Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Different Year, Same Result.

The weather has finally turned on us. After ten days of perfect conditions, the past couple of days have been overcast, foggy, and filled with drizzle. It was bound to happen. Yesterday was a lazy day. Pam took Russ and Vi to the airport in Portland. While they were gone, I caught a beautiful bass off the end of my dock with a fancy lure that my buddy Alan had loaned me. 


I took a quick picture of it because if I hadn't, he would never have believed me. 

So, today will feature a leasurely trip into Camden for breakfast and some shopping. I need a new book to read. I've read three novels on this trip, only have one more left on my iPad, and need another to reach my goal of five books read on vacation. So, I will browse through a couple of the great bookshops in Camden until I find something that intrigues me. Then we will come back to the cabin to check on Lucy. If the weather is still cloudy and gross, we will spend the afternoon exploring the town of Belfast, around 15 minutes away. 

Last night, after dinner, my wife and I renewed our Rummikub competition from last year. Alert readers will recall the beatdown she laid on me on last year's Maine adventure. Well, so far this year, nothing has changed. A few nights ago, we played probably ten hands of Gin...she won seven. Last night, she won two out of the three games we played. It's the same thing every year...the woman is a cold blooded killer. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Come...Walk With Me.

I've taken a thousand photographs in Maine, probably a hundred or more of this place alone. It begs to have its picture taken. But, I'm so often disappointed in how they turn out, not because they are blurry or ill-centered, but rather because they never seem to capture the magic. 

Except for a special few, when you say, Ahh, that's it!


This is the one.

It doesn't matter where I took it. This shot doesn't need context. This photograph captures everything I love about Maine. It's an invitation. It stands before you like a great mystery. Where does it lead? How far? Is it dangerous or tranquil, treacherous or benign? It's impossible to tell. Still, it beckons you with the invitation...Come, walk with me.

But, I don't know where it will take me.

We will find out together. Come, walk with me.

I'm tired. This is not a good day for such an uncertain walk.

All of life is uncertain. Come, walk with me.

But, I've too much on my mind right now. My kids, I'm just too worried about my kids to enjoy a walk.

Come, walk with me and I'll show you the reason you wanted to have kids in the first place.

How can I take such a walk when I'm so worried about my job? I don't even know if I'll ever be able to retire.

If you will walk with me, you'll be better at your job.

You don't understand. Have you read a newspaper lately? Trump is in the White House. They're tearing down statues, and driving cars into crowds of young people!

There is no racial hatred where I will take you, and nobody here knows who the president is...come walk with me.

But, there might be ticks.

Hush...when did you get so fragile? Come, walk with me.

I want to, I really do...

There was once a time when you would have run down this path without even thinking. What happened to that guy?

I don't know. I grew up.

No, you grew inward. Come, walk with me and I will reintroduce you to the person you used to be.

How long will it take?

As long as you like. 

Come...walk with me.




Monday, September 18, 2017

Apparently, There Was an Awards Show Last Night

One of the biggest advantages to staying at a lake house in Maine is the fact that you never watch television. Sure, there's one here and the satellite connection is quite good. I know this because, Saturday a week ago, I turned it on to watch part of a college football game. It hasn't been on since. In its place, I have read three novels. I already feel smarter.

So, I cannot offer an opinion on the EMMY's show last night, since I didn't watch. Apparently, it was a three hour Trash Trump Fest. The fact that anyone would be surprised is baffling to me. Who cares, people? It's Hollywood, and they have First Amendment rights too, so chill out!

Meanwhile, a much more important bit of news is the fact that we are finally supposed to get a cloudy day, all day. If so, it will be the first since we arrived eleven days ago. We are at the half way point of our vacation. Tomorrow, Russ and Vi fly back to Richmond. That means that today we will be heading to Hazel's for a lobster roll lunch. Then we might do some sightseeing along the coast. Only supposed to be in the 60's. Perfect weather for a sweater and some ocean scenery. If I stumble upon any permanent damage done by any of those Trump-trashing one liners from last night's EMMY broadcast, I'll take pictures!


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Cry, The Beloved Country...

A quiet day at the lake, foggy at dawn, then brilliant sun in the afternoon. I drove into Belfast to play a round of golf at a course I had picked out online. When I got there, there was a tournament being played which wasn't disclosed on their website. The guy in the Prop Shop acted like he didn't even know they had a website. But, he was kind enough to inform me that there was another course north of town that I could get on with...no problem. He was right. I pulled up into the Searsport Pines Golf Club and my vehicle doubled the number of cars in the parking lot...not a good sign.

The good news...I walked 18 holes in a mere 2 hours and 3 minutes. The bad news...I shot an 88 on what was possibly the worst golf course I have ever set foot on. This place had fairways that owe cow pastures an apology. But, I walked 5.64 miles, got in some practice, and redeemed my trip by stopping at the Hannaford's in Belfast for a bag of marshmallows, and a bunch of other necessities Pam had added to a list she had sent via text. Tonight we are having a shrimp boil or some such thing which involves sausage, so I'm excited.

