Category Archives: Maine

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.

 

Camp Maine recipes

Another year, another camp tale

Snow patterns on Toddy Pond

Arrive in heaven, forty minutes.

The GPS gives me a countdown to arrival at camp; it is our first visit this winter, and a last-minute decision. Maine was hit with several feet of snow, the first snow of the season, and we knew the next several weekends were filled with family and trips. There was snow, freezing temperatures, and the only free weekend in sight, so off we went. Sometimes we make quite a production of going, planning menus, shopping, remembering the books, chess board, thermal socks, tea, and countless small details. Today we simply filled a box with whatever was in the fridge, and since that included a couple of lobsters, we were feeling pretty good.

At camp the sun is blinding on the ice, and while there may be work piling up at the studio, and contractors to deal with at the house we are finishing, here it is sun on ice, nothing else matters, or is even thought of.

We perform the rituals of opening camp. The door is unlocked, and I carry Drosselmeyer, our tough, solid Maine coon cat into the cabin. We start a fire, fill the wood box, and wear a path with our snowshoes as we bring in our hastily packed duffel bags, provisions and fishing gear.  At this point Dros is ready to explore, and he bounds out into the eighteen inches of powdery snow.  As he is only twelve inches tall, the snow confounds him. He leaps like a weasel, his back legs splayed out sideways as he humps his way up the hill. He’ll be back in an hour or so. I melt snow on the woodstove for him, and strain out the pine needles and moss using a coffee filter.

Gathering snow to melt on the woodstove

In addition to walking on ice and cooking on wood, my plan was to start developing ideas for the novel that has been festering. Instead I realize I will be writing about camp once again. In fact, I will probably write about camp every year. I hear the rumble as the pond makes more ice, stop writing character descriptions of the great people who seem to want to be in my story, strap on my creepers and head onto the lake. Plan house projects? Work on writing?  Forget all that. I just need to walk on ice. This is why I am here.

The surface is bubbled and lumpy, snow has melted then frozen, and the wind has carved both angular geometric patterns and soft undulating curves. The wind will continue to work its will on the pond until it is flat and shimmering, and ready to invite ice skaters. A loud crack, and I feel the ice tremble beneath my feet. A dry brown leaf taps and skids across the surface, escaping the land for an uncertain trip to the opposite shore. The ice bellows again. I don’t ever recall it being so vocal. I am told we will catch no fish today; they don’t bite when the ice is singing.

A stretch of black ice.

Camp is out of sight, and black ice stretches out at our feet. We can see cracks, and see that the ice is over eight inches thick. In Northeast Creek, Jordan Pond, and other places, the water is clear, and we lie down and watch the world beneath the ice. Here, it is just dark. I peer, and imagine shadowy figures swimming languidly beneath me, but they dissolve as I squint for a better look.

Back at camp we haul out the beach chairs my sister-in-law keeps tucked under the building. We unfold them out on the pond, staggering as the wind tries to grab them out of our hands. Firmly in place, we sip pale white wine, and watch the sun slide behind the trees, leaving the clouds glowing orange and pink like a melting Creamsicle.

End of day

There has been no flag, and no fish nibbled at our tempting live bait. This is the first time this has ever happened. We head into camp to crank up the stove to cook our lobsters. Dros bangs his head at the screen door; he is ready to come in. I scan our odd selection of goods, and plan a meal. Lobsters with fresh limes, focaccia with olive oil I have shaved our garden garlic into, and a cucumber and avocado salad.  We boil the lobsters on the stove, and give the shells to Dros, camp kitty, to devour. Camp games include chess, which we forgot to bring, Gestures and Scattergories. We rarely play games at home, but almost always do at camp, giggling and making up new rules, and tonight it is Scattergories. Then water is boiled on the wood stove to wash the dishes, and fishing gear is checked and prepped for the morning. Dark comes early at camp, and so does bedtime. I won’t say just how early we head to bed.

For tomorrow, there are a few potato pancakes from a family German dinner get-together, and a bit of my sister’s tangy, butter-tender Sauerbraten, to be warmed with a couple of scrambled eggs.

Tomorrow, when I wake, I will walk to a small cove where there is a beaver den. I will walk until I reach the sunlight. The sun comes up behind camp, and casts a shadow almost half way across the pond. When I finally reach the rays of the sun and feel its pale warmth on my face, I will do yoga, bundled and awkward in my snowsuit, which is affectionately called Mrs. Peel.

