Monday, September 29, 2008

BVT attempted

The first few bees of whom we asked the ultimate sacrifice refused.
Refused is too strong a word. They were indifferent to our inducements to Sting the Knee! Just do it!

The new knee has been rather stuff of late. This is probably entirely normal for a new titanium knee, and it could also be weather related. But I thought the time had come to try some Bee Venom Therapy (BVT). The theory, as I understand it, is that the venom in a bee sting releases the body’s natural cortisone. And cortisone is meant to be good for joint pains and stiffness.

Apicultural lore has it that beekeepers never get arthritis, on account of a lifetime of occasional bee stings.

So we went out to one of the hives and CSB gently took one bee by the wing and placed her on my knee. Nothing. She sighed, if a bee can sigh. CSB prodded her nether parts against my skin, and still nothing. Finally he let her fly off, to live another day.
We repeated this scenario five times before a bee was willing to extrude her stinger and inject me with venom. And though I’ve certainly been stung plenty of times over the past years, I have never watched quite so closely the emergence of the stinger, and then the extraction of the stinger from the bee’s small body, along with the thimbleful of white sticky goo which are her intestines.
The stinger and goo stayed behind on my knee, while she fell to the ground, dead.

After several more tries, one more bee was willing to sting me. I don’t know if the bees know that they will die once they sting. In the normal course a bee’s lifetime, she (the drones have no stingers) only stings in defense of the hive or in response to a perceived threat, and so it may be that some part of their DNA recognizes that defense of the hive is a deadly activity. Given that they function so seamlessly as a hive, given that they can give accurate directions, it is not impossible that the bees know this. Which would explain the resistance to stinging that has nothing to do with hive defense. Yet two bees did it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cosmas, Damien and Mead

It’s the feast of the twin brothers Saints Cosmas and Damien (At last it was until 1969 when the Powers moved the feast to yesterday, but Butler’s still uses today and hence I do as well) and we spent the afternoon learning to make mead.

The brothers were born in Arabia in the 3rd century and practiced the healing arts in Syria, where their habit of accepting no payment for their services caused hem to be known as the Unmercenary Physicians.

Mead is the earliest fermented drink, made with honey, water and yeast. It is described in the Rig-Veda. Aristotle discusses its merits as does Pliny the Elder. Wherever Greeks were carousing, you can be sure the mead was flowing.

Cosmas and Damien’s most famous medical miracle – and the one most often painted - was the grafting of an Ethiopian (black) leg onto the amputated leg of a (white) patient. It is easy to see why the subject was appealing to painters.

Like many activities that call for a certain obsessiveness, mead making has its own vocabulary. Melomel is mead flavored with fruit. Must is unfermented mead. (Just as wort is unfermented beer, an excellent word.) Mead flavored with spices or herbs is called metheglin.

Despite all their good works, or because of them, Cosmas and Damien were martyred by Diocletian, that most prolific of martyrwrights. (Speaking of vocabulary, hagiography needs this word to mean they, the persecutors, whose persecutions make martyrs of their victims.) Their skulls (all four of them) are venerated in Madrid as well as Munich.

Because they were also beekeepers, some of the best mead in Europe has always been and still is made by monks.

In many churches, especially in the Latin world, it is common to leave a small silver or wax (beeswax) representation of whatever body part is ailing (called ex-votos),before a shrine. In Naples, on this day, the most popular body part to be placed before the shrine of Saints Cosmas and Damien is a penis. Or at least it was back in the late 18th century.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Let it Bee Local

Last night, with the help of our intrepid neighbor Dawn, we put labels on 144 bottles of honey. Not to cavil, but there are such a lot of labels. There is the Let it Bee Local Honey label, the one I love. There is the cautionary label warning against giving honey to infants less than one year. There is the label identifying the honey’s provenance (a Manhattan rooftop, that’s as specific as we can be, given the legal issues). There is the Unsafe at Any Speed label. There is the Pray to Saint Ambrose, patron of beekeepers, label. There is the nutrition facts label. There is the bar code. There is the Turn Right at the Apiary label.

