The ghost once reputed to haunt the governor's office suite on the second floor of the State House has apparently been voted out of office. Several years ago reports surfaced that members of the cleaning crew and staffers working late in the evenings had experiences with a "presence" that turned lights and water taps off and on and occasionally greeted the unwary with a haunting "Hello." The ghost was described as a woman, but State House lore gave no indication who she might be.
"We do feel a certain ghostly presence from time to time," admits David Farmer, director of communications for Governor John Baldacci, "but it's usually just a member from the third floor," home of the House and Senate. Farmer, who joined the governor's staff early this year, says he hadn't heard about the otherworldly resident until a media inquiry sent him poking into back closets and dark hallways. "No one warned me about this," he quips, "but we've been asking around."
The last person to report running into the ghostly woman was a member of the cleaning staff who has since retired. Asked if the State House maintains an in-house exorcist on its staff to handle such interruptions, Farmer pauses. "It seems that way sometimes," he notes. "But we call them lawyers."
FORGOTTEN SLOPESThe Internet is preserving abandoned Maine ski areas.
In Maine, November can be a time of discoveries. After the leaves have come off the trees, but before the snow falls, the hillsides lay naked, allowing forgotten footpaths, fences, and outlines to reveal themselves against the brown landscape.
For members of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project, this is exploration season. The group's devotees - exact numbers are hard to come by, though the mailing list includes eight hundred people - comb out across Maine and the rest of New England, searching for the abandoned rope tow motors, chair-lift huts, and night-skiing lamps that are all that remain of the nearly six hundred tiny ski areas once scattered across New England. In Maine, seventy-four ski areas are known to have once hauled skiers to the top of diminutive knolls from York (Mount Agamenticus) to Madawaska (Mount Carmel). Some, like the three-run, community-operated rope tow north of Belfast, operated for just a half-dozen years before slipping into oblivion, while others, like the Hurricane Ski Slope in Falmouth, lasted for decades before dying out in the 1970s. According to Lost Ski Areas Project founder Jeremy Davis, they're each important pieces of Maine's sporting history.
"It's the same thing as with any kind of lost Americana, whether you're talking about diners or cars or whatever," says Davis, a twenty-nine-year-old meteorologist in Glens Falls, New York. "Once you lose it, it's gone forever." To keep the areas alive, virtually at least, Davis maintains a robust Web site (www.nelsap.org
) that includes links to every abandoned ski resort. The site, which sees about a thousand visitors a day during the winter, also features an active discussion board and links to skiing-related nonprofits and businesses. Davis says the board has become a go-to place for skiers, noting that breaking news about bargains, buyouts, and other events often appears on the site before hitting the mainstream media.
Some of the project's ski area listings are thin, with just a few lines about an area's past, but others feature photographs, maps, and anecdotes written by people who once skied on these forgotten slopes. "It really hit a positive nerve with a lot of skiers," Davis remarks. "People send in a lot of personal memories, and now we have a way of preserving them forever."
And that's certainly something to be thankful for this November.
MOOSE METHANEDoes Bullwinkle promote global warming?
Now they've gone too far. First cows got a share of the blame for global warming with the news that the average farmyard ruminant was emitting, fore and aft, three hundred to five hundred liters of methane a day. Now Norwegian researchers are claiming that a full-grown moose produces 2,100 kilos - that's 4,620 pounds for the metrically challenged - of methane each year. That's equal to the carbon dioxide output of a car driven 8,060 miles.
The problem is the stomach bacteria moose and other ruminants use to break down the vegetation that makes up their diet. One of the byproducts is methane, a greenhouse gas much worse than the often vilified carbon dioxide. With 29,000 to 35,000 moose estimated to live in Maine, something over 134 million pounds of methane are wafting into the atmosphere every year. It's enough to make one wonder why the North Woods smell as good as they do.
"Well, obviously we're against moose belches," declares Judy Berk, spokes-person for the Natural Resources Council of Maine and a woman who knows how to keep her tongue firmly in her cheek. "The council is working on research now to improve moose digestion to fix this problem. Large tubs of Pepto-Bismol have been mentioned. And we suspect that moose have been attending too many bean suppers. That's an issue that has to be addressed."
Which raises another question. How much methane does the average bean supper… No, we are not going to go there.
SHIFTY CRUSTACEANLobstermen wonder about a change in the catch.
Lobstermen, lobster biologists, and lobster dealers are all scratching their heads over a recent shift in the pattern of lobster catches in Maine. Where once the summer months - especially August - provided the peak of the season, traps are now yielding their biggest hauls in the fall. And no one seems to know why.
"Oh, we'd all like to know the reasons for that," says South Thomaston lobsterman David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. The change raises anxiety levels among lobstermen who could previously count on making most of their money in the summer and coasting through the fall catches. But this year, Cousens says, his daily September catches were half their normal numbers. "I was hauling 325 pounds a day when I'd usually have more than twice that," he says. "I need five hundred a day just to cover the costs of going out."
