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View from the Porch - Issue 121

Issue 121

By Peter Bass
Now that summer is in full swing and the various critters that spent the winter poking around the cottage for the odd bit of dog kibble have been sent back outside for the summer, we can get down to the serious business of porch sitting and yacht spotting. The time of writing for this issue is early June, after the ups and downs of a Maine spring have passed, and the opening chores at these seasonal and somewhat primitive structures we inhabit for the summer are complete. Now we wonder if we will have a few months of sunshine or a few months of fog and rain. I remember a summer as a teenager when I had a job at a local lumber company in Wilton, Maine, and drove to Boothbay every Friday night and back early Monday morning. It was, on the weekends at least, a summer without sunshine, although 80 miles inland during the week it was a typical mix. As you read this in the high season, the pattern will have been set and your 2012 weather memories more than half embedded. My turn at the cottage will have come and gone, so my impressions of summer weather will be sealed. May yours continue to accumulate until the water goes off in October. In the meantime, let’s check the State o’ Mind in the State o’ Maine. Roll Tide
All illustrations by Ted Walsh
It seems that the promise of the rejected depression-era Quoddy Project to harness the big tides of Cobscook Bay has come true, but without the giant construction impacts of that project if it had gone forward. The tides are not being harnessed—as in restrained—but rather their energy is being extracted by underwater turbines spinning in the tidal flow. Ocean Renewable Power Company of Portland has moved beyond the prototype phase and is now hooking up a test array of turbines to the grid via Bangor Hydro. In an article by Tom Walsh in the Bangor Daily News, the latest phase is large enough to warrant the demarcation of the site by lighted buoys to warn other marine interests of the spinning turbines near the bottom in 80 feet of water. Obviously not a hazard to surface navigation, the turbines could cause some issues for dragging and anchoring. What we’re waiting for on the porch is a sci-fi movie featuring giant creatures who have learned to feed on the electric power source and now threaten mankind. What we’ll probably get is a protest movement decrying the vertigo suffered by small creatures as they whirl through the turbines. Of course if any lobsters are killed the whole project will be shut down. A friend from Cornwall in the UK presented me with the book (title: Para Handy) about a year ago, and I try to knock down a few stories every week or so. It is like a good friend who understands your absences and always treats you just as well when you return. The author is Neil Munro, who wrote the stories as a series in a newspaper in Glasgow. That’s enough information to start you on your quest to find Captain Para Handy. McElligot’s Pool, Native Americans & the Alewife On the day I write this particular entry, representatives from the Passamaquoddy Tribe and other Wabanaki communities are taking part in a 100-mile relay run northward along the St. Croix River to mirror the migration of the alewife when the river ran free. Known also to the tribe as the Schoodic or Passamaquoddy River, the St. Croix had a run of alewives that was very important as a food fish to the Native American communities through history, and merits a sacred spot in tribal lore, according to an article in the Quoddy Tides newspaper of May 25, 2012. Members of the Schoodic Riverkeepers, a Passamaquoddy group that organized the run, also see the attempts of the alewife, or siqonomeqok, to live freely in its ancestral home as corollary to the Native American experience. The deep and spiritual resonance of the alewife run is understandably very powerful. In 1995, the Maine Legislature blocked the St. Croix’s fishways to alewife migration at the request of upstream smallmouth bass guides; a move I remember as being based on anecdotal information rather than scientific evidence that alewives interfered with bass. Certainly smallmouth bass and river-run herring coexist in many rivers, the Potomac being one example. Here on the porch we are not aware of any instances when removing barriers to anadromous fish was a bad idea. We’ll hang with the Passamaquoddy people on this one. My view on the free flow of rivers dates to one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, McElligots’s Pool. In it a boy is challenged by an adult about the potential of a small farm pond to hold any fish worth catching. To the boy, however, there is an entirely different set of possibilities in his imagination; the pond may be connected to the great oceans by an underground stream and thereby provide angling opportunities only a child’s imagination can muster. To me, removing dams, or providing access around them, is my version of McElligot’s Pool; it links my little pond in a corner of America to the great oceans. Maybe Dr. Seuss had some Native American in him. Boom Town
All illustrations by Ted Walsh
