Thursday, November 23, 2017

From Camelot to Amityville

Sitting here this morning I suddenly realized that yesterday was the 54th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I neither read nor heard a single reference to it yesterday. I would have thought the decline of this country from Camelot to Amityville would have deserved an appropriate comment (280 characters or less).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Why Am I not Surprised? - Trump Targets Elephants

Take a good, long look at this photograph, if you can. It is disgusting in the extreme. It show the eldest son of the President [sic] of the United States standing next to the corpse of an African elephant he had just killed. He proudly stands there with knife and severed tail in hand after claiming his trophy of the kill. Frankly, I find it too disturbing to look at. I share it here only to make a point I did not believe I needed to make. Apparently I do.

In an interview in 2012, when this photograph first surfaced, Trump Junior claimed that it is a tradition in Africa to cut off the tail of a killed elephant as a sign of respect for the animal. He later stated that he and his younger brother were "avid outdoorsmen and were brought up hunting and fishing with our grandfather who taught us that nothing should ever be taken for granted or wasted." He stated further that "all meat was donated to local villagers who were incredibly grateful . . . we are outdoorsmen at heart." I would beg to differ.

Two days ago the US Fish and Wildlife Service (an agency within the US Department of the Interior) announced that it would renew the issuing of permits allowing for the importation of trophies taken from elephants killed on big game hunts in Zimbabwe and Zambia after January 21, 2016. It justified this policy reversal by suggesting that legal "well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program" was beneficial, and that permitting the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia would raise money for various conservation programs in these countries. It fails to note, however, that both countries have long been plagued by rampant corruption.

According to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a review undertaken by the Fish and Wildlife Service "established that both Zambia and Zimbabwe had met new standards, strict international conservation standards that allowed Americans to resume hunting in those countries." ’Really??? In Zimbabwe which is presently in the throes of a military coup? Even Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the lifting of the ban was the "wrong move at the wrong time."

New standards?? This is also news to everyone who is familiar with the dangerous plight of the African elephant which remains on the list of threatened species on the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Public Law 94-205) which requires the US government to protect endangered species in other countries as well as in the United States.

A New York Times editorial warned that lifting the ban announced by the Obama administration in 2014 (which provided for the possibility for the importation of elephant parts only if it could be established that hunting would improve the overall viability of the species) would "endanger gains made by governments and environmental groups to protect elephants from illegal trade in ivory and other body parts." Once again this current administration is ignorantly going about its efforts to destroy the legacy of the previous one, and with it the African elephant.

The lifting of the ban was lauded by the Safari Club International, a hunters’ rights advocacy organization, and by the National Rifle Association, which apparently is not satisfied with the wholesale slaughter of innocent Americans but believes it important for American hunters to also slaughter endangered wildlife here and abroad. Thankfully, vocal opposition to the lifting of the ban was immediate, loud and pervasive and thankfully this led to a quick, if perhaps only a temporary hold, on the reversal pending further review. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced yesterday that he had discussed the matter further and both he and Trump agreed that "conservation and healthy herds are critical." Trump says he will wait to make a final decision until he has time to "review all conservation facts." Wouldn’t you think this review would have been undertaken before announcing the lifting of the ban? That is just not the way it works in Trump’s Washington.

Does this temporary hold illustrate Trump’s change of heart, or that of his administration? Or that Congress will oppose the lifting of the ban? Don’t think so for a minute. Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested that the ban should remain in place "until Zimbabwe stabilizes." He view the killing of elephants from the point of view of national security. He is not concerned with big game hunting but rather with the poaching of elephants which is "blood currency for terrorist organizations." He added that regulated hunts could be beneficial to maintain a healthy herd. This logic may hold when considering overpopulated deer herds and the like, but surely does not apply to the African elephant and other endangered species that are being slaughtered at an alarming rate.

Trump says he wants to weigh the conservation facts. How about this one? According to the Great Elephant Census released by the World Conservation Congress last year, the African savanna elephant population stood at approximately 352,000 over 93% of its former habitat. This demonstrates a decline of 30% of the overall population between 2007 and 2014 (the year the Obama administration instituted the ban). The census also showed that in some areas the population had declined by as much as 74%. Add to this the fact that this population is experiencing an 8% annual decline

due to the ravages of the poaching epidemic throughout Africa. The UN estimates that 27,000 African elephants are slaughted annually. You do the math! If this is true, and all who are in the know seem to agree it is, then how can studies show that the African elephant population "in both Zambia and Zimbabwe [where the population declined 6% during that period] had met new standards, strict international conservation standards"?

This past spring my wife and I visited South Africa where we were able to spend some quality time up close and personal with African elephants. We found them to be highly intelligent and compassionate. They pose no threat unless threatened. People have the ability to stand up and protest when they experience injustice. Elephants and other relatively defenseless endanged animals do not. They are slaughtered by trophy hunters and our government apparently thinks this is just fine (unless our national security is threatened). Well I don’t. One thing is clear. Elephants certainly demonstrate an intelligence and compassion unfamiliar to the heartless and ignorant individual sitting in the Oval Office and his two butcher boys.





Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Abrupt Transitions: What Country Am I Really In??? - Dispatches from Canada (or is it?)

Dateline: Trois-Rivière, Québec 

 After a week in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick I have finally arrived  in Québec - la belle province - and I am resting my weary head this evening along
the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, in the realm of the Trifluvians, about half way between Québec City and Montréal.

I spent last night in
Edmundston, New Brunswick situated on the Canadian side of the St. John River opposite Madawaska, in Maine’s Aroostook County.  Just shy of the Québec border, Edmunston seemed an appropriate place to begin my exploration of the USA-Canadian border in northern New England (a ca. 800 mile long boundary between Lake Champlain, on the New York-Vermont border, and the Bay of Fundy on the Atlantic Ocean where Maine and New Brunswick meet).



The Treaty of Paris of 1783 formally ended the American Revolution and concluded peace between the infant United States and Great Britain.  It also established the original boundary between this country and British Canada to the north, from the Atlantic coast to the northwestern head of Connecticut River and then proceeding down the middle of that river in a generally southwesternly direction to the 45th Parallel of north latitude in what is today northern New Hampshire.  From there it continued due west along this parallel to the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York as surveyed in 1771-1773.

The area around Edmunston / Madawaska along the St. John River was the focal point of an intense yet bloodless border dispute between the United States and Great Britain in 1838-1839 known as the “Aroostook War.”   Although originally between the State of Maine and the Province of New Brunswick, this dispute eventually drew the attention of the US and British governments and led to the unilateral establishment of the Republic of Madawaska by American interests on the Canadian (British) side of the river.  Local residents still refer to Edmunston by its republican title and the republic’s flag is frequently on display.  Edmunston, although in New Brunswick, is mostly francophone and therefore a suitable place to transition into Québec where French is the only official languages.

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 eventually resolved both the local Aroostook War / Madawaska Republic dispute between Maine and New Brunswick, as well as redefining the international boundary separating British Canada from New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.  It also resolved the Indian Stream Republic dispute on the border of New Hampshire and Québec, and the Vermont-Quèbec border at Fort Blunder situated at the outlet of the Rivière Richelieu to Lake Champlain.
[See http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2009/07/one-step-over-line-part-2.html for additional information of the Indian Stream Republic.]


This morning after departing Edmunston I drove west along the St. John River on Route 102 for a few miles through a small panhandle of New Brunswick; the USA just a couple hundred feet away on my left.  I eventually turned northwest away from the river and drove through beautiful rolling countryside in full autumn splendor and dotted with deep azure blue lakes until I arrived in the Témiscouata Regional County Municipality of Québec.  From there I followed Route 289 - the "Route des Frontières" - to the south shore of the St. Lawrence River at Saint-Alexandre-de-Kamouraska.  Along the way I once again skirted the Canadian-US border running along the Rivière Saint-François from Rivière-Bleue to Pohénégamook (formerly Estcourt), Québec.  I will remain in Canada for a couple more days before I return to my native land although today I jumped the gun just a bit at Pohénégamook.  More on that in a moment.

