Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

I spent a lot of time at the McKeldin Library, my old stomping grounds on the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park, between 1976 and 1984.  I was enrolled as a graduate student completing my doctorate in Germanic Studies, and the library was situated just a short distance from my campus office.  Since completing my degree thirty years ago I have had little opportunity or reason to return to the campus and I had forgotten just how many strong and pleasant memories I have of the place.

Since my retirement four years ago I have renewed my membership in the alumni association which offers me inter alia borrowing privileges at all of the campus libraries (there are eight at last count).  I have been taking advantage of this by re-familiarizing myself with the stacks and the layout of this old book barn and using the peace and quiet it affords to work on a number of new projects with all the materials I need close at hand.  Most recently I have worked on a novel-in-progress in a quiet corner.

The place has changed quite a bit since I last worked there.  Gone are the banks of wooden cabinets housing the thousands upon thousands of dog-eared bibliographic data cards needed to locate books and other publications in the stacks.  They have been replaced with computers which allow for a different type of fingertip search.

As I searched the library’s holdings on Halifax during World War II, I have been  overcome by curiosity (and not a small measure of hubris) as I typed my own name into the computer catalog’s search box.  And there it was - an entry for my doctoral dissertation completed back in November 1984.  A few minutes later I made my way  into the stacks where I located that 344-page monstrosity, now hardbound in two volumes, one of the signed copies I had to submit to the Graduate School faculty as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD degree.  I could not help myself.  I carried the volumes back to my work table in the reading room and spent the next hour or so perusing the product of long days and nights spent in this library those many, many years ago.

The title is not something that rolls right off the tongue, but typical for a dissertation, I guess - Spatial Behavioral Patterns in Selected Short Prose of the German Democratic Republic [East] and the Federal Republic of Germany [West] as Evidence of Developing Cultural Diversification.  Despite its long-winded title, the study itself is a rather straight forward (remarkable for me) examination of postwar German fiction literature as a means of tracking and evaluating how Germans in the two German states handled space differently and how these modalities served as benchmarks to measure the development of two distinct German cultures over the course of almost four decades. The conclusions drawn by my study demonstrated (at least my examination committee believed I was successful in my approach) how and why literary historians and critics must look at the sociological and anthropological sub-texts of literary works in order to properly understand their meaning and importance within the cultures that produced them. Pretty heady stuff, to be sure, or so it seemed at the time.

There are two (at least) recurring nightmares that every graduate student experiences; that the only copy of a thesis or dissertation is lost or stolen and one must go back to the beginning and start over, or one’s advisor dies or disappears under mysterious circumstances and one is left alone without any clear guidance as to how to carry on. I was lucky to avoid both of these as well as a third somewhat unique to my circumstances.  Almost five years to the day after I successfully defended my dissertation, the Berlin Wall, much to almost everyone’s surprise, fell and a year later the two German states reunified.  I still shudder to think what would have happened had I been called to defend my conclusions - that the two postwar German states were gradually, but steadily, giving rise to two distinct German cultures - faced with the reality of one of the more momentous and unexpected events of the late 20th Century.  I am still confident, as I was then, that my ultimate conclusions are sound, and despite the political and economic reunification of Germany, there are still two distinct cultures, in the sociological and anthropological meaning of that word, in evidence in the reunified Federal Republic of Germany.  That said, I am glad I was not put to the unnecessary test of my wits and my wherewithal.

So it was a treat, to say the least, to discover these bound volumes of this hard fought study just a short distance from where many of the outlines and early drafts took shape. They awaken many fond, old memories.  But past is past, and my visits to McKeldin are now focused on new projects.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Cheese That Brings Back Memories: The Bon Bree Cheese Brick is Back!

