Detail of letterhead

Letters from Camp Windsor Hill

June and July 2006


Subject: Greetings from Maine
Date: June 25, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Hey Leland,

I write from the long porch of a rustic camp overlooking a big lake. There's a good breeze, which has chased the black flies away, at least temporarily (the flies are the reason my stepfather's grandparents, who built this place in 1923, never came up from Baltimore till July). It's just on the verge of being cool enough to want a long-sleeved shirt. The view is of the porch railing -- wood stripped of its bark but otherwise just nailed into place -- and beyond that birch trunks, and the flagstone path down the grassy hillside to where a big wooden dock bobs, with a motorboat pulled up on it, and then the expanse of lake, and then the far shore -- on the left a scattering of tiny islands, on the right a shoulder of Bald Mountain, dead ahead the low isthmus between this lake and the next, and in the distance the Elephant, a peak so named because its profile matches that of an elephant's forehead, neck, and back. The Elephant is the standard by which weather here is judged -- if it can be seen clearly, we are having what my stepbrother refers to as "a Regular Rangeley Day." If not, well, either it's raining (which is not why one drives 14 hours to get here) or its raining and cold (which means carrying wood in and lighting a fire in the big brick fireplace in the living room). Today was a Regular Rangeley Day, but now the lake has clouded over, and even though all five porch barometers agree that the weather is still fair, I would not be surprised to wake up in the night hearing rain on the tarpaper overhead.

Lake
Rangeley Lake

Which would be fine, actually. When the nights are still here, like last night, I don't sleep well -- it's too quiet for someone who lives in the city. A breeze that keeps the leaves stirring, or a steady rain on the roof -- that's good sleeping weather here.

The camp itself -- Mainers call any vacation place that's more rustic than home a "camp" -- is a treasure. My stepfather's grandparents owned a department store when they built it (actually my stepfather's grandmother came from one German-Jewish Baltimore department-store family, the Hochschilds, and her husband from another, the Hutzlers), and they were fairly well off. Upstairs the house has three bedrooms for adults, a small bedroom for the nanny, and a dorm each for boys and girls. Downstairs are the living room, dining room, kitchen, and three bedrooms off the kitchen for maids (the butler and any other male help stayed on the second floor of the woodshed). In my stepfather's grandmother's time -- she lived till the mid-1970s -- life here was an odd mix of the formal and the simple. Meals were at 8:30, 1, and 7 unless you were advised otherwise, and you were served at the table by Manuel (he was the last butler -- there were others before, of course, but I didn't know them). Everyone bathed in the lake, the help included, splashing off the dock with a bar of Ivory soap. There were, and usually still are, bats in the upstairs bedrooms, but there are also two different sizes of knives and forks (the smaller ones for breakfast and lunch, the larger for dinner).

Camp Windsor Hill
Camp Windsor Hill

It's a great house for bringing friends to, so it's a little odd being here alone this year. I've come with a particularly unlikely crowd of straight friends for the past six years or so -- ever since the year my nephews were so awful that I vowed not to invite them back -- but for one reason and another most of my usual crew couldn't make it this year, and the few who could bailed when they realized there would only be a handful of us. At first I was kind of ticked off, but eventually I came to like the idea of being here without no one else to worry about but me. I suppose I could end up bored, but I brought lots to read, and a list of people to write to, and all in all I'm looking forward to it. Usually I spend my whole vacation worry about whether I need to drive to the spring for more water or to the transfer station to dump the trash. But this year there will be much less demand for water, and only one person making trash...

I'm glad to hear you're planning on doing some traveling -- the barge trip sounds super! I'm a big canal-history fan, so much so that on my way up I detoured to see an aqueduct from the 1840s that John Roebling designed for the Delaware and Hudson Canal. The very cool thing about it is that it's a suspension aqueduct, carrying its weight on cables stretched from one side of the Delaware River to the other. Another very cool thing is that it's survived this long -- the Park Service did a big rebuild 15 years or so ago, and basically now cars run in the aqueduct trough. At any rate, your barge trip sounds like a bunch of fun -- no aqueducts but plenty of locks, and no doubt a few deckhands to keep your interest alive. How many people will be on the barge?

