Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

Sunday Repost: A Call From the Fog

In Technology, Thinkers on March 3, 2013 at 6:00 am

A repost from three years ago:

The Sirens--Who Can Resist Them?

The Sirens–Who Can Resist Them?

We’ve had a couple of days of snow. And more falling–with fog. Maggie and I, as always, walked the Eastern Prom this morning, post-holing our way. There came a call of the fog-horn from the bay, the sound rolling in from the South. I thought perhaps it was Bug Light, but I’m given to understand Bug is only an optical warning. Regardless, it was haunting. The water, the fog, snow, and the warning call.

I find it refreshing that technology hundreds of years old–the harbor bell, the fog horn, the light house–is still used in the age of satellite navigation and GPS. I stood in the snow and listened quietly. It seemed more a beckoning than a warning. Famously, Odysseus was curious as to the call of the Sirens. He had his sailors plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast. He wisely ordered his men to leave him there, no matter how much he begged. And beg he did. But that isn’t the fatalism I’m suggesting. This wasn’t a siren’s death call.

It seemed more a beckoning than a warning. (History is filled with such confusion. Philosophy is doubt, said Montaigne.) But that’s not where I’m heading. Two things. Small things. One: Old technology can still work. Perhaps in the long run we will discover it works best. Secondly, more importantly, stand in the snow, stop and listen. You might be beckoned. Or perhaps warned. Either way, you will miss it with ear buds in.

Winter in Maine…We Go Dark

In Philosophy on February 28, 2013 at 6:00 am

Let’s fish deep today. As deep as 500 words (give or take) will allow.

First, pardon me if I’m about to wax too philosophical. It’s winter in Maine, and we retreat, hibernate, go dark. Come spring things will look up.

The Father of Modern Philosophy, Rene Descarte

The Father of Modern Philosophy, Rene Descartes

Suppose for a moment that you’re out and about on the town, and suddenly a degree of self-doubt washes over you such that you’ve never experienced before. So deep is this doubt, that, indeed, you’re not even certain you exist–you are so very, so profoundly, freaked out. You escape to your room trembling. You have one of those exquisite dark nights of the soul and by morning you have concluded that you only know one thing truly: that you are thinking. And, you assure yourself, if you are thinking, then you must in fact exist. With this knowledge you rest easy and nod off to sleep.

This is the foundation of modern western philosophy. Cogito Ergo Sum, said Descartes. I think, therefore I am.

Now, fast forward a few centuries. You’re extremely cool, sitting at a cafe on St-Germain-des-Prés, the west bank of the Seine, smoking black cigarettes, sipping wine and watching the world go by. You are feeling especially philosophical and it occurs to you: How

Sartre, the Father of Existentialism, as photographed by Cartier Bresson.

Sartre, the Father of Existentialism, as photographed by the great Cartier Bresson.

could you possibly even think if you didn’t first exist? Why, it’s not thinking that comes first, it is existence. I is not, I think therefore I am, but: I am, therefore I think. You have just erected the cornerstone to existentialism. You’ve turned Descartes inside out. You are a genius. But then you know that.

The most fundamental contribution of the existentialists is simple: existence comes first. Everything else follows.

And that, friends, is the briefest account of modern philosophy you will likely ever encounter.

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But what can we really know?

There is a philosophical mind game that goes as follows: You are nothing but a brain under glass. There are tubes and wires coming and going from your brain and coursing through these tubes and wires are stimuli, thoughts, and emotions. This input is nothing more than the machinations of an evil scientist. You think you exist because the evil scientist has programmed your brain to believe it so…and so forth. How can you possibly prove this is not the case? If you’re a Cartesian, you’re stuck under the glass. You are thinking. Period. There is no: …therefore, I am. You really can’t prove anything. Robert Nozick put it this way: “How is it possible that we know anything, given the facts the skeptic enumerates, for example, that it is logically possible we are dreaming or floating in a tank with our brain being stimulated to give us exactly our current experiences and even all our past ones?”

