Sippican Cottage

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Second Empire Sylvester

This one’s got everything: nudity; violence; righteous retribution. And cottage furniture.

Feet of clay. Everything else, too:

Nothing Happens Until July 4th

Nothing happens on Cape Cod until July 4th.

I worked on Cape Cod for many years. I witnessed various and sundry businessmen down there trying to fight this iron law like a white whale. They’d tow banners from biplanes and make radio ads and hire performers and put out sandwich boards and generally set their hair afire after they got that little flurry of interest and money on Memorial Day. I used to see their businesses slip beneath the foam, tangled in the lines trailing from the leviathan of the springtime’s cold water, high winds, and overcast skies all the time. The smart ones just opened the doors on July 3rd, and sold everything they had until they found themselves unscrewing things from the wall and putting tags on them, and running out of even the banana popsicles.

They’d show up on July Fourth, oh yes. And every Friday afternoon until Labor Day you’d know better than to to try the two bridges that allow you to enter Cape Cod over the canal that makes it an island, really, if you didn’t have two hours to kill. The rentals turn over at Saturday morning at eleven, so don’t try going the other way, then, either.

Let’s go down to Main Street in Harwichport. The Finast has Hood ice cream. And look, the Modern Theater sign says they have talking pictures now.

Quiet Contemplation

Is there a spot in your world suitable for quiet contemplation?

I find it’s become a rare thing. You don’t have to be away from the whole world to achieve it. Just the opposite. Being all alone out in the wilderness is not restful. Even a tiny urban dooryard used to have the potential to serve the purpose I’m referring to, or the small parks that would dot the urban landscape. But exterior spaces are mostly too busy or barren, and so suburb or city or exurb, they don’t serve the purpose anymore.

There are fads. Decks, hot tubs, elaborate grilling devices, pools, tennis courts, swingsets, treeforts, bocce, horseshoes… I could keep going, but you get the picture. There’s a great deal of hardscaping in the exterior world these days. I am mostly ambivalent about most of those things. They are either useful or not according to taste. But they are not what I am talking about.

I’m talking about a place that is designed to place a person at ease outdoors, sheltered enough from hubbub to stop for a moment and contemplate the outdoors and your place in it.

I am not often on the lookout for things to do. I have too many things to do. I am looking for a place to do not much of anything for a pleasant moment.

Put a garden in your yard. Put a seat in your garden. Enclose it enough to be private. Give it a view through to something else that is pleasant to look at from a distance. Open it to the sky but dapple the sunlight. Get out of the wind, invite a breeze. Stay on the ground if you can, but get out of the dirt.

Keep the fun out of there. It’s too much like work.

Got Nature?

I was answering my e-mail yesterday afternoon, and looked out my office window. Notice anything?
Yes, I know something’s been eating my neighbor’s arbor vitae, or the first four feet of it, anyway. It makes it look like Dr Suess lives next door. No, not that. Look closer.

Yes, I see the ghost of the trench the Verizon Fios installation left in my yard. Grass seed is almost $10.00 for a bag that would seed every Fios installation in Southeast Massachusetts. Why would the trenching people bring some of that with them? No that’s not it. All right, I’ll go over to a window without a screen to block the view. But I’ll have to get up from my desk, and that makes me cranky when I’ve plopped there after a day hunching over a saw.

My, that’s a gangly dog.

Do you know what an osprey is? It’s like an eagle that lives at the shore. It’s white and black, and it’s huge. It’s a solitary beast, more or less. It likes to grab fish out of the ocean. You’re supposed to get jazzed if you see one soaring overhead.

I had five of them in my yard at one time last week. They all eventually landed in the tall pines, and it looked like there was a bunch of grade schoolers pole-sitting in my yard.

They were big enough to make an attempt on the cats. But the cats were busy.

We get turtles the size of hubcaps, and cute little box turtles too. I was getting the mail once a few years ago, when I saw a woman who had stopped her car in front of my house and was instructing her grade school daughter to pick up a snapping turtle the size of a Thanksgiving Turkey Platter that was in the road. She wanted to “save” it. People have interesting ideas about how fragile nature is, and what the appropriate attitude is to take towards it most of the time. I can assure you that that snapping turtle would have clawed the beejezuz out of that little girl and maybe taken off the end of a finger if I hadn’t been there to intervene. They’re gila monsters in a tank, not Disney characters, lady. Do you send your daughter out in the road to shoo the drifters away, too?

We’ve had coyotes in packs. Turkeys in flocks. Phalanxes of turtles. Deer in the same quantities and with the same appetites and regard for private property as teenagers at a mall. A rabid baby skunk living under our back step. Owls. Bats like luftwaffe squadrons every night. A dozen baby squirrels living in the attic. I have to remove three foot trees from my gutters twice a year. My two year old son was trying to feed the birds out back and a field mouse ran out of the shrubs and sat on his foot and ate the seeds. We’re only interested in how many gold finches are in the yard.

The deer are just garden pests here. The mosquitoes are biblical in size and quantity. A 75 foot tall pine is a weed. The peepers sound like a 747 warming up on the runway in the spring. Our little children can’t play alone in the yard, but not because some drifter might get them. A drifter would never even make it half way up the driveway before the horseflies would get them.