-- Lawrence

Subject: Greetings from Maine
Date: June 25, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Hey Sam,

So far, the oddest thing about being here by myself has been choosing a bedroom. With all the usual Indie rockers booked or become the parents of infants, I had eight bedrooms to choose from (not counting the second floor of the woodshed, which sleeps three but on a floor with a pronounced slope to it). I debated whether to choose according to bed firmness, room light, nostalgia, or bathroom -- the front dorm, with the queen-sized bed, has great light from five windows and I like that back upstairs bathroom, but the tennis-court fence is being rebuilt, so I decided I might as well sleep at the other end of the house, figuring that the fence-builders might show up early and start making noise. I contemplated the small front bedroom, where you and I stayed once or maybe twice, but the beds are terrible, although not as bad as the beds in the room across the hall. I ended up picking the big front bedroom that was George's grandparents' room -- the master bedroom, more or less. The beds are okay, though not as good as I was hoping.

Bedroom
The front bedroom

The other thing that's odd is how quiet it is with no one else in the house. I've been here alone before, 10 or 12 years ago, but only for a few days, and as I recall I had a much better time than I had expected. This time, though, I'll be here two full weeks. My plan is to get a lot of reading done, and some writing, and maybe even some thinking -- and of course some relaxing, which I can't do if there are 12 people in the house. The down side, though -- besides not having anyone to talk to, much less sleep with -- is that I'm accustomed to coming up here with people who like to cook, so that dinner ends up being a big deal and I get to help prepare a lot of stuff I don't usually eat. But yesterday, when I went to the big Hanneford's in Portland to stock up, I bought all the things I eat at home. What fun is that?

Not much else to report. It's still black-fly season, which isn't much fun. And my only Internet access is dial-up! I had forgotten what that was like. The loons are shrieking out on the lake, which of course is why I come here.

-- L.

Subject: Re: the annual discussion
Date: June 26, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Dr. Bear, Esq. --

If it's any consolation, it's been raining steadily here since sometime very early this morning. Rain is good sleeping weather here -- the sound of raindrops on this roof is among my favorite sounds anywhere -- but now that it's daytime of course I want sunshine. In any case I completely understand your annual discussion. Driving up Route 4 Saturday afternoon I started thinking that in two years I'll be 50, and maybe for my 50th birthday I should get myself both a cabin somewhere (two bedrooms, porch, table for six) and a deal with the Chron to be away from the office for two months every summer. I mean, if I had broadband I could still work. I just wouldn't be working in DC. Hmmm.

I had a great pizza Saturday for lunch at the Portland Flatbread Co. -- smoked salmon, havarti, dill, red onion, fresh horseradish, capers, and parmesan. Yum. That's the restaurant franchise we need to get -- good pizzas, fun people, great coffee. It's would be just about perfect even without the view of Portland's Ferry Terminal.

I've been debating what to have for dinner. I'm thinking lobster.

-- L.

Baskets
Baskets in the hall off the kitchen

Subject: Greetings from Maine
Date: June 26, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Hey Paradon,

So the good news here is that it rained all morning and much of the afternoon before I heard the telltale plunk ... plunk of a leak in the back hall upstairs. I was in the kitchen, having just returned from Oquossoc with two one-pound lobsters whose doom I was closely contemplating. The leak is just above the little hallway that leads from the kitchen to the dining room, where two planes of the roof come together above the upstairs hall. The flashing that's supposed to keep the rain out has never been right, and has never been fixed, either. I got out three big pots from the pantry under the back stairs and dutifully carried them to the site of the leak, but I'm not sure why I bothered -- plenty of rain falls here in the spring and the fall, when no one's in the house to carry pots up, and the place seems none the worse for it.

What's odd about being here by myself is shopping -- not so much at the main grocery store in Rangeley, where I'm just another stranger to summer help imported from Eastern Europe, but at the farm stand in Oquossoc where the owners know me as someone who's usually shopping for eight or 10 or 12. It's embarrassing to say, Well, this year it's just me, and to spend $16 instead of $60. My theory is I may just have lobster every night, since the guy selling it at the farm stand's seafood annex is so cute, and since it's cheap here, and fresh. Tonight the plan is a lobster pizza with lots of butter, spinach, sauteed shallots, and fresh mozeralla. Tomorrow night, lobster and mushrooms over pasta. Feel free to e-mail suggestions for Wednesday. Somewhere along the line I'll have to try making lobster ravioli, even though I didn't think to bring my pasta machine and will have to roll out the sheets by hand instead -- real work but when it's just ravioli for one, it's not a big problem.

And yourself? How's your summer so far? I don't remember now whether you said you were taking one class or two -- but in either case, is it anything interesting? Anything else fun going on? I'm guessing you've kept your job?