However, lest you think it was all work and no play, while affixing labels we listened to the Kingston Trio (huh?), which was very satisfying, because Charlie on the MTA is one of the few songs I actually know the words to. (He will ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston…)

And then today, expecting to ford a flooded Saw Mill Highway, I delivered all 8 cases to Murray’s Cheese store on Bleeker Street, our newest venue for Let it Bee and the first for Let it Bee Local Manhattan rooftop honey.

On the way home I had the opportunity to stare long and hard at the illuminated sign at 42nd street announcing the number of days before the Intrepid returns. 6 days. It seems just yesterday there was a grand fiasco when they tried to move the Intrepid away for repairs and it was stuck in the mud.
Before that I saw two unleashed, unaccompanied, perfectly white bull terriers standing on the sidewalk at 14th street and 7th Avenue waiting for the light to change. They crossed with the light and continued walking north. I should have stopped and at least looked at their collars. I should have done something about those two well-behaved but strangely alone dogs in the city. I should have overcome my irrational aversion to dogs with downwardly tapered snouts. But I kept driving, eager to be home before the next nor'easter. Those dogs may be in Washington Heights by now, far from their frantic owner, a solitary man in his forties who plays jazz piano and visits his mother every week at a Nursing Home upstate.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Moose causes 9-car pileup on I-684 and dies

While I was cooking beets last night, a “wayward” moose stumbled onto the northbound side of I-684 and was struck by a car going about 60 mph.
The first car (from the foreign state of Connecticut) hit the moose, sent it flying up and over the roof of car, and onto the road where it was hit by more cars. For a total of nine.

(Should I point out that I can spend weeks in the moose country of northern Maine and not see a moose – this past July being a felicitous exception – and yet a highway full of people see a moose, or don’t see it until they have hit it, in northern Westchester which is most definitely not moose country?)

Presently, the head of the moose is unceremoniously wrapped in garbage bags and sitting on ice inside a 50 gallon drum at the Fire House of Goldens Bridge. The fire chief would like to see it elsewhere. He said, “I’m not a funeral home.” Which is probably fairly obvious.
The body was buried beside the highway. Near exit 6A, if you want to pay your respects.

Here is what we don’t know about the dead moose: what sex was it? I am assuming female because: 1. Antlers were not mentioned, and had a big rack been part of the picture, one assumes it would be mentioned; and 2. It is breeding season and during breeding season, moose will stray out of their usual spots.

Here is what we do know: Poor unmourned moose. Traffic was at a standstill from 7:45 (time of impact) until 10:30, and I suspect that after a traffic jam of that length there was little sympathy for the moose.

A deplorable lack of restraint

In deference to lack of popular demand I restrained from writing about Saint Phocas the Gardener yesterday. But restraint has not prevailed.
And while my heart sinks as I contemplate the mendacious belligerence of the McCain/ Palin team and sinks further as I contemplate the US government bailing out (sans caveats or safeguards, God forfend!) corporate malfeasance, misgovernance and just plain greed, I can’t help but cling to the story of Saint Phocas the Gardener.

He lived just outside the gates of Sinope, in what is now northern Turkey, on the southern shores of the Black Sea. As Butler points out, Adam and Eve were the last gardeners to enjoy the fruits of the earth without labor. “Since their sin, the earth yields not its fruit but by the sweat of our brow. But still, no labor is more useful or necessary or more natural to man, and better adapted to maintain in him vigor of mind and health of body, than that of tillage; nor does any part of the universe rival the charms which a garden presents to our senses, by the fragrance of its flowers and the sweetness and variety of its fruits….” To which I might add: by the sweet honey and the meditative buzz of the honeybee.

Such was the happy life of Phocas, cultivating his garden, those many hundreds of years before Candide expressed it so well. But Phocas was denounced as a Christian and so one fine day two soldiers came to Sinope to execute him. Arriving too late to enter the town they stopped at the house by the gates, Phocas’s house. They told him their errand & asked where they might find this Phocas. Their host said he would find out and let them know in the morning.