This posting is a follow-up to “Cheesehead Revisited - Part 2” originally posted on July 24, 2013 [
As Paul Harvey use to say at the end of his daily radio broadcasts, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

I have previously written that I find it gratifying to learn there are others out there who share my “hankering for a good hunk of cheese.”  I mentioned my particular love for the Bon-Bree cheese brick, a true Wisconsin Lake Country tradition, produced by the long defunct cheese factory in Mapleton (it closed sometime in the 1980s).  And not long after my original posting back in 2009 [“Confessions of a Cheesehead - Part 2” posted May 17, 2009 - ], I began to receive regular comments from fellow afficionados who enjoyed my story of discovery and my own enjoyment of and dedication to Bon-Bree.  We all mourned its passing into cheese history.

One of these contacts was Bob Kapsy who lives not far from the site of the old Mapleton factory in rural Waukesha County northeast of Milwaukee. He had seen my 2009 blog posting mentioning my interest in Bon-Bree and we both agreed it was a black day when the late Terry Shaw, the Oconomowoc cheese maker responsible for Mapleton’s Bon-Bree, decided to close up shop.  The good news, however, was that Kapsy, a local wine merchant, was partnering with Lloyd Williams’ Homestead Farm and Creamery, a six generation family farm in Delafield, in the hope of soon producing an artisan “Mapleton style cheese” replicating the consistency and taste of the Bon-Bree cheese of old.  Williams would make the cheese and Kapsy would take on the responsibility of sales and marketing.  In doing so, they hoped to answer the prayers of Bon-Bree’s many loyal and longing disciples – to reintroduce “The Cheese That Brings Back Memories” – while in the process making the Williams family farm financially sound.

Williams knew Terry Shaw, and years after the Mapleton cheese factory closed, they visited the Dairy Business Innovation Center and the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, where they tested several batches trying to recreate the original Mapleton recipe.  Sadly, Shaw passed away shortly thereafter and Williams carried on their plan alone.  Luckily he soon joined forces with Kapsy and they quickly discovered that you cannot patent a cheese recipe, but you can the trademark the name.  They did just that and the rest is new cheese history.

For four years Williams developed cultures and refined the recipe while looking to the future marketing of the new Bon-Bree.  He wanted to bring back what the old Mapleton customers grew to love while initiating a new generation of cheese lovers to what he believed was a truly artisanal product.  Secure in the belief that a satisfactory recipe was in hand, Williams began to produce several test batches while Kapsy sampled them at local wine tasting events and when visiting local groceries and markets.  Kapsy was kind enough to keep me in the loop on developments and to share some of these early samples with me, sending them through the US Postal Service to my home here in Maryland.  There was concern that the cheese would not withstand its transit through the mail, but I assured Bob it would be OK.  After all, my family sent blocks of the original Bon-Bree to me in college in Florida and Arizona.  I even had Bon-Bree shipped to me during a year I spent studying in Germany.  Surely it would hold up on the trip from Wisconsin to Maryland.  And it did.  I could not wait to sample it.  As I have previously reported, the color of the new brick is more white than the buttery hue of the original . . . something which only occurs with proper aging in “bringing back the Bree.”  Otherwise it looked, felt and smelled the same as the Bon-Bree of old. 

It was not long before Kapsy called me last summer to announce,“We have cheese!”   Better yet, he was shipping me a sample of the final product.   I was in heaven!  The bricks were properly aged – Williams cautions that “you can’t rush a good thing” – with the plan to soon have cheese in stores.  Like its predecessor, the new Bon-Bree brick cheese contains no preservatives, synthetic proteins, bovine growth hormones, or artificial coloring.  It is 100% natural milk from pasture-fed Holstein cows using primarily cheese cultures and salt.

By late August Bon-Bree went into full scale production at Ron Henningfeld’s Clock Shadow Creamery, an environmentally “green” and carbon-neutral urban cheese factory situated in the Walker’s Point neighborhood on Milwaukee’s near south side since 2012.  It produces grass-based organic cheese products in small batches.  It is “very much a hands-on process” Henningfeld confesses. 

