We’re quickly approaching the longest nights of the year, which are truly long here in Eastport. Accompanied by the most truncated days of the year, when the sun barely clears the horizon. We’re just a hair shy of the 45th Parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole. These days, it can feel even further north than the map shows.
The experience can be especially harsh here, now that the Summer People are long gone and most of the stores and galleries are shut for the season while those that remain open do so largely on limited hours. You might see a stranger or two in town around sunset, looking for a place to eat, and the best you can do is tell them to go to the IGA and get there before the 7 o’clock closing. Pizza slices or deli cuts plus a six-pack lead the list.
Even more, we know big snow, escalating ice, and profound cold are still ahead, as well as a blustery nor’easter or three.
We don’t even have a retail scene to crank up the holiday hoopla. Nor do we have anything resembling a nightlife, apart from a few cultural performances. Bless ‘em, especially after the Covid shutdowns.
Needless to say, social connections are especially important. For me, that includes singing in Quoddy Voices and worshiping with Cobscook Friends Meeting.
Also anticipated is a big stack of reading, both books and magazines, and concerts streamed from the Pine Tree State and beyond.
I’m already looking forward to the invasion of family for the holidays.
After discussing Maine’s unincorporated townships, I need to add that there are a lot of variants – 17, if I’m counting right. Among them are the BKP, BPP, NBKP, NBPP, and WBKP designations – translated as Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase, Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase, North of Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase, North of Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase, and West of Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase.
So just who was this Bingham guy?
In short, he was William Bingham, already a wealthy Philadelphian when he became filthy rich via privateering during the Revolutionary War. He was also a statesman and U.S. senator who parlayed his riches into vast land purchases, as noted above but also including upstate New York, where Binghamton, where I’ve also lived, was named in his honor.
Quite simply, Bingham owned two million acres in Maine, making him land rich but cash poor.
His agent in Maine, Revolutionary War Gen. David Cobb, was responsible for laying out most of the roads associated with the Airline Highway (now eastern State Route 9). And when Cobb retired in 1820, John Black, agent for Baring Brothers Bank in London, felt that lumber was the wealth that would provide his boss the needed profit. There were further complications as well as marriages, but you get an idea how Baring township in the Moosehorn wildlife preservation got its name.
Cobb did, however, build a great house at Gouldsborough and soon faced some harsh realities that he notated between 1795 and 1800.
First, the land and climate of eastern Maine were not and are not suitable for farming. He noted that “those who come to view the country … have as frequently returned almost blind by the bites of flies and mosquitoes. You have no conception of the hosts of these devils that infest the thick forest at this season.”
More critically, he found “the great body of the people of this country possess no regard to the rights of private property,” calling them ” vicious inhabitants who disfigured its landscape. Every inhabitant here is now a trespasser, a plunderer. They live by it, and therefore they will not cultivate the finest soil in the world. They’re not doing this is the chief cause why the reputation on the country has been damn’d. If the people who live by lumbering are indulged in cutting the forests wherever they please, they will have but little … appreciation of the soil.”
For the record, the soil itself wasn’t nearly that rich.
But continuing, in his estimation, “The greater part … follow lumbering and fishing … and they are very intemperate, very lazy and very poor. It may be said in truth … the majority of the inhabitants are drunkards.”
There are those, of course, who would question whether much has changed since.
Or, as is sometimes said of Eastport, it’s a drinking village with a fishing problem.
The joke is that moose don’t have horns, they have antlers. The Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge excuses itself by noting that it’s named after a brook that meanders through the preserve. Not that it’s the only fine body of water.
And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adds that the preserve is home to much more than moose, bear, beaver, and deer. For example, some 223 bird species have been identified in its two divisions – the 31-square-mile Baring Division to our northwest and the 13-square-mile Edmunds Division to our west, both within a half-hour drive from Eastport.
The terrain is varied, much of it wetlands, and a third is protected as wilderness.
I especially appreciate the miles of hiking trails, some along former roads.
What I wasn’t expecting on one outing was the moose I encountered on a grassy roadside near a flowage.
When I first spotted the tawny hump amid the green, I thought it might have been one bent over grazing, in which case I’d need to approach cautiously, or else just a big rock.
Instead, it became a mystery.
Tire tracks in the grass had me wondering if a ranger driving down the gated-access lane had tried to veer away from the animal on the roadway, only to have it bolt into the oncoming vehicle.
The carcass was fresh enough that a solitary vulture overhead wasn’t even taking notice.