-- Lawrence

Subject: Hummingbirds
Date: June 26, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Chief,

What goes in the hummingbird feeders? Twice now I've been sitting out on the porch and heard a drone of wings and seen a bird check one feeder and then the other, but of course they're both empty. Any idea what hummingbirds eat?

-- S.

Subject: Pizza-crust recipe
Date: June 27, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Mr. Wolverton,

I can't remember -- do you have a copy of Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice, or did you buy a copy to give to your brother without ever ending up with a copy of your own? I came up here without mine, since most of his recipes call for a mixer and I wasn't planning on schlepping the Kitchen Aid 14 hours in the car. But last night I tried making pizza dough with Alice Waters' instructions, and I didn't love the result. Not that it wasn't fun trying -- cooked lobster, sauteed spinach, sauteed shallots, fresh mozeralla, fresh dill. But the crust was only so-so, and if I try lobster pizza again I'll leave off the spinach and half the cheese, so more of the lobster flavor comes through. (I feel like I should try cooking the shells somehow, too, to get more flavor out of them, but I'm not sure how I'd get that flavor onto a pizza. For a pasta, I'd cook the shells and then start the sauce in the same pan, but for pizza? Any suggestions you have would be welcome...)

Anyhow, my question is: Do you have Reinhart's pizza-dough recipe handy? If not, don't worry about it. I have a couple others here to try.

It rained here all day yesterday and much of the night, although I don't think there was any flooding and no museums closed (the Historical Society is only open Tuesdays and Thursdays to start with). Today is humid and windy, with whitecaps on the lake. The good news is that the wind keeps the bugs away. It's been a late spring, the putative farmer at the Farmer's Wife in Oquossoc told me Sunday, and that's allegedly why the black flies are bad. But the mosquitoes are worse -- when I went to the spring on Route 16 for water, I was afraid I might not make it the 30 steps back out to the car before succumbing to loss of blood.

In camp news, the fence around the tennis court finally collapsed sometime over the winter, after 40 or 50 years of neglect. The caretaker, Eddie Collins, is halfway through putting up a new one. Meanwhile, there's a new little six-by-eight dock moored 15 yards or so out from the old dock -- I'm guessing so that little kids can swim out from one to the other. And there's a radio in the kitchen that picks up NPR!

-- L.

Subject: Greetings from Maine
Date: June 27, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Mr. O'Leary,

Let's see, I've owed you a letter now for -- two months? more? You'd think a guy who had a pretty easy job and didn't have three kids under age four at home could find some time to write, wouldn't you? But actually I don't think the problem's finding time to write -- it's finding something to write about. My life is pretty much adventure-free and even drama-free. In fact, it's just plain dull. So I have to worry about boring anyone I write to. Only when I'm not at home is there even a chance of my having anything engaging to say.

Like now, for instance. I'm sitting on the porch of the house I come to every summer, with my feet up on the lowest log of the porch railing and a twice-folded towel making one of the rustic porch chairs slightly less hard on my back. It's a dry, sunny, blustery afternoon, with the wind kicking up whitecaps on the lake and the big dock awash in waves. The new little swimming platform anchored 15 yards or so away is rocking like an amusement-park ride, and the flag is streaming and snapping above my head. The good thing about wind like this is it keeps the bugs away. The mosquitoes are too frail and the black flies -- well, I don't know what their excuse is. Amazingly, two tidy spider webs under the overhang by the living room are billowing like a ship's sails, but not blowing out. Every so often a bird darts across the lawn, but mostly what you see are the restless lake and the shimmering birch leaves, and what you hear is the wind in the trees, the groan of the big dock as the waves rock it, the snapping of the flag.

Whitecaps
Whitecaps on the lake

Not, I admit, the perfect vacation picture. In the perfect vacation picture, there would be no whitecaps, and four or five slim, goodlooking men would be frolicking half-naked in the water and on the ladder. On the other hand, all day yesterday it rained -- rained until the gutters overflowed and the downspouts sent jets of water out across the flagstone walk. Anyhow, I'm not complaining about a little wind. ...

Other than that, I have nothing to report. I thought I might come up here and start every day by writing a poem, but so far that hasn't happened. We'll see whether I ever get started.

And yourself? How's life at the other Chron? How are the offspring? How's Yvette? How's driving?

