Category Archives: places

Lunar Camel Co. field guide to nature, ch. 5: North Haven

As I explained in my last post on the subject, my mornings on the island of North Haven always begin with a stroll around the perimeter of the house, coffee in hand, Looking At Stuff. Apparently I’m part of a long-standing tradition. As the North Haven Historical Society explains, the island was discovered by “rusticators” in the 1880s, first coming from Boston, then from New York and Philadelphia, and what is it I’m doing if not rusticating? Sometimes I rusticate all day long. In the years that I visited the nearby island of Vinalhaven, my viewing tended to focus on osprey fishing dramas, with the occasional hairy moth for comedic relief. The location of the house I’ve been renting on North Haven is not situated quite so close to osprey fishing grounds — a pity, since they’re vigorous and adroit in nearly everything they do — but it’s been very good for moth and spider-gazing.

luna moth macro, square format

A luna moth in the faux bois style, Vinalhaven, 2007.

the woodpecker was here

There are plenty of woodpeckers at work on North Haven,
but they’re camera-shy.

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For much of last week my friend and I were captivated by the goings-on of two spiders down a web-hole in the driveway, and returned to it to check on them several times each day. I’d seen this type of web many times before, littering the grass, sometimes as neatly hemmed as a handkerchief blown off a washline — the handiwork of the Agelenidae family — but the hole in this one was full of tension: they were engaged in a stand-off that lasted for days. A timely stand-off: mating for this type of spider “occurs in late summer or early fall.”

the scene of the spider drama

One of the two had a more substantive spinneret, round and plump where the other’s looked almost perfunctory, more like a husk. We presumed the bigger and curvier of the pair to be the female, full of silk, and from her position we also surmised she was the original occupant and defender of the hole. She faced outwards while the other tried to enter, his back to us, advancing further and further down the funnel a few steps at a time over a period of two or three days. His progress was not consistent at all; he was repeatedly put into retreat, and several times reduced to standing just outside the entrance. Clearly they were about to fuck, or fight, but in what order? We didn’t want to miss any of the action but the arriviste often blocked the view, and I could never quite make out whether his acquaintance’s eight eyes were saying “get OUT!” or “hey, hi.”

spider confrontation

Or both at once. Spider romances can be hard to parse. We returned again and again to try to do precisely that, and one morning there was just the missus home. Whatever had happened, she’d apparently eaten him afterwards, and this required extensive thinking-about in the hammock: might people, in certain rare circumstances, benefit from this practice?

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The common female funnel grass spider was the subject of a recent study on sexual cannibalism, and it turns out they can go any which way:

[The researchers] found that the females were likely to eat any male that arrived if they were hungry, or just feeling particularly aggressive. In other scenarios, they found the females a little more discerning, allowing some to mate with them, while eating others. In some extreme cases they found some females that refused to eat any males at all, and some that ate every male no matter what else was going on.

Phys.org, reporting on a University of Pittsburgh study published in Animal Behaviour.

With her gentleman caller so tidily disposed of, this individual spider probably will not find herself carrying, years later, a useless, stubborn, ossified little ball of love and acceptance that she’d mostly prefer to be rid of, and that she once felt sure she’d successfully passed through her irritated digestive system like a kidney stone. She’ll almost certainly never spend an odd and sleepless night brooding over the way his relentless caginess had made her feel panicked beyond belief and reason, mortified by the words her panic had manifested itself in, and pointlessly wondering whether she ought to have simply bitten his head off the very instant she’d first had a clear-eyed look at him, cleanly and incisively. She probably won’t waste a moment of her time marveling at the circular little dance he performed, obscuring parts of himself so as to be more likable, drawing attention to others that somehow didn’t hold up, all the while skittering away from any fool or creep who might like him too much. At the very least she’ll never have to suffer him suggesting that she’s too sensitive about things, as if she ought to wear some sort of protective gear, as a welder does. Or as if her sensitivities are out of order — maybe she ought to take a sharper look at her priorities and put her 401-k nearer to the top? Eight angry feet to stomp are not enough. No, she’s probably free to enjoy a peaceable solitude down her well-tended bolt hole, watching the shadows outside lengthen, sinking her mouth into the soft, glimmering, green-black abdomen of one fly after another without feeling wary and worn-out and guarded, qualities that she has always pointedly disliked in other spiders.

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Or, as my friend sensibly pointed out, “maybe he got laid and took off.”

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Some of my most memorable nature-viewing moments on these islands have gone unphotographed, for various reasons. I’ve yet to visit either Vinalhaven or North Haven without at least one good bald eagle sighting, for example, but I never seem to have a camera in hand when it happens, and anyhow I think they all look alike. The tufts of strange, pubic mosses that cling to the trees might have more character.

tree moss

tree moss

Seals pop up every now and then, but they tend to keep their distance. This past Saturday my friend and I sat on the rocky beach across from the house and talked about four nearby seals for a good part of the afternoon while they (possibly?) conferred about us. They were very good company, but I didn’t have any urge to try to capture their little round heads bobbing up and down, not over such an expanse. I prefer close observation to mechanical zooming-in-on.

