Northern LightThis month Presque Isle has more of it than Portland.
Sometimes even Maine residents underestimate the sheer physical size of the state. There are still folks in southern Maine who think they can drive to Presque Isle from Portland in two or three hours, unaware of the 296 road miles that separate the two cities. We gained a new appreciation of that fact ourselves on a recent trip to The County when we noticed that sunset lingered in the western sky quite a bit longer than we remembered from just the night before at our home in midcoast Maine.
It wasn't a trick of the light or imagination. Depending on the time of year, sunrise and sunset can vary by up to twenty-five minutes between southern and northern Maine. On July 4 this year, for example, the fireworks in Kittery have a seven-minute head start over the celebrations some 280 air miles north in Fort Kent, since sunset comes at 8:26 p.m. on the Piscataqua River and 8:33 p.m. for the city on the St. John. But then Fort Kent will see the sun rise at 4:44 a.m., well before its neighbors to the south where the sun comes up at 5:09 a.m.
The reason, of course, is the perambulations our planet goes through as it orbits the sun and tips back and forth on its axis. While northern Maine enjoys slightly longer days in the summer, being that much closer to the Arctic Circle and the Land of the Midnight Sun, it pays the price in winter. On December 21, the shortest day of the year, Kittery has thirty-two more minutes of daylight than Fort Kent.
The difference between eastern and western Maine is much more consistent. Sunrise and sunset in Lubec are always fifteen minutes sooner than in Rangeley.
One group that pays closer attention to times of sunrise and sunset than most people is hunters, but strangely enough they're not looking at the sky. State law allows hunting from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset. But rather than try to figure out different times for the entire state, years ago the Maine legislature decided to use a single point as the marker.
"The idea was to have one consistent time for everywhere in the state," explains Mark Latti, a spokesman for the Depart-ment of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. At first, given who was making the decision, Augusta provided the benchmark, but several years ago the honor moved to Bangor. "The feeling was that Bangor was more central," Latti offers. The times are posted in the regulation book each hunter receives with his or her license.
Certainly there are larger states where the differences are more pronounced, but we like to think Maine has an edge. Not only does the sun rise here first, but, depending on where you are, it also hangs around a little longer, too.Beware the ClawDon't play with your food.
It's no secret that we have a taste for lobster [see page 74]. And we have no truck with the lobster liberationists and PETA protesters who picket the Maine Lobster Festival. But a new arcade game that has been popping up in convenience stores and bars across southern Maine scuttles across the line.
The ironically named Love Maine Lobster Claw Machine, manufactured by Biddeford-based Marine Ecological Habitats, charges people two dollars for a thirty-second chance to seize a live lobster from a tank using a joystick and a metal claw. If you're successful at dropping a lobster into the chute, you get to keep it. In contrast to the stuffed animals you might grab in a similar machine at Wal-Mart, of course, these Maine crustaceans tend to put up a fight and retrieving one is quite a challenge. Joe Zucchero, president of Marine Ecological Habitats, says about fifty of the fifteen-thousand-dollar machines have been sold, but only about half a dozen of them are in Maine. "Places like Arizona are doing fantastic with them," he says, adding that some businesses can recoup their investment in just one year.
Zucchero says there have been a few complaints from PETA-minded folks, but he doesn't believe his game represents especially cruel and unusual punishment for the unlucky critters. "I feel that when a lobster is caught, his fate is sealed," Zucchero remarks. "If that lobster goes right into a pot, or into a tank before it goes to the pot, it doesn't make much difference." He explains that many of the proceeds from the lobster claw machine fund Touch Tanks for Kids, a nonprofit he formed to get underwater touch-tanks into Maine classrooms.
Such a goal might be worth pursuing, but surely there is a better way to provide money for it than through such tasteless amusements.Critters Gone WildA Camden illustrator has turned a wacky idea into work.
The world is a pretty serious place, what with taxes, global warming, and the resurrection of William Shatner's career. Which is why a goofy little illustration of a koala, shorn of its hair and wearing granny panties, is such a wonderful thing. The koala and its brethren - a moose in briefs, a turtle in a bra, a stubbly unicorn sporting striped boxers - are part of the gang at www.almostnakedanimals.com
, a Web site dreamed up by Noah Jones, a Camden illustrator and animator.
Jones, now 33, and his wife moved from Massachusetts to the midcoast nearly four years ago when his wife was offered a job at a local library. But it wasn't just her career that got a boost from the move to Maine."A couple Novembers ago, I was laying in bed thinking about if animals wanted to join society, what would be the first couple things they'd do," recalls Jones, as if that's a question most people ponder in the pre-dawn hours. "They'd shave their hair and then put clothing on, but with animals not being that smart, they would probably just put on underpants."
was born. Jones sketched a few of the shorn, scantily clad creatures, made a simple Web site for them, and sent the link to a friend. Eighteen months later, via nothing more than word of mouth, the critters have appeared in an Israeli travel and leisure magazine and a Singapore arts periodical. They're being animated by a Canadian firm, and they inspired Disney to ask Jones to create an animated short that, sadly, will not star his menagerie. "I had no idea that people would be so fascinated by animals in underpants," says Jones, laughing. "They're so silly and so stupid. But apparently people around the world can appreciate a shaved giraffe wearing tighty-whities."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.Voulez-VousHow do you say Wikipedia in French?
One of the curious factoids that we turned up recently while cruising the Internet is the news that Maine has the largest percentage of French-speaking residents in the country - 5.28 percent of all households here are French-speaking. That compares, incidentally, to 4.68 percent in pre-Katrina Louisiana. But even more curious was an addendum noted on several Web sites, including the Encarta encyclopedia and Answers.com
, that French is also an "administrative language" in Maine.
Really? What does that mean, exactly?
"I don't have a clue," answers Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. "This is the first I've heard of it." Dunlap isn't alone in his ignorance. No one else knows what it means either, apparently.
Not only is there nothing in Maine law about French being an administrative language, but also "I couldn't find any legal definition of administrative language in our statues," notes Stephanie Ralph of the Maine Law Library. "My own sense is that it refers to something used by state government in an official capacity."
Maine statutes do require the use of French in certain highly specialized instances, Ralph adds. "Upon request by a town, the state will furnish ballot instructions in French," she notes. "Publicity about food stamps is supposed to be available in French and certain utility notices in some parts of the state."
It was also news to Maine's premier champion of the French language, former legislator Judy Paradis of Fort Kent, too. "A 1919 Maine law banned speaking French in the schools or government," she notes. (The law was overturned fifty years later.) "I haven't heard anything about this administrative language thing."
The ultimate source of the tidbit appears to be Wikipedia.com
, a so-called "open source" online encyclopedia to which almost anyone may contribute. Most serious researchers, including the editors of this magazine, consider Wikipedia's credibility less than perfect, although the site is much beloved by high school and college students desperate for a last-minute citation on a term paper. And even if the Web site corrects the entry, it's the nature of the Internet that the newsy little fact will live on somewhere. We hope that whoever stumbles across it shows a little more attention to detail than Wikipedia did.Maine's Mini MonsterThe next Big Papi may come from a new field of dreams in Oakland.
Most boys in New England dream of one thing: a trip to Fenway Park. Forget the Hub's museums, aqua-rium, or skyscrapers - kids just want to see Big Papi swat a long ball over the Green Monster. The faces of those fortunate enough to watch the Red Sox play on their home turf speak volumes. Someday, those kids tell themselves, that could be me.
For lucky youngsters in the Waterville area, that day may be sooner than they know. Here, an empty field on McGrath Pond Road is being transformed into an exact, scaled-down version of Fenway Park, complete with subtle details such as twin garage doors in center field and a warm-up area behind the right-field line - just like at the real ballpark, only at 66 percent of normal size. The need for authenticity on the three hundred thousand dollar project is so great, in fact, that it's been reviewed by and received the blessing of the Red Sox themselves and the folks at Major League Baseball. Even the paint on the prefabricated walls that went up this spring was carefully checked to be sure that it's the same paint as on the Green Monster. "We're trying to get kids to pick up a bat and a ball and get away from the computer for awhile, to go outside and have some fun," explains Ken Walsh, the chief executive officer of the Alfond Youth Center and former semi-pro baseballer who is leading the effort to build the little league ballpark, which will be called the Harold Alfond Fenway Park. Donations of money, equipment, and services have come in from across Maine and the Waterville area, Walsh says, and baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr., is even planning to attend the dedication ceremony in September (though Walsh says he's hoping the ninety-three-year-old Alfond will throw out the first pitch).