In looking forward to the Fourth of July as I write this, I expect that the noise level might be considerably louder this year with the increased availability of fireworks in the state. A wide variety of noisemakers that were previously banned are now popping up in fireworks stores since a change in the law at the beginning of 2012. One of the law’s provisions, however, allows local communities the option to ban sales or use. I am sure that this will prevent the illegal use of firecrackers in those municipalities, just as the now-defunct statewide ban thwarted families from smuggling in a few boxes on the way home from a Florida vacation. If fireworks are now a local option like the sales of alcohol, what do we now call a town that has chosen to be dry in the fireworks sense? With booze, it was easy: you had your “dry” towns and your “wet” towns, and in the beer- and wine-only towns, your “moist.” So what will be the informal nomenclature of firecrackers? Boom town? Sleepy town? Combining the fireworks and alcohol description will be even more fun. There could be signs like “Welcome to Wilton, a great place to live, work, and play in a quiet, moist environment.” Big Ferry, Small Cars Back in May, Andrew Frederick reported in The Working Waterfront about the new Vinalhaven ferry, the Captain E. Frank Thompson. Evidently there was a miscalculation concerning the width of some of the parking places, requiring a late modification to the vessel and extra expense. Mr. Fredrick’s description makes the modification sound like a tacked-on contrivance combined with re-dimensioning other spaces to reach the designed number. This reminded me of boarding a British Midlands flight to Edinburgh from London, with seat reservations in the corner in the back in the dark. The seats all looked the same in width, but it was a trick of the eye; the ones furthest aft narrowed a bit in several successive rows until the last ones were actually several inches narrower. I plopped myself down only to discover that my hip bones (notice I didn’t use the expression “fleshy butt”) were firmly wedged between the seat sides. After a delicate extraction I was moved to a standard-sized seat with inches to spare. Perhaps the designer who insured the proper number of seats in my plane is now a naval architect who drives a Mini. Back to the ferry, the rest of the inaugural voyage went well with the exception of some windage problems pushing the boat off course. Evidently the new ferry has considerably more superstructure with the same draft as its predecessor. Those handling issues are expected to be of less consequence as the captains gain experience with the new vessel. Elver Season Wrapup In the last issue we reported on the occasional madness and bad behavior that surrounds the elver fishery when the price for the slimy little buggers hits unreal levels. The season opened at around $2,000 per pound and finished over $2,500 12 weeks later, according to Stephen Rappaport in the Ellsworth American. Mr. Rappaport noted that the price was around $35 per pound not too many years ago. The other wrinkle this year was the decision of the Passamaquoddy Tribe to jump into the fishery by issuing more than 200 licenses late in the season. The warden service had their hands full nearly every night for the 3-month season, as one might guess given high prices and a limit of 407 licenses available to non-Native American fishermen. Even nights when the fishery was closed were busy for the wardens. It should be great fun to see how the season opens next year, and if any other states beside Maine and South Carolina allow a fishery. There must be other elver runs. Why should just two states have all the fun? The Boon Island Heebie-Jeebies
All illustrations by Ted Walsh
Finally, a news item in Seacoast Online, penned by Susan Morse, caught my eye. It seems that the town of York may get involved in bidding for the Boon Island Lighthouse. Like many now-automated lights, Boon Island is to be given away to a government or non-profit agency, or sold to individuals if neither of the former entities steps up to the plate. If you have had the chance to pass Boon Island in a boat, and also have read Kenneth Roberts’s Boon Island, a fictionized account of shipwrecked sailors resorting to cannibalism to survive, the experience can really give you the heebie-jeebies. Though only eight miles or so from swank York, Maine, it is a place of frightening beauty. The Boon Island story is rooted in history: the wreck of a British ship in the winter of 1710. A good place to read the history of the island and its light is www.lighthouse.cc/boon/history.html in an article by Jeremy D’Entremont. And if you haven’t read Roberts’s novel, by all means do so. I read it as a youth and it has stuck with me ever since. Better yet read it with a grandchild, though not a young one. Thanks for joining us on the porch at the peak of the season. The summer is so short that sometimes it feels like a guilty pleasure just to sit down and read a book, unless it’s too foggy to get out on the water. But to simply relax can be the best use of precious time. If you are reading, I hope you are well into Para Handy by Neil Munro (you did read last issue’s column, didn’t you?). As Capt. Handy would say, a Maine summer is “chust sublime.” Drink a toast and look to sea Don’t miss out for any reason Coastal Maine in high season Summer solstice now long past Those endless days just couldn’t last. Boating traffic can be trying Docklines dragging, fenders flying Remember that we’re watching you Nothing better we to do. The evening glass now make ready To the porch with hands steady A rhyme with ready now I fail Binocs in hand, feet on the rail.


Long-time MBH&H Contributing Editor Peter Bass is a freelance writer and raconteur who divides his time between porches in Maine and Virginia. 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 566, Rockland, ME 04841 or fax to 207-593-0026. Items may be edited for length and clarity; materials become the property of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, Inc.