Marathon by Brandon

I hadn't planned to watch the New York City Marathon but was caught on the far side of Bedford Avenue, separated from my house by the runners, and fortunately so. Having only watched the highly competitive runners before, those at the front of the pack, rather than the great mass in the middle, I had not realized that the marathon is an allegory: The elites, beautiful as they are with long strides and holy focus, are an outlying fringe, like Broadway actors introducing a community theatre. Everyone else is -- everyone else.

Passing Bedford's black families barbecuing and flag-waving Mexicans and black-garbed Hasids orbiting white balloon-festooned cribs were a few good runners and many, many more not-good runners. Laboring runners with awkward gaits; even a few chubby people. A group of blind old men. Flag-emblazoned Europeans incarnating nations for a morning. A man in a loincloth and feathered headdress, and another in a fedora and ankle-length fur coat. Quite a few clown costumes. Tutus. Facepaint. Political messages. Random messages -- "Nothing beats Fukushima." It's a marathon of humanity's better, more congenial aspects; and the most common adornment was a placard, hand-lettered, with a runner's name, because the great marathon crowd tradition is to shout the name of eaching passing runner, to make every participant feel like a star.

Image: Brandon/Flickr

Atlantic Ocean by Brandon

Sangatte, Low Tide 1 Atlantic Ocean sensations: A high, clear astringency; golden-toned and defiant; bunchgrass perseverance, slate, the mercy of wind and sand.

Alton Bog by Brandon

Alton Bog At the bottom of Alton Bog is an ancient silt seabed; atop that, ten thousand years of vegetal remains, raising the bog's center above the surrounding wetlands. The soil is acidic, infertile, hypoxic; plants receive only what nourishment falls from the sky, and trees standing a few feet tall can be hundreds of years old.

Of no interest to loggers or developers, the bog has remained largely undisturbed since the last ice age. As with all old growth, that continuity manifests itself in a sense of peace.

Images | Orono Bog Boardwalk

Alton Bog

A Perfect Bookstore by Brandon

I don't know if a Platonic ideal of bookstore exists. Maybe one's tastes are shaped, as with food or love, by first experience. Whatever the case, my original bookstore is my favorite: Lippincott Books, which I first browsed more than twenty years ago, and which will close this month.

Lippincott doesn't overwhelm, like book barns with acres of indiscriminate titles and foot-aching aisles. Neither is it so small that one risks leaving empty-handed. Its proportions are just right; most any topic merits at least one shelf, enough to satisfy a curiosity or spark another.

The shelves themselves are almost tall enough to be perilous, tops reached by milk crate and tiptoe,  and usually overflowing just a bit. They're so arranged that, once past the store's front, each section feels private; two or three people might fit, but the unspoken browser's code is honored. Comradeship is reserved for friends and books, and it's natural to think of Lippincott's books in personable terms.

Bill Lippincott, the eponymous proprietor -- silver hair, soft-spoken, twinkling eyes -- is a  connoisseur of common and rare alike, a hunter of bequeathed collections and library discards. The result is a smartly curated hodgepodge of old and new, esoteric and classic, highbrow and low, the rainy-day library of a children's book favorite uncle.

My own final forays returned, among other titles, two books on fly-tying; the Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking; short stories by Annie Proulx; instructives on rock gardening, bird feeding and outwitting squirrels; a biography of Meriweather Lewis; several immense natural history tomes; poetry from Seamus Heaney, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Ted Hughes; a collection of regional U.S. folklore, and another of narratives from women captured by Indians; Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Wild Asparagus; a P.D. James mystery. At present rates of distraction, I'll be lucky to finish them in a decade, but completion isn't the only point. An used bookstore is as much about immersion, about embarcation on Pullman trains of thought.

Up front near the picture windows are a pair of reading chairs. One was favored by Kaspar, who died just over a year ago, seventeen years after turning from stray to store cat. Over the years I've seen people fall asleep in those chairs, but not once were they disturbed.

Images of the bookstore from my Lippincott Books set. Many thanks to Bill, Ginger & Nancy for creating such a quietly magical place.

The Other Seasons by Brandon


Even though winter isn't yet over in Maine, spring has signaled its arrival. Evenings are brighter; sparrows are flocking; here and there a warm breeze surprises the cold. But before spring fully arrives comes a period of thaws and rain known locally, for self-evident reasons, as mud season. And then, after spring but before true summer, comes blackfly season, when the cost of a pleasant evening is a ring of itching bites at your sockline.

Thinking on this got me wondering about what other local, vernacular seasons existed, marking life's cycles in richer detail than the standard four seasons. I put a call out on Twitter; this is what it returned, arranged roughly from the present.

California is now more than halfway through mudslide season, which goes hand-in-hand with flood season. In upstate New York, it's partway through pothole season, which will last until the end of spring. On the Hudson, spring brings shadbush season; those bushes bloom in time with shad returning from the sea. In New York City, where city-planted street trees are wind-pollinated, it's allergy season, and fiercely so. In Alaska, it's breakup. Over the course of several weeks, seven months of snow melts in the day and refreezes each night.

From spring until next winter in the midwest it's construction season. In the Pacific northwest, it's still grey season, alternately known as rainy season, which lasts year-round, minus summer. (In Texas, there's almost summer and gone summer.) Summer in Arizona is also monsoon season, and well into Nova Scotia's summer comes mosquito season.

Summer is tourist season in Maine, followed by blueberry season; blackflies are forgotten, but in Arizona it's whitefly season. In Washington it's drought season. Bermuda Longtail season marks the start of college in Bermuda. Around this time fire season begins in California and will last through Christmas, perhaps longer.

In Vermont, after the leaves fall but before it snows, is stick season. With any luck, there will be an Indian summer. Alaska's winter is presaged by freezeup. The arrival of northerners in Arizona is the beginning of snowbird season, ending with their April departure.

In California, it's always earthquake season.

Image: Mud season in full effect, by Dwight Sipier.

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