Warmly,

Lawrence

Subject: Re: Lobster Pizza....only at Dominos
Date: June 27, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Dr. Bear,

I had figured I should do the lobster pizza without sauce -- I was afraid tomatoes would overwhelm the lobster. What I did instead was brush melted butter over the dough, then put on the sauteed shallots and spinach and some parmesan. I cooked the dough about five minutes, then pulled it out and added the lobster and the mozeralla (since the lobster was already cooked, I was afraid leaving it on the pizza the whole time would make it tough). But since lobster here is cheap and easy to get, I should probably try the sauce trick you suggest -- a very light sauce, just butter and a hint of onion and tomatos, with the shells cooked in.... that could be yummy, no?

Tonight -- lobster I pulled out of its shell last night, added at the last minute to a skillet of butter, shallot, asparagus, pine nuts, and dill, then served over pasta. I was thinking I was going to make some pasta by hand, but now I'm thinking I'll leave that for another night.

So if your band has a name, that makes it real, no? Excellent news.

-- L.

Porch chairs
Chairs on the porch

Subject: Sounds in the night
Date: June 28, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Hey Sam,

There are indeed strange sounds here, courtesy of the wind and the waves. It's been breezy for the past two days, and last night after I turned out the light I could hear waves gurgling among the rocks at the foot of the lawn, and the dock groaning where the little bridge from the shore presses down on its boards. The wind was jostling the rocking chairs on the porch and the barometers hanging just outside the living-room door -- when they scrape against the wall they sometimes make a sound so much like a muffled voice that you'd swear someone was down on the porch talking. The first time I stayed here by myself, years ago, I found it eerie -- especially when I heard an animal of some kind or another under the house, by the fireplace. Now, though, it all feels kind of comfortable for some reason. Although I certainly wouldn't mind a little less wind and a little more sun.

Hope you're surviving the rain okay. My brother sent photos of a small lake that has formed in his back yard, and reported that part of his garage ceiling had caved in.

-- L.

Subject: Trout Quintet
Date: June 28, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Condi,

Ah, but you would love it here! Maine Public Radio still plays classical music -- and not just an endless repetition of the Brandenburgs, either, or single movements of Mozart slipped in between commercials. Last night the radio that has mysteriously appeared in the kitchen here brought a long Soviet-era Russian symphony -- I forget the composer -- while I was making myself a lobster-and-asparagus-over-pasta supper. Tonight came a chamber concert from the U. of Maine at Farmington, which is just down Route 4 40 minutes or so. Lots of stuff I didn't recognize, then the Trout Quintet in all its glory while I finished a salmon fillet cooked with fresh dill and lots of butter over sliced potatoes. It's true that I've been eating in the kitchen, which is where the help used to eat -- it hardly seems worthwhile to set a single place at the big table in the dining room. And it's true that I've been reading the Times with dinner, which I'm sure is not really what a house like this is supposed to be all about. But the food's been good and the music's been fine and it's a pleasure to spend as much time as one wants with the paper, instead of rushing to get on to something else.

Also, sir, it is a pleasure starting your book, as I did last night. I had been saving it to bring up here, where I can -- and do -- read at leisure. It's a little odd, of course, to have come all this way to read about the architecture of Washington row houses and the old Russian embassy on 16th Street, but I am enjoying it nonetheless -- and of course I was delighted to see a mention of Franklin and Marshall College, which Lord knows needs all the publicity it can get.

In local news, it has been raining off and on -- nothing like the deluge that has soaked Washington, of course, but on vacation each inch of rain counts double. On the other hand, since I came here more or less without an agenda, the rain hasn't been too much of an inconvenience. I have been surprised to see that it also hasn't slowed down the town road crew digging new ditches on either side of the Bonny Point road -- they just keep working right through the rain. Imagine a road crew in D.C. doing such a thing! Not only that, but the crew has just three men -- one operating the backhoe, and two driving out dump trucks of excess dirt and foliage. No supervisor on a cell phone, no team of guys standing around watching one Hispanic man do all the digging, no one sleeping in the truck. I am now on a nodding basis with the backhoe operator, who has to stop digging to let me pass every afternoon on my way to the Rangeley Library's wireless Internet connection.

What else? Hmmm. There is new Teflon cookware in the kitchen pantry, but of course I'm ignoring it -- one doesn't come here to use new things, and anyhow the cast iron in the kitchen is as perfectly seasoned as any in the nation. There are an alarming number of condos sprouting up just outside of Rangeley, although so far Oquossoc seems to have been spared the blight. There are lots and lots of mosquitoes, and also black flies, plus a small continent's worth of spiders busily putting up webs everywhere they can -- I'm running into a dozen a day, at least. I believe there's a bat living on the far side of my bedroom, where the chimney goes through. And this afternoon I had a surprising conversation with a young and very jittery squirrel who was perched on a tree limb just beyond the edge of porch, screeching and fussing so loudly that I went out to see what the commotion was. He declined to explain but it was an entertaining encounter nonetheless. Every time I raised my arm to flail at another mosquito, the squirrel squealed and panicked and fled, only to reappear moments later around the other side of the tree. Now, however, I'm wondering whether he wasn't in the employ of the mosquitoes, hired to lure me out beyond the safety of the screens and engage me as long as possible with his chatter, while mosquitoes had their way with my flesh. These days you just don't know whom to trust, do you?

