Losing Mimi

Not quite a month ago, I lost a dear friend of more than 30 years to the coronavirus—Madeline Schofer Smith, a feisty redhead of German descent some 85 years young. Still can’t wrap my mind around it, let alone my broken heart.

Truth be told, Madeline wasn’t an easy person. A sweet little old lady one minute, she could come off as flinty, cold, and ready to rumble the next—that Teutonic bloodline, I figure. My own grandmother was German to the core, so I’m familiar with that odd mix of loving and prickly.

Mimi began her career with Bell Telephone (later NE Telephone) as a switchboard operator in 1953, climbing the ladder to ad exec until retiring some 43 years later. Seems they weren’t quite done with her even then, however, luring her back to single-handedly edit the yellow pages for the entire New England area—a job she continued doing well into her second retirement even as her worsening macular degeneration forced her to use a magnifying glass to get the job done.

She was in her thirties when she met and married Paul Smith, a man who shared her love of music, art, and travel. When he developed cancer a few years later and was forced into a wheelchair, travel became more problematic. It was during this time that the King Tut exhibit came to Washington, DC, something Paul was desperate to see, so this plucky, five-foot powerhouse drove him the 483 miles to the Capital, pushing his wheelchair through the entire exhibit herself. He died shortly after their return.

Music was Mimi’s life—all the more so after she lost Paul. The Manchester Choral Society and the various orchestras with whom she played viola for decades became de facto families. She also volunteered in the orchestras’ administrative offices, which is where I first encountered her in my capacity as Communications Director. Mimi, I quickly learned, adored all things British monarchy, and was a stickler for both proper grammar and correct musical notation. Things were always to be done In A Certain Way—thank you very much.

Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001, as the office bustled with final preparations for our upcoming season-opening concert, Mimi barreled in, breathless with the news that the Twin Towers had fallen. Shocked and uncomprehending, I was quickly pulled into the comfort of her enormous, pillowed bosom. Our friendship was cemented by the consolation she offered all of us on that awful day. We became more than colleagues; we were from that point on sisters of the heart, occasional dinner companions and members of the symphony’s Ladies Who Lunch.

In mid-September, Mimi fractured a vertebra and injured her wrist in a fall from her second floor landing, ending up in a rehabilitation facility for several weeks. Another fall not long afterward sent her back to rehab—this time never to return. We attempted to phone her numerous times, eventually being told she’d been quarantined, infected by the coronavirus during a recent outbreak at the facility. A slew of comorbidities (diabetes, the macular degeneration from which she’d long suffered and, most recently, ovarian cancer) left her with little energy to fight the disease. Days later, this amazing woman was lost to us.

RIP, Mimi—you gutsy lady, you. You’ll be deeply missed.

Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Prize, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in Britain in 2010.

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Bill Bryson: An Author Driven By Curiosity About Nearly Everything

Of the very few books that are enduring residents on my night table Bill Bryon’s “A History of Nearly Everything” sits right on top. At 500-plus pages, it’s no small read so I’ll have bedtime company for a long while. And what a read it is! You begin with “How To Build A Universe”, move through “The Size of The Earth”, and twenty-nine chapters later learn about “The Restless Ape”.

Forsaking the “writing the what you know” admonition Bryson tackled a subject about which he knew virtually nothing and penned an international best seller.

(Since number 5 in my “Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi” mysteries will feature sharks, a topic about which I am essentially ignorant, that’s encouraging.)

“A History of Nearly Everything” was a big undertaking,” Bryson once said.  “It required speaking to academics, scientists and researchers in those fields. The thing I found with scientists is that they really appreciate it when you ask what interests them in spending their lives studying moss or lichen or snails… when no one has ever asked them before.”

As nobody every asked me why I devoted my doctoral work to “impacts on nitrogen loading on epiphytic salt marsh algae” I can certainly relate to that.

“One of my favorite anecdotes in the book was about the contempt in which physicists hold scientists from other fields,” Bryson once said, laughing. “The Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli was floored when his wife left him for a chemist. ‘Had she taken a bullfighter I would have understood, but a chemist?’ ”

Bryson’s most recent “The Body A Guide For Occupants” couldn’t have come at a better time given the number of Corona virus myths floating around (e.g., drinking alcohol does not protect you against the virus and 5 G mobile networks don’t spread it (people really believe these things??). “The Body A Guide” explains thousands of tasks our body takes care of as we go about our day. The book has been called informative, entertaining and “sometimes gross” (kissing, according to one study, transfers up to one billion bacteria from one mouth to another, along with 0.2 micrograms of food bits).

