Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Portland’

Demands of the Gull

In Nature on April 2, 2013 at 6:00 am
Gluttony by Jamie Wyeth

Gluttony by Jamie Wyeth

I was accosted while walking home from Flat Bread Pizza last night. The culprit was a three-pound herring gull intent on seeing what was in the left-over box. Slyly, I tore off a piece of crust and knelt down. I extended my arm, crust offered. The bird approached. I studied the beast as it cautiously waddled toward me. It’s breast was white, and broad, and the color of fresh dry snow, beautiful and reflective. I noticed for the first time how the nostrils of a gull are etched into its yellow-ivory beak, how delicate its knees, and the fine webbing of its feet.

The approaching bird turned its head side to side, back and forth, keeping one eye on me the other over the shoulder, scanning for danger. Each pausing step was accompanied by half a dozen head rotations. The eye was marble-like, reflective, and I noticed for the first time how the lid was rimmed in red, etched crimson against pristine feathers. Penetrating and unblinking. Beautiful. Then it tilted forward and looked at me, square, eye to level eye. The bird was perhaps two feet from my extended hand. Look at me, the gull demanded. Look into my eye. Do you see me now? You see me everyday, but you do not really see me. Look at me. Look!

She was a good teacher and I gave her amble crust offerings.

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.

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:





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










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

At Home on Water.

In Happiness, Life, Nature, Writing on August 23, 2012 at 6:00 am

Herring gull below my balcony.

I live over a slip of water, on the leeward side of a wharf. Weather, good and bad, is driven from the west, so we don’t get it directly, oriented east as we are. The worst weather is saved for the other direction and when we get hit with bad weather it can serious. Once, during a nor’easter two winters ago, Carole and I watched a boat break lose of its mooring and bounce up and down the slip crashing into everything it could possibly crash into. We were having dinner while watching the storm, and when the boat came bucking past I called someone who could address such things. A team of men in a small boat appeared within minutes and set to chase. Eventually, wind blowing, water roiling, they lassoed the craft and towed it back to the dock.

This time of year, however, every day is perfect and every evening is more than perfect, were that possible. We have a lot of gulls here, herring gulls mostly, what a lot of folks would call a sea gull. There is no such thing as a sea gull, properly. Here in Maine we have herring gulls, ring-billed gulls, laughing gulls and the largest of the gulls, the great black-backed gull. The black-back is a bully and is aggressive, a trait that seems ubiquitious in creatures large and ornery. Not just creatures, come to think of it, large countries too. Large countries in particularly, to think of it even more. Anyway, the gulls scream and cavort with sunrise and provide us our morning alarm. Winter is a good time to sleep in. The gulls mostly go on vacation.

We see harbor seals out in the river frequently. They don’t come down our slip, as it’s too busy with water craft. But three or four wharfs up, behind Harbor Fish, there is a seal that frequents at high-tide. The people who work there call him Walter. Walter is a good name for a seal, I think. It seems as if it would a good name for a goat too, but that is beside the point.

I’ve lived here three years and like it very much. But I do miss the woods. Water is particularly nice to have in one’s view. Mountains, though, I think are best to look at. They tend to better trigger the imagination in me. As a young man the sight of mountains always prompted a desire to get into them. Now, I am more content to just enjoy the look of them.

This rummination is my way of saying that place matters, which is something I’ve not always understood. I’ve said it before–that place matters–and everyday I am reminded of time spent that mattered less importantly in places that held less promise. It is best to spend one’s time in places that matter most. Saying such a thing seems to be stating the obvious, but the obvious at times seems less an option than a requirement. That I wish I’d understood earlier.

Where the Fore River meets Casco Bay.

In Dogs, Life, Memoir, Nature on July 6, 2012 at 6:00 am

Sunrise, Eastern Prom, Portland

The bedroom window faces across the water due east, where the Fore River enters Casco Bay. In the winter, when the sun is late rising, I watch it come up over Bug Light in South Portland. This time of year, though, the sun is up early–5:35 this morning–and I usually miss it. Morning sun is a draw I usually can’t resist. The gulls don’t seem to be able to resist either and like water-borne roosters shout and caw at its arrival. This morning one screamed, I swear, right next to the bedroom window and in my half slumber, I thought someone was being throttled.

This morning the bedroom filled with amber light, low-angled and dappled by the water, and so I rose to it smiling. Maggie jumps off her bed when she hears me sit up. Carole and I joke that she can sense my eye-lids opening. She stretches Sphinx-like, letting out a little squeal. Then she flaps her ears, ready to get rolling. Even at nine years, she’s like a puppy in the morning, hardly able to contain herself. I know exactly how she feels.

We went to the Eastern Prom this morning, as we do most mornings. Early is better, if you like solitude with your coffee. Letting Maggie off leash, we stroll and explore. I like to stop on the bluff and look over the water toward Peaks Island and Little and Big Diamond. When I do, I remind myself not to take this for granted. It appears to me that all mornings are special, but some more than others. If the sacred is to be discovered, I bet it can be–or is, for some–best discovered in the morning.


I’m on the road this week–family reunion, holiday, etc. This is a repost. It first appeared in April, 2010. Thanks for reading.

Be Local. Be moral.

In Life, The Examined Life on June 28, 2012 at 6:00 am

We have a strong “Buy Local” movement here in Portland. I support the effort. If possible, I spend my dollars within walking distance of home. It is how I invest in my community. It’s like attending to a garden in your front yard. You water it and nurture it. It makes home a better place. I will even pay more if need be, it is that important. A neighbor recently confessed that he buys his books at Amazon, even though his close friend is co-owner of Longfellow Books, our local indie bookstore. He claims to be “too tight-fisted a yankee” to do otherwise. He has crossed a bridge to a dry land devoid of ethics and morals.

The web page for our local movement includes the Top 10 Reasons to Buy Local. They are:

  1. Keep dollars in Portland’s economy
  2. Embrace what makes Portland unique
  3. Foster local job creation
  4. Help the environment
  5. Nurture community
  6. Conserve your tax dollars
  7. Have more choices
  8. Benefit from local owner’s expertise
  9. Preserve entrepreneurship
  10. Ensure Portland stands out from the crowd

This was lost on me prior to moving to Portland. It is difficult in the land of big-box chain stores and scraped-earth retail to appreciate what local–even what community–means. But that was then, an unenlightened time. I now realize that it’s a social pragmatism, informing members of a community, where one finds the only rational basis for moral behavior. (Nietzsche said that “Every true faith is infallible, if it accomplishes what the person holding the faith hopes to find in it.” )

* * *

It is not silly to personalize the list above. Let us consider:

  1. Make your efforts local first
  2. Embrace and nurture a personal uniqueness
  3. Foster creativity (in yourself and in others)
  4. Help the environment
  5. Nurture community
  6. Conserve
  7. Make good choices, based on a personal ideal
  8. Practice expertise (“Become who you are.”)
  9. Practice entrepreneurship. (An entrepreneur is someone who possesses a new idea.)
  10. Escape the herd. Be an individual.

Pardon me if I sound evangelical. These are the tenets of my religion and this morning I am a missionary.