Walking the Marginal Way

My grandmother told me that I had angel faces in my knees. She gently pressed her finger against the angel’s eye and traced the chin of the angel at the bottom of my kneecap. I looked at her, solemn. The strap of my navy-blue swimsuit inched down my left shoulder. My arms hung loosely at my sides. I trusted her.

All these years later, I trace that angel’s face as I contemplate how to haul myself out of the beach chair. My body not as supple, my joints a bit cranky. I manage to rise gracelessly. “Look,” my husband says. I raise my eyes to see a heron in needle-nosed flight across the dunes towards the marshes. My eyes lower to meet Ed’s. “You ready for lunch?”

We flip the beach chairs onto our blanket and grab our shoes. My feet press into the warm sand. Breathe, I tell myself, take in this moment. We make our way across the pebbly asphalt to the car. Ed lifts the hatch and we perch, brush off our feet and discuss what to leave behind. We will walk the Marginal Way for a late lunch in Perkins Cove.

The Marginal Way is a 1 ¼ mile walkway that threads the coastline between Ogunquit Beach and Perkins Cove in Maine. Seven years ago, walking the Marginal Way was my pilgrimage to a place of deep family memories, a connection to my matrilineage. A place to remember the few summers my sisters and I vacationed with my parents and my grandmother. A pilgrimage to view the icy blue sea with its dark line of horizon. “The Acklantic,” my grandmother chuckled as she told us how her mother declared that the family crossed the Acklantic from Queenstown, Ireland aboard the SS Cymric in 1913.

In this moment, with my husband, I am walking the Marginal Way as a pilgrimage to the rocks.

Rock formations along the Marginal Way, tan-colored quartzite and darker phyllite, are crosscut with basalt. Threads of granite and feldspar, and glints of mica appear in an irregular pattern. Most stunning is the angular basalt. Dark and dense, this volcanic rock is commonly found on oceanic islands.  The ocean waves break upon the sharp edges, and sends skyward a white foam.

As we walk briskly along the Marginal Way towards Perkins Cove, we chat about the rosehips fattening in the autumn sun. The intrusion of bittersweet. The day is warmer that we anticipated, and my mind is distracted by the discomfort of my jeans and dark shirt. I pray for a shady spot to sit, thinking more about patio dining in Perkins Cove than the white foam smashing against the dark basalt. Relief washes over me as we are seated at Barnacle Billy’s, well-shaded by magnificent butternut trees. The lacey leaves gently fan us.

We people-watch, and remark on the bustle of the wait staff. “Claire,” says Ed, and I think he is talking about his sister. No, Claire is our waitress. Ed pays close attention to name tags. After all these years, I should know this. We split an order of fried clams and linger over our brews. A local beer for him, iced tea for me. As we head back to the Marginal Way, I tell my husband, “I promise to slow down.” “You’ve been walking fast all day,” he confirms.

Midway back to Ogunquit Beach, we find an empty bench. I sit.


The wind caresses my face. The waves roar as they approach the basalt. Seawater slaps down on the flat surface. Rhythmic. Again, and again.

Still, my mind is too busy. I am remembering the Paul Simon disc that Ed slipped into the CD player during our drive from Massachusetts. In the first track, Simon sings “I am a Rock, I am an Island. And rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.” Several tracks into the compilation disc, Simon tells us that his mama loves him like a rock. Which is it, Paul Simon? Do rocks have no feelings? Or are rocks our most steadfast friends?

In the second tune, Simon references the Christian hymn “Rock of Ages”.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.


Below me, the basalt cleaves. The sea water rushes in. My grandmother’s hand presses my head toward her breast. Her nails scratch my scalp. Loves me like a rock.

I breathe steadily. My thoughts rush into the crevices and rush out again. Slap down hard and rise skyward. Glint in the sun before returning to the icy blue sea.


The wind on my face. The roar of the waves. The slap on the basalt.


My mind steadies. I take one more deep breath and stand.

“Ready to head back to the beach for a nap?” I ask Ed. He nods.

He loves me like a rock.

What treasure is this dug up?

