Cooler Surprise. Deer Flies. Acres of Lettuce.

Sandra Neily here: There’s a moment on every camping trip where you peer into the cooler to see what’s left floating around down there. A “Cooler Surprise” meal with a bit of everything often has us thinking over the whole trip’s memorable moments. Both the highs and the lows.

The lilacs were amazing and then the rains came and came and diseases ate my flower boxes.

This post is kind of a cooler surprise: bits of my summer that might not have much to do with each other, but—to me—they are a rich dish of experience to savor …  and share.

Books On Tape in the Casita

My husband and I like to hunker down after dark (when the bugs are bad) and listen to audio books inside our tiny camper. C. J. Box opens Savage Run  with an exploding cow. (First lines are so very important! For sure.) Then after the cow, while investigating a string of bizarre murders, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is forced to flee across treacherous terrain with a brutal tracker on his trail.

In our tight space, dog Raven lying over our feet, we are clearly somewhere in Wyoming, even deep in the Maine woods. We have to force ourselves to stop listening at a reasonable hour.

Dog Songs from Mary Oliver

I found this magical slim volume in my bookshelves and wondered how I’d lost track of it. I sent a copy of it to someone who’d just lost their long-time dog companion and then reread it several times, savoring each simple and fresh way Oliver opens a world we can share.

Dog Songs . . . is a sweet golden retriever of a book that curls up with the reader.” —The New York Times

“Oliver . . . is one of our most adored poets, and a longtime lover of dogs. The popularity of [Dog Songs] feels as inevitable and welcome as a wagging tail upon homecoming.” —The Boston Globe


“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love
the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet
born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and
tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?”

“A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her,
that you know
almost nothing.”

Raven’s first day as our dog; she too cowered at the memory of broom-like objects. Seven years later, she’s much better and happier.

“What shall I do? When I pick up the broom he leaves the room. When I fuss with kindling he runs for the yard. Then he’s back, and we hug for a long time. In his low-to-the-ground chest I can hear his heart slowing down. Then I rub his shoulders and kiss his feet and fondle his long hound ears. Benny, I say, don’t worry. I also know the way the old life haunts the new.”

Bucks Harbor


A Sailing Gift My good friend Leslie gifted me with a windjammer cruise on the Angelique. Covid had me canceling on our group several years ago, but she made sure I would not miss the magic. And it was magic. When we sailed into Bucks Harbor, all of us moms who’d read One Morning in Maine multiple times to our children leaned over the rail together and breathed in the harbor. One woman knew the book’s opening lines.

“One morning in Maine, Sal woke up she peeked over the top of the covers, the bright sunlight made her blink, so she pulled the covers up and was just about to go back to sleep when she remembered ‘today is the day I am going to Buck’s Harbor with my father!”

Coltsfoot growing into the stream

Saving The Stream Behind My House I pulled six industrial-sized garbage bags of Coltsfoot from the stream behind my house. Unchecked, it threatened to choke its life. You have to pull each invasive plant out by the roots. That means reaching under rocks and following the plant stem wherever it leads. While it was backbreaking work, it was also a good time to be wet in the stream. August heat was so relentless I often lay down on wet rocks released from the plant’s clutches. (Don’t ignore this nasty invasive; throttle it before it smothers what you care about.)

Grandgirls and Scat

Both my granddaughters who came to “camp” for a long visit are fascinated by animal poop. Well, so am I. Cries of “it’s gotta be bear. There’s raspberries!” Or “Ohhh, there’s gray hair in here. Did it eat a rabbit?” Armed with rubber gloves and sharp sticks we explore the woods. We don’t often see the animal, but we might decode what it ate or what message it wants to send.

Dorcas Miller has written the best guide; fits in our pockets. (I’ll be giving away some copies in my next author newsletter.)

If you’re curious about which critters are crossing your path or are in your backyard, then Scat Finder by Dorcas S. Miller is just what you need.

PS: If you’d like a guided tour of bear scat, here ya go.

The South Branch of the Penobscot River … at flood. And a man determined to fish.

Forillon National Park, Quebec

Lettuce (of all kinds) as far as I can see. Salad heaven.

Camping Highs and Lows. Camped in the middle of acres of organic lettuce, peas, and strawberries, I picked and made the best salad of my life. Bob tried to fish in streams that always seemed to be flooded by record rain.  And we found the best deer flies of our lives further north in Quebec, but also discovered the fishing regs for those of us seeking trout (not Atlantic salmon) were tough to navigate. The croissants and soft ice cream were very special though. And so was Forillon National Park. Whales feeding just offshore with hundreds of shorebirds diving to feed between them.

If you’re not out there in the rain and deer flies, of course you will miss the whales.

Please do share some of your own summer cooler surprises…..

Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2023. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.

About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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2 Responses to Cooler Surprise. Deer Flies. Acres of Lettuce.

  1. kaitcarson says:

    We were close to home this summer exploring the backyard woods. Thank you for the Scat Finder recommendation! I noticed they didn’t have a “Look inside” feature, but I ordered it anyway 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Kait! The scat finder is a small, jacket pocket-sized guide meant to be carried along so probably why it has a simple listing. Backyard woods so works!

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