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Up Thirty Feet and Forgot My Tape Measure Again

Been roofing again. Not fun.

The last two pie-shaped roof panels on the turret needed to be replaced. The roof wore a bum’s jacket of every layer of roofing that was ever put on the house — four or five layers. A Rosetta Stone of bad roofing practice. It’s way more work to strip roofing off than putting on new shingles, so everyone tends to go over what’s there and get themselves outside a beer that much sooner. I have a defective nature and can’t bring myself to nail another layer over the mattress of existing layers, so I ended up stripping off roofing from when McKinley was president.

The two panels are only about two squares of roofing (a square is 100 square feet). That’s about 6 bundles of shingles. I was able to shingle the front oblique panel right off the ladder you see there. No such luck on the last panel. I assembled a roofing mousetrap game to finish the job. You climb out the window, or up the ladder if you’re feeling spry. From the metal roof, you ascend a wooden stepladder that’s screwed to the sidewall to keep it from slipping. I installed a big metal grab handle on the roof opposite the chimney to assist in getting up on the planks to be named later. Once I roofed three courses or so while standing on the metal roof, I installed roof brackets (roof jacks) and a plank. I worked off that for a while. Then I installed another set of brackets and a second plank about six feet further up the slope. I screwed another wooden stepladder to the first plank. I climb up that to get as near to heaven as I’m likely to get.

The rope trailing down is for a fall protection harness. You wear an agglomeration of straps all over your torso and legs, with a big metal ring in the small of your back. You affix a big metal ring to the heaviest framing you can find on the roof, way up high, and you attach the rope to it. There’s a strap that attaches to the big metal ring in the middle of your back to a dongle that slides up and down the rope as you ascend. There’s a brake/clutch in the dongle, similar to the retraction mechanism in your seat belts. You pinch it to free it and slide it along the rope, but when you release it, it won’t slip. In theory. I’m a curious sort of fellow, but I’ve never tested it. The rope and harness and the strap is the safety equivalent of a spider’s web. You get so tangled up in it, just trying to get your hammer out of its holster, that you don’t care if you fall off the roof and die. That’s a form of safety, I guess.

Maine has a switch somewhere that gets thrown by nature and turns from winter to spring in about fifteen minutes. One day there are miserable patches of snow everywhere, and the trees look dead, and the next day the lawn needs mowing. Nothing just grows here. It explodes out of the ground.

I can only roof from about 7AM to 10AM. The roof goes from warming tray to broiler in about ten minutes when the sun clears the trees. So I have to spend three days doing a one day job. Oh well. It’s a good excuse to sit on the porch and wave to the neighbors passing by with prams and doggies.


I know it’s not possible, but I swear I could hear the begonias growing.

Welcome To Maine. Home of the Devil’s Paintbrush

Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim was an interesting fellow. He was born in Sangerville, Maine in 1840. He eventually moved to England, and eventually became a British citizen. During his fairly long life, he invented and perfected all sorts of things. A pocket menthol inhaler (he suffered from bronchitis a lot), a curling iron, a machine for placing eyelets in clothes and shoes and whatnot, a watch demagnetizer, some sort of thingamabob to keep ships from rolling at sea, a coffee substitute, and what was probably the first automatic fire sprinkler. He made a pretty cool amusement park ride, a kind of merry-go-round with tethered cars that simulated flight.  The ride is still in use at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and has been copied a zillion times, including by Disney. He tinkered around with actual flying machines, too. But just between you and me, I don’t think steam was the way to go, there, Hiram.

He also claimed to have invented the lightbulb, and got in a legal beef with Edison over it, and lost bigly. Eventually Edison invented the movie camera, and lucky for us, that allows us to see Hiram’s really big invention: The machine gun.

The video has been colorized, and someone has added some rat-a-tat sound effects, but that’s the man himself, demonstrating the first truly automatic weapon. Just spray and pray.

Then, at 0:48, he demonstrates something else with substantially more oomph. I’m not sure exactly what it is, or Hiram’s relationship to it. It looks like the deck gun on a military vessel. Whatever it is, I bet it could punch some holes in some things.

Hiram smiles, and takes a bow at the end. It’s easy to see why he’s so cheerful. He was stone deaf by that point. He was married at least twice, maybe without a divorce in between, and various women sued him for bigamy and child support for out-of-wedlock kids he supposedly sired. A man with good hearing usually limits himself to a single woman. A deaf fellow can handle almost any number of them.

