Wednesday, November 22, 2023


I finished my coffee and looked at my watch. 0930. I had just driven up to my dad’s farm in Maine. The farm and most of the acreage would be going on the market in short order and the cattle fence needed to come down. The last time I was there, he had mumbled something close to, “I might need some help with a few things when the time comes.” I laughed to myself because I knew he wouldn’t ask. That’s just his way. But my sister let me know a few days after the last of his cows were trucked off that he was going to start taking fence down. Two phone calls later he and I settled on a day to do it.

0931. My plan was to be done by sundown. I got up from the kitchen table and said, “I’ll get my boots on, let’s go do this.” I looked at his face and knew he was struggling. This was the last time he would be taking fence down. It’s an annual event. One that he’s done every fall, other than a few years he didn’t have cattle, since 1955. Give or take sixty years, that’s a shitload of fence posts and God knows how many miles of wire. I had missed the fence going up in the spring. There was no way I was going to miss this day.

We started at the gate by the barn, working our way behind the garage out to the road. I reeled the wire on the top line, unwrapping it from the plastic insulators as I went. Dad followed me with the bottom line. Cattle fence now is braided poly-wire, a lot easier and less painful than the galvanized steel wire we used on our farm back in the day. And fiberglass posts, well they’re a lot easier to wrestle out of the ground than cedar posts. And no wire clips on ceramic insulators. Drop one of those clips in the grass and not find it, well you’d think all winter about one of the cows swallowing it in the spring. Suffice it to say, there were very few clips left behind.

We got out to the road and started the long straight stretch to the southeast corner. A few sections in I could hear his heavy breathing and unsure footsteps behind me. I knew he was going to try to keep up with me out of pride. I started unwrapping the bottom line from the insulator before the top to make it easier for him and to slow me down. It just sped him up. I stopped and said let’s take a minute, thinking to myself, “Damn it, George, slow the fuck down.”

In the two or three minutes we stopped, I replayed a memory from Christmas night 1986 on the old farm. We had just finished evening chores and were having a beer. I think there might have been twenty head in the barn that winter. I was a senior in college and heading back to school in a few days to begin my last season on the ski team. Years of training had caught up to me and I was having knee problems. We cracked a second beer, and I told him I wasn’t sure I’d be able to ski at the same level I had the previous seasons. In true GW Rice fashion he stared at the cow shit on one of his boots, took a sip of beer and said, “Well, go as hard as you can, for as long as you can.”

I turned away to start reeling line, but more so he wouldn’t see the smile on my face. The old man, as always, was the living embodiment of every piece of advice he’s given me.

Photo: MR

 We got to the corner, loaded fresh reels and started a stretch of fence in the wood line. A short way in dry ground turned swampy and potholed. I stopped after a hundred yards and walked back to him. Prepared for an argument, I told him I’d reel both lines and suggested he pull fence posts where we had just come from. To my surprise he agreed and said he’d meet me at the back corner where these lines stopped. I reeled wire to the corner and went back to pull the posts and stack them in the field to pick them up later with the four-wheeler. Some of them were old cedar posts and I wondered if any had been put in by my grandfather. Some of the insulators had been nailed to trees. I pried the bright yellow plastic off them with my knife. Walking back to the corner I could see dad standing there waiting for me. I turned and looked back down the tree line. There had been some type of fence there for as long as I could remember. Now there were no traces of it other than the muddy cattle path that had followed alongside.

Photo: Patty Rice

After a short break for lunch we started on the opposite side of the barn and worked our way along the west side of the farm down to the brook and out to the backside. When the ground got muddy again, I told him I’d reel the line, pull the posts and carry them out into the field so he could pick them up on the four-wheeler. Halfway down the backside, where the ground was swampy and the mud knee deep in places, I turned around and watched him driving the four-wheeler through it all picking up the posts I had yet to carry out into the field. I had to laugh.

Photo: Patty Rice

Eventually I made it to the back corner. I piled reels of wire and fence posts together and sat down to drink a bottle of water he had left for me. I watched him driving the four-wheeler, trailer loaded with posts in tow, across the field toward me. I didn’t see the old man who had started out the day trying to keep up with me. I saw a giant. The strongest man I’ve ever known.

