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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12/16/2012

The Bath Disaster

It’s important to realize that horrible events like mass killings of children such as we just saw in Newtown, CT are not only recent phenomena. Rarely does the following story appear in the list of ignoble deeds of mass slaughter, but it stands as the worst school attack in the US and it happened 85 years ago: On May 18, 1927, ten or fifteen miles away from where my eleven year old parents attended school, a horrific bombing killed 39 school children, two teachers, four other adults and the bomber himself. At least 58 people were injured. It is the third worst act of domestic terrorism in American history, after 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

Bath is a small town in Michigan just north of Lansing, the state capital. In the early part of the 20th century it was a sleepy agricultural community, and education took place in multiple one-room schoolhouses. Education reforms in the 1920s recommended that children be moved to larger schools where age groups could be separated into their own classes, and in 1922 the Bath voters approved the construction of a such a school. The new Bath Consolidated School opened with 236 students. Andrew Kehoe was on the school board.

Pre-blast Bath School, from Wikipedia

The details of Andrew Kehoe’s crime are outrageous and disgusting. He had close ties with the school and was employed as maintenance man, so his access to the school’s basement was unquestioned. Over the course of several weeks he planted one thousand pounds of dynamite in the floor framing and rigged it up to alarm clock detonators. The blasts were set to go off in two parts, one for each wing of the school. The second was delayed so as to kill rescuers. Fortunately, the second 500 lbs did not detonate, its wiring was severed by the first blast.

Kehoe’s car bomb. From wikipedia

On the day of the disaster Kehoe started out by killing his wife Nellie with blunt trauma to the head. He then systematically set off incendiaries in his own house and barn, making sure his animals were not able to escape. He loaded up his pickup with more explosives and shrapnel and drove to the school to pretend to take part in the rescue. He parked his pickup where it would kill the most people and set it off, killing five more people including himself.

After the blast, from findagrave #7845578

I knew about this story not from history books or old newspapers, but from my family. My stepfather, Keith Southwell, who married my mother after my father’s death, had a paper route in 1927. He was 15. His girlfriend was Iola Irene Hart, 12, a student at the Bath School. Iola, her eight year old sister Vivian Oletta and her eleven year old brother Percy Eugene were all killed in the blast. My stepfather named his only child after Iola. After my mother died Keith married a surviving Hart sister, Elva. They were both in their late 80s. Seventy years after the disaster it was difficult for either of them to talk about it, and especially Elva seemed to think that giving details made the tragedy a possible source of profit for someone, which she was dead-set against. Keith grudgingly answered some questions so that my friend Walter Bilderback could write a play about it which he called Flame of Powder, Soul of Man. Both Elva and Keith have since died.

from fultonhistory.com

Much speculation about the motives of Andrew Kehoe has occurred through the years. His wife was sick, his farm was in foreclosure, he was angry about high taxes. Similar speculation has happened about recent mass killers, but there is one thing we can learn from the 1927 Bath Disaster: psychopaths occur throughout history. The only thing that changes is the tools they use to accomplish their horrible deeds, and how many they can kill before it’s over.

Wikipedia article: Bath School Disaster

Findagrave memorial: Andrew Kehoe

Findagrave memorial: Nellie Price Kehoe

Findagrave virtual cemetery for Bath Disaster victims.

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12/11/2012

Smartest States: Maine is Fifth

Guy in a monkey suit from http://animal.discovery.com/tv-shows/finding-bigfoot

This post was an accident. I was cruising my cable channels looking for something worth watching. My former top channels have been dumbed down big time. The Learning Channel is now the Leering Channel with My Strange Addiction, Hoarding: Buried Alive and Sister Wives. The History Channel is now the Military Hardware and Paranoia Channel  and sadly, the channel which brought us Mythbusters is now showing Zombie Apocalypse, Moonshiners and American Chopper. Last among this list of shame is  Animal Planet. We used to see shows which taught us something about other species but now we’re subjected to Finding Bigfoot. As if this was somehow a subject which is contained under the heading “Animal Planet”! It was while watching the excruciating first five minutes of this sham that I asked myself if some of America’s states are so stupid as to provide fodder for the footage and eyes for the advertisers. I didn’t stick around to see what lowest common denominator businesses had done the math to convince themselves that they could sell to the Luddites who watched this drivel. Instead I was compelled to repair to my beloved internet to see whether Oklahoma was as low on the intelligence scale as suggested by the episode aired on 12/2/12.