She Comes In Colors In South Hiram, Maine

Dat’s Molly Tuttle from Palo Alto, of all places, playing at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival in South Hiram, Maine in 2022. Her whole family are bluegrass aficionados, and I believe at least one person on the stage with her is her brother. She went to school at Berklee in Boston, so I guess South Hiram’s not that far out a place to find yourself for a California bluegrass player.

People who’ve never been to Maine, and many that have, don’t understand Maine very well. They think it’s all guys with whales on their pants married to second wives with Pomeranians in their purses who live in Bar Harbor. It ain’t like that. Except for a thin strip along the coast, most of Maine is Alabama with snow. Bluegrass is close enough to country to get by out here. Because this ain’t no joke:

Slice of Maine Life

Joe and Nic’s Road Trip YewToob channel is a rara avis. They do the most useful thing you can find on the intertunnel. They go places, point the camera at what they’re looking at, tell you what they’re looking at, and report as much information as they can find about where they are. If the news media ever did this, they don’t do it now. Joe and Nic do.

They kind of specialize in going places others don’t, and for good reason. They favor abandoned places, and rundown places. They have the stones to go places like Gary Indiana and Detroit, and do not appear to be carrying sidearms, so they’re braver souls than me. They’re also brave enough to visit Belfast, Bangor, and Augusta, Maine, and tell the truth about them: i.e.: they’re pretty pleasant places to be.

It’s fun to hear them scratching their heads over crime stats in Belfast. They’re accustomed to crimes per thousand citizens, and Belfast has 47 crimes last year. Total. Welcome to Maine, kids.

We’re fairly familiar with Belfast, although it’s quite a ways away from our hovel in western Maine. Our children performed at the Belfast Harbor Fest one year. It was held in a giant circus tent in the park by the harbor.

Joe and Nic travel down the road to Bangor. Bangor’s a bigger town, and has a history of being a bit rough and tumble, all the way back to when it was lumber central for Maine exports. But it’s still a plenty safe place. The downtowns in these towns are mostly made up of handsome brick structures. They’re fascinated with the second best writer in Maine, who dwells there, but they’re from way out of town, so they’re forgiven. They mispronounce Orono, where the largest campus of UMaine is located (OR oh no). Our son attends UMaine, although it’s the campus in Augusta where he lays waste to the President’s List.

They mosey on down to Augusta to finish up, or Ogguster as we call it. It’s the state capital. We go there from time to time. We mostly press on down the road to Hallowell, which is an offbeat little strip of shops and restaurants. Ogguster has a handsome downtown, but truth be told, most of the burg is the usual gutbucket stripmall wonderland.

They visit the capitol building, which from the exterior looks like it belongs to a state with more people in it. When they get inside, they notice that it’s got a spare, no-nonsense Mainer vibe.

Joe and Nic sound like pleasant people. They should stay in Maine. But buy better books.

What It’s Like in Boothbay Harbor

We don’t live in Boothbay Harbor. We don’t live anywhere near Boothbay Harbor. But every once in a while, when we’re feeling Huffy, we load up the chariot and go places and see things. We went to Boothbay Harbor this summer. We had to drive a long way, dead east, to get there.

Boothbay Harbor ain’t Boothbay. They’re two different burghs. More people live in Boothbay. That’s not to say a lot. Only about 3,000 people live in Boothbay, and about a thousand fewer live in Boothbay Harbor. Add them both together and our town is about the same size, and we live at the edge of nowhere. Our town is big if you go by the dotted lines, however. It looks more like a county on the map if you’re from a wee state like Rhode Island or something.

Of course those are the population numbers for the winter. In the summer, the population of Boothbay Harbor is Boothbay Harbor in the winter, plus all of Massachusetts and New York, with a smattering of flyover states, by the look of it. It’s nice in the summer and people go there.

It’s in Lincoln County. That’s Downeast, which you get to by going up and to the right on the map. Boothbay Harbor and thereabouts was big into shipbuilding, and fishing, but it’s mostly just a vacuum cleaner wand for tourist wallets now. The ocean is still there. I know. I checked:

Boothbay Harbor has the hahbah right through the middle of it, in a loop. They built a big pedestrian causeway across it. I was standing on it while taking this picture. They built little rest areas along it, with benches, and we sat and drank coffee and watched each other’s noses turn red from the cloudless sunshine.

Right in the middle of the pedestrian bridge across the runnel, there’s a private residence, man. Neato.

It’s perfectly maintained, and has a sign warning you that it belongs to someone so go drink your coffee somewhere else, so we did. I think I could just about stand to live in that house. But only because it’s about perfect. No other reason.

