Lost and Found
Lost and Found
All that you can leave behind — it's in a box at Acadia.
Vacationing in Maine is the time to kick back, relax, and forget your troubles — and your keys, your camera, your glasses, and your cellphone. Each year police departments and National Park Service offices on Mount Desert Island collect boxes and rooms full of the stuff that visitors leave behind, and there seems to be no end to the things that turn up.
"We've had some really strange things turned in here," notes Shasta Philpot, a dispatcher with the Bar Harbor Police Department. The most recent example was a five-foot wooden statue of a lobsterman riding a lobster that either washed up or was left on a town beach. "It was like one of those chain-saw statues you see people make at fairs," Philpot explains. "How do you lose something like that?"
Then there are the keys, "tons of keys, a box full of them" says Philpot. "You have to wonder how the people who lose them manage to drive home afterwards. And bicycles. We have a room in the cellar of the fire department full of bikes." Many are bicycles that were stolen and abandoned, of course, but many more seem to have come in with visitors who neglected to take them home again.
Over at the Acadia National Park offices, dispatcher Allen Moyer says the lost items turned into his office tend toward the boring and commonplace. "It's always the common things that people lose," he offers. "Video cameras, hats, wedding rings." Wedding rings? "Sure. Someone decides to go swimming at Sand Beach and takes off his ring and leaves it under a towel or beach blanket."
Moyer blames the old leave-it-on-top-of-the car syndrome for most lost items. Then there's the scenery. "People set things down and go off to look at the waves on the Loop Road or the view from the top of Cadillac Mountain," he says. "They get distracted and forget to go back for whatever they left behind."
Or maybe they get lost. At midsummer Moyer had at least one global positioning system unit in his collection.
Mount Desert Island doesn't have a central lost-and-found office, so that forgotten wedding ring could end up with Moyer at the park or with Philpot in Bar Harbor or with police departments in other island towns. "Just because something was lost at Thunder Hole doesn't mean it was turned in here," Moyer explains. "It could have been taken to any of the local police departments." Items are held for at least thirty days (and often longer for high-value items or something with obvious sentimental value) before being donated to charity or disposed of through public auctions.
False teeth are often cited as an example of unusual lost items, but neither Philpot nor Moyer could recall the last time someone tossed a set of misplaced choppers on the counter. "They're not so common anymore," Moyer points out.
Cellphones, though, are another matter. "We have five or six cellphones out back right now," Philpot says. "If the phone is unlocked and we can find a home phone number, we'll call and leave a message."
Then again, when you're vacationing in Maine, perhaps there are some things that should stay lost for a few days. Sometimes the best part of coming to Maine is the sound of silence.
What's with all the white stuff at Maine boatyards?
It seems like Maine's harbors, boatyards, and backyards are getting whiter each fall — and they are. While in years past a well-placed bright blue tarpaulin or, for more fastidious boat owners, a home-built wood-and-plastic enclosure sufficed to keep the snow and ice off a prized skiff or schooner, an increasing number of yachtsmen have begun shrink-wrapping their vessels in preparation for winter.
This system includes a wooden framework that is similar to that of other, more time-honored winter cover methods, but which is covered with a sheet of white, low-density polyethylene plastic. Once this plastic (it comes in massive rolls up to forty feet wide and can be adhered to itself to create a sheet large enough for even the longest yacht) is secured around the bottom of the framework, it is warmed with a 200,000-BTU heat gun that causes the plastic to contract. The result is a tight, aerodynamic, and nearly indestructible cover that will shed even the heaviest February snow. These covers can be so airtight, in fact, that most boat owners install vents and foam blocking to provide enough ventilation to keep mildew at bay.
But while tucking in a boat with a tarpaulin was a nifty do-it-yourself project, the powerful heat guns alone are reason enough for weekend warriors to leave shrink-wrapping to the professionals. "You're dealing with something that is more similar to a gas grill than a propane torch," explains Dave Cairns, owner of Portland Cover, who has been shrink-wrapping boats for more than twenty years. "This is not really a consumer-friendly product."
