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Valley Cove, Acadia National Park

The first week of September my husband and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary with our customary trip to Acadia National Park.  We camped overnight and did a lot of walking.  By day two our aging knees wanted a break.  We opted for a nice, easy morning hike.  There are not many easier walks in Acadia than the Fire Road to Valley Cove, a one-half mile path to the ocean.  The valley in the name refers to the space between two small mountains, Flying and St. Sauveur.

The trail is wide, graveled and well maintained.  Yet, it is a quiet and isolated spot, seldom frequented.  Trees push close, providing shade from bright mid-morning sun.  Cicadas and crickets add their high-pitched music to the ripe September day.  A gentle breeze stirs the treetops.  Gulls cry high overhead, blending with the occasional sharp call of a bird-of-prey.  Peregrine falcons nest nearby, although they don’t tend to make much noise.  The park is home to osprey, eagles and various hawks.

The predominant tree species is red spruce.  Several squirrels rustle in the undergrowth collecting spruce cones.  Nuthatches make petulant noises at one another as they scuttle along the tree trunks.  The air is fragranced with the scent of fallen pine needles baking in the sun.  In a few short minutes the end of the trail is near.  A view opens of the sheer face of St. Sauveur, a 679 foot edifice that stands with its toes in the ocean. 

Soon the cove is in sight.  Access to the shore is by a newly constructed bridge and set of stairs.  Trail repair is ongoing in this area.  The loop to access the summit of St. Sauveur from the cove is closed due to trail deterioration.  My hat is off to the workers, many of them volunteers, who haul material and labor mightily to maintain the hiking access at Acadia.

Valley Cove is part of Somes Sound, a deep inlet of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the two sides of Mt. Desert Island.  This beautiful place is on the “quiet side” of Acadia, away from the throngs visiting sights such as Otter Cliffs, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond and the Spring House on the northeast arm of the park.

While the southwest side sees plenty of visitors, we had the cove to ourselves this early fall day.  The ocean is at its warmest now, although the temperature would be considered bracing by many.  The clear water, slate and granite ledge, and coarse sand invite wading.  On a hot day, this would be an excellent spot for a dip in the sea.Gazing northeast, the height of land to the left in the foreground is St. Sauveur, then the flank of Acadia Mountain (681 ft) and on the right side, across Somes Sound, is Norumbega Mountain (852 ft.)  There are over twenty mountains on Mt. Desert, quite a feat for a little over 100 square miles of area!  What we see today are just the stumps, the remainders of much higher mountains that were ground down by glacial ice sheets.  The view to the south is of the side of Flying Mountain.  At 284 feet, it is the smallest peak in Acadia.

 

 

 

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The Scent of a Human

Foster kittens six weeks old

Many animals are sensitive to airborne chemicals in the environment.  It is a matter of safety to be able to quickly and accurately detect particles that are the product of fire, for instance, or to sense the presence of a predator or the reek of decay.  Smell is used to distinguish edibles and identify friends.  Humans, along with most mammals, have a strong sense of smell.

Some humans abuse that sense through smoking or are unfortunate enough to lose sensitivity due to allergies chronically clogging the nasal passages.  I recently read of a study that determined humans have very sensitive olfactory abilities, nearing those of dogs, that should not be dismissed.  Our reactions to aromatic compounds often occur at a visceral level, escaping our conscious notice.

For our closest domestic companions, dogs and cats, scent is an important means of communication.  We know this because both species have anal glands.  Sniffing under the tail is a social behavior for cats and dogs.  Observe a pet cat or dog as it encounters another member of the household menagerie.  A quick sniff of the nether regions leads to a visible body relaxation for both animals if the newcomer is a known friend.  There is almost a language of the bottom, as it were.

This sensitivity to aromatic organic compounds in cats was markedly demonstrated to me just yesterday.  I am currently fostering two kittens who are living in our home with their very feral mother, Moon.  The kittens are not feral, they adore humans.  Both have a natural affinity for me since I was the first human to become a permanent fixture in their short young lives.  One kitten is a black and white ball of adventure.  I suspect it’s a boy, although it is so dark under the tail I’m still not totally sure.  The other baby cat is a more sedate, pensive little yellow tiger female.  She has always been very snuggly with me.  She was the first to cuddle against my neck with a rattling purr.

This kitten is especially drawn to my lap.  She will run to me when she is frightened or unsure and press for comfort against my inner thighs if I’m seated crossed-legged on the floor.  That is her favorite place on my body.  If I’m standing, she will settle on my foot.  She sleeps contentedly in my lap.  I find this sweet and heartbreakingly endearing since she will soon enough have to leave my foster home for a permanent place and people of her own.  Imagine my despair when yesterday she suddenly wanted nothing to do with me!