Bill Bryson, also author of “A Walk In The Woods”, “I’m A Stranger Here Myself” and 20 or so more books announced his retirement from book writing in 2020, sadly but understandably so.

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Weekend Update: November 21-22, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Charlene D’Avanzo (Monday), Darcy Scott (Tuesday), and Maureen Milliken (Friday). We’ll have a Group Post on Thanksgiving Traditions on Wednesday and be taking Thursday off.

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

Here’s a chance to read MCW alum Jen Blood’s book for free:

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

 And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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Revenge of the trees

            Early last spring four men and a woman arrived at the house across the road from us in a beat-up pickup and a larger flatbed truck that had also seen better days.  Within minutes they fired up chainsaws and began felling large pine trees on the western edge of my neighbor’s property, 45 or 50 feet away from his house.  My wife and I watched (and listened; the sound of multiple chainsaws is terrifying) in horror as one after the other beautiful, healthy tree went down. 

Trees before the carnage

            I don’t have neighborly relations with this neighbor (I’ll call him J, though the chances he reads this blog are zero) on whose land the carnage was occurring.  Over the years J and his children appeared on winter weekends to ski at Sunday River, and we exchanged words and waves but rarely really spoke.  The sign of his presence was two bright outdoor spotlights that shone directly across the road into our bedroom window.  The lights went on at midnight Friday when J arrived and remained on until he left on Sunday afternoon.  When I once initiated a rare conversation to ask if the spotlights could be turned off overnight, J suggested I should get blinds for our bedroom windows.  What fear motivated this light display—a wandering bear or moose?  I never found out.  During those winter visitations, the house belonged to J’s father, a genial person who rarely used it.  When he died last winter, J inherited it.

            Although I had a phone number in Massachusetts for the father, I didn’t have any contact information for J, so when the tree cutting began I did a Bing search and found the number for his business.  I called to ask what was happening across the road.  He said that before his father died he made J promise to cut down several trees that the father feared might fall on the house.  And so J engaged these folks to carry out his father’s wishes.  “Several trees” were not what the loggers (a description they really didn’t warrant) had in mind.  Over three days they felled 17 trees, opening a wide vista that changed the character of our neighborhood.  I’m not an arborist, but one of the state’s most respected ones lives around the road, and he shook his head when he saw what had happened.  He attributed it to the high price of pulp wood and speculated that my neighbor was probably getting the work done for free in return for allowing the loggers to sell the wood—hence their hunger to take far more than a few. To the expert eyes of the arborist, the trees had seemed healthy and no threat to the house.

Post carnage

            Over the summer we tried to adapt to the new scene across the road, one consequence of which was that the shade the former woods offered our deck was lost and I had to buy and erect a large umbrella to make it possible for us to sit on the deck on sunny days. We mourned the loss of the trees and all they provided in shade and simple beauty.  Then two weeks ago the trees got their revenge.  Fifty-mile gusts that afternoon brought down a large limb from a tree near the neighbor’s house, on the other side from where the major damage had been done, but a tree that the loggers had trimmed—inadequately, as it turned out.  The branch crashed across the road, blocking it, and bringing down the electric line to the neighbor’s house. I phoned CMP to report the problem and then phoned J.  He seemed nonplussed. 

Revenge of the trees, with downed electric line in background

            That evening CMP arrived to saw and remove the branch, opening the road to local traffic.  The CMP man came to my house to report that he was unable to reconnect the electric line because the harness at the house was destroyed and would have to be repaired by an electrician before power could be restored.  He asked if I would pass that word to the owner.  I did so the next morning, and J was again nonplussed.  He said the electrician they had used in the past had retired, but he didn’t ask me to recommend anyone in the area.  I did tell him that I had myself tried for two weeks to locate an electrician to do a small job for me and that the busy construction scene in our area would make it hard to find someone.