Consumer-friendly or not, it does change the autumn look of boatyards and harbors all up and down the coast. Old timers would be amazed, but the old salts among them would probably be taken by the utter efficiency of shrink-wrapping the boats.
School kids in Presque Isle learn to spell agribusiness.
Gehrig Johnson, superintendent at School Administrative District 1 in Presque Isle, presides over one of the most unusual public high schools in the United States. There aren't many high schools that have a 1,200-tree apple orchard and brand-new cider mill. Or produce 20,000 quarts of strawberries every year. Or operate a ten-acre truck farm that supplies fruit and vegetables not only to the district's food-service division but also to its own farm store and local businesses.
Granted, Presque Isle is in the middle of Maine's largest agricultural region. It could be expected to have a pretty good agricultural arts program. But Johnson and the kids at Presque Isle High School seem to have specialized in doing the impossible — and making some money while they're doing it.
For example, blueberries. "We were told we can't grow blueberries in Aroostook County," Johnson recalls. The school's high-bush blueberries are doing so well the school is expanding the acreage.
Same for the apples. While a few heirloom varieties still manage to survive the region's harsh winters, Johnson was told years ago that commercial apple crops were impossible. He planted ten trees in the backyard of his home. They survived.
"So we planted a hundred trees on the farm," Johnson recalls, referring to thirty-six acres on the top of State Street Hill that were donated to the school fifteen years ago. "They lived. We planted five hundred more. Then even more, until we ended up with 1,200 trees."
Last year the orchard, still young and just coming into production, produced a thousand bushels of apples. With the prospect of considerably larger harvests in the future, school officials introduced the concept of value-added agriculture. Using private donations, the industrial arts students designed and built a $200,000 cider mill and apple storage facility.
"The entire cider production line is under glass so we can use it for educational purposes," Johnson explains. "We hope to bring every school in Aroostook County through it."
Johnson says about fifty students work on the farm at any one time in the two greenhouses, the farm store, or the gardens. The lessons range from business administration to biology to home economics. (Among other products, the farm turns out 125 strawberry pies each year.) Another fifty youngsters are hired each summer to keep the farm going through the vacation months.
"The farm makes about $80,000 profit each summer," Johnson says. "Plus it supplies a significant amount of fresh produce to the food-service folks here in the district during the school year."
Johnson says he doesn't know of another high school in New England with its own apple orchard and cider mill. "We're unique in the Northeast, as far as I can tell, and perhaps nationally," he says. "But hey, this is Presque Isle. We're pretty unique up here anyway."
People from Maine's past meet the Land for Maine's Future.
The Shaker village in New Gloucester, on Sabbathday Lake just outside Portland, has been a part of the southern Maine landscape for two centuries, and today it remains the only active Shaker community in the world. Now the last four Shakers are working to make sure their community survives them and the wave of development rolling through the region.
Working with a coalition of conservation groups, the Maine Department of Agriculture, and the Land for Maine's Future program, the Shakers are trying to raise $3,695,000 to fund an endowment and finance conservation and building preservation easements on the eighteen historic buildings and the 1,800 acres that make up the Sabbathday Lake Shaker village. "We've never had any protections in place before now," explains Brother Arnold Hadd.
The Shakers, more formally known as the United Society of Believers, began in Europe in the mid-1700s, but membership exploded later in the century under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee in England. The first Shakers arrived in the United States in 1774, and at one time their network of agricultural communities extended from Maine to Kentucky. Known for their ecstatic religious celebrations, their remarkable furniture, and their rule of celibacy, the sect began dwindling after the Civil War to the bare handful that remain today.
Despite their standing as a religious community, the Shakers have never claimed a tax exemption for any of the property. "Our founder, Mother Ann Lee, taught us that we should always render unto Caesar that which was Caesar's," Brother Hadd explains. But as the southern Maine development boom reached ever farther outside the Portland city line, the Shakers saw their property taxes soar to unexpected levels.
