In A Fog
In a Fog
No telling whether this July will set a record.
Why are some summers on the coast of Maine foggier than others? Blame the winters.
Last year July, traditionally the foggiest month of the year, was even darker and danker than normal, with ten days of dense fog in southern Maine compared to the average of 6.2, according to the National Weather Service. Light fog was recorded on another eight days. And the problem, according to weather service meteorologist Tom Hawley, is "that huge ice cube out there we call the Gulf of Maine."
Fog forms when warm summer air hits cold water. And the colder the water, the more the fog. Last year, the colder than normal winter was followed by a cool, wet spring and early summer. July alone was one of the coolest on record, with an average high of only 74.6 degrees, more than four degrees below normal. So ocean temperatures stayed below normal well into summer.
"We've got this huge body of water with a thermal mass that remains fairly cool," Hawley explains. "You get a lot of fog forming out there, and it moves onshore with the afternoon breeze. You can go to Old Orchard Beach and see the fog bank sitting offshore just waiting for the wind to change."
Hawley can't predict what will happen this summer, although the long-range forecast calls for near-normal summer temperatures in Maine. But it's a good bet that the picture includes fog. "It's a fact of life," Hawley allows. "We just have to live with it."
Yet another Granite State attempt to subvert Maine law.
Mainers have traditionally tried to get around the state's strict fireworks laws by stocking up for the Fourth of July at New Hampshire's ubiquitous fireworks stores. These days they may want to rethink that idea. The state Fire Marshal's Office has a tradition of its own, and it involves staking out the parking lots of Granite State fireworks vendors. They then radio the license plate numbers and descriptions of Maine buyers to State Police troopers waiting on the other side of the border.
Last year officers handed out dozens of summonses and confiscated thousands of dollars of fireworks from Maine residents. "Every year we fill up a tractor-trailer truck with confiscated fireworks," notes state Fire Marshall John Dean. "It's reached the point where we have a special trailer built like a bomb-disposal unit specifically to carry seized fireworks."
Dean doesn't flinch at the idea that setting up surveillance on New Hampshire fireworks vendors might appear a little excessive, rather like staking out the parking lot of the New Hampshire liquor store on Interstate 95. "Everywhere that you cross the border into Maine, there is a sign that says fireworks are illegal in Maine, and every year we have injuries from illegal fireworks," Dean explains.
Last year agents stopped a pick-up truck loaded to the roof rack with cherry bombs, Roman candles, and other fireworks meant for resale in Aroostook County. Most offenders, though, are filling their trunks with fountains and mines and star shells for personal use. "New Hampshire fireworks shops in border towns get a lot of their business from Maine a lot," Dean explains. The shops don't always appreciate the fire marshal's attention. "Last year one fireworks dealer put up a sign that said, 'We see you,' " Dean recalls with a chuckle.
Maine bans all fireworks except sparklers and morning glories, "and even that isn't strict enough for me," Dean says. "Sparklers burn at about 1,000 degrees, hot enough to melt gold, but because they're the only thing allowed in Maine people seem to think they're safe to give to little kids. So you have children running around burning hair and skin and setting their clothes on fire."
No one collects information on fireworks injuries in Maine, but emergency rooms all over the state routinely handle a spate of burns and explosions around the Fourth. Children make up more than half of the people injured by fireworks, Dean adds.
"My basic philosophy is, I love fireworks," Dean says, "but they should be left to the professionals." And that means the amateurs had better be looking over their shoulders.
Small is Beautiful
The state should pay attention to Bingham's high school.
Maine is in the middle of a fevered debate about the benefits and drawbacks of small schools versus large schools. If tiny Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School in Bingham is any example, the argument is over.
At a time when less than 70 percent of Maine twelfth-graders finish high school with plans to attend post-secondary schools, all twenty-two members of the school's class of 2005 are graduating with college acceptances firmly in hand. And administrators are adamant that the school's small size is the determining factor.
"In a small school, everyone helps out," explains principal Julie Richard. From rewriting application essays in English class to putting together daunting financial-aid applications, the school helps seniors prepare for one of the most stressful times of their lives - waiting for the slim envelope (rejection) or the fat envelope (acceptance) from the college of their choice.
