Archive

Tag Archives: schoodic peninsula

In October my ex-wife and I decided to take a drive from Asheville, N.C., to Sullivan, Maine, to visit our old college friends, Sandro and Mu. This is Part 3 of that trip. 

Oct. 15

Sullivan, Maine, is a small community in Hancock County along the eastern edge of Taunton Bay, about a dozen miles east of the cutoff road to Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. It is well outside the normal haunts of seasonal tourists, and just off of U.S. 1, which continues north to the Canadian border. 

It was founded in 1789 and was originally a fishing town, but later became prosperous by mining silver and quarrying for granite. The primary use for the rock was for making curbstones for cities further south. Several abandoned quarries are still found up behind town in the woods.

The stone was loaded onto ships at Gordon’s Wharf in Sullivan and shipped out past Sullivan’s most prominent feature: a two-way rapids at the mouth of the bay which shifts direction with the changing tides. The wharf was later used for lobster boats. the town is now home to about 1200 people. 

I wrote about Sullivan in more detail in a previous post. 

My college friends Sandro and Mu moved there in 1988 to live in an old white clapboard house about 100 yards off the road behind a stretch of woods. 

The two are an amazing pair. Mu has multiple graduate degrees and Sandro was a Classics scholar who reads Latin for pleasure. I count them as my closest friends for the longest time; it is always like coming home when I go to visit. 

And I’ve been up to see them too many times to count. Before the two got married, Sandro and I drove to Maine together some 40 years ago. I believe that is when he first decided he would eventually move there. 

A few years ago, Mu’s sister, Gina, and her husband, Jay, moved to Sullivan also. They generously offer their above-the-garage apartment to visitors. 

And so, Anne and I arrived in Sullivan by late afternoon on Monday and moved into the apartment. On Tuesday, Anne crossed item number two off her wish list by visiting the L.L. Bean in Ellsworth to find a new pair of shoes. Back in Sullivan, she napped in the afternoon while I listened to music and read some Melville. 

On Wednesday, all hell broke loose. 

 Oct. 16

A “bomb cyclone” is a new, fancy word for the storm that creates a “nor’easter.” We got hit on Wednesday night. 

The wind hit 60 mph. The rain came down in Niagaras. Windows rattled. Door was blown open. Morning came, the storm continued. In the dim light of dawn, I could see out the bedroom window and watched a 60-foot pine tree catch the wind; its tip was pulled off from vertical by 20 feet. 

It finally died down about 11 a.m. on Thursday, but no power anywhere in miles around. Power went out before dawn on Thursday morning. Trees were down everywhere. Most of coastal Maine was damaged. Over all New England, nearly half a million people were left without power. 

A bomb cyclone is said to exist when the barometer drops 24 millibars in 24 hours. Over the night, it dropped 24 millibars in 11 hours. I dropped 37 millibars in 24 hours. It was a mega-nor’easter.

We were basically on hold for three days. No electricity, no water (the well-pump runs on power), pouring jugs of bought water in the toilet tank so we can flush three or four times a day. Darkness after sunset (by 5 p.m., it is already too dark to read).

That meant not only no power, no internet, no cell phone, no recharging anything, it also meant no water, no stove, no refrigerator no way to wash dishes and no way to make coffee in the morning. Jay brought up to us a couple of jerry-cans of non-potable water to flush with. Sandro brought us a bag of ice to put in the fridge so the food wouldn’t go bad. 

The only heat was a propane stove in the living room, and the pilot light went out every time the wind blew. (Relighting it required getting on the floor with a flashlight and twisting dials and pushing buttons to get it to flame up again).

All day Thursday and all day Friday there was no power. Anne was getting a smidge petulant; she suggested she’d had enough of Maine and perhaps we should begin driving home NOW. She suggested we get a hotel room. She suggested perhaps I was the anti-Christ. I suggested she think of it all as a great adventure. “This is fun. Just think of it as camping,” I say. 

This does not go over well. 