I don’t have an answer for that. Perhaps you should read Nozick? Or maybe, you simply shrug your shoulders and just hold out until spring when you can take your canoe down the Dead River to Flagstaff Lake where you watch the sun set behind the Bigalows. That’s what I think I’ll do.

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Want to read Sartre’s thoughts on existentialism, but not suffer through his magnum opus, Being and Nothingness? Consider his landmark essay, “Existentialism is a Humanism,” linked here. Or, perhaps you are feeling lighthearted. If that’s the case, then here you go–now for something completely different:

Thanks for reading.

d

Sunday Repost: Five Islands

In Travel on February 17, 2013 at 6:00 am
Portland, Maine. Home, Sweet Home

Portland, Maine. Home, Sweet Home

Gulls wake early. And they sound hungry, very hungry, screeching complaints of empty belly. Our bedroom is on a wharf overlooking a working lobster dock and the lobstermen head out early, between 4 and 5 am, and in doing so, they get the gulls riled up and being riled up, being scavengers, they set out screaming like a small rodent being crushed under heel; all the more violent it seems at 4am. But really, one should not complain about waking up on the water in Maine.
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I walked into town early this morning to get the Sunday Times and coffee. I poked around the fish market though no one sets up on Sunday; but found a man pushing a grocery basket down Commercial Street. It was a third high with collected cans and bottles, residue of a Friday night downtown. There is a 5 cent bottle return in Maine.

“Can you spare me any change,” he asked.

His face was tan. He was short and wore a clean white tee-shirt. I had a dollar or so in change I gave him. I asked if he was from Portland. “Massachusetts,” he replied. “But I worked with the Coast Guard here. He motioned to the harbor. “Fifteen years and see where it got me. How this country takes care of its own. It’s a crime.” I thanked him for his service to the country and noted that the bottle return was a sound environmental policy. He said he makes up to five dollars a day returning cans and bottles.

House on Peak’s Island, Casco Bay, Maine

“I saw my girlfriend back there,” he offered, nodding down the street. “She won’t stay with him long.”
“Your ex?” I asked.
He nodded. I asked when they broke up.
“Yesterday. But she’ll come back. I’ve got a fifteen hundred dollar check coming. It’s overdue now…”

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It was suggested to me two or three years ago to visit Five Islands if I wanted a true taste of Maine. The suggestion came from my friend, Franz Hanson. I met Franz in 2000 while fishing in Chile where he guides Patagonia rivers during the North American winters and Maine rivers during South American winters. We’ve fished together in both hemispheres. He said Five Islands was the real deal. So yesterday we headed out in search of true Maine, south on Route 127.

It was not until we got into the village of Five Islands that the cars started to back up, drivers searching for places to park. Two portly women were leaving the gravel lot, wearing large sun-shielding hats, brims bending back from the ocean breeze; their peddle-pushers, as my mother calls them, creaping up with each advance of their ample thighs. Across the way a carload of kids from Pennsylvania spilled out of an SUV. When I saw all this I thought that perhaps Five Islands is no longer the secret it once was–or maybe living in the wilds of Patagonia poor Franz’s perception of unspoiled civilization was twisted. Nonetheless, asphalt is for me the rubicon of touristy interest. If a venue is paved all is lost. The parking lot at Five Islands is gravel. On we marched.

The lobstermen were oblivious to the tourists. The lobster boats were dirty and smelled of fish. The woman behind the window taking orders was pleasant and sun tanned and had the thick working forearms of a farmer or a gymnast or an oyster shucker. Good signs all. We ordered, sat at picnic tables and ate. The claims were large with sweet bellies and the onion rings were world-class. Visit Five Islands if you get a chance. Turn back if they’ve paved the parking lot.

My Wicked Good Storm.

In Photography on February 9, 2013 at 8:37 am

I live in Maine. We’re having a wicked good storm today. I thought you might be interested in seeing my “other home” (not to be confused with the “one I live in“), so I break from tradition and share a few images:

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My faithful companion, Lucy–always up for a challenge.

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I think I’m going to get a lot of reading done today.

Travel Bitching.

