I would have loved to have met Joe Delaney.

 

Finding Joe’s place was dumb luck, really. Most of my attention had been given to the spectacularly rocky coastline of western Nova Scotia. I spotted the hand-lettered sign on the landward side of the road. It bore a cartoonlike head and the legend “Masque Acadie,” and saw what looked like a hundred or so scarecrows staging a demonstration in a field.

 

These are the sorts of things one should not resist.

 

“Back in 1984, my father tried raising a garden here, but the animals, the deer and the rabbits, ate everything up,” said his daughter, Ethel, who had opened a take-out diner and souvenir shop in a converted mobile home at the site of her father’s creation. “So, some neighbors said to my father, why do not you build some scarecrows and keep them away? So, he had some junk sitting around, so he made three, each about six feet tall.”

 

Joe used old clothes, Halloween masks, strips of bright plastic, and a lot of imagination.

 

The morning after the scarecrows went up, two tour buses and several cars stopped while Joe was tending his garden. Some people came out, told him they really liked the scarecrows, and took pictures.

 

“By the end of the summer, he had a dozen scarecrows,” said Ethel.

 

I poked around the little gift shop, and bought a tiny cup of coffee from her. She handed me the change. Ethel said she and Paul opened the little business two years after the tourists started showing up.

 

She wore a lot of makeup, with her eyebrows outlined carefully, the heavy black lines of the pencil leaving an oblong hollow. Ethel was an expressive speaker, and her eyebrows moved a lot. It was hard not to stare.

 

A couple of cars stopped. The people got out, took a few snapshots, dropped a few coins in the collection box that had a little sign saying the money was for the upkeep of Joe’s scarecrows, and drove away. I thought about buying some scarecrow postcards, but changed my mind. I am very cheap.

 

“The year after, he had 30 scarecrows, and the tourists kept coming,” said Ethel, her eyebrows sending semaphore signals of their own. “He had a little workshop out in the back, in the old bus, where he kept making more.”

 

Joe had died of lung cancer about two years earlier, Ethel said.

 

“He was doing real good right up until the end,” said Ethel, in accented English that told me she was more accustomed to French. “Then he got sick and we took him to the ‘ospital, and in just a little while ‘e was gone.”

 

In front of Ethel’s little take-out was one of those bright-colored windmill things, a propeller to catch breeze attached to a mechanism that made a little wooden silhouette of a woodsman make chopping motions with an ax. The blade kept hitting against the novelty’s frame. A stiff breeze blew in from the shore on the other side of the road. The little lumberjack chopped in a frenzy, a little toy maniac in the wind.

 

The same year that Ethel’s take-out went in; a vandal struck one night, destroying all but one of Joe’s scarecrows, whom Joe had named Rory. Ethel, her eyebrows rigid with indignation, said she knows who did it, but has no proof.

 

“It was a man who lives down the road, he left a bar that night after he got drunk and got in a fight. He comes in here sometimes, and I just look at him,” she said.

 

Joe wrote an account of the vandalism as though written by Rory as an eyewitness. The piece was published in one of the area newspapers. After it ran, a lot of people gave Joe money and old clothes so he could recreate his scarecrows. Today, there are about 100.

 

“We put’em away in the winter and bring’em back out in the spring,” Ethel and her eyebrows said. “We try to keep’em looking nice for people.”

 

The collection of U.S. president scarecrows looked a little tattered, but then, so does the office. There were scarecrows sawing logs, scarecrows playing fiddles. Most of them, however, stood in the traditional scarecrow pose, legs spread slightly, arms straight out at the sides, heads staring straight ahead or, sometimes tilted back, staring at the heavens. These latter looked as though they were either praying intensely, or asking God, “Why me?”

 

There were no scarecrows created to look like God providing answers, though there were a couple that looked like they could be televangelists.

 

Somewhere along the way, Ethel said, Joe forgot about the garden. He wasn’t around to ask why he simply kept making scarecrows, even to the exclusion of the garden they were designed to protect. Ethel, her eyebrows arching with pride, said her father’s scarecrows draw 20,000 to 30,000 tourists a year.

 

That’s a lot of coffee, meat pies, muffins, and postcards.

 

But I am not certain. Sure, that’s what keeps Paul and Ethel solvent, but I do not think money was Joe’s first consideration. I looked at the little photo Ethel kept of him, standing out by his workshop. There was a definite impishness in those eyes. I think Joe just kept building scarecrows and putting them out, just to see how many tourists he could lure in. I have a funny feeling he went to his grave bemused at the public’s apparently endless appetite for cute.

 

I finished my coffee, and threw the thimble-sized styrene cup into the trash. Ethel thanked me. Her eyebrows seemed to have dozed off.

 

“Come back and see us again,” she said.

 

I climbed into my van. The crazed lumberjack was taking a breather. A woman over among the scarecrows excitedly asked her husband, he of the white patent leather shoes and matching belt, to take a picture of her standing next to Ronald Reagan. I started the engine and left. A guy can only take so much culture in one dose.

 

==================================

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I knew right away I was going to like Nate Nicholls when I saw his yard.

I was sightseeing in 2005 on some of the back roads in the area of Maine where I like to vacation, and there it was, inhabited by guys leaning on shovels, giant chickadees, giraffes, assorted frogs, cactus, oversized flowers, and the odd dragon or two.

Everything was made out of junk, scrap metal, propane tanks, rakes, shovels, railroad spikes, nuts, bolts, lengths of rebar, this and that.

I whipped the car onto the shoulder and walked around some, taking photos, hoping the owner would show, but he wasn’t home.

But there was a big, hand-lettered sign. The sign said that the township is telling him that no business in the township can have items for sale unless they are screened from view. So, his sign says, nothing you can see there is for sale. Unless, that is, you look at it through a screen. He provides the screen, of course, a square of framed wire mesh that he made himself.