Initially I was apprehensive to see where Maine fit in this list since I know that Mainers don’t have the bucks to send their kids to college as easily as other states. Our colleges are not bad, just divided between expensive, excellent private colleges and so-so public universities. Coming from Michigan I’m spoiled from its full spectrum of affordable public universities, serving kids at almost any SAT level, as long as they’re residents. At the top is the University of Michigan, just short of Ivy League status, with tuition accessible to all. With all that, Michigan is not the smartest state according to statemaster.com. In fact it rates as number 27, well behind Maine. Poor Oklahoma is at #39. Maine ranks as number 5, behind Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Check out the full list at http://www.statemaster.com/graph/edu_bes_edu_ind-education-best-educated-index.

Senator-elect Angus King, from wikipedia

The ranking is based on a number of factors,  “on student achievement, positive outcomes and personal attention from teachers”.  I know that Maine’s education reputation has leaped forward in recent years. We have always had small classes, but we used to be dogged by high teenage pregnancy, smoking and low high school graduation rates. Thanks to our newly elected Senator Angus King, when he was governor from 1995 to 2003, our state sent the message to our kids that we were investing in their future. In a bold move, the state of Maine gave every 7th grader an Apple laptop for school. Our daughter was in 7th grade then and hit that wave perfectly. Some older teachers had to retire early, they couldn’t handle it. Now it’s time we show the results to all who doubt the value of education spending and keeping up with cutting-edge technology. Thank you, Angus King. We humans are tuned into bad news, ready at the drop of a hat to blame someone for a problem but rarely do we notice what works, thanking those who do right.

From L. L. Bean

Still, our SAT scores are low and with a low rate of college degrees for their parents, kids have an uphill battle in Maine. We are poor by New England standards so the money spent on education could be higher. Two parents working mean unsupervised after-school time. Our employment opportunities are skewed toward tourism and natural resources, neither demanding higher education. So the fact that we’re #5 is pretty good. Let’s hope we stay there and expand the high tech economy so that our kids stay in Maine. Maine has a lot going for it. The beauty and lure of the outdoors is what everyone knows about, along with our affordability, but we’re also ranked high on peacefulness, low on crime, high on health and now high on smarts. If only we could change that mandatory fashion rule for November: You must wear blaze orange!

 

 

 

 

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12/04/2012

Joe Holden, Maine’s Flat Earth Evangelist

from http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=74125990

Let it not be said that I only write about things favorable to Maine’s image. Long after the earth was known to be a sphere, a core group of die-hard biblical literalists decided the earth was flat, no matter what. One of them, Joseph Holden, who lived in the central Maine town of Otisfield made himself known as a prominent flat-earther.

My MS Word mock-up of a handbill from http://www.mainememory.netartifact20139

Born in 1816, Holden worked  his way to become the owner of several sawmills in rural Maine but never married. He called himself “professor” but there is no evidence his education progressed beyond Otisfield’s one room schoolhouse. It is said his mother tried to walk on water. He was a lifelong Republican and served as Justice of the Peace, census enumerator and even ran for state senate.

Coming of age in the mid 1800s he was a witness to Charles Darwin’s rise to fame and saw the scientific community’s gradual acceptance of the tenets of evolutionary theory. Finally, the Descent of Man, released in 1871 confirmed  Darwin’s evidence for a family connection between humans and apes and escalated the war between science and religion which continues to this day. Joseph Holden chose his little piece of the war and fought it for the rest of his life. Being more or less financially secure, it is doubtful the small admission he charged for his lectures did more than pay for his travels, so a scam artist he was not. From stories told by the town historian Jean Hankins it seems he was a tolerated and colorful character, annoying perhaps, but not a threat. Townspeople “respected his right to be foolish if he wanted to.”  His poor hearing made argument futile, so most of his victims just nodded their heads in agreement. Another convert.