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My most sensationalistic sighting took place on Monhegan Island some time in the late 90s, at considerable distance but wholly consuming. My friend and I were out hiking and cautiously approached the edge of a very sharp, very high cliff crawling on our bellies. (Not overly cautiously; Monhegan’s cliffs are serious, and last year while we were on North Haven an Irish visitor to Monhegan was swept out to sea and killed after he lost his footing). When we looked down we saw two massive orca whales splashing about in the water below, almost preposterously close to the edge of the island, and close enough to the surface that we could see their full length at moments. I didn’t have a camera with me at the time, but if I had, the height, the wind, and the waves and whales crashing below would probably have kept me from reaching for it; I felt sick with vertigo, and very nearly as tempted to back away as to keep watching. I don’t know enough about whale behavior to know what they were doing, but from my vantage point they appeared to have found a spot where they could stretch out and enjoy the turmoil around them, their breaching and lunging some sort of commentary on or appreciation of the endless conflict between granite and ocean. My stomach was down there with them.

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The moths of North Haven and Vinalhaven are numerous and varied. I know very little about them but seem to be on the verge of getting into them in a big way. I’ll be in New Mexico next month and I’m eager to see what sort of moths they’ve got, though somewhat concerned about the lack of porch lights in the desert. (I’ll be meeting up with friends near Albuquerque and driving to Monument Valley). The moth below is Ennomos magnaria, a Maple Spanworm moth, and upon close inspection it wears a mullet.

leafy moths

moth mullet

fuzzy moth

They seem to hang around far longer than other types of moths, no matter how frequently the screen door swings open and shut. I think it takes them all day to dry the dew from their hair.

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beach llama

Beach llama.

my new book accessory

New reading accessory.

"the baked potato"

“The baked potato.”

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My friend had another well-considered observation the day after the spider drama had come to a head, when he came out to join me on the deck and found me inches away from a very large spider of some other sort that was dangling out of a shrub, a brown spider as big as the first joint of my thumb. These islands in Penobscot Bay are full of spiders, some more monstrous than others; Wikipedia says the nearby island of Islesboro is home to the up-island spider, “also known as a hearse-house spider,” and “thought to be a species of unusually large wolf spider. . . . Its unusual feature is its size, by some reports spanning at least 8 inches with its legs splayed out. Some specimens are reported to be large and heavy enough to create audible footsteps in a quiet room.” I had a camera between me and it, but, my friend admonished, might nonetheless end up with a face full of spider, and probably would not be happy if that happened. It’s not that I was unconscious of my peril. It’s that my urge to document things overtakes me at moments, and I become an instrument of it, unconcerned with my own self-interests. It was probably for the best that the ugly little beast disappeared up its rigging before I could steady myself to get a better shot. My friend also thought it remarkable that I should love bugs on vacation but mostly hate them at home, but it makes perfect sense to me: people are deeply, deeply irrational.

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Chapter 4 of my field guide to nature is here and you can work your way backwards from there. Like the ones preceding it, it fixates on trees.

mid-week stationary field trip No. 4

on the ferry

This is a stationary field trip to North Haven, Maine, an island in Penobscot Bay. I’ve shown you one of its esoteric little rocky beaches but there’s more to it than that. It’s very much on my mind lately because I’m headed there this weekend. Honestly it’s been on my mind all summer: I need to find a way to spend much more time there, there or Vinalhaven, a neighboring island that I love only very slightly less. A week or two every year isn’t cutting it. Do any of you need to commission a lobster- and foraged crabapples-centric cookbook, or perhaps a very niche travelogue? A series of sordid libelles about lobstermen and summer wives?

make money writing short paragraphs

I’m pretty sure I could write a lot more paragraphs if I wasn’t spending ten hours a day in an office doing something else.

For the first several years I visited these islands I wouldn’t tell people about them. Friends, yes, but certainly not the whole internet. I’ve relaxed about this because my handful of readers are scattered all over the globe, and also because it’s quite the pain in the ass to get there. If you want to fly you’ll have to charter a plane, and if you want to take a car on the ferry (which you will, unless you’re visiting someone who has one on the island), you’ll have to contend with the ferry rules, which the ferry people are serious about. The people on North Haven seem slightly less serious than the people in Rockland in this regard, but you’ll have to deal with Rockland first.

ferry procedures

North Haven ferry rules. I wouldn’t test that last one if I were you.

from the ferry

The Rockland breakwater lighthouse, from the ferry.

I suppose you could come with a bicycle, but this is discouraged: it costs approximately twice as much to bring a bike on the ferry as it does to bring just yourself. I have mixed feelings about this. I like bicycling and, to a lesser extent, most bicyclists, but the roads on both islands are a series of blind curves, and it’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be a lot more accidents if there were a lot more people on bikes. Besides, there aren’t many places to splash money about on either island, so what’s the use of tourists? (Many years ago my parents came out to visit me on Vinalhaven for a night while I was there for a couple weeks, and my mother, determined to buy something for the occasion of my birthday, had to settle for a blueberry pie). There are other little tricks seemingly intended to discourage tourism too, such as a lack of cell phone towers. I don’t make many calls while I’m there so I don’t care much, but if you’re a first-time visitor and don’t know where the good reception spots are, this might be an annoyance. Standing very near the waterline is generally a good strategy.

Calderwood Neck Rd.

Calderwood Neck Rd. on Vinalhaven in 1907 from Etsy. It looked exactly the same the last time I saw it, minus the wood railing.

You’ll also have to find a place to stay and there aren’t many of those. There’s a very nice inn on North Haven, the Nebo Lodge, but the privacy that comes with renting a house and the immersion it offers — unmediated by a host — is a huge part of what draws me there. Maybe it’s an illusion, but I feel like I’m wringing more out of the place than the dabblers who come over for a memorable meal or three and then split. Renting a house on the island is a crucial part of my infatuation with it. I’m not sure I can truly, fully love a place until I’ve experimentally pretended to live there.

new friends

Making new friends. The caretaker is a lobsterman and these hadn’t been out of the water fifteen minutes when we met.

