Friday, April 30, 2010

Become a friend.

Last week, a guy I went to high school with was randomly killed in a bizarre pedestrian hit and run accident in Delaware. Though I barely knew him, it turns out he was a pretty great person, a husband, father and housing advocate for the poor among other things. I learned of his death on Facebook, where a friend sent out an obit to all his former schoolmates. That was a few days ago. Today I went onto my Facebook home page and there he was in the upper right margin with a suggestion, based on our number of mutual friends, to add him as a friend.

As an author, one of the things I’m obsessed with is irony, and things that would perhaps strike others as macabre or creepy somehow to me seem almost poetic and transcendent, at least metaphorically. Here is this man whose life had just ended and yet his Facebook page was continuing on, seeking to make new connections. And in a way, that’s what happened. I stopped what I was doing, clicked through to his page, saw him there sitting at his desk and, for that moment, honored my memories of him and his life in a pure and uncontrived way. I thought about how fleeting life is, and how what happened to him could happen to any of us at any time. It was a powerful, humbling moment that made meaning for me out of something senseless and tragic.

I suppose the lesson here is to be open to life’s strange and ironic moments because they can carry us to deeper insights about the nature of our existence.

As I looked at his page, I was tempted to click on that big box in the center of screen that said “Become a friend.” I imagined some kind of parallel Facebook universe where he was still alive and sitting at his desk somewhere, able to accept or ignore. I can only hope he would have accepted.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Move-in ready.

When I lived on the Cape as a teen, I couldn’t wait to leave. After I moved away, I couldn’t wait to come back. This homesickness manifested in an unhealthy obsession with the idea of having a beach house. When I was here on vacation, I pored through real estate ads, with no realistic hope of being able to afford anything, but just to imagine how it might feel to inhabit one place or another.

A couple of months ago, I was in Key West and came upon this incredible sculpture garden at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, and this piece made of PVC pipe and steel, aptly entitled Dream House (2009) by Susan Rogers. “Susan has created an ephemeral floating, unobtainable façade of the perfect Dream House.” So says the catalog for the Sculpture Key West collection (all of which is fabulous if you have an opportunity to see it).

Genius in its simplicity. Breathtaking views. Affordable. Low maintenance, which is particularly appealing after having spent these past weeks raking and sweeping away winter. And so now, after all these years, I finally have my dream beach house, which I come home to each morning as I fire up my laptop.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Call me grasshoppa...

Over the years, I’ve cultivated a strong belief that there are lessons to be gleaned from things that happen to us. So when a family of raccoons moved into my walls and, upon the urging of wildlife experts, I decided to let them stick around until the babies are old enough to move on, I had choices. I could view it as a nuisance, which it is. My attic vent will have to be replaced. I’m sure they’re trashing my insulation. The mother is noisy and the nest is located in my bedroom, which I anticipate will become more of a problem as the babies grow.

My other choice, to embrace the whole thing as an opportunity for a rare personal encounter with nature. I’ve been to a lot of zoos, and seen many animal babies but of course the experience has always been controlled. In this case, not only is the situation completely out of my hands, but I can’t actually see anything. At the moment, the encounter is strictly auditory. I hear the mother come and go, and move around the attic. I hear the babies cooing and rustling in their nest. As much as I’d like to actually see what they look like, I’m ok with just hearing them. (And hopefully never smelling them.)

Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:

- To rely on my ears to create a picture in my mind’s eye.

- The power of motherhood. This mama chewed through metal to find a safe place for her brood. And she returns to her nest every evening around 6 PM, bound by her inner clock.

- Like most normal people, my initial reaction was to want them out. But after considering the options, none of which would have turned out well for this family, I was able to shift my perspective. We really do have choices in the way we look at things.

- I’ve come to realize that the compassion people extend to fellow humans doesn’t automatically extend to wildlife. While I’ve gotten a lot of support from like-minded people, I also had a dear friend with big heart tell me I should find someone to come shoot them. I’m guessing most of that is fear-based but the lack of empathy still confounds me.

- I can actually sleep in a room with purring raccoon babies. The sounds they make are almost soothing. (Included this video so you can picture them and hear for yourself.)

- Finally. Never trust a wily wildlife expert. On the phone, I was told they should be leaving in a few weeks. I’ve since done some online research and learned they don’t leave the nest until week 8. So that takes me well into May…..

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just a character sketch. Really.

A woman’s only son heads off to college. An empty nester, she moves to a house on Cape Cod, and hasn’t been there a year when she is visited upon by a female raccoon who has decided to make a nest for her brood in the woman’s bedroom walls. Does the animal somehow sense that the once full-time mother misses her child, and is now feeling less of a parent, obsolete in some way? Can she know that this woman (surely more than one who is busily engaged in the business of raising her children) longs for some attachment to the universality of motherhood? Through luck or intuition, the raccoon mother has chosen a safe haven for her family. The woman can hope that one day there will be grandchildren, but for now this is her only tie to her lost calling. This timely miracle in her walls, a gift.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The unwitting innkeeper.

