Pickled Wrinkle?

Saw a small, weathered sign at the side of the road.

A restaurant, it turns out: Pickled Wrinkle.

While that particular location is long gone, not so over at Birch Harbor, near Acadia National Park.

“Wrinkle,” as I’ve learned, is a diminutive of “periwinkle,” which are commercially harvested around here. In the old days, pickling them was perfect for packing and shipping. And they are an invasive species, FYI.

As for today, you can look up the recipes yourself.

So much for local flavor. Or maybe French.

Reflecting on the upcoming Met broadcast season

Each fall, donors to the Support the Met Broadcasts campaign receive a handsome program guide to the upcoming opera season.

I’ve kept mine, going back to 2005, and find they make a fine reference collection regarding both the plots and performers.

My own listening experience goes back to Joan Sutherland’s first role there in late 1961 or ’62. It was exciting, even through all of the AM radio static of the day.

While much of the core repertoire remains the same, there are also new productions and new or rare works, and it’s interesting to see how these are lined up.

What struck me in the new booklet is how few of the singers’ names I recognized.

When I first started listening, the leading performers were celebrities, often household names and gossip column fodder.

It was a tight circle at the top, in this country and in Europe, enhanced by handsome multidisc LP albums.

Think Pavarotti or Callas.

Well, times have changed, as has the focus. The singers are often more musically informed, and they’re required to physically to act and project their roles in sometimes demanding stagecraft. As for the sets and costumes? This is the height of theater.

The amazing thing is how many fine performers there are now, and they’re active far beyond the confines of the Met and its elite sisters.

There’s a similar shift in the conductors. I recognized only six who will be in the pit. The biggest surprise was seeing the Pittsburgh Symphony’s maestro among them, and he’s considered solid but hardly superstar. (Consider that a compliment, by the way.)

What’s significant is that one-fifth of them are women, one leading two separate operas. The cadre is growing.

What’s missing, though, is American-born conductors. They are active on the symphonic scene globally.

Witchcraft in New England before the Salem hysteria

Something I pretty much skip over in my history of Dover is the Puritan authorities’ close examination of the bodies of the early Quaker women missionaries for any signs revealing them to be witches, from 1656 on.

That was down in Boston, for one thing, and I’ve seen no indication of similar actions along the Piscataqua watershed in New Hampshire and Maine, the center of my new book.

But it has come back to haunt me.

Much of my argument regarding the readiness for a significant portion of the Dover population’s joining Quakers has to do with the ways they differed culturally from the Puritan majority in the Massachusetts Bay colony and Connecticut. What David Hackett Fischer terms “folkways.”

For example, in all of their fearful piety, what made the Puritans so morbidly curious about the naked female flesh, anyway? And just what, exactly, were they looking for? This gets weird, doesn’t it? I’m not sure I want specifics, as in details, much less in those parading through Salem, Massachusetts, these days in preparation for Halloween. I’ll have to admit that part leaves me feeling queasy.

Puritan Costumes. Illustration from The Comprehensive History of England (Gresham Publishing, 1902).

Just consider the stereotypical presentation of witches in pointed hats and black capes and then recognize how much that resembles the dress of Puritan women in New England at the time. As for flying on brooms? How strange! Just how did that conflation happen, anyway? Put another way, witches didn’t dress differently than anyone else. As for the brooms? Every housewife had one.

Well, maybe that points to the male authority role in all of this, something I’m perceiving as a gender power play.

Back to the Quakers. As historian Arthur J. Worrall explains, “Two groups of Quakers arrived in 1656. The first, led by Anne Austin and Mary Fisher, came to Boston in July. The Massachusetts government promptly imprisoned them for five weeks; after checking them for signs of witchcraft, they expelled them in August. A second group of eight Quaker missionaries came to Boston two days after their expulsion,” aboard the Speedwell.

“Massachusetts imprisoned this group for eleven weeks and expelled them also, after the clergy had examined and debated with them.”

For perspective, Fischer notes that from 1647 to 1692, the Puritan colonies accounted for ninety percent of the accusations and eighty-five percent of the executions for witchcraft in English-speaking America. That is, almost ALL of them.

Moreover, “In England, every quantitative study has found that the recorded cases of witchcraft were most frequent in the eastern counties from which New England was settled.” Specifically, the Puritan heartland, in the motherland and then in the New World.

“Even white magic was regarded as a form of blasphemy. In 1637, for example, Jane Hawkins was punished for selling oil of mandrakes in Boston. Many other magicians and sorcerers were treated in the same manner.”

So just what defined a “witch,” anyway? Anyone who drew on folk remedies? Or even a midwife who knew more than she was supposed to?

Fischer goes into ways the Puritans’ Calvinist teaching and likely their earlier folkways combined to make them especially fearful.

