Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Sebago Lake

Next door to Long Lake, Sebago Lake is the poster boy for southern Maine’s paradox of use.  It is Maine’s second largest lake, and its deepest.  Its water is still so pure that it supplies Portland without the need for filtration. Its shores are thick with cottages and mansions and a total of 2,500 septic systems. Its 300-foot depths shelter the original land-locked salmon (which now need stocking) and lake trout (which do not).  Jet skis are neither banned nor regulated, as they are on many Maine lakes. The towns on its shores are bedroom communities for Portland just 15 miles away, none stranger than the seasonal town of Frye Island that in summer might as well be a Portland suburb, with golf course and “leisure activities” and the obligatory lakeside restaurant serving burgers, whose ferry completely shuts down in winter, as does the whole island, whose official population is zero.


Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer

Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook  

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Ripogenus Gorge

I stand on the high banks of Ripogenus Gorge and look down at the West Branch of the Penobscot River. This place looks primeval: the river rushes white and fast, as if still proud of cutting through 200 feet of granite; the walking trail is little more than a deer path, broken and damp; moss covers rock and trunk alike; ancient vegetation creeps into and out of crevices and overhangs. Yet I would be wrong in thinking about the purity of nature here. Since 1920 the river has been dammed at Ripogenus Lake, to make it easier to move logs downstream. The flow of water is still controlled, now for hydro-electricity and white-water rafting since the log runs were banned. The Gorge is no longer wilderness; yet it has survived humans and has been rescued and feeds our fantasies and our souls.

                                Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
                                Kindle                    Smashwords                        Nook  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: the intertidal zone

The incredibly rich inter-tidal zones, described so movingly by Rachel Carson in The Edge of the Sea, are another blessing both foreign and familiar, like a violent and disturbing Shakespeare play seen so often it becomes comforting. The tide comes and goes. The flatlander tries to burnish his claim to Maine by guessing whether it’s high or low, and wastes hours watching rocks cover and uncover, and doesn’t think of the trillions of seeds (barnacle, rockweed, lobster) floating under the surface unless he’s read Carson. 

The very words time and tide are basically the same, “tide” coming from an old English word meaning “division of time.” I believe the orderly passage of tides comforts the restless, bringing good tidings if you will, even though that annoying half-hour discrepancy – a tide peaks, then ebbs at approximately 6.5-hour intervals – especially that half-hour discrepancy jars us out of expectations and easy calculations. I wouldn’t really want to punch in four tides a day, perfectly spaced like Midwestern meals. When I want to walk a particularly rocky and steep stretch of shore nearby, I have to look at the tide clock, or the progress of the water against Little Island in our cove, to make sure the tide is low enough. The gods and the lobstermen would laugh at the sight of this formerly agile, now slightly creaky wanderer clambering up the granite ledges. Let him sneak around on the rockweed instead, like a normal lowly being.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: the fog of Owls Head

To my mind fog is as great an inspiration as a storm. Owls Head is a peninsula sticking into the southern part of Penobscot Bay, and warm currents coming up from the south mix particularly well with cool currents from the north, especially in early July. Some summers we’ve been locked in for nearly a week. The days have a rhythm to them like the ocean’s tides: the fog hugs the shore and makes the firs down by the water barely visible, soupy, spiritual, happy; then it pulls back a little, teasing; then it comes in fast to smother the house; and when it does, we gladly leave our duties as watchmen of the bay and go inside to read our novels and purge ourselves of the city.
In the hot summer of 2010 our usual days of gray started to lift on the Sunday afternoon of the World Cup final. Up till then, it had been four solid days of insularity - no, not quite: for an hour on Friday the fog moved enough to reveal Sheep Island two miles away, including a thin blue line in the water between the island and the mainland, as if a hole in the clouds were illuminating the "gut," the channel that boats take between Rockland and points south; and for a similar hour on Saturday, it retreated from our shore to hang around the edges of the islands and the points, and the tops of the island firs poked out of the fog as if they were reeds in a lake, and the first floor of the house on Ginn Point was blanketed and invisible, but not the second. For the vast majority of 96 hours, we were bound to short views - a hundred yards at best - and the cool, moist air. On Monday we awoke to blue skies and hot air, although fog still sat in the gut for a few hours more, reminding us of its caprice.

And reminding us that fog is a most useful thing. It means the city is hot, and we're not. It lovingly disrupts noisy traffic from the airport. It prevents chores like mowing and weeding. It clarifies the mind, especially when one has an essay or a story going strong. Of course we want it eventually to end in a sunny day. The phrase "in a fog" is quite descriptive of the dangers of piloting boats or negotiating hangovers, of the boredom of watching TV, of obstruction in the pursuit of fun. But walking in fog is other-worldly, and staring into it takes us out of ourselves, and we'll desperately miss it when we have to go back to the city and clearly see again all the distractions in our way.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Mars Hill

Between March 25 and September 18 the first sunlight of the US morning normally hits Mars Hill in northern Maine, just two miles from the border with New Brunswick. Mars Hill isn’t quite as dramatic as Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the eastern seaboard; it rises only 1,300 feet above the St. John River valley. It is rounded and lumpish, much more suited to the plain folks of Aroostook County. The views are fine, though, taking in Canada to the east, the great potato fields to the north, and the huge North Woods to the west. And the air whistles with dollars, for early in Maine’s wind power craze, Mars Hill was identified as a prime site. The wind farm now features 28 turbines strung along the top of the hill, producing enough power for some 20,000 homes.
I had mentally prepared myself for the sight of those turbines, a kind of wincing bracing of ethics. I wasn’t prepared for the drive up Route 1, that is, when we stopped on the road south of Mars Hill to view the glory of Mt. Katahdin off to the west, what stuck in the eye was not Katahdin but another wind farm, one I didn’t realize was there. In the view was Stetson, all 55 turbines of it. The sight is holy, or blasphemous, I’m never quite sure which. What easier way to replace the burning of carbon! What better way to justify our lifestyle! What uglier way to ruin a ridge line!

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer


Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: Acadia

Throughout the winter in Maine, for the five months of the year starting on October 7 and lasting to March 6, Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is the first place in the United States to receive the morning sun’s light. It is a place of worship: the pink granite of the mountain rises 1,500 feet directly out of the sea, the luscious Cranberry Isles lie just offshore to the south, the blue of the sky intensifies the blue of the ocean, the sunshine streams from the east across the Schoodic Peninsula and Frenchman Bay. By October the summertime crowds are gone. The air seems extra pure, hinting at the crystalline winter to come. The commercial development of Bar Harbor just below, where others worship, is temporarily irrelevant.
But even in the height of August, in the middle of the day, the hundreds of people crowding Cadillac’s crown are quiet as if in church, receiving a gift from Abraham’s God or the gods of Thoreau. Perhaps for a few moments the light and the air cleanse them of care. Perhaps it lasts longer than the drive back down to their motels, than the drive back home. I’d like to think that feeling could last for the rest of their days.
I read a blog post once that described a morning on Cadillac shortly after 9/11.  The author said the mood among the tourists was somber until a few college women starting singing “America the Beautiful.” As the song lifted to the heavens, many of the people around them broke down in both tears and joy.

Even second-hand, the account was thrilling. It wasn’t just the conflux of emotions, the anger and senselessness and soul-piercing beauty. For me Acadia is always a restorative place, and even the thought of it heals wounds all year long.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer