Maine Chronicles: Second Summer

Maine Chronicles: Second Summer

Second Summer was always one of my favorite seasons during my childhood in DC. It would happen in the first few weeks of the school year, after Labor Day and in the run-up to my Halloween birthday. Just when I thought I’d said goodbye to summer, Second Summer would cycle back so I could say one last goodbye.  I loved this time of year, less muggy than summer, with clean bright sunshine and deep clear skies. This is something I missed in Los Angeles, but with our move back to the East Coast, I had been hoping it would be part of the cycle of seasons here on our little Isle off the coast of Maine.

This summer in Maine has been much rainier than usual, and often quite cold. I could feel the fall breeze rushing in last week and started spotting the rogue tree that’s already starting to turn. Summer really felt like it was drawing to a close when our wave of August house guests receded over Labor Day Weekend with a quick trip down to Boston to drop off my daughter at her college. And that was that. Labor Day had passed, the house guests were gone, and now we could get back to work finalizing all the big and small summer jobs in preparation for winter.  Summer truly felt like it was in the rearview mirror, and we were heading into Fall – the pressure on to complete the winterization of our new home. Last we heard, snow is expected in October this year!


Winterizing the farmhouse has been the overriding goal since we arrived here in the Spring. Actually, since we bought the place with the intention of living in it full time, this was the biggest challenge of the house. When we arrived on Deer Isle in February, the house was still deep in snow, and we could barely keep warm standing in front of the old wood burning stove in the living room.


We quickly started showing the house to contractors, seeking help to fix the tumbling foundations, re-roof the crumbling shingles, and solve a rotting corner of the house where the water had been overflowing from an untended gutter, rotting the sills of the walls below, and causing the foundation stones to buckle. “Start by fixing the shoes and then the hat”, we were told, “otherwise you can’t heat the house.” Foundations, new roof, insulation, restored windows, and complete rewiring (so it can be buried in insulation) all needed to be completed before November and the cold winter air.  We were determined.  


See the tumbled foundations and the rotting corner of the house?  There was even a pine tree growing out of the clapboards!

“Tear down the house”, one builder had recommended. “You’ll spend all your money, and within a year you’ll be sorry you ever bought this house” said another. “Dig some new foundations and move the house onto them”, recommended another (a project far exceeding our modest budget). “You won’t find anyone available for at least two years”.  But we kept the faith that we could make this happen – and indeed, this is where a partner who used to be a head-hunter comes in handy! Beau got to work recruiting builders for us, scouting for them with ads on Craigs List. The builders Beau found have delivered! Or maybe it was our great leap of faith that powered this transformation.  There really was no other option but to will this transformation into being.


 Paul, our valiant builder, held firm faced with an almost impossible task!

We have been deep in this restoration work all summer long, so grateful we found builders willing to meet this challenge on our time frame.  It has seemed at times like the work would never end.  The foundations were supposed to take 3 weeks, but instead it took 3 months to dig out the cellar, pour the new footings, and rebuild the foundation walls. 


During this time I have been scraping the peeling paint off the countless Victorian sash windows to restore and re-putty the old wavy glass with linseed oil putty, re-hanging the windows from new weighted ropes.  

Left: the sash window weights. Right: my daughter is at art school, so she got recruited to paint the black linseed oil paint onto the restored window frames!

In tandem, Beau has been rewiring all the randomly connected, chewed through electrical wires running through the eaves. (We can’t fill the roof with insulation until this has happened!) This also meant cleaning out the raccoon latrine and nest that were lurking in the eaves as well (presumably snacking on the wires)!

The tangle of wires that Beau somehow deciphered and replaced!

Throughout the summer, we lived in varying degrees of precarity. At one point half the house was held up with stilts. And there was the day that the rotted siding came down, exposing our one bathroom so it had no exterior wall.

"Here's Johnny!", Paul exclaimed when he emerged on the outside of the missing bathroom wall!

Our wave of visiting daughters – they filtered in one by one over the course of August – had many nervous laughs about the dismaying bathroom situation. (I had tried to cover the disgraceful rotting back wall with a curtain so we could forget about how awful it was until it was solved). But little by little the toilet seemed to be tilting more and more as the sills that support the bathroom sagged increasingly (thanks in part to the ceaseless rain) and were finally removed and replaced by a huge beam that I salvaged from the barn. 

This beam has been hanging from the rafters since we arrived, and I would guess, for decades. Nicely cured, and original to the house, it was exciting to repurpose it to replace our rotting sills!

The day we got back from our Labor Day Weekend drive to Boston was the day that both the foundation and the rotting corner jobs were complete.  The builders were gone. All was quiet. The job site was cleaned up and the tractor was parked in the shade of the chestnut tree waiting for a ride home. The house stood there with its most critical surgeries complete, like a miracle.  We could feel its gratitude. Its footings and foundation walls were finally in place, with granite toppers proudly supporting the beams and new sills in the rotting corner – fresh new clapboards needed only a fresh coat of paint, and ta da, the most challenging part of the winterization process was complete.


And then suddenly, “Second Summer” descended upon us – hotter than it’s been for months, and way less bugs! We threw open the windows and the sunshine is ripening more and more of our green Costoluto Genovese heirloom tomatoes, heavy on their vines. (The garden certainly suffered from a lack of sunshine this year).


Like clockwork, Beau finished the mammoth wiring job this morning, putting the last wire in place as a parade of insulation trucks rolled up to the house at 8 AM.  Following the insulation trucks was a line of roofing trucks.

After a summer with not more than 1-3 builders working at a time, we suddenly had about 10 trucks and two separate teams of 8-10 people descend upon the house like bees (buzzing in a Second Summer flourish!). The roofing team was decked out in mountain climbing halters, and climbed onto the roof, in the Second Summer sunshine, to rake off the old crumbling shingles.  By lunchtime the house was blow packed with insulation, and by Friday, the new roof will be complete and we will finally be ready for the installation of a new heating system that will have some chance of heating a house that only a few months ago had freezing air swirling through its cracks, rising up from the cellar, rushing through the rattling windows and holes in the roof.

I still have a fair few windows to re-glaze, but now, during this last glimmer of summer, with the house finally on a solid footing and buttoned up for winter, with a perfect new roof almost complete, the fun begins.  Next step: we are putting on our holiday elf suits to set up Narrative Food with a pack studio like Santa’s workshop, preparing for that other yearly season: Gifting Season is almost upon us, and that should keep us busy through the rest of the year…  And hopefully, if the predictions are correct, we will have a heating system installed before the first snow in October!  Wish us luck.

From Deer Isle, and still on a leap of faith, yours: Jennifer


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