“The lobstah will come”

 

Last night after an eco- boat ride around Barnstable harbor, Sandy Neck and the marshes, we decided on dinner at Osterville Fish Too.  It’s a small dockside fish market, with take out and picnic tables.  Diane and I discovered it on the way home after several days on Nantucket (a post Cape trip).  At the time I had swordfish and commented how much better it was than swordfish I had in a fancy, expensive Nantucket restaurant.

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But last night, I went for the boiled lobster with fries and slaw.  I sign priced 1 1/4 lb. at $13.00 /lb.  My platter was $22.  Although I struggled a bit with cracking and spilled the melted butter in the dish, the lobster was fantastic.  I had lobster rolls twice on this trip, at the Guilford Lobster Pound in CN and another at Young’s, Rock Harbor, outside Orleans.  Guilford uses drawn butter; Young’s mayonnaise.  I like both but favor butter.  Most years we have a lobster feast at the house but wasn’t sure it would happen with so few days left.  If it does, I won’t complain.

 

I had my first lobster on a trip to Maine in the early 1970s.  I don’t recall where we stayed or for how long, but I remember stopping at a roadside stand.  Lobster, corn on the cob and a baked potatoe.  I was hooked, or maybe trapped is the better term.  Another memorable lobster experience was at a private party in Point Pleasant, PA.  The lobster was flown in from ME, one of the hosts, a lawyer was a pilot.  I think I had three lobsters that night.

 

But probably the best lobster I’ve had was two years ago on Mantinicus Island off Rockland, ME.  Mantinicus is a lobsterman/family Island.  We were visiting friends, David and Judy Sears.  They had ordered lobsters from a lobsterman friend who delivered them to the kitchen door when his boat came in.  Can’t get them fresher.  And as much as you wanted.  Dave has been painting on  the island, the map (left) and stones are examples of his work.

We ocassionally buy lobster in Yardley.  Have even tried the small frozen ones, forget where they are from.  But they never come up to the tenderness and taste of Maine lobsters boiled and eaten in New England.

 

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I just finished reading “The Last Lobster: boom or bust for Maine’s greatest fishery” (2018) by Christopher White.  Read a review and ordered it to read while on the Cape.  Several years ago, I read “Skipjack: the story of America’s last oystermen” (2011) also by White.  Soon afterwards we traveled to Deal Island in MD to see some of the last operating Skipjacks.  We found them including one being restored, it may have been the Lady Katie or Kathryn.  Need to check my journal or photographs.  There is The Last Skipjack Project which promotes restoration and preservation of the boats.

White who is from the Chesapeake turned his eye to lobsters, Maine lobsters to be specific.  His opening chapters are an interesting tour of the culture of the Maine coast.  The lobster fishery has been changing.  Many of the classic, traditional, quaint, picturesque lobster villages have been gentrified. Property prices rise; lobstermen families are pushed back from the waterfront.  Check where lobster traps are stacked.  Fancy restaurants and shops mushroom in the downtown.  Tourists fill the streets.  The traditional character becomes an attraction, a postcard image.

 

 

There are other forces of change.  Warmer waters have pushed the lobster north.  Decades ago there were lobster in Long Island Sound.  They are gone, north; the fishery in CN and NY collapsed. Harvest is limited in Cape Cod waters.  White explains how the center of the lobster industry has crept north.  For his research, he wants to settle in a “traditional” town with an active fishery.  He tours the coast. Some towns are familiar to me, in the south, Boothbay Harbor, Port Clyde, and  Searsport.  Others furthur north, Beal and Cutler are places I’ve never visited.  Hopefully in October we will visit the Sears (they have a winter home in Cushing) and we’ll do a lobster village tour.

 

White decides to settle into Stonington on Deer Island, south of Acadia and Bar Harbor, off the Blue Hill peninsula, east of Penobscot Bay in what’s known as the Down East area.  Furthur out are the Isle Au Haut and Vinalhaven Islands.  Mantinicus Island where the Sears summer is even farther southeast.  All of this area is prime, is the current center of the lobster fishery.  At least it was, annually global warming pushes lobster furthur north.  Eventually White predicts American lobster men may be in deadly competition with Canadians.

Diane and I first visited this area with John and Barbara Paglione in the early 1970s.  I had read “The Maple Syrup Book” and “Living the Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing. Scott, an economist was fired from University of Pennsylvania for communist leanings.  He and Helen began homesteading in Vermont in the 1930s.  When the ski industry transformed VT mountains, they moved to the Blue Hill village of Harborside.

