Our fisherman gets an upgrade

I thought the guy was kidding when he pulled up in town and confided that he was going to repaint Eastport’s iconic waterfront fisherman statue, changing the blue coat to a yellow slicker. I was sworn to secrecy at the time, but the next day, there he was, in full light, doing the deed.

The somewhat surreal, but shall we say fiberglass de facto emblem of the city, really got a fashion update. Or upgrade, in my opinion. Seems I’m not alone. Yes, that yellow slicker fits much better.

Just look.

My kudos to Patrick Keough of Seward, Nebraska, for something that even included an imaginative eyepatch.

Some folks, however, are seeing a similarity with the Gorton’s guy down in Gloucester on Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

I think they have that backwards.

Well, here’s how he looked before. The figure was a leftover from a television series set in the town.

Reflecting on the character of New Hampshire

When I arrived in the Granite State 35 years ago, I expected to be spending a lot of my time in the mountains to the north, but that never really materialized. I’ll blame my quest for love, usually found down in Boston, in the opposite direction, back before I met the woman I adore.

Contradancing soon claimed a lot of my social attention, with regular events across the state, across the border in Maine, and especially in Concord and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Add to that all of my time hunkered down in my literary endeavors or Quaker activities, even before I started singing in an incredible choir weekly in Watertown, just outside Boston, or swimming laps daily once I’d retired from the newsroom.

Whatever the character ultimately is, I found sufficient nurture and inspiration to do some good work. Gee, that’s starting to sound like Garrison Keillor.

Each of the six states, by the way, has its own character despite the overall New England identity. In general, those New Englanders are friendlier than their reputation for aloofness contends. It’s just that they’re more reserved – respectful of your privacy – but open up with a sparkle, for the most part, given a hint.

So here’s what I learned while residing in Manchester and then Dover.

  1. New Hampshire isn’t as archconservative as I had expected. Not that it doesn’t have a lot of blockheads, but the place was definitely shifting, especially along the border with Massachusetts.
  2. A large portion of New Hampshire residents have roots in Quebec, and others in Ireland, providing a significant Roman Catholic presence. Both reflect the textile-mills workforce in the 1800s. But other ethnic minorities have thrived, too.
  3. At heart, the population is largely blue-collar in outlook, generally practical, but these days, half of them come from other states, especially Massachusetts.
  4. Some of us used to joke that the stereotypical New Hampshire male had a Harley and his wife or girlfriend had big hair. That wasn’t far off the mark. Add a snowmobile, more than downhill skis or hockey skates.
  5. Agriculture isn’t a major economic factor. There aren’t many large commercial farms these days. And what farming exists is typically diversified.
  6. There are relatively few large employers. The commute to Greater Boston and back each day is huge – that’s where the paying jobs are.
  7. That also means few deep pockets for the arts and charitable action.
  8. It’s the most perfect test market for presidential candidates we have. Forget trying to find the ideal demographics, this delivers.
  9. Avid Red Sox and Patriots fans abound, with Celtics and Bruins supporters close behind. Keeping up with the teams’ developments is socially important. College sports, on the other hand, hardly matter.
  10. It might not have a sales or income tax, but you still have to pay for public services somehow. And so your property tax or apartment rental rate will be a whopper.

Surprises about Eastport

Maybe I just didn‘t notice, but I don’t recall noting so many quirky sides in the other places I’ve lived. Maybe they’ll pop out when I review my old journals.

Still, there are things in Eastport I hadn’t anticipated. For instance …

  1. As far as birds go, it’s basically gulls and crows. Just listen. Even with bald eagles right overhead.
  2. In summer, it’s ten degrees cooler than the mainland seven miles away. In fact, I wore my shorts only three times last year – and two of them were when I was running around inland. Well, as far as that goes, I should mention how much I now perceive the fact I’m living on an island.
  3. Watching the fog roll in from the Bay of Fundy, either up from the channel by Lubec or down between Campobello and the islands just north of it. As well as watching spectacular sunsets from the other side of town, in contrast to the amazing dawns I face from my house.
  4. No nightlife. Apart from events at the arts center, the place pretty much settles in after dusk. And then rises early.
  5. No commercial net fishing. The haul is largely lobster, scallops, clams, and urchins – a delicacy in Japan. But we were also once the sardine capital of the world, which left a bigger impact than I ever imagined.
  6. The importance of smuggling in the port’s past, as well as shipbuilding.
  7. The impact of Dover on its early settlement. Many of the early settlers came from the Piscataqua watershed, and even those who claimed Portsmouth or Newburyport, Massachusetts, could trace their lines back to Dover.
  8. Horn Run Brewing and Bocephus. Two new businesses, each one run by an enterprising and delightful couple.
  9. Diver Ed. A long-time tourist attraction in Bar Harbor, with all of its Acadia National Park crowd, he pulled up anchor and brought his Starfish Enterprise to our Breakwater instead. As a natural ham, he knows how to entertain an audience, even otherwise reticent teens, while teaching them the wonders in our waters.
  10. The number and variety of wild apples. That helps explain the appearance of so many deer on the island. I’d call them wild, but (another surprise) have seen neighbors feeding them by hand.

A few things Mainely about lobsters

Somehow, lobsters have become identified with Maine the way maple syrup has stuck to Vermont, even though both are found abundantly in neighboring states and provinces. I won’t even get into moose in this discussion.

Here are some talking points.

  1. Unlike other varieties, ours are distinguished by having large claws. One claw, the crusher, is larger than the pincher.
  2. They have clear blood.
  3. They smell with their eight legs but have poor vision. Their four antennae help them locate food. They can also swim backward.
  4. They chew with their stomachs, which are located right behind their eyes. They lack teeth but have a “gastric mill” that reduces their prey.
  5. They live on the ocean floor and never stop growing, which they accomplish by molting. Some are known to be more than a hundred years old. In fact, they show no signs of aging and almost universally die of external factors.
  6. It was once a poor-man’s dish, typically fed to servants. Impoverished families sent their children to school with lobster in their lunch buckets and an envy of the richer kids’ roast beef or chicken.
  7. Lobster comprises 75 percent of Maine’s commercial fishery value. In 2016, a banner year, the state’s 6,000 lobster-fishers landed more than 130 million pounds worth more than $533 million.
  8. A traditional lobster pot or trap has two sections – a “parlor,” where they enter, and the “kitchen” behind it. But for much of the region’s history, they were more likely to be harvested by hand along the shore and tide pools, where they washed up after storms.
  9. Most lobsters are caught in the summer months, before the shellfish trot off to deeper waters where they’re harder to harvest. In Eastport, many of the lobster boats do double-duty each winter, rigged to drag the bay bottoms for scallops. A few even go after urchins.
  10. Maine commercial lobstering is tightly regulated – more than in neighboring Canada – and licensing involves a long waiting list. You’d better apply well before your twenty-third birthday if you’re interested. Even if your dad still has his boat.