Acadia

06/27/2013

New Lodgings Tax Rate for Maine

Maine has the lowest lodging tax in the northeast. This is the tax collected from guests by hotels and other providers of accommodations like us here at SeaCat’s Rest. Try to find the rates in other New England states and you may have difficulty; this is because often the tax is divided between the state and town or city. Here in Maine we have one rate, 7%. Frugal New Hampshire charges 9%. Massachusetts is one of those double-tax states; in Boston it adds up to 14.4%. You will pay 13.25% plus a $2 fee in the state of New York. New York City tax is so complicated you need an on-line calculator. Connecticut charges a flat 12%. Rhode Island will also cost you 12%. Vermont has double taxation, with 9% for the state and the variable rest for local.

Think Canada is any better? Think again! In Atlantic Canada New Brunswick is lowest at 13% and Nova Scotia highest at 15%.

Forget our neck of the woods, how does Maine compare to the rest of the country? According to the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, in data gathered from 1998, Maine is 50th out of 51!  The extra “state” is Washington DC and the only place where the lodgings tax is lower is Montana, at 4%.

Now it’s time to drop the bombshell. Maine’s lodging tax is going up. In a bitter fight between our legislature and our foul-mouthed governor, our legislature carried the spirit of bipartisanship to a sensible funding of our state government and overrode the governor’s veto of the compromise budget. The vote was 114-34 in the House and 26-9 in the Senate. Now the threat of a government shutdown is averted and Maine will continue to thrive. How much is the tax increase? A whopping 1%! An earlier bill proposed an 11% lodgings tax which this blogger wrote his representative about, expressing his displeasure. “Keep it in the single digits!”, I exclaimed.

So now we have to collect from our guests 8% lodgings tax instead of 7%. This ties us with six other states in the second cheapest position, beaten only by, again, Montana. The new 8% rate will go into effect on October 1, 2013, so anyone booking a stay for any time in October will have to pay the new rate. If your stay straddles the first, I will have to figure out two different rates. The new rate has a sunset provision; we go back to 7% in two years.

Our sales tax will also increase by 1/2 percent, from 5 to 5.5%. So if you’re planing on a visit to Maine you may need to search the couch cushions for some extra pennies. Otherwise, welcome to our low-tax vacationland.

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05/26/2013

Lobsters Can Live in your Mooring

I think I took this at Northeast Harbor

Traditionally in Maine boats are moored in their harbors not with big anchors, but heavy chunks of granite. These chunks weigh 4000 lbs and tend to partially sink into the mud, which increases the holding power. From time to time the moorings are raise up to inspect the steel U or eye bolts and chains. Now a new Maine company has come up with a better idea, a mooring with holes where critters can live.

It’s a simple idea really, as long as so many people are putting big, heavy rocks onto the sea bottom, why not create a reef-like habitat? Habitat Mooring of Hamden, Maine  has done just that, and at a price cheaper than granite.

from http://www.habitatmooring.com

I have always heard that concrete makes a poor choice for moorings because underwater it’s “lighter” than granite. All this means is that concrete is less dense and must weigh more on land in order to have the same weight under water. So to equal 4,000 lbs of granite on dry land (which is 2,500 pounds on the harbor bottom) the concrete mooring must weigh 4,450 lbs. The Habitat Mooring is cast of fiber-reinforced concrete and has 12 habitat holes to allow lobsters to find shelter at many times during their life cycles. But not only lobsters can live in the holes, “30 species of vertebrates and invertebrates, including lobster, Atlantic cod, flounder, pollack, sculpin, crabs and mollusks, as well as kelp and other important marine plants” were found on a mooring at Seal Harbor, Maine as compiled by Dr. Ian Bricknell, University of Maine, from dive videos taken in 2010 and 2011 by Mt. Desert Harbormasters Shawn Murphy and John Lemoine.*

As I get ready to launch Eleccentricity for another summer of lobstering, I find myself wishing I had a lobster habitat at the end of my mooring chain. The Habitat Mooring is available in four different sizes from Hamilton Marine.

* from APlaceToCallHome.pdf from the company website above.

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05/20/2013

Noise or the Absence Thereof in Our Part of Maine

from http://www.noisecontrol.com, a company which sells products to reduce noise.

