Category Archives: Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor Otter Creek

Our Trees are Really Fake

Our wild, spindly tree is glowing with tiny yellow lights. The branches are random lengths, no tree farmer ever pruned its shape, and I would never have any other kind of tree.

One fir sentinel, tied up to a sapling, the slope up to Cadillac Mountain is behind it.

One fir sentinel, tied up to a sapling, the slope up to Cadillac Mountain is behind it.

After we cut this ungroomed tree for the house we cut a few more to set by the deck and behind the bonfire pit. They are not artificial; they are real trees, and stand proudly in the snow as though they have been here all their lives. But they have no roots. Only we know they are fakes.  Anyone visiting our house in winter would see our lovely balsam firs and unless they had been here in the summer would never doubt that these trees are growing here.

Some get draped in lights, others are just covered with snow, but the evergreens add a closeness and Christmassy feel to our backyard, which, while wooded and lovely, is large scale with majestic white pines, red maples, and ash. Propping our little forest of fir around the terrace where we have bonfires all winter creates an intimate circle.

We cut our trees from a friend’s wood lot, where thinning is beneficial to the trees we leave behind. We never know till we get home which will be the indoor tree. Whichever one we choose, once it is in the stand I always say it is too perfect, and it is. A transformation turns this scrawny, sometimes one-sided tree into a dazzling, larger than life vision with a history dating back hundreds of years, far longer than its life rings. It assumes a regal presence, overtaking our living space, calmly reminding us of Christmases past and future, and that we, like the tree, are only here for a short span of time, but what a glorious span.

This tree is completely glammed with dozens of chandelier crystals from my mother. There are oyster, clam and mussel shells from dimly remembered dinners that have been sprayed silver, and a lifetime collection of family and handmade ornaments. There is an tiny accordion fold book from a member of my book artist group, a playing card glued to wrapping paper from a ten-year old, but that was over twenty years ago, and a very old-ladylike crocheted and felt bird from a one of my mother’s friends, and a goofy cork horse. They are all dear to me. Some of my family ornaments were recovered–the box my mother had set aside for me disappeared when she died–and our tree now includes a tinseled cut-out Santa from 1922 that was given to my grandparents when my dad was a baby, and a German elf we used to find candy in each Christmas day. The star that serves as our tree-queen’s crown is from my husband’s mother.

This elf from Germany has a hollow body my mom used to hide candy in.

This elf from Germany has a hollow body my mom used to hide candy in.

Cardboard Santa from 1923, given to my grandparents for their baby, my Dad.

Cardboard Santa from 1923, given to my grandparents for their baby, my Dad.

Otter Creek Angel

Otter Creek Angel

Outside the ring of fir trees jostle and elbow each other as they peer in to see the queen. I’d be happy with spruce, pine, or cedar, but I share this space, and my partner insists on fir. They will be there watching as the queen is carried out. Tinsel will shimmer, she will be unadorned, but it is not tragic. One ornament goes with her to the pyre. It is not one of my treasures, but it chosen for its beauty, and like a Viking’s favorite sword, it will accompany her as she leaves us.

On Candlemas Day she will blaze and warm us all. Traditionally, this is the day old Christmas trees, wreathes and garlands are burned. Her blazing branches will remind us yet again to make our days count. The circular court of fir trees sway and do homage as her sparks leap to the sky, dancing above their limbs and burning out high in the dark night air.  Their day will come.

 

 

The First Christmas Tree.

http://www.historytoday.com/alison-barnes/first-christmas-tree

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 Bar Harbor Destinations Nature Log

A Walk with Mrs. Peel


Baittrap_Lakewood

Bait trap, Lakewood, Maine

It is a clear January morning, and the temperature outside is three degrees. The ground is white with snow that has crusted over and looks as hard and cold as ice. I feel chill off the windowpane when my hand is still inches from touching it, and the lack of wind and motion makes the world seem frozen into stillness. It is a Sunday, and the winter world beckons me outside to play. It is a day for Mrs. Peel.

