Saturday, May 30, 2009

The last page

I'm an early riser and part of my ritual each morning is pushing the button on the coffee pot that I loaded the night before. This morning when I got up at 5 a.m. the button was already on and the coffee was almost all gone. Next to the pot was a note. Archie had been up late painting the kitchen floor and had needed the coffee to stay awake.

Well, he was painting the floor because his big brother Ethan is coming in this weekend and we are trying to spruce things up a bit. Ethan is coming in this weekend because we are embarking on graduation week around here and that brings me to my story.

I noticed that the note was written on the last page of the note book.

Many years ago our lives changed. My children's father and I got divorced. It was a rotten time for everyone involved and none of us like to talk about it and I'm not going to now. But, suffice to say, our lives changed and when lives change sometimes we want to hang on to things--maybe because we are afraid of more change or maybe in order to validate that we are alive--who knows what the psychological motivation is but one thing that we began doing was keeping a notebook in the kitchen drawer that was dedicated only to notes to one another. No more notes written on scraps of paper and thrown away. I have ten notebooks filled with notes from 2002 to the present.

"I'm at soccer practice can you bring me gatorade"

"I'm at the movies with MH"

"Can you wake me up at 9?"

"Supper's at 6, we're having chicken"

None of the notes were significant. None of those notes changed anyone's life or will make it into the archives of a university but they are the notes of our lives for the past 7 years. When one notebook would get full, we would start another and I will keep them all forever.

And Archie's note from last night--on the last page of the notebook--the youngest child a week from graduation and leaving home. It feels significant somehow--a little bit like a big hug saying we made it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Franklin County

As I have written about before, I handle most of the defense work for juveniles in Franklin County. In our county, juvenile court is held for half a day ten times a year--I guess that probably translates into the pleasant fact that there is not a lot of juvenile crime in the area. That is a good thing.

But whether or not it is prevalent or serious by big city standards, it is almost always heart-breaking. The purpose of the juvenile statutes is to rehabilitate and to that end I think of those of us who are part of the legal process as a team. The Judge who remembers the kids before her and who has high standards for their behavior both in her courtroom and in between court appearances, the Juvenile probation officer who knows each child individually and helps to formulate and execute a plan to assist them to help themselves, the District Attorney who has a good sense of humor and can be tough or tender as the situation warrants, and me the motherly defense attorney.

So, today is juvenile day. While I don't always look forward to dealing with the situations that the juveniles have managed to get themselves into, I always look forward to working with such a dedicated team and attempting to help untangle young lives.

Our District Attorney was featured several years ago in an award winning indie movie called Knee Deep. You can watch the trailer here. The movie is an extremely artistic documentary of a very unusual attempted murder case It has been on PBS a few times--I highly recommend this movie both for its content, its artistic value and the sociological issues that it raises.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Adventures with Jaeger--Part 2

So after retrieving the kayak from the Androscoggin, the boys put it in our barn and waited for the snow to melt.

It wasn't long before the snow melted and Archie and Brent were taking the kayaks on trips down the river with the cat along for companionship. Brent is Archie's best friend and has been living with us for the past three months and as honorary family member, I've been letting him use my kayak. My kayak is slightly bigger than Archie's and has a watertight storage container built into the bow. Jaeger seemed to like the excursions, he would sit in a lap or if he wanted to see the scenery, he would perch on the bow. The boys would stop often and go onto the bank for him to eat and drink.

One day after school, Archie decided that they should take the kayaks up the Webb River and float down to Dixfield. The Webb is a smaller river with more rocks and rapids and flows into the Androscoggin near our house.

So up the river they went in a friend's pickup truck and they put in just over the Carthage line. The water was flat and peaceful, the day was sunny, Jaeger spent time jumping from the bow of one kayak to the bow of the other. One time he spotted a flock of Canada Geese on the shore and jumped into the water, swam 20 feet to shore and chased the much larger, meaner and heavier birds. It was an idyllic Spring day--two boys, a river and a cat.

