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Bar Harbor community Day to day Maine

Signed, sealed, taped, and delivered…with love

Stuffing a box with old sales flyers.

Stuffing a box with old sales flyers.

I am not good about birthdays, and rather than suffer annual pre-birthday stress about what to get, I simply get a gift when the right thing pops up, no matter what time of year. I had a nice collection for my nephew and his family, but had been neglectful about mailing and needed a carton to hold them. I went to the dump, which is no longer called a dump but the recycle center, and found a promising box in the corrugated cardboard stall. It had been flattened, so I taped it back into a rectangle, and loaded it with the gifts.

When I got to the post office I was going to stuff the box with padding, using discarded paper from the recycle bin, tape it, address it and send it on its way. I was filling the bit of space around the gifts with crumbled newspaper, and a woman stopped to watch. “I’ve seen people scrounge through garbage cans for deposit bottles, but never saw someone raid paper recycle cans before.” This gave me a moment’s pause. I certainly could go buy plastic bubble pack, sold right there at the post office. While frugal, another reason for using paper is not wanting to add to our plastic waste. I was mortified to be compared to a bottle scavenger, but forgot about that as I realized I had forgotten to bring my packing tape.

The post office sells rolls of tape, but it is a little bit of tape for a lot of money–yep, frugal–and I had three big rolls with a lot of tape for a little money back home. Then I saw the partially used roll on the counter.

The postal workers knew nothing about it, and there was no one else in the lobby. It seemed someone, like me, had arrived without tape and bought a roll and used what they needed, leaving the rest for the next person. They had clearly purchased it there, it was the post office standard issue small roll. It was doubtful they would be coming back for it. I happily ran tape across the top of my box, thanking my absent helper. What an unexpected gift. These small presents are treasures far beyond their value. They are a stranger reaching across time to say hello. I have read of people paying the toll for the car behind them, but have never done that, or received that. It seems a sweet gesture, but strikes me as contrived. Leaving the tape was practical, the buyer had no more use for it, and it was in a place that someone needing it would find it, but not being forced from someone who did not need it.

Recycle bins at Bar Harbor postoffice

Recycle bins at Bar Harbor postoffice

I have purchased pump pots for a party, and left them at the hall we used for future renters. Leaving the local fair, we hand our unused ride tickets to children coming in. These are simple, easy, passings-on many people do, and, like my tape at the post office, give great delight to the recipient. They are gifts, no strings attached.

I finished addressing my box as a couple came and shared my counter. The woman had a priority box that did not have self-seal adhesive, and sent her husband to search for some tape. I waved the roll, offering it to her, and said “Look, someone left this for us.”  She kept her eyes on her husband, reached out her hand, took it, and said to him, “I found some,” without acknowledging me.

We connect with people daily. At the post office this morning one woman viewed me as a scavenger and another did not see me at all. But they are unimportant, because someone else left me a gift, so I could send my gifts on, filled with  love, and the kindness of a stranger.

 

Acadia National Park community Otter Creek

Ans and others, my silent friends

SharonnSpringsfamily_BLOG

A family group peers at the camera, dressed in their Sunday best. This photo is a souvenir from Sharon Springs, New York, a town that has seen better days. Sharon Springs is a bit rough, just like the unfinished lathes that frame the picture. There are seven people in this photo, seven unknown faces, each with an entire unknown life outside this printed image. These brief moments captured from a life tantalize me, and I buy stacks of black and white pictures of strangers at junk sales, old photo albums of other people’s worlds, and, like this photo, a single image of someone else’s relatives.

This family photo sits on a shelf in my laundry room, and I have gazed at these folks many times. The well-dressed men take the center of the stage, and at first glance the women are not even noticed. They are there, though. Two are leaning in from the top, trying to get in the picture, but so unimportant they have part of their heads out of the frame. This is not because the photo is missing a piece. They simply were not included when the photographer opened the shutter. Another woman seems to be on tiptoe, trying to look over the shoulders of the men. The men are front and center and proudly posed, straw boater hats in hand. A family resemblance is pretty clear, but they are all so eager to pose for the photographer it seems they are disconnected from each other. The spidery writing on back reads, “The Family Group, Dan’s Rock, September, 1899.”

Mounted on dark greenish cardboard, the faces in this photo landed in the antique shop where I found them, and now they are in Maine. We have become friends. I have never heard their voices, but I enjoy their company when I am cleaning the lint catcher, or folding napkins.

Collier_OCFishHouse_SMALL

I have just been given another black and white photo, this one from the 1950’s, and taken here in my village, Otter Creek. At a chance grocery store encounter I was told about the photo. The owner was waiting for me outside when I left the store. He just happened to have it in his car; he wanted to make a sale. I wanted it, and now it is propped in front of me. Unlike the photo from Sharon Springs, I have plenty of resources for learning about this image.

Measuring 14×12 inches the photo is of the fishing shacks in the cove behind my house, which have been gone for decades. It was taken by photographer Sargent Collier in the 1950’s, and feels posed. Ansel Davis, Ans, pronounced sounding something like Ants, stands outside a shingled shack and pulls on a line, possibly pulling in his boat. A young girl leans against a ladder amidst a stack of lobster pots. The lobster traps are carefully draped in rags, and also lie in artful disarray. People who knew Ans say his would have been piled more neatly, and easier to use. The girl is a mystery. A relative of Ans’ says she looks familiar, and another person thinks she may be Ans’ son’s girlfriend. Whoever she is, she is not dressed for a day mending traps at the fish house. A soft clean white blouse, cotton skirt and ankle-wrap espadrilles seem specially donned for the occasion.

