Standing in Line

Lenny Ackerman

Before we left Kennebunk for camp I promised Patti I would get up early on Saturday and be first in line at the Boulangerie bakery in the village.  Good to my word I was at Provisions market for my newspapers and first coffee at 6:30am and hurried over for the bakery’s opening at 7:00 am. Little did I know that a dozen or more people had the same idea.  Not too bad I guess since I had my New York Times and could read in line.  It would be the last newspaper I would dirty my hands with for a week, since there is no delivery up at camp and the nearest stand is 45 minutes away. The line of people extended into the parking lot and I joined the queue behind a young, friendly-looking couple.  Of course, I struck up a conversation instead of reading the news of the day.  I caught the woman’s eye and asked, “Are you local?”

“Yup” she said.

“Kennebunk?” I asked.

“No, Wells.”  Wells is an adjoining community down Route 1 south.  Her companion was not participating in our chat at all – not caffeinated enough to talk I guess. I was deep into my large coffee and continued:

“Is it always this busy before they open?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said. 

As you can tell I was not making much headway with my small talk, so I upped the cross-examination: “What do you both do in Wells?”

“My husband,” she said, looking up at him, “is a psychologist.” 

Oh well now I knew why he wasn’t answering me.  He didn’t want to have to offer any free advice.  Now that the husband was exposed, he had no choice but to enter the conversation.  He turned toward me.  “What do you do?” he asked, looking me in the eye. 

“I am visiting here,” I said, “but I practice law in East Hampton, New York.”  

That got him interested. 

“You mean the Hamptons that I read about where all the rich people from New York go for the summer?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“And what area do you specialize in?” he asked.

“Land use,” I said. 

He shook his head.  “That’s a waste of time—soon there will be no land to use at the rate the ocean in rising.” 

Well now we were talking.  I explained there is very little land to use in the Hamptons already, rising oceans notwithstanding.  He wanted to know more, so I talked about how the town was late to preserving open space in the 1980s.  By the time they adopted a zoning code, most of the waterfront including the ocean, bay and pond frontage had by then been built upon.  The release valve is variances–my line of work.  The process is a log jam of administrative review, as the climate is very anti-development now.  The majority of the applications are to rebuild on demoed property.  He told me Maine started conservation of wetlands and open space many years before development and because the demand was less than on eastern Long Island, Maine was able to preserve much of its environmentally sensitive open space. 

By the time we discussed the current state of land use and preservation in both states we were at the front of the bakery line.  I left with a loaf of sourdough and some croissants – and that good feeling that comes with having an engaging, impromptu conversation with a stranger.  

Camp with the Kids

Lenny Ackerman

My adult children and grandson were waiting for me curbside at Bangor Airport.  They had all arranged to gather at LaGuardia to fly up together for their exclusive week with Dad at camp. My son-in-law Peter was on his cell catching up with business as my daughters waved me over.  After quick hugs and hellos, everyone piled in the Bronco, anxious to get to camp–but not before our planned stop for lunch at Governors, a family restaurant which is part of a chain exclusive to Maine. 

                A family week together at camp has become an annual event for the past several years. When we are all under one roof again it is immediately like old times, though we have had our separate homes for years now.  Shared meals and campfire stories of times past and plans for times to come reconnect us and deepen bonds. 

                I planned to take everyone to Sucker Lake for fishing and a cookout.  Kara and Peter opted out for yoga and conference calls.  Brooke and Billy drove with me in the Bronco over the snowmobile path to the entrance of the lake area.  A bumpy ride but the Bronco handled it as advertised.  Greg met us there with a portable battery-operated motor for the rowboat moored at the shore.  The motor was silent so the quiet of the lake was maintained as we traveled the short distance to a small island for a barbeque.  Greg started his campfire while I waded into the water for a few casts.  Billy tried his hand at wading and casting alongside me and I noticed he was more confident in his technique this year.

                Lunch was a typical Lenny picnic menu:  hamburgers with mustard and relish.  The appetizers and dessert were catching a bass, so after a few bites I rushed everyone into the rowboat to find a spot where the fish were waiting for us. 

                We maneuvered over to promising-looking cove and before long Brooke and Billy caught several mid-size fish.  Dad landed a few but the exercise was to have the kids experience the lake and its surroundings.  There were no camps along the lake shore, no signs of anyone else.  Just pure wilderness.  Truly a heavenly place.