Tonight, thanks to my buddy Alan Smith, we will be having a campfire with freshly chopped Maine pine from Alan's personal woodpile. It comes with much hype, guaranteed to burn hot and make lots of crackling sounds. I still don't have a decent poker. The one that came with the cabin is an embarrassment, extremely short and dysfunctional for what it's alleged purpose is supposed to be. I will make do until Alan brings something more manly when they come back to visit next weekend.

I finished, the great Alan Paton classic, Cry, The Beloved Country the other day. When I was a sophomore at Uof R I took a survey of western literature class in which I was given the task of picking five novels to read out of a list of ten or so. Cry, was on the list and I didn't pick it as one of my five. I had been meaning to circle back and read it ever since. Now, 39 years later, I find it in the bookcase here at Loon Landing. Time flies...

So, this book was written in 1948 by a nobody reform school principle from South Africa. He had never been published and wrote the thing while traveling in Europe and the US touring other reform schools. Some American friends of his read it and promised to try to get it published, submitting it, unsolicited, to Scribner. That never works, right? Yeah, well, lucky for Scribner...the book was a sensation, the critics loved it, and it sold like hot cakes, allowing Mr. Paton to live well the rest of his life, and turn his full attention to writing and the brewing conflict in his country.

In many ways, the racial history of South Africa is the opposite of ours in that the Afrikaners and Europeans who ruled that land were in the small minority. The great indigenous tribes that far outnumbered these white settlers where kept in second class status during these pre-apartheid days and trouble was brewing when Paton began to write. Throw in several different languages, a thriving gold mining industry, duplicitous politicians, and racial violence and an exploding crime wave and you've got a volatile mess. But, Paton resists the temptation to write a political book, or even a book about revolution or even race. He writes about the human heart and its great capacity for both love and hatred, grace and vengeance. Most of all he writes about a country that he loves, despite the wickedness that is everywhere around him. His story doesn't absolve the white ruling class of their sins, he doesn't pull any punches on who the main villains are, but neither does he lay every South African pathology at their feet. There is a lot of blame to go around in his beautiful, beguiling homeland. He examines the hearts and motives of the labor unions and agitators within the black liberation movements, applauds them where they deserve it and cristicizing them when they don't. The famous line still resonates...I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.

It was a beautiful read, full of evocative prose that made you at once hopeful and sad. I couldn't help but draw rough parallels to the race conflicts in my country. I only wish that someone would rise up to write something as rich and moving about how we should move forward. 

Great book. Worth the read and then some.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Week One Complete

Wide awake at 5:25 this morning. The lake is shrouded in a blanket of heavy fog. There is a heavy dew. Two loons drift by, less than 50 feet from the dock. My coffee is ready.



I'm told that by mid morning the fog will give way to brilliant sunshine and a high temperature of 78. I'm also told that by 11:00 the noise level of this slice of paradise will be elevated by the arrival of Bill and Nancy Crooker of Livermore Falls, Maine. Later, their daughter Lisa, and her husband, Alan, will pop in for a visit. These are friends of the family from Maine. Nancy is a hoot, and the only person I've ever met who can out-talk my mother-in-law! They have been friends since childhood.

I first met Bill and Nancy around a campfire at Dummer's probably thirty years ago. When I first heard Nancy speak I almost laughed out loud. She has the thickest Maine accent of all time. I've been relentlessly teasing her about it ever since. She'll say something and I'll ask, Wait...what the heck was that word?? She just looks at me and says, You hush!

Of greater importance today is the fact that we are now in Week Two of our vacation. How did that happen? Slow the heck down!

Highlights of Week One include:

- Seven consecutive meals taken outside on the deck

- Blueberry pancake breakfast at the Camden Deli

- Fried clams at Marriner's

- Taking Russ and Vi to the top of Mount Battie and to the ocean views at Camden Hills State Park

- Watching Lucy dive into the lake to fetch her frisbee

- Exploring this lake via kayak

- Watching Pam master the paddle board in about two minutes

- Getting a FaceTime call from Patrick and Sarah announcing their engagement 

- Finding a copy of and finally reading Cry, The Beloved Country (more on this later)

- Learning how to take a shower in a 3' x 3' shower stall


Friday, September 15, 2017

An Angry Aside

 Our beautiful lake house is exactly .6 of a mile from the closest state maintained road, route 131. The road that leads here from the state road services Loon Landing and five other lake houses on this corner of the lake. It is a lovely path wide enough for only one vehicle at a time. Since I've been here I have mapped out a three mile trail to run each morning which includes the .6 mile track I am describing. Each day I have done so, I have been increasingly annoyed by the sight of several discarded beer cans along the way. So, this morning, I decided to carry a trash bag with me to pick them up and dispose of them properly. Here are the results:





If I had been willing to walk more than ten feet into the Maine woods on my walk, I could have filled another bag. 