Will we then leave here and go home? Probably. But I can’t think about that now.

 

 

 

 

Cucumber Avocado Salad

Serves  four, unless you are at camp, where it serves two

 

Four medium pickling cucumbers, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut into chunks.

1 Haas avocado cut onto about ¾ inch chunks.

1 T olive oil, fresh pepper to taste

½ lime

1 T red pepper jelly, warmed

Put cuke and avocado chunks in a bowl, drizzle with olive olive, and gently mix together.

Squeeze lime juice over salad, blend in jelly, and season with S+P

 

 

 

 

In The Garden Maine Otter Creek

Back to Green

Grape leaves with water drops

The plants in my garden flower abundantly in the Spring and Summer, going from the dreamy mauve and pink of lupines and bleeding heart to bold orange day lilies, blazing scarlet Monarda and deep purple monkshood. Now it is Labor Day, September, and instead of bloom I have green tinged with brown, and yellowing leaves. Some I will leave all winter–the flower caps of Queen Anne’s Lace provide a frilly cup to hold a serving of light winter snow, and the globe thistle create a spiky silhouette against the white ground. But now they just accuse me of neglect. I try to recall when I last tended the garden, and acknowledge the accusation is justified.

In Spring I weed and plant and live and breathe my gardens. Green, all that green after a dark winter inspires me and I wake to tend the returning flowers, shrubs and vines. I prune and thin and transplant as needed. Then I just step back and admire from a distance. In mid-July there is a massive invasion of unwanted growth, and I spend a few hours in a frenzy of weed-pulling, moving with determination from one flowerbed to the next, filling the wheelbarrow again and again.

Fading Queen Anne’s Lace

Then August blurs by in bike rides, boat rides, fund-raising dinners, family visits and no weeding. Today is Labor Day, and there it is once again, my September garden of green and brown. A pale Autumn Joy sedum is just starting to come into color and a late-blooming phlox adds some crisp white, but seed pods, yellowing leaves and dried flowerheads predominate. It has not always been like this for me. When I had a tiny in-town house with a picket-fence enclosing a tiny yard, I had the seasons under control. I had over-laying sheets of graph paper with neatly labeled plants, one for each season, so in spring I would know not to inadvertently plant on top of a yet to emerge platycodon or other late awakener. But 1600 square feet is a radical difference from an acre, and I have yet to master continual bloom here in Otter Creek. There is also a vegetable garden that requires attention, and so year after year I look around in September and sigh at the lack of color, while out of sight there are gaudy red tomatoes, ruby chard, glowing sunflowers, and vibrant squash blossoms.

Next year, I always say. That ten-foot run of phlox could be dug back to two, and surrounded with fall flowers. The Chelone is out of control, and a reducing it to a modest four-foot circle would leave additional area for Echinacea and rudbeckia. I sip my dark smoky tea, and really look at the weedy mess.

Last petals on the hydrangea

The overgrown patches are lush and full, tangled branches tumble under and over each other. Silver webs stretch from a flowerhead to a neighboring leaf, and the drops of dew, so many every night that the mornings sometimes seem washed by a light rain, reflect the light of the rising sun. There is sound, too. No gentle spring garden or showy summer blooms offer this. The leaves murmur, and there is a constant tip tap tap. It comes from all around, in the garden and from the trees above. A hiss and tremolo comes from the left, and I hear a sweet shimmering trill on the right.

The grapevines droop, each leaf holding a bright white spot of water on its tip. One drop falls with an audible “tupp” onto the leaf below. This leaf is then overloaded, and bends to send its drop and the newcomer to the next leaf. Many leaves are doing this, and the entire wall of vine is shimmying and sending out a chorus of “tip-tap –plop,” as the leaves, relieved of the weight of water, spring back up.

The climbing hydrangea near the grapes has a small fringe of white petals along the edge of what were massive flowerheads. A breeze shivers through the weeping cherry, and a lone petal drifts away from the hydrangea and descends to the browning grass, accompanied by the rustling applause of a yellowing trumpet vine, and the nodding encouragement of the Queen Anne’s Lace seed cups.

My gaze and ears continue to take in the weedy green again garden. Lazy for sure, but I think perhaps I will not pull out half the phlox and three-quarters of the chelone to plant a patch of September bloomers, after all.

Dried thistle pod

Day trips Destinations Festivals Maine Maine destinations Maine Vanities

The people behind the plane

Fly-in in Greenville this weekend–it’s all about planes.