Initial distribution of the new Bon-Bree brick cheese was limited to a couple dozen stores, including several Piggly Wiggly outlets and the Mars Cheese Castle, a highway icon near Kenosha since 1947 where I have bought cheese since I was a kid.  It is also served in a handful of local restaurants in southeastern Wisconsin.  One can purchase bricks – the original along with versions containing carroway, dill and chive – online

Publicity and customer reaction have been over the top and Bon-Bree now has its own Facebook page.  Fans of the earlier Bon-Bree, myself included, are ecstatic in their flights of nostalgia.   And the food establishment has been laudatory.  “It tastes a little like a cheese curd, it’s a bit like mozzarella, it’s soft like Monterey jack,” writes Nancy Strohs, the food editor of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  “Buttery, creamy, pleasantly salty [only 3% salt content], a little sweet, a little nutty.”  It may soon be available in the relatively new Mariano’s grocery chain in the Chicago area.

I am delighted to report that the fine tradition of Mapleton’s Bon-Bree has been resurrected and is once more available to those of us who have enjoyed it in the past, and to all those who are now discovering it now for the very first time.  Nothing says happiness like a brick of Bon-Bree Cheese . . .  “The Cheese That Brings Back Memories.”

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

That Magical Campus: A Return to Thomas Wolfe's University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This past weekend I was lucky enough to find myself back on that “magical campus” as famous alumnus Thomas Wolfe described the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the oldest state university in the country having been established there in 1789.  Most of the students there, and dare I say perhaps some of the faculty, were only a twinkle in their parents’ eyes the first time I visited the campus to conduct research in the North Carolina Collection housed in the Louis Round Wilson Library (some of my correspondence has managed to find a home here).  I have returned many times since for one reason or another thus disproving Wolfe’s old saw, “you can’t go home again.”  A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since that first visit many years ago, but I was happy to see that the town and campus appeared pretty much the way I always  remember them.  I could certainly find my way around without consulting a map or asking directions.

The reason for this latest trip?  I was invited to chair a session of papers presented at the 36th annual conference of the Thomas Wolfe Society.  Indeed, Wolfe has been my reason for each of my previous visits to UNC-Chapel Hill; either to attend earlier gatherings of the Society, or to conduct research in the Wolfe papers in the Wilson Library (I have also ferreted through the more extensive Wolfe papers and manuscript collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library).  It was nice to catch up with old friends and colleagues while making the acquaintance of a number of young and budding American and foreign Wolfe scholars who will insure the future of Wolfe studies.  It all made for a delightful weekend on his “magical campus.”

It is difficult to spend any time in Chapel Hill or on the UNC campus without invoking Wolfe’s name; it was here he flowered into one of the premier 20th century American writers.  Born 1900 in Asheville, in the western Carolina mountains, Wolfe arrived in Chapel Hill shortly before his 16th birthday having graduated from the North State Fitting School, in his hometown.  UNC numbered around one thousand students at the time, nothing close to the enormous present-day campus with an enrollment of almost thirty thousand   The University offered him his first opportunity to escape his native landscapes and the culturally provincial environment of Asheville.  It also provided him a large degree of independence from “his crouched family,” as Eugene Gant, Wolfe’s alter ego, describes his in the original “O Lost” manuscript of his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929).  “He was happy, full of expressive joy . . . He was closer to a feeling of brotherhood than he had ever been, and more alone,” Wolfe wrote describing the fictional Eugene Gant.  “His isolation was in his favor.”  Like Gant, Wolfe was able to spread his wings for the first time in his life, to rub shoulders with others, especially those students from the wealthier Piedmont and coastal areas, who grew up much different than himself.  He was not exactly a “mountain grill” his father looked down upon, but he had only a very limited exposure to the bigger world beyond Asheville.  His eyes were opened wide, and his time at UNC would eventually lead him to Boston, New York, Europe, and literary fame.

