My summer

This was written five years before I moved fulltime to Maine

Sam Smith

In a few days your editor will return to that town of which – in Gore Vidal’s novel of the same name – Senator Burden Day remarks, “hypocrisy is our shield; inaction is our sword.” It is a place where (as Russell Baker once noted) solemnity is confused with seriousness and where clichés pass for ideas, projections cross-dress as reality, and no one can remember what anyone did more than six months ago.

To suggest how different it has been the past few weeks on the shores of Casco Bay, Maine, I have made a list of some things about which I have talked that never seem to come up in Washington. The converse is also true. For example, the topic of terrorism was raised only once, by my younger sister who has recently joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary. She mentioned that she had been assigned to patrol aboard a Casco Bay Line ferry during the Code Yellow alert. And what, I asked, would you have done if you had found a terrorist hidden among the tourists and islanders on their way to Chebeague or Peaks? “I would have told the captain,” she explained. It sounded sensible to me.

On the other hand, here are some of the other subjects that did come up:

Is the tree whose large limb fell across the Burnett Road likely also to collapse against Charlie’s house?

Is it true that ospreys and seals, while accustomed to motorboats approaching, are spooked by brightly colored kayaks?

Why are clam prices so high and why isn’t the lobster business better?

How Paul at the Bow Street Market is dealing with his meat delivery problems.

Is grazing young steers for the season and then selling them preferable to a year-round livestock program?

A discussion with Andy, the state park director, and his assistant Patty about the best way to handle the brown tail moth crisis slowly spreading along the Maine coast.

Further discussions with the aforementioned on whether hardwood or softwood tree were most likely to grow in an untended pasture.

Whether a dowser should be called in to find a desired well. I offered a recollection of the time when my father got Henry Gross up from Kennebunk for a whole day. This man was so impressive – after all, he had found water in Bermuda simply by dowsing over a map – that two of his fans joined him on the daylong expedition to our farm: one was the novelist Kenneth Roberts and the other was the actress, Bette Davis. When my father died, the minister apologized to the family as we approached the grave site for the diggers had struck water. To the minister’s mixed confusion and relief, we all laughed.

What is the best dinghy to replace the old leaky one? And what to call it?

Simultaneous contact with which two metal objects gets the lawn mower going despite a broken starter?

Can anyone remember such a foggy August?

The politics of buying a lighthouse.

A brief conversation with Tommy as he was leaving the Jamison Tavern after dinner in order to go to Portland, where he would captain a tugboat helping a tanker into port that night.

How to get a bit out of a recalcitrant keyless chuck?

My latest acquired Maine story, to wit: Bert and I was walkin’ along the shore when a seagull shat on his head. “You want some Kleenex?” I asked him. “Nope,” he said, “that bird’s left already.”

And soon, so will I.

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