Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

“Upgrading”

I recently “upgraded” (right now this word seems very much like an oxymoron to me) to an all-new computer and system, with all new software.  I am really struggling with it and feeling extremely frustrated by all the new features that are supposed to be “improvements”  over my old system.  Other than running very slow, I was happy with my old system, but in the field of digital photography there is something called “planned obsolescence” which means that your camera, the software, and your computer were designed to force you to buy all-new equipment every 2 – 4 years.  Talk about a captive audience!  I resent this expenditure very much, but worse, I am now forced to spend many hours learning a new system that I didn’t want in the first place!  (The new camera I bought as part of this package comes with a 250-page manual.  It’s more about engineering than taking pictures.  There are so many features and so many steps to be able to use those features, that you must either have a photographic memory (no pun intended) or keep it in “point-and-shoot” amateur mode lest you miss that once-in-a-lifetime shot.)

Currently I am “navigating” new versions of Photoshop and Lightroom, but to put it politely, I am very much lost at sea.  I called several of our local rural libraries to see if they have any books on this software to make my life easier.  (I also tried 4 book stores in North Conway, but they do not carry any computer-related books whatsoever.)

I live very close to several rural libraries.  The one nearest to me, only 3 miles away, is a former one-room schoolhouse in North Lovell. It is only open twice a week from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. and it draws two or three “regulars” who come more to shmooze in their thick Maine accents, than to read (in so doing, I have learned much about local culture; it’s extremely friendly and haimish – – the wood floor creaks; other than a limited amount of current bestsellers the rest of the books were last popular in the 1950s; they have a complete collection of Stephen King books, which is really more like a shrine; the small interior is so loaded with books that you can’t easily walk around; and they have free Wi-Fi.)  About 10 miles down the road is the Lovell Library, which is extremely modern thanks to a $750,000 donation by Stephen King.  There are also libraries in Bridgton, Waterford, and Norway in Maine, as well as in Conway NH (these are about a 20 – 25 mile drive but in these parts that’s considered local)..

None of the libraries had any relevant books, although I could have ordered older editions which don’t support the current versions I’m now using,  through an inter-library loan.  But for now it looks like I will be watching amateur how-to clips on youtube and buying books sight unseen from amazon.com  I guess I should feel fortunate that living so remotely, the world (and its commerce) is literally at my doorstep with the click of my mouse (thank you, UPS).

That said, I thought you’d enjoy hearing about my conversation with a rural librarian on the phone.  The branch shall remain anonymous.

Me:  Do you have any books on Lightroom 5?

Librarian:  Never heard of it.

Me:  It’s a popular computer program for photographers.   I am hoping to find a book that will help me learn to use it.

Librarian:  Well, I’ve never heard of it.  And if I haven’t heard of it, we probably don’t have it.

Me:  Uh . . . would you mind checking?

Librarian.  Oh . . . okay.  Give me just a minute while I turn on the computer.

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Pietree Orchard

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Beautiful views from Pietree Orchard.
Those are the White Mts. in the very far distance.

A few years ago on a cold February day, Tabitha King (wife of megamillionaire and prolific author Stephen King, and an author in her own right) was driving along a country road in Sweden, Maine.  At the top of a steep hill, the view was magnificent:  the hills and mountains of Western Maine on one side, the White Mountains on the other.  There was a tiny, rustic cabin, and an 80-year-old untended apple orchard.  There was also a large sign:  Now Selling!  Sweetwater Estates.

Forty-two parcels had already been sold, and were just waiting for more temperate weather before building would commence.  But Tabitha King wasn’t having it.  A housing development on an old Maine farmstead with history?  Not happening!

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So Tabitha King proceeded to buy out every single one of the forty-two future homeowners.

“Aw, come on,” I said to an employee of Pietree Orchard who was telling me the story, “there are always idealists who are hold-outs.”

“Let’s just say she made them offers they couldn’t refuse.”

(Hey Tabby, feel free to check out our place!)

For the Kings this was nothing remarkable.  They own lots of land in my neighborhood and property along Kezar Lake in Lovell.  And although they enjoy their lovely lakeside summer homes, they want to make sure that few others will do the same.  They want to ensure that Maine wilderness stays wild, and that historic farmsteads remain productive.