            That was two weeks ago, and the electric line is still down.  I assume my neighbor has electric heat. The recent spell of warm weather came as a lucky break for him.  But normal November temperatures have returned.  I have no idea what my neighbor is going to do.  I know I should be sympathetic—and, after all, it could have happened to me if the branch had been four or five feet longer and thus taken down my power line.  But I have to confess that I’m experiencing some unattractive pleasure in seeing what happened.  And, at least for now, it’s nice not to have those glaring spotlights.  Am I wrong to feel this way?  Well, it wasn’t me but the trees that took their revenge.  I cheer them on. 

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Book Research Challenges

Book research can mean travel or contacting primary sources or searching online or a combination. Whatever form it takes, I find research always interesting and often fascinating. I have to hold myself back from oversharing in my novels.

For Primal Obsession the bulk of my research was hands on. As public-school teachers, my husband and I used to leave our coastal Maine home on the long Columbus Day weekend (yes, then it was Columbus Day). We rented a cabin somewhere new to us in northern or western Maine, a scenic area with hiking possibilities. But we never went into what folks call the “real Maine,” the wilderness.

When the opportunity arose for a six-day guided canoe expedition on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, we took it. The trip offered outdoor education credits for teacher recertification offering wilderness skills. It didn’t matter that we were classroom teachers, not even physical education teachers.

Once the trip was booked, I started pondering how to use it in a book. Here’s a short description of the romantic suspense novel’s plot. On a wilderness canoe expedition of six people, Annie, an investigative reporter, and Sam, the Maine Guide leading the outing, play cat and mouse with a serial killer. Like me, Annie is a novice in the woods, but she signs up for the trip partly to fulfill a promise to her murdered friend and partly to try to understand the killer. Little does she know… When the others on our expedition learned I was an author plotting that storyline, they were happy to make suggestions, some of which I used in the book.

We had a canoe, built by my husband, but my paddling skills were limited.                             I learned to paddle different strokes and to put my shoulders didn’t suffer. We paddled eleven to 13 miles a day, for a total of 44 miles. I learned how to watch for hidden rocks when paddling rapids. Twice, we traveled rapids, not major ones, but definitely challenging to this novice. I have no photos of that, for obvious reasons. But here we are at the start of the tip.

We paddled every day and camped overnight in small tents at sites designated by the state that had outhouses, which we called the lounge, close by in the woods. In Primal Obsession, the campers took turns digging their own lounges. But like in my book, we took turns gathering firewood and preparing the dinners brought in coolers, and of course with the clean-up afterward. Over our campfires,  we barbecued chicken and baked an apple pie in a Dutch oven.

The group at our campsite

Other than paddling rapids, the biggest challenge for us all was “bushwhacking.” That’s our Maine Guide’s term for orienteering, which is using a compass to reach a particular spot on a map. On our first attempt at bushwhacking, I learned exactly why it’s called that.

Susan keeping notes in a journal

The six of us were divided into two teams. One team, consisting of our guide, my husband, and me, had to use our compasses to traverse a small tree-covered island and come out at a specific location on the other side. The other team in one canoe had to paddle around the island and meet us there.

The wind came up, and the paddlers could not make it around. Blowdowns and boulders blocked us, so what was to be an hour’s trek took three hours, and we never made it to our designated spot. Finally, we were picked up by the park ranger’s boat. He’d already towed the others to our campsite. That rescue proved to me the saying, “Maine is a small town.” The ranger turned out to be a young man I’d taught in junior high. Yup. The experience of that trip was invaluable in making my story come alive. I also used our bushwhack and paddling rapids experiences.

View downriver, W Branch of Penobscot River

Later, while writing Primal Obsession, I conducted other, less adventurous research. While Annie and Sam are deep in the wilderness of northern Maine, her brother Justin, a state police detective, is trying to solve the serial killer case. Questions about police procedure and jurisdiction meant a phone call. That was to the Maine State Police public information officer, Stephen McCausland. He was extremely helpful with lots of information and advice.

Two decades later I called again with questions related to the second book in the Obsession set, Hidden Obsession. To my amazement, he remembered me and that call, and we chatted amiably for a few minutes. Steve has since retired, and I will miss his voice announcing progress on cases in the media. It won’t be the same if I ever call again.

I never know all the research I might have to do when I begin a new book, whatever it is will fascinate me. And challenge me.