His main demonstration was to fill a bucket of water and set it upon a post. He bet his audience that he could return in 24 hours and the water would still be there, proof that the earth didn’t spin about an axis or move in any other foolish way. When he began to lecture at the age of 75, he was a constant presence in the state legislature, attending every session for many years. He lectured in Portland, Boston and even at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892. His lectures were filled with common sense arguments and humor. People came for the entertainment and left feeling entertained, but likely not converted.

Joe Holden died on March 30, 1900. His passing was noted by at least one sympathetic newspaper (Statesville, NC Semi-weekly Landmark):

We hold the the doctrine that the earth is flat ourselves and we regret exceedingly to learn that one of our number is dead, because there are few of us and one can ill be spared. But we are not without hope. One of these days the idea that the earth is round and turns over every 24 hours will be relegated to the roar along with other antiquated notions.

 

Amazingly, flat-earthers exist to this day. Just check out http://theflatearthsociety.org. I can’t say the people who run the website are true believers or it’s just tongue-in-cheek, but with all the other bizarre beliefs out there, why not? At least this one doesn’t seem to involve stockpiling ammunition.

In his will Joe bequeathed $3 per year to the parishioners of the Otisfield Baptist Church for an annual  summer picnic. Each August he is still celebrated in Otisfield with the gentle ridicule and good humor. I wonder if anyone leaves a bucket of water on his grave.

Sources used for this story:

  • http://www.sunjournal.com/node/238260
  • Christine Garwood (2007). Flat Earth.
  • http://www.findagrave.com
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth
  • Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan (1992). Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.

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11/26/2012

Maine’s Elephant Resort

Rosie in retirement. Photo by Barbara Hatch for Hope Elephants

Of all the things we think of when we say Maine, one of the last things would be Asian elephants, right? That changed as of October, 2012  when two of the big mammals took up permanent residency in Hope, Maine, about 1-1/2 hours west and south from SeaCat’s Rest. Veterinarian and former circus elephant trainer Dr. Jim Laurita worked with Rosie and Opal back in the 70’s and decided he wanted to provide for them a comfortable Maine retirement. He raised $100,000, built a huge, 3,120-square-foot heated barn and purchased the necessary veterinary equipment for their care. There were a few negative opinions expressed from an animal rights group, but for the most part the community was supportive. Several fundraisers have already happened and promise to continue to provide for their feeding and upkeep. Check out the Hope Elephants facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/hopeelephants.

Rosie and Jim Laurita. Photo from http://www.facebook.com/hopeelephants

Opal and Rosie’s new home is not a tourist attraction, so if you want to see them or their human caregivers you have to arrange it through the facebook page. They are always ready to accept donations to their non-profit. Future plans do include an education center and a viewing deck, and Dr. Laurita has already allowed school groups to see the elephants. The primary objective is to provide for the elephants and increase awareness of older elephant’s needs in their retirement years. Rosie and Opal are now in their 40’s and may live to 80, so Maine will have the big hungry mammals for a while.

The criticism from In Defense of Animals claimed the new barn and large (1+ acre) paddock was unsafe and inhumane and our climate was inappropriate. Dr. Laurita says elephants encounter snow in their native habitat on occasion and certainly in zoos and some like it, some don’t. Both animals have ongoing health issues and Hope Elephants is equipped to address them. Opal has foot and leg problems while Rosie suffered nerve damage to her shoulder. There are plans for an underwater treadmill. To me, it doesn’t sound like these animals are suffering from being in Maine, and from the photos they seem to enjoy it. Some day I hope to see for myself. Pines,  lupines, apple trees….and elephants!

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11/15/2012

Our County goes Green

Hancock County, Maine, containing Bar Harbor and Lamoine just got a lot greener. According to census figures we have 23,300 households. Eighteen thousand, or 77% of those household’s electricity needs are now matched by the new 34 megawatt Bull Hill Wind Project just 30 miles away from SeaCat’s Rest, atop 600 foot Bull Hill. Of course, the power is fed into the grid so the power goes everywhere, but it still means Hancock County is now a significant energy producer. It only happens when the wind blows, but the engineers at First Wind have done their research and picked a site where there is dependable wind. The success of a wind site can be expressed as the capacity factor, the percentage of rated output that an array produces over time. It’s too soon to know Bull Hill’s, but another First Wind array in Maine, Mars Hill, has achieved 35% according to here.