But I think I’d rather live in this one. It’s more than about perfect. There are little streets around the harbor, mostly circles that dip down and loop back up to higher ground. The streets were plenty quiet enough to ride bikes on, but a little hilly.

Head downtown, and they go all Greek on you. They were selling trinkets or tchotchkes or something in front of the library, and we stopped and sat in the shade for a little while. They have a nifty flying carpet statue out front. I imagine they’ll replace it with a statue of a tween girl surfing the internet when they get enough bronze. Libraries try to stay topical nowadays. That’s why there are no books in them anymore.

In the center of town, hard by the water, the tourists and their money part company. If you need stuff and junque, they got it.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in this part of town. It has a Potemkin village vibe. It’s a cartoon of the Maine seacoast. The real deal folks with whales on their pants and spinnakers in their forecastles live in Boothbay, and sail off private moorings and docks, in my experience.

A young woman came out of one of the shops to get a breath of fresh air and complimented my wife on her bike. Well, it technically was a compliment, but we translated it into a desire to watch that bike whenever we parked it.

If you look hard enough, you can find two Adirondack chairs in a quiet spot and eat your lunch. Then again, you can find that in my back yard, too. The bird bath is much smaller than the Atlantic, however, and the gulls don’t favor it quite so much.

A Maine Lobsterman, by E.B. White in 1954

If you’ve got 18 minutes or so, the time will be well spent.

E.B. White is known to most folks as the guy who wrote Charlotte’s Web. Ink-stained wretches know him as the White in Strunk and White, authors of the bible of recipes for sentences, The Elements of Style. I know him as an essayist about Maine, where he is unexcelled — so far.

He lived in Down East Maine. He knew and respected the men and women he describes in blasts of interest like this one. Unlike today’s writers, he doesn’t rely solely on describing objects to achieve verisimilitude. He tries to understand the motive force behind the populations, traditions, and the landscape he’s surveying. Others skim over an ocean of meaning without dipping into it. E.B. dropped his traps, and hauled the good stuff up, just like Eugene Eaton.

This video is all before my time, of course, but I’ve met plenty of stalwart people like Eugene when they were a lot older, and I was a lot younger. They were taciturn fellows. Chatty guys don’t stand in a wheelhouse alone for very long before they find a job elsewhere. The laconic Maine lobsterman was the real deal. Calvin Coolidge was a gadfly compared to them. E.B. doesn’t have the right accent, but he’s close. He has Maine stapled over New York City. Eugene’s is the real deal.

I’m always sort of in awe of people like Eugene. If you watch him pull on his oars when commuting out to his working boat, you can see how much force he’s putting on each stroke, with how little effort. He could do it all day and not get tired. He’d wear out an Olympic oarsman, if he could be bothered to race, which he couldn’t. He rolls his wrists perfectly as the oars leave the water and again as they enter it, never showing a splash of water, coming or going. There’s no wasted effort in his whole day. Plenty of effort, mind you, just none wasted. When he pulls alongside his working boat, he ships his right oar effortlessly without looking at it. It’s a small thing, but his life is made from such small things. Just stuff I can’t help but notice, because I’ve thrashed oars and banged into boats and lost oars overboard and wrenched oarlocks out of the gunwhales and sprayed water on everyone and everything within hand-grenade distance while doing these things. And I dare you not to get seasick with the boat rolling in that chop, next to a barrel of reeking bait, with the stink of the diesel exhaust. I couldn’t.

I’ve knocked together lobster traps like Eugene is using. They’re fun to make. No one uses them anymore. They’re all brutish steel cages, pre-made now. Something lost, something gained, I guess. I love Eugene’s no-nonsense clothing, too. It was from back when LL Bean made more than men’s pinstriped button-down shirts for WASP ladies to vacuum the house in.

Out on that ocean in a 34′ boat with nothing but a hinky compass and tide chart. They should have left Michael Collins at home, and brought Eugene along instead. He’d get them back from the moon with a hand on Apollo’s tiller and an astrology column from the Bangor Daily News. No Tang for me, fellows. I brought my lunch with me.

I’m reminded of the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer. A snippet of it was on JFK’s desk, a present from Hyman Rickover, who could order battleships around and all, but I doubt he could row as well as Eugene.

Better Than Haggis

We had to import a guy from Scotland to make a decent lobster sandwich, apparently. The fellow knows his business. Both of them.

