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View from the Porch - Issue 106

Issue 106

By Peter Bass
Illustration by Caroline Magerl.
So here we are in August, our summer-days bank account half empty. Have we spent it well, or have we, in despair over economic woes, left the boat on the beach or not rented that cottage for those two special weeks? As home furnishings retailers, my associates and I are intimately and acutely familiar with the difficult sectors of the economy; we often compete with the decision to buy a car or go on a vacation. I counter with the following: “It is Maine, and this is summer.” My son and his family live in Boulder, Colorado. The New York Times ran an article about Boulder some months ago entitled something like, “Boulder, 25 square miles surrounded by reality.” Boulder may be a bubble that doesn’t exist in Maine at the moment for those making a living here, but the headline speaks to a mental vacation that we can all take from our cares. This is the High Season: the flavors are concentrated, the main course is served. Whatever our circumstances, a summer day in Maine is an overflowing richness that no one can take away. Have a lobster, a burger, or a Bud. Or in my case, all of the above. Reality is still a few days away. We’ve been busy on the porch these past months, so have a seat.
Bird, Plane, Moose?Illustration by Caroline Magerl.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a moose A headline that made news across the nation concerned a brief attempt at flight by a 500-pound moose that launched itself from a highway overpass in Clinton, Maine. An AP story in the Bangor Daily News reported that a motorist called the town office and reported to officials that “a moose just fell out of the sky.” The yearling bull evidently was running from traffic on Interstate 95 and unfortunately picked the overpass to exit the highway. Fortunately, he did not injure any of the motorists below. The reporting driver was “pretty excited,” however, according to the town official who received the call. A passing wrecker removed the carcass. This story ended in tragedy for the moose but fortunately not for the driver observing the leap. There are few collisions between car and moose that do not end in death or damage to one or both parties. This was a close call. More from Bill Last issue we examined the activities of the mysterious but influential Bill, who makes comments on a great variety of aspects of Maine life. Bill doesn’t have much to say during the summer—he’s too busy at the beach—but here are some more headlines about what he did say, each followed by my guess about what Bill’s thinking might have been: » Bill Eyes Western Maine Gambling. I’ve had so much fun at Hollywood Slots in Bangor; I might visit another part of the state if there were anything to do. » Bill Seeks Partial Repeal of Real ID. I think that it is good to make terrorists carry real IDs so we know who they are, but I don’t think we should make everybody do it. » Bill Bars Smoking on Public Beaches. When I’m checking out the bikinis at the beach, the last thing I want is smoke in my eyes. Reassuring news Some issues back we reported on the remarkable 2007 sales record of Maine’s favorite spirit, Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy. In 2008, while the world lurched from one economic catastrophe to the next, we were reassured to note that ACFB not only maintained its dominant position, but also increased both sales volume and bottle count slightly over the previous year. Maine’s Bureau of Consumption and Moral Dissipation just reported the facts (we are indebted to the Bangor Daily News for its summary): In this year’s spiritual smack-down, ACFB whipped old number two, Orloff Vodka, by a factor of four. The earth remains on its axis. While other states haughtily boast of their craft beers and artisan wines, we glorify a beverage whose base ingredient probably arrives in New England in a tank car. Given the size of ACFB’s lead over the competition, we don’t expect a big change in 2009. So how do they do it? Perhaps the only way to know is to stage a little test of your own: purchase the available coffee brandies, and set up a blind taste test in your own home. Perhaps you can find a local bar in Rockland to serve “flights” of ACFB and its host of imitators to you and your friends when you attend the MBH&H boat and home show in August (7-9, 2009). How about an ACFB and Moxie cooler? Chestnuts The American chestnut tree is woven into our image of America even though it is almost impossible to find one today. Think: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” from “The Christmas Song” by Torme and Wells in 1947, or “Under a spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands,” the opening line of Longfellow’s poem, “Village Blacksmith.” I thought that the chestnut trees had totally disappeared until I saw an item in the Lewiston Sun Journal noting that the May meeting of the Western Maine Chapter of the Small Woodland Owners Association would be held at a Livermore Falls woodlot and would feature a tour of one of the largest groves of disease-free American chestnuts in Maine. This sent me to Wikipedia to find out the status of the great American chestnut since its near total wipeout by the Asian bark fungus, brought in on Asiatic chestnut trees around 1900. The Asiatic chestnuts are resistant to the blight, but not the American. Eventually three to four billion American chestnut trees, once the most common hardwood in the Appalachians, were destroyed. Besides the trees in Maine, there are a number of remaining examples elsewhere. A couple of organizations are working on restoration of the tree. One group is focusing on disease-resistant pure American chestnuts, and another group is creating seedlings that are one-sixteenth Asiatic for resistance. See http://ipm.ppws.vt.edu/griffin/accf.html and www.acf.org for information on their progress. Over the Bar In his life and work, Phil Bolger designed so many surprising boats that his fans would have been surprised if he did something too conventional. His death, by his own hand, at age 81, was another surprise that many have found un-surprising in retrospect. He lived a prolific life on his own terms, and decided when and how it should end. In the Gloucester Daily Times online, his wife and business partner of many years, Susanne Altenburger, described his death as “part of his narrative,” and “soberly considered” as he sensed his mental abilities to be failing. Phil Bolger left behind an enormous body of work, hundreds of designs built by thousands of people. He turned many people into boatbuilders and