Lenin sat in an office and thought he knew all about how the farmers should order their affairs, even though he had never met one. I read the paper and am told by apartment dwellers that kayak now and again that nature is a delicate affair, and could be snuffed out at any second, wholesale. I’ve got news for the environmental crowd. If I didn’t mow my lawn for three weeks, no one would ever know what happened to us. We’d be pulled to pieces and subsumed.

Nature always looks best on TV Homer Simpson

Got Gingerbread?

Let’s get back to American House styles, shall we? But first, I must rant, and rage, and foam, and whine and wheedle; and then get back to loving you all as neighbors and friends.

I live in a seaside town. The swells live in something they refer to as “The Village.” It’s a little rabbit warren of streets hard by the harbor and the yacht club. My wife and I and our bairns like to go for walks in the evening there. We’re all alone generally, as people talk a good game about liking pedestrian friendly streets, but it’s strictly a theoretical exercise. No one walks anywhere but us. There are no children we do not bring.

There are a lot of interesting houses down in the village. I’ve shown you photos of them from time to time. If you want a verbal beating, try proposing building anything in this town. Anything. There is an abandoned restaurant on the main road through town (It has a stoplight. The stoplight) that has been vacant since I moved here over a decade ago. Dunkin Donuts wishes to place a coffee shop there. My tax money is being spent on prosecuting lawsuits with Dunkin Donuts instead of being augmented by the tax money it would bring. All because the people who do not want it don’t want it. They lie anyway: they go to the one in Wareham. In some alternate universe an abandoned restaurant that was uglier than any Dunkin Donuts, even before it fell into disrepair, is preferable to allowing anything to be built there in its ruins.

There’s nothing wrong with Dunkin Donuts. Their buildings are too garish for my tastes, but they’d no doubt make the building look like whatever the town asked for. But I’ve listened to the laundry lists of things people demand to make the thing “fit in” with the surroundings. It’s always a laundry list of fake bosh. And if you demanded that the place be made really fitting for its surroundings, not just covered with the affectations of a kind of Potemkin colonial nonsense, it wouldn’t approach passing muster with the building code, never mind the disability requirements. It’s against the law for a commercial building to have much soul anymore. Postmodern colonial crapola gets pasted on it around here. That’s about it.

The people who rail about such things at town meetings and in the paper talk about preserving the character of the town. The town has no character I can discern. The absence of things is not character. The institutions that personify the town are private, and turn their back on the majority of the town and its neighbors in every meaningful sense. There is a word for the person that dreams of a landscape with no person but themselves in it. I don’t think it’s a pleasant word. They talk openly in the local newspaper about choosing the day of Fourth of July fireworks with an eye towards selecting the one most likely to avoid having anyone from another town attend. Why should we let someone else see our fireworks? Why have it on July Fourth? Why does anyone need an inexpensive cup of coffee, or a job? It all sounds so unsavory, if you’re at the yacht club.

When we are walking –alone– I walk past one house after another that the locals would point to as a paradigm, and demand that the whole town be kept in this unspoiled fashion. The problem is that most of southcoast Massachusetts was a turn of the 20th century seaside retreat, and many of the houses were built as gingerbread confections, and they’ve been ruined. They’ve had all the gingerbread ripped off, the porches removed, then covered with shingles and shutters. Some are stuccoed over or even vinyl sided. I see the ghosts of those old houses in there, faintly visible now, like an old lady that shaves off her eyebrows and paints on her features with a shaky hand, or like a pretty corpse in the bottom of a lake.

People drive past those houses –and me– and go harrumph and say: at least it’s not Dunkin Donuts. They’re right. Dunkin Donuts is real.

Call The Vatican

Some sort of miracle has occurred. I am at a loss to explain it.

We planted three rose bushes two years ago. In my mind, I was burying them, not planting them. Because the dark and bloody mysteries of roses are beyond me. I can barely grow mildew on my shower curtain. How am I going to tend to those things?

Like all come-ons from smart salesman, the plants had a rose bloom on them when they were displayed for sale. If there is a prettier thing in this world that I’m not married to I haven’t seen it. They were cheap and irresistible. Three of them went in at the corner of the garden near the driveway. They lost the bloom they had and did nothing. The difference in appearance between a thriving rose bush and dead one is not spacious for a goodly part of the year.

I tried to find out about the plant, of course. But that’s like walking up to a pretty girl in a bar and expecting her to run off with you because you tell her you read a medical textbook about females once. Not likely. I read a dizzying array of advice about roses that approached a sort of kabuki play/necromancy incantation/ Faust bargain/atom-splitting/pointillist painter complexity coupled to a Confucian subtlety; it made me throw up my hands, cut off the wild stems, dump on triple the recommended fertilizer, and forget about it.

There are fifty or so dark purplish red blooms on the things right now, with buds for at least another fifty more. I understand so little about what has happened that I don’t even know how to go about lying about it to take credit for it.

Hmm. I’d never make it in politics, would I?

Month: June 2007

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