That night, while the soldiers slept, Phocas went into his garden and dug his own grave, careful not to disrupt the roots of his many perfectly pruned fruit trees. In the morning he announced to the soldier that he was the very man they sought, showed them the ready grave, and declared that he was more than happy to be dispatched to a better world.
They were initially disconcerted by his composure, but soon recovered their deadly resolve, and chopped off his head. That is the story of Saint Phocas the Gardener, whose relics can be found in Antioch, Vienne, France and many other places. Don’t ask how they got there.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Tethered as I am to the solid ground, compelled to locomote by placing one foot in front of the other and by each foot making contact with the solid ground, and given that yesterday and today one of those feet (and its attached knee) was cramping and objecting strenuously to its usage, and given that yesterday was the feast of Saint Joseph of Cupertino, levitation was very much on my mind.
I would not mind levitating, even a tiny bit.
I have never levitated, not an inch, nor have I ever seen anyone levitate and I am not sure I can believe levitation is possible. But Joseph of Cupertino was said to have levitated hundreds of times, and was seen by so many people, and documented by so many others, that I have to wonder.

Levitation is defined as the rising of a human body off the ground, in apparent defiance of the law of gravity. But let’s not stop there. According to Wikipedia: “For levitation on Earth, first, a force is required directed vertically upwards and equal to the gravitational force, second, for any small displacement of the levitating object, a returning force should appear to stabilize it. The stable levitation can be naturally achieved by, for example magnetic or aerodynamic forces.”

By means of aerodynamic forces, the effect of levitation can also be achieved using the upthrust of air, with the levitating object having the same average density as air.

Without being too simplistic, is it not miraculous that planes stay aloft and hurtle us through space? In my dreams, I occasionally fly and I do it rather well: I have this way of riding the upthrust of air that feels perfectly natural. Then I wake up.

So we return to Joseph. He was born posthumous, in 1603, in a stable or a shed, or another humble place, depending on your source. He was an odd, clumsy child, absent-minded in the extreme, and possibly dim. He could barely read or write. Through a bureaucratic glitch he was actually ordained in 1628, and from there on in, so says Butler’s, his “life was one long succession of ecstasies.” Which is more than most of us can say. There are seventy recorded occasions of his levitating. Once he “flew” seventy yards carrying a cross.

There are more than 200 saints of whom it is written they levitated, but Joseph is the most prolific. It is generally regarded as a mark of God’s favor, a move in the heavenly direction. But it can be disconcerting.

I don’t know what I would do if I saw someone levitating, flying into the air to kiss a statue of Baby Jesus, as Joseph did. I would not be indifferent.
“There he goes again.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008


All harvesting, all the time. Tuesday it was honey. Yesterday basil. Today sage, lavender, mint and chives. Should chives be dried or frozen?
But my mind keeps wandering to Luis Fernando Verissimo’s Borges and the Eternal Orangutan. Verissimo is a Brazilian writer I found totally by chance in the library last week. (I was there to pick up the new Paul Auster but the librarian – not one of the regulars of whom I am mostly very fond – curtly informed me that I had waited too long to pick up the reserved book and it had gone back to whatever larger library it had come from.) His book The Club of Angels was on the New Book shelf, oddly since it was published two years ago. But I immediately recognized the distinctive size and shape and elegant/smart design of a New Directions book and I am always drawn to ND books, and not just because they took a leap into the unknown and published my first novel oh so many years ago, but because I just tend to like their authors, especially the foreigners, especially the Latin Americans. The Club of Angels is the story of a group of men who get together and eat fabulous meals. Then their leader, Ramos, dies of AIDS and is mysteriously replaced by a cook talented beneath their wildest dreams. Except that following each meeting a member of the club dies. And even knowing that one of them will die, they continue to meet, continue to dine sumptuously, in full expectation of the end. Which makes it sound like a fairly normal book, which it is not.
But that is not the book I am distracted by as I dry herbs and make carrot soup and bake eggplants, but another Verissimo book, Borges and The Eternal Orangutan, which I read late into the night last night. It seems to be about a solitary man who adores Borges and meets him in BA at some esoteric conference at which a much-hated German academic is murdered inside a locked room. À la Poe. And Borges refers siempre to Poe, and it is all referential. And because I harvested all the sage – and there was a lot of sage - today and am hanging it to dry in the hearth room downstairs to be used to fuel in the bee smoker, it seems to me that Poe knew more about herbs than I ever will. According to Culpepper’s Herbal (originally published 1649) sage is a very useful plant and a decoction of it “provokes the urine, brings down women’s courses and expels the dead child”, which almost made me nervous until I read of some other herbs, also recently harvested chez nous. Mint will “Stay women’s courses and the whites”. (I have no idea what is meant by the whites.) And lavender will “provoke women’s courses and expel the dead child and afterbirth.” While basil will “expelleth both birth and afterbirth and as it helps the deficiency of Venus in one kind, so it spoils all he actions in another. I dare write no more of it.” So said Culpepper.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Like the farmer in Breughel’s painting who plows his field undisturbed by Icarus plunging to his watery death because the wax in his feathery wings melted when he flew too close to the sun, and like the dogs in Auden’s poem going on with their doggy life, yesterday we slowly removed the honey supers from our rooftop hives.

