Yo, ho! Back home again!
When I left off with this yesterday, I was sitting in the Lap of Paradise (aka Midcoast Maine), happily typing away while watching the nautically bucolic: sailboats, lobsterboats, sea birds, waves) and thinking I was going to go to the Botanical Gardens. Instead, we headed for a property owned by a pack of angels that call themselves the Boothbay Region Land Trust. I don’t like to pack a lot of links into my posts, but these guys do such an amazing job that I want to give them the biggest shout-out I can. They’ve acquired and presently maintain a respectable number of terrific conservation properties – real bijou properties, these are – and they’ve put hiking trails on them and they provide a good map, with good AND complete directions, directions that will actually take you right to the property. And these hiking trails are the BOMB. They’re beautifully maintained, as such things go, without delivering the sort of “beautiful” maintenance I ran into in the Siuslaw National Forest over there in Oregon several years ago, which involved the placement of a cappuccino trailer near the bathrooms and trail head. While I recall being deeply grateful for the arboreal cappuccino experience – and it naturally informed my general perceptions of what the Pacific Northwest is about – I do on occasion want something a little more…rustic. But not so rustic that I have to hack my own way through the underbrush. This is where the BLRT folk come in – the trail are a reasonable width, they go through very interesting terrain, the boggy bits are tricked out with nifty stepping-stones made of cross-sectional cuts of dead trees, but best of all, the trails are beautifully marked. None of this crashing about in the forest searching for some faded blaze and then drifting a quarter-mile off the path after confusing a patch of fungus for the blaze. No. The BLRT blazes are fresh and they are clear and they are placed on a reasonable number of trees. If you can’t see one fairly immediately, you know you are off the path.
These are also the people who provided the convenient “VISTA” signs I mentioned in an earlier post. Nothing like having trail maintenance that helpfully points out side-tracks leading to particularly nice views.
The place we went yesterday stood out as a special gem even in the sparkling BLRT diadem. It had a huge salt-water inlet on one long side and a wetlands immediately adjacent. It had rocks and VISTAS and we were able to get a tremendously near view – near enough that I said a few words of appreciation to Lady Luck that we were upwind – of a lobsterman plying his craft. He couldn’t have been more than 30 feet away from us at that point. So charming. So peaceful…
…or, rather, so peaceful if one enjoys the company of dogs. Really, this is true for just about any activity I can discuss that occurs on the Maine coast. I have never seen a group so utterly, thoroughly, and remarkably invested in the company of their dogs. It’s not just the Summer People – although, it certainly is those, to the point where we are wondering if you are simply issued a large dog when you sign the papers on your new vacation cottage. It’s the locals, too. I can’t count the number of boats I have seen in the last week, putt-putting along with a driver in one seat, and a big hairy friendly dog in the other. I can’t count the number of people I have seen carrying their small hairy friendly dog in and out of the shops. Walkers in Ocean Point come in two flavors: thin, ascetic-looking women doing speedwalks (alone and in packs) and dog-walkers. One frequently finds the same person in both groups: speedwalking early in the morning, dogwalking later on. But those who are neither speedwalking nor accompanied by a pooch are in the distinct minority.
You do see all types of dog, but there is a clear preference for identifiable breeds. The majority, as we have all been led to expect by decades of L.L. Bean catalogs, are some variant of the Retriever. Labs, Goldies, Goldendoodles, Water Spaniels, Newfies, Portuguese Water Dogs…you name it. I ran into a guy walking three (3) Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. These retrievers make up the bulk of canine companions, followed distantly by terriers. Scotties, Westies, Cairns, Airedales, Schnauzers, Fox, and a couple of Wheaten. Once in a while you’ll see poodles, typically minis handled by the elderly.
These people take their dogs everywhere. I’m starting to think we should rent one for the trip next time we go up. I feel naked, out walking about, without a dog on a lead.
Naturally, one encounters dogs galore on the hiking paths. And so it was yesterday, when my husband and I made our way – with some trouble because hiking a moderately advanced trail in deck shoes is really not to be recommended – to a Very Scenic Bench that offered a VISTA. This bench…I swear, I wish I’d had my camera just to take a picture of this thing. They could sell these things out of the Bean catalog for maybe $800 a pop, and constantly be back-ordered. Yet, here it was out on this rocky little promontory.
