North by East
Maine's animal kingdom gone afoul, Prospect Harbor's iconic fisherman gets a makeover, and more.
Cartoon by David Jacobson
By the secret lake surrounded by three mountains
and wildness, waters blessed by the passage of a young
bull moose, we pick plump blackberries. The juice purples
our fingers, sunlight haloes our bent heads.
Merlin calls overhead, broad-winged hawk circles.
We eat the berries with just-made biscuits, with flesh
from your freshly caught trout, and it seems
a sacred meal, to be shared in such a place, on such a day,
with such company—long-horned beetle
on the rotting porch rail, juncos trilling in the pines.
Loon calling all that night, and martens on the roof.
I try to bring some back, those rich, dark berries,
but the drive home is long. They don’t keep.
Animals Gone Tame
Lately Maine’s animal kingdom seems to have gone afoul.
In a rural state like Maine, encounters between humans and wildlife are fairly routine, but a flurry of animal antics over the last few months has got us scratching our heads.
Let’s begin with the mallard who built her nest in the lawn and garden section of the Bangor Home Depot. The duck patiently warmed her clutch of seven eggs among the hostas and impatiens for about four weeks. A Home Depot employee named Brenda Hatch — yes, Hatch — offered food and water daily and set up a yellow tape boundary to keep visitors from getting too close to the mother-to-be that she simply called “the duck.” (Hatch’s coworkers referred to the mallard as “Paulette,” “Rosie,” and “Daffy.”) Then suddenly, one Saturday morning, the mallard and, presumably, six hatchlings were gone (no one ever actually saw the chicks). They left behind one cold, lonely egg.
While Bangorites were cooing about their hardware store duck, residents of Kennebunk were crowing about a pair of peafowl, one a splendid male with iridescent blue and green tail feathers, the other his less flashy mate. The birds were seen strutting in backyards all over town. “They were here for two days, feeding from our pans,” says Judith Hunt of Mille Fleur Farm. “At night the peahen sat in a maple tree, and the peacock sat on top of our house and watched her, calling to her every hour. He did a lot of courting. He was on full display in our flowerbeds and stopping traffic, but she totally ignored him. They were a cute couple.”
Peafowl, of course, are not native to Maine or anywhere else in the United States (they are forest-dwelling birds of South Asia), so the residents and police who tried repeatedly to capture them assumed, rightly, that they were domesticated escapees. Where they came from was a mystery for nearly two months until a Kennebunkport woman finally reported a pair of missing peafowl. Last we checked, Kennebunk animal control officer Rebecca Parker had captured and returned the peahen to her owner, and the peacock appeared to be making his way to his mate on his own accord.
The most charming in this recent rash of wayward animals, however, is Fort Kent Fergie. The young female moose has spent several months hanging around the west end of that Aroostook County town, where she has taken a keen liking to the road salt in the public works building and the blueberry bushes and apples trees in Keith and Patty Michaud’s backyard. “At first I thought she was cute,” says Fort Kent Police Chief Kenneth Michaud, who lives across the street from his son and daughter-in-law. “Then she ate all my plum trees.”
The Michauds have tried in vain to get Fergie to behave like the wild moose that she is, but she is unfazed by the presence of people. She boldly scratches her back on the Michauds’ porch and watches with interest when their neighbor mows the lawn. Father and son have each slapped Fergie’s hind end more than a few times to get her to scram, but she just trots a few feet, then stops and beguiles them with her comical gaze. “The game wardens don’t think she’s sick because she is eating,” Patty Michaud says. “She’s doing no harm.” Nevertheless, she adds, she worries about sending her three-year-old daughter out to play. “I know that most people would love to see a moose up close, but after all this time, you just wish she’d go some place else.”
Which raises the question: Are we domesticating Maine’s wild animals or are they domesticating us? --Virginia M. Wright
Prospect Harbor’s iconic fisherman gets a makeover.
About a year ago [July 2010] we reported on the uncertain fate of the giant fisherman sign that has towered over the Stinson Seafood cannery on the shore of Prospect Harbor for decades. For some Gouldsboro residents, making sure the distinctive thirty-foot billboard remains standing was nearly as important as finding a new tenant for the cannery, which processed its last sardine in April 2010.
There’s good news: “Big Jim,” as the fisherman is affectionately known, isn’t going anywhere, although he does have a new look: instead of an oversized can of Beach Cliff sardines, he now holds a lobster crate, courtesy of Lobster Web LLC, which is converting the cannery into a lobster processing plant. Lobster Web LLC is owned by Live Lobster of Chelsea, Massachusetts.
Big Jim has been displaying his sardine can ever since the Maine Sardine Council installed him on Route 1 in Kittery in the 1950s (he was moved to Prospect Harbor by Stinson Seafood in the 1960s). The loss of his traditional burden is a small price to pay for reactivating the factory. Some 120 people lost their jobs when Bumble Bee Foods closed what was Maine’s last sardine cannery. Live Lobster hopes to employ one hundred workers within a few years. It’s already found employment for Prospect Harbor’s tallest resident, at least.--V.M.W.
Old House, New Home
A historic Norway residence takes it slow.
It took two days and a bottle of dishwashing liquid to complete the task, but Norway’s Gingerbread House has at long last made it to its new home near Butters Park. The house, which had marked the gateway to the Oxford Hills village for 160 years, has been the focus of a two-year relocation effort by the Norway Landmarks Preservation Society, which stepped in to save the building when it was slated for demolition.