Ansel Davis in red cap and checked shirt

Ansel Davis in red cap and checked shirt

This photo was not in my copy of Collier’s book, Downeast, Maine, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and the Gaspe. I went to the library and took out his 1952 book, Mount Desert, the Most Beautiful Island in the World, and found it on page 55. Instead of identifying the girl, the caption reads Lobstering is one of Maine’s chief industries, and here is a typical headquarters for the several million dollar annual endeavor. It is an odd, satiric or condescending comment. Flipping through the pages of the book I saw a picture of a couple toasting each other, one holding a cup of clam broth, the other hoisting a lobster. It is rather hokey, and definitely staged. I study Ans pulling on his rope in the photo, and am not convinced he has a boat on the other end. But it still seemed likely that the girl, even if she had dressed up for the picture, had a connection to Ans, and to Otter Creek.

I continued to show the photo to neighbors and family, hoping to find out about the girl, but learned more about Ans with each encounter. He was friendly with kids, and shared his knowledge of lobster fishing and making traps. His wooden traps were hand-made, and fitted with intricate knot work. He passed on this skill. He called my brother-in-law Peewee, and my husband ice fished near him at Eagle Lake. I learned about the road to his house, Corkscrew Hill, which connected the east and west sides of the village before a causeway was built. There are still a few granite blocks where the bridge was, and a faint trail where the road ran. But no one knew who the girl was.

There were plenty of people who remember Ans, though. The wharf on the far side of the cove was Ans’ wharf. He lobstered and gardened and raised children and had a fish house on the cove. Although not a big talker, he took the time to pose for a photographer from away. His family was one of the first to settle Otter Creek.

I learn nothing about the girl, but am getting to know Ans. He worked long, hard days. Physical labor was just part of life. Now I have seen his face. He was kind to children, and shared. I learned that when he “was done,” meaning too old, worn and tired to work, he went home and put a shotgun in his mouth and killed himself. He simply couldn’t do what he wanted to do any longer.

This photo, acquired by chance, brought new people in my life. They smile, silent. Their lips never move, but stories were told. I may never know who the girl was, but because of her, I have gotten to know Ans.

Fish houses  in Otter Creek

Fish houses in Otter Creek

Acadia National Park community Listening to the Dew: Nature Log Nature Log Otter Creek

Seeking sunlight, we went looking for caves.

Pitch Pine grove in Otter Creek, Maine

It is the time of year when days are short. During the week it is barely light when I head to work, and usually dark when I head home. Weekends are the chance to get some sun and soak in those warm vitamin D filled rays. There are plenty of reasons to be outside—hunting down and cutting the Christmas tree, stringing lights, gathering mussels, bringing in wood for the stove—but these only give a few hours, if that, of outdoor time.

There are only sixteen short hours of daylight each weekend, weekends that include commitments like family gatherings, indoor construction projects, laundry and other household tasks. This weekend we celebrated Christmas with cousins, aunts, siblings, and in-laws. Otter Creek, where we live, and many at the gathering grew up, was of course a topic. The Tarn, a small pond where people used to skate, fish and iceboat, is filling in. Coyotes, unheard of thirty years ago, boldly sit by the road munching on their kill. Someone mentioned playing in caves were they were little, and wondered if anyone had been there lately. Caves? As we drove home I begged for more information.

 

I knew these would not be caves as most people think of caves—deep, extensive, a place to get lost in or explore. But I have lived in Otter Creek close to half my life, and had not heard about these caves. Sunday, I had already begged, we would get outside for some sun. Now we had a purpose, we were going to find caves.

The modest mountains of Acadia National Park have several caves. Day Mountain is a two-mile walk from our house, and the caves there are deep enough to reach a point where no daylight enters. I would crawl in, and squeeze into the little corner where light did not reach, and crouch with my eyes wide open. I played with touching my nose, and moving my hands towards each other, index fingers pointing, and seeing if I could get them to meet. This is a place I love to share with visitors.

One friend, huddled next to me, said turn on the flashlight. We gazed horrified at the dozens of large black spiders on the roof of our cranny, inches above our hair.

I was ready for some new caves. “How big?” I asked. My husband said he couldn’t really remember, but that they were big enough to fit inside. He said when he was young his grandfather told him he used to go up there with the girls. His grandfather was not specific about what they did, but the implication was they were big enough to get in out of the rain.

Sunday, chores were done or shrugged off. There was sun, glorious sun. It was twenty-one degrees. We got directions from neighbor Clyde, who has spent all his life in the Creek and knows every inch of it.

We headed up the steep hill behind the Otter Creek Hall (formerly the Congregational Church). I had walked back there a few times, and we tap trees in that area for maple syrup. We went beyond that. We followed deer trails to an old  property road, which marked a boundary of David Bracy’s land. David was one of the village settlers. The day was crisp and fine, and I was so happy to have the sun on my face that the search became secondary, as we knew it would.

