Pennamaquan falls and fish ladder

During their three-week run each year, 30,000 alewives a day press up this fast-moving fish ladder beside the small dam and waterfalls on their way to breeding grounds upstream.
The current is strong but the six-inch fish are stronger.
The added touch of the birdhouse makes me smile.
The Pembroke United Methodist Church overlooks the lake just above the dam, with some much bigger ones miles ahead.

When the alewives run

Around mid-May across the New England coast, the alewives migrate en masse upstream to freshwater breeding grounds. Sometimes identified as river herring, they have played a role in the region’s heritage, from Indigenous peoples on.

They’ve made it halfway up the ladder. They’re also quite strong, considering the speed and force of the rushing water.

They still attract fishermen to the riverbanks and bridges, as well as eagles and osprey overhead.

And here’s a bald eagle that’s about to catch another of them. The osprey weren’t about at the moment.

And though bony, many folks consider them a seasonal delicacy, often worked into an appetizer. More commonly, they’re a common lobster bait.

Greek Revival touches add some grace

The dour severity of the Eastport’s four-window-fronted Cape-style house soon softened as its popularity spread and each builder added some new touches.

 

Some are sited, Greek Revival style, with the gable and entry door facing the street, creating variety on the block. And then there are individual touches, like a bay window.
As well as a mudroom, which helps keep the heat in when people come and go.
Modest ornamentation often serves a function, too.

Murder capital of Maine

With a population of only 31,121, Washington County is essentially rural and small town. It’s 90 percent white, five percent Native American, and has a fourth of its residents over age 65.

At first glance, then, it’s not the kind of place you would expect to be suffering a homicide in each of the past six months.

The entire state reported only 22 in 2021 – two of them in Washington County, starting the six-month count. Quite simply, the county can currently be seen as the murder capital of the state.

Back in November, the victim in Machias was a 17-year-old male from New York. We could shake our heads and assume drugs had something to do with the case.

The rest, however, have been unmistakably local.

Several were domestic violence. One of those, the death of a valued employee, resulted in a family decision not to reopen a popular lobster pound in downtown Eastport, so we see these events having public consequences.

The latest instance had a 43-year-old Passamaquoddy woman as the victim and two of her neighbors arrested on homicide charges. Investigators have been unusually tight-lipped, leading to widespread speculation. Happening within a community of about 600, this takes a hard toll, ripping through at least three extended families.

The news, coming on the heels of a heavier than usual number of funerals in the tribe, adds to the grieving.

We can ask what is prompting this wave of violence and death.

Poverty is no doubt a factor. Individual and household incomes are only two-thirds of the national average, but probably skewer sharply down on one side or up the other, creating a gulch in real practice. The Covid-related closures of the international border to and from Canada have taken a toll on businesses, employment, and families, too.

The despair leads to drug abuse, as is related in everyday conversations around here.

As much as this region can be a paradise, it’s not problem-free. Not by any means.

Where creativity and community meet

That’s the slogan of the Eastport Arts Center, housed in the 1837 Washington Street Baptist church after that congregation moved up the road and renamed itself Cornerstone Baptist in 2005.

Eastport Arts Center, Washington Street.

Only two blocks from the waterfront downtown, the center is the home of the Stage East theater company, Northern Lights Film Society (how I’m awaiting its reawakening from its Covid hiatus), Quoddy Voices, Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony, a series of visiting musicians in many genres, lectures of all stripes, and even yoga and New England contradances. Its activities range from performances and rehearsals to exhibitions and workshops, physical fitness and dance, open mics and communal meals. It’s also available for rental.

Upstairs features a 106-seat theater/concert hall, while downstairs has an open community gathering space, gallery, and commercial kitchen.

The venture itself was spearheaded by the eight artists who cofounded the Eastport Gallery on Water Street, which by 1990 had become a hub and magnet for creative spirits in town. The gallery remains a constituent organization member of the center.

I’m especially glad it’s all just a short walk from my doorstep.

Quite simply, I see it as the heart of the community, something that makes Eastport unique. Recent Sunday afternoons have hosted a delightful cycle of music, discussions of visual arts and local businesses, historical insights, and even free mustard.

Across the country, one institution often dominates the culture life of the wider community. In Cincinnati or Cleveland, for instance, I’d say it was the symphony orchestra.

In New Hampshire, was the New Hampshire Symphony, before its demise, or the Currier Gallery of Art.

What’s the biggest cultural influence where you live?

Just made my unanticipated theater debut

Eastport may be small, but its lively arts scene includes the Stage East company, with some rather lively programming.

At the moment, for example, they’re preparing a world-premiere musical for performances next month.

It’s the kind of place where you quickly get to know half of the town, too, so I wasn’t surprised to get an email from the director Thursday morning, even if its contents were unexpected. Could I participate in a play reading that evening and the next two nights?

An original work, the winner of the company’s inaugural playwriting competition?

I’d never done anything like that before, but in a pitch-in kind of community like ours, you learn to step up when asked, and so I replied fine. Honestly, I felt honored, and it couldn’t be too different from a poetry reading, right?

The initial reading was fun, both times through the one-act play. Better yet, my part was the shortest of the four and the least complicated. And then I learned we’d be doing it in front of a live audience the next night, meaning last night, and again tonight.

The playwright is Wilder Fray Short, a Bowdoin College senior and soccer fan, and the one-act play is In the 45th, about sibling rivalry and a lot more.

The competition, open to young full-time Maine residents and including a week-long residency and $1,000 prize, itself honors the late Jay Skriletz, the company founder, prolific playwright, and believer in social change.

To which I’ll add, it was an amazing experience and if you’re anywhere nearby, show up tonight!