Down East 2013 ©
A Fjord by any other name
Just what the heck is Somes Sound?
Visitors to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park have long marveled at Somes Sound, for more than a century billed as the only fjord on the eastern seaboard. The long, narrow tongue of ocean cuts into the heart of the island from the south, with rocky cliffs rising on each side and deep water underneath. But as it turns out, Maine’s only fjord, ummm, isn’t. Apparently those cliffs don’t rise high enough, and the water isn’t deep enough for geological nitpickers. Lately even the rangers and information desk workers at Acadia have taken to describing Somes Sound as “fjord-like” or, to be more precise, a fjard.A fjord is usually defined as a long, narrow, glacially eroded arm of the sea, with steep rock cliffs and a shallow sill at its mouth that prevents extensive mixing with the open ocean. Somes comes close, but a fjord also features water hundreds of meters deep and completely deoxygenated at its bottom. Somes is only sixty to seventy meters deep at the most, and its water has plenty of dissolved oxygen all the way to the bottom.
“It’s something the specialists are into,” explains Deborah Wade, the chief of the park’s interpretation division. “We’re now explaining to visitors that some geologists say Somes is more like a fjard than a fjord.” Wade takes the pragmatic view. “I don’t think it’s dramatic enough to warrant changing all the descriptions in the tour guides,” she allows.
Fjord? Fjard? For many, it’s a distinction without a difference. Somes is still pretty impressive no matter what you call it.
A surprising new resident of Eastern Egg Rock aims to terminate gulls’ appetite.
Eastern Egg Rock, a tiny dollop of rock and dirt about five miles south of Friendship, is one of those places along the Maine coast where even the smallest human presence can seem pretty intrusive. Which is precisely why a new robot that randomly leaps up from the rocks should be just the ticket to scare the daylights out of seagulls that have been preying upon nesting terns. The device, which looks like a conventional mannequin that you would see in a department store, was designed and built by a middle-school class in Ithaca, New York, where the Project Puffin program is based. (The organization, operated through the National Audubon Society, also maintains an office in Rockland.) A solar-powered computer controls when the Robo-Ranger pops up from its box, presumably startling the gulls enough to keep them away from the eggs and baby terns.
Such an outlandish idea might seem dubious if it were not headed by Stephen W. Kress, the Cornell professor who first began reintroducing puffins to the Maine coast in the 1970s, starting with four young birds transplanted from Newfoundland. Those initial efforts eventually expanded to see some 954 puffins brought to Eastern Egg Rock, many of whom returned year after year to nest on the island. Last year biologists counted ninety nesting pairs on the island, which is also a sanctuary for endangered terns.
Kress says that while initial reports indicate that the robot, which was installed in late June, has reduced the incidence of gull raids on the roseate tern colony, he won’t know until the end of the season how effective his scare tactics have been. “We try to do innovative things that no one has done before,” Kress remarks. “The terns seem to have gotten used to the robot, so they don’t flush out when he pops out of the box, but the real proof will be when we see how many chicks hatch there versus elsewhere on the island.”
The puffins’ remarkable comeback are proof enough that Kress is no mere egghead. His latest invention may be the most genius of all, since the sight of a naked mannequin will undoubtedly be as terrifying to seagulls as it is to shoppers at Macy’s.
Admit One Free
A longstanding state parks policy is now public knowledge.
Sometimes the best gifts are the ones you’ve already received but have forgotten — the long-lost jar of coins you forgot you salted away, the favorite pair of jeans that you stuffed in the back of the closet. Such is the case for seniors visiting Maine state parks this summer, as the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands has standardized the way it informs people sixty-five and older that they get into the parks for free.
“Going back as far as we have records for, which is at least 1985, we can see that we’ve always had what we called senior passes,” explains Will Harris, the director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. “They were free, and seniors could get them at any park. But one of the problems was the way they were administered and advertised wasn’t consistent, so we decided to just use a picture I.D. everywhere and let seniors in.” Standardized signs were sent out earlier this year making it more clear at each of the fifty state parks and historic sites that seniors don’t have to pay a dime to enter.
Harris says only one site, Fort Knox, contacted him with concerns about the money that it would lose by not charging non-residents. It argued that some of these travelers are driving expensive RVs and therefore could presumably afford the entrance fee. Harris says while he sympathizes with the need to earn money whenever possible, he doesn’t believe out-of-staters should be treated any differently than Mainers when it comes to day-use fees. (Maine residents do get a discount when reserving campsites, however.) “Their spirit and their meaning about maximizing money for the fort I don’t have a problem with, but I just want to run one system,” Harris says. “Our intention is that if you’re a senior and you want to use the parks, we want you.”
Especially this year, such a sentiment may be even more appreciated than that cozy fleece you just rediscovered after so many years in storage.
Don’t Show the kids
Your old college yearbook just went online at UMaine.
A recent project by the Fogler Library at the University of Maine in Orono may have thousands of people shaking their heads and asking such questions as: Were we ever that young? I had hair! I can’t believe I wore that in public.