After a short climb we reached an open ledge, a rocky stretch with twisted pitch pines and Dorr Mountain in the distance. There is a pitch pine grove behind my house, and these small growths are suggestive of Chinese watercolors. There is little underbrush, and the short stunted pines seem to rise out of the granite ledges. Silver grey deer moss covers the rocks. Frost edged a the opening of chipmunk hole, and we saw three more entrances to this little chipmunk community.  A large aspen had extensive beaver teeth marks along the bottom. It was a big tree, and I am not surprised he gave up.

Chipmunk hole surrounded by bits of pine cone

We continued to follow the old road, and there, plunk in the middle of the woods, was a fish shack. “That belonged to Mike Bracy,” my husband said. Around 1970 Acadia National Park employees were instructed to go to Otter Creek and destroy all the villager’s fish shacks. Later, they rebuilt Mike’s shack, and he moved it up into the woods. He was getting old, and no one really understands the logic behind the move, but there it is, a sturdy little building with newspaper insulation. Someone has sprayed a peace symbol on it, and some plastic toys lie abandoned inside the door.

Mike Bracy’s fish shack, moved from the shore to the woods.

Under a hemlock tree we saw the scrapings a buck had made with his hoof, and I was told they almost always marked their territory under an evergreen. I asked why, but did not get an answer.

After an open trail and sloping woodland floor we came upon a tumble of boulders  and ledges. There were overhangs, and some dark crevices, but nothing I would call a cave unless I was ten inches tall. Someone had been up there cutting brush, about two years ago judging by the ages of the cut marks. Several tall spruce were splattered with sap. Something, wasps, parasites, I do not know but welcome a scientist to explain, had wounded the trees and they were producing sap and making spruce gum. Otter Creek spruce gum was once sold in New York markets as chewing gum.

Spruce sap spatters on spruce tree.

The sun was already heading for the mountain that would soon hide it. We passed another hoof pattern in the earth, and sure enough it was under another hemlock. Could it be buck’s mark elsewhere, but it is only in the clear, needle covered space that we notice it?

I have had some sun, and while I did not get to crawl into a spider infested cave, I have learned a little more about the people who came before me in this village of mine, and explored a few hills and ledges I had never seen before.

 

Granite rocks in Otter Creek

A young cave

 

 

Acadia National Park community Day to day Nature Log Otter Creek

Just squidding around

Sydney’s dad shows the soft skin and colors of a squid.

Pale and luminous, the squid drift in a group towards our lures, and then scatter. Their movement is smooth, so different from fish that swim with tail flicks and fins. They slide. Propelled by sucking water and then forcing it out of their body cavity their path is straight and direct, not curving and swaying like a fish. Standing on the pier watching them in the bright lights that shine on the water their silence seems deeper, larger, and more palpable than that of the mackerel that swim nearby.

Catching squid is supposedly easy, but we are not getting any. The lures we bought are heavy, and when we shine our flashlights on them they cast a soft luminous green glow, not unlike the squid itself. The squid come near them, check them out, but are not fooled. We are just so fascinated to see these tentacled creatures stealthily pulsing through the water, always in a pack, that we do not care. We have a picnic: bread and olive oil, sliced cucumbers, molten goat cheese and warm sweet tomatoes from the garden sprinkled with our own sea salt. It is a family outing, and the kids are squid fishing, eating, and chasing each other, while we squid fish and eat. And plot the next squid expedition.

Setting up the picnic to squid by.

A week later we try again, this time going to Northeast Harbor, two inlets over from Otter Creek. We are surprised to see the dock filled with people, and then astounded at the number of milky squid sliding back and forth in the water below. One young boy is pulling a spinning squid through the air, and his dad gently strokes it and unhooks it, then adds it to their bucket.

We have just encountered Sidney, perhaps thirteen years old, a squid whisperer for sure. One family is just leaving, and say they have caught two squid, but that they watched Sydney, who they call Squidney, pull them in as quickly as he can throw his lure back into the water.

We toss out our heavy lures, and again the squid scatter. Sydney casts his small blue lure and draws it across the surface. He snags a squid, the tentacles spin, spraying water, and he pulls it through the air. Again his dad unhooks, and this time shows us the speckled pattern on the squid’s skin. He remarks that some have a deep red color, while others are pale. As he holds it the color changes. The squid is dying, but he is held with reverence, and it does not seem a cruel passage.

Sydney pulls in another squid

Sydney is happy to share his skills, and shows us his lure, much lighter than ours. I toss mine in, and Sydney gives advice on jigging and how to create movement that will attract the squid. He then he tosses his line back in and thirty seconds later pulls up a squid. Young Sydney is unknowingly modest. He believes I, too, could catch buckets of squid if I had that lure. I am skeptical. I will order some, but I think it is more than the lure, it is Sydney’s skill and dexterity.

His dad agrees. He generously tells us where to get that lure, and then says, “We were both fishing, but Sydney kept catching them, not me, so I just help him.“ It is a lovely father-son partnership. They share a respect and love for squid. Sydney sees a baby squid, and begs his dad to let him catch it and keep it in an aquarium so he can study it. But they do not have an aquarium, and so the baby squid is left alone. They both tell us squid habits, and that squid are smart. “After a while in one spot, the squid tell each other to stay away from our lure, it is taking their brothers away.” I believe. Sydney tells me how they swim in one way when content, and another when looking for food. He has observed them and paid attention.

The father cups Sydney’s most recent catch in his hand and shows us how to clean a squid. The entire time he speaks to us he is stroking the squid, and I reach out and run my fingers along the firm smooth flesh. Yes, I feel love.