I’m selling a house in a medium-sized Michigan city on a busy road. Forty mile per hour traffic is a stone’s throw away and it never lets up. If there happens to be a lull, say around 2 AM, the background roar of the nearby six lane interstate comes to fore. Then there are sirens, airplanes overhead and lawnmowers. When I got back home to Maine the first thing I noticed was the silence. Actually, it’s not silent, just a heckuva lot quieter. A gentle rustling of leaves, chirping of songbirds, gull cries and crow shouts. Bar Harbor’s noon horn from 8 miles away. A distant fog horn. The crack of a mussel dropped by a gull on the rocky shore. In midsummer, the twin poofs of a surfacing porpoise pair. One time long ago, a distant bagpipe solo over the water.

Some potential guests ask about the noise from the airport nearby in their inquiries, but it’s really a different experience when a single point of noise rises, falls and then disappears for a long time. BHB is a small airport with infrequent flights. Contrast this with the relentless hum of most urban areas and you get the picture.

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies four negative health effects of noise:

  • cardiovascular effects;
  • damage to work and school performance;
  • hearing impairment including tinnitus.
  • sleep disturbance

How is noise defined? Is there a decibel threshold or is noise a measure of relentlessness? A study was conducted in Europe in schools which were near busy roads and/or airports. The noise levels were categorized in four ranges, under about 50 dB, 50-55, 55-60 and over 60. Given the fact that these were “busy” roads and airports, we can assume the noise was fairly constant. The results on children pointed to reduced reading abilities; a loss of 1-2 months of development for every 5 decibels in the tested ranges. There was also an increase of “annoyance”, which the study defined as “a stress response to noise exposure implying reduced well-being and quality of life”.  So it looks like negative health effects start to occur over 50 dB, but damage to hearing happens only over 90 dB.

You can measure your noise environment easily if you have an iPhone and are willing to part with a buck. Follow this link and you will get to this image:

The decibel scale is logarithmic, so a reading of 6o is 10 times as powerful as 50 decibels, and so on. I tested this ap and found that I could not find any place quieter than 40 dB. That is, stone dead silence to me was still reading 40 dB. Normal indoor noises were in the 40-50 range. Outdoors, our 20 mph wind gusts and surf at the shore pushed the scale up to the low 50s, right at mid-afternoon, when the wind is the strongest.

To me, the annoyance factor of noise, coupled with relentlessness is what sets me on edge. A motorcycle with a “performance” muffler, a hip-hop bass vibration, a semi using jake brakes, honking horns, all laid over a constant hum of traffic. None of that exists at SeaCat’s Rest! I’ll take wind, surf and birds any time. Anybody want to buy a house in Michigan?

 

Filed under Acadia, Lamoine, Lodging, Quality of life, Remote spots by on . Comment.

05/01/2013

Jamestown and Popham Colonies: A Comparison

Fourteen-year-old “Jane”, Jamestown colonist cannibalized after she died in 1610. Reconstructed from skeletal remains. Photo: Donald E. Hurlbert and Studio EIS. More details at http://www.usatoday.com/story/dispatches/2013/05/01/jamestown-settlement-cannibalism/2127877/

1607 was an important year in American history. Thirteen years before the Mayflower sailed two colonies were founded, one each in what are now Virginia and Maine. Because the Jamestown colony was founded first by a few months, on May 14 verses August 13 for Popham, it shall always be the most important. However if I had to choose which colony to be a member of, Popham would win hands down. History books also state that Jamestown was “successful” while Popham was “failed”. I’m not sure I agree with their definition of success, since the chances of surviving the Jamestown disaster the first winter was 1 in 2, in 1610 it was one in nine. The Jamestown settlement stayed while the Popham colonists decided to go back to England in the fall of 1608, with only one fatality, George Popham. Over the winter they built a ship, the thirty ton Virginia of Sagadahoc, which made a supply run to Jamestown in 1609 after sailing back to England. Probably the main reason they decided to go back was the fact that Popham’s successor,  Raleigh Gilbert, learned that his brother died in the summer of 1608, meaning he was now heir to the Compton Castle in Devon, England.