Fans of the 1960s television series The Avengers will remember Mrs. Peel, played by Diana Rigg, who was fit and formidable, quick-witted, and always stylish. She was a role model, and a few years ago when I acquired a one-piece Descente snowsuit to take me comfortably into subzero weather I named the suit Mrs. Peel. Metallic gray with silver slashes on the sleeves and back, a red satin lining and space age padded shoulders, it, too, is very sixties. Add a fur hat and fur boots, sure-footed ice creepers, silk underclothing and I become invincible, as ready-for-anything and gutsy as Mrs. Peel herself.

catpawprints_Lakewood

Snow patterns on Lakewood

This was to be just a short adventure, as there were tasks and chores to do before the day was done. A small, sheltered lake a few miles from home has frequently offered tracks and animal sign and I felt like tracking, so I headed to Lakewood, easily reached down an unplowed stretch of road.

Mrs. Peel and I headed out onto the ice. It groaned and snapped, booming as it expanded, making ice as some call it. Most liquids contract as they freeze, but water, forming intricate crystals with space between the branches and spikes of each exquisite structure, expands. When it has nowhere to go it cracks and booms. There is one loud explosive bellow, then, a gentle reply. The sound bounces off the surrounding hills repeating itself more and more softly until silence returns. Lakewood is a small lake, and the booms were modest, not heart-stopping as they can be on bigger waters.

icefrond_Lakewood

Leaf-like ice crystal, Lakewood

The surface of the lake, so perfectly flat and level, was puckered with the imprints of what seemed to be a thousand small cat paws. Kneeling and tracing the outline of one imprint, I could imagine the party of prancing, leaping cats that might have left such patterns in the ice. Standing and looking across the lake I saw the focused unwavering trail of a coyote. I had passed human and dog track on the road in, and the erratic roam and sniff and run back to master trail of the domestic dog is strikingly different from an animal in the wild, for whom conserving energy is a matter of survival.

A frozen tadpole lay on the surface of the ice, apparently tossed out of a bait trap and left as an offering for some fortunate diner. Over an inch wide, the snakelike head would have become a bullfrog’s head in the spring. Life is full of hazards out on the ice.

An even smaller pond is connected to Lakewood, called Fawn Pond. Here a skim of black ice lay over a stream feeding the larger pond below. Black ice. The name is fearsome, implacable, but the underwater scene it reveals is beautiful in its otherworldliness. I lie on my belly and peer through the ice. I can see thin grasses waft slowly in the current. The sunlight pierces through to the bottom, illuminating a few gray and gold speckled rocks, but they are as far away as the moon. I cannot touch them; they are on the other side of that invisible ice wall. The untouchableness makes this world even more compelling. I am on the outside, looking in, and I want to dive down and explore. I run my gloved hand over the ice and it feels astonishing that it has no effect, that a barrier prevents my hand from simply sliding below the surface. Ice crystals form intricate leaf-like shapes and lie on the surface of the ice. A large twig shifts and dips. A caddisfly larva had changed its center of balance and clung, bouncing gently, to the branch. It wore a case it had made of bits of rock and twig and weed, and until it moved seemed part of debris on the stream’s bottom. Confined behind a wall of glass this larva, creeping, barely moving as it goes about its business, seems to have no relation to the swarms of long-antennaed shadflies, or caddisflies, that will be in my face and hair a few months from now.

deadmilksnakeFawnPond_Lakewood

weaselprints_Lakewood

Delicate tracks of a weasel or mink

At the edge of the stream something had dug a hole through the snow to the leaves and earth below. Whatever hunter this was found the prey it had sensed, and the curled remains of the slim milk snake rudely pulled from his winter’s sleep lay discarded nearby. There is no safety even buried in the dirt, below several inches of snow, and a crust of ice.

Fawn Pond was larger than last time I was here. The beavers had been busy, and a long dam kept the water from flowing to the lake. A mound of branches and tree limbs with the tiny teeth marks of the beavers was piled over their underwater retreat. Crystals, formed when the warmth from beavers’ exhalations mingled with the colder air outside, rimmed a few twigs at the top, sure sign there were beaver below. Skirting the edge of the beaver lodge were pairs of small dimpled prints, the bounding gait of either a mink or a weasel. I followed these along the edge of the pond, as they led to Lakewood and the woods road to my car. At the stream where the two ponds joined an otter had left sliding marks on the ice, and a hole where he went below the surface. Clear otter prints and chutes went over the dam, along the stream, and down the ledges back towards Lakewood. It was a steep descent, and the water fell in a series of short falls, framed by long clear cliffs of ice. The otter had cruised around saplings, bounded over small rills, and shot down steep slopes, seemingly having fun, and heading towards home. Mrs. Peel slid and wriggled right behind, leaving larger slide marks and prints for the next tracker to examine.

