North by East
Cartoon by David Jacobson
The message on Camden’s crosswalks is not just cheery; it’s smart.
If you were in Camden this summer, you may have noticed that something was missing — the smile-provoking messages on the village crosswalks that instruct pedestrians to: STOP. WAIT. WAVE.
The signage, which was painted on the road surface at both ends of the crossings, disappeared in June when Main Street was repaved, so the thousands of tourists who visited this midcoast town this past summer crossed the street via some very ordinary crosswalks.
For those who mourned the loss of the signage, we have good news: The messages are coming back this fall, along with some spiffy new faux brick-and-granite crosswalks.
We don’t know if Camden’s signage is unique, but it is unusual enough that photographs of it can be found at numerous Internet travel and photosharing sites. On his Web site, author Daniel S. Pink asserts that the crossings are not merely charming small-town artifacts, but a “great example of emotionally intelligent signage.”
“First,” writes Pink, “the mere presence of that surprising third word might make walkers more likely to comply with the first two words. Second, by encouraging the walker to wave, he now has to interpret the intersection from the point of view of a driver who might not see him. Third, when the walker waves, she now has to reckon with not some anonymous schmo bolting across the street, but with a sentient (and apparently friendly) human being whom it would be a shame to mow down.”
David Allen, the Maine Department of Transportation traffic engineer who oversees safety and efficiency of the midcoast region’s highway system, concurs. “I love them,” he says. “Crosswalk laws in Maine give pedestrians the right of way, but they can’t just jump out in front of a car that is moving and doesn’t have time to stop. The reality is, even if the obligation is on the driver, when there’s a conflict between driver and pedestrian, the pedestrian loses every time. Everyone wants a safe crosswalk and friendly atmosphere. It helps Camden thrive.”
Allen frequently recommends that other midcoast communities consider adopting Camden’s design, though so far none have done so. “It keeps everything nice and friendly,” he says. “When someone waves at you, it’s hard to grumble. It adds to the friendly nature of Maine.”
Earth To Bethel
Long before there were satellite classrooms, there was Telstar.
The western mountain town of Bethel is home to what is surely the most unusually named public school in Maine: Telstar Regional Middle and High School, located on Route 26.
If you’re over fifty, the name may have a familiar ring: Telstar was a group of satellites launched in the 1960s — marvels of communication that sent telephone calls and live transatlantic television pictures through space for the first time. As it happens, those groundbreaking transmissions to England and France were relayed from tiny Andover, Bethel’s neighbor.
Telstar! The name symbolized the cutting edge — the birth of the space age! — to the students and faculty who walked through the doors of their brand-new school in 1968. What, we mused recently, does it say to students who travel the world on the Internet and who are in constant touch by cell phone? Do today’s Telstar students even know what Telstar was?
Indeed they do, reports principal Dan Hart, who says a model of the first Telstar satellite — a three-foot tall white sphere covered with solar panels — occupies a main corridor of the school. Students learn about Telstar in their freshman history class and are reminded of its significance in speeches delivered at graduation, homecoming, and winter carnival.
The school’s sports teams have a mixed heritage, Hart notes. They were known as the Telstar Satellites and they had a mascot to match until the late seventies when a science teacher returned from a journey in the Deep South and successfully lobbied for a new name, the Rebels, whose logo was, unfortunately, the Confederate flag. A few years later, however, the Southern Cross was attracting controversy on the national stage, so Telstar returned to its original T star logo and adopted a new mascot, Yosemite Sam. The sports teams are still known as the Rebels.
Although they regard the satellites as somewhat quaint — “It’s like the horse and buggy days to them,” Hart says — students are proud of their school’s name and its logo, a white capital T over a blue star. The Telstar High School sign regularly attracts passersby, who stop into the main office wanting to know the story behind the name. If Hart is there, he may offer them a listen to his vintage Telstar record album. Released by the Tornadoes in 1962, the album is named for its organ-heavy tribute to the satellite, which was a hit single in the band’s native England. “We play it for the kids sometimes,” Harts says, “and they joke about me having an LP.”