Earlier this year the library finished digitizing every UMaine yearbook from 1895 to 1997 and posted them on its Web site. Among the revelations, visitors may be shocked to learn that the state’s land grant university was men-only in its earliest years. Later yearbooks chronicle the students lost in World War I, the patriotic fervor of World War II, and the ferment of the Vietnam era. Hairstyles change, hemlines go up and down, sweatshirts replace sweater sets, and jeans push aside flannels.
“These yearbooks are interesting to far more than just the people who are in them,” observes Gretchen Gfeller at Fogler Library. “They absolutely are little historical time capsules. They tell us what was going on in the world and the university, what people wore, what they did.”
The Web site has attracted thousands of visitors since it went live last spring, Gfeller notes. “We’ve received wonderful e-mails from all over the country,” she says. The yearbooks are available at www.library.umaine.edu/yearbooks 
The yearbooks represent Fogler Library’s first major step toward digitizing its collections. “Digitizing is a trend among libraries throughout the country,” she explains. “We wanted to start with something that would reach a broad population in the university community.” The library’s next project is to digitize its entire collection of town reports.
The last printed yearbook was in 1997, Gfeller says. “Yearbooks are student-driven,” she explains, “and by the late 1990s the students had other interests. The world had changed enough that yearbooks seemed irrelevant, I guess.” The library project has “sparked new interest among some students to bring back the yearbook, perhaps in electronic form,” she adds, “but it’s just an unofficial glimmer of hope right now.”
Reviving the UMaine yearbook would be a worthy goal. Today’s students shouldn’t deprive their future children of the opportunity to embarrass them with a photo from their college years.
On the subject of lightning, there’s good news and bad.
Maybe it’s our imagination, but thunderstorms seemed to rumble through our part of the state with unusual regularity this spring and summer. We’ll admit to a certain apprehension about them, since fear of lightning played a large role in warnings from our parents on hot August days back on the farm. As it turns out, Mainers have both less and more to worry about when it comes to lightning in the Pine Tree State.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration actually counts lightning strikes around the United States using satellite imagery and computers. When it comes to density of lightning strikes, Maine comes in pretty low on the list — forty-fifth out of forty-nine (counting the District of Columbia and excluding Alaska and Hawaii), with an annual average of 1.2 flashes per square mile between 1996 and 2005. Florida wins that contest, with an amazing 26.3 strikes per square mile.
But these numbers belie the danger of thunderstorms in Maine. As meteorologist John Jensenius at the National Weather Service office in Gray points out, “Maine ranks very high in summer activities. It’s the combination of lightning and being outdoors that leads to casualties.” And everyone knows that folks in Florida spend most of the thunderstorm season inside cuddled up to an air conditioner.
Since 1959 the National Weather Service has documented twenty-five lightning fatalities in Maine, or about one every two years. On average, another five people per year are struck by lightning and survive. On a per capita basis, Maine actually ranks twenty-second in the country for lightning-related deaths. Wyoming, with its miles of open spaces, comes in first. Wherever we stand in the ratings, it is best not to stand in the wrong place during a thunderstorm, such as in open areas or near isolated tall objects. (For more lightning safety tips, go to www.erh.noaa.gov/gyx/lightning_safety .
htm) When people get a charge out of Maine, we’d rather it wasn’t from the sky.
Conservationists reach a multimillion-dollar milestone in Washington County.
It took longer than anyone expected and required nerves of steel to complete, but the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership, recipient of the 2006 Down East Environmental Award, has concluded one of the largest land conservation projects in the state of Maine. In May the partnership finished raising the $34.8 million needed to finance the conservation of 342,000 acres of eastern Maine wilderness.
The deal includes nearly two thousand miles of water frontage, notes Mark Berry of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust in Grand Lake Stream. “Who would have thought?” he says, noting that the project began as a conversation around a picnic table nine years ago among local people concerned about the impact of development on the traditional outdoor industries of Grand Lake Stream. The campaign came close to failure in 2005 when a looming deadline ran up against a lack of funds. The New England Forestry Foundation saved the day by providing a six-million-dollar bridge loan financed with a mortgage on its oldest property.
The land trust already has its next project under way, a campaign to raise $3.2 million by November 1 to purchase 6,644 acres around Wabassus Lake in central Washington County next to the 27,080-acre Farm Cove Community Forest.
The Down East conservationists say that there are still opportunities in Maine for landscape-scale conservation efforts, despite the increasing fragmentation of North Woods ownership. “We’re not done yet,” Berry says.
How To Find Ten
set a course
follow the path
of the silent spider
watch a small boy
aiming a rock toward the sea
and hitting his mark
then look down
welcome a butterfly
to your bright
notice how two gulls
and one diligent painter
have chosen their spot
and stay there
lower your plane
dig down for the small stones
sifted under the large
lower your standards
turn your back to the bay
at the moment
a jet stream perfectly
the half moon
pick up any stone you like
some of them don’t look like hearts
until you do
Great Spruce Head Island
FOUND IN UNCLE HENRY’S
Free for the Taking: Air tight woodstove Atlantic Homesteader it is fairly heavy, bring all the help you will need to load it. I am not going to help load it. Casco, ME.