It became quickly apparent that little girl kitten did not wish to be near me that morning.  I could think of no reason for the altered behavior.  She would not come close to me on the floor.  If I tried to hold her, she struggled and squirmed mightily to escape my clutches.  The kitten refused my every advance.  Her little “brother,” meanwhile, behaved as usual:  boisterous, reckless and full of antics.  Little sister just sat morosely off to the side with her tail curled around her feet, staring at me.  If I reached tentatively toward her, she fled in horror.  This behavior lasted all day.  By evening I was convinced the sweet lover kitten now hated me.

The look of a morose, disgruntled kitten

Late that night, as I was bathing, I was struck with sudden inspiration when I noticed the scent of my new perfume.  It was the first day I had worn Lancome Hypnose.  Since the kittens arrived, four weeks ago, I’ve only used one scent, a lily-of-the-valley sort of fragrance, JMC, Jessica McClintock.  Could it be the kitten’s response was triggered by the change in fragrance?  This morning I applied JMC again.  The main pulse point I use is the area of the inner thigh that corresponds to the underarm.

Favorite area on human

The change in the kitten’s response was amazing!  From her first whiff of me, everything was alright again.  She cozied up and even rubbed her tiny nose on mine.  When we sat on the floor, she claimed my lap immediately.  Her relief at the return to normal was obvious.  The good human was back.  Not the evil, strange smelling imitation that assaulted her the day before with demands for affection.

Ahhh, the right smell, the good human is back!

This lesson on the sensitivity of the six-week-old kitten nose is not lost on me.  In the future I will swap perfumes slowly, blending the fragrances for a couple days, so the little feline can still recognize me.  I will also vary the scents I use to teach the kittens that the same human may have a different smell and still be safe.  We do not have anal glands (thank goodness!!) but we each do have a particular aroma that is memorized by our furry housemates.  I suspect that our scent, more than any other feature, is what our cat and dog pets rely upon to distinguish their humans.

Tudor House, Margate, UK

Tucked onto a quiet way called King Street in the seaside town of Margate in Kent is a neat house built around 1525 and maintained as a museum.  The Tudor House has withstood all the centuries of storms, modernization and even a close strike during the second World War when the place next door was destroyed by a bomb.  It is one of the oldest mostly complete buildings on the Isle of Thanet.

The close-set timber frame construction is typical for the late 15th to early 16th century.  The timbers are likely oak. There is evidence the building underwent some changes early on when the ground floor in the front was extended to be more in line with the first floor above.  In Tudor design the first floor usually overhangs the ground floor by several feet.

The house was subdivided into three units and covered with plaster and lathe in the 1770s.  In the 1930s it was scheduled to be demolished to make way for new housing.  Some of the locals realized the old place had historical significance and informed the authorities.  An inspector of ancient buildings soon comprehended the significance of the house and it was spared.  Throughout the 1950s the Tudor house was carefully restored.

The original timbers of the frame and the stones of the foundation are visible in their weathered condition.  Over the years, the house leaned a bit toward the front and one side.  It also settled a little when the bomb hit beside it.  Luckily, the building did not sustain any major damage from the strike.  Metal strapping and bars have been discreetly applied for support and the structure is stable.

The layout consists of a long, narrow entryway leading on the right to the main hall with a large fireplace (beside which my mum is having a break,) and on the left a servants’ area.

The main hall has a ceiling about eight feet high while the domestics’ space (pictured below) has a clearance of barely five and one-half feet. The doorway that the photo was taken through is just over four feet high, rather claustrophobic for most modern humans.

In its time, this house would have been a splendid manor, the home of local gentry.  The two chimneys, second floor and glazed windows were at the cutting edge of residential architectural technology.  The beautiful leaded windows, some with colored glass inserts, are original.  Much of the old wood paneling, some carved, also remains.Beyond the main hall is the parlor where the family would gather around another great fireplace.  The floor is all flagstone and a large set of windows opens onto the front garden and street.  The ceiling has ornate plaster decoration.

A narrow circular stair leads to the next floor.  Here the family would have slept, dressed, had sitting space and stored their clothes and other belongings.  The toilets would have been outside, of course, except for chamber pots.  The chimney and additional fireplaces provide heat upstairs.

The second story is floored with massive boards at least 18″ wide.  There are three large rooms and several closet-like spaces upstairs.  The ceilings are high, soaring to twelve feet or more.

The last room upstairs holds a collection of period costume.  The mannequin beside the doorway is about 5 ft tall.  Several lovingly reproduced ladies gowns are displayed along with hats, bags and undergarments.