While Wall Street was in a freefall, while Lehman Brothers disintegrated and AIG was being bailed out, while the Unemployment Bureau was offering re-training seminars to middle management analysts, while Bolivia is on the brink of Civil War and the Peace Corps has evacuated all 113 volunteers from the country (including CSB’s nephew - now about to travel the length of the Amazon by motorcycle), and while we learn from Morty Sobell (whose stepdaughter introduced my dear friend B to her current husband - but that's another story) that Julius Rosenberg really did sell secrets to the Russians and thus alter all our perceptions of the fifties, we were harvesting honey.

First CSB carefully pried apart the frames that were sealed with propolis (from the Greek pro-before and polis – city. Also called bee-glue). Then he removed each frame, shook off the bees and handed me the frame. I gently brushed off the remaining bees with our super soft bee brush, and placed each frame in a plastic bin we had acquired for just this project.
Repeat above forty times.

Since the hives are atop a four-story brownstone, and the roof is only accessible by four flights of stairs and then a steep ladder, CSB had constructed a pallet upon which he could lower the honey-laden frames (sealed inside the plastic bins so as not to drip honey all over the house) down the hatch to the bottom of the ladder. Then we carried them down all 4 flights. Each bin weighed about forty pounds (My very approximate and subjective guess. Heavier than a two year old.).

Once the honey is extracted and jarred, we will have a few pounds of wax to melt and clean and harden in old milk cartons, and it will be exactly the same as the wax Daedelus used to make the feather and wax wings for his son Icarus, for their ill-fated escape from the labyrinth at Knossos. (As we learned from Ovid in tenth grade Latin class.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

First Annual Dog Swim at Chemka Pool

When the announcement came of the First Annual Dog Swim at the Butch Chemka Pool, I knew immediately that I would go. With the dogs. Well, there was some vacillation about whether not to bring Bruno who doesn’t really like swimming, or didn’t until this past August when he voluntarily swam at Pleasant Pond. (It was an aberration.) CSB considered the idea extremely silly and had no intention of spending a Sunday afternoon watching strange dogs frolic in a chlorinated pool to the accompanying obbligato of their owner’s encouragements. He mentioned the potential havoc to be wreaked upon the filters by all that dog hair.
So I took Daisy and Bruno myself. Yesterday was brutally hot and humid, unseasonably so, and the idea of being near a body of water, even a body of water filled with salivating dogs, was enticing. The event did not come without a set of rules, to wit:
* All dogs must show proof of current rabies vaccinations to enter the pool.
* Dogs must enter and exit pool facility on a leash.
* Dogs must be within view and voice control of owners at all times.
* Your dog must remain under your control at all times. If he/she acts aggressively, please wait until he/she calms down before unleashing. If dog continues to act aggressively, you and your dog may be asked to leave.
* No puppies under 6 months allowed.
* Any dog showing aggression or a female in season will not be allowed to enter the pool.
* Please be courteous to other participants and clean up your dog’s accidents.
* Dog Swim is for dogs only, owners and onlookers are not permitted to swim.
So I arrived at the pool with 2 dogs, 2 certificates of their up-to-date vaccinations, 2 leashes. No one checked our certificates. Nor was there any gatekeeper determining if my female was in season. (A job I would rank right up there with sexing chickens.)
I expected to see the town pool (whose gate I have not darkened in lo these many years since my children were young) full of frolicking canines. But no, in all that blue water there was one lone dog in the shallow end. Over in the deep end was a Sargasso sea of something yellowish and suspicious. No one was in the deep end. Around the pool were dozens of young parents and their young children and their dogs, most of which had no intention of getting wet.