 

Scott was in his 90s when we visited, building a new stone house.  We spent an afternoon touring the property, talking, helping to stack firewood and gather seaweed for fertilizer.  The Nearings had become gurus of the back to the earth movement and their homestead was a Mecca.  About ten years ago we were back on the Blue Hill pensiula, we drove to the Nearings, now The Good Life Center, but staff were all at the local festival, where our son-in-laws band, Cabin Dogs was playing.  A house on the property is rented; would be a historic rental for us.  Did we eat lobster or either or both trips.  Maybe.  (More about traveling in ME, checkout my blog, Maine on my Mind.)

 

White and his companion settle into the Stonington community.  They meet lobstermen and their families.  Go out on boats.  Haul traps and document their experience.  They eat lobster and try to learn about the boom several years ago.  The catch and price rose.  Will it last or will the bubble bust. I found it interesting that so many lobstersvwere shipped to Asia, especially China.  Trumps recent tariff policies may have dented that market.

 

I won’t try to repeat the arguments, concerns, and theories about the boom and bust. Time will tell.  It seems lobster catches have gone down in the past few years.  White’s “The Last Lobster”  is an interesting read.  He covers the life of the lobster, the ins and outs of the fishery, including family holdings, competition, marketing, distribution, the boom smiles and bust scowles.  His reporter/journalist style leads him to meet people.  He frequently becomes a friend of the family.  And it seems, so do we.  White (and his readers) experience everyday life;  the community rituals and festivals.   I’ve read other books about lobster and Maine but I recommend White.  Not only do I  want to eat lobster, I want to explore the culture.  I’m hoping it’s not the last lobster. Most lobstermen are confident, “the lobstah will come.”

Some photographs mine; some from the Internet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maine on my mind

 

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I have Maine on my mind.  I recently  read, “Maine Farm: a year of country living” by Stanley Joseph and Lynn  Karlin.  In the 1980s, they bought Helen and Scott Nearing’s original farm house and garden in Harborside, Maine.  The book was a gift from Dave Sears who lives summers,  with his wife Judy, on  Matinicus Island, Maine.  The book led me to find a Nearing DVD I sometimes used in class, “Living the Good Life” —  Bullfrog Films, 1976.  It’s still available for $59.  One reviewer wrote, “His laugh and her singing make it magic.”  It brought back many memories from our visit in the early 1970 (recalled in a previous blog, “Down the Atlantic Coast”).

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A few weeks ago, Melody and Garret Bonnema from Bethel, Maine visited us in Yardley.  They moved to Maine from Bristol in the early 70s and opened a pottery studio.  This visit they delivered several pottery pieces we had ordered as a wedding gift for Libby Paglione and Steve Vedder.  It’s been years since we have seen the Bonnemas.

 

Last week we drove to Rockland Maine and spent a night at The Ledges — a great motel overlooking the bay.  Next morning, we bought ferry tickets to Matinicus.  We were off to visit David and Judy Sears who bought a house on the island following retirement.  Diane and Dave taught together back in the beginning.  While waiting for the ferry, We met Martha Trower, from Chebeague Island just north of Portland.  Amazing, she knew the Nearings, had taught at Gould Academy and knew the  Bonnema’s, and knew David and Judy Sears from previous trips to Matinicus. Together we reflected on Maine — it’s amazing mix  of traditional and hip cultures.

Maine  on my mind.

Our first trip to Maine was about 1973.  We were living on Old York Road in New Hope with Barbara and John Paglione.  Although Diane and I were teachers and John worked in a Trenton hospital, our lifestyle reflected the “back to the earth movement.”  Not really a commune but we sometimes referred to our arrangement as an “intentional community.”  Summers John and I worked on two Pineville farms owned by the Daniel brothers.  Barbara and Diane worked in Japan Artisans, a great and missed New Hope shop.

We had a large garden, put up corn, tomatoes, and other vegetables.  Made preserves, condiments, bread, most of our beer (very crude) and wine.  We all cooked and rotated house chores.  We discovered Helen and Scott Nearing through “The Maple Sugar Book” and “Living the Good Life.”  I wrote the Nearings asking if we could visit.  We invited my father to join us and were offered to use a “plexiglas cabin” Bill Lynn from Bristol was building on a small piece of Maine real estate.  (Bill worked for Rohm and Hass and the plexiglas was scrap.)

In the 1930s the Nearings had begun homesteading in Verment.  Scott, an Economist, had been fired from the University of Pennsylvania and another college for socialism.  Helen, some years younger, could have had a career as a concert pianist.  In Vermont, maple syrup was their cash crop.  By 1952, the ski industry was taking over Vermont, the Nearings moved to Maine.

They bought a farm on the Blue Hill peninsula south of  Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor.  Their property was in Harborside, on a small cove off Penobscot Bay.  In the 1960s, the country was being introduced to a new youth culture, alternative life styles, back to the earth, eastern mysticism, gardening, communal living, hand crafts, flower power, and in media language —  “hippies.”  The Nearings were quickly becoming the “gurus” of homesteading.

