Musings from Maine
Maine Feng Shui
Cleaning out the mudroom is the first step to inner peace.
Translated literally, feng shui means wind-water, both of which Maine has in spades. This ancient Chinese art of placement, wildly popular in Europe (where, for example, the Austrian government actually pays for feng shui consultations), is believed to affect health, prosperity, happiness, and interpersonal relationships. Here in Maine, feng shui has yet to develop a firm toehold, but who knows what the new year will bring? If ever Mainers could use an energy boost it's during the drawn out, downright depressing days of March. So if you're feeling drained, not sleeping well, or otherwise uptight in your home, here's a little feng shui advice to help you through mud season.
"Feng shui is not so much about moving around furniture," says Werner Brandmaier, founder of the Institute of Feng Shui and Geopathology in Portland, "but rather the energy of the house, the chi of the house. It's the same chi that acupuncturists adjust inside your body. That chi is around you everywhere."
So you know those three feet of the fluffy white stuff we just got? Well, you better find the energy to get out there and shovel, because blocked entrances, especially front doors, are very bad feng shui. "It's like putting a piece of tape over your mouth and complaining about not getting enough food," explains Brandmaier. Keeping the transition areas between the street and the inside of your house clutter free is also key. So a porch and a mudroom are great, but you can't treat them like a self-storage container.
What about the heirloom deer head above the fireplace? Say good-bye to it, unless you want to bring the energy equivalent of a graveyard into your house. "The bigger the animal, the sadder the spirit," notes Brandmaier (so if you absolutely must, stuff a squirrel, not a bear). Did Aunt Connie give you a kitschy lamp for the holidays that you reluctantly placed on the coffee table? Love the lamp or lose the lamp, my friend, because Brandmaier attests that the biggest rule of thumb when decorating is to make sure you love what you surround yourself with. "If you love something, some picture or some statue or a piece of art, it's good energy. And if you hate something," he adds, "it's bad. People from divorces will keep something their ex loved and have it in front of them every day. That is bad energy." Other rules to follow: no electronic equipment in the bedroom; no dead trees in the yard, especially between the street and your house; and, in general, as little clutter as possible.
So are you living in a feng shui nightmare? Brandmaier recommends building a labyrinth (and no, the "maze" of trash in your backyard does not count). It helps to anchor the energy of your property. Create a stone garden or add a water element, like a birdbath or a fountain to your front lawn. Or, if you're not up for the challenge, just simply throw up a wind chime. But for goodness sake don't put it in front of your door.
All Politics Is Local
Hot-button topics warm up Maine's annual town meetings.
Town meetings are a Mainer's annual soapbox. Regular citizens can stand up and ask embarrassing questions about the new snow plowing contract and debate the merits of donating fifty dollars to the local animal shelter. Sure, oftentimes the meetings can be deadly dull, full of rubberstamp votes on obscure zoning amendments and boring financial explanations about the new fire truck. But just as frequently, Mainers get a chance to raise their voices to vote on issues that have implications far beyond the town line.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, for example, many towns were asked to approve ordinances banning the storage of radioactive waste, a reflection of the controversy surrounding the now-defunct Maine Yankee Atomic Power plant. Last year several towns dealt with proposals concerning where registered sex offenders could live. This year a new crop of hot-button topics is appearing on agendas around Maine, from decriminalizing marijuana to defunding any attempt to attack Iran.
"Headline grabbers at the state level are often headline grabbers at the local level," notes Michael Starn of the Maine Municipal Association in Augusta. "Impeaching George W. Bush comes up almost every year somewhere in Maine. I expect we'll see some discussion of methadone clinics this year."
Starn says town meetings often give higher-level officials a perspective that they may otherwise lack on problems. "Take oil prices," he notes. "Clearly they affect everyone and we can't really do anything about them at the local level, but town meetings can take a closer view of the problem than someone sitting at a desk in Washington, D.C. People can really discuss someone living down the road and running out of heating oil. Local officials are hearing those stories, and they filter upwards."
Starn expects the state's move to force school consolidation among towns to be a source of heated discussion this year. "Education spending is going to be on the front burner all over the state," he predicts.
"This is a way for citizens to say we're paying attention out here to what the government is doing and we don't like it," observes Hannah Trowbridge, a Harpswell resident who, with fellow resident Victor Skorapa, Jr., is working to put a question on the town meeting agenda opposing the use of force against Iran. "We couldn't do this in California or most other states. It's our chance to speak up."
A Toast to Thrift
A brewpub brings a farm fixture back to Freeport.
Freeport village is regaining a bit of the rural atmosphere it lost decades ago when its association with L.L. Bean transformed it into an outlet shopping mecca. A new grain silo is going up on the south end of Main Street, but this time the grain is feeding beer drinkers, not dairy cows.
The storage bin is going up next to Gritty McDuff's, the popular brewpub whose Portland outlet helped spark the craft beer renaissance in Maine when it opened in 1988. (Lewiston-Auburn hosts a third Gritty McDuff's.) Twenty-four feet high and twelve feet in diameter, the silo will hold fifty thousand pounds of the imported English barley used to make the pub's signature beers.
When the pub's owners first announced the plans in December, there was considerable sentiment around town that the silo looked too industrial for its location at the southern entrance to the village. Yet the plans sailed through the town's Project Review Board a few weeks later. "There was some hemming and hawing about it at the hearing," recalls Billy Stebbins, the pub's brewing manager and part-owner, "but in the end they recognized it was a good thing."
