I’m working on a technique for photographing fresh seaweed, and posted photos of the studio set-up on my non-Coast Walk blog: http://jenniferbooher.com/wp/seaweed-experiment/
I’m working on a technique for photographing fresh seaweed, and posted photos of the studio set-up on my non-Coast Walk blog: http://jenniferbooher.com/wp/seaweed-experiment/
Maureen Fournier is an Acadia National Park seasonal ranger (you may have met her on duty at the Village Green in Bar Harbor), a former medical librarian, and a volunteer researcher at the MDI Historical Society. We met at the Northeast Harbor Library on October 20, 2017 to talk about her work on the Champlain Society. It was a perfect fall day, although it felt more like September than late October: 59ºF (15ºC), bright sunshine, light breeze, and a cloudless blue sky.
You may need a little background info for this one: The Champlain Society was a group of Harvard students who camped out on MDI each summer beginning in 1880 and conducted research on local natural history. It was started by Charles Eliot, Jr., whose father, Charles Eliot, Sr., had camped out on Calf Island with friends, and brought his family in 1871. The family returned most summers for several years. In 1880, Eliot, Jr. brought his college friends. In a nutshell, here’s why the Champlain Society is important to the Coast Walk: the students were some of the first recreational campers on the island (they helped start an industry); the Eliots were the first Rusticator family to build a summer home in Northeast Harbor (they helped start a summer colony); one of the society members, Edward Rand, eventually wrote The Flora of Mt. Desert Island (1894), which was the first comprehensive catalog of the island’s plants, and also produced a detailed map of the island to accompany the book (and the Coast Walk frequently refers to that map); Eliot, Jr. helped found the world’s first land trust in Massachusetts, which inspired Eliot, Sr. to become one of the driving forces behind the formation of Acadia National Park after the death of Eliot, Jr.; and the work that the society did still stands as a benchmark for comparative studies in how plant and animal populations here have changed over time. Not bad for a bunch of college kids on summer break. (For more details, see the articles I’ve listed in the bibliography at the end of this post)
Maureen and I had never met in real life although we’ve been Facebook friends for a while, so we began by chatting a bit about mutual friends, the historical society, the joy of poking around in archives, and eventually, we worked our way around to the Coast Walk.
Jenn: Right now, I’m at Robert’s Point, the east side of the harbor there, kind of coming around the point into the harbor.
Maureen: You’re getting very close to the second camp for the Champlain Society [Ed.note: near the Asticou Inn]. … The first one … is over off Sargeant Drive, on the Sound. … Hadlock Brook comes down there. … That’s on private land. You’ve probably heard the name Catherine Schmitt (see bibliography), … she’s really the expert on everything to do with the Champlain Society, but the two of us were recently talking, and she said, “You know, I’d really like to trace that trail that they take from Lower Hadlock Pond down,” which is now through the golf course basically, to the stream, to the camp.
Jenn: That would be cool!
Maureen: It would be cool, but we probably need permission. …
Jenn: It doesn’t hurt to ask. … Most people here are really interested in the history of the island. I’d say probably 80 percent of the people who I actually reach, say yes. Maybe even more. The people who say no are the ones who are really concerned about other people trespassing.
Maureen: It might be a gateway for some other people to think they can go ahead and do that as well?
Jenn: So, you’re a park ranger?
Maureen: Right. I’m the ranger at the Village Green in Bar Harbor. I’ve been doing that for about eight years, but before [that] I was a medical librarian for 25 years.
Jenn: Oh my gosh. No kidding.
Maureen: My heart is with libraries, and national parks, and the outdoors. I got involved with MDI Historical Society just on a whim about four years ago. This is my home library, the Northeast Harbor Library, although I use them all. Brook Minor was here, and she got a grant through the Maine Humanities Council … to digitize or to add content to Maine Memory Network – I don’t know if you’re familiar with Maine Memory?
Jenn: Oh yes, that’s an incredible resource.
Maureen: [When that ended] … I said, “Look. I’m relatively free in the winter times. I would love to get involved on a volunteer level with something like this.” Next thing I know, I’m on this path with the Champlain Society, who I’d never heard of before. Met Catherine Schmitt. Then we started talking with Tim [Garrity] over at the Historical Society and realized that … there are 16 log books of the Champlain Society [and] they were not in a format yet that would be acceptable to Maine Memory Network. … That meant starting from scratch. Scanning them all. The transcripts have to be redone according to standard. That’s when I started working on that. I don’t know if you’ve been on Maine Memory Network lately or on even the MDI Historical Society website. A good number of the log books are up there.
Jenn: I’ve been poking around through them. It’s amazing. They’re beautiful. You guys did some really high quality scans on those. You can really blow them up and look at the detail.
Maureen: I’m still working on it. There’s one right now, I just [started] Wednesday at the Historical Society. … There’s seven or eight log books that [aren’t done] … The handwriting is difficult to read. … It’s fascinating. The stories. They laugh at me over at the historical society, because I just love these Harvard boys. I think they are the most fun group. You know how you get the college essay questions sometimes, ‘If you could have an interview with anybody, who would you like to [meet]?’ I would love to meet with one of the Champlain Society members.
Jenn: I want to go over to the camp and hang out around the fire with them.
Maureen: I know, I know! … Sing songs with them. Their poetry was amazing. Their language, and their backgrounds, and the stories that they wrote … such creativity mixed with their scientific background. I mean, I think that their contributions to this island at such a point in the 1880’s, … what they contributed in the way of citizen science …
Jenn: Rand in particular.
Maureen: Their stuff was amazing. Right now, Catherine Schmitt is working on a book on the Champlain Society.
Jenn: Oh, great!
Maureen: Yes. We’ve had initial meetings to talk about that. Part of the book is what happened to the Champlain Society members after they left their camping experience here, then went back to Harvard. What became of them. Of course, Rand is very well known for his work on flora and fauna. His map of the island-
Jenn: Yes! Which I use a lot.
Maureen: Me too. I’ve got one hanging in my dining room. When you think about their contributions in citizen science, that alone gives them an incredible reputation as far as the history of the island. Then, they were just fun. They gave us a look, just a little bit of a look into society in the 1880’s on the island, and I look at the log books from the point of view of a very amateur historian. For instance, I knew of the story of a Mr. Howe who had been robbed in his buckboard, coming down from Green Mountain, which is Cadillac Mountain.
Jenn: My god. Wow.
Maureen: I knew of that story, but then to read about it as an account in the Champlain Society logbook. “Oh yeah, Mr. Howe was robbed.” Before, it could have been just urban legend. Just a story that had been passed down through oral histories, but then to see [it recorded in the notebooks], it actually happened. It’s a major, primary resource. … I do a lot of hiking on the island, and I hike a lot on the western side. I did not know there was a major fire over there in 1883.
Jenn: I didn’t either!
Maureen: Major fire. They could see it from here in Northeast Harbor. There were three or four days of entries that talk about the fire and what they could see. Oh, Garfield assassinated.
Jenn: That’s in the log books?
Maureen: That’s in the log books. “We picked up the paper in Southwest Harbor today and read of the shooting of President Garfield.” Actual historical accounts in their writing in the log book, I find … that’s … wow. That’s pretty incredible.
Jenn: From the little poking around I’ve done, it seems like they have a really irreverent sense of humor.
Maureen: Oh, that’s what I mean. I would love to sit down with them in their parlor tent and just listen.
Jenn: It gives you a real sense of them as people.
Jenn: Not just as people, but as people at that [age] … college kids, you know? That point when you’re kind of an adult, but you’re kind of not yet.
Maureen: Right. I mean, it wasn’t all scientific research that they were doing. … These were young men. …They were the first campers, really on the island. They were thought of as a little exotic and strange.
Jenn: The barbarians.
Maureen: Oh yeah, the barbarians.
Jenn: But the Harvard barbarians – barbarians with a pedigree.
Maureen: Exactly. Interesting group. And then the group changed from year to year, so you had a new mix of humor, of conversation, of backgrounds; they put on plays, they were very involved in the social life here, so you have an up-front, personal look at society. On many levels, [the logbooks] are just a wonderful resource into that day and age.
Jenn: One of the things that I’m interested in is … this sense that they were kind of seminal. There were a lot of connections coming out from the Champlain Society. The houses that got built and the people who came here because the Champlain Society had been here. The Eliots came first, and then they brought friends. Their friends grew up and got married, and some of them settled. Well, didn’t settle, but they had summer places here.
Maureen: Right. Rand probably was the one that came back the longest period of time. Towards the year 1890, he was still compiling information on the island and especially the flora and fauna, and at that point, they were no longer camping. They were more involved … they were grown up now. In some of the later log books, … [Rand] was staying at the Central House in Somesville. He used that as a base, so you can see the difference between when they were in canvas tents [as college students.] Ten years later, now they’re grown up. Now they’re married. They’re spread out more. Toward the end of that decade of the 1880’s, their work wasn’t as prolific as it was in the beginning. In the beginning, it was a club broken up into divisions, and departments, and there was a captain. There was a secretary. They got together over the winter to plan the upcoming summer. They have logbooks of their meetings in Boston. And even [in] those records, you can see the progression of their maturity from being kid-like … with a club, up to more citizen science, and then more involved in general society.
It was a nice, easy progression. You could see the development of them as individuals, and of them as a group. I love reading their records from when they met over the winter time. They’d sometimes get together at hotels. There’s a hotel in Boston called Young’s Hotel. … They actually had menus set up for the event, and they had agendas. They were very, very particular and detailed about what they were going to do.
Jenn: How many of them were there at that point?
Maureen: … The membership changed. Generally, it was about a dozen in each summer’s event. Some didn’t stay the whole summer. Some would only pay for [a few weeks] … They each had to pay their individual way. That’s in the log books as well. There’s an accounting.
Jenn: Oh, cool.
Maureen: There is a treasury of the group, and there’s an accounting of how much the tents cost to rent, and storage, and the food. They also had a yacht called the Sunshine. That [belonged to] the Eliot family. In the early days, in the first camp at Camp Pemetic, which is the one on the Sound, some stayed on Sunshine right off shore. They used that and a dory to go back and forth [to] Southwest Harbor. They did not use Northeast Harbor as a base, as a place to shop, or to get provisions … Southwest Harbor was the major town and settlement at that point.
Jenn: Wow. Okay.
Maureen: Yeah, which is interesting. … It was a very short boat ride really over to Southwest Harbor. That’s how they got around. Oftentimes, they met the incoming members of the camp in Southwest Harbor at the landing there because the steamship would come into Southwest Harbor, rather than Bar Harbor and not Northeast Harbor. …
Jenn: It’s funny, looking back, sometimes I get that sense that the island was turned around then. That for a long time, Southwest was-
Maureen: Was the leading or the largest.
Jenn: And they used to call Bar Harbor ‘the Back Side.’
Maureen: Yeah. … I mean, that’s true. I think Hancock Point was another area that our visitors would land in. They’d take the train up the coast from Rockland, and they’d get to Ellsworth and take the train to Hancock Point … That’s when Bar Harbor started getting up and coming. Before that, you’re right, Southwest Harbor was it. There were steamships that went up the western side, so Seal Cove, Goose Cove had a landing from Ellsworth and Bangor.
Jenn: Oh, wow.
Maureen: There were ships that would land on that side.
Jenn: I’m going to have to look for that. I had no idea.
Maureen: Yeah. I know. In transcribing some of these log books, they would have place names mentioned in them, Goose Cove being one of them. The other place that I [noticed was] … Squid Cove. Both Catherine and I [researched] where that exactly is on the map.Maureen: A lot of it’s on private land now, so you can’t access it. There are some wonderful photographs also in these log books. They’re on Maine Memory Network as well. One of the photographs I remember was up in the Squid Point area called High Head. It was a destination for people coming from the east side. They would take their buckboard over, or they’d walk. I mean, visitors then … I call them visitors, but they’re mostly summer residents. They would walk, much more than we do today, and there were times in fact, the Champlain Society would walk from Northeast Harbor, all the way up into what is now Somesville and come down the other side and [it would] take them half a day to walk over there. Then they’d take a boat back over to their camp.
Getting back to High Head, that was a destination, and there are some photographs of them and entries in the logbook about, “Oh, we’re going up to High Head today and enjoy a picnic.” Or something. That’s the time period. There’s a lot more walking. … They walked all [over] … doing what you’re doing actually. I was thinking about this. They were walking from Northeast Harbor, along the shore, up into Otter Creek and up along what is now Ocean Drive, out to Anemone Cave.
Jenn: That is a long walk!
Maureen: … They mentioned some of the hotels in Bar Harbor, that they would stay there.
Jenn: I’m just trying to think, in 1880 a lot of those shore paths weren’t there yet. Those were more the 90’s.
Maureen: [They would have taken] the road, rather than trails. … They would probably be going up right along what was the county road through Seal Harbor and not turning off onto Cooksey Drive.
Jenn: So, going the other way, through the mountain pass there. Okay.
Maureen: Yeah. There’s an old county road that cuts through Otter Creek … I found traces of this county road in Seal Harbor.
Jenn: Yeah. It used to run through where Blackwoods is now. Down to where the Causeway is. There was a bridge occasionally.
Maureen: You know when you’re going through Otter Creek … I don’t know if you noticed, right on Route 3 there, off to the right, as you’re heading north towards Bar Harbor, … you can almost trace an old road after the village of Otter Creek, heading towards Otter Cliff Road. You can see kind of an old road bed through there. That was the main thoroughfare through what was called the Gorge. You can see also traces of that old county road. I think there’s a road called the Old County Road in Seal Harbor. Anyway, you can see traces of the old county road also before you get to Cooksey Drive. You know when you pass the lower Day Mountain parking? In those woods on your left, there’s traces of an old road in there.
Maureen: It’s very cool. … They didn’t make a trail, but they did certainly make paths to where they wanted to go. The Asticou Trail, from Asticou to Jordan Pond House, that’s probably one of their earliest paths.
Jenn: I’ve never walked that one.
Maureen: … There’s a couple ways of accessing it. You could access it from Brown Mountain Gatehouse, but you could also access it behind the Thuya Gardens. There’s a path back in there that’ll take you up there. Then you get on Park property, and then it’s called the Asticou Jordan Pond Path. That was one of their earlier paths. There are paths up Sargent Mountain. When I’m hiking up Sargent, I’m always looking. I always wonder. This is the way they went or that was the way they went. I find it fascinating to be walking in their footsteps. … They were on Norumbega a lot, there’s some really funny stories about how they ended up in the blueberry bushes, ripping their pants and everything, coming down the east side of Norumbega, which they called Brown Mountain. I’m always looking for trails up on Norumbega because they were there in the Lower Hadlock Pond area a lot. That’s where they took their baths. I think it’s a water source now.
Jenn: Oh, yeah.
Maureen: I’m trying to connect it all. Bring it forward. … Just make that connection with them somehow. That’s exciting for me. … The more I started digitizing and helping with the transcriptions, the more I started just falling in love with these guys.
Jenn: They have outsize personalities. Some of them stand out more than others. …
Maureen: Yeah. I think Rand has so much talent. He’s the one most people think of. And certainly the captain, who was Charles Eliot. He seems to me, always to be the more sophisticated … fell into that leadership role very easily.
Jenn: Well, it was his boat.
Maureen: It was his boat, and the “ancestral home” being here. … [Ed. note: After the Eliot family built a summer home here, the logbooks refer to it as “The Ancestral” or “Ancestral Mansion.” Collegiate irony circa 1884.] But he definitely was a natural born leader as well. Rand is – beyond his work with flora and the mapping – his creative writing, his poetry, his storytelling, he was multi-faceted. … You know what is mind-boggling to me, is the difference in the education systems between then and now. You think, these folks here, of course they went to Harvard and they were Boston Brahmins, you know, blue bloods. They had really good educations. But, at that point, they were also studying the Classics, which is pretty much nonexistent today. Rand especially would incorporate that knowledge base, that love of the classics into his storytelling. He would write pages and pages of stories, using mythological or classical names and stories. He would incorporate that into his story of the Champlain Society. … They were a wonderful mix of the arts and the sciences. Really, when you think about it, they were so well-rounded, in their writing, especially. I enjoy them.
Jenn: I’ve enjoyed the little bit I’ve read so far. I’m really looking forward to diving into this.
Maureen: Yeah. I think when Catherine gets this book done, it’s going to be great, because then it can be put out there on a much more accessible level. … This was a copy of what we transcribed for the 1882 log. … The reason I brought this is because he gives a description of their Camp Asticou here in Northeast Harbor and where it was set up.
Maureen: There’s actually even a map, a little hand drawn map in the log book that I don’t have in here, but … You want me to read it to you?
Jenn: Yeah. If you don’t mind. …
Maureen: This is Camp Asticou, which is the second camp they had. … So if you’re standing on the porch of the Asticou Inn … it would be a little to your left on the embankment there.
Maureen: The other thing is, in the 1882 log, I think … ’82 or ’83, they put together, kind of like a Champlain Society time capsule, that’s what I would call it, in a tin bucket. … Notes on what they did that summer. … I can’t remember what else they put in this little tin bucket. I thought, man would I love to take a metal detector-
Jenn: Did they bury it someplace?
Maureen: They buried it back there somewhere.
Jenn: Oh my-
Maureen: Now, I don’t know when they built the houses that are there, … but I’ve often thought, boy would I love to just scour that shoreline there or up the embankment a little bit. In this passage, he talks about some rocks and boulders and things like that. I don’t even know if those boulders are there anymore. Okay, so this is the Asticou camp. [Ed.note: For those who only know the name ‘Asticou’ applied to the Inn and the Azalea Garden, it refers to the Asticou neighborhood, formerly the village of Asticou, at the head of the harbor. More on the history of Asticou in another post.]
“The camp is situated on the top of a high bank, just above Savage’s Wharf. The ground is rather uneven, especially under the parlor tent. On the west, the hill slopes greatly towards the cove at the head of the harbor, and on the south, the descent towards Savage’s Wharf is steep. On the north, there is a gentle slope. On the northeast and east, the site is bounded by a potato, etc. patch. Beyond this, the public road passes. The road is the great drawback to the place, but it is hoped that it will not be a nuisance. Mr. Townsend has almost made up his mind to face the curious gaze of Bar Harbor sirens, but laments the privacy of Camp Pemetic, now, alas, lost to the Champlain Society, for this summer at least. The tents all have a view down Northeast Harbor. From the parlor tent, you can see its whole length. … Savage’s house is very prominent, high on the hillside above the camp. From Savage’s the camp can be plainly seen as we sit at the table during our meals.” That year, when they moved [to Asticou], they no longer cooked for themselves. They went to Savage’s or to another place to get their meals. [Ed.note: ‘Savage’s house’ was roughly on the site of the present Asticou Inn.]
Maureen: But to me, it’s also the natural progression. For the previous two or three summers, they’ve been really enjoying this camping experience, and then it got old. … They were still in tents, but you can see how they’re growing up a little bit. They’re mingling into society and not escaping from it in a tent. Although, they’re still saying that having the road nearby is not a good thing. They still are maintaining they want some privacy as campers.
Maureen: … I think 1882 and 1881 are the most interesting logbooks to read. 1881 because they were so focused on what they were doing here. They were much more meticulous and detailed in what they wrote about, so the content is much more involved.
Jenn: Is that their second year?
Maureen: It would have been the third summer. There is a logbook from 1879. That’s when Charles Eliot, the son, came up with the Sunshine, and there is a logbook of meteorological data, which is very interesting. I know the park has been looking at that for the climate change issue, you know?
Maureen: … To see the changes meteorologically, … even the effect on the types of fish that were here, the flora and fauna that are here now, versus what was there then. These are huge resources in the science field. You know? Because it shows you right there what the difference is. The change in the number of species of birds from then until now. Catherine … has been recently down at Harvard, and in their Natural History Museum they have the actual birds from Spelman.
Jenn: I’m actually going down to photograph them for her article.
Maureen: Oh, you are? .. Tim did mention that you’re doing work for the next Chebacco, is that correct? Good. Yeah, your photographs are unbelievable.
Jenn: Oh, thanks! This is a little different, the stuff for Chebacco. But it’ll be cool. Yeah, I’m going to go down and photograph the birds in early November. I’m so excited. [Ed.note: the 2018 issue of Chebacco will be officially available April 5, 2018. Order yours now!]
