Thursday, October 21, 2010

Friends... Just a Click (and 10,000 miles) Away

If you follow Grumbles and Grins, then you know about Jack Ramsay, my Scotsman pal who lives Down Under. You know what a great friend he is, and what a colossal pain in the neck he can be. You know Jack proof-reads my writing and gives me (really sad, pathetic) advice. You know he makes me laugh. Makes me mad. And then...makes me laugh, again.

You might remember that I performed a comedy show last year to raise money to donate to charity in his and his wife Alison’s names. Many of you even autographed the poster I had printed of him, which is now on display at Frog Hollow, Karana Downs, Queensland. At least, it had better be on display… That was artwork at its finest!

You also know about my buddy Larry, who traveled 10,000 miles north to Maine last summer for a month-long visit. It just so happens that he lives on Russell Island-- off the coast of Brisbane, and only one hour away from Jack and Ali’s mainland home.

My two friends had never met. They’d never heard of each other until I talked to one about the other, and to the other about the one. It only seemed natural that the two should meet. I mean… if I love them both, then surely, they would love each other!

So, when Larry left Maine, he had Jack’s phone number and address in his possession, and he promised to look Jack up when he got home. I didn’t really hold out a lot of hope that my two friends would make a connection, though. Larry Gilles is as laid-back a man as I’ve ever known. Totally self-confident and completely calm and peaceful. He does things at his own pace.

Much like that of a turtle.

And speaking of turtles, I’ve rarely laughed as hard as I did the night that Larry told me how a turtle broke his foot. It’s true. If ever you think, “Gee… I’d better stay away from _______ or I might break my foot!”…. well, I’ll bet the image of a turtle was not what popped into your head!

I’m not talking big turtles, here, either. Not like a Galapagos Turtle--which can weigh up to 400 pounds! Or even the North American Alligator Snapper, which can grow to 100 pounds at maturity. Nope… I’m talking normal-sized turtles. They kind you keep for pets when you’re a kid. Benign, plodding--and known more for retreating into their shells than for their aggressive, bone-crushing behavior.

Yep. A normal sized turtle broke the foot of strapping, six-foot-three-inch tall Larry.

But see, this was an extraordinary turtle—even though it was tiny in comparison to my Aussie mate. The turtle which snapped his bone in two was a FLYING turtle. I know, I know… I was a tad incredulous, myself. I mean, really! How na├»ve did this man think I was?

However, as accomplished a story-teller as Larry is, he doesn’t exaggerate. He doesn’t fib. The man is so bloody honest it’s scary. If you don’t think you can handle a truthful answer, you do NOT want to ask that man a question. Nope.

Larry was riding his motorcycle cross-county one night when he saw the headlights of a car traveling at speed towards him. Seconds before the bike and auto met, the car’s tire barely grazed the edge of the shell of a turtle who’d been hurrying across the road since sunrise of the previous day. Pinched between bitumen and rubber, the turtle was launched into the air… catapulted to connect solidly with the top of Larry’s boot-clad foot.

There are many more details to this legend than what I’m able to repeat. That’s because I was doubled over, laughing so hard I couldn’t hear his narrative. It’s always been a failing of mine…this propensity I have to get hysterical over silly accidents. It’s not that I didn’t feel bad for my friend. I’m sure getting a tarsal bone busted by the armor of a terrapin was terribly painful.

Ah, but the images! A big bruiser of a biker… a mean, sexy machine… both brought low by a wee little turtle. Did the poor tortoise have time to pull himself inside his shell before he struck leather-coated flesh? Or were his scaly little arms and legs flapping wildly as he tried to ascertain his natural aerodynamics so that he could come in for a smooth landing? What expression was on Larry’s face in that split second prior to impact, when he realized he was about to be undone by one of the most benign reptiles on the planet?

Did he have time to articulate his impression of the event about to take place? Truth be told, there probably wasn’t time enough for words which contained more than… oh, maybe four letters, or so.

Months later, I’m still giggling. My son Guy once had his big toe broken by a lake trout from West Carry Pond… but I’d never heard of a man getting his foot busted by a flying turtle. Those Aussie men! Always gotta get one up on us Yanks!

Anyway, I digress. To my delight, Larry really did call Jack and Ali when he returned to Australia in August. Tickled pink to make the connection, the Ramsays invited him to their home for the weekend, and the three of them bonded instantly and had a grand time. And, I dare say, they consumed enough alcohol to pickle a pig.