The US-Canadian border provides a number of strange boundary anomalies, especially along the roughly 90-mile boundary separating Vermont and Québec.  This boundary, also referred to in some quarters as the “West Line,” is based in part on an earlier survey in 1771-1772 and was formally established in 1783 along the 45th Parallel, the line of latitude halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.  This boundary was later confirmed by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 which unfortunately did not take into consideration various boundary anomalies which have now been incorporated into the current official boundary recognized by both countries.  As a result the Vermont-Québec border deviates in some places by more than a mile beyond the 45th Parallel.

A 2006 essay published by the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) refers to international boundaries as “places of abrupt transition, where a conceptual cartographic line can manifest itself physically in many ways.”  This is probably no more evident than in Beebe Plain and Derby Line, two villages in the northern Vermont town of Derby which I plan to revisit tomorrow.  Both are situated directly on the USA-Canada international boundary opposite the municipality of Stanstead, Québec.  I first began visiting the Derby / Stanstead area regularly in 1994 after teaching a summer seminar at the University of Vermont, in Burlington.  I have always been fascinated by borderlands, and when I was young my father had told me about an old army buddy who came from Derby Line and lived in a house divided by the border.  Apparently he has a choice of serving in either the Canadian or the US Army during the war and chose the latter.  I had to see this for myself. 

In Beebe Plain, the half mile length of Canusa Street / rue Canusa runs along the border.  Houses on the south side of the street are in the USA while those on the north side are in Canada.  The entire roadway is Canadian territory.  To visit a neighbor across the street one must go to the end of the street where the respective border stations are located and show a passport and then return to the neighbor’s house on that side.  To go home one has to repeat the process.  It is probably easier just to wave and shout . . . in English or French depending on which side of the street one lives.  Consider, too, the fact that whenever American residents of Canusa Street pull out of their driveways they have left the USA and must report to the border posts at the end of the street.  Canadian residents of rue Canusa need not report for border inspection as long as they do not cross the line into the United States.


The dilemma of residing on this international boundary is further compounded where a few homes in Beebe Plain / Stanstead are situated directly on the line; homes where families eat in one country and sleep in another.  Fortunately a different set of rules applies and these residents are not required to report if they cross the line inside the building .  However, they must report to the respective border post if they leave the building into a different country than the one from which they entered the building.  It wasn’t always this way; customs officials in friendly neighboring countries knew who lived on Canusa Street and the border-straddling home and often turned a blind eye.  To add insult to injury, residents of homes straddling the border must pay property taxes in both countries. 

Jim Lynch, in his novel Border Songs, referred to the northern US boundary as "the nonchalant border, a geographical handshake."  Not anymore.  The reality of the USA-Canada border . . . long touted as the longest undefended border in the world where passports were not required and border formalities were frequently as informal as a wave and a smile . . . changed forever after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  Present security concerns now make it necessary to adhere to strict procedures.  US and Canadian customs agents can’t even go back and forth on official business unless they leave their weapons behind.  Only a few steps separate them yet it has become easier to communicate by telephone.  

Just a couple miles east of Beebe Plain on Québec Route 247 (an extension of rue Canusa) is Rock Island, another village within the Stanstead municipality facing Derby Line, Vermont.  Here, too, a few buildings and homes are bisected by the border.  The local library, shared by both towns, was intentionally built on the border at a time when Derby Line and Rock Island were joined at the hip and one was able to wander back and forth between countries without formality or concern.  Both entrances to the building lie in the USA as do the library’s foyer and offices.  The book stacks, a reading room, and the circulation desk are in Canada.  There is a line demarcating the border running through one of the reading rooms.  The toilet in the bathroom is in the USA; the toilet paper in Canada. [This was a subject of my September 19, 2013 blogpost.  http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2013/09/good-restrooms-make-good-neighbors.html
Upstairs the opera house is also divided.  The stage is in Canada while most of the audience sits in the USA.  It all seems strange . . . but true.  Streets once shared by the two communities have been gated at the border point since 2009 when passports became necessary when passing thought he international boundary (they can be open and closed remotely to permit the passage of emergency vehicles).  Now many eyes, sensors  and cameras keep tabs on who is where and why , , , even library patrons from both countries although they are still allowed access to the building without having to first go through border formalities.  There are two fire escapes - one in each country - in case of an emergency. [The library is also the subject of a prior blogspot posting on June 28, 2009. http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/search?q=Derby+Line]
That being said, however, patrons are warned not to park on the Canadian side of the building if they’re American, or on the American side if they’re Canadian.  If they do, and they fail to report to customs, they may be subject to arrest.  All along the border one sees more of the familiar green and white US Customs and Border Patrol vehicles, as well as those of the Sûreté du Québec and the RCMP/GRC, on the Canadian side of the line.  A rumored friendly border has become deadly serious.  Even the once common photo-op of straddling the border can get you arrested.

The US-Canadian border has been particularly volatile this year following President [sic] Trump’s inauguration and his subsequent ill-advised and blatantly unconstitutional travel bans directed at residents of several predominantly Muslim countries.  Canadian authorities have reported that up to 500 individuals, many of them citizens of the banned countries in question already in the United States, are daily trying to flee the United States to see asylum in Canada.  How unfortunate that those who came to America’s shores to seek respite from terror, persecution, and violence must now search beyond America’s borders for such protections.  All the more unfortunate when these migrants have become so fearful of remaining in the United States that they seek to enter Canada by any means available to them, including illegal ones.  As a result, Canadian border authorities are also clamping down and enforcing laws and procedures to the letter.  The border has not been this confrontational since the War of 1812. 

So this is probably not the best time to do many close-up exploration of the US-Canadian frontier.  One false move, whether intentional or not, can have dire consequence.  Nevertheless, earlier today, as I was passing through Pohénégamook, Québec, I chanced upon another border anomaly . . . this one by far stranger than the others I have experienced and one I have wanted to visit for many years.  I am referring to the “American” town of Estcourt Station situated at the northernmost point in the State of Maine which has the third longest state border with Canada after Alaska and Michigan.  Some have claimed it is the northernmost point in the contiguous United States, but that honor goes to the Northwest Angle, situated in Lake of the Woods where northern Minnesota borders Manitoba; yet one more border anomaly resulting from the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.  And like the Estcourt Station, it can only be effectively reached by passing through Canadian territory.  Estcourt Station is, however, the northern-most point in the Eastern United States and the most isolated American border community in the 48 contiguous states. 

To call Estcourt Station, Maine an American town is a bit of a stretch.  It is hardly a town at all; just a single road - Rue de la Frontière - which like Canusa Street in Beebe Plain is situated entirely within Canada until it reaches the customs post at the far end of town.  The only public access is from Québec Route 289 at Pohénégamook (population ca. 3000).  The official population of Estcourt Station is four American summer residents who live in houses solely within US territory.  The remaining residents are Canadian citizens whose few homes are bisected by the border.  Technically an American town, residents have a Québec Area Code and receive their water and electricity from Canada.  There is twice weekly US postal delivery although the town mail boxes in the United States can only be accessed by passing through Canadian territory which requires reporting first to the Canadian border station. 

There are no commercial establishments save a filling station situated entirely in the United States which can only be reached by first reporting to the US border station a mile farther down Rue de la Frontière and then returning through Canadian territory to the station.  I am reminded of an incident that occurred here back in 2003.  A Canadian resident of Pohénégamook crossed into the United States at Estcourt Station in order to purchase cheaper gas (at the time 20-25% cheaper than in Canada).  The US border station was closed at the time and so the Canadian did not report.  He was nevertheless interdicted by the US Border Patrol and charged with entering the United States illegally.  They found a hunting rifle in the resident’s car (not an unusual occurrence in those parts) and he ended up spending a month in jail and the incident led to a high-level diplomatic dust-up between to otherwise friendly neighbors.

I arrived in Estcourt Station by the most direct route; driving several miles through the far northwestern strip of New Brunswick into Québec beyond Fort Kent, Maine, the closest American town.  To reach Estcourt Station directly through the United States would require a two-plus hour trip via private gravel logging roads which are difficult under the best of conditions.  Try it sometime during the winter.