Maureen: She sent me a picture, and … she said, “You can’t imagine the feeling.” There she was with her glove and that warbler in her hand. ‘Oh my god, it’s Spellman’s bird.’ We get very excited about it.
Jenn: No. It’s even more immediate than their writing in a way. This is the bird that he collected himself-
Maureen: Exactly. It’s that connection between now and then that it’s … You’re right. It’s immediate. It’s a wow moment.
Jenn: It’s kind of the point of a history collection in a lot of ways. That wow moment.
Maureen: Making it come alive. Not just sitting in a museum somewhere. It’s alive to me.
Jenn: You could probably find the entries that they wrote about each of those birds.
Maureen: Oh, yes.
Jenn: I can’t wait to see her article.
Maureen: Yeah. I can’t either. She’s a very good writer. I’m blown away with the research that she does. I help with whatever I can or whatever she wants me to, but I love being involved with it. She’s definitely the expert on the whole thing.
Jenn: I have to say, I’m really looking forward to this, partly because of the connection, but mostly because I get to go behind the scenes at a museum, and I get so excited about that.
Maureen: Oh, I know. Exactly. I would like to schedule a trip down there. This reminds me, I got involved with Ron Epp on the George Dorr biography. [Ed.note: Creating Acadia National Park, The Biography of George Bucknam Dorr.] When I first started as a ranger, so eight years ago. … I was working as a volunteer in the interpretive division. Because of my interest in history, I was asked to conduct the interpretive program at Old Farm. … This was before the Champlain Society came onto my scene. I dove into everything George Dorr. I met Ron. I’m assuming you know who he is.
Jenn: I know of him. I don’t know him personally.
Maureen: Like Catherine is the expert on all Champlain Society, Ron Epp is … George Dorr, almost come to life. … He’s a former library director, and researcher, philosopher, he’s like a George Dorr in my mind. Anyway, he was the one I would go to for information so that I could … conduct this program. Then that started a friendship with him over the years, and then I got involved with his biography and helping him with that and doing some minor review of the manuscript. He asked me to write the forward for the book. … When he asked me, I was like, “Really?” Our friendship evolved. Of course, our admiration of everything George Dorr was what kept us very connected. This work for the Champlain Society is equally exciting to me. I feel like whatever I can do to push the whole story of the Champlain Society out for the public to see – I would certainly like to add that.
Jenn: Well then, I definitely asked the right person.
Maureen: I don’t know what I can do, but ask and I’ll let you know.
Jenn: Do you want to show me the camps? …
Maureen: … We could go to the Asticou Inn, … [and then] drive over to The Sound, and I’ll show you that field. Then, if you want, make a quick stop at the Historical Society, and I’ll show you the log books.
Jenn: That’d be awesome!
We hopped in our cars and headed for the Asticou Inn.
PART 2 – Asticou
Jenn: What a gorgeous day.
Maureen: Oh, I love it here. So I can’t pinpoint the exact location, but from the description I want to say it’s down in this area here. [Ed.note: Down among the trees in the photo above.]
Maureen: You know they talk about, in a little hand drawn map, there’s Tent 1, Tent 2, Tent 3 and Tent 4. And Tent 2 maybe is next to this large boulder. What boulders are there now or were taken out when houses were built, I don’t know. But I want to say it was over in this area here, maybe a little further in that direction.
Jenn: So it’s all woods now.
Maureen: … I’ve never walked down in here so I don’t know. I need to research a little bit more where Savage’s Wharf was.
Jenn: That was over here. …
Maureen: And then would this have been the potato patch? Do you know? I’m not exactly sure where it fits.
Jenn: Have you talked to Sam McGee?
Jenn: He … thinks that the camp was more or less on Story Litchfield’s property. … I think she’s the last private land before the Inn.
Maureen: Okay. That would make sense. Then it talks about the gentle sloping, which is here.
Jenn: Yes. That would have been very convenient for getting fed.
Maureen: You know, I’ve sat here at various times during the summer, and looked out, and god, that bucket must be out there somewhere.
Jenn: That would be such a score to turn that up if it hasn’t already been found.
Maureen: Right. And like I said, I don’t know which house that was, or any of these houses, how old they are. I mean maybe Sam could shed some light on the history … I mean it’s probably pretty easily researched when these houses were built.
Jenn: Well Sam definitely knows these up here. He is like an archive in his own right.
Maureen: He’d be a great resource then. And he probably knows a lot about the Champlain Society as well?
Jenn: Yes. Although, I think he comes at it from a different angle because he’s a Savage.
Maureen: Oh, I didn’t know that!
Jenn: Yes. Sam Savage McGee. So he’s got all the Savage history.
Maureen: Nice. And that plays an important role in their Camp Asticou here. Because they talk about going to eat at “Savage’s” all the time. So which Savage is that?
Jenn: I think it’s A.C. [Ed.note: Captain A.C. Savage began taking in boarders and providing meals in the 1870s, and built the first incarnation of the Asticou Inn in 1883. We met him previously in this interview with Sam McGee: http://jenniferbooher.com/wp-walking/interview-sam-mcgee-the-village-of-asticou-and-the-savage-family/ ]
Jenn: But it’s before this building. I’m pretty sure. I’ll be getting clearer on that as I work my way up here.
Maureen: I’ve never followed that angle.
Jenn: Yes. We’ve got to get you and Sam together.
Maureen: Well that’s just going to blow my mind. And I think that’s the really cool thing the more you get into researching the history of this island. You go down certain paths, and then you meet more people. That have interesting tidbits of information …
Jenn: Yes, that fits that missing piece of your puzzle! …
Maureen: I don’t know anything really about the Savage family tree. I know there’s a lot to it.
Jenn: I’m torn right now because I want to read everything about the Savages, and everything about the Champlain Society. It’s going to take me awhile through this area because there’s so much! [Ed.note: When I finally finish this project I’m going to award myself a PhD in Island Studies.]
Jenn: The Savages are fascinating people.
Maureen: And I haven’t touched on that at all, so that would be a whole other ballgame So, which of the Savages did all the buildings?
Jenn: Fred. So, he’s the son of the guy who built the inn. Which was AC.
Jenn: Captain, I think. And then Charles, who was, I think Fred’s brother, did Thuya and the Azalea Garden. [Ed.note: oops, no Fred was Charles’ uncle.]
Maureen: You know who’s also very good with Savage history is Linda Thayer.
Jenn: I don’t know her.
Maureen: … Linda is a docent at Thuya Gardens, and she knows an awful lot of Savage history as well. That’s what I mean, there’s people here that have their own base of knowledge, you know? And putting them all together is …
Jenn: Finding places where they overlap.
Jenn: Well, in a way that’s kind of what I’m trying to do is tease apart all the layers, as I do this walk, to find everything that happens in this one spot.
Maureen: That’s ambitious.
Jenn: No kidding!
PART 3 – Manchester Road/Hadlock Brook
Maureen: So, this would’ve been Camp Pemetic.
Jenn: No kidding? … Who owns this now?
Maureen: I think this is Maine Coast Heritage. … [Pointing across the Sound.] So, that would be Flying Mountain, and then, St. Sauveur and Acadia Mountain. And … Sunshine would be moored out here. That picture, that photograph of them sitting at the head of the brook, would be to our right. … So that’s the Jesuit Field, across the sound.
Jenn: Fernald Point.
Maureen: Fernald Point, and they would just take the boat and then head right to Southwest Harbor. It was much easier for them … There was much more of a village life then … in Southwest Harbor. That was where they would do everything. I marvel at their access to the water, because it’s not-
Jenn: It’s not exactly easy. [Ed.note: the field drops in a steep, crumbly embankment to the shore.] … I mean you can get down, but it’s quite a scramble.
Maureen: Yeah. And they don’t really mention access. … It seemed like it was an easy walk, right to the boat.
Jenn: How late in the season did they stay?
Maureen: By Labor Day, they would be back at school.
Jenn: That makes sense. …
Maureen: Across that rocky ledge there, is the brook’s entrance into the sound.
Maureen: And that would have been the general vicinity where they sat and posed for the one photo. You can kind of see it down here. It feeds into the Sound.
PART 4 Historical Society
We drove up to the MDI Historical Society headquarters at the old schoolhouse in the town formerly known as Sound [a story for another post.] Maureen pulled the box of logbooks from the archives and we went through the contents.
Jenn: Gosh, these are just beautiful artifacts.
Maureen: Yeah, and they’re getting pretty fragile too. That’s one of the other concerns we have, but another reason why we’re working so hard to digitize them so [there’s] less handling of them. Some of them are logbooks. Some of them are meeting records from their winter meetings back in Boston. This would have been Edward Rand’s, he was the secretary the first few years, his report for the year 1882 to 83. They have logs of the yacht, so that would have been separate. Also in the same year they would have meeting records and more yacht’s log. This one is a good one, because it also has photos in it. The 1881.
Maureen: So there was where we were, Camp Pemetic. … [Here’s a] summary of expenses.
Jenn: Cool. They were pretty thorough. …
Maureen: Some of these little blue books [are] meteorological records. Maine invertebrates. They were very thorough and meticulous about their record keeping. This one is kind of a beast to transcribe.
Jenn: I bet. … It must have taken a fair amount of work to make some of that faint ink readable in the scans.
Maureen: Yes. You had to tweak it a little bit. … They are getting fragile. One thought is “What do we do about that?” Do we leave it because this is the original? Do we get them rebound?
Jenn: Oh no!
Maureen: I know. But definitely reduce the number of times handled.
Jenn: Yeah. The scanning will definitely will help with that.
Maureen: Yup. I think so.
Jenn: And now that that’s done, you need a real reason to come see the original.
Jenn: What an amazing project.
Maureen: It’s fun. I mean you have to enjoy that kinda stuff, and I do. So let me show you where this is, in case you … do you want to look at it any further?
Jenn: No. I don’t want to handle those too much. But it’s really cool to have seen the originals. … So many treasures back here.
We took the box back into the archives storage area.
Maureen: I know. Last winter Betsy and I were up here inventorying the larger objects. … This is what is left to be handled at some point. And what we would like to do … as far as the collection goes, is work with the textiles. Trying to make more room. Frankly I’m not sure how we want to handle the rest of [it].
Jenn: It’s like trying to curate someone’s attic.
Maureen: Yeah. There’s really no order to any of these textile boxes either. So that’s a definite need. … And then, you know we have a collection committee meeting every quarter. …
Jenn: Are these all trophies?
Maureen: … Bar Harbor high school trophies, basketball trophies.
Jenn: What do you do with this stuff?
Maureen: Well, that’s why I’m waiting for direction on that. … It should fall within the policy of the collection committee. What’s their relevance to the collection? Is there provenance? We always joke and say “Well, did … Abraham Somes have anything to do with it?” Anything with Somes’ name on it we keep.
Jenn: Ah, look at all the little boat models too!
Maureen: I know. And see that’s a thing I would need help with. Do we put that in a box? I don’t think so. Some of these things are not really boxable. So we’ll have to get some direction on that. I try not to get overwhelmed by it all. Those are the two rows that were filled with objects last winter. Now we’ve got a good number of them boxed. … So, I’ll maybe see you again in here.
Jenn: Yeah, now that we’ve met we’ll probably start running into each other. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to show me all around.
Maureen: Alright. Thanks so much Jenn. It was great.
Jenn: And now we’ve finally met in real life!
Maureen: It was beautiful weather and a nice day to share it.
Epp, Ronald. Creating Acadia National Park, The Biography of George Bucknam Dorr. Friends of Acadia, 2016.
MacKenzie, Caitlin McDonough. “The Changing Flora of Mount Desert Island“, Chebacco, volume XVI, 2015.
Rand, Edward L. and Redfield, John. Flora of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1894.
Rand, Edward L. “Map of Mount Desert Island, compiled for the Flora of Mt. Desert Island,” 1893.
Schmitt, Catherine and Fournier, Maureen, “The Champlain Society Transcriptions,” Friends of Acadia Journal, Spring 2015.
Schmitt, Catherine, “Visionary Science of the “Harvard Barbarians”, Chebacco, volume XV, 2014.
Schmitt, Catherine. “Youth as Conservation Catalysts,” Island Journal, June 2, 2014. http://www.islandjournal.com/articles/youth-conservation-catalysts/ Accessed March 22,2018.
scans and transcriptions of the Champlain Society Logbooks are available on the MDI Historical Society’s website
On October 9, 2017, I met Sam McGee at his home in the Asticou neighborhood of Northeast Harbor. Sam is part of the 7th generation of the Savage family to live on Mount Desert Island, and is one of the family historians (Sam’s uncle, Rick Savage, is another, and you’ll be hearing from him in another interview.) His article on Maine Memory Net, “The Savage Family of Mount Desert,” is a great starting point for anyone interested in the family. Since members of the Savage family were involved with Thuya Garden, the Asticou Inn, and the Asticou Azalea Garden, and since the family has lived in the Asticou area since 1820, he seemed like a pretty key person to consult about local history.
Jenn: … I’ve been doing some reading [to prep for talking to you,] like I read Down Memory Lane by Emily … Oh my gosh. She grew up at Asticou.
Sam: Oh, Emily Kenney? [Ed.note: Emily was married a few times, so has various names in the archives. At the time she wrote Down Memory Lane, she was Emily Phillips Reynolds.] Well, I think her last name might have been Kenney at one time … . She was older than my grandfather, but they were first cousins. I can barely remember her being alive, but I remember her. Her grandparents built the hotel, and so she grew up as a kid hanging around the hotel and was interested in history and wrote down a lot about it.
Jenn: Yeah, her book is just charming. … She was talking about sledding down the ice … they’d slide down the hill into town.
Sam: They used to harvest ice out of Lower Hadlock Pond, and there was a wooden sluiceway that went all the way down to the harbor to load the ice onto ships, and so the kids would get on there.
Jenn: Oh, is that what she’s talking about?
Sam: Yeah. The kids would basically take big trays from the hotel and go slide down that.
Jenn: Oh, cool!
Sam: My great-aunt who owned this place [Sam’s house, where we were talking] … talked about doing that as a kid. … I haven’t been able to find any physical remnants of that sluiceway, but it’s pretty interesting to think that it went all the way up to the pond from there. It came down on … the western side of the harbor. If you read the Champlain [Society] diary that I sent you, that was another point of orientation that helped me figure out where they were – they talked about looking back up towards … Ice House Hill or something like that … they could probably see [the ice house] back then because it was still there. …
Jenn: You are like your own archive here!
Sam: I know. Well, it’s just I’ve got all this stuff. I’ve been trying to digitize some of it, but it’s really unorganized right now. I need help. [Emily Reynolds’] mom wrote [a memoir] and it may be helpful for you later on because she talks a little bit about her Manchester ancestors… . When the Manchesters first settled there, it was right around the time of the war of 1812, and the British came and destroyed their property, killed and stole all their animals and stuff [except] apparently one cow that escaped into the woods. … I think her mom writes about that a little bit in that, in her [memoir].
Jenn: Oh, I’d love to read that. Would you mind if I put some of these online on the blog?
Memoir by Cora Savage Phillips, mother of Emily Phillips Reynolds:Early History + Personal Recollections of NEH Cora Savage Phillips
Sam: Yeah, I don’t mind. I don’t think you really need permission from anybody because it’s hard to say who, so many generations later, who owns all this stuff.
Jenn: Well, if anyone objected, I would just take it down.
Sam: Yeah, I don’t think they’re going to because I think all the people that might get upset about it are dead!
Jenn: [Laughs.] I shouldn’t laugh.
Sam: No, it’s just time passes, and I believe if this is interesting to anybody other than me, then it should be shared. … Otherwise, this stuff’s just going to get lost. … My uncle, Rick Savage, and I talk a lot about it because in his generation, he’s kind of the family historian and I’m probably the next person who has any interest in it. He remembers Charles Savage and he remembers Emily and he spent a lot of time with both of them, gathering family history stuff. But at some point, [unless people pass these stories on,] that sort of link to the past would be lost, right? Because I barely knew both of them. I can remember them [from when I was a kid], but not enough to have a detailed conversation about family history or something. … Once you lose those ties, then you don’t have the personal recollection of all of that, and so it’s good to get it out there and for people to talk about it while they still remember the people who wrote it. …Recollections of Grandfather+Grandmother Emily Phillips Reynolds 1982
For me, I feel lucky. I grew up in this neighborhood where I’ve got so much personal history in my mom’s family, … I didn’t know a lot of it until I was an adult or appreciate it as much. … One of the things that I think about every time I come down past Upper Hadlock Pond is Emily Kenney … in this memoir that she wrote… one time she talks about the fact that she was sick as a kid and her grandparents took her over to Bar Harbor to go to the doctor in the middle of winter, and that was an ordeal back then.
Jenn: I imagine.
Sam: I think at the time, they ended up spending the night at Fred Savage’s house on Atlantic Avenue because he had moved over there, remarried. It was kind of a scandal in the family because he divorced his first wife and left Northeast and went over to … Bar Harbor, but obviously whatever rift was there, it must not have been that bad because the grandparents took her to the doctor over there and spent the night. But then on the way back, … there was a [snow drift] at the top of Hadlock that tipped the [sleigh] over. I get the impression it was the first time she realized that her grandparents were mortal, you know what I mean? That they were getting a little bit older. Often when you go up that hill in a snowstorm [even today], … the snow will drift across the road at the southern end of the pond, and that image is really compelling to me …
I had specifically asked Sam if he had photos or records of the Asticou shoreline, so we started chatting about some materials he sent me about the Champlain Society. You may need some background here. The Champlain Society was a group of Harvard students led by Charles Eliot, Jr., who spent summers on Mount Desert Island studying natural history beginning in 1880. We will be learning a lot more about them in our next interview; until then, if you’d like to know more, this article is a good introduction: https://friendsofacadia.org/the-champlain-society-transcriptions/
Sam: If you read the history about the Champlain Society, the first summer they were over [on the Sound], but then they couldn’t secure access to that anymore, so they came over [to Asticou] – I’m pretty sure the first summer they were [at Asticou], which was 1882, they were down where Story Litchfield’s house is. I’m almost positive of it because … if you read the journal and the descriptions of where they are, they talked about being above what was called Savage’s Wharf. … There’s a little boathouse on the shore [now] and then her house up above. Down by the boathouse, there used to be a wharf. They talked a lot about being camped up above that. …
Jenn: That seems pretty definitive.
Sam: Then the next year, the picture that I sent you that’s taken from the hotel, that was when the hotel had just been built. In 1883, they had just built the … first building, and … it looks like [the Champlain Society] tents are set up where the McIlhenny-Thompson property is, which is a little bit farther down. … It seems to me that they moved around wherever they were able to secure a space for the summer. I think that’s how the whole Eliot family ended up coming up here… . I think originally the father camped out on Calf Island over near Bar Harbor, but then the son came up here with all of his Harvard buddies, and then talked the father into [buying land] in that general vicinity, and … the people over at Coffeepot you talked to are all descended from that family. [Ed.note: that was Coast Walk 17.] …
Sam: … Did you see the Chebacco for this year? … They reprinted A.C. Savage’s Memoirs of a Lifetime in the [2017 issue]. Rick Savage and I helped Tim Garrity try to identify places that are talked about in the [issue], and we went over to COA early this year and worked with Gordon [Longsworth.] [He’s] a map guru guy over there who’s got this fancy GIS program. He took old maps, overlaid them on newer maps, and helped pinpoint [places]. Rick and I tried to guess as best we could where the log cabin on the east side of Harbor Brook would’ve been and stuff like that. [Ed. note: Where the first Savage family cabin was: see Coast Walk 17 ] … A.C. Savage talks about [a time] when he was a little kid [that] he got sick…. His mother sent him down [to a family living near the current Shellheap property] to do an errand, and on the way back he became so dizzy … that he fell down and passed out. Probably right where the Asticou Dock is [now]. …
Jenn: Poor kid! [Ed.note: This was in 1840. A.C. had contracted typhus, which was going through the community. One of his brothers died of it. A.C. writes, “How plain I can remember the day I was taken sick! There was no road on the east side of the harbor at that time, so we had to walk along the edge of the water along the shore at low tide. When the tide was up we went by the wood road above the ledge where the Curtis road now is. The day I was taken sick, mother sent me down by the shore to go to aunt Harriet Pung’s. I went and did the errand and on my way home I became dizzy and fell off what we called “the big rocks” about half way from Pung Head to our wharf. After a time I got up cold and wet, the tide having flowed up around me, my face and head bleeding. However, I got home and was put to bed where I lay for several weeks.”]A.C.Savage_memories_of_a_lifetime
Sam: … When you think about it, so many things could go wrong where somebody could’ve died or drowned because they didn’t know how to swim. It’s like in the Champlain [Society] Journal, there’s one entry in there about how Fred Savage, the architect, he was probably … 15 years old or something, I’m guessing by the timeline. He was swimming down off the wharf and got a charlie horse and almost drowned, but the Champlain Society people saved him. … There’s barely a mention of it in this journal, but then I think to myself, if it weren’t for the Eliot family, he never would have been an architect.