Happily my house of choice on North Haven is conducive to this. It’s cozy and full of texture — a sun-faded braided rug; a pair of curtains with labial ruffles that measure the salty breezes; stubborn little mosses clinging to its shingles — and possesses both a sensibly-organized kitchen and a perfectly situated hammock. As in all the houses I’ve been in on these islands, important phone numbers are written directly on the wall: the general store, the doctor, the community center, the lobsterman/caretaker. The numbers don’t ever change, so why not. It’s also got a fireplace and, to my endless delight, a little trap door for getting firewood into the house. I’ve got a routine worked out with my best friend, who I’ve been visiting these islands with for many years now: He loads the firewood in and out of the car, and I stand by the little door and stack it inside. We fuss over this daily process more than is strictly necessary, but it seems to add something to the first glass of wine by the fire each night.

digging this rug

mantle

house mosses

firewood door!

exciting firewood door

not bad for NYC people

The house also has a circle of trees to protect its hammock-inhabitants, and to provide fodder for their hippie dippie daydreams. The first year we visited I asked the owner if they’d been planted this way and they were indeed; they were planted by her grandmother, who wanted a place for her grandchildren to play in.

tree circle

foggy tree circle

a hammock I spent a great deal of time in

The hammock is here if you squint a bit.

weird insect

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boat passing by

My first order of business every morning while I’m there is to take my coffee on a walk around the house noticing things. Specifically, noticing whether any new creatures came to visit, or any edible things have sprung up or ripened. The perimeter of the house I used to go to on Vinalhaven was always good for at least a few blueberries or blackberries, and sometimes chanterelle mushrooms. On North Haven so far these have eluded me, but I remain hopeful.

morning spider web

hairy moth

afternoon snack in situ

If I happen to have dressed warmly enough, I’ll take my coffee a little further, down to the rocky beach I showed you once before.

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seaweed spot

Vinalhaven’s Main Street is charming and it has a stop light too, the only one on both islands. North Haven’s Main Street, as shown below, is quieter and more genteel. I’d always thought of Vinalhaven as a quiet place but North Haven manages to make it seem hurly-burly. Vinalhaven has a long history as a working island, first because of its granite quarries, then because of its access to cod and lobsters. North Haven has never had quarries and, in comparison to Vinalhaven, has few full-time lobster people. There are 350 people who live on the island year-round (and 1500 or so in the summertime), and I’m not sure what they tend to do for money. I like to imagine they have blogs with deep-pocketed readers, readers I’ve simply not connected with yet.

Main St., American Legion

The American Legion on Main Street.

Main St.

Waterman’s Community Center on Main Street.

Community Center board game pile

Waterman’s is well-equipped for rainy days.
It’s also got a coffee shop, a theater, and a preschool.

we missed the codfish relay race

It’s a good place to catch up on the news. Hopefully there will come a year when I don’t miss the codfish relay race.

Paine's Balsam Fir Incense

There are also two gift shops on Main St., at least one of which should be able to replenish my stash of balsam fir incense.

North Haven casino very early in the morning

North Haven Casino early in the morning. Not a gambling casino, a yacht club. It just turned 100 years old this August.

maple walnut?

Maple-walnut.

browsing real estate

A fun thing to do with ice cream in hand: browse potential locations for my aquapod / sanitorium / research and development center.

peace barn

A peaceful barn at Mullen Head Park.

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on the way

Leaving Vinalhaven, Aug. 2006.

goodbye, islands

Leaving North Haven, Sept. 2011.

I’ll be doing a separate post on the subject of eating North Haven on my food blog next week. Mid-week stationary field trip No. 3 (to the country, a bit closer to home) is here.

animal style

Maskull Lasserre outliers shoes

“Outliers” shoes by Maskull Lasserre
via Dezeen, for trailing a bit of wild behind you.

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female Satin bowerbird

The most notable characteristic of bowerbirds is their extraordinarily complex courtship and mating behaviour, where males build a bower to attract mates. There are two main types of bowers. One clade of bowerbirds build so-called maypole bowers, which are constructed by placing sticks around a sapling; in some species, these bowers have a hut-like roof. The other major bowerbuilding clade builds an avenue type-bower made of two walls of vertically placed sticks. In and around the bower, the male places a variety of brightly colored objects he has collected. These objects — usually different among each species — may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even discarded plastic items, coins, nails, rifle shells, or pieces of glass. The males spend hours arranging this collection. Bowers within a species share a general form but do show significant variation, and the collection of objects reflects the biases of males of each species and its ability to procure items from the habitat, often stealing them from neighboring bowers. Several studies of different species have shown that colors of decorations males use on their bowers match the preferences of females.

Uy and collaborators have shown that mate-searching females commonly visit multiple bowers, often returning to the male several times, watching his elaborate courtship displays and inspecting the quality of the bower and tasting the paint the male has placed on the bower walls. Many females end up selecting the same male, and many under-performing males are left without copulations.

Bowerbird basics from Wikipedia.

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Wikipedia also tells us there are improbable fish that live amidst the dunes in Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, and as far as I can tell they are real fish, not prank fish. The park is dry much of the year, but seasonal rains punctuate it with lagoons. Are the fish who briefly make these lagoons their home brought there in egg form by birds — perhaps storks? — or are their eggs cryptobiotic, like free-range Sea Monkeys, waiting patiently in the sand for the rainy season to arrive?

