The Coast Walk Project


Thank you, Frenchman Bay Partners

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.”




Interview: Mary Roper at the Asticou Azalea Garden

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. (from Baldwin, Letitia S., Thuya Garden.)

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.

Jenn:     Yes.

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.

Jenn:     Oh?

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.’

Jenn:     Wow.

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.

Jenn:     Really?

Mary:   None. Everything we’ve placed. See the vaseyi sweeping up through here?

Jenn:     Yes.

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.  …

Jenn:     Wow.

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 … ..

Jenn:     Fantastic.

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.

Jenn:     Wow.

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.

Jenn:     Carefully?

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.

Jenn:     Right.

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.

Jenn:     Win-win.

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.

Jenn:     Wow.

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.

Jenn:     Exactly.

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.

Mary:   Good.

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.

Photo by Charles K. Savage ca.1958, courtesy of the Mount Desert Historical Society via Maine Memory Net.      “This image shows an area of the garden, “Pebble Point”, which no longer exists. This original garden feature was created with pebbles brought in from Jasper Beach, near Machias. The feature washed away the following spring and the area became submerged into the pond.”

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.

Jenn:     Really?

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.

Jenn:     Wow.

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.

The beginning of the Asticou Stream Trail, Northeast Harbor

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.

Jenn:     Ambitious.

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 … .

The Asticou Stream Trail, Northeast Harbor

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.

The Asticou Stream Trail, Northeast Harbor

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.


Coast Walk 19 addendum – Asticou Stream Trail

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 trail is also known as the Asticou Brook Path, and since the signpost has both names I’m going with the biggest sign)


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.  Date accessed: January 10, 2017.



Interview: Tim Garrity – Fernald Point and Norwood Cove

Tim in the archives of the Mount Desert Historical Society.


On October 5, 2017 I joined Tim Garrity, executive director of the Mount Desert Historical Society at the society’s headquarters in the old Sound School House. You may remember Tim from Coast Walk 13, when we found the remnants of the old Village Improvement Society trail near Hunters Beach. We’ve had some interesting discussions about how historical narratives change over time, and I asked him if he’d talk about two local stories that hover between history and legend.

Tim:     What you would like to [talk about] today?

Jenn:    You had mentioned either Norwood Cove or Fernald Point.

Tim:     Yeah.  Fernald Point … is often cited as the site of the Jesuit mission of Saint Sauveur in 1613. But it has never been proven. Proof would entail the finding of archeological specimens … that would indicate the presence of a French mission there. But they may not exist. They may have been pretty scarce in the first place because the mission only lasted a few weeks and might not have left much evidence behind. … The French had made a choice. Rather than build fortifications, they would make a garden to feed themselves. And without fortifications, they, a) left no archeological evidence and, b) were easily defeated by the English force … from the Jamestown Colony in Virginia. From 1613 until about 1858, a period of about 250 years, the location of the Saint Sauveur mission, the exact place, had been forgotten. What happened in 1858 is that the … Canadian government, published the Jesuit Relations. They are the letters and memoirs of the Jesuit missionaries over a period of over 100 years, including the letters of Father Pierre Biard, who was the lead French Jesuit missionary on the expedition. He wrote back to his Jesuit superiors in Paris to defend the fall of the mission and to explain his efforts at missionizing the Indians, and learning their language, and talking about their ways of life, and described in detail the site of the Saint Sauveur mission and its fall.

These had been … hidden away in archives in Paris … in manuscript form for a century and a half, and became popularly available in the French language with the publication of the Relations in 1858. One of the readers of this new publication was Elijah Hamlin of Bangor, an attorney, the brother of Abraham Lincoln’s vice president, Hannibal Hamlin. He read the accounts that described the location of the Saint Sauveur mission and interpreted that location as Fernald Point. Hamlin’s interpretation was picked up by Francis Parkman, who was then America’s most eminent historian. And Parkman published the location in 1865 in his book France and England in the New World. That was a runaway history best-seller. And it popularized Fernald Point as the location. This in turn was picked up by others because Parkman was so wildly popular as a historian. And with the first suggestion that Fernald Point was the location of the mission, we start to see “evidence.” Purported evidence is found there at the site.

“St. Sauveur mission, Mount Desert,” ca. 1866, by Eugene Vetromile. Image courtesy of Maine Historical Society.

One is a map drawn by another Jesuit priest Father Eugene Vetromile, an Italian who was also missionizing Indians in the Bangor area. He came there in 1860, and he drew a map that showed the remains of the fortification, showed the grave of Brother Gilbert du Thet, who died in the attack.

Jenn:    Forgive me, that’s 100 years later? …

Tim:     No, Vetromile comes by 250 years later, after the site is “shown” to be the site of the Saint Sauveur mission and he draws a picture and a map of what he calls the remains of the fortification and the grave of one of the Frenchmen who died. It turns out we have a photograph of this area from atop Flying Mountain that looks down on Fernald Point, and it shows that what Vetromile thought was the remains of the fortification was actually the foundation of a barn that was standing on the site.

We know from the history itself that the French built no fortifications, and that if there was a memorial to Brother Gilbert du Thet, as Vetromile drew it in the shape of a stone cross, somebody had put it there [later] to represent the grave.

The Norwood Cove Object, Southwest Harbor Public Library.

Detail of the Norwood Cove Object showing shell casing band, Southwest Harbor Public Library.

We [also] have the Norwood Cove object that was said to have been found in 1921 and presented to the Southwest Harbor Public Library, where many people interpreted it as a dagger that was a remnant of the mission. It turns out that actually that’s a piece of trench art from World War One [Ed. note: made from an empty shell casing] presented by somebody who had been there. An American serviceman who lived in Southwest Harbor knew the story.

Also, this tradition was picked up by the founders of [Acadia National] Park, who were eager for the new park to have French associations because in their pitch to Congress to make this place a park, they cited its unique geographic location …, its healthful … wild lands on the edge of the Eastern megalopolis …, and the third and final thing they cited was its historical significance, to which they pointed to Fernald Point as evidence of the French mission and exploration.

Much of what we think about Fernald Point may or may not be true. There are historians who are willing to argue the point. The problem is that in his letter, Biard said that the mission was, in the French, ‘separé’ – ‘apart from’ – the island of Mount Desert. Parkman cited this, and he said that Biard must’ve been mistaken. In other words, Biard didn’t know where he was. But that’s really unlikely because even though it was a new place, Biard had been there in 1611 with Champlain. He knew perfectly well how the island was put together. It’d been mapped, identified, so there was no mystery as to where he was.

Other more recent scholars, often Canadian, because they don’t have a stake in Acadia National Park being associated with the French, say it was more likely in a place like Lamoine. It answers the description better. And also it turns out that plenty of places on the coast of Maine answer to a very similar description of Fernald Point – facing the southeast, a field rising up to mountains. It matches a lot of descriptions.

There have been many archeological studies of Fernald Point. Most of them have been directed at the Indian middens or shell piles that are on the shore. But no one has ever turned up a true artifact of the mission. There is a tantalizing little possibility, and that is a report of the Bangor Historical Society in 1911 that reports on items lost in a fire at the Bangor Historical Society, one of which was a weapon of French design found at the site of the Saint Sauveur mission. So if you want to hang on to that, there’s still that out there.

Jenn:    I actually find the – how should I put it – the history of people’s desire for that to be the location [just] as fascinating as finding the original location would actually be, maybe more so.

Tim:     I agree. I’m reminded of the Paul Simon song “The Boxer” and of the lyric, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

Jenn:    Exactly.

Tim:     And I just heard this week at a lecture at UMaine that after Bram Stoker published his book “Dracula,” there were vampire sightings all over Europe.

Jenn:    I’ll bet.

Tim:     And after … I’m forgetting the name of the poet. A New England poet became aware of an artifact … of a man found in a grave postured in a sitting position with a suit of armor. It also was lost in a fire, but a modern interpretation is that this was likely the grave of an Indian warrior. But it was interpreted at the time as a Viking’s grave. [Ed. note: Longfellow, The Skeleton in Armor.]

Jenn:    Oh yeah.

Tim:     And subsequent to the publication of that poem, there was … a rise of Viking sightings – of runes, inscriptions on stones, and remnants of Viking ships. Even, in the 1930s, the finding of a Norse coin near Naskeag Point in Brooklyn on the Blue Hill Peninsula, which modern scholarship calls into question as very possibly it had been planted there by the archeologist who claimed to find it. The best interpretation is possibly it arrived there – it’s [something] like a 15th century Viking coin – it very possibly arrived there through trade, not necessarily as a Viking site.

Maine Penny: Minted in Norway between A.D. 1065 and 1080, this small silver coin was excavated at the Goddard site in Penobscot Bay, Maine. Photo courtesy Maine State Museum

So, yeah, I think there’s a real pattern of suggestion giving rise to observations that are just not really set in reality.

Jenn:    People really want to believe.


Tim: Yeah. And the fun thing about this one is… Ralph Stanley … remembers Christopher Lawler and called me up and he said, “I knew Christopher Lawler, and this sounds exactly like something Chris Lawler would do.”

Jenn:    Is [Lawler] the one who gave the artifact to the Southwest Harbor?

Tim:     Yeah, he’s the one. … And Ralph says that he was a practical joker. He tells many stories of what a sense of humor this guy had and how big and boisterous he was and that this really is in keeping with the kind of thing he would have fun doing.

Jenn:    Now we just need to find a note in which he wrote it down.

Tim:     Yeah.

Jenn:    We need to find his diaries: …”Played this fantastic practical joke.”

Tim:     Yeah, if only … Though I got a call from, [someone who] talked with the son of Christopher Lawler, who is 92 and lives at the retirement home in Orono, who says that he remembers his father finding this thing. But … I don’t think the dates work out. … If he is 92 and this thing was found in 1926 or 1921, he’s just not old enough to remember it.

Christopher Wendell Lawlor (1893-1956)

Tim:     Well, … that’s my Fernald Point story. Norwood Cove, I would really have to read up on it a little bit. I have similar doubts about that – it’s just I have my suspicions of the story as it’s told-

Jenn:    About the battle?

Tim:     … about the battle of Norwood Cove and the casualties and the Tenedos, the British ship. It is said that they took multiple casualties there, the British, like five dead. I just attended a lecture at the University of Maine that points to the Gale resources, [about] 26 million documents from the 17th and 18th century of Britain, all the newspapers. I would like to look up the British side of that story because it smacks of legend. Have you heard of much of this story?

Capture of the USS President by HMS Tenedos and HMS Pomone, 1815. Painting by Thomas Whitcombe [Image found in a chat room, couldn’t find a more reliable source.] I think the Tenedos is the second largest ship.

Jenn:    I’ve heard that, was it Captain Spurling from Cranberry Island? had left a boat in Norwood Cove, and the British were coming to destroy it, and there was kind of a Paul-Revere’s-ride of people going from Southwest Harbor to gather defenders.

Tim:     I think that’s part of it. Let me … I think I can get to it.

Jenn:    The British were requisitioning or destroying all the fishing boats is how I heard the story.

Tim:     Yeah. And I think the most complete account was by George Street in Mount Desert; a History. So let’s look up Tenedos. … Yeah. You may have this story as well as I do.

“In August 1814, a British sloop of war sailed in the Eastern Way and anchored in the deep water between Bear Island and Sutton. … The chief man on Great Cranberry was Captain Benjamin Spurling … . Two of his vessels were at that time hid up in Norwood’s Cove … . When Captain Spurling saw the masts of the Tenedos looming up over Sutton’s Island, he knew the intent of her coming. … He rode over to the ship and tried to dissuade those in command… . The British officers replied very truculently that it was their commission to burn Yankee vessels and he should go with them and see them burn. They wanted him for their own protection, thinking the people would not fire at him when they saw him. Spurling warned them not to enter the cove, saying he had three sons over there who could shoot a duck on the wing. … Meanwhile, two young men from Great Cranberry rode over to Southwest Harbor and traveled all night through the farms and hills to the other side of the mountains sounding the alarm. All night long, men were hurrying singly or in squads to the scene of action. … Jacob Lurvey, a veteran soldier of the Revolution, … had one musket, and that his son Isaac, 18 years old, had marched away with in the night. Toward morning, the father himself, who had long been sick in bed, grew restless and finally got up and began to dress. ‘What are you thinking of, Jacob?’ cried his wife. ‘You, sick man, going down to the fight.’ And then, to head him off utterly, ‘What could you do without your musket? Isaac’s got that.’ ‘Yes, I’m going. By this time some of our men have been wounded, and there’ll be a musket for me.’ Old John Richardson, another soldier of the Revolution, … was deaf as a post, yet heard the summons, … and so came down the slope on the north side of the cove in full view of the British in their barge. His neighbors called to him not to expose himself … . He heard nothing and apparently feared nothing, for singly there behind a rock he loaded and aimed at the enemy, who finally thought to annihilate him with a charge from a shotted gun, which threw up the earth in a mass of turf and stones and dust, in which brave old John disappeared to reappear again after a while, loading and firing as if nothing happened. The battle proved to be short in duration and at very short range. In the early dawn of Tuesday, August 9th, a 12-oared launch full of men with a swivel gun in the bows left the warship and drew in towards Clark’s Point. … The militia were in the dense thicket along the shore, … when the form of the brave Captain Spurling was seen in the barge, … one of his sons, Robert, rushed out on the high rocks … . His plea was most earnest to have his father spared. The officer bade his oarmens lay to their oars, and ordered the old captain to be crowded down in the bottom of the barge. There the soldiers walked over him, or on him, as best suited their mood, until he raised himself up and said he might as well die in one way or as another, and cried back to his son and the men on the shore, ‘Never mind me, Rob. I am an old man. But give it to these dashed Britishers as hard as you can.’ … The militia fired from behind some natural breastworks covered with a thicket above. This enabled them to rest their guns, pick their men, at the same time to be themselves unseen. The reply from the barge’s pivot gun, though meant to be most sweeping and devastating, went wild high overhead, breaking branches, hitting rocks, but wounding no one. Even the British musket fire, aimed at men behind trees on the south side of the cove, filled the trees with bullets but hit nobody. Isaac Lurvey for years afterward showed the tree he had stood behind, riddled with 17 bullets above his head. It soon became evident to the British commander … that his men were simply targets for the marksmen … and that he had wholly underrated their capacity for defense. So he ordered his barges to draw off with their killed and wounded. It was noticed that five instead of 12 were at the oars as they rowed away. As to the losses of the British, the only data we have is the testimony of two boys, who, like boys of today, were apt to be around when not wanted, using their eyes. These boys … had gone aboard the Tenedos to sell raspberries. They were on board when the defeated barge came back with its dead. They saw seven lifeless bodies raised by tackles and slowly let down into the hold of the ship. On the American side, the only damage was that Captain Samuel Hadlock had two fingers grazed by a bullet.”

So I was in London, and I noticed that there is an inscription on a tablet on one of the chapels [at] Westminster Abbey. To the left there’s a little chapel that isn’t so crowded, and it’s filled with these tablets, and people buried in the floor and so forth. One of them describes a fight like this. It was in Maryland, and it takes note of the English wounded and the young officer that was killed [who was] slain and buried in this chapel. It was a big deal to lose seven men in a fight of this kind. And I would love to check the British side of this story. What was the journey of the Tenedos?

Jenn:    There must be records of that.

Tim:     There must be records, and I think William Otis Sawtelle did some research in London at one point and didn’t come up with much. I think Sawtelle wrote about this. And now that this resource is available at the University of Maine, I wonder if there were any newspaper accounts. There were many, many ships named the Tenedos … in the British Navy…

Jenn:    Why? What’s it mean?

Tim:     I don’t know what ‘tenedos’ means. It kind of sounds like a common root with ‘tenacious’ or ‘tenement’ – ‘holding.’  …

Jenn:    I just wonder why it’s a popular name. It seems odd.

Tim:     Yeah. There’s a British museum, too, in Greenwich, a naval museum. It would be great to really dig in and find out.

Jenn:    Yeah, that would be really cool.

Tim:     Because this sounds … This is a one-sided account. What was the account on the other side, and what was going on? What was the larger context? It really deserves a more thorough understanding than the one I have.

The HMS Trincomalee – according to one source, Tenedos was an identical Leda class frigate.

Jenn:    I could really easily get distracted by [researching] that –

Tim:     Yeah. That’s the wonderful thing about this job is it’s so easy to get distracted.

[Ed.note:  And to nobody’s surprise, I did in fact get distracted and this post was delayed while I went hunting for more info on the Tenedos:

1. It turns out that Tenedos is a Turkish island near the entrance to the Dardanelles. It’s mentioned in the Iliad as the base of the Greek fleet during the Trojan War, and also shows up in the Odyssey and the Aeneid, so perhaps the 18th century British ‘classical education’ accounts for its popularity.

2. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the Greek hero, Tenes, who ruled the island during the Trojan War.

3. Also from Wikipedia: “HMS Tenedos was a 38-gun fifth rate launched in 1812. She was used as a convict hulk from 1843 and was broken up in 1875.” There’s a much more detailed but completely unsourced and unattributed history of the Tenedos’ military career here: – scroll down past the first few entries.

4. The Southwest Harbor Library published The Battle of Norwood Cove in 2014 – it contains a bunch of re-tellings of the story by various locals over the past 200 years, as well as a very brief excerpt from the ship’s log and an account by William Begg, the assistant surgeon on the Tenedos. According to the British, nobody died.]