In a later letter Wolfe described his time in Chapel Hill as “close to magic,” and the UNC as “the magical campus.”  But it did not seem so during his freshman year.  Being six foot-three and weighing less than 140 pounds, Wolfe was a clumsy lad outfitted in old and ill-fitting clothes.  He lived in a boarding house on Franklin Street, still the main commercial drag adjacent to the original campus, and lived a mostly solitary and lonely existence . . . so much so that he hesitated returning for his sophomore year.

His father forced him to resume his studies, and it was a good thing he did.  Once back in Chapel Hill, Wolfe began to take a real interest in his course work and campus activities.  He studied English literature under Professor Edwin A. Greenlaw (the building currently housing the English department is named in his honor) who pushed the young Wolfe to do more than what his other instructors expected of him.  He began to flourish as a member of the “Dialectic,” or “Di,” one of the two literary societies on campus he joined as a freshman.  Perhaps we can say the “die was cast.”  Wolfe joined the writing staff of the University of North Carolina Magazine, and The Tar Heel, the campus newspaper of which he later became the managing editor and editor-in-chief.  He would also serve as the editor of Yackety Yack, the campus annual.   From a lonely freshman he gradually evolved into a campus leader much in demand, exercising what he called “the huge pretense of idiot geniality.”

During his last two years on campus Wolfe studied under Professor Frederick Koch who instilled in him an avid interest in drama and the theater, an interest he would continue after graduation in George P. Baker’s 47 Workshop, at Harvard University.  While at UNC Wolfe wrote two one-act folk plays - The Return of Buck Gavin and The Third Night - both of which were performed by the Carolina Playmakers toward the end of Wolfe’s time in Chapel Hill.  He also performed the leading role in the former.

The main core of the UNC campus . . . the one Wolfe came to know . . . has not changed all that much since he was there.  The brown-brick buildings bordering the forested central quads extending southward from Franklin Street are still there and look much like they did in Wolfe’s day almost a century ago.  So is The Old Well, the iconic campus meeting place.  One evening at dusk, I wandered this magic landscape from Franklin Street to the Wilson Library where I heard Joseph Bathanti, the current poet laureate of North Carolina, read from his work.  It seemed entirely appropriate that he conjured up shades of Thomas Wolfe and his western Carolina mountains where Bathanti continues to live, write, and teach.  How could he not?  

In the past, the Wolfe Society has always met at the Wilson Library with its rich collection of Wolfe papers.  This year, however, we moved our proceedings to the venerable, elegant Carolina Inn, just a few blocks away.  Completed in 1924, four years after Wolfe left Chapel Hill, the Inn has, according to its official historian Kenneth Joel Zogry, served as the “University’s Living Room” for the past 90 years, hosting countless meetings, receptions, weddings, and banquets celebrating faculty and students past and present.  Its simple elegance oozes Southern charm and hospitality.

“The Carolina Inn,” writes Zogry, “was born of a bad night’s sleep.”  John Sprunt Hill, a Carolina alumnus and trustee who went on to become a prominent lawyer, banker, philanthropist and trustee responsible for the expansion of UNC at Chapel Hill, visited the campus in 1921 as head of the school’s building committee.  He stayed at one of the Franklin Street boarding houses, and offended by the heat and frequent nocturnal visits by vermin, he walked along the edge of the campus one night, and according to the local legend, pledged to build a proper inn befitting the oldest state university in the country.  A lover of literature, Hill was also largely responsible for the construction of the Wilson Library, which opened its doors in 1929 and eventually housed the North Carolina Collection which he also endowed.  In 1935, Hunt and his partners donated the Carolina Inn to the University, stipulating that the profits from its operation would support the Collection.  It seemed only right that the Wolfe Society would hold its meeting at the Carolina Inn seeing that the proceeds would benefit the preservation of the Wolfe collection and other important North Caroliniana. 

Upon graduating in June 1920 with 144 others, Wolfe scribed the senior class poem, “1920 Says a Few Words to Carolina.”