Maine has a love/hate relationship with lobsters. Lobstermen call them “bugs,” and many won’t eat them. They prefer to sell them, and eat hamburgers on the grill. Lobsters are their stock in trade, and you’re not supposed to get high on your own supply, dude. It’s the same in many walks of life, I assume. What’s a treat for others is the same old thing if you see it every day.

Like most traditional dishes that are considered delicacies, lobsters used to be poor person food. Back when New England was first settled, you could simply collect them from the shoreline. They were so cheap that in colonial times, they served them to prisoners every day, or at least until they rioted and demanded real food. But lobsters eventually got scarcer, and people began to associate them with upper crust folks, who were descended from the people who originally pestered the Indians away from the shoreline and kept all the bugs for themselves.

No one tell Gordon, but in Maine, lobster is almost always served as a lobster roll: diced up, overcooked lobster, buried in mayonnaise, and served on a flaccid hot dog roll. It’s usually accompanied with a plastic tub of runny cole slaw, in case you haven’t got enough mayonnaise in you yet. If Gordon finds out, he might disparage Maine, and I’d be forced to publish a recipe for haggis to fight back.

It Rained a Bit

That’s the famous Rumford Falls. It ain’t much to look at, really, although they have a rest stop nearby to gull tourists into lingering a while. The falls are in the background there. Most people mistake the weir, a concrete revetment that water passes over that you see in the foreground, for the falls. There’s a tall concrete bridge about a thousand yards downstream from the weir that actually has some interesting rocky rapids to gape at, but nobody ever looks at it. It’s got a hulking, reeking paper mill alongside it. It’s not picturesque, I guess.

It’s been raining every day for as long as I can remember. We can’t complain. Our back yard looks like Cambodia, but we skipped all the Canadian wildfire smoke altogether. Interestingly, Canadian Wildfire Smoke is the name of my Bachman-Turner Overdrive tribute band. But I digress.

Normally, the river isn’t running at all this time of year. The Androscoggin never stops, exactly, but the concrete weir would be showing, and the falls themselves would be bare granite. The nearby Swift River is usually just sort of shallow and disconnected, like a teenage girl with an iPhone riding in your car. But it’s raging, too.

We never really get weather here in western Maine. We get WEATHER. C’est la vie!

A Maine Barbecue

Back in the day, it would have been spelled barbeque, I think. Pretty soon the word will entirely pass through the alimentary canal of internet spelling and always be referred to as BBQ.

We’ll forgive the soprano for the caterwauling at the opening of the video. She’s performing in Monmouth, Maine, and in Maine, we’re all doing the best we can, and make allowances. She gets right back on track when she starts narrating the extravaganza of fun and frolic and painfully square activities. She’s got a great, subtle Katharine Hepburn twang. When she says “haff” at 3:18, I get a little thrill. It’s becoming rare in Maine, as the place gets increasingly populated with people “from away.” Southern Maine is increasingly northern Massachusetts.

The theater is still there in Monmouth, and banging away. They’re currently putting on a production of Richard II. It’s possible they wanted to put on Richard III, but didn’t have enough I’s for the marquee, and went with it. It’s Maine; we make do.

There Are Worse Places To Be Than Lost in Maine

Well, it’s a pretty good video, all in all. It sounds like it’s narrated by Edgar the farmer, who gets turned into a bug in Men in Black, but this is Maine, where everyone is just doing the best they can, so he kind of fits in.

The video is called “Coastal Maine.” For some reason it starts in Rumford. That’s a bit of a headscratcher, Edgar. Rumford is about as far away from the coast as you can get and still be in Maine, but rock on, dude. He graciously elided the part about the hulking, stinking paper mill smack dab in the middle of Rumford, so he’s obviously polite to a fault, which makes him a better man than me. Then he waxes poetic about the waterfall, while taking video of the weir in front of it instead.  Then he sets out on a solid five hour drive to Bar Harbor, the next stop. I’m not sure why he’s hanging out near the New Hampshire and Canadian border of Maine. Maybe he wanted to sneak up on Bar Harbor, went to Canada first, took two more right turns, and then invaded the coast from Quebec. Lots of Quebeckers descend to Old Orchard Beach, near Saco, in the summer, so he could just follow the caravan. Of course if he really wants to fit in with that crowd, he’ll have to wear a speedo and tip 5% in the restaurants.

So it’s Maine-ish enough for my tastes, and you can barely see the seams in the PRODUCT PLACEMENT, so let’s not quibble. Visit coastal Maine! Including the Pacific coast, just on the other side of 49 states from Rumford.

[Previously on Sippican Cottage: Maine Is Totally Like This, Totally.

Tag: Maine

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