The substation where voltage is matched to the grid.

On the fourteenth of November, 2012 I traveled to Bull Hill to see this project for myself. It’s a little remote and requires driving over gravel roads for a while, but the site is accessible to all and I recommend that everyone take a look. The land is owned by H. C. Haynes Inc, a timber company and leased to First Wind. Haynes has a policy of allowing access to its lands for recreational purposes, and so the extensive roads servicing the installation are available for visitors at any time. Standing under a 300 foot tower with slowly spinning 150 foot blades is an awesome experience.  Seeing nineteen of them spinning together is humbling. Actually, seeing all nineteen at once is not easy, since each tower is about 1500 feet away from its closest neighbor.

The blades above my head spun at about 12 RPM, a blade swishing by about every 2 seconds at 128 miles per hour at the tip.  I wanted to ask someone what the turbine’s output was at that speed and soon after I was speaking with a young First Wind worker at the facility’s substation who was kind enough to answer my questions. At 12 RPM he said, the generation was “at rated output” or about 1.8 megawatts. The wind was not that strong on the ground, about 12 MPH here at home, so I was surprised to hear that. The young man, who decided not to have his name mentioned, explained that the site is chosen after several years of monitoring wind speeds and that the model of the turbine is chosen to match the wind resource. The Vesta V100-1.8 MW is a model fitted to lower wind speed sites, reaching rated output at 27 miles per hour. I don’t think the wind was that strong even 300 feet up. At 15 miles per hour the output is 600 kilowatts.

Investment in a wind installation is not a casual affair. Not only does the local population have to be on board ($340,000 per year in taxes and community benefit payments helps), but the project needs to be near an existing power grid so that the overall project cost can be kept reasonable. And then the wind too. Being on top of a hill is a big help. There are other, windier sites in Hancock County, but many are close to the coast and off limits for aesthetic and political reasons. Finally, the young man reported that most people don’t realize that the new wind economy has already pumped a billion dollars into the Maine economy.

The Bull Hill project in some ways resembles a housing development in that there are winding streets and flattened build sites with good drainage and planted grass.  All the power from the turbines goes through buried conduits, so like a fancy development there are no wires overhead. Each turbine sends out its maximum 1.8 megawatt at 34,500 volts. It joins with the output of other turbines and heads to the substation, all underground. At the substation the collected power is boosted to 115,000 volts and joins the grid. The substation is staffed 24 hours a day and so the facility is an ongoing employer, keeping watch of the 19 turbines. I asked about the maintenance of the turbines, specifically if the three hundred foot climb was by ladder. The answer was yes, but there is a “power assist” which is basically a lifting cable clipped onto a harness which makes the climb a little less tiring. I would hate to get to the top and realize I forgot my wrench. Tasks at the top include greasing the gearbox, tightening bolts and checking power connections and output. I was hoping to get an invitation to the top but it was not to be. It’s probably a good thing, I’m not crazy about heights.

Wind power is still controversial. Some people hate the way turbines look and others object because they are supposed to kill bats and birds. Still others claim they are an unreliable and expensive source of power.  I like the way they look and hope the source proves to be viable. I am no expert when it comes to giving an intelligent assessment of this power source, but when I look at those big turbines I know there is wind energy being converted to electricity and I see no smoke. As someone who lives 15 feet above high tide, I need to make sure the Greenland ice sheet doesn’t melt, and it’s certain that humans producing CO2 are not helping. That’s my opinion!

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10/29/2012

Maine’s Oysters

Maine is synonymous with lobster, but we also produce some of the best oysters (Crassostrea virginica, the Eastern oyster) in the world. In warmer areas oysters can be grown from egg to adult in a year, but in Maine they take three or more years to reach a harvestable size. The extra growing time results superior flavor and texture, firmer meat and a thicker shell. The nexus of the Maine oyster industry is the Damariscotta River, a little short of the halfway point up the coast from the NH border and about 100 miles from SeaCat’s Rest. Maine oysters are expensive but worth it, and people around the country are starting to find out. The Damariscotta River has hosted oysters for thousands of years as revealed by huge 2000 year old midden piles of shells left by Native Americans.

