North by East
Standing firm for the Owl’s Head apostrophe, a “PhD” in animal husbandry, and more
Owl’s Well …
Standing firm for the Owl’s Head apostrophe.
Apostrophe or not? That is the question in the town of Owl’s Head. Or is it Owls Head? “It depends on who you ask,” says Kay Dodge, president of the Mussel Ridge Historical Society, whose members defend an apostrophe that is under siege in this community of 1,600 just south of Rockland.
Consider: A weathered sign on Route 73 reads Welcome To Owl’s Head. Children, however, attend the Owls Head Central School. The town office has two signs, both labeled Owl’s Head Community Building, but the text on the municipal Web site refers to Owls Head (right next to a photograph of the Owl’s Head town seal carved in granite). Emergencies are reported to the Owl’s Head Fire Department, according to the fire station’s sign, but a shiny yellow fire truck painted with Owls Head Fire Department in gold letters responds. And, too, there are Owls Head Light State Park, Owls Head Lighthouse, and the Owls Head Transportation Museum.
So, which is it: Owl’s Head or Owls Head?
“Arrrrgh! Don’t bring me into this!” laughs town clerk Susan Wilson, who favors the apostrophe-less version of the name. “There has been a dispute for a long, long time. I think it got dropped when we started using computers, which aren’t apostrophe friendly.”
It is said that the town is named for its windswept promontory, which early explorers believed resembled an owl’s head. We’d argue it looks more like a deformed lobster claw, but if the avian legend is true, shouldn’t it mean that the name must take the possessive case? Owl’s Head, it is!
Not so fast, says historian Edward Wayman Coffin. He opts for Owls Head in his book, The Coastal Town of Owls Head, because that is how the name appears on the earliest charts he researched. But Coffin’s history is filled with images of so many other historic documents that use the apostrophe that we’re inclined to dismiss those early map makers as inattentive grammarians. Besides, Kay Dodge points out, the town’s 1921 incorporation documents read “Owl’s Head.” Sounds official to us.
Modern usage of “Owls Head” is traceable to the United States Board on Geographic Names, an arm of the United States Geological Survey created in 1890 to standardize place names in federal documents. As early as 1891, the board settled on “Owls Head” for the headland. Oddly, the board, in its second report, published in 1892, declared that the “light-house” shall be known as “Owlshead,” a decision that clearly didn’t last. More recently, perhaps driven by technology, as Watson suggests, the United States Post Office and the United States Coast Guard have zealously taken to adopting the board’s guidelines, which state, “The word or words that form a geographic name change their function and together become a single denotative unit. The need to imply possession or association does not exist.”
Nonsense! If you haven’t guessed already, we stand with the Mussel Ridge Historical Society (even though its own published materials are inconsistent) in its continuing battle to preserve the Owl’s Head apostrophe. Not only is it grammatically correct, it has historical meaning. We’d be happy to discuss the matter further over juicy hamburgers at the Owls Head General Store, where we can also admire the pretty prints depicting the Owl’s Head General Store.
School of Goats
A St. Albans farm offers a “PhD” in animal husbandry.
In this economy, a lot of folks think about going back to school. After all, learning new skills can open up a world of possibilities. Possibilities like raising goats. If you’re interested in a new career in animal husbandry, you should know that there’s only one “school” for aspiring goatherds in the country, and that institution of higher learning happens to be in Maine.
Stony Knolls Farm in St. Albans (49 Maple Ln., 207-938-3714, www.mainegoats.com) is a twenty-eight acre rolling farm in central Maine. The spread is home to thirty goats of a variety of breeds — Nubian, Alpine, Toggenburg, and other varieties we’ve never heard of. Owners Ken and Janice Spaulding have been raising livestock for decades and have gotten everything there is to be got out of a goat — from fibers to meat to dairy.
So together they started Goat School: a weekend-long course offered twice a year for the amateur, advanced, and aspiring goat owner. Unsurprisingly, most students fall into the last category.
“Goats are the most utilitarian of all animals and probably the most underutilized,” explains Ken. “We don’t think of them as companions, like we would dogs, cats, and things like that. But they are every bit as intelligent. They come to their name, and you can take them for walks.”
The urge to take Billy for a walk around the block must be a strong one. This spring’s class attracted 112 students from twenty-two states. Attendees ranged from doctors and lawyers to federal prosecutors and FBI agents. “One retired Amtrak employee came up by Amtrak train from just outside Dallas, Texas,” notes Ken.
Guests stay in local inns and eat at nearby restaurants, making the school a boon for businesses from Canaan to Dexter. “I push this as much for tourism as anything else,” says Ken. “From all the people that came, it probably generated eighty to one hundred thousand dollars for the economy.” In fact it was so popular that attendance for the fall course, being held on Columbus Day weekend this October, will be limited.
Raising goats is “a very peaceful, calming, pastoral, intellectual endeavor” say the Spauldings. “People that lead very stressful lives, they tend to cherish their off-time, and goats are really good for that. In the middle of winter when it is twenty below you can go into the barn and sit down with the goat on bedding and cuddle up — it transports you to a whole n’other place.”
Alice in Waldoboro
The question is not who, but where is the caterpillar?
Driving on Route 1 in Waldoboro, we were often amused by the presence of the “Caterpillar,” a seven-foot-tall sculpture (a very good height indeed) of the hookah-smoking character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, outside the Waldoboro Smoke Shop. It was made by Maine recycle-sculptor Nate Nicholls approximately seven years ago and found its way to the roadside tobacconist back in 2006.