Jenn: Right, and the physical history of the island would be different.
Sam: Be completely different, yeah. Because it’s not just [saving him from drowning]. It’s also the fact that when [the Savages] started selling off lots and building summer houses for the Eliot family, Fred was working there as a carpenter and a day laborer and he got noticed by Eliot’s son-in-law, Robert Peabody, the architect, as being skilled. That’s how he ended up going down to Boston to be trained as an architect.
Jenn: He worked at Peabody and Stearns didn’t he?
Sam: Yes. … What I see [in] my family history is that way back early on, there was an emphasis on [education] – it was worth it to spend money on education. … I think his father would’ve helped parlay that meeting into encouraging Fred, ‘You should go to Boston. Don’t just stay here. You should go down there and get trained.’ Wow, what a big opportunity that was for somebody from very-rural-at-the-time Maine, you know? … yeah, you’re right. It changed the physical landscape of this town and Bar Harbor too, to some extent.
Jenn: I mean, [Fred Savage] did the … well, it used to be the [Bar Harbor] school, but the town office, right?
Sam: Yeah, that was one of his.
Jenn: And the [Bar Harbor] fire station.
Sam: That was kind of one of his last things because… post World War I, people weren’t building as many summer homes, and so he started doing industrial projects because that’s what was out there for work.
Jenn: I’m [thinking] back to your thread of how the Eliots influenced [the island], and … one of the things I’m finding on this walk is the way what happens in one generation has these repercussions that just grow. One of my favorite examples is the Charles Tracy expedition. Tracy was, I think, a New York lawyer, came up here with a big party of people [in 1855] … They were one of the first rusticator parties … . His daughter Fanny married J.P. Morgan and brought Morgan here on their honeymoon, which led to the Morgan Men [summering here] and half of the mansions that were built in Bar Harbor. … One of the Morgan Men was Fabbri, and his son [built] the radio station at Otter Cove, so there’s this crazy connection between these first rusticators in their ox cart and … the submarine station in Otter Cove.
Sam: Which, if you think about it, [the generational continuity is] amazing: historically uninterrupted by time – because sometimes I think these things happen [in other places] and then three generations later, it goes away, but up here there’s still… well, if you look at Coffeepot [for example, the current owners] have to be seven generations or at least five [from] when the Eliots first came here.
Jenn: Yeah. … Now you’ve got me thinking about the Eliot family and how they came here: this almost accidental coming-up-to-visit and then these huge repercussions. [Ed. note: So yeah, Eliot Senior goes camping one summer, brings his son the next year; the following year Eliot Junior brings his college friends, then Eliot Senior builds a house, the Eliots’ friends start visiting, and the next thing you know Northeast Harbor is a summer colony, Eliot Senior has helped create Acadia National Park, Robert Peabody has trained Fred Savage, Edward Rand has written The Flora of Mount Desert Island, and Fred Savage has defined the Shingle Style cottage on MDI. Heaven knows what else we’ll find. Stay tuned.] …
We wandered into discussion of non-Coast Walk things, and eventually came back around to demographic changes in Northeast Harbor:
Sam: I often think, ‘Will my kids stay here at some point in their lives?’ or it might not be possible in terms of economics?
Jenn: Yeah, but they might come back.
Sam: They might, but I do think about affordability [and] the whole population of this particular village as part of Mount Desert. Even in the ’80s when I grew up here, I would describe it as peak population, and there were probably three times more year-round people that lived in the village – maybe it was 1,000 year-rounders in the village, and now it’s less than 300. When I was a kid, I can remember riding my bike downtown. You always easily found five or six other kids to play with, and it was a great little village because it’s got all this infrastructure. I think it’s a little different now. The infrastructure’s still there and that school’s still a magnet and the library’s still a magnet, but it’s much more of a commuter village and a commuter school, if you will, where kids get picked up and then they might go off to Somesville where real estate’s more affordable and middle class people can afford to live. It’s not the same as it was 30 years ago when I grew up and … my mom as a teacher could afford to live here. I don’t really think that’s feasible anymore. … But even given all that, I am always surprised at how resilient certain historical trends or family trees or whatever are around here. I think it is unusual compared to other parts of our country, which were historically up until very recently very mobile. I’ve been reading lately that Americans are a little less mobile than they used to be. … With industrial decline in our country, I think people are a little more stagnant than they used to be.
Jenn: Well, I know for us, it’s a choice. … There was a time when we had to figure out, “Are we going to pursue our careers or are we going to do what it takes to stay here?”
Sam: Yeah, and so you made the latter choice.
Jenn: Yeah, which is why I’m now a [vacation] rental “mogul”. … That’s where I earn my living mostly. Photography brings in some money, but we certainly don’t live on that.
Sam: The funny part is I don’t think that’s any different in some ways than the generations before us because they did whatever they had to do to get by.
Jenn: Oh yeah, your family is classic.
Sam: I think the whole getting into the hotel business here was an improvisation.
Jenn: Yeah, and renting out boats at one point. Just whatever people wanted, they supplied. More or less.
Sam: Because A.C. and Emily Savage, who I think of as the third generation, he was pretty much a schooner captain. I think of him as a glorified truck driver, right?
Jenn: Yeah, he was coasting, right? [Ed.note: ‘coasting’ was the 19th century term for short-range shipping along the coast.]
Sam: Yeah, and so he’s just delivering stuff up and down the coast. He might have deforested the hillside here and sold the logs to make money. Then he was in the Civil War, so he got to get out and see the world a little bit… [but] because he was in the Navy, I don’t think he saw much action. He was just patrolling the Potomac River. He came back home and then postwar it’s kind of like, “Well, what do we do now?” The steamship era started. He probably started to see, “My days might be numbered as a schooner captain,” then saw these educated kids coming up from Boston camping out in the field and buying dinner from him up at his house and he thought, “Oh, I’ll turn this into a cottage industry.” That’s how the hotel got built. It seemed like everybody moved out of their big house in the summer, rented it out. Lived wherever they could, … you know, that was just one way that you made money, and I think that’s still true around here to a large extent.
Jenn: We do that.
Sam: There’s good and bad I think probably that comes with all that.
Jenn: Yeah. Well, the good is that you get to stay [on the island] and the bad is, well, it’s a pain in the butt.
Sam: It’s disruptive, but I suppose your kids learn to be adaptable.
Jenn: [shrugs] What it takes to stay on an island.
Jenn: When you were growing up here, where did you live?
Sam: I lived in the red house right down the road there apiece that my cousin Tom now lives in. It’s funny, I think about how many people lived there and originally, I think it was a little bit temporary in intention.
Jenn: The house?
Sam: Yeah. At one point, where that red house is, there was a huge barn that was there and the barn actually used to sit next to where Cranberry Lodge is, but apparently after the Asticou Inn burned in 1900, my grandfather’s grandfather was so worried that the barn might ever catch on fire that they moved it. The building is huge. I’ve got pictures of it. I can show you. I’ve got a picture here in the other room. This is only half of it.
Jenn: Oh, wow.
Sam: This is sitting kind of where the red house is now. That’s my grandfather. Those are his two older siblings, these are my great grandparents, and this is my Aunt Mame who owned this house. This picture was probably taken in 1911. When the horse and buggy era declined, and my great grandparents both died late ’30s, early 1940s, my grandfather and his brother and my aunt inherited the barn, and they kind of turned it into a storage garage for the taxi business. … They were school teachers in the winter and they had a chauffeur service in the summer, and in those days, people would come to the hotel and spend the whole summer there, and it was very formal. They’d have these Irish Catholic guys dressed up in black suits that were their chauffeurs, and so my family started giving summer lodging to the chauffeur people in various buildings around the neighborhood, storing the cars, taking care of them, all that, and so at some point, my grandfather got the idea of, “Well, I’m going to tear the barn down and we’re going to build a garage.” So they did, they tore the barn down and they used the leftover parts from the barn and built this really long garage to store all the cars in.
Jenn: I think I’ve seen pictures of that. Oh, you know, your article, … “They should’ve built the houses on wheels?” I loved that.
Sam: I talked about it a little bit in there. Then after the Bar Harbor fire, I think one of the places that survived was this mansion called the Stotesbury estate, which sat right where the ferry terminal is now.
Sam: The Stotesbury Estate was so big that when they tore it down and sold off all the pieces of it, they actually had to have a magazine printed for when people came to bid on all the stuff. My grandfather used to brag that he spent $1,500 building the red house because he built it out of spare parts from the Stotesbury estate – he bought flooring, he bought windows, and the house has these big, really thick doors in it. He dragged my uncles over there and had them tear apart this junk and bring it over here, and they built that red house, and so that was the house my mom grew up in with her brothers, and then later on we moved into it when I was a kid. Now my cousin Tom lives there. I think my grandfather had always intended it to be somewhat temporary in nature – at the time both my grandparents were schoolteachers. They’d go to California in the winter and teach school out there, then drive across country every summer, come back here, and run the taxi business.
Jenn: That sounds exhausting.
Sam: It does. I think at a certain point they got tired of it. They did that for five or six years, and I think my grandfather at the time was probably reaching middle age and tired of hauling three kids out to California, teaching, and then coming back, so they originally built the red house as a place to stay in the summer when they ran the taxi business, but then it became their home. Then later on in life, my grandparents built the house down on the shore where Story Litchfield lives now and moved out, and that’s when ultimately we moved into the red house when I was a kid. It’s funny to me to think of this house that I think was sort of done in a very haphazard fashion has seen a lot of families come and go through it. … I get a kick out of it.
Jenn: Is it kind of like every generation winterizes or puts a foundation under it or something? Like you did with this place?
Sam: The red house does not have a great foundation under it, but it is winterized. … When we moved into it, my mom did renovate it quite a bit, and my sister used it as a summer rental for quite a while because she doesn’t live up here, and then my cousin Tom bought it from my sister. It is nice that it’s in the family and that there’s kids down the road. I like that.
Jenn: Was there a neighborhood of people up here or was it all family?
Sam: Mostly family, at least through my childhood. It’s becoming more and more seasonal as time goes on, this particular little neighborhood back in here, but it was all family at one time. The original property was 105 acres that went roughly down to the Asticou dock [and] all the way up over the hill. Do you know where the cemetery is up on the top of the hill? Well, if you go in the driveway right before Brown Mountain Gatehouse, it’s called Gatehouse Hill Road and you drive straight up, there’s a cemetery at the top of the hill. It’s mostly a community cemetery for people in Mount Desert, but technically it’s still a private cemetery that was created under a deed of trust by my great-great grandparents, and my uncle’s the successor trustee of it right now. Joseph Curtis was the one who laid out the plan for the cemetery. [Ed note: Curtis’ name may sound familiar – he built the terraces and lodge at Thuya Garden and donated the property to the town.] It’s got his name all over it because he was a civil engineer by training and did a lot of public projects down in Boston. … He would have been a rough contemporary with my great-great grandfather. They were both in the Civil War. They probably shared that common history with one another, and he was really, if not the first, then the second summer person to come up here besides the Eliots, and so my family sold land off to the Eliots and to Curtis and built some of the first summer houses for them. That’s another way they supplemented their income was selling off lots that used to be wood lots or whatever. Anyway, so the family property extended all the way up to where that cemetery was. My Uncle Rick still lives next to the cemetery. … When I was a kid, my mom’s younger brother John and his wife Diana lived up the hill from here, and they operated a riding stable.
Jenn: Seriously? Cool.
Sam: They taught kids English riding …, and they used to cater to all the summer people. As a kid, what I remember is that they had that operation going on up there. There were always summer people coming back and forth on this road dropping their kids off for riding lessons, and when we were kids, we all learned how to ride horses and kind of had the run of the neighborhood around here because it was still largely mostly in the family. My uncle always liked animals, so in addition to the horses, there were chickens or sometimes they had pigs up there.
Jenn: It sounds awesome.
Sam: It was fun. It was a great way to grow up … . A lot of times, you were doing chores to help out, but you got to play all these places. I have a sister who I grew up with and my Uncle John and Diana had two daughters … Melissa’s a year older than I am and was in Jen’s class [Sam’s wife], and my cousin Bethany is two years younger than I am. Those were contemporaries, and then my Uncle Rick had two children who lived next door in the gray house when you turn the corner in here. I have a cousin, Laura, who’s my age, and a cousin, Tom, who lives in the red house now who’s about four years younger than I am. We all grew up as six cousins with an age span apart of eight years maximum, and so we all played together. … Lots of shenanigans over in the Azalea Garden that I probably shouldn’t talk about. It was fun. It was a great, great way to grow up. We were always building forts and ice-skating.
Jenn: Yeah, I ran with a pack of kids like that too.
Sam: We used to go fishing over in the pond. It was a little bit less formal than it is now. Subsequent generations, these properties got sold out of the family and I think my cousin Tom and I are in a way the last holdouts…The dynamic of the neighborhood’s changed a little bit. … Then my other neighbors growing up were Charles and Katharine Savage. [Ed.note: Charles Savage designed the original Asticou Azalea Garden and the gardens at Thuya. He and Katharine also ran the Asticou Inn for about 30 years.] I don’t remember Charles as much because died in ’79, but Katharine lived to be 92 or 93 or something … so I knew her pretty well and as a kid growing up, she used to hire me to do chores like mow the lawn or help clean her basement out. I can remember going down there and Charles’ whole shop was set up in the basement where there were some unfinished carvings that he had done and he had a whole photography studio down there. He was a big stamp collector. I have some of his stamps that Katharine gave me over the years and old letters from the hotel and stuff like that.
Jenn: Oh, cool!
Sam: As a kid, I was always fascinated by all that stuff and maybe more interested than my contemporaries in it, but it was great, having her. She was a little bit formal as a person, but she and her husband ran that hotel single handedly for decades. Basically from the ’30s until the ’60s. It was pretty much all extended family in the neighborhood up through the ’80s, I would say. Things started getting sold off in the ’90s, some of it as a result of divorces and some of it as a result of demographic shifts and it being less and less affordable and more people buying places to be a summer residence.
Jenn: Does it feel like a community in the summer when people are in residence? …
Sam: Yeah, that’s a good question. In some ways, yeah, because the people that bought Katharine and Charles’ house – the house had fallen into decline and I thought somebody’d buy it and tear it down, honestly – but an architect bought it and he saved it – they’ve been great neighbors. … They come up in the spring and they go to North Carolina in the winter, so yeah, to some extent it definitely gets a little bit more active in the summer. … Then there’s of course the whole hotel operation, which seems to still muddle along.
Jenn: Who should I talk to over there? Who would have the good stories?
Sam: I don’t know because I think a lot of the people that had long history there have either moved on or died, honestly. It’s kind of this consortium of summer people that are … the shareholders in the hotel, and in recent years, they just hired the Acadia Corp to run the operation. I think Sue Kropf might be one of the people who’s in charge over there. You may want to chat with her a little bit. … I think it’s largely a board of mostly summer people that aren’t super involved with the day to day of it. They may have some history with it, but … it may be that the shareholder of today is a child or a grandchild of a shareholder of yesterday who helped save the hotel … [when it] was struggling financially in the early ’60s. … I think Charles got a little distracted with the projects up at Thuya and Azalea – they were passion projects for him – and even though he had the support of Rockefeller, I know he put a lot of his own time and money into it too. There was also a huge hotel downtown called the Kimball House that the Kimball family owned … . [You should talk to] Alex Kimball, who’s Danny’s son. I think what ended up happening is this corporation formed of summer people that cared about it, plus members of the Kimball family, and they decided, ‘well, we’re going to be able to save the Asticou Inn, but Kimball House has got to go,’ and they tore it down. It was one of these big grand dame hotels just like the Asticou.
Jenn: That’s so sad.
Sam: … I think a lot of things changed post-war. How tourism was done changed. People came up by automobile. There was more of the middle class that might come post-Bar-Harbor-fire and stay at a motor hotel, and that was the way that you traveled, right? Even over here, summer people either built their own places or they didn’t stay at the hotel for a month [anymore] like they did a generation before, so a lot of these ancillary services started to fall off. Eventually my grandfather didn’t do the taxi business anymore and didn’t store as many people’s cars and definitely wasn’t housing … chauffeurs wearing black tie, you know? … [The hotel] used to be very formal – Charles didn’t allow alcohol over there.
Sam: That would’ve been verboten. … The fact that they serve alcohol over there now, he’d probably be rolling over in his grave about it. …
Another digression, and then we started talking about the path that used to run from the Asticou Landing to Seal Harbor.
Sam: One of the things you might notice when you’re down there is that if you take that sidewalk that goes down to the Asticou dock, the path used to keep going.
Jenn: Yeah, Rodney was telling me about that.
Sam: You can see some remnants of it when you’re down there. I’m sure you’ll notice it, but my mom told me … when she was a teenager still that there used to be this series of sidewalks that went all the way to Seal Harbor from here. I think some of them went up across people’s properties and that there were little wooden bridges here and there.
Jenn: Oh, what fun!
Sam: They widened the road at some point – I think it was either the late ’50s or early ’60s that that happened – and so a lot of that got wiped out just because there was no room for it, but I think you’re going to see some sort of archeological remnants, if you will, of that path. Especially down by the Thompson’s property and all the way to the dock. That’s worth checking out. I think … you’ll see little pieces of where they fenced it off, kind of like they did up at the terraces. It’s cool to think about the fact that it was a little bit safer to get there than it is now. … Mom told me that when she would babysit for summer kids over at the Seaside Inn that she could ride her bicycle from here to there on the sidewalk.
Jenn: If only we could still do that.
Sam: … Apparently over near Harbor Brook, there used to be a campground.
Sam: Yeah. As you’re going up the hill, before you get to the parking lot, the upper parking lot for Little Long Pond, some of that property on the left I think was at one point a commercial campground.
Jenn: You’re kidding.
Sam: For a very short period of time. Probably in the ’40s and ’50s. You don’t think about [recording] this stuff, and there’s certain periods … when things just aren’t that well documented, you know? Some of it’s overwhelming. There’s plenty of [documentation for some things], but there are other periods where people probably didn’t think it was going to last or it wasn’t that important to document things.
Jenn: Yeah. You need to write down your childhood memories of growing up here.
Sam: I plan to at some point, but I’m not quite there yet.
Jenn: Well, it’d be really neat to see the different generations’ memories of the same place.
Sam: Yeah, absolutely.
Jenn: My mom’s an immigrant, and on my father’s side, his father came to this country from Ireland, and [Dad’s] mother was born here, but his grandparents weren’t. We’re all pretty recent, so I’m just fascinated by this history of people who have stayed in one place. …
Sam: I think that’s more normal for a lot of people than staying in one place. For sure. I often think about it – at some point, some people in my family, in my mom’s family, were immigrants too. As I understand it, the John Savage who first came here and settled at Harbor Brook was a Protestant Scottish immigrant. I think in his lifetime, the choice was, “I can either basically stay an indentured servant or I can, as a 14 year old, jump on this boat and go to America and take my chances,” … Things must have been pretty extreme for you to [take that risk] … Or you must have thought that the opportunity was so great that even at that young age, you decided, ‘I’m out of here.’ Right?
Jenn: Yeah, my grandfather came over at 18 for the same reason. …
Sam: I think that my great-grandmother, who married into the Savage family on my mom’s side, she was a first generation American, an Irish immigrant in Philadelphia who came up here and worked for their summer lady who stayed at the hotel, and that’s how she met my great-grandfather.
Jenn: Oh, that’s so romantic!
Sam: Yeah, so a lot of these people were imports of one kind or another.
Jenn: Well, you need us for the gene pool, right?