Even before that pitch is thrown, though, Maine's mini Green Monster is creating goose bumps in everyone who steps up to the plate. "Every time I go out there, I get a little excited about it," says John Blais of A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers in Waterville, the engineering firm building the pint-sized Fenway. "I can't imagine being a twelve-year-old and going up against that big green fence. Any kid who does put it over [the mini Green Monster], they're going to have their name on the wall."
We'd call this idea a grand slam.The St. Agatha SolutionA creative fix for the property tax burden.
Just about every Maine town with shorefrontage gripes about the problem of rising valuations and the pressure the associated property taxes puts on longtime residents. But few have been able to do anything about it. Ryan Pelletier wanted to change all that.
Pelletier, the town manager in the Aroostook County town of St. Agatha, population 802, says residents had been discussing ways to ease the burden of property taxes on elderly residents, particularly those who live on the sixteen miles of shorefrontage on Long Lake, where properties are selling for two to three times the local assessment. Last December, when St. Agatha was hit with a 22 percent increase in state valuation, they decided it was time to act. Pelletier knew that the legislature had passed a bill allowing municipalities to enact a local version of the state's Circuit Breaker program, which provides property-tax rebates to qualified homeowners. After some Googling, he found that only the town of Cumberland had actually done so. So he borrowed the town's ordinance, which goes into effect this month, and fashioned a similar one for St. Agatha.
As approved at town meeting in the spring, St. Agatha's ordinance provides up to a 15 percent rebate for residents aged sixty-five and over who qualify for the Circuit Breaker program. Residents also approved a measure to fund the program, to the tune of about $4,500 this year. Since the ordinance was approved March 27, Pelletier says about a dozen residents have come into the town offices for help filling out the state forms; he expects their applications to be processed by mid-summer, at which point they'll be able to apply for their local rebate.
The local rebates won't be huge, Pelletier acknowledges, but they will be a boon to strapped household budgets. Even better, the idea seems to be catching on. "We've gotten quite a few inquiries from other places in Maine, particularly on the coast," Pelletier says. "No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, people understand that our elderly are in a different category."
Now that's an idea worth sharing.Spooked Moose
Like a real bull in a bullfight, the full-grown bull moose
Lowered his head and ripped through my neighbor's laundry, pinned
To the line from the house-corner to the apple tree.
And like a bride with a twenty-foot train, it dragged the line
And the clothes across my neighbor's lawn, leaving a wake
Of clothespins, jeans, T-shirts, and boxer shorts every few yards.
Then, like a moose in panic because it has rope
And clothing tangled in its horns and more rope and clothes flapping
About its torso and rear legs, very like such a moose,
It lowered its head again and charged through the old barbed wire
Pasture fence, snapping the rotten fence posts off at ground level,
Dragging and, finally, snapping, the rusty wires of a forgotten farm.
And then like a fearful beast learning fear for the first time,
It picked up speed as a bed sheet flopped onto its face
And three or four dragging fence posts barked its rear ankles and shins.
It tripped and fell breaking through the fence again on the far
Side of the field, but struggled up once more to crash
Into the undergrowth and disappear amid the trees.
Like townspeople stunned in the wake of a twister, slowly
My neighbor and I picked up the strewn pieces of clothing
As we followed tracks, like post-holes, into the dented wood.-Douglas Woodsum10 signs of summer in Maine
- You can't turn left off Elm Street in Camden.
- You drive with the window down to enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass.
- You make a list of every sand beach on the Maine coast and set a goal of visiting at least six of them before Labor Day.
- Fried dough suddenly doesn't sound so bad anymore.
- The first ripe tomatoes at the farmer's market.
- The hot-dog vendors in Freeport take the windbreaks off their carts.
- You once again vow that this is the summer you climb Katahdin!
- The legislature is out of session, and Augusta settles into a summer somnolence.
- You're at the lake and you remember why you thought personal watercraft were so annoying last summer.
- The night sounds include the hum of window air conditioners as well as mosquitoes.