We’re even part of the famed Bay of Fundy

Maybe you’ve heard of it, the place of the world’s most extreme tides, up to 53 feet every six or so hours, meaning about six feet hourly on average or up to 12-plus in certain time windows.

If you swim, you know that’s way over your head.

So here’s a little perspective.

  1. Most U.S. maps cut out nearby Canada, leaving little sense of how much lies east of Maine and not just north. That’s anything beyond Portland, essentially, yet not that far north of Boston.
  2. Typically excised from maps of Maine, the big island of Grand Manan is essentially as lengthy as Martha’s Vineyard but with much more substantial cliffs and an undeniably working fisherman economy. To get there, you need a ferry hop or two from Canada. And that’s saying nothing of its craggy inhabitants. It’s definitely on my bucket list.
  3. Technically, I dwell on one of the subsidiary waters. Fundy Bay itself is about 55 miles wide just south of here, pointing to another place renowned for its scallops. Or is that also east? In other words, Fundy’s big.
  4. The bay’s positions of Maine and New Brunswick, on one side, and Nova Scotia, on the other, act as a funnel that intensifies Atlantic currents in and out of the channel. It’s a long story but likely worthwhile for certain nerds, especially once you see how it shapes up on the dinner plate. The intensity of the record tides does have some techies well as others drooling.
  5. That leads to the possibilities of electrical generation. Mainers would definitely welcome a reduction in our electrical bill. Wind, solar, and tidal power generation are all rising as important sources.
  6. We are mused by one local craftsman who proclaims her studio the Clay of Fundy. She’s hardly alone. You’d be amused or quite critical of the range of wordplay prompted by the Fundy word.
  7. It has rivers that reverse their flow, a phenomenon known as tidal bore.
  8. The bay can report up to ten kinds of whales every summer.
  9. For water to get from the mouth of the bay to its crown can take up to 13 hours.
  10. Its ecosystem is said to rival the Amazon’s. Just ask scuba divers.


And now for Lubec

I’ve been posting a lot about Eastport and nearby scenes but said little to date about the neighboring communities here in Way Downeast Maine.

So today I’ll turn the spotlight to a town to our south, one we easily see from the Breakwater and other points in Eastport. It also sits across the water to our west. Despite the proximity, driving between the two takes nearly an hour.

Lubec as seen from Campobello Island, New Brunswick.


Here are a few additional facts.

  1. It’s pronounced “LOO-beck,” named for Lubeck, Germany.
  2. It has roughly the same (small) population as Eastport but is organized as a town rather than a city. That’s why it can claim to be the easternmost point in the continental U.S., while E’port struts about being the easternmost city. It’s a hairline difference.
  3. Lubec’s also the closest location in the continental U.S to Africa. Yes, way up here nearly on the 45th parallel, halfway to the North Pole, rather than say Virginia or tropical Florida.
  4. Set on a peninsula, the town has more water than land.
  5. With its Quoddy Head State Park and the iconic peppermint-pole lighthouse, Lubec can be seen as the gateway to the Bold Coast trailheads that provide access to spectacular shoreline and bluffs. It’s like Acadia National Park without the crowds.
  6. It also has a “sparkplug” lighthouse in the water south of downtown and faces the Mulholland lighthouse on the Canadian side of Quoddy Narrows.
  7. Speaking of Canada. Neighboring Campobello Island, New Brunswick, is home to the Franklin Roosevelt International Park, originally the family’s summer “cottage” and compound and then Eleanor’s favorite home. Today the historic site covers five square miles that include trails of shoreline and forest. To get there, you have to drive through Lubec.
  8. SummerKeys is a kind of music camp for adults, mixing skill levels from beginning amateur to skilled professionals into a lively and supportive environment. Free weekly concerts in the Congregational church are a highlight for the rest of us.
  9. While statics are unavailable, one friend tells of a summer when every day in Lubec was beset by heavy fog. She’s made it sound unbroken. I have been in town on several afternoons when the place was quickly socked in the dense gray invasion, and from Eastport I’ve often seen its thick steely blanket roll over the downtown at the fringe of our view before inching up the water toward us. Another friend tells of the common frequency of heavy winds. Either way sounds harsher than what I’ve encountered in nearby Eastport.
  10. The town no longer has a high school. When it did, athletic events between Lubec and Eastport were often followed by fights.


