Notes from the coast

October 10, 2007

I am camped out in a tiny cottage perhaps 50 feet from the waters of a small, working harbor on the midcoast of Maine. I’ve been coming here on and off for many years. I always keep a journal of thoughts, observations, and notes from things I’m reading, even descriptions of what I cook.

There are 10 cottages, all built by their owner, Leonard Osier, between 1950 and 1966. Leonard is still with us, and in his late 80s. He lives in a house painted a good, strong red perched at the top of a hill that slopes down to the harbor, its brood of cabins between it and the water. I am in The Osprey, the first to be built. The others are all named for water birds as well, Tern, Cormorant, Loon, Gull, Mallard, Heron, Teal, Petrel and Gannet. The cottages are simple wooden affairs with no insulation or fancy accoutrements, but comfortable. The following is from my journals.

Night things:

This cottage possesses a water heater with a gift for gab.

It is most noticeable at night, when everything is quiet. Like all of Leonard’s cottages, this one is simple post-and-beam wooden structures with no insulation at all. The other side of the simple plank wall in any room is either the inside wall of another room, or it is out in the world’s weather.

More complex homes, the kinds most of us live in, mutter to themselves all the time, but nobody hears. Not so here. Lying still in the house, especially in the morning and evening when people are washing dishes or taking showers is a little like eavesdropping on a conversation held in a foreign language.

The refrigerator hums and snickers to itself in the corner, like some demented old uncle. The electric baseboard heaters, when in use, tsk and cluck quietly along the walls, like elderly women with loose dentures gossiping in a little huddle. The house stirs slightly in the wind and shifting temperatures, creaking like an old man in troubled sleep.

The water heater is the real orator, though. All through the day, but especially in the morning and early evening, it pops and hisses, ratchets and thuds. He is the maestro, the grand rhetorician, the leader of the congregation, the more so because this heater provides hot water to at least one, if not two, of the other cottages. We are all members of his harem, his audience, his flock.

Last Saturday, His Reverence went off on a real rant. He began popping and pinging at a furious rate, so that I thought he must have been deep into a sermon on Revelations and The End of Days. Then, at the end of a long and, I thought, particularly monotonous passage, he gave an extended series of descending hisses, a shorter series of gurgles, and fell quiet.

Sensing disaster, we arose and checked around the house. We had no water.

Leonard later explained that a fitting had broken in The Loon, causing hot water to flow everywhere. He was forced to turn off the water and drain the entire system before he could replace the broken part.

About half an hour later the pipes in the house glugged into life. The Rev. Heater ticked and wheezed for a bit, then settled down, perhaps needing some quiet time to ponder what had just occurred.

I think his next sermon will be about The Flood.


Between two and three a.m., I awoke briefly, and went out on the porch to see what the world was up to.

Spectacular stuff, as it turned out. Funny thing about the world: It apparently has no ego, and will do the most spectacular things while nobody is watching.

The cloudiness that had teased the sky late the evening before had disappeared, leaving the sky clear, the stars bright, even through the thin arm of the fog we had seen offshore at sunset, which had crept ashore while we slept.

The moon we had watched for in vain last night had appeared, though I couldn’t see the waning face from where I stood.

The fog played around the resting lobster boats and pleasure craft, and around pilings, and sifted itself through stacked lobster traps on the working dock across from us. The moon illuminated every droplet of vapor in the fog, transforming it into a silver mist, jewelling the entire harbor.

No admission charged. All that is required is that we show up, and take time to see.


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