North by East
Maine lobstermen make trees from traps, a Bowdoin woman uses dogs to find missing pets, plus more.
Cartoon by Jamie Smith
Down East lobstermen turn trap stacking into a holiday competition.
Lobstermen are notoriously competitive, whether they’re protecting their fishing grounds or racing their boats. For the last few years, two of New England’s leading lobstering ports, Maine’s Rockland and Massachusetts’ Gloucester, have extended their rivalry into the holiday season, with each laying claim to the biggest and best lobster trap Christmas tree while participants mock each other’s efforts online in blogs and videos.
Last year both communities got their comeuppance. Lobstermen from the tiny Washington County fishing villages of Beals Island and Jonesport erected a fifty-two-foot tree containing 769 traps, many of them fresh out of the ocean. They snatched the height record from Rockland (thirty-eight feet, 152 traps) and challenged Gloucester’s claim to greater authenticity (the Massachusetts builders have made much of the fact that their tree is made from used lobster traps whereas Rockland’s tree is comprised of brand-new traps manufactured for the occasion by Brooks Trap Mill in Thomaston).
This season Beals Island and Jonesport are upping the ante. “We’re planning a grandiose tree and a new world record,” says shellfish dealer Albert Carver, who last year dissed Rockland and Gloucester’s creations as “nice beginner trees.” The new tree’s height, he says, “will depend on what we hear from the competition.”
On that point, Rockland, at least, is making it easy. Lorain Francis, executive director of Rockland Maine Street, says Rockland’s lobster trap tree isn’t going to be any bigger than it was last year. “But,” she boasts, “our tree is engineered better. We don’t have to tether it the way they do in Beals. Our tree stands on its own. It’s a trade secret.”
Carver welcomes such “trash talk,” and he plans to engage in plenty of it. Last year, he points out, all the good-natured ribbing garnered national news coverage, which in turn attracted sightseers who tossed their dollars in a collection barrel for the Beals-Jonesport Fourth of July festivities.
Good causes, in fact, are at the heart of all three tree-building events. Rockland Maine Street sells fifty dollar raffle tickets for a chance to win one hundred traps, with proceeds supporting the organization’s work in the community. Gloucester’s tree benefits a nonprofit arts organization. All three trees are illuminated Thanksgiving weekend.
Carver predicts other communities will jump into the fray this year, and everyone will benefit. “The competition is fun and it highlights coastal Maine,” he says. “It’s good all the way around.”
Lisa Nazarenko and her canine tracking team find missing dogs and cats.
We recently caught up with Maine’s only licensed pet tracker as she was returning from a case in which she’d made a significant discovery. “A lot of people ask when is a scent trail too old to follow,” says Lisa Nazarenko, who finds lost pets with the help of a trained four-dog team. “Today we found out my dogs can do a trail that is four months aged. I’ve had people say it’s impossible to follow a trail that old. We just proved them wrong.”
The trail in question belonged to a cat who had been missing for 128 days. Nazarenko and Mason, her boxer-hound mix, found the feline’s remains — she was the apparent victim of a predator — within an hour of striking out into the woods behind the owner’s home. It was the sort of news Nazarenko dreads delivering, nevertheless, she says, it was better than no news at all. “It’s never easy to tell your client that the pet has passed away,” she notes, “but it does give closure. This woman was still walking up and down the road looking for her cat. Now she can stop and breathe again.”
Nazarenko’s business, Lost Pet Tracking Dogs, was born of her own experience with a lost pet. A little over a year ago, the cardiac nurse came home from work to find her twelve-year-old yellow Lab, Cappuccino, missing. She hired a professional dog tracker from Maryland — the closest to Maine she could find — and even offered up her Buell motorcycle, valued at more than $12,000, as a reward to anyone who found Cappuccino. The dog’s body was eventually found by volunteer searchers less than a mile from Nazarenko’s Bowdoin home.
“Two weeks after we buried her, I moved to Nebraska to train to be a dog tracker,” Nazarenko says. “I trained for three months there, and for another three months in Texas.”
She had three cases waiting for her when she arrived back in Maine in June 2011, and hasn’t had a day off since. “We’ve been ridiculously busy,” says Nazarenko, who continues to work as a part-time nurse.