Thanksgiving table

The day after Thanksgiving, and Ed was up and out to work by 4am. I heard the car leave the driveway. Unable to fall back asleep, I tiptoed downstairs, poured myself a 1/2 cup of coffee, grabbed a handful of granola and headed back upstairs with my battered copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’d put this novel aside after our return from Europe in July–140 pages to go.

Our Thanksgiving celebration was fabulous. Food, family, friends. For me, the magic began the day before. The house clean and ready. I took a breath after running a few errands to the Leverett Co-op and Stop & Shop. Texted my my sister Julie. Are you home? I’ll bring coffee and we can have a little chat.

Back at home, I resumed my preparations for our overnight guests: pillows, blankets, towels. What to feed them tonight? Shortly after 6pm, they arrived and the kitchen was lively. Within two hours, almost everyone was headed to bed. Natalie and I watched “Mississippi Masala”, reprising years of mama/daughter movie-watching.

Thursday morning was DYI breakfasts, fueling ourselves for furniture-moving.  Making space for the folding tables, end-to-end, that would seat 16 people. The bird in the oven at 11am. Undertaking the task of peeling and boiling 15 lbs of potatoes. Enough potatoes for potato-sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, and leftover potatoes for potato bread. My recipe is based on the stuffing recipe in my grandmother’s Fanny Farmer cookbook. Her comments for doubling the recipe were penciled in the margin. I’ve boosted the amount of potatoes and added the instructions to save out 3 cups for potato bread.

Family Potato Sausage Stuffing, my version

8 lbs potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 lb breakfast sausage, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
1 lb “stuffing bread”, torn up
2 eggs
1 T sage
1 T salt

*save 3 cups of mashed potatoes for potato bread
Brown the sausage, and add onions. Cook until onions are translucent. Drain. Mix potatoes, sausage, onion, bread, eggs, sage, salt and pepper. Grease ovenproof bowl and fill. Cover and bake at 350 for 30 minutes (while the turkey sits).

At lunchtime, we opted for hot dogs and veggie burgers on the grill. Family and friends began showing up at 2pm, with armloads of food, drink and folding chairs. Regina brought out her cut-glass wine glasses and we placed them alongside the cheeses and stuffed peppadews. As darkness fell, we lit candles and gathered everyone around the table for a moment of silence and 2 poems. I read the first:

Come Inside Now  ~David Budbill

Come inside now.
Stand beside the warming stove.
Watch out through the windows as
a cold rain tears down
the last leaves.

The larder full of dried herbs,
hot peppers, chutneys,
jellies, jams, dill pickles,
pickled relishes,
pickled beets.

The freezer full of frozen greens–
chard and spinach, collards, kale–
green beans, basil, red sauces,
applesauce, and
smoked meats.

The woodshed dry and full of wood,
winter squashes stashed away.
Down cellar: potatoes, carrots,
crock of sauerkraut.

Come inside now.
Stand beside the warming stove.
Listen. Wait.

Ed read the second, a poem found in the Tassajara Cookbook:

Who Knows What Thus Comes? ~Ed Brown

Picking up an onion,
what is held in hand?
How many dusty miles
and blazing asphalt truckstops,
hidden in darkness, locked in steel?
How many cups of coffee and tired-eyed
waitresses greeted the driver?
How many minutes of country music
and rambling thoughts helped onion here?
How many days at home, in ground,
intimately connected, embedded,
nestled unseen, rapt in absorption,
knowing just what to do
with earth and water, sun and wind,
to make them onion.
That everything thus comes
at once as onion, what
treasure is this dug up?
Who knows what hand holds?

We are grateful for all the hands who brought food to our table, and the natural elements that conspired to bring us onions, sweet potatoes, turnips, spinach, cranberries. God’s bounty.


Here I am, on the day after Thanksgiving. An owl calling at 6am. I opened photo (4)my window to listen to the wise one.