Sam: Right. Somehow, I’m related through marriage to Dan Falt. There’s this whole line of Falts who are really from Nova Scotia that came down here and worked. They were immigrants that worked at the hotel, and some of them ended up staying and marrying into the family. …
Jenn: I just hope our kids can manage to stay.
Sam: Yeah, that’s what I think about a lot. I hope if it was something that they wanted to do, that it could be an option for them. …
Jenn: Yeah. I think they need to go away first.
Sam: Oh, yeah.
Jenn: Then come back.
Sam: I think that’s a really good thing to do. I did it. I was gone for a while, and I think it’s a great way to get some perspective on things.
Jenn: Yeah. That’s what Brian did. He went away, found a wife, brought me back.
Sam: Yeah, I joke [about that] with some of my island friends that I grew up with . My friend Chris Dorr, who grew up in Bar Harbor, he’s like, “Yeah, the pull of the mothership is pretty strong.” He’s so right about that.
Jenn: We were fine traveling around for years and then it was like, “We should probably have kids sometime soon,” and bam, back on the island.
Sam: You know, that can definitely be a driving force. I know for us, we would come up here in the summers and at the time we were renting this place out just to pay for it, and at one point you’re like, “Wow. Seems like the school system’s great.” … We thought that it’d be a really cool place for the kids to grow up and experience something a little different.
Jenn: It is an awesome place to be a kid. It’s also, I have to say, a good place to be a parent. There’s a really strong community. …
Sam: Yeah, definitely.
Sam: I’m a little bit of a map collector … You’ve probably seen this map before, but I love this one.
Jenn: Oh, is this the 1807?
Sam: Yeah, it’s a copy of the Peters map.
Jenn: Oh, fantastic. I’ve only seen tiny reproductions of it. …
Sam: This is that French line that they talk about that divides the title to the eastern side of the island separate from the western side.
Jenn: Yeah, this is all De Gregoire, right? [Ed.note: Louis XIV granted ownership of MDI to Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, an officer of his army, in 1688. In 1787, the newly-formed USA confirmed the grant to his granddaughter, Marie Therese de la Mothe Cadillac de Gregoire. Her name survives in a Hulls Cove neighborhood and street, where it is usually spelled DeGregoire or Degregoire.]
Sam: Yeah, you would’ve had to get your title from de Gregoire ultimately if you were over here.
Jenn: Well, I thought, wasn’t this English down here? No?
Sam: No. What happened I think is that de Gregoires had it, and at first, you might have gotten your lot from them and the Manchester side of the family. The deeds go right from the de Gregoires to them, the early ones, but the later settlers, there was this rich guy named William Bingham that bought out all of the de Gregoire.
Jenn: That’s who I’m thinking of.
Sam: Once you needed clear title, you had to go buy your deed from Bingham’s estate. It took me forever to find the deed to this property. … I searched the Hancock County registry. I had a file here at the house that my mom had, and I could get the chain of title back to just before 1900 … I’ve been told informally that it was around 1818 that the second generation of Savage and his brother-in-law, William Roberts, who came from Seal Harbor, bought this property … . The problem was that they had the deed, but they didn’t record it for another 20 years.
Jenn: Oh gosh.
Sam: It was like hunting for a needle in a haystack. I finally found it – those early deeds are handwritten, so they’re not indexed very well. It’s not like you could ‘control-find’ a person’s name because it’s done in penmanship.
Jenn: Where did you finally find it?
Sam: There’s some guy that did a website where he researched all these lots and found the deeds [http://mdihistory.org/historical-resources/cultural-history-project/deeds/] …, and he did all the Salem lots over in Southwest, plus a lot of the stuff on here, and I finally found it [there.] It just didn’t get recorded until the 1840s.
Jenn: Wow. It’s so cool going back through the original documents. … My favorite map on the whole island is that enormous hand-drawn one in the basement of the library. … I can stare at that for hours because it has so many personal notations on it.
Sam: Yeah, that’s great. … Sometimes I use these to help me figure out timelines if I’m reading something.
Jenn: Yes! Because so many things that you read, they’re like, “We were near so-and-so’s property,” or “This was located just above so-and-so’s house,” and you’re like, “Okay, so we’re in 1872, which means the so-and-sos lived there” [and you get your bearings.] …
Sam: … My second cousin, … Charles’ son, Ken, just passed away, but Ken had this original oil painting in his house, and so to give you an idea, this is where the hotel is now. That’s Cranberry Lodge, and this is my house when it was attached to Cranberry.
Jenn: Oh my goodness.
Sam: This was done from memory by a son-in-law who was a doctor down in Portland, but you can see how denuded the hillside was back then.
Jenn: Yeah. It’s not even recognizable [as] the same place. …
Sam: I am trying to digitize a lot of this stuff before it gets lost, but I’ve got a file cabinet down in the basement. It’s just full of stuff. I even have my aunt’s slides who lived here. I haven’t even gotten there yet.
We poked around in Sam’s collection of photos but it was time for me to go, so we agreed that I would have to come back and we’d spend some time going through his archives. I think we could have talked local history for hours.
Jenn: Well, thank you so much for taking all this time to talk with me!
Baldwin, Letitia. Asticou Azalea Garden. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008.
Baldwin, Letitia. Thuya Garden: Asticou Terraces & Thuya Lodge. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008.
Brown, Margaret and Vekasi, Jim. Pathmakers: Cultural Landscape Report for the Historic Hiking Trail System of Mount Desert Island. Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation/National Park Service, Boston, 2006. [Full text available here: https://archive.org/details/pathmakerscultur00brow]
Bryan, John M. Maine Cottages – Fred L. Savage and the Architecture of Mount Desert. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005.
Champlain Society Camp Asticou Log, Northeast Harbor, 1882. Handwritten MS in the collection of the MDI Historical Society. Scan and transcription here: https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/100479
Champlain Society camp log, Northeast Harbor, 1884. Handwritten MS in the collection of the MDI Historical Society. Scan and transcription here: https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/100918
“Historical records: early island ownership,” Bar Harbor Times, April 1917, republished on the Bar Harbor Times website, April 16, 2017. Accessed January 24, 2018. https://www.mdislander.com/maine-news/historical-records-early-island-ownership
“La Mothe – Marie Therese (La Mothe) Cadillac de Gregoire (1733 – 1811),” Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive, accessed January 24, 2018, http://swhplibrary.net/digitalarchive/items/show/10536. Item 14491
McGee, Samuel Savage. “The Savage Family of Mount Desert,” Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature. Maine Memory Network, no date. Date accessed: January 24, 2018. http://mdi.mainememory.net/page/3806/display.html
McGee, Samuel Savage. “They Should Have Constructed Their Buildings on Wheels,” Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature. Maine Memory Network, April 2013. Date accessed: October 9, 2017. http://mdi.mainememory.net/page/3806/display.html
Phillips, Cora Savage. Early History and and Personal Recollections of Northeast Harbor. Undated typewritten manuscript. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee.
Reynolds, Emily Phillips. Recollections of Grandfather and Grandmother and their Family. Typewritten manuscript, 1982. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee.
Reynolds, Emily Phillips, Down Memory Lane. Bacon Printing Company, Bangor, Maine, 1966.
Savage, A.C. Memories of a Lifetime. Undated typewritten manuscript. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee. Published in Chebacco 2017.
Savage, Charles K. Asticou Terraces Trust: Report of the Trustee 1937-1965. Typewritten manuscript with tipped-in watercolor illustrations and photographs, 1966. Original in the Northeast Harbor Public Library.
Tracy, Charles. The Tracy Log Book, 1855. Bar Harbor, Acadia Publishing Company, 1997. [Full text available here]
The most recent issue of the Southwest Harbor Historical Society showed up in my inbox last week and answered some of the questions I’d raised after my interview with Douglas McMullin at Maine Coast Heritage Trust last fall about the brook’s name. I’d found several names for the tidal creek running through the preserve there, and wondered where they came from. The earliest maps label it “Doctor’s Creek,” followed by “Kittredge Brook.” MCHT calls it “Babson Creek,” although I haven’t found that on a map yet. Many thanks to the SWHS for clearing up two of the names. Dr. Kendall Kittredge, who arrived in 1799 with his wife, Sally Whiting, was the first doctor on the island.
I also wondered about the spelling of “Kittredge,” which has a lot of variants here on the island. I found this genealogy in a family Bible, which confirms the spelling:
unattributed, “Dr. Kendall Kittredge,” The Sou’West Voyage, Southwest Harbor Historical Society, February 2018.
“Early Years on Mt. Desert Island,” Maine Memory Network, http://mdi.mainememory.net/page/207/display.html
Top to bottom, left to right:
Row 1: Foliose lichen (possibly Tuckermannopsis sp.), sea glass, Rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum), Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea), broken bottle neck (not sea glass)
Row 2: Common Periwinkles, Paper Birch bark (Betula papyrifera), slightly weathered bit of broken glass, periwinkle
Row 3: Common Periwinkles, broken glass, acorn (Quercus sp.), tampon applicator, Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis)
Row 4: Common Periwinkles, bird leg bone, periwinkles
Row 5: Rockweed
Row 6: Common Periwinkle, Soft-shell Clam (Mya arenaria), periwinkles
Much as I’ve been enjoying the interviews, I miss being out on the shore, so I went back to the mouth of Asticou Stream last week.
There are definite challenges to winter beachcombing – things are frozen to the ground:
But the mud flats are still semi-liquid:
On the other hand, ice is fun to photograph.
And this poor guy seemed to have frozen to death. Anyone know what it is? It was a little longer than my finger.
On October 20, 2017, Darron Collins, President of the College of the Atlantic, and I walked down to the college dock. It was 68ºF, sunny and cloudless – a perfect fall day – so we sat out on the floats and watched the boat traffic in the bay.
Darron: Nice out, huh?
Jenn: It’s gorgeous. It feels more like September than October.
Darron: I’ve been looking forward to this discussion all day because I knew it would mean I could get outside and go for a walk.
Jenn: That’s the good thing about hanging out with me! … So you graduated from here, didn’t you?
Darron: Yes, 1992.
Jenn: Wow. How is it coming back as a grownup?
Darron: It’s great coming back. It’s progressed so much since I was here. I got here in 1988, it was five years after the fire burned the main building to the ground, so we were really just beginning to claw our way back into some kind of stability. … So how do we do this?
Jenn: Well, I make it up as I go along. I don’t really have a formula. … You said you want to talk about cruise ships?
Darron: I do, but only because this beach and this cove is so crucial not just to my own personal experience but to so many COA students. One thing that’s definitely on my mind is how this stretch of land would be impacted if there were two 3000-person cruise ships, two 18-story floating buildings sitting right there [Ed.note: at the old ferry terminal.] … I think it becomes monstrous and difficult for me to imagine attracting students. … I’m not turning my nose up at cruise ship tourism. I think that that’s part of the economic mix of this town. I get that, … but I think we’re coming up to the point where the volume of tourists, both terrestrial and those that arrive from cruise ships are starting to have a negative impact on the overall user experience. Certainly the experience of those of us who live here year-round, students or otherwise.
I’m going to interrupt here and give you some background. Let’s start with the map. Darron and I are sitting at the red ‘x,’ at the end of COA’s dock. The town of Bar Harbor is trying to decide whether to buy the old ferry terminal (at left) back from the Canadian government and if they buy it, what to do with it. The consultants hired by the town recommended rebuilding the dock and berthing cruise ships there. Right now, cruise ships anchor in the bay and send their passengers in via tenders (small boats.) A typical ship among the current visitors would be the Maasdam, which I think has 10 passenger decks, so is about the height of a 10-story building, and is 722′ long, which is roughly 2 football fields, or 1.25 city blocks. Some ships are smaller. I think the largest one coming in 2018 is Adventure of the Seas, which is 15 decks tall by by maybe 3 football fields long. There are much larger cruise ships. Note that the tallest building in town is 5 stories, and most of the village is 2 to 3 stories. The proposal to park 2 ships potentially the size of 18-story buildings at the old pier raised what can only be described as a sh-tstorm of massive proportions among the town voters, with opinions ranging from ‘take all the cruise ships and make tons of money,’ to ‘some cruise ships are ok but not at the dock,’ to ‘ban all cruise ships.’ The issue was mixed in with broader questions about traffic and crowding on the island. Eventually, the town formed 4 committees to look at 4 different ways of using the ferry property, and at the time of this interview, the committees were still gathering info and drafting plans, and the citizenry were arguing bitterly on Facebook, at the hardware store, in cafes, and in line at the grocery store. The committees filed their report in November 2017. It is available online here: https://www.barharbormaine.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2499. Most people seem to approve of the report’s recommendations, but the issue is ongoing.
Darron: Anyway, this cove is just so key. We are the College of the Atlantic, so this is our front door. From the experience of … the Bar Island Swim to our docking of Osprey – that’s our boat there, which allows us to get out to Mount Desert Rock … – to the work on Great Duck Island. So many colleges have their ‘quad.’ This is kind of the College of the Atlantic’s ‘quad.’ It’s not precious, [except] in the sense that it’s very meaningful … . I have such fond memories of the floats, the pier, that beach, and for so many people that have come through the College of the Atlantic, this is like the geographic epicenter for them. …
Jenn: Well, it’s what I think of when I think of COA.
Darron: Right? Yeah, that’s really different. Most colleges, even if they’re on the coast, they have a kind of terrestrial front door, and I think our front door is an oceanic or marine front door. It’s very unique, and … it defines who we are as an institution. That’s why it’s important.
Jenn: What do you want to see happen over there?
Darron: I would really like that to be a public marina and a [place] where the public of Bar Harbor can have the same kind of exposure to the marine environment as our students have from the campus. I think as a center for local ferries, … even a Portland ferry. I would love to have better connection to Portland. I don’t know if that’s at all economically feasible. … For low-impact tourism around boating and kayaking, for local people to have access to Frenchman Bay for moorings.
Jenn: I’ve heard some people talk about having kayak storage there where you could rent basically a locker.
Darron: Yep. I would love to see a dock, but it’ll have to have a revenue-generating mechanism. All those things have a small one, but I would love to have a whale and island museum there.
Jenn: That would be cool.
Darron: That’s been part of the College of the Atlantic – we used to have the Whale Museum on West Street, and I would love to have that again here. That would be important to the college, but we would be putting money into that, renting space in one way or the other. I could see it having a working waterfront component. I know there are fishermen who aren’t going to move from [the Town Pier] but there might be other lobstermen who would want to use a pier that’s not in downtown so they could move their product. I would love to see Parsons have a fish [shop] … The college is going to start exploring possibilities for aquaculture, so have some kind of center for aquaculture there. I think over the next 20 and 30 years, people who depend on the lobster industry are going to begin to diversify their economic portfolio.
Jenn: The smart ones.
Darron: Yeah. I would love to see that be a resource for people trying to do that. I think there’s also great potential there for parking, potentially figuring more into a transportation plan that needs to happen, that needs to relieve some of the pressure that we receive from land-based tourists. Some kind of a transportation hub of one sort or the other to mitigate some of the congestion. I think a marina is the best way that all of those things might be able to happen at once, and the work that Anna has done, …
Jenn: Anna Durand?
Darron: Anna Durand has been really exciting to see. That group has put a lot of really good, solid thought in it. [Ed. note: Anna Durand led a committee researching the installation of a dock for cruise ship tenders (but not the ships) along with multi-use public facilities.]
Jenn: I’ll tell you flat out, I think the town should just buy the damn property outright and take like five years of citizen workshops, figure it out, get everyone on board. Do it properly. I’m so tired [of it] – you can’t go on Facebook anymore without people like, bicker, bicker, bicker.
Darron: Yep. I think so too. I would love it to remain in the public domain in one way or the other. Obviously I don’t want to see taxes go up because of whatever happens or because of whatever bond, … whatever financing [we use] to buy it, but I don’t want to see anything that has the ability to potentially drive … the doubling of the number of cruise ship passengers that need to come here because we need [to pay for it] …
Jenn: I don’t think that was, at least in what I’ve read – I thought the cruise ship passenger cap stayed the same?
Darron: The passenger cap would stay the same, but I’m on the committee, one of the four committees in town.
Jenn: Oh you are? Awesome! Which one are you on?
Darron: I’m on the berthing committee, which is antithetical to what I believe should happen, but I’m participating in the process anyway. We’ve been instructed to imagine a situation where we’re going to need to take on a debt of 40 million dollars or so to build out the pier that would allow cruise ships of 2, 3, 4000 passengers to dock there, and it wouldn’t necessarily mean increasing the daily passenger cap, but it would definitely require increasing both the fee and the annual number of passengers, which would be expanding the season, because in order to pay for a 40 million dollar procedure, a 40 thousand dollar plan, we would need to increase the total number of people that we ran through the town via cruise ships. That’s worrisome.
Jenn: Yeah. That’s the first I’ve heard of increasing the numbers. I haven’t really made up my mind. I’m still listening to what everybody has to say. I’m definitely not anti-cruise ship. I think it’s like a bus, it’s a way to get people around in a more efficient way than everybody coming in their own cars, but there’s a limit to how much the town can handle.
Darron: I think so. I actually think that cruise ship tourism is problematic for what we’re trying to do here. I’ve been on a cruise ship before. I worry about creating the Disneyland version of Bar Harbor instead of an authentic Bar Harbor, and I think cruise ships do tend to encourage that kind of tourism. Very short term, get off the boat. I think the fundamental property of what makes Mount Desert Island spectacular requires people to spend more time here. That said, I still think there’s room. I’m not approaching it as a snooty, “I’m above cruise ship tourists somehow,” but I think we need to be really careful about it. This status quo, I could live [with.] I’m also wearing the hat of the president of the college, so I’m really worried about the proximity. In one sense I am a landowner that has very serious concerns about how two cruise ships there would negatively affect my business in the same way that if I owned the Atlantic Oceanside, I might worry … Maybe it wouldn’t change at all, but I think there’s the risk.
Jenn: A 10-story building there would definitely change things.
Darron: Yeah. Some people might argue, “The aesthetic thing, that will go away … You’ll get used to it.” You will, but how much longer do we want to just get used to things? … We [don’t] need to maintain Bar Harbor as a museum specimen, nor do we need to revert to the ‘good old [days]’ …
Jenn: … You know, I don’t mind the cruise ships out in the bay like that. I certainly don’t want more.
Darron: I wouldn’t want more, and I … also know that people avoid coming here, terrestrial-based passengers avoid coming here, when they know cruise ships are in town. There’s a problem with traffic too, I know. In many ways it’s a more efficient way to deliver people here, but I also think it’s a very limiting way to come to know a place. …
Jenn: But still, what’s the alternative, to just do land-based [tourism]? Or to say that you can only come for a certain length of time?
Darron: I think maintaining the kind of diverse experiences that we have. Maybe re-thinking the kind of cruise ships that we want to cater to. There’s part of the industry that is going toward building larger and larger ships … . There are ships in production now that won’t be ready until 2018 but that will house 5000 passengers. … There’s the second path that is the more boutique cruise ships that are catering toward people that want more adventurous [vacations], spend longer times at port and cater to clientele that have more financial resources and that might be willing to spend more locally. Again, that sounds kind of classist, and again I don’t think it’s a question of one or the other, but I believe that if we continue to cater toward larger and larger ships, that has a negative impact on both the terrestrial visitor and the smaller cruising class that is also developing. … What I hate to hear, and it’s been pervasive in Bar Harbor is, “Oh my god, the cruise ships are going to leave Bar Harbor altogether if we don’t bend to their [will.]”
Jenn: I don’t think so.
Darron: I really don’t believe that. I really think that this experience in terms of the northeastern Atlantic has no rival. We should be in control, and we should set the boundaries.
Jenn: I do think we can set our terms a little more than some people seem to think.
Darron: Yeah. Actually I think that meme is kind of evolving. I think that is understood more. … So I feel good about that. Actually I think in 2012 when we had … the consultants, I think the way we engaged with them early on set us off on a very negative trajectory. They published a graph that showed five different lines, and one of them was labeled as ‘target.’ The target line of annual cruise ship visitors went like that [hand gesture showing the graph skyrocketing], and they said, “We’re recommending a large berthing pier to be able to cater to increasingly large cruise ships. In order to pay for that, this is the kind of trajectory that the town of Bar Harbor is going to require.” That really stuck in a lot of people’s craw. As it should have. I think that set a tone, and whether it’s true, or the truth has evolved or not, it really set the tone and scared a lot of people.