As I observe, Salem itself was a cauldron of controversy from early on and a place where the Puritan invasion clashed with the existing population. Like Dover, the Puritans were latecomers there.

I’m still curious about the zealot ferocity of the Puritan outburst at the time of the infamous mistrials in Salem, 1692, in a perfect storm that may have fused an outbreak of hallucinogenic ergot in rye, a clash between traditional ways of examination versus newer ones, a gap in the governorship and jurisprudence, and a drive to curb the influence of the now well in place Friends by attacking their servants instead. Many, many other factors, perhaps even the weather, likely also come into play. All of the other angles I’ve heard point in the same direction.

One of the overlooked aspects in all the controversy is how the witch persecutions in Salem solidified the collapse of the rigid Puritan reign in New England. In a way, the old guard overplayed its hand and had to bear the consequences. With widespread revulsion at the executions and their abuse of the court system, a new strand of teaching and emphasis emerged in the Congregational churches. In another century-and-a-quarter, many of them would even become Unitarian, a far cry from the Puritan orthodoxy.

What makes witches so romantic for so many today?

Did the accused “witches” have their revenge in the end?

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.)

How can anyone ever read all of what’s pouring in?

There’s just so much out there, in print and especially online, and it keeps proliferating daily, even hourly, and I don’t know about you, but I’m in the camp that finds it truly overwhelming.

Everywhere, each minute, make that second, we’re expanding outward, away, from any notion of a renaissance man, and woman, who could possibly be well informed on every facet of a civilized society.

Even in science – or maybe, especially in science – it’s become impossible to keep abreast of the flood.

Interdisciplinary collaboration has become more essential than ever, but also more elusive.

Is this leading toward disintegration?

Is this, in fact, the root of the reactionary backlash around the globe, not just the Trumpian cultists?

Yeah, the folks who rely on Fox TV biased “news” in the USA.

I look at the crises facing our children and grandchildren, and these are critical, but there are so many it’s mindboggling trying to decide where to pitch in taking a stand. Climate change, population explosion, racism, corrupt politics, the one percent and injustice, environmental protection, medical systems, education … Hey, I’m back to hippie era causes on steroids.

How are we supposed to preserve our sanity and still press toward a better future?

We still have to be informed, right? And thinking clearly?

About the Wabanaki

In writing my history of Dover, I had to face up to the problems of the word “Indian,” which can refer to someone from the Asian subcontinent as much as it does to an Indigenous person of North America. In the end I decided to avoid it altogether unless it was part of a direct quotation or traditional title.

The fact is, the Native tribes themselves can differ widely in their language, customs, and culture, so a generalized label can be downright misleading. And in a particular place, the same people may have been referred to by different labels, depending. You know, the way a Daytonian was also an Ohioan, Midwesterner, or even Buckeye, though not necessarily an Ohio State football fan.

In addition, the tribes themselves may have been much more fluid in their associations than the English and American authorities could comprehend, insisting instead on a more rigid classification.

That was the case with the Passamaquoddy and Penobscots in Maine.

In the Dover history, I ran up against that when some sources called the local Natives Abenaki, while others called them Cochecho or Penacook or something else.

As the Wabanaki Confederacy explains, though, all Abanaki are Wabanaki, but not all Wabanaki are Abanaki.

That said, let’s take a quick look at the Wabanaki.

  1. It’s not a tribe. Rather, the confederacy today is an official alliance of four East Algonquian nations remaining in Maine – Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy.
  2. Historically, it was a looser alliance of tribes stretching from Newfoundland and Prince Edward across Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, New Brunswick, and part of Quebec in Canada on to the Western Wabanaki in the Merrimack Valley of New Hampshire and Massachusetts and perhaps beyond into Vermont.
  3. Native names for the affiliation included “convention council” or “orator council,” “be related to one another,” “those united into one,” and “completely united.”
  4. The tribes formed their council after a rise in raids by their ancient enemy the Iroquois League, especially the Mohawks.
  5. In the colonial era, many members aligned with the French, who called the region of Maine the Wabanaki inhabited “Acadia.” Many of the Natives converted to Roman Catholic faith. The defeat of the French in 1763 proved costly for the tribes.
  6. For thousands of years, Mount Desert Island – in today’s Acadia National Park – was a summer gathering place, where they arrived by seaworthy birchbark canoes.
  7. They didn’t live in tepees. They lived in small round bark-covered buildings called wigwams.
  8. Most of them grew squash, beans, and corn, and also harvested berries and other wild fruit.
  9. They didn’t dress like the High Plains Natives out west. They had their own distinctive style.
  10. They loved storytelling and legends. Mount Katahdin, for instance, was inhabited by a half-human, half-bird winged spirit called Pamola who could make the night wind blow or generate snowstorms. And the Maliseet had tales about the little people, who were like brownies or leprechauns.