North by East
The Raw and the Cooked
A Richmond company wants to keep more lobster in Maine.
The Maine lobster catch has been impressive in recent years, hitting a record 70.8 million pounds in 2004. But those numbers belie what many in the industry see as a problem: As much as 70 percent of the catch is sent to Canada for processing. So not only do Canadian processors benefit from the markup they charge when they sell lobster meat back to hungry Americans, but the meat is then labeled a product of Canada. (So much for the Maine mystique.)
That's just one of the things John Hathaway is hoping to change with his new business, Shucks Maine Lobster. Located in the former Etonic shoe factory in Richmond, just outside Augusta, Shucks Maine Lobster uses high water pressure and a machine it calls the Big Mother Shucker to pop the shells off hundreds of pounds of live lobster at a time. Previously, says Hathaway, "the only way to get meat out of the shell was to cook it. So anyone who wants to use it in a recipe then has to cook it again, which they don't want to do. After all, they don't buy a cooked steak and then re-cook it."
Hathaway buys live lobster from dealers who he says are happy to have another in-state market for soft-shell lobster (those with hard shells are generally set aside to be sold whole since they fare better when shipped). Before Shucks Maine Lobster opened late last year, there were just two other processors operating in Maine. At the moment, Hathaway is focusing on selling the fresh, raw meat to chefs, seafood distributors, and wholesalers; plans for retail products are in the works.
"We're trying to offer a way to keep more lobster in Maine so Maine lobstermen can continue their great tradition and heritage," Hathaway says.
Now that's an idea we can bite into.
Local hairdressers make sure Mainers depart looking their best.
Some of the most important jobs in Maine are the ones you never see people doing. Take Nola Downing, for instance, a Mechanic Falls hairdresser who for the past twenty-five years has been called upon to style the hair of local residents who have moved on in the most absolute sense of the word. Downing, who owns the Additions n' Subtractions beauty salon in Lewiston, says a funeral director first called her when his usual stylist was on vacation, and Downing reluctantly agreed to fix a dead person's hair. "A lot of hairdressers are afraid and won't do it," she says. "It was scary at first, but then you get used to it."
While Downing is on-call with three area funeral homes, she says others will call her if the recently departed is one of Downing's clients or a friend. Family members will usually have a recent photograph of their loved one for the stylist to try to copy, but Downing says some corpses, including those of cancer patients or in cases where an autopsy has been performed, require special care. Still, she says such challenges can be even more rewarding than working on her living customers.
"If you're doing a person's hair for one last time, you're making them look good one last time," Downing says, adding that she sometimes receives thank-you cards from appreciative relatives after a funeral. "It's something that I like to do."
A new preserve protects a midcoast gem.
For more than twenty years folks in Phippsburg have wondered and worried over the fate of the largest tract of privately owned, undeveloped land in the peninsula town south of Bath. The 1,910-acre property includes more than four miles of shoreline — in a part of Maine where coastal house lots regularly sell for up to half a million dollars — as well as a mountain and an island. In October, in an act of stunning generosity with national implications, the owner ended all the speculation by donating the entire parcel to the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
The midcoast property's estimated value of $10 million to $14 million makes it the largest gift ever received by the Maine chapter and one of the top three Nature Conservancy donations in the world. "It's just magnificent," says Mike Tetreault, the chapter's executive director. The comment is almost an understatement. The land encompasses an inlet off the New Meadows River called the Basin, a protected harbor so large that a local boat captain told Tetreault that last year he found seventy-five pleasure boats from the New York Yacht Club moored there with room to spare. The conservancy has already named the tract the Basin Preserve.
Conservation groups in Maine have had their eyes on the land for two decades, ever since the owner, identified in news reports and tax records as Richard L. Hatch, gave them a walking tour of the property. "He has always had a pretty strong conservation ethic," Tetreault explains. "But there was a lot of speculation about what his intentions were for the property. We didn't know if he wanted to sell it to us or donate it."
As impressive as the property is, Tetreault says its impact goes well beyond the land itself. "This gives us a platform to talk about our work in Merrymeeting Bay and the entire estuary system," he notes. "The Basin Preserve is a wonderful way to introduce people to the bay and the New Meadows River and that whole region."
Tetreault says the owner's generosity could inspire others. "This provides an example for other landowners in the area who want to give property to the Nature Conservancy and other land trusts," he offers. "We've already had other people approach us."
