Category Archives: Maine

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 Destinations Maine Otter Creek

In a fog

A small boat on the ocean, visibility twenty feet, no navigation system, and close to ten o’clock at night is not a good place to be. We did not mean to be there, but there we were, lost in the fog.

Fog changes the familiar. It has a presence, and the cool moisture is palpable. It cloaks the sharp edges of things making them a bit less comfortable, but beautiful and mysterious. I am happy walking in fog on the well-known paths behind my house. The soft gray contrasts with the dark forms of trees, accentuating their branches. It is not weather to explore new territory, however, or to stray off the trail. Driving on foggy nights takes concentration. The road disappears into the light of the headlamps, and progress is slow and tense. I only drive on foggy nights out of necessity.

To be out in a boat in such weather is foolish, and it can be fatal. We were foolish, but it was not fatal. This sounds melodramatic, but we were indeed in danger. We know better, so how did this happen? How did we end up floating, engine quieted, trying to hear a bell or sound that might tell us where we were?

We live close to the ocean, and our favorite restaurant is on an island just a few miles offshore. The Islesford Dock is on an old wharf and you feel like you are floating on water as you eat. The location and views are enough reason to go, but the food is taste after taste of heaven: Buratta cheese, rice, grain and pine nut cakes with spruce tree oil and roasted vegetables from the garden out back, sautéed kale with just the right tenderness and garlic. I close my eyes and swoon whenever I think of their food. There are usually fellow ID fans at the bar, and it is always a joy to meet fellow addicts. You can get there by ferry, but that means planning, as well as eating, around the ferry schedule. So we bought a boat.

As soon as they open for the season we head out, and during the long summer days we are back safe in our harbor well before dark. We go several times a week, it is a short 15-minute ride and we know it well. The season was drawing to an end, and we felt the need to go as much as possible before they closed. The days were also getting shorter. We asked a couple of friends to join us, and to meet us at the dock at five, but from that point on a series of unfortunate events unfolded. Individually, none of them would have been a problem, but cumulatively we ended up where we did.

Life jackets, check. Hand-held compass, check. GPS, check. Hmm, batteries are low. A few minutes were taken to find new batteries and toss them in the bag. Cell phone check. Powerful spotlight. No check. We searched the shed where life jackets and this light are kept but could not find it. We went up the road to the garage, another possible place for it. We debated. We planned to return before dark, but it would be close. We felt we needed it, and went back to the shed and found the lamp where it had fallen behind the counter we store the jackets on.

We get to the dock, and instead of the boat on the water ready for our friends; they are there ahead of us. We launch and head off, half an hour behind schedule. As we are leaving the harbor I explain we were late looking for the light. I point to it, but where is it? We each thought the other had put it in. Again the debate, go without or go back? We go back for it. We arrive at the restaurant with time to eat quickly and get home before dark, but it is packed and we have to wait half an hour to order. It is then my husband reaches for his cell phone to find it is not hooked to his belt. The fog we had seen off in the distance moves in, between home and us. The fog is there, we have to go back through it, we decide we may as well eat first. But the kitchen is backed up, and it is after eight when we finally eat. If I had a choice of last meals, this would be it.

We get underway, but it is after eight, dark, and, as my husband says, the fog is dungeon-thick.

We leave the Islesford Dock and go from one buoy to the next. After the third one there is a short stretch before the buoy at the mouth of Northeast Harbor, which would guide us home. We pull out the GPS, but the batteries we had grabbed turn out not to be new batteries. We had our powerful lamp, but it simply reflected a wall of gray. We see dim running lights of another boat, and coming close see it is a boat someone had told us was going to Northeast. We follow it. At some point one of us said, “seems as though we should have hit that buoy by now.” The boat we were following was not heading to Northeast Harbor, but to Southwest Harbor. We turn around, and think we were heading back the way we had come, but become disoriented. We take a bearing with the hand held compass, but it just does not seem possible. Maybe the compass is broken, we think. We move slowly, sweeping our light across the water to let other boats know we were there. There is, surprisingly, traffic on the water. Large shapes heard long before they are seen.