Photo: MR

By 1500 we had the reels of wire stored, the posts piled and had taken a quick tour of the new house up on the hill by the back corner.

 And then it came time for me to leave.

“Well, thanks, Mike, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

I hugged him.

“Yeah, you could have, Pop. It just would have taken longer.”


As I got in the truck, I took a long look out over the fields and the barn. The scene was reminiscent of Frost prose. I remember reading Lathem’s “Interviews with Robert Frost” many years ago. There was a quote from Frost that stuck with me.

“The farm is a base of operations – a stronghold. You can withdraw into yourself there. Solitude for reflection is an essential ingredient in self-development. I think a person has to be withdrawn into himself to gather inspiration so that he is somebody when he comes out again among folks – when he “comes to market” with himself. He learns that he’s got to be almost wastefully alone.”

This farm was where dad grew up. When my grandparents passed, it fell to him. It’s always been his stronghold. Where he “came to market.” The farm that he and my mother built, where my sister and I grew up, was very much the same. I know from conversations with him over the years that in both places, the time spent tending cattle and the garden, cutting hay and running fence line – all while operating his construction company - gave him that solitude for reflection. The work in the barn and the fields provided the time and a place, alone and on his terms, to sort through the difficulties of life and the inspiration to do it again and again. To go as hard as he could, for as long as he could. He’s still going.

The traces of his time on the land will fade as someone else takes it over. That is inevitable. The good times and the hard times, the work done, and the lessons learned remain in memories, not only his, but also in those of my sister and me.


 The Rice Farm, South Paris, ME

26 October 2023


Friday, October 6, 2023

She's From Boston

We pushed the pedal boat off the beach and headed out of the cove. At its opening was an underwater rock field that dropped from two feet to eight. At the deep edge were several boulders that reached to within a foot of the surface. These boulders usually held large schools of sunfish and a few bass early in the morning.

I had been out at sunrise throwing orange squid flies at pickerel from the canoe. By eight o’clock the bite had shut off. I paddled back to the dock, grabbed a mask and snorkel, and swam out to the boulders. There was a couple dozen sunfish and two good sized smallies. When I swam back in, Abby was up, and I talked her into going out for a few minutes with a worm and bobber on the spinning rod. I grabbed a cup of coffee and assured her we would be back in time to run into town for a slice of gas station breakfast pizza.

I pedaled the boat close to the rocks putting the sun behind us so she could see into the water. She dropped her first cast in between two of the boulders and we watched the bobber. She missed the first few takes as the thieving bastard sunfish would peck bits of the worm off the hook. We rebaited the hook and waited. I sat back sipping coffee watching her face as she told me things about dolphins, the Red Sox and Taylor Swift. She started to tell me that she thought the Kenny Chesney song, "She's From Boston" was written about her when the bobber disappeared and she one-handed the rod.

“It’s a big one, dad!”


It was. Big in the sense that she brought it in the boat and popped the hook out with little help from me. Then she pinched another worm on and went right back at it, picking up the Chesney story right where she left off. She caught another half dozen before we ran out of worms.

I think of this day frequently, particularly now that Abby is making her life in Vermont. It came to mind again a couple of weeks ago while talking with someone about flies and fly fishing. After he downloaded his fishing resume of PB’s and PR’s and showed me the corresponding pictures on his phone, he asked me what my best day on the water was.

In a split-second the memory roulette wheel raced through images of big stripers, baby tarpon, tailing reds, bonefish in a foot of water, gator blues and mangrove snook. The wheel stopped on this day, so I told him the story.

“So, what’d you catch?”

I just smiled and answered, “An unforgettable moment with my daughter.”

We did make it to the gas station in time for pizza.

And another tub of worms.


6 October 2023

Thompson Lake, ME

Tuesday, September 12, 2023


The rain had just stopped as we left the dock at East Boothbay and motored up the Damariscotta. The sky above us was gray making the water a dark black green as the skiff cut into the outgoing tide. Around us the cormorants worked small bait while the seals corralled pogies. Life on the river paid us no attention as we passed by. 