Maine’s long-distance travelers find community — and rides — on Facebook.
When the only bus service to the St. John Valley ended in the spring, residents of this northernmost section of Aroostook County were left with only one way to travel downstate: get in their cars and drive.
“It’s a long and lonely trip,” says Cheri Michaud, a Frenchville native who now resides in Scarborough. It takes two hours, much of it spent traveling through unpopulated areas with limited or no cell phone service, just to reach the interstate in Houlton or Sherman Mills. From there, it’s another one-and-a-half hours to Bangor and three-and-a-half hours to Portland.
The distance between Michaud and her parents, who still live up north, seemed to widen when her son was born two years ago. “They like to come visit as much as possible,” she says, “but it is very time consuming and it gets very expensive.”
That’s when she turned to Facebook. Michaud’s mother had twice stumbled upon a ride south when mutual friends read about her plans on Michaud’s Facebook page. “I thought it would be great if we could get other people to do this, too,” says Michaud.
The Southern Maine-Northern Maine Rideshare page was born. The idea is to provide a forum for people with plans to travel north or south to post their itineraries and offer extra seats to other travelers. People seeking rides are also welcome to post. Much to Michaud’s surprise, the group grew from a handful of members to more than one hundred in just a few weeks.
“I thought we’d get a dozen people or so, and maybe my mother could get down here once or twice,” Michaud says, “but it went way beyond my expectations. It’s a great way to save some money, be eco-friendly, and have some company.”
The miles may still be long, but thanks to Facebook, the ride has definitely gotten shorter.
Maine Jesuits celebrate a forgotten liturgical anniversary.
Students and faculty of Cheverus High School, a private, Jesuit college preparatory school in Portland, will have something additional to commemorate when they gather for prayers on All Saints’ Day this year: the four hundredth anniversary of the first recorded Catholic mass in Maine.
“As far as we can tell from the documentation, it was celebrated on November 1, 1611, on Swan Island in the Kennebec River,” says the Reverend William R. Campbell, Cheverus’ president. Among the sources for this piece of Maine history: a letter written by the priest who said the mass, Father Pierre Biard.
Not be confused with Swans Island near Bar Harbor, the Swan Island in this story is just a stone’s throw from the town of Richmond. Managed today by the state as a wildlife area, it is a gorgeous place, just four miles long and little more than half a mile wide and known for its abandoned eighteenth-century town.
Pierre Biard was one of two French Jesuits who accompanied explorer Charles de Biencourt de Saint-Just on a journey to the Maine coast from the French settlement at Port Royal, Acadia (present day Nova Scotia). In his letter to a superior in Paris, Biard writes in rich detail of arriving at the “Kinibéqui, eighty leagues from Port Royal, on the 28th of October” and of encounters with the Armouchiquois Indians. Those tentative meetings included a seventeenth-century battle of the bands, with the Indians “haranguing, singing, and dancing” on one riverbank and
the French trying to drown out those “invocations to the devil.”
The date of November 1 and the Swan Island location are suggested by a handful of secondary sources, according to Father Campbell, who emphasizes that the ceremony, which is referenced in a stained glass window in Cheverus’ Loyola Chapel, is the earliest recorded mass in Maine, not necessarily the first mass. The anniversary is unlikely to receive attention in Maine’s Catholic churches, which celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the first mass in the New World — on Saint Croix Island — in 2004. “This is more of a Jesuit event,” Campbell says of Biard’s mass, and a natural milestone for a school that still honors that brave missionary’s vision.
One Mainer to Another:
“At this season, the insistent clarity of the light is the most dramatic thing in the whole pageant of seasonal change. In winter and spring, mists and fog often obliterate the view, and in summer, a light haze settles over the landscape, softening detail and blurring objects at a distance. But as autumn slips into winter, the air becomes clear as crystal.” — Caskie Stinnett, One Man’s Island