Image from The Battle of Norwood’s Cove by Riebel and Rich

Tim:     Yeah. We have a tradition of having themes for Chebacco. In 2018 [it’s] the material culture, and [2019] is history of religion. We have two guest editors who are professional scholars of religion who summer in Southwest Harbor; they’ve lined up [an] array of authors. Our job in 2019, [is] going to be pretty easy. But I’ve got nothing for 2020, though it would make sense to focus on Maine’s bicentennial. And a story like this would be really fun to pursue.

Jenn:    Yeah. Particularly if the documents have been digitized so you don’t actually have to go to London anymore.

Tim:     Yeah. Or maybe it’s possible…

Jenn:    You “have” to go to London, yes.

Tim:     “Have” to go to London. Stay in a hostel, yeah.

Jenn:    Do they have grants for things like that?

Tim:     Maybe.

Jenn:    That would be pretty cool.

Tim:     I think it would be awfully fun.

Tim:     Maybe this is what I need to pursue. After the Norwood’s Cove object, I felt a little bit adrift on my historical studies. I need something to dig into. … I try to look behind some of those stories, like the Norwood Cove object. …

Jenn:    The one thing that does ring true about that [story] is how the British couldn’t hit anyone. Because they were on a boat! How the heck would you fire at anything from a [small] boat and hit it with a handheld musket? [Unless the water was very still, I suppose.]

Tim:     And also this story of island resistance. I’d like to know more. I really need to read up on the War of 1812, because I think that the islanders were in a tough place. Are they going to support those boys selling raspberries to [the British]? To what extent was their collaboration or cooperation with the British? What was the national picture like for the War of 1812?

Jenn:    It sounds like … It’s like a local story that is just the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger story.

Tim:     Yes, which often they turn out to be. [That’s] the reason that we try to work so closely with University of Maine and College of the Atlantic because we try to bridge this world of local history. … What the world of professional historians encourages us to do is to acknowledge the context and connections – to contextualize these stories. That’s something that we are constantly trying to do. I have a lot of work to do to try to understand that story a little better.

Jenn:    It tells you a lot about who people wanted to be or how people wanted their ancestors to have been, like the idea [of] what the islanders’ identity was – independent, sharp shooters, self-defense –

Tim:     Patriotic.

Jenn:    … banding together, … us against them.

Tim:     … the old deaf man.

Jenn:    I love that, yeah.

Tim:     Mr. Richardson firing away, these wild guys-

Jenn:    Stubborn.

Tim:     … bearded, stubborn.

Jenn:    Stubborn comes up in that quite a few times.

Tim:     Just like the Norwood’s Cove object and how it reflects what present-day historians or writers were writing [about] history, it strongly reflects the viewpoints of their present day. So this is 1905 … How did Americans … How did the sophisticated academic cleric – retired, high-church cleric – George Street, how did he wish to view the islanders?

Jenn:    Right.

Tim:     It kind of reflects … the ideal archetype of an islander … that was depicted in Charles W. Eliot’s John Gilley of Baker Island.

Jenn:    Yeah. They’re stubborn. The old people don’t take no for an answer. They stand up for themselves. They band together, islanders as a community.

Tim:     I think this might be my project, Jennifer. I’ve been floating around looking for what’s next. Maybe this is it.

Jenn:    That’s awesome. I look forward to hearing what you find out.

Tim:     Yeah. I think I’ll start digging.

Jenn:    Cool!


Thank you, Tim!



(The Jesuit Relations) Relations des jésuites: contenant ce qui s’est passé de plus remarquables dans les missions des pères de la Compagnie de Jésus dans la Nouvelle-France. Quebec: A. Côté, 1858.    [1896 English translation available online here:]

Eliot, Charles W. John Gilley, Maine Farmer and Fisherman. American Unitarian Association, Boston, 1904 [Also published as John Gilley of Baker’s Island, Applewood Books, 2005.

Parkman, Francis. France and England in North America. 7 volumes published between 1865–1892.

Rich, Meredith and Riebel, Charlotte. The Battle of Norwood’s Cove: Southwest Harbor’s Victory over the British in the War of 1812. Southwest Harbor Public Library, 2014.    [Full text here:]

Street, George E. and Eliot, Samuel A. Mount Desert, A History. Houghton Mifflin, 1905. [Full text available here:























Interview: Earl Brechlin at the Asticou Inn

Prologue: for folks who haven’t seen the Coast Walk lately, I received a Kindling Fund grant this year to help with the cost of transcribing interviews. Usually I talk to people while we are hiking a section of coast, but I need to use up my grant by the end of the year, so just for this fall I’m interviewing people wherever and whenever they are willing to meet. I’ll present the interviews to you as they happen, and tie them back into the Coast Walks when I pick up that thread again.

The view from the Asticou Inn.

On October 3, 2017, on a cold, sunny morning (40ºF), I sat down to breakfast with Earl Brechlin at the Asticou Inn. Earl was, until this fall, the editor of the Mount Desert Islander (and the Bar Harbor Times before that), so there’s not much happening on the island that he hasn’t heard about. He’s also a Maine Guide, a historian, a collector of antique postcards, the author of several books about Maine, and as of September, the Communications Director for Friends of Acadia.

Jenn:    Thanks for meeting with me. I have to admit I’m really nervous about interviewing you.

Earl:     Really?

Jenn:    You’re an actual journalist.

Earl:     [Former journalist] now that I left [the Islander] for Friends of Acadia. As a journalist I always get nervous when I’m interviewed because I know how many ways it can go wrong.

Jenn:    Well good, maybe you’ll take pity on me then if I start going wrong!

Earl:     Well no, actually you’re one person I was comfortable talking with so I didn’t worry about that.

Jenn:    Phew! Let’s see, I guess the first thing is how did you end up on the island? You’re from Connecticut originally?

Gorgeous wallpaper in the Asticou dining room.

Earl:     I met friends in college who had always come here and who had worked here summers and so I decided to try it out one summer. I came down and I worked as a bartender in a restaurant – bartender and waiter – and I just fell in love with the place.

Jenn:    Yeah.

Earl:     I went back to school in the fall up at the University of Maine, Orono, and said ‘how can I structure my financial aid and my classes to just get done next Spring and move to Bar Harbor?’ I wanted to live there, I didn’t care what I did for a living. I studied forestry and resource business management and I just decided that … that’s where I wanted to spend my life. And it wasn’t until about 10 years after that I realized that I had family ties from here.

Jenn:    Really?

Earl:     My mom spent her summers on Swan’s Island and my grandfather, her father, is first cousin to Ruth Moore, the writer. … Esther Trask and people over in Bass Harbor are relatives [but] it wasn’t until after I moved here that I found that all out … . My grandfather used to pull traps by hand on a Friendship sloop with his grandfather out of Swan’s Island.

Earl’s grandfather, Carl Foster, on his own lobsterboat. Carl fished out of Muscongus and Round Pond in Midcoast Maine.

Earl:     I went to do a story on the Ruth Moore dig out on Gott’s Island for the newspaper and Esther Trask was my grandfather’s first cousin … . She came along and as we were leaving the island she pointed to a house up on the hill on Gott’s Island and she said that was her grandfather’s house. And then I got a chill because I realized that was my grandfather’s grandfather’s house. … And then on my dad’s side, the family [is] Burgess out of Belfast – Abby Burgess from Matinicus Light was actually a relative.

Jenn:    No kidding?

Earl:     So I had a lot of ties in Maine that I didn’t even realize.

Jenn:    So it’s kind of kismet that you ended up here.

Earl:     Yeah I think so. I think people end up where they want to be, I mean how did you end up here?

Jenn:    Let’s see, so Brian and I started dating in college, and we moved out to California together and loved it. We were in San Francisco for four years. … I [was] volunteering at Strybing Arboretum [and the people I worked with] kind of steered me into landscape architecture.

Earl:     Nice.

Jenn:    Yeah, and so Brian had, like, every computer geek’s dream job – he was at Ziff Davis Labs back when they did all the testing for all the computer magazines. Something got invented and they put it through its paces. … And the deal was he would leave Ziff Davis so that I could go to grad school, if we moved to Maine afterwards.

Earl:     That’s a fair trade.

Jenn:    Well at the time I was kind of like, … I loved visiting, but I was not really sure what I was going to do in Maine [to earn a living.]

Earl:     Yeah.

Jenn:    And so we had a friendly competition, we would move wherever in Maine the first one of us got a job.

Earl:     Okay.

Jenn:    And he won, he got a job at the [Jackson] Lab, so we came back here. And you know, I’ve never looked back.

Earl:     Yeah.

Jenn:    … I grew up in a small town, so it’s not that different. But I had been so ready to get the hell out of that small town, I couldn’t imagine moving back to one. I loved living in Boston and San Francisco.

Earl:     I bet, how nice. And so you feel like you belong here?

Jenn:    Yeah. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere I’ve lived, even the place I grew up.

Earl:     … I’ve had conversations with Jock Williams, who builds boats, and we’ve talked about ‘how did you end up on the island,’ and he said ‘I came here because this is where you came to build damn good boats.’ And so we would talk about that difference between finding a place you love and making a life, or going someplace to do what you love and making a life. And so it’s same destination, just different pathways to get there.

Jenn:    And I’m at a point where I’m doing what I need to do to live here. I figure out ways to earn a living.

Earl:     But you’re an artist too.

Jenn:    Mm-hmm. Unfortunately I don’t earn a living doing that.

Earl:     No, most artists don’t. Most writers don’t make a living writing.

Jenn:    Yeah that’s what the weekly rentals are for.

Earl:     Yeah exactly. … a few years after Roxie and I got married and built the house we have now, we built a cottage there which our family uses and we rent out by the week. And that money goes into that account and that’s what the tax check gets written out of.

Jenn:    So what did you do when you first moved here? Did you go straight into newspapers?

Earl:     No, I worked for the Colket family as one of their gardeners.

Jenn:    Oh no kidding!

Earl:     I had come down here and the first job I got was to be a breakfast cook at the Golden Anchor. I knew that was only part time, I needed something year-round and I heard about this caretaking gig at Kenarden so I went down and talked to them and that was year round, full time, so I went back and quit before I started at the Golden Anchor. I worked for the Colkets for almost three years with the head gardener, Harold Hayes, who grew up here and had worked for three generations of that family. And so I learned a lot of history … .

Italian Garden at Kenarden ca. 1910. Photo courtesy of the Jesup Library via Maine Memory Network.

Earl:     And Harold was pretty good, he said, ‘You don’t want to be the head caretaker here or anything like that so what are you doing with your life?’ I thought, ‘Well that’s a good point.’ And the Bar Harbor Times had an opening in the print shop – in Connecticut you always took printing, drafting, wood shop, metal work, as part of your junior high school training just to see if you had an aptitude for it or an interest in it … . We had a little letterpress in our basement because the company that made all these presses and type and everything … was based in Meriden, and we knew this family. We printed business cards, menus for pizza restaurants, we did all that kind of, little side hustle thing. And so I went in, I showed [the print shop] I knew how to handset type, …so I got a job in the print shop running the letterpress.

Jenn:    Wow.

Earl:    I said to myself, ‘You know, I could do this the rest of my life, it’s good productive work and [there’s] a sense of accomplishment.’ As a matter of fact, I used to print Caspar Weinberger’s party invitations. … He was always worried about hippies invading his parties, this is back in the 70’s, and so what he would do is for parties in California, he’d have the invitations printed in Maine and for parties in Maine he’d have the invitations printed in California, figuring nobody would leak any of them.

Jenn:    Right.

Earl:     But I had a camera – I was always interested in photography – so I was taking some pictures, and then they started to use [my photos] in the newspaper, and they started having me take pictures for the paper, and then I started doing the editorial dark room for the paper and … making all the prints, much to the print shop manager’s chagrin. Then there was a reporter opening and I didn’t apply because I’d flunked every English course I ever took.

Jenn:    Really?!

Earl:     Pretty much. Not every one, but I just really didn’t care. And so I didn’t apply because I didn’t think they would ever consider me. And the man who owned the paper at that time, Dick Saltonstall …, he came down to the darkroom and he said, ‘You know, I think you’d make a damn good reporter, I’m going to put you on the editorial staff.’ And that launched a 37-year career in newspapers. So that worked out.

Jenn:    It must’ve been a good feeling, but it must’ve been a little bit terrifying too.

Earl:     Oh it was. The first day, or the night before the first day, I was like, ‘What do you find to write about every week?’ And I was intimidated by that, but I hit the ground running and from that first day I never wrote all the stories I wanted to, there were just so many great stories out there.

Jenn:    Yeah.

Earl:     When we started out, we were using typewriters, and ‘cut and paste’ was literally cut and paste – you cut your stories apart and moved the paragraphs around, stapled them together and sent them down to typesetting. And then paste columns of copy onto pages to make the newspaper. So a lot of technology changes since then.

Jenn:    It’s funny, I remember when I was in high school we had to take typing classes, everybody, guys, girls, sophomore year thing. …

Earl:     Yeah.

Jenn:    And of course, by the time I graduated college, we were all using Mac SE’s. Do you remember those?

Earl:     I do. I remember TRS-80s, too.  My father insisted I take typing. … And back then there were only people on the business track or the secretarial track and I was in a class of 35 kids, big rows of typewriters, and I was one of only three boys, it was all girls in there learning typing. And I was in the way back and I had a Royal 550 Selectric, beautiful electric typewriter, only one row of electrics. And then I got goofing around too much and for the final exam, the teacher made me move to the front row because I was fooling around with the girls in the back too much, so I ended up having to take my final on a manual.

Jenn:    Oh God.

Earl:     So it dropped me a letter grade but … Yeah and I always thought that was crazy, my father he insisted I do that and then I didn’t use it for years but it all came right back.

Jenn:    Yeah. It’s a useful skill. I can still mostly type without looking, which comes in handy.

Earl:     Well it was liberating to compose at the typewriter, and try to compose your story so that you didn’t have to cut it all apart. I remember when we first got the first typewriters where you could just back space and the white out would cover it.

Jenn:    Yes!

Earl:     And still, to this day, when I decide to change a sentence I backspace to erase it rather than highlight and erase. … Once we got computers and you could move entire blocks of type, that was a liberating experience too. Because you’d be typing along and you’d get a thought that you wanted for the next part of the story and maybe it didn’t go there but you got it out of your head, … you didn’t lose anything ….

Jenn:    You never know where your life is going to take you, do you?

Earl:     No Bar Harbor has been great, I had a great career in newspapers, I’m working at a great organization now, and I got married and built a couple homes and had some side businesses, and get to hike whenever you want right out the door.

Jenn:    You know what drives me crazy though, is finding the time to go hiking. I live in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth and I don’t have time.

Earl:     Well I have … debates with friends that work in Washington, DC; they come here and they get to spend a month on vacation. So do they spend more quality time here being a month on vacation versus living here year round, when you have to work so much and so hard to make it work here. It’s not an easy place to live climate-wise, it’s not an easy place to live economic-wise.

Jenn:    No.

Earl:     So which is the better method? I don’t know, like driving over here today and seeing the ponds and looking out this morning at the frost and everything else, those are all intangibles that you’re not going to get living 11 months in Washington.

Jenn:    Well I made my choice.

Earl:     Yeah.

Earl:     I think when I look at being in the newspaper business, as you well know, the best stories never made it into the newspaper.

Jenn:    I’m sure.

Earl:     Or the juiciest stories never made it into the newspaper. But at the same time, we dealt with people on their best days and then dealt with people on their worst days – I was just talking to someone the other day, there was somebody who was working at the national park and was under investigation for misuse of travel funds and it’s somebody I’d known a long time. So there was no joy in putting that in the newspaper … but that person’s still my friend to this day. And that ability to say, ‘Look I had a job to do, I didn’t take any joy in it, and also I didn’t revel in your misfortune.’ … When I first started the newspaper business they had just started doing Police Beat.

Jenn:    Oh really?

Earl:     And for years, the Shea family, they didn’t write about the police news and they certainly didn’t put names of people who got tickets in the paper, or the court news in the paper. And that was something that [changed] and there was a lot of pushback on that from the bad guys, there was a lot of intimidation. In those early years I had my tires slashed, I had the windows smashed out on my car and the camera stolen, I had my garden shed … set on fire.

Jenn:    Oh my God!

Earl:     The editor before me had kerosene poured down her well. It was a little more of the wild west in that respect. I went to a chamber of commerce meeting one night, came out and had four flat tires – two shingle nails in each of the four tires. … We had our windows BB’d on the office, bag of cat shit on the steps and the lock was spiked with a nail so you couldn’t get your key in the lock one morning when I showed up for work. And then the tires … .

Jenn:    Wow, it sounds like, well I kind of knew, but you see a side of the island that I’m pretty insulated from.

Earl:     Well, I think as editor, you have to be able to go out on some billionaire’s yacht and have dinner with him and then you’ve got to be able to go down to the pier and talk with the fishermen. And luckily when my uncle retired from the Navy, he and my grandfather built a boat and they went lobstering down in Muscongus Bay and I used to go with them, so I’m familiar with lobstering – I’m not familiar with billionaire finance, but … that was one thing people had said when I left the newspaper. They said, ‘Earl … you don’t think you’re going to get asked out on billionaires’ yachts if you’re not editor of the paper’ … . I said, ‘Maybe I’m okay with that.’ That’s not what I live for, but to be effective and for your institution to be effective you need to be able to move in all those circles comfortably. … And so some weeks you get a coffee-stained place mat [with] Stevie Smith’s chicken-scratch for a letter to the editor, and the next one would be from David Rockefeller, so you don’t know.