Not so Daisy, the Gertrude Ederle of Springer spaniels. She jumped in after a tennis ball thrown by some child encouraging his black lab to take the plunge. Daisy mouthed the tennis ball and kept swimming. The only problem was exiting the pool as Daisy had no intention of taking the easy way up the steps in the shallow end and the aluminum sides made it impossible for her to get a grip and pull herself out. I helped. Bruno looked on, wondering about all the fuss.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Just whose skull is it anyway?

Lest you think the veneration of relics is a thing of the past, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. Santa Barbara’s skull and femur just made a much-heralded appearance at St Augustine’s in Ossining. The bones did not come alone but were accompanied by no less than 18 prelates and potentates and ossuary guardians from Venice, where the skull and femur usually reside. Other body parts can be found in Cairo and Kiev.
Why St Barbara? On account of her pagan father being struck by lightning in retribution for the beheading of Barbara, she is the patron saint of firefighters and as anyone who has not been in a coma for the past seven years knows, on the anniversary of 9/11 we honor firefighters.
The story of Saint Barbara, as related in The Golden Legend, is yet another tale of a converted virgin defying her pagan father’s plans for her marriage. She was, of course, very beautiful and so her father, Dioscoros, kept her in a tower to prevent her from being seen. Then he went off on a journey and while he was away his workmen were constructing a bath-house according to his specifications. Barbara came down from her tower one day and had them add a third window to the bathhouse, to symbolize the Trinity (and hence proclaim her faith). When Dioscosos returned and discovered this architectural change, and the reason for it, he was furious and took Barbara to a judge to be condemned. Which she was. And her father volunteered to do the beheading himself. Which he did. Immediately after he was struck by lightning.

Depending upon which version you read, this martyrdom occurred in Rome, Antioch, Tuscany, Heliopolis, or Nicomedia. In the Middle Ages Barbara was especially popular as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers called upon for succor in the time of the plague. Her patronage against fire and lightning led to more patronage, of gunners, canonnists, military architects and miners. There is even an honorary military society called the Order of Saint Barbara, based in Oklahoma.

Were it not for the relics it should not bother us that Saint Barbara probably never existed. According to Butler’s Lives of the Saints (as you must know by now, my source of all sources): “There is no evidence of any early local cultus which would rescue it from being classed in the category of pure romance.” And “it is quite certain that her legend is spurious.”

Which brings us to the question of that skull and femur: whose are they?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Corbinian's bear

When you think about it, given the randomness and six degrees of connection that often determine saintly patronage, it is remarkable that Saint Corbinian is not the patron of red caps, bellhops, and Louis Vuitton. Or maybe it is the very logic that obviates it.
Here the well-known story: Back in the eighth century, Corbinian headed to Rome for some piece and quiet (away from the distracting fame of his holiness). While crossing the Brenner Pass into Italy, a bear came along and killed Corbinian’s packhorse. Undaunted, the saint put the horse’s reins and his pack on the bear, who dutifully (repentantly) bore the load. Corbinian arrived in Rome with a tame bear.
This is the part of the story we hear less about: before arriving in Rome two other horses of Corbinian were stolen by thieves, and they were not let off so easily. According to Butler’s, “Retribution soon overtook both these thieves, for the one died and the other lost 42 of his own horses from elephantiasis.” Which seems harsh.