Richard says more than half the class are first-generation college students. "Our guidance counselor spends a lot of time helping with applications," Richard explains, "sorting through schools with students, and just getting students who maybe have never been on a college campus before out to visit some schools. You want them to see that college students look just like them, that there's no mystery involved."
In one case, a team of teachers helped a student interested in art put together a portfolio of her work so she could apply to art schools. "They found out what the portfolio should contain, how it should be presented, and helped her put it together," Richard recalls. "We just learned the student was accepted at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She will be the first person in her family to go to college."
Richard says the school makes a special effort to reach out to "the students who were never encouraged to go to college in the past." Besides the various University of Maine campuses and community colleges, this year Richard's students have been accepted at schools ranging from Maine Maritime Academy to Xavier College in Nova Scotia to the University of New England in Biddeford. "Somewhere, there's a niche for everybody," she says. "In a school this size, we can take the time to find it."
A North Woods landmark is about to change hands.
After several years of uncertainty, the future of Pittston Farm, the legendary North Woods outpost, appears much more assured. Owners Ken and Mary Twitchell say they have found new owners for the landmark lodge and restaurant, a Windsor couple who plan to expand the farm's offerings while retaining its historic appearance and its status as an icon among hunters, fishermen, and snowmobilers.
Pittston Farm began in the late 1800s as a supply depot, hay and vegetable farm, and communications center for the lumber camps operated by the Great Northern Paper Company. Located twenty miles north of Rockwood on the west end of Seboomook Lake where the North and South Branches of the Penobscot River enter, Pittston Farm was mothballed in the 1950s. Ken Twitchell, a former lumber camp cook, became the farm's caretaker in 1980 and bought the buildings (but not the land) in 1992 with his late, first wife, Sonja.
Twitchell spent years restoring the farm and building its reputation among backwoods travelers. Three years ago he and Mary bought the farm's sixty-five acres of land when it appeared the property's new owners planned to sell it for potential development [Down East, December 2002]. Last year they put Pittston Farm on the market for $1.5 million in preparation for retirement.
The Twitchells said at the time that they expected a sale to take two or three years. Instead, Robert and Jennifer Mills, of Windsor, contacted them almost immediately. "We had gone up there in February of 2004 on a snowmobiling trip, and we both really liked the place," recalls Robert Mills, a lifelong Windsor resident who lives in a house 100 yards from where he was born. "Then last summer we discovered it was for sale, and we thought, 'What a great place to spend the rest of our lives.' "
Mills, 59, and his wife worked through the winter to line up financing, sell property, and prepare for a closing now expected to take place in late June. They plan to operate the farm with their son and his family. "Bob and I had talked about doing something different, a real midlife adventure," Jennifer Mills adds. "And the potential of that place is just amazing."
The Mills family plans to expand the farm's summer offerings - most of the business now occurs in the fall and winter - with logging and blacksmith demonstrations, weddings and receptions, and canoe and kayak rentals. Besides upgrading some of the plumbing and putting in a honeymoon suite, "physically we're going to keep the farm pretty much the same," Robert Mills says.
As for the Twitchells, Mary says she and Ken have already bought a farm in Aroostook County between Fort Fairfield and Limestone. "We're moving there with our llamas and horses," she explains. "This is our chance to live a normal life, at last. Pittston Farm has been wonderful, but it's time to pass the adventure on to someone else."
In Maine, animal doctors rank right up there with people doctors.
Mainers' fondness for man's best friend has practically become the stuff of legend [Down East, February 2005], and this spring the legislature made sure that those who care for the state's four-legged residents are available at all hours. Beginning this fall, veterinarians will join the governor, judges, legislators, and physicians in being exempt from performing jury duty, provided that they're actively working with animals (sorry, you retired vets might still be called to court). The law's sponsor, Frenchville Democratic Representative Ross Paradis, says that a former student of his from Madawaska asked him to introduce the legislation, saying that serving on a jury had dramatically impacted his veterinary practice. Ironically, while Paradis says he was sensitive to his constituent's concerns, in the end he pushed the bill through the legislature after hearing from rural doctors, many of whom are called to deliver calves and colts at a moment's notice. "The need for this law is more intense in rural Maine, where veterinarians are like medical doctors - they're on duty twenty-four hours a day," Paradis explains. Apparently his opinion was shared by many others in Augusta - the bill was one of the few to sail through the legislature this session with little or no debate.
