Gesundheit!Pine pollen is in the air - everywhere.
It's one of Maine's more unusual rites of spring - each morning at this time of year the first thing many Mainers do when they get in the car is turn on the windshield wipers, no matter how dry and sunny the day is. It's the quick and easy way to remove the film of yellow pollen that has built up overnight.
Maine isn't called the Pine Tree State for nothing. And the idea that less is more is not the pine tree way, especially when it comes to sex. Every year the state's white pines release clouds of pollen, enough to tint the air golden, coat lakes and ponds, and irritate sinuses from the Piscataqua to the St. John. "The white pine has the widest distribution, and it's the most abundant pine species in Maine," explains Stephen Oliveri, of the Pine Tree State Arboretum in Augusta. "We get covered in the stuff every year."
The pollen is produced by the pine tree's male flowers. The species depends on the wind to spread pollen and fertilize female flowers, so when it comes to pollen the more the better. Pollen production varies from year to year, rather like the acorn crops produced by oaks, Oliveri notes.
He says it's impossible to predict the intensity of each year's pollen crop. "It does seem the last few years have been record pollen producers, though," he notes. For allergy sufferers, the four to six weeks of white pine season can be miserable.
Scientists use pollen from white pine and other plants trapped in lake sediments to deduce information about climate, forest composition, and even forest fire cycles going back thousands of years, Oliveri adds. (Serious science geeks can see forest distribution maps from twenty-one thousand years ago by Googling "pollen viewer.") Now if they could only come up with something to stop the sneezing.
The Curse of Snow DaysIn June, you'll find Maine children in one place: the classroom.
With one of the snowiest winters ever recorded in Maine, the white stuff wasn't the only thing piling up. Snow days, those delightful unexpected mini-vacations, were also adding up fast. And as June dawns, those snow days, now long forgotten, return, delaying the much-anticipated arrival of summer vacation.
So just how long will Maine kids be sitting in the classroom this June? It varies by school, but you can bet this month won't be much of a vacation for anyone. "We don't keep a centralized record," explains David Connerty-Marin, the director of communications for the Maine Department of Education. "Anecdotally, we know of a tremendous number of snow days in some communities. A few places have thirteen or more." So many schools were affected by the cancellations that the education commissioner, Susan Gendron, was forced to issue a waiver for Maine seniors, allowing them not to meet the minimum of 170 school days (175 for everyone else).
One of the school districts hardest hit was Gray-New Gloucester. "We had ten snow days," says superintendent Victoria Burns. "We had five built in and so we had to reschedule five. We rescheduled two for the teacher comp days. Unfortunately one of those days was March 28 and we had to cancel school that day, due to snow. So it didn't help us out much."
Caribou, where they endured the snowiest winter on record, hasn't had it so bad, according to high school principal Mark Jones. "Typically, we build three snow days into the calendar. Over the years we've used an average of about two. This year we've used four. So it's not as terrible as some schools downstate."
The snow days have forced some school districts to get creative in terms of making the days up. "We had to find one extra day," explains Jones. "So we went to school on a Saturday with relatively good attendance." Other schools, like Gray-New Gloucester, are just tacking them on at the end. "The last student days, as of now, is June 24," says Burns. "That's one of the longer school years I can remember."
This winter will live on in the record books of some towns for the most snowfall ever. But what the record books might not include is that this will quite possibly be the longest school year ever for many young Mainers.
"We all have this mythology about `the longest we've ever gone,' " notes Burns, articulating our tendency to embellish the present. "In recent history, I do believe this year is later than what we normally have." Then again, perhaps this winter really was that bad.
A lift for loonsFloating platforms give birds new real estate.
Sometimes nature needs a helping hand. For years members of the Megunticook Watershed Association had watched pairs of loons build nests on the Megunticook River and Norton Pond outside Camden, only to have them washed away or left high and dry by fluctuating water levels. So last year the association built three floating nest platforms that can rise and fall with the water.
"We didn't really expect to see the loons take to the platforms the first year, and they didn't," explains Ken Bailey, the association's executive director. "The Audubon Society warned us that might happen." One of the problems was the common real-estate lament - location, location, location. One platform was moored next to a small island in the river that, it turned out, already had a pair of highly territorial Canada geese nesting on it. (The association has state and federal permits to collect and destroy goose eggs and nests this year to control the booming Canada goose population.) Another in an isolated cove on Norton Pond was attracting some loon-y interest when a contractor began building a home on the nearby shore.
Bailey says all three platforms, built from cedar fencing and Styrofoam blocks, are going out again this year, one on the river and two on Norton Pond. The loon population in the watershed, which encompasses thirty-two square miles, has remained relatively stable for years, he adds. In 2007 twelve to thirteen adults made their homes on the river, the pond, and Megunticook Lake. May they stay high and dry.
Declaration DebateThe state fights for a piece of Revolutionary history.
The last battle of the Revolutionary War was fought more than 220 years ago, but don't try telling that to State Archivist David Cheever. Instead of muskets, Cheever and the Maine attorney general are fighting with court orders and depositions in an attempt to recover one of Maine's very few 1776 copies of the Declaration of Independence. They will hear sometime this summer if their appeal of a Virginia court ruling will give the state a new chance at returning the rare document to the state.
When the Second Continental Congress passed and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, cameras from CNN and reporters from the New York Times were noticeably absent. Congress got the word out to the far-flung and often isolated towns of Colonial America by printing up copies of the Declaration and sending them off by ship and messenger. "They were sent to the ministers of the churches in the major towns to be read at the weekly services," Cheever explains, referring to a time when every town was required to maintain a church and a minister, "and then given to the town officials. The copies became town documents."
Cheever says about two dozen copies were sent to Maine. "Many are long gone," he says. "We have the North Yarmouth and Hallowell copies here at the archives. We believe there might be another copy in Bangor."
One copy was sent to Wiscasset and ended up in the files of Sol Holbrook, the town clerk between 1885 and 1929. In those days, it wasn't unusual for town clerks to keep official documents and other records in their homes, which is likely how it ended up in a box of papers that his daughters moved to their home after Holbrook's death. "When the last daughter died in the early 1990s, the Declaration was found in a box in her attic," Cheever says. "How, or why, or even if she knew it was there isn't known."
The Declaration was sold at an estate auction and ended up in England, where Virginia collector Richard L. Adams, Jr., bought it in 2001 for $475,000. Adams sued the state to win clear title, and in February a judge in Fairfax, Virginia, ruled in his favor. "Maine's law is quite clear," Cheever says. "Even if the town wishes to dispose of a document, the state has first claim on it. And nowhere do the Wiscasset records say it gave up its copy of the Declaration of Independence. It belongs to the town and the people of Maine."
Here's hoping that the appeal court agrees with him.Way to Go, Bangor!Every person in Maine should inhale the power of local action.
City official elections are typically pretty ho-hum affairs in Maine and elsewhere - most of the issues are local ordinance changes and municipal technicalities that can seem a bit obscure to even the most savvy voter - but look to Bangor the next time you think local decisions won't have a bigger impact. It took just fifteen months for the city's ordinance to ban smoking in cars containing children to become state law, making Maine one of only a handful of states to pass similar measures (at the time Bangor introduced its ban, only Louisiana and Arkansas had similar bans).
Surprisingly, the anti-smoking measure sailed through the legislature without a lot of debate, in contrast to the scuffles that happened in Bangor itself, where the City Council passed it on a 6-3 vote. (The state version did lower the cutoff age to sixteen, in contrast to the Bangor ordinance, which defines children as younger than eighteen years old.)
So if you're planning on skipping your local elections in June, you might want to consider how nine city officials in Bangor started a national movement. Who knows if your community might do the same?Sailing StrongA relatively unknown Maine mariner joins some prestigious company.
Maine is home to more than a few celebrity mariners, record-setters like Dodge Morgan and Bruce Schwab who have settled into a more sedentary life in the Pine Tree State after a career of voyaging. Which is why it was somewhat of a surprise this year when the Cruising Club of America gave its prestigious Blue Water Medal to Woolwich resident Peter Passano, a largely unknown skipper who has won no transatlantic yacht races nor set any speed records.
But spend a few minutes talking with Passano about his past voyages on his forty-foot steel cutter, Sea Bear
, as well as those trips he still has planned, and you'll see that the club was right in having the seventy-eight-year-old sailor join the ranks of such legendary mariners as Rod Stephens, Sir Francis Chichester, and Bernard Moitessier. A suitable shakedown cruise for Passano back in 1995, for instance, consisted of a 2,100-mile voyage from San Francisco to Hawaii. When his mother in Woolwich died after Passano had been cruising around Australia and the South Pacific for a couple of years, the sailor decided to head to Maine - but via Cape Horn, of course. "I thought it'd be a good opportunity for an adventure," he remarks. After moving into his maternal home, Passano found his wanderlust leading him to Europe, Brazil, and even as far as South Georgia Island, near Antarctica. A trip to Cape Town, South Africa, was embarked upon "because
I'd never been there" and voyages to Greenland and Labrador were undertaken with similarly reckless abandon.