“Ok,” I said to myself. “I GOTTA meet this guy.”

The next day, I did.

Nate Nicholls was no trained artist. He was a high school dropout, then 43, who eked out a living harvesting and processing wild Maine blueberries, doing odd jobs, and from the occasional sale of a piece of his art.

Turns out, he was born only about 50 miles from where I live, in Lancaster, Pa. He was married and lived with his family in a white wood frame house adjacent to his workshop and his, well, it’s hard to say what it is. Display area, museum, and storage lot. Prop lot for some very strange stage production. Something like that.

Nate, who had collected mostly metal junk for his hobby for years, got serious about welding and bolting odds and ends of stuff together after his mother died about three years before I met him.

“She was artistic. After she passed, I just felt like I had to do something, and this is where it went,” he said.

He also said he got a little ticked off with the local government because they told him he couldn’t keep all that junk in his yard.

“So, I started welding stuff together, and called it art. I said, ‘now it’s art, what are you going to do now?’ “

He said the township didn’t like him very much.

Nate’s prices were arbitrary. He had a steel sheep he made and set the price at $6,000, because he’d seen one made by a famous sculptor priced at that figure.

“And my sheep looks more realistic,” he said with obvious pride.

The sheep, I had to admit, looked pretty darned real. OK, it looked like a sheep in chain mail, but this is art, right? The convention/menagerie in Nicholl’s yard includes people of all shapes and sizes, an elephant, giraffe, one whole red and orange dragon perhaps 10 feet tall hatching babies out of propane tank ‘eggs,’ parts of several other dragons, a self-portrait of the artist, one squid, one octopus, a pair of tiny dogs made from car springs that I would swear were modeled after a pair of miniature poodles I know, any number of birds, lizards…all made from old gears, snowmobile mufflers (great for peacocks and pelican bodies, as it happens,) nuts, bolts, pitchforks, shovels, picks, shears, screwdrivers and chain-link fence.

Nate said he spent a lot of time in scrap yards, and sometimes people just bring stuff for him. One fellow, I believe, provided a couple of tons of railroad spikes, which have evolved into hundreds of tiny figures romping, dancing and marching around Nate’s five-acre property.

Sadly, Nate is not making any more fanciful creatures.

One July day he was welding a small metal frog when his heart failed. He was rushed to the hospital in Damariscotta, but nothing could be done to bring him back. His kids had him cremated and buried his cremains in his sculpture garden, and covered his grave with bouquets of flowers made from gaily-painted flowers fashioned from outdoor spigot handles.

I make a point to stop at Nate’s on every visit to Maine. Sometimes I chat with his son Josh, who lives in the big old house, and sometimes chat with his daughter, Alissa, on Facebook.

Like many artist’s Nate’s life stared back at us from his work. He once had a run-in with the state highway department. They said his stuff was too close to the road. He countered by listing a number of more usual businesses on the same highway who keep their products as close or closer. In honor of the dispute, Nate built a highway department guy leaning on his shovel, a stumpy cigar stuck between his teeth and a woman giving him hell about something.

To celebrate his warm relationship with his township, Nate has a figure carrying a skull around on a platter. He said the head represents a figure from the local government who is sometimes a pain in the butt.

The biggest problem Nate had, aside from his hassles with the local and state government, is that he gets attached to each piece, knows the story behind every part of it, who brought him this spring, that doohickie, and what inspired him to make it. It’s sweet, but it doesn’t help his cash flow.

“I can’t mass produce these things, but if I have only one of a piece, I can’t sell it. And of my very favorite pieces, I can hardly bring myself to sell them at all,” he said.

He did sell stuff, though. He picked up a turtle made of railroad spikes, its shell made from old steel nuts welded together. It was about eight inches across. He said he makes them pretty often, because people walk onto his property and offer him a hundred bucks for one.

He said he figures he could get $10,000 for the 10-foot-tall red-and-orange dragon, babies and eggs included.

At his memorial service Alissa read from a poem Nate left behind:

There really isn’t much difference
between this old man
and a chunk of rusty mooring chain.
I grow weak
from both the weathering of time
and the brine of existence.

Since Nate’s death, his kids have moved some of the sculptures around. Some of the pieces have been stolen, but they are doing the best they can on a limited budget. They want to maintain Nate’s Recycleart Garden Gallery and the garden for as long as they can. The garden is free and open to the public, and they want to keep it that way.
Recycleart sculpture garden and studio
https://www.facebook.com/recyclesculptor

http://recyclesculptor.com/

Lost

January 4, 2011

My brother left his home in Georgia the day after Christmas, planning to make the 600-plus-mile trip to our aunt’s house in western Pennsylvania for a belated family Christmas.

It was our first family gathering since our mother’s funeral in September.

There are not a lot of us left. Me, David, our Aunt Shirley, a few cousins scattered around. It used to be that a holiday dinner would fill Shirley’s downstairs with people.

This year, all of us who could show up fit around a regular dining room table.

Sue and I left Baltimore, figuring we would get to Shirley’s roughly the same time David did.

We got there at 9:30 p.m., ate, drank some coffee, and waited for David.

And waited.

I sat for a couple of hours in a chair where I could see the street. Finally, at 1 a.m., we all turned in. Which is not to say any of us slept well. Shirley slept hardly at all. Sue and I awoke, I think, at every passing car, or sudden noise.

We were not especially close as children, David and I. We were not estranged. That word implies a rending. For whatever reason, we never got particularly close.

Until our mother’s final illness, that is.

First, I have to say that he was always sort of a hero to me. He always did things his way, even if doing so made his life harder.