There is a Canadian border station located in the middle of Estcourt Station (on Canadian territory, of course) at the access point from Québec Route 289.  Upon my arrival I reported to the station.  I had no plans to formally enter the United States, but I did want to visit the small park at the end of town on Rue de la Frontière which sits directly on the border. There is also a footbridge crossing the Rivière François, the only footbridge linking the two countries, and one must take a few steps across American territory to access the bridge.  Must I drive to the opposite end of town to report first to the American border station before returning through Canadian territory to the park?   I had read how intransigent the American inspectors can be and I did not want to do anything illegal just to experience this rather quaint border curiosity.  The friendly Canadian inspector saw my American plates as I pulled up and already knew my question before I asked it.  He told me the park was considered a “gray area” and I was free to visit and move around it.  He reminded me to touch the border pylon in the park as it was the northern point in the United States [sic].  He did, however, caution me not to stray farther beyond the park’s perimeter into American territory or I might well have an unwelcome visit from the American authorities who monitor the area with cameras and sensors.  Ironic that they would have to transit Canadian territory to get to me. [In general, I have found Canadians border agents friendlier and more accommodating, a subject of July 10, 2013 blogspot.  http://lookingtowardportugal.blogspot.com/2013/07/back-in-ussa-dispatches-from-maine.html]

I drove the very short distance down Rue de la Frontière to the Border Park.  To my left was a steep embankment leading up to the tracks of the Canadian National Railway linking Montréal and Halifax.  To my right the houses of Estcourt Station, Maine; almost every one bisected by the international boundary.  The roadway is bordered on the American side of the line with sensors and cameras to monitor any activity on the border.  At the end of the road there is parking area adjacent to the park, both of which are divided by the border.  A large border pylon stands in the middle of the park.  Just beyond the park is the Rivière François, the Route 289 highway and CNR rail bridges (both wholly within Canada), and the aforementioned international footbridge. 
The original bridge at this location was wide enough to accommodate horse carriages.  It was long known locally as “Tobacco Road” as Canadians would visit the now defunct small store in Estcourt Station which did a fast business selling American cigarettes which were two to three times cheaper than tobacco products in Canada. That bridge washed away many years ago and there was no plan to replace it as it permitted Canadians to enter the United States where there was no official port of entry.  It was finally rebuilt but the new bridge is limited to pedestrians only.  Canadians residing in Estcourt Station can now reach the commercial area of Pohénégamook even though they must cross a few feet of American territory in order to do so.  Those crossing from the Canadian side are greeted by a prominent sign warning visitors they must report to US customs at the far end of town.  There is no such sign requesting visitors to report to the Canadian border station.  Yet one more community and a host of problems not envisioned by Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton in 1842.

UPDATED October 11, Dateline: Pittsburg, NH: The day after I visited Estcourt Station I returned to Beebe Plain - Derby Line, Vermont / Stanstead, Québec where I once again probed the international boundary, this time from the Canadian side of the line.  Driving south from Magog on Québec Route 247 along the eastern side of Lake Memphrémagog, which is also bisected by the border, I approached the border and turned left onto Canusa Street.  Since it lies wholly in the Canada and I was continuing on to the Rock Island side of the line a few miles east, I was not required to report to either border inspection station facing one another across the street.  I finally crossed back into the USA at Canaan, Vermont.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Nova Scotia Wines: Discovering the Tidal Bays - Dispatches from Canada

Dateline: Grand Pre / Gaspereau River Valley, Nova Scotia

I had no idea Nova Scotia was known for it wines when I first visited the province in 1995. On that trip we happened upon Jost Vineyards located near Malagash, in the rolling hill country not far for the picturesque coastal inlets of the Northumberland shore opposite Prince Edward Island. A pioneer of the Nova Scotia wine industry, Jost Vineyards produces many distinctive wines which have won numerous national and international awards. I recall tasting several of them on that visit years ago. Today it is Nova Scotia’s largest wine producer and has joined the Mercator and Gaspereau vineyards, near Wolfville and Grand Pre and the shores of the Bay of Fundy, to create the province’s Devonian Coast Wineries. My itinerary for this trip did not include a return to the Northumberland Shore, but I was able to purchase two bottles of 2015 Marechal Foch, a fruit driven, medium bodied red, at the Nova Scotia Welcome Center on the Trans Canada Highway. A good start.

This latest trip to the province provided an opportunity to visit the other two Devonian Coast vineyards. Mercator Vineyards, in Wolfville, is devoted to making extraordinary wines in limited edition. Unfortunately the town was jammed with tourists out on a beautiful autumn day and so I did not tarry there. The real prize is Gaspereau Vineyards, in the Gaspereau River Valley, in the heart of the Acadian homeland made famous by Evangeline, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow’s epic poem. It was here in 1755, at the beginning of the Seven Years War, that the British set in motion the "grand dérangement," the expulsion of over ten thousand French speaking Acadians to Europe and several of its American colonies (although not to Louisiana as many believe). Many returned to this area after the end of that war, in 1763, and it is once again a vibrant Acadian community.

But this is not a history lesson. I’m here to talk to you about wine. Great wine! Normally I am a drinker of reds (hence the purchase of the bottles of Marechal Foch), and only rarely do I give whites their fair due. I have enjoyed many white wines over the years, especially when I was living in Germany, but I have drifted away from them since then. I just find reds more interesting; a personal preference and nothing more. So I was prepared to taste reds when I arrived at the Gaspereau Vineyards which is known for its rich variety of robust reds. Before I got started, however, I inquired about some of the other wines and was rather curious about the "Tidal Bay Flight" which, as it turned out, is an opportunity to sample the Tidal Bay offerings from all three Devonian Coast Wineries . . . a treat since I was unable to visit Jost on this trip and Mercator was hard to reach through all the tourist traffic.

Melody, the very pleasant young lady who was assisting me, was happy sing the praises of Tidal Bay. Officially launched in the summer of 2012, Tidal Bay is the first wine appellation for Nova Scotia. Unlike most other wine regions, where an appellation is defined by a specific geographic region, the Tidal Bay appellation applies to Nova Scotia as a whole and vineyards throughout the province produce their own variations.

Melody described it as a generally crisp and aromatic white wine which is a master of the Nova Scotia terroir with its cool climate and the influence of the sea throughout the province. Melody was quick to point out, however, that not just any white wine can qualify for the Tidal Bay appellation. To obtain this designation, a wine must be produced using specific grape varieties grown in Nova Scotia. Production through bottling must also follow strictly enforced standards approved annually by an independent blind tasting panel consisting of winemakers, sommeliers and wine experts.
So I passed on the reds and sampled the Tidal Bay Flight and was impressed with all three, but favoring the Gaspereau. And why not? It was awarded the Double Gold in the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships; the Silver Medal at the 2017 National Wine Awards of Canada; and Best in Class for Tidal Bays at the 2017 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards. I liked it so much so that I purchased two bottles.


Afterwards I drove just a short distance to the Luckett Vineyard where I did tastes their reds, but not before I enjoyed a lovely lunch overlooking the vineyards and the Bay of Fundy in the distance (where I took the above photograph) . . . a tasty seafood bake washed down with a glass of Luckett’s own Tidal Bay which pairs nicely with the local seafood. I added a bottle to the two I purchased at Gaspereau Vineyards.

I would have tasted them all over the valley, but I was traveling alone and I had an hour drive back to Halifax. The upside . . . I have three bottles of Tidal Bay and two Marechal Fochs to enjoy at my leisure. I can live with that.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Canadian Thanksgiving - Dispatches from Canada

Dateline: Halifax/Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Tomorrow is Canada’s Thanksgiving Day, a statutory holiday on the second Monday of October throughout the country (except for the four Atlantic Canada provinces where it is observed, but not officially). That said, most folks here in Nova Scotia seem to be celebrating it today. This is my first Canadian Thanksgiving, and having no specific plans, I spent it exploring more of the North Atlantic coastline near Halifax. I saw lots of people out enjoying an unseasonably warm day and the stunning autumn colors before returning home to a holiday meal this evening.