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Why You’ve Hardly Aged at All

Kate Flora: I began writing seriously when my second son was born. That was when I9781644570395 quit my job to stay home with the boys and immediately panicked. I’d always worked. Now what was I going to do? I thought, optimistically, that this would be the perfect time to dive into my life-long dream of writing.

In anticipation of my new venture, I had bought a computer and typed “Chapter One,” thinking I would work while the boys slept. Naps, though, were unpredictable. The older one never slept. The younger one became an escape artist as soon as he could walk. I ended up following my mother’s example–getting up early to write while the rest of the family slumbered. Then I found a wonderful daycare situation. The baby turned one. At the end of that first year, I typed “The End” on my first attempt at a mystery, A Matter of the Will, a story that channeled some of my law school classes and adventures. I put it in a drawer.

I ended up spending ten years in the unpublished writers corner, with five books in the drawer, before getting an agent and finding a publisher who said “Yes” to my Thea Kozak series.

IMG_3737Many writers of series mysteries experience the same thing. Our books go on for decades while we age appropriately and our characters barely age at all. Along the way, the culture changes. Methods of communication change. Popular music changes. The challenges of private school education and the population schools deal with change. I began to rely on my nieces and daughters-in-law for insights into what Thea’s life would be. Sending out emails asking what music my characters would listen to. It was no longer close to the life I was living when Thea was “born.”

Coming into book ten in the series, Death Comes KnockingI faced dealing with a situation I had created, and one which I’ve always advised writers contemplating a series to avoid: Thea and Andre are expecting a baby. Coming from a job in human services where I dealt with parental neglect, I used to joke that despite his brilliance, writer James Lee Burke would have had Robicheaux’s fictional child taken into state custody because of his child care practices.

In the new book, I deal with how Thea handles the challenges of a demanding job and a protective husband while she’s pregnant. She also has to learn to deal with the conflict between a self that has always been the protector of the weak and a self made newly cautious because of her need to protect her unborn baby. Thea is a woman used to tangling with bad guys, who describes herself as “Thea the Human Tow Truck,” someone who finds people broken down on the highway of life and has to stop and rescue them. Now that need to be a rescuer must be tempered by caution, by regular reminders to herself that she isn’t on her own anymore.

Along the way, I had to learn how expectant mothers dress these days. Definitely not in the smocks and tent dresses and ugly elastic waist pants I used to wear. I laughed aloud when I had to send a very pregnant Thea into an airplane rest room. I was reminded how odd it was to be unable to see my feet.

I am sure that over the years, I’ve many times told writers contemplating a series to avoid entangling their characters in marriage and children. They complicate the plot too much and hamper the character’s ability to respond to events and investigate no matter the day or the hour or how dangerous things seem.

Now, in the next book, Thea (and I) will face our own childcare challenges. Her life will be irrevocably changed and yet helping the vulnerable is who she is. Thea and I set out on her journey more than a quarter of a century ago. Now, we will embark on a new journey, she little aged and I, for better or worse, that much older. Now, as her creator, I will have to dive into baby gear and child rearing practices and determine what the balance between work and family will be.

Ever since Andre and Thea contemplated having children, they’ve had the baby’s names selected: Mason, Oliver or Claudine. Those names got abbreviated to MOC, or, as people hear it, Mock. In the next book, the baby will finally be born and my characters and I will learn whether is is a boy or a girl and what its name will be. But I expect, since they’ve called it MOC for so long, the baby, whatever its sex, will be Mock.

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Rewriting My Family History

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, again writing as Kathy. One of the most important people in my life when I was little was Grandma Coburg. She died when I was only ten, but even at that age I knew how important her home (affectionately called “the farm” by everyone in the family) was to her. We once took her and my grandfather house-hunting. I saw how traumatic that was for her, but I didn’t understand why until much later. Neither did I quite get why she was “Grandma” to me but my mother called her “Aunt Katie.”

In a nutshell, my mother’s father married two sisters. The first died giving birth to my mother in 1910. More than twenty years passed before the second marriage took place. It would have happened much sooner except for one thing—those two sisters had a formidable mother, and she blamed my grandfather for the death of her favorite daughter. It was only a couple of years ago, when I was looking at random documents on Ancestry.com, that I understood a bit more about why that was. It seems that first marriage didn’t take place until a few months before my mother’s birth. And, of course, Grampa Coburg was a trainman, gone a lot of the time working for the O& W Railroad.

