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Archive for October 17th, 2013

Books, Documentaries, Reviews: Vinalhaven Trip and Great Reads This Summer

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  October 17, 2013


Vinalhaven Trip and Great Reads This Summer


I have belonged to a book club here in Camden for eight or so years now.

I treasure my book club in many ways, but perhaps one of the best reasons I do is that I wind up reading books I would not have discovered or, even, chosen on my own.

We don’t always agree on which books we like–and that enriches our discussions.

We are NOT all on the same political page either, though we are all caring, good people.  Those differences adds to the discussion, too.

There are six of us at the present time:  three sets of neighbors.  I was invited to join this book club by my neighbor Sarah Rheault, and I am grateful to her for that invitation.

In the summer for many years now, Sarah has us out to her summer house in Cushing.  There are pictures elsewhere on this blog of some of the views from her house.  We sit outside, snack on savory tidbits, eat lunch together, and talk and talk.  This year was no exception, and we all look forward to this summer event.

This year, we upped the ante.  Book club member Sally Burnett-Lessor and her husband Norbert bought an old house about three years ago on Vinalhaven–one of the offshore islands.  They’ve been summering out there, and this year rented their Camden house and spent their whole summer on the island.  And, loved it.

Sally invited the book club to come and see the house, walk the island, and have lunch.  We took her up on her offer, rode out on the ferry, and had a wonderful day with her and Norbert.  I wish I had taken pictures of all the beautiful work this couple has done on their old house–to include adding an astonishing glass room which they built themselves off the redone kitchen.  (Next time, for I hope we have just established another summer tradition.)  They are both amazing craftspeople, and the house shows many loving restorative touches.  The tiled bathrooms are beyond belief.  It’s exactly the sort of house I treasure–two stories; narrow, old stairway going upstairs; painted, wide-planked, crooked wooden floors; a great front porch, and on and on.  The house is furnished with woven rag rugs, old pieces of furniture collected with love and delight, and many of Norbert’s own photographs.  (He has a great eye.)

Here are some pictures from our day–but not ONE of the house.  How dumb was that?

First, as we came up to the Vinalhaven harbor entrance, I looked back to see the Camden Hills where we started.  This look back is a beautiful part of this ferry trip:

Vinalhaven ferry view going

Vinalhaven is a working fishing village.  There are some stores and a sturdy restaurant.  One can walk to some interesting places, like the local refuge we visited, which is lovely.  But Vinalhaven is a working fishing community first and foremost, and that’s why one might want to visit and see what that’s like.

Here’s a video I took as we came into Vinalhaven harbor.

Here’s a picture taken from the far side of the harbor as we walked to the preserve.  The main part of the village is beyond the spit of land.  I think this creek in the foreground is called Indian Creek.

Vinalhaven from Indian creek

Here’s a shot from inside the preserve.  It does capture how very blue the Maine water is on a sunny day.  That’s open ocean beyond the island shore.

Vinalhaven 4

Bayberry bushes covered this hillside.  The smell of them was heady and rich.  And in the background are the firs that writer Sarah Orne Jewett called “pointed firs”–as in her novel The Country of the Pointed Firs.  Jewett was the same vintage as Willa Cather, who also lived on the Maine Coast.  And, Lura Beam, who wrote A Maine Hamlet, which was a very good sociological study of what happens as families expand and dividing the land their parents owned became more and more difficult.

The other gal in this list is Ruth Moore, and I read every one of her books I could get when I first came to Maine.  Especially after I was told that people used to put bumper stickers on their cars saying “I read Ruth Moore.”  She chronicles that moment when local people begin to leave the islands and the coast because they want to buy things.  They want money.  So they work in fish factories to get money.  And they lose their purchase on the land–and their health–just as wealthy people start coming to Maine and buying up the coast and the high places with views.  Today, access to coast and water is a problem for many traditional fishing families.

Vinalhaven bayberry

Here’s the book club, save one member who had to work today.  From the left:  Sally, Sarah at  the rear, Elinor in the pink sweater, and Susan in the cloth hat.

Vinalhaven, Lane Island 3

The purple asters are one of the last wildflowers to bloom.  When we see them along the roadsides, we know fall, and pumpkins, and glorious leaves are not far behind.  Here’s one of the prettiest clumps I saw all year.  They were everywhere on Vinalhaven.

Vinalhaven purple asters

On the way home, we had a clear view of the wind mills on Fox Island.  They are supplying all the electricity for Vinalhaven, Fox Island, and North Haven–as I understand it.  The blades of these windmills are huge.  I was in Rockland one day when they were trucking the blades out to the island.  I was blown away by their size.

Vinalhaven, Fox Island windmills

The wind mills have been hugely popular with everyone but a few families who live near them.  They say the noise is bothersome.  And, I know these blades can throw ice in the winter.  But…properly positioned–as Europe has done–out in the ocean–or away from homes–they are a good thing.

On entering Rockland Harbor, I got a lovely shot of the Breakwater lighthouse from the water.

Vinalhaven, Rockland Light House 2

So, here are my most favorite books read this summer–in no particular order of importance:

Maine writer Bill Roorbach’s award-winning Life Among Giants made me want to go and read all his other books.

Maine writer Monica Woods My Only Story is a lovely little novel.  She also has an award-winning memoir out that Maryann Enright is going to bring to me on her next visit.  I think it’s called When We Were The Kennedy’s.

Martin Walker’s latest Bruno story, The Devil’s Cave.  Bruno is a policeman in a small town in the Perigord region of France.  The books always explore a serious issue, have a mystery at their heart, and are filled with the lovely life of a small town–from meals to showing the complexity of relationships.  They are just plain fun.

Michael Oondatje, The Cat’s Table–a novel with depth, wisdom, mystery, and so much more.  It’s a lovely read.

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.  I inhaled this one.  It’s set in the Amazon jungle.  I will now go get Patchett’s Bel Canto, which won all sorts of prizes a few years back.

I am now reading Steward O’Nan’s Wish You Were Here, which is very good if a bit painful to read.  The patriarch of the family has died and his wife and grown children and his sister are all struggling to handle and understand their relationships in the wake of his death and the selling of the vacation cottage that united them at least once a year.

And I will move next to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland.  The book club read her novel American Wife a few years back, and we all liked it.  Sittenfeld’s American Wife is Laura Bush, and the novel treats her gently and with great compassion.