Maine Public service reaches far

Usually, you need a tall tower for FM and TV transmission. The taller, the better. Not so in the mountainous terrain of Washington County. One stick sends Maine Public Television’s signal across the easternmost reaches of the state. Another, Maine Public Radio’s. I’m not sure about the third. Maine Public Classical comes to us locally from Millbridge, rather than this transmission complex on the Charlotte-Meddybumps town line..
It really is pretty modest.

 Some things I miss about Dover

It may be a small city, but even so, it was home. And much larger than where I’m now living.

So some of what I miss?

  1. The over-the-fence or across-the-street conversations. Especially the guy stuff. Tim, Mark, Jack, Mayor Bob, that circle, especially.
  2. Recycling. I feel guilty putting it all in one bag. Unless the volunteers regroup after this Covid thing.
  3. The indoor pool. Not just the physical exercise of swimming, but the banter with other swimmers and the lifeguards.
  4. The Quaker Meeting and Greek circle, too. Not just older folks, but meeting the babies who have come along in the interim.
  5. Our garden, even though it was a lot of work. It was even visually pleasing.
  6. That leads to glutting out on fresh asparagus for nearly a month in late spring.
  7. And heirloom tomatoes, with tomato and mayo sandwiches for the better part of two months come high summer. (Downeast Maine is too cold at night for them to mature.)
  8. A range of dining options, not all of them in Dover. We weren’t far from neighboring communities. Not just ethnic, either. LaFesta Pizza would be a prime example of taking a specialty a step extra.
  9. The Amtrak as an escape to Boston or Portland. Not that I had used it that often, back before Covid, but I had plans.
  10. Dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer. Without the renovations on our new old house, it was a return to a primitive era for me. The two nearest laundromats were an hour away, in opposite directions.

Gobble, gobble, darn it, gobble

There’s a widespread assumption across America that no household should be without a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. And that’s led many charitably inclined groups and individuals to deliver free turkeys to poorer families ahead of the holiday.

What gets overlooked is the realities of the recipients themselves. Some may not welcome the challenge in front of them. Some don’t cook, period. Some don’t have a full-sized oven. Some live by themselves and have no way of dealing with all that meat. Carving the heavy roast gets tricky, even if you have a large platter and the right knife and serving fork. Not everyone even likes the taste, white meat or dark.

I’ve heard of one group home that had a dozen of the brick-solid big birds stashed away in the bottom of its chest-style freezer, no date attached. A diligent volunteer finally took charge and into the trash they went, one a week.

Speaking of volunteers. Many people step up to volunteer for the holidays, only to be told the spots are already filled and then turn testy. What do you mean?

Doing good can get tricky and lead to hurt feelings.

The real needs continue all year, especially through the depth of winter, when the food and volunteers would be most welcome.

That holiday spirit doesn’t have to be expended all at once, does it?

Getting fit with Eastport’s hot ladies

There I was complaining about not being able to continue swimming laps since Covid curtailed everything, especially followed by my relocation from Dover and its wonderful indoor pool. I certainly wasn’t getting in any regular exercise routine once I moved up here, and one month of yoga down by the waterfront did impress me with just how much this body’s deteriorated from 50 years of neglect. Geeze, how humbling!

I’ve never been one to pursue a solo fitness regime.

But then, when some enlightened souls opened the high school gym for walkers in the early morning, I stepped up, apologies for the pun, but it was something and definitely not at the mall, not that we have anything like that anywhere around. Well, I have posted some photos of Shead High’s gym. Maybe I was getting into shape for some summer hiking?

In the process, I met some interesting folks, all women – guys my age rarely seem to recognize how out of shape they’ve become, apart from maybe weight lifting – and the suggestion kept arising that I should try the twice-a-week fitness sessions at the, uh, senior center. (I really hate that term and definitely prefer to call it the Old Firehouse.)

Most of the time, though, once I started attending, I was the only male in the circle. What a revelation! Yes, I remember ages ago when I would have killed for such odds in my favor, yet these days I’m definitely married. (Got mine!) But still, you wouldn’t believe what I hear. It could be a highly rated TV series, if we could find a focus. Oh, well. As they say, laughter is the best medicine.

The hour-long class is definitely well planned, a blend of stretches, isometrics, cardios, and the like. It can challenge the beginner and adept equally well.

Nonetheless, when the temperature approaches 60 or so, indoors or out, they insist on opening the windows. Claim it’s too hot.