The cellars are reached through a trap door.  These were used for cool storage of food and drink.  A small brew house associated with the main building stands in the back garden.  The brew made for home use was probably kept in barrels in the cellar.

The grounds include a Tudor knot garden, although it is unknown what the original gardens featured.  The north side of the house was built with wings that are completely gone.  When it was constructed, the home was situated on the banks of a brook that ran into the harbor.  No evidence of the waterway remains.

The Tudor House had some close calls over its life and is lucky to still be here today.  It provides an invaluable example of ancient construction and an enjoyable place to visit.

Visiting Birchington, Kent, UK

I’m in England, visiting my mum who lives in Birchington in Kent.  This part of the country is known as the Garden of England.  The grass is green and flowers are blooming here in February.  This area receives a minor dusting of snow on occasion, but the temperatures rarely dip below freezing.  My mum lives in a ground floor unit of the building above.Birchington is on the English Channel, near the mouth of the Thames.  It is not surprising to see gulls in abundance.  Except these gulls have names:  Molly and Golly.  They have nested on this roof for years, producing one or two babies each season.  My mum feeds them scraps and bits of cat food.  Every morning this is the view out the kitchen window.  Molly and Golly begging for breakfast.  If the food isn’t produced quickly enough, these pushy birds will fly down and tap on the cat flap in my mum’s door to get her attention.  I hope the birds don’t figure out how to use the flap, or they will be in the kitchen at feeding time.My mum’s housing development is an easy ten minute walk from the main street of Birchington, called Station Road (it leads to the railway station.)  Many of the buildings are quite old.  Here is found a nice range of shopping.  It’s good to see most of the shops occupied and busy.  Once there were five banks in town, but they have all closed.  There are five charity shops providing selections of donated items.  Once in a while I score a real find, some piece of English pottery, jewelry or flatware to fill any empty spots in my suitcases.This is The Square in Birchington.  The most notable features on The Square are the round-about, All Saints, the Norman church (originally built in the 12th century and restored over the years,) and the Powell Arms pub.  The pub has been there since at least the early 1800s, likely earlier, and was probably built on the site of an old hostelry.  It is named for the Powells, a wealthy family who lived on a nice estate called Quex, just outside the village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birchington’s main street feels quaint and homey.  The old buildings, many friendly, locally-run small businesses and village atmosphere make browsing the shops an enjoyable pastime.

At the other end of the street from the Powell Arms is the Sea View, a pub, restaurant and inn built in 1865 and enlarged at the turn of the century.  Across the street is a small green where the crocuses are blooming.

One of my favorite spots in Birchington is the Smuggler’s Restaurant and pub on the Canterbury Road.  The building dates to the 1600s and has a snug and welcoming atmosphere and delicious roast of lamb.

When I visit the village to see my mum, it always seems like a little homecoming to step off the coach (also known as the National Express bus) on The Square in Birchington.

Dug Jars

These old Dundee marmalade pots were found in a trash pit on property in Wiscassett, Maine that was recently purchased by my brother.  This summer while he was excavating in preparation for erecting power poles he dug out these jars plus a couple dozen old Coca Cola bottles and some assorted other odds and ends.

My brother piled the finds in 5 gallon buckets and brought them to me.  They were all covered and filled with thick clay.  After a considerable amount of cleaning, and soaking in bleach, these pots look fairly presentable.  They have some staining from rust, a few small chips and a couple are crazed.  These and the rest of the goodies from the pit date to around 1949-1955.

For some reason, old pottery marmalade pots are sought after.  Perhaps people like them for decorating.  They measure about 4.25″ tall and would be useful to hold things like pens or coins.  These five recently sold at auction in my eBay shop for $70.  A pretty good return on a few hours of elbow grease.  Thanks brother for the generous gift!

I still have to clean the Coke bottles before they can be listed.  They are all from Maine or New England.  Those bottles are not likely to be as valuable as the marmalade pots, but they will sell well.  I also have listed some interesting old toiletry bottles and jars from the pit.  They were quite dirty.  Some still contained remnants of the original product including the hair pomade and hormonal cream.  The contents were black and sticky, a real joy to clean out.  These all are from the same era, the early 1950s.

The pieces are, clock-wise from the top left, a Lentheric aftershave or cologne bottle, a Tame by Toni creme hair rinse bottle, milk glass jar for Paglo Pompom hair pomade, with real lanolin (I’d love to smear that stuff in my hair!) and, Helena Rubenstein Estrogenic Hormone cream, purported to reduce wrinkles.  The Tame bottle says “the new invisible hair dressing that rinses on.”  Tame was a new product in 1953.