After another hour, I headed downstairs.  Meghan and the baby joined me–the baby round-eyed and mouthing everything he could get his hands on. We pulled out the griddle for pancakes with maple syrup and leftover cranberry sauce. By mid-morning, the house was lively again with bluegrass tunes and packaging up leftovers for the overnight crew. I said goodbyes to everyone, filled a bowl with potato-sausage stuffing and settled on the couch by the woodstove. After this soporific lunch, I lay down and fell into a hard sleep for 2 hours.

An afternoon of assessing the leftovers–my greasy hands cracking apart the turkey carcass so that it would fit into the soup stock pot. Pureeing the leftover Gilfeather turnip dish with Mum’s creamed onions for a soup to serve with potato bread. Eating slices of Valerie’s apple and pumpkin pies. My hands full of bread dough.  My heart full of gratitude.

Potato Bread Recipe (4 loaves), from The Tassajara Cookbook

2 T yeast
3 1/2 c warm water
1/2 c honey
6 c flour
3 c mashed potatoes, cooled
1 T salt
6-8 c more flour
egg, beaten for wash

Dissolve yeast in water with honey. Beat in 6 c flour. Cover and rise for 1 hour. Add potatoes, salt and enough flour to knead. Knead for 10 minutes. Rise another hour. Punch down (25X). Divide dough into 4 parts. Shape into loaves, place onto greased pans and rise 20 minutes while oven pre-heats to 350 degrees. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 50 minutes. Delicious toasted.

Falling from the Tree

Apple resting the the crook of a tree
Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Long gone are the days when September meant school buses and lunchboxes. No more field trips to local apple orchards. Not gone from me is the urge to warm the kitchen with roast chicken with thyme and garlic, to be served alongside cooked vegetables. For dessert: apple pie, spiced with cinnamon and topped with wicked sharp cheddar cheese. A glass of wine? Last night, after a long day of work, some errands, laundry and emptying the dishwasher, we greeted the Autumnal Equinox with a well-poured black-and-tan. To celebrate the equal measures of dark and light. Maybe I’ll get to that chicken dinner this weekend.

For two years now, we’ve attended the Fresh Grass Festival in North Adams, MA. Is this our new Equinox ritual? We camped at Savoy Mountain, a bone-chilling experience on Friday night (temperatures dipping into the 30s). The days were filled with bluegrass music and running into folks that we knew. A glorious drive back home via the Mohawk Trail–trees dipped in new color and the clouds pastel with sunset.

I am filled with gratitude for this life. I do struggle with what social researcher Brené Brown calls forboding joy. I start thinking about losing what I have.

“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience,” Brown says. “And if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”

Brown urges us to lean into our vulnerability when we come face-to-face with the joy in our lives. To build our tolerance for joyful experience by practicing gratitude. In my brief reading of Five Element Theory, the experience of taking stock of what we have is very autumnal. Metal. The glorying in our riches and the courage of letting go. Fall. And, the key to falling is gratitude.

Sometimes ~David Budbill

When day after day we have cloudless blue skies,
warm temperatures, colorful trees, and brilliant sun, when
it seems like all this will go on forever,

when I harvest vegetables from the garden all day,
then drink tea and doze in the late afternoon sun,
and in the evening one night make pickled beets
and green tomato chutney, the next night
red tomato chutney, and the day after that
pick the fruits of my arbor and make grape jam,

when we walk in the woods every evening over fallen leaves,
through yellow light, when nights are cool, and days are warm,

when I am so happy I am afraid I might explode or disappear
or somehow be taken away from all this,

at those times when I feel so happy, so good, so alive, so in love
with the world, with my own sensuous, beautiful life, suddenly

I think about all the suffering and pain in the world, about
all those people being tortured, right now, in my name. But
I still feel happy and good, alive and in love with the world
and with my lucky, guilty, sensuous, beautiful life, because

I know in the next minute or tomorrow all this may be taken from me,
and therefore I’ve got to say, right now, what I feel and know and see.
I’ve got to say, right now, how beautiful and sweet this world can be.

Beautiful Place by the Sea

I arrived in Ogunquit at 8:30 pm from Springfield.  The last stretch through NH to Maine was a task.  I checked in at the Norseman and gave Ed a quick call.  “I’m here!  All safe.”  Then, I did battle with a split of merlot while watching the Red Sox/Yankees on the small TV.

