Way too busy lately and WW&W is feeling it. Sorry for the lack of posts, getting back on it soon! Now, for your viewing pleasure, if you’ve ever read any of my stuff about mussel farming, this little ditty will show you what it actually all looks like. Go get some today and support this super sustainable family business and Portland’s working waterfront.
Wool. Wood. Whiskey. I started this blog a little more than five years ago, mostly as an outlet for my writing and as an expression of my interests — on the internet and out in the world beyond. From there it’s taken on a shape of its own design, fanning out along vast, varied and sometimes random corollaries in directions that sometimes even I can’t predict.
Recently I realized that what it’s really about is the search for a different kind of life. One that’s simple and timeless, rich and true: The Good Life. Greater minds than mine have whiled away days in the pursuit of it, seeking the same kinds of things. It’s a tradition of sorts, the idea that it’s possible to cut away all that’s unnecessary and get back-to-basics while soaking up the best things in life.
Time. Fun. Meaning. Adventure. Dirt under your fingernails. Sea salt on your skin. Freedom. Rope swings, fire pits, good hard work, epic meals, winter surfing, road trips, music in the morning, the wind in the trees.
Call it what you want — I’m convinced it’s out there, and this is my search.
Three winters ago I was riding the train down to Boston and had a happy accident. I was playing around with my new camera and happened to shoot a video just as another train rattled past. The result — completely blown out because I had no idea what I was doing — resembled a stop motion view of a small New England town from behind the curtain.
It just so happened that a few weeks earlier I had come across an album by a band whose name I could really get behind: Small Sur. I really didn’t know anything about the guys who played in it, but I was instantly hooked on the quiet, contemplative mood the music and lyrics captured. Whoever the guy singing was, we both like the ocean, woods and wide open spaces, and that was enough for me.
I ended up playing around with editing the footage I captured on the train that day and set it to a song on that Small Sur album. It wasn’t really meant to be anything, and I figured I’d drop the band a line to say “Hey, love what you’re doing, I made something with one of your songs” at some point or another. Then, without really thinking I just posted it here on WoolWoodandWhiskey, which wasn’t necessarily the coolest move on my part.
Then, out of the blue, Bob, the singer and songwriter behind the band, contacted me to say that he liked “Maine By Train” and that he’d be up here come summer. Fast forward a few months, the snows of winter inverted into hot nights here in Portland, and Small Sur pulled into town.
Live, these guys burnt it down. It was the kind of folk music that feels a little bit punk because it’s so different and so good. I mean, why growl when you can harmonize, right? After their set I stepped outside and Bob and his band mates, Andy and Austin, were playing badminton on a jury rigged net stretched across an alley. Down to earth dudes, to be sure.
We exchanged pleasantries and I was surprised to find Bob to be sort of the opposite from how I expected him to be. Far from the wilting wallflower folkie-type, he was sipping rye straight from the bottle and smiled easily and often through the tangle of beard that stretched almost from his eyes to his shoulders.
I probably fanned out kind of hard, who knows, but we quickly got onto the topic of surfing and he asked if I might not mind taking him out in the morning. Typically, I don’t make a habit of loaning wetsuits or boards to pretty much anyone — especially wetsuits, which are just gross to start out with. Bob seemed to really need a fix though, so the next day I set him up and we waded out to surf some small waves at the local beach together.
Throughout the course of that session I’d learn that it had been six years since he’d surfed, but he got right back into it. In his words, he’d been “over sported” enough in high school to retain some semblance of muscle memory, something to which I could relate. And I’m pleased to say that I think we set the hook good and deep that day, because now, two years later he’s got his own suits and boards again and thinks nothing of driving appalling distances from his home in Baltimore to score the odd little peeler.
The point of all this is to say that I’ve have the pleasure of watching Bob work now as an artist across the span of two summers. He just released a new album, Labor, and I can tell you that that’s an accurate title. Like anyone working to do something they love, flexing their talents — very real ones in Bob’s case — in this day and age, he’s fighting for it. You can hear that on this record, the earnestness with which my friend approaches everything from hammering nails to riding waves.
Score this record now, buy one of the limited edition LPs, the one with my wife’s artwork on the back — you won’t regret it. Then make sure you come out and hear Bob the next time Small Sur comes through, and maybe catch him trimming down the line at one of our state’s lovely beaches this summer. It’ll all make sense then, I promise.
Sometimes there are things that you talk about doing forever. They never really get done, maybe because what you really need is a good excuse to get out there and see them through. That’s how we were with booking a yurt out in the mountains of western Maine — obviously a good idea, but it took some sharp spurs to get us out there.
The spikes in our sides ended up being my birthday, always right at the end of March when you really want it to be spring but it usually just isn’t. Mud season. 40 degree days. These things beg for a break from reality.
This trip out to Frost Mountain Yurts was just that: a 24-hour daydream in which we had the wood stove, fire pit, porch and room for the dogs to roam around that we always fantasize about.