Jenn:    No.

Earl:     And that’s something you get on this island you don’t get anywhere else. I really think the socio-economic brackets mingle and mix here more than almost anyplace else, a lot of those artificial distinctions, those institutions like separate clubs and separate organizations, they’re not as stratified as other places. I don’t know if you’ve felt that way.

Jenn:    … I think that people are very aware of the class distinctions, they’re very aware that they’re mixing.

Earl:     Yeah, yeah you’re right.

Jenn:    But they still mix.

Earl:     … Some of the, we call it ‘older money, ‘that I got to know, when they come up to the island they’d just as soon get ahold of everybody they know from the island and hang out with them. They’re not into the whole every-other-night blue blazer cocktail scene. I noticed that you’ve given talks at the Northeast Harbor Library before and whether you’re done or not, they’re out of there at seven because they’ve got a party to go to.

Jenn:    Yup.

Earl:     You know, this is their ‘what I do before the cocktail party’ and boom, at seven, they don’t want to be late and they’re out. … And that’s okay, but when I worked for Tris Colket, before he had his stroke, of course, he belonged to the fire department and he had a turnout here and his boots and his coat and his helmet in his vehicle and if he was there at his house and the fire was called in, he went and fought the fire. I was pretty impressed by that – why does a guy with that much wealth care? And he and Ruth always cared about the community.

Jenn:    Yeah.

Earl:     At the same time – this illustrates that little dichotomy a little bit – my friend Lisa … bought this rowboat and we spent the summer painting it and cleaning it up. It was like a 10 or 12 foot rowboat; we kept it at the town pier and we’d just go row around the harbor or go out to Sheep Porcupine or something. So we’re out rowing around one day and Tris comes in on, he had this 28 foot Bertram with a flying bridge and all this stuff.

Jenn:    Yeah.

Earl:     So he’s coming into Frenchman’s Bay Water Company to get some fuel. And he’s coming in the channel there and he sees me and he starts waving and he yells, ‘Hey Earl!’ And I was like, ‘Hey Tris, how are you doing?’ And then he gestures to the harbor and says, ‘Which one’s yours?’ Naturally assuming we’re in a rowboat because we’re rowing out to a bigger boat.

Jenn:    Right.

Earl:     And I just looked at him and I said, ‘This is it, and it’s hers!’

Jenn:    That’s awesome.

Digression: Me being me, I went looking for some of the articles Earl talked about, hoping for some photos to illustrate this post. Turns out the Bar Harbor Times has been digitized up through 1968, but from 1968 to the present, it’s on microfilm. Have you ever used a microfilm reader? I’d almost forgotten what a pain in the butt research used to be before the internet. Just in case you’re one of those people who thinks things were better in the past, let me walk you through this:

You have a spool of film, on which are images of each page of the paper. You put it on the spindle at left, thread it through the machine to the other spool, and then turn the knob at far right to make it scroll.

The blue and grey gears are for enlarging and focusing. (It doesn’t focus very well because the machine is pretty much an antique, nobody makes parts for these anymore, and the library has to trawl eBay looking for used parts to repair it, so it is what it is.) There’s no index, so if you don’t know the date of an article, you have to scroll through every page of the newspaper for the whole year in which you think it might have appeared. I started out hunting for the cartoon Earl is going to mention soon, which must have been published in 1986 or 1987, so I started with a reel of papers from November 1986 through May 1987. Never found the cartoon, although I did find a photo of the protest he talks about, but after two hours I discovered that if you get impatient and scroll too fast you can make yourself seasick. So yeah, no articles to illustrate this post. Sorry, there are limits to my obsessiveness. Next time I’ll try the attic where they have bound copies of the paper.

Earl:     One of the things, in talking with folks in the National Park, too, is trying to get them to understand that the people that live here do have a different relationship [from] the traveling public to the Park. We feel a greater sense of ownership because that’s … our backyard, that’s the only place we have to go. Downtown Bar Harbor’s surrounded by ocean and Park. There is a greater sense of ownership and a greater sense of concern when rules change or fees get imposed or any of that kind of stuff just because it’s a larger portion of our lives than it is for everybody else. … It’s funny when the entrance fees were first imposed, five dollars per car per week, Gerry Paradis was the President of the Chamber or Commerce and he got up to speak at the meeting where they were talking about the fee, and it was one of the funniest lines I’ve heard ever, he goes “I’ll tell ya one thing … you charge them five bucks, they’re going to want more than rocks and trees.”

Jenn:    That’s a good one.

Earl:     Woody Woodworth was our cartoonist at the paper then, so we did this cartoon of a ferris wheel on Otter Cliff. But there was a chief ranger then, Norm Dodge, he’s passed away now, and he came up with this genius way to kind of wash the local dissent on the entrance fees. You got a sticker for the whole season back then, [and some locals] could get free stickers. And just like a dump sticker that says Bar Harbor, which announces to the world that you’re a citizen of Bar Harbor [which] is a badge of honor in a small town, … those Acadia stickers [showed you were connected.] They gave them to every volunteer fire fighter, every volunteer in the park, every municipal official, they gave everyone that worked at the newspaper one in case we needed to run out for something, including the receptionist and the drivers. So if you couldn’t get one of those free stickers, you were as unconnected as you were. And they did that for years, and basically it took the critical mass of people that would complain about the entrance fees, and silenced it. It was 10 years before they stopped doing that because it was really getting out of hand, they were giving out a thousand stickers.

Jenn:    When did they stop doing that?

Earl:     It was a couple years after Norm left so it’s probably been 10 years ago now.

Jenn:    I don’t remember the free stickers, I guess I wasn’t connected back then.

Earl:     Yeah, you could buy a sticker.

Jenn:    I did buy a sticker. I always buy my park pass.

Earl:     Norm had this spreadsheet of who could get it or who couldn’t get it and you’d just have to go to the ranger station there and get your sticker. Or like for the paper, we had 14 people on our list and they would just give us the 14 stickers and we’d pass them out every year. I think Chamber of Commerce members got [them], everybody that could possibly be in a position to drive in, you got a free sticker.

Jenn:    That’s awesome.

Earl:     Yeah.

Jenn:    I was a good doobie, I just paid my 10 or 20 bucks whatever it was. It always seemed [reasonable], it’s still what like 40, I think for the year?

Earl:     It’s up to 50 for the year now, but again it’s an acknowledgment to the local folks – that half price sale that they do. For [the Pajama Sale], and they do it for Midnight Madness, and they do it for the whole month of December. They don’t do that in other parks, that is something that Acadia does and the regional hasn’t cracked down on that. And to me, that’s a heartwarming acknowledgement that there is a special relationship between the towns and the Park here and that they’re basically saying you don’t have an excuse not to get a pass.

Jenn:    Yeah, and that’s how I feel.


“Park Protest,” The Bar Harbor Times, Thursday, May 7, 1987. The only relevant article I found on the dratted microfilm.

Earl:     So Norm Dodge was quite the character, the chief ranger. They were going to install the entrance booth down at Sand Beach to start taking the fees, and a guy named Milan Tait from Bucksport took out a permit for a protest march to protest the booth and the fees in Acadia and all this kind of stuff. He estimated 2,000 people, so the plan was they were going to march from the ball field in Bar Harbor out Schooner Head Road to the Park. And then TV cameras were going to show up and they’d have all this to say in front of the tollbooth. Well they had advertised they were going to do this march. Norm was in charge of installing the tollbooth and this first one was just this prefabricated thing you sat on a slab. So Norm scheduled the installation for two days after the protest so they wouldn’t have anything to stand in front of. I went down there and I’m waiting for the protest march, … [a local guy] shows up on his motorcycle and goes up in the trees and goes through the leaves and he pulls out this chaise lounge, and he sits there like this, he’s waiting for the excitement to start.

Jenn:    Uh huh.

Earl:     And then he fishes around in the leaves right next to it, and there was a beer that he’d hidden the night before so he pops open the beer, and he’s having a beer and all of the sudden this van pulls up and Milan Tait, two people in their 80’s and two kids get out.

Jenn:    Oh my gosh.

Earl:   They realized that [no one was] going to walk all that far from the Athletic Field, so they just drove down in the minivan and then they stood there looking around, there was nothing to stand in front of and they just went away. It was pretty funny. … But [that local guy] was waiting for the excitement, he had stashed that stuff the night before, so I thought that was pretty good.

Jenn:    2,000 people.

Earl:     Yeah. Well so I went down thinking if they got 200 it’d still be a picture but …

Jenn:    It’s hard to get people to show up.

Earl:     Yeah, how did the vigil [go] last night, did people go to that? [Ed.note: memorial vigil for the Oct.1 shooting in Las Vegas.]

Jenn:    Yeah, we had about 25 people.

Earl:     Oh nice. You know, I’ve been a newsman forever and I shut the TV off yesterday morning, I just couldn’t watch it anymore.

Jenn:    I stopped looking at updates around noon.

Earl:     It’s like crack cocaine or pulling a lever on a slot machine, you keep watching, hoping for one new fact, one new fact that’s either going to be some good news or one new fact that says why, and that doesn’t happen.

Jenn:    You know what really got to me, is they showed aerial photos and like the hotel is here and the place where the people were, it was so far away.

Earl:     Yeah.

Jenn:    I’m like what? That’s a military weapon, why is it civilian hands?

Earl:     Yeah.

Jenn:    Why are those even available?

Earl:     Yeah, I don’t disagree.

Jenn:    That’s not self defense, that’s not hunting.

Earl:     Yeah, I’m a guy and I own firearms, … and I have friends that own weapons like that and it’s almost like a ‘snicker snicker,’ getting away with something to have one. And you can go on the internet and for 50 bucks buy a kit to turn it to full automatic and do it yourself. …  I just don’t understand that, I don’t know why there isn’t an NRA for responsible gun owners, that’s not so rabid.

Jenn:    Yeah.

Earl:     And that’s another example of why we’ve got to get the money out of politics, it doesn’t matter whether it’s healthcare or whether it’s guns. Somebody, I think it was Colbert, pointed out, ‘Hey look why is it that this guy has a right to have all those guns but for the 500 people that were wounded, getting treated in a hospital is a privilege?’ … That was one of the reasons I left journalism – running a newspaper you have to sort of stand in the middle of the street and say, ‘You guys got good points, [and] you’ve got good points.’ And the more I’m standing there I’m like, ‘No they don’t.’ I’m tired of it and I’m tired of having to do middle of the road because there’s some really clear black and white, right and wrong here. … The whole thing now is, ‘Now is not the time to politicize guns or talk about gun control.’

Jenn:    And yes it is, this is exactly the time.

Earl:     Yeah well, a plane crashes, we talk about aircraft safety.

Jenn:    Yes.

Earl:     A bridge collapses, we talk about bridge safety.

Jenn:    Mm-hmm.

Earl:     59 people get killed and 500 injured by guns, ‘Now is not the time to talk about gun safety.’

Carl Roger Brechlin. Photo from the Moose River Camping Club website

Earl:     My twin brother passed away several years ago, and to honor and him and his son who had committed suicide a few years before that, [we] had these coins made up. … You can have that one. I have more, so I give them to people.

Jenn:    Oh, thank you.

Earl:     Yeah, so … it commemorates Carl – he always loved the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And he lived at 42 Sandy Lane so that’s the 42, and then the star was for his son. And so anyway, what we do is if you’re on a hike or on the Appalachian Trail or you’re up in the Park or Baxter, you leave one of those coins in kind of an inconspicuous spot and then people come along and find them. And then they take them home and they look it up [online] and there’s a legend of the coin and what they represent and then there’s a link to his obituary so you can read about his life. So anyway …

Jenn:    All right, so I’ll have to find a good place to leave this.

Earl:     … They’ve been all over the world, they’ve been to Machu Picchu, they’ve been to Ayers Rock in Australia, they’ve been to Antarctica, they’ve been to Tahiti, they’ve been all over the United States, every national park. They’ve been to the highest mountain in Kosovo, they’ve been to Stonehenge. And people take pictures of the coins.

Jenn:    Oh cool.

Earl:     Carl ran an auction house in Connecticut … so the whole idea was that we would keep putting these coins out … until the day that one day came back in a box of stuff to be sold at the auction.

Jenn:    Oh no way! Did it come back?

Earl:     It did. … It took eight years and this spring … – my nephew runs the family auction house now – a couple from New Haven came in [with] a box lot of coins and right on top of it was one of those. And Ryan went to them and said, ‘Don’t goof on me,’ because they’re people he’s done business with before. And they said, ‘No, we bought it out of a house … down in Stanford or something,’ and so that was the whole idea, the full cycle of life and the full cycle of material goods and everything else. So we’re still putting them out but the prophecy has been fulfilled …

Jenn:    Closing the circle.

Earl:     It’s also a way for the people that have come before you to salute the people that come after. … People pick it up and take it, you don’t consider it litter.

Jenn:    Yeah, it’s got a nice heft to it.

The Moose River Camping Club logo.

Earl:     Yeah. … Now Carl passed away in Harper’s Ferry on a rafting trip with a bunch of us – just had a blood clot went to his brain and he was gone. They said [even] had it happened in the emergency room they couldn’t have saved him. So anyway, what was ironic was, about four years after we started this, I got an email from a woman in Portland who’s head of the main Appalachian Trail club …, saying that one hiker had shown one of those to a steward at one of the lean-to’s and they notified headquarters and she wanted to say while that was a great promotional item for our camping club, it was littering and we were not to put those out on the Appalachian Trail.

Jenn:    Oh no.

Earl:     And so I put on the website, ‘Don’t leave these on the Appalachian Trail;’ now people leave tons of them on the Appalachian Trail because they feel like they’re sticking it to the man … . We had started a group we called the Moose River Camping Club 30 years ago and … we do a backpacking trip and a canoe trip every year, the same group of guys and family and everything. And so that’s what the MRCC stands for.

Jenn:    I think it’s a beautiful idea.

Earl:     And the irony was, I don’t know how many people I know in the National Park Service [who] had taken them all over the world and left them. And they didn’t see a problem with it.

Jenn:    Yeah. Well I guess when you’re in charge you have to be a little more …

Earl:     Yeah that’s true, and that’s fine and I don’t want to stick it in their face, but [if] you look up littering in the dictionary it says, ‘To discard something of no value.’ … And it’s like well, those have value because people pick them up and take them so obviously they value them. I put one on Nesuntabunt Mountain in the middle of the 100 Mile Wilderness on the [Appalachian Trail] here in Maine when I was on a hike … four or five years ago. About two weeks later I got an email from a man in Quebec – he and his daughter hadn’t spoken for years and they decided to go on a trip in the 100 Miles to … patch their relationship up. … It was a hot day and they got up to the top of the mountain and they found the coin and he said, ‘It’s become a marvelous memento of our getting back together.’ Can’t argue with that.

Jenn:    Sounds like a little bit of magic.

Earl:     It is a little bit of magic. So they didn’t see that as littering.

Jenn:    No. I think there’s a difference between littering and leaving something deliberately for the next person.

Earl:     Yeah it’s like leaving a note. … You look in the lean-tos on the trail and there’s registers where people leave notes and say ‘Hey anybody seen Corn Dog’ or whatever Appalachian Trail name, or ‘I was here’ and that kind of stuff. It’s the same kind of thing.

Jenn:    Yeah. So have you hiked the whole Appalachian Trail?

Earl:     No I’ve done pieces of it. I’ve always section-hiked; I’ve done three nights, four days here and there but I haven’t done the whole trail.

Jenn:    That’s still pretty cool, I’ve never been on it.

Earl:     Yeah, well I’ve done Mahoosuc Notch which is the toughest mile, that’s here in Maine. Then you have the 100 Mile Wilderness – there are roads through there but no stores – so that’s the longest section without resupply on the whole Appalachian Trail. And it’s a great resource, I’ve done parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, so I’ve done a lot of different sections.

Jenn:    Oh, which reminds me, I wanted to ask you, how did you end up becoming a Maine Guide?

Earl:     Well we started this group and we were doing all these trips and I would get all the food together and plan a menu for 16 people for five days and do all the cooking and all that stuff and the guys said, ‘You’re really a guide, you ought to just get your guide’s license.’ I was a Boy Scout and always did a lot of camping and stuff so I went through the process and passed the background checks and did the written test and went to the oral boards and got the guide’s license.

Moose River Camping Club excursion to Mooselookmeguntic Lake near Rangeley, 2013.

Earl:     I’ve always just been recreational, I haven’t used it for a lot. I’ve taken people on adventures, like taking people on guided snowmobile trips and day hikes and then film producers that are looking for location guides and stuff like that. But I haven’t done it … full time. I’ve wanted to do basic wilderness skills for beginners, and I had talked with the paper company about leasing a spot on the lake that you could canoe to and set up camp for a few days and then teach people mapping, compass, cooking, first aid, woodcraft, those kind of things because I think there’s a lot of people that didn’t learn that as kids. If you’re, say, taking people on Allagash trips, eventually you get a lot of customers that are ‘experience collectors’ – they’ve rafted the Nile and climbed Kilimanjaro – and they want to tell you how to do your job. I want people that are scared that if they don’t do exactly what I say they’re going to die. That’s the kind of people I want to take into the woods. What about you, do you do much camping?