Factoids: For obvious reasons, Corbinian’s symbol is a bear; Corbinian’s relics reside at Freising; there is a bear on the Freising coat of arms; the current Pope Benedict was formerly archbishop of Freising and incorporated the bear into his coat of arms; now there is a bear on his papal coat of arms.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Old truck, cheap

I had just returned from my walk (2.86 miles by the pedometer) with Bruno and one very muddy dog (which was entirely predictable given the recent hurricane and Daisy’s compulsion to wallow in mud puddles) when the flatbed truck arrived with Wally, CSB's 1949 Chevy.
When CSB bought the truck from the father of his girlfriend, Lisa Chavez (She was Pueblo Indian, and so was her father.) in 1975 it was already old. And it was also red. CSB hand painted it the dark green you can sort of see in the pictures. Note the rather impressive front grill. According to Chavez père, more coyotes and jackalopes than you can shake a cactus at met their maker on that grill.

In 1976 CSB drove Wally from New Mexico across the country to Bedford, and then back again to New Mexico. The next time it crossed the country, he towed it. For several years Wally lived in his parents’ field in Bedford, and six years later CSB had it towed to his barn in Mahopac where it sat undisturbed for over 20 years. And unseen in the past 10 years, since the divorce.

When I asked what exactly we were going to do with Wally, given that neither of us is automotively inclined and the wheels are frozen and the windows are broken and the engine hasn’t turned over in several lifetimes … CSB suggested that we will accumulate many Style Points. (Have I mentioned his highly evolved fashion sense?)

It has been suggested that I could sell Let it Bee Honey from the back of the truck. I did not take that seriously.

Alternate Reality again

3. When last seen Valerie the ex-girlfriend was landing a great smackeroo on Chucker’s high-altitude lips, watched not only by yours truly but by the prodigal daughter back from the leper colony.
In high school French we read Paul Claudel’s L’Annonce Faite a Marie about which I only remember that in an act of great Christian kindness the heroine (was she called Marie?) has sex with a leper on Christmas Eve and then is herself cast out by society as being now tainted with leprosy. Chances are excellent that I have misremembered the plot, but I am very certain that a leper was involved. And Christmas. Claudel was a very catholic writer. In high school French all the writers we read were Existentialists, unless they were very very Catholic.
Valerie told us she was no longer selling tropical real estate (and I suspect she never was) and planned to devote her time to helping her daughter find herself. The daughter said not a word. This struck me as odd for two reasons. 1. Most children very specifically do not want parental help if and when they seek to find themselves. And 2. What was she doing at a leper colony if not finding herself?
Valerie said, “I think she would make a great model. God knows she’s tall enough.”
The daughter, whose name is Barcelona (What were they thinking?), finally spoke. She said, “Would you mind very much if I went and lay down somewhere? I was up all night writing my medical school applications. Don’t believe a word she says.” She smiled beatifically and went upstairs, as if she knew exactly where to go.
Valerie started asking CSB about all sorts of people they had known back in their F—days, so I went and made my fortieth batch of pesto.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saint Bee and Hurricane Hanna

I was going to write today about Saint Bee (also known as Bega) whose name - though nothing else about her - so felicitously mates my hagiographic and apicultural obsessions. I was going to tell you of this Irish princess who chose chastity over an arranged marriage. To commemorate this decision (what we would call a Choice) an angel gave Bee a bracelet marked with a cross. Then, on the eve of her intended marriage, and with the help of the bracelet, Bee cut herself a piece of sod, which transported her across the sea to the English coast. For a while she lived there as an anchoress, food being delivered to her by seagulls and gannets. But Oswald of Northumbria (also a saint-to-be) convinced her to join a nunnery, where the food was better and she lived a holy life. Of course. If you doubt any of this, you should know that until recently Bee’s angelic bracelet was revered as a relic at St. Bee’s and if you swore falsely upon it, you would be immediately struck down.
I would have told you all that and more, but since we are on the receiving end of Hurricane Hanna, I am more concerned with the bees in the storm. Given that we expect gusts of up to 60 mph, CSB made sure all the hives were stable and weighted down with large rocks. It was the

pendant hive in the dogwood (seen above, on a sunnier day) that most concerned us, exposed as it is. CSB decided we would take off the entire branch and move it to the hollow tree trunk. But he wanted to make sure all the foragers were back at the hive before moving it, which meant waiting until the last minute, which meant it was pouring rain when he was moving the hive. I took off all my clothes and held the umbrella.
It is still pouring. We just lost power for a couple of hours, but it has returned (hence ability to do this). The wind however has not yet shown itself, and we await.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Highlights from Pleasant Pond Redux

I didn’t have a chance at the Ladies Skillet Toss at the Windsor fair, I was totally outclassed. Maybe next year, but I will have to train.