Last week I heard a critter in my walls, which sounded like an elephant, which friends convinced me was probably a squirrel, which I just found out is actually a raccoon. A kid in a red truck came by to show me cell phone photos of a monster critter squeezing though a vent in my attic. The kid had been walking by the house with his friends at about three in the afternoon when they came upon the perpetrator. (Nice of him to come back and tell me!)

People who know me know I have a hard time throwing steamers into a pot of boiling water. I’ve rescued my share of injured birds, and have learned to peacefully co-exist with spiders. Hell, I even feel a pang of guilt as I spray Round-up on driveway weeds. I fully admit I take this stuff to extreme levels of weirdness. As a result, hiring some critter control guy who’s going to whack the raccoon is clearly not an option. So I called a local vet for suggestions. She said to call Wild Care, which is a wildlife rehab at the Eastham rotary. The woman there gave me some info and suggested I call the Cape Wildlife Center, where I ended up speaking to a raccoon expert who said this is probably a female raccoon with a nest of babies, and that the “kindest” thing I can do is to let them live there till they’re old enough to move on.

“And how long might that take?” I asked. Two, maybe three weeks.

The not-so-kind option would be to shine bright lights in the attic, toss up some ammonia soaked rags and crank rap music all night long. Hypothetically, doing this would make the environment uncomfortable enough that the mother would pack up her brood and go. However, given that my bedroom is just below the attic vent, and that I’m not a big fan of rap music, I’m not sure who would be going first.

So, for now, I’ve got myself some roommates. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Recipe for "Clambaked Oysters"

My next novel, Summer Shift, is about a woman who owns a fictional Cape Cod restaurant called The Clambake. I thought it might be nice to share some recipes at the back of the book, and so I enlisted local restaurant owners and longtime friends Lisa and Scott Moss, proprietors of the Saltwater Grille in Orleans, to help me out.

One of my favorite things at the Saltwater Grille is their Oysters Rockefeller. Lisa and Scott were kind enough to share their popular recipe with me. (I had to tweak it a little to reduce the serving quantity.) I’ve made this a bunch of times now and it’s a real crowd pleaser.

4 strips of bacon, cooked crisp
half of a 9-ounce bag fresh baby spinach
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 Pernod liqueur
1 cup half and half
salt and pepper
2 to 3 Tbs. cornstarch
cold water
1 dozen fresh oysters, shucked
grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook bacon, drain and set aside. Roughly chop the spinach. In a large saucepan, sauté the garlic in olive oil. Add the spinach and Pernod. Cook until spinach is wilted. Add the half and half, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add salt and pepper to taste. In a bowl, combine the cornstarch with enough cold water to moisten. Stir into the spinach mixture. Place the shucked oysters on a baking sheet. Spoon 1 Tbs. of the spinach mixture onto each oyster. Top each with a generous amount of Parmesan, and 1/3 strip of the cooked bacon. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes. Broil for a few minutes more until cheese turns golden.

Serves 1. (Kidding.) More like 3-4.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What are you looking at?

This weekend is supposed to be gorgeous, as it was a couple of weekends ago, one of those late winter gifts that put you in mind of what’s around the corner (unless we’re talking about last June. I won’t even go there. But if you want to see a Cape Codder go fetal, try it). After having spent a full day working in the yard, then taking the dog for a walk, I had major spring fever. And I did something decadent, for me at least. I called the fish market and ordered a fresh steamed lobster. Then I picked it up, brought it home and devoured it. I mean seriously, primally had at it, butter running down my chin, the works. It wasn’t pretty. But it was heaven. And here’s why:

-It was a damn good lobster. A pound and a half of sweet, rich, lobstery goodness.

-I’ll go to a restaurant and not think twice about ordering a $15 dish. (Mostly.) But the idea of spending $15 on a lobster to take home and eat by myself seemed deliciously indulgent.

-I’d put in a hard day’s work and was ravenous.

But there’s something else, and I touch on this idea in Summer Shift, my next novel, which is about a woman who runs a clam bar. Here’s what she contemplates:

“Mary had always believed there was more to what fueled the seafood restaurant business on the Cape, a hunger in people that went beyond the quest for a satisfying meal. It was as if vacationers, even after a full day at the shore, were struck with a primal desire for a deeper communion, a hunger to ingest the rawness of the sea––to become it––as though slurping the quivering flesh of a mollusk or sucking the meat from a lobster claw allowed a return to one’s aboriginal roots, to the dragons of the deep that we all once were…”

I’m not even sure I get to the heart of it there. But you get that there was something more going on that night than just “Lynn eating dinner.” There was this native American-like gratitude for the lobster itself, this celebration of the passage of the seasons, this Tony Bordain meets Man vs. Food carnivore melee, and perhaps most of all this belief that you are what you eat. And that next morning when I woke up, I felt a little more of a Cape Codder. (And a little less thin…)

PS. This weekend…steamers anyone?