North By East
Opinions, Advisories, and Musings from the Length and Breadth of Maine
Cartoon by Bill Woodman
Boom or Bust?
Maine’s new fireworks law is about to get its first real test.
Parades, fairs, picnics, barbecues, and spectacular fireworks shows — who doesn’t love the Fourth of July? We typically do. We confess, however, that we’re approaching the holiday this year with a bit of trepidation. It will be Maine’s first Fourth under a new state law that allows the sale and use of consumer fireworks. Will pops, bangs, and whistles disturb our once-peaceful nights all summer long? Will carelessly tossed firecrackers set our woods on fire or, worse, create a rash of hand and eye injuries? Or, as we hope, will this Independence Day prove to be little different from Independence Days past?
Like many Mainers, we were bemused when state lawmakers voted last July to reverse Maine’s decades-old ban on fireworks. After all, it was not as if consumers had been making noise over the absence of fireworks stores from Maine. Moreover, the Maine Medical Association and public safety officials from around the state opposed Representative Douglas Damon’s fireworks bill when it was introduced. But Damon successfully convinced his State House peers that so many people were already using consumer-type fireworks that the state should allow their use and benefit from taxes generated by the businesses that would sell them.
At first it appeared the new law had fizzled: Twenty-three communities went on to adopt ordinances banning the sale and use of fireworks within their borders (two of those towns, Scarborough and Cumberland, relax their bans for the Fourth and New Year’s Day). Another seven towns passed ordinances allowing fireworks’ use and sale with permits or subject to various restrictions.
More recently, though, a few new businesses have opened, just as Damon predicted they would, and the state fire marshal’s office expects to have issued eleven licenses to fireworks sales facilities by the time the Fourth is upon us. “When we license them, we do an inspection and we make sure they have safety information to give to the customer,” says Richard Taylor, the state fire marshal’s research and planning analyst. “They have pamphlets for safe handling of fireworks that they drop into the bag. They have an interest in not having something go wrong.”
Taylor also helped several towns craft their fireworks ordinance, and he expects a lot of tweaking will take place after the Fourth. “Some towns may decide that they don’t need to be that restrictive,” he says. “Others may decide to be more restrictive. It is, after all, our first Fourth with these products, and we’re hoping everyone is careful.”
As are we all.
The Augusta Country Club finds itself the source of major confusion.
We’ve all been led astray before because of a not-quite-specific-enough Web search. It still bugs us that we usually have to add “Maine” to “Portland” when searching for restaurants on Google. We appreciate the .08 seconds it took to cull through millions of Web pages, but we’d rather not know exactly how many more options there are for Indian food in Oregon. Unfortunately, one Maine country club has found itself on the wrong end of a lackadaisical Web search and as a result is wading through thousands of e-mails falsely accusing it of discrimination.
Thanks to poor research on the part of a member of Change.org, a letter-writing campaign directed toward Augusta National Golf Course in Georgia demanding an end to its policy of not admitting women as members got misdirected to Maine. “I was inundated for days with thousands of e-mails signed by women all over the country saying we should allow female members,” says Randy Blouin, director of memberships and marketing at the Augusta Country Club outside of Maine’s state capital. “As far as I know, we’ve always allowed female members. You write a check for the membership and you’re in!” Augusta National, home of the famed Masters Tournament — one of the four major championships in professional golf — is known as much for its iconic moments of Tiger Woods on the eighteenth green as for its exclusionary practices. There hasn’t been a single female member in its seventy-nine-year history and an African American wasn’t admitted until 1990.
This isn’t the first time the clubs have been confused, however. Nor is it even the most noteworthy.
“This kind of thing happens every year,” Blouin sighs. “I’ll get calls asking how to get tickets. A trucker from Minnesota wondered how he could get some hats for his buddies. Usually if I detect a Southern accent I have to ask if they’re asking about Maine or Georgia.” Back in the 1980s, a group of Japanese tourists heading for Augusta National got rerouted to Maine and ended up in the parking lot of the Augusta Country Club. “They were asking in broken English to take pictures and ended up buying a lot of stuff in the gift shop,” Blouin says. “Our staff caught on that these people intended to go to Augusta National, and the general manager at the time ended up making lunch for everybody.”
We hope the Japanese group chose to stay around for a bit after realizing their mistake. Augusta after all is no more than an hour and a half drive from other tourist-friendly destinations such as Rome, Paris, Mexico, and Peru.
Maine that is.
Danger in Our Mist
A new study finds that fog contains higher levels of mercury than does rain.
Throughout the summer months on the coast of Maine, you’re less likely to wake up to a rising, shining sun than to an early morning blanket of fog. This fog, as it rolls along the water, across the docks, and through harbor moorings can be quite serene, and depending on its opacity, makes for a beautiful backdrop to our beloved coastline.
Then there’s the other type of fog. This one chills you to the bone. It seems to forewarn of coming calamities, it cancels all outgoing flights to strand you on a shrouded island, and, in the case of movies like John Carpenter’s The Fog, it summons a vengeful group of mariner apparitions.