The fog is so thick and heavy our clothing is wet and our hair is plastered to our heads and necks. The constant moan of ships’ horns let us know we have company out there, somewhere. And quite close, we just cannot see them. Abbie and John, our dinner companions, are in it with us, no accusations, fear or complaint. We discuss whether we should trust the compass, and take turns wielding the light. The possibility of being out all night is a real one. We are all calm, calling it an adventure, while offering reasonable suggestions and avoiding lobster buoys. Abbie has a cell phone, but it only has a few minutes left. We decide to save it as a last resort. A large piece of flotsam emerges from the fog and silently drifts by.

Finally we hear a bell, marking the harbor entrance. We get close, and check the number, it is can number two. It is the first bell we heard since we reversed direction and so we feel it has to be the mouth Northeast Harbor. If we set our bearings and trust the compass we would see harbor lights in about two minutes. We floated, keeping the red can in sight. If it was not the Northeast can, and there was a problem with the compass, we might be heading to Ireland. We were divided here on what to do. It felt like the win or lose question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It was really important that we make the right choice. It was time to use a lifeline. Abbie turned on her phone.

Our friend Edgar grew up on Islesford and makes his living on these waters. He had joined us briefly at dinner, and had been hired to bring a party back to the mainland. He couldn’t be far away. We called. Abbie explained our situation, and the red can. It is not long before Edgar tells Abbie, “I’ve got you, be right there.” In minutes the Instagator was beside us, and we felt safe, and could admit just how very unsafe we had been. As Edgar bobbed comfortingly beside us and offered to lead us to harbor, the Elizabeth T. came by. Captain Danny Lunt is another man who is at home on the water. He is a local legend, known for competency and calmness. They were headed for Northeast. Edgar asked him to guide us, and we left our lifeline to follow the Elizabeth.

It was a long ride. We were wrong, we had not been at the buoy at the mouth of Northeast Harbor, so it is a good thing we did not head off following the compass. We might very well have ended up out of sight of land, and very lost.

We followed Captain Lunt, but it was still not smooth sailing. His wife Linda describes that night as follows: Wild Ride Last Night on the Elizabeth T! Rainy, foggy, Dark, and around 9:30 someone in a small boat darted from nowhere in front of us, then did the same thing to the folks behind us – NOT SAFE! Don’t know who they were, but hope they are not on the water today!

We were the folks behind them, and thank them for bringing us home safely.

The next morning my husband called Edgar. “Good morning, God,” he said. “This is the village idiot calling to say thank you.”

Some lessons come at great expense. Our only price was a damp ride with cheerful friends.

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.

community Maine Maine Vanities

SHZA AST Destiny Hesketh

Destiny Hesketh on Maggie, her American Quarterhorse"

An excerpt from Maine Vanities

Maggie is six years old. She doesn’t drive, but she is a very sweet ride. Maggie is an American quarterhorse, and her registered name is She’s an Asset, and so the plate SHZA AST.

Destiny Hesketh is thirteen years old, and she doesn’t drive either, but she loves to ride Maggie, her best friend and thirteenth birthday gift.

Most days they can be found at Alderbrook Farm, riding, practicing for shows, or just hanging out. Destiny brushes Maggie’s flanks and glances at her mom as she speaks. “I found her online, but I was always finding horses online and asking mom if I could have them.”

Wendy Hesketh nods in agreement, “She would get home from school and go online looking for horses. You couldn’t pull her away.”

“When I found Maggie was available, I couldn’t stop asking for her. Mom and dad had always promised me I could have a horse when I turned thirteen, and my birthday was pretty close,” Destiny explains.

Wendy smiles at her daughter. “I was hoping she would outgrow it, but I should have known better. We brought her to the state fair when she was just a few years old, and all she wanted to do was ride the pony. Candy, arcade games, merry-go-round—none of that could entice her away from the pony ride.”

Destiny agrees, although she says she is not sure she really remembers. “I’ve just always wanted to ride, and to have a pony or a horse. Two weeks after my thirteenth birthday, I was convinced it wasn’t going to happen. But still I would imagine waking up and finding a horse staring at me from the foot of my bed.” She looks at her mom, then confides, ”I know it doesn’t make sense. My bedroom is on the third floor, but I just had this vision of waking up and seeing a horse—my horse—standing at the foot of my bed looking at me.”

