CASTINE, MAINE. With the afternoon wind flagging, we round the point and head into the harbor, coming off a brisk reach from Belfast and Searsport. My brothers and I are aboard the Mon Ami, a 30-foot Contest sloop built in 1973. Mon Ami has seen better days, including a Bermuda race, but she's still "good to go" in spite of her age.

Our expectations for Castine are simple.


Beer. Or good Bloody Mary's, the kind made with horseradish.  

In fact, a message awaits us. It is on the ceiling of Dennett's Wharf, a restaurant and bar with dockage next to the Maine Maritime Academy. Look around Dennett's and it is your basic seaside restaurant--- wooden chairs gathered around tables laminated with nautical charts, a long, well-attended wooden bar, and lots of things seafaring.

But look up at the ceiling and you'll find another message.

It is covered with dollar bills. Not hundreds but thousands of them.

I asked owner Gary Brouillard if he knew how many. He told me their story.

Before 9/11 the entire ceiling was covered. After 9/11, having dollar bills stuck to the ceiling didn't seem right, he said.

So he had them all taken down. It took the better part of a day, but the total was $12,300, he told me. The money was sent to help New York.

When visitors learned what had happened, they were touched.

They wanted to put a dollar back on the ceiling, particularly if they had one there before 9/11. So now, less the four years later, the ceiling is again dense with cash. He estimates the ceiling has some $6,000 to $7,000 pinned to it, with more being added daily.

Maybe it's time we admit it: We all have some amount of post-traumatic stress syndrome from 9/11. But America is doing well, thank you, if we could just see what we're doing. We may worry, but when push comes to shove, it's more about disappointment than deprivation. Wander around and hardship is scarce. Plenty is abundant.

Visit the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., and you can see a replica of the main salon of Cleopatra's Barge, the first pleasure yacht in America, built in 1816.   Were its owner, George Crowninshield Jr., alive today he would be amazed to find that America now has more boats and yachts than it has water--- harbors from coast to coast have waiting lists for new moorings.

Living in a newsroom, wearing my official Nabob of Negativism badge, I did not know this. I had to leave my computer. I had to go well beyond cell phone range to see it.

The walking-around evidence doesn't stop at dollar bills on ceilings or the National Mooring Shortage.

Consider my brother. As captain of a tug boat, Doug has spent most of the last several years hauling barges from Maine to Boston. Mostly cement, in gigantic batches, but sometimes granite.   No amount of cement can keep the silos near the Black Falcon pier in South Boston full. That's how much construction and development there is in the Boston area.

Consider another waterfront--- the famous fishing port of Gloucester on Cape Ann, north of Boston. It has been estimated that 5,000 Gloucester fishermen have lost their lives at sea, doing one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs in the world. Across the street from the Crow's Nest--- the seedy bar made famous by Sebastian Junger's "The Perfect Storm"---sits the hull of the 121-foot schooner Adventure.   It is being slowly, masterfully restored. It will eventually find its way back into Gloucester harbor.

Martin Krugman, the volunteer president of The Gloucester Adventure Inc., a non-profit historic preservation and education group, showed me the vessel from stem to stern, keel to foredeck. In real life professor Krugman chairs the psychology department at nearby Salem State College. At one point, the psychologist displaced the passionate restorer. He noted that the entire city of Gloucester could be viewed as a trauma area because virtually every family has lost a family member to the sea. Some could go back for generations, naming lost brothers, fathers, uncles, and grandfathers.

All of us suffer losses. Sometimes we suffer them alone, sometimes collectively. What is amazing is our capacity to recover, restore, rebuild, renew, and create.

On the web:

The history of Castine

Dennettswharf in Castine  

Maine Maritime Academy  

History of the schooner Adventure  

Cleopatra's Barge  

Peabody Essex Museum