Other than being in early October, Canada’s Thanksgiving is celebrated much like we do at home in the USA on the fourth Thursday of November. In fact, the holiday was brought north of the border by Americans seeking refuge from the Civil War at home, and it was celebrated in November until 1957 when it was moved to its present date. There are traditional sporting events. There is turkey and stuffing, pumpkins and other seasonal produce, and pies of every description. And like our holiday, Canadians gather with family and friends to celebrate the beginning of autumn and the harvest season before the onset of a long, cold winter. Still, the celebration in Canada is relatively low key. Nothing fancy. No bells and whistles. No Thanksgiving cards. No holiday displays in the stores. None of what we are used to these days in the States.

I’ll be honest. I think I like the Canadian version better because it has remained traditional without all the frills that we have come to expect during our celebration which has become a four-day holiday and the biggest travel weekend of the year. Add to this the fact that Thanksgiving also marks the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the USA even though I have seen Christmas decorations in stores since early July 4! Americans seem more interested in seeking out bargains at the malls than spending a pleasant day with their friends and families. Stores are open and people have to work. What kind of a holiday is that? What are we really giving thanks for anyway?

So it was refreshing to be reminded of the true meaning and significance of Thanksgiving. Here’s wishing my Canadian family and friends a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Halifax: A Novel Idea - Dispatches from Canada

Dateline: Halifax/Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Back in January 2013 I participated in The Next Big Thing, the blog interview. The format was very simple . . . answer ten questions about a recently completed, or current writing project. I chose the draft manuscript for a novel-in-progress . . . at the time my first. I am presently in Halifax - my third visit in the past six years - to continue my work on that particular novel project. In the meantime, however, I have just completed the first draft of another novel (now my first). Now that I have returned in earnest to that earlier novel project, I decided to revisit those previous questions and I have updated my responses where necessary. So here goes . . . .ten interview questions for "The Next Big Thing":

1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?

A Gentle Whisper. The title is taken from 1 Kings 19:12. "And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper."

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I took a spur of the moment road trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia during the summer of 2011 at which time I came up with the germ of an idea for a novel. I returned to Halifax in early 2012 when I explored the possibilities further and began to map out in my mind where I wanted the story to go. For the past five years I have been conducting extensive research, outlining chapters and drafting character studies and narrative summaries.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

It is a novel - a Bildungsroman - constructed of several sections divided into chapters. I would consider it more literary than popular fiction.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

There are a great many characters in the novel covering a period of time from 1914 through 2001. Much of the narrative is set in the late 1990s in Europe, Canada and New England. I see the main characters from this period being played by Matt Damon, Jennifer Lawrence as Susanna Emerson, Shawna Waldron (she played the daughter in The American President [1995] . . . she’s all grown up), and Anthony Hopkins. There are a series of flashbacks to World War I and the great Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917. These are peopled with a rich variety of characters, and my wife insists that I come up with a few to be played by George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Liam Niessen, and Viggo Mortensen.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The main story line revolves around an American historian attempting to write a book about the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope to publish through an established publishing house or small press.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I am currently deep in that process.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hugh MacLennan’s Barometer Rising (1941), Robert MacNeil’s The Burden of Desire (1992), and Jennie Marsland’s Shattered (2011). All three of these novels, written by Canadian authors, use the Halifax explosion as a focal point of the narrative although their individual denouements are widely varied. As far as I know, I am the first to construct a novel on the subject from a mostly American perspective.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My visits to Halifax, Nova Scotia over the past six years and my readings on the Halifax explosion and its place in modern Canadian history and culture.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

They might find the balancing of foreshadowing and flashbacks interesting as they both lend verisimilitude to the suffering of the people of Canada, and especially Halifax, during World War I.

Having gone back through these questions today I find that they still ring true. I guess that is a good sign. I did add a couple more names of actors my wife would like to see in the film treatment of the novel (ah, to dream). We did not discuss these additions, but I have known her for 46 years and I am pretty sure I am on safe ground here.

I spent yesterday on the Halifax waterfront doing research, and tomorrow I return to the waterfront and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, as well as spend some time on the harbor ferries to get a feel for the place from the water. All of this will help when I am sitting in my study in Maryland this winter trying to capture the feel of this city 100 years ago.





Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Free Day: Deeper In Country - Dispatches from Canada

Dateline: Halifax/Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

I spent much of today in the car driving the breath of New Brunswick and a couple more hours into Nova Scotia, from St. Andrews, near the US border, to Halifax which was my ultimate destination.

I was in no big rush to get here and so this morning I took a leisurely drive along the Bay of Fundy coastline as far at Saint John, visiting several more fishing communities along the way. In was early enough in the day that the tide was high and vessels were riding quietly at the moorings. I have been at these same harbors at low tide when the boats were tilted far over on their sides and resting on dry ground. You have to carefully time your comings and goings or you are out of luck until the next high tide. There are only two each day. Such is life on the Bay of Fundy with some of the highest tides on earth

Reaching Saint John, I turned northeast into the beautiful hill country with its farms and forests rich with autumn colors. They are reaching their peak this far north. I eventually joined the Trans Canada Highway near Moncton, the province’s largest city, and from there I continued east into Nova Scotia, passing large wind farms at the head of the Bay of Fundy before crossing the so-called "Cobequid Pass" although there is no official geographic feature by that name in the Cobequid Mountains (more like high hills . . . the highest elevation is ca. 1200 feet). The moniker comes from the a joint private-public Crown corporation that manages the toll section of the highway going through the "pass." Here especially the rock maples and birch are brilliant orange and gold. For a second day in a row I crossed the 45th Parallel, this time at Stewiacke, between Truro and Halifax.

So it was a free day; getting from one place to another without much time to focus on anything but driving. But is was free, too, in that I did not have to pay for any of my meals! I returned to the local Tim Horton’s this morning before I left St. Andrews. I was having a nice chat with a fellow from British Columbia who once worked at the Canadian embassy in Washington. He was kind enough to pay for my donut and coffee. Then I stopped for gas around 1pm at an Irving station at Norton, New Brunswick. I visited what appeared to be a newly remodeled WC and upon exiting I was confronted by an attractive young lady who was taking a survey on public reaction to the new design and decor. I gladly answered her questions and for my time and trouble I received a $5 gift card which paid for the sandwich I planned to buy for lunch. On top of that, the cashier gave me a small rubber ducky for visiting the Irving station. Following my arrival in Halifax this evening I went out for a late dinner. I had to wait what seemed like an inordinately long time to both order and to receive my dinner. When I did, it was cold. They made good, and the second meal was just fine. But they "compted" my entire bill, nevertheless. So it was a free day in every way possible.

I gotta come to Canada more often. They really seem to like me up here.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Looking Into Yesterday - Dispatches from Canada


Dateline: St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, Canada

Last night at midnight I drove the few blocks from my motel to Joe’s Point, on the banks of Pottery Cove and the St. Croix River. From there I stared across the dark waters to a few scattered lights along the far shore - Robbinston, Maine. The good old USA. I had been looking at the America shoreline ever since I arrived here in St. Andrews, New Brunswick yesterday afternoon. A river dividing two countries. Yet at midnight it took on a new mystique. I was standing on the Canadian shoreline at midnight, in the Atlantic Time zone, and I was staring across to Maine where it was 11pm, in the Eastern Time Zone. I was looking into yesterday. I am reminded of stories I have read about ships operating along the International Date Line, in the Pacific Ocean. Those on the west side of the line looking east were looking toward tomorrow; those on the east side of the line looked west toward yesterday. Standing there I imagined someone standing across the water looking my direction . . . into tomorrow, and I wondered what it would be like to stand on the border with a foot on each side of the line . . . one foot in yesterday, the other in tomorrow. No bending of the space-time continuum, but it was weird to think about this on a cold midnight in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

This morning I awoke to the horrific news of another heinous mass killing in the USA, this time on the Las Vegas Strip. There are 59 confirmed dead as I write this with over 500 injured, many of them critically. I watched the TV reports here in Canada where this kind of thing does not happen because this country has sane gun control laws without usurping its citizens' right to bear arms responsibly. The USA could have them too if our leaders were not in bed with the NRA. Those who arm terrorists, or turn a blind eye to this marketing in arms, are terrorist themselves. There is blood on all their hands this morning. Every morning. I ask myself why I should even go home again. The USA is becoming unrecognizable as is continues to sink into insignificance. I wish I could really look back to yesterday before yet one more insanity was perpetrated on innocent Americans.