I am, on the other hand, still freezing.


How the Cocheco Mills reshaped Dover

My history of Dover, focused on its Quaker Meeting, begins trailing off about the time the textiles mills prosper at the Lower Falls in the Cochecho River. There’s no escaping the fact that the mills completely reshaped the direction of the emerging city, then and now.

  1. The complex began with the Dover Cotton Factory in 1812, but the surviving buildings were constructed between the 1880s and early 20th century. The downtown is built around them. The mills even span the river below the falls.
  2. A clerical error in the company’s 1827 reorganization, as the Cocheco Manufacturing Company, dropped the second h from Cochecho, leading to ongoing confusing about the proper spelling of the river’s name.
  3. In 1828, the mill was the site of one of the earliest labor strikes in the nation, the first to be conducted entirely by women. They were protesting a pay cut.
  4. The mills brought waves of immigrants to the city, especially from Ireland, Quebec, and Greece. The complex eventually employed 1,200 workers, most of them women.
  5. At its height in the 1880s, the mills shipped 65 million yards of printed calico worldwide annually, with esteemed designs from the associated printing operation on the site of today’s Henry Law Park.
  6. The buildings were subject to disastrous fires and floods. They were also noisy and cold in winter, hot in summer.
  7. The company owned lakes upstream to ensure water power through the year.
  8. The mills operated as the Cocheco Manufacturing Company and then the Cocheco Mill Company until 1908, when the operation was bought by the Pacific Mill Works of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which shuttered everything in 1937. The buildings were then bought at auction by the city.
  9. In the early 1980s, entrepreneur Joseph Sawtelle purchased the largest vacant building in the county and began a visionary restoration that uncovered the boarded windows and led to offices, entrepreneurial incubators, and retail stores in the heart of the city. After his death in 2000, Eric Chinburg acquired the properties and added trendy apartments to the mix.
  10. The mills were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in an iBook edition at the Apple Store.

Even in a housing shortage

Yup, home prices went through the roof in most of the country – but not here.

A common sight throughout Downeast Maine is abandoned housing in varying stages of decay. Seeing an old dwelling like that, your initial impulse is that somebody, somewhere, ought to save it. You know, live out in the woods, free from hassles, and all that. It’s gotta have a charming history, right?  (Rusting trailers and mobile homes somehow get less sympathy, if any.)

Abandoned housing comes in varying stages of collapse.

Then reality kicks in. Most of these would cost a ton to renovate – and many are tiny. Insulation, plumbing, and wiring are only the beginning. It’s cheaper to start fresh, if you can. Jobs are scarce, often towns away, if you can find work, so unless you’re retired, that’s another strike. And if you are retired, you might check out far to the nearest doc or clinic. I have to wonder, too, why anyone would want to live that close to the highway and its noisy traffic, other than maybe getting priority plowing after a snowfall. As for the mosquitos and black flies?

Others might tell you it gets boring. No malls or big-box stores, much less neighbors or a real supermarket.

Even as a summer home, then, there are drawbacks. Wouldn’t you rather be on a lake or the ocean?

It’s not all out in the wilds, either. Eastport has three in a row here.
Each with this notice attached, declaring a building dangerous, unsafe, and not habitable.

And now in paper!

Taa-tah! My Quaking Dover is officially out as a print-on-demand paper book around the globe.

Check it out through your favorite bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

It does mean going to your favorite book retailer for a copy, but there we are.

Independent bookstores and libraries have their own insiders’ routes to obtain it. Go to them to keep these channels alive.

As for me, I’m stocking up for copies to keep in my car, wherever I go.

How about you?

Come to the book release party!

If you’re anywhere near Dover, New Hampshire, on Nov. 5, feel free to stop by the Quaker meetinghouse for the official Quaking Dover book release party.

The meet-and-greet event takes place at 7 pm at 141 Central Avenue and is free and open to the public. As a Covid precaution, we will be masking.

Copies of the book will also be available for purchase and author signing.

In the meantime, it’s release date is coming up on Saturday. Check with your local bookseller to order a copy.


Our newspaper is the Quoddy Tides – not Times

One of the factors in our decision to relocate to Eastport was the quality of the local newspaper, which appears every second and fourth Friday of the month.

Typical front pages.

There’s nothing flashy about its tabloid-format editions, but everything I see strikes me as solid, even compelling, community journalism.