And while this past winter saw Passano hunkered down in Woolwich with his new wife, he says that after a summer of cruising the Maine coast he'll head for warmer waters in the Caribbean. "I've got all the reports I've made over the last fifteen years and I might put them all together in a book someday, but for now, I'm still sailing," he declares.
Sometimes it's nice to hear that the spirit of adventure lives on, especially in the most unheralded of people.
Paging Mr. KentDon't look for logic in Maine's county or town names.
Back in Mr. Kent's eighth-grade Maine history class, we had to memorize all the counties and their county seats, as well as many other towns and cities and the counties where they were located. This was tough, and Maine's penchant for the geographically obscure made it even tougher, not least because towns and counties that share the same names don't always share the same location. Sure, Cumberland is in Cumberland County, and York is in York County, and Oxford is in Oxford County - but there the similarities end.
Who expects to find the town of Lincoln in Penobscot County, far inland from its coastal county counterpart? Why is the town of Knox in Waldo County, and what wag put Washington in Knox County? Both Penobscot and Franklin are tucked into quiet corners of Hancock County, far away from the North Woods counties of the same name.
Then there are the names themselves. Neither Lincoln County, established in 1760, nor the town, in 1829, was named for President Abraham, but rather for, respectively, an English city and the sixth governor of Maine, Enoch Lincoln. Perhaps the townsfolk thought it was a step up from the tongue-twisting Mattanawcook, its original name.
"It's a very complex thing," says Bill Barry, of the Maine Historical Society in Portland, in a masterful example of scholarly understatement. Maine's original counties - York, Cumberland, and Lincoln - were named for English cities. After that, anything went. The townsfolk of Peru, for example, chose its name in a burst of revolutionary enthusiasm when the country of Peru declared its independence from Spain in 1821. (Luckily, there were no counties left to be named that year.)
We don't know if Maine history students still face the challenges that we did. But just in case, it's wise to remember that the village of Kennebec somehow became established several miles south of Machias in Washington County, 143 miles east of the river and the county of the same name. Mr. Kent would be proud.Past DueWorkers in Lewiston-Auburn have earned the right to a new park.
It's been three decades since Maine created a state park, but with summer reservations for the public green spaces already at an all-time high, folks in Lewiston-Auburn say the time is right to create another. The Androscoggin Land Trust and the Androscoggin River Alliance have submitted a request to the state to turn 2,600 acres of state-owned riverfront north of the Twin Cities into an Androscoggin Riverlands State Park. The land, located in Turner and Leeds with the majority of it on the west side of the river, would be open to users such as boaters, hikers, and skiers - many of whom already enjoy it, but without the refinements, such as signs, camping areas, and launch ramps, that would come with a state park designation.
Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan says that the state would like to partner with private groups to help raise the money needed to establish the park, hopefully within a couple of years. He cites reports indicating that some 40 percent of Maine's population lives within a forty-five minute drive of the proposed park, adding that currently those people need to drive to Freeport or Poland to enjoy a state park. "Look at what Lewiston-Auburn has done for Maine. These people were the backbone, the drivers of the Maine economy for so long, and they need a park," McGowan says. "Parks are places where people go not for just a physical experience, but also for their mental health."
Once feasibility studies are complete and initial expenses are determined, McGowan says the state would meet with local residents to determine exactly what they would like to see in the new green space. "People do parks differently now - we would not come in with a grand design from the state of Maine," he says. "The communities want to plan for the whole river corridor, and the goal is to see if we can make a first-class park above Lewiston-Auburn for the people of the Androscoggin."
Sounds like a bonus check that the hard-working people in central Maine have certainly earned.Declining CatchBeing in the red is hurting lobsters and lobstermen.
No one can be as gleefully pessimistic as a lobsterman. Even in the glow of high prices and full traps, the best a lobsterman might offer is that "it isn't as bad as last year."
These days, they can't even say that. Preliminary figures from 2007 are showing a dramatic decrease in the annual lobster catch. Landings by Maine's 6,700 lobstermen dropped 23 percent, from 72.7 million pounds in 2006 to 56.1 million pounds in 2007, according to figures released by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). It was the smallest harvest since 1997, despite the million extra traps in the water last year. Since the peak in 2003, when a new reporting system went into effect, landings have dropped 40 percent.