Jenn:    Not anymore. I was a Girl Scout, did a lot of camping as a kid, and when our kids were little we did more. We used to go up to Baxter every year, then I started having trouble with my shoulders. I can’t sleep on the ground anymore. I just can’t.

Earl:     Yeah.

Jenn:    So it’s cabin camping for me.

Earl:     Yeah.

Jenn:    And when the kids hit high school we couldn’t go away for a weekend anymore – they were so busy! But both Brian and I have been talking about when the kids are out of college we can kind of put the house on hold or the rental part on hold and get a little trailer, do the go-visit-all-the-national-parks-thing.

Earl:     … Roxie and I have talked about getting a little 18-footer, nothing real big, and just go for three or four weeks at a time … . I think it’s a fun thing to do.  … I may have to get scramming here because I’ve got to work today, is there anything else that you wanted to ask or …

Jenn:    No, [but] I was right, you did have some awesome stories.

Earl:     Well that’s great, I appreciate the chance to chat.

Jenn:    And thank you so much for coming. [Laughing] That sounds so formal. “Thank you for joining me today.”



In case you were wondering about breakfast at the Asticou Inn, it’s a buffet, and I think it was $15. The pastries were great, the potatoes were very good, the eggs were pretty darn good for a buffet, the bacon was kind of limp, and the coffee was good. No popovers at breakfast, though, phooey.



Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Harmony Books, 1980.

“Park Protest,” The Bar Harbor Times, May 7, 1987.


























Interview: Douglas McMullin at the Babson Creek preserve

Prologue: for folks who haven’t seen the Coast Walk lately, I received a Kindling Fund grant this year to help with the cost of transcribing interviews. Usually I talk to people while we are hiking a section of coast, but I need to use up my grant by the end of the year, so just for this fall I’m interviewing people wherever and whenever they are willing to meet. I’ll present the interviews to you as they happen, and tie them back into the Coast Walks when I pick up that thread again.

Douglas McMullin is the Maine Coast Heritage Trust‘s Regional Stewardship Manager for the MDI area. We met at the MCHT offices in Somesville on October 5, 2017. It was a beautiful day, 67ºF (19ºC) – just a little too warm to really feel like autumn, and the leaves had only just begun to change color, about two weeks later than usual.

Douglas:  I’m happy to answer as many questions as I can-

Jenn:    Let’s start with what you do? I know the role of your organization but-

Douglas:    Yeah, so I’ve been with Maine Coast Heritage Trust for a little over eleven … years now. The first 10 years I spent managing land, both land that the trust owns – we have preserves – and also conservation easements west of MDI, like Blue Hill Bay all the way to Penobscot Bay. I lived here but would travel to Castine … and Isle au Haut and around up Eggemoggin Reach. And about two years ago … Did you know Billy Helprin by chance?

Jenn:    A little bit. He’s over at Somes-Meynell [Wildlife Sanctuary]?

Douglas:   Yes. Billy was the regional steward here at MDI, and when he made the shift to [Somes-Meynell] we kind of thought, “Is it time to reconfigure?” So I changed roles to here and we retooled the job and I became sort of a … middle management’s the wrong word, but sort of. Our director of stewardship, Jane Arbuckle, is in Topsham and we’re trying [to create] a little more of a hierarchy that we can kind of fill some of the in-between management roles that she does. So my official title is Regional Stewardship Manager, which is highfalutin’.

Jenn:    Well it certainly sounds good.

Douglas:   … So in addition to being the land steward for our holdings on Mount Desert Island, and islands that are in towns of Mount Desert and Frenchboro, I serve as a supervisor for some of our other staff out of this office who are in stewardship… . So I have kind of a split role that way.

Jenn:    And, so what is stewardship for you guys? Is it making things available to the public? Preserving them?

Douglas:   That’s a big part of it. So our goal … The basic foundation of the organization was formed in 1970, and obviously I was born that year, so I wasn’t there to hear the statements from Peggy Rockefeller and Tom Cabot, but [the mission] was to protect the undeveloped character of the main coast. And what came from that at some point in some shape or form was also to protect traditional uses. But also there’s habitat protection in there as well. And by and large, unless there’s a substantial habitat concern, or ecological attribute that you really want to protect, some sensitive nesting island or what not, we make our islands available to the public. But after a process, after studying the property a little bit… [and] also doing a basic, but I think complete, carrying capacity [study], trying to evaluate ‘what can this property really withstand.’ If we put it on the website on MDI with two million visitors to the Park, we might have way more visitors than we want to one of these preserves… . So being kind of careful, [asking] “What’s the experience we want here?” …

So we use that to [decide] how much publicity a place might get, or how many people we draw to it. How big a parking lot it has dictates how many people can go there. So yeah, public access is a huge component, but also habitat protection, and there’s definitely a mix. A lot of the work that we’ve done, we don’t even hold onto. We’ve done a lot of pre-acquisitions for the park, for US Fish and Wildlife, for the Coastal Refuge. There’s a number of islands that we’ve just bought outright, held ‘til the federal government had the money, and then we transfer it to them. We’re a little bit more nimble. We can act quickly, whereas their budgeting cycle can take a lot longer. All of a sudden a key habitat acquisition comes up. So we work with a lot of those players. But when we hold it, it’s managed for habitat and for appropriate public access. It’s never going to be an ATV park, almost certainly. But for low impact, for trail hiking, camping where it’s appropriate, [we provide] for those kind of uses. And then in addition to that, … it may be making trails … which includes bog bridging and kiosks and signs and all that kind of stuff. It may be just the cleaning up of blow-downs, or managing the resource of the areas that in MDI that have big die-off from red pine, from the scale. Places in Castine have terrible die-off because of balsam fir wooly adelgid, and because of spruce budworm prior to that. So forest management in places where maybe it’s not natural because the forest wasn’t already natural. It wasn’t like it was ever left alone. It’s been altered for the last 300, 350 years.

So active land management, and then we also hold, in addition to land that we own, we hold 300-and-some-odd conservation easements. So those are restrictions on privately owned land [and] very often do not include public access … . And every easement is different. They’re individual tools that are tailored where a landowner either sells, or very often gives away, certain types of development rights or other rights to protect that property’s character, for the future and perpetuity. The classic example is a set of grandparents [who] own a waterfront property with a bunch of acreage and a nice saltwater farm, or something like that. They love it, they want to keep it that way. Their concern is that their great-great-grandkids are going to want to sell it all off for a few million dollars to buy a car collection, or whatever. That’s an extreme of course, but that extreme is not uncommon. Let’s subdivide, let’s sell, let’s get our money, when the people don’t care about it anymore.

So by putting an easement on it, they can insure that it keeps a certain level of consistency, even long after they’re gone. And that’s kind of the basic model of what easements are. And again, every one’s different. Some have a lot of development, some don’t allow development, some, quite a lot but it’s a big property and [the development] is all set back from the water, and [the easement] would just protect the water edge. … It depends, again on the easement.

Jenn:    Sounds incredibly complicated.

Douglas:   It is. … When [the organization] first started, rewinding back to 1970, the basic attitude as I’ve heard it explained to me, was that Maine Coast Heritage Trust would be around for a decade. ‘We’re going to do a whole bunch of conservation work, we’re going to bring in all this expertise, we’re going to raise money … but when we do it it’s going to be transferred to the National Park, to the Nature Conservancy, to other entities. … We’re not going to hold the easements, we’re not going to hold the land.’ And some time around the early 80s that didn’t work out, and all of a sudden there was no holder for some places. ‘Oh, we’ll hold those.’ Next thing you know it snowballed. [They] realized the whole concept of ‘land trust’ needed to be here to fill that niche, and of course it’s only grown since in the … 40 years since then. But there’s a lot of work that we did that the park now holds. There are islands that we own that have [National] Park easements that we did, but now we happen to own [the island] because 40 years later … the owner gave it to us, but there’s an easement that we did 40 years ago and the Park happens to own [the easement]. So there’s kind of this funny full circle that’s happened on a number of properties. It’s interesting how that’s played out.

Jenn:    So from what you just said it sounds like you need wildlife biologists, conservation lawyers, accountants,… I’m trying to picture the team that goes into some of this.

Douglas:   In the stewardship department we are jack-of-all-trades and we all have very different backgrounds. And we definitely have people who have wildlife backgrounds, who have botany backgrounds especially. But some folks like myself, my background was outdoor education. So certainly in school I had resource-type education but my degree wasn’t in that. Initially, here on the island, I was a climbing guide at Atlantic Climbing School, then I had a sail charter business.

Jenn:    No kidding!

Douglas:  Yeah. I was with that kind of stuff for a long time. That was my, “I’m gonna be a guide,” and that grew old, the sailing business. I was a commercial pilot and I decided that was too volatile. And then I already knew about Maine Coast, and I had already done work with other people, doing land management trail work and stuff. I had a little background in that. And then this job opened up in 2005 or 6, and I took it. And it was great. But I did not have a real lot of experience in land management at that point. You learn … The joke is that when you come onto the job it’s a two to three year initial inauguration learning period.

Jenn:    Apprenticeship?

Douglas:   Yeah, just in terms of all the nuts and bolts, the histories of all these different projects, every single one of those easements that I mentioned – I have 60 some odd that I steward. And that’s not a lot. [At Acadia] National Park, one person stewards almost 300. But they don’t maintain landowner relations like we try to. We try to meet with every landowner, to walk the property with them. The park will just go, they can’t afford the time to meet with everybody. We have a different model is all. It’s learning all those relationships, meeting all those people, learning the properties, learning the ins and outs, learning the basic legalities of easements, working with our attorneys, all that kind of stuff. That takes multiple years to really get your head around and become effective. Some things you can do really well from year one. The other things I still feel like, “How did I miss that 10 years ago?” Still playing catch up. Because it is a jack-of-all-trades job for sure. But you’re right. We do have staff that have wildlife backgrounds. A lot of the time we hire a contractor though. If we acquire a large property like the Kitteridge Brook, that has substantial interesting habitat wetlands, an interesting complex of habitat types, we’ll hire a specialist to come in and do what we call a natural resource inventory. They’ll go through, they’ll do community maps, they’ll make an assessment of inventory, of important plant species, wildlife sightings, all that kind of stuff to let us know what’s there, and what features we should be aware of when we think about managing the property in the future.

And it’s not often that there’s something that’s really sensitive or even endangered, but there are things that we might not notice ourselves, or I might not notice with my expertise. So they’ll educate me on it, and then I can become aware of it. … I’ll have the GPS points, I’ll go find that colony of that plant or whatever it is, and I’ll understand it and know hey, we shouldn’t put a trail right nearby here. That kind of stuff. So we definitely rely on specialists. Also for bird surveys. A lot of our properties will do … bird surveys, just to get a handle on what kind of birds are using it for migration, but also for songbirds, passerines, [to learn] what populations we’re serving with the habitat that we have on the property. It’s interesting to us and helps us manage the properties well.

Jenn:    That’s such a broad section of knowledge that you must need.

Douglas:  Yeah, you learn it on the job. We hired a gentleman here to replace me in my old territory. He came from the Appalachian Mountain Club. His expertise is trails; trail construction and dealing with volunteers, which is also really important. But it’s not the same as somebody with a wildlife background or a botany background. We all kind of bring different expertise, and we put it all together. … [Because of] my background with running boats and with a captain’s license, and having done all that boat training and what not, I helped do a lot of the staff training and boat-buying, as a side part of my job. My job isn’t really [boats], but we need to do that, so I take on the responsibility because I can. … We kind of build our jobs around our expertise.

Jenn:    So was it the boat stuff that brought you to MDI? Are you from here originally?

Douglas:   I already had an attraction to Maine, and then went to college in Unity – Unity College. And then just kind of stayed in Maine after that. But always trying to find a niche – as you I’m sure are well aware, living on MDI [means figuring out] how do you make a living and do something that you enjoy doing? Hence all the things that I pursued before I got to this job. Trying to find a way to carve out an existence here. … I was 36 when I was hired here, I’m 47 now. I didn’t start my charter business until I was 29 or 28. I didn’t start flying until I was 31 or 32. And I flew for five or six years, … Most everybody here has an interesting [background] … but all of us share the same interest in land conservation and the value of what the organization is doing. … Everybody has that same unifying … They really believe strongly in land conservation, and if you’re going to do a job in land conservation, there’s no question that this is a great organization to work for. …

Jenn:    It seems like a really cool organization.

Douglas:   It is, and every organization has its strengths and weaknesses, but they treat staff well. … You’re never going to be rich working for a non-profit, but I feel like we’re well compensated for what we do, and I feel like they take care of the staff. … This is really getting far off-field for what you want to know, but … I think it helps create a staff that has a really strong work ethic. They feel … valued, and I think there’s nobody here that doesn’t put in well more than 100%. You take time when you can, and you go overdrive when you have to.

Jenn:    Tell me about this place [the headquarters building]. You guys built this, what, 10 years ago now?

Douglas:   Not quite. It was 2009. Did that and the barn all … at the same time. The organization started in Bar Harbor. The first director … I may get this wrong, was it Ben [Emory] or was it Elmer Beal? I get them backwards. But Elmer Beal from Burning Tree was one of the early directors ….

Jenn:    No kidding! [Making mental note to call Elmer for an interview.]

Douglas:   Oh yeah. I can’t recall if he was the first one in ‘70, or if it was Ben Emory, and then it became Elmer at some point. But going back to this. [The office] was right downtown in Bar Harbor, and then for years in Northeast Harbor. And at some point, we needed a southern Maine office, which actually became our main office, which was in Brunswick at the time. Now it’s in Topsham, and it’s been there for quite a long time. I can’t recall what year they moved to the Kittridge, that building across from the One-Stop, that big white … building. For years they were in that, and they were there when I started in 2006, and they had been there for a few years. And then they acquired this property … probably in 2004. It was auctioned. Somebody in the family had passed away, and I think we … purchased it at auction, if I remember correctly.

Jenn:    I’m interested in how it all came to be. I remember watching this place get built.

Douglas:   So this land was acquired, and I believe early on [the idea was], “Well this could be a place for an office.” With the … salt marsh protected down below, there’s enough space well away from that, [and] there was a house here at the time that they looked at … salvaging … and having it be part of the office, but it was just way too far gone. I remember seeing it and it was really bad. … The idea was, obviously, build near the road for minimal impact to Babson Creek and to the salt marsh and to visibility. Keeping it low for that reason, single story. And that was also another reason for the half barreled roof. The architect was trying to be interesting as well, but-

Jenn:    It’s a cool building.

Douglas:   But I think they also wanted low, and … a muted-colored roof and all that stuff, so that you really wouldn’t see it from very far. You know, thinking of [the view from the] mountains and … down in the marsh. And to have it be as green as was affordable. To do the whole LEED thing, for what that was worth. [Ed.note: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a certification process for energy-efficient and sustainable buildings.]

Jenn:    Wasn’t this one of the first LEED-certified buildings in [Hancock] County?

Douglas: It’s possible, I don’t remember. The little LEED plaque’s out there. It’s not the top level, it’s the next level down or something. I can’t remember what the different LEED levels are.

Jenn:    I just remember it being very impressive at the time.

Douglas:   Yeah, it seemed like it. … But it was built [to be] a nice workspace, [and also] community space … and we do use it that way. During business hours, and sometimes after, these conference rooms get used by other groups. …  Acadia Senior College very often uses these rooms. Other groups will come by and use it; the Park even, when they want to have a meeting space away from the Park … will use this. … There’s a larger one next door, too. [They] open up into a giant L … It’s not a huge offering but it creates one more place people can have meetings or … occasionally to host other events. There was a thing with … Solarize MDI this summer. We held an open house here with ReVision, where they could have people come by, because we have a ReVision system here … But other than that it was just meant to be green, as low as impact as reasonable, and reasonably attractive. Some people think the building looks great, some people hate it, by the way.

Jenn:    I think it’s a cool building. I like it.

Douglas:   I like it, but some people don’t. … I can show you around. The workspace is wonderful.

Jenn:    Oh I’d love to take a look.

Douglas: It’s really a nice workspace to be in. The only negative about the section where the offices are is that it’s … a bit of an echo chamber. It was really bad when we first moved in, but then they added sound panels on the ceiling that do a pretty good job of making it tolerable. …. The architect did a lovely job making it look nice, but there are some basic things that I wish they’d considered. Like if you look at this roof entry, you have two roof lines meeting a center area. … It’s all ice dams right in there. … But other than that it’s been a good building.

And then the barn across the street, we needed a place to serve as our stewardship operation. Store equipment, store boats. … We have a lot of seasonal staff for trails, and [seasonal] assistants that do a lot of our stewardship work. It’s a place to operate from, it’s not an office space. So that was built at the same time. And, just as an aside, this [the headquarters building] was being built and it was definitely not inexpensive. … People [on the building committee] were getting nervous [about the expense],  ‘Well, let’s just build a little metal building over there and call it good.’ And then [other] people were horrified of the idea of a metal building on the side of the road right here. Our director of stewardship knew a timberframe guy in southern Maine. All the quotes we got up here were pretty high. And this guy wanted to build a timber frame up here, wanted it to be roadside where people could see it, and he built it at a very reasonable price, so we have a nice timber frame barn, which is our stewardship barn. We can walk over there if that would be helpful too.

