An Electric Boat in Norway

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A Norwegian Electric Boat

It has been a while since I have written or even thought about my electric lobster boat, Eleccentricity. It has become an ordinary part of my summer life and has presented few problems or challenges. I did replace the motor last summer when I figured out that salt was corroding the inside of the old motor…the Mars ME 0909 permanent magnet DC motor. This motor has a fan which pulls air into the interior and consequently the bare steel was corroded until the bond with the permanent magnet was broken. The magnet was loose but not that loose. The main symptom was a worrisome vibration. I bought and installed a similar but totally enclosed motor, ME 1007.


A tidy engine room.

Out of the blue, I recently received an email from someone in Norway who had read my posts about my boat and had built his own. His boat is similar in length and uses the same motor (ME 0909), has 4 AGM instead of 6 “wet” lead acid batteries and operates at 24 volts DC instead of my 36 volts. The length is the same–eighteen feet–but the beam (width) is narrower, at just under 5 feet, compared to over 6 feet on mine.

His boat steers with a tiller and rudder rather than a wheel and pivoting outboard. His prop is an inboard, with a shaft connected to the motor with a belt, and his motor is within a sound-proofed ventilated enclosure. He uses his boat on fresh water, and has also added solar panels, totaling 308 watts. He reports satisfaction with his setup and plans on building another.

I am envious of what must be very quiet operation. My motor is on top of a converted outboard and therefore makes more noise, although much less than an infernal combustion engine. Normal conversation is possible. His sound level must be a whisper. He has made a 50 KM (31 mile) trip and has had power to spare. Our speed VS watts numbers are surprisingly similar. We both can travel at about 5-3/4 MPH using 1000 watts. We both use only solar energy to charge our battery bank and can claim to use zero fossil fuels.


My converted outboard and skeg.

I have often wished I could convert Eleccentricity to an inboard and achieve the same quiet, but I would have to allow easy access to the prop, which is always getting fouled up with seaweed. Summertime around here brings large mats of loose rockweed just waiting for my prop. I added a skeg under it a few years ago, and that has helped, but I will always need to have it within reaching distance. The skeg is not an ideal afterthought. It has improved tracking but the metal struts set up an annoying vibration at higher speeds. And they collect rockweed too!

Perhaps with enough people around the world building eighteen foot electric boats we will arrive at the perfect design. Thanks to my friend in Norway for getting us all a little closer.



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Scallop Season in Maine

December 1 was the start of the 2015/2016 Maine scallop fishing season. From now until April 15 we will be able to buy the “dayboat fresh” bivalves for a healthy price….just under $20 per pound today at my local supermarket. There are indications that the management scheme is increasingly successful since the 2004 low point. Last year harvests totaled over 550,000 lbs of the adductor muscle, the part of the scallop that we eat. Historically, the best year was 1981 when 3.75 million pounds were pulled in. Obviously, we’re far from those levels, but one could argue the 1981 harvest was not sustainable, since the following year’s harvest was under 1.5 million pounds.

Managers of the fishery have been aggressive in increasing populations, by limiting daily catches, days of fishing, season length and fishing methods. The rule of thumb is that scallops increase 30% per year, so the trick is to figure out how many there are and limit the catch to under that.openzones



Maine scallops are unique in that the boats which fish for them do not go far from shore for days at a time, that’s where the “dayboat fresh” comes from. One day of fishing in small boats means that the scallops will not be sitting in a hold on ice, soaking up water for up to a week, as they do in fisheries south of Maine’s border. In fact, aficionados of Maine’s scallops compare them to oysters, enjoyable raw or cooked, with subtle differences depending where they’re caught. Could this be the next foodie fad?

Maine scallops are taken in two ways, either using a small drag or one at a time by divers. Imagine getting suited up to scuba dive in January! Strict regulations determine which method is allowed and where. Many areas are closed on a rotating basis and fishers need to be tuned into sudden closures if quotas are reached. Depending on the zone, limits are either 10 or 15 gallons of meat. That’s either 90 or 135 pounds for a day’s work. At my supermarket price, that would be $1,800 to $2,700, but we can be sure the wholesale price is much lower, and nothing guarantees a full limit.

