North by East
Down East editors discuss how to count ticks on a moose, the benefit of saving old tools, and more.
Maine wildlife interns can’t be squeamish when moose season comes around.
Climbing the corporate ladder usually means starting at the bottom, and for many Maine college students that involves doing a stint as an intern. Some of these twentysomethings may feel degraded to be filing and photocopying, but disgruntled interns should note that they could have it much worse.
Last October an intern from the University of Maine and several students from Unity College participated in a relatively new program with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife where they were required to count the number of ticks that had attached themselves to the moose that hunters brought in to be tagged. Lee Kantar, the department’s moose specialist, says the students assisted field biologists who recorded the number of pen-tip-sized winter ticks within ten centimeter-square areas on the moose’s neck, rib, rump, and shoulder. While just a handful of ticks might not be a big deal for huge animals like Alces alces to handle, Kantar says he routinely finds tens of thousands of ticks on a single moose (the record stands at about sixty thousand ticks). “On one calf I looked at last spring, there were so many that they couldn’t even find a place to adhere and take a meal,” Kantar says.
The goal of the program, which is held during the second part of the moose season, in October, is to document the correlation between winter tick infestation and diseases like lungworm. Unlike deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, winter ticks go through their entire life cycle in a single year, climbing shrubs and attaching themselves to passing moose in the autumn. They molt into nymphs during the winter and early spring, then gorge and mate before dropping off their hosts, laying eggs, and starting the process all over again.
Kantar says that while the annual tick count sounds disgusting to many people, wildlife biologists revel in this type of data collection. “People volunteer for duty and kind of enjoy it,” he remarks.
Suddenly paper-cuts don’t seem so bad after all.
IN WITH THE OLD
Sometimes keeping those old tools around isn’t such a bad idea.
Mainers are known to be pack rats — take a look in most garages or workshops around the Pine Tree State and you’re likely to see a drill press or lawnmower dating from 1959 — but sometimes that reluctance to toss away yesterday’s antique in favor of today’s hot product pays off.
Just ask Bob Grindrod, president and CEO of the Montreal, Maine, & Atlantic Railway, which operates a repair shop in Derby, a village in the town of Milo. Originally built in 1907 as the main repair shop for the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, the Derby yard was set up to maintain steam engines and other machinery used in early twentieth-century trains. As automobiles eclipsed locomotives as the preferred mode of mass transportation, most railroads worked to modernize as quickly as possible. But the machinists in Milo held onto their tools and other equipment.
Recently, Grindrod says his company has discovered a niche in the refurbishment of worn-out locomotives and both passenger and freight cars. Starting with a base workforce of about twenty employees, the company has rebuilt about twenty locomotive engines and shipped them to Poland, where they were vastly superior to the local models.
Building on that success, the Derby yard began hiring back some of the workers it had laid off in past years and even hired new ones as the company sought out projects closer to home. Currently up to sixty employees, this division of the company is at work on refurbishing ten passenger locomotives for the transit agency of Montreal and several freight cars for use in Nova Scotia. Work includes completely overhauling the mechanics and electrical components of a locomotive or car, as well as top-to-bottom repainting and other cosmetics.
“The tooling and the workforce is our competitive advantage, because most of the smaller railroads don’t have this sort of equipment anymore,” Grindrod explains. “So they’re dependent on contract shops. And we have skilled people [in Derby] who can do pretty much anything.”
Especially in today’s rough economic climate, having the knowledge — and the wrenches, lathes, and other tools — to do just about anything is something that will never go out of style.
FROM THE ASHES
How a small island town responds to a calamity speaks wonders.
Losing a community center to fire is a devastating blow to any small town, but it’s particularly difficult in a place like Swans Island, where in the summer of 2008 a lightning strike destroyed the public library. More than ten thousand books — including an extensive Maine and local collection assembled over many years — as well as an important trove of local historical artifacts were reduced to ashes.