A short boat ride put us at the foot of a small island in the middle of the river. Pulling up to a string of oyster floats, Max Ritchie throttled his Eastern skiff down and edged up next to the gear. Max holds the lease for Carlisle Island Seafood and farms oysters just off its namesake island.

Max started his company in 2020 after working his way up from deckhand to manager in one oyster company and then moving to another to put his academic degrees to work. With an undergrad degree in Marine Science and a graduate degree in Marine Biology he had hoped to bring his knowledge of bio statistics and data modeling to the oyster industry. Eventually he decided to go out on his own, taking with him the knowledge and experience he had obtained working for other farms. On his own he figured he could add more of the “science” he had studied at the University of Maine to the farming process to streamline it and make it more efficient.

 “Obviously I thought was smarter than everyone. I thought I knew what needed to happen. It didn’t take long to get humbled. I met people in farming who know more than I do. They tend to be the people you don’t hear about. The deeper I got into farming the more of them I met. I have a great appreciation for those who have been quietly farming and learning as they go. The most important thing I’ve learned over the last three years is to keep going back to the basics. Strong gear maintenance and flipping gear on time is the most crucial part of farming.”

His first “haul” to market in 2021 consisted of just under 2000 pieces (oysters). Not prolific by any means but for a guy just starting out with limited capital for gear, it was a beginning. He expects his upcoming 2023 “haul” to be somewhere around 5000 pieces. Still not a money maker, he won’t break even, but he sees the banking of knowledge and experience just as important as year-end tallies at this point. And he also knows he needs to triple his gear to get to the money-making side. But that takes more gear which requires increasing the size of the farm from 400 square feet on a Limited Purpose Aquaculture lease per line of gear to a Standard Lease of up to 100 acres. This obviously takes time, money and paperwork.

In the meantime, Max is not “all-in” on oysters. He’s branched out and now has a few select customers that take mackerel, cod and squid that he hand-jigs as the season allows from the boat after his daily work at the oyster farm. They are “bled, gutted and iced within ten minutes of coming over the gunwale and then delivered to the restaurant within two to four hours of being caught.” This addition of wild fishing has re-sparked Max’s love of working the water. His process and limited take advances his ethos that “the ecosystem should be able to survive what we harvest.”

But it’s not all sunny days and rainbows.  “There are somedays it drags on me: After a college degree and a Master’s, I failed on being part of the “usual” career path. I don’t have a Monday through Friday nine-to-five and the guaranteed paycheck that goes with it. I think of that every morning as I drive to the boat ramp. I have failed to conform to the needs of society and the status quo. And then I get on the water, work the farm and jig up whatever I can…I forget about the idea of failure for a little while. And when I deliver to my customers, and they tell me they’ll take whatever I can bring in…I get so excited when I find the one person in ten who get what I do and are excited about it.”

After spending a few hours at the Carlisle Island Seafood oyster farm and jigging up a few mackerel and cod with Max, I get it. I get all of it. The thrill of the independence in doing what you want to do and the idea that you can make it a viable living. And I get the uncertainty of looking into that abyss in the water that you pour blood, sweat, tears, every second of your day and every free dollar into. Every damn day.

Hard work. They don’t teach you that in college. You learn it. From the ground up. In this case, from the river bottom. In the heat of summer to the frigid cold of winter on the mid-coast of Maine, the work never ends. If you’re truly devoted to it, it’s not so much work as it’s just what you do. That mindset, and I can think of dozens of examples, overtime leads to making a living. In the words of many self-employed people I know, “making a living” makes a life.

My last question to Max over a beer on his back porch tonight was, “Would you trade life on the river over one in a cubicle with a salary?”

 “Absolutely not.”

 Roger that.

I’ve known Max for a lot of years now. He’s married to my niece, Jen. She is his partner in all things. She comes from tough stock and a long list of family members who chose hard work as a career. A better partner does not exist. I wish them the best and hereby call “shotgun” on any mackerel jigging excursions when Jill and I are on the mid-coast.  

For more about Carlisle Island Seafood, visit Carlisle Island Seafood

 10 September 2023

East Boothbay, Maine

Friday, September 8, 2023


In the morning we’ll finish loading the truck and head north. It’s not so much a vacation as it is a working road trip. Year number three, something we look forward to. We’re a week later than usual. I just could not mentally manage the idea of driving during the Labor Day weekend traffic, so we put it off.