Jenn: My question when I saw that was, “Who commissioned this and what question did they ask that this was the answer?”
Darron: Yeah, exactly.
Jenn: Because the consultants don’t have some mythical ideal. They’re answering the question they were asked. …
The conversation wandered to my project, the high school football game scheduled for that evening, and back around to the COA shoreline …
Darron: There’s a trail system in the woods that is not [marked] … You wouldn’t know it’s there. You can see there’s forts in the woods here. See that? …
Jenn: Oh cool, I hadn’t seen that!
Darron: Yeah, there’s a fort there. … On this ridge is the north lawn, and the college is in the initial stages of designing a new building. Actually not even designing because we don’t have the architect yet.
Darron: We’re doing the building program for the new building. It’s going to be the new academic core for the college. One of the preferred locations is on that ridge. We’re thinking about the view of the college from the water, and from the college to the water, but we definitely want the ocean to feature prominently in the construction of the new building. That’s kind of exciting. That will change the way that landscape looks.
Jenn: Yeah. A lot.
Darron: Another interesting conundrum we have is people always say …, “Why don’t you cut the trees? … Why don’t you increase the visibility of the ocean from the campus?” Trustees say this a lot. What I think we’re involved in [now is deciding] what the right balance looks like. We would like to prune some of the vegetation along our coast to increase the visibility, but doing so is really expensive and highly regulated, as you might know.
Jenn: Tell me about it. My first reaction when you said you wanted to cut the trees, I’m like, “Well, one, erosion, and two, the DEP. Two big problems.”
Darron: We’ve started to do that kind of mapping and planning along our ocean front.
Darron: But really, there’s limited, as there should be, there’s limited flexibility in what you can do. What you can cut, and what you can’t cut. Even invasive Norway maples are bulwarks against erosion, so are weedy poplars …
Jenn: But you can take them out and plant natives.
Darron: Yeah. But that’s expensive.
Darron: The whole process of working with the silviculture expert, it’s expensive, but it’s important. We’re always balancing things, we don’t have unlimited finances, so putting money in that is theoretically taking away scholarship money. But are you improving the experience? We’re always doing cost-benefit analysis for different projects. The visual access to the ocean is one of the most amazing things for being a student at COA. … My first year I was in Ryles, which is Deering Common.
Jenn: Oh okay.
Darron: And Deering Common used to have a servants’ quarters built off of it, and Mrs. Ryles, we couldn’t go in her proper house, but she let the college use the servants’ quarters as student housing. That was my freshman dorm. I remember, I didn’t have an ocean view. Other students who lived in Seafox do have an ocean view, but I could smell the water, especially in the fall that slightly sulfuric …
Jenn: That iodine.
Jenn: Yeah. But you’ve got [that] classic relationship where the trees are thinned enough that you catch glimpses of the water, but you don’t have any open panorama views.
Darron: Which is good.
Jenn: It’s what I like.
Darron: When David Rockefeller, when we had his memorial service here, David McDonald, the head of Friends of Acadia had a beautiful, beautiful vignette of taking people by boat around Ringing Point, and he would say, “That’s Ringing Point, that’s where David Rockefeller senior lives.” And people would say, “Where?” The fact that you can’t really see the house, that’s the perfect balance. You get the measured vistas of the water, but it doesn’t become glaring.
Darron: The other thing that I love [is] Bar Island. … When the first cohort of students came to COA in the fall of 1972, there were 36 of them, but people don’t know that in the summer of 1971, we actually tested a pilot program. We didn’t have anything, we didn’t have faculty, we … had the old building that burned down, but we didn’t have staff beyond Ed Kaelber and Anne Peach and Millard Dorrity – but in that summer we did this pilot, a human ecology summer pilot program, the question was something along the lines of “What might the future of Bar Island look like?” They would have daily excursions over to the island. Every time I walk across the Bar, and I go a lot, I still feel like I’m either one of those students for the first time walking over there, or like the first human being to come to the island. Even though in the summer it’s packed with people walking over there, there’s something magical about the fact that that island becomes accessible and inaccessible, accessible and inaccessible twice a day.
Jenn: And you can walk on the bottom of the sea to get there.
Darron: Yeah, so I really love that this [gesturing to the dock and the campus] becomes a platform for looking at that island. … Was that useful?
Jenn: Yes. I knew you’d have good stories!
We were heading back up the path toward Darron’s office when I spotted someone on the COA beach – you remember Kelley Sanborn, right? From Coast Walk 9? That’s her daughter, Tessa.
Kelley: Hi! … Do you have a minute to see something?
Jenn: Sure. Let me just say goodbye to Darron. I’ll be down.
Darron: Thanks. I’ll see you tonight. [At the high school football game.]
Jenn: Thank you so much. Yeah. I’ll see you tonight.
This is what Kelley and Tessa wanted to show me – they’d been making rock people! Love the seaweed hair, Tessa.
Bar Harbor Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee, Report to the Bar Harbor Town Council, Nov.14, 2017. Available as a pdf online.
Dr. Jane Disney is the Director of Education for the MDI Biological Laboratory. On October 18, 2017, we walked down to Star Point at the Bio Lab for a chat. It was 66°F, sunny and brisk with a strong wind gusting out of somewhere northwest-ish. I’ve known Jane for a few years through the Frenchman Bay Partners, a coalition of people working in and around the bay, and back when I first dreamed up the Coast Walk, she was one of the people who helped me think it through and encouraged me to make it real. She mentors a lot of people that way, officially and unofficially, and I was looking forward to catching up with her.
Jenn: So what are you working on these days? …
Jane: The Anecdata project has really been expanding. [Ed. note: Anecdata.org is a citizen science website designed and run by Jane’s department.] … We were invited by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center to submit an article to the Maine Policy Review [that was] an audit of all of the projects in Anecdata. We contacted different project leaders to find out how their projects were progressing, if they felt they were meeting their goals. We got so many interesting stories from people. … There’s a woman named Gail McCullough who used to work with Frenchman Bay Conservancy. … All her adult years she’s been tracking seals, so she had a lot of data in journals that she wanted to make publicly available. She has been meticulously going through and integrating that data into Anecdata.
At the beginning of her project she had all hand-drawn sketches of seals, because she started in the 1980s, then as time went by she got a digital camera. … It’s serving as an archive of historical data on seals, which is really wonderful. … Seal populations were quite depleted. After the Marine Mammal Protection Act went in [Ed.note: in 1972], they started to recover, and then Gail got interested in tracking that recovery. She looked at seals that were on exposed ledges at low tide, and [others] that seemed to be returning to rock outcroppings that were out of the water at high tide, so she had these low tide and high tide location users. The same ones came back to the same places year after year. … She’s been a citizen scientist, in essence, all these years, collecting this data by herself.
[Massachusetts Audubon] was tracking meadowlarks. When I contacted them and said, “How’s it going?” they sent me these amazing maps that they had made for reporting out to their project participants. [They used the] presence/absence data [function that] is why we made Anecdata to begin with. We wanted to show where eelgrass was and wasn’t, and on most websites that were available for citizen science data, you could only put in what was present, but there was no way to indicate missing information. [Mass Audubon] had a present/absent [question], so you ‘did or not’ see meadowlarks when you went in these areas. Then you could see how many areas where you couldn’t see them, versus areas where you could. Then they’re tracking over time how that map is going to change. … We wrote about this because it gave us a better understanding of how people were using that site.
Two projects that have come to our site are what are called King Tides projects. I don’t know if we’ve talked about that.
Jenn: Yeah, the really high tides. [Ed. note: King tides is a colloquial term for the unusually high tides that result when the Earth, Moon, and Sun align at the closest points of their orbits. It can also refer to any unusually high tide. Tracking king tides is a way of measuring sea level rise.]
Jane: They happen twice a year, but then we sometimes have [sea level] higher than King Tides that will happen with a storm surge or something like that. We’ve been doing a little investigation as to how many King Tides [data-collecting] sites there really are around the nation. Not all of them call themselves King Tides. There’s a project out of Miami called Eyes on the Rise. We’ve been interested in what kind of platform these different projects are using, and what the outcomes are for some of these. We’re thinking of adding features to Anecdata that make our two projects more able to accomplish the kind of goals they’ve laid out for themselves. We have the Gulf of Maine King Tides, and we have Washington State King Tides on there. We’re in the process right now of submitting a big NSF grant [National Science Foundation] that’s due in one and a half weeks, and we’re collaborating with the University of Maine on that proposal, [with] environmental communications people who are going to do some … research around why these participants are involved, how their data are being used, whether or not they’re achieving outcomes.
Then we’re going to be adding some new communication and specific-action tools to the Anecdata site and see how that shifts our projects relative to other projects. We’re trying to get a handle on more from the research end: what are ‘best practices’ with citizen science, and how do we know whether or not people are getting out of it what they want to, and whether or not the projects are achieving the goals that they’re hoping to. I think that there’s a lot of data collection that goes on without it getting us where we want to go. Part of that project would be doing some interviews with sites. We’ve picked three – one in South Carolina, one in California, one down in Miami – we’ve been learning from them that even with all the data that they have and with all of the processes that they have in place to share data with coastal planners and municipal leaders, that still there’s overdevelopment continuing to happen at low-lying areas. Flooding continues to be a problem.
These problems aren’t being solved just because you have identified the problem and collected information that should be guiding your decision-making. We’re interested in the role that citizens could play in pushing those agendas. The citizens have collected the data, they know, they can see. …
Jenn: What do you mean by a civic action component?
Jane: We’re asking ourselves that question, “What does it mean to be involved?” … We’re calling the grant ‘Data to Action.’ We’ve delineated levels of next steps that people can take: writing letters to the editor, writing an opinion piece, showing up at a planning board meeting, talking to legislators, trying to organize a public hearing …, voting. … People sometimes don’t think about, “I’ve been involved in this project and I’ve learned this,” and then asking that question, “The people I’m voting for, how do they stand on these things that I’ve been working on?” In Maine we have this wonderful League of Women Voters.
Jenn: There’s also the Conservation Voters.
Jane: Both of them will give you information on how your legislators are doing. It’s sometimes surprising. To me what’s surprising is how divided everything is. You can almost – all the Republicans will vote one way, all the Democrats another. On some key environmental issues, you’ll find that, like Brian Langley for example, 50% of the time will vote the way Democrats will. He’s one of those Republicans who I think is really looking at the issue and thinking about what’s best for the district. I like him.
Jane: I have to be honest with you, I have the same bias everyone else does, and if I wasn’t looking at his record, I might just put him in that category with everybody else and say I don’t like him. I think that … recognizing that we can look for these things, they do exist. We’re going to be creating what we call Toolkit on the site, a civic action toolkit that’s going to give a lot of links, and we’re going to try to figure out how to create some place-based links, too, that get people to local news outlets based on their [location] – when you log into the system, it can geo-locate you and knows that you’re in North Carolina and can get you to legislative contacts and your local newspapers and that kind of thing.
Then one of the most important tools we’re putting in the Toolkit is a civic action tracker. It’s kind of like what people do with their health or Fitbits or anything else, but it’s a place that you can keep track of your actions, and then track outcomes as well, so that way we can have an idea for a particular project based on website analytics – once we put this tool in place [we’ll know] how many people have written letters.
Jenn: That’s really cool.
Jane: We think it’s feedback for the individual, like, ‘look at all I’ve done’. … I think that that self-tracking will be an incentive for people to take action. Also there’s going to be a way for them to communicate with other people involved in their local project … – they could actually upload the letter to the editor that they wrote. …
Jenn: Oh excellent, so you’ve got a complete record.
Jane: Right, and … other people can respond to it. It’s kind of like Facebook in that way. People can say, “I like this.”
Jenn: Or they can use it as a template for their own.
Jane: Or they can say, “This is a great idea, do you mind if I use some of your ideas?” That’s the communication piece. We have a forum in there, and I think that we’re going to push [information] out of the tracker into the forum … so you don’t have to enter it in two places. … People can just engage in regular conversation. We’re trying to build community around these groups because that’s another thing I’ve noticed with some of these citizen science projects is that people log in and enter their data … but then unless the project manager is communicating with them, there’s no real conduit for them to be talking to [other participants.] … On our site, we’ve now put in the capacity, once someone’s uploaded a photo, for someone else to say, … “Can you give me directions to this site,” or, “Oh I never thought to look at boat ramps.” … We’re just trying to imagine how people would use these tools.
Then after we implement them, the research team at U Maine is going to have three points of interview where we get feedback from people … so that we have a better understanding of how it is working for them now, what are their motivations. It’s not even always clear – the project goals might not be the personal goals of people, and I think it’s going to be powerful for project managers to know – [maybe] they think the goal is to get some ordinance in place, but all of these people really want something else. [The managers] could be aiming way outside of [the people’s goals], and that’s okay, they can aim out there, but they can aim where it’s meaningful for people too. …
I just got an email from a guy in Otter Creek, there’s a bunch of people worked up in Otter Creek. … All of them keep asking me the same question – something is bothering them out there. They feel like their habitat is gone, or things are missing. They keep saying that the cove is toxic, but I reached out to the Department of Maine Resources, and they certainly have some good data out there. [The DMR have] heard these things and responded and done some monitoring, but … the water is clean, there’s no bacteria, they’re not finding anything. … I’m not really sure what it is that’s missing for them. … I sent him to Anecdata, and I said, “We don’t have the capacity right now to set up some sort of study of habitats in the Otter Cove area. But if you are interested in doing that, then this site could support your data management, data sharing, you can upload photos there, we can help you get set up with that.” … I told him he should go to the Marine Resources Committee in Bar Harbor because they certainly initiate clam flat surveys, they’ve done some clam seeding work, they work with College of the Atlantic. Chris Peterson, … is doing some mussel census work. DMR is getting ready to track mussels more closely. … We get calls like that in the Community Lab. [Ed. note: Community Lab is a citizen science program at the Bio Lab.]
We spent the summer doing the same thing we’ve done for many, many years. [Ed.note: water quality monitoring.] We help the Maine Healthy Beaches, we did all the beach monitoring for Acadia National Park and for Bar Harbor and Mount Desert this summer.
Jenn: This is what you’re doing in your lab?
Jane: In the lab. So that’s been going on for decades. Every summer we do all the beaches – bacteria monitoring. Then we’re part of Maine Healthy Beaches, we upload the data, we can send out alerts, we can get the beach managers to post advisories. [Ed. note: Healthy Beaches is a partnership between UMaine Cooperative Extension/Sea Grant, the Maine DEP, and local municipalities that monitors water quality at public beaches and issues advisories if, for example, coliform levels are too high.] This summer was so dry, I don’t think we had a single advisory. … Then we have for years and years been involved in the Maine phytoplankton monitoring program, and of course this was a terrible red tide year. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it.
Jenn: No, I hadn’t.
Jane: I think [it was] the largest and longest closure we’ve ever had in Frenchman Bay and the surrounding area. A lot is still closed. Halfway down into Bar Harbor, all the way up to Machiasport, all the way out to Isle au Haut. It’s still closed to mussels. Further downeast there’s a large swath still closed to mussels, clams, and everything. What happens is when a red tide comes in, mussels filter very fast. Mussels will be the first thing closed. … Clams filter slower, maybe because they’re in the sand and not up in the water column, so it takes longer for them to go toxic. … We’ve got different closures depending on where we are, and the toxicity is waxing or waning. … Typically you’d have these red tide blooms caused by a dinoflagellate called Alexandrium [which has] a neurotoxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, and people usually die … because it paralyzes your muscles, and so you can’t breathe in and out. It affects the respiratory system.
The big closures we’ve had recently [are] new. This is an organism called Pseudo-nitzschia, and this also [produces] a neurotoxin, but it affects short-term memory. It’s called amnesiac shellfish poisoning. But in higher doses, it causes so much neurological problems that it affects the whole body. It can kill you, too. They’re both deadly at a certain level, but their modes of operation are different. So why is Pseudo–nitzschia blooming now? There’s actually a lot of different types of them, there’s maybe 40 different species, so researchers [are] trying to figure [it] out. They all kind of look the same. Some are small, some are big, but they’re all pennate diatoms that can form chains. You can’t see it. It doesn’t look red, so there’s no indication, but this one shut everybody down. …
We’re now finally open, but it was weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. … I used to have a lot of schools involved [in monitoring red tide.] … Over time there was turnover in the teachers, … [and] we don’t have any specific funding to be in schools. Occasionally over the years I’ve had grants that have helped support our work in schools, and at one point I turned to the schools and asked if they could budget for our efforts, and the decision was no. It’s a great project for kids because they can identify these organisms, … they do the collection, and all the water quality parameters that go along with it, then they get a microscope and they identify the organisms, and then the data gets shared back with the DMR, so it’s one of those real-time …
Jenn: It’s really useful.
Jane: We call ourselves the first alert system because the organisms show up before the toxicity does, so we’re [a] “heads up” to the DMR that the toxicity is coming, and then they check the shellfish meat, then make closure decisions based on actual toxicity in the organisms.
Jenn: Do you have certain areas around the bay that you sample regularly?
Jane: Yeah, once a week from April to October … for 20 years we have done the Bar Harbor town dock and this dock [at the Bio Lab.] Then for many years I did Bass Harbor, but it’s just a big haul out there. For years I had Tremont School looking at Bass Harbor …, because that’s the first place it hits. These organisms move in from off shore.
Jenn: Is it temperature-driven?
Jane: Wind-driven, temperature-driven, there could be nearshore nutrients that encourage their replication at the site, or cell division, bloom at the site. … I used to go out to Swan’s Island and Frenchboro, and had those kids involved. … They were like the first of first alert. That’s what I told them. … This was back … like 2007. We managed to hold onto Bass Harbor with volunteers for a number of years, but a year came when I was like, “I don’t have anyone that can run out to Bass Harbor.” So the DMR took it over and we just do Bar Harbor and this upper bay site here, the Bio Lab dock. Tons of data. We’re starting to move it into Anecdata so it’s all publicly available.
Jenn: I was just going to ask if you’ve got it up.
Jane: Yeah, but it’s messy. It’s in there and you can look at it, but I’m not happy with it because the method changed over time … And that’s one of the reasons why it was hard to keep schools involved, too, was that it got more complicated over time. It got more quantitative, which required a lot of counting that takes hours, and schools don’t have hours, so I had to work up a simpler system for them that was like first alert to us, so that we can go in and do more detailed samples so that we can be first alert to the DMR. It got more complicated for the work to be authentic. …
That’s actually the subject of one of our research questions in the grant we’re submitting in the next week and a half – we’re going to introduce these tools … – the communications and civic action tools – to some projects that have been in place and [where] people have been taking photos for a bit of time. [It’s going to add complexity.] Then we’re going to start a brand new project with fresh people that have never been involved before. When they get started I’ll have these tools already in place, so [they’ll] never know that life was ever any different.
Jane: Mystic Aquarium [is] going to launch a [King Tide] project in Long Island Sound. The Gulf of Maine project is at New England Aquarium, and they’ve offered to mentor Mystic Aquarium. … The thing I anticipate is that the citizens who are already involved in these projects, all they’re asked to do [right now] is go out and take a picture at the high tides. If now we ask them to participate in online forums and track their civic actions, I think there may be people that drop out of the project or are resistant to those additional tasks because it wasn’t what they signed on for. … [We’re going to ask] some sample of people … the question, “When these new tools appeared, how did it make you feel, on a scale of one to five.” … We’ve held onto a few historic projects, which have been great, because not only have we contributed at the state level, but they’ve … been like living laboratories for us on how people work and operate and under what conditions people become engaged. …
This almost gets me more into the social science end of things. This is not my typical kind of questioning or science, but it’s time. After decades of engaging people in the field and on the shore and collecting all these data and then seeing groups like ours coming to the Anecdata site and embarking on the same journey, I’m starting to ask these broader questions about citizen science as a field. I do think that we have something to contribute to it … . It’s not like we’re world-famous, but some of these King Tides projects are. The South Carolina project has been very front and center. Charleston is very low-lying and has experienced a lot of problematic flooding, so they’ve attracted a lot of interest. One of the things about their project though is that it’s run by a state agency, not by, say, the aquarium. As a state agency, they can’t do any advocacy.