Then the water started to get a little choppy. As a precaution, they opened the watertight hatch on Brent's kayak and without the top on put Jaeger in. He peered out from his hatch as the boys paddled.

Then just as they were about to enter a rapid, Brent shut the hatch. Somehow as he followed Archie through the rapid, he capsized and was dumped out to navigate the rapid without a kayak seriously injuring his knee on the rocks. Archie who was in front, looked back, saw the capsized boat and his friend going through the rapids and realizeded that Jaeger was stuck inside the capsized boat. He left his friend to fend for himself and swam back upstream to rescue the cat. The kayak was jammed upside down between some rocks. He wasn't able to right the kayak from the downstream side as the vacuum pressure was too strong, but he managed to get to the upstream side and break the seal and right the boat. He opened the hatch and Jaeger popped right into his arms, right as rain.

So, Jaeger was safe. Archie put him to sit on a rock in the middle of the river while he got the empty kayak back to shore and then went to check on Brent who had pulled himself to the opposite shore. Brent was not able to move his knee (and even now 4 weeks later is still limping). It took Archie 20 minutes to get Brent across the river where they realized that both of their cell phones had been submerged. Jaeger was retrieved from the rock and left to stay with Brent while Archie hiked off to find a house and a phone and someone with a truck to get them all home.

What was there to say as they shared this story with me? Words failed me, I could only listen in amazement and relief that everyone was alright (with the exception of Brent's knee).

I like the part of the story best, where the water is calm and the cat is swimming and chasing Canada Geese --pretty music in my mind for those scenes but the rapids and the injuries feel like they are accompanied by loud dissonant chords.

All is well that ends well, I guess.

Jaeger still canoes and kayaks and goes fishing, camping and hiking. He is their companion and not at all an ordinary cat.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A weekend delayed

Months ago, while winter held sway in the hills of western Maine, one of my favorite writers and her spouse (both of whom my spouse and I are proud to call friends) planned to visit and shake off the doldrums of their inhospitable city in our lovely winter woods. We e-mailed and phoned and planned for the weekend, but at the last minute, had to reschedule due to a persistent flu in our house. Sadly, while we coughed our way back to health, they were experiencing great sadness due to a careless driver who did not respect a crosswalk. Emergency rooms, surgery and physical therapy have been their unwelcome companions since.

Finally, though, an e-mail last week. Beth, we are well enough to travel, the cast is off his arm and he can drive. Perhaps we could come to Maine?

Yes, of course, please do come to visit

We had a perfect weekend of talking and walking and seeing sights that were beautiful and healing. We ate good food and laughed at each other's jokes and stories.

On Sunday morning, he decided to shed a vestige of the accident and the long hair and beard fell victim to a trimmer purchased at the local Walmart. We sprinkled the beard hair under the bushes for the birds to take and weave into their nests--little babies will sleep in the softness of something that had once been a sign of despair

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Adventures of Jaeger--Part I

I hesitate to post this because I fear criticism both of my parenting skills and my responsible pet owner skills, but any one who has ever had a particular kind of son will understand--for those of you who haven't had the experience--well, enjoy not having to color your hair :-)

In March, I introduced you to Archie's funny little yellow cat. They are both still here and I don't know when I have ever loved an animal more than I love this one. My affection for the little cat is all wrapped up with my love for my son and the fact that this little creature who is all sinew and devotion wrapped up in a suit of orange stripes has been faithfully by Archie's side for several months.

I don't want to go through the events that have necessitated my monthly trips to the hairdresser for root touchup, some of the hard and sad times are alluded to in earlier posts but I do believe that it is safe now to exhale and the little yellow cat is a big part of it.

Hmmm, where to start. Maybe I should start with the story about the acquisition of the kayak and while the kitty stayed at home for the execution of that adventure, I am sure he was a co-conspirator in the planning stages.