Upon my arrival here in St. Andrews yesterday, I settled into my cozy motel room and set off exploring this quaint little town. I was last here in August 1995 when my wife and son and I were returning to Maine from a trip to Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. It is much as I remembered it. I spent the evening walking along Water Street looking in the shop and gallery windows, and stopping in a couple eateries to sample the local salmon washed down with some fine Canadian beers - Alexander Keith’s IPA from Halifax, and Alpine from nearby Saint John. I walked out on the town wharf to get a closer look at the harbor at low tide which twice daily drops almost 30 feet below the high water mark. I topped off the day with a visit to the ancient blockhouse, one of the few left intact in Canada, to watch the sunset. Here British troops stood guard during the war with the United States, 1812-1814. A feared American invasion never materialized yet cannons are still aimed across the water at the USA.

This morning I joined a Canadian ritual . . . donuts and coffee at a local Tim Hortons . . . and I was lucky enough to arrive just before a busload of leaf peepers setting off for a day along the Bay of Fundy coastline. I was headed in the same direction to explore the Fundy islands at the head of Passamaquoddy Bay. I followed the coast to St. George before turning south to Back Bay and L’Etete where I boarded the Abnaki II, a free ferry operated by the provincial government, for the twenty minute trip from the mainland among forested islets to Lords Cove, on the eastern tip of Deer Island.

It is one of the Fundy Islands, along with Campobello Island, at the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay. Along with Lords Cove, there are two other small communities - Fairhaven and Leonardville - each with their own wharves and fishing fleets. The economy is primarily fishing and aquaculture although tourism is important during the summer season. Settled by Loyalists in 1770 the island population is roughly 1000 although I had to look hard to find anybody out and about today. Not much going on around there in the off season. Most of the fishing boats were tied up and lobster traps were stacked on the wharves and floating docks.

Located on its southernmost point is Deer Island Point Park where there is a seasonal campground and picnic area. From here you can look across the short distance of water to Eastport and Lubec, in Maine. They are the easternmost city and town in the continental United States respectively. There is also Campobello Island, and on a clear day such as this one you can see the Roosevelt "cottage" above its northern shoreline near the island village of Welshpool. These waters are the home of Old Sow, the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere. Several gray seals were playing in the swirling waters.

I had hoped to enjoy some local seafood at the 45th Parallel Restaurant (half way between the Equator and the North Pole). Unfortunately it was closed despite all the open signs scattered about. So I made my way back Lords Cove and boarded the ferry Princess II for the trip back to the mainland. I continued over to Blacks Harbour which is the northern terminus for the year-round ferry to Grand Manan Island situated 20 miles to the south. This whole region is the center of a thriving aquaculture industry.

It was a long day and I was happy to return to St. Andrews for more salmon and local brews. I looked into yesterday. Now I am happy to just look forward to tomorrow.









Sunday, October 1, 2017

Heading Down East - Dispatches from Canada

 
Dateline: St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, Canada

After three months at our lake cottage in Maine, I departed early this morning for points north and east.  My trip today took me through central Maine to Bangor where I crossed the Penobscot River.  From there I traveled across the Airline Highway (State Route 9) to Calais [CAL-us] and the Canadian border.

There are essentially five ways to reach Canada through Maine.  There is the coastal route along US Highway One, and although very scenic in many spots, it is a slow slog through numerous towns clogged with traffic, much of it headed toward Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.  Once past there, however, the traffic dies down but it is still a long, slow trip.  Then there is Interstate 95 up past Houlton, but this would put me far north of where I want to be once I got to Canada.  My favorite is Route 9, and the obe I followed today, is the so-called “Airline Highway.”  Approximately 100 miles from Bangor to Calais, it is the shortest and most direct route to the Canadian border.  And whereas there is relatively less traffic on the Airline Highway than found on the other two main routes, much of what you do encounter is large logging trucks barreling toward their destinations.  The final two routes are State Route 27 from Farmington up through Coburn Gore entering Québec near Lac Mégantic, in the Eastern Townships south of the St. Lawrence River, and US Highway 201 through Skowhegan and Jackman that leads into Québec’s Beauce region and St. Georges, on the Chaudière River south of Québec City.  Neither of these routes would take me anywhere close to where I needed to be today. 
 
I wanted to get to Canada as quickly as possible . . . especially since I lost an hour   entering the Atlantic Time Zone when I crossed the St. Croix River from Calais, Maine into St. Stephen, New Brunswick.  Once you leave Bangor and begin driving along the southern bank of the Penobscot River, you don’t see much of anything except trees, more trees, and the occasional marshy bogs populated with thick stands of bleached deadwood amongst the living trees. This is the silver lining in taking this route given the fact that the autumn colors . . . the red maples and the golden birch scattered among the spruce and balsam . . . are reaching their zenith in Down East Maine now that October is here.  Who can complain about driving through millions of trees decked out in their fall finery?  This is lonely country where the townships have numerical designations rather than proper names.  Very few people live there.

I arrived in Calais in the early afternoon.  A beautiful, cloudless sunny day with temperatures hovering in the high 50s (the thermometer dipped below the freezing mark for the first time overnight).   After brief and very friendly Canadian border formalities I ran some errands and then continued to my day’s destination.  I am spending the next two nights here in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.  Founded in 1783 by American Loyalists, this shire town of Charlotte County is situated on the southern end of a narrow peninsula separating the boundary waters at the mouth of the St. Croix River and the northern extension of Passamaquoddy Bay.  It has been several years since I was last here and I am looking forward to a casual day exploring the town and the nearby islands situated in Canadian boundary waters. 

It will be another two weeks before I return to the USA.  Frankly, I am in no big hurry to get back.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Final Sunset: Farewell to Another Summer in Maine

Another summer has come and gone and I sit here wondering where the time went. Summer had just begun when we arrived here at Sunset Cottage, on Sabbathday Lake, in New Gloucester, Maine. The trees were a vibrant green, folks were beginning to put their docks and boats in the water, and the lake was coming alive with its summertime traffic. And now we are a week deep into autumn and the docks and boats are coming out and cottages are being shuttered at the end of the season. Each day there is more color in the leaves and some are already beginning to fall as are acorns and pine cones while chipmunks and squirrels skitter about gathering up nuts to stock their larders for the long winter that is not too far off. It was only 39F when I got up this morning, and I have had a fire going in the woodstove much of the day.

Since our arrival we have watched the evening sunsets migrate southward along the far shore of the lake. We are indeed lucky to have a cottage situated where it is, and the decks provide the best show in town when the weather cooperates. No two sunsets are ever alike as the several hundred photographs I have taken over the past thirty years will attest.

It has been both a quiet and a productive summer. We had quite a bit of rain when we first arrived and many days were quite breezy, too much so to enjoy a lot of time outdoors. And the weather has seemed cooler than summers past, and the lake water felt downright cold most of the time which limited time spent drifting about in the cove. So it was hard to believe when the temperatures crept into the low 90s with high humidity over the past week. It certainly helped SallyAnn acclimatize for her trip to Florida. But those hot days are just a memory now.

But this is not the end. Normally, when we leave the lake, we head for our winter home in Maryland where, if we are lucky, we are able to enjoy one more approach of autumn as trees throughout the Mid-Atlantic take on their fall hues. Such is not the case this year, however. SallyAnn left a few days ago for Florida and shortly she and her mother will be heading to St. Louis to begin a paddle boat cruise up the Mississippi River to St. Paul, Minnesota. I am certain she will see her fair share of Midwest autumnal colors along the way.

I, on the other hand, depart tomorrow for Down East Maine where I will cross into Atlantic Canada for several days. I will travel the breath of New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia where I will spend a week in and around Halifax working on a new novel set in that city. After that I will head father north into eastern Québec, traveling down along the St. Lawrence River via Québec City to Montréal. From there I will wander through my beloved Eastern Townships before returning to the USA. I also plan to spend a couple of nights at my favorite lodge, in far northern New Hampshire, before returning here to the lake for a couple nights to close up, packing up for the final trip home to Maryland.