Growing oysters, unlike clams, is not just a process of harvesting a wild creature. The production of our prized bivalves starts with site selection. Oysters are endemic to brackish water, the estuaries of rivers where ocean waters mix with fresh. The fresh water must be clean. Polluted water would not only produce unhealthy oysters, they would taste bad as well. So like a fine wine growing region, specific rivers and even parts of rivers, produce the best oysters. Therefore they must be farmed intensively. Maine has 32 oyster farms. Relying on naturally occurring oysters in prime areas would be like harvesting wild grapes for wine.

The process of farming oysters starts in the hatchery in winter. Mature oysters are induced to produce egg and sperm by manipulating food and water temperature while they lie on trays in tanks . Fertilized eggs are at first free swimming but eventually attach to tiny crushed shells fragment provided by the hatchery. During this growth phase they consume huge amounts of algae, which must be provided in the hatchery. Eventually they achieve “grow out” where they can be transferred to mesh bags out in the river. Here their diet changes to a natural one, and they continue to grow until their size requires larger accommodations.

from http://www.pemaquidoysters.com/

Some growers keep their oysters in floating crates until they’re ready to harvest, but others transfer their investments to river bottom for a while. This requires either hand harvesting with scuba gear, or a mechanical dredge. Either way, the reward is a superior product, commanding a premium price in New York restaurants. Fortunately, visitors to Maine have the opportunity to sample Maine oysters near the source at a local price. Every September the village of  Damariscotta hosts an Oyster festival. Admission is free and the oysters are plentiful; 15,000 were served in 2012.

The Maine oyster industry is small compared to the lobster industry.  Currently oyster sales amount to $8 or $9 million dollars per year while lobster sales total $340 million. Although Maine oysters are often out-shined by lobsters, the product quality is just as good and they will likely grow in importance in the years to come.  Recent threats from disease and the possibility of hurricane damage still makes oyster farming a gamble, but Maine’s cold winters assure that our oysters attain a sweetness not present in fast-grown southern varieties. If you can afford a few Maine oysters at $1.09 each (supermarket price, 10/29/12) you will be able to enjoy a taste of the  briny-sweetness of Maine.

Our oyster appetizer. Photo by Pat Gray.

 

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10/14/2012

Maine’s Mushroom Superstar, Sam Ristich

Professor Herb Wagner

My time at University of Michigan’s biological station near Pellston, MI exposed me up close to the culture of academia. Billed as the opportunity for undergraduates to get to know professors one to one in a rustic setting, I found them to be often arrogant, disdainful of undergraduates and eager to turn graduate students into uncredited slaves. An important exception to this was Warren “Herb” Wagner, a name which brings thousands of his former UMich students around the world to a moment of gentle remembrance. Dr. Wagner taught the popular Woody Plants course and did what all great teachers did, get people excited. He died at 80, January 8, 2000 after only a week of absence from his research laboratory.

Sam Ristich from http://www.ruthieristich.com/blog/

But this is not about Herb Wagner, it’s about his Maine mycologist equivalent, Sam Ristich. Since becoming involved with mushrooming in Maine and joining the Maine Mycological Association, I have heard quite a bit about Sam and how he single handedly formed the club and exported his considerable enthusiasm about fungi for many years. Always available for one-on-one and delightfully oblivious to fashion or other social conventions, he stayed active into his 90s, devoting his last 2-1/2 decades to educating Mainers about nature.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1915 to Serbian immigrants, Sam served as a navigator for the US Army Air Force’s Air Transport Command in WWII, starting his working life risking it to deliver planes to dangerous places like Greenland, Burma and the Sahara desert. A marker-filled map of the world chronicles his many achievements at www.samristich.com. After the war he earned his PhD in entomology at Cornell (1950). During 15 years of teaching at the New York Botanical Gardens he founded the Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association (COMA) and the New Jersey Mycological Association. He and wife Ruth worked for civil rights and were active from 1955 to 1975 with the NAACP and the Unitarian Social Action Committee.