It’s a sentiment I can appreciate, yet I think their fears of overdevelopment are pretty much unfounded.  Maine is one of eleven states in the USA where more people are on welfare than employed.  In remote areas like where I live, it costs $10 in gas  and 90 minutes of travel time just to get to a supermarket and back.  Housing is cheap but the market is flooded with foreclosures and for sale signs, and some of those signs have been posted for four years.  Basically, there are no jobs and no economy, unless it has to do with excavation, water well drilling, logging, carpentry . . . you get the picture.  The “best” doctors, dentists, scientists are not coming to live in Maine anytime soon, that’s for sure.  It’s only been 4 years since WiFi connections via DSL were a possibility in our area.  The entire state of Maine has only one large shopping mall (most people in rural Maine have little use for clothing that isn’t denim, fleece, or flannel) although there are a couple of outlet centers in tourist towns.   So while we do have an increase in population during the summer from tourists and people who have summer homes, Maine is just too darn far away from everything and everywhere else.  The Maine wilderness will never be filled with bedroom suburbs; it’s too impractical.

The other thing is that in the Maine wilderness, the woods always, always win.  Maine’s climate and rocky, thin soil are pretty inhospitable for growing much anything besides apples, potatoes, summer corn, and hay.  But, as my Maine friend says, “the one thing Maine knows how to do is grow trees.”  It’s true.  You go to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning, there are trees where there weren’t any the day before.  If you own a house in the woods, half the time is spent beating back the woods from taking over.  Wild raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and thorny bushes; beech, birch, oak and pine saplings:  they all invade your yard and your driveway with devious encroachment.  It’s no wonder that “bush hogs” that gobble brush are a more popular tractor attachment than grass cutters.  Just take a walk in the woods and you will see countless abandoned cabins.  The roofs are caved in (due to heavy snowfall), the wood has dry rot, and the mice and woodpeckers have ensured that the cabins melt back into the earth.  And of course, trees are growing in all former rooms of those cabins.

But.  Tabitha King has done absolutely wonderful things with the old McSherry farmstead in Sweden, now called Pietree Orchard.  She hired pomologists (apple experts) who pruned and babied the old trees, and got them blooming again.  With their help, she added thousands of apple saplings, and incorporated new, successful techniques that limited or avoided use of pesticides.  She also re-introduced “heirloom” apple varieties from old Maine orchards that you can’t find in stores, and that would otherwise be lost forever.  She built a market store that sells bagged apples from the orchard, along with freshly picked vegetables and peaches, pumpkins, mums and winter squash grown on site, along with natural honey and crafts provided by local residents, farmers, and artisans.  Their cider press turns out cider that is the best I’ve tried anywhere.   Tabitha King also created an on-site artisan bakery,  and hired an artisan baker,  who turns out luscious-smelling pies, pastries, breads, cakes and cookies on a daily basis, baked with the finest and freshest – – and mostly local – – ingredients.  She created a Pick-Ur-Own business to help harvest the produce, and provide a fun and productive outing for the public.  The orchard provides tours and picking for educational groups and schoolchildren to learn  everything there is to know about apple orchards and their legacy in Maine.  She provided jobs for dozens of Mainers, who run the orchard, help with growing, harvesting and packing.  The workers are models of pleasantness.  When you visit Pie Tree Orchard, you come away happy.

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I should add that here in Maine, Stephen and Tabitha King are venerated – – they can do no wrong.  And for the most part, they don’t.  They obviously and rightfully cherish their privacy while holed up all summer on exclusive Kezar Lake, the fount and muse of many of King’s books.  But they run a foundation that provides grants for Mainers, as well as a foundation for destitute artists who’ve lost their home or health through accidents; and they donate heavily (in the millions) to libraries throughout Maine (when asked for $13K in funds to repair a public library, they wrote a check for $12,999:  Stephen King is phobic about the number 13).  In Lovell, the location of their summer home,  they donated big-time to remodel the public library there; the children’s library is now state of the art – and they used all local craftsmen and supplies to build it.  They donated funds for a baseball field and recreation center in their summer town as well, used by local Little Leaguers and Boy and Girl Scouts.

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Hundreds of apple seedlings. It takes 4 to 6 years from the time it is planted for an apple tree to produce.