Compton Castle, from Wikipedia

What a choice for 30 year old Raleigh Gilbert. Camping out through another winter in Maine or assuming ownership of an English country castle. What would you do?

From what we can find out about the Popham colony, they mostly fulfilled their mission to demonstrate that new world timber could be used for shipbuilding, and they also shipped back cargo of furs and sarsaparilla obtained from the Abenaki Nation Indians. They had been charged with finding precious metals too, but that didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, the Jamestown colony was in peril. The location was chosen because it was free from hostile Indians, but there was a reason for that. The water was brackish and undrinkable, it was unsuitable for agriculture and plagued by mosquitoes. Although the Popham settlement was also not on great terms with the Native Americans, their first winter was, well, more successful. Both colonies suffered from the shortcomings of the English hierarchy: there were not enough talented farmers and survivalists and too many aristocrats. Suspicion of Indians made for lost good will and aid, or so we conjecture from our safe distance. Two competing enterprises, the Virginia Company (Jamestown) and the Plymouth Company (Popham), were trying to win the prize of the rights to coastal territory.  So both colonies were seeking profits. In 1609 the Virginia Company won, but at great cost to the Jamestown colonists.

Regardless of which colony you consider to be more important, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Popham Beach State Park. It has only been since 1994 that the location of the colony has been known and excavated.

Raleigh Gilbert, from http://www.mainememory.net/artifact/61118/

 

 

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03/30/2013

New Type of Wind Power in Maine

Altaeros Energy prototype, from http://www.altaerosenergies.com/

This past winter in Limestone, Maine a new and radically different wind turbine was tested at the former Loring Air Force base. The device looked like something right off the cover of Popular Mechanics magazine. It is basically a conventional blade set and generator mounted in a jet engine-shaped balloon, referred to as an aerostat. The U.S. military has been using aerostats, helium-filled tethered blimps to spy on Cuba for decades, as anyone who has seen “Fat Albert” off Cudjoe Key, FL knows. So the technology is old and well established. Military aerostats have all the bugs worked out; hurricane resistant, lightning-proof and parts are available.

from the US Air Force website

So it wasn’t difficult for MIT-trained co-founder Adam Rein to put together all the parts he needed to create his prototype. The tethering cables double as transmission wires. An automated system pulls the device to the ground if a storm or malfunction threatens. The unbuilt full-size version is expected to park at 1000 feet, where the wind is brisk and birds are few. Output is projected to be about 30 KW.

Adam Rein. Just a kid, really.

Altaeros is expecting their product to serve in remote sites where diesel generators would normally be the default choice. The diesel option would not be eliminated, just augmented by the wind turbine. The big advantage would be the much reduced need for regular delivery of diesel fuel. In this application the aerostat wind turbine/diesel would be less costly in the long run. When it’s time to move, the device can deflate and break down into a size comparable to a compact car for the trip to the next remote site.

The power of the wind greatly increases with altitude. Placing a turbine on a tall tower requires a crane and is expensive; too expensive for a temporary construction or scientific site. At 1000 feet the winds are strong and consistent; and there is silence on the ground. Cheers to the folks at Altaeros for this new green generation idea. It may not be able to compete with mass produced wind or natural gas turbines but just may fill an important need. Check out the Altaeros website here and see an interview with CEO Adan Rein here. The Altaeros wind turbine is a noteworthy new chapter in wind power, and it was tested in Maine!

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02/26/2013

Maine High School Grad Rates Up Again

Bangor Daily News announced the results of the Maine Department of Education’s measurement of the 2012 state graduation rate. For the third year in a row that rate has increased, and is now at 85.34% This puts Maine in the top quarter of the US graduation rates. Comparisons to other states are difficult because it seems every website uses tabulation that has a different result, and then there’s the year to year differences. Even more difficult is attributing the causes of this happy statistic. No child left behind? The Maine Laptop program? Small classes? The great recession? Whatever the result, it looks like Maine educators deserve credit, so thank a Maine teacher today. And I don’t think we can attribute our gains to easier graduation requirements!

from http://www.americashealthrankings.org/all/graduation (slightly different data)

Although it’s dangerous to use anecdotal information to explain a trend, nearby Deer Isle-Stonington High School certainly is doing something right, and may offer clues. The school district contains Maine’s biggest lobster catch area, so local kids may not necessarily be college-bound, but the rates have soared from 58% in 2009 to 94% in 2012. The new principal Todd West has outlined what he believes to be behind the meteoric rise. It all comes down to individual attention. Availability of staff and aggressive monitoring of student achievement on a monthly basis are the specific steps Principal West has taken.