Wendy shakes her head and shrugs. “We brought Destiny to the stable, and she just thought we were going riding, that it was a birthday party, and that Maggie was just there for the kids to ride.”
“But you mustn’t forget the bow,” Destiny interrupts. “That gave it away.” Destiny explains, “Mom had put a bow around her neck, and I knew she wouldn’t have done that unless Maggie was really for me. They hadn’t said, but I knew she was mine. I held it until I petted her, and Mom showed me the papers. Then I couldn’t keep it in any more and started to cry.”

Destiny gives Maggie a stroke, and Maggie nudges Destiny with her head.
Destiny is hoping to work with horses all her life. “I want to be a trainer or a chiropractor. I have scoliosis, so I’ve learned about backs and muscle, and cracking my back.
That brings such relief. We have a horse here that needs his back cracked everyday. I get to do it sometimes. I grab his head, shove my chest into his ribs, and crack his back. When he starts making funny sounds with his lips, you know you’ve made him feel good.”

College and a career are both still a long way off, but Destiny clearly knows what she wants her future to hold: learning more about horses, riding skills, anatomy and chiropracty, and an entire horse-filled world.

But until then, the days are long. Riding, grooming, and winning ribbons with Maggie fill them. Call her Maggie, or call her, but ask Destiny if she is an asset in her life, and the quiet smile answers that question.

Excerpt above from from Maine Vanities

Destiny is now 15, and still passionate about horses.

The message of a Maine vanity plate may raise an eyebrow, or a question, or simply cause a smile. But behind each and every plate is a personality, and the rest of the story.

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, passion and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

Day to day gardening Maine Otter Creek

Digging in the dirt

French Intensive is not a language class. One of many names for double dug gardens, it is the name I heard most frequently in high school when my Dad and I shared our copies Mother Earth News and Foxfire books. Biodynamic, raised bed, double dug, biointensive—while details may vary, backbreaking dirt digging is a common denominator.

I freely admit it was my idea to try French Intensive gardening. Last year our garden had two successive plantings of beets rot and die as seedlings. The parsnips were skimpy, and instead of eight bushels of potatoes for family and friends, we had just enough to get us to March. Witch grass taunted from between every row and our harvest went from bountiful to adequate. I have been part of this garden for only ten years, but that is long enough to see the decline. I had mentioned my childhood interest in intensive gardening years ago, but the garden was producing, so why change? This year it was time for change.

Three four-by-sixteen raised beds have been created. Digging two feet down may not seem like much, but it feels like taking core samples the hard way. After eight inches of topsoil there was a compact layer that had to be pick-axed through. This hard, almost concrete, layer had deposits of ash from some burn pits possibly eighty years old. After that, loose, rust-colored sand went down twelve inches. It goes deeper, but that was as far as we were going. This was easy shoveling. As we turned it over I was told that my husband’s father dug a trench for a water line from his house to his parent’s, crossing the field we were digging in. It was four feet deep, not our paltry two, and 200 feet long. The story is that not one rock was encountered. Digging into that lovely red granular layer, I believe it. Putting foot to shovel it slid in with no resistance.

The warm brown topsoil on the surface is recent, just two generations. It was built with seaweed, compost and hours of manual labor. A great-great grandfather had sold the original topsoil to the estates in neighboring Seal Harbor, which was not blessed with the rich dark earth of Otter Creek.

Red, gray, brown, white, orange–the colors of these levels are distinct. They do not blend as they transition, but abruptly turn from one substrate to another. It is beautiful to dig a spade through these layers. The colors are an inspiring palette of earth tones. But lovely though the colors are, it is still an intimidating amount of work to make these beds. After eight feet, just half of the first bed, we considered hiring a local do-anything guy to dig for us. It would be an easy out. It was very tempting. But the vision of harvesting our vegetables from a bed we may have planted and tended but did not put sweat and love into deterred us. We made a good but painful choice.

We now know every inch of these beds. We know their colors, and we know their layers. When our vegetables grow, we will know exactly what their roots are in, because we saw it, we touched it, and we have planted our own roots there.

community Maine Otter Creek

Pick up lines

Every April our town offers a roadside pick up. Things too big to put in the weekly household trash collection can be hauled to the curb and taken away for burning, chipping, recycling or to the landfill, whatever the town deems best. This is a wonderful service, and while every year there is discussion of stopping it as an unnecessary expense it is always voted back in.