It was a short adventure, perhaps only two and a half miles, but there was life, and there was death. There were remote worlds and minute details. There were deer, dogs, humans, coyotes, chickadees, a tadpole, snake, caddisfly larva, otter, weasel or mink, mouse, and beaver.

Let me know what tracks you may have seen!

OtterslideFawnPond_Lakewood

Otter slide and hole, Fawn Pond near Lakewood


Otterprint_Lakewood

Otterprint along stream between Fawn Pond and Lakewood

Mrs.Peel and author

Mrs. Peel and author at Lakewood, Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor Day to day gardening Maine Otter Creek

Pumped Up

Hard body, graceful moves, and a regal profile – this smooth operator has moved right in, and I am right in love. I have just installed the well pump of my dreams.

When my 55-foot well did not supply an adequate amount of water I had a new, very deep, very expensive, well drilled. The old well still had water, so rather than abandon it I put a gray-green, refined and elegant antique pitcher pump on it. I liked the idea of being able to pump water if there was a power outage, and simply to drink from it as I gardened.

It proved to have a few leaks, and did not work when temperatures were below freezing. It went to my sister-in-law’s garden to be an ornament and I purchased a new pitcher pump from a company in Pennsylvania. This one was bright red, squat and a little rough around the edges, but promised to work. It did, but each spring meant replacing the leathers, and the moving parts froze into non-moving parts in just a few years.

I saw an old pump at a yard sale, got excited, then pragmatic. I would just be buying someone else’s problem. A long-handled pump at a local plumbing shop was almost a week’s salary, and not attractive. I could not find a new pump I liked, the old one had become purely decorative. The cobblestone surround I had been working on was left unfinished. “A work in progress,” I would say if anyone asked. It was a work stalled. This limbo lasted several years. I set aside some money in an envelope in my desk drawer labeled “Save the well,” and moved on. I saw the non-working pump on an unfinished stone column daily, but looked away in denial.

Eventually I was ready to cough up the money that had appalled me a few years back. I found a beautiful repro pump, much more lovely than my old pitcher pump, but as I read the details it was not so very different, I would still have leathers, and the chances of it working in the winter were not great. One search, I think it was for perfect pump, listed Bison pumps in Maine. I looked, and it was instant, unconditional love, proof one can find their perfect match online. Not old-fashioned, with no attempts to mimic a traditional pitcher-style, this pump is unabashed function and drop-dead gorgeous. It is also made in Maine, and I like to buy local. Almost triple the cost I had quailed at a few years ago, the Bison seemed like an investment I would not regret. I swallowed, but without hesitation ordered my pump. Ordering from Bison is not an impersonal exchange of credit card number and product. These people cared. They told me how to measure depth and diameter, and counseled the length of pipe I would need. When it arrived in three neat boxes everything was clearly labeled. The instruction book was in simple step-by-step English, and guided us through the installation process.

What pleasure to deal with a company that sees things from the customer’s viewpoint. They must have sent pumps to innocents like myself and asked them exactly what they needed to know to install it. Tags on the parts packages were numbered, and matched the instructions. Connections to be made that looked obvious bore polite warnings, “Please do not do this step before checking that you have completed the previous step.” They knew I was about to skip something important. “Read instructions completely before installing” I was told. A wooden paddle was enclosed to rest the pump on as the rods were lowered into the well casing. It would have been a strenuous task without it and we would have found a way to support the pump, but how nice that they thought of it and gave us the tool. We installed, but it did not pump. Within hours Judy replied and asked us to check the connections on the rods. We had not tightened one of them. We tightened it. It now works flawlessly. I know it will work flawlessly as long I as I am here to pump it. This pump is a spare, elegant piece of engineering. I drink from it every day. I love lifting the handle and pumping a few smooth easy strokes and hearing the rush of fresh well water. My cat leaves the house each morning and jumps on the stone basin below the pump and laps his morning drink. If he hears the pump when I pump water for myself he comes running over for the fresh water splashing into his trough.