At the bottom of the pack are schools in urban districts, where kids are more likely to be in poor circumstances. Only 75% of kids receiving free or reduced lunch costs graduate, compared to 93% of the non-subsidized. There are also gender differences (males, 83%; females 87%). We noticed this problem when our daughter applied to colleges. In efforts to counter the paucity of boys, colleges admitted them with lower scores, much to our dismay.

Our governor is not helping to graduate more kids. He has taken steps to de-fund teacher retirement and has flatlined school funding. But let’s look at the bright side, Maine schools are improving and just maybe they will survive until the next governor.

 

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02/15/2013

The Silence of the Clams

Walleye painting by Timothy Knepp

I have just spent over a month in Michigan. Ann Arbor is a great town and has a dazzling array of restaurants, but I found myself avoiding seafood. How fresh can a clam be in Michigan? OK, I’m spoiled. I can go down to the shore here at SeaCat’sRest and dig clams so fresh they don’t have time to scream before I drop them into boiling water. I had to work in the scream thing because I came up with this great title, but in reality I’m just fishing for a reason to use it.

Michigan has great freshwater fish: whitefish, smoked chub, lake trout and my favorite, walleye. But there’s the mercury  problem. Michigan’s fish advisory tells us:

from: www.michigan.gov/documents/FishAdvisory03_67354_7.pdf

Wow! Scary! The mercury is atmospheric, emitted mostly by coal burning power plants and concentrated in the fat of fish over time. Asia is the biggest polluter by far. Every step in the food chain concentrates the mercury approximately ten times. This is called biomagnification. Therefore a plant eating fish (or mammal) has much less mercury because it doesn’t eat the fat of other animals in which the mercury is concentrated. Mercury is one toxin among many, but it is the most important. Others include PCBs and Dioxins.

Human health risks from methylmercury exposure have been widely documented, and include neurological effects, impaired fetal and infant growth, and possible contributions to cardiovascular disease.

www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/…/pdf/sources_to_seafood_report.pdf

So what about fish from salt water? Doesn’t marine fish from Maine’s coastal waters also have unhealthy levels of mercury? Yes and no. True, older, bigger fish like bluefish, swordfish or shark, or fish which spend part of their lives in fresh water like striped bass should not be eaten by pregnant or nursing mothers. Also, the toxin-concentrating part of the Maine Lobster, the tomalley or liver ( the part Julia Child loved to make a sauce out of) should be avoided. But the State of Maine also says, “All other ocean fish and shellfish, including canned fish and shellfish: Pregnant and nursing women, women who may get pregnant and children under 8 years of age can eat no more than 2 meals per week.” That’s pretty liberal compared to the Michigan guidelines. The diluting effect of the vast ocean and the active tidal currents help to spread the toxins out so that Maine coastal seafood is not faced with the toxin uncertainty of freshwater ecosystems. The thing about saltwater fish is that the mercury levels are pretty unvarying. For example, the mercury level of .3 parts per billion is an average for a given species throughout the world’s oceans. If a given species had that level in Lake Michigan it might have twice that in one of Michigan’s interior lakes or rivers. This is because the local environment’s acid levels could be higher, putting more atmospheric mercury into solution.  So the warnings for Michigan’s fish must reflect this by assuming the worst case. Even more restrictive are the government warnings about Maine’s freshwater fish. No fish should be eaten by pregnant women or children under 8 except landlocked salmon or brook trout, one meal per month.

The take away from this brief review of the mercury problem in fish is to 1) observe the consumption guidelines for the fish in question, 2) Make sure the fish comes from a larger body of water and 3) eat young or small fish, and remove the fatty parts. Maine has a low level of mercury inputs, but most mercury comes from the atmosphere anyway. With our strong tidal currents, Maine’s coastal waters have no “hot spots” like an acidic Adirondack lake or industrial harbor. There’s still too much mercury for a perfect world, but as we move away from coal and other fossil fuels, the future looks brighter. As for clams, mercury is not the problem, pollution or red tide (paralytic shellfish poison) is what you call the hotline for: 1-800-232-4733 or 207-624-7727.