Later, back in town, I began picking up details. Everybody seemed to have more to add, most of it from Facebook.
Seems the baby male was hit on Charlotte Road earlier in the morning. (Baby? It was bigger than me.) Folks were wondering what took the wildlife officers so long to clear the road. They then took the remains into the preserve, to return to the food chain. Mama Moose, meanwhile, spent the rest of the day wandering forlornly.
It is a relief to know that moose collisions aren’t so common around here that they’re taken for granted. Deer, on the other hand, as everyone will remind me – keep your eyes open.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever encountered out on a walk? Or even a drive?
Considering that all but one member of my Hodgson family crossing the Atlantic in 1710 was decimated by French privateers, I find nothing romantic about pirates.
Even with legal sanction, as privateers were, they remained thieves and brutes of the seas. Well, though, there were apparently a number of unwritten understandings. Or else someone walks the plank. Or, in our case, died of maltreatment.
That said, one of Eastport’s two biggest events of the year comes the weekend after Labor Day, when everyone celebrates the city’s Pirate Festival. Yes, those black flags with the white skull and crossbones fly everywhere, even on seagoing fishing boats and the passenger ferry. And many folks dress the part to the hilt, even with what sometimes looks like a kilt. Some of the costumes are quite exquisite in their detailing, while others are pretty loose, like the guy in Hawaiian shirt and a pirate vest and hat.
For the record, the port was once abuzz with smuggling to and from neighboring Canada.
History aside, I can’t complain about the special events and its welcome crowd that extend the summer season, even if I had thought it would mean I’d have to keep my mouth closed.
What we have is essentially a seafaring blast, with people strolling the street in period garb and canes. Some of them cross over into steampunk, which also fits the later steamship period, I suppose, and I do love watching for the anachronisms, like the cell phones and plastic water bottles in hand.
There’s plenty of up-to-snuff music-making, street dances, magicians and Punch-and-Judy presentations, a barrel relay race, even cutlass instruction for children armed with foam noodles.
It’s like trick-or-treat nearly two months early, and the decorations can stay up till Halloween. I’ve been surprised at the light-hearted air of the celebration, one without the demonic undertow of Salem, Massachusetts, approaching November.
I do appreciate the appearance of parrots on some costumes, so much so I keep calling this our Parrot Festival.
As a footnote, last year’s attendance was curbed by the Canadian border closures due to Covid. Community here extends on both sides of the international boundary.
Just what is it about pirates that captures people’s imagination?
When last summer ended, I proclaimed it my best one ever – in part because there were no complications from an employer or romantic upheavals. Instead, it was filled with new adventures, explorations along the Bold Coast and out on the waters, introductions to fascinating characters and geezers (both positive terms, in my estimation) who live here at least a goodly part of the year, plus a sequence of fascinating artists in residence combined with local painters and photographers and their galleries as well as a world-class chamber music series by mostly resident performers. Whew! And, oh yes, I had plenty of time to devote to a new book and setting up posts for this blog. I even got a new laptop, which meant importing and tweaking everything.
This time around has simply amplified everything.
The temperatures are generally cool on the island – often ten degrees less than what’s happening on the mainland even just seven miles to the west – so I rarely suffered from sweltering. On the downside, heritage tomatoes are rarely found here. Remember, in Dover I lived on tomato-and-mayo sandwiches from the beginning of August into October, some years, though in no small part due to global warming. Even so, the ocean temps here are too cold and the currents too treacherous, for any swimming, though inland lakes and streams provide a welcome alternative.
Well, that’s only half of it. Summer is when Eastport comes into its full glory. The streets are swarming, like a big party. To think, I’m experiencing the ideal of summering on a Maine island, combined with a lively artistic dimension! Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have expected that.
But all good things must come to an end.
Three-quarters of the Eastport’s population is what Mainers call Summer People. Now they’re mostly going-going-gone and we’re on the verge of getting back to our more essential state, something akin to a ghost town.
Not that we go down that easily.
This weekend featured the annual Salmon Festival, a delightfully low-key event highlighting local musicians, galleries, and crab rolls served by the senior center and Episcopal Church on Saturday and salmon dinners on Sunday, as well as tours of the salmon farms at Broad Cove.
The event honors what was once the Sardine Capital of the World in its current incarnation as a center of aquaculture in the form of salmon.
But it’s also a prelude to next weekend’s blowout, the Pirate Festival.
On Saturday, a mini-flotilla, armed with water balloons and squirt guns, sailed down to invade neighboring Lubec. Next week, they’re expected to return the favor, all in good spirits.