Jenn:    I’d love to see it.

Douglas:  Yeah. And you’ll see, it’s a lovely building. We could do more with it in terms of organizing it. Every year it gets a little better. It’s one of those things that takes a while til you can really fit it out the way you want it. Our main office for leadership is in Topsham, but there are only two stewards down there, and only one or two land protection staff here. Versus [here] there are three full time stewards, [and] we each have assistants. We have six stewardship staff … three that are full time, three that are here for a good chunk of the year, like anywhere from six to nine months. And then another three to five summer-only, like trail-type staff that come here. And then five land protection staff. Our conservation attorney, Karen Marchetti. And our GIS staff person here. So there’s far more actual conservation work happening out of this office, and actual stewardship work than there is down in Topsham.

Jenn:    Sounds like it must be hopping around here in the summers.

Douglas:   It can be, or it can be dead, ’cause everyone’s out in the field.

Jenn:    Oh of course.

Douglas:   So it can be really busy, or it can be like coming here and there’s one person, like where the hell is everybody? They’re all out in the field.

Jenn:    Is that where everyone is now? It seems really quiet.

Douglas:   Yeah it’s pretty quiet. All the stewardship staff are out in the field right now. My assistant Matt is off monitoring easements, and there’s two people out on Saddleback Island. I don’t know where the land protection staff are. They’re probably out meeting with landowners. So it’s always a mix. It varies from week to week, day to day. But this is the hub for all this work, between this office and that barn basically.

Jenn:    Wow.

Douglas:  [There’s also] a little preserve, … we have a mowed [path] down. [Ed.note: This is called the Babson Creek Preserve]  I don’t know if you’ve walked down there before, but there are these lower fields. [Pointing to map]

We can walk down there … it’s all grass, it was already that way when we acquired it, and we mow a path down there. The whole thing was just mowed by bush hog, but I went down recently and mowed it again so the paths aren’t covered with grass clippings and what not.

Jenn:    So you really are a jack-of-all-trades! Running the place, mowing the lawn.

Douglas:  The mowing-the-lawn thing is an excuse to get out of the office. … So if no one’s here I say, “I think I’ll go mow the lawn.” We aren’t actually mowing the [field], we have somebody who comes and does that. This is just going out to keep the path open. We’re basically driving a go-cart around the paths. So it’s kind of fun, to be honest. But we all pitch in. I mean even Tim Glidden, our president, he comes out on staff workdays. He’ll show up and drag brush with the best of us. … I don’t get to do a lot of field work anymore, so any time I can I go out and do it.

Jenn:    You said you were out in the field last week?

Douglas: A lot of last week was easement monitoring.

Jenn:    Oh wow.

Douglas:  Yeah I was crunched with getting easements done, so I was visiting landowners last week. And flying, I flew a set of easements on Monday too.

Jenn:    What does that mean?

Douglas: I didn’t fly myself. I don’t fly anymore. But renting a plane and pilot just to get aerial photos of easement properties.

Jenn:    That sounds like so much fun.

Douglas:  Yeah. So I hadn’t flown in a while. I used to all the time out of Bar Harbor airport. Now it’s been almost 10 years. So it’s fun for me to go fly again.


Douglas:  I was just at the high school earlier meeting … Hannah Podurgiel. She’s a science teacher. She helped get the connection for the school… . I’ve always found the interface there, where you … pull into the back parking lot by the tennis courts – it’s very difficult to find your way to the preserve. [Ed.note: this is the Kittredge Brook Forest preserve.] So I’m trying to see how [we can] retool this to make it more user-friendly. … I’m working with her to do that.

Jenn:    I didn’t even know there was a connection back there.

Douglas:   Here, you can see it on this [looking at the map above] … The primary entrance is at the high school. And you park back by the tennis courts, and you walk kind of along the retention ponds and it gets you back in. This is National Park land. And I can show you this loop: it’s a mixture of Park, our land, and you can actually walk from there all the way back to Pine Heath Road. And right now you can’t connect the east side and west side but we’re working on figuring that out someday.

Jenn:    Very cool. … How about I give you an excuse for getting out of the office? Want to show me around?

Douglas:   Yeah let’s do that. … Let me show you the office first.

Jenn:    It’s beautiful. Look at all this light.

Douglas:  Yeah it’s really nice. These light tubes [in the ceiling] let natural light in.

Jenn:    And whose dog is this?

Douglas:   Marty Crone, way back in the back corner. She does our GIS work. She fosters dogs who have been rescued, and finds a home for them. So they come here, and they get exposure to people. It’s actually kind of a neat thing. We have a lot of dogs come through here.

Jenn:    Full service office.

Douglas:   Everyone’s into it, so it’s … kind of fun. That’s Jack.

Jenn:    Hey Jack.

Douglas: So this is just cubicles and office spaces here.

Jenn:    And the odd owl now and then.

Douglas:  Yeah. A barn owl. And then here we have a … library, kitchenette, bathrooms. Here’s the supply room, we have a nice plotter/scanner for doing survey plotting and scanning and printing, and that kind of stuff. So we can print full size maps.

Jenn:    I have to admit, I’ve been curious about what was inside ever since it went up.

Douglas:  Yeah that’s it. It’s really a nice workspace. Want to go over to the barn first, or you want to go [see the marsh] first?

Jenn:    Let’s go down [to the marsh].


Douglas: [There’s] the main entrance to the trail – there’s a parking space down there, then there’s a little kiosk. …. I want to improve our signage because we have our office sign there, which I don’t particularly love. The problem is I think we’ve maxed out our sign allowance for this lot with the town of Mount Desert.

Jenn:    Really?

Douglas: Yeah there’s a very specific square footage allowed, which we’re happy to stick by. But that sign is just too big. I’d like to see it redone so the sign could include that there’s a preserve here, so you know to turn in. I don’t think people really [know] about that, unless they discovered it some other way.

Jenn:    Well I certainly hadn’t.

Douglas:   Yeah. It’s not heavily publicized, but there are a lot of people that pull in, and often times I see two or three cars here at early morning, because folks come down to birdwatch along the side of Babson Creek. And we’ve occasionally hosted morning bird walks here, because it is usually pretty productive …, especially for wading birds and what not. … Once in a while if I’m just sick of being at my desk I can pop out here and take a little walk around the track of grass area. In the summer the grass gets to be thigh-high, so we keep the path mowed. Just for ticks and so people can feel like they can walk down here and not be bush-whacking.

Douglas:  The one funny thing we have had happen down here occasionally … is one of these odd things that’s impossible for us to navigate perfectly. Babson Creek is duck-hunting habitat.

Jenn:    Oh?

Douglas: Well first of all, in the intertidal marsh we have no say. You can hunt there no matter what. Even if we were ardently against any kind of hunting we couldn’t prevent it.

Jenn:    Really?

Douglas:   Once you’re into the intertidal hunting’s allowed. And that comes back to the old colonial law of access to shore for fishing, fowling, and [navigation].

Jenn:    I forgot fowling was in there!

Douglas:  They can’t stand up here and do it but they can down there. But the organization [supports] traditional use. Respectful deer hunting, bird hunting, that kind of thing. We do allow it on many preserves if it’s allowed by the town that [the preserve] is in. In Castine, we have a number of preserves on the Neck, and it’s archery-only there, so we allow archery hunting at the preserve. Most of the neighbors want us to do it because the deer populations are out of control, so it’s not a problem for us, but a lot of times people are upset when they see the occasional duck hunter out here, and it’s like, “Well first of all we can’t prevent it.” And the organization’s not necessarily anti-hunting. We don’t go out of our way to invite lots of hunters to our preserve, but if somebody asks us we’ll say yes, usually, if it’s allowed by the town.

Jenn:    This is gorgeous.

Douglas: You can’t quite get away from road noise here, unfortunately, but it’s still lovely down here.

Jenn:    You can always pretend it’s the wind. Almost.

Douglas:  What’s kind of fun is, my daughter goes to the Community School here in Somesville. And they walk out, and they go back to this Whalesback. That’s one of their … outings. Once in awhile I’ll be down here and I’ll see them on the rocks across the way, and wave over at them.

This is something to note. There are several of these little stations here in the marsh. I think there’s three total. This is a measuring station. [Ed.note: It’s monitored by the Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network, which is part of the National Park Service. Clearly, I need to interview them, too!] This guy Jim [Lynch] does it. They’re monitoring marsh migration and sea level rise. They’re using salt marshes in different places to track that. So he’s got one here. There’s I think two more hidden out in the marsh on this side as well. And he comes periodically to check the sensors, which are hidden in those PVC tubes. …

Douglas:          The preserve that the Trust owns wraps around that tree line … I need to walk over there – see that tall vegetation against the tree line on the edge of the marsh?

Jenn:    Yeah.

Douglas:          That’s worrying. I don’t think I’ve noticed that before. It looks like Phragmites from here, which is an invasive … and it worries me ’cause there was phrag upstream here, where the creek comes down under the bridge, which we worked with the park to get rid of. [Ed.note: Phragmites is a tall, extremely invasive wetland grass.] And I just worry … Maybe it isn’t, but it has that look. … I mean it seems unlikely that it would’ve grown that large that quickly, but I’ll go find out. That’s a reason to take a spin over there next week.

Douglas:          A lot of folks come down [here] to do just this. They wander down here, especially in the morning hours. … It’s a cool little spot to go for a walk if you live close by, pop down – it’s not meant to be a destination like the Park is, but if you live in town, you’re driving by…folks bring their dogs … and walk down here.

Jenn:    It’s beautiful even if all you do is drive by.

Douglas:          Yeah. I’ve been wanting to do a – I keep saying I’m going to do it, but I never quite find the time – after the bugs are gone, do a little astronomy night down here. You’re far enough off the road that it’s not too annoying, and the traffic gets pretty light here come nighttime. And you could have a couple scopes right in the middle of the field, you’ve got a great sky view. The One-Stop’s a bit of an annoyance in terms of the light it throws off, but it’s not terrible. Those mosquitoes!

Jenn:    Yeah I think one got me in the middle of the back.

Douglas:          Really? It’s amazing that they’re still coming out so aggressively in October. These warm days. … So what else can I tell you about … our stewardship work?

Jenn:    What’s fascinating you right now? Like, everybody’s got some project going on. What’s yours?

Douglas:          I don’t know if fascinated is the right word, but the thing that I’m most deeply involved in with … right now is community-based work with Frenchboro. I’ve been working out there for a couple years. It’s a really interesting community. It’s got some interesting folks that live out there. It’s a very challenging place …, given that it’s very limited ferry service. And the challenge there is that Maine Coast, for a number of reasons, we have a tremendous amount of land conserved. We basically surround the community there. And the community wanted the initial conservation there, but it’s definitely had impacts to their tax base.

Jenn:    Wow.

Douglas:          And they’re trying to survive. Trying to strike a balance between conservation and a community being able to exist. It’s been really interesting working with folks out there, and trying to figure out how we can be relevant. We can’t just undo the conservation, so we do what we can to provide help when we can. If it’s additional projects, if it’s trying to find grants or additional money – we’ve helped fund a lot of small projects for them. … Not all the money they need, but to help them seek larger grants. Seed money, or its match, or that kind of stuff. … We go out and do work with the school periodically, … go out for an overnight and do outings with the school kids. There’s three or four kids. It’s fun, ’cause they don’t have those services out there, and they can only get specialists from the [school] district out there twice a month. We can go out other times when the district can’t come out, and … add a little something. We can do outdoor education, we can add a little component to their education that they can’t get otherwise; it’s kind of a fun thing that we can provide. And that goes back to my background of outdoor education.

Jenn:    How big is the town?

Douglas:          I get different numbers, because some people aren’t staying at all for the winter. But I think year-round in theory there’s upwards of 30 people.

Jenn:    It’s that small?!

Douglas:          Oh yeah.

Jenn:    Oh my God.

Douglas:          There were literally three kids in the school the last two winters. I think there are four this year.

Jenn:    That makes Islesford sound huge. [Ed.note: Isleford/Little Cranberry Island has a year-round population of about 70 people.]

Douglas:          Oh yeah. They’re tiny. And then they have a ferry … There’s only two days a month where you can get a round-trip ferry twice. So if you want to go out in the morning [and] come back off in the afternoon, or if you want to leave in the morning [and] come back in the afternoon for a doctor’s appointment there’s two days a month you can do that.

Jenn:    Wow.

Douglas:          They only have four ferries a week. So they’re definitely shut off out there.

The other thing I’m spending a lot of time on is just, we’re all trying to figure out the cost of doing stewardship, and land conservation is not cheap, both real cost and staff time costs. [We’re] trying to figure out where we can be more efficient. Aerial monitoring is one example, knowing that aerial monitoring is not going to be as effective as walking on the ground, but can you find a balance where you monitor from the air two years, and then the third year you go walk down on the ground. Or something like that to try to stretch as far as we can, basically. So we’re kind of all exploring … ways to be more efficient. That’s another constant effort.

Jenn:    Where does your funding come from?

Douglas:          … We get grants [and we also receive federal and state funding from numerous sources.] But [a lot] is private donation. Large and small, everything from membership level up to major donors. And we do have endowments, but they don’t cover everything. They’re definitely in the process right now of growing the endowments. [Pointing] Just a tiny little kiosk, and sign-in box, which doesn’t get much use. I came by earlier, and put my name in there to help seed it.

Occasionally we’ll have groups here and I’ll weed-whack that, [pointing to the stone seating circle] and it’s a place where, if you want to have a kids’ group you could sit there. We do winter classrooms, and the school bus will come here, and we can use this as sort of a staging area. That kind of thing for outdoor [education]. … [Want to ] walk over to the barn, and the gardens?

Jenn:    Yeah!

Douglas:          One of the things that you always … hear, a [constant] fear with land conservation these days, is the change in society. There’s far less outdoor time. Kids being more welded to screens, and all that kind of stuff, other activities. Kind of concerned about land conservation remaining relevant for the next generation. So what relevant things can we provide that might create a connection with land? And one fairly easy one is community garden space. We use this for both community gardens and also to help co-host the Kids Can Grow program. That’s a program that’s born out of the Cooperative Extension, and then they have to find places to do it.

Jenn:    So about how many kids do you have here?

Douglas: The Kids Can Grow program is maxed out at 16. I think they had 16 and one dropped out because of timing. So it’s always been full for the most part. … We pull together a bunch of Master Gardener volunteers. Basically [the kids] come here, they learn the principles of gardening in these raised beds. We provide all the materials, the soil, and the wood. They bring home soil, they make their own garden beds at home. They do monthly visits here, but then they have master gardener visits at their house. So the kids are learning to grow food at home.

Jenn:    That’s so cool.

Douglas: And at the end of the year they do a big thing where they harvest all the stuff and they make pizzas on grills, and they use the vegetables from the gardens at the end. So it’s real fun, it’s once a month here, [and] at-home visits. It’s not that big of a hurdle to make it happen. We have one staff person who stays involved with it, basically. And it’s really productive. The challenge is keeping the master gardeners, enough of them around, but so far we’ve been able to do that. All of these beds here are for the Kids Can Grow program, and [from] around that fence on is community garden space. And this is all community garden space. We also have some community garden space down at Kelley Farm, in Tremont, but it’s not quite as polished as this yet. It’s evolving now. I’m hoping to improve the fencing this year and kind of amp it up a little bit next year.

This larger bed here, there was a teen agricultural program that we were trying here for a couple years. It never quite took off, and the funding kind of dried up too. It was always a little more difficult to get high school students to participate. It was a paid thing, where they had a summer job. It was like eight bucks an hour or something. But they worked so many hours a week, helping to do agricultural work. They’d grow vegetables, the vegetables went to local food pantries, soup kitchens, that kind of thing. It was the idea of engaging students to grow food, and the food went to good places, basically. We already had that program at Aldermere Farm at Rockport – we have a nice farm down there that was given to the trust a number of years ago. So we were trying it here to see if that model might work here, and it just didn’t quite take off, and then the funding wasn’t there to maintain it, try to get it to take off. So now we’re turning all the beds into more community garden space because people want it. Which is nice.

Jenn:    It sounds like a great program.

Douglas:          It is a great program. For whatever reason it just didn’t fly. Maybe we’ll try it again at some point. It’s not like we can’t try it in a future year, but for now we’re just doing community gardens and Kids Can Grow, and no Teen Ag right now.

This is our barn. We’ll go around the front side. … We have a mixture of trailer boats that we can launch the day of [a trip], and we have two boats on the moorings that are in the water all summer. A 28-foot Ellis that was donated, or it was a bargain sale I should say, and a 22-foot Webbers Cove, and we have these two skiffs as well that we use for island access and for coastal cleanups and all that kind of stuff. … These are great boats.

Jenn: It’s a gorgeous building.

Douglas:          Yeah it is. We had a nice event here last Saturday night. It was a volunteer member appreciation event. We’ll do it again next year. We had a couple [of musicians], Peter Lindquist and Gus, I can’t remember Gus’ last name. He’s a high school student but he’s a really good violin player.


Jenn:    La Casse.