It is difficult to describe my feelings about this, it's somewhere between baffled and furious. The only people who would be driving on this tiny little path through the woods are one of the owners of these 5 properties, their guests, or renters like us. Question: under what circumstances would it enter one's mind to throw an empty can of beer out of a vehicle window when you are literally less than a minute from your house? What kind of human being does this sort of thing?  The people who would be using Brierley Road are people who have been blessed beyond all measure with one of the most beautiful places in America. This is the way they treat it? In Genesis when God gave man dominion over the Earth, I'm reasonably sure he didn't mean, Feel free to chuck your empty beer cans out of the window whenever you feel like it! 

My guess is that this outrage has not been committed by Maine people. They would know, for example, that empty drink bottles can be turned in for cash. No, I'm thinking that this is the work of people from away who are renting for a week. If so, shame on them. What the heck is wrong with people? 

The Magic of a Camp Fire



We finally got around to having a fire last night. This house comes with a portable, light weight fire pit which you see above. This particular fire pit was perfect for my teetotaler inlaws! I set it up around 30 feet from our little beach, and the lake sucked all of the smoke away from the house like a champ. 

In the 30 plus years I have been coming to Maine, these late night campfires have been a staple. In the old Dummer's Beach days, all of the White family, along with their guests and campground friends would gather around, sometimes as many as 15 in the circle. Every night it was the same conversation, and the same routine. There would be Russ, with his broomstick fire poker, complaining about what a lousy fire his son-in-law had made. There was Vi, getting all of us up to speed on every physical ailment that had afflicted anyone and everyone at Dummer's. Then the tall tales of years past would begin...the time Pam got the worst sun burn of her life because she spent the entire day flirting with a pack of boys out on the swim float...the one about the high pitch scream that my Mother had let loose the first time she tried to go in the water, heard all the way up in Weld, they said. When we were younger, whenever it was time for the kids to go to bed, they would go around the circle in their footie pajamas and give everyone hugs and kisses. Once they were down, the topics of conversation would get more serious, and even more salacious...Apparently Bob and Lois are going through a hard time right now due to Bob's drinking problem!!...wait, maybe it's Lois who has the drinking problem, either way, all is not well over on PT 7.

Eventually, the fire would die down, and everyone would draw closer in the circle. The talk would fall away and we would all listen to the sizzle and pop of the flames. Someone would say, It's probably time to go to bed. A moment of silence...then, What do yau'll want for breakfast? Someone would say, fried bread...then someone else would suggest, blueberry pancakes. Vi would eventually say, We can do that. Then, one by one, we would stand up, stretch, and go to bed, smelling of smoke, thoroughly relaxed without a care in the world. It was my favorite part of the day.

Last night was exactly the same as the Dummer's Beach days, only a smaller circle, and no fat man in a truck coming around and grunting, Now, you folks be sure to put that fire good and out before you retire! After I made sure the fire was out, I walked out onto the dock and looked up at the sky. It was splashed with a million stars. The only sound was the steady buzz of the crickets.

I slept like a baby...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

An Ice Cream Fiasco

Looks like we might have a cloudy day today, breaking a three day streak of astonishingly perfect weather. I'm debating whether or not I should take advantage of the clouds by playing golf. There are three courses within a thirty minute drive. Not an easy decision.

On the one hand, I love golf in Maine. The courses are all designed for people who like to walk. Each green is a short walk to the next tee box. Most courses up here are only 9 hole affairs with two sets of tee boxes for the front and back nines. This is a function of the fact that they don't get a ton of play throughout the year (it's hard to play golf in three feet of snow) and it's cheaper to maintain 9 greens instead of 18. It's incredibly cheap to play golf in Maine, at least at the courses where I play. To walk and rent a set of clubs will cost me $35-$45. The grounds are always emaculate, beautifully maintained, and the folks that run these places are as nice as they can be. Last year, I got paired up with three locals who could really play. Nicest guys I've ever played with. On the 11th hole, the skies got very dark and soon it was raining cats and dogs. We pulled over into a shelter. I mean, it is pouring buckets and the sky was ominous as far as the eye could see. None of my playing companions showed any sign of wanting to head to the clubhouse. I was assured by each of them that this was merely a "passing showah." As soon as it slowed to a moderate level of rain, these guys were ready to finish the round. I could hardly believe it! We had 8 more holes to play and these guys seemed perfectly fine playing in a steady rain. Well, there was no way this Virginian was going to tuck tail and run back to the clubhouse. Apparently, in Maine, one plays through inclement weather. By the time we got to the 17th green, puddles had started to form. I tried to putt through one such puddle from about 30 feet and came up 8 feet short. One of them deadpans, "When you're putting through puddles ya gotta hit it haaddah.."So, I finished the round in a driving rainstorm. By the time I was buying them a round of drinks at the 19th Hole Grill, I was soaked through to my Fruit of the Looms. I guess if you live in a place which for long stretches of the year looks like the inside of a snow globe, you don't let anybody or anything stop you from finishing a round of golf!

However, on the other hand, if I go off to play golf, that leaves Pam, Russ and Vi stranded here with no car. Of course, I could roll the dice with Uber. Do they do Uber in Maine? My luck, some guy would roll up in here with a log truck and say, Hang on back there!

Just ran the idea by my wife. She's thinking that her folks might want to go eat some fried clams at Mariner's in Camden today, so golf will have to wait.