Jenn: I see, so they can just get the data, but they can’t do anything practical?
Jane: They can make it available to anyone who wants to do advocacy, but on the other end, I think advocacy is almost something that has to be nurtured in communities. I still think people just don’t know how. [We can give] them tools to do it. I’m arguing that that’s not advocacy, giving them the tools. … I’m like, “You’re just using a site that happens to have these tools on it. You don’t have to encourage your participants to do anything.” … If you were to say, “Take this action over that action,” or, “Vote for this person over that one,” that’s encouraging advocacy on your part. … In terms of other projects, we just finished this EPA environmental education grant that had people monitoring their wells for arsenic.
Jenn: Where was that?
Jane: In Maine and New Hampshire. It was a big project. We worked with Dartmouth on it. It was what I call school-based citizen science. We had three schools in New Hampshire and four schools in Maine, and the kids all were able to go home and sample their tap water. Then the teachers were able to mail the samples to this trace element lab at Dartmouth at no cost, and then the data came back to our project coordinator here. She uploaded it into an Anecdata-like site on an arsenic website. We didn’t put it on Anecdata, but we are going to move it over there, in part because we had to work out privacy issues on that data. We think we have good strategies whereby all of the place-based information that we need is in the system, but the only thing that people can view will be the arsenic levels. People don’t need to know whose house it was.
Jenn: Right. Do they know what town?
Jane: They’ll know what town. It’s important to know the community, but they won’t be able to trace it back to individual households. … The bigger data set is being sent to the Center for Disease Control. That’s why we really needed to have all the data. It wasn’t an exercise in looking at the community level, at whether or not there was an arsenic problem. We really needed to get the details into the state database, and the same in New Hampshire. They have what’s called their New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, DES. They don’t have a [CDC.] It’s interesting, there isn’t a Center for Disease Control in every state, but there are other agencies that function like a Center for Disease Control. Down in South Carolina it’s called the Department of Health and Environmental Control, which is the worst name, I think. Environmental Control. It sounds like you’re going to do something that nature doesn’t want you to do.
Jenn: It sounds like an oxymoron.
Jenn: Is she the one who was doing the opioid studies?
Jane: She proposed to. She didn’t get that funding.
Jenn: Oh damn. That’s a fascinating project.
Jane: Yeah. I don’t think she’s given up on it, but I think she needs to find the right funder. Like a lot of the work I’m venturing into now, it really falls between categories. It’s kind of a scientific project, but it’s kind of a social science project, and it’s crossing boundaries. … Even as universities are beginning to create more across boundaries, across discipline endeavors, trying to solve complicated problems by pulling people from all disciplines, our funding agencies are still stuck within disciplines. It’s very hard to … I think our funding agencies haven’t caught up with what’s going on on the ground. [Bridie’s] not going to give up. She’s committed her career to the intertidal zone, so that’s why this King Tides project became really interesting to her. The impact of King Tides, or changing ocean chemistry and all of that, has different impacts depending on where you are. Some of our bigger issues here are the loss of these nearshore fisheries [Ed.note: clamming, worming, etc.] in part because we took all of our big fish so we’re left with digging in the mud, whereas down in Charleston and Miami, the bigger issue is loss of property and tourism impacts and that kind of thing.
This person from Miami that we’re working with that does the Eyes on the Rise program down there, interestingly, she’s also a journalism professor, which is what Bridie is, technically. … Some of this science-and-advocacy is coming out of environmental journalism, which I find really intriguing. [Eyes on the Rise] have all these amazing sea level predictors. There’s an app they developed where you can zoom in to Google Earth at your own property and then there are these predictive models that lay on top of it and show you what your house is going to look like in 2050.
Sea Level Rise Tool Kit from Eyes on the Rise (it only works for part of Florida, but it’s pretty cool.)
Jenn: Oh god. That’s scary.
Jane: Yeah, the scary thing about it is if you knew that about a house, you wouldn’t buy it. So this can impact property values and all kinds of things, but maybe that’s incentive to think about what to do. Apparently Miami, in response to all of this media work and all of these visuals and integrating NOAA data, NASA data, weather data, … people’s photos …, short videos – all kinds of media that they’ve been generating – Miami is putting in a huge pump system, a multi-billion dollar system that takes water from heavy rain and storms and then instead of it just percolating down into the ground like it does here, it treats it and pumps it out to sea. … There’s a real social justice issue around what communities can afford pumps and which communities can’t … It would be like Bar Harbor being able to deal with storm water and Tremont’s drowning out there or something. …
What is the differential in goals and outcomes of [these projects?] I don’t know. … Some of them are about media campaigns and raising awareness, and others are more about feeding the scientists more information to create more detailed predictive models. It depends on where you are as to what everyone’s motivations are and who’s in charge of it and what agencies are in it and that kind of thing. Interestingly, they all grabbed onto this King Tides hook. That’s the other thing I find interesting. It’s one of the few citizen science projects where it’s been replicated like 27 times in different iterations. … It’s kind of like a ready made experiment because you’ve got all of these projects out there with all these variables at play, and I don’t think anyone’s studied it.
Jenn: Comparing the difference between all the different King Tide projects?
Jane: Yeah. I’m only choosing a few of them because I think it’s too much to take on, but we’ll see. If we get into it and realize, “That didn’t take long at all …,” we would reach out. It’s hard to predict how long it’s going to take to gear up and then get people on board and get people to give you feedback. Depending on what kind of data you get back, what the challenges are to analyzing it and making sense of it. Anyhow, that’s the new thing that’s happening. Anecdata has been driving this new thinking.
Jenn: That’s fantastic.
Jane: … What I’m trying to also do is let people see that Anecdata might be a project site, but it also could be a research platform. … If you have a site that you can use as a research platform, then you can start tweaking the system and seeing how does that change things, and how does that change things? Because if you just look at what’s going on, it still might not ever get you the answer if you can’t control anything or tweak anything. That’s experimentation. That’s the scientist in me thinking. How can I manipulate this system to get the answer … with people still being willing? There will be a lot of that because this is using human subjects. There have to be a lot of disclosure forms and approval at the university level for the kinds of survey questions you have to ask.
Jenn: Oh so doing the surveys makes them human subjects?
Jane: If you’re doing it for research purposes. If we’re only doing it for evaluation purposes, sometimes you can get away without what’s called ‘internal review board approval.’ IRB approval.
Jenn: Aka jumping through hoops. Wow.
Jane: Yeah, because people need to know what the data are being used for, and oversight of the survey questions assures that you aren’t starting to ask questions that aren’t related to your research. That’s easy to do, when you start asking questions like, “How many people live in your household.” Maybe if your research question is about household size as it pertains to citizen participation – people from big households don’t have time to participate, so I’m interested in how household structure affects citizen engagement. If that’s my research question, then it might be legitimate to ask that question. If that’s not my question, if I’m only interested in what motivates this person to take pictures …
Jenn: So you have to think really carefully about your project parameters before you even start.
Jane: You do. Right. … [The Bio Lab has] a brand new system for education where everybody applies for courses, conferences – they send in applications for summer research programs or the visiting scientist program. Now it’s all in one integrated database for the first time ever, which is great because we have a lot of people who cross programs. … But you have to log in and set up a profile. For students who are on an NSF grant doing an internship or an NIH grant doing an internship, I need a lot of demographic information … because you have to report that … to the granting agency. We have a uniform profile, and a person who is writing a letter of reference for a course applicant has to log in the same way into the system, and then they were being asked all this demographic information, and we were getting emails like, “I don’t understand why I have to tell you all this personal information about myself just so I can write a letter of recommendation for a course applicant.” … We realized that we needed to not assign so much to the profile, and we started to create separate forms that would be attached to each program. It was labor-intensive, but every single one of our 35 different programs has a different set of forms associated with them. Some of them ask for demographic information, some of them don’t ask for demographic information. Some of them-
Jenn: Wait, is this all within Anecdata?
Jenn: This is a different …
Jane: We call it Lab Central. Anecdata was a means of collecting information. Duncan was able to take all that thinking and apply it to an entire institution. [Ed.note: Duncan Bailey, Systems Developer at the Bio Lab.]
Jenn: So this is the Bio Lab’s education program?
Jane: It was. It started out as a system that we called Education Central where all our education information came in, but other people got jealous and said, “I wish I could track all my chemical inventories that way, I wish I could track all my grants that way, …” So we started to build it out, so now we call it Lab Central. … It’s been amazing. Duncan did it all by himself. … He’s written all the code for it – it’s so customized [and] we are so unique. To get a big course-application software [program] that might be used at a university or something like that was cost-prohibitive and still didn’t deal with the fact that all our courses aren’t the same. We have short courses for undergraduates, we have modular courses for medical doctors. We’re really excited that this is all customized now.
Jenn: That is amazing.
Jane: That’s been some diversion of my energies to try to get the whole Bio Lab in good shape, not just my program. But I have Duncan and Anna and Ashley [Ed.note: Anna Farrell and Ashley Taylor], and I’ve cobbled together salaries from multiple small foundation grants.
There’s a guy who does arsenic research from Dartmouth, Bruce Stanton, and he wanted to have an environmental summit here a few years ago, and he really wanted to focus it on arsenic and well water because they were seeing this as a bigger and bigger issue in New England, so we decided to host that here. It was very successful. Many people came from different sectors, and we broke into action groups, and we talked about the need for arsenic education.
[Arsenic education] was kind of a fit for my lab because … we’re all about water, so ground water was just a stretch for me, not a disconnect. And water quality …, and then our long history of working with schools and communities and pulling stakeholders together. … I thought it was such a good idea that I went for a more national, less regional, EPA grant, which was a little risky because it was very competitive. Like, damn, we got that thing. So we spent the last two years in this groundwater thing, but it funded everybody, it funded part of my salary, it funded part of Duncan’s salary, part of Anna’s salary, so we’ve been operating on that for a couple of years. I talked to EPA, it was a national models grant, and I said, “We’ve created a national model. Where do we go with it now? …” They actually said they don’t have any additional funding for same projects. EPA has nothing to offer.
That’s why we’re taking this whole project to NIH, National Institutes of Health, and going at it from a need for people to understand data. The name of this grant is the same thing, Data to Action. I have two data-to-action grants going now. … This EPA thing with uploading the arsenic data and and all of that … – one of the requirements was that [the teachers] integrate arsenic into some science lesson. They had to collect water samples as part of that and get their data back and look at it, and then they had to share their data with their community. The way they shared it was through stories and through role playing and short videos and trifold displays, but what they didn’t do was make graphs. What they didn’t do was data analysis because we didn’t give them the tools.
Jenn: I see.
Jane: I made a lot of assumptions about what middle school and high school science teachers would do with data. We had external evaluators on that project who interviewed everybody at the beginning and end, and … the questions I had them asking were about their understanding of the data. What we found out was they learned a lot about arsenic, the dangers of arsenic. “A lot of arsenic is bad. There’s things you can do to mitigate it. It depends on your well. Well filtration is good.” But they couldn’t tell you whether Maine or New Hampshire was worse.
Jenn: Wow, that seems pretty basic.
Jane: Or which communities were, right? [With] this next National Institutes of Health grant we’re going to reach out to more teachers and kids in Maine and New Hampshire, including the ones we’ve already worked with, and we’re going to get help with this. We’re going to get partners at Colby, Bates, Bowdoin, and some of our other partner institutions in our states. They’re all on board. They’re going to be data mentors. We’ve got scientists out there [saying,] “This is a problem,” and they’re going to be mentors to teachers in schools so that once they get their data, they have help with the data.
Jenn: That’s awesome.
Jane: Yeah. Then when I said they didn’t have the tools, well we were thinking about inventing those tools, then I found a company that’s inventing those tools. It’s called Tuva.
Jenn: It’s called what?
Jane: T-u-v-a. I don’t know what the heck it stands for. Tuvalabs.com. They’re on a mission to increase data literacy in schools. They have this capability to upload any data set, and then give teachers and kids all these cool options for ways to look at it: like let’s look at it like that, let’s look at it like this. It also has all these sample data sets on there that they can … ask questions like, “What way would you like to look at this data? Do you think you should use a bar chart? What’s a bar chart really going to tell you? Maybe you need a box chart …,” you know, so the whole thing talks them through, “What kind of choices will you make to help you visualize the data,” then you can answer questions, and if you … answer them wrong, fail the quiz, then the system takes you back and walks you through again. We’re going to have teacher workshops, we’re going to teach them how to use the software.
Jenn: It sounds like a fantastic resource.
Jane: I’m so excited. And, turns out a woman I’ve worked with many years at University of Maine, Molly Schauffler, she’s in the Climate Change Institute there, she’s an educational consultant [with Tuva]. She will come and teach a … mentoring workshop for the scientists who want to mentor. They’re going to have to understand how Tuva works, too. We’re going to become a Tuva state. We’re writing that into the grant, the cost of that. During the five years of this project, all these teachers in Maine are going to have free access to this software for whatever purposes that they’re trying to grapple with data.
Then of course after that, there’s a cost for a school district. They’re a for-profit company, but I don’t think their costs are high compared to what I see for software. Of course it means some school districts will be able to afford it and others might not. I think it’s the kind of thing a school district would spring for if all their teachers were clamoring for it. Also I think the tool would work well across departments. I think that social studies teachers have data, math departments have data. Computer science. …
Jenn: The school itself probably has data it needs to understand.
Jane: Yep. They are actually building out – they started for schools, but I can see that they’re building out sites for institutions, and I see they’re interested in citizen science, so I think they’re thinking they’re going to learn a lot by working with us and our arsenic data. This data-to-action, that’s what I have. I have collected data, I have watched other people collect data for a lot of things. It is time to turn data into action. … Does that get at any of the things you wanted to learn from this interview?
Jenn: Yeah, you’re up to big stuff!
Jane: I’m trying. I might get swatted down.
Jenn: Yeah, but you don’t tend to stay swatted down.
Jane: But I am venturing beyond my expertise in the well water monitoring, the arsenic, even the data – because honestly we struggle in our own lab with our own data analysis. I make this bold claim in the introduction to this grant, “Everyone struggles with data.” I don’t think there’s ever been a more important time. This is the other argument I’m trying to make … – that people who are rejecting that climate change is real are people who are uncomfortable with data. There have been studies done … where they’ve taken people and given them, like if they’re entrenched on an issue, they’ve given them some data to help sway them and they’re still not swayed, so they give them more data, and they’re still not swayed, so they present them with a storm of evidence, then people actually get – they’ll believe it less.
Jane: The more data, the further away they move from acceptance. Data is starting to be problematic, which is why I think these people down in Miami are on to something using all these visual-media-based tools. It’s like people made to see their house underwater, not a CO2 graph. The CO2 graph is the thing that’s disturbing.
Jenn: To people who know it means.
Jane: To people who know that the whole planet, it’s the whole planet.
Jenn: But other people need to be like ‘Well we haven’t had a shrimp season in five years for a reason.’
Jane: There’s complicated layers … but I actually think the shrimp thing … Bigelow Laboratory did a huge study that showed that our plankton level is way down. I don’t know how that might interplay with these … it’s like a whole food chain problem. … It could also be nutrient-driven. We have certain nutrient regimes that have been established over millennia, the way rivers bring nutrients onto land and the ocean. Now we have ice caps melting and diverting, offshore currents with fresh water inputs. I can’t explain it, but it’s what people are looking at are these offshore nutrient regimes that feed systems. Yes it is ultimately temperature-related because we’re losing the ice caps. Again that’s so removed from people’s reality.
Jenn: Those of us who are just thinking about [whether the water is getting warmer.]
Jane: Oh yeah, and as a matter of fact, it might not be all that much warmer. … If you just look at our local water temperature data, it doesn’t look dramatic, but actually it doesn’t take much of a change [to affect marine ecosystems.]
Jenn: I haven’t seen data for the bay, just for the Gulf.
Jane: Well, the Gulf of Maine has had good years and bad years, too, like in 2012, it was the hottest year ever on record, but five years later we’re not having anything that severe going on. I think when you have these oscillations that people “believe it, don’t believe it, believe it, don’t believe it” – they’ve given up trying to understand data. This is the thing that Molly Schauffler wants students to get out of this project and … this data literacy software in particular is that what’s important to understand is variation, and how things vary around the data. Everyone wants to get to a number, but it’s the array of numbers that’s important. … Maybe it takes a whole lifetime to start to get at what the real problem is. It’s about how people perceive things, and how people receive things, and what will motivate people to move to action. I would like to think that behind all of that activity are sound data, but our strategies may not be data-driven. … We’ve made lots of improvements in reading literacy in this country. … We’ve had First Ladies go on their reading literacy campaigns and … everyone has recognized how important reading literacy is and maybe in another generation [we’ll get to] data literacy, have an understanding of numbers. Most of us can’t – I can’t deal with my own finances. I just got my report back on my retirement account that says my fund grew by 1.9% last month. That doesn’t sound that good. Maybe it is.
Jenn: … I have to force myself to focus on [those reports.]
Jane: So then there’s this whole array of choices of different funds that I can reapportion my retirement into. I’m not that good at dealing with those data. On the down low, I don’t even like to tell people what I can’t cope with because I’m trying to help them cope with it. But I think that that generalized data do feed into all aspects of our lives. In ways that somebody would have to do research projects on. You know, 20 years from now all the kids that got this data literacy curriculum, do they have more or less money in their retirement accounts?
Jenn: And are their houses under water?
Jane: Or to be movers and shakers in their communities and get land use ordinances passed that move back development from the shoreline, or decrease the amount of impervious surface. … We’re in a conundrum, and all I can do is take my little piece that’s based on my couple decades experience and hope that keeps driving some conversations forward and making some ripple effects. I always admire those people that get on the national stage and change things … I’ve always been more interested, I think you are too, at how things play out for people right where they are. I think it’s going to take a hundred King Tides projects, not a King Tides project. I think it organically grew just the right way. I think one of the things we might find is that the Gulf of Maine King Tides project is too big.
Jane: Well no one around here takes pictures. We feel disconnected from that project. I think there needs to be ‘MDI King Tides,’ ‘Schoodic Penninsula King Tides.’
Jenn: I don’t think most people here know about it.
Jane: No, they don’t know about it. And if they did know about it, like if they saw in the newspaper …, ‘Go out and take a picture on this day,’ is there anyone going to go with me? [Ed.note: The newspaper did run an article after the November King Tides, but I don’t know if it increased participation.]
Jane: Well this was so wonderful to get you up to speed on everything that’s going on.
Jenn: It sounds like you have some really, really cool projects.
Jane: I’m very excited. You know my kids are off in the world and it’s a good life stage to try to get some things off the ground that have been languishing in my mind.
Jenn: The last awkward thing is, can I take a picture? …
Jane: Sure. … I’ve had many a picture taken here on Frenchman Bay. My kids, I think I told you, they were like, “Oh when you die, Mom, we’ll scatter your ashes on Frenchman Bay.” … I said, “Could you scatter my ashes on Somes Pond?”
Jenn: Why is that?
Jane: Because that’s where I play. Don’t put me out in my workplace. I’ll feel obligated to do something.
Jenn: Fertilize the eel grass.
Jane: So funny. … I’d like to stay in this place anyhow. No matter where I go, I just want to get back here. Do you feel that way? I did a lot of traveling last year. … South Carolina, … Tampa Bay, … out to Santa Cruz to see my sister, … back to New Jersey. … My other sister lives there. I had this big year of travel. It didn’t matter where I went. I was like, Santa Cruz was nice, but it’s crowded and I don’t recognize any of the trees. You know what I mean? … I just want to get home to where I know every bird and every tree.
Jenn: I love to travel, I really enjoy being in new places, but I have to come home.
Jane: Yeah. I’ve never ended up in a place where I was like, “I could just stay here forever.” …
Jenn: That would be this island.
Jane: Yeah. I knew it when we came here to interview. We came from Washington state. I interviewed at the Jackson Lab in 1989. …We didn’t even know there was an Acadia National Park, let alone that it was here. … When she showed us around the island, we were looking at each other like, “Oh my god. Hope we get these jobs.” We both had PhDs in genetics, so didn’t we luck out that there were a couple of research labs here.
Well, what a day! I have to go back in, but thanks for getting me [outdoors!]