David Gardener, roadside fish sellerThere’s a guy who sells by the side of the road in Ellsworth for $16/lb, and he assures me the scallops are a day old unless we buy on Saturday to Tuesday. He also sells Canadian shrimp since the Maine shrimp fishery has crashed, but that’s another story. Where would someone who doesn’t live in Maine get Maine scallops? You can take your chances where you are or you can go to and talk to Togue. You may want to be seated when you see the price page, but if you want something like I’m having tonight, it’s the only way! Figure on a pound feeding four people. Visitors to Maine rarely come this time of year, so they’re “stuck” with lobsters in the summer months. What a shame!

More information:

Another Maine scallop seller:

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Acadia’s One Hundredth


Acadia from Cranberry Isles by Friends of Acadia

2016 will be the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Acadia National Park. The actual founding event occurred on July 8, 1916, with an announcement by President Woodrow Wilson. But the groundwork had started just after the turn of the century with several key personalities. John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the oil baron, donated 10,000 acres and financed, designed and directed the system of carriage roads we all enjoy. Charles W. Eliot, the Harvard president, established the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, an organization with a Maine state charter to hold and protect property for the public benefit. It was the handing over of this gift to our nation which marked the beginning of Acadia National Park. Acadia was the first national park established in this way; caring, public spirited landowners, their arms gently twisted by passionate neighbors, donated their precious property for the common good.

George Dorr and Charles Eliot, from Friends of Acadia

George Dorr and Charles Eliot, from Friends of Acadia

Perhaps first among equals, George B. Dorr, now known as the “father of Acadia,” led the effort to gain federal protection, worked tirelessly to secure additional tracts of land for the park, and served for 25 years as the park’s first superintendent.

A continuing modest commitment of federal funds, an investment multiplied many times over in benefit to the  the local economy, keeps Acadia National Park one of the jewels of the East Coast. In 1986 Friends of Acadia was founded, adding 3,770 members to help with park projects, both as boots on the ground and financial contributors.

Expect your 2016 visit to be marked by celebration events and perhaps, more than the usual demand for services. Check the events calendar here, and check our lodgings calendar to the right. Find out more about our accommodations here.

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Thoreau’s The Maine Woods


Henry D. Thoreau, 1856, from

Lately I’ve been availing myself to the many works of literature now available on line for free. These works have copyrights which have expired and are now in the public domain. Fortunately for visitors to Maine, one free seminal work awaits here, The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau. First published in 1864 from a journey made in 1857, the 150th anniversary of the account has been celebrated by a recreation of the journey called the Thoreau-Wabanaki Anniversary Tour, which started in May of 2014. A media-rich overview of this trip is available here. The upshot is that Maine is surprisingly unchanged from the way it was in 1857. It could even be argued that it’s improved. Thoreau lamented about the logging he saw north of Bangor in chapter one,

The mission of men there seems to be, like so many busy demons, to drive the forest all out of the country, from every solitary beaver swamp and mountain-side, as soon as possible.

No more are the Penobscot’s tributaries choked with logs and surrounded by heedless clearcuts. Maine’s forest cover is (2012) at least 83.1% according to the USDA, highest in the nation. Maine was lucky in a way, to have the ravages of the industrial age happen early. There has been time to heal. Now our natural resources are managed in a more enlightened manner, and the summer visitor can easily slip into the Thoreau experience.

Thoreau had more to say than his thoughts about nature. He was an ardent abolitionist and was horrified that the Fugitive Slave Act allowed public officials in his home state of Massachusetts to enable bounty hunters to capture runaway slaves back into slavery. His writings about civil disobedience inspired Martin Luther King Jr. among others. Interestingly, Maine owes its statehood at least in part, to the struggle against slavery. It was cleaved from Massachusetts in 1820 as a way to increase the number of free states as part of the Missouri Compromise, so that the slave-holding southern states would not gain more control and influence.

Thoreau also had great interest and sympathy for Native Americans and what he saw was their suffering under European influence. He slowly transformed his perceptions from stereotypes to greater understanding as he continued his visits to Maine and sought greater contact with members of the Penobscot Nation. Today, the Penobscot Nation addresses this relationship here. The organizers of the 150th commemoration paid due respect to the partnership between Thoreau and the Penobscots.

The Maine Quarterly: Thoreau Trailer from Maine Office of Tourism on Vimeo.

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Hello Arctic

We’re all sick of the winter of 2014/15. We have long ago given up on more than one door to the house. If you can’t find your way into the garage you can’t come in. Relentless blizzards alternate with sub-zero cold. Eastern Bay of Frenchman Bay is now frozen over. That’s salt water! Even the howling wind and ten foot tide can’t break it up.