Larry and Jack share the same core values, and they both have an excellent sense of humor. They are both brutally honest—and I have the scars and the laugh lines to prove it. But more than anything, Jack and Larry are both very dear friends of mine—and knowing that Jack, Ali and Larry truly liked each other gives me a warm glow, way up here on the 45th N latitude..

This weekend, Jack and Ali are traveling to Russell Island, where—I have no doubt--Larry will be the ‘host with the most’. In some small way, I’ve helped enrich the lives of these three folks Down Under, simply by being the first of many things they have in common. I’m grinning ear to ear as I think of the fun they’re going to have with each other.

And I’ll admit-- since I share that propensity for being honest—I’m a little bit envious, too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Graciously Accepting a Compliment

I was asked to speak on a panel at a forum in the town of Rumford a couple of weeks ago. Of course, I said, “Sure thing… just tell me how to get there!”

Naturally, I’ve been to Rumford in the past. But it’s been years since the zoo closed and even more years since I foreclosed on a property in that town. And I’d never, ever been to the high school, before-- so directions were in order.

Not that I ever get lost, or anything.

The instructions provided me were poorly written—not very practical, at all--and due to that fact, I had to stop several times to ask for directions. At the Gulf convenience store by the bridge. Beside the man who was power-washing his cabin cruiser in his driveway. And next to the father and his two little boys who were unloading groceries from their car.

Who knew Rumford was a city? Seriously, who knew? I never would have guessed… until I came upon that dreaded phenomenon (and misconceived brainstorm) called a ‘rotary’.


Judas Priest on a pony. I should never leave my dirt roads…

The day after the forum, I received an email from the moderator of the event; a well-mannered man from a prestigious law firm in Portland. I assume the firm is prestigious, anyway. They have their name on the side of a high-rise (okay… ten story!) office building. That’s gotta count for something, right? His written message was to me, but he “carbon-copied” a half-dozen others—kindly wanting them to hear his few words of praise, I suppose.

“Kaz! You were AWESOME last night!”

I have never learned how to graciously accept a compliment. Oh, man… what AILS me?

What did I say when I got that short note of approval? Oh, come on! Just guess!

Yep. When I read “Kaz! You were AWESOME last night!” I responded, “Mr. Pease says that all the time. Except… he calls me ‘Poopsie’.”

And-- I just hit ‘send’. To the moderator--and to all the others--in a boneheaded ‘Reply To All’ move.

Seriously…what AILS me???

So…my response went sailing through the ether of the internet. And I worked away at my computer, glancing up every so often for some response. ANY response!

Nothing. Zilch, nada, zip. Not from the moderator, and not from any of the others who were privy to our exchange. Complete silence. No emails being highlighted in my ‘INBOX’.

Holy cow.

I agonized about it all night long. Had I offended this man? He didn’t really ‘know’ me… didn’t understand my warped sense of humor or my propensity to say and do the DUMBEST things imaginable in any given situation. My friends and family ‘get’ me… but would this fellow? Would the others? I pictured him fretting and stewing… imagined him worrying that I was trying to hatch some scheme for a sexual harassment suit, or some other ridiculous scenario…

And so, the next morning, I sent him a written apology. For trying to be cute and funny—and for failing to be either.

You can imagine my relief when I received a reply.

“You’re a NUT! I love yer ass… and the water it walks on!”

Well, now-- that’s more like it! (Okay, so I practically sobbed as I thanked the Powers That Be for my reprieve! But that’s irrelevant to the story, isn’t it?)

The next morning over a game of cribbage with Mr. Pease, I told him about my stupid Bonehead Moment. He paused as he dealt out the hand.

“I don’t call you ‘Poopsie’,” he said. Is it possible that my own husband still doesn’t ‘get me’ after seventeen years of marriage? I sighed.

“I know, honey. It was a joke! You also don’t say ‘Kaz, you were AWESOME last night!’”

He set the deck down at the end of the cribbage board and nodded his head somberly.

“True,” he said.

Nope, I never have learned how to take a compliment graciously. And really….is it any wonder?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Destination: COOL (Lord, have Mercy on us all...)

If I’m not careful, I just might wind up being cool.

