Monday, September 02, 2013

due east

We just arrived home from our annual family trip to Maine. This year, because our usual rental house was unavailable, we decided to try somewhere new: Eastport. The town of Eastport is pretty remote—about as far east as you can go and not far from the New Brunswick border. It took us 9 hours to get there from Burlington.

If you're looking to get away from it all, this is the place to do it. The last hour and a half of our drive took us through a great pine forest on route 9. Nothing but woods and road for miles and miles. It was breathtaking and terrifying at the same time. Before we even arrived at our rental house, our phones switched into Atlantic time zone and started picking up the Canadian phone carrier, so we had to turn them off or else be charged international roaming fees. No cell service for a week. I was plenty okay with that.

The house we rented for a song was situated right on Passamaquoddy Bay (a smaller bay in the Bay of Fundy) overlooking Deer Island, New Brunswick across the way. The tides in the Bay of Fundy are some of the biggest and most intense in the world. When the tide was out, it went out far far far, leaving us with tons of muddy tidal flats to explore and find crabs. When the tide was in, it came in up up up, all the way up to the edge of the lawn leading to the house.

The tides factor in very much to what you can see or do in the area, a fact that is both interesting and irritating at the same time.

One day, we took a ferry boat over to Deer Island. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of Old Sow, the largest naturally occurring whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere. We caught the ferry at low tide, which meant we had to walk down a long beach to where the ferry was docked in the wet sand. It took us forever to even find the ferry, since it was not well-marked and the boat was just pulling away as we arrived. But the fine gentleman running the ferry saw us and had the captain come back to pick us up. We hopped on the boat, paid the gent our $3 and enjoyed a lovely semi-private boat ride across the bay. There were only 4 other people on the boat besides us.

About a half hour later, we docked on another wet beach, this time on Canadian soil. Before we could get off the boat, two border guards jumped on and approached us to do the usual border crossing questionnaire and presenting of passports. Colin wanted to ask for a stamp, but figured they probably didn't carry them! It was one of the most bizarre border crossings I've ever done. But also pretty cool. As we headed toward the beach, the ferry gent warned us: "When you get on the ferry to come home,  make sure you see me on the boat. Otherwise it's the wrong boat and you'll end up on Campobello Island!"

We didn't see Old Sow. The best time to see it is right before high tide as all of the tidal waters converge and bubble and swirl into a magnificent funnel. But we did see plenty of wild-life, making it some of the best $3 ever spent. Turns out, going at low-ish tide was a boon, because as the tides started to come in and the waters of Old Sow began to churn, the porpoises and seals gathered in large numbers, presumably to find their lunch. We sat by a small lighthouse overlooking the bay and Moose Island on the US side, as the porpoises danced and played right before our eyes. An eagle soared above us out and over the water. And even the cormorants had their fair share of fishies for lunch.

The Deer Island ferry ride was my favorite part of the weeklong trip, which included two more excursions to Canada—Campobello Island, where we saw more eagles and whales and picked a ton of wild blackberries on a hike, and St. Andrews by Sea, which you can get to easily by car. We explored the small town of Eastport, enjoyed some pretty delicious (albeit very rich) seafood and went hiking at Shackford Head State Park, where at the overlooks we could see many working fish farms in Cobscook Bay and also where we were attacked by stinging red fire ants (not a highlight of the trip, but a good story I guess).

We even visited a mustard museum at Raye's Mustard, the only stone ground mustard factory left in the US. Why mustard in Eastport? Sardines! There used to be over 20 sardine plants in Eastport alone, and all of the factories packed the sardines in Raye's Mustard. Now that the American sardine industry is no more (the last plant closed a couple of years ago), Raye's has entered into the specialty foods market and they make some pretty amazing mustards there. Being mustard people, we bought 4 large jars and probably would've been happy for more.

Back at the house, we enjoyed our daily explorations to the beach and every night the boys built a bonfire on the beach, which most of the gals passed up in order to watch some guilty British pleasures on TV—Sherlock Holmes and Fawlty Towers. But on the last night, we let the kids stay up late and we all went down to the fire after dinner to make s'mores.