The State of Lobstering

While staying in Kennebunk, Maine this summer, I spent most mornings at Cape Porpoise, sitting at my favorite bench at the docks, sipping a store-bought paper-cup coffee as I watched the fishermen go about their business.   There was one lobsterman in particular that I often saw tending to his small craft, while the majority of his fellow seamen were out since dawn setting or emptying their traps. Eventually I established a friendly rapport with him – his name was Pete.  Pete told me a little about his life – 32 years old, married with three boys age between two and 12, and a daughter aged nine.  Pete’s wife runs a local children’s day care center. She is the sole proprietor, and her income is important to the family’s financial well-being, which was severely impacted by Covid when the day care was shut down.  Their children have been home schooled since quarantine but will return to their public-school classrooms in the fall.  Pete has been lobstering since graduating from high school; he received his training as a first mate on a 42-foot Down East-style lobster boat. 

                His days now start well before his family is awake.   Though he only takes the boat out twice a week, the earnings are enough to support his growing family when combined with his wife’s income.  But lobster, like other commodities, fluctuates in price.  The “dock” prices have dropped dramatically in recent months, with retailers selling the prized crustaceans for a few dollars less.  The reduction in price is happening at the same time as an increase in fuel and bait costs, as well as costly conversions intended to protect rare whales.  “There is something different about the price drop this time,” Pete said.  “This month I saw truckloads of lobster taken to the dump.  Folks can’t afford both lobster and gas these days.” 

Lobster was once so plentiful earlier Americans used it as fertilizer and prison food. Perhaps it hasn’t reached rock bottom yet.  I asked Pete what he would do in that case.  He gazed out at the choppy waves before answering. “I really don’t know,” he said, adding, “now I hear the government is going to reduce the number of traps we can set because lobster may declared an endangered species.”  Pete seemed saddened by our conversation.  He looked around at his mates, who motioned to him to scale the ladder down to his boat aptly– and ideally–named “Rebound.”

Summer Morning in Kennebunk

It is 8:00am July 3, 2022.  Patti and I are in Maine at our cottage in Kennebunk.  Next week I am off to my camp for a few days of undisturbed reading and of course fishing with Andy and Greg on East Grand Lake.  This morning I take my usual drive along the ocean, Route 9 to Cape Porpoise, where I first stop to buy my coffee and New York Times.  Then, it is on to my bench at the fishing dock on the Point overlooking the harbor and the inlet where the fishing boats are moored.  The cashier at Bradfords is decked out in his Boston Red Socks hat and a red, white and blue flag tie.  He is scowling.  The man ahead of me helpfully reminds the cashier that today is a holiday and he should be smiling.  With that the cashier laughs and his lips curl as he is about to say something but glancing at the long line of people he decides to keep his mouth shut.  I sip away at my coffee.  The early morning rush of weekenders and cyclists are here, fueling up, buying lunch and iced coffees to take down to the beach.  I pick up a paper and see the newspaper rack is low, which may be a result of the reduced volume of papers delivered each day.  Seems only half of what it was last year?  The papers on offer still represent a relatively wide range geographically, from Boston to Portland to New York, as well as a local weekly with mostly real estate ads. 

I drive the short distance to my bench on the waterfront and sigh with contentment in my solitude. I don’t feel like a conversation before I am fully caffeinated.  The parking lot is empty of fishermen–unusual except today is Sunday, the day before the holiday, and the lobsters have a day off before they succumb.  The wind is making my newspaper reading difficult, so I take a walk out to the dock. There are a couple of locals working the repair of the lift for a heavy catch like a tuna.  The large dog in the fisherman’s truck barks at me then realizes it’s a day off and he calms down.  I see among the strollers coming down the road a familiar character from last summer:  the mysterious older woman who lives in the large house on the water.  She is wearing a long raincoat and she makes her way up to the highest rock to scan the horizon for ships.  There are none coming in and she walks back, down the road, brushing her fingers along the flowering bushes as she passes by.  I think of approaching her but I recall last year she was abrupt with me when I tried to engage her.  A group of cyclists stream by slowly, looking around – probably for a public restroom, of which there are none, except in the restaurants and they are not open yet. 

The boats are like bowling pins in the harbor.  The low tide makes them stand out as if on stilts.  Off in the distance waves break.  A single sailboat is navigating cautiously.  With the tide out, Cape Porpoise is not safe sailing. 

It is a glorious morning.  I decide to take the top off the Bronco for the ride to our cottage.  I try a new route over the backroads to Kennebunk along the ocean.  There are signs offering handmade deck chairs and quilts.  I would like to stop but I know I will get into a conversation that will result in the purchase of something I don’t need.  I am happy and looking forward to going grocery shopping with Patti before lunch.  I will email my daughters Kara and Brooke to check in.  July 4th is very special to all of us as it was our anniversary – their late mother’s and mine.  This year would have been our 60th.