We left Yardley in two aging VW bugs (one red; the other black), spent the night at Lynn’s “A” frame, just enough room for 5 sleeping bags.  The next day, headed to Harborside.  It had become a “Mecca.”  Our invitation to visit Forest Farm wasn’t necessary, visitors showed up every day.  Helen and Scott sat outside their frame farm house, mending netting they put over their blueberry bushes.  The berries had replaced maple sugar as a cash crop.  Several “in” people sat with them.  Although they had a bowel of grain for lunch, we weren’t offered any although I read that sometimes visitors were invited to lunch.  Some stayed for days, camping on the property and helping with farm chores.

That afternoon we helped Scott cut up some sapling size wood for heating, “warms you twice,” he said with a twinkle in his eye,”when you cut it and when you burn it.”  Later we headed in a pick up truck to Orr cove to collect seaweed to fertilize the garden.  The Nearings grew most of their food in a stone walled garden.  They were vegetarians, “we don’t believe in enslaving animals or people,” Helen explained.

They took us on a farm tour.  Quite proud of a new stone house  they were building  (Helen taped a rock, “it’s solid, strong).  At the time Scott was 90; Helen was in her 70s.  Scott lived until 1983; he was 100.    Helen continued to live in the stone house; she died in 1995, 91 years old.  After Scott’s death, Helen sold the frame house and some of the property to Stanley Joseph and Lynn Karlin, authors of “Maine Farm” mentioned in the beginning of this blog.

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Nearing stone house — today the Good Life Center

As evening approached we said goodby to Helen and Scott.  Scott had been extremely open, friendly, constantly offering funny aphorisms, “Pay as you go.”  No borrowing or credit cards for Scott.  In contrast, Helen seemed a bit sour, maybe tired of the constant visitor stream.  They suggested we stop to meet their neighbor, Eliot Coleman, who was establishing (much to the amusement of regular Maine farmers) an organic farm.  Eliot was working in the garden when we arrived — raised beds of rich soil, lush with vegetables.  On our trip to Matinicus, Dave Sears gave me a copy of “This is in Your Hands: one dream, sixty acres, and a family undone” by Melissa Coleman, Eliot’s daughter. On the to-read list with several other Maine books.

 

Stanley and Lynn and Eliot were not the only homesteaders that followed in the Nearings footsteps.  A few bought land from them in Harborside.  Jean Hay Bright, wrote “Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life.”  She wasn’t always complimentary to the Nearings.   The Nearings may have lead thousands of others, “hippies and homesteaders” that flocked to Maine in the 1960-1970s.

I recently discovered a Bangor Times slide show, “The Good Life.”  It had five chapters —  Seed, Root, Bloom, Harvest, Preserve.  They wrote  “Sixty years ago Scott and Helen Nearing inspired a movement that changed Maine forever.”  Today the Good Life Center,  at Forest Farm, in the Nearing stone house, promotes the self-sufficiency, basic life style in tune with nature and community, the message Scott and Helen lived and wrote about.  The original frame house can be rented.  Maybe a Paglione-Profy Maine reunion.

Our next trip to Maine was in 1975.  Melody Bonnema had gone to Pratt in NYC with Barbara Paglione.  After college she studied with an established potter, Toshiko Takaezu.  Melody  opened a studio in Bristol with her husband Garett, who would leave teaching to become a potter. The Bonnemas were part of the movement of homesteaders and craft artists discovering Maine.  They bought a large Victorian with an attached barn on Main Street in Bethel.  The town was picturesque but not a major tourist stop. There was an Inn across the street and National Training Laboratory (NTL) was headquartered in town.  NTL was known for its T group training that sought to improve interpersonal relationships and communication skills — very 1960s.  Gould Academy was also located in town.   So in the 70s, there was a small flow of outsiders through town.  That would grow when Sunday River Ski resort was developed.

We moved in with the Bonnemas their first summer in Maine.  I did some carpentry work in the barn and the building of display shelves for craft fairs.  Diane worked with Melody, actually learning to throw her signature minature hanging pots.  We traveled with them to several craft fairs.  It was pretty clear we weren’t in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, or the East Coast corridor any more.  Maine was different.

Although Bonnemas worked hard, there was a flowing, rhythmic pace.  Lots of friends visited and I remember Melody (like the Nearings) explaining, “Today is a working day.”  But tomorrow . . . I think we hiked in the Maine White Mountains at least twice, or three times a week.  Usually the Presidential range — Jefferson was a favorite because a road took us  far enough up, that above tree line was reached with minimal effort.  There were also hikes through local forests — I remember feeling lost on one hike.  No houses, no roads, no signs of civilization.  We eventually emerged.

