Woman Enough

Finding Home; harbor versus house

Posted in Uncategorized by womanenough on August 31, 2011

I’ve been thinking this week about why living aboard works for me. It’s on my mind because I’m not living aboard; I’ve been staying at my family’s house while tearing apart Mama Tried  for repairs inside and out.

Despite the cable and internet, elaborate meals spread about the kitchen and showers on demand, I’ve felt a huge hole while sleeping on land, and it’s not just that I’m not traveling. Finally, yesterday, sitting on Mama Tried waiting for paint to dry, I gave a wave as a local lobsterman came in from hauling. Instantly, I knew what I’d been missing.

The sense of community that has all but disappeared from our country’s lubber neighborhoods is alive and strong in its harbors.  While land activity is largely focused inside, or on a piece of privately owned property, harbor activity is almost exclusively outdoors.

The water itself is public property, and with dozens of us focusing on our boats, our floating claim to squatting rights on the sea, it makes for a lot of people living and working very closely to each other.

Belfast is not a town with a lot of live aboards, but it’s a thriving waterfront. I’ve been living in the harbor for a year now, and the faces are no longer just familiar, many of them are my friends. There is a lot of visiting, a lot of genuine concern for and delight with each other.

It’s part of the overall value I find in living on my boat; there are no distractions from the things that allow me to live more fully. The simplicity of it all is well and good, and beautiful in its own sort of lifestyle experiment. But I could have lived simply on a plot of land or out of a van.

Living aboard provides me with the things I value most; hard work, quiet space, exploration. By default, it surrounds me with others who value these things in their own ways. Some of them live aboard. Some of them are fishermen. Some of them run businesses from boats or shore side buildings. All of them make up a vibrant community. Being part of this kind of community feels right to me.

And I suppose it doesn’t hurt that it all takes place on the water, either. I haven’t been at this long, but already I am as rich in perfect sunsets, curious seals, and gently rocking seas as I am in kind souls.

Kerplink, Kerplank, Kerplunk!

Posted in Uncategorized by womanenough on August 29, 2011

I’ve got berries on my mind, sparked by this story about North Haven Island’s “slightly scandalous” blueberry tart.

Here in Maine, August means blueberry season. You’ll find roadside farm stands selling tiny wild blueberries every few miles as you drive the state’s primary roads.

Maine’s berries are of the low bush variety, and they are sweeter than the larger, high bush versions found in the rest of the country. Maybe that’s an unfair value judgment, but I think it’s probably true.

When I was in school, many of my classmates would spend the last two weeks of summer raking berries, a process that involves bending over the low bush plants for hours, harvesting ripe and unripe berries, as well as leaves, with a rake the strips the entire plant. Then the berries must be sorted before they can be sold.

My family spent August in a house with blueberry fields on two sides. We picked the berries by hand, plucking only the ripest berries from each plant. It took three times longer than raking, but it meant a longer harvest.

For a few weeks out of the year, blueberries went into everything. Baked goods, breakfast cereal, salads, and sauces. Three blueberries gained admission to the puppet shows put on in a neighbor’s barn. “Picking berries” was a free pass to leave the house, half way into the field by the time I heard the screen door slam behind me.

I sat for hours in those fields and left with purple and blue stains on the seat of my pants where I’d sat on a bush or two by accident. While I picked, my imagination took a little stretch. I have done some of my best daydreaming squatting in a blueberry field.

It took hours, sometimes days to pick enough berries for a pie. What started as an imagined pie might turn into a cake, then muffins, then a few berries sprinkled on pancakes, as I became more realistic about my patience and its yield.

But sometimes I’d pick the six cups of berries necessary for a pie, and those pies were the best on earth. The berries were free, foraged from the land, and better than any berry you’d buy in the grocery store. They were warm from the sun or covered with dew in the early morning, and you had to get to them before the gulls and crows picked the fields bare.

It sounds trite, but blueberry picking is an iconic part of my Maine childhood, and I’m not the only one.

2011 has been a terrible year for the berry crop. Yesterday’s rain likely did in what was left of the harvest. I may need to scratch the blueberry tart itch with a DIY felted version instead of the real deal, but there will be some family farms that are really hurting.

For me, it’s blueberries that call to mind long summer days with an aching back and stinging sunburn on my neck. In Atlantic Canada, there is quite a tradition around harvesting bakeapples, for which each plant only produces one berry. What are your essential summer harvests? Your iconic berry memories?

Lead illustration from Blueberries for Sal from Robert McCloskey.

Tagged with: ,