Refrigerators, three-legged chairs, new-in-the-box mattresses, dysfunctional propane heaters, table umbrellas with torn canvas, a Nordic track with no visible flaw except being out-of-date­, the items are motley and incongruous. A clean, pristine, aqua-glazed flowerpot, price tag attached, leaves one wondering why it is on the curb. Did its mate die an untimely death, and it was unwanted as a single? Nearby a jumble of broken and unidentifiable parts leave no doubt why they are awaiting pick up. Most things are in poor condition, truly worthy of being hauled and away and mashed, but there is a fair amount of stuff that has a lot of life left.

I grew up in suburban Connecticut, and the idea of a week of unwanted items adorning our groomed lawns and perfectly trimmed hedges was unthinkable. These roadside discards fascinate me. I love to slow down as I pass a pile. I am not looking for a treasure, I am simply mesmerized by the stuff. I spot two matching twin maple beds with frames, and remember someone asking me if I knew of any. There is no way am I going to remember which friend needs some. As I look at them and force my brain to cough up the name, a van pulls up and the beds are gone. I admire a vintage rucksack with dusty labels. Some venturesome soul from Otter Creek went to Paris, departing on a Holland America cruise ship October 13, 1951. I cannot make out the name, and really want to know. Was it a neighbor, or a relative of my husband? I stoop to photograph the graphically beautiful label, and a couple prodding the pile near me ask if I am taking it. “No” I reply, and it is pulled away while I quickly snap a picture, and in less than a minute they open it and dump the leather sandals, men’s size 10 and in excellent condition, circa 1950, onto the ground, hop back in their bulging station wagon, and head off to the next pile.

I look at an old victrola, the legs are rotted and it struggles to stand erect. A neighbor wanders over and says, “I’m going to take that,” as he rubs his index finger with his thumb. “It’s worth money, and I sure need some.” He heads back home, presumably to get something to move it with, but when I pass by the next day I see two energetic fellows toss it on their truck and move on. Pick up week is not a waiting game. They are not bumper-to-bumper, but the cruising vans and trucks form a steady line through the town, and hesitating is not a good choice.

Looking at other people’s discards and speculating on the history behind them is only one aspect of the annual pick up. I also have the chance to do my own housecleaning. Dragging things out of the shed or basement to the roadside is satisfying, a general spring-cleaning, good feeling. Finding it gone the next morning, picked up by someone in one of the slowly cruising pickup trucks that populate our streets every year at this time, is also satisfying. I ponder; do I really want to get rid of this wooden swinging patio chair? It works, it’s cool, just needs to be refinished. In the pile it goes. I do have the option of snatching it back on Wednesday, which is the day the town picks up on our street. I have yet to snatch anything back. I rarely know who takes my offerings, but they are in my mind. There is a connection between us. The plaster lion, once boldly painted, was used as a doorstop until he had his tail whacked off by a vehement door closer. I brought him outside, intending to repair the tail. Instead the rain washed off his lovely colors. He was now not only tailless, but also colorless. My husband several times picked it up. “Garbage?” he asked. “No,” I said. Eight months later it becomes part of town pick up week, as I lovingly set the lion down by the road. In less than six hours he has a new home. I do not know who saw him and wanted him, but I smile with pleasure that someone did, and whoever they are, we are connected, because we both saw something we loved in that plaster lion.

Cruising and checking out other people’s leavings is fascinating. I also appreciate being able to offload things that cannot go in household trash. Without pick up week, I would waste a Saturday morning, as it’s over half an hour drive to the transfer station which then charges you by the pound. It probably wouldn’t happen. The piles in the shed would grow, and grow, overwhelming my daughter and family when I move on.

Since I do have this convenient method of disposal at hand I have turned it into a game. I have become obsessed with rating my leavings, and guessing how long they will be sitting unwanted by the road. I haul a matched set of spring steel chairs to end of the drive. These have to be the most comfortable pieces of lawn furniture around. But they need to be sand blasted and I am not going to do that. They don’t last long.

