha!
When I wasn’t out dancing with Cocky, I was hanging out with Peter, on his boat or helping him around the yard. I put in the garden only to have a cute little family of groundhogs eat it up as fast as I could plant it.
About seven years ago, when a neighbor succumbed to cancer, Peter took over the parentage of her cat, Chad, and Alpha, one of the nicest German Shepherds I have ever known. The funny thing about Chad is that over the many visits I’ve had in Maine, I’ve barely seen this cat as he was very skitsy, disappearing as fast as he could. However now that he is older, 21 years, and showing his age, Chad barely left the house. His spot of choice was right in the middle of the living room rug in the room where I slept and so we were roommates and finally friends.
Alpha, on the other hand, has been a wonderful companion for Peter and Cocky but also a pal of mine. She has visited me in Hamilton, we’ve spent time at Peter’s island on beautiful Lake Temagami, and when I visit in Maine she and I have spent lots of time walking the trails or going into town while the others went to work. I have laughed as people made a wide circle around her on the sidewalk in Freeport, fearful of this large dog who is actually the gentlest of giants. When I arrived this time, Alpha came bounding out of the house to greet me but with less energy than normal. At thirteen years, she, like Chad, was showing her age with cataracts on her eyes and her hearing obviously impaired – only her nose for food still worked rather efficiently. I felt like I’d moved into a house for the aged.
Over the two weeks I was there, Alpha was breathing heavily and became more and more lethargic to the point that she was barely lifting her head when people arrived. Finally Peter took her to the vet who saw in an X-ray that she had a massive tumor on her spleen. Peter brought her home and the next day the vet came and with us all present at her side, Alpha went to sleep. She seemed almost grateful to be put out of her growing misery and went as graciously as she lived her life. It was a sad day for us, but as I have found in other moments such as these, it is a great privilege to spend their last days with the ones you love and to be at their side as they pass. It is nice to think that you helped ease them into the next life and caressed them with much love at the end of this one.
We will miss you Alpha.