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.


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 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.


Back to some obsessive binge viewing

The rest of the family keeps trying to get me to spend more time at the digital big screen they put in our parlor. Not that it’s anywhere near the Black Wall of Death I’ve seen elsewhere in our midst. Admittedly, winter can be a long emotional struggle in this remote fishing village, and for much of it, I’ve been alone in our toehold here. Even as a writer’s retreat, those depths can be a challenge.

As an additional aside, let me admit I’ve always been more of a “radio guy” rather than TV, one skewered toward classical, opera, jazz, and folk music at the more esoteric edge of the dial.

Now, as I must confess, their push has led to some binge viewing, as if I even knew the term previously. Being able to stream programming does make a huge difference in the selections. Maybe this is what I get in a remarriage that has made everything (and kept everyone) younger except me.

And yet, I hate to confess, much of what I’ve viewed has even been extraordinarily fine writing, acting, and production.

The latest round they’ve introduced me to, though, might be considered slumming. It’s the so-called reality show Project Runway in its several incarnations.

The appeal is puzzling. I’m anything but a fashionable guy, despite my personal flair. And I’m definitely counter-consumerism, even in the face of the TV series’ shameless appendage to the clothing industry and the lingering impact of “brand placement”.

But I do understand having to work against a deadline, with little or no time for correction. That’s the daily news biz where I made my career, for one thing. The idea of having to create quickly within limits and obstacles also resonates, even or more commonly on a low budget. Oh, yes, do look to newspaper newsrooms for that. Besides, as the series demonstrates, the reasons an editor or a reader or a fashion judge goes for a certain work or rejects it outright is another connection for me. For that reason, I do love the insights into a decision, even when I’m vocally objecting to the outcome.

Many facets of the Project Runway series deeply bother me, even offend. Much of the judging is blatantly biased and a strand of cruelty is engrained in the series, yet overall, what remains is addictive.

I think that the center of that is the fact that within the creative process, fashion creates something that is more concrete on video than say a poem, a dinner, or a string quartet.

As a male, I see that there’s far more to wear than long pants or shorts, or an oxford dress shirt versus a T-shirt. You know, a very limited range. As for neckties? I doubt most young men even know how to tie one today, something that was a requirement for employment in many careers in the past.

There are glimpses into the much wider range of decisions women face, but even that soon hits barriers, as we find in the the show’s focus on women’s wear, still largely in the realm of dresses.

As for the line between “fashion” and “costume” or just “clothes”? Or “youthful” and “juvenile”? If the labels were more definable, this could be educational.

Beyond that, some of the young designers become fascinating characters in their own right.

Fortunately, my binge viewing’s moving out a bit with “Shrinking,” “Community,” or the quirky, original, rough-edged, and hard-to-follow “Reservation Dogs,” which almost puts Oklahoma just one town over from us. Or some other series that should be back soon with more episodes.

Don’t I have better things to do in my “spare” time? Or, for that matter, others in my now scattered family?