Frozen to the island!

Ellsworth American’s police beat section is uncharacteristically devoid of the usual mischief-making as law enforcement is focused on citizens’ weather related survival. Disputes over snow being dumped in the wrong place and drivers’ views obscured by snowbanks are common.

Here at SeaCat’s Rest the worry is not about staying warm, but the load of snow on the roof. We spent three days around the house on ladders raking snow off. This was after I marked out a square foot on flat ground, dug out the snow (about 22 inches) and weighed it: 22.2 pounds. Most northern roofs are designed to hold 30 lbs/ square foot, so I had 7.8 pounds to go before risking collapse. I had drifts on my garage roof three feet high. I raked until I was worn out. The highest roof still is untouched, but fortunately the latest storm only dropped about 5 more inches, and the high winds took more off the roof than the snowfall dropped. Sure would be nice to have a thaw!


Guests may recognize this view from the apartment.

Our plow guy has been running on adrenaline. He knows our need for our 1/4 mile driveway is a low priority, so he shows up here in the wee hours or a day or two after a storm. Fine. The wind just closes in the tunnel-like driveway anyway. The latest strategy is to line up a front-end loader to deal with the high sides once the wind stops.

Driveway? What driveway?

Driveway? What driveway?

Amazingly, the power is still on. We haven’t lost power since November, when it was off for 4 days. Our new generator took care of that inconvenience, at a high propane cost.

Surviving Maine coast winters is often easy. Sometimes it rarely snows and temps barely dip into the subzero F range. Other winters (like this) develop into a full-fledged train wreck. Once the bay freezes over, the moderating effect of the ocean is gone and temperatures can plummet. Last year there was a propane shortage. This year there’s plenty, and fuel oil is still cheap. But Mainers need multiple back-ups to survive the frequent climate challenges and isolation issues. we have three heat sources, two electric sources, two wells and two oil tanks. We just might make it to spring.

Our five foot tall propane tank.

Our five foot tall propane tank.

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More About Peekytoe Crabs

Crabs invading? Eat them!

Crabs invading? Eat them!

My 5 trap recreational lobster license gets me plenty of lobsters when they’re crawling around the bottom. But when they’re not around, I get peekytoe crabs instead. Most are too small to bother with, but the larger ones go into my floating crate and stay there until I decide to have a meal of the sweet, tender native Maine crabmeat.

Crabs deserve their name. They’re well, crabby. Ready to fight as soon as you try to grab them, they raise their claws and maneuver around like Muhammad Ali. The best way to handle them is to wear a thick rubber glove and get them from behind, and fling them into a bucket before they have time to grab you. In the bucket they will fight with whatever is already in there. I usually find missing legs when I dump them out.

When it’s time to make a meal of them I use long tongs to get them out of the floating crate. Last time I cooked 13 of them and ended up with 1-1/3 lbs of picked meat, which at our local supermarket would cost at least $25.00. That’s a little under 2 ounces per crab. I talked in detail about how to cook and pick the meat here.

Picking crabmeat is tedious and slow, best accomplished by the full group of folks who will be eating the meal. Making the pound and a third of meat into crabcakes is one of my favorite ways of using it, and it is able to feed four people with leftovers. Crabmeat is very rich; you won’t want more than 1/4 pound per person. The recipe below is my favorite, substituting egg whites for the usual mayo. Don’t expect to have completely shell-free meat, there will be fragments. Chew lightly. If you follow this recipe and use your own crabs or very freshly picked meat, there will be no chance you will ever have a better crabcake at any price.

Please be aware that crab meat is not something you want hanging around in your fridge. Use it quickly; within a few days.

crabcakesPhoto by Mike Kelley


1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
1 lemon
2 eggs, separated
1 heaping tablespoon coarse grain mustard
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, divided
2 tablespoons minced mild onion
½ cup chopped ripe red bell pepper or ¼ cup green
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice
fine dry bread crumbs

Sprinkle the juice of half the lemon over the crabmeat in a bowl to freshen it. (If the lemon is not juicy, use the juice from the whole lemon.) In a separate small bowl, mix the mustard with the egg yolks.

Melt half the butter (4 tablespoons) in a skillet over low heat and add the onion and bell pepper, cooking until the onion begins to become transparent. Add the vinegar, raise the heat, and reduce until the vinegar has evaporated. Pour the mixture over the crabmeat, add the egg yolk mixture, and toss all together, being careful not to break up the big clumps of crabmeat. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne, and a tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs.