        They’ll think again of this night here
        And of these old brown walls,
        Of white old well, and of old South
        With bell’s deep booming tone.
        They’ll think again of Chapel Hill and-
        Thinking – come back home.

Wolfe final novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, was published posthumously in 1940.   He may never have returned to his magical campus, but I have done so with every opportunity offered to me.  I look forward to coming home again.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Remembering . . . A Celebration of Memorial Day

I am taking time today to remember and to thank all of those brave men and women who serve our country past and present, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we continue to enjoy.  They should not be forgotten.  Unfortunately, our country often ignores and fails to take care of our returning veterans.  It seems a shame that one has to die in order to receive the attention, the respect, and the basic dignity one deserves.  Let us make an effort to properly honor all who have served, the living as well as the dead.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why Make Poutine What It's Not?

Son Ian and daughter-in-law Katie sampling some authentic poutine

This is a follow-up to my earlier posting - “Une Maudite Poutine” - on June 21, 2009:

A good friend of mine just gave me a clipping from the May 3-4 “Adventure & Travel” section of The Wall Street Journal; an article by Adam Leith Gollner entitled “Quebec’s Baddest Poutine.”  Gollner, a native Quebecker, visited a poutine festival at which several chefs had gathered to demonstrate new ways to “enhance the dish’s fundamental triumvirate.”

Anyone who has ever had honest-to-God authentic poutine, or who is someone who reveres it like I do, knows that poutine is just about as simple as it gets.  French fried potatoes, thick beef gravy [sauce brune] . . . the thicker the better . . . and melted cheese curds; no mozzarella or pepper jack or whatever cheese you prefer . . . it has to be fresh cheese curds.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  It doesn’t get any simpler, or better, or tastier than that.  You put other crap in it and it ain’t poutine!  Why would anyone in their right mind want to “enhance” it?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact that you no longer have to go to Québec or its nearby borderlands to find decent poutine.  It has spread throughout Canada and now it is quickly making inroads in the USA.  I know of a few places here in Washington, DC - all well-respected establishments, including one situated on Pennsylvania Avenue two blocks from the White House - that serve a decent, authentic poutine as does a local Wonky Truck found around town.  I recently learned that a new poutinerie has opened in my old stomping grounds in Tucson, Arizona.  Still, the wider its reach, the greater the propensity to make poutine something it is not, to make it “better” by adding more ingredients and coming up with more mind-numbing ways to serve it.  Again I ask you why?  Potatoes, beef gravy and squeaky cheese curds that “sound like a rusty door hinge swinging open between your teeth.”  That is all you need.  Finis!  

So when I read in Gollner’s article about a poutine festival dedicated to new and improved ways to make and serve poutine, I naturally figured it took place in some far-flung locale like Las Vegas, or Miami Beach, or New Orleans . . . or even Shanghai.  But no.  It took place in Montréal of all places!  Within a few miles from the original’s humble and somewhat debatable birthplace!   And the winner?   “Poutine a la General Tso” courtesy of an establishment called Poutineville with three locations in the Montréal area.  They offer an assortment of “poutines haut de gamme” [specialty poutine] which involve tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, and various meats prepared in various ways.  And all topped off with a special poutine sauce.  Le blasphème de l'ordre le plus élevé!  I don’t even want to think about it.  To quote Gollner: “The problem with aiming to make poutine fancy is that the dish is meant to be trashy.”  Amen to that! 

And while I am on the subject of poutine, I note with interest that earlier this week the word “poutine” has entered into the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary along with 148 others, including such food offerings as “pho,” “turducken,” and “pepita.”  I should note here, too, that the dictionary defines poutine as "a dish of French fries covered with brown gravy and cheese curds.”   How much more definitive does one have to be?  The editors also state that they could not find the word being used prior to 1982.  Obviously the editors were not hanging out in Québec back in the 1950s.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Day on the Clay Banks and the Gooses

It is spring again and that always means it is time to repair to the gentle solitude of Tilghman Island, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, for another outing on the Chesapeake Bay on board Captain Bill Fish’s 46-foot Nancy Ellen.  I have written here about previous outings on the Bay, and so it is only right that I share my latest adventure.