He took care of Mom for years, though sometimes you would think they hated one another, as much as they fought. As she sank into dementia and physical disabilities, he had a lot to deal with. It was hard on all of us, but him most of all. Dealt with it, god knows how.

We talked more during that time, I think, than we had in the previous several decades.

Back at Shirley’s the phone rang at 6 a.m. on Monday.

In a stupor, I tried to get the call on my cell, though it was coming in on Shirley’s land-line. By the time I figured that out, the message had gone to the machine.

“I’ve had some trouble. I should be there in a couple of hours,” David said. That was it.

More than “a couple of hours” later, close to lunchtime, I got on the phone. I looked up the phone number David had called from – he refuses to carry a cell phone – and discovered it to be in a little town in the middle of nowhere in the Pennsylvania mountains, far from any major roads.

Did some quick estimating. He really should have arrived some hours before.

I did some quick checking on the computer and called the several state police barracks between Shirley’s home and David’s last position. No wrecks reported involving any cars of the kind David drives.

That was a relief, but 25 years working as a newspaper reporter gave me plenty of mental images to fuel my worry. Out of gas on some back road, or some other car trouble. Off in a ditch or ravine in some remote area. And on and on.

I laid on the floor for awhile and tried to think about anything else but what might be wrong. Sue had been looking out of the window as often I had been.

I could hear Shirley praying quietly as she busied herself in the kitchen.

I fell asleep, but my dreams were dark.

In the early afternoon, I awoke to find my oldest cousin and his wife walking into the house. I’m afraid my welcome was a little distracted.

Maybe half an hour later, David pulled up in the driveway. He walked into the kitchen, looking a little chagrined. Just in time for our post-Christmas feast.

I didn’t know whether to hug him or hit him.

I went for the hug. Life is too short, and we’re both on the shady side of it.

But I confess that I’m a little frustrated that he won’t say what happened. On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing. I can imagine all SORTS of adventures for him.

==============================.

© 2011 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

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http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Kicking Back

October 5, 2010

A new fire crackles in the Franklin stove, armor against the growing chill.

The writing-for-money stuff has been put away for the day. Time to relax.

This little working harbor with its tiny fleet of lobster boats and a few pleasure craft lie quiet under an overcast sky. The bell buoy at the harbor mouth tolls over and over, promising an unquiet night for those on the open water.

Out in the Gulf of Maine the sea tosses, never easy, and waves smash on the boney coast.

From here, it sounds like breathing.

It has been a vacation of small adventures. Nothing hair-raising. Nothing that would make the papers. Saturday night our friend and neighbor Bob brought over a blueberry pie he had made that afternoon. We dug out the vanilla ice-cream, and an evening of dietary mayhem and great conversation ensued.

Yesterday, we spent an hour or so up in Waldoboro with Nate Nickoll, an artist of endless imagination who has populated his property with dancing figures, dragons, giant ants and frogs and mermaids, even a yellow submarine, all made from scrap metal. Sometimes he sells his creations, if he can bear to part with them.

This morning, I created my first breakfast involving scallops. It was a big hit. There’s no telling what might happen next.

And, no, this column doesn’t have a point, not as it would if I was tackling economics, or man’s inhumanity to man, or my personal glee at the demise of the Hummer. It’s just me taking time to disengage, knock it into neutral, and just be.

You should try it.

==============================.
© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

As many of you already know, I live in the Gettysburg area. My house sits about five miles south of the official battlefield park, scene of the famous July 1-3, 1863 fight that saw the high-water mark of the Confederacy, and the much-ballyhooed turning point of the American Civil War.

It was also a portent of great wealth for the Asian manufacturers of little toy rifles and swords with which the darling children and grandchildren of tourists pretend jolly mayhem on one another.

Of course, the battle took up a lot more space than just the 6,000-acre park. The road on which I live, for example, was the site of an encampment of troops serving under Union Gen. Abner Doubleday, who did not, legends to the contrary, invent baseball.

I am not enough of a student of history to know what Abner did in the battle, but according to a neighbor who pokes around the area with a metal detector, his troops apparently gave up sleep for the evening, preferring rather to spend their time peppering the ground with bullets, buckles, and buttons for the benefit of future relic hunters.

We get between 1.5 and 2 million tourists every year. It makes us really cagey about finding ways around town via alleys and back roads so we have a lower risk of getting behind one of our famous double-decker tour buses or some septuagenarian operating a 40-foot motor home while trying to read battlefield markers without actually stopping.

The great thing about all those tourists is that they bring their wallets with them, and when they leave, said wallets are usually a good bit lighter.

This is a good thing.

The bad thing is that we have to deal with tourists for all but the coldest months of the year. There has been, I believe, some intense research into finding a way for the tourists to simply mail their money to us, or transmit it through PayPal, but all the details haven’t been ironed out yet.

I’ll keep you posted.

These thoughts reasserted themselves recently as I sat in one of the restaurants on the tourist strip, writing in my journal and enjoying some ice cream and coffee.

Well, trying to.

Tourist season was already past its peak. Halloween was behind us, so the legions of live people looking for dead people on the battlefield were pretty well gone off to haunt other places.

Still, and mysteriously, one end of the restaurant was filled with a platoon of Confederate re-enactors in full regalia. Fortunately, they weren’t hard-core, that segment of the re-enactor universe who never wash their uniforms, out of deference to historical and olfactory exactitude, and who as a result smell like road-kill.

No, this was generally speaking a bunch of good-ole boys having a grand time with their lady friends over a hearty meal of chicken strips and bluish-ice cream sundaes. Better than hard-tack, you betcha.

They were a rowdy lot, but none more so than one fellow at the nearest table, who spoke with great animation and volume about his latest adventures in the sphere of medicine.