The sense of community was amazing.  And it was made up of locals, born in Maine, heating the house with saw dust types,  and the migrants moving in.  Somebody needed to move a piano, a group got together one afternoon, moved the piano, cracked open cans of beer or Boones Farm Apple, guitars came out, and there was a jam.  I think his name was Douglas, was building a log cabin outside of town.  Could we help?  So for a day here or there we lifted logs, forming the cabin walls. Saw my first Moose on one of these cabin building days.

We became regulars at some businesses in town.  There was a small coffee shop, Bonnemas like Sunday morning breakfast out.  The hardware store-lumber supply  was a frequent visit, “Charge it to the Bonnemas.”  Then there was the small grocery where we bought milk and eggs and Boones Farm.  We learned that firewood was important, there was a wood stove (we learned about Vermont Castings) in the kitchen, some of that heat seeped upstairs (needed in the winter).

In the Bethel area in the early 1970s,  there weren’t any organic farms or farmers markets, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, artisan bread or craft beer.  I don’t remember any craft artists except the Bonnemas.  Since then it changed with the new Maine.

When we went to Bethel in 1975, I thought I would write.  But except  for my daily journal, I didn’t write.  In August I saw an ad for a photographic workshop in Rockport.  I could save my artistic honor.  Photography not writing.  The Maine Photographic Workshops were new.  Dave Lyman’s inspiration; professional photographers, talented students and a utopian setting.  We took a sailboat to a small island and spent a week photographing on 35 mm ecktachrome (it could be self developed).  The instructor, Bruce Curtsinger, a National Geographic contract photographer, opened my eyes to light and composition.  Particularly composition.  He taught the traditional rules but pushed us to go beyond the accepted.  Sunrise, sunset, ocean calm and ocean waves, seaweed and rock and rock. Wide angle (Bruce lent us an 18 mm lens), close up.  Color, light, pattern, texture, repetition.

The next year I returned to the Maine Photographic Workshops to take a course with Ernst Haas — color and color,  “Keep your finger off the shutter until you know you want the shot.”  Bruce Dale, “You need to shoot people.”  Both were great experiences influencing my life and photography.

Diane and I have traveled in Maine a number of other times.  I remember driving up the coast, stopping at a roadside stand and having my first lobster, corn , maybe a baked potatoe.  Lobster never made it to Bristol when I was growing up.   Delicious.  I remember horse back riding in Arcadia National Park.  And I have mental images of coastal towns, Kennybunk, Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Friendship, and Tenants Harbor.  One year when Jenny was about 8, we spent a week in Searsport.

We returned to the Blue Hill pensiula several years back when the Kwait Brothers were playing at the Blue Hill festival.  Jenny and Rob with a young Eli camped; Diane and I stayed in a B and B.  One afternoon we took a driving  tour and in the Brooksville historical society saw a sign “Condon’s.”  Diane recognized it immediately, from children’s author, Robert McCloskey’s (“Make Room for Ducklings” fame),  “One Morning in Maine.”  Our guide in the small museum said, “Drive down the road and you’ll be there.”  Within minutes we were in Buck’s Harbor with Condon’s Garage and store just as they are illustrated in the book.  McCloskey has a home on a small island in Penobscot Bay.

I don’t think we realized we were in Nearing territory until we noticed a mail box, “Nearing.”  We drove up to the stone house but everyone from the Good Life Center were off to the Blue Hill festival. We drove next door to Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm.  We talked to some interns, “Yes, Eliot still lives here.”  As we toured the farm and small market stand, I noticed someone coming out of the farm house.  It was Coleman and I couldn’t resist stopping him and relating how we’d met 30 years earlier.  Today Coleman is the go-to spokesman when something is happening in the organic farming movement.

Two years ago we planned a September trip to visit David and Judy Sears on Matinicus.  Dave required surgery and the trip was cancelled.  We had credit at the Percy Inn in Portland, so in April 2015 we took a trip to Concord, MA and Portland, ME.  Downtown, historic Portland reflects the “hip” culture that migrated to Maine in the 1960-70s.  Waterfront properties with boutique shops and a lively food scene.  Unfortunately  we couldn’t get reservations at Eventide Oysters — the hot oyster bar — ended up next door at Hugo’s, one of Portland’s first national known restaurants.  There was an expensive, if interesting price fixe tasting menu.  Another evening we ate at Street and Company, a favorite for us and discovered lunch at the dive bar J’s Oyster on the waterfront.

Last year we again planned a September trip to  Matinicus.  This time I ended up in the hospital and my surgeries lasted for months.  This year Dave emailed encouraging us to visit in September, 2016.   I was determined to make the trip.