Back when Mom was still alive and I was writing children’s books, I asked her a lot of questions about growing up on the farm and her . . . let’s say quirky . . . family. She was raised by her grandparents and Aunt Katie in a farm/boardinghouse in the days when the Sullivan County Catskill region of New York State was just beginning to be known as the Borscht Belt. During every summer Season, every room in the house, and in the “addition” built on for that purpose, was rented out to people from New York City. Mom, her cousins, grandmother, and aunts moved into the attic; the uncles and her father, when he was there, bunked in the barn, and her grandfather put a mattress on top of the piano in the big dining room and slept there at night.

I had lots of real family stories to go on when I set out to write what was originally called Boarding House Reach, but what I really wanted was to rewrite history and give the couple I knew as my grandparents a much easier time of it. The story went through lots of versions over the years. One critique thought its biggest flaw was having too many adult characters, but that was kind of the point. I wanted my young heroine, age twelve in 1922, to be both rebel and mediator when it came to the members of her family. And also, like my mother, and like me, for that matter, she had to be an only child used to getting her own way except when it mattered most.

I took me more than thirty years to get this story right. In any year but this one, I might not have done any more than that, but 2020 lent itself to making a bucket list, and getting this story out into the world was on it. I decided to self-publish and it is now available as both an e-book and a print-on-demand paperback. Along the way, my twelve-year-old protagonist’s name changed to Katie (her aunt became Mattie) and Katie’s Way was born.

Memory, family history, and imagination all played a part in creating Katie’s Way. You can read about some of the true stuff here but I hope that those of you who have children or grandchildren aged 8-12, or young friends in that age group, will also consider that my fictional version of events would make a great Christmas present. Links to buy this book and my other books for young readers can be found here

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-three books traditionally published and has self published several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series (A Fatal Fiction) as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

 

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Weekend Update: November 14-15, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), Susan Vaughan (Thursday) and William Andrews (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

 

 

 

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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Who Knew? Of Salamanders and Their Service. Well. All Services.

Sandra Neily here: this article was first published in my 2005 “Valuing Nature” column in the Moosehead Messenger. We’re all likely to have a hibernating winter ahead of us. Like salamanders.  Sometime in the spring we can crawl out to be social again. Like salamanders. Time now to think ahead when we can be outside with kids or grandkids, turning over logs to find and visit salamanders. (A guaranteed crowd pleaser!)

Under the soil a large army of wiggly, illusive engineers, soil scientists, and food service workers are helping to create billions of dollars of economic value. If we could count each of them working in a factory, we could value them as part of our economy. Just how are we to value these tiny, essential and moist forest workers who add so much value to our lives? Salamanders aerate the soil and support essential biological processes that enhance soil productivity and they are excellent “protein concentrators.” Without beaks, feathers, or scales, every bite of a salamander is an efficient nutritional delivery system for other animals.

Spotted Salamander

Natural ecosystems (like forests) perform fundamental life-support services upon which we depend.  Just like the life support team in a trauma center, these services give us life itself and without them, we would most certainly perish. We value forests for timber and recreation but they provide a myriad of other services that clean our air, filter our water, provide over 50% of new medicine development, and regulate our climate. While many people “get” this concept they are unprepared for what comes next.  The economics of supporting a healthy ecosystem “service” or replacing a degraded one has now become an essential calculation and the question of how we develop without losses or who pays for a loss will become even more controversial.

Red Spotted Newt

Salamanders are part of a vast and shadowy economy referred to as “ecosystem services.” Ecosystem services are the processes by which the environment produces resources that we often take for granted: clean water, habitat for fisheries, or pollination of native and agricultural plants.

(In Maine wild honey bees and their pollination services help support a $75 million blueberry industry, yet bee populations are threatened by pollution and pesticides.)

Sometimes it’s easier to understand an ecosystem service and its value if we have to think about paying to replace it once it is damaged and gone. When New York City’s water supply fell below accepted standards, the price tag for building an artificial filtration plant was $6-$8 billion dollars, a high price for what had been “free” before.  The city decided to spend $660 million to restore and protect the watershed (the water source.)  These funds purchased land, halted inappropriate development and compensated landowners who improved septic systems.