"In the last fifteen years our property taxes have really escalated," Brother Hadd notes. "We saw sprawl all around us, and it was getting increasingly difficult to come up with the money. The tax bill last year was $27,000." The Shakers depend on sales at their farm store for much of their income, and their devotion to the simple life doesn't come with high-income salaries.
Four years ago the Shakers approached the Land for Maine's Future program and the state Department of Agriculture for information about protecting their land. State officials in turn pointed the Shakers to the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization with an office in Portland, plus Maine Preservation, the Friends of the Royal River, and the New England Forestry Foundation. "The village is one of the last large pieces of undeveloped land in the Portland area," notes Jennifer Melville, of the Trust for Public Land. "The property also encompasses the headwaters of the Royal River."
Melville says Maine Preservation would hold a preservation easement on the village's buildings — the village is already designated a National Historic Landmark — to guarantee that they would be maintained in their current condition and appearance. The forestry foundation would hold the conservation easement and work with the Friends of the Royal River to help monitor the property.
With $1.11 million from the Land for Maine's Future program already in hand, along with smaller contributions from other organizations, the campaign has about $2 million left to raise by the end of next March. "We want to see the character of this place preserved," explains Brother Hadd. "This land now is much as it has been for the past two hundred years. We hope by doing this it will keep the land intact for future generations."
Things That Go Bump
Homebuyers might be getting more than they bargained for.
Many Mainers will swear up and down that their homes are haunted. But when the time comes to sell they might not be so quick to give up the ghost — at least to the Realtor.
While some states, including California, have adopted laws requiring people to disclose so-called stigmatized property when selling their house, largely to protect unsuspecting buyers from learning that a violent crime or other untoward act was committed in their new home, Maine has chosen to stay silent on the topic, according to Carol Leighton, director of the Maine Real Estate Commission. Leighton says that she recommends brokers inform buyers about a home's complete past after an offer has been made, but says the presence of a ghost has actually increased the value of a home. "We've actually had some cases, usually with some of the older homes on the coast, where a ghost is actually seen as a positive," Leighton says.
Are some Mainers merely taking their resident ghosts to the bank? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps they realize that a little company, in whatever form it may take, might not be such a bad thing on a long, cold autumn night.
Maybe we should put Maine on a new schedule.
Earlier this year, a handful of Maine representatives proposed putting Maine on permanent daylight saving time. The idea, they argued, would be that Mainers would save energy and see more daylight during the winter if we sprang ahead one spring and didn't bother to fall back the next November. And, they noted, it would have the added benefit — questionable in some eyes — of putting Maine on the same schedule as Maritime Canada, where Atlantic Time usually means stores in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, close an hour earlier than those across the river in Calais.
Even its critics admitted the idea had a certain logic to it. Maine is surrounded on three sides by Canada, and our sole link with the "lower forty-seven" is New Hampshire, not a connection that many Mainers care to boast about.
The proposal died in the last days of the legislative session in June, but we drew up the following list of pros and cons to help us figure out what we thought about the idea.
? Critics say Maine would be out of synch with the rest of the United States. Like that's a bad thing?
? We'd be right in synch with the hockey games in St. John.
? Hunting hours would start an hour later during deer season, so nimrods could sleep late.
? More light during winter days might help people with S.A.D. — seasonal affective disorder.
? We could finally do away with that silly mnemonic: Spring ahead, fall back. Or is it spring back, fall ahead? Do we add an hour or subtract…
? Programming the VCR to record that crucial "CSI: Miami" episode could be a challenge. ("Do I add an hour or subtract an hour. . . ?")
? All the shopping malls in New Hampshire would close an hour earlier than Maine. (Or is that an hour later? Do I add an hour or . . . )
? Monday Night Football would start at 9 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., making Tuesday mornings a little drowsy.
? Everyone already thinks Maine is part of Canada.