Squid have ornate patterns on their flesh.

We talk recipes. I am making paella the next night, which is one of the reasons we came to catch squid, and Sydney asks us to please take some of his. We do, and he and his dad know they will be respected. But we are not done. The night is fine, the air calm, and we continue to optimistically toss our clunky lures among the cruising squid, as we watch Sydney pull one after another high through the air.

Then–fast, large, and dark–a wide, fat, seal races into the group of squid. We yank our lures out of the water and a hundred squid explode, shooting two feet above the surface of the water and sending water spray in all directions as they make desperate leaps away from their predator. The light on the erupting water droplets, the shimmer of the colorful skin of the squid–it is finer than Bar Harbor’s Fourth of July fireworks. The seal circles two more times before heading out of the narrow area between the dock and the floats. And the squid return to their calm silent cruising.

We also leave. Sydney’s dad has been suggesting they go home for about half an hour. But the squid are still thick, and as we walk up the ramp to the car we hear Sydney say, “Just one more, please dad?”

Squid tentacles

A squid’s tentacles with a golden glow.

community Dramatis Personae Maine Otter Creek

Hills Like White Otters

Ben’s Hill, Otter Creek, from U.S. Geological Society drawing 1887

Dorr Mountain, Cadillac, and Champlain–these are the mountains that surround the island village of Otter Creek. Their namesakes were men of power and position. George B. Dorr was the founder of Acadia National Park. Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac was a French explorer who once held title to all of Mount Desert Island and founded Detroit. Cadillac cars were named after him. Samuel de Champlain landed in Otter Creek in 1604 and gave our island its name, Isles des Monts Desert. It was adventurers, movers and shakers, people who stepped out of a mundane life to explore new territory that we chose to name our mountains for. These mountains are my everyday view, sometimes red and orange with foliage, sometimes white with snow, but always the background of life in Otter Creek. They are ever-present but always out-of-arm’s-reach.

Closer than the mountains, right under our feet and beneath the wheels of our cars, are the hills of Otter Creek. My home sits on the top of Ben’s Hill and I drive up and down Marm Allen’s Hill every day on my way to work. No one seems to remember who Ben or Marm Allen were, or why they had hills named after them. Roads have been straightened, and some of our hills blasted and flattened. Marm Allen’s Hill on the old Bar Harbor road once went down to the brook that runs into Otter Creek, and then straight back up past the old Allen farm. Presumably Marm was one of those Allen’s. The first bridge at the bottom of this hill was built in the 1800’s just a few feet above the surface of the stream. Rocks from its footings can still be seen. The second bridge, wisely built a bit higher since snow melting in spring makes the stream roar, has also left traces. This bridge was still walkable in the late 1960’s, the timbers old but spanning the water. It, too, flooded every spring. Today there is just a culvert, with twenty to thirty feet of dirt piled above it, raising Marm Allen’s bottom, making her hill far more gentle and leaving the remains of the first two bridges far below.

The granite remains of the oldest bridge on Marm Allen’s Hill, with the concrete remains of the second bridge.

Marm did not found a city or get a car named after her, and Ben could have been a hobo, but they are as much a part of the geography of our small village as the renowned personalities our mountains are called after.

Corkscrew Hill was not named after anyone. The road up this hill started at the base of Ben’s Hill where a timber and stone bridge crossed Main Brook close to where it opens into the Creek. Tumbled granite blocks in the water show where it once stood. This bridge was abandoned in the 1920’s or 30’s but the timbers were still there until they washed away some time in the 1960’s. My husband’s father, Larry Smith, said that when it rained and Corkscrew Hill was slippery the Model T’s would go up the hill backwards in order to make it to the top. We have walked the old road bed, and while steep it does not seem to twist. Did the cars have to zig zag up like a corkscrew to get to the top, or, as a neighbor suggested, was a bottle of something uncorked for the long ride to the other side of the creek?

Standing near the old bridges, looking at the fill that was brought in to level Allen’s Hill.


We have two other hills here in the village. Music Hill is to the northwest of the cemetery and Music Hill Lane is the road leading to it. Paul Richardson, whose family was one of the village’s first families, thinks this name is fairly recent. Clyde Carter, whose family has been here for at least a few generations, recalls various members of the Smith family who lived up there playing what he calls old time music, fiddles and squeezeboxes and homemade percussion. Music Hill is as quiet as its neighboring cemetery these days.

Our last hill is Esther’s Hill. This was the local name for the long descent towards Seal Harbor, and finally there is someone who remembers Esther. Her name was really Vashti Esther, but she preferred to be called Esther, or V. Esther. She also had a pond named after her, and I heard the bullfrogs singing there today as I biked by. Esther was married to Lawrence Maynard Smith’s brother Maurice. She and Maurice had four children, Shane, David, Maurice and Martha, and one of the boys shot and killed Maurice the elder in a hunting accident.

After the accident Esther had better things to do than be a mother, and Martha and was raised by her grandmother Nyra, who also lived in Otter Creek. Now Nyra sounds like someone to name a hill after. While she may not have selected her three husband’s for their names, they make lovely sequence. Her first husband was Tripp, her second was Trott and her third, with whom she spent the rest of her life, was Harold Gallup. Harold did not live up to his name however, as Nyra once told my mother-in-law. “I’m interested, but Harold isn’t.”