Something else I should note about the Downeast Dog: it’s a heck of a lot better behaved, in general, than the dogs one finds in the area where I live. At home, I can’t open the local newspaper without encountering either an article, an angry Letter to the Editor, an angry Rebuttal to some other Letter to the Editor, etc etc etc all about the extremely poor behavior of the local dogs. And it’s true. The poor behavior of the local dogs is exceeded only by the even more poor behavior of the local children. All of this, naturally, stemming from the exact same source. Ankle-biters of every species rampage, engaging in disruptive and aggressive behavior unconstrained by fond parents or owners who look on indulgently…as long as their offspring or pet is the only one behaving badly. As soon as another indulgent parent or owner enters the scene, all bets are off. So I’m used to people who have dogs that jump, fail to come when called, have absolutely no basic training, and are generally pesty as all get-out. The Downeast Dog, on the other hand, sits, stays, comes when called, does not leap up on strangers, and maintains a moderately respectful silence. These dogs are, yes, big, hairy, and friendly. But not, usually, obnoxious.
So we’re having a few moments of meditative silence on our Rustic Forest Bench perched on a rocky outcropping over the water. A crashing in the underbrush alerts us to the incoming presence of Company, probably canine. And so it is: an Akita leaps through the trees, grins at us in that way Akitas have, says Hi briefly, and sets out to investigate the rocks. We sit silently, watching the wagging tail disappear over the top of the rock pile.
Then, as one – because when you’re both married and joined at the hip, you can start reading each other’s minds, or doing something so like that the difference hardly matters – we both whispered under our breaths “Jump in. Go on. You know you want to. Jump into the water.” We exchange a look, and then redouble our Silent Mental Commands, exerting the powers of our combined wills, to encourage this stranger’s dog to leap into the ocean and get really wet for the ride home. No one around here has pickup trucks, so a wet dog means a wet interior.
I don’t know why we both, simultaneously, decided to shoot for the schadenfreude of some unknown party dealing with a filthy and soaking Akita. But we did, and we were rewarded by the sound of a big splash…which was followed in very short order by an invisible party at the top of the hill commanding his dog to return. Which, leaping wet and slimy from the shoreline, it did. It was one of many deeply gratifying moments during the day…most of which were characterized by a more innocent pleasure.
We had an amazing sunset. We made it to my favorite restaurant and scored a terrific table and one of the last four lobsters they had on hand. Blueberry wheat beer was consumed. Wild blueberries were purchased. Ice cream was eaten. Stars were watched. Regrettably, bags were packed, and vacationers returned home.
Just in time, too, because I have only this moment realized I completely spaced out on getting the syllabus and stuff copied for my class next Tuesday.
Since I’m home again, I think it’s time for some more recipes. Here’s one to celebrate the late-summer bounty of chard – and this one is great even for people who don’t like chard (I can’t stand the stuff myself, but I whacked this dish up when I landed a huge bundle of it from my CSA one year, and I like this dish quite a lot). Got the basic outline from Bon Appetit ages ago.
Chard, Tomato And Cheese Casserole
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bunches Swiss chard, washed, center ribs torn away, coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)
3 red bell peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups packed grated Monterey Jack cheese (about 8 ounces)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
Grease 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large Dutch oven over high heat. Add chard and sauté until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer chard to colander and drain well. Place chard on kitchen towel, roll up and squeeze HARD to get as much liquid out as possible. (color will launder out of towel)
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add bell peppers and onion and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Mix in chard and toss to combine. Mix in half of each cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon into prepared dish. Overlap tomato slices atop vegetable mixture, covering completely. Season tomatoes with salt and pepper. Sprinkle remaining cheeses over. Cover with foil. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake casserole until heated through, about 40 minutes. Uncover; bake until top begins to brown, about 10 minutes more.
serves 8-10 as a side.
A few final pictures of Maine, and then I need to stop looking at them because I just miss the place too much: