North By East, July 2009
Remembering Pen Bay's first tourist, down the rabbit hole in Brunswick and more
From Brunswick to southern New Hampshire in less than sixty seconds.
If you’ve ever driven on Route 1 between Brunswick and Bath, you might have noticed a road sign that seems a tad . . . out of place. Amid the green and white billboards for Bowdoin College, Orrs Island, and the Brunswick Naval Air Station, there’s one sign that doesn’t belong. It says, simply: “Southern N.H. University.”
Now, Brunswick happens to be more than seventy-five miles from Maine’s southern border, and as far as we know there is not some magical rabbit hole that transports you to Portsmouth. So what the heck is this sign doing here?
Well, the answer is just as it appears: The sign is pointing you toward a branch of Southern New Hampshire University located at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. Most Mainers have never heard of the fully accredited, private university. But since 1976, when it first arrived in Brunswick, the college has served nine thousand
graduate and undergraduate students. Of the nearly three hundred students enrolled each year, 34 percent report having found the school through its discombobulating signage (there are two signs posted on Route 1 and two on I-295).
So why is a Granite State university in Maine?
“It’s all oral tradition, told from one director to another,” explains the school’s current director, Bo Yerxa, a Bridgewater, Maine, native who served as a dean at the Washington County Community College and held other educational positions prior to his current post. He says that in the seventies, a commander of the Brunswick Naval Air Station reached out to Maine educational institutions to inquire about starting a continuing adult education program for sailors, marines, and their families. No Maine schools responded. But while attending a ceremony at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the commander learned about a similar program being run by then New Hampshire College at Pease Air Force Base. Within a few months, New Hampshire College had started offering courses in Brunswick.
In 2001 the college changed its name to Southern New Hampshire University. By that time, civilians made up a majority of the student body. (This arrangement proved a problem for the school after 9/11 when the base was closed to everyone but authorized personnel; the university was forced to open a new building at Cooks Corner). The curious signs went up along the highway in 2005, when Yerxa put in a call to the Maine Department of Transportation. That’s the reason so many Mainers are just learning about the college.
So the next time you pass a sign directing you to this curiously located New Hampshire higher-learning institution, there’s no need to double-check your map. You’re not headed down the rabbit hole, although you might well be lost.
ORIGINAL SUMMER TOURIST
Pen Bay has been a summer destination for precisely four hundred years.
On July 18, 1609, the famous English explorer Henry Hudson set foot on the New World for the first time — and that foot was probably somewhere on the shore of Penobscot Bay.
“There is no archaeological evidence of where he may have come ashore,” says Bill Underwood, a tourism consultant from Springvale promoting the anniversary celebration. “I think it’s pretty clear from my research of the logs that Henry Hudson did in fact go into Penobscot Bay.”
The coast of Maine was a brief stop on the Dutch-commissioned journey aboard the Half Moon to discover the ultimately then nonexistent Northwest Passage to Asia. Along the way, Hudson stumbled upon what would become Manhattan Island and the river named in his honor. (From a Mainer’s standpoint this is what we call an anticlimax.) The logs maintained by ship’s mate Robert Juet (and reprinted in Sailors Narratives of Voyages along the New England Coast published in 1905) do not cite a specific Maine location, but they are highly suggestive of the landing place: The seventeenth, was all mysties, so that we could not get into the harbour . . . the eighteenth, faire weather, wee went into a very good harbour . . . we went on shore and cut us a fore mast; then at noone we came aboord againe, and found the height of the place to bee in 44 degrees. We found a shoald with many lobsters on it, and caught one and thirtie . . . in the morning, our scute went out to catch fresh fish halfe an houre before day, and returned in two houres, bringing seven and twentie great coddes.
To clarify, Hudson and his crew waited out the mist, entered a harbor, cut down a tree to make a new mast, procured fresh drinking water from a spring, and caught and ate fresh lobster and cod.
Sounds like the Maine of four centuries ago wasn’t so different after all.
HELLO MOTHER, HELLO FATHER
Jetting in to visit Junior at a Maine summer camp is à la mode.
Each summer, approximately fifty thousand kids attend a youth camp in Maine. And each July, a good portion of their parents comes to visit, filling neighboring hotels and restaurants. The Maine Youth Camping Foundation estimates the total economic impact of summer camps at $245 million, a hefty chunk of which comes when the folks arrive to check in on Junior.
Chris Giroux, an employee at Maine Instrument Flight, the private jet operator at the Augusta State Airport, experiences the camp effect firsthand. A line service worker, Giroux says that “during that camp weekend when all the parents come to visit, it gets crazy up here.” On an average summer day, several jets will utilize this central Maine airport, but usually no more than five at a time. On the parents’ weekends in July, Giroux says, that number can jump to seventy.
If the idea of mom and dad flying in on the family Gulfstream seems at odds with your own memories of swimming lessons and s’mores, you haven’t kept up with the times. Increasingly, youth camps are offering experiences you’d expect to find at a resort spa. Take the Robin Hood Camp in Brooksville. Bordering a lake and the ocean, this camp offers instruction in Thai kickboxing, scuba-diving, wakeboarding, crew, fencing, gymnastics, and even classes in Masai warrior culture.