He sat facing me at an angle. Directly across from him, and facing away from me, was the woman who seemed to be with him. She was a substantial lass, with long, lustrous black hair and a deep and abiding passion for fried food, judging from her plate and by her, um, beamishness.

Now, I am the last person to pronounce judgment on a person’s girth, being horizontally gifted in my own right, or their choices in how they garb themselves. My favorite leisure time clothing is a sturdy set of bib overalls and bare feet, so who am I to talk?

Even so, I like to think that if I had the sort of back porch possessed by that young lady, hip-huggers might very well be the very last thing on my list of things to wear out in public.

“Hip-huggers” is perhaps not an accurate description, as these seemed more to be holding on by their fingernails.

The problem was exacerbated by a T-shirt whose reach was far from adequate.

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember just how white some white people can be.

I do believe my corner of the room was a lot brighter than it otherwise might be, for all the light being reflected my way. I felt that I had suddenly found myself in the spotlight. I would have risen and given an acceptance speech if I could have gotten a word in edgewise.

He never stopped talking. He was too loud to ignore. And the subject seemed to change every other sentence or two.

It wasn’t so bad, merely annoying, until he started talking about his colonoscopy, his dramatic re-telling of the preparatory arrangements involved, the methodologies employed in achieving the exam, and the results discovered in the process.

By the time he got to the end of the recitation and confessed that his doctor had also discovered a mother lode of hemorrhoids, (“Which I already knew,” he added), I don’t believe anyone on the north side of the Steinwehr Ave. Friendly’s had the least bit of sympathy for him.

His friends either ignored him, or pored over the brochures and notices on the bulletin board by the register…

I, fuming that my chance to concentrate on my journal-writing had been thoroughly smashed, also admitted that if I hadn’t chosen a large serving of super-chocolate fudge ice-cream, I might have gotten through the ordeal with a bit less discomfort.

==============================.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
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Pumpkins, Ahoy!

October 18, 2009

I suppose it was inevitable, in a way.

Look. For one thing, coastal Maine was once famous for its tradition of shipbuilding. In fact, it’s only a short drive to one of the nation’s most famous shipyards in Bath.

For another thing, for all the brevity of the growing season, folks in Maine are crazy for gardening. And, as good modern Americans, they are not immune to the outlook that a thing is made better if it gets made bigger.

Given all that, I suppose growing pumpkins the size of compact cars and turning them into boats makes all the sense in the world.

The Damariscotta Pumpkin Regatta has been held on or about Columbus Day for every one of the past five years, though this is only the second year it has been officially blessed by the town’s government.

It all began with Buzz Pinkham, who owns a nursery, Pinkham’s Plantation.

"Admiral" Buzz Pinkham

"Admiral" Buzz Pinkham

Buzz, shown here in his latest creation, was trying to think of something to do with a 700-pound pumpkin he had grown to show at a state fair. As he told a local reporter, he decided to try hollowing the pumpkin out, attaching a small outboard, and, putting his trust in gourd, finding out how it would do on the Damariscotta River, which flows into the harbor at Damariscotta.

He wasn’t trying to draw a crowd, he said, “but it’s kind of hard to sneak through town with a 700-pound pumpkin.”

So, a small crowd stood around on the banks of the river while Pinkham noodled around on the river, having a good time.

The next year, a couple of buddies joined Buzz with their own pumpkins, and drew an even bigger crowd.

By the third year, the businesses in town were starting to realize that the informal event was bringing people and those people usually brought their wallets with them, etc., etc.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about ordinary pumpkins. This lot is a breed apart, hybrid monsters that have been been around, though not so grandly, since the early 1800s. Back then, somebody or some chance intermingled the DNA of a variety of Hubbard squash and a Kabocha pumpkin.

So, for a long time, Cucurbita maxima, to use the monster’s scientific name, were simply an unusually large variety of pumpkin weighing of a couple hundred pounds.

And then came Howard Dill. (A major chord would be appropriate here, if this was a movie.)

Before 1981, the world record for the largest pumpkin stood at an anorexic 460 pounds. Then, Dill, of Nova Scotia, set the world, or the portion of the world that cared, on its collective ear by submitting a pumpkin of almost 500 pounds.

Dill patented his seeds as Dill’s Atlantic Giant, and that breed is credited as the progenitor of the giant pumpkins of today, augmented by an orgy of crossing and re-crossing his variety with other types of pumpkins.

Dill died in May of 2008, at the age of 73.

The result of all this mad cross-breeding has been what must be a peculiarly North American phenomenon, even if they are grown now in other countries. Heck, people in other countries drive Hummers, but it was our idea, for better or worse.

This year’s world record holder is Christy Harp’s 1725-pound Atlantic giant pumpkin, which won the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers annual weigh-off just this month. Photos of Ms. Harp, like this one that I swiped off the Internet, show her standing behind what appears to be an orange asteroid.

The World's Biggest Pumpkin, 2009 edition

The World's Biggest Pumpkin, 2009 edition

Put that in perspective. That’s about the weight of two Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide motorcycles.

It must be pointed out that these exaggerated pumpkins are, how shall I say it? Unattractive? Butt ugly? I’d love to see one that had been raised in zero gravity. Perhaps it would be, oh, pumpkin-shaped. The really big ones bear an unfortunate resemblance a gargantuan loaf of bread that failed to rise correctly.

My vacation was over couple of days before the actual regatta.

I did manage to hang out for an hour or so at Pinkham’s Plantation while some of the guys were building and carving their squash navy. Buzz wasn’t around, but Bill, Tom Lishness, and one other fellow whose name I did not catch were busily measuring, eyeballing, sawing and scooping.

It is a little alarming how much goop lives inside a 700 pound pumpkin. We’re talking at least a wheelbarrow load or more for each one.