Oct. 17

When the thing died down, we tried to drive down the street to see how Sandro and Mu fared, but a tree was broken at the base and leaning into the power lines, stretching them like a rubber band and threatening to snap them. We debated whether to drive under the tangle, and did so gingerly. Trees and branches were littered everywhere. Just before we got to Sandro and Mu’s driveway, a gigantic pine tree was broken into two 8-foot chunks in the road, one half on one side, the other on the other with just enough room for a car to slip between. 

The mighty maple tree that had stood beside their house was a shattered pile in the driveway. It missed their car by a few feet. 

“We heard a boom in the night, I thought it was thunder,” Mu said. “But it must have been the tree falling.”

We then went the 12 miles into Ellsworth to see if anyone had power yet. It was eerily quiet and empty. No power anywhere. 

Oct. 18

The third day and the power was still out. But the air had cleared and the sun shone again. We left the dark apartment and drove to Schoodic Point, which is part of Acadia National Park. 

Schoodic is one of my holy-of-holies, a windswept peninsula of rocks hammered by constant waves. If the weather is right, they crash into the granite and spray a hundred feet into the air. And, after the bomb cyclone, the weather was driving the water into the shore in massive bursts. 

It was still windy and cold, which turned my hands to ice and my face to a kind of numb leather. But it was perfect: This is Schoodic the way it is supposed to be, nature with unchecked energy. Spume, thunder and we were nearly the only ones there to enjoy it. 

Oct. 19

It is Saturday and there were trucks in Sullivan with cherry pickers and flagmen working on cutting down fallen and damaged trees and re-stringing wire. By about 3 p.m., power was finally restored and Anne could take a shower and decide that Maine was beautiful, after all. 

Sandro and Mu cooked dinner. He fixed some salmon and asparagus; she made apple cobbler for dessert. We sat around their dining room table, drank wine and talked into the evening. This is what we came for. 

Back in the apartment, Anne rested on a heating pad for her aching back and I sat across the room, reading under the only light we had on, which made a kind of warm, glowing light very like the candle light we had been getting used to. It makes a difference if you do that by choice. 

Tomorrow — laundry.

To be continued

Click any image to enlarge


Why do I do this?

The year I was born, the New York School of painters was coalescing. When I was an adolescent, they were ascendant. They were my boys: Jackson, Willem, Franz, Barney and Mark. 

(And they were boys. It was years before Helen and Lee were fully recognized.) 

During those years, the boys were flying high, but they still needed to be argued for. The mass of people continued to make fun of them. “My three-year-old could do that.” 

But to me, their power and meaning was manifest. During my teenage years, I spent many hours at the Museum of Modern Art, soaking in those great works. I spent way more of my time at MoMA than I did at the MET. 

They were called “Abstract Expressionists,” but at the time, for most people, abstract meant distorted. Picasso was the most famous artist in the world — the most famous abstract painter, and his subjects were still recognizable as bulls and guitars.

But for the New York School, it would be hard to name a subject. When Jackson Pollock was quizzed about what was his audience looking at, he said, “A painting.” 

There came to be a distinction made between abstract art and what was called “Non-Objective.” My boys were the latter. They weren’t imitating the world, but creating a new one. 

Yet, while I can honestly say I spent 10 hours at MoMA for every one I spent at the Metropolitan, the museum that became my spiritual home was the American Museum of Natural History. I didn’t just enjoy it; I loved it. I still do. 

At AMNH, I met the wonders of the natural world, from the giant blue whale hanging from the ceiling to the “Soil Profiles of New York State.” There were dinosaur bones and the colossal Olmec head. Rooms filled with rock collections and the great, illuminated theater of dioramas with their dramatis personae of stuffed bears and lions. 

I had the luck of growing up in rural New Jersey. While it was only a short bus ride to the George Washington Bridge and civilization, it was also a land of woods and streams — one ran through our property. Red fox and white-tailed deer would occasionally pass through our lawn. Tract housing and mini-malls had not yet taken over. 

