New England seaside vernacular

The following photos were taken Wednesday afternoon from our little boat afloat on The Basin behind Plum Island, Massachusetts because I liked the shapes of the houses.

Google maps: You are here.








It was a gorgeously hot day. We put the boat in at Hampton Harbor and motored south along the shoreline to the Merrimack River, where we spotted one seal cruising along the surface, pausing now and then to give us a brown-eyed look.

There were a few boats, and people surf fishing on the long sands on the southern side of the inlet. We stopped to cast a line now and then, while promising ourselves, “We’re never going to catch anything,” so we wouldn’t be disappointed when we didn’t.

The tide and time of day were wrong for stripers, according to the old salt. Bluefish are around still, feeding at the surface, but not for us.

“Maybe we’ve had bad luck together this summer because I’m a Pisces and deep inside I don’t really want to catch my fellow fish,” I offered idly. “Mm hm,” said the old salt.

The boat may be the place we are most content and at ease with one another, just the two of us, like a mini-Noah’s ark. I am happy to go anywhere and see anything. I love to be surrounded by sea and sky. He is relaxed and engaged, having something with a motor to drive and a fishfinder/ navigation aid to mess with.

We finished our trip with a ride up the Blackwater River in Seabrook, then cut the engines and let the outgoing tide and south wind carry us north back to the harbor. Map. We watched the marsh drift by and the water flow under the boat and it was our bliss.

A condition of supreme well-being and good spirits: beatitude, blessedness, cheer, cheerfulness, felicity, gladness, happiness, joy, joyfulness. See HAPPY.

Big picture.

Gettin’ reel


Hampton Harbor this afternoon

It is a charming custom. I’ve always liked it when men name fishing boats after their wives or girlfriends.

The Name Game

The ancient Egyptians allegedly began the tradition of naming boats centuries ago on the Nile River, and boat owners have been racking their brains ever since for the perfect boat name. In fact, most will confess that they spent far more time thinking about a perfect name for their boat than their children. That makes sense: children don’t go around with their name emblazoned in six-inch letters on their rear ends.

Boat Names

How to Name a Boat

Do you plan to name your dinghy?

Boat U.S.Most popular boat names



Second Wind

Reel Time

Hakuna Matata

Happy Hours

Knot Working

Life is Good

Plan B

Second Chance

Pura Vida

Pond swans


Eel Pond swan, yesterday in Rye


I was sitting on the banks of the brackish pond, fairly close to the two swans who seem to be living there. In the distance now there are two more.

I try to look non-threatening because the swans, though beautiful, are badass. I have seen people pull over to see the pretty swans and walk toward them cooing and holding out their hands.

The swans may look like they are thinking, “I’m so pretty, stroke my feathers, take a picture.” But they are actually thinking, “Back off! My pond! Don’t mess with me and my mate, crazy ladies, I’ll bite you. I’ll flap you to death!”

Get too close, piss them off, and they snap. They are like supermodels with PMS and ninja training.

This morning I walked the length of Hampton’s main beach. I saw a woman’s barefoot footprints in the sand that stopped me in my tracks. It was the foot! The foot that all those horribly uncomfortable, ridiculously expensive, supposedly sexy shoes are designed to fit.

It was a tiny print, maybe size 5 and a half, incredibly slender, practically elfin, and the toes actually tapered to a point. I didn’t know there really was such a foot.

Do you think it is by accident or on purpose that Jimmy Choos sounds like gimme shoes?


Eel Pond, Sept 25

Swans are large water birds of the family Anatidae, which also includes geese and ducks. Swans are grouped with the closely related geese in the subfamily Anserinae where they form the tribe Cygnini. Sometimes, they are considered a distinct subfamily, Cygninae.

Swans usually mate for life, though “divorce” does sometimes occur, particularly following nesting failure. The number of eggs in each clutch is between 3–8.

The word is derived from Old English swan, akin to the German Schwan and Dutch zwaan, in turn derived from Indo-European root *swen (to sound, to sing), whence Latin derives sonus (sound). Young swans are known as cygnets, from the Latin word for swan, cygnus. An adult male is a cob, from Middle English cobbe (leader of a group); an adult female is a pen (origin unknown).

Anatidae videos

Eel Pond

Buy a house there

A good rot


Little River salt marsh, North Hampton, this morning

Column: Small Pond
Hampton Union, September 25

Life in a salt marsh

We are lucky to live with a necklace of salt marshes along our coast, emerald-colored in summer, ruby and amber in fall.

We play host to thousands of intrepid little sandpipers flying between the Arctic and South America each year.