The next morning, we headed home. We were ready. I think if I didn't have a child and I really did want to get away from it all, I could have spent days and days there happily writing and painting. But with a 1 1/2 year old, by the end, we were all ready to get back to our routines—and civilization.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

this food may cause your body to self-destruct

Do you fear food? I do. What a strange and sad thing to admit. But it's true. This new-found fear started a few months ago with a scrambled egg, of all things. 

But I wasn't always afraid of food. In fact, if you know me, then you know that food-love factors largely into my life. I work at a food magazine. I attend my farmers’ market religiously and seek out new food products and restaurants obsessively. I bake. I cook. I feed. I eat. (Who doesn't?)

I grow an herb garden and have a veritable relationship with my plants that flavor so many of my meals. The old lavender who comes back year after year—her roots are so deep and gnarled into the earth, I can count on her steadfast loyalty. My rosemary is more fickle, but I annually make room for him (or one of his kind) in the garden—so special and unmatched is his flavor, I cannot resist. Fresh chives season my salads from the first thaw to late into the fall.

Speaking of gardens, it was in the garden that I first developed my love of food. Growing up, when there was nothing to eat in the cupboards, there were always sun-warmed cukes in the garden. My mother used to make crab-apple jelly from fruit-bearing trees in the yard. She'd bake up rhubarb crumble from the weeds growing out back. We picked black raspberries at our next door’s neighbor Paul’s house. Paul was an old-timer Quebecois who didn’t speak any English, but he had the most wonderfully overgrown berry bushes that had taken root around an old rotting wood pile. Paul welcomed us to pick as many berries as we could and so we would, coming home hours later with stained fingers, scratches aplenty and sweet black raspberry grins.

I could go on an on about my food memories, but I won’t. We all have food memories, don't we? Food is such a basic aspect of human life, but the culture of food, the experience of food, colors so much of who we are as individuals.


I tend to wax poetic about these things, but it's not all good stuff, is it?

I mean, too much food can caused sickness, obesity and disease. Too little can cause starvation or eating disorders. But I've always assumed the dangers of food to be largely human shortcomings. It's not the food that is the problem, it is the abuse of food that is the problem. 

I always thought: everything in moderation, focus on fresh, wholesome, local ingredients and you should be okay.

But those naive assumptions were challenged one night last fall when I fed my 9-month old baby a scrambled egg (from my parents' darling hens, of course).

She broke out in hives.

It was a mild outbreak, but I was a new mother and it scared me. It was to be the first of several episodes of hives, so we finally met with a food allergy doctor to do a scratch test. 

The egg test came back positive. My little baby girl was not yet a year and she already had an epi-pen. 

It was a sad moment: how could she go through life without ever trying my farmer's market quiche or devouring an egg sandwich on the way to go snowboarding? But I was hanging on to this small ray of hope: the doctor said that egg allergies in small children are fairly common and that our girl might grow out of it. So I filed the diagnosis away in my mind as "not a real food allergy."

Even though, we have to carry an epi-pen, which is scary as hell.


Two weeks ago, we had another episode. This time, it was so scary, we went to the ER. Later, after more  testing, we discovered that Amelia might also have allergies to tree nuts and flax seeds. We're still waiting on the final tests results, but even now, days later, I'm feeling somewhat floored.

I mean, eggs, ok. But flax seeds? And nuts?

How could a food so natural and so wholesome as an almond cause a little person's body to self-destruct?

The epi-pen, Benedryl, Zyrtec, prick tests, blood tests, emergency medical plan and the ER—these are not the sorts of things I envisioned in our little girl's life. And certainly not in relation to food.

I want my daughter to be an explorer, to be able to extend her palate as far as her curiosity can take her. But how can you feel a sense of freedom and excitement and curiosity when trying something new carries the risk that your body will reject it?


I still do love food, of course. And so does my daughter. I realized this tonight as she was chowing down on flatbread with sun-roasted tomatoes, garlic scapes and oyster mushrooms. 

And I'm trying to use our new reality as an excuse to actually expand our food horizons. But I will never look at food again in such a rose-colored way as I did before.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

free as a bird

Last Friday, I went to my yoga class as I usually do Fridays at lunch. At the studio, there is a bowl of intentions. If you want, you can take a card out of the bowl and use the word written on the card to help you focus during your yoga practice. I don't usually pick a word. I am filled to the brim with words enough as it is. But on this particular day, on a whim, I decided to draw a word out of the bowl. I turned over the card to read it. The word was, "free."