In the early 1980s Ruth inherited her family’s farm in North Yarmouth, Maine and so they came to our neck of the woods. Many of the current members of MMA remember Sam, his bubbly enthusiasm and trademark expressions; his whoops of excitement and “wonderment” of the natural world.

Sam died during dinner on February 11, 2008 at the age of 92. I was not lucky enough to have known Sam Ristich, but I can tell he was an important figure in Maine history. You can’t get very far into fungi without encountering his name or photographs. There are annual forays named after him and a memorial nature trail in North Yarmouth. He even discovered a new mushroom in 1983, Amanita ristichii. His service for the Northern New England Poison Control Center in identifying mushrooms probably saved many lives. But to me his greatest mark was as a teacher. Like Herb Wagner and Richard Feynman, his legacy will continue forever in the lives of those he inspired. In his own words from http://www.samristich.com/about.html

I loved it! [Teaching] I had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time and having the motivation to really tap the potential. Somebody said that the greatest of talents is to discover it and develop it in others. And there’re some people who are motivators and know where to find it and how to mine it.

His daughter is working on a film about her father’s life. See a clip below:

F__Microscope Drama from Ruthie Ristich on Vimeo.

Sam Ristich resources on the web used in this article:

  • http://www.samristich.com
  • “Sam’s Corner”, http://www.mushroomthejournal.com/mma/SCCentral.html
  • http://www.ruthieristich.com
  • http://www.mainelymushrooms.org/PagesPublic/Pub_Sam.html
  • (obituary) http://nemfdata.org/samristich.htm

Filed under Acadia, colorful characters, History, Nature by on . 1 Comment.

10/09/2012

Mushrooms on the Maine Coast

Chicken of the Woods

September and October are great months for learning about and foraging for fungi here in Maine. These past few weeks have been especially fruitful for us, as our freezer is filled with several varieties. My first breakthrough was on September 29, when I found this sulfur shelf, also called Chicken of the Woods, or Laetiporus sulphureus, growing on a dying oak tree.

I am timid about eating wild fungi. I decided to avoid gilled mushrooms because the really toxic killers all have gills. That leaves quite a few edible choices, and a few which can cause gastric upset, but not death. Someday I will be confident enough to pick and eat gilled species, but not now. Each one of my finds were tried with the expectation that they would make me a little sick, (not yet) so small portions and thorough cooking are a must!

The Chicken of the Woods is indeed similar to chicken, with a slightly stringy texture similar to breast meat, but with a mushroomy flavor. It holds up well in stews or sauces and is a great vegetarian alternative. The trick is to use the outer portions and cut around the bug intrusions.

Hydnum repandum, the Hedgehog Mushroom

Another easy target is the hedgehog mushroom, or Hydnum repandum. These look like crusty bread on top but have teeth or tiny icicles under the caps. A cluster of them on the forest floor can be enough for several meals. They taste like portobello. I found this one on October 5th.

On October 6, a foray was scheduled by the Maine Mycological Association at the Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME.

Entoloma abotivum

I jumped at the chance to mingle with people who knew mushrooms and didn’t mind the three hour drive. But before I went I found some strange white blobs growing along a dead spruce root on my own property. I remembered a picture in one of my books describing them as aborted entolomas but I thought I would take one along to make sure.

Anything which looks like a blob should be sliced in half to make sure it’s not a deadly Amanita

Armillaria mellea

button, in which case the structure of an embryonic mushroom will be seen. The aborted Entoloma results from the parasitizing of one species by another resulting in sterile growth, but the result is delicious. The other cool thing is that it can be found in large quantities. My harvest was close to five pounds. It has become a favorite!

At the foray I paired up with Dr. Lawrence Leonard, and he conveyed some valuable advice. He taught me to always get a spore print and to look for one under the mushroom in its original spot, on a leaf or another mushroom. He also identified the Honey mushroom, Armillaria mellea, another important edible, and a gilled mushroom. It’s pretty easy to recognize by its prominent annular ring, white spore print from brown gills and clustering habit on wood.