One more thing...last night, after a dinner of red hot dogs, baked beans, and pink fluff (don't ask), we decided to drive into Camden for some River Ducks ice cream. For my wife, River Ducks is what she thinks of when she imagines what heaven looks like. Last year, her goal for the month of July was to sample each of the 12 Uniquely Maine flavors. She missed it by two, mostly because they ran out. Anyway, it's great ice cream and the most charming little stand you can imagine. If it's possible for an ice cream joint to have ambiance, then River Ducks has it. 

So, we walk up and olace our order with the server of the day, Sarah. Unfortunately, the State of the Day is Kentucky, so no free cones for us. I ordered Megunticook Chocolate Mayhem. Sarah asks, How many scoops? Without thinking I say...Two. Pam and Russ followed and ordered two scoops. Vi demurely asked for one scoop. 

I have no idea what we were thinking. We have been eating ice cream at River Ducks for like eight years now. We should know better. When the lovely Sarah handed me my two scoop Megunticook Chocolate Mayhem on a waffle cone, the thing was nearly a foot high from the pointy bottom of the cone to the decadent mounds of chocolate confection at the top. Immediately, I remembered that we always get one scoop. But, the damage had been done. I wasn't about to give it back. I should note, at this point, that neither Pam's or Russ' cones had been prepared. Both of them had plenty of time to correct their orders...but neither did. So, we set on the footbridge stuffing our faces with a pound of ice cream. They couldn't finish theirs....but I did.

So, this morning I will compensate for last night's ghastly display of indulgence by running an extra half mile and cutting back from four pieces of bacon to two. Sacrifice and discipline. That's me!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My First Swim

I finally worked up the courage yesterday afternoon to take a swim. It was a balmy 78 with abundant sunshine with very little wind. Lucy had already taken her maiden voyage to fetch her frisbee. I had run out of excuses. Since Pam was down in Portland picking up her parents at the airport, I had the added benefit of no human witnesses, so if I screamed like a child no one would be there to hear it.

Many people, including several Mainers had told me that since we were going up in September, although it might be a bit cooler out, at least the lake temperature would be warmer, having spent all summer basking in the warm sun. 

There was no basking. The sun must have been hiding behind clouds all summer. Quantabacook could do with a heaping helping of global warming. I jumped in around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I jumped out around 3:02.

Lest you think I am some sort of southern wimp, I have been coming up here for over 35 years now and each year have spent many a day swimming in lakes. And yes, it has always been cold. In fairness, the first swim is always the worst, it generally gets easier each day. The body does build up a tolerance. But, holy cow

Maybe it's no colder than any other lake in any other year. Maybe it's just my 59 year old body tying to tell me that this sort of tomfoolery was all well and good when I was a young father with little children, but now that I'm older and have no logical reason to jump in ice cold water, it's simply unacceptable.

My inlaws made it to Loon Landing safe and sound. They made it just in time to watch the sun set from the back deck. Then we had a dinner of Italian sandwiches from the Fraternity General Store up the road which is sort of a White family tradition. After dinner, we got them both settled into their accommodations up on the hill behind our cottage. They will spend a week here with us.

It's a strange feeling. Life has a way of coming full circle. If I had never met Pam, I would never have come to Maine. In the early years of our marriage, when we were struggling a bit financially, Russ always paid for our site rental whenever we came up for summer vacation. He never wanted to take any money from me for my share of the grocery bill. It was the cheapest vacation you could imagine. All we had to do was show up. Once Pam became a full time, stay at home Mom, it was the only vacation we could afford.

Now, I get to return the favor. 

Of course, that doesn't mean my father in law gets a total free pass. I have a chore list a mile long and growing for him to get busy on while he's here. He will have to build the fires at night, including any requisite wood chopping. Oh, and if I smell red flannel hash anywhere on the property...he's OUT!!!

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Perfect Day for an Announcement

According to all the weather people, our first three days here were supposed to be a washout. Not even close. Yes, we've had a few showers, and the wind has blown some, but each day has had plenty of loveliness about it to enjoy. Now, this morning begins a string of three days of radiant sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70's. 

So, yesterday afternoon was a perfect example of what happens to my wife whenever she comes to Maine. I have said for years that she is never more beautiful than she is when she is here. Something magical happens to her, there's a peculiar bliss that paints itself on her face. Listen, I love coming here...but, Pam is enchanted. 

I had just settled in for my Sunday afternoon nap, while Pam was flitting this way and that around the house when her cell phone rings. It's a FaceTime request from our son and his girlfriend. This happens hardly ever. He calls...but when was the last time he Facetimed us with Sarah? One would think that a light might have gone off in Pam's head. We had been waiting for news from the two of them for months now. There they sat, smiling from ear to ear, snuggling close to each other. What does my wife do? Immediately, she launches in to a room by room video tour of our house and the grounds outside, going on and on about how perfect the place is and how delightful the views of the lake, etc..etc. Patrick and Sarah, to their great credit, were patient and attentive throughout the tour. Finally, Pam ran out of rooms and views, and stood still long enough for my son to make the announcement that he had proposed to Sarah and that she had said, Yes!! Joyous bedlam ensued.

