Why L.L. Bean started making all those kayaks, canoes, and duck boots

Maine is bigger than you’d think, and half of it is still unpopulated.

In fact, the easternmost county in the USA is more than twice the size of Rhode Island or New York’s Long Island – or, if you prefer, bigger than the two of them put together. And it’s merely half of Downeast Maine, with Hancock County comprising most of the western flank.

Washington County, aka “Sunrise County,” has a population of only 32,000 – about the size of Juneau or Fairbanks, Alaska, or Dover, New Hampshire, my home of the previous 21 years. You know, the one I repeatedly referred to as a small city. My, how my perspective’s changing!

Most Downeast folks live near the rugged coastline, with the largest municipality in Washington County being Calais, the connection to mainland Canada, followed by Machias-East Machias, Eastport, Lubec, and Jonesport.

The four largest public high schools have about a hundred graduates a year – combined.

One of the many streams and wetlands.

There are many reasons Downeast reminds me of the Far West, though it’s generally much wetter. In fact, 21 percent of the county is covered with water, much of it as big ponds running along the valleys between the low-elevation mountains. Many of these often island-specked bodies extend two to five miles in length and at least a mile across. And that’s before getting to the bogs and fens or wild rivers and tide meadows or marshes and swamps or prolific beaver ponds. The technical definitions vary, depending perhaps on how wet your shoes get. Quibble as folks might, the northern half of the county seems to be more lakes and wetlands than solid ground. I’m not sure if the Atlantic bays and coves even count in this tally. Quite simply, we’re surrounded by a lot of liquid, so watch where you step.

Lake Meddybemps

What also strikes me is how little development rings the shoreline of the lakes. Many have only a few “camps,” as we New Englanders call the cabins, trailers, or cottages and their docks, with the remainder in full, unspoiled forest. Make a bid, if you must.

It does make for a lot of unspoiled tranquility, for those who are so inclined, if you can deal with black flies and mosquitos. Moose often come as a bonus.

Often you’ll even see a beaver lodge.

Now I’m wondering how our utility bills stack up

With a landmass of 16,577 square miles, the country of Denmark is almost exactly half the size of Maine and has six-times the population of the Pine Tree State. Yet Denmark uses close to 10,000 megawatts of power annually, about double of what Maine uses.

If my math’s right, that means they’re using only a third of what we do, per capita.

How do they do it?

We both have cold winters with long nights. And most of us rely on fuel oil for heat.

And, for the record, nearly half of Maine is uninhabited, year-‘round, meaning the lived-in part of Maine’s about the size of Denmark. They do stay warm and keep the lights on, don’t they?

Running on the wind

One sight always catches our breath as we drive Route 9 across what sometimes feels like the fringe of civilization as we’ve known it. And, for the uninitiated, the state highway from Bangor to Calais can become pretty monotonous in its long uninhabited stretches. As they say, make sure you have a full tank of fuel before you tackle it.

On a clear day, from a dozen miles away you might catch glimpses of a corner of the windfarms on Weaver Ridge and adjoining hills in Hancock County – I’ve counted at least 30 towers before the road dips away – but there are more tucked away in the high terrain. Still, nothing can prepare you for that first flash of the big blades turning gently in the air right in front of your face, or so it seems.

Each blade weighs 1½ tons, even though it appears svelte.

They dance gracefully – sometimes as a solo, then as a pair, or four. You spot them to your left but they suddenly show up on your right – the roadway twists along the slope. As those slip behind you, more giants rise above the hedge of forest. And all too soon, you’ve moved on.

The towers and their blades are bigger than you’d suspect. In fact, at the moment, they’re the tallest wind-powered electrical generators onshore in America, though much larger ones are projected for offshore installation.

The hub stands 382 feet above the ground – that’s more than the length of a football field – and the blade tips reach to 585 feet.

Wind generation accounts for nearly a third of the electrical production in Maine, though the state also imports a fourth of its electricity from Canada, largely Hydro Quebec.

I am baffled by the “not-in-my-backyard” opponents to similar windfarms. They still want energy for their computers and refrigerators and lighting, right?