It has been a good summer although it went by far too quickly.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Enough is Enough!

My father fought against the Nazis in WWII. His unit liberated a concentration camp. He won a Bronze Star for his service. I prosecuted Nazis and their collaborators for almost 32 years. I have visited concentation camps. I know a thing or two about Nazis. None of them are nice people. The only ones who think so are other Nazis and their ilk. Lesson over.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Forever Young - The JFK Centennial

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States (1961-1963) was born on this date one hundred years ago.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Awaking Happy in Africa – Dispatches from South Africa

Ernest Hemingway was onto something when he confessed that he never knew a morning in Africa when he awoke and was not happy. Before arriving here I would have questioned if such a thing were possible. I’ll stand by it now.

I have arisen happy each day since our arrival. From our first morning in country, when we set off for a drive through central Johannesburg to teeming Soweto, the black township situated on the southwestern edge of the city; to the mornings in Brits, in the shadows of the Magaliesberg in northern Gauteng province near the national capital of Pretoria in the Cradle of Humankind, when we set off to spend time with elephants and monkeys; to the chilly mornings near Dullstroom, high up on the western fringes of the Drakensberg Escarpment in Mpumalanga province, where we explored the Blythe River Canyon with its beautiful waterfalls and dramatic mountain scenery and where I had a chance to do some fly-fishing for native trout; to the early morning treks into the bushveld of the Kapama game preserve in Limpopo province, in South Africa’s far northeastern corner, where I watched the African wildlife come alive. Isak Deneson, writing in Out of Africa (1937), said: "You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions." I did not how true this is until I saw them with my own eyes in the natural habitat they share with elephants, Cape buffalo, white rhinos, and large herds of antelope and a variety of birds I had never seen before. I was happy right through to the evenings when we trekked out into the bush to watch how these animals end their day.

And now I arise happy on these mornings here in Cape Town and the West Cape, in the country’s most southwestern corner. I awake and watch the sun’s early light bathe the imposing face of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head while smelling the briny perfume of the South Atlantic as it laps the rocky shores of Mouille Point on Table Bay just outside our front door. It is autumn here in the southern hemisphere yet the weather is gorgeous . . . bright sunny days with low humidity and comfortable sea breezes blowing over the cold South Atlantic waters.

How could one not wake each morning in Africa with a smile on one’s face. The people I have met are so friendly and courteous and always willing to share a broad smile. To quote Ms Dinesen again: "Here I am, where I ought to be."

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Looking Toward the Antarctic - Dispatches from South Africa

Sally Ann and I arrived in South Africa eleven days ago. Since then we have spent time in and around Johannesburg, the country's largest city with 8+ million inhabitants. We toured the historic Soweto township on the city's outskirts, visiting the Nelson Mandela house and also seeing the current homes of Winnie Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. A single street in Soweto was home to two Nobel Peace Prize laureates!

After a couple days in Gauteng province which is home to both Johannesburg and the capital city of Pretoria, where we visited an elephant and monkey sanctuary, as well as the Cradle of Humankind, we headed to the northeastern provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, visiting a fly fishing resort near Dullstroom where I caught a beautiful rainbow trout which the chef prepared for me for dinner one evening. And then on to the private Kapama game preserve near the Kruger National park for several days of game trekking in the lowveld bush country where our ranger and Shongaan tracker put us on several herds of impala, kudu, blesbok and other varieties of African antelope, not to mention four of the "Big Five" - elephants, Cape buffalo, white rhinos, and lions. Only the leopard proved elusive although we had a chance to have an up close and personal encounter with a pair at a game park near Johannesburg, including their feisty newborn cubs.

After an intense safari experience in the northeastern quadrant of South Africa (I'll be posting more about that so stay tuned) we returned to Johannesburg early yesterday morning to catch a two hour flight to the southwestern corner of the country . . . Cape Town and the West Cape. It is like being in a whole different country. We have rented a lovely little flat directly on the water on Green Point with a splendid view of Table Mountain and Lion's Head. This will be our home for the rest of the month until it comes time to head back to the States and our regular routine.

Last night, after settling into our flat, we took a short walk along the seaside promenade (see photo) and enjoyed our first Cape Town sunset. And then again this morning to the Green Point Light House (also pictured). The promenade is lined with palm trees and palmettos. From here - just a few miles north of the Cape of Good Hope - I can stare out into the South Atlantic knowing that the next land mass in Antarctica! The sunshine is intense and the air is warm - it is autumn here in the southern hemisphere, after all. But the water is remarkably cold.

Cape Town is a beautiful city. I could very easily get used to this lifestyle.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

More Notes from the Panic Hole


The following is the text of a guest blog posted today at Coös Networks, – www.groupsite.com – a community website serving the far northern precincts of New Hampshire.  Coös Networks has become an important meeting place for the exchanging ideas, sharing information, while "deepening relationships across disciplines and geography, and building regional vitality."  I thank Coös Networks for giving me an opportunity to contribute this guest blog.
“I have never seen a grander or more beautiful sight than the northern woods in winter.” With these words a young Theodore Roosevelt described his regular sojourns to a wilderness camp in northern Maine’s Aroostook County.  I could not agree with him more.  For the past several years I have been making regular trips to northern New Hampshire during the height of winter.  Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, hard on the Québec border has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion.

Regardless of the season, this region has become my “panic hole” which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with it.  Who could not use one of these?  Seven years ago, on one such winter trip, I trekked into the snowy back country above the Connecticut Lakes to consider retirement after a 32 year career with the Department of Justice, in Washington, DC.  What would the rest of my life hold for me?  The mind cleansed itself with each inhalation of the crisp, cold mountain air.  When asked why he liked the Middle Eastern deserts, T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) supposedly replied: “Because it’s clean.”  The same can be said for the Great North Woods of New Hampshire in winter.  Trek into the snowy woods and you will not find anything so pristine . . . so clean . . . so quiet.  

Living as I do on the southern flank of the heavily urbanized megalopolis stretching from Washington, DC north to Boston, an occasional escape into the woods of rural New England helps lower the daily stress levels at home.   These trips always begin with a quick trip up to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the hour-long flight to Manchester.  As I wing north I watch the landscape below gradually turn white announcing the winterscape I am in search of.  Leaving Manchester I continue north through the White Mountains and “above the notches” into the Great North Woods to the roof top of New Hampshire.  I can feel the stress ratchet down the farther north I travel.  When folks back home ask me how far I go, I tell them “Until the road signs are in French.”

My most recent visit occurred this past January when I arrived the day after New Year’s Day.  What better way to celebrate the advent of a new year than a trip to the Great North Woods?  There is one constant here in late winter . . . the days are short.  Very short.  The sun does not inch above Mount Magalloway and the eastern ridge lines until around 7:30am, and from there it makes a slow arc across the southern skies, setting around 4:30pm below the western height of land that marks the US-Canadian frontier. The sun had already set when I arrived at Tall Timber Lodge, along the shoreline of Back Lake, in Pittsburg.  I settled into my regular room upstairs, unpacked, and quickly returned downstairs to unwind with a couple adult beverages in the tavern before enjoying a long anticipated dinner in the Rainbow Grille.  I have been staying at this lodge for many years, and everyone knows my name and treats me like one of the family.  After dinner I step outside into the gripping cold and breathe in the fresh air and appreciate how lucky I am to be back again.  I have a nightcap in the tavern.  How can I not sleep well every night I am in the Great North Woods?   No reason to panic here.   

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast downstairs, I was off on my morning trek.  Driving up Moose Alley – US Route 3 above Happy Corner – passing Lake Francis and First and Second Connecticut Lakes, I parked at the Deer Mountain Campground where I strap on my snowshoes and set off along the Coös Trail through the Moose Falls Flowage and among the frozen outlet waters of the Third Connecticut Lake.  I have fished this area for brook trout in other seasons and so it was interesting to experience this familiar topography cloaked in deep snow.  It is not all downhill skiing or snowmobiling up here where speed seems to be the common denominator during the winter months. 

