A Lot Can Happen in a Month

Immediately upon completion of the 30-day mourning period for my brother-in-law (shloshim), we returned to Maine from our home town, driving 10.5 hours through the night.  We arrived at 7 a.m. on July 4th.

The first thing I noticed was the holes in the driveway.  In June, a snapping turtle had been busy sloooowly coming up the driveway each day at dusk for about a week to dig a hole, lay some eggs which resemble ping-pong balls, cover up the hole, and sloooowly make her way back to the bog at the bottom of the driveway.  Now, in July, the eggs must have hatched in the past 2 days, for the shells were still leathery.  The baby turtles had torn their eggs open under the ground, and literally clawed their way to freedom digging through the packed gravel on the driveway, making their instinctual pilgrimage to the bog below.  It’s quite a miraculous journey, as many local creatures such as raccoons, fishers, herons, hawks, crows and snakes prey upon the babies, or manage to dig their way underground to steal and eat the eggs from the nest before they hatch.  Once grown, though, the snapping turtle has only man for a predator (you’ve probably heard of Turtle Soup, a real delicacy in China).  When threatened the snapping turtle’s bite is powerful and could amputate someone’s fingers.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Another weird thing was the bees:  I saw that the Bee Man had added some new hives, a sign that the numbers of bees are increasing and honey production is in full swing.  Indeed, the scent of honey was heavy in the air (and smelled heavenly).  The morning of our arrival all looked well, but by the end of the afternoon, shortly before dusk, the bees  appeared to be resting in a swarm on the outside of the hive – – tens of thousands of them!  I looked up this phenomenon on the Internet, and found that this is called “bearding.”

Bearding is a form of hive air-conditioning; the bees depart the immediate brood nest area in order to help keep it at the desired temperature (too many busy bee bodies = too many BTUs). When you see all the bees outside the hive an hour before sundown, you’ll also notice the following morning (early a.m.), most if not all, have gone back inside the hive because the outside air temperature (and thus the hive temp) has dropped – again, just a way they regulate the brood nest temperature.

"Bearding:"  When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day.

“Bearding:” When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day. (Click to enlarge to see tens of thousands of resting bees “bearding.”)

While we were away, it had rained 10 of the last 15 days, and the first two weeks of June were scarcely drier.  Our house was practically unrecognizable upon our return, due to the heavy foliage.  The lilac bushes and blueberry shrubs I had planted with such care, along with 80 sunflower plants, had been swallowed up and overwhelmed by weeds, brush, grass, thorny raspberry and poison oak.  The trunks of the apple trees were similarly covered.  In the Maine woods, in the battle of Man vs. Nature, nature ultimately always wins.  (Or as a Mainuh once bemoaned the state’s poor economy, “The only thing Maine knows how to do right is grow trees and lobstah.”)  Weed-whacking was the order of the day (not the most ideal way to spend a holiday day off), and it was made worse by a searing heat wave that included lots of humidity.

Once the orchard was trimmed, I could see that the garlic had really grown tall.  The type of garlic I planted is not like the kind you get at the supermarket.  In order to survive the Maine winter (garlic is usually planted in the Fall), a special type of garlic, called hard-necked garlic, is used.  Although its strands cannot be braided due to the stiffness of the greens, it is very potent and delicious.  Towards the end of the growing season, each planted clove forms a curly “scape” with its own little seed bulb.  It is recommended that one cut the scapes off so the garlic bulb under the ground will not divert its nutrients towards the scape, and the bulbs will reach their maximum potential in size.  But the scape cuttings can be used to garnish a salad or sautéed or steamed, and are quite delicious in their own right.

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a "scape."

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a “scape.”

My husband was completely exhausted after doing the weed-whacking, and had lost probably 5 lbs. in sweat (eeyew).  We jumped in the car and drove to the lake, which was completely devoid of other people, and dove in the cool, clean, refreshing water.  We had a great swim!  From there we returned home, had a light dinner, and decided to go see fireworks.

Fourth of July celebrations are taken very seriously and enthusiastically in rural Maine.  In especially small towns, two or three towns will combine their celebrations and have  several events during the day, including a parade (which most of the residents participate in, so there are few spectators), a 5k charity race, a pot-luck picnic lunch or dinner, with proceeds also going to charity, and of course, fireworks.

Ebenezers Pub in Lovell, Maine is world-famous, which is something of a surprise since it’s basically in the middle of nowhere about 6 miles down the road from our house.  Ebenezer’s is  known for their impressive inventory of beers, with 1000+ beers available at any one time and at least 35 varieties on tap.  Once we took some guests there, and the claim that they are world-famous was met with rolling eyes and guffaws.  But sure enough, a couple of patrons sitting at the bar had motorcycled there all the way from Virginia on a beer pilgrimage, and another couple had come especially from Belgium!  It’s low-key and friendly and despite the many boutique beer offerings, there is not a trace of snobbery or sleaze.  Ebenezers adjoins Kezar Lake Country Club, whose golf course is open to the public, and it’s a perfect venue for watching the fireworks provided by the Lovell Volunteer Fire Department on a hot night, sitting on the grass, glass of (exotic) beer in hand.  (Check out the pub’s website, they have a great list of things to do in the area should you ever decide to come visit us!)

What made it really special, however, was the crowd of 150 people of all ages.  When the fireworks began, the entire audience spontaneously started singing a whole medley of patriotic songs, including the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, and This Land is Your Land.  It was really quite touching, not to mention patriotic.  I guess the patriotism is not that surprising, since most of the residents here are direct descendants of the original patriots, colonists, and founding fathers who created the United States of America.   This is their heritage at the source and by golly, they certainly do embrace and celebrate it.

Today, Sunday, is the last day before the 9 days leading to the Tisha B’Av fast day and prayers, which commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  During these upcoming nine days there are several restrictions.  No swimming or boating.  No laundering.  No eating meat.  So naturally, in between scrambling to get all my laundry done, I made kayaking, fishing and swimming a priority, since I cannot partake of these activities after today.  I did manage to catch several fish:  2 small yellow perch (not known as good eating fish so I threw them back), a brown  trout which was too small to keep and also was returned to the water, and finally, a nice-sized white perch, which, when sauteed with the garlic scapes mentioned above and some freshly-snipped parsley that is also from my garden, made a tasty and healthy lunch.

2 o'clock:  just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

2 o’clock: just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

By being away from Maine during the crucial month of June, I missed the prime planting time for a summer or fall garden.  So my packets of many varieties of kale seeds and beets and cucumbers will sadly have to wait until next year to be planted.  Because frost appears as early as September in Maine, the growing season is very short, and if you do not seize the day to plant in a timely manner, you simply lose out until next year.

It is good to be back!  And this will be a busy summer:  awaiting the birth of a new grandchild in Chicago, and entertaining eleven of my grandchildren at the same time in mid-August here at our house in Maine.  Stay tuned!

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