We drive by our marshes so often but maybe don’t really see them, or know what we’re looking at. We’re used to them. We take them for granted. Maybe that is one reason New Hampshire’s largest salt marsh has no formal conservation plan yet like Great Bay, or nearby marshes in Maine and Massachusetts.

Sometimes we need a fresh perspective, and a moment when we say, “Aha.”

I was planning to educate the next generation, my daughter Laura, 14, on the importance of this local habitat. So I asked her what she thinks of when I say, “Salt marsh.”

“You sitting on a bucket,” she said.

I had to laugh. I remembered the time I volunteered for a field trip to Rye Harbor with my daughter Anna’s class. “Marsh” was my station. With nets, a plastic 10-gallon bucket and a pocket field guide, I explored two marsh creeks and their low-tide mudflats with successive groups of giddy fourth-graders in waterproof boots. (Now these kids are freshmen in college.)

We caught crabs and snails, gathered broken shells, tiny bones, feathers and stones, and even nabbed a few minnows for a quick look. Some children got stuck in the mud or fell in the water on purpose.

Waiting for the last group, I was beginning to think the teachers had forgotten about me. So I climbed up from the creek onto the high flat marsh to make myself more visible, flipped the bucket over and sat down.

It was peaceful. The sun was warm and the sky an everlasting June blue. It was quiet except for a hiss of tiny bubbles in the mud under the cordgrass.

I began thinking about everything that was alive all around me just then, much of it invisible to me, striving to continue its own life or make new life. I felt the slow dawning of a small revelation: Everything that can be alive at this moment is alive. Life is a force; it is always pushing up against its limits. It wants to be.

Even without swarms of irrepressible fourth-graders, a marsh is a place that is unusually alive. It rivals the rain forest as a biologically productive habitat. The salt-tolerant grasses trap sediment and organic matter. It is full of good rot, a decomposition that feeds tiny creatures that feed larger creatures. It absorbs fresh water and is washed by nutrient-rich tides.

About two-thirds of the tasty seafood caught in our commercial fisheries use estuaries during part of their life cycle. But a marsh is not just a nursery for our future dinners. It is full of things that are alive in their own right, whether they are of any use to us. They are alive, which is to say that they are not dead, or inanimate. Life is kind of amazing and miraculous when you stop and think about it, perhaps while sitting on an overturned bucket in a marsh.
So there I was, a giant among millions of tiny living things, like a bit of Life contemplating itself, when I saw a school bus go by on Ocean Boulevard. It was headed north, in the opposite direction from school, so I knew it wasn’t the fourth grade leaving without me. But it was our district’s bus company, so I waved.

That night at the dinner table we took turns telling about our day. “I planted the garden,” said my husband. “I went on a field trip and so did mom,” said my then-fourth-grader.

“I went on a field trip too,” said Laura the kindergartner. “We were going tidepooling. I looked out the window of the bus and I saw somebody sitting on a bucket in the marsh, all by herself. Mom, she looked just like you.”

Amy Kane is a freelance writer living in North Hampton.

Four and twenty grackles, baked in a pie



Another cool arid morning, followed by a warm arid day. The pond is down a couple of feet and the lawn is not dead, says my husband, just dormant. Dry weather sounds are the crickets and the dessicated tree leaves and sedge grasses brushing in the arid breezes.

And then came the blackbirds out of a cloudless sky, scores of them this morning, maybe a hundred – grackles I think. They are flocking up for fall, marauding, plundering the feeders and the freshly spread grass seed. Their song is not a song, but a chirpy raspy metallic mechanical creak like a rusty garden gate. They are black windup toy birds.

Fun fact: On the ground, grackles do not hop, they walk.

Common grackle, Quiscalus quiscula
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Blackbirds and Orioles (Icteridae)

I went to the gym today, lifted 3 sets of all the weights I ever do, then stocked up on groceries and toiletries at the Super WalMart, then lugged a couple hundred dollars worth of fresh provisions from the car to the kitchen, put it all away and immediately fell asleep on the couch for half an hour. It was a very second-half-of-my-life nap. I shall be an old napping lady. I dreamed about grackles.

Laura had a lovely busy 14th birthday last Friday, including a pep rally, a victorious soccer game, a visit from her college sister, lots of small presents, then a sleepover at a friend’s house with most of the soccer team, followed the next day by a historic win of our football team against their biggest rivals.

Anna called today to share the results of her first test at college: 98% in Latin. Nice! If she had to declare a major tomorrow, she says, it would be Poli Sci. She loves loves loves her class U.S. in World Affairs.