So, I had these two very polar influences pulling me: On one hand, there was the manifesto of the art world that painting should be painting, and not an image of the world; on the other, I was in love with nature and the world of seasons, leaves, birds and geology. 

This tension still thrives in me. In 1998, I got to see the huge Pollock retrospective at MoMA and the painter’s 1952 masterpiece, Blue Poles, which was on loan from its home in Australia. The 16-foot-wide painting was intensely beautiful; I stood in awe — and that is not too strong a word, despite its current depreciation among the cell-phone generation, for whom even a cheese doodle can be “awesome.” 

Yet, on the same trip, I also went back to the Natural History Museum. Entering its dark and marble halls was an act of love — and that is not too strong a word. 

Since then, the art world has walked through several new rooms: Pop, Conceptual, Postmodern. And each of them seems to step further back from the physical sensation of the the natural world. 

Pop wants us to recognize cultural artifacts as worthy subjects for consideration — and they certainly are. 

Conceptual art removes us from even that, into a world of pure idea, and those ideas are often so removed from our everyday experience as to be unintelligible for the mass of people. And often kind of silly. Often the art would be better expressed in words. Write an essay. 

Postmodernism seems to tell us that there is nothing but rehash of old imagery, and what is more, even those are really about power relationships and keeping the little guy down, especially if he is a she or is melanin-enhanced. 

Certainly, there is among these isms, much art of value and meaning. And I often agree with the political ideas expressed. But I have always missed in them a sense of love for the things of this world — the smells, textures, colors, shapes of the things we use and inhabit. 

I have never given up on that. 

In some ways, this dichotomy is the difference between reason and empiricism. Conceptual and Postmodern art think their way through the world. What I value is experiencing my way through it. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. 

But I still have this memory lodged in my psyche of Pollock and Kline and Rothko and de Kooning. 

So, I have at times attempted a synthesis. I love nature. Rocks and trees and birds and bees. The ocean and lakes; the canyons and grasslands; the swamps and forests.

Ah, but even as I read that, I know those are words. It isn’t rocks and trees, really. It is the hardness and grain of a particular granite, the different bark of birch and yew. It is the spot upon which I stand at any given moment and what I feel as breeze on my skin, what sun glare I shade my eyes from. 

And in that granite or in that tree bark, there are shapes, textures, colors. I touch them. I see them.

There is a place I have visited many times in Maine. It is Schoodic Point, which is a part of Acadia National Park. The main park on Mt. Desert Island, is crowded and developed, but some 40 miles northeast, by road, there is the Schoodic Peninsula, jutting out into the ocean. At its tip, it is bare, hard rock and spume and surf. The wind is usually raw and comparatively few visitors come there, especially in the fall and winter. 

(The double-O in the middle of Schoodic is pronounced like the double-O in “good.”)

There, I can use my camera to record the abstract expressionist details that combine the emphasis on form and texture with an engagement with the natural world. It is a chance to reconcile those conflicting parts of my being. 

There is in some religions and mystical philosophies a contemptus mundi that I cannot share. The world is beautiful — not pretty, but beautiful; even its ugliness is beautiful. 

In 1928, the German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch published a book in which his images of the world, both natural and industrial, found pattern and form in details excerpted from context. It was named, Die Welt ist schoen. 

That has become a watchword for me: When you engage with it as deeply as you can — and we are each different in this respect — when you so engage with it, you discover that Moses was not exceptional; every bush is the burning bush.

That is what makes those cypresses of Van Gogh so penetrating, the haywain of Constable, the waterlilies of Monet, the peppers of Edward Weston, the simple crockery of Chardin, the rabbit of Durer. Die Welt ist schoen. 

So, I cannot worry if my humble images are important art or not, or whether it is art at all. Muche wele stant in litel besinesse. 

This is my tiny translation of Schoodic into image, the finding of the same elements Pollock sublimated into his canvasses, but here extracted from the hard edge of stone.

Click on any image to enlarge