A word about Sarah... I know that I speak for all parents when I say that from the time you are lucky enough to bring a child into this world, your every waking thought centers around their care and feeding. When they grow up and launch out on their own, your number one source of anxiety becomes, When will they find the one? You look at your own life and you understand how it has been made infinitely better, more joyful and complete by finding your own spouse, so you pray that your child finds the same thing. When my daughter found Jon, it was as if a giant weight had been lifted from us. We knew then, and it has been confirmed a thousand times since that he was and is perfect for her. So, the first time we met Sarah, something clicked. Here was a smart, talkative, opinionated, musical, tenderhearted, video game-playing beauty right out of central casting. My first reaction was, how did Patrick manage this?? Over the past couple of years we have had lots of opportunities to observe her in multiple situations. I have searched for warning signs, red flags, and found nothing. I was ready for them to get married long ago, but my son is the slow and careful type. He will not be hurried into anything, I have discovered. But, this weekend, he finally proposed and she accepted, and now...just like that, I have a new daughter.

After the call, I grilled hamburgers on the grill, and we had dinner on the deck while watching the sun disappear behind the pine trees across the lake, casting pink swirls in the western sky. I looked at Pam and she said, What an absolutely perfect day.

Yes. Yes it was.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Finding My Rhythm

Day 3 starts a chilly 50 degrees with fog shrouding the lake. There isn't a ripple of movement and no sound whatsoever. I have made the transition from Virginian to Main-ah in record time. It normally takes three or four days to find my rhythm here. I've managed to do it this year in 36 hours. For me it took a quick trip into Camden...

I noticed when I was up at the Fraternity Village General Store to buy Italian sandwiches that the spot in the cooler where the night crawlers were supposed to be was empty. Then, yesterday, when Pam made her opening trip to the Hannaford's in Belfast she found the same empty spot in their night crawler spot. Then she discovered the terrible news- post Labor Day in Maine, NO LIVE BAIT ALLOWED!!!

Ok, I should resist my usual snide comments about government overreach and the tyranny of the bureaucratic state, but..what career functionary is responsible for this bit of jackassery? By all means, lets arbitrarily pick a day of the year after which we will declare that if you're going to catch fish we must insist that you do so with artificial lures..because...well it doesn't really matter because we are the rule makers and we must do what we were born to do...make rules. In a temporary panic, I contacted my fishing expert, keeper of all manly information, and Maine fishing know it all, Alan:

Me: Dude, I'm in trouble. I just found out that it's too late in the year to use live bait to fish! What is a visitor from Virginia, without a license to do? I'm not a lure kind of guy...

Alan: First of all, don't panic. You need to find some Berkeley Gulp Worms. They fish just like live bait and they are legal. As far as the no license thing goes...all I can do is offer bail money.

Me: How much would a non resident temporary fishing license set me back?

Alan: Probably a lot, knowing Maine.

So, I drove into Camden to remedy the situation, pay my protection money to the Maine racket in charge of Inland Fisheries, and find me some Gulp Worms. We had been told that our beautiful little town wouldn't be crowded after Labor Day. We wouldn't recognize the place without the summer traffic clogging Main Street, they said. Lies. I had to park up at the library and walk three blocks to the store that accepts tribute money, only to be informed that this particular branch doesn't accept bribe payments, but their other store, a mere mile and a half away, does. Walking the three blocks back to my car, I passed by all of the familiar shops and noticed a couple of new ones. I paused a minute and just looked around. The thought came to me that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world right now than here in Midcoast Maine.


The second branch of Camden Sporting Goods expertly took my shakedown money with all of the faceless efficiency of a Soviet era government cheese store. For the privilege of three weeks worth of legal fishing, I would be charged $64. The twenty-something clerk who filled out the paperwork was a dual threat since not only was he up to speed with the paperwork required to keep the wheels of the state fully greased, he also knew exactly what a Gulp Worm was and twenty more dollars later, I was once again a fully equipped, law abiding fisherman. At this point Alan had more sage advice:

Alan: Ok, be careful with the Gulp juice...it stinks. Don't get it on your clothes and don't open it inside the house. Pam will not be pleased. Lisa hates Gulp!!

Armed with this crucial information, I drove the twenty minutes back to Quantabacook. I took the back way, a road that wound its way over hills and around sweeping curves. One minute there would be the trashy yards of old houses, bespoiled with ancient rusted vehicles and piled high with mountains of firewood. The next minute, over the rise of a hill, a lush valley would be revealed, sweeping fields of grass punctuated by a few grey boulders covered with moss. Off in the distance there would be a lake. There is always a lake. By the time my back road finally emerged onto a more familiar one, I had found my groove.

I'm on vacation...


Saturday, September 9, 2017

We Made It.

We made it. After walking around this gorgeous property for half an hour gawking at everything like unashamed tourists, we sat down on the dock and watched the late afternoon sun set the lake on fire in a splash of sparks. It's everything we hoped it would be..on stilts. Soon, we noticed a house across the lake, maybe three quarters of a mile away. We heard the sound of a boat, then saw it cutting a soft line across the water. It looked to be headed our way. I expected that at any moment in would veer north towards more open waters where the lake spreads out for miles. But no...it was still making a bee-line towards us. I turned to Pam...If those people are coming over to welcome us to Maine, this has to be the friendliest lake in America! 