Let’s haul on some sea chanteys

As I’ve previously noted, the work songs went into the woods in the winter, carried by sailors who came ashore for the season. But few songs in return migrated from the forests to the sea.

Women’s names could be a clue to the, uh, moral integrity of many messages. “Sally” or “Nancy,” for instance, some more sterling than others.

Other work songs include chain-gang ditties or even the racist, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” though it might fit what’s become of the minimum-wage American workplace.

As for spellings, I’m sticking with “chantey,” based on a scholarly friend’s insistence the notes having a chanter setting the pace. “Shanty” and “chanty,” though, are more common.

Here are some related facts.

  1. This folk music genre flourished aboard larger merchant vessels of the 19th century as a means of setting a rhythm to optimize joint labor involved in either a pulling or pushing motion, such as lifting anchor or setting sail, tasks that required working together for a long time. Think of circling a capstan. Think “Heave!” Or “Haul!”
  2. That’s why many of them are about whaling.
  3. The tradition soared in the period between the War of 1812 and the Civil War and died out with the arrival of steam-powered ships.
  4. Its roots, though, go way back through earlier work songs around the world, including stevedores loading and unloading ships.
  5. Some of the chanteys originated with African-Americans performing “cotton-screwing” on shore, using a large screw-jack to compress and bale cotton for shipment from Southern ports. Some of the incomprehensible words in the songs are attributed to this.
  6. Essentially, it’s a call-and-response form between the solo chantey man and the work crew.
  7. Sometimes they were accompanied by a bosun’s pipe, fife, drum, or fiddle.
  8. They were sung by pirates, too.
  9. About 200 were set down on paper, but thousands more were likely lost.
  10. Some may have been used when relaxing in the evening.


You may have noticed I’m fond of ferns

I don’t remember them being common in the woods when I was growing up in the Midwest, but I’ve become fond of them since. I even devoted years to developing a fern bed beside our “smoking garden” patio at our home in Dover. At least now we’re surrounded by fabulous ones in the wild here.

Oh, yes, I’ve finally tasted fiddleheads in the springtime and like their taste almost as much as asparagus.

Here some additional facts.

  1. They predate the dinosaurs. One variety, the cinnamon fern, looks the same today as it does in 70-million-year-old rock fossils.
  2. They don’t have flowers or seeds and don’t have leaves. Those lovely green fronds are actually branches fused in one plane.
  3. They reproduce via spores rather than seeds. Spoors usually look like small dots on the undersides of the fronds. A single plant can drop millions of spoors on the ground, but few find favorable conditions.
  4. Some species are parasites, growing not from the ground but on decaying tree trunks on the ground or in pockets overhead.
  5. Their roots descend from rhizomes, a below-the-soil, horizontal stem that can range from very thin and creeping to thick and stocky.
  6. Some plants survive up to 100 years.
  7. Bracken ferns can live without any sunlight.
  8. Most ferns are resistant to cold but many also thrive in tropical zones.
  9. They make lovely houseplants that require little care. They do, however, need higher humidity than is commonly available, especially when the furnace is running.
  10. They can remediate contaminated soil and remove some chemical pollutants from the air.


Among the reasons for Quaker decline, let me suggest

Relocation to the West, especially, wasn’t the only reason Dover Friends Meeting in New Hampshire declined in the 1800s. Here are a few other factors.

  1. Being Quaker can be hard work. Not just a Sunday thing. Things like honesty.
  2. Tightening of personal discipline in the mid-1700s. The marriage restrictions definitely cut into membership.
  3. Plainness in clothing, design, and possessions. That is, personal expression.
  4. Employment and other business ethics. Refusal to take oaths kept Friends out of some professions, such as the law, and bankruptcy was a disownable offense.
  5. No “vain entertainments.” And thus, no music, dancing, fiction, theater, paintings, card playing, horse racing, or gambling.
  6. Pacifism during the Revolutionary and Civil wars, plus withdrawal from political offices in the 1760s.
  7. The separations that split the Society of Friends into factions from the 1820s on.
  8. Aversion to emotion, starting with anger.
  9. Emerging restrictions on alcohol and tobacco. Being “disguised by hard liquor” was a big problem on the frontier.
  10. Even the appearance of wrongdoing could be an offense. And all that led to deadly quaintness.