Douglas:          La Casse, thank you. They played. We had Bar Harbor Catering. We had a nice soup out of Bar Harbor Community Farm vegetables. We had Old Dog Bakery, … He made a lovely bread. He was there cutting it … So it was just this fun, low key thing, and it was a thank you to everybody, and they had a cider press going and what not. Mostly outside, but they had the barn all opened up. It’s a nice space. …. [The] kiosks that go on our preserves get built in here. We store them until they go to various places. … If somebody needs one down in Lubec, this is where we built it and they’ll come pick it up. We build them in here as summer projects.

All these registration boxes are being built to replace broken ones. We have a stash of these always ready to go. Kind of a pain to make those. This is kiosk posts that have already been cut and routed, ready to go, … they go to those roofs that are piled up over there. This is actually a new [sign] template. This is what we’re switching to, … this new, routed blue with a logo on the side. So we’ll start seeing more of these around.

Jenn:    That’s pretty, I like the blue.

Douglas:          Yeah, it’s nice. Harriman Point’s a nice preserve just on the far side of Blue Hill Bay.  … We have a little shop space [in here]. … This is heated. Everything else gets cold for the winter, but we shut the doors in here, and that way if you need to do a little bit of work, or if somebody needs to paint a sign or file a chainsaw you can come in here and be warm enough to do that. …

Jenn:    What’s the Furieuse Battery?

Douglas:          Oh, those were an attempt at making homemade signs. It didn’t work out very well. The Furieuse was a French Ship.  … There are two cannon batteries on the point in Castine at Witherle Woods Preserve. They’re called the Furieuse Battery because the cannons came from [the Furieuse]. The Witherle Woods Preserve‘s got incredible Revolutionary War history, and some War of 1812 history, though the Revolutionary War history’s far more interesting than the War of 1812 history there. There was a battle there. It was the greatest naval loss prior to Pearl Harbor.

Jenn:    Really?

Douglas:          Yeah, it was amazing. Paul Revere was [one of] the commanders on the ships,

Jenn:    In Castine?

Douglas:          Castine was, I never knew this until I worked over there – we had a great archeological project over there with a guy named Ric Faulkner from UMaine, who did the digs over there. But there’s wonderful history on the place, and basically because of the way it sticks out in the bay, it was a strategic point for ships. There were a lot of good anchorages, it was central to the bay, and … the English, I think French, the Dutch, and the US all wanted Castine, back from the 1600s up until the Revolutionary War. And the British were … I’m going to hack this a little bit … so read up on this. But the basic gist was that the British, at the time, were holding the point. They had forts, they called them redoubts. It was … I think it was General Lovell [Ed.note: Lovell commanded the American ground forces at the battle.] And the US fleet, the Marines of 1779 came up from Massachusetts, and besieged the island. … There’s an area called Trask Rock where they landed, and there was … fighting back and forth down the bank … They never were able to take it … they waited for reinforcements. They had enough people to take it, [and] then they got intel that the British Fleet was coming, and then kind of … they waffled, they didn’t storm in time, and finally the British Fleet did come, and if they had just done it they would’ve gotten it. And the British Fleet was overwhelming, and [the American fleet] ran up the Penobscot River and scuttled all the ships. They sunk the whole Fleet. They didn’t want to give them to the British. And then they walked back to Massachusetts. … That was called the Penobscot Expedition of 1779. 

Jenn:    I’ll have to look that up.


Jenn:    These are gorgeous doors.

Douglas:          I was just going to tell you about that. … That was one of the [benefits] of somebody who wanted to build … a showpiece that he could maybe get business from. We had spec’d out pretty simple doors. And he was like, “No no, can’t do that, … that’s not going to look good enough.” So he did the doors on his own accord. That’s Western Red Cedar. He had old telephone poles that he milled into doors. … And if you look at them closely, in a few places you can find … Maybe on the outside more than the inside. Let me look on the outside. Like here, maybe here. He said that there were a number of places where there were bullet holes … from people shooting at telephone poles, and shooting at road signs. It was in Washington [County] or wherever it came from. And when they were milling it, when the saw blade would hit the lead, they’d get this ‘poof’ of lead out of the thing. They were like, “What’s going on?” They finally carved the bullet out, found a bullet they just cut in half.

Jenn:    That is hilarious.

Douglas:          There weren’t tons of them, but it was enough that they kept finding them. He did a nice job with those. It really kind of makes it-

Jenn:    Who’s the builder?

Douglas:          Charlie Farrell out of Pownal, Maine.

Jenn:    They’re gorgeous.

Douglas:          I don’t recall the numbers, but my recollection is that the quotes we were getting for a metal, simple building exceeded what he came in at to do this as a timber frame.

Jenn:    Wow.

Douglas: … So we got lucky, we got a really nice barn. And I know that he got, I think three projects out of it.

Jenn:    Well I have to say, that’s pretty smart of him. I mean, right here on the main road.

Douglas:          Yeah. So really Jane Arbuckle, our Head of Stewardship, made it happen. She was horrified at the thought of a metal building here, and she started making calls, and knew Charlie, and somehow it all came together and this is what got built. He did all the milling down at his shop in Pownal. And then the crew showed up and they just fired this thing together frame by frame. It was amazing how fast they built it once they got here. I mean all the site work was done. The slab was in, the frost wall was in, and then they framed it up really quick. It was pretty amazing. In the winter time you put two boats in here, and just kind of button it all up. There we go, that’s about it.

Jenn:    Cool.

Douglas: … If you come by here first thing in the morning [in the summer] you’ll see all of our … seasonal trail staff, and our various stewardship assistants will all be here. There’ll be like six cars all parked, everybody’s loading gear into trucks, and they all vanish for a day or a week sometimes. But it could be leaving to go from here to work down east. That crew serves not just MDI, they serve all the territories within a reasonable drive from here. So they might do a week down in Lubec on the Bold Coast, on one of our preserves there, and then come back. That kind of thing.

And then we house them all. We have a cool property that was donated over on Indian Point Road. The Blue Horizon [preserve], I don’t know if you’ve ever walked down there. It’s about a half mile in from Town Hill, from coming down Indian Point Road, on the right-hand side. It’s not marked. When you’re driving on the road there’s no sign, but if you look to the right you’ll see a gate, … and you’ll see a Blue Horizon sign. And it’s … almost a third of a mile fire road down to these cabins. But you can get to the shore there. There’s a preserve, there’s a trail. We use the buildings that were already there … for staff housing for now.

Jenn:    When you say it’s a preserve, like I could go?

Douglas:          Yeah. Absolutely, it’s very well used. There’s two trails on each side of the driveway, and it’ll get you down to the shore. It’s sort of a cobbly, rocky shore, but you can still get down there. It’s quite nice. …. It’s a very popular dog walking spot.


Douglas:          The one thing I didn’t mention that might be of interest is just how we operate … I mentioned that we have land protection staff here. We have staff that are project managers – their focus is to acquire new conservation land. And then once we acquire it the stewards are the ones who manage the land. So we’re all paired together. We all work as a team, and as a unit … to build new work; they’ll pull stewards in for perspective on a property before we acquire it. … There’s a … combination of land protection and stewards on any given region that work together. So Misha Mytar, she’s the Land Protection staff person for MDI, and I’m the steward for MDI. So we’re partnered and we both have our own responsibilities, but we all work together very closely. And sometimes it’s more than just one. Frenchboro is Bob DeForrest, so Bob and I overlap as well. … Any new conservation on MDI, if it comes about, would be Misha making that happen. …

Color’s coming quick, huh?

Jenn:    It seems like it came overnight.

Douglas: It’s turning fast, yeah. So what else have I not been able to fill in so far? Is there anything else I can …

Jenn:    No actually, I think you’ve answered all my questions.

Douglas:  Okay.

Jenn:    And some I didn’t know I had, which are the best kind!

Douglas:   Well again, give a shout any time if you need anything.

Jenn:    Thank you so much.

Douglas:   Yeah, very nice to meet you.

Jenn:    You too, take care.



All the old maps I’ve seen call the body of water running through the marsh “Doctor’s Creek” (although the oldest don’t name it at all). The name changes to “Kitteredge Brook” (spelled Kitridge, Kittridge, Kitteridge, Kittredge, and Kitteredge on various maps) just north of the marsh. Anybody know when “Babson’s Creek” came into usage?

“Mount Desert Island,” Colby & Stuart, 1887 – the stream isn’t named, but you can see the Kittridge and Babson houses. (Kitteredge is spelled three different ways on this map!)


“Mount Desert Island,” Rand, 1893


“Mount Desert Island,” W.H.Sherman, 1911.

And in 2017, Google thinks it’s Kitteredge Brook.


Addenda, February 15, 2018:

Dr. Kendall Kittredge was the first doctor on MDI, moving here from Massachusetts in 1799. “Doctor’s Creek” and “Kittredge Brook” appear to refer to him. A little more info here:























Interview: Rodney Eason at Thuya Landing

Looking back at Asticou Landing and Terraces from the dock.

The Coast Walk is entering an experimental phase. I mentioned in my last post that I received a Kindling Fund grant this year to help with the cost of transcribing interviews. Usually I talk to people while we are hiking a section of coast, and then write an essay weaving that discussion around the photos and narrative of the walk. Well, I need to use up my grant money by the end of the year, and that won’t happen with my current pace of obtaining permissions for these hikes (about 6 months per mile) so I’ve started interviewing people like mad, wherever and whenever they are willing to meet. I’m going to present the interviews to you as they happen, and tie them back into the Coast Walks when I pick up that thread again.

Rodney Eason, CEO of the Land & Garden Preserve, was good-natured enough to be my first guinea pig volunteer. The Preserve manages the Asticou Azalea Garden, the Thuya Garden and Lodge, the Asticou Terraces (which some of us call “the path up to Thuya”) and the Asticou Landing (also known as “the Thuya Dock.”) As of this year, they also manage the Little Long Pond area. Rodney and I met at the Asticou Landing at 3pm on September 29, 2017. It was 65ºF (18ºC), sunny, with a light wind from the mouth of the harbor: a gorgeous late-summer day. He had brought a handful of photos from the Thuya archives.

Construction of the path and landing, from approximately the same area as the photo below. Photo courtesy of the Land & Garden Preserve.

Rodney:    So, what can I help you with?

Jenn:          Tell me about these photos.

Rodney:    Sure. We got these from Ken Savage. Ken was Charles [Savage]’s son. … Just to back up a bit. … Joseph Curtis was a Bostonian who set up sort of a rusticator’s colony up Thuya Drive. He had built a procession of houses … up to the last house, which is now Thuya Lodge. He had envisioned a place for residents of Northeast Harbor and their guests, where they could walk. This was sort of simultaneous to the whole concept of what became Acadia National Park. This movement was afoot. … Charles Savage was running the Asticou Inn then, [and he] was approached by Curtis to take over the responsibility of the Asticou Terraces. … There was some money there, and over time he hired crews to build the walkways, which are there now, including this dock, because Curtis had wanted a dock.

The path down to Asticou Landing.

We actually have the language of the deed from Curtis that states this dock and float should be open and accessible for the residents of Northeast Harbor. I think he had envisioned people coming over from Northeast Harbor, across the harbor, docking here, coming up the ramp, and then eventually making their way all the way up, … enjoying the Asticou Terraces.

Jenn:          Do people do that?

Rodney:    I would say some people do, and I’m not a good judge of monitoring it, but Rick LeDuc who’s Thuya’s manager said he sees people utilize the space and visit the gardens … Curtis did not have the gardens. He had an orchard up there. Savage added the gardens in the late fifties. …Those were Beatrix Farrand’s plants from Reef Point.

Jenn:          I didn’t realize that! I knew that they went to the Asticou [Azalea Garden], but

Rodney:    If you read his first statement of purpose, which is down in the Rockefeller archives in Tarrytown, New York, his original intent was to move Farrand’s collection to Thuya, because that’s all he had responsibility for. He was trustee of Thuya. So, he had envisioned, ‘we’ll turn Thuya into essentially an Arnold Arboretum for the north,’ because some of the plants at Reef Point had come from Sargent, who was the director of the Arnold Arboretum. [Ed.note: Charles Sprague Sargent , professor of botany at Harvard University and the founding director of the Arnold Arboretum, was one of Beatrix Farrand’s early mentors.]

When Farrand sold Reef Point to Robert Patterson, Bob Patterson, [he] wanted to sell the plants, where they were going to just demolish them. Charles Savage wrote a proposal to John D. Rockefeller Jr., and said ‘could I get your financial backing?’ Rockefeller gave him the money to move [the plants], and then when he started moving the plants … he found that Thuya was not large enough. He wrote another proposal to Rockefeller saying, ‘here’s my vision for Asticou [Azalea Garden],’ which was a swamp.

Jenn:          Wow.

Rodney:    They sculpted the pond and moved the remaining plants from Farrand’s collection to there. Anyway, that’s where Curtis’s [original] vision of having this procession up to the lodge sort of morphed, and Savage added on the garden to it. He’s the one that hired the crews to build the stone stairs, and the lookouts, and so it’s a combination of both men’s vision.

Jenn:          Which one built the library up there? Isn’t there a botanical library?

Rodney:    Yes. There is. I’m thinking that Savage had a strong hand in the formation of that with the rare volumes and collections. In the Northeast Harbor library, they actually have the trustee’s report, which Savage put together. And it is amazing. The photographs of the gardens being formed.

Jenn:          Oh my god, I’ll have to look for that.

Rodney:    A lot of these are in that report.

Jenn:          Okay.

Rodney:    He has ledgers. He has balance sheets. He has everything. Quite exhaustive book. You can go down in the archives and see the original trustee’s report, which outlines that.

Jenn:          I’m going to have to do that.

Rodney:    Yeah. It has the inventory of the rare book collection – I think portions of it were sold prior to Thuya becoming a part of the Land and Garden Preserve. I mean, there were some rare herbals that were in that collection [and are] no longer there.

Jenn:          Okay.

Rodney:    Anyway. I could go on.

Jenn:          Please do. This is fascinating. … I read [Letitia Baldwin’s book about Thuya] a year or so ago, so I’ve forgotten some of the finer points. …

Path to the Asticou Landing. Photo courtesy of the Land & Garden Preserve.

Rodney:    This one here [pointing to the photo above] … I find really cool. …This is the ramp we walked down to get here. This was [and] … is a public way. As I understand it, before Peabody Drive was expanded, and I don’t know when that was done, it was a … gentler slope, and you can see here, Savage had some vision of a mixed garden. And the garden actually continued, and there was a shelter here as well. These power lines are along Peabody Drive. This was a totally different experience down to the dock and along the shore of North East Harbor. Supposedly, … there was a walkway, or there was some form of a walkway all the way to Seal Harbor. I don’t know if it followed the coastline, or if it followed Peabody Drive.

Jenn:          It’s interesting. I don’t remember seeing that on any of the old path maps. [Ed.note: I still haven’t been able to find a map that shows it, but I’ve heard about the old path from more people since this interview.]

Rodney:    Again, this is all hearsay that this kept going. The kids could ride their bikes from … the Asticou Inn or Northeast Harbor – they could follow the sidewalks and go all the way to Seal Harbor.

Jenn:          That must have been so cool.

Rodney:    Yes. There’s a small group of us who are trying to get expanded shoulders on Peabody Drive so we can get bicycle and pedestrian [access], safer access all along. Anyway, knowing that Peabody Drive can’t get wider here because of the slope, it might be interesting to see if this ramp could keep going. And that could resurrect the old walkway.

Jenn:          That would be great.

Rodney:    Yeah. Then you’d go below Peabody Drive if you’re on a bicycle, and then slope back up and connect on the other side.

Jenn:          How are the property owners reacting?

Rodney:    Those that know about it thus far have been great. Anything to have safer access for their families and for their kids, but we haven’t talked to everybody. That’s the next step.

Jenn:          I’ll tell you, talking to everybody takes a lot of time.

Rodney:    It does. But it’s so critical to the process, that’s for sure. We’ve had some along Peabody Drive have just said, “yeah, great idea.” We’ve had no one say no yet.

Path to the Asticou Landing. Photo courtesy of the Land & Garden Preserve.

Rodney:     This is looking back up [the path]. I think this was gravel. …

Jenn:          Yeah. It looks like a carriage road, sort of.

Rodney:    I think that’s what it was. I think this surface was gravel as well [the surfacing of the terrace at the dock, which is currently old, cracked asphalt]. We’re talking about, in the future, taking this asphalt up and restoring it back to gravel.

Jenn:          That’d be nice.

Rodney:    Yeah. Changing the overall appearance. [Pointing to another photo.] I don’t know exactly where this is.

Path near the Asticou Landing. Photo courtesy of the Land & Garden Preserve.

Jenn:          Wow. It looks like … the path was closer to the water.

Rodney:    Right. This is a really cool photograph.

Jenn:          It’s a beautiful view. It’s kind of a neat railing too.

Rodney:    It looks like Asticou Terrace’s [railing], but then there’s the water. I’m not sure exactly where this was, unless it was a continuation of the pathway past the copper beech there.

Jenn:          Yeah. Have you tried to find that tree?

Rodney:    No.

Jenn:          Do you know when the photos were taken?

Rodney:    [Charles Savage] took over as trustee in the late twenties. … It was in sometime in the thirties, would’ve been my guess.

Photo courtesy of the Land & Garden Preserve.

Jenn:          I notice there’s no mechanization in the construction photos. It looks like they’re doing it all by hand here.