That all those things ringed a perfect, beautifully circular home under the trees was almost too much. Just what is it about these tiny structures that’s so neat? They’re like the house version of a Chemex: kind of unnecessary, but just so amazing to behold that you instantly want one.
The whole thing was an amazing surprise. I left the house with no idea of where we were headed, I just knew that I was surrounded by my favorite people and we were in for some fun. That I dressed to match both the color of the yurt itself and the 12-pack we picked up along the way was pure coincidence.
Yes, it was snowy, but with so many relaxation apparati around we kept warm by moving from deck chairs to fire pit to hammock and back again. The place literally has everything you could ever want, minus a peeling point break in the front yard.
Inside, old faithful waited for us, issuing a open invitation to stoke’er up and kick back under the yurt’s skylight. That alone fulfilled my one request for a birthday destination: somewhere with a wood stove.
In situations like this, it’s important to keep your energy up for maximum relaxation. Keeping plenty of chicken liver mousse and fresh, homemade bread on hand is always a good idea, but in this instance it was particularly crucial.
Initially, I was led to believe there would be skateboarding involved in the weekend, hence the worst footwear selection of all time. Apparently I forgot where I was for a minute, lost in some hallucinatory springtime day dream, because I totally forgot to even bring boots. Rookie move.
As the sun went down it was still a little cool out, even with a fire pit at our disposal. It was hard to go in though. Sitting there, white rabbiting as the wind swirled around our gully kingdom (if only for a night) made the evening.
Or was it that this guy was waiting for us inside? Pork. Shoulder. Milk. Lemon. Sage. Braise. For. Real.
We pretty much had to pry these guys out of the woods, but when they finally did come inside they did what all good dogs do: pass out with every ounce of their being, right by the fire.
The sun set. We ate food and filled the stove. Smoke puffed out the chimney and away down the valley, back toward reality. For one night, one birthday, this place was ours — and here’s to many more.
There’s just something so right about a good shed roof. Simple, versatile, great for skiing off of into deep snow and nice to look at, too.
That singular angle, it’s perfect. Cabins, modest homes, whatever — the shed roof has you covered. Then again, as long as something looks even vaguely like a cabin, I’m pretty ok with it.
It’s kind of far from the weekend for this kind of talk, I know — sorry about that, but see, there’s this thing we surfers do when we’re looking at waves but we can’t surf them. It’s called “mind surfing,” and basically just involves putting yourself there, on the face of some amazing wave that’s just out of reach. Henceforth, I’d like to introduce the notion of “mental cabining.” Pretty much the same thing, you just retreat to a cabin of the mind for bit.
Somewhere out there, this exists! Published in 1985 it’s apparently some kind of collectible today, or at least that’s what I’m guessing from the prices on Amazon.
Still, judging by this excerpt, it might just be worth it:
Across the land from Bath to Balmoral, the Young Fogeys are coming out of hiding. Stuffy in dress, mischievous in mind, these backward-looking radicals reject modern values to hark back to those idyllic days when marmalade was properly thick-cut. But would you recognize one? Might you mistake a young man who works in an insurance office for one? With The Young Fogey Handbook you can spot all those little points which distinguish the true Young Fogey from the slick imitator. For example: The Young Fogey attires himself in fusty tweeds and hefty brown brogues unless, of course, he can find an excuse to dress in a morning . . . and none of them fits. The Young Fogey gives four cheers for Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman and Disraeli, but detests the Church Commissioners, modern architecture and feminists. The Young Fogey would like to reside in Oxford–Brideshead Revisited revisited–but will be found wherever there is a building to restore or a fine old church to admire.
since I’ve found an album so singularly captivating at Angel Olsen’s Halfway Home. The only regret I have is that I came across it so late in the winter, because this is some serious wood stove winter evening listening right here.
A little less than 18 months ago I started writing a book. It’s about the pursuit of the good life, otherwise known in these parts as the back-to-the-land movement.
Is it still out there? Can you really achieve it? These are the things I wanted to know, and those questions have taken me all over the great state of Maine. I’ve sought out and seen second generation back-to-the-landers on homesteads, farms and everything in between (there is a difference, but where the dividing line lies is up for debate), and learned a lot about what it takes to live outside the box and away from urban areas. It’s all happening out there in plain sight and the trips I’ve made in the past year and half have helped me to form my own opinions about whether or not you can actually get away from it all in this day and age.
These shots are from my final photo trip for the book, completed last Thursday. 366 miles in one twelve hour day, up to the Blue Hill peninsula and back. If there were waves there, I’d move up in a heart beat. I’ve heard shadows of rumors about mysterious peaks poking their heads out between the offshoots of land and islands, but I’ll believe it when I see it — preferably underneath my own two feet, moving down the line at a brisk pace.
California Conservation Corp crew boss John Griffith just BURNS IT DOWN on this clip, because that’s how it’s really done.
Dude also wrote a book for kids 10-and-up about conservation issues, called Totem Magic. TOTEM MAGIC! I’d buy that based on name alone!
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