Not that these quite apply today. Still, they could prompt a book in themselves. For now, you’ll have to consider Quaking Dover for the story. Order your copy at your favorite bookstore. Or request it at your public library.

Black flies, little black flies

Spring in Maine can be a very short season, marked first by mud season and then the black flies that descend from late April into July.

My introduction came one year in a brief stop to investigate a stunning waterfall, interrupted by a large swarm of what I thought were mosquitos. The second enlightenment came at a stop along the Airline Highway en route to Eastport. A wall of flying insects would be a diluted version.

Also known as buffalo gnats, turkey gnats, or white socks (not of the Chicago baseball kind), black flies are more than the defenders of wilderness. Take a look.

  1. They don’t seem to be a problem on windy days or along the ocean.
  2. There are actually more than 2,200 species of them, not that the ones I’ve seen ever look black.
  3. Their bites are particularly nasty or, at the least, a nuisance. Some even spread the disease river blindness.
  4. They’re found far beyond Maine. Scotland, northern Ontario, and Minnesota weigh in heavily, though Pennsylvania has been active in the battle against them.
  5. The eggs are laid in running water and are extremely sensitive to pollution.
  6. Bites are most often found on the face, hairline, neck, and back, though the pests are attracted to breathing and, thus, can enter the nose or mouth. Don’t overlook the ankles, either.
  7. They’re attracted to dark colors.
  8. They stretch the skin and then make shallow cuts with blade-like sections of their mouth before sucking blood.
  9. They’re most active for a few hours after sunrise and a few hours before sunset but totally inactive through the night.
  10. Folksinger Bill Staines made a hit of the logging camp song written by Canadian Wade Hesmworth. The line, “I’ll die with a blackfly pickin’ my bones,” rings especially true.

As for some major ‘rabbit holes’

It’s what we call “falling down the rabbit hole.” You know, you look up from your computer screen and are startled to realize it’s hours later than you thought. Maybe even with a pang of guilt.

You might even call these mind traps or time wasters.

Here’s our top ten. I’m inviting you to provide additional commentary or to nominate others.

  1. Facebook. Yeah, major, even before sifting through the suffocating ads.
  2. Twitter. Well, back when it had credibility or the lights were still on. But now? Has all that twittering gone over to Mastodon?
  3. Pinterest. What, you can’t find professional photos anywhere else?
  4. Instagram. Well, just imagine how many photos are being taken on cell phones nowadays.
  5. Tik toc. Ah, the mysteries of youth, all around the world.
  6. Fantasy sports. You bet.
  7. Online puzzles. Think Wordle for starters.
  8. Food sites. How many ways can you cook a turnip, anyway?
  9. Advice columns. Oh, my, how do some of these people even get out of bed? Or do they really crawl out from under a rock?
  10. Solitaire, online or with real cards. I do prefer to shuffle my own, thank you.

Those music videos I’ve warned you about earlier can be considered “research.”


A few lives I almost had … but I’ve wound up here instead

Being of an age where I have more to look back on than what lies ahead, pondering forks in the road I followed, I find myself concluding they ultimately turned out for the best.

Still, there are moments when I wonder how my life would have gone if, say, things had turned out better with certain lovers or I hadn’t narrowly missed out in a desired career move – things that would have opened other avenues. In fact, a big goal all along had been to become financially independent so I could hunker down with my more literary writing, the thing I’ve been able to do in retirement.

Here’s a handful.