Writing that made me giggle and blush as I sit here all alone in my bedroom. Because I know for a fact that ‘being cool’ isn’t something I’ll ever have to worry about. I say and do too many inane, boneheaded things to compete in the ‘chill zone’, and if I haven’t learned how to exercise a little self-control by the age of 47, there’s really not much hope for me.


I DID just win the FIRST PLACE award for Weekly Column in the Maine Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. I mean, really… how cool is that?

Pretty danged cool.

Last year, I won the third place prize. I didn’t even know my publisher had entered me in the contest-- or that I’d won anything-- until I read it in the newspaper. Heh… that was kind of weird. I sat in my office at work, newspaper in hand, and muttered a feeble, “Yay, me!”

“Woo-hoo???” Anyone???

Aw, shucks.

I called my publisher just to make sure it wasn’t a typo. After all, I didn’t want to accept the accolades of my fans under false pretenses, did I? Heidi assured me that I had, indeed, won third place—and that she had a certificate for me to prove it. If she could just find the bloody envelope…

Well, I’m an impatient woman. I want instant gratification. No climbing the ranks step by plodding step for me, no sirree! This year, I skipped right over second place and snagged the big one. FIRST PLACE.

Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-HUH!

Of course, I didn’t know I’d been entered this year, either. That’s probably a good thing, because as impatient as I am, I would have fretted and stewed, wondering who’d won, wondering how talented my competition was… wondering WHY IT WAS TAKING THEM SO LONG TO CHOOSE A WINNER!!! The difference this time was that when I won first place, Heidi actually emailed me and told me so. AND, she invited me to the awards banquet and ceremony, where I would accept my prize.

Yep, I got a free dinner out of the deal… and so did Mr. Grumbles. Once in awhile, it’s good to remind the "man of the house" that he shares his abode with a one-of-a-kind woman. While I’m quite sure that he thanks God for that every day, I’ve never determined whether he gives thanks for the fact that he lives with me, or that there’s only one like me. Some things are best left to the imagination of an optimistic woman.

I know that this award isn’t a huge deal… not really anything to write home about. (Instead, I had to call! Instant gratification, remember? I wanted to crow to my mother and father and hear them say, “That’s GREAT! We are so proud of you!" I am such a child…) But seriously, it’s not like I won a Pulitzer Prize, or anything like that...

Still… it’s obvious. I’m slowly creeping ever closer to ‘cool’.

What a disaster in the making.


P.S. Isn't that a gorgeous bathroom? This, and others like it, can be found at Point Lookout, Northport, Maine-- home of the 2010 Maine Press Association's Award Ceremony.

P.P.S. Where I won first place...

P.P.P.S. The top photo is one of several paintings of the Maine coast which were displayed at Point Lookout. I fell completely in love with their beauty and detail. And with Point Lookout's bathrooms, too...

P.P.P.P.S. The best thing about the bathrooms? The toilets did NOT flush by themselves. The water in the sinks had to be turned on by moving a 'cold' or 'hot' lever. The soap wasn't mounted in a wall dispenser. The paper towels were in a neat stack on the counter, and didn't spit at me from an automatic machine on the wall as I walked by. AND!! And the last stall in the room (each of which which had a normal wooden door with a real doorknob)contained a swivel rocker! How cool is THAT!? (I've simply GOT to know the story behind that, but everyone I asked that might was as mystified as I was. Still, a swivel rocker...heh.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Week in the World of Wind

There’s been a lot happening in the world of ‘wind’ here in the state of Maine. I wish I had more time to write it down and post it to GAG, but the fact that I haven’t been able to is a symptom of the viral spread of industrial wind.

I am more convinced than ever that we, the PEOPLE, have to stop this at the state level, and then--at the national one. There are a dozen small citizens’ groups across Maine battling their own individual projects, and we are each standing up to--and facing down--very rich and powerful (and sometimes multi-national) entities. These industrial developers have the backing of our current administration, too, so the battle is far more difficult than if we had a level playing field.