-- L.

Subject: Rangeley Public Library
Date: June 30, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Hey Emily,

Here are two pix of the Rangeley Public Library yesterday afternoon. The year on the cornerstore is 1908. Originally there was a single big room on the main floor with a children's room in the attic and a meeting space in the basement. Thanks to an addition completed six or eight years ago, there's a big new space tucked away behind the original structure. The addition provides handicap access and accommodates more books, space for a second librarian, a seminar room, a table with four public-access computers, tons of videos, and a lovely little patio.

The boy sitting by the steps in the first picture belongs to an especially annoying family of vacationers in a Subaru wagon so packed with stuff that I'm surprised they didn't try tying one of the kids on the roof rack. They appeared to be using the library for access to hot water after several days of camping. The mother was bossing everyone around, including her husband. In this picture, the boy is complaining that his feet hurt because his shoes are too tight.

Library
The Rangeley Public Library

Later in the afternoon a hummingbird flew into back room, where I was sitting, from the door to the patio. It had been propped open because of the godawful sweltering heat -- it reached 78 degrees here yesterday afternoon. The hummingbird swooped through the shelves a number of times, causing one mom to crouch on the floor with her hands over her head while her children were yelling "Wow! Cool! There it goes!" The librarian on duty seemed unfazed and continued checking out the childrens' videos. The hummingbird eventually lodged in the diffusers of the fluorescent lights in the librarian's office. "I tried to get it to jump onto the handle of the broom," she told me later, "but it wouldn't. Then I turned off the lights and it just kind of floated down, like it was deflating. I picked it up" -- she demonstrated by cupping her hands together -- "and took it outside."

-- L.

Subject: Greetings from Maine
Date: June 30, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Hey Scott,

Greetings from windy, chilly Camp Windsor Hill. It's been a week of intermittent rain and occasional bluster -- tonight I can hear the rush of wind through the leaves even inside, with the windows and doors closed, as well as the gurgling of the waves against the rocks at the end of the lawn and the groan of rocking chairs out on the porch being urged this way and that. It's cool enough that I decided to make bread so I'd have an excuse to have the oven on, meaning there will be at least one warm room. One thing I notice about being here by myself, aside from the quiet, is that the house seems cooler with no one else breathing and laughing and running around fussing over dinner ingredients. I guess I could build a fire in the living room, but I'm not exactly famous for my fire-making skill, and anyhow making a fire for just one person seems extravagant.

Unlike, say, having lobster for dinner three times this week. That seems perfectly reasonable, given that the lobster in Oquossoc is about half the price of lobster in D.C., and that the kid running the fish shack beside the farm stand has a great smile and such interesting hands. I had lobster and sauteed spinach on pizza Monday night, lobster and asparagus over pasta Tuesday night, salmon fillet cooked over potatoes (from the Silver Palate) Wednesday night, and lobster risotto last night. Tonight: Shrimp, sausage, broccoli, garlic, and pine nuts over pasta.

The bugs are malicious, vile, and relentless.

Hope all's well in D.C., and that you and the Ontario made it through all the rain without incident.

-- L.

Subject: Re: 3 page paper, the nerve
Date: July 2, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Dr. Bear, Esq.:

You're gonna teach AP English? Yikes. I couldn't teach AP English -- composition, maybe, but Mayor of Casterbridge? Middlemarch? The Faerie Queen? To say nothing of all those Shakespeare history plays. Heck, I have trouble remembering which is Hamlet and which is Macbeth. The living-room bookshelves here, by the way, hold Conrad's Typhoon, Coleridge's Poetical Works, and eight or nine books by Galsworthy, of whom I know nothing. All that's on the top shelf; the next shelf down has The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, Gulliver's Travels -- those would be fun to teach -- and some Sherlock Holmes, and the shelf below that has Dr. Doolittle and my favorite, Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout.