Tetreault hopes the Basin Preserve will also serve another purpose. "Every year fewer and fewer people are getting out into nature," he explains, a reference to declining visitor numbers in places like Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park. "The preserve is close to population centers and easily accessible by land and water. It will be a great place to educate people about nature and the need for more outdoor spaces like this."
The Inner Thoughts of Rats
Cumberland's own Doctor Doolittle communes with our four-legged friends.
We recently learned that Jelly, a scruffy white-and-tan Lhasa apso mix adopted by one of our colleagues a few years ago, would be pleased if she had a heated bed to lie on. (Unfortunately, she has no plans to stop leaving puddles on the kitchen floor.) What's more, she'd really appreciate it if the cat next door would stop calling her names.
The elderly mutt's innermost thoughts were revealed by Louise Poppema, a former attorney who's turned her attention in recent years to communicating with animals. Poppema says she was as skeptical as the next person when she began investigating the possibility that animals can transmit their thoughts to particularly sensitive humans. But a series of incidents in which she gleaned specific, verifiable information — such as her impression, later confirmed by the owner, that a dog she's never seen has a torn left hind pad — convinced her that she really can tell what seals, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, and even rats are thinking.
Working primarily out of her Cumberland home, Poppema focuses on the animal — either in person or via an e-mailed photograph — and calls the animal's name in her head three times. She then begins writing the questions she has for the animal, along with whatever pops into her head next. "I can't give myself time to think about it or process it; I just go," she says. "If you were to watch me, it looks like I'm just writing in a journal," she says.
At sixty-five dollars for an hour-long conversation, Poppema's services don't come cheap. So it's somewhat reassuring to know that she's investigated her own rate of accuracy, working with a graduate student at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University on a double-blind study that proved Poppema's communications to be on the money 69 percent of the time.
The results of our own test of Poppema's abilities are a little less clear. We have no trouble believing Jelly wants a cozy bed for winter, but so would most any other pampered American pooch. However, now that she's mentioned it, that cat next door does look awfully snippy.
The Fast and the Foolish
Mainer drivers need to learn to tighten their belts.
Mainers are doing a better job of buckling up on the highway, but the numbers show there's still plenty of room for improvement as they're trucking down the highway — especially in trucks. A late-summer survey from the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety found that 77.2 percent of the state's motorists routinely wear seat belts, a significant increase from the 59.2 percent in 2002, but still well below the national average of 82 percent.
Maine law mandates seat belt use by drivers and passengers eighteen and younger, but police officers can ticket non-belted adult motorists only if they stop a vehicle for a violation of another law, according to bureau director Lauren Stewart.
Stewart says Maine spends about half a million dollars in federal highway safety funds every year to underwrite radio advertising campaigns and pay for overtime costs for police officers involved in seat-belt awareness and enforcement programs. Still, annual increases in seat belt use have slowed in recent years, and efforts to pass a mandatory seat belt law routinely fail to pass the legislature.
Stewart sees a generational context for seat belt usage. "A lot of older people, fifty-five and up, simply aren't in the habit of using seat belts," she notes.
There's another group of seat belt scofflaws, too. "Males eighteen to thirty-six in pick-up trucks have a use rate of only 63 percent," Stewart says. "I'm not sure what that's all about."
Maybe they think "Ram Tough" refers to their heads?
CSI: St Croix Island
A group of researchers uncovers North America's first autopsy.
Marcella Sorg can picture the scenario clearly: It was the winter of 1604-05 on St. Croix Island, which sits in the river between what are now Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick. With deep snow on the ground, Pierre Dugua and Samuel de Champlain's expedition of seventy-nine settlers was marooned on the island with only the provisions they'd brought with them. Since the island was small, wild game was in short supply. And by the time spring arrived, thirty-five of the settlers had died. "It must have been a very difficult situation," Sorg says. "They lost almost 50 percent of their group and didn't know why."
That's not to say that the settlers didn't try to figure out what was felling their comrades one by one. In fact, in 2003, a group of archaeologists preparing for the island's quadricentennial — Sorg among them — reunited twenty-three jawbones with the settlers' skeletons from which they'd been excavated in 1969. They were dumbfounded to discover a skull that had been sawed in half — indisputable evidence that the explorers had performed autopsies to determine the cause of their shipmates' demise.
The explanation? "From 20-20 hindsight we know it was scurvy," says Sorg, who says the incident shows the importance of both autopsies and scurvy to human history and exploration. "Within three months of going without Vitamin C, you can die," she says.
And that's worth pondering as you sip your orange juice this winter.