The winning pumpkin weighed 843 pounds, not a record.

All week long exactly three loons traversed the pond.

The Merganser ducklings we saw in July are now adolescents.

I discovered the very tiny but perfect Pleasant Pond Library, where you can find all the Grisham, Ludlum, Clancy or Nora Roberts you could ever want. But you can also find one of my favorite Trollope’s (Can You Forgive Her?), Virginia Woolf and William Trevor. Also Agatha Christie, mais oui.

The South Solon Frescoes

For almost half a century a certain faded green book, published by the South Solon Historical Society in 1959, has rested on the bedside table of the back bedroom at camp. Actually, I can’t vouch for the half century. I only know that for the past five years it has been there and I see no reason to imagine it has ever been anywhere else. The book is South Solon - The Story of a Meeting House, and inside is a postcard addressed to CSB’s late mother, that reads: “Thank you, J--, for your nice card. I am recovering. Still look awful but Dr. says I’ll be cured in a couple of days. Seems I have had Herpes. Please excuse card but I’m not up to much writing. With best wishes, S--”.
The first six chapters trace the history of the stark meeting house, from its construction in 1841 by a group of hardy New Englanders, though its heyday as home to assorted denominations (all Protestant, of course), its Antiquarian Suppers and Harvest Festivals, through its decline at the end of the 19th century, and its resurgence in the 1930’s. Then comes the intriguing part. Back in the 1950’s a certain Mrs. Tiffany Blake who was studying at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (a completely hidden away jewel in the otherwise down-and-out Skowhegan) fell in love with the beautiful, simple Greek Revival Meeting House and conceived the idea of having young artists execute frescoes on the meeting house walls. And most remarkably of all, the idea came to fruition.
We decided we wanted to see these frescoes, if in fact they still existed.
Every time we drive up to Caratunk on Route 201 (the Old Canada Highway), we pass through Solon. This takes about a minute if we slow down, which we do. We pass the Coolidge Library (hosting knitters and crocheters) and The Solon Hotel ( looks like the stage set for a western) and the Stained Glass Wizard and the Drive-Thru Skowhegan Savings Bank and the general store. On three separate occasions we have driven down unpromising side streets looking for the meeting house, with no success. Then this past week we stopped at OLD ANTIQUES BOUGHT & SOLD (where CSB found a beautiful French lock – he likes hardware - and I found a tiny book of birds) and asked the proprietor about the meeting house. After telling us first of his early career as a bellhop in a Miami hotel running numbers for the local Cuban bookie, he directed us: down the road a ways, turn left before you pass the Quonset hut, then down that road for a few miles past the ruins of a dairy farm until you get to Solon Road unless they’ve changed the name to East Madison Road, and turn right there because the Meeting House is on the corner but the front is totally obscured with scaffolding and canvas. It's no problem to go inside because it's always open and the lady from the Historical Society lives across the street and she’ll answer any questions.
We followed his perfect directions to the Christo-wrapped Meeting House. We unlatched the construction door, stepped over the sill, mounted the enormous boulder that was the meeting house’s entry-step, read the ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK sign, unlatched the actual meeting house door and entered the dim, but hardly solemn, interior, striped with patches of sunlight streaming through the forty-paned windows. And yes, the frescoes are still there and they are amazing.
Here is Jacob Wrestling with an Angel, painted by Sigmund Abeles, on the gallery’s south wall.
Here is the Gallery, facing west.
You can also find the Last Supper, all the key elements in Moses’ life, and naturalistic references to Psalms. (Below, 104, Verses 10-27)

All this on a country crossroads a few miles in from the Kennebec River in north central Maine.