The old road bed with the new road in the distance. Marm Allen’s Hill.


Although Nyra lived on the same hill as Esther, it is Esther’s Hill, not Tripp, Trott, and Gallup Hill. Martha says she is not positive her grandmother’s second husband really was Trott, but that is what the villagers said, and it might have been.

Our hills are less steep and curved than they were a hundred years ago, but even then they were not considered majestic enough to deserve the name of a worldly explorer. But Champlain Mountain, Ben’s Hill, Dorr Mountain, and Esther’s Hill, whether named for hobo or hero they are equally part of the landscape of life in Otter Creek.

community Maine Maine Vanities

SEWBIZE Kathy Stanley

Showbiz was not in Kathy Stanley’s mind when she created this combination of letters for her vanity plate. The owner of two fabric and sewing stores, and with over 100 miles between the two, she is just sooo busy. And, of course, she sews. But with a seemingly overloaded schedule she joined an amateur theatre group, adding rehearsals and shows to her list and another meaning to her plate.

Kathy is voluble and energetic, never still a moment. She outlined the history of the store, while pulling things off shelves for the trip to Portland, helping quilters with patterns, and directing workers. Everyone felt they were getting personal and caring attention. She continues to rattle off the many facets of her life, “Kids, theatre, church, teaching Sunday school, traveling back and forth to Portland, rotary, and sewing of course.”

Before Kathy opened Sewing–by-the Sea, she taught school for sixteen years. Frustrated by more and more restrictions and rules, she decided she needed a change. “I wanted adventure” she says, and resigned from teaching and just started to work. “I had no business plan, didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I did a bit of everything. I baked cookies and cleaned toilets. I did anything for a buck that first year, and wanted a sign up by the road that said that, but my husband wouldn’t do it.” she laughs.

Open seven days a week, including evenings, she gives credit to her family and employees, and everyone who comes to the shop for helping to keep it going. And while she talks about fabrics and business, it is the people she keeps coming back to. And it is very clear that behind her no-nonsense chattiness is a ton of compassion. “One little girl borrowed her sister’s baby stroller, hoisted the old family sewing machine into it, and pushed it to the store to learn how to sew. We couldn’t have her working on that old thing, so she had to use one of the store machines.” And then there was the woman who wanted one of the fancy costly bells-and-whistles machines, but had no money. Kathy chuckles, “She is sewing up a storm now, and I have a little blueberry patch out in the middle of nowhere!” And then there is the young teenager, who gets off the school bus at the store to learn with the sewing group. “She is a natural,” Kathy says. “She just works steadily away while all us old hens gossip and swap stories.”

A woman with a bundle of energy, and tons of heart, she does not find it easy to say to no to anyone who asks for help. It is not unusual to find her still in the store at 9:30, teaching a tricky sewing skill, helping with fabric choices, or simply helping someone with a walking problem down to their car. So where does she find the time for a theatre group? “It’s there” she says with her ready laugh. “I thought it was going to be a change from sewing, but in theatre, when you know how to sew,” she says, “you make your own costumes.” And help with others’ costumes, too.

That’s sew bize for you.

Excerpt from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

Acadia National Park community Day trips Destinations Maine Maine destinations Nature Log

Winter in Winter Harbor

Dogs watching Wonsqueak Harbor

It's a dog's view, and I wish it was mine.

Black Friday, and we were up and out early. Our destination was not the sales and bargains the day after Thanksgiving is known for, but Schoodic Peninsula, an odd disconnected portion of Acadia National Park. Our goal was a walk with ocean views, designer breakfasts prepared by someone else, and then back home to split wood and get ready for winter.

Snow came early this year, and we were ready for snowshoes and piles of white around our ankles. We had spun though eleven unplowed inches to get to my sister-in-law’s for Thanksgiving Day where it sparkled out the windows, but now we wanted to be in it, not looking at it. We tossed our gear in the car and headed off island. It was not long before we blew off the hike, breakfast, split wood agenda and just took it as it came. We saw a road we had not been on, and took it. Unplowed and snowy we came around a curve and disturbed a small group of turkeys. They stretched their necks and single file strutted off through a path in the woods. Turkeys are a common sight, but we had not seen any in about six weeks and had commented on their absence. “Guess they feel safe now,” I said. It was Black Friday, after all. Thanksgiving was over.

Back on track, we arrived in Winter Harbor, the town just before Schoodic and our hike. Tourism may be part of its economy, but the feel of this village is that of a simple coastal Maine community. There is a bank, a few restaurants, a grocery store, a five and dime that has everything you could ever need, and not a t-shirt shop in sight.

The Five and Ten has it all.

We wandered about town before our walk, getting the winter feel of Winter Harbor. Summer folk are gone, but there is no sense of the forlornness that pervades nearby Bar Harbor with plywood coverings nailed over shop windows and the fountains in the parks covered with stark plank pyramids. The cashier at the market gave us directions to a friend’s house, and it felt good that she of course knew where he lived. We stopped at Chase’s Restaurant for a coffee refill, and left with the waitress saying they would have stopped serving breakfast when we finished our hike. She said she has lived in Winter Harbor all her life, gladly suggested places to eat in nearby towns, called us dear in typical Downeast fashion, and we parted with smiles. We did not take the time to drive to Grindstone Neck, a stretch of summer homes and awesome hills we bike in the summer, but headed straight to Schoodic. In a field off to our left we saw three turkeys grazing. After weeks with no sightings, we had two in one day. Wild turkeys know their calendar.

