North by East
Why your clothes smell like spring, RIP Maine's sardine industry, and more
A RIGHT TO DRY
Maine legislators have made sure your bedclothes smell as fresh as springtime itself.
Springtime in Maine means it’s time to string up the clothesline and start taking advantage of our wonderfully long May and June days. And it doesn’t matter if you live in a tony neighborhood like Prouts Neck or even in a condominium complex in Topsham — you can still hang out your skivvies, thanks to a law the legislature passed last year. Representative Jon Hinck, D-Portland, sponsored the bill that prohibits towns and homeowners’ associations from adopting any ordinances that ban clotheslines.
One of just three such bills enacted nationwide last year (Florida has had a so-called “Right to Dry” law since the 1970s), the law was bolstered by clothesline disputes that have led to violence and arrests elsewhere in the country, and to angry neighbors closer to home in Thomaston and Scarborough. Hinck, who lives in Portland’s West End and has long been an advocate for environmental causes, says he was alarmed that something as innocuous as a clothesline could ever be considered illegal. “If we are going to make the changes we need to for energy independence, for the economy of Maine, we shouldn’t do anything that is contrary to something that is so simple and smart as hanging out your laundry,” he says.
Though community associations opposed Hinck’s bill, he has statistics on his side. Most American households do eight loads of laundry per week (three million spin through a whopping fifteen loads a week), and electric clothes driers are behind only refrigerators in their energy consumption, according to Alexander Lee, founder of the New Hampshire-based Project Laundry List. Since 1995, Lee has been working full-time promoting the benefits of air-drying. “Increasingly, Americans are seeing the drier as a luxury, not a necessity,” Lee declares.
Both Lee and Hinck see Maine’s new law, and the interest in clotheslines, as symbolic of a shift toward finding simple, commonsense solutions to massive problems like global warming. For many Mainers, of course, air-drying simply means the refreshing return to the smell of springtime in our clothes.
b. 1875- d. 2010
PROSPECT HARBOR — The U.S. sardine industry died this spring at its last outpost in the United States. It was one hundred and thirty-five years old.
The industry was born in Eastport at the Eagle Preserved Fish Company in 1875. Within a decade, the first factory had produced dozens of offspring in Eastport and Lubec. In 1905, the number of factories in Down East Maine peaked at seventy-five. That year, 3,448,760 standard cases were packed. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the industry continued to flourish until its peak in 1950 when 3,808,723 standard cases were packed. According to the 1950 Census, thirty-eight facilities were in operation employing 6,891 people (2,512 men and 4,379 women).
The sardine industry’s demise occurred rapidly in the last decade of its life. An autopsy revealed that both changing tastes and a declining herring population were the main causes of death.
Once it was determined that the stock abundance was decreasing, increasingly stringent catch limits were placed on the Gulf of Maine fishing zone, which primarily served Maine’s remaining sardine cannery operations.
“Back in 2006, the catch limit was sixty tons for that area. In 2010 it was reduced to twenty-six tons,” says John Annala, director of research at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. “[Factories] have seen a very large reduction in their available herring.”
In Prospect Harbor, negotiations are under way to find a buyer for the deceased’s estate. The cannery’s nearly one hundred and thirty employees hope that the deal to find a seafood processing company to occupy the facility goes through.
In lieu of donations, the sardine legacy has asked that you support other struggling industries in the state in order to preserve a source of income — and a way of life — for many Mainers.
OH, THE PLACES THEY'LL GO
Census workers pull out the stops to count each and every Mainer.
Maine is a tough place if you need to count pretty much anything. Miles of coastline? Depends on the tide. Number of loons? If only they’d stay still. It’s no easier when it comes to counting people, which of course is what Census workers have been doing for the past month or so. Maine and Alaska are the only two states officially designated as requiring special travel arrangements to make sure every person is counted. But in addition to the snowshoes, ATVs, and four-wheel-drive pickup trucks that Census workers are using this year, they appear to be employing a new tactic: targeting wherever the most reclusive Mainers might be inclined to gather. At the seventy-second annual Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show in Orono in March, for instance, Census workers set up a booth and offered hats, water bottles, and patches to anyone who would stop by.
“I thought it was curious,” says George Smith, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. “I was curious if they thought that sportsmen were just ornery enough to need a little encouragement to fill out their forms.” Smith says he’s not sure the Census workers accomplished their goal at the show, but sportsmen ended up on the winning end of the deal. “I think people were happy to get their goodies — not that anyone would want to walk around with a Census hat on.”