My last outing was in October 2013, at the tail end of the rockfish (striped bass) season.  I did not post a report following that trip, promising that “what happens on the Nancy Ellen stays on the Nancy Ellen.”   But now I have thought better of it.  Intending to live line, we filled the bait barrel with dozens of spot jigged from the depths of the Choptank River on blood worm offerings, and then quickly made our way to the edges of the shipping channel near Sharp Island Light.  And we were rewarded with a cooler full of late autumn rocks (in the 18-24 inch range) and some handsome chopper bluefish.  In fact, the rocks were few and far between as we watched the Bay’s water churn to a froth by several “blitzes” as schools of blues lashed through balls of baitfish and occasionally feasting on one of our proffered spots.  A fine way to end another sporting season on the Chesapeake Bay.

This spring’s trip began like all the others.  Our fishing party arrived on Tilghman Island the night before, enjoying good food and drink before turning in for a few hours sleep.  Unfortunately, 5am came around too quickly and we dressed for the day not knowing for sure what the weather gods would throw our way.  We drank some coffee and nibbled on some muffins and by 6am we had gathered at the marina on Knapps Narrows to board the Nancy Ellen and prepare for another day of fishing for rocks.

The trophy season, which commenced back on April 19 and ran through May 15, ended the day before our trip.  During that season each angler is allowed only one fish daily and it must measure a minimum of 28 inches.  All rocks caught in certain tidal tributary rivers must be released while most of these waters are closed as the fish are still on their spawning runs.  The rules changed for our trip, on May 16.  Each angler is permitted two fish measuring 18–28 inches, or one fish 18-28 inches and one fish over 28 inches.  Angler may not have two fish exceeding 28 inches in their possession.  Who knew how our luck would run?

Much to our chagrin, the last day of the trophy season saw several inches of rain fall over the Chesapeake watershed, and fears ran high that the inclement weather had scattered the fish from their favorite hang-outs.  The recent reports before the rains had been most promising.  The recent warm weather had brought the mid-Bay’s water temperature into the high 60s, and the post-spawn rocks were moving down from their  tributaries - in our case the Choptank - and back into the open Bay.

Not to be dissuaded from our mission, the skies were mostly clear and the sun rose behind us as we motored down the Narrows to the open Bay where the wind quickly caught us full in the face and the water roiled beneath us.  Throttling up the engine, Captain Fish pointed us toward the southwest in the direction of the “CR” buoy in the main shipping channel.  Arriving near there we quickly moved to a fish grounds known locally as the “Clay Banks” situated along the steep western edge of the shipping channel near buoy “80.”   Here we deployed the planing boards and began to spread our dozen or so weighted trolling rigs at 30-40 feet to the stern, each with a dual skirted ten-inch white or chartreuse Sassy Shad bait.  Then came the wait.  I had a sandwich and a can of beer and watched a freighter silhouetted by the sun as it moved upbound for Baltimore.

It was not long and came the cry “fish on” and we brought two nice rocks on board measuring 24 and 36 inches respectively.  With our first fish in the cooler and our lines returned to the water, we continued to troll over the Clay Banks.  Several other boats were running trolling patterns near us and Captain Fish and the other captains continuously exchanged notes and plotted strategies.  The instruments were showing occasional balls of baitfish, but no more cries of “fish on.”   The rough seas and what we agreed were hit and runs by smaller fish were playing havoc with our trolling rigs and we spent a great deal of time resetting our lines.  Still no fish.  