This week alone, the Friends of the Highland Mountains were involved in opposing three different industrial wind companies here in the western mountains. We voiced our opposition to a request regarding a development on the other side of the famed Kennebec River, proposed by First Wind, who has asked for a TIF (tax incremental financing) from our county government. Among the many other wind developments they have in the works, First Wind is proposing to line the mountains of Bingham and Mayfield with 400 foot tall turbines. That they should request a TIF is brassy, to say the least. TIFs were designed as a way for municipalities to entice businesses to their locale, in the hopes that those businesses would bring enough jobs and economic development to offset the tax revenue lost by a TIF. However, wind developers are BEGGING for permission to despoil Maine’s mountains—and if they are successful in obtaining their permits, approximately 60% of the cost of their projects is ALREADY paid for by American tax payers. TIFs should not be granted to these companies when they are asking US for permission to come here, and when they bring few full time jobs. In addition, a good percentage of the part time jobs don’t originate in the towns where the projects are proposed, but are given to companies from elsewhere which are already contracting to the wind developers and which have the expertise to build these mountaintop developments.

We also had an opportunity on Wednesday to make clear before Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission our future opposition to Iberdrola’s plans to place grid-scale wind turbines on the ridges of Lexington and Concord Township. I had the opportunity to speak to four representatives of Iberdrola in the lobby outside the LURC commissioners’ meeting room after our appearance and I did my best to politely but unambiguously make plain to the developer that they are not and will not be welcome here. This particular battle is going to be monumental, unless the people of Maine stand together and let this conglomerate know that we are hostile to their plans—that we are not willing to be their next conquest. Iberdrola, partnered with Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, a government controlled entity of the United Arab Emirates, is the world’s leader in wind power. After exhausting the subsidy resources and imperiling the job market in their home country of Spain, Iberdrola set its sights on other European countries, as well as North Africa and North America. The U.S. government has made it clear that American taxpayers will foot the bill for any ‘renewable energy’ company which wants to develop our wind resources, and Iberdrola heard the clarion call and rushed to our shores. Shame on us. The government and the wind industry use the lure of ‘getting America off foreign oil’ as one of the scare tactics to entice citizens to comply with their plans to industrialize our mountains. Once Iberdrola gets a toe hold here, we will be beholden to the Middle East for our very own wind.

As an aside, less than 2% of Maine’s electricity is generated by oil-fired plants--and then, only on those few days of peak demand which we might have during a heat wave. Our dependence on ‘foreign oil’, which we obtain from Canada, is due to our need to heat our homes and power our automobiles—neither of which are done by electricity.

In addition to dealing with First Wind and Iberdrola, we also had a ‘wind event’ closer to home. On Saturday, Highland Wind LLC held an open house at the Highland Plantation fire house. Angus King and Rob Gardiner came with a host of ‘experts’ to try to convince Highlanders that supporting their project was a good thing for the wallets of those living in the Plantation, as well as being beneficial to our environment. These developers have gone to extraordinary lengths to sweet-talk the locals. Considering the fact that they do not need the approval of the Plantation, since it is our LURC commissioners who will decide whether or not to approve their application, their actions speak volumes.

We Mainers who are exercising our rights and ‘having a say’ are making these developers very nervous.

Most of us chose not to attend the open house, even though there was a ‘curiosity factor’ involved. But we didn’t want to ignore the affair, either, as we thought perhaps that would be seen as indifference. And so… we did something guaranteed us by the Constitution. We staged a peaceful demonstration.

Ever mindful of our community, which is trying very hard to stay ‘together’, we decided to wait until after the start of the open house to assemble. And we limited our demonstration to one hour, as well. There are still a few who support the project due to Mr. King’s and Mr. Gardiner’s promises of economic gain, and it is important to us that we find a way to disagree with our neighbors without being disagreeable. And while our opposition to the project is an adamant one, we wanted to be mindful of those who decided to avail themselves of another opportunity to hear those promises made by the developers. We know those ‘promises’ to be a sales pitch, and a flimsy one, at that. But just as we have the right to lawful assembly, so, too, do others have the right to attend a program which was open to the public.

As always, I was extremely proud of the people who gave up their Saturday morning to stand out in the cold and stand up for what they believe in.

Before I close, I’d like to add something in response to a question my aunt asked me yesterday. My aunt doesn’t support mountaintop industrial wind. But the same question gets posed to her as gets asked of other Mainers who are opposing this misguided plan, and she wondered what my answer was.

“If not ‘wind’, then what? What is the alternative, if we want ‘green’ energy?”