Soaring grain prices pushed the project forward. Stebbins says the silo will allow the pub to buy its barley in bulk, rather than by the bag, at a savings of about sixteen cents a pound. "We were paying forty-two cents a pound last year," he explains. "This year the price is eighty cents for bagged barley." Stebbins says farmers are shifting their production away from barley to corn to meet the demand for ethanol, even as rising fuel prices push transportation costs higher. "Corn is being used to produce ethanol and isn't going to feed animals," he says, "so farmers are substituting barley."
Two other Maine microbreweries - Shipyard Brewing and D.L. Geary, both in Portland - have grain silos near their facilities, but neither is quite as visible as the one in Freeport. Even if a few of the locals don't appreciate the silo, craft beer lovers and thrifty Mainers will toast the savings it represents.
The Eye of the Beholder
Luck saves a Maine masterpiece from fire.
Sometimes it all depends on chance. Thanks to two women who saved a painting of Mount Katahdin from the burn pile thirty-five years ago, a church in Silver Spring, Maryland, recently earned a check for more than eighty thousand dollars and Colby College in Waterville will receive a canvas that exemplifies a major period in American art.
"It caught their eye," explains Reverend Sandy Dobson, associate pastor at Christ Congregational Church in the community north of Washington, D.C. "There was something about the painting that led them to think it shouldn't be thrown away." This past September View of Mount Katahdin from the West Bank of the Penobscot River, painted in 1870 by Maine native Virgil Macey Williams, sold at auction for ninety thousand dollars, three times its pre-sale estimate.
Dobson says little is known about the painting's travels after it was completed, but it ended up hanging in a two-story brick farmhouse in West Virginia that the church acquired in 1965 as a retreat center and summer camp. "The painting came with the house," she explains. "It hung in the landing of the main staircase." In 1973 a cleaning crew consigned the canvas to a trash pile in the backyard. Just before the debris was burned, two members of the church, Mary Ann Peterson and Ruth Nicholson Post, spotted the work and saved it from destruction.
A Smithsonian Institution expert later identified the painting as being by Williams, who was born in Dixfield, Maine, in 1830, and became a member of the New England art world after studying in Paris and Rome. Although never among the first tier of nineteenth-century American artists, he was prolific and influential as the first director of the San Francisco School of Design, a position he held for twelve years before his death in 1886. (Post, who died in 1998, became his official and only biographer in her later years.)
View of Mount Katahdin shows the famous peak looming over a peaceful autumn scene of a man and his dog in a birch-bark canoe on the sunlit river. It typifies a period in American painting when artists such as Frederic Church and Winslow Homer took to the unspoiled wilds of Maine to capture the interplay between nature and humanity.
Even the appraisers at Weschler's auction house in Washington were surprised when the painting sparked a bidding war that topped out at ninety thousand dollars. After subtracting the auction commission, the church received $82,800 to pay for repairs to the farmhouse.
As a final grace note, the anonymous purchaser has indicated that the painting will be donated to the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville. After some mystery, some luck, and almost 140 years, View of Mount Katahdin is coming home again.
You're the Lobsterman
A Cape Elizabeth company rewards investors with dinner.
You've heard about community-supported agriculture, where customers buy a share in a farm in exchange for tomatoes and beans. Well, what about community-supported aquaculture?
A lobster company based in Cape Elizabeth is banking on the idea that people will pay a premium for personalized seafood. For the Ready brothers of Catch a Piece of Maine this means lobster, packed and shipped to any location in the country. But not just any lobster. The Readys are offering "your" lobster, from "your" trap, gathered by "your" lobsterman.
Catch a Piece of Maine allows investors to "own" a lobster trap and reap the rewards (forty to fifty lobsters a season) without any of the backaches or sunburns. It costs almost three thousand dollars a year to invest in your own lobster trap. That membership buys you the lobsters, of course, plus all the clams, mussels, desserts, recipes, bibs, etc., that constitute an "authentic" Maine meal (shipping costs are included in the membership). Though this price may seem high, we did the math, and if you order the Twin Lobster Dinner from a rival Web-based shipping company - which gives you similar fixings without the dessert - it costs $127.95. Times that by twenty to get the guaranteed forty lobsters from Catch a Piece of Maine and you're at $2,559 without any idea of your dinner's true provenance.
"We discovered that the strength of the Maine brand is in the ocean," Brendan Ready explains. "We asked ourselves `how do we take what we do, what we're passionate about, and share it with everyone across the country?' It's an interactive approach. People buy into what we're doing because they get the same excitement we have every day. They know exactly where their lobsters are coming from, who is catching it, etc. It's really an experience."
In addition to having your own personal lobsterman and being able to track your catch online, you can bask in the knowledge that 10 percent of the proceeds are donated to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
According to the Ready brothers, this business model can push the entire industry in a new, more sustainable direction. "The lobstering industry is a very traditional industry," notes Brendan. "Very little has changed, and we think there is more value in the industry than just the product. The experience - it's worth a lot. People get to see us waking up at 4:30 to catch their lobsters. That romantic experience is what we offer." Romantic for the customer, if not the lobsterman, we'd wager.
FOUND IN UNCLE HENRY'S
TV 27 inch needs TLC. Volume control is touchy - trouble turning it down. Not a problem for me, but wife says must go. Older Quasar, has minor distortion at top (during the Red Sox games, you don't see it at all, because of the stats at the top of the screen), few minor scratches on screen. Heavier than a tub of Hake. Will help load. Lewiston, ME.