This Bison pump satisfies on so many levels. It gives me a fresh water supply without electricity. It is a stainless steel sculpture that is simply stunning. It bears a memory of dealing with people who make a good product, and deal with customers with patience and interest. It was made with pride, and I pump it with pride and pleasure. What a testament to what made in the USA, made in Maine can be.

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.

Bar Harbor gardening Otter Creek

Missing: Fifty granite pillars

Granite in the garden

Granite chunks edge my gardens, the foundation of the house is granite fieldstone, I make paths with flat granite slabs, and whenever I dig into the back yard, I strike granite rubble. Scratch the surface anywhere on Mount Desert Island, and you will find granite.

Acadia National Park draws millions of visitors each year to climb its granite mountains and admire the steep rocky coast. Postcards feature warm pink granite edged by the white foam of the Atlantic. Frederic Church’s painting, Otter Creek, Mt. Desert, is of the cove behind my house and the granite notch I pass daily. In the mid-1800’s and early 1900’s granite was big industry on this island, and the first commercial quarry was here in the village of Otter Creek. Granite is the substance on which our lives are grounded.

I have been moving granite lately. Granite steps now separate the level grassy patch where the dining table is from the sloping hill to the woods. A crude wall has been built around the summer bedroom and constrains the pine needles strewn on the ground. I used crowbars and a dolly, and moved hundreds of pounds of rock. Each rock was touched, stroked and examined. The right shape and size was essential to fit the stones for the steps. One would be laid, and then another, and then an awkward space appeared. I removed them and tried again. Eventually, stone by stone, the puzzle was solved, and the steps created with a random pattern of about thirty pieces of granite.

Building with stone puts one in the moment. As I composed my steps, I would survey the collection of rocks I had hauled from throughout the yard and dumped in a pile. I appraised each one for the right fit. I would feel its edges, and ponder it from different angles. One wedge-shaped rock seemed too pointy, but rotated and inverted it was just right. Each rock when turned revealed different contours. I became mesmerized by the individual forms. There they were, odd shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. But which one would sit snug against the last rock I had placed? Just as I was convinced I’d have to go hunting for more rocks, that not one of them that would fit the next space, my perception would shift and with a satisfying sense of recognition a stone would stand out as right.

Granite slabs behind the house

The grain and color seemed as varied as the shapes. It is, of course, all granite from Otter Creek, but not necessarily Otter Creek granite. A common rock, granite is a major part of our continental crust and is composed of quartz, feldspar, mica and other minerals. The color ranges from pink and gray to deep rose, blueish or almost black. The grain can be coarse with large individual pieces or so fine it appears to be almost all one color. It is color and grain that identifies granite. In Maine, Calais granite is dark gray and even-grained, the stone that came from the Thornberg Quarry in Addison is almost black, and Otter Creek granite is deep orange-red with a large, bold grain. The Maine Granite Industry Historical Society Museum in Mount Desert has a map of the island, with a piece of polished granite for each of the dozens of quarries on Mount Desert Island. Founder Steven Haynes can pick up a piece of stone, hold it in his hands, and by osmosis, bonding, knowledge and magic tell you which quarry it came from.

Jimmy's Wharf, Otter Creek

In the 1800’s quarrying in Otter Creek was a thriving industry. There were three different quarries in the village. The first was founded by Cyrus J. Hall in 1871 and operated about eight years. Roads were terraced into the hill and supported with granite coping stones. Oxen were used to transport the stone from where it was cut to a large granite wharf, the first product of this quarry. Jimmy’s Wharf is what it is called, although there is no sign, it is written on no maps, and no one seems to know who Jimmy was. At high tide a schooner would sail in to the wharf and load up. Four men, two oxen and a handful of tools produced eleven cargoes of stone. It was then shipped to Belfast where it was polished prior to delivery to its final destination. Some of those destinations were the Board of Trade building in Chicago, the American Baptist Publication Society building in Philadelphia and a bridge at Back Bay Fens in Boston, as well as libraries and public buildings. There is also a tantalizing mention in a local paper of fifty granite columns shipped to New York for a church. No other information given. How tall were those columns, what church do they grace, are they inside or out? Where are they now?