With nothing much happening, Captain Fish took us farther south and west, to an area known as “the Gooses” (there is a “Winter Goose” and a “Summer Goose”) in the vicinity of buoys “78" and “78A” and not far off Plum Point and Chesapeake Beach, on the Western Shore.  Captain Fish shook his head.  “Every time I take you boys out we end up down here.”  He stared at the instruments and his location plot.   “I keep saying I ain’t going to come back down here and yet here we are.”  But the truth of the matter was he wanted to catch fish just as bad as we did, and he was willing to go anywhere the fish might be hiding out.

Even when the fishing is slow, we manage to find ways to enjoy our time on the water.  Some will find a spot to stretch out and catch up on the sleep they failed at the night before.  Some sit out on deck to watch the other boats while enjoying a sandwich, some fried chicken, and a can or two of beer.  Or we will chat with the captain; tales of previous trips, the long winter and cold spring, the comings and goings here on the Bay.

Toward mid-afternoon the instruments showed larger concentrations of baitfish, and not long after that came the long awaited “fish on.”  Within the next hour we had brought three more rocks on board, all of which measured well over 30 inches.  And just as quick as it started, the run was over and once again we were trolling over vacant waters.  But we had five very nice fish in the cooler, and being far enough south it was time to bring in the lines and store away the equipment.  I am sure Captain Fish would have loved to have put us on more fish, but I don’t think anyone came home disappointed.  These are the chances and gambles you take.

And what a difference a day makes!.  The rough seas and the cloudy skies of the morning gave way to sunny skies and more placid waters by mid-afternoon and this all made the fishing a bit easier to enjoy.  So all in all it was a very successful outing on Chesapeake Bay on board Captain Bill Fish’s immaculate Nancy Ellen.  Perhaps we did not catch as many fish as we would have liked, but the ones we caught were beauties.

I look forward to each and every one of these trips; a chance to be with good friends as we enjoy the bounty the Bay has to offer.

    Though inland far we be,
    Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
    Which brought us hither
            ~William Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality”

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Working for the Summer

It has been a rather cold and nasty spring here in Maryland after a long, cold and nasty winter and it has been hard to get motivated to do much beyond that which absolutely has to be done.  Still, I have been doing quite a bit of writing, focusing almost all of my attention on some new fiction.  There is the novel-in progress which is moving forward at a slow and steady pace, and now there are two novellas in draft about which I am very excited.  I will be reading from these new works during our annual summer hiatus in Maine.

And speaking of Maine, I made a couple of recent trips up there.  In late February and early March I spent a few days of my annual winter retreat with my good and longtime friends at the Tall Timber Lodge, in Pittsburg, New Hampshire.  I have been going there regularly for several years and I always enjoy the opportunity to revel in the sub-zero temperatures and the deep snows.  I also visited with other nearby friends before setting off to Mid-Coast Maine to visit more friends; to check out the lake cottage at True’s Point, in New Gloucester; and to explore some of my favorite summer haunts turned lonely and quiet at the height of the winter season.  And with a late winter storm moving through the Mid-Atlantic I had to postpone my return home for a couple of days  which permitted me some time in and around Portland, Maine and Manchester, New Hampshire with a side trip to Robert Frost’s farm at Derry and to some of my favorite literary sites down in Concord, Massachusetts.

I returned to Portland, Maine a couple of weeks ago to attend a conference and while I was there I sneaked off one more time to New Gloucester and the cottage on True’s Point.  It came through yet another rough winter and I was happy to see the lake ice free and everything seemed to be in order.   I am already chomping at the bit to be back at the lake for a summer of writing, reading, and enjoying a much needed and well deserved respite from Washington, DC’s hectic pace.  I also have several readings and lectures scheduled during our time in New England

So I am working for the summer and the return to Maine.  There is much to do around here before we head north at the end of June, including a quick trip to Chapel Hill over the upcoming holiday weekend to attend the annual gathering of the Thomas Wolfe Society.  I will be catching up with old friends and colleagues and chairing an interesting session of scholarly papers.  It will be nice to get back in the loop.

Summer is almost here.   I hope it will be worth the long wait.

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