Although water temperatures and ocean currents have been cited as possible reasons for the shift, Cousens suspects that it's all just part of a general decline in the overall lobster catch. He has long maintained that annual catches were widely underreported in the 1990s because dealers weren't required to report their purchases to the state. Despite official annual totals of less than 60 million pounds throughout the decade,"Back in the late 1990s, we were catching 130 million to 140 million pounds, at least," he insists. The official catch in 1999 was 52.6 million pounds, and the catch last year was 72.6 million pounds.
Cousens also notes that lobster biologists warned six years ago that lobster "settlement," the number of lobster fry that settle on the bottom to grow, had dropped dramatically. "They said we were going to have some bad years, and it's here," he says. By the same token, lobster settlement in the past few years has been especially good, promising better catches later in this decade. "So we're in a lull no matter how you cut it," Cousens muses. "You just take what you can get. You can't make more lobsters."
FLYING HIGHAnd you thought Maine was only famous for its yachts.
If Maine seems an odd place to find one of the premier aircraft refurbishment operations in the country, don't tell Jim Horowitz. Back in the late 1980s Horowitz took over the Oxford airport as its fixed base operator, the manager for the small facility. He wanted to set himself apart from all the other small airports in New England, so he started a light aircraft rehabilitation and painting operation with one employee. Today Horowitz's Oxford Aviation employs fifty-five people and operates out of airports in Oxford, Fryeburg, and, most recently, Sanford, where it is building a seventy-thousand-square-foot business jet center that will employ up to two hundred people.
"We've created a niche market as the top-end shop in the country for painting and refurbishing small planes," says company spokesman Jeff Callahan. "We specialize in very high-end airplanes, and now we're getting jobs from as far away as Brazil and Norway."
The company's location in Maine "is absolutely an asset. We've had offers to move elsewhere and turned them down," Callahan adds. "For a guy in California, it's a reward to come to Maine for any reason, and we give him a pretty good reason. Plus, we highly tout the Maine craftsmanship side of the business. We do a lot of very upscale cabinetry using high-end veneers over aircraft-grade materials, and the Maine reputation counts for a lot there."
Callahan says the Sanford airport's six-thousand-foot runway, the fourth-longest public runway in Maine, will allow the company to expand into the large-aircraft market, "the Boeing 707s and other big jets," he explains. "Sanford can handle the heavy hitters. After all, this is where Air Force One lands when the president visits his parents in Kennebunkport."
It sounds like Maine is a great place for a growing business to stretch its wings.
BARNABAS RETURNS!A soap opera icon rises again (and again) from the dead.
Before Stephen King and Salem's Lot, there was Barnabas Collins and Dark Shadows. Collins was the gentleman vampire at the heart of the groundbreaking 1966-1971 soap opera set in a mysterious mansion on the stormy coast of Maine. The ABC show has refused to die, living on in Dark Shadows conventions, DVDs, fan sites, sporadic and uneven remakes, and, now, the news that actor Johnny Depp has signed on with MGM for a big screen revival of the cult hit.
Dark Shadows, with its cast of vampires, zombies, ghosts, and other ghoulies, laid the foundation for Maine's reputation as the home of horror, and during its original run it found its largest audience among high school and college students. (Hmmm, can it be coincidence that Dark Shadows reigned supreme in TV lounges across the University of Maine at Orono campus just when Stephen King was attending the school?) News reports have quoted Depp as saying he has always been obsessed with Dark Shadows and that as a child he wanted to be Barnabas Collins.
Whether this will be another movie set in Maine but filmed elsewhere is now the question. "So far they haven't called us, which means we have to call them," says Greg Gadberry, at the Maine Film Office in Augusta. "If they're going to push the Maine angle in the movie, we have to be there."
Gadberry says that, to his knowledge, none of the previous attempts to revive the show have been shot in Maine. "There have been rumors about a movie version of Dark Shadows for years," he notes, "but they've been like ghosts, you never knew if there was any substance behind them. With Depp signing on so publicly, it gives the project a big boost."
Gadberry, who grew up in Alaska, says "even there people watched that show." It gave him his first impression of Maine. "It was not your normal soap opera," he points out. "That was part of its appeal. People who normally never watched soaps were watching that."
Let's hope that people who watch the movie version are seeing some authentic Maine scenery in the background.
ONE MAINER TO ANOTHER
| I remember the evening of the first day in which we moved into our house in the woods. It started to get dark, and I thought - it is getting dark. That seems simple-minded, but what I felt was vividly complex. Night's coming was so profound, so transfixing, so soft yet indelible that I was startled and lulled in the same awed moment. I remember feeling very clearly how, second by tiny second, it was getting darker, how the dark was creeping in, how it was inexorable and delicate, how night "fell" - a great, slow curtain - how darkness "grew" - something organic yet rooted in the ineffable. Poets had written endlessly about the melancholy and charm of dusk; it was the time of haunting regret - another day never to be seen again. I could feel that mood as I moved about the house and watched the waning light. It was fluid, like ink in water, and calmly eerie. There was no switch to hit to banish the dark, to create a clear divide, to join the bright ranks of the electrified world.|
-Baron Wormser, The Road Washes Out in Spring, A Poet's Memoir of Living off the Grid, 2006.