Wednesday, June 25, 2008

People ask why we live here. Compare this lead news story to local leads in, say, Los Angeles or Detroit.

Squirrel wreaks havoc in Bath

BATH — Bath City Hall was evacuated this morning as city firefighters and police officers were stretched thin in a chaotic brownout that affected 300 residents.

Bath Fire Chief Stephen Hinds, soon after allowing city workers to re-enter the building around 9 a.m., said the evacuation was a precautionary measure after an air conditioner "smelled hot."

Among the other stops for the city's public safety officials were 23 Dummer St., where a transformer was humming, 71 Denny Road, where an alarm went off, and 2 Davenport Circle, where an occupied elevator stopped between floors. All the situations were triggered when power supplies to key pieces of machinery were reduced by the brownout.

"The air conditioning unit was on, and it was calling for power," said Hinds of the situation at City Hall. "It was starving for power and wasn't getting it, so it started to heat up."

The unit was unplugged and power to the front section of City Hall was turned off temporarily, said Hinds.

Central Maine Power spokeswoman Gail Rice said that a squirrel in a North Bath substation caused the problem, and estimated that the city's power supply should be back to normal by midday.

Follow Up

Is it possible that the squirrel in question was a trained terrorist operative? Imagine thousands of these squirrels attacking the US power grid. These insidious rodents could infiltrate the country without notice and at a signal attack transformers throughout the country, bringing us to our knees, without the risk of interception of more traditional attacks, now that all shoes are being checked at our airports. And it would be cheap. These fellows work for peanuts!

Concert Video from St. Augustine
We were recorded when we performed at Flagler College last February. Here is a storytelling segment.

Thanks to John Birney, who promoted the concert, and to Josh and the crew at FCTV, who filmed it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

We will be doing a concert at the Union Church, Route 32 in Bremen Maine 7:30 next Saturday, June 28. This one was added after last month's newsletter went out.

Cutler Harbor
We took a couple of days off from The Grand Design to visit Cutler, Maine, with our friends, Delia Mae and Margie. Delia's house, called Ruth's Retreat, is the white one past the end of the wharf in this photo of Cutler Harbor. Cutler is way Downeast, almost to the Canadian border. This working harbor (I counted 37 lobster boats) has about three dozen houses and two churches. The grocery/diner closed about five years ago. If you like to get away, this is the place!

As we were walking about the village we came across an off-the-grid establishment. I counted no less than seven solar collection arrays and three windmills.

On Saturday we visited the site of Native American petroglyphs: some are three millenia or more in age. They were difficult to see because it was foggy and the light was diffuse. It did make me reflect on how little this part of the world has changed.

Jasper Beach

We also stopped at Jasper Beach, so called because most of the stones are jasper. There is only one other beach like it in the world, located somewhere in Japan. When I was a kid we used to come here are get stones for a lapidary and tumbler that we played around with for a few years. Bear in mind that in those days a trip from Harmony, Maine, to Jasper Beach must have taken about five hours.

The roads are much improved from the mid 1960's, although they are in need of repair. Many towns have cut back on road repair. The state is strapped for funds and the federal government has squandered billions of tax dollars and decreased the value of those we have left. I suppose the pendulum will eventually swing the other way. I hope it's soon.

Strawberries are ripe!

The wild strawberries are ripe and a roadside stands are featuring native grown cultivated berries now. Julia picked enough of these little guys for us each to have a small bowl with whipped cream. Decadent!

The roses are starting to bloom, the peonies are in full swing, daylilies will be along soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A busy week!


Things have been hopping here on the Pemaquid peninsula. On Saturday we had to raise the alarm when Damariscotta was attacked by pirates. No blood was shed, although there were a number of duels throughout the day and a few purloined cupcakes.

We raised a crew of female sailors bold to help us with all this, as well as to be the chorus for a sea song sing along on Main Street. There were lots of folks taking pictures but nobody has sent any to us yet.

Sunday we shifted gears and played for gallery reception at the Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland. The switch from raucous sea songs to elegant instrumental music is sometimes startling to people who haven't seen us in a variety of settings. On the one hand it should keep us from getting pigeonholed; on the other people sometimes don't get what they expect.

The Flower Report

We were told about this field of lupine. The picture really can't do justice to the reality. It has been cool and wet here since last Sunday, so the flowers are lasting longer than they would in hot weather.

The Grand Design progress report

We have scoped out the space where we will be mounting Julia's play, The Grand Design, next month. I think the term "blank slate" fits this pretty well. Our plan is to borrow some sails to create some back stage and wing space and add some platforms for vertical interest. Yesterday I started building the stand for the ship's wheel. Next task is to sort out the lighting situation. The installed lights aren't appropriate for a theatrical production. I don't even think the building has three phase power, so we're looking at portable solutions.

Little Brown Church Concert

Last night was the opening concert of the tenth season of concerts at the Little Brown Church in Round Pond. We set up the series, perform two or three of the concerts and host most of the rest.

Last night was Schooner Fare, who have been performing for 35 years. They always ask us to sit in on a song or two. At this concert we even decided what key to play in before we got on stage (not always the case!) Chuck and Steve are great guys who have been ambassadors of Maine culture all over the US and Canada. The Canadians generally get the jokes; some parts of the U.S. don't have a clue.

OK, let me know if you see the humor in this quote from an obituary published a few years ago.

"Euell Gibbons died today of natural causes."

Untill next time!