This “who pays” question does lead to other some possibly sticky issues in Maine.  If harvesting so affected deer wintering areas in Washington County that local income from deer hunting was seriously reduced, who should pay the correct price for restoring that particular ecosystem service?  If degraded air quality from ancient coal burning plants in the Midwest brings Maine significant costs from illness as well as lost productivity, who pays to replace the values of the service of clean air?   If extensive development on shorelines degrades water quality and affects the economic value of publicly owned resources valuable for tourism (rivers, lakes, wildlife), who compensates future generations for that loss?

salamander eggs in a vernal pool

As New York’s challenge reminds us, a penny spent on prevention is our wisest course.  Preventing the loss or degradation of essential ecosystem services is just a smarter, cheaper route to travel.  For the salamanders that means encouraging landowners to know amphibian breeding routes, leave shade trees to cover roads on these routes, and buffer vernal pools necessary for creating the next generation of “soil scientists.”

a Maine vernal pool

In return, for free, we all receive the ecosystem benefits of creatures who are an important part of forest health.

The journal “Nature” has this message of all of us: “The economies of the Earth would grind to a halt without the services of ecological life support systems, so in one sense their total value to the economy is infinite.”  A recent report attempting to calculate the global value of ecosystem services places their worth at somewhere between $16-$54 trillion dollars (or a mean of $33 trillion). The sum total of the world’s gross natural product from all countries is $18 trillion. That’s a lot of salamanders.

Slow down in the spring. The amphibians are seeking romance in vernal pools, crossing from upland areas down to vernal pools.

Check out this great 202o NY Times article on a Maine couple saving salamanders.

And this one from my very good friend and salamander road warrior, Dr. Sally Stockwell.

 

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” was a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards, a recipient of a Mystery Writers of America national award and a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest.. Her second Mystery in Maine novel, “Deadly Turn” is now in Sherman’s Books and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. She lives in the Maine woods and says she’d rather be “fly fishing, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there.” Find more info on her website.

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The Arsenal

A year ago last November I had cataract surgery for both eyes. I stopped driving a couple of months before that—I couldn’t read street signs. Really, I couldn’t read books and magazines even with my progressive lenses, and watching television was impossible no matter where I sat or angled my head. And all lights had a huge halo around them.

Cataract surgery is the one of the safest, most commonly performed procedures, but that didn’t make me want to go through it, LOL. I’ve been wearing glasses since the fourth grade, with a brief contact lens era in my thirties. I used to be known for my big brown eyes, and in my heyday I wore eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara to emphasize them. Even though I’ve abandoned such gilding of the aging lily, the thought of someone, even a qualified eye surgeon, messing with my eyes was scary.

I’m a very visual person, a lover of art museums and a dabbler in art myself, not to mention I spend all day in front of a computer screen trying to kill people. I don’t mind being a bit hard of hearing; a lot of life can be aurally ignored with no harmful effects, and in fact can be a blessing. But sight is my most precious sense.

I’m happy to report all went well. I can see things in the distance for the first time in decades, but I do have trouble with close vision, even with new progressives. (At the time of the surgery, I could have opted for additional artificial lenses to be inserted at additional expense, but I didn’t.) So I now have an arsenal for the fine print. Both my desktop and my Kindle’s fonts are magically enlarged by the press of a button. My lit magnifying glass makes me feel like a 21st century Lady Sherlock, and I own a necklace that’s as useful as it is pretty. Two mirrors are on call in case I ever want to swipe on some mascara again. As I have an aversion to resembling Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, that is unlikely.

However, magazines remain a problem. I’ve let a couple of subscriptions lapse, because I simply can’t read the articles comfortably. Country Life is still great for my research—I’ve gone full circle from childhood picture books to adult pictorial magazines.

And books? The old librarian in me is appalled, but I totally depend on my reading device since I can jack up the font. Heresy. A student once told me “Books are obsolete.” I wanted to jump over the circulation desk and strangle him, but now I almost see his point. See. Get it?

Don’t worry—I still own a zillion physical books, and even more are in my Kindle Library. What’s your preferred method of reading? Can you part with books once you’ve finished them, or are you a re-reader? Do you have a To-Be-Read pile that could topple over and crush you?

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