log (2006/08/25 to 2006/08/31)

What is it about the air here, and the light? Words like "soft" and "sweet" come all too easily to mind, but they're too metaphorical to be really revealing.

M says it's the ocean; but just what does the ocean do to the air, and the light?

Which is to say that it's that time of year again, and we'll say in bold type (or at least in "strong"; mustn't conflate form and content!):

Happy Roughly-Seventh Anniversary to All This!

Seven years of talking to and about myself. What a good use of time! *8) Still, as a way of taking part in The Great Conversation, it beats (or at least ranks up there with) having a desk drawer full of unpublished Great American Novel.

So, in exterior terms, this is one of the most idyllic Maine idylls yet (ha, and I can't look up how to spell "idylls"). We're in an enormous (seven bedrooms, sleeps fourteen although Chandra and Keith won't rent it to more than ten because of the wear and tear) old (built in like the 1890s) house right on Bass Harbor on the east side of Mount Desert Island. It has a porch overlooking the yard and the water, it has a small pine woods behind it, and a lobster pound and a library and a public warf and a tiny bookstore in walking distance beyond the woods. And it has that air, and that light. We still have very fond memories of the house we stayed in the first four years, but this one may actually be Even Nicer than that one, in some senses.

The house also has no internet connection, but amusingly:

  • The Southwest Harbor Public Library in town has free wireless, and they leave it on even when they're closed, so we can park in their parking lot and do email and stuff,
  • On the way into town once to do email and stuff, we noticed the extremely tiny Bass Harbor Public Library, and we slowed down and scanned, and it turns out that that library also has free wireless that they leave on when they're closed, so in fact we have a wireless access point within walking distance, and now I've done email from that parking lot also, and for that matter
  • There's a cellphone tower somewhere around here, and the first evening we were here I Googled a couple of things via my cellphone from the porch, just for grins (more significantly, I can ask my cellphone for the weather report for Bernard, Maine at will).

We haven't actually been inside the Southwest Harbor Public Library yet, but I did go into the Bass Harbor Public Library (which is actually across the harbor from the town known as Bass Harbor, probably because at the time the library was built that town was called McKinley and the only thing called Bass Harbor was the harbor). It's a lovely little place. The front room is tiny but elegant, with wood and brick and a fireplace; the longer back room is more modern and less elegant, with the computers and the wireless router and a nice overstuffed sofa. I talked to the friendly lady a bit: the library was originally (1940's?) just the tiny front room; the back room was a 1990's addition. The wireless is paid for by a Maine state program that puts wireless into libraries and schools.

Up in Southwest Harbor (which isn't in walking distance this year, but is a reasonably short drive, and on the way to and from pretty much everything else) we visited Rue Cottage Books again. Nichols Fox is closing up the Southwest Harbor store and moving her stock (what's left after the Moving Sale) back to her house in Bass Harbor (formerly McKinley). There she hopes to have more time to work on her next book, about the downside of efficiency (see our discussion of suboptimization two years ago; I mentioned that discussion to her the other day, and she said roughly "yeah, and look how much writing I've gotten done since then!").

We talked about the problems of technology, and how everyone (including me, but apparently not her) thinks that when technology causes a problem you create more technology to solve it. Like gunshot wounds, she said: we develop technologies that wound, and we develop medical technologies to treat the wounds. Instead of, presumably, deciding that guns were a bad idea, and not making them anymore. And we develop food preservation and preparation technologies that mean people don't have to learn anything about where food actually comes from and how to actually prepare and care for it, and that has various bad consequencs.

Yes, I said, but we do continue using technologies, presumably because we like the resulting life, and because subsistence farming is unattractive. She replied that plenty of farmers have written books about the pleasures of farming (myself I doubt those were subsistence farmers). I said that those farmers' children tend to move to the cities. She said "And my children are Republicans; that's just what children do."

Can't really argue with that. *8)

Interiorly the time is a bit less idyllic than usual, for whatever reason. Daunting amounts of work (so that I'm torn between knowing I need a vacation from it and knowing that it really needs me to work at least somewhat on it here), worries about the misfortunes of friends, uncertainty about the future and its shifting sands; these have had me lying in bed in the early morning fretting and obsessing. But then I get up, and the day is sunny and bright or cloudy and soft, and the kids are bouncing around (or sleeping peacefully), and things are better.