Rodney:    Right. I don’t know if there was a steam powered winch that pulled the cables so they could lift the stones or not.

Ed.note: the original photos are much darker, I’ve brightened these a lot, so you can now see the base of the crane a little. You know me, I went off on an internet hunt for the type of crane that might have been used. It looks a bit like this pre-WWII British hand-driven crane:

And here’s a fascinating and only slightly relevant page on the history of human-powered cranes.

Rodney:    And who these guys were, I don’t know if they were the Candages or who [Savage] had employed to do the masonry work. I’m sure that information is buried somewhere and can be found.

Jenn:          That would be cool to find out.

Construction of Asticou Landing. Photo courtesy of the Land & Garden Preserve.

Rodney:    Yeah. A lot of the work at Seal Harbor was done by Candages. They actually did a lot of the retaining walls that you see around Seal Harbor, but then who did Northeast Harbor? I don’t know.

Jenn:          I’m trying to remember. Was it the Candages who did the Village Green at Seal Harbor?

Rodney:    I think so.

Jenn:          There used to be a low retaining wall. It’s kind of buried now. Only the top bit of it still shows. [Ed.note: Yes, it was the Candage firm and there are photos of it in Coast Walk 14.]

Rodney:    It’s in that book about Seal Harbor-

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    … that little folio book.

Jenn:          Oh yeah, Remembering Seal Harbor or something [Ed.note: Revisiting Seal Harbor]

Rodney:    Yeah. They talk about the Candages, and I think they probably did that wall up by the church. If you’re leaving, if you’re going past the coffee shop on the right, there’s a beautiful stone wall there.

Jenn:          Oh right, when the houses … like when you’re heading out of Seal Harbor. Yeah, that is a beauty.

Rodney:    That wall keeps going. There’s one right opposite of the store fronts.

Jenn:          Oh. Maybe that’s the one I’m thinking of.

Rodney:    And then tucked up in the woods is a summer church.

Jenn:          I didn’t know that.

Rodney:    It’s a stucco church that’s only open in the summer time.

Jenn:          Okay.

Rodney:    You should check it out. It’s beautiful.

Jenn:          I will.

Rodney:    Yeah.

Jenn:          The other really beautiful stone wall there is the one on that little tiny Farrand garden.

Rodney:    Where’s the Farrand garden?

Jenn:          When you’re in the intersection, with the little spring in the middle of it-

Rodney:    Yeah.

Jenn:          … just to the right, it steps down. It’s like a little half circle. It’s a memorial to, I think Edward Dunham. [Again, photos of it in Coast Walk 14.]

Rodney:    Right above the playground.

Jenn:          But gorgeous stone work there. If you haven’t been in there, stop some time.

Stonework along the Asticou Landing path.

Rodney:    I’ll take a look. This walkway here… the pathway’s part of Thuya, but along the way, there’s a fence.

Jenn:          I saw that, with the ‘private’ sign.

Rodney:    That’s Richard Estes. [Ed.note: and]

Water Taxi, Mount Desert, 1999. Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

Rodney:    He’s a painter. In New York. He has the house across the street from Thuya’s parking lot. There’s that white house on the hill, and then he has the dock. The people just adjacent to the parking lot, I met them this summer, and I think they’re from the Philadelphia area. There’s Story Litchfield, and then there’s a house that’s for sale. I want to say, then it’s the Inn.

Jenn:          Yeah. They’ve got three or four of those little cottages, right?

Rodney:    [Those] were different Savage homes, and they moved them around. Sam McGee is a great resource. … Sam wrote that article for the Historical Society. …It talks about how the family moved houses.

Jenn:          What? I haven’t seen that.

Rodney:    [About] the Savage family, that whole area of Asticou, … they would take a home and then add onto it, and so that’s where a whole village of the Savage family was. [Ed.note: “They Should Have Constructed Their Buildings on Wheels,” by Samuel Savage McGee. See bibliography.]

Jenn:          Neat.

Rodney:    They would have a winter house. Then in the summer, they’d move back off the street and live in the summer house [Ed.note: so they could rent out the big house to the summer people.] Then went back to their big house [in the winter.]

Jenn:          Cool. Sounds like people are still doing that.

Rodney:    It was a precursor to Air B&B.

Jenn:          Yeah. You know, that’s my main income these days.

Rodney:    Is it really?

Jenn:          Weekly rentals. Yeah. It’s a way to [make a living] on the island, you know?

Rodney:    And you’re working with LARK?

Jenn:          Yep. Although less of that now. Brian and I bought the house next door to us about a year and a half ago. … It was pretty tumbledown, so we’ve been renovating it and renting it out. That’s been taking all my time.

Rodney:    I bet. You doing the renovation yourself?

Jenn:          A lot of it. I spent most of yesterday learning how to stop the stairs from creaking.

Rodney:    How do you do that?

Jenn:          Apparently the creaking is caused when the various [parts] of the stairs get loosened up over time and rub against each other. I tried a couple of things that didn’t work, so I finally took apart one of the stairs. Pried the tread up as much as I could. [Ed.note: So I could see where the stringers were.]

Rodney:    Right.

Jenn:          Then I got really long, finish-head screws-

Rodney:    Okay.

Jenn:          … and screwed everything all back together really well.

Rodney:    And that worked?

Jenn:          Yes. I got rid of like ninety percent of the squeaking.

Jenn:          I meant to ask you, how did you end up here? You started what, like two years ago?

Rodney:    Two years ago. Interesting question. We were in Boothbay for three years, working at the botanical gardens down there, and prior to that I was at Longwood Gardens for eight years.

Jenn:          I didn’t know that.

Rodney:    Yeah.

Jenn:          Cool.

Rodney:    I was down there for eight years. It was a great job, but I was ready to do something different. Somewhere else. We had always vacationed up here. Carrie went to college with Sarah Richardson Stanley [Ed.note: Sarah’s a landscape designer and an old friend of both myself and Carrie Eason. She lives on MDI. Hi, Sarah!] We started vacationing up here in college. Then we went, let’s move [to Maine]. Then the job opened up in Boothbay, and then, I don’t know, two years ago when Carole Plenty was retiring, the reserve hired a head hunter, a search firm. They had gotten my name, and I came up and interviewed and went through the various processes. They offered me the job.

Jenn:          That’s awesome.

Rodney:    It is awesome.

Jenn:          Kind of flattering to be recruited like that.

Rodney:    Definitely so. The ironic thing is that I was practicing as a landscape architect the first time we came up here, which was 1997. I had been doing some gardens, but not to the extent [I wanted] – intimate spaces in designs make me feel like, yeah I’m glad I’m in this profession. I remember we walked into the Rockefeller garden, and I had been in North Carolina where I was practicing in Raleigh. Our firm was doing parking lot fit-outs [and] warehouses.

Jenn:          Oh god.

Rodney:    Essentially, I was doing planting design by code. For x number of parking spaces you have to have x lineal feet of shrubs. And you have to have x number of trees. You draw a radius around each tree, and there can be no open space from the radius anywhere. I said, ‘I can’t do this, this is not what I went to school for’. When I walked in the Rockefeller garden, I said ‘I want to be in the garden, I need to change my career.’ Then, pretty soon thereafter, I left landscape architecture and went into gardens.

Jenn:          Wow.

Rodney:    Yeah. Now I get to work here, which is really cool.

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    It’s funny. Over twenty years ago.

Rodney:    Back to this, is there anything I can help with? Are there any questions you have for me …?

Jenn:          I think you just gave me some pretty interesting information! What I’m looking for [is hard to explain] … it’s an intersection between the natural history of the place and its cultural history. There’s so much intersection on this island. It’s hard to find a square inch of shore line that hasn’t been used. Colonized. I’m just fascinated with the way … that people have used the island for making a living, and for recreation, and for things that blur the lines between those. I don’t always know what I’m looking for until I trip over it.

Rodney:    Right. I get it. You talk about tripping over it … one of the things [I’m interested in is] the Seaside trail, I’m really intrigued by Edward Rand.

Jenn:          He did the maps, right?

Rodney:    And he was the botanist of the Champlain Society. He did the first floristic inventory of Mount Desert Island.

Jenn:          Yes. I’m thinking there was a map that went into the book?

“Map of Mount Desert Island, Maine / Compiled for The Flora of Mt. Desert Island by Edward L. Rand.” 1893.

Rodney:    He had the map commissioned with topography so he could mark where he found the different colonies of plants.

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    There’s a lady [who] did an internship or some grant with Acadia National Park. She went back  and tried to find some of Rand’s colonies.

Jenn:          Oh, cool.

Rodney:    And … because of the herbarium samples, and because he mapped everything prior to GPS … and he gave physical descriptions of where everything was, she tried to extrapolate where he was. She’s showing thirty percent species loss. [Ed.note: Rodney sent me the info later. “The Changing Flora of Mount Desert Island” by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, see bibliography below.]

Jenn:          Oh, wow.

Rodney:    She says, “is this climate change?” It’d be wonderful if someone had the time, and had grant money to not only take Rand’s information with flora, but also take the other information from the Champlain Society related to climate. And be able to say, this is how much things have changed in a hundred and twenty-some years.

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    Anyway … Going on the Seaside trail, there’s a plaque there.

Jenn:          Wait, which is the Seaside trail?

Rodney:    That’s the one you have to go up the private driveway, across from Seal Harbor Beach, west of Stanley Brook Road. It goes up to the Edwards property.

Jenn:          Okay.

Rodney:    And then if you veer off into the woods, there is a big boulder with a memorial plaque to Edward Rand. It talks about him conducting that first flora of Mount Desert Island.

Jenn:          Wow. I’m going to have to look for that.

Rodney:    Yeah. Yeah.

Jenn:          I didn’t know that was there. …

Rodney:    They had to maintain that, for the Seaside trail, because the Seaside trail went, as I understand it, from the hotel … to the Jordan Highlands. [Ed.note: the old Seaside Inn was in the meadow at the Seal Harbor Beach. See Coast Walk 14 for photos.]

Jenn:          Yeah. I didn’t realize it was still there. That’s so cool.

Rodney:    The trail’s still there. And Acadia National Park worked this summer to restore it, and so they’re actively working on it there.

Rodney:    Someone who’s really good about knowing where the old trails are is Keith Johnston. He’s in charge of all the trail maintenance for Acadia National Park.

Jenn:          Oh. Wow. Is he still doing that?

Rodney:    Yeah, he’s based at McFarland Hill. …

Jenn:          I should talk to him.

Rodney:    You need to talk to him. Keith’s the one who said … I don’t know how many miles of abandoned trails there are in Acadia National Park. Is there a secret map of abandoned trails?

Jenn:          There are a couple of blogs online where people hunt them down and try and tell you how to get to them. But I don’t know of any published maps.

Rodney:    Yeah. Me either. I don’t know if Tom Saint Germain’s working on one or not.

Jenn:          I don’t know. [Ed.note: I actually just heard about a book of abandoned trails, although I haven’t read it yet: The Acadia You Haven’t Seen, by Matthew Marchon.]

Rodney:    I’ve walked the Iron Rung trail, which is Hunter’s Beach. Have you ever been there?

Jenn:          No, I haven’t. Where does it start from?

Rodney:    It starts at Hunter’s Beach, and it goes towards Dick Wolf’s. There’s the old, iron handrails.

Jenn:          Oh! Yeah. I have, actually. It used to be called the Seal Harbor trail or something.

Rodney:    It went all the way around.

Jenn:          Yeah. There’s still a lot of those handrails up there.

Rodney:    Did you do that?

Jenn:          Some of it, I did. A lot of it, I was actually down on the tide line. I went with Tim [Garrity] from the historical society. Tim and I went exploring over there from Hunter’s Beach. [Ed.note: That was Coast Walk 13.] Yeah. The funny thing is, the minute you see those handrails … you’re like, village improvement society. Like, nineteen hundred or so.

Rodney:    Yeah.

Jenn:          There’s just something so characteristic about them.

Rodney:    That’s so cool to know that that went around. I’d love to [know] if they have similar things over there in Northeast Harbor.

Jenn:          I haven’t done my research over there yet. I’ll let you know if I find anything.

Rodney:    Okay.

Jenn:          I found remnants of the bridges that used to cross some of the gaps in the trail over there. The bridges are long gone, but you can see where the pipes anchoring them were.

Rodney:    Would that have been near the Basses, or where?

Jenn:          No. This was more around the point toward Hunter’s Beach. It was probably more like on David Rockefeller’s land there. The part that’s semi-public. There was a lot of the trail still left there.

Rodney:    Okay.

Jenn:          I got permission [for the Coast Walk] from the next landowner, and … I think there was some on [that] property too. …

Rodney:    Nice.

Jenn:          Bits and pieces there.

Rodney:    Wow. Such an interesting place.

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    I love living here.

Jenn:          Me too. Finding all the old traces, and decoding them.

Rodney:    It’s rich with history.

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    The preserve has numerous endowments that help fund the operations of the preserve. Curtis set up an endowment … that was transferred to Savage when he was trustee. … That is to help maintain this. It’s modest, but it helps maintain this area, because he wanted it open and accessible to the public.

Jenn:          It’s amazing to me how many people have done things like that on this island. Like, in addition to the Park there are all these little holdings of semi-public access points.

Rodney:    Yeah. I haven’t read anything specific, I’m sure it exists, about the mindset or the ethos at that time. This summer, I read the biography on Alexander von Humboldt by Andrea Wulf. Wonderful book. He inspired so many naturalists, including Darwin. When Darwin was doing his research in the mid eighteen hundreds, then of course the intellectuals of Harvard said, “Oh gosh, we can explain things through analysis of our natural ecosystems. We have to go study and explore.“ So the Champlain Society was a manifestation of this Darwinian concept of being able to learn nature through observation … I’d like to think that Curtis wanted to promote that. I don’t know that he explicitly did that, or if it was just to convene with nature. You know, Olmsted had that similar philosophy where nature’s what cures you.

Jenn:          The lungs of the city.

Rodney:    Yeah. Yeah. … Nature itself is a hospital, and I like to think we live in one gigantic self-healing place.

Jenn:          Yeah. It needs a little bit of care.

Rodney:    We all do.

Jenn:          Do you know what I’ve found interesting, is that in the last year, I’ve started to hear more and more professionals on the island start talking about climate change in public lectures. Mary Roper brought it up, when she talked at the Farrand Society.

Rodney:    Yeah.

Jenn:          I was just at John Richards’ and Sam Eliot’s talk [about the book they wrote about Little Long Pond.] They were talking about climate change at Little Long Pond … . Are you seeing effects up there [at Thuya]?

Rodney:    We were just talking about this. I’ve only been in Maine five years. I love it here … I grew up in North Carolina where you can plant in January, it just never stopped. When I first moved here, people didn’t plant until Memorial Day, and you sort of quit in late September. And I’m thinking, why are we quitting? Then all of a sudden in December everything freezes up and you realize why, but [now] everybody talks about, gosh the season’s really extending here into the fall. We’re seeing the seasons grow longer on the shoulders. I think, of course the red pine scale is the canary in the coal mine.

Jenn:          Oh yeah.

Rodney:    There will be no red pines left on the island. It’s just a matter of what’s next. When we were down on the Boothbay peninsula, there was [an] outbreak of the Hemlock woolly adelgid which is slowly making it’s way up the Maine coast. Someone told me, as a measuring stick, that the adelgid cannot survive minus-twenty [degrees], like minus-twenty is the killing point.

Jenn:          Wow. So, we’re not even getting that [cold] anymore.

Rodney:    No. The adelgid, I think is down near the Camden/ Rockland area, and slowly making it’s way up. It’s probably just a matter of time before we see the hemlock woolly adelgid on our native hemlock stands. There are only a few of them on the island, but still.

Jenn:          It’s going to be depressing.

Rodney:    It is. It is. [Like] the mid Atlantic when we were in Pennsylvania or even in the south, [where] so much of the native understory now is taken over by invasive exotics, because there’s really not a hard freeze that chokes them out. Here … there’s [still] predominately native vegetation.

Jenn:          I haven’t been hands-on involved with the plantings for a long time, but [as a landscape architect] I was seriously worried about the birch borer, and the viburnum beetle. I had stopped planting the native birches.

Rodney:    It’s tough. That, and you’re right about the viburnum leaf beetle.

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    Again, in Boothbay, we didn’t really plant viburnum for that reason. It’s nice to come here and see some viburnum.

Jenn:          But the problem with planting them is that they’re so much more vulnerable when they’re recently planted. It’s the same thing with the birches. The existing stands seem to have more resilience. But if you plant a birch … they just kept getting devastated. The yellows and grays seem to be tougher, but the paper birches, which is what we all love and want, I just stopped planting them. Which made me so sad.

Rodney:    Unfortunately, to deal with that, you either change species or you start using something like Merit, which is an insecticide, and inject the plant.

Jenn:          Yeah. It has to be systemic.

Rodney:    At the preserve we don’t use any artificial insecticides or pesticides. … It’s just a matter of species selection. You’re right, either the [plant] palette’s going to get really limited with climate change, or there’s got to be some flexibility, because, I don’t want to get off subject, but people [are against] GMO. I understand that standpoint from a food standpoint, but from a landscape adaptability/survivability standpoint, there’s got to be some research done with native species. And whether that’s finding certain characteristics of native stands and being able to breed that into others so that it can survive a certain climate, like the National Arboretum has been working for years on survivability of hemlocks.