At the end of the foray everybody’s finds were arranged on long tables. I took some photos of some other important edibles. Hen of the Woods, Grifola frondosa is one I wish I had found. It’s similar to the Chicken of the Woods in that it grows under dying oaks, and is very easy to identify. Also easy is the Cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis crispa. Sadly, I can’t report on how either of these taste. Maybe next year.

Grifola frondosa, Hen of the Woods

Sparassis crispa, the Cauliflower Mushroom

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Things To Do by on . 4 Comments.

10/05/2012

Nickeled and Dimed on Your Vacation?

I had a stray thought the other day that I might look into finding a rental accommodation someplace warm this winter for a week. You know, white sands, cabanas, rum drinks, temps over 60. Someone once mentioned Destin, Florida as a good place, so I went to homeaway.com and checked it out. I looked at the map view and tried to pick a place on the beach. However, it seemed every place said “seven minute walk to the shore” (that’s a quarter mile!) even though the pictures of the property showed a beach view from what looked like a deck. The other choices were high rise condos. Right on the shore but you’re in a bee hive 5 stories up. Then there were the prices. $2-4,000+/week. Ouch! I can’t help but think there’s a SeaCat’s Rest of Florida somewhere I haven’t found. A clean, stylish, private two bedroom apartment on the Atlantic or Gulf coast (and I mean REALLY on the coast) for under $1,000/ week.

Then they have this annoying habit of adding extra charges. Cleaning fees. OK, I understand how each rental requires cleaning between guests (believe me, 5 hours), but why should this be an add-on? Is it optional? Could I rent without the cleaning fee if I were willing to wash the laundry, make the beds and scrub and vacuum all surfaces? This is absurd! Why should you lure me into this property and then start adding things which should be included in the quoted price?

Keith Richards
from imdb.com

Damage deposit. Many properties don’t even state the deposit amount in the description. You reserve and then they tell you. Ours is zero. As a renter, I have to trust that the property manager won’t invent some reason to keep some of my three or four-figure deposit. Is this really necessary? Am I Keith Richards*? I have never had a guest at SeaCat’s Rest who broke something and then didn’t offer to pay for it or even went out and bought a replacement without even troubling me with it. People who stay here are decent, maybe I’m spoiled. If Keith Richards stayed here I could sell the broken bits on ebay and recoup the damage. I’m not saying I will never be forced to ask for a damage deposit but so far so good.

Then there’s the coin laundry, detergent, parking and the charge for heating the pool. Nickels and dimes. Hey, if you’re on vacation do you really want to be constantly reminded of how much you’re spending?  No, we don’t have a pool here, just the ocean. But if we did I would figure out a way to heat it without asking for extra. The laundry is free, detergent too. So is the heat, air conditioning, broadband, firewood and cable TV. That’s what a vacation is all about, relaxing and not having to worry about many quarters are in your pocket.

Lodging Tax. Look out,  Florida’s is 11.5% compared to Maine’s 7%. So let’s see how the Florida vacation adds up:

  1. $880/week
  2. Lodging tax of 11.5%=$101.20
  3. Cleaning fee=$150 plus tax of  $17.25= $167.25
  4. shore access– “short walk”
  5. Hidden fees? Security deposit holdbacks? Unknown

Total: $1,148.45(+?)

Here’s what a week in high season will cost you at SeaCat’s Rest:

  1. $880/week
  2. Lodgings tax of 7%= $61.60
  3. Cleaning fee= $0
  4. Shore access=100 feet
  5. Hidden fees and holdbacks= $0.00

Total: $941.60.

Both rentals are the same list price on homeaway, but ours is $206.85 (+?) cheaper when you do the math, and a lot closer to the listed price. And no waiting for a week or more to find out if you get your deposit back.

Are you being nickeled and dimed by your other vacation rental choices? Do the math and read the reviews, you may be the victim of creative pricing! Now if only we could get 80° in January on the Maine coast.

*See Rolling Stone Keith Richards trash his hotel room in this video.

 

Filed under Acadia, Lodging by on . 1 Comment.