Lençóis Maranhenses lagoons

Lençóis Maranhenses lagoons from Wikipedia.

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“The Centaurs” by Winsor McKay, 1921.

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pug tricks

The University of Virginia’s “The Mind is a Metaphor” database is sortable in various ways, one of which categorically focuses on animals. Personally I have found spaniels to be much trickier than pugs, but maybe there is something here that resonates with you.

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Doris Day will kill you

Be kind to animals or Doris Day will kill you.
Photo from If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger.

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If you should find yourself lost in the sticks and in need of a decent meal, just go and sit by the monkeys.

look for monkeys

Snippet from Eating and Drinking: An Anthology for Epicures, which I blogged about over here. Indeed, I’ve yet to see any evidence that monkeys are not fickle little fuckers. Look how these British monkeys behaved during the recent Jubilee celebrations, for example. You can tell they’re not going to bother finishing those cupcakes, and that in a matter of moments they’ll be prodding the jelly and throwing oranges on the ground for no good reason.

monkeys at Jubilee tea party

Monkey tea party pic by Ian Turner/BNPS from the Guardian.

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the Tote-Road Shagamaw

The Tote-Road Shagamaw, as captured in Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, has front paws resembling those of a bear and back legs resembling those of a moose, and craftily alternates walking on one set or the other to evade hunters. It is, however, trapped in its habits, and predictably inverts itself every quarter of a mile.

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dog and cat seed bombs
seed bombs for cats and dogs

One way to be kind to animals: provide them with fresh, tender grasses and grains to nibble at or pee on. Seed bombs formulated to appeal to cats and dogs (“a mixture of catnip, cat grass, wheat, oats, and rye”) are $7/sack from visualingual on Etsy.

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Trufa is a vacation home in Spain designed by Ensamble Studio and constructed with the assistance of a cow named Paulina. A hole was dug; hay bales were stacked inside and concrete poured over them; the resulting concrete truffle was unearthed and sliced open; Paulina went to work on the hay. In this manner, over the course of a year, the living space was cleared.

Trufa interior

Paulina the cow

Trufa photos via Dezeen. The interior one is by Roland Halbe.

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axolotl

The axolotl is an endangered Mexican salamander found exclusively in the lakes and canals of Xochimilco. They can regenerate lost limbs, and live for ten to fifteen years if not caught and roasted for someone’s snack. Source: National Geographic.

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Tsumori Chisato cat shoes

Cat shoes by Tsumori Chisato, ¥12,600 at Humor.

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From The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & William Maxwell 1938-1978:

Niou

Let’s go down to the water.

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Mentally this is where I am today, contemplating the many moods of Maine seaweed, its life and loves. If you follow a path along the tree line on the right side of the photo above, on the edge of the goldenrod, it leads to an esoteric little beach on the island of North Haven. Last year I didn’t get out to the island until September and because of the way this summer will unfold, I think the same thing will happen this year. It seems intolerably far away.

Bring your sunglasses because the goldenrod is eye-searingly bright on clear day.

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The beach is down here, at the bottom of a sort of natural stairway. It doesn’t look like it but there are comfortable places to put your feet, and you won’t spill your coffee. At the top of the stairway there’s a skull keeping watch over things.

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There isn’t much to do down there. Sit on rocks, look at the water, watch boats go by. Lots of schooners and sailboats pass by on their way to or from Camden. There’s one of each in the distance just visible here.

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Looking at other islands is also an option. These are small islands so they’re best viewed large.

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They left out the bun.

Earlier this week the New York Times turned its attention to Hartford, Connecticut, which reportedly “could probably rival the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco as a wellspring of psychedelic imagery . . .” I was born there, so naturally I rolled my eyes at the obviousness of this observation. The Times is always so behind on this sort of thing. Yes, and?

NYT on Hartford pull quote

Indeed there are, everyone already knows it. And? Oh yes, the Mark Twain house. Which, like any Hartford kid, I visited regularly on school field trips. And which featured in a recurring dream I had several times between, I think, grades 2 through 5. (Kids in grades 6 and above don’t seem to get taken on as many field trips, probably because by then it’s difficult to prevent them sneaking off to enjoy the cigarettes and schnapps they purloined to make the bumpy bus ride worth its while).

Mark Twain house

photo by Andrew Sullivan for The New York Times

Mark Twain house floorplan

the house’s innards via marktwainhouse.org

It was popular during the Victorian era to keep a lock of a loved one’s hair as a memento after their death, often incorporated into a piece of jewelry. In the Mark Twain house there’s an entire bun under glass. I think it was his grandmother’s. In my memory it hangs above a mantle, though in reality it may be elsewhere. Wherever it is I’m sure it is still catching the eye of little Hartford girls and boys. It’s grotesque, dry and scraggly-looking and bereft of its owner. In the dream I’ve lingered behind in the downstairs room with the hair in it – the drawing room? – while my class has moved on to another part of the house. The glass falls to the floor, and a moment after it shatters, the bun uncoils and skitters away to hide under the nearest chair, making a faint rasping sound on the floor as it does. I am paralyzed with fear that if I move, it will come out and wind itself around my feet or, worse, crawl up one of my legs.