My goal is to have everything I put out taken before the town truck comes around. I come close. I like to think I have a pretty high quality of discard. I have also spotted some of my leavings in the home of my stepdaughter, and that of neighbors who live down the road. My stepdaughter rescued the pink and black marble chess set with four broken men, a Bermuda souvenir that has been replaced. The neighbors took the sunny yellow lavatory sink, and thanked me. They said they liked passing my house at pick up week because I had such interesting stuff. Maybe they took the lion.

This exchange of goods is a phenomenon few towns share. The gains are innumerable. The vast piles shrink as people who have either a use or a market for them take things. These objects are given a second life rather than being disposed of by the town, which costs not only labor but disposal fees. Bar Harbor, a neighboring town, has forbidden removal of anything from their transfer station. Liability is the reason, and yet what a shame. Instead of recycling they are adding to the mass of garbage that has to be dealt with at great expense.

I check my pile, and am delighted that someone took the glass carboy with some nameless liquid inside. It is a great bottle, but I’d planned to clean it for ten years, it was time to let someone else plan to clean it. The table saw my dad and I bought at a yard sale for him to use was sadly put out; he is no longer here to use it. A friend spotted it, and was ecstatic. I helped carry it to his house, pleased it would continue to be used, and by someone who knew and admired my dad.

Town pick-up is not about the town generously removing our big trash, though we appreciate it. It is about passing on tales and tools, being tantalized by incomplete stories, and giving things another purpose and another life before they get trashed.

Now, will someone please tell me who went to Paris in 1951?

Acadia National Park Day to day Maine Nature Log Otter Creek

Nesting, Nesting 1-2-3-4

Snowshoeing several weeks ago I startled a downy woodpecker. She flew from a perfect round hole in the decapitated, shoulder height trunk of a white birch I was passing. She flew into my arm, and then, all a fluster, (we both were) landed on the branch of a tree ahead of me. She was building a nest.

Several years ago a woodpecker nested very close to that white birch, near the top of a dead tree in our yard. While I do not love trees dying, if they do, I am not inclined to grab the chain saw and turn them into firewood. Deadwood provides food for birds, home for insects, and composts on the ground. If I had removed them, I would have missed the nesting, hatching, and fledging of a family of baby woodpeckers.

After watching the parents take turns sitting on the eggs, both they and I were delighted when a small brood of babies was hatched. These babies buzzed. I would drive into the yard after work, and roll down the window and listen. The soft droning noise was unmistakable, even though almost 200 feet away. The parents were very attentive, flying in and out, presumably with food. I could not see the newly hatched birds, although I could hear them. A neighbor’s cat also heard them. I came home one evening, smiling in anticipation of my private bird vespers. Arlo, a muscular cat with dense black fur, was three-quarters of the way up the tree. I leapt out and raced up, sending him home. This was not a cat who took no for an answer, and I was not happy he had discovered the nest.
We battled the next few days. I made chicken wire cages, and hung sharp objects around the base of the tree. Arlo persisted, he was a very persistent beast. Between tossing him back home, barricades and sharp obstacles, he was finally confined to mewling at the base of the tree, unable to get up the trunk to the nest.

The vibrant baby pecker noise increased in volume, and listening became an evening ritual. Watching morning and night, I still almost missed it. The first flights of those downy babies, fuzzy little intrepid balls of feathers, demanded a cheering squad. I rah-rahhed as each tumbled out, righted itself, and shot straight for the nearest branch. Acrobatics could wait for later.

That was a few years ago, and I am excited by the possibility of once again watching Downie’s feed and raise their young. Winter has given way. It let go reluctantly, and we shift from ice fishing to archery in the backyard in short sleeves. And nesting. Yep, the birds are at it. I watch crows out the window as I sit at my desk. They are dismantling an old squirrel nest, efficiently recycling. They fly off with twigs in their mouths to some unseen home. Ravens may have nested by now, but are still singing their courting song and doing belly flips as they fly, soaring. Almost touching, maybe they do touch, but their flight is seamless. An eagle has been flying nearby by with nesting material, and my husband, curious, snow shoed when there was still snow. He made note of the towering white pine, and we now watch the nest from a distance with binoculars.