Disney, Jane, Duncan Bailey, Anna Farrell, and Ashley Taylor. “Next Generation Citizen Science Using Anecdata.org.” Maine Policy Review 26.2 (2017) : 70 -79, http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/mpr/vol26/iss2/15. Visited January 13, 2018.
“Gulf of Maine and Beyond: Changing Food Webs in the Gulf of Maine and Beyond,” Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, undated. https://www.bigelow.org/science/topics/gulf-of-maine-and-beyond.html. Visited January 13, 2018.
Shepherd, Samuel, “December King Tide Reached 13 Feet,” Mount Desert Islander, Dec.12, 2017
Shetterly, Susan Hand, “Profile of Gail McCullough of Hancock, who studies harbor seals in Young’s Bay” (1994). Maine News Index – Maine Times. 740. http://digitalcommons.portlandlibrary.com/news_times/740 Visited January 13, 2018.
The Frenchman Bay Partners is kind of a coalition of people working around the bay – seaweed harvesters, wormers, scientists, Harbor Committee members, Shellfish Committee members, college professors, tour companies, mussel farmers, land trust people – who are concerned with the ecological and economic health of the bay. You’ll be meeting a few of them in coming interviews. I think I’m the only artist in the group.
If you are deeply concerned about things like green crabs, mudflats, or sustainable harvesting of marine resources, you should probably join, too.
Anyway, all of that is a long introduction to say, “Thank you, Frenchman Bay Partners, for the $300 grant that will pay for professional transcription of my interviews with scientists in 2018. You rock.”
I caught up with Mary Roper, Head Gardener for the Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor, on October 11, 2017. It was 59ºF, sunny, and a brisk, cheerful sort of fall morning. Mary and I are old friends and fellow landscape professionals (in an alternate timeline I’m a landscape architect), so our conversation included a lot of abbreviated botanical names, local people, and the philosophical underpinnings of Japanese garden design. Rather than trying to explain everything in the middle of the conversation, I’m going to give you a short glossary right here:
Thomas Hall was vice-president of the Island Foundation (the organization that manages the Azalea Garden, now the Land & Garden Preserve) and chair of the Asticou Azalea Garden Committee in the 1980s.
Beth Strauss was vice-president of the Island Foundation and chair of the Garden Committee in the 1990s.
Patrick Chasse is a landscape architect specializing in historic preservation and an expert on the work of Beatrix Farrand.
Beatrix Farrand was an early-20th century landscape designer. Many of the Azalea Garden’s original plantings came from her Bar Harbor estate, Reef Point.
Charles Savage, the third generation of the Savage family to own the Asticou Inn, designed and installed the Azalea Garden beginning in 1957. For information on the history of the Azalea Garden, see the link or the Works Cited section below.
COA: College of the Atlantic.
Mirei Shigemori, garden designer, 1896–1975. Expert on historic Japanese garden design who worked to blend traditional design with modern ideas.
Traditional Japanese garden design goes back at least to the Sakuteiki, (“Records of Garden-Making”), an 11th-century manual on garden design. The setting of stones within a garden had a spiritual component and was so integral to the design that ‘stone setting’ and ‘garden making’ were at times used interchangeably. An enormous amount has been written on the subject, but Bowdoin College has a good, short, online primer.
All right, let’s start the interview!
Jenn: [Let’s start with] ‘how did you end up here?’
Mary: At the time that I joined, Tom Hall was the person overseeing the garden … . He was a very interesting person, a part-time poet …, and he had taken on this garden along with Pat Chasse [to] restore it from a semi-neglected state. … He died in the spring of ‘90, so I only overlapped with him for one fall. When his prior head gardener … was no longer available … he happened to ask my boss at the time who he should hire, and … John Smith said, “You should hire Mary.”
Jenn: Were you working for the Azalea Garden?
Mary: I was working for this tiny little nursery in Otter Creek, John Smith and Son. It’s been gone for a lot of years, but it had a long run of taking care of Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor properties and providing plant material for them…. The nursery had increasingly declined, so it was actually really good timing. … Anyway, I came here in the fall of ’89, and I had a little bit of overlap with Amy Davis who was the prior head gardener. She had been here for three years, and at the time, I didn’t know so much about gardening. I had a lot to learn, but this was a really good place to do it … because the garden still had so many incredibly obvious needs. Paths that were in places they shouldn’t be and things that had grown in and dead wood that had never been taken out. …
My awareness of the garden’s needs grew along with the garden’s development. We sort of grew up together. Beth Straus became the … head of the garden committee, and … she and I had some lovely adventures, like heading down to New York City for a conference on Japanese gardens. She brought in Yuji Yoshimura, from the New York Botanical Garden, and he helped us take a much stronger approach towards the pruning. At points, it was a little too strong, so we actually backed off from his style over time, but he initiated that and helped us to develop our eye in terms of the strength of forms and how important that was.
Let’s see. What else? Beth [had a] strong interest in continuing to increase the Asian feeling of the garden, and her way was mostly through bringing in these pruners, which made a really big difference. We were able to increase the staffing enough during her time to start pruning the Mugos by hand [Ed. note: Pinus mugo]. The Mugo planting had really been designed by Tom Hall, with a little bit of help from Pat Chasse. We extended that and … gave it more strength and more ability to achieve its visual tie to the landscapes beyond … .
Beth Strauss also initiated the … effort to purchase … an old farmhouse [on the edge of the original garden] – it had always had this overbearing presence on the garden and it inhibited the garden’s Asian feeling because it was so colonial. … The farmhouse was taken down because we realized that we would be pouring money into the farmhouse rather than the garden … .
Right after that, the pond was dredged, and we put all the dredgings from the pond up in the area where the house had been, which allowed us to have the traditional berms that often [occur] near ponds … in Japanese gardens. You’ve got to have a certain depth to your pond, and [the sediment you remove] ends up creating hills nearby, and it works together rather beautifully. … This gave us a brand new canvas [that] by the feel of it, … doubles the size of the garden. … We were able to do that and to extend Charles Savage’s style and at many times also his elements.
We were able to go back to the same quarry where he had collected stones and pitch pines and re-collect again, which is amazing to me. It seems like the only place you could do that would be a place like Maine, … where you have family connections in place for 50 years that are still providing resources for artistic endeavors. It’s amazing.
Jenn: Where is the quarry?
Mary: We went to Hall Quarry, and we were able to draw from the MacQuinn pit up in there for the initial batch of pitch pines and for a lot of the stones. One of our committee members … had property that was adjacent to the quarry, so we were also able to bring stones from his property. [Ed. note: Pitch pines (Pinus rigida) are smallish, irregularly-shaped native pines that like thin, acidic, soils. They aren’t exactly rare, but you see them mostly on ridges and mountaintops, or coastal ledges, and around here, those are mostly in Acadia National Park. You almost never find them commercially grown. Fortunately, quarry soils are thin and acidic, so Hall Quarry had a good population. Since some of the original Azalea Garden stones came from Hall Quarry, Mary’s crew was able to stock up on both materials to extend the garden seamlessly.]
Jenn: That’s fantastic.
Mary: It is. It’s amazing. I wasn’t willing to extend the garden with stone unless we could maintain the quality of stones that Savage had used, and because of these incredible, generous donors, yes, we could. … We had a lot of sources to draw from, and that gave us the feeling that we could continue as if it were still 1958. We didn’t want this garden to end up with two personalities, and we didn’t want the new garden to adopt that rather “I’m better than you” style that often happens when new pieces are built.
Jenn: A lot of people think that a garden is designed [once] and then maintained, but this is a classic story of a garden … developing and growing with each group of people –
Mary: Yes, maintaining its style.
Jenn: … What are your favorite parts of what’s grown while you’ve been here?
Mary: Well, it’s been a great learning curve for me. It really has. All of the new work has been under my guidance, so it’s my design work … . We brought in David Slawson for a week to help us think about things.
Jenn: Who’s he?
Mary: He’s been involved in Japanese gardens for a lot of years …, and it seemed to me at the time that he was the best fit for us because he was creating Japanese gardens through an American [plant] palette, and there weren’t very many people … doing that. There were a lot of people who were creating Japanese gardens, sort of transplanting them with all their plant material and everything to America, but there weren’t very many people who were doing it [with] an American palette. It turned out that, in [the] design process that we engaged with him, I actually learned that my [own] ideas were solid. …
Jenn: What a great feeling.
Mary: Yeah. It was. … We did need David Slawson very much for one thing – … at the time, I was almost too loyal to Mr. Savage because I admire his work so completely that … I was still resisting changing certain pieces. David Slawson came in and said, “You know, we’ve got to move these vaseyi azaleas.” [Ed. note: Rhododendron vaseyi.] At first, I thought, “Oh, no. This is historic. We shouldn’t, we really shouldn’t.” Then as I looked at it, I was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s exactly right.” We mapped out this section here [which] had a big row of vaseyi, and they were blocking access to the new side, and so we agreed that even though these plants were 50 years old that we would go ahead and find out how they would react to being moved. It turns out they reacted beautifully.
Jenn: Oh good.
Mary: We started them from seed at that time [too, because] we weren’t sure. We wanted to cover our bases, so we had some youngsters as well as the old guys. Now we have lots of vaseyi to play with. Anyway, I needed David Slawson for that push of where to respect historic [material] versus creating change …, and he helped to establish this linking section. … [One benefit of keeping the design work in-house] was it allowed us to move ahead as materials were available rather than being forced to do it when [a designer] was present; we could wait for the proper ingredients to appear, which has taken years [as] the stones have come in, 10, 12 at a time, and that’s how they get placed. That has all been really very much supported by having [the] designer on site.
Jenn: Yeah, and also intimately involved with the day-to-day running of the place.
Mary: … I’m able to design in a way that accommodates our maintenance needs. When I put in this new side, hidden in that design is a permanent access for dredging the pond.
Jenn: No kidding?
Mary: That’s another benefit that we achieved by keeping it local. Then also, there really may be something to this idea of ideas that originate from the site itself, this sort of historic notion of allowing the site to present its face over time … and then working with that. I feel like that’s another thing that comes from being on site all the time.
Jenn: I completely agree. One of the things that I tell a lot of my clients who build new houses is just to put in a minimal landscape and wait.
Mary: And wait until you really get the feel for it.
Jenn: See how you live in it. See what you like out your windows, how the site, like you said, reveals itself over time.
Mary: It does. The way the light falls and ways that you might want to work to enhance that, the features all reveal themselves through time. It’s a remarkable way to work, and truly all these gardens that we admire, the ones in Japan that took place before Shigemori, let’s say. He would sort of be a turning point in the history of Japanese gardens. He’s the modernizing influence where he is drawing from the past, but he’s also creating the new. The ones before him, … were not built in a short time period. They were built exactly in this manner, and because of that, they have a strength of place that is powerful. This garden has a magic of its own. In some regards, all of the work we do here is meant to allow that to express itself. …
Jenn: The way people change as they get older.
Mary: Yeah. … I hate to say it, but I’ve been here for many years, [and] my perspective says [this garden] has had its golden era … based on the Beatrix Farrand plant material. That golden era probably would have extended further, except that climate change is also coming in now, and … opening up the door for fungal diseases, [which] seem to be more important than insects at this point. It’s really changing what this garden is. … One of the things that the old garden taught us was that when Farrand propagated her own plant material from seeds and from cuttings she was handing us this torch, this burning torch that would last 50 to 75 years or more. … We realized we wanted to do that again for the next generation. [We started] a plant propagation program … now we’re growing azaleas from seed and from cuttings as needed, and also trees. I’ve been growing the Sargent crab apples [Malus sargentii] out in Lamoine at my place, and we’ve been bringing them in at an eight-foot completely branched size so that people who come to this garden don’t realize that we just replanted.
Jenn: That’s amazing.
Mary: That maintains the continuity of the plant material. It allows the plant material that’s lived here all those years to move ahead with its adaptation to the site … . The cuttings allow us to select specific forms that have particular talents that we want to engage, and then to multiply those plants. That’s gotten us into this whole bare root thing – we move our trees at the end of April. We move them bare root. … We put them right in the site, and they’ve got every single root still on them. … The plant material you buy through the nursery trade has about a 15, 20 year run, and then it collapses: … the biggest reason is sort of a delayed liability … because of the period where its roots were reduced to 20%. [Ed.note: nursery-grown trees often lose most of their root system when they are dug up for sale.] That leaves you with this hidden liability … when the regrowth of the roots suddenly choke each other out. … Anyway, I’ve been here long enough to see the collapse of commercial landscape material, but we had started the propagation program before we even realized that. We started it because of this cherry tree – they only last 50 years, and then they tend to give out, so we had started it for that, … [and] now we’re also growing pitch pines from seed because we’ve sort of tapped out [the quarry supply].
Jenn: That’s a slow process.
Mary: Yes, except that when we go back to those old 1958 photos [of the Azalea Garden installation], we see azaleas at a five-foot size and pitch pines at a four, so there’s precedent for this.
Mary: We know what to do. We can handle this. We really want that longevity, and as we move into climate change, let’s face it, we need plant material that has all of its immunity, all of its adaptation to the site. We need that local genetic base as well – grown properly and never abused, never traumatized. No hidden liability. It’s kind of like people in that regard. Kind of makes you think of that, doesn’t it?
Jenn: You live longer if you’ve had a healthy childhood.
Mary: Yeah, right. I guess it was very affirming too when I, in the middle of all that, I went back and was looking into Farrand’s work and then remembered she set up her own nurseries at Princeton and Yale. Why? Because she wanted really good quality plant material, so the problems that we’re dealing with were already there all those years ago back in the ’40s. The commercial tree business wasn’t much better than it is today. You know? They probably did use a little less Kool-Aid than they do today, [Ed.note: chemical fertilizers, rooting hormones, etc.] and they probably did have a little more diversity than today. They might have even been a little more aware of provenance than today, because a lot of the plants that came up here had great provenance. They were from the northern end of their ranges again and again and again because of the connection with the Arnold Arboretum. [Ed.note: The director at the time was a friend of Farrand’s and sent her a lot of newly introduced plants.] Farrand was at the end of a lot of plant exploration, and there was a real commitment at that time to staying in touch with where the plants were from and where they might be good to be used. We’ve lost that now in the commercial. You have no idea where something came from.
Jenn: Yep, they’ll say it’s hardy to such and such a zone, but it was grown three zones farther south.
Mary: Grown in Florida and then had all its roots cut off and fed on Kool-Aid its whole life – these are pretty powerful liabilities. All in all, that is one of the strengths of this garden is its ability to reveal to us what horticulture is outside of this commercial endeavor. What is horticulture really? Because of the generosity of the funding of the many people that contribute to the Land and Garden Preserve, we’re able to step outside of the commercial realm somewhat and to take matters into our own hands. And incredibly, propagating it actually ends up to be a financial benefit, at the end of all that.
Jenn: Yeah, that makes sense.
Mary: You’ve paid almost nothing for this incredible plant material.
Jenn: You invested time.
Mary: Meanwhile, the commercial trade has gone in the other direction. When I bought a vaseyi azalea from [a reputable nursery] about what, 10 years ago, I paid $100 for a four foot plant: I wanted to see how it would perform compared to the ones we were growing, and of course the ones we’re bringing back into the garden are five or six feet tall now, and we’ve brought in something like 30 or 40 of them, so you can just see right there what we’ve saved. We’ve put almost nothing financially into them.
Jenn: I have to stop you for a sec. I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea how much of the design work here you had done. … It’s not in the narrative. The narrative that I’m familiar with is that Charles Savage designed it, Pat Chasse renovated it.
Mary: I’m happy with that. … The way I see it is the less people think about who a designer was, the better. … I feel like that’s one of the advantages of working from the site is that … you don’t need to become a personality. You can simply connect to the work and let the site express itself. There are really several sources that are expressing themselves here. One is Charles Savage for sure. There are many elements of his work that I’ve brought into the new work directly. Then the second is Acadia. Working on sort of the wing of the garden … makes it easy and incredibly appropriate to draw in that Acadia feeling so that Japan is housed within Acadia.
Jenn: Oh, I like that. That’s a beautiful way of putting it.
Mary: It’s like an arm wrapping around and holding what’s a little bit more foreign, and this also fits within Savage’s [ideas]. In his writings he says he didn’t want a foreign note to be visible from the road …. In fact, we’re going a little bit beyond that, saying, “Let’s make it strongly Acadia from the road.” This is one of the reasons we haven’t installed a Japanese lantern that’s really prominent from the road. … I don’t feel like we’re quite there yet. We’re still working on that new side and there are 12 rather incredible stones that are coming in this fall.
Mary: Yeah. The way that I do this is … Well, first off, we went and collected the stones from Vittoria’s woods last fall. I’ve had a chance to sort of sit with them over the summer. As I work with each stone, I wait until it reveals its strongest aspect, and then I find a way to use it in the landscape where its strength is maximized. It’s like two strengths. It’s a strength when you see the stone itself, and then ‘how does it fit into the overall picture?’ So you sort of are trying to do both, and the 12 stones that are coming in – they are beautifully, effortlessly extending that Acadia feeling.
Jenn: Looking forward to seeing that. Would you show me some of your stone groupings?
Mary: Okay. The old garden is everything from this stone this way, and the new garden is everything this way. The huge row of vaseyi was right through here. A straight row that appeared to literally have been planted in the strip between tire tracks because the access point for bringing the plant material and all the equipment and everything had been right through here, and so the strip became ‘Vaseyi Row.’
Mary: In order to join the new side, you had to sort of squeeze down one side or the other. Neither was very comfortable, and so we took them out … . There were no stones in this direction at all.
Mary: None. Everything we’ve placed. See the vaseyi sweeping up through here?
Mary: That’s them. They had [originally] been planted to be a backdrop for the garden, and they still are, and in fact, they’re even a better backdrop in their new location than prior, so it’s quite wonderful that they survived being moved at a 50-year-old point in their lives.
Jenn: Yeah. Even people don’t like being uprooted at 50.
Mary: No. Last year, we were able to add this stone lantern, and this year we’ll be adding a moss skirt to that. …
Mary: This is the new side, and yes, all the stones we had to find and bring. One of our greatest donors actually [had] areas hidden in the woods near Thuya. … That was incredibly fortuitous because the energy that’s moving through this site in terms of stones really comes from Thuya. … Of course, what we really gain [from the expansion] is these views back to the original garden. We also put the stones in the pond.
Up and through here, we’ve been working on fall-color planting, and we’ve discovered that fall color is actually quite a bit less reliable than bloom, so this has been tough. Not only that, but trees that are in the trade for fall color have all been selected for southern areas, not for here. We’ve had to put extra time into working this out. There’s an azalea up in there that’s going to form this sort of mountainscape in the back … ..
Mary: Isn’t it nice to be this close to the water?
Jenn: It really is.
Mary: When I found this spot, we had three giant Norway maples that had to come out, but it just had absolutely the right feeling and didn’t seem to matter that the road was so nearby. … I don’t know if you can see it, but the moss that’s beyond the little peninsula-
Jenn: At the base of the stones there?
Mary: Yeah, so that is going to come over here.
Jenn: Oh, that’s going to be gorgeous.
Mary: Yeah, we’re excited about it.
Jenn: How are you doing that? If it’s proprietary, don’t tell me, but-
Mary: It’s not. … Well, what tends to happen on the edge of a pond is you get grasses, you get things that like a lot of nutrients and can handle the wet. … If we just put haircap moss there, it would get invaded. What we’ve done instead is we’ve built a rock base up and we’ve stopped that rock base at one inch below the surface of the water, and in that one inch, we put a sort of manipulated local clay, and then we plant our haircap onto that local clay.
Mary: We have got a piece of [landscape] fabric just under the clay. The clay acts like a capillary mat, constantly keeping the haircap beautifully damp, which it loves. It’s just the perfect amount of moisture for it, so it’s been working great. … Oh, and you can walk on it.
Mary: Because of the stone that’s underneath. If we were just installing on top of [the pond edge], you might walk on it a few times, but it would [get compacted and] end up lower than the pond.
Mary: You’d end up with problems, and then the weed seeds would come in, so [there are] a bunch of little things that we’re managing.
Jenn: Clever. Very clever.
Mary: … I’ve watched all this stuff for a lot of years. We wanted it to stay green in spite of dry weather, which that does, and we wanted it to be low maintenance, which that is, and we wanted to be able to walk on it, which we can, and we wanted the moss to be exceedingly happy, which it is.