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Out on the water by on . 2 Comments.

01/07/2013

Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith

Margaret Chase Smith, from http://www.americanrhetoric.com

Maine Republicans, with a few exceptions, are a breed apart. Being Republican in Maine meant being in favor of abolitionism, state’s rights, your father’s fiscal conservatism and personal freedoms. For the most part modern Maine Republicans have steered clear of the Bible-thumping, “other”-bashing, anti-compromise, gun toting, conspiracy-spewing qualities our congress now seems infected with. We can be proud of our Maine senators and congresspeople of both parties. Fare thee well, Olympia Snowe.

Margaret Madeline Chase Smith was one of our Republican senators we can be especially proud of.  She confronted bully Joseph McCarthy and brought him down…eventually.

Margaret and her parents from http://www.mcslibrary.org

Margaret was born in Skowhegan, Maine on December 14, 1897 to George Emery and Carrie Matilda (Murray) Chase. George was the town barber and Carrie was a waitress, store clerk, and shoe factory worker. Daughter Margaret graduated from Skowhegan High School and was captain of her girl’s basketball team. During  high school she worked as an operator at the telephone company where she met local businessman and politician Clyde Smith, 21 years her senior. After high school she taught school and also worked as an executive for the Maine Telephone and Telegraph Company. From 1919 to 1928 Margaret  joined the staff of the Independent Reporter, a Skowhegan weekly newspaper (owned by Clyde Smith) for whom she was circulation manager. During these years she became active in women’s organizations, first the Skowhegan chapter of the Business and Professional Woman’s Club and later serving as president of the Maine Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. On On May 14, 1930, Chase married Clyde Smith at the age of 32.

She soon became active in politics, and was elected to the Maine Republican State Committee, on which she served from 1930 to 1936. Clyde Smith was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1937 and Margaret accompanied her husband to Washington and became his secretary, speechwriter, researcher and office manager. It was because of this training that she was prepared for what was to follow in the spring of 1940: Clyde suffered a heart attack and convinced his voters his wife could stand in for him in the fall election. He died on April 8, 1940. In November Margaret was elected with 65% of the vote. She continued to serve in the House until 1948 when she was elected to the Senate with the slogan, “Don’t change a record for a promise.”

Joseph McCarthy, from wikipedia

Margaret Chase Smith, in the tradition of New England Republicans, maintained an independent streak. She often supported FDR’s New Deal policies and later opposed some Republican judicial appointments. But her greatest act of independence, and the one for which she will always be remembered, is her Declaration of Conscience.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy terrorized his fellow Americans with his witch hunt for Communists, first in government and then branching out into all spheres. At first Margaret welcomed this search for spies but soon became convinced that most of the accusations were without evidence, and were done for hysterical or self-promoting reasons.  After only a year in the Senate, Senator Smith delivered her famous fifteen minute address, never mentioning Sen. McCarthy by name. The full text can be seen here. In it she express the following:

  1. The right to criticize;
  2. The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
  3. The right to protest;
  4. The right of independent thought.

But she also took her own party to task:

Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.

…But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity.

Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of “know nothing, suspect everything” attitudes.

The immediate fallout of this speech was her loss of membership on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (the Senate version of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee). She was fired by McCarthy and replaced by Richard Nixon. She and her co-signatories to the Declaration of Conscience were referred by McCarthy as “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs”. It would take another four years before McCarthy was censured in the Senate. Margaret voted in favor.

Can the current House of Representatives learn something from our esteemed senator? I hope so.

1962 convention, from http://www.mcslibrary.org

Margaret continued to serve until 1972. She was a presidential candidate in the 1962 Republican primary but the nomination went to Barry Goldwater. She was the first woman to have her name be placed in nomination for the presidency at a major political party’s convention. At the end of her political life she moved back to Skowhegan and worked on her library. She also lectured at universities and in 1989 received the Presidential Metal of Freedom from George H.W. Bush. She died in 1995 at the age of 97. Come to Maine and you will see her name everywhere, we’re proud of our First Lady of the Senate.