Straining my bicep, pulling and pulling at the synthetic cork, trying heat on the neck (as advised by wikihow), shredding the cork and finally pushing it in (plop!), I poured myself a glass.  I had picked up a fattoush salad with grilled lamb from Nadim’s in Springfield.  I unpacked that.  With my salad, glass of merlot and my cross-stitch, I settled in.  One small X after another.  And, a grand slam for Saltalamacchia in the 7th inning.

I woke up at 4:47 am—probably just minutes after my husband, 150 miles away.  I tried counting backwards from 100 to get back to sleep, but to no avail.  I opened a window to hear the ocean.  I learned that visitors to Maine rise early.  Walkers, runners, cars pulling into the parking lot before 6 am.  Raining slightly.  I saw the sun peek through the clouds for an instant as it rose up out of the sea.

After breakfast (oatmeal and real maple syrup), I headed to the beach.  First, wrapped in a blanket on a Norseman-provided Adirondack chair, doing my cross-stitch.  The sun decided to shine.  I took an hour-long walk up to and back from Footbridge Beach.  The beach of my late-1960s childhood.  I settled down at the edge of the dunes with blanket, snacks and a book for several hours.  When the sun was out, the day was hot and sunburn-worthy.  On a dime, the clouds rolled in and I was reaching for my sweater.

In the afternoon, I walked into town for a clam roll and iced tea.  And, a bit of shopping.  Food shopping.  Those who know me best won’t be surprised that I did not go into any of the boutiques in Ogunquit.  But, I did go into the fancy food market.  I purchased garlicky chicken and a Greek salad for my dinner and a 4-pack of O’Hara’s stout.  One bottle for me, the rest to bring home for Ed.  After dropping everything at the hotel, I took a walk on the Marginal Way.

During this walk, waves of emotion started to rise up in me.  Like the ocean, rising.  Sometimes cresting, with the sunlight glinting through the spray.  Rolling toward the shore.  Receding.  These waves accompanied me through the rest of my time in Ogunquit.

Marginal Way, September 14, 2013

I felt the first wave as I rounded a bend on the Marginal Way and saw that people had created stone sculptures along the rocky coastline.  Dozens of them.  At one point, I saw a family in the process of creating—placing rocks upon rocks.  Creating.  Playing on the seashore.  Oh, people!  Good for you!!!

The second wave hit me later in the evening.  In a major $90-splurge on myself, I bought a single ticket to see West Side Story at the Ogunquit Playhouse.  The depth and clarity of Ross Lekites’ voice in “Something’s Coming” reached into my soul.  I knew I was in for a major treat.  The entire show was spectacular, yet it is Tony’s enduring optimism, played to perfection by Lekites, that buttresses the storyline.

Will it be? Yes it will
Maybe just by holding still
It’ll be there!

Ogunquit Playhouse, September 14, 2013
Ogunquit Playhouse, Sept 14, 2013

I experienced the third wave on Sunday morning. At 6 am, I was suddenly alert.  If the day was clear, I realized, I could see the sun rise today!  I jumped out of bed, pulled on my jeans and a sweater, barely brushed my hair and didn’t brush my teeth.  With sneakers in hand, I walked across the parking lot to the beach.

Sunrise over the Atlantic, September 15, 2013
Sunrise over the Atlantic, Sept 15, 2013

I was amazed to see about 50 people, from all walks of life, waiting on the beach for the sunrise.  I sat down in the sand, emotion rising within me as I waited with strangers.  All of us here, to witness the daily miracle of daybreak.  After much teasing, the sun finally popped out of the Atlantic.  Cameras clicked up and down the beach.  I closed my eyes and felt the sun’s warmth on my forehead.  Calm your mind, and your heart will follow.

Sun worshippers departing, September 15, 2013
Sun worshipers departing, Sept 15, 2013

As the sun ascended into the sky, I rolled up my jeans and walked down the beach.  I noted the footprints of today’s sun worshipers.  One person had drawn a quartered circle, with the East located toward the sunrise.