In another large mixing bowl, add about 2 cups of fine dry bread crumbs. These are infinitely tastier if you use dried leftover rolls or baguettes and freshly grate them (I keep them in a paper bag.). Just before cooking the crabcakes, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the crab mixture.

Reach down into the crab and fill your palm with a scoop of the mixture. Gently press it into a cake about 3 inches wide and about 1 inch thick. Place 1 cake at a time down in the bread crumbs. Scoop up crumbs from around the cake and pour over the top of the cake. Do not mash the cake or press the crumbs into it: you only want a dusting of crumbs on the cake, not in it.

When the butter is foamy, gently pick up the first cake and put it in the pan. Continue making the cakes and placing them in the pan. You should have six cakes which should fit into the skillet. Cook until browned — about 3 minutes — on the first side, then carefully turn each cake and cook on the other side.

When cooked, the cakes should resemble nothing more than seasoned crabmeat, slightly crisp on the outside. Work carefully and they will not split.

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Acadia National Park on a bicycle

You’ll take a step back in time when you walk, hike or bike the carriage roads of Mount Desert Island. Go by horse and carriage, the way John D. Rockefeller, Jr. intended when he built the 45 miles of crushed stone roads between 1913 and 1940. Some would say a visit to Acadia isn’t complete without a visit to the trails.


manset dockThough sometimes called carriage trails, the word trail is truly a misnomer. The roads are 15 feet wide with generous crowns that keep them well drained. Considered the best example of broken stone roads in the United States, they are, indeed, an engineering wonder. They swoop up the Mountains of Acadia gradually in one direction, then swing down the hill fast in the other direction.

The well-marked roads wander through Acadia National Park, covering long, shady stretches of woodland, views of peaceful lakes and ponds, circling mountain elevations, and showcasing breathtaking views of the Atlantic and nearby islands.
It was more than 60 years ago that Rockefeller donated 11,000 acres to Acadia National Park, complete with the road system he planned, funded, and constructed. The roads are lined with large granite boulders quarried right from the island. Today both visitors and locals enjoy the quiet beauty of Acadia’s beautiful carriage roads.

You will have a choice of bringing your own bike (recommended) or renting a mountain bike at one of three island bicycle shops. There is a bike shop in Southwest Harbor and two shops in Bar Harbor itself. Bicycle rental range between $22- $30 per day. All types and sizes are available. You can even rent bike racks and other accessories. Here is a link to all the shops.

Acadia Bike 48 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor Maine. One block from the Island Explorer Bus Shuttle at the Village Green. Also rents kayaks.

Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop. 141 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
207-288-3886 At the far end of Cottage Street, closest to the bridge entrance to the carriage trails. Open all year, they have a variety of types of bikes to rent.

Southwest Cycle 370 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, ME 04679 Located on the west side of the Island. Open all year.

Groups with small children are encouraged to consider renting either trail-a-bike or a tag-along.  Both are  attached to the back of a bicycle for those ages 4-7 or  rent an actual bike trailer that attaches behind a bike for kids from 1 year to 4 or 5. Customize your solution for your particular child.

There are a variety of routes for beginners, families, moderately fit and the most fit bikers.     The carriage road have slow and fast climbs.   Study the topography to choose the fast side of hills (best to climb on bicycles)  as  you swing around the “mountains” of Mount Desert Island.    The highest elevation you will climb is about 1,000 foot and the average is about 500 foot.  Walking up hills is always an option.  Be sure to bring water as there is only one spot on all the trails with water (Jordan Pond House).   There are rest rooms in three places, Eagle lake parking lot, Parkman mountain lower  and upper parking lots and Jordon Pond house.     This map is from SouthwestCycle’s website:

Here is a lovely video of a bike ride around the island from hipeaks2.   I really do not recommend going hands free – this fellow was a very experienced rider who has done a lot of biking.

Watch this

For beginners  (and rides with multiple ages)  the Eagle Lake Loop is a great first ride.   There are two hills to climb on this loop and a 500 foot elevation change.   Go counter clockwise around eagle lake for the fast rise uphill, and slower downhill.   Clockwise for slow climb up and fast ride down.     The Island Explorer has a special bike shuttle to take you to the small parking lot at Eagle lake.   It leaves from the village green in the center of Bar Harbor.  Do not bike the paved road from Bar Harbor to Eagle Lake.  It is much too busy and has extra hills.    Ask for an alternative internal route either from your bike shop or ask your hotel/ rental for some better routes.

