The Working Waterfront

Why am I painting the living room?

Savoring summer poses conundrum

By Tom Groening
Posted 2023-10-17
Last Modified 2023-10-17

As summer wanes, the urgency to squeeze out the last of projects and fun grows to a fever pitch, especially so in Maine, where the season is so fleeting. That urgency comes with a conundrum—how to balance projects with fun?

Lyrics from an old folk song by the husband and wife duo Peter and Lou Berryman come to mind each year at this time, and those lyrics can be understood in a larger context as well.

The song, “Why Am I Painting the Living Room?,” juxtaposes pressing global problems one might work to address with the simple joys of life. She sings the first verse, in a cadence that connotes the seriousness of these threats:

“Holes in the ozone the size of Brazil
Barges of trash in a chewable breeze
Pools of industrial waste paté
Sulfur dioxide dissolving the trees
Pretty soon it will all end with a boom
Why am I painting the living room?”

His voice, in a lilting melody enters:

“I have the whole day off
‘Cause it’s a Saturday
There is a bluegrass band
Somewhere along the bay
Look at the lilacs bloom
Why am I painting the living room?”

And that, I think, is the conundrum of summer in Maine. I feel the pressure to stack the firewood I purchase, and cut and split another cord or so. I need to replace some deck boards, finish trimming the porch, and I probably should reshingle the north-facing roof.

But this also is the time to continue my quest to kayak both shores of Eggemoggin Reach (I’ve covered most of it). And to visit Castine on a late afternoon for drinks on the wharf. And venture to Eastport for a walk around this (sort of) island town. Two of those three were accomplished, and some of the projects can be checked off, but the question remains: Why am I painting the living room?

Painting the living room can be satisfying and provide a sort of pleasure in contemplating it as a home improvement during the dark winter months. But it’s rarely necessary or pressing. And it can be done in the winter.

In its early years, the event was moved around town, but now it is regularly held at a flat expanse of grass along the waterfront…

One simple summer joy is enjoying live music. Belfast has developed, with volunteer effort and a little funding, a music series called Belfast Summer Nights. In its early years, the Thursday evening event was moved around town, but now it is regularly held at a flat expanse of grass along the waterfront known as Steamboat Landing.

Hundreds of people attend, setting up beach and lawn chairs, bringing food, and—the dominant activity—catching up with friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. Handshakes and hugs dot the crowd throughout the couple of hours of music. We see and catch up with folks we haven’t seen since last summer.

Yes, there is dancing up by the stage, and the bands have been better and better in recent years, but it’s really a social event that strengthens the community fabric.

Given that it starts at 5:30 p.m., I don’t have to forgo my “painting the living room” responsibilities—that is, putting together this newspaper.

Thirty-five years ago the folk duo was raising the specter of “holes in the ozone” and other environmental degradation, and surely similar problems remain. Beautiful Maine isn’t immune from the climate crisis, the dearth of affordable housing, poverty, drug addiction, and on and on.

So what is the answer to the question?

Well, I think living rooms do need to be painted, but our corner of the world also needs our individual and collective effort to make things a little better. And we are better at both painting and community action if we take time to savor what’s outside the living room window. Especially in summer.

Tom Groening is editor of The Working Waterfront. He may be contacted at