  1. Been hired by a really big daily newspaper. The Wall Street Journal, especially, had been interested until laying off a ton of editors and reporters just before my graduation. And there had been a brief flirtation from the Washington Post and, later, Detroit Free Press.. My dreams of living in a major city, with all of its fine arts cultural opportunities, vanished with that.
  2. Returned to my hometown after college. Well, it would have left me deeply rooted. Or, in one scenario, wedded into a wealthy family on the other side of town, with all of the opportunities that would have afforded. But would I have found that too confining? (Said girlfriend ultimately did.) Instead, I was off into hippie communion and poverty-line journalist existence in foothills a few hours from New York City.
  3. Stayed in the ashram or at least the Asian spiritual stream. Yoga had saved my life and was a hot field, if I had been more entrepreneurial. But I wouldn’t have encountered Quakers and my family roots. Instead, leap ahead a few steps.
  4. Not persuaded my fiancée to overcome her jitters. That is, freed me to move on without her. She may have even closed off a few upward moves for us toward the end.
  5. Stayed with the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, had its major grant not been slashed shortly after being renewed. I would have had another four years in a big university setting, and my first wife could have earned her degree there rather than being uprooted. It might even have led me to graduate school and an academic career after all. But I did have dreams of mountains and wilderness, or else recognition as a poet, and those all led to the next fork.
  6. Remained in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the grueling demands of the office, my professional career was also exciting and on an upward swing. I was making inroads as a poet, too, and with the mountains and forests, I was living a dream. But there were dark clouds as well, any of which could have erupted even had I been able to relocate to the western side of the Cascades. Instead, I was soon in an eastward ricochet.
  7. Not faced marital difficulties. That is, had she been faithful rather than leading to divorce. Add to that my near miss with a big management job at America’s eighth biggest newspaper and its sterling ownership. Well, I probably would have had that big heart attack, too. Instead, I rebounded into a whirlwind romance with a sprite who seemed to be everything I ever desired. Leading to the next set of painful forks.
  8. Moved to Baltimore or managed to remain, including marriage to the dream of my life. First, that engagement went up in smoke and left me, well, a pile of emotional ashes. My hot job on the road covering 14 states turned into a dead end. And I failed to find a shared mission with a devoted lover who would have desired to have children together. From the start, I could have moved to, say, Boston, instead. At least I was able to give myself a sabbatical and hunker down writing for a year amid the debris.
  9. Had a book manuscript click with an agent or, more vitally, a commercial publisher. Or even a few critics. My goal of becoming financially independent kept slipping away, though my later friendship with one celebrated author has shown me how precarious that bestseller life can be. As for having a book take off? A writer can get trapped by success.
  10. Married the Georgian. She swept me off my feet, and how, maybe because she seemed to embody everything I thought I desired, as well as what she said she desired, as her mother reminded her. Yes, it was exciting, but after just a month, she panicked. Frankly, I soon saw it would have been a disaster. In addition, she never would have fit in as an editor’s wife, much less in any of the roles that might have opened later.

When I look at the forks I chose to follow, I have to admit the one of going back into the ranks of the newsroom rather than management was crucial. The reasons I stayed there could easily fill another Tendril.

Does any of this sound fishy?

I’ve come a long way from the frozen fish sticks of my Midwestern youth, OK. Seafood’s a favorite part of my cuisine, which is one more reason I love living in coastal Maine. But I still have trouble telling one species from another.

So here are some starting points.

  1. Most fish fall under the taxonomic group Osteichthyes, or bony fish, meaning they have skeletons composed of bone tissue. With a diverse range of 20,000 or so species, it’s the largest group of vertebrates today and is comprised of both freshwater and saltwater members.
  2. That contrasts with the Chondrichthyes, which have skeletons composed primarily of cartilage. This group includes sharks, rays, skates, and sawfish – saltwater species of saltwater vertebrates with jaws, paired fins, and other distinctions.
  3. Jaws on fishes, by the way, are not connected to their skulls. Instead, they can shoot their mouths forward to capture prey, like a kind of spring.
  4. Fish breathe oxygen, not air. The fine blood vessels of their gills diffuse the oxygen to the fish’s membranes. In contrast, mammals rely on lungs.
  5. Since fish don’t have eyelids, except for sharks, you can’t say they sleep, but most of them do rest, either floating motionless, wedging themselves into a safe place, or even building a nest. But they do remain alert to danger.
  6. Tunas, billfish, and certain sharks are the speed champions, reaching 50 miles an hour in short bursts. In contrast, some strong swimmers maintain five to ten mph in cruising.
  7. Fish would suffocate if they tried to chew their food. So some, like sharks, have sharp teeth to hold their prey until they can swallow bits or parts whole. Bottom dwellers have large flat teeth to grind the shellfish they consume. And the herbivorous grazers lack jaw teeth but have tooth-like grinding mills in their throats.
  8. The organs of some fish are poisonous to man, while others become toxic because of compounds in their diets. Most of what fishermen catch, however, can be considered edible. I suspect that doesn’t always translate, though, as tasty.
  9. Truly fresh fish is odorless. The “fishy” smell comes from deterioration, typically when they’re not stored or preserved correctly.
  10. To hold their place in a school, fish use their eyes and a row of pores along their sides running from head to tail, called a lateral line. Special hairs in the pores sense changes in water pressure from other fish or predators. And some schools contain millions of individuals. So far, I’ve heard of no teacher at the head of the class. Do fish even have leaders?