On September 7 we left for Rockland.  It’s a long drive but the day was cool and clear.  We held off lunch until Kittery, just over the border between Maine and New Hampshire.  We had discovered Young’s Maine Grill on the Portland trip.  Deceptively simple, it’s a great seafood stop on the bay.  Instead of lobster rolls (you know your in Maine) we had oyster rolls.  Crispy batter; juicy, tasty oysters, with an Allagash White — there was a case in the car headed to Matinicus.

For part of the trip up the coast, we drive Route 1.  Although it has its share of tacky motels, chain restaurants, and other tourist attractions, it’s spotted with unique Maine establishments, true craftsmen, potters, woodworkers, iron workers.  There are farm stands and mom and pop (several generations) restaurants.  Some of the cabin- motels from the 40s and 50s even have an appeal.

In Rockland, Dave and Judy recommended The Ledges.  Our second floor motel style room had a beautiful view of the bay.  No need for a B and B.  We had reservations at Primo, described as “the ultimate farm to table experience.”  It’s claimed the chef, Melissa Kelly, started with a garden, a few hens, and a couple of pigs.  Wednesday night in September, the place was packed.  Our 7 o’ clock reservation was pushed to 7:30, so we had a drink at the bar.  Knowing I would have plenty of seafood in the coming days,  I ordered a signature dish, Pork Saltimbocca.  It was quite good.  Diane had a lobster Ravoli which she felt was lacking.  The drinks, beet salad, dessert, homemade limoncello were good but overpriced.  But the fact that Primo exists and  succeeds is a testament to the organic pioneers of the 1970s.

The next morning we did some last minute food shopping.  Judy wanted several quarts of homemade yogurt from a health food market.  We purchased donuts from a recommended bakery.  The ferry only runs to Matinicus three times a month.  And it was out of service for our trip.  We were taking the “island transporter.”  Basically a work boat, capable of carrying several vehicles and twenty-three passengers.  We were told to get there early.  We waited; met Martha; and watched the stream of passengers for Vinal Haven, then Matinicus.  There were family types, older couples, young couples and a few in pick ups, tattoos, and dangling cigarettes, that I couldn’t help stereo-typing as Trump supporters. How will Maine vote?   On board, there were six plastic seats for passengers in a large closet space.

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Seas were calm.  Matinicus is 23 miles out.  It’s a two hour trip.  Fog was fairly heavy at times.  In comparison, Nantucket, our summer destination for years, is about 30 miles out.  We arrived at Matinicus harbor in a light mist.  There were half dozen high piers with a fishing shacks where traps are stored and a stern man may live above.  The main pier was crowded with people and trucks.

Dave and Judy loaded  our bags in their truck and gave us an island tour.  It’s about 2 miles by 1 mile.  Maybe 125 residents in summer; 25 in winter.  There are no stores or restaurants.  The school has 3 students.  There is a non-denominational church, town hall, post office, playground, cemetery, airport, recycling station and a new library.  Until recently the library building was a “house of the rising sun” across the street from the Sears.  They bought the property and donated the building to the town.

Dave and Judy rented on  Matinicus for years.  When they retired they decided to buy.  Their house has been renovated, furnished with antiques.  Beautiful.  Dave began painting and with some inheritance built a studio.  They have a big productive garden — if you want fresh vegetables, you grow them.  There are also berry bushes and crab apple trees.

Five o’clock, wine glass in hand, there is a knock at the door.  A young fisherman, just off his boat is delivering lobsters (8) and crabs (5). With corn from Bucks County and tomatoes from the garden, we had a delicious meal.  Leftover lobster and crabs were the basis of a Maine chowder, Judy made for day two.  Reality check: Sears rarely eat lobster and at a  recent island picnic there was a basket of cooked lobsters; no one ate them.

In the next two days, we walked a trail to a typically Maine rocky coast;  another walk to Condon Cove with the ocean rounded granite stones that are the inspiration for some of Dave’s paintings.  We also explored a beautiful sandy beach, not typical of Maine, one of two on the island.  We went to the harbor and watched a few boats coming and going;  similarly, at the airport, a plane landed and took off with two passengers.

Life on Matinicus is slow, measured.  It’s very different from life on the mainland.  Dave constantly suggests that if you live here you must contribute to the island.  It may be  keeping one of the walking paths cleared or volunteering at the recycling station. It’s small town.  Everyone keeps in touch.  As we drove around the island, we ocassionally stopped to talk — small talk — who is off island?  Whose relatives are visiting?  Is someone back “fishing?”