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Alewives and weddings

What do we do here in Maine when there's no news (see previous post). In the winter we go down to the lighthouse during a good blow and watch the waves. In May and early June we go to the fish ladder and watch the alewives. Alewives, also called menhaden or (in New Brunswick) gaspereau.

These fish spend their adult life at sea in great schools. In the spring they run up the rivers to freshwater spawning grounds. The alewives that call the Damariscotta River home have a daunting 42 foot vertical climb. The fish ladder in Damariscotta Mills was first built in 1807. It is amazing to see the fish swim from pool to pool as they battle the swift current. And when they reach the mill pond they are greeted by three very large, well-fed bass.

The fishery was closed for eight years to allow the stock to recover from decades of overfishing. Alewives were once used as food for people, but they are oily and bony and in recent years have been used primarily as lobster bait. There is a provision in the town ordinances of Newcastle and Nobleboro alloting a bushel of alewives to each widow in the town. During the eight-year moritorium the "widow's bushels" were still taken. These fish were designated by the widows to fishermen that they knew.

'Tis the Season for Weddings

This is one of our favourite signs. We play a lot of weddings in the summer and a sign like this helps us stay in balance. The cool thing is - you really CAN get wedding gowns, guns, and cold beer at Husseys. You can also get garden tools, groceries, gasoline, wood stoves, plumbing supplies, and on and on. It's amazing how much stuff they have packed into a fairly modest store.

They also have some strange and wonderful things from time to time. I once saw a placard with little packs of donut seeds. The tag said "Modern Agricultural Miracle - Donut Seeds - 50¢".
In each package were six Cheerios® . I don't know how many Cheerios® are in a box, but the profit margin seems substantial.

We tried a similar scheme years ago when we lived at the beach. "Memories of Maine Simmering Potpourri - made from select fermented marine herbs". What we did was take a handful of rockweed off the beach and dry it out in the oven. A pinch of this stuff in boiling water and your house smells just like clam flats at low tide.

We have given up these schemes in recent years and have been doing only music-related work. I do build an instrument occasionally, the latest being Julia's new harp. I have three baroque guitars ready to assemble when I get a few weeks at home when it's dry enough to do my lutherie; I also have plans for an acoustic bass guitar. I really like the sound of a fretless bass with the harp, so it's high on my wish list.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Painted Turtle Migration: Lend a Hand!

Twice a year the painted turtles cross the road. They seem to move in the late spring and again in the autumn. You can see them sunning themselves on logs or rocks near the water in the summer, but you never see them crossing the road then.

Turtles are slow. Cars are fast. We always stop to carry the turtles across whenever possible. It doesn't cost us anything and the turtles don't seem to mind. It's the purest kind of good deed: the turtles aren't going to do us any favors in return.

(Caution: don't try this with snapping turtles!)

On This Day In Maine...
Nothing Happened!
The big news in Maine today is no news. This is an actual screen shot from this afternoon.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What's the Big Deal About Rhubarb?

Anybody who listens to A Praire Home Companion has heard the rhubarb skits. It suddenly occurred to me that there are probably some people who don't know what rhubarb is all about.

Rhubarb probably originated in China. Earliest records date back to 2700 BC where rhubarb was cultivated for medicinal purposes. Marco Polo, knew all about the Chinese rhubarb rhizome and talked about it at length in the accounts of his travels.

Varieties of rhubarb have a long history as medicinal plants in traditional Chinese medicine, but the use of rhubarb as food is a relatively recent innovation, first recorded in 17th century England, after affordable sugar became available to common people.

Early records of rhubarb in America identify an unnamed Maine gardener as having obtained seed or root stock from Europe in the period between 1790-1800. He introduced it to growers in Massachusetts where its popularity spread and by 1822 it was sold in produce markets.

In the days before long-distance produce shipping the people who lived in the northern parts of the country went from October until May without having any fresh vegetables. True - carrots, cabbages, squash and some varieties of apples would keep until early spring but they lacked the freshness of something new-grown. The three earliest edibles here in Maine are rhubarb, dandelion, and fiddleheads. You have to know where to find (unclaimed) fiddleheads and you only have a few days to harvest dandelion before it is too bitter to eat. Reliable old rhubarb grows where you plant it without much trouble - in fact it can be hard to eradicate if you try to get rid of it. Every old farmstead in Maine had rhubarb growing somewhere. On the south side of a stone barn foundation, where it gets plenty of sun and natural fertilizer, it comes early and grows big.

The pretty red kind you find in supermarkets these days is mild stuff compared to some of the rhubarb we had as kids. I remember one patch where it was grass-green with 4-5 foot stems. I don't think there is enough sugar in all of Cuba to sweeten a pot of those old plants. Of course, as kids we would eat the raw stalks.

There was also a belief that rhubarb would "clean out your system", which was deemed a desirable thing to do in the spring; indeed, rhubarb can do that if you eat too much.

The last few years Julia has been adding a little bit of fresh or candied ginger to the rhubarb pie. Try it, it's nice! We also were served rhubarb juice at a health food restaurant in New Brunswick. Lightly stew the rhubarb and strain it through a jelly bag. Keep the juice in the back of your refrigerator. Use it like lemonade extract.

A Strange Visitor

This fellow is an Eastern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor). While we have often come home after a gig late at night to find all the downstairs windows and doors covered with hundreds of spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), this is the first time one of these has visited. He spent the entire afternoon on the living room door. Late in the afternoon I moved him to an oak tree, a much better place for a tree frog. He almost disappeared on the mottled trunk.

Who needs a fly on the wall when you have a frog on the door?