Bill said the little pumpkin he was rigging up for the race weighed in at 860 pounds. He stated, matter-of-factly, that he had actually grown one that weighed more than the 1275-pound state record holder, which loomed a mere 30 feet away, but Bill’s gourd split from its own weight. In the photo, Tom, Bill, and Mr. X, ponder mounting onto an 800-pound-plus pumpkin the transom that will hold the motor.

Pondering the "How-to's"

Pondering the "How-to's"

Lishness, a compact fellow with bright blue eyes and a beard reminiscent of the one on the Travelocity Gnome (one of which was attached to the front of his pumpkin yacht a year or two ago, along with a miniature cannon,) said that in the early days of giant pumpkin contests gourds the size of his and Bill’s would have taken big prizes. Today, if your punkin is smaller than a thousand pounds, nobody remembers your name.

The details of pumpkin nautical architecture would seem simple, on the surface, so to speak. But distinct challenges present themselves.

First, one cannot help but notice that the pumpkin, whatever its dimensions, has not evolved a shape that lends itself to a graceful passage through water. Their roundness makes them prone to a certain vertical indecision, so that any overly enthusiastic motion from the pumpkin operator can result in his immediate demotion to keel.

Tom said the first outboards used on the pumpkins were two- to three-horsepower trolling motors. But, this is America and we all know that means there is no such thing as too much horsepower. From the photo I picked up online, Buzz Pinkham’s pumpkin this year boasted a 25-horsepower Nissan rig.

If I understood Tom correctly, some outfit that sells and repairs snowmobiles and jet-skis is working to develop a pumpkin/jet-ski hybrid. Heady stuff. I hope nobody from Morton-Thiokol, who builds the solid-rocket boosters for the space shuttle, ever gets wind of the regatta.

Of course, there’s no easy way to attach an outboard motor to a pumpkin. The guys figured their way past that by attaching a plywood platform to the top of the pumpkin that gives the motor a little platform, or transom, to hang onto. There’s also a little frame to hold a block of polystyrene for floatation, to counter the weight of the motor. Without it, the pumpkin seems, briefly, to be headed for the sky, and then sinks out of sight.

They sometimes sink out of sight anyway. Tom’s pumpkin betrayed him this year, according to some published accounts.

Better luck next year.
==============================.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

•    I am grateful for the bench.

•    After a year of pavement and office floors, heavily wooded hillsides and mossy paths have been a rude shock.

•    Protests abound. My feet and ankles wave placards and rude signs. My knees brandish pitchforks.

•    I leaned the cane against the bench and take the camera strap from around my neck.

•    The cane is a concession to the knees, etc.

•    The camera is in aid of a fantasy that I might one day take decent photographs.

•    Huckleberry Cove sits, still and dark before me.

•     The tide is almost fully out, exposing the limp strands of greenish bladderwrack on the stony shore. A few gulls and ducks mill about on the far shore.

Huckleberry Cove, low tide

Huckleberry Cove, low tide

•    The gulls mutter like old men, and no and then one will rise into the air for no apparent reason, and come down only a few feet away. One flies to my side of the cove, plops into the water, swims around eyeing me. Then he flies back to the other side. Just nosy.

•    For the most part I ignore the camera. The moment is too perfect to be snapping away like the tourist that I am. Instead, I listen.

•    Back home, I forget what “quiet” means.

•    I remember it here.

•    Quiet is being able to hear a gull mumbling a few hundred feet away, orhearing the breeze sighing through the spruce and fir along the banks. Or the sound the small red squirrels make peeling pine cones to get at the seeds tucked down inside. Winter is coming, and the squirrels are busy with their hoardings.

•    The kitchen gardens uphill from me are full of pumpkins and gourds. The other tourists wear khakis and dark sweaters and talk too much. But down here, away from the graded, mulched paths, few of them come. There are logs to step over, a stream to cross, twice, on flat stones.

•    The trees sway. The gulls arc into the air then dip back into the still, black water. A red squirrel carrying a nut scampers only a few feet away, weaving through the tree trunks and into a jumble of granite boulders and is gone with no more than a faint rustle of leaves. The moment is full of a kind of grace.

•    I retrieve the cane and camera and lunge to my feet. I like to think that at the least I provide a nice contrast to the grace of the setting.

•     My left knee pops, then settles into place and wobble up the slope and the signs that will point me back smoother path, the one with the signs that will keep me from losing my way.

Maine, Sept. 29, 2009

September 29, 2009

•    Sept. 27, 2009 The Osprey cottage, New Harbor, Maine.