For intermediate bikers, start with the Parkman Mountain trail. The parking lot for this trail is located on the road to Northeast Harbor. Go clockwise for the best experience.

For experienced bikers, the whole carriage trail system can be done in one day, a lovely and tiring day though. Plan to stop for a food/water and restroom break mid-island at the Jordan Pond House. Situated right in the middle of the park.   There is a warning for bikers to not plan on getting their bicycles on the shuttle from the Jordan Pond Bus stop.   There is limited room for bicycles, and that is often filled up at the Northeast Harbor beginning of the bus route.

The Acadia bus system Island Explorer has a bicycle shuttle on every bus, and special bike shuttles to Eagle Lake Parking lot. Transportation is free on the bus system (Thanks to LL Bean). That way, if you have larger plans than your legs can manage, you can grab one of the buses for a ride back to your car.

For bike riders wanting a unique experience, come to the park in May for this ride: Mount Desert Island Westside Ride.  Competitive bike riders can come in August for the Mount Desert Island time trial sponsored by

From the Mountain Bike Trails in Maine website: The Acadia National Park Carriage Roads can be accessed at the following entrances:

Eagle Lake: This is one of the most popular starting points. The parking area, located east of Bar Harbor on the north side of Rt. 233 often overflows during peak season in July and August. Start your ride early, if possible. Eagle Lake, at 425 acres, is the largest fresh water lake in Acadia National Park. From the lot, there is easy access to the carriage roads that lead toward half Moon Pond, the Breakneck Ponds and Witch Hole Pond. You can also ride the carriage roads around Eagle Lake for a challenging 6.1 mile loop ride that includes a few steep ascents and descents. Expect some rough patches. There are incredible views overlooking the lake.

Paradise Hill: Enter at the northwest end of the Hills Cove Visitor Center parking lot. The 0.5 mile trail that connects to the Paradise Hill carriage road is narrow, step and surfaced with loose gravel. Slippery. Consider walking your bike up and down.

Upper Haddock Pond: The parking area is located just north of the Brown Mountain Gatehouse on the eastern side of Rt. 198.

Lower Haddock Pond: The parking area is located on the eastern side of Rt. 198 south of Upper Haddock. We like to park here as we usually find it quiet and uncrowded. It provides access to most of the major carriage trails, however the access requires some long climbs.

Parkman Mountain: Parking is 2.3 miles south from the intersection of Rt. 198 and Rt. 233 on the eastern side of 198.

Jordan Pond: Jordan Pond parking area (not the restaurant parking lot). The carriage road crosses the Park Loop Road south of the Jordan Pond Gatehouse. Do not park in front of the gates on the carriage road. Jordan Pond is a hub for several major carriage roads and hiking trails as well as the Jordan Pond House Restaurant. The carriage road follows along Jordan Pond’s western edge. There are several rocky sections.

Make reservations at the restaurant in advance (at least the day before your ride), and plan your bike tour of the carriage trails so you end up there just in time for a traditional cup of tea and crumpets on the lawn.

Bubble Pond: Parking is on the Park Loop Road. The carriage trail that travels along the west side of Bubble Pond is easily accessed from the parking area. Nestled between North and South Bubble mountains, just northeast of Jordan Pond is an easy ride with lots of places to stop and admire the views of the “bubble like” mountains.

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Embarrassments in Lodging

It’s been 7 years now that we’ve been playing hosts to Acadia National Park visitors from around the country and world. Our oceanside apartment has proven to be quite popular. Still, I have deep fears of making big mistakes which could stick out like a sore thumb in our on line reviews.

Al least we had no guests when this happened.

Foremost in my disaster scenario would be a double booking. Imagine losing track of who was coming when and having to deal with a situation where two groups expected to occupy the apartment at the same time. Airlines do this all the time of course, but for me it would be an embarrassment of the highest order. I don’t know what I’d do, but hiding in a closet would seem tempting. It hasn’t happened yet.

The next tier of cataclysm would involve plumbing. These problems have happened already. We started out with one well, which is considered adequate for a family, but is only rated at one gallon per minute. For several years we cut back on our usage on our side, putting off showers and flushing. This gets old. So does having to remind people to conserve. In 2012 we added a second well. It was expensive, but has pretty much eliminated the water supply issue. No more embarrassment about dry taps.