In Travel, Writing on January 22, 2013 at 6:00 am

Airports are such an interesting microcosm, everyone rushing around, on their phone, clutching a boarding pass between their teeth while towing an overstuffed bag on wheels. The airport is a kingdom of singular self-interest. Can I get past this stationary person on the moving walk-way? Why does the TSA agent single me out for a pat-down? When will the queue move? Will there be overhead storage left for my overstuffed bag on wheels?

Travelers are tribe nomads without the communal grace of a tribe. Travelers are myopic in focus: get from A to B with the least amount of hassle. Most travelers are blind to other members of the tribe, even the ones in need of tribal support, the elderly, the young, the confused.

The airport is the place where the most cherished of human attributes, joy, enthusiasm, compassion, are too often left curbside along with drinking water, guns and knives. The result is not Lord of the Flies, but it is sometimes close.

I try not to give myself up to this hopelessness, but usually fail. I admire the agent who pushes the elderly lady to her gate, smiling and chatting her up. There is much to learn from the pleasant young lady who wishes me a good day when I buy a pack of gum, her daily grind being so, well, very grinding.

It seems the airport microcosm is where self-interest most prevails and the better edges of human nature are chipped away by the press of elbows and bags and the mounting pressure of advancing departures. Should mother nature grace this scene causing delays the tribal nomad retreats deeper into the tent. There stored deep in the darkest corner is collected the garb of anger, outrage, and the cloak of self-righteousness.

This sounds so very upsetting, yet the experience is not necessarily so. Granted travel is hardly fun for most of us. The travel situation is nonetheless electric with the tension of anticipation: I am going home. Or, the mystery of a new venue awaits me. Or, I will soon be united with those I most love. Or, can I close the deal?

The tribe will put up with most anything for the reward at the other end. My personal problem with that notion is the fashion in which one gives of oneself to the future and suffers in the immediate. I don’t have a fix on such things, but I know that such practice betrays an ignorance of the present moment–a value I hold dear despite the unpleasantness. I believe the present is where I most need to live despite the occasion of wishing otherwise.

I reflect on this–and then, in the air and almost home, I look out the window and see the surging blue of the North Atlantic, the ribbon of land I call home, and my pulse begins to race. Look there, a lighthouse! And there, a lobster boat cleaving the water! My heart sings! “Why do men travel rather than sit still?” wondered Chatwin. Because the view is so very wonderful! Because without it, home is less marvelous!

I  leave the tent and fall into the embrace of my tribe.

10:49 a.m.

In Mythology, Nature, Travel, Writing on September 22, 2012 at 10:31 am

Autumnal Equinox, 10:49, September 22, 2012

In a few minutes the sun will cross the equator and Fall will begin. It happens only twice a year, the equatorial crossing. The ancients were much more attuned to such events, it seems, than we moderns, and at times I feel adrift being so far removed from the nature of things.

Equinox comes from the Latin words for “equal night.” From here on out, the sun shies away from us in the Northern Hemisphere and night creeps in like a slow tide. In Spring, the tide recedes.

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As best I can recall, I’ve crossed the equator eight times, mostly in the air and that hardly counts. Once on land, however, I crossed it and there, spanning a two-lane highway in Ecuador, was a yellow line, the width of a large paintbrush and on the shoulder a monument to the event, declaring the passage from one hemisphere to the other.

I remember wanting to test the flow of toilet water. Did it flow counter to what I’d experienced in the Northern Hemisphere? I’m here to report that watching it circle in the bowl I could not remember, nor could confirm, the directional flow of toilet water. Another mystery gone unsolved.

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Sometimes when thinking in big ways about big things I like to drop a pin and remind myself where I am, a complex spot of carbon on the face of Mother Earth. It is an edifying and humbling method of perspective. I sit in Maine at my desk almost halfway between the equator and the North Pole at 43 degrees and 39 minutes. I have been closer to the South Pole than I have been to the North Pole and someday I would like to rectify that, particularly before the North Pole melts–an event the ancients, so attuned to their environment, could never contemplate.

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I think I will hike Bradbury Mountain today. I will climb to the top and when I get there I will stare into the sky and imagine the sun escaping, like Persephone being dragged to the underworld by Hades, heartbroken but resigned to what must be.