In early March the rivers of Maine are swollen with snow melt and big chunks of ice as they start to carry the winter's precipitation to the ocean. We live on the Androscoggin River which drains the Northern White Mountains before flowing through Dixfield. Along with the snow melt and the ice chunks, the river also brings anything that is in its path--docks, trees, tires, bicycles, iceshacks, boats, whatever is in its way. There are several islands in the river as it flows through Dixfield and one day Archie and his friends noticed that on one of the islands there was a really nice kayak that had washed downstream.

Well, finders keepers, right?

So one cold March day after school Archie and his friends gathered on the river bank. Archie stripped down to his boxer shorts and with a kayak paddle in his hands planned how to swim out to the island. When I later asked him if any of the buddies on shore had a cell phone, he said "Yes, but they were mostly being used for video". There was still about 3 feet of snow along the river bank so he went upstream from the island, and slid down the snow bank into the river--in his boxers with the paddle in his hand.

He said the water was really cold. Really?

So, he swam and was taken by the current down to the island. Perfect execution of the plan so far--except.

When he got to the island, he realized that there were many trees that had also been swept downstream and the kayak was on top of them--so barefoot in his boxers with a kayak paddle he climbed up through 10 feet of downed trees and got to the kayak which he triumphantly paddled to shore. The boys then took the kayak to the nearby elementary school and used it for a toboggan and slid down the hills. I particularly like the juxtaposition of swimming and sledding in one short time frame.

By nighttime, they made their way home with the kayak which now rests in our barn in between adventures.

Now, if any of you northern Androscoggin watershed readers lost a pretty blue kayak over the winter, I don't want to hear about it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I am an IDIOT

Have you ever made a really big mistake in judging someone and then felt really, really stupid? Oh, that would be me right about now. Fortunately, the person is so good and decent that she probably never even noticed that I had made the mistake in the first place.

There's this mom in town--totally an "A List" mom. There is no doubt about that. Her kids have graduated now, but they are the same age as my two daughters. Anyway, when all the kids were in school this lady was always the one to do everything. Every school event, she was there and behind the scenes making it a success. She was probably the team mom for every sport for about eight years and thanks to her the booster club raised tons of money. I think she's absolutely the #1 mom in the world and I have always thought that and that is not where my error lay.

I also thought that she didn't think much of me. Sure, when I saw her at school she was really nice and friendly to me. She always asked about my children and offered some fun and positive comment but if I saw her outside of a school event it was hit or miss. Sometimes she would smile and chat and be friendly and other times, I was met with averted eyes, no acknowledgment and a hole in my self-esteem bucket.

So, I assumed that I probably wasn't up to snuff. For TEN YEARS, since our children were in middle school track together, I have thought that this lady was either really moody or just didn't like me. I'm sure that I was kind of shy around her for just that reason and Lord only knows what sort of impression that made.

OK, so fast forward to today--I stopped into Subway for a sandwich and there she was eating with her son. Except there were two of her and I didn't know which one was the lady I knew. Fortunately, she smiled and waved and asked about my children and offered some fun and positive comment. I responded, smiled at her and at her twin sister and left Subway with my tail between my legs and a lesson learned.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The gift of a wondering mind

Last night, Bernd Heinrich came to Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers, DDG is a wonderful independent bookstore in Farmington, Maine. Kenny, the proprietor, is a friend who has steered me toward many a good book. He's the sort of merchant who knows his customers and searches out the sort of book that they might enjoy. For many years he has been the source of most everything that was under the christmas tree for Molly. From 5th grade and Harry Potter through her sophomore year in college, I just walked in and said--"What shall I get for Molly?" and he would select a stack for me--she has always enjoyed every one.

But last night, the store was open late for lovers of the natural world. About 15 people came out to see and hear Bernd talk about his new book. He said that after writing The Snoring Bird (which I reviewed here), he didn't know if he had another book in him. His publisher came to him, though, and said Winter World was such a successful book, what about doing one on summer. Luckily for all of us, he agreed to write another book. Even more lucky for us--in the process of writing he discovered that there were really 3 books to be written. Summer World is mostly about insects and the next two will be about nesting behavior and homing behavior in birds. That is a lot to look forward to.