A tractor-trailer rig could easily be parked in the gearbox or “cabin” attached to the hub.

As if these “spoil the view”? I find them mesmerizing, even enhancing as a kind of sculpture and a reminder of the currents in the air itself. They definitely look better than a toxic oil refinery – and there’s no awful smell. For that matter, they strike me as much more attractive than a television transmitter or cell phone tower as a hilltop crown. And they do remind us of the charming Dutch windmills in a much smaller scale.

The latest installation, 22 Vesta towers and turbines, cost $150 million and went into full operation earlier this year.

Sometimes they seem to play peek-a-boo as you drive.

No more Comcast!

Or Xfinity, as they also say.

I was perplexed that they kept raising the price on our broadband service, seemingly monthly, and then privately complained about monopoly abuse. We haven’t had a TV for years, but for some reason, that didn’t affect the pricing, however they tried to justify that.

Canceling when we moved, though, was a great pleasure. Besides, our new provider is $720 a year cheaper for the same service, perhaps because there’s some competition.

Not everybody’s sticking to broadband for digital access, either.

As a blogger and author, though, I’m just not ready to do all my online stuff on a smart phone. Not that the option couldn’t be tempting.

 

 

Truly subversive

After his conversion in prison, Charles Colson held aloft Francis of Assisi and the early Quaker George Fox as his two examples of what happens when a person devotes his whole life to Christ.

Earlier, when Colson was in the White House, he oversaw the FBI creating subversives’ files for Fox and fellow Quaker William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and anybody else whose name they found on public Quaker Meeting newsletters.

Yes, beware of true religion.

 

Moving past Covid

Yes, we were Zooming, as our monthly gathering of religious leaders in town has been doing for the past year, but the suggestion did come as a jolt.

For decades now, the largely informal group has been a way of supporting each other, clergy and laity, as friends and neighbors, and out of that has grown joint activity, such as our community-wide Thanksgiving, Blue Christmas, and Martin Luther King services or overnight shelter for the homeless in the depth of winter or recognition of challenges we face as congregations. It’s one of the things I will especially miss in moving from Dover.

“We need to think carefully about how we come out of Covid,” the Congregational pastor mused. “We need to give it the same attention we did going into the restrictions.”

We still haven’t had the conversation. Maybe we will on our next agenda. But she’s right. Our new normal won’t be the same as the old.

I’ve been hoping that when the restrictions are lifted and we’re all immunized, we’ll be hungry to be back in public get-togethers more than ever, including worship. But there’s also the reality that we’ve fallen out of social habits and may cling to our newer stay-at-home routines. There’s a recognition that for some, continuing the online connections may be beneficial – for invalids or people living at a distance, especially. In addition, a Zoom session can be more convenient than driving hours to a committee meeting, as we’re finding, though it also has drawbacks.

As organizations, we appear to have kept a loyal core but also seen, I sense, newer participants drift away. Can we find ways to lure them back or attract others once we’re “open again”?

~*~

You’ve probably already seen the report that for the first time since the figures were kept, church, synagogue, and similar membership in the U.S. has fallen below 50 percent. Some of the reaction has noted a difference between joining in a congregation in contrast to unaffiliated “spiritual” identity. Some other commentators have derided religion altogether, but we should also be aware of declining membership in various associations across the board. One of the things that struck Alexis de Tocqueville about American society in his travels in 1831-1832 was the degree to which we were joiners. Not just in churches but also trade and economic associations, fraternal societies, political parties, lodges and clubs, sports teams, choruses, bands, and theatrical groups, and more.

While I don’t consider myself to be especially “social,” I’m still a member of a half-dozen groups, and I’m not counting those that are essentially an annual donation and a membership card or magazine in return.

Not so for the younger generation. One daughter does belong to the county beekeepers’ group, but that’s it.

As others have noted, that’s not a good sign for building democracy or community.

~*~

But folks are understandably restless. Already, everyplace seems to be booked up for vacation travel. (Glad we have a place that’s suddenly “in.”)

That transition from lockdown to normal now promises to transpire over the summer, giving organizations a chance to anticipate the changes and readjust more slowly. There’s so much we don’t know, after all.