Birds are in the mood. Every evening I hear a woodcock in the back yard, a male, making his beep-beep noise, then flying up and spiraling down, the air a rhythmic sigh in his feathers.


Biking Acadia National Park’s loop road, we pause near the Otter Cove causeway. Three immaculate white male mergansers swim and show off to three drab females. The water is so clear we can see a nearby eider as he flaps his wings and swims to the bottom of the cove for a mussel snack.

Winter was stubborn this year, but is has finally happened, the shift from frozen beauty to procreation. One moment I rhapsodize about the sun on ice, and before I can lament its loss, I am reveling in nest building and airborne mating dances.

Happy spring. At last.

Day to day Day trips Festivals Maine Maine destinations Otter Creek

Spring snow, sweet syrup

Boots and shovels then tee shirts and rakes, stoke the stove and open the window, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, spring, winter, winter, spring—March in Maine is neither fish nor fowl.

“I’m ready for spring,” even the devoted winter fans have been heard to say as March shifts from cold to warm and back. Spring is a tease, revealing the creamy blooms of snowdrops one day, and then hiding them again under six inches of snow. The winter coats and mittens were boxed and ready for storage, but a recent snow flurry caused us to pull them out and bundle up. For those of us who really love winter, this on-again, off-again is a needed weaning period. We are happy to have one more chance to don our fur hats and feel snow on our faces. The hats were boxed up, but we really weren’t quite ready to stow them in the attic and admit winter was over.

This morning the world was white again. Knowing this may be the last snowfall of the year, we don’t wait, but get up and head right out to play before going to work. But while the flakes are wet and real, there is no threat behind this snow. The winter lion has been declawed. We laugh fearlessly in its face, coats on, but not zipped. We know, too, that the snowdrops and hellebores will come to no harm. This is spring snow, saying a gay farewell. It lacks the seriousness of storms at the start of winter, which bring their cold breath and warnings of long nights and a frozen world. It is wet, and even though it covers the ground, it will soon be gone.

Alternate freezes and thaws are also what makes the sap run. Collecting maple sap and boiling it down for syrup is a tradition for many Maine families. It requires little investment, just a tap, a jug, a pot and a fire.

Syruping fits smoothly into daily life here in the Creek. Half an hour or so to set taps for a few days, then collecting now and then between hiking and dinner, and then boiling in the back yard. When there was more family around, it was done on a larger scale. Now, we tend the fire while making a few starts at cleaning up the yard. An old burlap back is stuffed with the weeds we pull off the garden and becomes a target for a few rounds of archery practice. We swap stories. I tell of my dad boiling sap in the kitchen, and peeling the wallpaper off the walls. I hear of my husband at eight or nine years of age using quart canning jars, the ones that had wire hoop handles, to collect sap, and how he had to collect many times a day. His grandfather helped him make homemade taps from discarded bits of tongue and groove planks. They whittled a slice of the groove side, giving it a point to pound into the tree, and the sap would run down the groove into the quart jars.

While things have improved–we now use plastic hose that fits into an opening cut in the caps of recycled milk jugs–it is still very low-tech. That is part of its appeal. It is also a way to be outside and moving around. Snowshoeing is over, ice is not safe, and biking is only possible on particularly warm days and even then many of the roads in the park are still covered in snow. Tapping trees, hauling heavy buckets of sap, bringing in spruce to keep the fire going, these are all ways to keep from stagnating.

The season is short, too. It is over just before you get tired of emptying buckets and smelling like smoke. These are all perfectly acceptable reasons to tap trees and make syrup. We might do it just for them. The jars of deep gold, thick, sweet syrup are just fringe benefits. Otter Creek Gold is maply, more flavor than sweet, slightly smoky because we boil it over wood, and the best maple syrup on this planet. Sugar, or rock maple trees have more branches and a greater surface area to produce sap. They also have a higher sugar content. Their syrup is sweet, and maply. Our syrup is maply, and then sweet.

But how sweet it all is. How satisfying to make flavorful syrup to pour on flapjacks, drizzle on ice cream, use in salad dressings, meat glazes and baking. We bottle some in tall elegant bottles, make Otter Creek Gold labels, and give them as gifts.