A nice surprise this morning, blogger and retired international jewel thief Randall Sherman from the hinterland of Missouri has awarded me and six other bloggers, including my good pal Marie the hillbilly photojournalist, a NICE MATTERS AWARD

Amy Kane and Marie Freeman for always seeming to post a photo or a story worthy of a smile or two.

Well, sorry I couldn’t get any photos of the grackles today. For windup toys, they were devilishly speedy. So how about a lame joke instead?

. . .

A duck walks into a bar and asks, “Do you have any grapes?” The bartender says, “No, I am sorry, we have cherries and olives but no grapes.” “Oh,” says the duck and leaves.

Ten minutes later the duck returns and asks the same bartender, “Do you have any grapes?” “Like I said before, we have cherries and olives, but we don’t have grapes!” says the bartender. “Oh,” says the duck and leaves.

Ten minutes later the duck returns and asks, “Do you have any grapes?” “Look, beak lips,” says the bartender, “We have no grapes!, we will never have grapes! and if you ask me again, I am going to nail your webby little feet to the floor!” “Oh,” says the duck and leaves.

Ten minutes later, the door swings open and the duck returns. The bartender is furious. He slams a bottle of beer down on the bar, stares menacingly at the duck and yells, “WHAT?!” “Uh… do you have any nails?” asks the duck. “Nails?” says the bartender, a bit puzzled. “No, we don’t have any nails.” “Okay,” says the duck, “So, do you have any grapes?”

The books I read


Woman lying on a bench, Carl Larsson, 1913

The soundtrack for this blog post is: The Book I Read, by The Talking Heads

Astronomically speaking, it is autumn now. These are the books I read this past summer, with my idiosyncratic mini-reviews.


Andorra, by Peter Cameron

Is it a real place?


The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard

Break heart.


The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

World weary.


The Optimist’s Daughter, by Eudora Welty

Southern class.


Tulip Fever, by Deborah Moggach

Hot damned.


The Ice Queen, by Alice Hoffman

Fiery tale.


Tender Is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Crazy rich.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2), by J.K. Rowling

Inescapible escapades.


The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency , By Alexander McCall Smith

Merry mysteries.


Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight, by William Langewiesche

Takes me higher.


Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University

So true.


Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York , by Susan Allport

Romancing the stones.


A Cup of Tea, by Amy Ephron

Sweet and astringent.


Art of the State: New Hampshire, by Patricia Harris

Up with granite.


Birds Without Wings, by Louis De Bernieres



The Chymical Wedding, by Lindsay Clarke

Opposites attract.


Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell

Slice life.


Common Ground: A Naturalist’s Cape Cod, by Robert Finch

All natural.


Burn, by James Patrick Kelly

Sly fi.


The Seven Sisters, by Margaret Drabble



The New Novel, Winslow Homer, 1877

No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. She will not want new fashions nor regret the loss of expensive diversions or variety of company if she can be amused with an author in her closet.

– Mary Wortley, Lady Montagu

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.

– Mason Cooley

Like dreaming, reading performs the prodigious task of carrying us off to other worlds. But reading is not dreaming because books, unlike dreams, are subject to our will: they envelop us in alternative realities only because we give them explicit permission to do so. Books are the dreams we would most like to have, and, like dreams, they have the power to change consciousness, turning sadness to laughter and anxious introspection to the relaxed contemplation of some other time and place.

– Victor Null

Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.

– Charles Scribner Jr.

After all, what is reading but a vice, like drink or venery or any other form of excessive self-indulgence? One reads to tickle and amuse one’s mind; one reads, above all, to prevent oneself thinking.

– Aldous Huxley

There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

The mere brute pleasure of reading—the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing.

– GK Chesterton

Virgins and matrons, reading these my rimes,
Shall be so much delighted with thy story
That they shall grieve they lived not in these times

– Michael Drayton

Apples of my eye


Green moons

The old apple trees at the corner of Mill and Atlantic are loaded this year. I’ve never seen them like this.

Many apples have fallen and been flattened under car tires, scenting the road with a pungent cidery rot, but many are still left on the trees and will remain after the leaves have fallen, festively aglow in the gnarled branches.



The apples are crabby, small and spotted. I’d be afraid to taste them. Instead they are a feast for the eyes, in a place I pass often on foot and by car.

Everywhere now you can buy autumn decorations – pumpkins, chysanthemums, bright lumpy gourds, bundled corn shocks, cute scarecrows. But nothing deliberately purchased and placed can equal the natural beauty of these apple trees in season and the way they dress up a busy intersection for those who care to look.