You can get your own wellspring-of-psychadelic-imagery buns on Etsy if you don’t already have some object that plays that role in your mind:

hideous Victorian buns

Lunar Camel Co. field guide to trees, chapter 2

I’ve blogged about trees kind of a lot. Some of my favorite specimens are here, here and here. My friend Jim asked if I’d seen any good ones lately and I said yes of course, the woods are full of them, and it is easier than ever to spot vague obscenities in the off-season, when there isn’t so much distracting greenery about.

treehole with stuff in it

We don’t have nearly enough trees in Manhattan so I’m thinking about doing something more public with my collection of them.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure B

I don’t mind showing them to you like this but they’d be much better big, 2′ by 3′ prints or somesuch.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure A

I’m recovering from surgery at the moment but looking forward to adding to my tree collection soon. It’s been a mild winter in my part of the world, so I haven’t really had to take a break from my observational field trips. I keep thinking every hike will be my last for the year, but there’s always another. I thought a November hike in CT would surely be my last until spring. The air smelled like snow, and with the dressing rooms closed for the season the little beach on the lake by the park’s entrance looked lonelier than ever.

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The trees looked lonely too, or maybe just self-conscious about their nudity.

the trees have eyes

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It was the time of year when allegedly pumpkin-flavored donuts come out. They seemed like an ideal post-hike snack but the actual flavor was closer to orange-colored holiday.

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This famous beardo ice-scraping system I admired at a local discount store probably would’ve made a better souvenir. As Mr. Lunar Camel Co. noted, “it looks like he has the ice under control.”

famous beardo heated ice scraping system

There were strangely compelling breakfast systems on offer too. Plastic crap, yes, but if bears could take crap like this back to their caves and have it there when they awaken from hibernation, they probably would. I think that is the idea, to settle in for a very long nap, a nap so long your hands will tingle with pins and needles for days afterward, leaving you unable to prepare breakfast without these contraptions.

outlet shopping breakfast section

Later in the season, when I went for a hike at Harriman State Park, I found an ideal hibernation spot, a small cave protected by icicles.

icicles of Harriman State Park, figure D

There’s all sorts of exciting, twinkly bits like this in the woods in the winter. You just have to wear more layers to go look at it. Here is something I’d never seen before, because — I am guessing — it only happens at very particular temperatures, when the ground is a certain temperature in relation to the air: spindly strands of ice poking out of the dirt. They’re strong enough that I could easily pluck a few out and set them on a nearby rock for looking-at with minimal breakage.

weird ice

mystery ice specimen

I’m going to read up on weird things like this until I can get out into the woods again. In my cart right now:

Winter Tree Finder

Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter by May T. Watts and Tom Watts. I like leafsnap but one needs a book for leafless moments.

Forest Forensics

Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. I always want to know what I’m looking at so I’m excited about this.

Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Not winter-specific; I just really like mosses.

Do you go hiking in the winter or do you prefer to look at trees on the internet until it’s warmer outside? Recommend any books or unusually cozy socks for me?

mid-week stationary field trip No. 3

This week’s stationary field trip chronicles an actual field trip: last Monday Mr. Lunar Camel Co. and I skipped work to go for a hike upstate. The first thing to do was pick up a Zipcar next door to this trendy urine spot.

OK, got it.

It doesn’t take long to get to THE COUNTRY and Route 22 is a nice way to get there.

out the car window

We stopped for lunch at McEnroe Organic Farm and left with bags full of apples and pumpkins and whatnot. Also a surprise pet — more on that later.

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We went to Rudd Pond State Park. I’m sure it gets crowded during the summer and on weekends but on a Monday afternoon we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Rudd Pond State Park

Can you believe they’re using this gorgeous old cabin to store tools instead of letting me do arty things inside? If you live in NY please write a letter to your representative about this!

cabin, Rudd Pond State Park

In the woods we encountered trees living together in unconvential relationships.

trees in love

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Also several incongruous signs. Upstate NY humor.

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Best of all, we found a deserted cabin with a cozy look-out spot.

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A stoned tree guards the lookout spot.

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We returned to the small beach on the lake near the park entrance just in time to watch the sun set and we stopped in a crazy taco place on the way home, but by then my battery was dead, sorry. I would have been shy about taking photos anyhow because the taco lady had an intimidating face full of makeup.

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The next day I discovered I’d brought home a new pet, a snail living in my farm stand herbs. I thought it was dead from being in the refrigerator but after a few moments it was crawling around on my kitchen table. It now lives in my lavender plant. I showed my snail to my friend Ami and he was afraid it might have babies and eat all my plants — when he was a kid he brought home some cool-looking pods he found in a field and they promptly hatched and filled his bedroom with hundreds of baby praying mantises — but I looked this up and it takes two snails to make more snails. I also learned that they “will communicate to the other snail for an average of two to twelve hours.”

new pet snail

The snail’s name is McEnroe after the farm it came from. It isn’t a he or a she because snails are hermaphrodites.

souvenir potatoes farmstand herbs

Stationary field trip No. 1 is here and No. 2 is here.

summer pledge drive

It is high time for a Lunar Camel Co. pledge drive! The pledging is for my aquatic pod fund. I would find it very relaxing to spend time in a boat-like pod, bobbing around in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Maine, but it’s probably not going to happen without reader support. Here is the aquatic pod I need:

here is the aquasphere I need

It looks like I’ll need a minimum of $100,000 to get ensconced in one. Cough up enough support and I will rummage my apartment for a coffee mug or tote bag to send you — surely that makes your contribution tax-deductible. I would greatly appreciate it if you could be as generous as circumstances permit because I know I’ll find my pod extra relaxing if it’s customized with a reclaimed teak deck and if the interior is upholstered with Josef Frank’s Navigaire and antique Japanese boro textiles. Stuff adds up, people.