I've been having a relaxed, pleasant week. The weather's been alternately windy and lousy. This morning, for instance, I woke up hearing a steady rain on the roof, which leaves a lot to be desired. I think I'm going to drive down to Portland in a bit to take pictures of steam trains around the Eastern Prom and have some more of that Portland Flatbread Co. pizza. Also, I have to bring back some decent cheeses. You can't even buy an honest parmesan in Franklin County, much less anything more interesting.

Moonlight
The lake by moonlight

No midnight skinny-dipping. For one thing, it's just not the same without Chad. For another, the bugs are terrible this year. But I have skinny-dipped in the middle of the day a couple of times, when it was warm enough to bathe in the lake instead of in the tub. That's fun, except invariably some nosy Parker comes by in a boat.

-- L.

Subject: Escape of the dock
Date: July 3, 1006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Mr. Read,

I got back here last night in a rain squall, and then the wind came up. By the time I turned out the light, at midnight, the wind was rattling the windows in their frames and scraping the ends of branches across the roof and banging the five barometers against the porch wall and scraping the outdoor rocking chairs against each other -- quite the horror movie. I lay there under the blankets wondering whether I should try to turn off the electricity so that if a tree fell on the house, there wouldn't be a fire in addition to whatever damage the tree itself caused. (In fact I have no idea how to turn off the electricity -- do you just switch all the circuit breakers to "Off"?) When I finally woke up this morning, to the sound of squirrel feet scampering across the roof over my head, sunlight was streaming into the bedroom. But I could see just by sitting up in bed that the floating dock had made another one of its periodic attempts at escape, breaking at least one of its chains and trying to flee to the east. The dock's not a whiz with the physics, though. Not being self-propelled, it can only go where the wind's going, and the wind was going towards the rocks at the bottom of the lawn. So that's where the dock went, a whole 15 feet from where it usually floats. It's sitting there looking sheepish this morning, still holding the motor boat -- it would've been in big trouble otherwise -- but having dumped its little bridge into the lake. I've left a message for the redoubtable Eddie Collins, the caretaker, but in these parts July 3 is a day of considerable hoopla. The parade in Rangeley starts at 10 a.m. (I'm taking a pass, as I do every year), and the fireworks are tonight (it costs a lot less to hire fireworks guys for July 3 than July 4). So it's anybody's guess when Eddie will come deal with the dock. It's not something I can do myself.

-- L.

Subject: Re: Escape of the dock
Date: July 3, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Mr. Read,

I do not use the motorboat. By tradition, the motorboat, charcoal grills, and the barometers (now five) are in the charge of straight men. I have no particular interest in any of those things, although grilled beef and grilled fish are awfully nice. For just one person, though, what's the point of firing up a grill?

I did know how to sail when I was a kid, if that counts for anything. The motorboat is just one of those undecked aluminum things with a 10-hp engine clinging to the stern. No style at all.

The dock, on the other hand, is impressive -- probably 15 by 20. Large, as docks go. That's partly why it's survived. No one thinks we could afford to replace it, and no one wants a smaller dock.

-- L.

Subject: Re: Millions of peaches
Date: July 4, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Dr. Bear,

No peaches here. There are blueberries that I don't think are native, and quart boxes of velvet-red strawberries whose flavor explodes in your mouth and dribbles over your lips and fingers. As good as fireworks, or better. Also fresh beans. The great loss of recent years is the retirement of the First Farm couple from their vegetable business on the Stratton Road just outside of Rangeley -- I must have taken you there, no? Drove up a longish dirt road past fields of produce, then went in a one-room wooden shop right alongside the chicken coop? Lettuces, the best you ever saw for sale anywhere, plus rhubarb, beets, herbs, spinach, and cut flowers? The lettuce alone was the stuff dreams were made of. I always wondered what they'd be selling if I had the house in August instead of at the beginning of what passes here for a growing season.

I was thinking the other day about why I love coming here. I mean, the drive is hell, and even two weeks doesn't seem like very long, and I don't play tennis or get all excited about hikes or canoeing, and running here is torture, and the bugs are a torment, and dial-up is excruciating. So it comes down to my loving the food, and the quiet, and the simplicity, and the beauty. The food, of course, is key, and now that First Farm is closed all my hopes center on the Farmer's Wife, in Oquossoc, and the seafood business she's opened up on the side -- glorious-looking tuna in the case the other day, when I stopped in for shrimp to go on pasta, so that now I'm conflicted about whether to have tuna or lobster tonight. Of course, it's not the same cooking here by myself -- no one to talk to, no one to learn from, but still, you know how I am about food, and ingredients. Even if I have to shop at the IGA, it feels a lot more honest than the Safeway, you know?