“It drew a lot of attention in the summertime,” reminisces clerk Wendy Benner, who has been working at the smoke shop for more than five years. “People would stop to take their pictures with it.” But when new owners took over the store in January, says Benner, “they felt that [the Caterpillar] gave people the wrong impression, so they asked the owner to remove it.”
As for artist Nate Nicholls, he is uncertain as to his creation’s current whereabouts. “I lost that in a divorce settlement three years ago,” he says. “The woman who ran the smoke shop was a friend of my ex, and I guess they continued the relationship, allowing it to be there until recently.”
Caterpillar fans shouldn’t despair. After his divorce, Nicholls built an exact copy of the smoking insect as part of his recovery process. So visitors to his gallery in Bremen can see it — and nearly a thousand other works — at Recycleart Gallery of Home and Garden Sculpture. Just take a right at what was formerly Caterpillar Corner and follow the rabbit hole — aka Route 32 — a mile and a half down the road. Just don’t eat the mushrooms.
Thoroughly Confusing Thoroughfare
Changing signs, changing times, in Portland.
As development has crept ever north and east over the past few years, more Maine roads seem to be sprouting colorful names: quiet Fire Road 27 becomes Ocean Spray Lane, Rural Route 19 turns into Janine’s Hideaway. Such changes don’t seem to mean much to anyone other than a few people (surely Janine is tickled pink). But in Portland’s largest city a new name may signify big doings. Earlier this year the Portland City Council changed Franklin Arterial, the broad four-lane thoroughfare that runs between I-295 and the waterfront, back to Franklin Street.
Constructed in the 1970s as part of a never-completed ring road around the city, the Franklin Arterial was designed to move a large volume of traffic on and off the Portland peninsula, something it does quite well, but it also destroyed neighborhoods and created a daunting physical and psychological barrier between Munjoy Hill and the rest of the city. More than just a matter of swapping out some street signs, the name change represents the first phase in a years-long process that aims to repair the city’s fabric.
“I think the spirit of the name [Franklin Street] speaks to the fact that it is not intended to continue to be the sort of the freeway that bisects the east and west part of the city,” remarks Michael Bobinsky, Portland’s director of public services. In addition to improving pedestrian crossings, particularly at the intersection with Marginal Way, the city is pondering three distinct proposals for Franklin: an urban, narrow street; a multi-way boulevard that would accommodate vehicles of various speeds and types; and a more open, landscaped boulevard.
Lest anyone think Portland’s busiest road might immediately be safe for strollers, bicyclists, or even slow-moving traffic, Bobinsky points out that phase two of the planning process will not even get started until later this summer, with scores of public meetings and discussions to be held before any actual concrete work is undertaken, likely years from now. Still, the change from an arterial to a street is a significant step for Portland and even the state as a whole. “This name change speaks to a lot of rethinking about major arterials by the Maine Department of Transportation as well as the city in terms of how we integrate all modes of transportation into our street system and corridors,” Bobinsky says.
A sign of the times, indeed.
Birders go to new heights to aid threatened chimney swifts.
The town of Brunswick spent fourteen years debating the fate of its old high school, which was finally demolished last year to make way for an elementary school. Not that the building stood vacant all that time. It housed the collections of the Curtis Memorial Library when it was undergoing renovations. Later, a neighboring school district leased it for classroom space. Plus, there were chimney swifts. Hundreds of them.
The migratory bluish-black birds, which are variously called “flying cigars” for their diminutive size and “bows and arrows” for their silhouettes, had used the school’s chimney as a way station for years. People would gather at dusk in May and August to watch them swirl en masse into the chimney for the night.
Now the birds’ fans are working to make sure the show goes on. A new structure, the first of its kind in New England, has been built just for the flock not far from where the chimney stood. In May, Steve Walker, a Brunswick resident who is coordinating the project for Merrymeeting Audubon, played audio of the swifts’ distinctive high-pitched twittering and succeeded in luring twenty-three of the birds into the hollow tower — only to watch them exit five minutes later, probably to the nearest known swift stopover, a chimney in Lisbon Falls. “We think we got started a little too late in the season,” Walker theorizes. “They had already found another roost.” In addition, the birds, which spent several other evenings circling the tower with apparent interest, may have been unsettled by the nearby school construction.
Swifts are not as finicky as it may seem. Formerly known as American swifts, the birds’ preferred habitat is hollow trees. As settlers cleared the continent’s old growth forests, however, swifts adapted by roosting and nesting in unused masonry chimneys. Newer chimneys’ smooth metal fluepipes can’t accommodate the swifts’ claws, which are built for clinging to vertical surfaces. With fewer places to settle, the swifts’ population is in precipitous decline. “They are candidates for the Endangered Species List,” Walker says.
Brunswick is not the only place where swift watching has become a spectator sport, according to Ted Allen, Merrymeeting Audubon’s president. The biggest display is at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where eight hundred birds can be seen whirling into a chimney on May and August evenings. They resemble, Allen says, smoke billowing in reverse.
The Maine Med chimney happens to be attached to a building that the hospital wants to eventually demolish, which makes Brunswick’s experiment with a replacement roost all the more critical. Fortunately, Walker, Allen, and company are not giving up. They have raised the concrete block tower by a few feet so it is nearer in height to the original chimney, and they’ll be back with their audio equipment in August, when the birds are expected to swarm into town on their way to their wintering grounds in South America.
Prayer Handle: As in, “I knocked the old prayer handle on Len’s trailer hitch, and it’s still smarting like holy hell.”
Cartoon by Bill Woodman