Josef Frank - Navigare kimonoboy.com boro-1045-1

Navigare fabric, Just Scandinavian, $270 per yard; “extreme sashiko” boro at Kimonoboy’s Japanese Folk Textiles, $1,750.

Accordingly, I am prepared to invite contributors at the $10,000 and up level aboard for an intimate thank you-cocktail gathering as soon as the vessel is seaworthy as a small token of my considerable appreciation.

Minn0wbathers weed brief

Click on the weed swimsuit or the meta-beach bikini below to buy one to wear to my pod party.

We Are Handsome meta-beach bikini

my aquapod door is open for you

Summer is nearly over, I know. I’m thinking I’ll need the coming winter to make all of the necessary arrangements for my aquapod and have it built, and then next summer will be amazing. Eventually I want to have half a dozen pods or so, functioning as a sort of oceanographic sanitorium / artists’ colony, but I am pragmatic and economical and would be happy to get started with just one pod. Hammacher Schlemmer is selling the “aqua pod suite” pictured above for $91,100 but I wonder if it would be more cost-effective to have these pod people build me a one-off pod. The mini-bar included in the Hammacher Schlemmer model is a must but I could certainly do without central air. It may be possible to find an old pod and lovingly restore it. It was a vintage pod I saw on Wary Meyers that set my pod-planning in motion.

Wary Meyers unidentified floating object

click on the image to have a look at that aquapod

There is a question of where to anchor the thing. I have a place in mind but not a particular spot. I’ve been going to Vinalhaven — an island in Penobscot Bay about twelve miles off the coast of Rockland, Maine — for a week or two every summer for years, and this year I will be going to the nearby island of North Haven instead. I’m leaving the week after next and I will have aquatic pods on my mind. These are old photos from summers past but they will hopefully give you a sense that it’s an ideal place for an aquapod. It’s a pain in the ass to drive up the coast of Maine for hours and then get on a ferry but I think the privacy and the pine trees and the detachment from just about everything I have ever wanted to get away from are well worth the trouble.

on the ferry on the way

Lane's Island nature preserve North Haven

Don’t be shy about contributing at a lower level than the $10,000 Platinum Party Friend Circular Circle. Maybe you could give $500 and be a Driftwood Bounder. (Your name would be scratched into a piece of driftwood in my pod’s bar area).

In the meantime, here are some songs I’d play in my pod. I can’t cosily embed the 8tracks mix I made here in my blog post, but if you click on the player you will be taken to the place for listening to it.

click to listen to my aquatic pod pledge drive mixtape

aquatic pod pledge drive mixtape

Glenda Collins, “It’s Hard To Believe It”

Josef K, “Sorry For Laughing” (Postcard 7″ version)

Black Randy And Metrosquad, “I Slept In An Arcade”

Anika, “Terry”

Ruth, “Polaroid roman photo”

Magazine, “Boredom” (Peel session)

The Fall, “Glam Racket – Star” (Peel session)

Adam & the Ants, “Cartrouble (Parts 1 & 2)”

Alien City, “Cathode Rays”

Can, “She Brings The Rain (From ‘Bottom-Ein Grober Graublauer Vogel’)”

Marcos Valle, “Minha Voz Zira Do Sol Da America”

Television, “Carried Away”

The Breeders, “Only in 3’s”

Young Marble Giants, “Eating Noddemix”

Yays & Nays, “Nature Is My Mother”

The Kinks, “Animal Farm”

Orange Juice, “A Sad Lament”

If you don’t have time to listen to the whole mixtape, at least check out the Black Randy and the Metrosquad song. It’s so good.

If you are wondering about that Glenda Collins, yes, it was written and produced by Joe Meek, so that is why it sounds like a Joe Meek song. Ready Steady Girls! says that after he shot himself, Glenda “took an office job and only returned to singing in cabaret and at weddings.”

Thankfully Adam Ant hasn’t gone that way. As a tiny schoolgirl I loved him — in one of my elementary school photos, 3rd or 4th grade, I wore an Adam Ant badge pinned to the outfit my mother dressed me in, and to this day I am grateful to have grown up thinking it is perfectly normal for men to wear a hussar’s jacket and lashings of makeup — but I’d never heard Dirk Wears White Sox until recently. It’s actually really good. I’d been meaning to give it a listen for years because I love The Monochrome Set and I knew some of them had been Ants. It’s darker and artier than I was expecting. It sounds a bit like a Wire album at moments. I think you should have it in your collection.

Two of the songs in this mix came to me via Allegory of Allergies: Alien City’s “Cathode Rays” (which I stumbled across in 2009, and I still listen to the album all the time), and Yays & Nays, “Nature Is My Mother” (which I listen to far less often, but appreciate as a perfect car song for driving to or from a stoned hike, and probably to or from an aquatic pod too).

The Marcos Valle comes via the former Mr. Lunar Camel Co.’s wine people, some of whom are really into Marcos Valle. You should ask your wine people what they are listening to; they might have something great for you.

north fork

When I said I was going to the beach last week my destination was Orient Point, at the end of the north fork of Long Island. I’d never been there before and was surprised and thrilled that it’s relatively easy to find a deserted or nearly-deserted beach there. I feel like I can tell you people — you lot are mostly continental or English and you’ve got your own lovable beaches much closer to home — but don’t tell anyone else.

let's go down there

Sometimes the nicest thing is to not have anyone else around.