Drill holes waiting one hundred years to split granite, abandoned at Jimmy's Wharf in Otter Creek, Maine

My husband’s great-great grandfather Jules lived in Otter Creek in the late eighteen hundreds within walking distance of the quarries. We wonder if he might have worked them, or helped build the roads. Whether he did or not, his great great grandson worked at the last producing quarry on the island. At nineteen years of age Dennis Smith worked for Joe Musetti in Hall Quarry and burnt rock with kerosene and compressed air to prepare the surface for the quarrymen to work. He was there only six weeks, during the last days of the quarry, as a small crew completed a contract and then shut the quarry down for good. With the introduction of Portland Cement the granite industry had come to an abrupt end.

Tailings from Otter Creek quarry, Drosselmeyer the cat likes to play there.

In Otter Creek, the stone wharf still stands, but has fallen into disrepair. A causeway has blocked the entrance where the large ships once entered the cove. Massive stone slabs with telltale wedge marks along one edge lie abandoned in the woods. We walk the roads, still clear but slowly narrowing, that had been built for those oxen to haul their heavy loads. And somewhere in New York City is a church with fifty granite columns from Otter Creek, Maine.

The quarries of Otter Creek

Pine needles and granite edging by summer bedroom

Nature Log: We gathered and ate the last of this season’s oyster mushrooms, watched a snapping turtle lay eggs, and lifted a piece of granite to reveal a garter snake. The stone was gently replaced.

Acadia National Park Bar Harbor Day trips

Roads less travelled

Abandoned road near the old radio base on Otter Cliffs

Roads connect us. They get us to work, bring us to visit family, and take us to distant adventures. Road trip—the words conjure an expanse of asphalt disappearing into the distance and luring one on. Roads are plowed, patched, swept and maintained so we can get where we want to go. Part of our infra-structure, they seem permanent. I live on a simple village street, Grover Avenue, and cannot imagine it disappearing.

Roads do disappear, however. There is not a town in this country that doesn’t have abandoned roads. Once traveled daily, these roads are now devoid of purpose. Trees creep in from the sides, the surface cracks and vegetation emerges. Rocks, branches, and debris fall on the road and are not removed.

Roads are closed and neglected for a number of reasons. A sharp corner might be smoothed and straightened, leaving a curved section frequently renamed with the qualifier “old.” There is Old County Road, Old Goose Road, Old Turnpike and Old River Way. If there are no homes on the section, it very quickly becomes unpassable. I once lived on Winthrop Road in Deep River, Connecticut. It was straightened, and a beautiful stretch that curved along a marsh was bypassed. No one lived on that section, and so no one drove on it. Taking it one day for nostalgia I rounded the curve by the marsh, and braked. A card table with blue paper tablecloth, candle in a jar, and a few food stains blocked the way. Some cheeky celebrants risked the random driver, and held their party right in the middle of the road.

Old Bridge on Grover Avenue

Other roads become uncared for if they no longer go anywhere. A straight, tree-lined path leads to what was once the naval communication center near Otter Cliffs. The facility was moved to a neighboring town, and the road then simply went to an abandoned site. It too became abandoned. The wooden sign pointing the way down the road to Otter Point has grown into the tree it was mounted on and looks like it has bark lips devouring it with a gruesome grin.


Sign to Otter Point

Closed roads are derelict, uncared for, unused. They beckon, raise questions, and connect us with the ghosts of those who once traveled these routes daily. Their history is palpable. A footpath along the Narraguagus River is wide and tucked closely to the river bank. It is an excellent spot for watching eagles and osprey feeding, a mink dodging along the rocks, and the silver splash of returning alewives. But looking at the way the flat wide surface was dug into the hillside revealed it was once a road. We followed it until it intersected with a old rail road line. There were traces of it on the other side, but that section had not fared so well, and we soon gave up and returned to bird watching.

Road along Narraguagus River

My road may someday be an overgrown trail with remnants of foundations, or it may have vanished under the weight of development. It has already begun to recede from regular use. It was once the main road connecting the villages on either side of Otter Creek. After a steep hill below my house, called Ben’s Hill, the road passes the head of Otter Cove and then twists along, following Main Brook. Fifteen years ago is was passable by a car you did not care too much about. Today a rugged vehicle can make it to within sight of where it rejoins the new main village road, but is no longer passable. When I moved here, it was a through street. Now, I live on a dead end.