Since apple-picking season is coming to a close, I realized that I’d better hurry out to the Kings’ Pie Tree Orchard to get my winter supply of apples.  Of the many varieties (samples are offered by employees with dazzling smiles) I chose Northern Spy, known for its good storage qualities (they’d be wintering on my porch), and hard, crunchy, juicy-tart bite.  I was supplied with a hand wagon and two half-bushel boxes for picking, as well as a an apple picking tool on a telescoping stick (no ladders are provided) which resembled a lacrosse stick.

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apple picker

Within 30 minutes I had picked my bushel of apples and then some, but I lingered in the orchard because the day was so beautiful and the views so far-reaching.  Pietree Orchard is truly a gem of a place.

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Back at home, I began planning:  apple butter; dehydrated apple slices; apple sauce; cider; pie.   Lots of activity to keep me busy on those days when inclement weather prevents me from venturing out . . .

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Impromptu Tour Guide

Due to cutbacks by the United States Postal Service, our local post office has dramatically reduced its hours.  Now it’s open for transactions only M-F from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m, and 2:15 pm  – 4:15 p.m. in the afternoons.  The post office delivery truck drops off the mail around 8:30 a.m., and it’s placed in PO boxes around 9 a.m., so the window to get one’s daily mail in the morning is very narrow indeed.  The lobby without counter service is open during the middle part of the day if you have a post office box, but if you get a notice in your box that a package has arrived and you aren’t there during counter service times – – too bad.  You must return during one of the two-hour windows to claim your package.  It gets worse:  the routes of both FedEx and UPS work out so that they arrive at the post office between 12:30 – 1:30 pm, when the post office is closed, so packages headed to the post office cannot be delivered or redeemed if they are being delivered to your post office box as an address.  A solution to this problem would be for UPS and FedEx to place a delivery box outside, so the postmaster could access it during open hours, but UPS and FedEx have so far been uninterested in doing so.  It is very likely that in the next 2 years, our local post office branch will cease operating altogether.

I try to coordinate a visit to the post office with our transfer station – – also known as the garbage dump — which is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 – 4.  We have no trash pickup here – all self-generated refuse must be taken to the dump in our car. The post office is 6 miles away and the dump is another 2.5 miles further up the road, and what with the cost of gas nowadays, I try to limit my visits.  Also on Tuesdays, our tiny library is open from 5 pm – 7 pm (the other day is Shabbat, so I can’t visit then).  It’s a 3-mile trip one way from home to the library but it’s on the way to the post office and dump, so I try to stop by the library on the way home.  Still, I do have time to kill from the post office closure at 4:15 to the library’s opening time of 5 p.m.

So yesterday I stopped by the lake.  I couldn’t go swimming or kayaking due to it being the Nine Days (leading up to Tisha B’Av), but I was content to sit there and watch a 5-year-old boy fishing with his father.  The look of joy on the little boy’s face when he caught a fish (as well as the proud dad’s) was priceless, and I never tire of the serene view of the lake, clouds, and surrounding mountains, and the quiet.

Suddenly a minivan with Illinois license plates turned into the parking area, and a married couple with 2 preteen daughters stepped out and started taking pictures of the beautiful view.  I couldn’t resist asking if they were from Chicago – – one of my daughters lives there and I will be going there to visit next week.

“No, we rented this car from New York,” the man replied.  “We are from Denmark.  We are doing a driving tour of the eastern United States.”  He explained that one of his daughters had hurt her ankle, and as a result they had to cancel many of their planned activities for the day.   They were limiting themselves to sightseeing from the car on this day, and had driven about 90 miles from western New Hampshire, extemporaneously wandering the scenic mountain roads.  He had many questions about what there was to see in this part of Maine, as well as questions about Maine culture, the people, the lifestyle, etc.

Well, I had nothing better to do until the library opened . . .

“We didn’t care for New York too much, to tell you the truth,” he confessed.  “Such a big city is not really our thing; we really prefer being in nature.”  He proceeded to tell me how surprised he was “that many of the natives we encountered there spoke English with very strong accents that we couldn’t understand.”  I had visions of him encountering chassidim who not only dress differently than the mainstream, but speak “Yinglish.”  But he said, “I’m talking about Hispanics and Chinese people.  I couldn’t believe it, but we met people who are Americans who could not even speak English!  That was very surprising to us – – I don’t understand how citizens can live in a country and not speak its language!  How is this possible?”