A house-moving always attracts attention, but this particular project is a bit unusual. The Evans-Cumming House, as it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is massive: it weighs 137 tons, and it is three stories high, twenty feet wide and — this was the real challenge, according to Stephen Merry of Merry and Sons Building Movers — eighty-six feet long.
So how do you move such a thing? Very slowly. The porch and one chimney were removed last winter. Then the Merrys spent a good part of the spring jacking the house from its foundation and slipping the steel girders that it would ride four hundred feet to Butters Park underneath it. The actual move in early June was expected to take a few hours, but the task ended up stretching over two days, in large part because the length of the house forced the Merrys to continually shift their load a few inches here and a few inches there in order to squeak past the sorts of obstacles one finds in a village, like churches and telephone poles.
Through it all, the Merrys repeatedly impressed onlookers with their practical ingenuity. When an art gallery’s granite access ramp brought the procession to a halt, for example, the movers huddled together to brainstorm a solution, which they found in a bottle of dishwashing liquid. It was just what they needed to grease the truck bed’s wheels.
Despite the delays, it was a festive event. “We had anywhere from one hundred to three hundred spectators at any one time,” said Pat Shearman of the preservation society, which plans to restore the house for use by the community.
In the meantime, it is resting on its bed of steel girders, awaiting a foundation. “We don’t know exactly when that will get done,” Shearman says, who adds that she is not overly concerned about it. “We’ve taken the attitude from the beginning that there’s no need to rush it. It will get done when it gets done.”
Maine has squid and octopi, but you won’t find them in the seafood counter.
Don’t tell anyone, but one of the Down East editors’ favorite summer pastimes is fishing for squid on an incoming tide in Rockport Harbor. Depending on the weather and time of day, he may catch enough of the translucent creatures to fill a five-gallon bucket or he might hook just three or four. Either way, he takes them home and sautés them quickly in olive oil with plenty of garlic, a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes, and a squirt of lemon juice.
While enjoying one of these simple feasts recently, we mulled the absence of Maine squid and octopi in our fish markets. We know that the tentacled mollusks are here, and we’ve read that squid in particular are a favorite prey of, well, just about everything that swims in the Gulf of Maine — groundfish, dogfish, porpoises, whales, and swordfish. So why are there no commercial squid and octopus fisheries in Maine? “There aren’t enough of them in commercial quantities,” says Adam Baukus, a research scientist with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
The New England squid fishery is limited to the waters off Cape Cod and Rhode Island, which have small fleets of bottom trawlers and jig boats, and to Georges Bank, the shallow plateau east of the Gulf of Maine. Southeastern states have more robust squid fisheries, Baukus says, and commercial octopus fishing rarely occurs north of South Carolina (occasionally fresh octopi from Rhode Island turn up in Maine seafood cases, but generally these have been caught unintentionally by fishermen pursuing other fish).
Most of the squid swimming in the Gulf of Maine are the northern shortfin, or illex, variety — tasty, but “not as good a product” as longfin inshore, or Atlantic loligo, squid, says David Libby of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. As for the common Atlantic octopus that dwells here, it’s too small — just a few inches in diameter — to be worth a commercial fisherman’s effort.
So if you want to enjoy Maine calamari, you’ll just have to join us in Rockport Harbor some evening during an incoming tide.--V.M.W.
A Team Is Iced
After struggling financially for years, the Lewiston Maineiacs are no more.
Northern New England cheered when the Boston Bruins brought home the Stanley Cup for the first time in thirty-nine years this past June. In central Maine, however, the celebration was bittersweet: The Bruins’ victory came just days after the Quebec Major Junior Hockey league folded its only United States team, the Lewiston Maineiacs.
The Maineiacs gave Lewiston-Auburn eight years of great hockey. The winners of the 2007 President’s Cup, the junior leaguers, who range in age from sixteen to twenty, lived with local families and served as role models for young hockey players in the community. They also had the enthusiastic support of a couple of thousand people who regularly cheered them on at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
But it wasn’t enough. The franchise struggled financially almost since the day it moved to Lewiston from Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 2003, and rumors that the team would be either relocated or dissolved were persistent, which in turn affected ticket sales. When the end finally came, no one was surprised, not least Maineiacs majority owner Mark Just.
“I was the one who kept saying, ‘We’ll try to make it work, we’ll try to make it work, we’ll try to make it work,’ ” Just told the Lewiston Sun Journal. But, he continued, when only 2,500 people turned out for the opening game of the season that followed the team’s President’s Cup victory. “I knew that we weren’t ever going to be successful in Lewiston, that it wasn’t going to happen.”
The end of the Maineiacs is a blow not only to hockey fans, but to the city itself.--V.M.W.
One Mainer to Another:
“Maine does not end at its coast. Its beauty is repeated in its islands, thousands of them if one also counts those rock ledges known locally as “knubbles” — small knobs — some of them supporting a tree or two. Traditionally many Maine islands were offshore depots for fishing and lobstering; some served as pastures for keeping cows, or for quarrying granite; lighthouses still stand on some of them. Some are privately owned, with summerhouses on them, and a look of defiant seclusion as though challenging John Donne’s assertion that no man is an island. On the Maine coast, some men are islands.” —Paul Theroux