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It’s all the more exciting to find a deserted beach with interesting structures on it, like this driftwood teepee-cabana.

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Or to find a beach where a sailboat with flashy silver sails appears on the horizon. My friend thought this was very Matthew Barney-ish but it remained too far away to see whether the mast was made of vaseline.

silver sailboat in the distance

Driftwood legs, agreed? The navel is low but those are legs.

driftwood legs

Our favorite beach find was this oceanographic sofa, where thoughtful beachcombers can sit comfortably and think about special rocks or driftwood wants and needs.

IMG-20110821-00150 Lolo

My friends were directed to the beach with the oceanographic sofa earlier in the week, when they arrived and discovered that the rental kitchen lacked a cutting board — people at the Orient Country Store knew it would be a good place to forage for a driftwood cutting board. Two designers in our party were inspired by the tremendous driftwood selection and made a chair too. It wasn’t quite complete when I took this photo but you get the idea.

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If you want to commission a driftwood chair or set of chairs I could probably hook you up. It would take a week or so to make so there’s the cost of lodging to factor in, plus me to document the process, plus an assistant for me, but think of how amazing your new chairs would be. Seriously, think about it.

You can see one of our driftwood cutting boards in the photo below of some farmstand herbs I made focaccia with. The focaccia was initially a disaster (it took three women wielding spatulas and knives to dislodge it from the pan it clung to, then was successfully resuscitated in breadcrumb form and used to stuff tiny peppers) but the driftwood cutting board was an unqualified success and we brought it to the Country Store to show it off to Miriam, one of the proprietors. Manhattan desperately needs small, friendly Urban Stores where people can exchange useful information and buy whatever little things they have a pressing need for, some candles or seltzer or a slice of peach-brown butter tart still warm from the oven. We have bodegas of course but I don’t think I’ve ever obtained any truly useful information under fluorescent lights because no one wants to chat when everyone looks hideous. Plus there is never a front porch and they are not run by bakers. There are some people who built a porch on their roof in the West Village and there’s been at least one gallery porch I recall, so I don’t see why this couldn’t happen.

farmstand herbs

Also nice to have around: farms and farmstands and wineries. Here is a lavender farm where bees live in lavender beehives.

lavender farm

I didn’t see any lavender honey for sale but we did come home with a good-looking melon. Russians pickle the rind and other people make things with the seeds, but who has ideas about how to make curly watermelon tails into something?

our melon

We didn’t eat the melon tail but we did have a terrific salad with flowers and pickled beets in it, and afterwards I thought about starting a new food blog that has only remnants of food on it. There’s probably already a Tumblr called Fuck Yeah Plate Study. Hmm.

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pink remnants after beets

We didn’t spend the entire time eating salads; there was also a fair amount of bicycling around and looking at things like ospreys in their nests.

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There was a sandy beach much easier on the feet than the rocky ones we visited but it has umbrella rules.

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Do you prefer to read serious or fluffy books on the beach? I don’t think I have ever had a preference. It’s easy to get distracted by people-watching / -listening but sometimes little distractions are the perfect punctuation for serious sentences.

reading at the beach

We stayed near a marina where children sometimes practice sailing in tiny white sailboats. A fine thing to watch from a porch, but I would not want to be responsible for keeping them from heading out to sea. If someone had sat seven-years-old me in a boat just my size I probably would not be here writing this blog; I’d be on a small, grubby island wearing a seaweed turban and blogging about that instead.

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at the Boggsville Boatel

I was so moved by those amasan photos I found that I decided to get my sea legs ASAP at the Boggsville Boatel, a hospitality experience / art experience happening at Marina 59 in Far Rockaway, Queens this summer.

BOATEL

Actually no, this wasn’t a spontaneous thing — it was kind of difficult to get a reservation after the NY Times article came out, and I was ridiculously excited when my time on the waiting list finally paid off with a night aboard The Crumb. It did not disappoint! We had a genuine seafaring adventure and the very next day we became big in Japan as a result.

aboard The Crumb

It was raining when we arrived at the Boatel so there would be no movie or lecture at the boat-in theater that evening, but we had a terrific time hanging out in our boat.

our bell aboard The Crumb

It has a very cozy cabin (entered via a sweet little curtained door), a giraffe mascot, and some inspiring art.

The Crumb

inside The Crumb

inspirational art in The Crumb

(We’re pretty sure those tuff ladies were part of a sea-going rival gang to the Van Dykes).

where we slept in The Crumb

We slept in that sleep-space there, in the bow. It’s dark, I know. There’s no electricity in these boats. We brought a lantern and a flashlight but didn’t use them — there were plenty of candles in our cabin, along with a battery-operated boombox and a handwritten note explaining that drunk guests would be sent to bed rather than fished out of the spaces between the boats. We had plenty of sheets and pillows and, most importantly, no leaks. It rained all night but the atmosphere at the Boatel was charming, lit with just the blue of the neon sign and the orange glow of candlelight in everyone’s cabins. We drank prosecco and my friend iPhone-DJed Northern Soul, and I took a terrible photo with my Blackberry.

nighttime at the Boatel

At some point there was a liquor run with other guests. The neighborhood is what one might call seaside scuzzy — there are housing projects next to the marina on one side and a school bus parking lot on the other, or possibly a labor camp for kids who were really bad on the bus — but we went out in a group and nothing bad happened. To give you a feel for the surrounding environs, my friend and I wandered over to a pizza place we’d noticed on our way to the liquor store the following afternoon, and the pizza didn’t look so good so we stood by the window for a moment, wondering whether we ought to try the Chinese place across the street instead. We hadn’t been looking out the window for more than a few seconds before another pizza customer asked “what’s wrong, the police out there?”