Then there’s sewage. I have been following a strict schedule about pumping the septic tank every few years. At $300 per, it’s also not cheap. The alternative however would be worse, considering that the apartment is, shall we say, downstream. The apartment requires a sewage pump to lift it to the septic system, which brings us to the next embarrassment, the failed sewage pump. I guess these things only last 5 years, and when they fail it’s in the middle of the night on a weekend, with people staying of course. Fortunately it was discovered before it overflowed. So first thing in the morning I was off to Home Depot to get a replacement. Now imagine lifting the sodden old device out of a tank in a closet and moving it through the living room of people on vacation. Memorable. Next time I’m replacing in 4-1/2 years, before it stops working.

Yet another plumbing-related embarrassment happened which I was totally unprepared for. It was fall, and raining hard for two days. My house has perimeter drains which collect the ground water and send it by gravity, to the ocean. What I didn’t know, is that the big pipe which went to the shore was clogged with tree roots. The rain water found its way into the perimeter drains and began gushing out of the floor drain in the laundry room. From there it found its way to the aforementioned sewage tank and then got pumped into the septic system. And yes, it was the middle of the night on a weekend (when pets get sick too). I mopped until morning and then got rid of the roots.

I like to allow my guests to borrow our kayaks. Once I had just tied up to my mooring after pulling my lobster traps, as the kayaking party was coming back. I jumped into my dingy and pushed off. Then I realized I had left the oars in the big boat. I toyed with the idea of paddling wildly with my hands or begging for a tow, but the wind was blowing toward shore (more or less) so I just sat there and tried to look cool as I slowly blew ashore.


Now we come to my most recent embarrassment, the lost check. The morning after our guest wrote it, I stopped at Home Depot and when I left for the bank, I couldn’t find it. I went back home and tore the place apart, trying to find it. I thought, “It’ll turn up”, but days went by and it didn’t. I knew I’d have to tell my guests, but it did occur to me that I could just let it go. Problem was, it was nearly $500, an amount I would trade (some of) my dignity for. My break in the situation occurred when I heard a loud crash from the apartment. Probably a platter. I can’t express how glad I was that I now had the potential for matching embarrassments. That was my motivation for sending a confessional email (cowardly, I know) explaining the lost check. It all worked out and the bank made $32 in stop-payment fees. After the guests got home they emailed me saying that Home Depot found the check and shredded it. Hopefully this was the 2014 calamity of the year.

We’ve had no break-ins, fires, drownings or broken bones, so by comparison the above embarrassments seem mild. This is nothing like the time I sent a turkey rolling down the driveway just as our Thanksgiving guests (my in-laws) were arriving (it was on fire).  Or the time I drove into the ocean at Lamoine Beach when the town removed the signs for maintenance (it was dark). Or the time Martha Stewart talked to me and I didn’t recognize her (she did look familiar). Will you catch me in an embarrassing situation if you stay here? Probably.



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Maine’s Population Density

How does Maine rank in humans per square mile? We’re on the east coast, a heavily settled area for almost 400 years. Does that mean we’re as dense as say, New Jersey, at 1,201 people per square mile?

European fishing and exploring parties appeared off the Maine coast in the late 1400s. That’s plenty of time for our population to soar. But as it turns out, Maine has the lowest density on the east coast, at 43.1 persons per square mile, about 1/28 of New Jersey’s density. New Hampshire has the next lowest of the east coast states, at 147.8 persons per square mile, over three times Maine’s. Here are the rest:

from Wikipedia

  • Massachusetts, 858.0
  • Rhode Island, 1017.1
  • Connecticut, 742.6
  • New York, 417.0
  • New Jersey, 1,201.1
  • Pennsylvania, 285.5
  • Delaware, 475.1
  • Maryland, 610.8
  • Virginia, 209.2
  • North Carolina, 202.6
  • South Carolina, 158.8
  • Georgia, 173.7
  • Florida, 364.6

Not only is Maine sparsely populated relative to the coast, it’s ranked only 13th off the bottom compared to all other states.  Only Oregon, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, Nebraska, Idaho, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska, in that order, have lower population densities. All are west of the Mississippi. Canada’s New Brunswick to our east has a lower density at 27.3 persons per square mile.