And that's exactly what Wendy and Bob and their English Cream Golden, Finley did. They noticed us sitting on the dock of their friend's place and decided to pop across the lake and say hello. Small world. As a teenager, Bob happened to work in the same mill in Rumford, Maine that Russ did. They were both very familiar with Richmond, Virginia and complemented us on living in such a beautiful city. Their dog Finley happens to be a dead ringer for Jackson, my daughter's Golden. I laid out the subtle suggestion that perhaps later they can take us on a tour of the lake in their beautiful boat. We had been here less than an hour and we had already made some friends.

The house is incredible, but very tiny. Funny how cameras make things look so much larger. No closets. Kitchen has very small cabinets in which to place groceries. Bathroom has no vanity, and only a small three drawer cabinet to store all the chemicals and compounds that make us look presentable. The shower stall has no place to place bottles of shampoo, conditioner or body wash. When you find yourself in a place such as this you realize just how much stuff you drag around with you. But, Pam has worked her usual organizational miracle, and the place looks less cluttered now, ready for what the next three weeks will bring. Dan the Man will deliver the Kayaks and paddle board momentarily.

As delightfull as all of this is, I feel quite uncomfortable gushing about it all while so many of my countrymen are scrambling to escape the State of Florida as Irma barrels down. It feels inappropriate to be enjoying this rapturous piece of God's creation while others are fleeing, about to lose everything. But, I suppose this has always been true of life...when something marvelous happens to you, there is always something terrifying happening to someone else, some place else. Such is the nature of this fallen world.

So, we will enjoy everything that is here for us. We will pray for those in harm's way, and send another donation to those on the front lines. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Adventures of Mad Max, Dunnevant edition...

There's just no good way to get to Maine. 

You could walk, but that would be labor intensive, would take too long, and you run the risk of dying along the way. You could fly, but then you run the risk of flight delays and lost baggage. Besides, you couldn't take all the stuff necessary for a month of fun. The best way to go to Maine is the way we used to do it when we were younger and less obsessed with the safety of our children. We would take the middle seats out of our minivan, throw the kids on the floorboard in sleeping bags, tethered to nothing, and depart beautiful downtown Short Pump at 7:30 PM. By the time we made it to D.C. Both of them were fast asleep. Our first stop was after midnight somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike for gas and a bathroom break...which the kids slept through. The worst part would always be in Massachusetts at 4:00 in the morning when I could only stay awake if Pam fed me grapes and squirt cheese on Chicken-in-a-Biscuit crackers. When the sun finally came up around 6:00, I would get my second wind. We would make our second stop at the first rest area after crossing the green bridge into Maine. We would wake up the kids and have breakfast, secure in the knowledge that the worst part was over and now we were only two freaking hours away!! Once we pulled into Dummers around 10:00 AM, i would sleepwalk through getting unpacked and settled in, then collapse in a beach chair and sleep the rest of the day.

...and ladies and gentlemen, this was the best way to get to Maine.

Somewhere along the line, our all-nighters came to an end. The kids got too big and wouldn't sleep the whole way, and I got to where I couldn't stay awake no matter what disgusting snacks Pam fed me. It was then that we discovered that making the drive up 95 north in the daylight was something on the order of Dante's seventh circle of hell. I felt like Mad Max trying to survive a dystopian nightmare. I would imagine all of the horrible things that would befall me if I broke down on the Garden State Parkway, the grisly end I would endure if somehow I couldn't scrape up enough money for the Tappan Zee Bridge toll. And the traffic...the traffic through the trifecta of misery which is New Jersey, New York and Connecticut during the day is immeasurably worse than it is in the middle of the night. It's sort of like how tofu is immeasurably worse than steak, or how having a surprise attack of diarrhea while stuck in traffic is immeasurably worse than being served ice cream on a beach in Maui by a beautiful local girl in native dress. That kind of worse.

So, this year we are trying the famous western route, the stuff of legend in the Richmond-to-Maine travel world. For years we had heard of its toll free roads, its idyllic traffic and bucolic scenery. Yes, it's a little longer, they would say, but so worth it. 

Its definitely longer.

Yesterday it took me 10 hours and 15 minutes to drive to Hartford, Connecticut. There were three backups. During these interminable delays, we comforted ourselves by gazing at the bucolic scenery. Nice....Oh look honey, some cows! On the plus side, I only paid one toll...$1.50.

Today, I'm told by the GPS( Great Pissed-off Sensor ) that I only have 5 hours remaining before arriving at Loon Landing on Quantabacook Lake. Lies. All lies. It will take 5 hours only if there are no accidents, Hong Kong level traffic, no horrific weather event and no backups caused by a couple of minivans pulled over to the side of the road so junior can take a leak in the bushes. In other words...never gonna happen.

But, regardless of what happens on today's leg of this trip, at the end of it we will be at a lake house in Maine.