Then there are the deluxe day-trips. According to Robin Hood Camp’s Web site, “every camper should experience a two or three day sailing cruise aboard our thirty-eight-foot sailing yacht Robin’s Way . . . We cruise the unspoiled islands of Maine safely, cooking lobsters and steaks when island camping.”
Needless to say, not all of Maine’s two hundred or so youth camps are quite so posh. “There is a huge national movement right now of going back to nature,” says Mary Ellen Deschenes, the program consultant for the Maine Youth Camping Foundation. “Because basically kids aren’t learning about their natural environments. So I think Maine camps are positioned to continue to do what they do in terms of that basic connection with nature.”
We’re not sure that eating lobster on a yacht qualifies as connecting with nature. On the other hand: where do we sign up?
Analysts taking the economy’s pulse should spend time with a Maine auctioneer.
Signs of economic stress have appeared in unexpected places nationwide. In Maine, one such location is at the state’s auction houses. From the larger clearinghouses to Saturday morning estate sales, auctioneers are reporting smaller crowds of buyers who are being more selective in what they’ll bid on. “Antiques prices are down, so this is a terrific time to buy,” says Clayton Pennington, editor of Maine Antique Digest. “Some very blue-chippy antiques have really dropped in price.”
But that blue-chip connection is exactly the problem facing Maine’s auction market at the moment, dealers say, as the challenging economy forces both buyers and sellers to become more reluctant. “During good times, goods rush into and out of an auction like a raging river,” explains James D. Julia, who has operated his auction house in Fairfield for forty years. “During bad times it’s more like a stream. Many people lose their confidence and they pull back. That fellow who was going to sell his collection a year ago may decide now isn’t the best time.”
Julia says that recessions tend to split the auction market by category, with rare niche items like firearms faring better than artwork. At an auction in March, as Wall Street probed depths not seen in decades, Julia held a near-record auction that saw $11.5 million in firearms sales, including one Colt revolver that sold for $750,000 — well over the presale estimate of around $500,000. “The firearms fraternity is less impacted by the economy than other
collectible venues, and art tends to be more impacted,” says the auctioneer. “Frequently an art collector tends to be a more affluent, business-oriented person. Businesses used to decorate their offices with art as an investment, and because they are more embroiled in the stock market, that genre is far more impacted by declines on Wall Street.”
Julia agrees that while bargains are currently aplenty in some auction divisions — he compares the mood to 1981, when the Carter administration was wrestling with a similar recession — buyers will likely come out of the woodwork as soon as the stock market finds its bottom. “There are people who are just sitting on the sidelines with money, and they’re just waiting to put it back in,” he says.
Who knew that Maine auction houses were leading economic indicators?
HOOKED ON HOOKIE
Unity College students have good reason to wet a line this summer.
Back when we were in college, skipping class to go fishing was something you only did when you were sure your GPA was rock-solid. But if your son or daughter is one of the five hundred students attending Unity College, you just might want them to ditch their philosophy class and instead start working on their back-cast.
On July 26 the school will hold its seventh “Fishing for Scholarships” tournament. Last year, 170 student fishermen (entrants must be accepted or enrolled Unity students) hit the waters of Unity Pond for six hours in hopes of landing a previously tagged lunker. Three weeks before the tourney, a carefully selected group of Unity students haul in two hundred large- and small-mouthed bass, pickerel, white and yellow perch, and crappie from the pond. Each fish is then carefully tagged and released. The tags indicate how much a fish is worth if you catch it, Most of them (185) are good for $1,000 scholarships, but ten are each worth a $2,500 scholarship, and three
are valued at $5,000. One trophy fish will earn its angler a full year’s tuition (currently $20,540). The fish are usually released near the Kenokolus boat launch, but Alumni Relations and Events Coordinator Kate Grenier says not to expect them to hang around the ramp. “Hopefully they stay in the area we release them, but you never know,” she says. “These are fish, and they could go anywhere.”
Indeed, the Unity fish seem wiser than your average crappie. The most legendary lunker, tagged with a whopping value of four years free tuition (that’s more than eighty grand for you water-logged fishermen out there), has gone uncaught for the past six years. Talk about the one that got away!
“First Pea of the Season to its Painter”
So much I wanted to tell you
that hot July noon you found me
hanging by my tendrils on the vine . . .
So much persisting to land in your palm
wearing my tight green jacket and string
zipper, my pod pocketing juicy seeds
you could have snapped between your teeth
but didn’t. Planted late, sop and gloom
of June’s relentless rains, slugs in siege
and gangs of weeds swaggering overnight
for territory — none of this stopped you
from seeing how delicate survival sometimes
is. So when you set me on a bare table
and opened your box of crayons to catch
the light on my skin, I held my composure
that grows in the vegetable world.
Our dark climb to exist, suspended,
precarious sweetness measured, end to end.
FOUND IN UNCLE HENRY’S
2001 GE sixty inch projection TV, needs service, worked great for eight years, shut off one night and next day wouldn’t come on, had perfect color and pic, might need high voltage part, bring Popeye and Bluto to help move out, bulky and heavy, have all papers and manual. Standish.