delighted them all with boats of beauty or sometimes of brutal utility. I built his 15-foot Gypsy, part of the Instant Boat series, and enjoyed every minute of it. Thank you Mr. Bolger. Lobster 101 Anyone who consumes a dozen or so lobsters a year probably considers him/herself something of a lobster expert. In a previous column, we listed several books to make you the lobster expert on your porch. Now there is a better way: go to the Lobster Institute’s Lobster College, held in Boothbay over an extended weekend in September (17-20, 2009). The Lobster Institute is a joint venture of the University of Maine and Maine’s lobster industry associations, and is dedicated to “protecting, conserving, and enhancing the lobster resource and lobstering as an industry.” They are a great resource for all things lobster. With the Kenniston Hill B&B in Boothbay, they sponsor The Lobster College. There you can meet other lobsterphiles, learn about all aspects of our favorite crustacean, eat a lot of lobster, and support the institute. By the time this is published there might still be time to sign up, space permitting. It is a tempting proposition, although I might be more likely to invest the tuition directly in lobsters. If it sounds like fun to you or if you just want to gather some tidbits for the next porch party conversation (for example: “Do you know your telsons from your uropods?”), check out www.lobsterinstitute.org. Hard-alee I remember a quotation from years ago that went something like, “A mother can have no greater proof of her daughter’s shame than for her to come home with a sailor.” (I cannot recall the source of the quote; perhaps one of my dozen or so regular readers will help.) A recent study, however, indicates that her daughter might not have been making such a poor choice after all, shame or no shame. Yachting Monthly reported that a Dutch study found that couples who engaged in outdoor activities were much better at engaging in indoor activities also, in particular when the outdoor activities happened to be boating and sailing. Evidently, this supposedly thorough scientific study, which involved wiring up couples in various ways to measure their libido, potency, and so on, actually confirmed what sailors have boasted about for generations: nothing beats a firm hand on the tiller. Being the scholar that I am, however, and wishing to provide our readers with links to the rumors behind the news, I ran down the Dutch “study” quoted by Yachting Monthly and discovered that it was actually an April Fool’s joke, a genre with which I am not entirely unfamiliar (see my article about the Double Dipper 44, MBH&H #94). For those of you who would like to follow this thread of scholarship further, see: http://yachtpals.com/sex-sailing-4126. As Madeline Kahn said in the movie “Blazing Saddles,” “It’s twue, it’s twue!”
donut shop illustrationIllustration by Caroline Magerl.
Meanwhile, back in Vassalboro Maine and the nation have enjoyed the ongoing public debate in Vassalboro regarding the operation of the Grand View, a topless coffee shop, and the owner’s most recent plan to expand the operation to include what the trade refers to as “exotic dancing.” The troubles that the good folks of Vassalboro have endured, both from the existence of the business itself and the unwanted national press exposure it has caused, have prompted other towns and cities to examine their own codes to prevent similar businesses from opening due to the absence of ordinances to the contrary. At this writing, for example, Waterville officials have cast their eyes on the matter. Just as young men when I was one claimed they read πlayboy for the articles, I am sure that some patrons claim they go to Vassalboro for the doughnuts or the coffee. If the food and drink were that good, one would think the shop would have a nice take-out business, too. Maybe there’s a drive-through? Let me know. This just in: “Arson destroys the Grand View Coffee Shop.” As we write, it appears that some self-righteous vigilante decided to express himself with fire instead of through the local political process. The fire nearly cost lives as well as property. The owner says he is determined to rebuild, and the arsonist remains at large. No winners here. The Mothball Fleet Many boat owners might remember 2009 as the year they left their boats on the beach. In spite of optimistic press releases to the contrary (a Boat/US member survey indicated that less than one percent of respondents would not go boating this year), the number of boats still in winter cocoons in mid-June belies such reports. During flush times, the boats still high and dry in midsummer fell into two categories: Broken Dreams, and what I call the Children of Divorce, disputed assets waiting for another dreamer. To these we now add a new group, The Mothball Fleet of the Temporarily Impecunious. As a one-time contributor to all three groups of the “hard ground navy,” I know that there is a story behind each one, many with a happy ending. Let’s hope so. Blame Canada Here on the porch, we are always on guard for any sign that summer might be slipping away. Sometime in the third week of August a cold front moves through, and the cool air mass behind it reminds us why we don’t annex Canada. It is also the two-minute warning, the bell lap, the five-minute gun, the reminder of the short and priceless nature of a Maine summer. For those whose financial circumstances and lack of school-age children allow leisure in the fall, September can be a bonus month. Those from away are learning what we have long known: September can often be the best month; the water is warm, the sailing breezes are more dependable, and the days are so clear that the view from Cadillac, Battie, or Morse mountains can be a religious experience. If this magazine were not “The Magazine of the Coast,” I would argue that the Best View in the State of Maine is from the top of Mt. Kineo on Moosehead Lake. But wait, someone else on the porch is blathering on about her idea of the Best View in the State of Maine. So excuse me, I have someone to straighten out. Feet up, binoculars at the ready.


Long-time MBH&H Contributing Editor, freelance writer, and raconteur Peter Bass is an owner of Maine Cottage Furniture. Click here to read other articles by Peter Bass >> To submit your comments... newsy tidbits, photos, illustrations, clippings, rants, and raves for possible use in this column, use the form below. Or mail to “View From the Porch,” P.O. Box 758, Camden, ME 04843 or fax to 207-236-0811. Items may be edited for length and clarity; materials become the property of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, Inc.