But as devastating as the calamity was, the community’s response to it was equally impressive. Within days, a portion of the town office was cordoned off to form a makeshift library area, and books and other historical artifacts began pouring in. (Maili Bailey, a summer resident who helped organize the initial historical collection, says so many books have been donated that the library is no longer accepting them, at least until the new building is built.) In addition, money began arriving in the library’s mailbox (Swans Island Library, P.O Box 12, Swans Island, ME, 04685). “The ashes weren’t even cold yet, and people started giving us donations,” says Bailey. Bailey and several others, including library director Candy Joyce, are leading the effort to rebuild the community treasure. With insurance money from the fire and individual donations, the group is already more than halfway to its one million dollar fund-raising goal. Construction is expected to begin next spring.
In addition, loose pages from books that were singed in the fire have been decorated by renowned artists such as Eric Hopkins, Ashley Bryan, and Iver Lofving and will be auctioned off to raise money for the new building. “It isn’t the five thousand dollar checks that mean the most, it’s the children on Vinalhaven or somewhere else who sold cookies at the farmers’ market and sent us something like six dollars,” Bailey says.
EYE ON THE SKY
Amateur Maine astronomers play a “backyard” role in saving the world.
On July 19, an asteroid about the size of the Earth slammed into Jupiter, leaving an enormous welt on the planet’s gaseous surface. Sounds pretty scary, huh? What’s scarier is that NASA, our supposed watchmen of the night skies, failed to spot the fiery mass. Instead, the collision was first discovered by an amateur astronomer in Australia — from his backyard telescope no less.
You’d think that with those kinds of apocalyptic impacts going on overhead, NASA scientists would bring their “A” game to the task of spotting potentially humanity-destroying comets and asteroids. But the truth is professional astronomers don’t always have time to simply observe the skies for days on end. Fortunately, NASA has had some help — and a fair amount of it has come from Maine. In the mid-1990s, NASA teamed up with an army of amateur astronomers to form the NASA Night Sky Network, a group charged with collecting valuable data on our solar system. As a member, the Astronomical Society of Northern New England, headquartered in Kennebunk, is doing its own part to monitor meteors from Maine backyards.
Together, Maine astronomers and the NASA Night Sky Network have logged more than six thousand “near-Earth objects” similar to the one that smacked Jupiter. Of those, more than one thousand are currently classified as “potentially hazardous.” To qualify a celestial body must be more than five hundred feet in diameter and circle within 4.65 million miles of our humble little planet (which in space-speak is practically spitting-distance). And those are only the ones we know about.
Although the Jupiter-strike witness was from Down Under — as opposed to from Down East — amateur astronomers all over the Pine Tree State remain vigilant. “We’re always looking!” affirms Joan Chamberlin, NASA coordinator for the Astronomical Society of Northern New England and one of three NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory ambassadors from Maine. “That’s what’s great about astronomy,” she added. “If you want to, you, too, can be part of the research.”
Reny’s says goodbye to its founder.
Mainers love a bargain. Which is why the discount chain founded in 1949 by Bob Reny was such a perfect fit for the Pine Tree State. Reny, who died this past summer at age eighty-three, opened his first store in his hometown of Damariscotta. Over the next sixty years he established thirteen other stores across Maine, all built on the same customer service and low prices that Reny prided himself on.
Even when Wal-Marts began marching into Maine, Reny took the mega-stores head-on, insisting that if his products were first-rate, his employees were treated with respect, and his prices were fair, he could compete with even the largest big-box store on the block. “Bob was devoted not only to his family and his hometown of Damariscotta, but to so many communities and to our entire state,” Maine Senator Susan Collins said. “He approached business with a competitive and tenacious spirit — and with great wit. Bob truly lived the American dream and he influenced the lives of so many.” Hear, hear.
For Reny’s funeral, Governor John Baldacci ordered that flags in Damariscotta and Newcastle be flown at half-staff. Or half-off, as Reny himself might have preferred.