"Free. That is a good word for me today," I said to the woman at the desk. "That feels about right." It did feel right, but at the time I wasn't quite sure why.

Our family friend Patty would say I drew that card for a reason, that there was meaning to it. She likes to discover the connections between things, to find meaning in numbers, everyday objects, happenings.

Patty's son Reid died suddenly last weekend. How do you find meaning in that? Reid was my age. We grew up together in the early years when we lived in Pawlet. And even when my family moved away from that sleepy town, their family continued to factor deeply into my early childhood memories. But I didn't really know him at all.

Yesterday, the family held a service at the family farm in honor of Reid. As those close to him gathered and shared their stories and memories, I discovered this was a boy that struggled with life ever since his dear Pop died in 1996. They all struggled—he and his brothers, his mother—but Reid did especially. For almost 17 years. Why did I not know this? How could I not know? Because my mother didn't tell me? Because I didn't ask?

One after another, people came up and described Reid as a caged bird that has been set free. Patty and some others read out loud from Wallace Steven's 13 Ways of Looking at a Black Bird while high overhead a hawk circled nobly around us in blackened silhouette from the sun.

There is meaning in everything. If you look for it, you will find it.


If you are a naturalist, then you know we are all one with the earth—at birth, in life and at death. Reid's ashes are now scattered on the hill, where as children we ran and played. Where in the summer, the honeybees will drink the sweet clover nectar. He is one with the earth and with the honeybees.

If you are a scientist, then you know energy never really dies. The day Reid fell, the energy that coursed his living body—contents under pressure—released. His energy is now all around us, darting here and there like a hummingbird among the hibiscus.

If you are a poet, then you know you must harness that energy somehow, like a bird on a string. You must gently rein it in to the palm of your hand. You may hold it and mould it and translate it into a gift. But then you must set it free. For the entire world to see. Reid's poetry will live on forever. His music will live on forever. He is free.

* * * * *

A glass window pane can be a harsh and cold-hearted thing. It can bottle you in and completely cut you off from the world around you. On the outside, the fragile bird is fooled by his reflection and hugs into the glass at break-neck speed. But shatter the glass, and you and the bird can be set free, swept up by the swirling wind into the heavens above.

For those of us left behind, the sharp fragments of glass cut a painful wound deep into the heart. But if you can manage to shift your view ever so slightly, you will see that the shards become a luminous prism, casting millions of magical rainbows across the landscape and letting us steal a glimpse into that world beyond. They glitter on the roof of the sugar house, where we stayed the summer our own house burned down. They glitter in the apple orchard up on the hill, now completely overgrown. They glitter over the village of Pawlet, Mach's General Store, the mill pond and the little house where we grew up. They glitter over Haystack Mountain and up into the heavens.

* * * * *

Over the last week, I have spent many hours thinking about Reid. I've cried for him. For his brothers. For his father, who also died way too young. And for Patty.

When processing heartache, it is hard not to go into dark places. But you must try not to.

The world has wonderful ways of reminding us: there is still so much LIFE on this earth! The hummingbird flapping her wing so fast in the garden is singing, "live, live, live!" The gull who floats on a strong headwind knows not to struggle against the force, but to lay into it and glide like an easy rider. He takes a deep salty breath and dives towards the sea to snag his next meal. He is loving the simplicity and deliciousness of it all.

Some of us kids from the early Pawlet days, little Reidie at far right.

Monday, January 21, 2013


The last month has been one of many firsts. Just as soon as A turned one, her first three teeth popped out all at once. No wonder she was so crabby at Christmas!

Soon after, she started pointing at the tree every time we mentioned "Christmas tree." So we tried other words: owl, loon, light. She gets those. But when you say "mummy" or "papa" she just looks confused and points to the mantle.

Now within the last week she is actually saying the words! Her first one "banana" came out as "na na na na na" with a few extra syllables as she bounced up and down in her high chair in excitement about the fruit approaching her tray.

Since then she has also managed to say "owl" and "more" and, supposedly, "mama" when I was in the other room.

And lastly, she's made some steps on her own! Just a few here and there, but it's clear that any day now she is going to be off and running.

With all this excitement going on, it's so wonder none of us are getting any sleep!

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