Fly-in  in Greenville, Maine

Gary Norris at the fly-in in Greenville, Maine

FLY_180
Gary and Maureen Norris
The white Cessna 180 bobs and shifts on the sparkling waters of Moosehead Lake. Gary Norris and his wife Maureen pull their canoe off the pontoons and tie the seaplane up at the dock. The announcer checks their time and broadcasts “Second place.” Maureen yells out a resounding “Yes!” then bounces up and down and jumps into her husband’s arms. It is the Greenville Fly-in, and Gary and Maureen have just finished their run at bush pilot’s canoe race. Energy levels are at a bursting point, and this couple is charged up.

“We live and breathe this weekend,” Maureen says.

“We missed a few years ago. And that was really hard,” Gary adds.
The sweet little plane nestled against the shore did not look so pretty four years ago. It was Gary’s first plane and a childhood dream come true. “I always wanted a plane as a kid, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would own one.”

The Cessna had been a vivid orange. “We called it the flying pumpkin.” Maureen says, They flew it at the competition in Greenville but in the second year the engine went.

Fifty- two weeks until the next fly-in, and as long as they were putting in a new engine, they figured they might as well do a complete restoration. This may not be logical to everyone, but for Gary and Maureen it was a natural conclusion. “We devoted every weekend and many a week night for a year to this plane” Gary says. “A new engine, and we gutted the inside and stripped the paint.” They had it repainted white. Why white? There is no answer, but white it had to be. Gary owns a flooring business, and all the company trucks are white. His personal vehicle is white, the Toyota Landcruiser they bought to keep at camp on Moosehead is white, and Maureen‘s Denali is white.

Gary is soft-spoken and resolute, Maureen exuberant and sparkling, and together they get things done. People call them Rooster and co-pilot. Maureen is a convert, though. Although her dad was a pilot, planes were simply not her thing. Gary, however, has been obsessed since he could crawl. And it wasn’t just planes, it was seaplanes. “I’d hear one when I was a kid, and run down to the dock to see it come in. A DeHaviland Beaver. What a plane.” Gary has made most of his dreams come true, but has yet to get a DeHaviland. “We keep buying megabucks” Maureen quips, but if the Dehaviland comes into their lives, chances are it will be bought with hard work and total focus. A brief stint with Amway reinforced Gary’s natural tendency to visualization. “See what you want, pin a picture on your refrigerator, and concentrate on getting it. You will.” For Gary this works. “I buy what I can afford” is his philosophy, and if he needs to work more to afford something, that is just the price you pay.

“I dreamed of planes as a kid, but never even thought for a second I might ever sit in one, and owning one? No. Not a possibility. We were poor, our house burned down, and I lived in a tent. Never had running water. When I was twelve I worked on a farm so I could have a little money.”

Gary is pragmatic about a pretty hard childhood. “When I was 14-15-16 I worked at a flooring company, we didn’t have money, I wanted something, I had to earn the money myself.”

But he still dreamed of flying. High school graduation, it was time to decide what to do with his life. Gary joined the army. He had wanted to join the air force, be a pilot. Fly. But his mother, who had not been able to live her own dreams, thought she was giving good advice when she told him not to bother, “Your grades aren’t good enough, forget being a pilot.” she said. Gary did not try. This is a man who sets a goal and then achieves it. But, as a teenager, he did not have the clear vision he has today. “I didn’t even try, and I regret that.” One of Gary’s few regrets.

When Gary got out of the army he came back to Maine, to his family. He worked for the same flooring company he had worked for as a kid. He might still be an installer for this company, but they went out of business. Gary had always worked extra hours, filled in for other installers, did carpet installation on weekends and evenings. “If you put down a yard a day, you got paid for a yard, if you put down fifty, you got paid for fifty.” Hard work, honest work, and it helped Gary turn from a one-man operation to a respected member of the business community. “There are bigger carpet installers out there, but we have a reputation. Even when it was just me, I was there when I said, I charged what I said.” And that has not changed.

Gary is the American Dream before it went haywire. He is living the life he wants, earning the money he needs, and facing every morning knowing he does not owe anyone anything. Most recent dream? A hunting camp in Alaska. He bought one last year, and the first time he was dropped in he spent a week putting on a new roof. “I worked until midnight more than once.” You know he is not exaggerating. And if he does not have an immediate goal he just works and saves. “He’s like a squirrel” Maureen says, “He doesn’t even know where all his nuts are buried.”