I’ve put a few things off this year. Brush cutting and clearing out the remnants of the previous owners along the edge of the ranch got put off. A lot of shit got put off. The older you get, the more compromising you become with projects that twenty years ago would take two days. Knocking on sixty, well, those things can drag on for a bit. Compromise. You wrestle with it when you’re younger, embrace it when you’re older. I have no doubt when I get to the next chapter, I’ll call it wisdom.

Yard work isn’t all that’s been put off this year. I decided over the winter to change things up. I can’t tie flies all night, every night like I used to. I’ve been asked several times why I don’t fish anymore. Well, here’s the press release, I make a few casts nearly every day of the year, the world just doesn’t see it. To be honest, that scene has changed, and I no longer fit in. The game is too fast, too Hollywood these days. I can see my train coming, I’ve got too many other earthly things I want to do before it stops at the station. Channels need changing, pages need turning.

On a trip to New Hampshire last winter to visit my daughter I made a stop on the way home at The Frost Place. Robert Frost and his family lived there full time from 1925-1920 and spent nineteen summers on the property. His work has always held a special place in my heart, his words and prose have always felt like home. Some of his poetry still feels like it was written for me. So on a clear and cold late afternoon I sat on the porch and watched the sun fall on the White Mountains. Cold mountain air clears the soul, invigorates the mind, and focuses the eye. I think my mother said that once. Regardless, ninety minutes of silence on Robert Frost’s porch looking at the world changes your perspective.

So rather than sit on that change, tomorrow morning when we get to the end of the driveway and can turn left or right to go chase the light, I have no idea which way we’ll go. I only know we’ll go.

When we return, things here will begin to change. New outposts on the interwebs, a different look and more layers of the proverbial onion. I recently had a conversation with an old friend at our class reunion about the words and water here at Backwater Flats. She’s one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, so I listened. Deep into conversation and halfway through a beer she said, “it’s good, do it for you.”

So, I am.

See you on the road.

And KBK, thank you.


Littles Pond, MA

8 September 2023

Sunday, September 3, 2023

'83 after forty


9 June 1983.

NASA was in final preparations to launch Sally Ride and the crew of the Challenger into space as Oxford Hills High School launched the Class of ’83 on our way into the unknown. A gallon of gas was about a buck and a quarter. We could all drive stick and three-on-the-tree and knew every backroad in Oxford County. M*A*S*H* had just ended, Cheers had just begun, and Saturday Night Live was funny. We knew Jack and Diane, Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue and the Wuppa Gubba and Raputa the Buta. Our lives were orchestrated and choreographed from the back corner booths of Goodwin’s Dairy and the pay phone out front.

We came from eight towns, transported to different elementary schools by a fleet of buses that travelled over three thousand miles daily. Eventually we were brought together at the junior high where, unbeknownst to us at the time, we began to form as one. Two years later we landed in the halls of the high school. In the classrooms our teachers taught what we needed to fulfill graduation requirements while taking us on conversational side trips to explain how it all fit into daily life. In the gym and on the playing fields our coaches instilled in us teamwork, perseverance and leadership. In the hallways and after school our class and club advisors gave us guidance and encouragement to work with each other, take on projects, solve problems and make a difference in our school and in our community.

As is the case anytime a large group of teenagers are held in a pressurized concrete building all day for nine months, there was tension at times. Social groups, friendships and relationships fractured. New ones were formed. Somehow, we kept going. In the shadows of all the drama what I remember the most is our class coming together whenever we needed to despite our differences. Homecoming skits and competitions, Winter Carnival, Dance Marathon, Walk-a-thons, parades, football games, field hockey games, cross country meets, basketball games, wrestling meets, ski meets, baseball games, track meets, plays and concerts…we all supported each other. And we all supported the Class of ’83. We were The Vikings.

All of this flooded my mind while we congregated for our class photo at our 40th Reunion a few weeks ago. As I looked out at the faces of people I’ve known essentially all my life and talked with some I haven’t seen since graduation, I realized one thing: the basis of everything I know, everything I’ve done along the way, all of it originated in those elementary schools, the junior high and the halls of the high school. What I learned about life and how to navigate it I learned from the Class of ’83. The good, the bad, the pain, the bliss, success and failure. We learned it together.