With its swaths of forest, Maine is particularly challenging territory, and pet trackers are often reluctant to take cases here. The woods do offer at least one advantage, however. “Cool and moist conditions help retain scent,” Nazarenko says. “And woods are typically cool and moist.”
Besides Mason, Nazarenko’s canine team includes Bella, a black Lab, Vita, a bloodhound, and Dante, a Belgian Malinois, each of whom brings a particular scenting skill to the search. Their recovery rate is over 90 percent. Dogs are typically found alive. Cats, whose size makes them vulnerable to predators, are less fortunate; Nazarenko finds remains in about 40 percent of her feline cases.
Reunions are the best part of the job, though Nazarenko does not often see them. “A lost dog may be intimidated by my dogs, so when I know an animal is close, I’ll pull my team off and have the pet owner sit there with some really smelly food,” she says. “Sure enough, the dog usually shows up within twenty to thirty minutes. I can hear them. They’re ecstatic.”
The Headache Healer
A Bangor surgeon is drawing patients for rare migraine surgery.
Here’s a new one for you: Migraine surgery. Bangor is the only place in New England, and one of the few places on the East Coast, where migraine sufferers can find a doctor who performs a surgical procedure that significantly relieves, and in many cases permanently eliminates, their pain. Because the surgery is rare, Dr. David Branch’s Northeastern Migraine Surgery Center is attracting patients from eastern Canada to Florida, and even, in one instance, from as far away as Dubai.
A plastic surgeon, Branch trained with Bahman Guyuron, the doctor who pioneered the procedure a few years ago at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Dr. Guyuron was a prolific craniofacial surgeon for cleft lips and palates, who then became a prolific cosmetic surgeon, who then took time off his impressive practice to research migraines,” Branch says. “He began searching for a surgical treatment for migraines when several of his brow-lift patients reported that their migraines had improved after Botox treatments.” Working on the theory that the Botox injections relieved migraines by temporarily weakening the muscles that impinge upon headache-triggering nerves, Guyuron developed a procedure to disconnect the muscles from the nerves, providing permanent relief. His research ultimately led to surgical solutions for three other migraine trigger points — the temples, the back of the neck, and the nasal airway.
Branch left Case Western Reserve to open his Bangor practice while Guyuron was still conducting his studies, but Branch kept abreast of his mentor’s work. His first migraine patient came to see him in Bangor eight years ago. “She was quite desperate,” he says. “She had spent an entire month as an inpatient on IV drips at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. She had gone all over the country to try to get things fixed and was in disbelief to think that there was someone right here in her own community who could help her. I told her we could try it with Botox first. That worked, so she wanted to go for the surgery. She was pain-free from the moment she woke up, and she hasn’t had a headache since.”
About one-third of migraine surgery patients share that patient’s dramatic success; the rest report a significant reduction in the number and severity of headaches, but are not entirely migraine free. “The risks are very low and the side effects are, more times than not, positive,” Branch says. “There may be breathing improvement if I work on the septum and turbinates. If I work on the brow, it rejuvenates the brow a little bit.”
Bangor won’t be able to claim a migraine surgery niche for long, Branch predicts. He has worked with Guyuron as a guest faculty member at Case Western Reserve training others surgeons, and news of the outpatient procedure’s high success rate has spread around the world. “It is definitely something that is catching on,” he says.
“I trained out in San Francisco for about a year putting hands and arms that people had accidentally cut off back on, and they were pretty happy,” Branch continues. “I also do a lot of breast reconstruction, and sometimes you hit a home run and those people are happy, too. But I haven’t seen anyone as happy as my migraine patients.
They have been in chronic pain, and they are sick and tired of talking about it, their spouses are sick of listening to it, and their kids are sick of their parents not being able to follow through with their obligations. When they suddenly have control of their activities, their work, their home space, it is like Shangri-La.”
One Mainer to Another:
“I always liked the smell of all that wood piled in tall rows in the basement. And wood chips all over the ground floor. And the feel of a real wood fire sending its heat up through the registers, up through the veins of the house. A hardwood heat is the kind of dry heat that goes straight to the marrow of your bones. And an old-fashioned register is the best place in the world to dry wet mittens coated with jangling beads of snow.”
— Cathie Pelletier, An Allagash Girlhood