“Fishing” is used for lobstering.   No one on Matinicus fishes for fish.  They fish  for lobsters.   It’s hard work.  There are regulations on size, number of traps, and where someone with a license can put their traps.  There is a line for instance between Mantinicus and Vinal Haven, a larger nearby island.  It’s important to keep your traps on your side of the line.  If not someone from the other island might cut you lines, losing not just lobsters but expensive traps and line.  But it happens and lobstermen have known to get rough.  There is no police force on Mantinicus, so island standards of behavior and cooperation are regulated by the community.  Punishment can be harsh, including banishment from the island.  A few years ago there was a shooting on the town dock. “Don’t mess with my traps.”

With regulation, in recent years, lobster catches have been good.  Some fisherman  — families have fished for generations — make three figure salaries. They may have a house on the mainland for winter and take get aways in Rockland.  Some even have a home in more southern, warmer shores.  But they work hard for what many  of us experience as the ultimate seafood.

Life on Matinicus wouldn’t be for everyone.  I don’t think I could live there most of the year, year after year, unless like Dave I was painting, writing or involved in some other art.  Bo Bartlett, a painter, whose exhibition at PAFA became the background for Jenny and Rob’s wedding, has a house and studio on Matinicus. They recently bought a large Bartlett print and I have a copy of his new book for their anniversary.

Go to : dsearsart.com for more of Dave’s paintings

What I really like about Matinicus is the focus on basics.  You are isolated from the usually hectic, over stimulating, sometimes depressing mainland life.  Islanders sometimes refer to the mainland as “America.”  It’s a different place.  Everything you need must arrive by boat or plane.  You are constrained by the weather.  Some days the planes don’t fly; and the boats may remain in the harbor.  Go with the flow.  This trip we left one day early due to the weather forecast.

I remember teenage dreamy talk about being able to sit on an deserted island (usually under a palm tree), enjoying the sun and waves, sipping a glass of cold lemonade.  There was romance to Peter Pan, Robinson Crusoe, and the Swiss Family Robinson. Matinicus isn’t paradise but has some of those special qualities remembered from childhood.

Maybe it’s  the focus on basics, the time sitting on the beach, climbing on the rocks, listening to the surf, the sights and smells of the ocean,  the seas, storms and calms.  Maybe I would write more; or better.  Maybe I would find the time to develop my photography — my personal Maine photographic workshop.

On Saturday we left Matinicus with Captain George who ferries passengers to Rockland.  On the mainland, we bought some Cod and headed to the Sears new house in Cushing — about 10 miles from Rockland.  It’s an 1990s house built by a carpenter — great woodwork — a basement studio for Dave, large open kitchen, dining room with a view of the river.  A cosy escape from Matinicus in the winter.  That’s not to say  that Maine winters can’t be harsh but when you don’t need to commute to work, snowy, cold days can be spent in front of a fire, time for reading, writing and reflection, maybe painting, photography, or some craft production.

I’m hoping we can spend more time in Maine (and Matinicus).  I doubt we would move there.  But I like viewing life through different lenses.  Maine and Matinicus offer this.  There are lessons that can be brought back to Bucks County.  We may have missed our chance in the 1960-70s to be part of the exodus to Maine but have learned from our experiences there.  Im keeping Maine on my mind.

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Down the Atlantic Coast: Maine

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So many writers come up with historic, geographic or cultural quests. Follow the trail taken by Lewis and Clark, visit all the sites associated with Henry David Thoreau, climb all the mountains in the Presidential range, drive Route 1 from Fort Kent, ME to Key West, walk the Applachian trail. I read one book where the writer visited the homes of famous people, collected and propagated seeds from the properties. His collection of trees was finally taken over by a non profit.

My best friend JP from Bristol, Pa set a goal to visit all the Bristols in the country; he also drank at 68 craft breweries, the year he turned 68. I believe he is currently visiting all the Presidential Libraries. To-date JP hasn’t written a book.

Last week I re-read “The Coast: a journey down the Atlantic Shore” by Joseph Thorndike. He lived on Cape Cod and decided to walk around the shore of the Cape. But he failed, there were too many harbors, marshes and other breaks. He scaled back and retraced Thoreau’s trek along Great Beach in 1849. (I did read the journal of a guy who successfully navigated the coastline of Manhattan.) Then Thorndike decided to travel down the Atlantic Coast, ME to the Keys.

Although I don’t think I’m going to follow Thorndike on the coastal tour or write a book, I thought it would be interesting to develop a wish list of places to visit along the coast and to recall those that are part of my experience. “Way down east,” Quoddy Head Light and Campobello Island (FDRs summer home) would be a places I would like to visit.