Compared to the world, Maine is peopled similar to Sudan (44) Zambia (44) New Zealand (41) and Finland (41). There are 199 countries more dense than Sudan and 38 less dense than Finland.

How did Maine become such a population anomaly? First, Maine’s arable land is not plentiful. Our natural resources like timber and fish do not require a large population to exploit, and can be cyclical. Our greatest asset is our state’s beauty and recreational potential, and that is mostly seasonal. Our proximity to population centers make us a good place to retire or have a second home, but if those folks are in Florida when the census taker comes, they don’t get counted. Our low density makes government services expensive. Roads, schools and emergency services are therefore expensive on a per-capita basis. This means given the choice, people with taxable income tend to make other states their homes for tax purposes.  That leaves us with lots of post-retirement folks and is responsible for another anomaly, Maine is the oldest state…that is, the state with the oldest median age. Maine’s median age is 43.5, compared to a US average of 37.4. We even beat Florida’s 40.4.

Now that’s weird. population density and median age are the same: 43.

Not a human in sight!

This situation could be seen as a negative. Higher taxes, fewer restaurant and shopping choices, vacant buildings and too many cranky old people like me. But if you’re like me, you like solitude. You also like low crime rates, small class sizes, short lines, clean air, abundant wildlife and the lack of the constant buzz of human activity. It’s a great place to visit in the spring, summer and fall, but you have to be a little weird to live here all year.



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Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death

This past winter was pretty rough. We had 7955 heating degree days* from May 4, 2013 to May 4, 2014 at the Bar Harbor Airport. This compares to a 30 year average of 7603. Lately, warm weather has been scarce. It got me thinking about the Year Without a Summer, 1816.

Mt Morris NY Enterprise, 2 Feb. 1876; from

Despite being almost two hundred years ago, New England had been successfully settled by Europeans for nearly two hundred years. The farms were prosperous, the population was on the upswing and only the land transportation system was seriously primitive. Farmers grew their crops and cattle for very local markets. The winter of 1815-1816 was mild and dry. The new year was so warm some let their fires go out. But by May, things started to get weird. Farmers would plant crops only to have them killed by frost again and again. By the end of July they must have given up. The plaque of cold was widespread, reaching down to Virginia. Seeds for 1817 became extremely expensive, and so was food.

Meanwhile, the situation became fodder for end-of-the-world types, who maintained the “heat of the sun was exhausted”. Imagine how scary it must have been to wear your winter clothes to the 4th of July celebrations.

So what was the cause? Most likely, a volcano in Indonesia. A really big volcano named Tambora on the island of Sumbawa. It blew with a force unmatched worldwide since 180 AD in April, 1815 and sent an immense quantity of ash into the upper atmosphere. The haze was noticed around the world and stayed up there long enough to affect the weather for more than a year. Call it a 19th century preview of a nuclear winter. This volcano was in addition to the world’s “little ice age” from 1812-1818.

Mt. Tambora today, from The 1815 eruption
cut the mountain’s height by nearly 5,000 feet.

In 1988 we had just moved to Maine. We rented a house in Montville and one day I took a walk in the woods and saw something I had never seen before. Some long-ago farmer had cleared the land-now a mature forest-and used the endless supply of rocks to build a wall around his new field. A long rock wall running through the woods. I immediately remembered the Year Without a Summer and assumed that the catastrophe resulted in a mass exodus from Maine. I was wrong.

The population trend in Maine was unbroken by the events of 1816. In fact, in the federal census of 1820 showed a 30% increase in Maine’s population over 1810.  Maine had 3.1% of the nation’s population, slightly down from the peak of 3.2% in 1810. Maine’s population has steadily increased in every census since (except for 1860-1870), the only caveat is that increases were much greater in other states, so today Maine has only about 1/2 of 1% of the nation’s population. This is a pattern familiar to my genealogical research. The floodgates to the west opened after the War of 1812, and the crowded New Englanders left their stony farms in droves. The Erie Canal and later, the railroads meant getting crops to eastern markets was a breeze from upstate New York and Ohio. Had the events of 1816 happened a few decades later, the improved transportation situation would have mitigated the suffering.

I have only touched upon the subject, a more thorough treatment can be found here and here. In June of 1991 the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines brought Bar Harbor over 8300 heating degree days in 1992.  The similarity between our recent winter and 1816 is weak….unless we get snow in May and June!

*heating degree day= 65° minus average day’s temperature.

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