It really is pretty amazing that there’s an incredibly cool marina with all sorts of fascinating arty stuff going on one block from the A train. It makes me very happy to live within a subway ride of this place. (A long ride, but still). It’s exciting in a way that very few parts of NYC are anymore, and Rockaway Beach is just a block away from the train in the opposite direction.

The next morning we awoke to a sky still peachy around the edges and promptly went out to sea in a rowboat.

morning at the Boatel

The Princess Ladyboat

rowboat

heading out to sea

No, no, it’s dumb to go to sea in a rowboat. We just went to have a look at a rusty old abandoned tugboat.

abandoned tugboat

And to look at nature. Those are mussels there, and a crab way in the back. We didn’t get crabs in Queens because we’re entirely / mostly vegetarian, but we saw people getting crabs all day long. Note the oars for the boat are made from police barricades — an excellent use for them.

mussels

It’s Queens so the wildlife is all mixed up. In addition to mussels and crabs we saw beautiful shorebirds in the marina and at the beach, one big fat rat (which is sometimes reassuring to New Yorkers, being a reliable indicator one has not strayed far from home), one pet iguana on a leash (sunbathing atop a parked car near the beach), and, living in the marina, a family of goats. The baby one there was born at the marina in May and is already really good at doing goat stuff (i.e. eating trash). There’s a dad goat too; later on we walked past the goat family again and he ran over to stand next to the baby.

marina goats

I’m leaving out an important part of our day here, which is that before we went out in the rowboat, Connie — artist Connie Hockaday, creator of the Boatel — told us a Japanese teevee crew would be coming by that afternoon to do a live broadcast, and we should stick around and meet them. OK yes!

In the meantime we went to Rockaway beach.

Rockaway Beach

vinyl forever

YES.

fat little beach bird

On our way back from the beach, after not getting in trouble with the law at the pizza place, we bought some sugarcane juice from this guy at a hefty white people-mark-up. I think. My friend is part Mexican but doesn’t look it and she thought this was a terrible injustice but I wanted some juice, and sort of didn’t mind contributing to the local economy.

sugarcane juice guy

Have you been wondering where did we go pee in this crazy place, this place WNYC referred to as a “floating flophouse”? Jesus. We weren’t roughing it that rough. Marina 59 has a really nice little building with very clean, very new-looking bathrooms and a shower. No fish-scaling allowed!

absolutely no fish scaling in here

When we returned from the beach the teevee crew had arrived and were starting to set up for their broadcast. They were from NHK, which is the PBS of Japan. They were all really nice people. I think you have to be pretty good-natured to work in or on live television because all sorts of strange shit could go so wrong. We made like teevee starlets and retired to our trailer (CRUMB) to practice our lines and drink beers.

the Japanese TV crew setting up

There’s the NHK presenter practicing her lines aboard the deck of the Ms. Nancy Boggs while we do the same in The Crumb.

NHK TV host

We explored our boat a bit more thoroughly in the daylight. We think it’s probably from the 1970s because the sleeping area has what appears to be an authentic vintage 1970s sex strap. I’m not quite sure how it works but I bet one of you people will know. Is there an attachment?

in our boat

We also found a bottle of Entertainer’s Secret, so we had everything we needed to become famous.

found in our boat

We toured the other boats too. Ours was our favorite but the Ms. Nancy Boggs is a close second. It’s got a cozy seating area, a spacious sleep area, and a sympathetic gazelle.

inside the Ms. Nancy Boggs

inside the Ms. Nancy Boggs

We did a couple of run-throughs with the NHK crew before the broadcast. It was an action-packed set-up: it would begin with the presenter sitting on the deck of the Ms. Nancy Boggs, follow her to an interview with Connie on the Zenobia, and end at the boat-in theater, where I was having an infinite BBQ. There the presenter would ask me how I liked the Boatel, and naturally I would say it is lovely, transporting, etc. My friend sat next to me having infinite beers as I piled BBQ goodies onto her plate. On my other side was Ari the marina owner and Milly the marina dog, who was exceptionally good about not snatching anything off the grill. Behind us a couple of kids from the neighborhood did infinite somersaults into the water, and on the other side there were some people doing an infinite rowboat tour.

NHK TV crew

I’ll update this post with a link to the NHK clip as soon as I can find one. Apparently it was seen by millions and millions of viewers! It’s got to turn up on the internet sooner or later.

If you have an interest in happenings on boats, you really ought to read Log of the S.S. The Mrs Unguentine by Stanley Crawford. It’s one of my favorite books and I thought of it often while at the Boatel. It’s about a couple who spend forty years on a gigantic, impossible, heavily-customized barge, never once going ashore. They plant a garden on board their ship, build an enormous greenhouse around it, and, if my memory is correct, eventually replace all of the leaves on all of the plants with handmade glass ones, for some compelling reason or other. And so forth. It’s relentlessly inventive and beautifully written, and it also happens to be an accurate depiction, somehow, of what it’s like to be very close to someone — at sea with them and them alone — and not have any idea What Is Going On With Us / What Is Going On With You.

Log of the S.S. The Mrs Unguentine

The Boatel is all booked up for the rest of the season but you don’t have to be an overnight guest to attend the boat-in theater, and there are tons of other interesting things happening at Marina 59 and elsewhere on the water this summer. Go!