And we haven’t even touched on the future of retailing and other local business.

What are you looking forward to post-Covid? And when?

Think you’ll miss Zoom?

 

A vital extension opens on the community trail

Dover’s four-mile-long community trail is a gem and has provided more than a few photo ops I’ve shared here at the Barn. Its southern leg starts at the Amtrak station downtown and, until recently, ended unceremoniously at residential Fisher Street with some delightful scenes in-between. Considered the urban leg, it’s paved for bicycle use as well as pedestrians and runners.

The northern leg kicks off at Fourth Street and follows the Cocheco River up to Watson Road, with its waterfalls and dam. One kink in that route – approaching at the Spaulding Turnpike bridge – was cleared up a few years ago, as was improved access to the trail itself at Fourth Street more recently. Some memorable cross-country skiing from the Watson Falls down to the Spaulding and back had me feeling I was up in the White Mountains rather than still inside the city limits.

Now, after being on the drawing board for more than six years, a 2,000-foot-long portion of the rail-to-trail pathway has extended the southern end almost all the way to the Sawyer Mills apartments and made ready access for middle- and high-school students.

No motorized vehicles allowed. What a delightful luxury! I think of the trail as Dover’s own Central Park.

There were complications getting permission to skirt some commercial properties along the way, as well as drainage issues and some serious poison ivy. Remaining railroad ties made walking difficult – forget the bicycle or the baby stroller.

Now that winter’s over, the stretch has been graded and paved and, where necessary, fenced off – in a stylish way, I’d say – and while some final touches remain, it’s already attracting happy pedestrian traffic.

You can bet I’ll be checking it out on my return visits.

It’s somebody’s back yard. Really. An industrial parking lot is just ahead on the trail.

 

Let’s see how this fits in reverse

About four or five years ago, I returned to my car in the supermarket parking lot and found a magnetic strip attached to the door. Mine wasn’t the only one. Many other cars had them.

The message deeply offended me. Still does.

For perspective, let me change one word – and then a few others to match – to see how the logic flows, or doesn’t. Here goes:

So you support Trump-Pence. This means you …

  1. Are stupid (which can’t be cured)
  2. Have been duped, indoctrinated or brainwashed (curable!)
  3. Actually believe in class warfare, white supremacy or the failed concepts of Capitalism, self-made man, etc. (which makes you a domestic enemy of the Constitution and the U.S.A.)
  4. Are ignorant of the facts – which are readily available. So if you have no desire to get the facts or once learned, you refuse to change your ways – please refer back to 1, 2, or 3.

“If we lose freedom here, then there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth” – Ronald Reagan.

~*~

The original, however, accused me of supporting a Socialist, along with an entitlement mentality, Collectivism, and Marxism, all because of my Bernie sticker.

The hit-and-run messenger was cowardly, of course. Presumptuous. Prejudiced (this person knew nothing about me, after all, except for a campaign sticker). A bully, trying to intimidate me or stifle my freedom of speech.

But I’m still deeply miffed about the bigger problem of a blinding power of labels to obstruct civil discourse and thoughtful consideration of public issues.

Socialist, after all, does not necessarily mean Marxist. To the contrary, it was an element of early Christianity, if you read the book of Acts and New Testament epistles closely.

Yes, the balconies

The old Foster’s Daily Democrat newspaper plant had been added to willy-nilly over the years, and there was no way of hiding that in the building’s transformation to multi-use tenancy. As we’ve seen in previous posts, much of its rear side facing Henry Law Park was essentially a windowless concrete block wall. Not anymore. The corner apartments were quickly rented.

I particularly like the use of balconies that overlook a state-of-the-art playground and a green park along a bend of the Cocheco River where tall ships once turned around. In contrast, the recessed balconies ofter privacy while overlooking an outdoor amphitheater where summer concerts are held and the entrance to the children’s museum.
As I was saying about the corner apartments? How about their commanding balconies?
The redesign sought to maintain downtown Dover’s historic brick storefront appearance – narrow buildings with upstairs housing set side by side.