But he knows what makes him happy, and that is flying. And working hard. He is flying a 180 today, working hard everyday, and if that Dehaviland Beaver is off the refrigerator door and on the strip it will not be such a surprise.

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.

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.

Acadia National Park Dramatis Personae Maine Otter Creek

Snake on a plain

A fifty-foot boa constrictor skeleton lies mouldering on the south face of Cadillac Mountain, Otter Creek, Maine, in what is now Acadia National Park. I have never seen it, but Everett Walls told the tale.

“Fifty foot long she was, the vertebrae three foot high, Yup, we’d pick blueberries around them bones.” Everett said a circus boat had sought shelter in the nearby village of Seal Harbor during a storm. This was in the 1950’s, and the big snake had escaped.

“But,” I protested, “Snakes don’t grow that big.”

“Maybe thirty feet then, does it make any difference?” Everett asked. He is right, and we will leave that boa, which Everett also said might have been a python, but no difference there, either, at fifty feet.

“Quite a ruckus it caused, people ‘fraid to walk on the ridge. And he did come out now and again. Fifty feet is pretty big, people remember running into that.“ I am sure they would, but I have not been able to find anyone who saw the snake. Not even Everett. ”No, I never saw it alive, jus’ the bones. Fine with me.” Everett says.

This snake escaped captivity for a summer among blueberries, foraging on rabbits and voles, basking on slabs of flat pink granite. What a summer! The cramped cage was left behind, along with the smell of the ship’s hold, and the unnatural rocking on waves was exchanged for sun and a whole mountain to cavort on.

According to Everett, the circus crew hunted for their snake, and so too did local police. But he kept hidden, and the circus boat left without him.

The snake spent lazy days sinuously winding up to Eagle’s Crag, darting out a tongue to sense the moist salt air. The boa did not see and did not care when the ship disappeared from view over the edge of the sea.

“Yep, quite a scare around here, but we knew it t’wouldn’t be a problem long.”
The boa dozed and ate, lazily opening an eye against the warm August sun.

Then Everett started to talk about his aunt, that she had painted a picture of Otter Creek that was in the World’s Fair in 1939. “She painted nothin’ fancy, just simple pictures, but she entered a contest, and this picture went down to the world’s fair. Imagine that!”

An old painting of the Creek, by a creeker! I was excited. “Where is it now?”

“Oh, behind the ‘frigerator last time I saw it.” I pleaded for a peek. “Heck, I’d give it to you, but Elsie still likes knowin’ it is tucked back there.”

Elsie is gone now, and so too is Everett. But what about that snake?

“He weren’t designed for a Maine winter. We knew we didn’t have to worry ‘bout him.” Everett liked to come by, making the slow journey on crutches from his house to mine. He always had something to share, a story, some old photos, a flounder spear (this is still hanging in my shed) or just a few minutes of time.

“Really, Everett, really? A giant snake in Otter Creek?”

“Oh, yes. It was in the papers.” We smile at each other. Guess then it has to be true. I want it to be. I want that snake to have had such a fine summer here on our hillside. And every time I walk the South Ridge of Cadillac I can’t help but look for a long moss covered shape that just might be a fifty-foot boa skeleton.

Camp Maine recipes

World’s best chicken stew

Tomato red dutch oven, perfect for chicken stew

Today I made the world’s best chicken stew. This is a bold claim, and I do not make it lightly. I will never make this stew again, nor enter it in a contest, nor pass the recipe on to others. It was camp food, and like so many moments and parts of life at camp, it was created off-hand and unplanned, and cannot be repeated.

Chicken stew is not something I would typically make at home, but it is perfect food to cook on the woodstove at camp. Camp? The word has become part of my everyday vocabulary, but it is a concept I did not understand when I first moved to Maine. Camp was where I was sent as a kid, and slept on bunk in a cabin with seven other little girls. Camp was where I ate from a mess kit, and wrote notes home because we were told to. Camp is where I began to taste independence, and disappointed my mother by never getting homesick. Camp was for kids, not families.

In Maine, camp has a capital letter. It is a second home. It might be rustic and primitive, as is my husband’s family camp, or fully fitted with all the mod cons, which I think takes away most of the fun. It is a place the family goes to, together, every summer, and frequently in winter. It is usually less than an hour away, and most commonly on a lake. When my husband’s grandfather bought the lot on Toddy Pond, there was one camp. Today there are over eight camps, and four are owned by family members, including the camp we use, which belongs to my sister-in-law.