FREE FOR THE TAKING
Gonna need a bigger boat trailer.
More than a few Mainers — including one Down East editor — has learned the hard way that free boats are usually quite the opposite. That’s a lesson people in Portland are taking to heart as they consider whether to tow the 1,052-foot-long aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy to Casco Bay and set it up as a tourist attraction. The U.S. Navy has offered the ship, which saw most of its action in the Mediterranean and was decommissioned in 2007, to whatever city can demonstrate it will be put to good use. The list of potential homeports has been whittled down to just Portland and one other unnamed city (supporters say they believe Boston, which had once shown interest, has dropped out of the race). A final decision will come next winter at the soonest.
Beyond the obvious question of where to moor such a monstrous craft, what could the city do with it? Try a convention center tucked in the bow, a naval history museum in the hangar, and an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet display on the main deck, supporters say. “The reason that we’re doing this is because we saw a specific opportunity for the city of Portland, the area, and the state,” remarks Dana Slipp, a leader of the group JFK for ME. “We see it as a way to promote our maritime history, to bring additional jobs to the area, and to promote our seamen and seawomen.”
Before the ship could come to Portland — a voyage that could cost just under a million dollars — it would need to go into drydock for repairs. The extent of such a yard bill is unknown, but the stewards of another aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina, are contemplating their own potential drydock bill of up to $100 million (Slipp contends those repairs are more extensive than what the JFK needs, and says the Yorktown’s cost is closer to $34 million). Regardless, Slipp says his group has begun fund-raising “with our eyes wide open,” and is creating an escrow account with enough money in it to tow the ship away from Portland, should it not prove to be the self-sustaining attraction he envisions. “We hope to make it an icon of the city of Portland, so when people think of Portland, they think of the JFK, right along with Portland Head Light.”
Calling ahead for pizza does not constitute a roadside emergency.
In years past, most kindhearted Maine drivers would pull over if they saw someone parked in the breakdown lane, since stopping in such a spot usually meant you needed assistance of one kind or another (emergency answers to the call of nature not withstanding, of course). These days, though, such parked drivers are likely answering a very different type of call — one on their cell phone.
Technically, stopping in the breakdown lane along certain areas of Route 1 and other major highways, as well as anywhere on the Turnpike or I-95, is against the law for anything except emergencies. Yet state police, while admitting they don’t keep statistics on the number of parked cell-phone talkers they meet, roll up on the situation at least once a week. “Nine times out of ten [drivers] are encouraged to complete the call and to merge carefully back into traffic,” says state police spokesman Steve McCausland. He says troopers appreciate people not talking or texting while driving — “I’m not aware of a great amount of angst among people; the vast majority talk while driving and don’t actually pull over,” he sighs — but he does encourage drivers to find an exit before answering a call. “We’ve all been there, usually when we’re lost, and we pull over and talk on the phone to get directions. But it’s a driver’s obligation to pull over safely, whether it’s to look at a map or talk on a cell phone.”
Here’s an even more radical idea: Why not pull into a diner or gas station and actually ask for directions? You might learn about more than the shortest way to your destination.
ONE MAINER TO ANOTHER
It has to be the most difficult decision of a lifetime to leave behind all you know and love in the world. To achieve that, you need to put down long and sturdy roots. Maybe that’s why northern Maine is calling me home, even though I’ve been living my life elsewhere for more than thirty years. I think Allagash is too deeply embedded in my genes for me to stay away forever. For me, it’s always been about the land, that part of the world where I drew my first breath. I don’t know the ocean, but the river is in my soul. I can’t escape it, even if I wanted to. It runs like blood through all of my fiction. I was born in the house my father built on the bank of the St. John, that same river my ancestors used as their highway. It was an insular way of life back then. There was no such thing as “passing through town.” Even today, once you leave the tarred road you’re up against an ocean of trees, not water. Do you know that many people in southern Maine don’t realize there’s a town named Allagash? They think of it as The Allagash Wilderness Waterway. We were so isolated that, sometimes, it seemed as if everything important was happening somewhere else. We never even made the top of the map in most atlases. The northern tip of Maine is often set to one side, in its own box, like a sad hat that’s gone out of style so no one wears it anymore.
—Cathie Pelletier, “An Allagash Girlhood”