I regret that I did not get a chance to talk to everyone in attendance. I was amazed at the stories of those I talked with. Every single one. Our AFS sister and brother, those I’ve known since the first grade, those I only knew in high school and everyone in between. We’ve done well. Healthcare, construction and the trades, art, education, business, finance, the military, law enforcement, technology, communications…we are everywhere. We’ve built our own businesses, built homes, raised families, gone out into the world and come back home. Did we make our mark on the world, did we make it better? I think we have and will continue to do so.

I've omitted names in this. Teachers, coaches, advisors, classmates – there are just too many, too many stories. Each one is no less important than the others. To quote Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The Class of 1983. We are one.

To close, I have three thoughts.

First, Viking Pride is not just a catch phrase.

Second, “Non Carborundum” should be excavated and read at the next reunion.

And lastly, long live The Hammer!



3 September 2023

Littles Pond, MA


Friday, July 14, 2023

Blue Lines

 On the ride into the trailhead Rich pointed out small streams and talked of each one intimately. Some of them were less than shoulder width, some six or seven feet across. Some held just a trickle of water, some looked to be waist deep. All of them held his stories. Boyhood tales of boundless exploration. The intense study in high school years of each stream from the source to the mouth and all the pools and riffles along the trunk. Entomology, seasonal water flow and fly selection through trial and error specific to each stream. Trips to these waters now and how each one has changed. A living history.

At the heart of each story: native brook trout.

We parked the truck and geared up for the walk in. Six-foot-six three weight rods, a box of dry flies and water bottles. The hike-in on the trail was easy. As we walked, he told me of following the blue lines of streams on maps in the early years and drawing in the ones that were not shown as he found and explored them. He said by the time he left for college, some of the pages looked like a first-grade art project. We laughed because I had done the same thing in an old copy of the Maine Atlas and Gazzatteer my grandfather had given me.

About a mile into the woods, we left the trail and descended into a ravine that held one of the most amazing pieces of water I have ever seen. We bottomed out at the foot of a small waterfall cascading into a wide pool of water so clear it takes your breath away. I stopped for a few minutes to absorb everything around me. The birds singing above the sound of the water crashing, the smell of wet moss and damp soil, the touch of cool air rising off the stream to meet the heat of the day rushing down from where we had just been. It had been a long time since I had stood in such a place. I was speechless.

Rich took the right side of the pool and I, the left. We took turns dropping flies at the base of the waterfall. A few casts in a brookie rose from nowhere and hit Rich's fly. As I watched him release it a thought that would continue to build over the course of the morning crept into my mind: how did these fish get into this stream halfway up a mountain?

Photo: MR

While he doped his fly, I kept casting and missed a small fish on the set. I made another cast to the right of the waterfall into a shadowy corner in the rock face behind it. I watched the fly float into a small eddy and seemingly stop in the water. Just as it did, a dark form came up from below and inhaled it. It was not small. I panicked for a moment thinking I was going to do something wrong and lose it. I wanted to see this wild creature. I brought it to hand and Rich said that fish was as close to a "trophy" as one could hope for on such a stream. All the hero shot bullshit aside, that question began to build in my head...where do these fish come from and how the hell do they live long enough in this little stream to get that big?

Photo: Rich Strolis

We took turns leapfrogging down the stream waterfall to waterfall and fishing each pool as we went. Some of these pools were large and gravel bottomed, some were literally carved into the rock and the size of a kitchen sink. Each one seemed ancient. Most held a brookie or two.

Photo: MR

Several times we had to climb up the sides of the ravine through scrub brush to navigate hundreds of yards around deadfall and blowdown. My legs burned, my lungs cried for air, I tasted copper. I felt my age while also feeling like a kid again. The effort put forth to do something, whether it be fishing, climbing a mountain or mowing the lawn, is something that seems to get lost in translation, something that gets left out of the story. Rich and I will remember a few of those fish, the memories of them will fade with time as others come and go. That "day we hiked that ravine" won't be forgotten because getting into that place was the story.