•    Rain hisses against the windows. From the kitchen table, we can see the lobster boats bucking and twisting at anchor. The trees toss in time to the dancing of the boats. Everything is wet and in motion.
•    The wind plays tunes around the Osprey, rattles the windows and shakes at the door. I would light a fire in the Franklin stove, but decide we would enjoy it more when we’re not bushed from a day on the asphalt.
•    From my writing table I can hear the somber tolling of the buoy near the harbor mouth, and the moaning of the wind around the corner of The Osprey. All the cottages have been named after birds that live on or near the water. Heron, Tern, Gannet, Osprey, Gull, etc.
•    Two years ago, the Osprey’s piers, weakened by 24 hours of hard rain, slipped out from under it. The house dropped perhaps three feet, and slid toward the water another three feet or so.
•    We were in it at the time.
•    Almost our first question to the owners was, would they rebuild? They did. We were back the next year. The only thing missing was the charming way the house sort of bounced when we would walk across the floor, or creaked in a high wind.
•    Well, I thought it charming. Sue had less enthusiasm for it.
•    New Harbor, from which the village gets its name, is small, cluttered with lobster boats and their dingys and a few pleasure craft. At various times during the day one hears the lobster boats chugging out to tend their traps, or back in after selling their catch at Shaw’s, 100 yards or so toward the harbor mouth from here.
•    We come every year, and every year, I try to describe why we love it so. I’ve never succeeded. I don’t think so, anyway.
We yearn for this spot all year long. Our eyes hunger for every nuance of the light. We slip into honest mourning when we have to leave.
•    We celebrated our arrival with a glass of scotch. I prefer Laphroaig, which starts at $40 a bottle for the 10-year-old stuff. It goes all the way up to a 40-year-old edition. I don’t want to know what it costs. We got a serviceable single-malt for about $10. It isn’t Laphroaig, but it isn’t terrible. It did, however, take the wind out of my sails for about an hour.
•    We bought the booze at a New Hampshire state store. In New Hampshire, the state liquor stores have their own exits off I-95. What could possibly go wrong? One elderly woman had a clerk help her load eight to 10 cases of booze into her Caddie. She had a sharp face, and a sort of junkyard dog demeanor.
•    Sept. 28: Dawn came cloudless, but still windy. We ate breakfast at a little restaurant/gift shop next to the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point. Still in a fury from the night’s storm, the surf hammered at the point, sending spume 30 and 40 feet in the air. The shop, as usual, swarmed with tourists, mostly well-to-do folks from the New England States. They all look as though, somewhere in their lives, at least, they enjoyed skiing, and know a lot about fondue. I try to blend in as well as possible. Thank god I didn’t wear my bib overalls. And yes, I packed my bib overalls.
•    The rest of the day involved a trip into Damariscotta for supplies and a nap once we got back to the cottage. It’s vacation, remember?
•    The reading list, River out of Eden, by Richard Dawkins; Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant; A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin; The Norman Maclean Reader; The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria; Faith in a Seed, by H.D. Thoreau; Creation by E.W. Wilson; Letters to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, and Emerson’s Essays & Lectures.
•    Don’t be impressed; many of them will go back in their box unread at the end of the vacation. And the ones that take the most concentration will put me to sleep while I’m reading. I don’t have the circuitry for genius.

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© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

It is suddenly storm season in my part of the world.

Every couple of days, sometimes more often, big, strident, Old Testament thunderstorms have stomped through, flooding basements, downing trees, darkening whole neighborhoods and just generally smiting and smoting like nobody’s business.

Well, the garden is happy, and the creek is higher than it usually is this time of year.

Mid-August here in south-central Pa. is typically hot, humid and rainless. I’ve seen the creek so dry by this time of the summer that the fish were taking sponge-baths and my watermelons were the size of baseballs and had similar flavor.

So, I grudgingly admit, the rain is at least provisionally welcome.

That is, it’s getting to be a pain in the butt.

My truck doesn’t have A/C, which means when I’m out in a storm I have to close all the windows and just sort of stew in the stale air.

I have an umbrella and a good, bright yellow rain parka. They are inevitably locked up, safe and dry, in the truck, because if it is not raining when I get out of the truck, I don’t give them a thought. It’s the sort of thing that makes me think I should have had special teachers in school, if you take my meaning.

So, Friday, working on a long story that wasn’t showing any signs at all of helping me write it – some stories practically write themselves, you know – all hell broke loose overhead. I jumped online and called up PennDOT’s traffic camera website and took a peek at what the cameras were seeing.

To the north, east, and south, the view was pretty much…not much. All I could see was a few sets of headlights, nothing else. No road, no discernable details on anything.

Guess where my rain gear was.

It was OK, though. By the time I had beaten the story into a semi-readable condition the storm had raged on and was kicking the crap out of the Poconos.

I squeezed into the Dakota and started on the hour drive home, boring through the occasional light shower and dodging morons, keeping the grumpiness meter down on the sunny side of a full glower. It was, after all, Friday.

I was three-quarters of the way home when the rainbow appeared.

The sun had tumbled down off the edge of the cloud cover way out west, sending its beams eastward across their undersides, turning them to a bright apricot. The fresh-washed air teased the trees and cornfields, some lit gold, some in deep shadow.

Due east, the rainbow arced, vivid against black clouds over toward nightfall. Traffic slowed as drivers, including me, kept looking over to the vast curve of light refracted through raindrops. It’s easy to understand why people used to think them magical. Hell, I still do.

And then, the black boil of storm behind the rainbow cracked open with a fiery spider web of lightning, the kind that snakes briefly from cloud to cloud, painting the landscape white for a split second and then it is gone. All of it framed within that rainbow curve.

Within the cars around me, I saw people pointing, slack-jawed with wonder, or laughing. I made eye-contact with some, and we all smiled together.

It was still sprinkling a little, but I rolled my window down anyway. Suddenly, I didn’t mind the wet so very much.

==============================.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

(OK, I wasn’t going to do this thing because I’m oddly shy about doing stuff like this. Helluva position for somebody who compulsively writes expository column, but there it is.)

1. I was born in Sharon, Pa., right on the Ohio line and about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh. When I lived there, as a little boy, it was the capital of The American Dream, a steel town when steel was king. The factory where my dad was an engineer employed 17,000 people. At 4:30, when he got off work, it was like watching a kicked anthill, thousands of people, mostly men, boiling out of the office and plant doors, clogging the streets of the city with cars. Today, Sharon is mostly known for its chicken wings (The Quaker Steak and Lube) and for a vocal group hall of fame.

2. My first job was as an underage laborer for a franchise of Greyhound Moving & Storage. I was 17 with pipestem arms. It was summertime in a Georgia town full of three-story Victorian houses. I got fired after a 200-pound freezer with 100 pounds of meat in it fell on me. I wasn’t hurt, but the owner was afraid I’d sue. The experience almost cured me of the desire to work. My next two jobs were as a donut glazer (and delivery driver) at a bakery, and then as an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant. I got fired from the donut job because I drove the delivery van, respectfully, down the ranks of sailors at a naval facility during the playing of reveille. The visiting admiral was really pissed off. Before I became I reporter, I had worked at 42 different places, doing some colorful things, from picking up road kill to running a garbage company to running the switchboard at a hospital and driving concrete mixers.