I’ve written several times in the past about wind power’s very questionable ‘green-ness’. About the fact that, due to its intermittent and undependable nature, back-up generators must always be kept online for those times when the wind doesn’t blow. And in their ramped-back state, those generators burn less efficiently and pollute more. One needs only to look at countries in Europe which have relied heavily on wind energy for the last decade or two to see the evidence… these same countries have some of the highest emissions ratings on the continent. Included in the ‘green’ factor are many other parts to the equation, including one of the most important, as pertains to industrial wind in forested, mountainous regions like Maine. The amount of deforestation which happens as a result of building the roads and clearing the turbine sites removes precious vegetation which is vital to capturing carbon and cooling this state. Those same slope-side roads fragment wildlife habitat. Those spinning turbines kill migratory birds, and the changes in pressure created by those massive blades cutting through different atmospheres creates barotrauma in bats flying in the vicinity, causing their lungs to explode. Runoff from erosion affects water quality, as does the herbicides sprayed to keep the transmission corridors and roadsides from re-vegetating—and that doesn’t even take into account what those herbicides do to our animals which hunt and forage in those areas. This list of environmental impacts goes on and on.

Taken individually, those environmental effects are bad enough. But add them together and the cumulative impacts are enormous. I’d like to paste in a quick synopsis written by a friend which explains better than I can the quality of this wind power which the developers are trying so hard to sell us on-- this ‘renewable’ and ‘clean’ energy which is so wonderful that we must sacrifice a great deal, including our unique quality of place and quality of life. I hope this helps my aunt to better understand why her niece is committed to stopping mountaintop industrial wind in Maine. This wind power scheme asks too much, and delivers far, far too little.

“Wind never replaces any generation. It can never be counted on, so as the demand forecasts are looked at for the following day--with great accuracy--when (grid operators) need to buy additional power in the day-ahead electricity market, wind cannot be considered. Even with a forecast of 100% wind, it cannot be counted on. So when (operators) have to beef up (supply) in advance of anticipated heightened demand, they must buy something else like natural gas in the day-ahead market so that an adequate reserve is in place. When wind electricity simply 'happens' the following day, it always is an unnecessary add-on, a veritable poster child for 'too little, too late'. But it is an expensive one, because the ratepayer is nevertheless required to fund it, although it was not needed. The wind industry's implementation plans rely upon citizen ignorance…”

“Citizen ignorance”…my friend does not mean that Mainers are stupid. Certainly not. But most of us have no idea how our energy supply is anticipated or how our demand is met. We leave that to those whose job it is to know such things. However, that paragraph is an important one. Wind is being sold to the citizens of this state by those who stand to profit from it, but we are only hearing one biased side of the story. Wind is always an ‘extra’. It cannot and will not ever be a primary, dependable source of power unless the day comes when scientists figure out how to store it. But because citizens’ support is needed, it is better for those with a stake in the game to keep those facts about this energy source to themselves.

It’s time we learned the truth. As I read and listen and learn, I am more convinced than ever that we are being taken for the biggest ‘ride’ of our lives. And the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. I didn’t go looking for this fight… it came to me. It’s coming to all of us. As I look at a map of Maine, dotted with pins to show each met tower, each wind development already built or in the stages of being built, and all those developments which are currently proposed, my heart flip-flops. None of us are immune to the viral spread of wind. Very few of our peaks and ridges are safe. Unless we start paying attention, unless we become informed individuals, and until we stand together and demand that our leaders learn the facts and act on them according to the rules of ethics, we are going to see this state fall. Very soon, our mountains will be littered with massive machines which produce a power which is not ‘green’, is not needed, and cannot easily be integrated into our grid. And for what? The high costs come in the form of our hard-earned money, environmental degradation, and Maine’s unique quality of place.

I’ve never been a fan of ‘hype’. I have always considered myself to be a voice of reason and of reasonableness. I certainly never, ever imagined I would hold a sign and stand with others at an organized protest. It’s one of those many things which are outside my comfort zone--acts which, until recently, were beyond the scope of what I could imagine myself doing. But dammit, this is wrong! I truly believe that. And I also believe that we Americans and Mainers have been too content inside our comfort zones… so content that we’ve ignored what’s been going on all around us. We are being exploited, as are the natural resources of which we are all stewards.

I’m forty-seven years old and I never thought I’d march in a picket line. But then, I never thought I’d need to.

I guess a woman does what a woman’s got to do. As long as industrial wind is knocking on Maine’s door and trying to push its way inside, any ‘comfort zone’ I might have stayed inside is a thing of the past.