I prefer snow-trekking, the slow and often painstaking movement across deep snow and ice.  Slow is good.  You can see what there is to see in the winter landscape while enjoying a silence interrupted only by the sound of wind blowing through bare, creaking branches.  I first snowshoed on my grandparent’s Michigan farm when I was a kid.  Back then it was the old wooden frames and webbing made of deer hide.  Now snowshoes are constructed of tempered steel, aluminum, and heavy-duty plastics and are much easier to navigate through deep snow.  My wife and I first tried these new-stye snowshoes a few years ago in western Montana and I was sold.    

As I wandered up through the Flowage along the Coös Trail I kept my eyes peeled for animal tracks, hoping I might be lucky enough to come across a shed, a moose or deer antler no longer required by its former proprietor.  No sheds; more than likely they are buried under the deep snow.  I did, however, chance upon several bevy of whitetail deer along the trail.  Approaching these from upwind I managed to get fairly close.  We stood there motionless for a few moments watching each other before they sprang quickly and quietly into the snowy puckerbrush, their white tails flashing in the morning light as they disappeared from sight.  The snow was over two feet deep, drifting even deeper in some places, so there was no clear path of escape.   For the deer or myself.  A trek through deep snow can be arduous.  Even with snowshoes.  

Eventually arriving at the northwestern shoreline of Third Connecticut Lake situated less than a mile below the Canadian frontier and the tiny Fourth Connecticut Lake (more of a bog than a lake) which is the headwater of the might Connecticut River, I braved the wind-abraded, snow-encrusted ice to visit a lone ice fisherman at his shanty where he was tending his tip-ups a short distance off shore.  We stepped inside briefly seeking shelter from two dervishing snow devils as they passed incredibly close by.   This reminded me again of my more youthful days when I joined my grandfather as  he fished the frozen ponds of southwestern Michigan.  One is truly alone with one’s thoughts sitting in an ice shanty on lonely lake.

The day was wearing on as the sun sank lower is the southern sky beyond Deer Mountain.  I continued up the trail to the US-Canadian border above the lake and from there I was able to catch a ride back to my car parked at the campground.  Good thing, too, as it began to snow quite hard.   It would have been a long walk back.   A full day and I was happy to make my way down to the lodge to change into warm, dry clothes before heading back to the tavern for a beer and the anticipation of another fine dinner in the Rainbow Grille.

I did not have anything as momentous as possible retirement to ponder on this visit to my panic hole, which is also one of my favorite places on God’s green (white?) earth.  It was just another pleasant opportunity to be far away from another human soul and alone with my thoughts as the vast expanses of snowy forests and lake ice stretched out before me.  Teddy was right.  It doesn’t get much grander than this!

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pondering the Future

Has it really been seven years already? This photo was taken on this date in 2010 at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, Florida writer Randy Wayne White’s restaurant on Sanibel Island, Florida. I had retired from the US Department of Justice just three weeks earlier after a 32 year career in Washington, and SallyAnn and I were in the midst of an extended road trip around Florida so that I might clear my head and decide just what it was I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

We decided it would be nice to inter alia wander the sea shell beset beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast with no set agenda or time table. Where would each new day take us? One day we happened to end up at Doc Ford’s after a windy day wandering the sands of Sanibel Island and neighboring Captiva. I treated myself to some very fresh Gulf of Mexico oysters served chilled with lemon and cocktail sauce along with a pile of steamed Yucatan shrimp dressed in butter, garlic, Colombian chilies, fresh cilantro, and Key lime juice. A memorable repast to be sure. By the time this photo was taken I was washing it all down with another cold beer trying to decide where to go and what to do next. There would be plenty of time for long range planning and soul searching. I still had places to go and things to see.

While I was scribbling into my pocket notebook the gal behind the bar asked me if I was related to Hemingway. This was not the first time this comparison had been made, and when it is offered I have mixed feelings. I certainly respect the writing, if not the man (he was quite a prick from all reports). My only reply to her was from Hemingway himself. "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." I left her to sort out the meaning of this . . . and I was off to the Everglades.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Circling the Drain?

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by
reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength
labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
-- Psalm 90:10

Hmmmm. That does not sound good at all. Not if one finds himself turning three score and six today. But how can this be, when I feel so young at heart? I have no plans to fly off any time soon. That said, this getting older is for the birds. I don’t like it yet I know there is nothing I can do about it. Consider Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), writing in Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, (1658): "The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying." And yet dying is something we will all do at some yet undertermined point in time. "If we begin to die when we live, and long life be but a prolongation of death, our life is a sad composition; we live with death, and die not in a moment." We all do it. Some more graceful than others, perhaps, but when you get right down to it, we shall all eventually shed this vale of tears. But I’ll be honest with you. I’m not ready. I’m not near ready. And I can only hope it will be a very long time before I hear the beck and call from the far side of the Stygian shore, before I find myself "circling the drain," that rather macabre slang referring to an unfortunate soul that clings to life while future prospects seem dim at best.

So what got me on this grim subject besides the fact that today I am another year older? And each years seems to pass by faster the previous one? This morning I finished reading A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life, the just published book of essays by Jim Harrison, the late poet, novelist and essayist, who passed away a year ago on March 26, at the age of 78. I have been a devoted reader of Harrison for over forty years – a fellow Midwesterner whose often skewed and oblique views on life, writing, and yes, even food and drink, have fueled my own hopes and desires for what I wanted to accomplish in my own lifetime. He was a gourmand extra ordinaire and a connoisseur of fine wines who also taught me that, as a writer, one must "mix your essential gluttony and writing carefully." I have learned how true this is. "Despite your complaints you have lots of time to do so," Harrison confesses. "Good food is so much more important than the mediocre writing that pervades the earth" ("Real Old Food" published in the Canadian journal Brick, in 2015). I strive for something above and beyond the mediocre, but I understand that writing is not everything. One must enjoy that which satisfies the body as well as the mind. Jim did not mince words and did not suffer fools. He and I are simpatico on that score.

Yet the thought that no more words will be unleashed from his pen (he refused to use a typewriter or a computer) saddens me deeply. I never met Harrison, yet my life and my own writing (and the search for good food and drink) have orbited his efforts since the early 1970s, when I first became aware of his unique perspective on human foibles and our interaction with the natural world as a palliative for what ails us. His death has left me be bereft and still I am both saddened and raised up as I read these latter day reflections knowing Harrison was running with the dark horse of night (Marlowe) and his time on earth was coming to its inevitable end.

Now well into my seventh decade (and proud of it . . . hey, I earned it, right?) I still believe I have several good years in these old bones (decades, had I my druthers). No, I don’t feel like I am circling the drain yet, nor do I hear any loud cries to come hither from beyond the River Styx. There is the old adage that you are only as old as you feel, and for the most part I feel just fine. I no longer float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, and maybe I never did. And there are the aches and pains I have to get used to along with the occasional "senior moment" when I forget a name or where I put something. But I can live with this occasional nemesis as long as I am able to accomplish what I set out to do with the advent of each new day . . . or in this case . . . the beginning of another year.

Three score and six?? Why not? I say "Bring it on!"

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Spreading the Good Word

I have been posting on this blogspot since late 2008 and I appreciate everyone – whether you are a longtime reader or a first time visitor – who has tuned in to read what I have had to say about this and that. If this is your first time, I invite you to check out the 400+ postings that have appeared here. There is not much that I don’t have an opinion on one way or the other. Most of what you will find here are recollections of past adventures and descriptions of those more recent. Occasionally I will rant about an injustice or some reckless folly (in my humble opinion), but I have tried to keep these to a minimum. That has been very hard to do in recent months, but I try.

I guess people out there are paying attention. I have just been invited to be a guest blogger . . . and a paid one at that . . . for Coos Networks, a community website serving the far northern precincts of New Hampshire which have figured into some if my postings here. Coos Networks has recently become an important meeting place for the exchanging ideas, sharing information, while "deepening relationships across disciplines and geography, and building regional vitality."

Over the past two decades this region has become my "panic hole," a physical or mental locus offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with it. And so I have decided to talk about this in my guest blog - "More Notes from the Panic Hole" - which will be posted on the Coos Networks website on March 27 and which I will share here shortly thereafter.