Sun Circle, September 15, 2013
Sun Circle, Sept 15, 2013

Yes, of course, it is nearly the Equinox.  True East.  Again, I found myself settling at the edge of the dunes.  This time, I spent 20 minutes meditating.  Picture a beach…  Ogunquit is the beach for me!

Picture a beach... Ogunquit, September 15, 2013
Picture a beach, Sept 15, 2013

Sunday morning breakfast, an egg over easy with rye toast and coffee.  I gathered all of my things together for an easy departure and headed to the beach for the last few hours of my visit.  The book I brought with me, The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge, was a present from my grandmother to my mother in 1958.  “To my baby, of whom I am so proud”, Grandma had written.  My mother was 19 at the time.  My grandmother was 55, just a few years older than I am now.

To my baby, of whom I am so proud--Mother, August 1958
To my baby, of whom I am so proud–Mother, 1958

This book seemed like the perfect choice for my Ogunquit trip.  I thought it likely that I had read this book years ago, but I was amazed when a bookmark, placed by me on page 92 sometime during my early adolescence, fell out of the pages.  Here I am, picking up where I left off.  After reading for a bit, I got out my Tarot cards and played with a couple of spreads.

I took a final stroll.  I had cut the bottom of my foot during my weekend.  My grandmother told me that the sea heals all wounds, so I stood in the ice cold waters and felt the pull of the tide.  The sun, the sand and the sea.  I’m here.  All safe.

My feet
My feet, Sept 15, 2013

Talking to Dead People

Hallowe’en is the absolute entry point to the dark time of the year. As such, Hallowe’en is celebrated by dark things– witches’ potions, rattling bones, haunted houses, jack-o-lanterns, and scary stories. This is the time to commune with the Dead. Gaelic traditions include inviting your beloved dead family members to join you at the table. I’ll admit to placing photographs on the table with my pumpkins and candy corn, and honoring my family members by telling stories about them, but I’ve drawn the line at talking to dead people. This is something I am attempting to change.

“Why?” you might ask. Well, when I was in New Orleans this year, I decided to have a tarot reading. During the session, the reader asked me if I conversed with my dead relations. I said no. She seemed surprised by this (I guess it is de rigueur for her!). I told her that I was scared of dead people. This made her laugh. She agreed that death does not make a person any less fallible (as in, this isn’t like talking to God), but she encouraged me to give it a try. She explained that there are dead people who care about me and who can assist me from the Other Side.


So, six months later I am home. Bemused, I find myself well-positioned for a promotion as a medical librarian at a facility where my maternal grandfather (who died nearly twenty years before my birth) was a medical intern. I never envisioned myself as a medical librarian. I had more than a dozen years’ experience working in public libraries. But, last year I needed a job. I was relocating and looking at any librarian job within a reasonable commuting distance. This is the job that I was offered. And now there is an opportunity for a promotion.

My grandfather holding my mother, with my uncle alongside in 1939.
My grandfather holding my mother, with my uncle alongside in 1939.

Yes, I’ve been working outside of my comfort zone. For months I felt completely inept. I do count my blessings that I managed to find a job during such a crappy time for our economy. So, I entertain the idea that my grandfather, who never made it to a grandfatherly age, exerted some influence in order to secure me a position. Also likely– the idea that my grandmother, who focused intensely on her family needs for decades, exerted her influence on my grandfather.

My grandmother at a summer party in 1985.
My grandmother at a summer party in 1985.

I have tentatively approached my paternal grandfather, who died when I was three. I was the first grandchild, and family lore has it that he just flipped over me. I’ve asked him to help get me in a position wherein I can provide for my kids’ college expenses. I know that is a cause that he could get behind. And my Nana? She’s my constant inspiration for moving on when it is time to move on.

My mother, Nana, and F.G. holding me in their home in 1961.
My mother, Nana, and F.G. holding me in their home in 1961.

Lastly, I do think of my maternal great-grandmother. I do homage to her for all that she endured to love and raise her family. And, to scare the bejesus out of them. Grandma told us that her mother would tell them ghost stories, and then go outside with a sheet over her head and rap on the windows.