It takes so little time for a road to change from a daily part of life to a mysterious path drawing us in. It disappears in the distance, behind encroaching branches or around a corner. It asks us to remember that it once hummed with activity and ably provided a way for people to get from one place to another.

Sagging bridges, mossy foundations, weathered signs, they are all there, on the road less traveled. Wander one, and listen.

Bar Harbor Day to day Otter Creek

Last bites and button boxes.

The corn honey from Mexico is dark amber, with a creamy sweetness made sweeter since each spoon carries memories of a week in the Yucatan Peninsula. I pulled it from the shelf to scoop a spoon into my yogurt, but there was only one spoon left. “I’ll save it,” I said, loathe to see the last of the sweet memories used up.

Hoarding isn’t a pretty word, saving is better. It was a way of life for our family and many of our neighbors. It was also practical as well as economical. When we lost a button from our pants, we would sift through the square tin button box to find a suitable substitute. The button box made sense on many levels. It might be seven am, and stores wouldn’t be open, and who wants to take the time to drive to a store just for a button, anyway. Even if you did, you would have to buy an entire set of buttons. Chances are those buttons would not match as well as something found in the maroon and silver hinged box where we tossed our odd buttons.

We saved old clothes too worn to pass on and cut them up for cleaning rags. I recall astonishment at finding you could pay to buy a bag of rags. We saved boxes and bags and wrapping paper, which made it easy at anniversaries and birthdays to gift-wrap a present. If something needed fixing, since we also fixed rather than bought new, the necessary screw or bit of copper or right-sized cork seemed to be always at hand. It was also easily found, as everything was in a logical place and neatly organized and labeled. Nails were in jars and sorted by type and size. Fabric was folded and stacked, similar colors together, plumbing parts went here, drawer pulls and knobs in that bin. The brass hinges from an old door were at our fingertips when we needed to fix the wood box hatch. When I broke the handle on my jewelry box, a far more beautiful ceramic knob was found to replace it.

Saving was practical and economical, and it was also entertaining. When we spilled that button box onto a tray to find a new button for our pants we would find a large ivory fish button with scales carved in its sides, and a set of big, two inch wide discs of shiny bakelite set with rhinestones. Some of these buttons had stories. The tiny seed pearls were from grandma’s gloves, and the pink linen-covered buttons from one of my mother’s elegant city suits. Most, however, had lost their histories, and we would make up our own stories for them, and contemplate what dress or shirt we could possibly use them for.

When I acquired my own home, I continued to save and sort, though not as neatly as the previous generation. I have only moved once as an adult, and that makes this habit of saving something, because you never know when it will come in handy, quite easy. Perhaps a bit too easy. Somewhere in the recent years it has shifted to a compulsion to hold on, to keep that last two feet of green and orange silk ribbon, or the last of that set of homemade paste-paper note cards. Saving them, but for what? In the way I once pulled out odd buttons and enjoyed their history, real or imagined, I save odd bits to tell me tales. I see them when I open a drawer, or hunt for a nail, and seeing them causes me to reminisce. The olive jar from Spain now holds paperclips, and the carved wooden box where I keep stamps stood for many years in my grandfather’s kitchen. These objects have a new and useful function.

But saving to use is different from saving to save. My practical trait of saving has morphed into to a compulsion to hold on. Yes, that was the last of my cool neon markers from Scotland in the drawer. I used the other three with delight about six years ago, and saved the last one, because I didn’t want them gone from my life. Recently, when looking for a pen to jot a note down, to my dismay it was the only thing available. I decided just this once to use it. The ink was dry, it no longer wrote. I tossed it out, without ever having the pleasure of writing with it.

The beautiful tightly fitted white linen jacket, a gift from a long-gone friend, was only worn rarely as I did not want to stain it or ruin it. And now I cannot get it buttoned.

It was hoarding the last shot of Celtic Crossings for years, and opening the cupboard to have it fall out and smash, that has made me reassess. Would I ever have sipped the last drops of that sweet and heady liqueur? I realized the answer was no. I was saving it until it broke, or was wasted. I was no longer saving it to use at a future date.