"We've been expecting it," says David Cousens, of Thomaston, president of the Maine Lobsterman's Association. "The scientists were warning us three or four years ago that there were some really weak year classes coming up. I guess they were right." Cousens says his own catch dropped 65 percent last year.
The money side of the equation was almost as dour. The 2006 catch was worth $297.2 million, while last year brought in only $248.5 million. Cousens says lobstermen all along the coast are having trouble, and he predicts a sizable number will get out of the business this year, either voluntarily or by losing their boats to the banks that financed them.
"The economy is really scary right now," he says. "Fuel is through the roof, bait is getting hard to come by. I think we really have to look at how we do business. We have way too many traps in the water." The DMR says more than 3.2 million trap tags were sold in 2007, although many lobstermen buy more tags than they actually use.
Cousens has long maintained that the drop in lobster catches is far worse than the official numbers show. A new mandatory reporting system went into effect in 2003 and is far more accurate than the previous method, he says, which relied on voluntary dealer reports. He believes the catch in 2000 was around 120 million to 140 million pounds, which if true makes current harvest levels look much worse than they already are. "We're actually dropping like a rock," he insists.
He's hoping that this year isn't as bad as last year, but the preliminary reports aren't encouraging. "It's a fickle fishery," he muses. "You do the best you can."Wider, Not BetterDrivers' first view of the North Woods will be a bit different this summer.
Almost the moment you hop onto Interstate 95 north of Orono, the feeling of entering the great North Woods has always been unmistakable: the glimpses of shopping malls and car dealerships that you caught downstate are suddenly replaced by trees, lots and lots of trees. Beyond the shoulder, the tall pines form a seemingly impenetrable wall of green, and even the medians look more like portions of a state park than the litter-strewn highway dividers you see in many other areas.
This summer, however, visitors will be greeted by a quite different view of the North Woods, as this spring the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) spent half a million dollars to cut down many of the trees in the medians and to widen the shoulders to fifty feet. (In some areas the trees had reduced the shoulders to just fifteen feet.) The project, which stretches some fifty-eight miles between Argyle and Benedicta, is designed to increase visibility for drivers who have learned to be extra watchful for moose in this area. Last year three people died in moose-related crashes in this stretch of highway, and several more were injured. All told, the state sees about seven hundred moose-automobile accidents each year.
Ironically, the cutting has actually had the opposite effect that MDOT had hoped it would - deer have been drawn to the clippings left by the arborists - but spokesman Mark Latti insists this will only be a temporary situation. "It was a difficult winter for deer - food was scarce, and the deer in particular love the softwoods that are being chipped," he says, adding that although drivers are reporting more deer, there have actually been fewer crashes in the cleared areas. In the winter, the wider roads will allow more sunlight to reach the pavement and warm it, allowing MDOT to reduce the amount of salt it puts on the road. Especially in spring and early summer, moose often are drawn to highways in search of leftover road salt, which satisfies their craving after a long winter.
Anything that keeps moose and automobiles away from each other is a good thing in our book. But let's hope this isn't a sign of more changes to come in Maine's North Woods.ONE MAINER TO ANOTHER
One summer, along about 1904, my father rented a camp on a lake in Maine and took us all there for the month of August. We all got ringworm from some kittens and had to rub Pond's Extract on our arms and legs night and morning, and my father rolled over in a canoe with all his clothes on; but outside of that the vacation was a success, and from then on none of us ever thought there was any place in the world like that lake in Maine.
-E.B. White, Once More to the Lake, 1941.MAINE'S TEN LARGEST LAKES
Measured in total surface area, excluding man-made impoundments.
1. Moosehead Lake - 117.04 square miles
2. Sebago Lake - 44.80 square miles
3. Chesuncook Lake (including Caribou) - 35.90 square miles
4. Mooselookmeguntic Lake (including Cup-suptic) - 25.95 square miles
5. Twin Lake System (including South Twin, North Twin, Pemadumcook, and Ambejeus lakes) - 24.90 square miles
6. East Grand Lake - 23.68 square miles
7. Grand Lake - 23.49 square miles
8. Spednik Lake - 22,84 square miles
9. Chamberlain Lake - 17.48 square miles
10. Churchill Lake (including Eagle Lake) - 16.75 square miles
Source: Stanley Bearce Atwood, The Length and Breadth of Maine, 1973.
FOUND IN UNCLE HENRY'S
Free for the Taking: piano free, enjoy countless hr of improv jazz, classical and pop. In order for this to work, you must play piano. Freedom, ME.