As we chatted,  I made several suggestions of places they could visit nearby that were off the beaten track and were known only to locals.  “You won’t find these suggestions in any tour book,” I said, “but if you love nature, you won’t want to miss them.”  Still, I realized that many of the places lacked signage and were accessed by hidden dirt or gravel roads, and he was unlikely to find them based on my directions alone.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I will take you to some of these places if you’d like.  You can just follow me in your car.”

I guess I looked trustworthy, because they were game.

I had a great time taking them all over the place – – I probably used up $20 out-of-pocket in gas.  I would stop my car every so often and they’d pull up behind me.  “Look – here are some moose hoof-prints!” I’d point out.  Or, “Check carefully along the road – last year at this time I saw a bear cub foraging here for blueberries.”  And:  “This little library was a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800s until 1963.  Now it’s used as a library, and the author Stephen King, who lives nearby, helps to fund it.”  And:  “This area used to be a heavily forested valley, until 1983, when a severe storm with 100-mph winds created a blow-down. The entire forest was destroyed.  Then the beavers took over, and gradually the dammed area became the desolate bog you are looking at now.  Isn’t the power of nature amazing?”  I also took them to a hidden glen with a beautiful stream and small waterfalls.  “Salmon spawn here in November!” I gushed.  They were impressed!

Again and again, they thanked me profusely at each new stop for being able to see things and learn things that would otherwise not have been possible.  Together we ended up spending about 90 minutes touring the area.  We developed quite a rapport.  I discussed everything from logging and woodsmen, to moose and bear hunting, hiking, fishing, locals’ acceptance of strangers, politics, racism (the lack thereof), local education and jobs, cuisine, odd Maine laws – – you name it.   I said that the motto of Maine should be “live and let live,” since people are quite accepting of letting people do their own thing, as long as they don’t try to stuff their personal agenda down another’s throat.

“Oh, you mean everyone in Maine is very liberal!” the man exclaimed with glee.

“Well, I guess that depends on how you’d define ‘liberal,'” I replied.  “I mean, just about everyone here owns a gun,” I said.  The poor man’s eyes grew wide as saucers.  Then I realized:  who knows what they were thinking as I led them with my car through narrow mountain passes, through pocked and pitted gravel roads, through forest lanes so laden with foliage that you needed headlights to turn the shadows back into daylight, in places where no other people or buildings were in sight?  And now that I had said that everyone in rural Maine owns a gun, they probably felt like they were in a replay of “Deliverance,” only I was the one who could have been the bad guy!

Alas, it was now 6 p.m. and I still hadn’t made it to the library.  I recommended yet another isolated mountain road that would ultimately lead them back to their point of origin in New Hampshire, and after ensuring that their GPS recognized my suggested route, we wished one another well and said our goodbyes.

I don’t know what made me offer this impromptu goodwill tour to a family of complete strangers from a distant land.  I know they loved it – – they told me so, repeatedly, and remarked many times how fortunate I was to live in such a place.  But I confess, I do not know who enjoyed it more:  I had a wonderful time sharing the beauty and lore of my surroundings, and making my experiences a part of their experience, however vicariously or fleetingly.

Amazingly, after we parted, I realized that neither of us had told one another our names!

Only a week before I had read a wonderful book called “All Natural:  A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier” by Nathanael Johnson.  The concluding paragraph reads,

It wasn’t the Yosemite sunsets that had filled me with such hale energy as a child, it was watching those sunsets with my family, the four of us huddled together, windbreaker against windbreaker.  It wasn’t the close clarity of the stars, but Mom pointing out the Milky Way, that gave me the vertiginous feeling of falling into the vast heart of our galaxy. It was not only the place that mattered, but the fact that in that place the family was together and uninterrupted. I’d gone looking for Eden in the places where human fingerprints disappeared, but paradise was empty without the human touch.

Jon Krakauer, in his book “Into the Wild,” writes about Christopher McCandless,  the young American adventurer who (naively and tragically) planned to live alone with a minimum of supplies in the Alaskan wilderness.  His body was found dead of starvation only 4 months later, along with a meticulously kept journal.  In one of his last entries, trapped there as he lay dying in isolation, he scribbled:    “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”