As for the quiet, I woke up this morning hearing the soft patter of a light rain on the expanse of roof over my bedroom. I took the big front room over the living room, on account of its having the least-awful beds, and it's a great room for listening to rain. In odd moments of this trip I've been thinking how I ought to get a cabin of my own up here so I could spend a couple of months every summer; I have to add to the list of requirements a bedroom right below a wood roof lightly covered with roofing material on which rain makes a perfect patter. And, for simplicity, unadorned light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and pictures hanging from nails driven into the exposed framing of the house.

I would like a screened porch, though. The bugs are so bad this year that the porch is unusable except on windy days.

Unlike today: It's a still, humid morning here. Someone just shot off a bunch of firecrackers on the far side of the lake and apparently flushed out a bunch of loons, who fled wailing their odd cries over the surface of the lake. Now it's quiet again, except for the dock splashing in the just-arrived wake of a motorboat that droned past two or three minutes ago.

-- L.

PS If there's only one farmer, it's a farmer's market. If there are several farmers, you could go with either possessive (farmers' market) or plain plural (farmers market), although the plural leaves it up to the reader to figure out whether farmers are operating the market or being sold at it, as first are sold at a fish market.

Subject: More Greetings from Maine
Date: July 5, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Mr. O'Leary,

Another windy morning, but warm and sunny -- so far, at least. The weather here is skittish at the best of times, but this year it's been just about psychotic, raining every 15 minutes, kicking up whitecaps on the lake, alternating chilly snaps with brief periods of (for Maine) dense humidity. Last night a storm somewhere took the power out for an hour. Fortunately it wasn't quite dark yet, so after I made sure I could find candles and matches I sat out on the porch, swatting at mosquitoes and reading my friend Andrew's new book (which is all about Washington) and watching a rain squall approach from the other side of the lake, the dark outline of its precipitation clear on the surface. Later, when the lights had come back on and I had eaten dinner and finished washing up, I went down to the dock to see a half moon flirting with some young clouds over the western shore. The lake was as smooth as a mirror. I would have stayed to look up at the stars -- there are so many more here than at home -- but tiny bugs of some sort were buzzing all around my ears and my face, and there's only so much of that I can take.

All in all it's been a pleasant vacation. I don't think I've been any more neurotic than usual -- maybe less. But all I've written are letters, and I've squandered an embarrassing amount of time taking bad pictures and doing the crossword puzzle in the Skowhegan newspaper. Some year you'll have to come up so we can have a nice civilized poetry hour over coffee every morning while the kids frolic on the dock or float around in inner tubes.

Congratulations on your LSAT scores, and on leaving the terrible apartment. You are keeping an eye out for stories for me to come do in Houston, right?

-- L.

PS Isn't field hockey a girls' sport? Let's not be confusing your fantasies with mine. The hockey team I want to see on the dock plays on ice.

Subject: Camping
Date: July 5, 2006


Camp Windsor Hill, Rangeley Lake, MAINE

Condi,

Pardon me, but did you say "camping in tents"? What ever persuaded you to sign on for camping in tents? I mean, I assume you don't mean tents carried by porters who will bring you tea as you relax in folding camp chairs and view the wildebeests from a safe distance. Camping in tents the way Americans do now seems fraught with difficulties and discomforts -- no running water, no hot coffee, no comfy reading chairs, no socket to plug in the laptop, to name a few. To say nothing of -- and here I have in mind what I assume to be your interests -- no art museums and a very real danger of having to talk to actual Americans. (Although I suppose you do that on the bus, don't you?)

That said, I started my day by going to the spring for water -- the running water in the house is pumped up from the lake and is not meant for drinking (although it's generally assumed to be okay for washing dishes, brushing teeth). The spring is out route 16, past Oquossoc, so you load big 5-gallon Igloo containers in the back of the car, put on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt (because of the mosquitoes), and drive out playing the Spinanes loudly on the car stereo (it was a beautiful morning). At the spring, you dart along the board walk that leads back into the woods as quickly as you can (because of the mosquitoes) and bend over to put the spout of the first container under the pipe gushing with clear, cold water. The problem is, of course, that you have to hold the container in just the right position, so you can't swat at the bugs that are buzzing around your ears and landing on your wrists. Still, going on a breezy morning is not too bad. And when both containers are filled, you cup your hands and fill them to overflowing with sparkling Maine water fresh from the spring, and bend over to bring your lips down as the water spills out over your thumbs and fingers. A nice way to start the day.