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01/01/2013

Maine and the North Pole

Some folks look at a distorted map of the US, where Maine curves up like a hitchhiker’s thumb and think Maine is the last stop before the North Pole. This post is not about Maine’s undeserved reputation as an arctic peninsula, but how many expeditions to the North Pole had something to do with Maine. This was because of Maine’s seafaring traditions, not its proximity to the Arctic. After all, most of France and all of the British Isles lie north of Maine. The googlemap to the left shows how we line up with Europe if the Atlantic Ocean were to disappear. Bar Harbor and Bordeaux share the same latitude. Too bad we don’t have a gulf stream. If so the temperature would have been in the 60s today (Bordeaux) instead of the upper 20s.

Geography lesson (and whining) over. Perhaps the first Mainer with polar ambitions was Herbert Leach. Born in 1858 here in Hancock County he joined the expedition to the North Pole on the steam ship Jeannette from San Francisco led by Lieutenant Commander G. W. DeLong on 3 July, 1879. The long ordeal is beyond the scope of this blog but the ship got frozen into the ice for two years and rode with the ice pack for thirteen hundred miles. The crew survived by hunting polar bears and walruses. After the Jeannette was finally crushed by the ice the crew set out in their three lifeboats to Siberia. Only one of the three survived, the one with Herbert Leach and twelve others. After being fed by natives and a trip to Yakutsk, Siberia, the crew took a long train ride to Europe and back to the U.S. Herbert Leach died in 1935 at the age of 77. He is buried in Hillside Cemetery, North Penobscot, Maine.

from Wikipedia

The big kahuna of Maine polar explorers was Robert Edwin Peary (May 6, 1856 – Feb. 20, 1920). Although born in Pennsylvania, Robert graduated from Maine’s Bowdoin College in 1877 and lived in Fryeburg Maine. His home is now the Admiral Peary Inn and the island he bought in Casco Bay, near Portland, is now open to all. Find out more about Peary’s Eagle Island here.

Robert Peary’s goal of reaching the North Pole left no stone unturned. He had a special steamship built, the S. S. Roosevelt (after Teddy). It was a shallow-draft, coal burning steamship with extremely rugged construction. It had 30 inch thick steel covered white oak hull planking and a solid battering-ram bow meant to withstand ice crushing and a rounded hull design meant to be frozen in pack ice.

The S. S. Roosevelt from www.pearyeagleisland.org

I imagine he read up on the Jeannette. Below decks was so crammed with machinery and coal that crew quarters had to be above deck. The ship was also sail-rigged to save fuel. He made several voyages to the north of Ellesmere Island, Canada’s most northerly land mass and the world’s tenth largest island. Here he positioned men, dogs and supplies in preparation for his 1909 push to the Pole, his third attempt. The island was by no means close to the pole, he still had to travel 500 miles by dog sled and foot, over frozen pack ice with ridges up to 100 feet high. The polar night was no time to travel, so he had to wait until early spring to set out, and had to hurry back to beat the breakup.

Matthew Henson, from his book

Interestingly, Peary send most of his crew back short of the pole and chose as his closest co-explorer an African American, Matthew Alexander Henson (Aug. 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955), who reached the North Pole with Peary on April 6, 1909, along with four Inuits. Henson wrote about his adventures an a book called A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, published in 1912. It is available as a free download at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20923. Peary wrote the forward, in which he said,

Again it is an interesting fact that in the final conquest of the “prize of the centuries,” not alone individuals, but races were represented. On that bitter brilliant day in April, 1909, when the Stars and Stripes floated at the North Pole, Caucasian, Ethiopian, and Mongolian stood side by side at the apex of the earth, in the harmonious companionship resulting from hard work, exposure, danger, and a common object.

Peary’s motto,  Inveniam viam aut faciam, “Find a way or make one”, seems like a requirement for successful explorers. Admiral Peary died on 20 Feb, 1920 at the age of 63. He lies in Arlington National Cemetery.

from findagrave memorial #799

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12/26/2012

Maine Lawn Rebel

Google street view of where I grew up.