My great grandmother holding me in my grandmother's kitchen in 1961.
My great grandmother holding me in my grandmother’s kitchen in 1961.

Now, there’s a Hallowe’en goddess for you!

The Feast of St. Martin of Tours

The Feast of St. Martin of Tours falls on November 11 or Veteran’s Day in the United States. Veteran’s Day is the time wherein we honor those who have served our country. In agrarian Europe, Martinmas was a time to honor the foods we harvest. And, St. Martin? My favorite piece of information states that he is the patron saint of drunkards and outcasts. He is also the patron saint of vintners and shoemakers.

554332_3007383624104_604803569_nNovember in New England is the time to rake leaves. All but the most stubborn oaks and beeches have dropped their leaves. I remember my dad raking leaves onto an old sheet, gathering up the ends and hauling it over his shoulder into the woods. We would “sneak” onto the sheet of leaves, and listen to his groans and complaints about the heaviness of the leaves before tumbling us out. I loved this game until a neighborhood kid suggested that there were snakes in the leaf piles. Kids can be so mean.

This year, Ed and I raked leaves into our compost pile (no kids around to toss in as well) and brought in the deck furniture. We gazed out at the grey, skeletal, Novemberish woodlands, and I commented “that’s our landscape for the next six months!” Our recent relocation from North Carolina made this concept stunning. “Well,” I amended, “maybe five months.” Ed looked dubious, but I held my ground. “By May 1, the apple trees are blooming!” I insisted.

Martinmas is also the time to load up on root vegetables and squashes. Over the weekend, Ed and I went to the Smiarowski Farm and purchased beets, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, potatoes, leeks, and onions. For squashes, we picked up delicata, acorn, buttercup, and butternut. We couldn’t bring ourselves to purchase a head of cabbage as big as a giant’s head (only $1.50), but we did get a 1/2 peck of Cortland apples.

The Martinmas Feast is traditionally tied to harvest, slaughter and wine-making activities of Europe. Pork is a common choice, and one year we did prepare a roast. Earlier this year, we were inspired to make an incredibly delicious brined pork roast. The recipe, published in Bon Appetit, is from a Durham, NC restaurant. We served it with garlicky spinach and mashed potatoes–which would certainly work for Martinmas.

This year, we opted for beet soup and dark rye bread. I boiled two large beets for an hour, let them cool, and then engaged in the sensual experience of removing the skins. Holding those warm beets in my hand, with the magenta cooking water splattered about, was akin to holding something alive. The bread was outstanding (if I do say so myself). I knew by the way the dough was responding to kneading that it would be moist and dense.

The Soundtrack for Martinmas has endless possibilities if your aim is to recognize the contributions of drunkards and outcasts. Tom Waits featured heavily in our 2008 celebration. Consider the lyrics of November…

No shadow no stars
no moon no cars
it only believes
in a pile of leaves
and a moon
that’s the color of bone
No prayers for November
to linger longer
stick your spoon in the wall
we’ll slaughter them all
November has tied me
to an old dead tree
get the word to April
to rescue me
November’s cold chain
Made of wet boots and rain
and shiny black ravens
on chimney smoke lanes
November seems odd
you’re my firing squad
With my hair slicked back
with carrion shellac
with the blood from a pheasant
and the bone from a hare
Tied to the branches
of a roebuck stag
left to wave in the timber
like a buck shot flag
Go away you rainsnout
Go away blow your brains out

Entertainment for Drunkards & Outcasts is best served by reading poetry aloud. We pull out some books…the Beats are an obvious choice…and read at random.

Here’s a short one from The Basketball Diaries author Jim Carroll:

Some detectives in worn suits slide at my door.
They told me Eddie was dead on Lexington and 103
stabbed in the jugular at mid-day
outside two automated hospital doors.
He often walked East Harlem after dark, high
on reds, calling out the black man. Before the sheet
on his eyes he grabbed the nurse’s wrist
to check the blood was real, he signed one last paper
to donate properly his eyes.
And I salute you, my brother.