Thursday, October 30, 2014

An overzealous warrior pup is barred from taking the field

I was walking our chocolate lab Aquinnah at 5 a.m. the other day when a skunk emerged from under a fence about 125 feet in front of us. (Those white stripes seem to project a light of their own, somehow, which is a good thing at that hour.)

We stopped dead in our tracks.

Pepé waddled across the street and headed down a driveway on the other side. Good. The coast was clear. We resumed our walk. Then Pepé had a change of heart. He reversed course, came out of the drive, hobbled into the street, and crossed back over to our side.

Aquinnah stared at him, his body aquiver with the desire to lunge forward and let that little stinker know what's what. He pulled at his leash and whimpered, forcing me to hang on tight.

The only thing worse than seeing a skunk in the dark at 5 a.m. while walking an 85-pound dog with a “let me at ‘em” attitude is seeing an indecisive skunk in the dark at 5 a.m. while walking an 85-pound dog with a “let me at ‘em” attitude. Aquinnah wasn't simply offended by the skunk's presence. He was appalled that Pepé, having had the good sense to exile himself to the other side of the street, got cocky and came back.

I vetoed Aquinnah’s plan to engage the enemy, knowing, as I did, that Pepé had superior firepower. To Aquinnah’s chagrin, we turned around and staged a hasty but orderly retreat, despite the affront to his canine honor.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Jim Morin

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What has happened to Halloween?

Once upon a time, the jack-o’-lantern was synonymous with Halloween. It was the perfect symbol. Inexpensive, traditional and organic, it required creativity. Illuminated from within, it was a thing of eerie beauty.

The jack-o’-lantern is still with us, of course. It pops up on sidewalks, lawns and front porches at this time of year. But it has been supplanted, to a large degree, by all manner of hideous plastic crap. The most horrific of these ersatz decorations are giant, inflatable . . . things that have cropped up in front yards in recent years.

These monstrosities, which can be six feet tall or more, feature the usual array of goblins and witches and ghosts and haunted houses, except that they are so large and garish that they practically scream tackiness. Some of them even create their own noise pollution, thanks to the constant operation of the blowers that keep them inflated.

Halloween should not be highbrow. It is Halloween, after all. But when the decorations become more ghoulish than the holiday itself, something is amiss.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Jack Ohman

Book Review: "The Bone Orchard," Paul Doiron

Find exclusive book reviews at The Walrus Said blog.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The tale of Father Sébastien Rale (and his Blue Hubbard squash)

Maybe this is a case of history repeating itself, but with a comic twist.

Sébastien Rale (or Rasle, Rasles) was a controversial French Jesuit who served as a missionary to the Norridgewock tribe of the Abenaki Indians in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in what is now Maine but was then a disputed borderland between New England and French Acadia. Historians tell us Rale had a knack for evading his English foes from New England, who feared and despised him. He did so over and over again, off and on, for almost two decades.

Rale seemed to be in hiding once again a few days ago, when my wife Liz and I tried to locate a hard-to-find monument dedicated to the elusive priest. This time, the search ended not in death, as it did for Rale in 1724, but with a surprising gift of squash that we received in an unexpected location.

Confused? All will become clear in a minute.

The brackets of Rale’s life tell us that he was born in Pontarlier, France, in 1657 and died in Norridgewock (aka Narantsouak) at what is now Old Point in Madison, Maine, in 1724. He is a prominent figure in Maine history, and in the annals of both New France and colonial New England.

To his French and Indian contemporaries, he was a selfless religious leader devoted to the spiritual well-being of his flock. He learned the Abenaki language and compiled an Abenaki-French dictionary, which survives to this day. To New Englanders, Rale was a partisan guerrilla who encouraged the Norridgewocks to fight the English. He may even have joined them in a devastating French and Indian raid on the English settlement at Wells, Maine, in 1703.

The English tried but failed to capture Rale in 1705. They tried again in 1722, and twice more in 1723. Each time, Rale eluded them. His luck did not run out until 1724, when soldiers from New England attacked Norridgewock, slaughtered dozens of Indians, forced many more to flee, and killed and scalped Rale.

Fast forward to Oct. 25, 2014. That’s when my wife Liz and I finally decided to visit a Madison monument that was dedicated to Rale in the 19th century, on the supposed site of his death. I have an indirect connection to Rale because the French officer who led that 1703 raid against Wells — Alexandre Leneuf de La Vallière — pops up in my family tree as a cousin, nine generations back.