In the last section we fished I set up on a pool while Rich went twenty yards downstream to another. Knowing the morning was coming to an end I just stood and stared into the water. The clouds gave way to the sun and the pool lit up. I could see everything. And in the back corner, just behind and to the side of the whitewater was the outline of a brookie laid up in what was just seconds before a shadow. I made a cast just to the right of it and watched the fish move to the fly and then stop. Two more went unnoticed. On the third, I watched the fish creep up under the fly, almost stand on its tail and sip the fly. It was a beautiful way to end the day.

Photo: MR

We hiked up out of the ravine toward the trail back to the truck. As we slogged our way through the brush, fallen trees and mud I kept running possibilities as to how these fish had made their way up this stream, through waterfalls, some twenty feet in height and found refuge in the pools. By the time we made it back to the trail and I had caught my breath, I had to ask. So, I did. He laughed and said he wondered when I was going to ask that. He had theories but no definitive answer. He left me with, "It's a mystery. Which is why this place is so magical."

A fitting answer I thought as we passed the waterfall we had started at. Recalling a class called "The Natural History of New England" in college, I remembered the ice over this area at the end of the Pleistocene epoch had melted and receded somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago. Looking down on it from above I could see the thousands of years the water had carved out of the rock as it passed through the valley below. I wondered if the DNA in the fish we had caught could be dated that far back. Regardless, it was clear to me that this place was now part of my brother's DNA.

As we drove down the mountain I thought of the morning, the stream cutting through the rock and the native brook trout that have somehow survived in it. Staring in the side mirror I found an answer in the last passage of "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.

"Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing that could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

I hope the blue lines that lead to these places remain a mystery, that the magic survives.

Littles Pond

14 July 2023

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Little Things

I started writing this on my way to New Hampshire to visit my daughter a few weeks ago. I left early and joined the Monday morning commute through Boston with a legal pad on the seat beside me and a tape recorder in the cup holder. I had no idea what I wanted to write. But I had a theme, more of a feeling I suppose from an Instagram post she had recently shared with me. I’ve since lost it and have no idea who to attribute it to, but it read: “Re-introduce yourself to the things that used to give you joy. Things that used to make you smile.”

 I was headed to mountain trails and alpine air.

 A good place to start.

While we hiked and sampled the offerings of a few local breweries I thought of things that give me joy and make me smile that I either take for granted or simply put off. Things like the smell of the freshly mowed lawn under the coolness of sunset. A chapter or two of one of those books in the “unread” stack from the library upstairs over the second cup of morning coffee. Sitting down at the vise to tie a few flies for my own box. Early morning kayak trips with the fly rod and camera.

When I got back, I made it a point to stand in the middle of the lawn after I mowed it. I dusted off a few of those books and had a third cup of coffee. I even tied a few flies for myself. And this morning, Jill and I loaded the kayaks in the truck and were on the water just after sunrise. Cameras charged and a fly rod just in case, we “worked” offsite for the morning.

Mid-morning as we paddled from one area to another, I caught some nervous water out of the corner of my eye. I stopped and watched. A hundred feet in front of me I started seeing bait pop out of the water. I stripped line off the reel, put twenty feet of line behind the boat and paddled closer. Fifty feet away in about six feet of water all hell broke loose. Striped bass rolling on the surface, tails slapping, birds hitting the water. I started to smile. For a second, I thought about trying to get a photo. Hard pass. I made a cast and overshot the melee by fifteen feet. I stripped the fly (The Poet, of course) through the middle of the boil. I happened to look down and saw a silver torpedo coming along the port side. I water-hauled the fly and dropped a back cast as far as I could with my right hand as I tried to spin the boat with the paddle in my left.

Line wrapped on the paddle while I tried to close the box my cameras were in and push it under the bow. I began to laugh. Total shitshow. I cleared the line and started stripping. I could see the fly. A few strips in I saw the bass swim past the fly and then make a quick turn back and inhale it. The dance was on. A few times I thought I was going to break the rod as it crossed back and forth under the boat. In short order I got it boatside and released it. I told Jill, if I don’t catch another bass this year, I’ll be alright with that.

That was a special fish.

It brought back the joy of fishing.

And maybe, just maybe, a smile.

From the water

2 June 2023