Spruce Point, Maine

We had no clear idea where the trail we wanted started, and didn’t really care. We turned left onto a road with no street sign, because neither of us knew it, and found, to our surprise, it led to our path. Had we been looking for the trail, we’d never have found it. The only sign indicating the trail was over fifty feet after we turned onto this unmarked road. It was steep and winding, and took us to the top of the hill we had expected to be climbing. There were no tire tracks before ours as we made the ascent. When we left hours later, ours were still the only tracks. I doubt in July we would be the only ones on the trails.

Our hike started high, and was an easy ramble with views of our home, Mount Desert Island. There were ravens, squirrels, signs of coyotes, and at one lookout, an interpretive panel with moose tracks on it. We found this a bit perplexing, as it implies this might be a moose habitat, and it is not. There are several easy trails here, we wandered them all. The snow was only a few inches deep and so we did not get to use our snowshoes, but we were the first to walk the paths since the snow had fallen, and making the first footprints is always a sense of privilege and delight.

Wonsqueak Harbor, Maine

Wonsqueak Harbor, Schoodic Peninsula


Leaving Schoodic we pass through Wonsqueak Harbor, which not only has the best harbor name I know of, but is also a classic picturesque harbor that demands you take its photo whatever the season or weather. The local dogs enjoy the view too; a half dozen were hanging out on the roof of a porch overlooking the water.

The sun was now high, gleaming on the water droplets at the tip of every branch and twig. It was time to split that wood, and so we headed home. As we neared our island we saw half a dozen turkeys along the road. I suspect they are not as stupid as their reputation suggests.

community Festivals Maine Otter Creek

It Takes a Pig

Not much different from 1500

The coals in the pig cooker were snapping, the bonfire hissed and spit, our host cocked his head and said “shhhh, coyotes!” Conversations stilled, and we all smiled. It wasn’t coyotes, it was the kids by the apple tree hooing and calling, in some child game that we were not privy to.

We were at a pig party, orchestrated by a few Otter Creek residents including Farmer Chris Brown who contributed and prepared the pigs. Yes, pigs.Two pigs, one inside the other, and stuffed with apples, sausage, and bacon and rubbed with herbs before slow cooking over the coals. Tim Smith admits to going for coffee around two am, and sitting down to wait for it to drip. He woke an hour later. Kevin Walls, manning the cooker, looked at Tim knowingly when he returned and said, “You sat down, didn’t you? You can’t sit down.”

Naps or not, this team roasted a tender and flavorful pork roast. But they did more than that. They brought the members of this tiny village together to share food, and remember that we are neighbors. Cole slaw, casseroles, home baked breads, cakes and cookies, jugs of cider, and bottles of wine and beer. Plates were loaded and bellies filled.

We met the couple from a neighboring house, I asked if they had moved in recently. Nine years ago was the answer. It took a pigfest for us to meet. There were introductory conversations, kid story swapping, recipe exchanges, but a common subject was the village. Some guests had been involved in our small community events, others said they never knew when they were happening but would like to help.

We munched savory pork, and marveled at the hinged pork roaster with its motorized spit. Bones were wrapped in butcher paper and given to those who wanted them for their dogs.We listened to tales of the beginning of the roast, the efficient dispatching of the pigs, the seasoning and stuffing, and the gift of the roaster just a few days before the event. The pig meister, the farmer, and the host who hauled the firewood all worked hard, and were pumped up with their success. “Try some pig” one would urge if he saw an empty plate.

Smoke drifted among the clusters of people, a dog ran through our legs, a boy tugged at a little girl’s hat. The scene was reminiscent of an Hieronymus Bosch painting with figures scattered about, each involved in their own small piece of the scene. Or perhaps it was more like Pieter Bruegel’s Children’s Games, which portrays a village populated with small groups playing an assortment of games. Aptly, for many years, this was part of Otter Creek’s annual Christmas celebration, pinned to the wall for people to guess all the games.

Bonfires bond, may they never be illegal.

Day became night and a toddler slept deeply, his head back and mouth open, in his stroller. A circle of older women settled into sturdy lawn chairs around the fire for cake and coffee. The older children came from the field to be close to the bonfire, tossing in small branches and logs. People continued to arrive bearing dishes of food. “We have to make this an annual event,” I heard more than once.

When we left there was still a lot of pork, and party, to go. But we had gotten the best of it–we made friends, met neighbors, and felt connected by village and pig.


Chris Brown, Kevin Walls and Tim Smith. Thank you.

For more pig roast pictures go to the roasters Facebook page, Otter Creek P pig Roast.
Photos by Sue Cullen

community Maine destinations Maine Vanities

8MY_MNY Kenneth and Christina Beebe

Ken and Christina Beebe

Christina Beebe wanted black, but granite, not metal. She looks at the sleek black Series 8 BMW. “We were renovating the kitchen, and had planned on black granite counter tops, but Ken came home all charged up over this series 8.” She sighs, “Of course he talked me into it, and there went the money for my countertops.” And that explains 8MY_MNY.