We’ve only gone as far as Arcadia National Park and Bar Harbor. Our first trip was in the 1970s and my strongest memory is horseback riding on one of the carriage roads built by Rockafeller. When he donated the land for a park he stipulated: no cars for so many years. The Park service has continued the policy. On our last trip we decided to take a carriage ride. Our driver mentioned that David Rockafeller still sometimes seen riding in  a carriage. A little later, as if on cue,  the driver announced, “And here’s David Rockefeller’s carriage. A guy riding on the back hopped off to steady the horses as the carriages passed; I quickly snapped a photograph of David, in his 90s, the last of his, the second generation.

Like Newport and Palm Beach, Bar Harbor was founded as a summer resort for the wealthy. We have never been impressed with the town. We stopped and walked around several years ago but found few shops and no restaurants that interested us. That trip we were staying on the southern part of Mount Desert Island called Southwest Harbor (Bar Harbor in in the northern end of the Island.) it’s a quieter town, close to the Park, without the fading pretension of Bar Harbor.

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We have special memories of the peninsula just south, Blue Hill. In the early 1970s after reading Helen and Scott Nearing’s “The Maple Sugar Book” and “Living the Good Life” I wrote them asking if we could visit. Scott had been an Economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, fired for socialist beliefs. In the 1930s  Helen (a musician) and Scott bought land in Vermont to homestead. Maple sugar was their cash crop.  When the ski industry exploded in the 60s they moved to Harborside on the Blue Hill peninsula. The Pagliones, my father, Diane and I drove up to visit them in the early 1970s. They had become gurus of the “back to the earth movement.”  There were many  visitors; few had written ahead.

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In the early 70s, the Nearings were building a new stone house, gardening (vegetarians), raising blueberries as a small cash crop, and becoming an attraction in seashore Maine. The property next to theirs was being farmed by a young Eliot Coleman who would became a leading spokesman for the organic food movement. As we gathered seaweed for fertilizer and cut firewood, Scott encouraged us to visit Coleman. Visitors to the Nearings were sort of welcomed (don’t think Helen liked it a lot) but they were put to work. Some stayed for days; others bought nearby property. When we left we stopped to see Coleman’s organic farm.

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             Nearing House.

About 7 years ago, my son-in-law’s band, Cabin Dogs,  was invited to play at the Blue Hill Festival. They camped; Diane and I stayed in a B and B for several days. The Nearings were both dead (Scott was in his 90s when we visited) but their property and buildings they constructed with volunteer help were now The New Life Center. We walked around but the staff were all at the Festival. We did talk to them there. Such fond memories.

We also stopped next door and as we toured “Four Seasons” (Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch’s farm), Eliot came out of the farmhouse. Much to Diane’s chagrin, I approached Eliot and told him about our visit in the 1970s when he was just getting started. I don’t think he was impressed but I was so pleased to renew with a place and individual that had influenced my life beliefs. At home I ordered a Coleman organic gardening book. I also discovered a book, “Living Next to the Good Life” by Jean Hay Bright. She and her husband had visited like us but ended up buying a piece of land from Helen and Scott. Her account of them is pretty critical at times.

We had other associations with Blue Hill.

“One early fall morning in 1949, E.B. White walked into the barn of his farm in Maine and saw a spider web. That in itself was nothing new, but this web, with its elaborate loops and whorls that glistened with early morning dew, caught his attention. Weeks passed until one cold October evening when he noticed that the spider was spinning what turned out to be an egg sac. White never saw the spider again and, so, when he had to return later that fall to New York City to his job as a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine, White took out a razor blade and cut the silken egg sac out of the web. He put the sac in an empty candy box, punched some holes in it, and absent-mindedly put the box atop his bedroom bureau in New York.”

Michael Sims, the author of “The Story of Charlotte’s Web” reveals how that spider became the inspiration for a delightful children’s book. (See NPRs Maureen Corrigan’s, “How E.B. White spun Charlotte’s Web.”) For years White had a house, lived and wrote, in Brooklin, on Blue Hill Bay. It’s written that White didn’t like visitors.

As we drove around we stumbled on a local historical society; it was opened; staffed by a friendly local. We spent quite a bit of time looking at artifacts and talking with our guide when Diane noticed a sign, “Condon’s Garage.”  Our new friend quickly informed us that it was the real sign and Bookesville was just down the road. We were off to check it out.

One of our favorite children’s authors, Robert McCloskey summered on an island off Blue Hill. Several of his books are set in Maine. In “One Morning in Maine” father and daughter, Sal, arrive by boat at Buck’s Harbor to go to Condon’s Garage. Sal who has   lost a tooth in the morning enjoys a treat from a small store in the village before returning to their boat and home. Amazing seeing the source of McClosket’s drawings.