And that is the best revenge.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

24 Hours

Twenty four hours out from our departure to Maine...looks like our first week will be stormy. The weather forecast shows rain four out of the first seven days we're there. To make matters worse, looks like we will arrive in the rain...always a hassle. As a bonus, it appears that I will be loading up the car top carrier in the rain tonight. In addition, next Tuesday, the day that my inlaws will be flying up to Maine, Hurricane Irma might be arriving in Richmond, making their second attempt at flying to Maine in 2017 problematic. But, the good news is, Sean Hannity is still on top of Hillary's email scandal.

Despite these dark clouds, or perhaps because of them, there is a scent of adventure in the air today. The last day before leaving for a three week vacation is always crazy. There's the packing, made infinitely more difficult because it's Maine, so you have to pack for a wide range of weather outcomes. That means long pants and shorts. Tee shirts and sweaters. Swimming trunks and jackets. Then there's the added challenge of packing for a golden retriever. Half of the car is taken up with her crap. But through it all, there is an undercurrent of excitement. A road trip is that quintessential American experience. We are a vast country ribboned throughout with highways and back roads. This is a country built for travel, and we have the crumbling infrastructure to prove it. Hitting the road for a destination 845 miles and a half century away, is the sort of thing that has always gotten my blood pumping. 

Even if it rains every day in September, Pam and I will remember these next three weeks. This cannot be said of any random three weeks in Short Pump. 

So, we will take the weather as it comes, with resignation and submission. We will enjoy whatever comes our way. These next three weeks belong to us in full. We don't have to share it with Dunnevant Financial, or Hope Thrift, or River's Edge. 

We just have to get there. The trip is the hard part, the dangerous part. But for me, it's also the exciting part. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

College Football and Guilt...

Everyone who knows me knows that when it comes to sports, I'm very much a baseball...then everything else sort of guy. Truth be told, I'm a baseball nerd. The country could get invaded by the Chinese and I'd be the one checking out my MLB app for the west coast box scores. However, there is one sport that comes in a robust, albeit distant second. College football. I love it. I love the pagentry, the rabid fan bases, the mascots, the tailgate parties. But, I feel so guilty about it. Let me explain.

I'm a big Alabama fan. I got introduced to this monolithic force when I was 8 years old living in rural Alabama every weekend for 3 years. Paul Bear Bryant was the coach, and I quickly became aware that even Jesus wasn't as popular as "The Bear" in rural Alabama in the 1960's. So, I've been a fan ever since. Most people around here hate Alabama football. That's because 4 times in the last 10 years Alabama has won the national championship. When you live around a million Virginia Tech fans, this is a very sore subject. The Hokies are still waiting for their first national title, so...haters gonna hate. But, why the guilt?

Well, it's probably because college football is such a dirty, grubby business. Whoever coined the term student athlete to describe division I football players has probably been dead for fifty years now because while it may have at one time been true, it clearly no longer is. Yesterday's New York Times featured a story about a host of Florida State players who were caught cheating in an online hospitality class which dealt with the academically challenging world of coffee, tea and wine. Some poor professor who got bullied into inflating the grades of star football players despite the fact that none of them actually turned in any work eventually loses her job and commits suicide. And, that's not the worst of it. At least these FSU players were only guilty of cheating. For every cheater, there are probably 10 rapists. Just this past week, the Florida Gators had to suspend 10 players, many of them starters, for participating in an illegal jersey-selling scheme...or something.

But, as long as college football remains the money making behemoth it is today, this situation will get worse. Many of the best athletes in the sport come from backgrounds and environments not normally associated with academic achievement. All the tutors in the world aren't going to change that simple fact. The universities where they play don't have much incentive to educate them, but they do have plenty of insentive to exploit them for profit. The SEC is nothing more than a player development league for the NFL, and as such, those who play at these schools are actually unpaid, minor league athletes. Yes, they get a free education. But how much is that worth when so few actually graduate, and even if they did graduate, how valuable is an "education" which features online hospitality classes that require zero work? I say, drop this student athlete charade, and pay these players. Treat them as employees of the school. These guys bring big money to these schools. Many of them go on to the pros and get their big payday, but an even greater number don't. They blow out a knee and its over for them. What do those guys get by way of compensation for their work? If your answer is, a free education, you are living in a fantasy world where ghost-written term papers, fake classes and cooked grades equals an education.

But, despite all the flimflammery, rap sheets and crooked boosters...you can still count on me watching on Saturday when the Tide rolls. I suppose that makes me part of the problem.

SEC!!! SEC!!!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Attitude Adjustment Needed

What an odd week.

The week before a big event is always a slow, plodding thing. You find yourself trying to rush things along, making it next to impossible to stay in the moment. I have always suffered from an unfortunate affliction that constantly drives me to the next big thing. Pam is exactly the opposite in this regard, always content to make the most of now. Maine is the place where we are able to call a truce.