Syrup time is sweet. If you cannot tap and boil, you can certainly taste. Sunday is Maine Maple Syrup Day, and many sugar houses are giving tours and tastes. Go sample, then get yourself some taps.

www.mainemapleproducers.com

Maine Nature Log recipes

Roe, roe, roe we gloat

Winter roe is never found on the menus of local restaurants. Never is a word to be treated with great respect and caution, and so it is a rare pleasure to use it. Roe probably does not appear on too many dinner tables, either, since it is also not generally found at the local market. In fact, I think I can say with confidence it is never found there.

You need a fisherman to get roe this time of year. Preferably, a fisherman who can also clean the roe sack out intact, as a punctured roe is a mess to cook. But a mess of roe is a wonderful thing. This is confusing, but blame our dynamic English language. The phrase “a mess of “ is something I learned from my mother-in-law, and thought it was one of her colorful Maineisms, like sprill ( fir needles) and oughts (compost), but a mess of goes as far back as the Old French, mes, a portion of food, and perhaps is even older. It then shifted from a large portion of smaller things, to an untidy pile of things, to a mess.

Raw yellow perch roe

Roe from certain fish is also called caviar, but that is not the kind of egg sac that comes from below the ice on our Maine ponds and lakes. Cod roe is commonplace in Iceland, served with a dab of mayonnaise on crackers. The roe from the American Shad is sought after, connoisseurs have been known to pay exorbitant prices to have it flown to their kitchens. I grew up eating shad as one of our rites of spring. The eating came after fishing with my father on the Connecticut River, but more often than not the shad and shad roes we ate came from the nearby Shad Shack, a seasonal booth selling fresh deboned shad and roe. I still seek shad roe out when the Amelanchier, also called the shad bush, serviceberry, shad blow and a few other names, displays its soft white blossoms. But that is a while a way.

I prefer not to compare shad roe to two of our winter roes, from white perch and yellow perch. Perch roes are delicious now. Shad roe will be delicious then. I also will not debate the issue of invasive species. I wish the yellow perch were not in the ponds we found them in, but will not turn down their roe for political reasons.

White perch roe is about the size of my pinky finger, pale whitish grey, and very finely grained. The sac covering is very delicate, and needs to be handled with care. A tiny pinprick or two, a gentle rinse, and slide the roes ( you will need quite a few) into a cast iron pan with a shimmer of olive oil. After the heat firms them, add white wine, turn gently and very softly let them cook. Serve just like that or cool them, mince some garlic, add yogurt or mayonnaise and a hint of oyster sauce. Spread on toast.

Yellow perch are a bit sturdier, quite a bit thicker, as thick as a sausage. They are a lovely golden color, and can be cooked just like the white perch. They have many more eggs in the case, and are closer to the shad’s roe. Instead of olive oil, use ghee or butter. Three or four can make a meal, with a salad.

Yellow perch roe, not piglets

Many fisherman toss out the roe, or feed the entire yellow perch to the eagles that generally hang out where ice fisherman fish. They are looked at as trash food, just as mussels were not so many years ago. When I moved to Maine, mussels were not sold in the seafood market in Bar Harbor, and were not on the menu at any restaurant. I am not predicting yellow and white perch will become restaurant fare as they are not so easy to get, nor are they as plentiful as mussels, but perhaps fisherman will bring them home to enjoy with the rest of their catch.

Even if they don’t I will continue eat them, each bite a succulent, rich, o mi gosh moment. I will also continue to thank my fisherman who brings them, beautifully cleaned and glistening, to our kitchen. “Aren’t they complicated to clean?“ I ask.

“Slit the belly, give a push with your finger, and out they pop,” was the reply.

There are not many things about Maine winter’s that are that easy.


A fine mess of white perch

community Dramatis Personae Maine Otter Creek

Hughie Wright, houseman and whisker maker


Hughie Wright with Freckles (the beagle) and Missy (the Weimaraner)

in Seal Harbor, Maine courtesy Jackie Davidson

Hughie Wright was a Seal Harborite, fly fisherman, loyal husband, maker of whiskers and Edsel and Eleanor Ford’s houseman.

One does not hear the word houseman very much any more. There are caretakers and estate managers, but houseman is rarely used. Yet it was a respected profession only a generation ago. A houseman was a trusted and essential employee. Most of the families that summered in the neighboring villages of Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor would have a houseman. Hughie Wright was one of the best.