3. I got most of my real education on my own, through reading and living and talking to people smarter than I am, whose numbers are legion. I graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia, for what it’s worth. I’m not one of those people who still gets giddy and acts stupid when the football team from the college he left decades ago plays a game. I spent little time on campus outside of classes because I was working, sometimes as many as three jobs at a time while taking 15 hours of courses. So, no, I didn’t enjoy campus life, though I enjoyed some of the classes. I made the dean’s list twice. The first time, I didn’t know what that meant and thought I was in trouble. I’m still not sure how I pulled that off. All told, I was a mediocre scholar, only exerting myself in courses that interested me.

4. I love books and reading, and I’m always battling my TV addiction to have time to indulge myself. I don’t retain what I read as well as I used to. I find that as I get more and more years as a professional writer behind me, the less patient I am with bad writing in books. Bad writing gets between me and the topic or plot. It’s like reading through a chain-link fence. I joined the Goodreads website and have found some really good books by doing that, and have had some good discussions about books. It’s sort of a virtual book-discussion group for people who don’t feel like going out.

5. Sue and I have an embarrassment of cats. They are “owned,” insofar as one can actually “own” a cat, in three layers. We have one cat, Kitten Kaboodle, who lives in the main part of the house and sleeps on my left arm when I’m working on my laptop. That is, when she’s not attacking my feet. In the big room off the deck are seven, Mr. Bit, fat Scooter (aka Rotunda), one-eyed Winkie, Daphne, Chloe, and Sootfoot. Sprite, the seventh, is actually one of the feral outside cats who slipped in one day and hides out in my office. We have  been unable to catch her and put her back outside. Outside it’s more complicated, with a loose affiliation of felines  we feed, though some of them wander up and down the creek bank, mooching off other families. This morning the count was 13.

6. I am an unapologetic atheist, but I have a spiritual nature. This is not as confusing as you might think. At one point in a piece I’ve been working on for more than a year, I remark that “God gave us minds so that we might figure out that he doesn’t exist.”  At the same time, I admire people who have strong faith, because I’ve seen people like that get through some terrible things without being broken. But I think that strength came from within them.

7. At the present, I am just six weeks from my 60th birthday. I am annoyed with myself that I’ve started referring to myself as a geezer. I have even started giving young people advice. Just shoot me. Please. Seriously, other than a few squeaky joints and stuff, I don’t FEEL old. Mostly.

8. While we’re on aging, I was a bookworm with arms like soda straws when I was in my teens, but a summer throwing beer kegs around at a beverage distributor turned that around. Most of the jobs I had until I became a journalist involved moving heavy things from point A to point B. The result of that was that I was in pretty good shape. The result of that, in addition to a couple of motorcycle accidents, falling off a moving train, and this or that, here and there, is my back in X-rays looks like a ruined amusement park. A quarter century sitting in front of computers has done nothing for my boyish figure. I work out at a gym twice a week, job permitting, but I still manage to look more like Junior Samples from the old TV show Hee-Haw than Brad Pitt. This impression is not lessened by the fact that my outfit of choice on weekends involves bib overalls, which I consider the most comfortable item of clothing ever invented.

9. I like to cook, but not if it involves reading a recipe or too many steps or pots. My favorite thing to prepare is a dish I made up years ago that involves chicken, lots of spices and veggies and pita bread or burrito shells. One pot, lots of flavor. I’m not terribly conservative in what I’ll eat, but if given my “druthers,” I’ll take a good hamburger every time. And forget sushi. Where I come from, it’s called “bait.”

10. Fortunately, Sue is an excellent cook and learned a lot of her culinary sorcery during seven years living in Paris. I never know what to expect for supper, and I say that with the most admiration possible.

11. Speaking of food, in 1995 we bought a garden with a house attached. I had never before owned a piece of real estate. I stood in the garden one day with a rock in my hand, realizing that the rock was something like 3 billion years old, give or take, but the law said I owned it. I still find the concept absurd, but it did mean that I could actually have a garden. Gardening is not as successful for me now as it was in the years when I worked out of my home office, before I had a two-hour daily commute. I confess to being a so-so gardener. I don’t deal with the heat as well as I once did. But the garden is a frequent source of columns and constant trigger for things to think about. That means, admittedly, that I spend a lot of my gardening time leaning on some implement and staring into space as the weeds grow merrily along. I try to convince my neighbor Dan that this really IS work for a writer. Dan has another word for it.

12. I grew up in the Deep South, but have no love for heat and humidity. Every year we travel to the coast of Maine for two weeks of reading and relaxing in a little wooden cottage not much bigger than our living room. We go in late September or early October. The local libraries and good restaurants are still open, and we can walk on the shore without stepping over greased tourists.

13. A friend who tagged me with her own “25 things about me” list wrote that she enjoys listening to music but is “often stumped as to who or what that was.” That confession fills me with relief. I’ve always been that way. I listen to a lot of classical music, especially on my iPod at work to drown out the hubbub of the newsroom. I think there are maybe two or three pieces I can recognize. But I’ve never thought of enjoying great music as a trivia game. It’s the music that’s important. If somebody asks me what’s playing, I’m likely to respond “Oh, that’s Dusseldorf’s Carbuncle in nothing flat.”