We arrived in Madison quickly enough; it’s less than 50 miles from our home in Augusta. But Rale, who may well be the most famous historical figure with ties to the towns of Madison and Norridgewock, is almost as hard to pin down now as he was three centuries ago.

The town of Madison has an article about Rale’s monument on its web site, but it is not accompanied by a map, or directions. We found no signs in town pointing us to it. And when we stopped for directions at a business across the Kennebec River, the polite owner clearly had no idea who or what I was talking about.

He was kind enough to point us toward the police station in Madison (population 4,800 or so). I figured someone there was sure to know the way. But the cop shop was locked up tight when we got there. With unrelated stops to make in two nearby towns before we headed home, we were running out of time.

We finally stumbled upon a woman out for a walk who not only knew who Rale was but how to get to his monument as well. It’s tucked in the back of a cemetery, near the banks of the Kennebec. If she had not shared that key fact, we never would have found the tall, 181-year-old granite marker.

After we had photographed the monument, read the inscription and examined the setting, we headed back to our car, which we had left in the cemetery. A pickup truck was parked nearby with its tailgate down, and we exchanged greetings with a diminutive elderly woman who was standing next to it.

I figured the woman and her husband were visiting someone’s grave, and maybe they were. But that wasn’t the only thing on their minds. “Would you like some squash?” the woman asked, incongruously, only a few feet from grave markers. At first, I thought she and her husband were selling the stuff, but it turned out they were desperate to give it away. Liz accepted a large Blue Hubbard and a Buttercup. She politely refused to take more because we couldn’t possibly have used it all.

If nothing else, this tale shows the value of serendipity. We got lost just long enough to be in the right place at the right time to meet the helpful woman who gave us directions, as well as the very nice couple whose pickup was weighed down by a mountain of pesky produce. A bit earlier, or a bit later, and Rale might have eluded capture — this time, by a camera — yet again.

And then there’s this takeaway: No matter how much historical research you may do, I think I can safely say this is the only place where you’ll ever see Sébastien Rale and Blue Hubbard squash mentioned in the same sentence.

19th century lithograph depicting the death of Father Sébastien Rale

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by David Horsey

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Hen Chronicles: Believe it or not, hens have personalities

On April 21, 2012, my wife Liz and I - chicken neophytes - bought three laying hens, who set up shop in a coop in the backyard of our city lot here in Maine. The makeup of our small flock has changed since then, but not our love of chickens. The Hen Chronicles explore life with our tenants.

For those among you who may still believe that chickens have no personalities, here's more proof to the contrary.

Dawn is the best time to feed the hens. But as the days have grown shorter, it keeps getting pushed back, from 5:30 to 6, then 6:30, and now 7. Being an early riser, I've sometimes grown impatient. That's why I've occasionally found myself heading out to the coop to release and feed our three hens a few minutes before the sun came up. 

Chickens peg their lives to the rising and setting of the sun. Like clockwork, they go to bed promptly at dusk and get up predictably at dawn. If left to their own devices, our hens would continue to roost in the coop until daylight roused them. So "the girls" weren't quite awake yet when I showed up early.

By rushing their wake-up call a bit, I tampered with the natural order of things. Two of the hens didn't seem to mind my hurry-it-up routine. But the third one was another matter.

Here's how it played out. I placed food and water in the pen and then opened the coop door while it was still somewhat dark outside. Snow, our take-charge Plymouth Rock, was game. When she heard me rustling around outside with the chicken feed, she woke up and hopped down from the roost. Snow emerged as soon as I opened the door, despite the early-morning gloom. Nellie, one of our two Rhode Island Reds, followed a minute or two later.

Eventually, Hope made an appearance as well, but not quickly, and not without trepidation.

Snow and Nellie immediately tucked into their breakfast. But Hope, whose role model is Chicken Little, stood stock still in the pen, making a mournful, high-pitched trilling sound. She continued to do this until dawn finally broke, at which point her obvious fear of the dark evaporated and she joined the other hens in chowing down.

Out of respect for Hope's tender sensibilities, I'm now timing my early-morning arrivals more carefully. After all, no one should hop out of bed fearing what the new day will bring.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Tom Toles