After that I sorted eight bags of sheets and towels left by the driver for Butler's Laundry, in Skowhegan. The camp has an astonishing inventory of bedclothes -- bolster cases, pillow cases, sheets of all sizes and configurations, towels in paint store's worth of hues. So guessing which sheets are which and where everything belongs is quite an undertaking. Tomorrow: Vacuuming.

Last night the power went out for an hour, and I sat out on the porch swatting at mosquitoes and reading Grief. Just when I'd gotten used to the idea that there might not be power all night, the kitchen lights came back on, along with the radio -- no longer All Things Considered, but a brassy, obnoxious broadcast of the Fourth of July celebration from the Mall. I was happy to be here, where there were no checkpoints for anything.

I confess, though, that when the power went out I wondered briefly whether there might have been some sort of terrorist attack on the power grid, and how long it would take me to find out about it if there had been. And how I'd make out stuck up here for the whole summer without power, or gasoline, or the Internet, and what would happened when fall came and I had to leave the house. Hmmm.

-- L.

Subject: Re: the mosquito-squirrel connection
Date: July 7, 2006


Rangeley, MAINE

Condi,

I am not back at all -- I'm sitting in the new wing of the Rangeley Public Library, which looks out over a sweet little fieldstone patio. A kid who's probably 15 is typing like a banshee about six feet away from me. His mom just came in to say "John, do you know what time it is? It's 3:30. You need to be in the car."

I know what you mean about the geology flyovers -- completely fascinating. Only I want narration, or at least some kind of follow-along map, because I never know what I'm looking at unless it's the Mississippi or the Grand Canyon. One time last year, though, I was staring out a window at a river in the northeast -- maybe I was flying back from Chicago? -- and was thrilled to identify Harrisburg (by the city island, the bridges, the cooling towers of Three Mile Island).

In English, "Oquossoc" means, "Place that is not quite a town but does have one cute guy named A.J. who runs the seafood counter at his stepmother's ever-expanding farmstand and sells me lobsters, salmon, shrimp, &c."

What are you doing back in D.C.? I thought you were going to your Southern Plantation? I leave here tomorrow -- unwillingly, but I have to turn the house over to the next tenants -- for two days on the coast, then a couple of days in Burlington for a story. I'll get home sometime next weekend.

-- L.

Subject: Exercises
Date: July 8, 2006


Rangeley, MAINE

Condi,

The exercises of departure are invariably melancholy. One must wake early, before the alarm goes off, and sit up in bed to look longingly at the view of the lake through the birch trees afforded by the bedroom window. Then one must make coffee and start in with the cleaning of the kitchen -- wiping down the stovetop, putting the pizza stone back in its hiding-place in the oven of the old woodstove, putting away the pizza peel and the dishes, throwing out whatever in the refrigerator is old. Then one starts on the downstairs bathroom, and the mopping of the kitchen floor, and then the upstairs bathroom, and the changing of the sheets on the bed (the camp has a whole trousseau's worth of superlative sheets from my stepfather's cousin's first marriage 40 years ago, fine cotton of such quality that sleeping on it is itself a vacation -- including even bolster-cases for the splendid double-length pillows on every bed). Then the final packing up, which follows on a testy hour of luggage-oriented calculation the night before. Then one must empty the trash cans, and start carrying boxes and bags up to the car, and one must put away the six volumes of the 1911 encyclopedia that one has open in various places in the living room, and shut down the computer, and round up all of the various chargers, devices, music players, &c., that one has brought, neglecting neither the favorite knife, bread thermometer, dough-scraper, and cookbook. Then one must go down to the dock to bathe in the sunshine and the chilly water, with the ritual bar of Ivory soap (soap that floats being especially useful in a lake situation) and a quick check to see that no boats are nearby before one slips off one's shorts. And then, just as one is finishing up lunch and starting to write out a note explaining the whole lobster pizza on the top shelf of the refrigerator and the state of the laundry, Ann and Leonard come down the hill, with someone named Karen (a daughter? I forget the names of people's children so easily), and one's easy escape is thrown into turmoil because within five minutes 10 people have arrived and the whole house is in a chaos entirely unwelcome after one's two weeks of peace. If only they had been half an hour later (or, obviously, if only one had been ready half an hour earlier).

I can't imagine that I haven't left something, probably something critical.

Now, a stop in town, to check mail and then visit the Alpine Shop, possibly the only place on the planet where I don't hate buying clothes. Then east and south, to the coast...

-- L.

Dock
The dock

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