I grew up in a land of conformity. The houses were all on 1/4 acre lots in a new subdivision and the measure of a family’s social standing had a lot to do with whether their lawn had dandelions and if the edges which met the sidewalk were cut razor straight, with no blade of grass allowed to bend over the cement. I always fought this. It was enough to cut the grass I thought. Let the next door people worry about getting on the cover of Lawn Beautiful. Flash forward 40 years and not much has changed. Now instead of pushing around a gas powered mower most suburbanites contract out their lawn care to a company like “Chairman Mow, we cut the grass of the ruling class“. Even at SeaCat’s Rest it’s common to hear the roar of internal combustion engines and the smell of exhaust, unchecked by the pollution controls common to the cheapest of cars, wafting in from neighbors. How did this all begin and why does it continue?

There’s a simple caveman explanation. Imagine your cave is in the middle of a thick forest. Now picture it higher up, overlooking a broad meadow or lake. In which would you feel safer? The one with the broad vista, of course. You can see ‘em coming. Bloodthirsty foes or hungry relatives. Time to lock the door and pretend you’re not home. Could our love of lawn be any more than just that? Actually, yes.

English countryside. Photo by Andy Edwards

Consider the English colonists. They came from a pastoral land where every square inch of rural land was used for crops or grazing. They brought grazing animals with them and forest cover meant hunger, for animals and humans alike. Massachusetts was not Somersetshire. Trees had to be cut and grass planted. By 1640 we had established permanent markets for importing English meadow seeds like timothy and alfalfa. As our farms flourished, trends in English landscape architecture reinforced the ideal of lawns. In 1830 the lawnmower was invented by the Englishman Edwin Budding. By 1850 the lawn was part of the American preferred home landscape, with no other purpose than to look good.

As the lawn grew in popularity from Maine to California and south to the Gulf of Mexico, measures were taken to ensure its health in a variety of climates. Drought resistant grass varieties were planted in the south and when nature couldn’t provide, the Industrial Lawn took up the slack. By the 1950s the modern lawn required watering, chemical de-weeding with herbicides and greening up with fertilizers. It was cut, in ever greater frequently due to the fertilizers, with enormous inputs of fossil fuels. By the time I was in college it was said that Americans put more fertilizer on their lawns than India used on food crops.

Path to SeaCat’s Rest

For a while now there has been a movement afoot to reverse this trend. There’s a “freedom lawn” movement which seeks to develop a method of taking the industrial component out of the American lawn. Ornamental grasses, perennial flowers, native varieties and relaxed cutting and interference are part of this approach.  Mainers are a little less serious about their lawns anyway. Sometimes, meadows are allowed to grow and only bush hogged when woody plants (usually alders) appear. That might be every two or three years. I’ve never seen anyone in Maine apply lawn chemicals. Lawns are mowed, but weeds are free to flourish for the most part. Visitors from the south often comment that our lawns look a little wild and uncared for. I guess there are parts of the country where the industrial lawn still rules.

It’s no wonder Maine is lax on lawn care. Our own Hannah Holmes, who lives in Portland on 2/10 of an acre wrote a book called Suburban Safari, A Year On The Lawn in which she describes in great detail the ecology of her freedom lawn. On page 104 she says,

   Whatever you call it, it’s a popular landscape choice around here. Maine has been slow to recognize the genius of turning a perfectly good vegetable-patch-with-garbage-dump into an outdoor shag rug. And if we must have a shag rug outdoors, by gorry, we ain’t gonna manicure the blasted thing.

Here at SeaCat’s Rest we maintain a strip around the house of mowed grass, which I cut with an electric mower. Other parts of the property are covered by either woods or Kathleen’s extensive perennial flower and ornamental grass extravaganza, where butterflies and hummingbirds find plenty to eat. We still have the caveman expanse in the form of the North Atlantic. Just this side of the shore we allow nature to prevail with wild blueberries, raspberries and bunchberries. I like to cut back the woody plants by hand every spring to maintain the view, but most of the vegetation is untouched to preserve the integrity of the bank. At least one of our guests remarked that our setting was “rustic” and I don’t think she meant it as a compliment (see reviews here).  So there it is, if you book lodgings here you have to deal with a Maine Lawn Rebel.

View from the bank

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