My wife’s off to New York City for a week to help her mother move into an assisted living apartment, and I’m alone in the house for the duration watching the wind tear at the white pines and spruces and birches, and the snow pile up even higher on the patio table on the deck. I think, “orphaned in the storm,” because no one can get here and I can’t go anywhere until I’m plowed out tomorrow. Lots of us in this part of the world go through this – yielding ourselves to the insistence of nature – and we secretly know how aloneness makes us different. Orphans, even temporary ones, know things that others don’t.
The power’s still on, so I have lights and music and a slightly hyperactive new cat named Suki. Kitten actually, eleven weeks old, Maine Coon, clever and smart and resilient, fetched from an excellent Maine Coon breeder near Lincoln, Maine. She’s discovered all the wiring and adapters and such under my desk and is fully determined either to a) shred everything or b) reconnect me to DSL instead of cable. She’s smart enough – and when the right time comes, I’ll just give her my credit cards and car keys and she can take over. Mew and flap eyelashes? Good cat. Attack my shins with her razor claws? Bad cat.
Suki at 5 weeks.
Being alone in a storm like this one is not the norm for me, but I know it is for many Mainers, especially more senior ones, and I have to tip my hat to those who are adept at balancing aloneness with having company and knowing how to do well with both. It’s healthy to laugh with the presence of friends and family, and just as healthy to laugh with (or at) yourself when you’re solo.
In August of 1995 my son and I drove from New England out to Taos, New Mexico, where I’d just rented a small house — he was continuing on to Portland, Oregon, where he’d decided to live for awhile. It was a good trip, replete with mom and pop motels and local diners, and when we arrived at my new place in Taos we crashed for the night in sleeping bags (my stuff was coming with movers two days later). He left in the morning, driving away on the dirt road, kicking up adobe dust till he got to pavement on top of a ridge about a half mile away. And then he was gone.
I was orphaned for several days – in a small house out on the mesa west of town, in a little valley that was utterly silent. My stuff arrived from the movers, my car was there, but when utterly alone I marveled at the total lack of sound around me. For miles around me, the adobe soil (as fine as bread flour) sucked up noise from cars and school buses and everything else. I made note: this is what being alone really is. It was the first (and actually the last) time I felt fully cast adrift from the flow of humanity and its evidence of presence. I couldn’t laugh, in this solo state. All I could do was marvel at it.
A few weeks later, I met my wife-to-be and my brief encounter with orphandom ended. Good. This current stretch ends Saturday, March 17. Also good.
Back to the Maritimes
This is taken from my second blog post (Dec. 28, 2013). Remembering a disappearing way of life, and a traditional Maritime supper dish.
Two friends from Bonavista, NL, preparing cod we caught for the salt barrel. We caught the “family limit” in about an hour.
When I knew Robert Tanner (now deceased), he lived near Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, but was a native Newfie who, as a young teenager, was a longlining dory codfisherman working off a schooner on the Grand Banks and farther north, up the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off Labrador. Codfishermen worked pretty much year round, and you need to visualize two men in a twelve-foot Banks dory in the gloaming of a January dusk a mile or more from their schooner in whatever seas might be running, in whatever weather, hauling in a thousand pounds of cod on longlines, knowing that the better the catch, the more stable the dory would be headed back to the ship.
That’s what Robert did for years, from his youth to early middle age, till foreign fleets of pair trawlers moved in to render schooners and longlining obsolete. By the mid 1990s, cod stocks had all but disappeared from the Grand Banks.
But some of them lingered on, closer to shore. Robert and I fished cod one summer off Lunenberg, in my own 23′ Seaway, with two baited hooks per line, and darned if we didn’t hit a school of them off some shoals a few miles offshore. Robert snagged nearly all of them, two dozen or more. They’d all go into Robert’s salt barrels back home. (I need to admit here that I was pretty new to all of this, and would just observe the master fisherman and take orders).
So I think of cod now as more than just a fish. It’s the legacy of a disappearing way of life.
Robert sometimes referred to Fish and Potatoes as “house bankin’,” which made no sense at all – except that “house bankin'” in Nova Scotia meant bales of hay stuffed around a house’s foundation to keep the inside comfortable and the winter winds out. Either Fish and Potatoes was a comfort food, like a house-banked house, or else (Robert believed) it had a texture evocative of hay bales. I couldn’t disagree more! It’s hearty and tasty, satisfying and filling, and a snap to prepare.
Kiss the Cod, then take a swig of Screech – Newfoundland’s local rum – and you become an honorary Newfie. My wife, above, with our host Herb Butler, and the biggest fish in the catch. (My pic)
Fish ‘n’ Potatoes (“House Bankin'”)
- 1 box salt cod
- 3-4 medium sized gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped, and 1-2 chunks salt pork
- 2 tbsp. butter
- about 1 cup of milk or light cream
- pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
And do this:
Rinse the cod in fresh water throughout the day, changing the water four times (three is too few – too salty!, and five is too many – too bland!). The last bowl of water should taste just slightly salty. Par boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes. Saute the onions and salt pork in butter till soft and golden. Put all ingredients in an oiled (or buttered) casserole or dutch oven, gently stirring in the milk. Cover and bake about 30 minutes at 350. Very good stuff!