The quirky – and unique – use of Tides rather than Times in its name is not just humorous but altogether appropriate. The paper reports on all of the communities the tides touch on in Washington County, Maine, as well as many in neighboring Charlotte County, New Brunswick.

One of my ongoing criticisms of American newspapers over the past half-century is that very few of them give you a feel for the place they serve. Ownership by out-of-state corporations is only part of the problem. Continuing cutbacks in coverage is another. (I play with those and other factors in my novel Hometown News.)

For most dailies and weeklies, there’s a generic look and taste in the stories. Everybody has city-council and school-board meetings, for heaven’s sake, and most car crashes are just as boring.

Somehow, though, that’s not the case with the Quoddy Tides.

Consider the lead on a report of the start of the important commercial scallop harvest, a story that was presented on Page 2 but teased from the front page by a dramatic black-and-white photo of a fishing boat plowing through rough seas:

“Winds gusting over 50 knots did not deter many Cobscook Bay area scallop fishermen from going out on the first day of the season on December 1. About three-quarters of the fleet of over 20 draggers based in Eastport and about 10 boats from Lubec headed out that day.”

Remember, it’s not just windy with choppy surf. This is December, blowing icy water. As for a feel of the place, just listen to the quotes in the next sentence:

“Lubec fisherman Milton Chute observes, ‘The tops were blowing off the water like it was pouring,’ and Earl Small of Eastport says that while it was ‘sloppy steaming back and forth,’ once the boats were on the lee shore either off Lubec or down in South Bay, it wasn’t bad towing out of the wind. ‘It’s not as dangerous as people think,’ says another Eastport fisherman, Butch Harris, noting that two or three boats will fish together in case anyone gets in trouble. ‘It was a rough ride out, but once you’re there fishing it’s not that bad.’ Harris points out that scallop fishermen have only so many days that they’re allowed to fish. ‘If you don’t go, you lose it,’ he notes.”

Much of their quotes, I’ll venture, is pure poetry. And off the cuff, at that.

The rest of the story fills out the page, detail after detail. I bet you’ll think of some of this dedicated labor, too, next time you eat seafood.

The newspaper offices occupy the 1917 Booth Fisheries headquarters downtown, once part of a sardine cannery.
The building sits right on the harbor. The post office and former customs office stands to the left.

The Tides was founded in 1968 by Winifred B. French, the wife of Dr. Rowland Barnes French, M.D., and mother of five. They moved to Maine from Arizona in 1953 so he could help found the Eastport Health Center, itself a remarkable story in community medicine.

Winifred had no background in journalism, but she saw a need, studied hard, and ventured forth in launching and editing a small-town paper with a regional outlook. In 1979, for good reason, she was named Maine Journalist of the Year. Remember, the Tides isn’t a daily or even weekly newspaper, it’s every two or sometimes three weeks.

Reporters attend public meetings rather than chasing afterward by phone, correspondents provide meat-and-potatoes servings of neighborhood interest, Don Dunbar contributes top-drawer photography, and local columnists all weigh in for what becomes must-read pages throughout the area. The mix skirts the glib boosterism and doom-and-gloom morbidity too prevalent elsewhere.

Winifred died in 1995, but son Edward French and his wife, Lora Whelan, continue on her model. (Another son, Hugh, heads the Tides Institute and Museum – note that Winifred’s sense of “tides” continues there, too.)

I like the fact that the stories don’t carry datelines. Nope, the reader doesn’t get a chance to turn off on the basis of a single word. The region is closely interlinked by people living in one place and working in another or having family elsewhere, so it’s all of interest or should be – both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

I also like the fact that headlines come in just two sizes, with a serif face used for a touch of variety. There’s no need to scream to draw attention. Instead, we get an orderly and fair-minded sensibility.

So that’s an introduction. I could go on and on.

In some ways, it reminds me of Annie Proulx’ novel The Shipping News, without the dreariness and grimness.

Nothing flashy or sensationalized. Fits the character of the place. 

One thing I would tweak is the nameplate, which goes back to the first edition. That shoreline still seems to strike out the paper’s name.

Still, it’s a joy to be retired and not have to be in the midst of producing all this. These days I do delight in being able to sit back and simply enjoy what I’m reading – even if I do on occasion feel an urge to “fix” something on the page.

What – or whom – do you look forward to reading the most? On a regular basis. (Apart from this humble scribe.)