Mary: Yeah. And here’s where we’re not in the golden era anymore. We’ve lost David Rockefeller’s tree, and we’ve lost the giant Korean fir that was on the south lawn, so David’s tree was [planted in] ’97, but the Korean fir goes all the way back to ’56.
Mary: We knew we were going to lose both of them, we knew we were in trouble, especially the fir tree, so we knew this day was coming. We’ve got the pitch pines ready to go, and they’re at about a four-foot size, which is traditional. … We only started them in 2012, so that’s not that long.
Jenn: No, that’s not. What are your plans for when this pine goes?
Mary: Well, that would be one of the reasons that we want to replant a pitch pine here on Pebble Point – we anticipate that that one will give in. That one is one of the lessons from … a Bonsai style that was initiated at a late point in the plant’s life. This tree was double its height. Yuji Yoshimura cut it down by half, which left us with stubs at the top of the tree like this, and those stubs are of course now rotting, which we knew would take place. … The thing is now I know how to respond, and we’ve got the trees ready to go, so we’ll let the tree element be on this side.
That’s another thing that we’ve been developing here is [a plan for] ‘What do we do with the feature trees?’ Do we replant them in their exact location, or do we give them a 75-year rotation? I think we’re going to choose that 75-year rotation model because it allows the garden to show other strengths, for one thing, but it also gets around the changes in the soil that take place when a tree’s been in one place for a long time, so we would expect it to perform better in a new location. We’ve got some of those rotations going, and the Asticou cherry, the one over here … that sort of heralds spring every year, that guy when the white pine is no longer with us, he moves over to that location.
Jenn: Oh wow. That is going to be so beautiful.
Mary: Isn’t that exciting? I know. From here, from where we are right now, it’s pretty damn good, yeah.
Jenn: The sunlight going through the petals is going to be unbelievable. …
Mary: Then over here in the place where the Korean fir was, I’ve planned a group of five pitch pines, which will help to really secure the Acadia feeling from the road again, and then it will also give us this incredible understory planting to allow the … azaleas [grown] from seed to come into the picture. They’re giving us slightly new colors and slightly new forms, and I’m excited about that because that’s one of the benefits of allowing them to outcross freely – they show us what they want to be, and then we get to enjoy that in a new location.
Jenn: That’s so cool. When are you going to do the planting here?
Mary: We have to be patient because the pines would prefer to be moved early spring, so what we do, we wait for that moment when the frost is all the way out of the ground, and we dive right in and move as many things as we can. It’s the musical chairs point of the season, and that’s when the five pitch pines will come over from our collection out back.
Jenn: Well, I can’t wait to see that.
Mary: I’ve actually got some drainage work to solve before that time, so that’s one of the benefits of being forced to wait on the trees’ timing – we can solve a few problems in advance. Fall season is fairly short, and we have a lot we have to get off the list.
Jenn: I have to say, I’m looking at this garden in a whole different way – I was just here last week and it looks completely different to me now that [we’ve talked.]
Mary: Interesting. Last week, you might’ve been seeing it through a historic lens, and now you’re seeing it more [as an] in-progress, living feature.
Mary: Well, good. I’m glad that last week you weren’t aware. I prefer that.
Jenn: It’s funny. You’ve made some huge changes while I’ve been here, and I tend to forget.
Jenn: I remember that house, and then I forgot that it was ever there. …
Mary: How could there be any greater compliment? Yeah, like everything is meant to be here, and it has the strength of the old garden. … I try not to do anything in this garden until the design creates a certain sort of enthusiasm in me, and when I feel that, then I know, yeah, okay, we move ahead … Why install something that doesn’t have that? In time we will have to respond to the need to replace all the pitch pines, but right now, it’s just select areas.
Jenn: I just love – I don’t quite know how to express it. I’ve got a sense of the garden as a changing creation, like things are going to morph and move and … Like the tree is going from one section to another. It’s beautiful. It’s just a beautiful way to think of it.
Mary: Truthfully, you know and I know that within the landscape world, the strength of personalities involved in design work often inhibit the integrity of the site. … That’s kind of where we’ve been for a lot of years. From my perspective, allowing this sort of flexibility to co-evolve with my own thinking is a beautiful way to step forward with landscape in general. Why? Because these issues of ‘how do we bring the past forward into the future’ is a struggle in many gardens, and it doesn’t feel like a struggle here to me. I keep experiencing it as opportunities and as expression and as a chance to let Asticou be even more Asticou. That’s how I see it. When what was a Korean fir becomes five pitch pines, it’s actually stronger. … I get excited about that because it gives us a chance to let Asticou be itself and the visitors who come will have no idea … that there was any change or that it ever looked any other way, and how perfect.
Jenn: Exactly. I trained in historic preservation, and dealing with historic landscapes, usually people pick an era. [You’re supposed to decide] ‘What’s the era of significance,’ and then you try and freeze it.
Mary: That’s right. You try, yeah.
Jenn: You can’t freeze a landscape.
Mary: You can’t. … As a tree matures, yes, there may be a perfect 30, 40 years where it is optimum, sure, but as you get into that maturing process, there are new expressions that are as strong as the original expression, and you may be missing those. Conversely, you may have a tree that’s gotten to a size where it’s obliterating everything, and so you’ve got to be able to make those decisions on site and to [see] where the strength is and then doing everything you can to amplify and to enhance that.
You’ll end up choosing, maybe there’s a youthful era and then there’s a mid-age era and then there’s an old age era, so yeah, it doesn’t really make sense to get stuck in one of those because all three have strength to give, and there are assets within each phase that cannot be claimed in the other phases. … It’s when you’re on site and when you see something over time that you can do this. I would argue that all the old historic gardens, the ones that we really love all benefited from that process. They were not designed on paper in an office over a period of two months and then installed.
Jenn: I think most good designers know that the work has to change, that what’s on paper is just the starting point, but the trouble comes when people 100 years later are trying to go back and decide what’s important, and a lot of people fixate on that paper plan.
Mary: Yeah, I know it.
Jenn: Because it’s documentation.
Mary: Yeah, I know. … I’m not even sure I want things on paper because of that. Sometimes if you reveal too much of the process and the history, people will once again get fixated on one element of something and say, “Oh, well, it used to be this way. Well, it must’ve been better when it was like that,” and they weren’t there during the time to realize no, it was actually quite weak during that era. I see that. I see that potential is always there.
Jenn: Do you have a set of guidelines that you [developed] … Like for the next person?
Mary: Yeah, the next person. I don’t know.
Jenn: How do you communicate this?
Mary: I don’t know what to do about the next person. I would want them to learn the hard way, the way I did. You can have some missteps in those learning years. It would be nice to offer some freedom from the more dramatic learning process … and yet still engage their own senses in the site. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with as a solution to this is to write something that’s humorous, and in that way, engage. The strongest link is to talk about some of the design work and some of the processes and to help people secure for themselves that joyous interaction that they can also have here.
Jenn: I would love to read that. Please write it.
Mary: Okay. Let’s hope there comes the day when that does happen. … Maybe a garden’s never done, so maybe I’m fooling myself, but in my own work here, I’m looking for a certain measure of completion before I walk away, and we’re still outside of that. The other cool thing about this place for me, being a COA graduate and all, is it has been a very active ecosystem that also needs protecting … . When I first started here for instance, the pond was routinely breaking out in these algae blooms right in the middle of spring bloom, and we were able to get that under control. I know what the components are for that water management, and I learned them. The next person will have no clue of that, so that sort of thing actually is crucial to communicate because once again, the learning curve on that is horrible. Once you’ve put too much phosphorous in this system, you’ll spend five, six, seven years undoing the damage.
Jenn: Things like your strategy for the moss along the pond side.
Mary: Yeah, stuff like that. Actually, that would be fairly easy to make drawings and to provide for other people.
Jenn: But I think it would be key to pass that on, because otherwise people are going to come in and just not know.
Mary: Yeah, I know, and all arts are like that. Things that are difficult, when it becomes art appear effortless, and that’s what you’re looking for. You never want to be in a garden where you’re witnessing the gardeners struggle. … We always look for ways to avoid using signage, ways to avoid using anything that detracts from the experience here … so we’re subtle as much as possible. That’s gotten challenging, as you might imagine, because every year we have more visitors than the year before. …
The technologies that are needed will also shift because [we are moving] from a garden that saw an 80°F day only on occasion to one where we’re seeing 80° days over a two week period. … We can’t use the grass seed types we were using before. They all give in to red thread now, and the moss went through a horrible period of being decimated by a fungus, and now the scotch pines along the road are taking their turn with brown spot. I’m expecting that to be devastating.
There’s going to be a lot of learning that we’re still doing as we adapt, … and it’s going to take a certain amount of resolve to initiate the new design work that will be needed to have plantings that are more long-term. That’s the way the new work is, and in some ways, it just shines a light on the strength of the old work again.
Jenn: Well, it’s an incredibly special place.
Mary: Yes, it is. That’s one thing that’s amazing is the way that every day, … every single day it seems to me, somebody comes up to me and says, “You know this is my favorite place. … I’ve seen gardens all over the world and I still love this place the most.” I always feel that way, but when strangers come up and say that, that’s just incredible.
Jenn: I think one of the reasons that the malleable strategy you’re using here [is so successful] is because the garden is almost more of a mood than a physical place. I’m not expressing it well. It’s like a mood made three-dimensional.
Mary: Yeah. It is. Like I was saying before, there is a sort of naturally graceful yet energized reality here. I can’t tell you what that is. I know that it’s here and I know that everything that we do is meant to augment it, but I don’t really know what it is. … I experienced a couple of gardens in Japan that were generating more … perceived awareness than what the physical features would have suggested. … Somehow they are conveying more spirit than the elements present, and … I’m still trying to understand. Is that something that only comes from the site itself, or can designers create that? …
Jenn: It would be interesting to look at those sites and see who is taking care of them.
Mary: Who’s behind them, exactly.
Jenn: I wonder if it isn’t an intense feeling on the part of the designers and the people who keep it going.
Mary: Or it could be an engaged reverence emanating from the participation of spiritual persons, … because the two locations I’m thinking of, both were housed within an active spiritual tradition.
Jenn: Which ones? I’m curious.
Mary: One of the sites is Giōji, which on the surface appears to be a small temple with Buddhist statues and a large moss area adjacent, so in other words, there’s almost nothing there, and yet as you walk through that site, you just cannot believe what you are feeling.
The other one is the ‘South Sea’ of Daisen-in. … [It’s] nothing but an area of empty raked sand with a couple of sand mountains at the end, and somehow the empty raked sand [gives] this unbelievable spiritual experience. This is something I can’t explain. It’s this overwhelming sense – I’ve been to Japan three times [and] it might be that I’m only now receptive to engage at that level, and so the next step … the only way to begin to unravel that mystery would be to learn Japanese and to speak to the people engaged in those three sites and to trace that history back. Was this site sacred going back 1,000 years? The most likely answer is that it is a dual participation between humans and the site … but I don’t know because I don’t speak Japanese and I haven’t been able to find anyone else speaking about those elements in the way that I perceived them. Japan interests me in this other way, which is beyond the visuals. There’s something much stronger that’s beyond the visual work here, and what is it? This garden naturally contains aspects as well.
Jenn: The only time I felt something like that in Japan – I visited a lot of the gardens in Kyoto … – but the one place where I really felt it was in the forest around Ise.
Mary: I didn’t go to Ise. Oh, it makes complete sense that it would be at Ise.
Jenn: It didn’t even matter that there were a thousand other people walking with me. … It’s the [ancient] forest around the shrine.
Mary: And you can’t explain it. … There’s an inner sense that we don’t have language for that allows us to perceive the strength of a given landscape, and we, those who’ve been engaged in landscapes, can probably readily feel it, but even people who haven’t, people who’ve never paid any attention to gardens, they’re experiencing it too. We don’t have a language for it. I think that … what we really mean by genius loci [Ed.note: “spirit of the place”] is that the person who’s working on the site is in fact receptive to the energy that is there on the site, and not only that, the site is exceptional. Whether it has visual features that are exceptional or not apparently is almost irrelevant. … [It’s] an earthly gift of some kind, an earthly expression that cannot be seen, it can only be felt. … Well, that’s quite an in-depth talk here!
Jenn: Thank you so much.
Mary: We really, really dove in deep, which is really nice. I can’t think of any other, or very few situations where that really comprehensive perspective comes forward, so my appreciation to you to bring this opportunity.
Jenn: Oh, well thanks.
Mary: I’ll set you with a task.
Jenn: Okay. …
Mary: I’ve always been really curious about Chief Asticou’s interaction with Asticou and also with Native American traditions where this natural stream system meets the ocean down there. I don’t know enough about that, and I just, I figure that some of our strength goes all the way back to that period, so I have a curiosity about that, and if you uncovered anything in your journey, I would be really interested to find out.
Jenn: It is definitely something I’m looking into. I’m trying to find the right people to talk to about it.
Mary: It’s pretty nice where the stream exits there.
Jenn: Yeah. I went down that path for the first time last week. Did I tell you I saw a seal?
Mary: Oh, no kidding!
Jenn: Yeah. It was kind of out in the harbor there.
Mary: How completely rare. Oh my God, that’s awesome.
Jenn: Made my day.
Mary: We’ve had an otter that has showed up here on occasion, so we’re always happy about that. They don’t like to be here when there’s a lot of people, but early in the season and late in the season, they do show up.
Jenn: I love otters.
Mary: We still have the big freshwater mussels.
Mary: They’re still here in the pond. …
Jenn: Holy cow.
Mary: I know. Isn’t that something? …
Jenn: Wow. … That is huge. Where did you find that guy?
Mary: It turned up … on the edge of the pond and we kept it because it’s a good indication. I think that was after the dredge, too, that we found that.
Jenn: That’s really impressive.
Mary: Yeah, it had survived that. …
Jenn: [Catching sight of the new stones.] Oooh!
Mary: I know. Can you believe it? These are such high quality.
Mary: This is a type of stone – this is the earth’s crust that has been exposed for millennia and you cannot get this from stones that are deeper in the ground. There are a few hints in the Japanese literature. One is ‘don’t use a stone that’s dead,’ and I think what they mean is one that is from deep in the ground. You need living stones. These are definitely living. Then the second is ‘don’t install a horizontal stone vertically, nor a vertical stone horizontally,’ … people tend to take that to mean you want it to look a certain way aesthetically, but what I take it to mean instead is you use the stones the way the earth created them. [Ed. note: the way they weathered in their original positions.] [For] this stone, this was the top. [Pointing to the weathered upper surface.] You can see as you look at it that this was the connection. This is the root. [Pointing to the unweathered part that was buried.] This is the top. It will be installed in that way.
Jenn: You can see right where it was buried. … On a technical note, how on earth did you move them without scraping or losing the moss?
Mary: We did have help from Freshwater Stone. They used a boom truck, and it was in the snow. … It snowed the night before. Only … a couple inches, but it made it a challenging day!
Jenn: I’ll bet. There’s not a single scrape mark.
Mary: This guy is Dock, this guy is Boat, and this guy is Swan. Everybody gets a name. … Here’s our azalea nursery, these are all from seed, this group, and there’s our pitch pine nursery. They’re all from seed. The seed was collected by a squirrel. We found it in our boots and we planted it. The pine cones were literally stored in a boot and we were like, “Okay, it’s time to plant pitch pines,” and there they are.
Jenn: Little pitch pines are the cutest things.
Mary: I know. They all grow quickly. We’ve almost emptied out all our vaseyi. You can see the little bit that’s left, that whole bed was full. We did an invasives-to-natives project at the south gate where we took out Norway Maple, Barberry, Honeysuckle and Euonymus and replanted vaseyi.
Mary: … I’m hoping that after these 12 [stones] come in that we can sort of switch gears away from the stone work and start bringing in the blueberry and the heath and the other things that will really make the stones have that mountaintop aspect. We’ve had to be patient. We’ve been waiting for enough [stones] to come to the site. …
We changed topics and talked about public access to the shoreline.
Jenn: Yeah, and over here we’ve got Thuya Landing and the Asticou Stream. I’m very grateful for them.
Mary: True, and are you aware that it used to be Azalea Garden property, but now it’s Land and Garden Preserve property … across the road and following the stream?
Jenn: No, I didn’t. I thought it was Village Improvement Society.
Mary: They’re the ones that have done the work on the trail, but it actually is owned by the Land and Garden Preserve. It literally follows the stream down, so it’s kind of narrow, but in Charles Savage’s writings back in 1958, he was proposing two more ponds leading down to the harbor.
Mary: Yeah, God. I’m almost glad they didn’t get built. We’ve got our hands full. … It’s an interesting perspective, isn’t it? To be not only engaged in a project that moves forward, but to also see what didn’t move forward.
Jenn: Yeah, the ideas that were rejected or at least didn’t happen.
Mary: Exactly. There’s this unfulfilled potential there. That’s kind of exciting. The Village Improvement Society, they just updated the trail system and the steps going down and the bridges … .
Jenn: It’s a really pretty trail. I can’t believe I’d never been down it before. …
Mary: Oh, and the other thing it allows me to do is, oftentimes when I’m leading a tour here I can see that people are interested in what the site looked like before Mr. Savage started – I send them across the street because that is the native untouched site right there.
Mary: That’s incredibly helpful for people to understand what it takes to create a place like this. A garden like this, obviously we want [visitors] to think that it all happened because it wanted to, not because people were behind it. [It has] this naturalistic and yet beautifully formed style. It has the distinctness in the layering and it has a lot of the strength that would occur naturally on a mountaintop – that would’ve been provided by wind and shallow soils in that location but here is provided by people. [Visitors don’t] realize that pitch pines would not naturally occur here. It’s nice. It’s really lovely to have that contrast.
Jenn: Well, it’s a fantastic place. Thank you for sharing it with me.
Mary: Oh, thank you so much for coming to ask. What a treat. … I look forward to hearing all the stories.
Jenn: Thanks! All right, I’d better get going.
Mary: Onward with our day!
Baldwin, Letitia S. Asticou Azalea Garden. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008
Baldwin, Letitia S. Thuya Garden. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008
Lamb, Jane. The Grand Masters of Maine Gardening. Down East Books, 2004.
Takei, Jiro and Keane, Marc P. Sakuteiki Visions of the Japanese Garden: A Modern Translation of Japan’s Gardening Classic. Boston, Tuttle Publishing, 2001.
I know, I know, it’s a little unorthodox to have an addendum to Coast Walk 19 when, technically, Coast Walk 19 hasn’t happened yet. Here on the blog, I’m still stuck a mile or two away trying to contact property owners along Roberts Point and Wheelwright Way so I can start Coast Walk 18. However, in real life, two of my interviewees mentioned the Asticou Stream Trail so on the morning of October 6, 2017, I checked it out.
The path starts just across Peabody Drive from the Azalea Garden and winds down to the harbor through a little stream valley running along the edge of the Asticou Inn property.
It’s part of the Land & Garden Preserve, but is maintained by the Northeast Harbor Village Improvement Society.
It’s not a long trail – I think if you walked straight through you’d reach the shore in 10 minutes. I, of course, rarely manage to walk straight through anywhere. There’s too much to look at:
Slime mold or puffballs? I’m still trying to figure it out.
The only thing I’ve found about its history is a note on the Memorials of Acadia National Park blog: “Gordon Falt [was] a 20-year Path Committee chairman. His memorial, which is alongside the wooden steps descending east from Main Street via Old Firehouse Lane to the harbor’s parking lot, states: Gordon H. Falt, Devoted Designer of the Beauty of this Village and Staunch Sustainer of its Trails. 1900-1981. Among the trails he built was the Asticou Brook Trail.” So it must have been built sometime before 1981. Tell me more if you know the trail’s history!
The day I visited, a seal was lolling around out near the Thuya Landing. Too far away, but I took a photo anyway to prove I saw her:
A loon was flying back and forth, very busy about something.
The view back toward the stream mouth:
You can walk along the shore a little way, and then the path continues back up through the meadow to meet Route 198/Harborside Road.
Lenahan, Donald. “Northeast Harbor’s Schoolhouse Ledge – a Place for a Peaceful Hike,” Memorials of Acadia National Park, September 5, 2012. acadiamemorials.blogspot.com/2012/09/northeast-harbors-schoolhouse-ledge.html Date accessed: January 10, 2017.