He talked a little bit about the book, but then he read from his journals--he read entries from several days of watching a pair of red-breasted nuthatches build their nest. Such detail--exactly what readers of his expect and look forward to. He also talked a bit about how observing nature in the field leads him on to experiments in the laboratory. That in a nutshell is why we should have our children outside experiencing nature as much as possible--because then they'll see something like an ant carrying a load bigger than its body or a chrysalis hanging from a leaf or a woodpecker echoing through the forest or fungus growing from a log--and maybe they will wonder and the wonder may lead them to discover.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bernd Heinrich in Farmington

This evening at 7 p.m., Bernd Heinrich will be reading from his new book Summer World: A Season of Bounty at my favorite book store, Devaney, Doak and Garrett

It sounds like another winner, I can't wait to read it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trail Hazards

We are fortunate to have lots of woods and uninhabited land in Maine. Most of it is owned by lumber companies and timber kings and those of us who don't pay taxes on it can still enjoy it. In Dixfield there are miles and miles of trails throughout the woods and into the hills for everyone to use. Snowmobillers, snowshoers and cross country skiiers use the trails in the winter and in the spring, summer and fall the trails are used by walkers and runners and some ATV riders.

Archie has been mountain biking a good bit recently and I noticed when he came home a few days ago from a ride that he had a shovel and a saw sticking up out of his back pack. Apparently he's been improving the fear factor on some of the trails and making jumps in the woods. So, of course I had to go see.

He chose a trail that was too overgrown to be used by ATV riders so hopefully no one will come upon this unexpectedly but local readers beware the terrain on a stretch of one trail has definitely been altered.

He built a bridge over one of the streams out of dead trees and dirt and he built jumps and landing ramps. Now, I'm not in favor of altering natural landscapes at all, but at this moment in time I'm pretty happy to have him building trails and jumps and relying on his creativity, wits and engineering skills.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers and Daughters

It has been eight months since Sara flew off to Macedonia to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. When she gets a chance, she updates her blog about her experiences but I thought this rainy Mother's Day Sunday might be a good chance for me to reflect.

Molly, who combines the roles of little sister and best friend is headed over for a visit. During her sophomore year, Molly worked two jobs, ate practically nothing and successfully bargain hunted for cheap airfare and on Tuesday, she will be flying first to Paris to visit a friend who is doing a semester abroad and then to Italy to visit another friend and then to Athens where Sara will meet her. They will spend a few days in Greece and then head to Macedonia. Oh, to be a beanie baby on one of their backpacks.

What I wonder is how did it happen that young girls now feel so strong and so empowered. Molly did all the working and saving and planning without any input from her parents. She set a goal, did what she had to do and now is embarking on it without fear. Sara did the same, although because of her personality, there was more conversation involved.

I am in awe of these women that are my daughters.

Anna Quindlen wrote a piece in Newsweek five years ago where she said that that having a daughter made her a better woman. My favorite paragraph in the article is this:

Each wave of feminism has believed in something called the New Woman. The woman who could vote, who could work, who could be truly free. I am the mother of the New Woman. She doesn't waste a lot of time tailoring the cut of her character to suit the demands of a world that has always had mediocre taste. She never milks her gender, and she is not cowed by guys. She has taught me to dare more and conform less, to cut down on my hypocrisy because she shames me by seeing right through it. Being her mother is like playing basketball with a crack player (and she is that);
she raises the level of the game of life
just by showing up.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Checking in on the Bees

Because it probably is not that much fun to be hard at work and have a Giant come and remove your work station, examine everything with clumsy Giant hands, coo at you in a Giant babytalk voice and then replace your workstation nearly crushing some of your co-workers, I try not to check on my hives too frequently. Saturdays are my days to check in with them just to satisfy my curiosity--they have no need for my scrutiny.