There’s even a term for fear of fog, nebulaphobia, and now researchers are wondering if its sufferers might have legitimate cause for concern. A recent study from the University of California, Santa Cruz finds that a potential danger does lurk in the mist — the very real danger of mercury poisoning. The study, conducted by Peter Weiss-Penzias, discovered that the fog found in Monterey Bay on California’s coast carried significantly higher levels of mercury than in rainwater. “There was one hundred times the amount in fog,” says Weiss-Penzias. “Just the fact, though, that we found organic mercury in fog is new and noteworthy.” Although there have yet to be tests in Maine, Weiss-Penzias says that the study could have implications for the East Coast.
Mercury exposure is a truly global problem. Pregnant women are advised to stay away from certain species of fish, like tuna and swordfish because traces of mercury found in their flesh can impair the development of fetuses. The assumption had been that mercury, put into our atmosphere by outputs of industrial and coal-fired plants, enter the ecosystem and, subsequently, the food chain through rain. This new study suggests that fog may in fact be a more efficient carrier of this potentially harmful element.
The study is largely irrelevant for most of the country, but as anyone who’s suffered an ill-timed vacation on the beach can tell you, Maine is particularly susceptible to fogbanks. “Maine is probably the foggiest place on the East Coast,” says George L. Jacboson, the Maine state climatologist. “Down East Maine easily gets over one hundred days of fog a year.” Machias Seal Island has reported up to twenty-six days of fog in the month of July alone in recent years, and a study from the Monthly Weather Review shows that spots of Maine’s coast has among the most days of heavy fog per year in the country. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a similar result here,” Jacobson says. “We have similar regions, and the fog forms the same way. Monterey Bay has the same kind of cold water and warm air as Down East Maine, because of the upwelling water in the Bay of Fundy.”
There is currently no risk in directly ingesting fog — levels are nowhere near high enough. The danger posed for Maine is that any levels of mercury that do exist in the atmosphere are potentially being enriched even further and deposited in greater quantities into rivers and streams by fog.
Until samples are taken off Maine’s coast, however, it’s all just speculative. That said, when the fog rolls in this July, we can question what lurks within it. And all of a sudden, the distant sounds of a foghorn on an early Maine morning may no longer sound so soothing.
A Web series set on a fictional Maine island wins at the Indy Soap Awards.
Maine is no stranger to melodramatic soap operas. Peyton Place, a movie later turned into a soap opera that ran from 1964 to 1969, was filmed in Camden while Dark Shadows set its supernatural and occult love triangles in Collinsport — a fictional town off Frenchman Bay. More recently, Passions documented the possessed and perverse happenings in the fictional Harmony, Maine. Carrying on this tradition of depicting our state as a hotbed of dangerous secrets, knowing glances, estranged family members, dramatic cliffhangers, and prescient eccentrics is Ragged Isle, an independent Web series earning national attention from the soap opera community.
“The show is really inspired by Dark Shadows,” says Karen Dodd, who created the series with her husband Barry. Both grew up near the Maine coast and are devoted fans of daytime dramas, as well as iconic nighttime series like Twin Peaks and The X-Files. The couple started Ragged Isle as both an homage to these influences and an exploration of the peculiarities of isolated living off the Maine coast.
The soap revolves around a young girl named Victoria Burke who ventures to Ragged Isle, an island twenty miles out to sea, to start a new life. There, she will be reunited with her twin brother and work as an intrepid newspaper reporter for the Ragged Isle Times. Within the first twenty minutes of the series, a Tarot-card reader forewarns danger, there are hints of supernatural properties within the water, and illegal activities take place under the cover of darkness. In true Twin Peaks fashion, the quaint, idyllic façade is quickly ripped away to depict a seamy underbelly that only grows darker as the series progresses.
The show is currently in the middle of its second season (episodes can be seen on raggedisle.com), following a first season that earned great acclaim. It was put online as a side project, but it gained the attention of the Independent Soap Opera Awards, where it won three awards including Best Web Drama. “We had to get all dressed up, walk the red carpet, do a press walk,” Dodd says. “I really wanted to meet Michael O’Leary who played Dr. Bauer on Guiding Light. Then he handed us the award for best drama. It was so exciting!”
“We felt it was truly the cream of the crop out of hundreds of shows screened. From the direction and writing to the cinematography, we love it. I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t snapped up Barry Dodd already,” says Roger Newcomb, editor of the Web site welovesoaps.net that hosted the awards. His senior editor, Damon L. Jacobs, agrees and is impressed with how the show has used the Internet to its advantage. “Ragged Isle exceeded in using new media to tell a compelling, dramatic, and engaging continuing story. It balanced the mystery by illuminating relationships and matters of the heart, and embraced the Internet to share a new experience, and left us wanting for more.”
As traditional soaps disappear — ABC canceled staples such as All My Children and One Life to Live last year after decades on air — Ragged Isle may represent the future of the art form. Like estranged parents being reunited with their child from Dark Shadows, we’re glad to have supernatural melodramatic soaps back home in Maine where they belong.