Yet more proof that when it comes to our favorite creatures, Mainers see eye-to-eye.
Storming the Continent
UMaine engineers are taking a siege machine to Europe.
Medieval war machines aren't the usual subject of courses at the University of Maine in Orono, but a group of UMaine civil engineering students has built their very own siege engine for a competition this month in the Netherlands that combines ancient technology and modern composite materials. The Composite Catapult Competition challenges students from the United States, Finland, Germany, and other countries to sling a bowling ball farther and more accurately than anyone else.
The heyday of catapults faded long before the United States existed, and associate professor Roberto Lopez-Anido, the UMaine team's advisor, admits that his group is going up against engineering students from countries with long and honorable histories of knocking down castle walls with big rocks. But the rules of the contest, sponsored by the European Pultrusion Technology Association, require that the war machines be made from fiber-reinforced polymer-composite materials, the same exotic stuff that UMaine has pioneered as the major ingredient in reinforced wooden beams. (Pultrusion is the manufacturing process used to make composite materials, which have become increasingly popular in the construction industry.) "We have plenty of experience with that," the professor says.
Lopez-Anido says the team of six students - four are making the trip to the competition July 6-8 - have crafted a trebuchet eight feet high with a beam some fourteen feet long that swings a sling carrying a projectile. "It's actually a very interesting machine from a physics point of view," Lopez-Anido explains. "It releases huge amounts of energy in a controlled manner. Everything it does can be predicted based on mathematical equations and physics."
The contest is more than an opportunity to play King Arthur, the professor emphasizes. "This is a chance for engineers here in the United States to meet their counterparts from European universities," he notes. "That's not all that common in this business. It gives our students an international perspective that they otherwise wouldn't have."
Lopez-Anido says the team is still looking for sponsors to help defray the costs of building the catapult and traveling to Europe. Even with medieval war machines, apparently, defense spending is an issue.
Battle of the Bilge
Once again, Maine is leading the charge against pollution.
Watching massive cruise ships like the Queen Mary 2, which dropped by Bar Harbor and Portland last fall, will soon be a bit more pleasant thanks to some groundbreaking new pollution restrictions being phased in during the coming months.
Floating leviathans like the QM2 - and even her smaller sisters that pay more frequent visits to Maine's coastal communities each year - are capable of creating up to 30,000 gallons of sewage and 250,000 gallons of other wastewater, known as graywater, per day. Until now, such ships were restricted in their ability to dump sewage within three miles of the coast, but were allowed to pour unlimited amounts of graywater - the runoff from showers, laundry machines, and other onboard cleaning systems - into Maine waters. While not as deadly as toilet water, such runoff can rob coastal harbors and bays of the oxygen needed to sustain marine life, according to Pam Parker, of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
But these ships' aquatic footprints will be toxic no longer, thanks to a bill sponsored by Portland Democratic Representative Herb Adams. Based on similar regulations in place in Alaska, Maine's new law requires vessels carrying at least 250 overnight passengers to essentially meet the same discharge standards as onshore sewage-treatment facilities. While most modern cruise ships are already equipped with adequate water-treatment systems, Parker says older vessels will have to upgrade, with such renovations likely costing "in the millions." The new Maine law is far more stringent than the 1970s-era federal Clean Water Act, and goes even further than Alaska's law by removing some of that state's loopholes. "When this all comes out, Alaska and Maine will be the only two states that regulate wastewater discharges," Parker explains. "The federal law regulates [sewage] only, and even those standards are much more lax than the standards that we are applying."
This is one whiff of fresh air from Augusta that all Mainers should be grateful for - and enjoy.