A new year is here, and it is time for a new approach to saving.

The corn honey from Mexico is dark amber, with a creamy sweetness made sweeter since each spoon carries memories of a week in the Yucatan Peninsula. I pulled it from the shelf to scoop a spoon into my yogurt, but there was only one spoon left. I scraped it into my bowl, and paused in enjoyment over each mouthful.

Bar Harbor Destinations

Salt, and sage-flavored crickets

Part 1: Salted

As a producer of sea salt, marketed as Zeasalt®, I like to use our product. I know how pure it is, since we filter it, store it in gallon jugs for evaporation, and dry and package it ourselves. A few crystals pinched over a Caprese salad of tomatoes, homemade mozzarella and basil gives a bold finish. The bright white grains added to a hand-dipped, dark chocolate-covered caramel changes sweet to heavenly. I also keep a jar near the bathroom sink, and a mouth rinse of Zeasalt® and warm water is cleansing and soothing. But we do not eat many salty foods, and rarely add salt at the table.

I had a box of instant oatmeal packets left over from some camp weekend, and stashed them at the office for lack of a better place to keep them. We have been extremely busy at work recently, and I was working early and made a cup of the oatmeal. I tasted it and grimaced, astonished at how much salt was in it. I gamely swallowed a bit more, thinking, “Well, most people can tolerate this level of sodium, it won’t kill me,” but ended up scraping half of it into the trash. I filled my water bottle with the water I bring from home as the tap water in Bar Harbor is rather unpleasant. Our water is fantastic, coming from the Cadillac Mountain aquifer where there has never been any industry, farms, or even dwellings. Bottle in hand I went back to work. Howard asked me to look at a design he was working on. “Something isn’t right about it,” he said. “It just doesn’t look good.” I took a sip of water, looked over his shoulder, and choked, “Yeww,” I said, running out of the room. He and Melissa stared after me. “Guess it’s bad,” I heard.

But I had just swallowed a big gulp of sea water, and couldn’t answer.

How our jugs of salt water got mixed with our jugs of spring water I do not know, but they will now be labelled.

Howard was very relieved to hear it was not his design that had prompted my response.

Part 2: Excuse me, waiter, is that a mealy worm on my cracker?

Eating bugs is pretty unavoidable.

I suspect most people have swallowed a fruitfly, or chomped into an apple and then saw that other half of a worm. But most people do not seek out insect meals. The Dorr Museum, our local natural history museum, has an exhibit on insects, and offered a variety of tasty insect offerings at the opening reception.

Crickets hand-dipped in semi-sweet chocolate were an easy way to start. The chocolate was smooth and creamy, and the entire cricket hidden within was a mere aside to the chocolate. If you were not aware it was cricket it could easily have been a bit of peanut or cashew. The mealy worms were laid out like tiny strips of blackened onion on a cracker with hummus. Four mealy worms at a gulp, but again, the hummus was the overriding flavor, the mealy worms a simple crunch. Faced with a bowl of roasted mealy worms, looking like nothing except exactly what they were, took a bit more resolve. Crunch. Gone. A few more, crunch crunch. Gone. More texture than flavor here. I had been hoping for cockroach, knowing that would have meant a bit of “do I really want to do this?” effort. But there were none. The last offering was boiled cricket with sage and onion.

It looked just like a pile of dead crickets. And that is what it was. There were the little antennae, you could see their mandibles. There was no room for pretending It was a dead cricket on my toothpick. I expected a crunch, but these were boiled, soft, and meaty. Hmmm. The sage complemented them nicely. This was not crunch and gone, this was savor. The soft meaty body of the cricket, a smooth piece of onion. This was GOOD!

One woman tasted a few and said she liked the flavor, but did not care for the antennae getting caught between her teeth.

Thank you Carrie, from College of the Atlantic, for preparing this delightful tasting. And for reassuring any cautious vegetarians that if they use bottled catsup, they have probably already consumed more insect parts than they would get by eating a boiled cricket and one measly little mealy worm.

Bar Harbor Day to day

By the way signs

No swimmin, but is swimming ok?

Also referred to as three inches of partly cloudy