Ken and Christina Beebe both have self-created jobs, and while Christina says of Ken: “He always has too many irons in the fire,” she is no slouch herself. She paints and runs a tiny gallery, he paints, fixes boats and farms oysters. Together, they have created a give-and-take lifestyle that suits them both.

Follow a winding road down a narrow peninsula and enter Beebe country. A high-roofed building houses Ken’s boat projects. He shows off the meticulously restored 18 foot 1947 Boston Rudder Cod dory that has just come out of the boathouse and has been sold to a lucky buyer from Massachusetts. Outside the boathouse is another classic wooden boat, but this one is in rough shape. The owner’s widow has given to Ken. She knew she could depend on him to tend to it, and bring it back to life. A few yards away is a massive boat trailer, and Ken switches from animatedly discussing restoring boats to measuring the tongue of the trailer and sketching plans for reworking it. He has just bought another boat, and needs to adapt this trailer to haul the longer, deeper keeled vessel.

“Ken had such a boat fetish,” Christina says, and one cannot help but wonder what it was like before, since she is clearly referring to an era with even more boats. Ken talks about selling the boats moored behind his house and just having the one he is refitting the trailer for. “I just want one boat now,” he says.

“He is lying” Christina says, laughing.

“We named one boat Four Letter Word,” she says. “That word of course was B-O-A-T. But it really aggravated a lot of people.”

Ken nods, and looks around the yard. It reflects life and work. Flowers and vegetables grow unrestrained and exuberant. There is a wrench lying near the trailer and Ken motions towards it and says “No florescent green lawns and black roses for me.” He lets his gaze roam from the boat shed to the vine-covered trellis leading to the house, and then to a nearby duck pond with feathers along its shore. “This makes me happy,” he says. He is a content man.

The duck pond is small, and the geese had chattered and departed before Ken approached. “Where did the girls go?” he asks. This is not rhetorical, he really wants to know, and you can hear the concern in his voice. These geese are family. Christina mentions Blue, a goose that died last year. She was 21 years old, and is missed. Not many geese lead such a cherished life.

Not far from the pond is Christina’s gallery, a sweet little shake-shingled structure that displays her watercolors, wooden salad bowls painted with flowers or salmon, floor cloths, and a portfolio of her faux finishes. Christina’s art is functional, up-scale folk art imbued with her warmth and love of nature.

Parked here and there in the compound are BMW’s, “beamers.” “We went through boats, gotta have this, gotta have that. Then it was cars.” Christina says. Her car is a white BMW 7 series, license plate Y 65. “I hate it” she asserts, meaning the plate, not the car. “It is so not me.”

Ken explains, “Why would you want to drive 65 miles an hour in a car that can do way faster that that?” he asks, explaining the plate. He also admits that he talked her into this car, their second BMW. Christina has grown to love the luxurious ride, but not the plate. “It is just asking for trouble,” she claims.

And then there is 5678BMW, on a series 5 white wagon. The message is that they have the set, series 5, 6, 7 and 8. The series 5 wagon is a working car. “It’s a shit box,” Christina says, making her feelings clear, then adds “Pardon my language.” Ken’s fetishes have included boats, cars, and, it seems, vanity plates. The white truck parked in front of the house is not a BMW, but bears the plate OYSTERS. This is the truck Ken uses in his painting business, but the oyster plate is because of his oyster business.

Hog Cove Oyster Company is the only oyster farm in the state in salt water, not brackish water. Shear orneriness is the reason. Ken, an oyster lover, had bought some oysters for Thanksgiving, and rather than keep them in the fridge drying out, he submerged them in salt water by the pier. The Maine State Warden came by, and emptied the bag into the water, saying he really should fine Ken and would certainly do so the next time Ken stored his oyster dinner in the bay to stay fresh. The letter of the law is that one has to have a license, purchased from the state, to have oysters in the water in a container.

“God dam I was pissed” Ken says, and he says it in a steely voice with sparking eyes. The irritation is still a tangible memory for him, and he is tense as he tells the story. “I went and grabbed a paint-rolling pole, and an onion bag, and went back and raked the bottom. I got back 32 of 36.” He smiles and relaxes. The satisfaction he felt is evident. He then went and got a license so he could keep his Thanksgiving oysters fresh. Along with the license comes acreage. The area he leased is not far from the dock behind his house, near Hog Cove, and it is in salt water. He now has 228,000 oysters growing. This is a man who doesn’t do things in small measures. That is a lot of oysters just to be sure there are fresh ones for a holiday meal.

He recounts telling other area oyster farmers his intent. “They all think I’m crazy.” The reality is that oysters in salt water need much more work than oysters in the river. They are prey to starfish, have mussels competing for their food, and need to be power-hosed every eleven days. But the salt environment may make them brinier, and give a distinct flavor that will set them above the river feeders.

Ken isn’t worried about marketing them, though. He has always loved oysters, and is confident these will be flavorful and sought after.

Christina hopes he is right, or she just might have to place a sign on the oyster boat, 8 MY MONY2.

Excerpt above from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

Acadia National Park Bar Harbor community Maine

Shipwreck

Seal Cove Shipwreck

“Learn the basics for mapping and documenting a wreck site by working with maritime archaeologists. Potential volunteer activities could include making archaeological drawings of the vessel, recording the site in photographs, and transferring the field drawings onto a site plan. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact…”

I saw the ad before the project, instead of in an old paper after the opportunity had passed. I was going to be here, not away at some event, or with family. Still, there were many reasons not to take this day off, such as responsibilities, deadlines, and rebuilding a house that is more demanding than any child could ever be. I ignored them all, and joined retirees, schoolteachers on their summer vacation, and Franklin Price, shipwreck archeologist, at a shipwreck here on Mount Desert Island.