Anyway, so back to this week. There was the devastation of Harvey mixed with the heartwarming stories of heroic human beings from every background, every political persuasion, and every race, doing beautiful, selfless things. Of course, that was followed by various politicians trying to rush to the cameras to horn in on the good feelings being generated. Then the chattering classes did their best to throw a wet blanket on the sudden surge in unity by trying to undermine it all by casting doubt on the motives of our heros. And just like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, a slew of activist/hacks began taking advantage of human compassion by sending our fundraising pitches ostensibly for flood victims, but actually providing links to various political action committees, proving once again the old adage that...no good dead goes unpunished. I'm convinced that partisan politics is this nation's divine punishment for the original sin of slavery.

Meanwhile, back at the office, I spent the week talking clients out of making moves that would have put several thousand dollars in my pocket. They were determined. I was persistent. Eventually they relented. I made zero dollars for my efforts. I labor in a profoundly strange business.

Later I had a text conversation with my son,(are there any other kind?), where it occurred to me that at some point over the past 35 years, my attitude towards the federal government has taken a decidedly cynical turn. Although I believe that my son gives them entirely too much credit, is far too willing to give them the benefit of the doubt than their actions over my lifetime would warrant, I am never willing to give the Feds any credit for anything. This has not always been so. There was a time in my life when I actually felt connected to my government and was generally convinced, at least, of their benevolence, and critical of those who questioned their motives. But, after a 35 year career in the financial world as a business owner, my views towards Washington are more jaded. I find myself nodding in agreement when I hear that old Ronald Reagan line, The most terrifying sentence in the English language is, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help!" I suppose that 35 years of paperwork, redundant regulation, fees, taxes, surcharges, and constantly moving goalposts will do that to a person. I don't trust them. I don't respect them or those we elect to represent me in my dealings with them. It is my considered view that anything done by government will always and forever be second rate, shoddy, and delivered to me by rude, arrogant, incompetent functionaries, who are free to be so because of the eternal job security they enjoy which shields them from oversight.

Having said all of this, I must confess...it's no fun feeling this way about your government. There is a bitter taste that lingers in your soul when you hold anything in such contempt. I actually envy my son and daughter their more benevolent attitudes toward government. At this point in my life, I can't imagine ever getting back to my younger attitudes toward Washington, but I am seeking something in between. I would settle for ambivalence. Actually I would be overjoyed to land at ambivalence. At the very least, I owe them my neutral disregard. Hostility and contempt don't work and I must figure out how to leave both behind.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Harvey Spending

I've often heard people lament the problem of why better people don't run for office. Why do the best and brightest people seem to go into the business world, or academia? That leaves us at the mercy of either the idle rich, or the egomaniacs to roam the corridors of power in Washington. Well, an obvious answer can be found in a recent example of what just happened to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

I should say at the outset that I am not a fan of Mr. Cruz. He seems to me to be a socially awkward, Dracula-Esk, smartest kid in the class know-it-all. In addition, he creeps me out for some reason. So, using him as an example is probably ill-advised. But, his example is just the closest at hand. What is happening to him happens to a lot of politicians in Washington, from both sides of the aisle. 

So, here's the deal...

In 2012, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Senator refused to vote for the giant disaster recovery appropriation bill that was rammed through Congress, on the basis that, according to Cruz, 60% of the money wasn't even going directly to the victims of Sandy, but were what amounted to a grab bag of spending that under normal conditions would not have been approved. Now, that his state is the one in need of disaster relief, he is pounding the drums the loudest for...federal spending! What a hypocrite!!...right?

Well, it's not that simple. In true Cruzian fashion, back in 2012, his 60% number was overblown. But, on the merits, he was absolutely right. Whenever some disaster befalls this country, the federal government is expected to step in with an emergency appropriation to help the people rebuild. This takes the form of flood insurance, low cost loans, etc.. But, it also is an occasion for often ridiculous overreach. You've been having a hard time getting the government to fund your pet project for the folks back home? Attach that baby to the disaster relief bill, then dare anyone to vote against it! In the case of Sandy, only a portion of the funds made available were actually spent to relieve the immediate suffering of its victims. In fact, the majority of the funds were not even meant to be spent until three years later, and much of it was earmarked for 47 other states not named New Jersey. So, yes...Ted Cruz is creepy. But, he was right about the Sandy disaster recovery bill being a wasteful mountain of pork masquerading as disaster relief. Sorry.

When trying to explain how a country as rich and prosperous as the United States finds itself 20 trillion dollars in debt, it's a bit like trying to explain why water is wet. It's not just one thing. Pointless, unending wars certainly don't help. A tax code that gives write offs to people who don't need them doesn't help. But, pork barrel rolling is the engine that drives the insolvency train. The path to debt is paved with big-hearted emergency spending that isn't. And nothing creates a greater opportunity for pork barrel spending than a crisis. The idea of only passing a relief bill with targeted spending for actual relief victims would seem like a wise move. The fact that anyone who suggests such a thing is a heartless, hypocritical ogre is the kind of thing I suspect keeps an awful lot of talented, wonderful people from entering politics.

Of course, if my government is going to start throwing money it doesn't  have around, I suppose throwing that money at those suffering in Texas is preferable to throwing it around in Afghanistan. Every dark cloud has a silver lining.