I am very excited about this opportunity to spread the word beyond my regular audience. Perhaps this is the harbinger of bigger and better things. Let’s see where it leads. Can I have an amen to that?

Amen!

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sphinter Control???


It appears that the sphincter muscle has been removed from American political discourse (and its foreign policy, for that matter).  This has resulted in an uninterrupted discharge of feculent pronouncements and policy statements.  DJT and his dark minions may think they are draining the swamp in DC, but the manure heaps out back of the White House and the Capitol are quickly piling up and expanding outward.  I thought you should know.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

The Deconstruction of American Foreign Policy

Navigating through the shambles that is the United States’ current foreign policy initiatives is like wandering hopelessly lost in a vast desert.  I just finished reading “Trump’s Many Shades of Contempt,” Roger Cohen’s very disturbing March 3 op-ed piece in The New York Times concerning the sad and dangerous state of affairs inside our foreign policy establishment.  Cohen knows whereof he speaks.  He has been a columnist for The New York Times and the International New York Times, as well as for many years a respected foreign correspondent who has gained important insights into the US State Department and US foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East and Afghanistan. 

Cohen’s column addresses the president’s complete and utter contempt for US foreign policy as exemplified by the fact that he has now called for a 37% reduction in the State Department’s budget.  Add to this the massive exodus of career foreign service officials since the election in November, a flight that has increased since the inauguration and Secretary Rex Tillerson’s ascendency at the State Department.  I am not talking about political appointments from the previous administration; I am referring to the departure of career foreign service officers and diplomats who staff the Department of State bureaucracy in Washington, as well as our embassies and consulates around the globe.  A case in point . . . Daniel Fried, who resigned after forty years of experience dealing with many of the most important foreign policy issues of the day, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.  Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon/Mobil, who has no governmental or foreign policy experience, was nevertheless confirmed by the Senate as the new Secretary of State and has yet to take the reins of his department.

Cohen reports that Tillerson “is a near phantom” at the State Department.  And there
is no second in command since his boss, the president, vetoed Tillerson’s choice as deputy.  One of Tillerson's first directives to senior staff - what little senior staff that still remains in place -  was an order that his briefing materials not exceed two pages. How is it possible to explain complex international issues in the space of two pages?  Previous Secretaries of State regularly dealt with briefing books dedicated to a single, complex issue.  He has been extremely press shy since taking office a month ago.  According to Cohen, there has not been a single press briefing by Tillerson or his staff since DJT took office five weeks ago.  His only public statements were brief and came during foreign visits to Mexico and  Germany.  Since the 1950s such press briefings have been an almost daily occurrence, something one would expect, considering the myriad challenges and conflicts facing this country and the world at large.  Is Tillerson avoiding public appearances thinking this will cushion him from the increasing blowback against the new regime in Washington?  “The State Department has taken on a ghostly air,” according to Cohen.

Throughout his Senate confirmation hearings Tillerson appeared personable and informed, qualities that seemed to assuage to some degree the opposition to his appointment.  Since his confirmation, however, he has done very little to suggest that he is calling the shots at Foggy Bottom, deferring instead to his boss in the White House.  Mr. Tillerson asked Elliott Abrams, a high-level State Department veteran during the Reagan regime, to bring his experience back to State as the new deputy.  Granted, his experience would have been useful to some extent although we should not forget that Abrams was convicted for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during which he withheld information from Congress during the investigation of the affair.  Although Abrams was ultimately pardoned by George H. W. Bush, this alone should have been reason to remove Abrams from consideration.  Instead, the president overruled Tillerson’s choice because of Abram’s outspoken criticism of DJT during the campaign and election.

What is perhaps more discomforting than this is the fact that Steve Bannon, a white supremacist and nativist who as the president’s chief political strategist has called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” has been elevated to a position on the National Security Council.  This after the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was unceremoniously uninvited from regular attendance at meetings of the NSC.  On top of this DJT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, another top advisor operating beyond the aegis of either the State Department or the NSC, is regularly usurping Tillerson’s role at meetings with world leaders and diplomats, particularly on the issue of the peace process in the Middle East and this country’s troubling relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Under normal circumstances it is the Secretary of State who serves as the mouthpiece for an administration’s foreign policy prerogatives.  It is the Secretary who discusses these with foreign leaders and diplomats.  With a few exceptions this has  not happened since January.  To date Tillerson has been absent or far in the background when the new president met with the prime ministers of Canada and Israel at the White House.  It is difficult for the State Department to conduct foreign policy through proper diplomatic channels and following accepted diplomatic decorum when it has to face challenges from parties within the White House who do not feel bound by proper procedure not to mention the president’s often ill-advised and off-the-cuff tweet blitzes. 

Tillerson’s foreign visit to Mexico, a country we have threatened to seal off with a wall, was chaotic, awkward, and received only a lukewarm welcome from the host government.   This comes on the heels of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto canceling his trip to Washington, the first scheduled visit by a head of state to the new US president.  It is clear to the Mexican government that it is the president who is calling the shots when it comes to bilateral relations with our neighbor to the south.  There was really nothing of substance to discuss with Tillerson, a man so clearly out of the loop.   

Tillerson’s meetings with his G-20 counterparts in Germany, at which he signaled America’s now lackluster support for important trans-Atlantic alliances such as NATO, were troubling in that there was little support for rebuilding trust and confidence with our valued long-term allies.  While in Bonn, Tillerson’s staffers tried to arrange a meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who has himself just began his five-year term on January 1.  Instead, the Secretary of State deferred to the new US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.  Tillerson was also a no-show at a high-level meeting in Bonn attended by Mr. Guterres who to date has not even been able to arrange a phone call with the Secretary.   Tillerson also refused to meet or speak with Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  It might be interesting to note that she is Mexican.

Tillerson is not in control of his department.  While he was in Europe, over two dozen of his senior staff members were abruptly reassigned.  What role he played, if any, in the reassignment is not clear.  To date, less than ten of the over 100 State Department positions requiring Senate confirmation have been filled, including our ambassadors to foreign states.  Bruce Bartlett, a former advisor to Reagan and George H.W. Bush, has suggested that this seemingly intentional decimation of the State Department is a means of forestalling diplomatic solutions to an array of international problems in favor of military solutions.  Let us not forget the president has called for almost $60 billion increase in military spending while gutting the State Department’s budget.  Diplomatic solutions are lightbulbs waiting to be turned on. Military solutions are hammers looking for a nail.

Just this past week Tillerson broke with tradition by choosing not to attend the public release of the State Department’s annual report on human rights.  This is normally a very high profile public event at which the Secretary of State uses the prestige of his or her office to underscore the importance of human rights as a keystone to American foreign policy.  Such was not the case last week.  There was no public event.  No Secretary of State.  Instead, reporters were briefed by telephone by an anonymous State Department official.  This is very troubling to human rights advocates around the world coming as it does after Tillerson repeatedly vowed to promote human rights during his confirmation hearing just a few weeks ago. “Should I be confirmed as secretary of state, I would be charged with promoting American values on the world stage, and that means standing for universal human rights and fighting for the dignity of every person.”  So why did he refuse to do just that?

I think the reason is pretty clear by now.  Mr. Tillerson is Secretary of State in name only.   And I think we also have a good picture of who is dictating American foreign policy.  It is men and women with agendas whispering in the ear of DJT, a man who has no real grasp of the complexities of international diplomacy.  You might recall during the campaign that DJT was asked about foreign policy.  Where was he getting his information and advice?  It seems to me a logical question.  “I’m speaking with myself, number one,” he replied.  “Because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things. I know what I’m doing and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people and at the appropriate time I’ll tell you who the people are. But my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”  Does that make you feel better?  I hardly think so.

So how is any of this acceptable?  The simple answer is that it is not acceptable.  It will never be acceptable on any level or under any circumstance.   Unfortunately I see the situation getting much worse before there is any improvement.  The important question remains.   What happens to this country’s foreign policy during an extremely dangerous time when our long-held and cherished values are being challenged at every turn . . . including by many in the White House at the exclusion of experts at the State Department?  I shutter to think.

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