For the record, neither starfish nor jellyfish are fishes.



A shoutout to vocal warmups

If you like to sing, even if only in the shower, let me encourage you to check out some of these online.

One of my biggest surprises after getting involved in serious chorus participation after I retired from the newsroom was the importance of the warmups at our rehearsals. I had come to four-part, a cappella singing through Mennonites in my mid-30s, and I had never cottoned up to practicing scales and similar exercises back when I was learning violin as a preteen.

What George Emlen and then Megan Henderson presented in our first 15 minutes or so of rehearsal each week with Boston Revels totally changed my attitude. A good warmup not only added a few notes to my range but also tuned to the entire ensemble into a more, pardon the pun, finely tuned and more responsive instrument. Some of the exercises were definitely fun, laughter filled, as well as challenging. Try singing “Many mumbling mice singing by the moonlight my how nice” repeatedly as the pitch rises and the tempo speeds up, for instance, and soon the sopranos sound like they’re the Chipmunks on laughing gas. Or any of the numbers games.

And then, when Covid interrupted in-person interaction, some online offerings stepped into the void. I’m still finding them very helpful during the week between the rehearsal warmups with my new group, Quoddy Voices, and conductor John Newell.

Here’s a sampling:

  1. Cheryl Porter Vocal Coach. One of my favorites. With her big boxing gloves (seriously) and irresistible if corny enthusiasm, she could as easily be leading a housewives’ weight-control calisthenics round. But her exercises are heavy-hitting, well-grounded, and even dance inducing. Suitable for group singers and those looking to solo alike. Diss her at your own risk.
  2. Nathan Dame. Great perspectives from an outstanding Wylie East (Texas) public high school music educator. This is an example of why music can be a crucial part of a well-rounded curriculum. Dame pours so much energy into his adolescent choruses, I’m left wondering how he recovers at the end of the day. The kids clearly rise to his challenges and respect them. Many of his insightful techniques, meanwhile, seem to arise somewhere within him rather than from a textbook or standing tradition. And you can practice alongside them.
  3. Roger Hale. Solid college-level sessions for both actors and singers, grounded in classical perspectives with his Dixie State University students.
  4. Madeleine Harvey. Her video series relies on the fundamentals of traditional vocal training, things like breathing, breath control, tone, range top and bottom, pitch, agility, and avoiding strain. These are the kind of sessions a singer encounters with a personal professional vocal coach.
  5. Eric Arceneaux, Professional Vocal Warmup. His technical understanding of the voice extends to many popular music styles. Makes snobby me appreciate the abilities of some top-selling singers, too.
  6. Matthew Gawronski Just follow the notes on the screen. Some versions include a full choir to sing along with.
  7. Church Music Dublin with Mark Duley. Practical, everyday stuff. He’s one leader who finds physical movement with the hands and arms or more can improve the sound. I was skeptical at first. Not so now.
  8. Tony Leach with the Collaborative Music Education series from Pennsylvania State University. Professor Leach adds rote training in the African and African-American traditions to his excellent classical discipline. You’ll definitely get a sense of what makes Gospel such a focused genre to perform. I just wish the videos included his student choruses so that you’d get a feel of singing with others.
  9. Paul McKay One Voice. Not all of the warmups are for folks who read musical scores. McKay’s especially fine for explaining the inner working of things like riffs and runs and other techniques that greatly extend today’s vocal expression.
  10. Cincinnati Youth Choir. Don’t scoff at some of the children’s choirs. Their energy, clarity, and precision can be contagious. Just listen to the CYC’s video of “One voice” for proof. Besides, they can humble some of the rest of us.

Of course, if you start with these, you’ll quickly discover a host of great concerts and conductors as well. Beware.