There is no trade school or correspondence course for houseman. It was a profession frequently passed on from father to son, and always learned on the spot. Hughie was self-taught. His job was, quite simply, to ensure the family he cared for had a perfect stay. He molded his skills to the desires of his employers Edsel and Eleanor Clay Ford during their stay at their summer home, Skylands. This was not demeaning, but rather a matter of pride. It takes keen observation, real affection, and a wide range of skills to be a good houseman. The bond between Hughie and the Fords, who he referred to as his “family” was the best of a master and servant relationship. Together over fifty years, Hughie called Eleanor Mother Ford and was devoted to her, even bringing her shoes home to clean at night. The Fords in turn depended on him, and took care of him.

At Skylands, cool Maine evenings were commonly warmed with a birch fire. Birch burns with snaps and cheery crackles, looks clean and pristine, gives off a lot of heat, and is the wood of choice for open fireplaces. One of Hughie’s many responsibilities was the building of the fire. And so the whiskers.

Whether it was Hughie’s grandfather or the Ford children who coined the phrase whiskers is uncertain, but old-timers still talk about Hughie’s whiskers. They are referring to his fire-starters. Every winter he would take clear pine, a beveled jack knife and make whiskers. He would spend close to half an hour on each one, shaving eighteen-inch lengths of pine board into thin curls. He then put them in a vise and used a drawshave to smooth their spine and drilled a hole hang them for storage.

Whisker, or pine fire starter c. 1960. Hand-shaved by Hughie Wright

Hughie learned to make the whiskers from his grandfather, starting when he was five years old. By the time he was a teen, he was allowed to make the whiskers not just for the kitchen fires, but for the living room as well. When Hughie started work at the Ford home in 1926, he introduced the fire starters and they at once became a required element in laying a fire. There were nine fireplaces in the house, and it took all winter to create a supply for the following summer. When stainless steel pocketknives became the only kind readily available, Hughie had a blacksmith hand-forge a beveled edge knife for him, so he could continue to shave the thin curls of the whiskers. Wood became more difficult to find too, but Hughie sought out clear pine, as pink was not acceptable in the Ford house.

There are only a few of these whiskers left. We were given one by Jane Smith, my mother-in-law, who is not sure how she ended up with it, and there is one in the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. When Margaret, Hughie’s wife, died, she believed there may have been a few still left in the whisker closet of Skylands, now owned by Martha Stewart.

Skylands, where Hughie Wright was Houseman

Hughie lived the life he wanted, and being remembered for his whiskers would please him. They epitomize his quiet quest to make life good for his family. He was never one for glory, but was well mannered, professional and dignified. Married over forty years to Margaret, he went to work every day. A familiar sight in Seal Harbor with his long-billed hat and cigar in hand, he was a man of routine. He went home for lunch every day, and Margaret would make a large and hearty meal. Every evening he would shave a few whiskers. Every year he and Margaret went to the annual Wayback Ball, a social gathering held after the departure of all the summer folk. He fished in the spring, raised Springer Spaniels, and in the winters sometimes had a nip or two with friends. Not given to jokes, a rare example of his humor is the sign for their dog kennels, designed to emulate the signs of the wealthy cottagers. Small and discrete, it reads Dogterd Ridge.

Sign from Hughie and Margaret’s Kennel in Seal Harbor, Maine

Collecting the mail was part of Hughie’s routine, and all summer long without variation he would stop at the post office after lunch.

On one of those summer days, no different from any other, he dropped dead outside the post office. Margaret had made her fried clams, each individually dipped in batter and tenderly browned, and sent him back to work. Jackie Davidson, a family friend, says “Margaret said it was a terrible shock, but that Hughie would have hated being sick, he’d have made a terrible patient.”

The art of shaving whiskers is gone, too. Hughie tried to show others how to carve them, including directions for the hand-forged knife, but was never able to pass it on. We will keep ours in a safe place.

Thank you to Jackie Davidson, Rodney Smith, Jane Smith, and David and Muriel Billings and for sharing their recollections and photos of Hughie.

Dramatis Personae is a series of portraits of Otter Creekers, and other local characters.