We go to camp to walk on ice, sit in the sun, read, ice fish and eat. The intent is to catch fish for dinner, but I always bring food in case we get no fish. When I first came here, I would plan meals, organize them at home, and with delight impose my vision of camp food on my husband. He and his family had opted for canned beans, hot dogs, Dinty Moore stew, and mounds of bacon. I was not convinced. I would bring assortment of condiments along, getting packed to go to camp, unpacked at camp, then packed to go home and finally, full circle, unpacked back at home. My checklist included every spice I might possibly want, olive oil, pickles, cheeses and a selection of cocoa and teas. His grandsons happily joined me wrapping potatoes in foil to tuck into the woodstove, and though skeptical, accepted my spicy Mayan cocoa. It was fun, but a bit complicated. Zip bags of marinated meat were sautéed with seasoned and prepped vegetables. Polenta needed more than its usual tending to prevent sticking as the temperature on the woodstove top fluctuated. Salad greens needed to be protected from freezing, as camp sometimes takes a few hours to get warm. It was a production, but as long as there was plenty of bacon my elaborate meals were tolerated.

The fact that I insisted on using the woodstove to cook on was also tolerated. There is a gas burner at camp, but the large, even, cast-iron surface of the wood stove, which was already burning to supply our warmth, could not be ignored. I learned to regulate the temperature by a combination of adjusting the damper, opening the door slightly, and adding wood in small regular amounts. Opening the door made an instant impact, but also made it impossible to stand right by the stove. If I wore anything with acrylic in it, I soon felt as though my legs were wrapped in fiery blankets, and about to combust.

Camp, fireglow from woodstove in one window, sunset reflecting in the other

Things have gotten a bit more relaxed. Now, I do very little planning. I raid the fridge and root cellar for whatever looks promising. We stop at a market on the way, grab some things, and off we go. A few years ago I made cock-a-leekie soup with my daughter to celebrate Candlemas, and since then a variation on this hearty chicken soup has become the easy no-thought meal that is part of a camp weekend. It is always good. Food at camp always is. It can simmer on the woodstove for hours without harm. The ingredients are never measured and always vary, but it is still chicken stew, and it is delicious. Today’s was outstanding.

I had grabbed a pile of potatoes and carrots from the root cellar, onion and garlic, and pulled a bag of Maitaki mushrooms we had gathered in the fall from the freezer. A few odd leftovers were tossed in the box, we bought some chicken thighs and a green pepper at the market, and that was it. We no longer really plan on eating our fish for dinner, but look forward to the stew. I used to wait and see if we caught fish before starting to cook, but now I just get that stew on the stove and get out on the ice.

My sister-in-law has one of my favorite cooking utensils. It is a tomato soup red Le Club dutch oven. I look forward to coming to camp for many reasons; the sun on the ice, the quiet, the distance from all the responsibilities back home, and for cooking in this pot. It sits flatly on the woodstove, takes heat evenly, and is really easy to clean.

There was no olive oil, so I peeled a few strips from the pack of bacon and let that render in the beautiful tomato red pot. Slivered garlic and sliced onion were added, turned translucent, then slightly brown at the edges. The chicken thighs were cubed, blessed with lots of black pepper, and tossed into the now sizzling pot. We always bring a generous supply of wine to camp, and so there was plenty to pour over the browned meat. I did not wait, but chopped in the carrots, a few pieces of potato, stirred it all up, put the cover on and went out to fish.

I checked it on occasion, adding a splash of wine or a pinch of salt. I only did these things to nurture the stew, it really was doing fine without any further aid from me. We caught fish. Some we gave back, and some, a half dozen white perch, were kept for tomorrow night’s meal. The sky began to darken and I went back to the warmth of the camp. The stew seemed a bit liquid, so the bowl of left over mashed potatoes, intended for breakfast potato cakes, was dumped into the stew and stirred in. The mushrooms, which had been sautéed in white wine with lavender and rosemary before freezing, were mixed in as well.

A loaf of bread was tossed on the hot stove next to the pot to get warm and crispy.
I settled into the couch to read, and heard a distant cry of “Flag” as the orange flag of one more tip-up sprang up-right, indicating another fish on the line.

The creamy texture was smooth, golden, and just the right distance between thick and thin. It was the most delicious chicken stew I ever had, until next time we come to camp.

Taking a break, back in May!

View from camp

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