14. I also like many other kinds of music; though country and western is often funny when it’s not supposed to be, and rap I view as more of a symptom than an art form. And no, that’s not meant as a racist remark. Ugly is ugly. Heavy metal would be impressive if they never showed us photographs of the actual bands. Most of them seem to be skinny chinless white doofi with bad attitudes and worse skin. Drop a Southern boy raised on biscuits and fried chicken into the middle of the group and watch some ass-kicking.

15. For some reason, I can’t understand the words in a lot of music, especially rock n’ roll. Thank God for the Internet. If I want to know what the singers are saying, I can look up the lyrics. I usually avoid doing that because all too often I discover that the lyrics are totally inane or lacking sense. Sense is not always necessary (I mean, it’s rock n’ roll, after all,) but you have to draw the line somewhere.

16. On the other hand, I have a bunch of what they call “world music” on my iPod. None of the songs are in English. In fact, some of the languages I can’t name at all. You’d be surprised how very little it matters. One of the weirdest things I ever heard was somebody rapping in Italian.

17. I have a son. He doesn’t know I exist. The circumstances of his birth would have been scandalous in another time. Today nobody cares, but I’m not proud. The situation included too much rum and not enough judgment. He is 31 and lives in a nice house in a Southern state. As far as I know, he believes that the man who raised him is his father. I would love to know him, but I don’t believe I have the right to land in the middle of his life and tell him he is somebody else.

18. I have lived in a number of fairly exotic places, and all of them were east of the Mississippi. A place doesn’t have to be far away to be strange. I live now just outside of Gettysburg, a place I have often described as “Norman Rockwell on LSD.” I grew up in Athens, Ga., famous as both the home of the University of Georgia and for being to New Wave music what Detroit was to soul music. I worked blue collar jobs for the first 35 years of my life, so I knew Athens the way most of my University friends did not. I lived for a time in public housing, where it was not uncommon to be awakened in the middle of the night by gunfire. I stood at the door of my second-story apartment and watched two men slice one another up with knives.  I also lived in the Mississippi Delta, in the middle of Blues Country. I think of myself as a Southerner in many ways, and my accent comes back when I tell certain stories, when I’ve been drinking, or when I want somebody I’m interviewing to think I’m stupid. Yankees usually think Southerners are dimwits. It’s a mistake.

18. I met Sue on Memorial Day in 1985. I was covering a hot-air balloon race for The Gettysburg Times. From a balloon, no less. We landed in her back yard. We didn’t really get to know one another until years later, but that’s when we met. You can’t make this stuff up.

19. I couldn’t say which season is my favorite. It’s not summer, though there is a lot to like about summer. It’s the other three I can’t make up my mind about. The colors of winter are my favorites. Winter is really the most colorful season, though the colors are all muted and subtle. Maybe that’s what I like about them. Autumn foliage is gorgeous, of course, if bordering on cheesy, and breathtaking. But my favorite thing about autumn is that sense of the world rushing to get everything put away before winter strikes. Leaves off the trees: check. Acorns hidden by squirrels: check. Spring, is maybe the most magical, when everything comes back from the dead, and no matter how many springs I see, each one really is brand-new.

20. Almost every word I write nowadays is on a computer, either on the desktop at work or, more likely, on my own laptop. I have said many times that if reporters still had to use typewriters, I’d still be driving a truck. I make too many mistakes to be a great typist, though I can go pretty fast when inspired. Truth be told, I really like to write, by hand, in a journal. My preference for a writing instrument is a fountain or cartridge pen. I can’t say why, but my penmanship is better with that kind of pen, and for some odd reason, I feel smarter when I use one. Reading back over my journal entries, I can tell you that there is no empirical evidence to support that feeling. Oh, well.

21. I love where I live. We bought the cottage in ’95, when it was almost 75 years old. I don’t know exactly who built it, but the people who have worked on it assure me that the builder was no carpenter. The house sits along Marsh Creek above a dam, so the water is about 100 feet across at this point. The creek has carp the size of torpedoes, all sorts of waterfowl, including blue herons and night herons, the occasional osprey, and every so often, a bald eagle or two. There is also a snapping turtle the size of a TV tray. I think about it when I’m in the creek. Actually I try NOT to think about it when I’m in the creek.

22. We had the house remodeled five years ago. We went a little overboard, but this was The Dream House. Whole weekends can go by and we will scarcely leave the property. Some days it really is hard to peel myself away from here to go sit in a big gray box and write stories. Coming home feels like solid ground under my feet after a long swim.

23. I work for the third largest newspaper in Pennsylvania. Most days I love the job, which is about as good a thing you can say about any job. Some days I’m better at it than others. Some days, I think I should have stuck with driving trucks. Some days, I think my boss does, too.

24. This year I’m celebrating my birthday at the Greenmount Community Fire Co. No. 23. The fire hall is about a quarter mile from my house. No, the fire company is not throwing a party for me; they’re having one of their fund-raising feeds, featuring roast beef and stuff. The tickets are 20 bucks and along with the meal you get a chance to win a gun. I think it’s a high-powered rifle. I was touched to discover that 20 of my friends have asked me to reserve tickets for them. I prefer to think it’s not because they hope to win the gun.

25. I had a pep talk with one of my young colleagues the other day. She’s one of those more recent hires, all of whom are younger than some of my ties. I told her I wished I was 30 again, and not just for the obvious “wait! I was having a good time” reasons. Newspapers are going through a lot of crap lately, and none of them is going to come out of this uproar unscathed. The next five years are going to be ugly. On the upside, I believe that there will always be a need for people who do what we do. All this talk about relying on “citizen journalists” is fine, but the bottom line is that reporters, most of us, anyway, really do have a code of ethics and rules for how we do things, and nobody is harder on us when we slip up than we are ourselves. Once everything settles down and news-reporting catches up to news-gathering, things are going to be interesting and exciting and we can all stop eating so many antidepressants. I really believe that.
==============================.
© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/