McCloskey’s wife  and eldest daughter are models for the classic story “Blueberries for Sal.” And “A Time of Wonder” is another book set in Maine. McCloskey is most famous, however,  for Caldicott winner, “Make Way for Ducklings” set in the Boston Public Gardens.   Several years ago we bought Vivienne a Boston street artist’s drawing of the ducklings.

We did goto the Blue Hill festival.  The Cabin Dogs were the last band to play.  They got the crowd up and moving. A great evening.

Furthur down the coast is Searsport.  In the early 80s we rented a older,  in need of repair house, across railroad tracks on a small spit of land overlooking Penobscot Bay. I recall raising a flag with Jen most mornings, walks, touring the local seaport museum, and drives exploring the rocky coast and other towns.

My real introduction to the Maine Coast came in 1974 when I did a week of photography  at the Maine Photographic Workshops.  They has been just established in Rockport by David Lyman.  The workshop I attended was a bit of Outward Bound.  We were given a sheet of plastic and showed how to construct a shelter in the wild.  Sure!  Our photography instructor was, Bill  Curtsinger, a contract photographer with National Geographic.  About 12 of us sailed with Bill  and a ship’s Captain to an island where we established camp. Food was provided.  The first night I tried to sleep under my plastic and a rock outcrop.  It was very uncomfortable.  The second and subsequent nights I slept on the sailboat after making friends with the Captain over a bottle of Hennessey’s Cognac.

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For a week, Bill opened our eyes (certainly mine)  to composition and light.  Using ektagraphic slide film (we could develop this at labs in Rockport) we shot sunrise and sunset (bracketing), passing sail boats, shore lines, and each other.  But most images were nature — rock formations, individual stones, trees, plants, sea shells, life in tidal pools, barnacles and birds.  We used telephoto and wide angel lenses.  I recall Bruce had an 18mm lens he shared.  For geographic photographers, film was cheap. Shoot, shoot and shoot more.  Bill wasn’t much older than me, in his late twenties.  His speciality was underwater photography.   Over meals and evening campfires we talked photography.  Bill’s  comment that he would only have so many shoots in his career has always stuck with me.

After 5 days on the island, we returned to Rockport, rooms to sleep and eat in and  labs to develop our film.  The last day we sat around a slide projector, sharing and critiquing our work.  It was quite an experience, so I returned to the Maine Photographic Workshops the following summer.

In 1975, I took two workshops.   The first was with National Geographic staff photographer, Bruce Dale.  The difference between staff and contract photographers is that staff photographers are paid a flat salary for all their work.  Contract photographers retain rights to photographs not used by the magazine and are paid based on what is used.   Interestingly according to Curtsinger/Dale photographers at Geographic headquarters got the basement; writers were upstairs.  Bruce looked at my portfolio and said I needed to learn to photograph people.  So I did.  I spent several days  in Rockland on the street, photographing people.

My next workshop with Ernst Haas presented different challenges.  The first full day, we sat in a studio and discussed color.  Haas said there should be a nail at the shutter — push when you know it is  a  photo you really need to take.    So different from the National Geographic philosophy, shoot, shoot, shoot.  One morning, with Haas we went early morning to a typical rural Maine fair.  Carnival attractions, live stock, and people filled our frames.  Focus, light and color.  Forty years later the Maine Photographic Workshops offer college credit, video, digital, and  a colorful catalog of  courses.  I suspect I experienced its most exciting years.

At least one year we took a sail out of Rockland.  Only a day trip but I’m adding to my new to-do list a Maine Windjammer cruise.  On day trips along the coast, we passed through or visited Friendship, Damariscotta,  Wiscasset, and other coastal towns.  I  always  liked those with fishing or lobstering fleets.

Portland.  Spent several overnights there, on our way north or as a destination.  The harbor area is gentrified — quaint shops and restaurants.  On our last visit, a few years ago,  I made reservations at Hugo’s.  As  we later learned Hugo’s was the first restaurant on Portland’s foodie map but now next door was the innovative and  hip, Eventide  Oyster Company. Unfortunately, we were stuck with our Hugo reservation and a price fixe menu; no openings at Eventide.  The next night we ate at Street and Company — a known favorite.  We’ve only been in Portland for two night visits.  Not enough  time to explore more than the historic harbor.  We need to revisit.

We’ve driven Route 1 south of Boston to Portland many times.  My first encounter with lobster  was at a  roadside stand — I don’t think I ever had it before that.  Crabs maybe; not lobster.  Delicious — fresh lobster, corn and baked potato — I was captured. But south of Portland, there was too much traffic, too much Route 1 landscape despite a touch of Maine.  We need to do more exploring  along the Maine coast and hopefully will visit friends who have a summer house on Matinicus island.

For now I’ll blog down coastal Massachusetts.

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