In the last month, the hive that I call Washington has built comb in 8 of its frames, the newly-built comb is now filled with eggs, larvae, honey and pollen. The hive that I call Madison is slightly more productive, it has one entire super (10 frames) heavy with bee produce and the bees have started working on the second super. The supers are piled one atop another so the bees work their way up.

The bees in the hive at mid-day are probably the younger bees, newly emerged themselves they become the nurse bees to the eggs and the larvae--they care for the brood around the clock for roughly the first two weeks of their adult life. During this period the nurse bees do not display any circadian rhythm. An interesting article on this subject appeared in the New York Times last week. At about two weeks of age, the bees become foragers and at that time their circadian rhythm kicks into gear and they learn to make their flights for nectar at the time when the flower is releasing it in highest quantities. The foraging is hard work and the worker bees usually die by the time they are four weeks old, but by then the brood they had been tending as nurse bees are ready to take over their jobs.

I stopped feeding them sugar water last week as there are violets and dandelions blooming in the grass and forsythia, wild strawberries and azaleas showing color in the flower beds. Within a week or two my mother's yard will be a feasting bonanza for the bees as the lilac, apples and grapes blossom.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The wisdom of Solomon

A few evenings ago, I was walking through Walmart preoccupied with trying to remember what was written on the list left on the kitchen counter. Somewhere between Health and Beauty Aids and Pet Food, I noticed a man. He was well dressed and had a certain bearing that bespoke kindness and gentility. He was African American--not common in western Maine, an area renowned for lack of melanin. The man smiled and nodded at me. There was something familiar about him and I thought instantly of Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy and then, as the synapses of memory darted around my brain, I remembered why that thought came to mind and smiled and nodded back. There was a moment's hesitation for us both but then we each kept walking.

Many years ago, the probate court contacted me and asked me to represent an elderly woman whose daughter was petitioning for guardianship. The daughter and mother were estranged and had been for some 30 years. It was far too late to repair the relationship, the elderly woman did not even remember that she had a daughter and the daughter, who was a grandmother herself, still clung to hurt that was decades old.

When I went to visit the woman in the nursing home, I learned that the daughter had never visited but was in contact with the nursing home and was very concerned because many evenings a gentleman--an African American gentleman--would visit and help the woman with her meal, watch television with her and sometimes take her out of the nursing home on day trips to the mountains, to the lake or even to the coast. While she was not always lucid, she was able to articulate the importance of those car trips and the companionship. She told me about seeing the Rangely Lakes from the Height of Land, she told me about watching the waves crash into the rocky coast, she told me about going out to eat in restaurants and about how free she felt when she was able to leave the nursing home in her own car with her friend driving.

As they say, the plot started to thicken. The woman had few assets, the car was really about all she had--and the car was not expensive--its only value was in providing an escape and an opportunity for pleasure. The gentleman was a widower and had lived across the hall from the woman before the nursing home when she had lived on her own in an apartment. They were friends, they often shared meals and TV time. She had a car, he could drive. They both liked to see new things and gradually for her--everything she saw was new.

The woman did not care or understand about the guardianship but she cared greatly if a guardian would restrict the visits from her friend and the trips in the car. The daughter was honest when I talked to her, she was embarrassed by the unseemliness of it all and wanted to put a stop to it.

We went to court and presented our case. The visit logs from the nursing home spoke for themselves. The woman was there but unable to testify. She did not recognize her daughter and the daughter did not go to her. The gentleman testified about the friendship and the meals and the TV shows and the car rides and there was only one pair of dry eyes left in the courtroom. The Judge allowed the car rides and visits to continue. The daughter got the guardianship appointment with the provision that there be no interference with the car rides or the visits. That day, the Judge successfully did what King Solomon proposed so many millenia ago. He split the baby.

Within a few weeks, I saw the obituary in the paper and there was no mention of the gentleman under Loved Ones Left Behind.