“What ship?” “Why did it wreck?” “What was it carrying?” These are a few questions I have been asked when I tell people of my day deep in mud and covered with sunshine at the wreck site. And those are the very questions Franklin Price hopes to answer. The Seal Cove Shipwreck Project is an Institute of Maritime History project in conjunction with Acadia National Park. The ad said no experience required, but I could not imagine how a group of eager, untrained volunteers could be of much use, and not do any harm. Eager and untrained, I donned mud boots and sun hat, splashed on bug repellent and trotted off.

We gathered at the parking lot of the high school, and personalities began to announce themselves. A Florida resident spoke of getting his property boarded up for the winter, and how glad he was not to have to deal with snow. A teacher said she read we should bring muck boots, but preferred to wear her Tevas, and a young student arrived out of breath and apologetic. Her mom caught us just as we pulled out to hand over the left-at-home boots. The half hour drive to the site did not quite gel, the back seat could not hear the front, and so we chatted with neighbors or subsided and watched the scenery.

At the site other volunteers were already at work. The day was glorious. The dark ribs of the wreck were corduroy on the inlet bottom. Markers and tapes indicated areas where measurements were being recorded, and buckets above the tide zone were neatly filled with tape measures and slates–which to me looked very much like clipboards. The project was well thought-out and organized. We were given tasks in small understandable doses, and equipment, which we were shown how to use.

I was assigned a partner, a delightful young man who was not a random volunteer, but an archeology student. Lucky me. In addition to the very clear instructions from Franklin Price, this fellow explained why when we measure depth, we also run our hands under the beam. Our first task was to take a given beam from the hull of the boat, and measure where top and the bottom were in relation to a line we had made with two posts, a string, and a level. We took a measure every foot, and also drew in knotholes, wooden pegs, and on one beam, a stretch of tar. The tar was in a large pocket under the beam, and we recoded it going from 54 inches to 78 inches.

Our job was to collect data and record it. Greater minds can interpret. But, a patch of tar? We do not know, but speculate that a repair was made there. Other volunteers were also finding patches of tar. We asked Franklin about this, and while he would not commit to an explanation did say it was possible this ship had been brought in to the inlet for more repairs, and that the ship was beyond fixing, and so left there.

Unsure at first, the regularity of moving twelve inches and taking top measurements, bottom measurements and noting any distinguishing features became routine. Not in a tedious I-wish-I-was-someplace-else way, but in a I feel comfortable, I am gathering useful data, and I am in total bliss way. Any awkwardness on the ride over was dissolved as we shared bug spray, tips on moving around the site without falling into mud, and, oddly, finally exchanging names. We did not start as a team, then we paired off and so did not bond as a team, but as the morning wore on we shared delight over wooden pegs called treenails, which held the planking to the hull, tar, and worm marks.

Worms bore away at the wood of the ship’s hull, making a twisting pattern. While beautiful, the wood will eventually be eaten away. Not good if at sea. My archeological student partner explained that sacrificial planks were applied to hulls to decrease the risk of damage from worms. Attached to the outside of the hull, this half-inch thick layer of wood was replaced when infested with marine borers and discarded, or sacrificed, hence the name sacrificial plank. The fact that there were worm marks on our vessel indicated it had traveled in warmer waters than ours, since the worm making the mark lives in warm water, and does not survive long enough in brisk Maine water to make wormholes.

We also learned that the measurements we took of the ribs would help determine the original length of the ship. If the beams were ten inches by ten inches, the ship could not exceed a certain length. If they were twelve by twelve, it would indicate the ship was larger.

Hours disappeared into tiny notes on a slate, and then the tide turned. The very shallow basin of this cove means the tide comes in fast. Absorbed in our hull ribs, we did not want to pick up until we finished our measurements, and the drawings that went with them. Tide was pushing us, and we reached out and helped each other, exchanging tape measures, helping record, doing whatever needed to be done to make sure each pair had their data and measurements done. No competition, no discussion, we just did it. Franklin moved from group to group, running confirming spot checks, and helping us finish up. I felt like a proud kindergartner when he picked up my slate and double-checked three random measurements. All were within acceptable range. I glowed. We all did. A mark of a good leader is making everyone feel valued, and we all felt that.

We stood ankle deep in water, the wreck totally submerged. It was satisfying as we gathered our tools, tape measures, levels, and our hand drawn charts. We came away knowing what it is like to do archeological research. We learned trilateration, baseline offsets, drew profiles, and measured and measured and measured again. We understood the importance of accuracy, and double-checking numbers that may be gone in a few years, and beyond being checked. We learned to look with our fingertips, as they moved gently along the bottom edge of a hull rib, out of sight under the water. We know what a sacrificial plank is. I went to learn about history and archeological process, and I did, but I also came away with a renewed appreciation of diligence, painstaking accuracy, and working slowly, carefully, and methodically. The tide was coming, but we did not rush or make hasty calculations. Standing in the sun, with sleeves rolled up, giving and getting help, we were united, calm and competent. It was a day outside of time.