So no complaints, not really.

Let's see. It's Thursday now, and I'll probably leave this entry dated today for bookkeeping purposes, although who knows when I'll actually post it. Yesterday the other Dad and the kids and I went up Champlain Mountain and down via Huguenot Head again, just like two years ago. It was lovely again, and a good energetic walk again (and this year I took a picture on the peak with my cellphone and emailed it to myself, again just for grins; I also took lots of realer pictures of kids, and of Jackson Labs smoking forebodingly down in the valley, with the realer digital camera).

The Moms had left us a car down in the parking lot at the north end of the Tarn, and we got in and drove back to the house the long way, past Manset and Seawall and the mysterious Wonderland (which is apparently a piece of forest; it might have like talking rabbits and stuff, but if so they aren't visible from the road), and up through Bass Harbor (formerly McKinley; didn't notice anything that was obviously Nichols Fox's house).

I could list the books that I brought up with me, but most of them have stayed in the bag that I brought them in. I finished P. D. James's "Unnatural Causes" (solid British murder mystery, from I think the Book Exchange Rack at work), and I've been reading the latest issue of Buddhadarma magazine (which, ironically, I used to kill a fly last night), and also Sven Birkerts' "The Gutenberg Elegies", which I bought at Rue Cottage the other day. Nichols Fox said, when I bought it, that it's a very good book.

(M and I just went for a walk up the long driveway through the woods to the street, to the tiny bookstore by the harbor and the red antiques-and-sundries store. The sun's so bright it was nearly hot, but the air is still cool.)

So I've been reading The Gutenberg Elegies. I remember reading about it awhile back; I think it made a certain amount of splash. It's all about what reading is like, and how Birkerts experiences it and grew up with it (which is the part that I've just finished, and liked quite a bit), and then about how electronic communications and networks and computers and stuff are fundamentally changing the nature of reading, in bad ways (that's the part that I'm just starting, and I expect from hints in the first part to disagree with it).

I may do a full writeup when I finish it; just now, though, Birkerts is saying

Many educators say that our students are less and less able to read, or analyze, or write with clarity and purpose. Who can blame the students? Everything they meet with in the world gives them the signal: That was then, and electronic communications are now.

I imagine he'll eventually get around to explaining why "electronic communications" don't require the ability "to read, or analyze, or write with clarity and purpose", but on this particular page he speaks as though it were obvious. (Whereas I think it's false, at least as stated here.) And he doesn't even nod in the direction of the fact that educators have always said that our students are less and less able to do any given thing than they were in the Good Old Days, even long before the first transistor was invented.

(Which isn't to say that important things aren't changing in important ways. But so far I'm not sure that Birkerts has identified them correctly, or is arguing cogently for his identifications.)

There are lots of other books lying around, both ours and lots and lots that came with the house; overflow from the owners' own library, says Keith, and also some that they've picked up at library sales. (Keith and Chandra are the proprietors, and they've each come by once; Chandra's parents own the place, I think. Nice people.)

So let's see. Not much has changed since last year, or for that matter since 1999: the kids are bigger, the Net is faster and more ubiquitous, the Usual Mental Pathways have their ruts still more deeply worn. Whatever happened to my interior landscape the other month has happened, but I'm not sure that it was a fundamental change of any kind. The single instant that is the universe is still hanging here, between memory and anticipation, with the sun coming in the window and the breeze and the waves outside, and the voices of the children.

We're taking the little daughter into Southwest Harbor later, to the community clinic, because she hurt her foot somehow yesterday, after we were down off the mountain and running across the road to where the car was parked. And then later we might go to Jordan Pond, or over to Bass Harbor (formerly McKinley), for a late lunch. Or something.

More later, perhaps. Or otherwise, more next week, when we're back in reality!

(And now it's the last night, Friday night, and we're mostly packed up, sitting around in the living room relaxing. The little daughter's foot seems to be fine, dinner last night in Bass Harbor was great, and so was tea at Jordan Pond House today. Outside the moon is shining through some high thin clouds over the harbor, and the air and water are still; there's a sailboat moored a little way off our beach, this house's beach, and the light at the top of its mast hangs there above the dim horizon, not moving. Long drive tomorrow...)