My brother also dug out some old locally bottled soda bottles that have already sold.  I have listed some household bottles for Clorox bleach, Vermont Maid syrup and perhaps an old Milk of Magnesia bottle that is dark blue glass, a couple old milk bottles from Maine and an amber bottle that once held Felton’s rum.  He also found the lid for a French pate pot and the enameled cast iron top for a Volcanic color Le Creuset roasting pan.  The roasting lid is too corroded to rescue, unfortunately.

Altogether, the trash pit was a good find with some well preserved treasures from mid-century America.  It is interesting to see what sorts of products a particular family in Wiscasset used during the early 1950s.  Perhaps not as exciting as excavating a medieval, Roman or pre-historic trash midden, but entertaining enough for me!

Crystal Glaze

The ice storm two days ago left everything on the farm glazed in a layer of shimmering crystal.  Every twig and blade gleams in the sun, a fantastic winter landscape.  The slightest breeze sets the branches swaying against one another in myriad musical chimes.

The day after the storm was warm and some of the ice melted.  An ice coating about 1/4″ thick remains, bending limbs and boughs dangerously toward the snapping point.  Every so often, an overloaded branch breaks with a resounding crack.  The supple birch trees bow to the ground with the weight.  Most will never stand straight again.  We will probably have to cut this birch as it leans right over the driveway now.

We lost power for over two and a half hours during the storm.  Some still have not gotten their electrical supply restored.  Dinner the night of the storm was ham and cheese sandwiches by candlelight instead of the turkey stroganoff I had planned.

The day after the storm I drove to town.  In one place, a downed, dead electric line snaked across most of my travel lane.  The stressed-out utility workers merely cut the line and left it to collect later.  Large trees were uprooted and hung dangerously over the road in other areas.  Our neighbor lost several major branches from his pine that fell close to the road.

Although the ice can be dangerous and a serious inconvenience, for a brief time it turns even the most mundane landscape into a glittering wonderland before the temperatures rise and the glaze drips away into memories.

Ducktrap River, Lincolnville, Maine

Today’s gloomy snow, sleet and freezing rain inspire memories of a warm, sunny early September day spent hiking along the Ducktrap River of Camden Hills State Park in Lincolnville.  With temperatures in the low 80sF, blue skies and a negligible breeze, the weather was perfect for my husband and me to enjoy a belated anniversary get-away.  Lincolnville is a small, picturesque blip on Rte 1 just above Camden.

Ducktrap Harbor was named for its peculiar topography.  Ducks entering the area could be trapped by cutting off their exit.  The high trees surrounding the water did not allow the birds to achieve enough altitude to escape hunters’ guns.  Ducktrap River flows into the harbor and then into the Atlantic Ocean.  This river is one of only eight in Maine where native wild salmon spawn.  It is a pristine waterway running through protected woodland.

Tall, old-growth trees crowd the trails, their roots throwing up obstacles for careless hikers.  To walk the path safely requires constant monitoring of foot placement.  The air is scented with a fragrance of conifer needles baking in the sun, moist soil and moss and the faint tang of the nearby ocean.  The silence of the trees is disturbed by frequent rustlings of birds and small mammals in the underbrush.  Birds call from the branches overhead, their songs mingling with the distant cries of gulls and other seabirds soaring above the canopy.

An easy twenty-minute walk (notwithstanding the ankle-turning roots) leads to the river.  In September the water level is low, exposing the bed of granite, basalt and metamorphic rock.  Water pools between the rocks providing cool sanctuaries for schools of tiny fish.  In places the rocks are slippery with damp moss, while in other spots tenacious flowering wild annuals display their blooms.  Cicadas whine in the early autumn heat.  The water is a refreshing treat for hot hikers’ feet.

Farther upstream, the incline of the land levels, reducing the water to a sluggish flow amid earthy banks and pocket wetlands.  The trail meanders along the banks, crossing small, dry streams.  Sometimes the way veers deeper into the woods, leading through thick stands of fern.  Unusual red bracket fungi sprout from the trunks of occasional dying trees.  The forest floor is carpeted with moss, partridgeberry, wild cranberry and wintergreen.  

The trail finally turns from the river, circling over a small hill, past the Tanglewood 4-H summer camp (empty in September,) traversing a thick forest of maple, birch, oak, pine, spruce and balsam.  Hikers must use care when reading the trail map or a wrong turning can lead to an extended walk back to the starting point and the waiting car.  Overall, a most enjoyable afternoon’s excursion, and fodder for a lovely winter daydream.