Jenn:          And elm.

Rodney:    Right.

Jenn:          The whole … the Patriot elm and all that.

Rodney:    A buddy of mine, who’s the director down there, he’s like, “You want to see a slow process? Get into tree breeding.” Because you can’t release it until like twenty years. You have to breed it, you have to select, and then you have to watch its resistance before you bring it onto the market. He’s like, you could release one or two trees your whole career.

Yeah, those are some of the things that we’re starting to wonder. I would love to talk with someone who’s, say, at the Bio Lab, who’s looking at things under a microscope. What are the invasive biologicals that we can’t see with our eyes, but we can see under a microscope?

Jenn:          Oh, that’s a creepy thought.

Rodney:    How is that microscopic level changing with climate change?

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    The reason I bring that up is, a few years ago I saw at a conference, a lady was talking about diatoms, and she was talking about how there are healthy diatoms in water. She monitors the lakes around Florida and … Florida’s now being overrun with invasive diatoms from bilge water from other countries.

Jenn:          Wow.

Rodney:    At the microscopic level, the foreign diatoms can actually run out the native diatoms which affects the whole fish life cycle.

Jenn:          Yeah. We’re seeing stuff up here with bryozoans and tunicates.

Rodney:    Oh.

Jenn:          They’re not microscopic, but they’re fairly small creatures. We’re definitely getting some invasions of those. So yeah, it’s at every scale.

Rodney:    Yeah. Maybe there’s a summit that needs to occur at some point on MDI about the effects of climate change.

Jenn:          Probably wise, because a lot of things are going to happen. Like at the book talk [the other] night, they said just flat out, “When sea level rises, Little Long Pond is going to be a cove.” I was like, wow that’s hard to picture.

Rodney:    Yeah. Depending on what happens with the model. It’d be a tidal response, and what kind of engineering effects would go into place to either abate that or allow the ocean to flow more freely without Peabody Drive being washed out.

Jenn:          And that would be a trick. You’d need to do a bridge.

Rodney:    I know. I know. I mean, the sea wall holds it back to some extent in the winter time, but that’s managed. A friend of mine is the director of the botanical garden in Oklahoma, and a lot of their funding comes from families connected with petroleum. He cannot mention climate change. He is not allowed to acknowledge it or mention it.

Jenn:          That must be tough. Do you get any pressure?

Rodney:    No.

Jenn:          Good.

Rodney:    Not at all.

Jenn:          Yeah. I don’t understand how something so fundamental and world-changing has become so politically charged.

Rodney:    Yeah.

Jenn:          I mean, I do understand it, but it seems like even the people who don’t want us to acknowledge it are going to be affected by it. It seems like just self-preservation.

Rodney:    I don’t get it. I don’t get it.

Jenn:          I’m sorry. Didn’t want to go down that path.

Rodney:    No, that’s fine. I think if anything, thinking about these particular gardens, how’s the aesthetic going to be in the next fifteen to twenty years. I mean, the aesthetics of these gardens are predicated on either the asian style or this English-cottage style.

Jenn:          Yeah.

Rodney:    With longer seasons or warmer springs or variable temperature fluctuation, I think, if anything, we’ll need to have an area for trial and research if we want to maintain that aesthetic. What are some plants of maybe different cultivars or different species that would be able to maintain that aesthetic, or do we slowly shift the aesthetic to use plants which are more adaptable to this climate? Or the changing climate.

Jenn:          I think you’ll be able to keep the aesthetic in most cases.

Rodney:    Yeah.

Jenn:          Using warmer climate plants.

Rodney:    Sorry. It’s my kid texting me.

Jenn:          Have we taken too long? I know you’ve got a pretty full schedule.

Rodney:    It is four.

Jenn:          It is? Oh my gosh!

Rodney:    I’ve got to go. [We walked up to the start of the path.] Just ignore this bittersweet. One of our projects [as] part of the renewal of this [dock area] is to rethink the landscape, which is this amalgamation of natives and of exotics. It’s interesting that Farrand had dwarf spruce at Reef Point, and at some point Savage or one of his designees repeated that as these sentries. Over time they’re no longer dwarf spruces.

Jenn:          They’re a little out of scale now.

Rodney:    All right. See you later.

Jenn:          Thank you again.

Rodney:    My pleasure.


Baldwin, Letitia S. Thuya Garden: Asticou Terraces & Thuya Lodge. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008.

MacKenzie, Caitlin McDonough, “The Changing Flora of Mount Desert Island.” Chebacco, volume XVI, 2015.

Marchon, Matthew. The Acadia You Haven’t Seen. CreateSpace, 2017.

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.

Vandenburgh, Lydia and Shettleworth, Earle G., Jr. Revisiting Seal Harbor and Acadia National Park. Arcadia Publishing, 1997.

Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. Random House, 2015.



Another photo of the path from Asticou Dock to Seal Harbor, looking back at Asticou Dock.


















Coast Walk 17: Bracy Cove to Roberts Point

As you can see in the map below, there was a huge chunk of coastline between Bracy Cove and Little Harbor Brook I wasn’t able to access. The largest landowner in the area is the Rockefeller family, and sadly, David Rockefeller, Sr. passed away this past March. It felt utterly tactless to contact people involved with the family, so after a few awkward attempts, I decided to skip the property. The rest of this section was composed of narrow properties squeezed between the road and the shore, so there were an awful lot of people to contact. Many letters went unanswered, a couple were returned as undeliverable, and a few people were worried that allowing photos of their property would encourage strangers to trespass [ed.note: DON’T TRESPASS].

Permissions for this section of the coast came in irregularly and I walked each as soon as possible since everyone was about to arrive for the season, so there were a lot of very short segments. I also broke my own rule about walking the sections consecutively – I went back and forth as permissions came in – with the predictable result that my mental picture of the coast there is confused. I’m so tempted to just hop in a kayak and cover some territory!

Since I didn’t walk the area in geographical order, and I also had one landowner who gave permission on the condition that I not identify the property in any way, I’ve been debating on how to present the walk to you. I’ve decided to give the meteorological data and wildlife observations for each day up front, and then present the photos more or less in geographic order. I’m also hoping that helps me sort out the geography in my own mind!

So here you go:

May 17, 10:15-11:15am. Sunny, warm, 65 or 70ºF/21ºC (I forgot to take note at the start), with light wind from the south. Unusually warm for May.

May 18, 10:15am-12:45pm. Sunny, hot (I forgot to note the temperature at the start but it was 82ºF/28ºC at the end.) 82º is ridiculously hot for May in Maine, which is not summer for us, but late spring. Mallard, cormorant, several herring gulls, dog whelks.

May 19, 11am-12:15pm. Sunny, some cumulus clouds, 82ºF/28ºC, light wind from west that turned into a stiff breeze, thank goodness, because it was way too hot. Immature Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), loon, several herring gulls, and a gazillion Dog Whelks.

May 20, noon- about 1pm. 61ºF/16ºC, sunny and cloudless with light wind from the west. This is a much more normal temperature for the time of year.

I started the walk with my old friend Lisa Burton, who you met way back in Coast Walk 3. We were testing a new voice recorder that I had bought with my Kindling Fund grant. Up until now I’ve been using my iPhone either pinned to the front of my jacket or in a pocket: it picks up my own voice just fine but often loses my companion if we get a little too far apart, or the waves are loud, or there are crunchy rocks underfoot.

I’m trying to find a recording solution that won’t require wires or large recording devices, and hoped this would do it. I need something hands-free and light that’s reasonably comfortable for other people to wear. A wireless mike and receiver set is crazy expensive and still needs a recorder, which is a lot of gear to haul around. I’m also reluctant to put that kind of money into something I use while scrambling around tidepools in all kinds of weather. It turned out the recorder is just a little too long to fit comfortably in a pocket, so I need to make a pouch of some sort.

This is Ascophyllum nodosum, and the bright orange spots are conceptacles, part of the plant’s reproductive system. They are only visible in the spring.


(Seaside Plantain) Plantago maritima

Lisa: Some of these whelks are huge. … What is going on here? Are they mating? Is it dead?

Jenn: Maybe one is eating the other? Can you hold that while I get a shot?

Lisa:  I’m just trying to see if we can see how it’s attached. [One whelk dropped off and plopped back in the tide pool.]

Jenn: It escaped.

Lisa   Maybe they were mating. … You guys can go back to being however friendly you want to be.

Jenn: Cannibalism or sex, your choice.

[Lisa looked into a deep crevice under a boulder.]

Lisa:  Maybe they were trying to have a puppy pile. There’s a puppy pile of whelks under here and maybe there’s eggs. I think those are eggs.

Jenn: I’ve gotta see that.

Lisa:  It’s a little slidy.

Jenn: I appreciate you finding that out for me.

Lisa:  Yes, you can see whelk eggs down in there for sure. … I’ll move out of the way and you can slide down in here. If you look under there, there’s a whole bunch and then there some more way up under in there. They’re all over the place. Let me get out of your way. The smooth part does not have barnacles. …  No grip.

Jenn: I’ll start sliding from up here. Ooh, wow, yeah, that’s slippery.


Lisa:  …. That doesn’t look very comfortable.

[The whelks were in a deep crevice under a large boulder, so I was curled up on my side with my lower legs in a tide pool, trying to get both arms in position to aim the camera into the crevice.

Jenn: It’s a little bit better since I removed the periwinkle I was sitting on. If I only had a little bit less midsection, this would be so much easier. All the big eggs are on the ceiling of that little cave. … OK, I think that’s all we can do. Phew! Thank you for finding that.

Lisa:  No problem. Doing my best to pay my way.

Jenn: You are so good.

Lisa:  As long as I don’t lose the chatterbox. I don’t want to waste your grant money.

Jenn: I appreciate that.

The two whelks at the back are mating, and the one at center is laying eggs.


Research topic No.1: whelk sex.  I swear, I do more research now than I did in grad school.  “Hundreds [of whelk babies] are laid in capsules although only 6% are fertile. Only these give rise to mini-adults whose first meal is the unfertile eggs in their capsule.”  Whelks = sex + cannibalism.

Lisa:  So many [whelks!]

Jenn: They’re all boring white ones. My favorite are when they’re bumble bee striped.

Lisa:  Right, well that’s their diet.

Jenn: Is it?

Lisa:  Did you know that? No?

Jenn: No, I never knew.

Lisa:  Striped ones have a varied diet.

Research topic No.2, dog whelk color. I wasn’t able to find anything definite on causes of color variation in dog whelks, although various sources say it is related to diet, location, and/or stress. I did find this, and although it refers to a different species (the dog whelks we were examining are Nucella lapillus and the ones in the article are Nassarius trivittatus) it does give some idea of how diet might affect shell color: “The color and shape of the New England dog whelk differs depending on the geographical location and the prey consumed. Those that eat mussels are predominately dark reddish brown, while whelks that consume barnacles are white to light yellowish-brown.”   I wonder why other whelk species don’t show this color variation. Or do they, and I’ve just never seen it? If you know more about this, send me info!

I couldn’t find any information about what kind of prey gives them stripes.


Jenn: Now I’m soaked.

Lisa:  I’m pretty wet too. It’s okay. It’s a 90 degree day. If there’s any day to be soaking wet in the ocean, today is the day.

Jenn:  I’d never choose to be soaking wet in jeans.

Lisa:  I know. I thought about it. I was like, “Oh, skirt and leggings?” “No, jeans.”

Jenn:  Because barnacles.

Lisa:  Right.


Jenn:          I would not have expected to find mussels here. [Ed.Note: they were in the stream, which was unexpected because it was brackish water]

Lisa:  Mussels are having a hard time… . I know on Rick Shoeffler’s island, they used to have tons of mussels. Their beaches are full of mussel shells but there are no more mussels.

Jenn: Any guesses what’s causing it?

Lisa:  I don’t know. There used to be tons and tons and now there are near none.

Jenn: I’m not seeing them as much as I used to. I would have expected more on this shore line.

Lisa:  There’s a bunch right in here. Maybe it’s just protected or it’s … a temperature thing. With the ocean temperatures going higher, maybe this is colder water. …

Jenn  Maybe there are fewer predators here.

As we walked up the mouth of the stream, we realized that it formed an oddly symmetrical mound, and spent some time walking over and around it, trying to figure out how it had formed. There are two streams running into the estuary – one to the left in the above photo that comes from a small culvert under the road, and the other to the right that runs under the bridge.

Lisa:  Maybe it’s a midden.

Jenn: That would be cool. This would’ve been a good place for [a settlement].

Lisa:  You would think.

Research topic No.3 Indigenous settlement. Nope. I started by hunting around to see if there was any record of Wabanaki settlement here, because the fresh water and the little sheltered harbor looked like a prime summer camp area (from my admittedly tiny knowledge of such things.) Nothing. It’s not shown as a known archaeological site in Asticou’s Island Domain, and it’s not mentioned as a possible carry route there or in Pathmakers (see the bibliography at the end of this post.)

Research topic No.4, European settlement. We are about to enter into the narrative territory of the Savage family. Remember how John D. Rockefeller popped up on every single Coast Walk from Schooner Head to Bracy Cove? It’s about to get like that with the Savages, starting right here at Little Harbor Brook. John Savage (1756-1816), a Scottish immigrant, and his wife, Sarah Dolliver (1764-1851) moved to MDI and in 1798 built “a primitive log cabin structure near the East side of Harbor Brook where it outlets into the ocean. There still exist some Savage gravestones on the West side of Harbor Brook … “[Samuel Savage McGee, “Early Settlement.”] Seems like that would put it near the location of the house (in the trees to the left) in the photo above. I’m not sure how long John and Sarah lived at Little Harbor Brook, but in 1820 one of their sons bought the land at the head of Northeast Harbor that became the village of Asticou and the present site of the Asticou Inn. (We’ll return to the Savage family in future posts.)

One of the property owners I spoke to said he’d been told by Bob Pyle (the Northeast Harbor librarian until 2011) that his place had been “Part of the old Ox cart path to Seal Harbor.” Well that sent me off on a hunt through all my old maps, and though I never found it referred to that way, Peabody Drive seems to have been built more or less in its current configuration between 1836 and 1866. I need to do more research on it, but since I’ve been writing this post for 4 months, I figured I’d better hit ‘publish’ and keep moving.


Mount Desert Island, USC&GS, 1875. Library of Congress.

This is the oldest map I’ve found (1875) with good detail – you can see that the road already runs across the mouth of Little Harbor Brook, and there’s a structure shown right on the shore of the point, where Lisa and I were speculating about a midden and where the Savage log cabin may have been (although it’s unlikely the cabin was still standing almost 80 years later.)

“Mount Desert and Adjacent Islands,” Colby & Stuart, 1887. Library of Congress.

Twelve years later, there are a few more houses, there are 3 structures shown on the ocean side of the road and at least one is labeled “Fish House.” The coastline is greatly simplified in this map (less accurately drawn).

Hand-drawn “Map of Mount Desert Island,” 1887, Colby & Stuart. Courtesy of the Northeast Harbor Library archives.

Even though this map is dated the same year as the last one, the shoreline seems to be much more carefully drawn, showing the peculiar ‘hook’ of land at the mouth of Little Harbor Brook that perplexed us, and also clarifying that the 2 structures are both fish houses belonging to Jason Clement the 2nd. Also note that 2 properties are identified as “President Eliot.” We’ll come back to that.

“Mount Desert Island,” Rand, 1893. Library of Congress.

In 1893, the mouth of the brook and the brook itself are labeled for the first time as Little Harbor and Little Harbor Brook. The various points – Roberts, Savages, Pierce –  have also been named for the first time (at least in print.) The dotted line shows the shore at low tide, a very unusual feature in terrestrial maps.

This map doesn’t relate directly to European settlement – I’m just including it because it’s cool:

A Study of Summer Visitors’ Facilities in the Town of Mount Desert, Maine, 1964. Image courtesy of the MDI Historical Society. (015.FIC.01)



Back to the Walk:

Lisa:  I have to say it’s relatively free of plastic debris. Did you see … somebody did an art sculpture of a baleen whale out of garbage and filled its mouth with all this colored plastic. It was a sculpture. It was totally an art piece about plastic in the ocean. It’s pretty intense. I’ll see if I can find it.

Jenn: I would like to see that.

More about the beached whale sculpture here:

Jenn: Let me go first because I’ve got waterproof shoes. Are your sneakers up for this?

Lisa:  I’m up for it. You can see the freshwater mixing …

Jenn: It gets all fuzzy.

Lisa:  It’s making it blurry, the freshwater.

Jenn: That’s so cool. I can’t photograph that.

Research Topic No.5: Halocline  Nope, I couldn’t get a photo, but where the fresh water flows into the salt water, even though each one separately is clear, there’s a zone where they meet that looks blurry. Not cloudy, mind you, there’s no sediment. It has to do with the difference in refraction between salt and fresh water (They have different densities and bend light differently.)

Jenn: What is that?

Lisa:  That looks like a penguin.

Jenn: It does look like a penguin.

Lisa:  It is a penguin.

Jenn: A cutout of a penguin?

Lisa:  No, like a brass penguin perhaps. We should walk over to it.

Jenn: … Pull the map out and see how far we can go.

Lisa:  Here we go.

Jenn: Wow. We can go … No, wait. That’s the other-

Lisa:  We’re going …

Jenn: We’re here.

Lisa:  We can go all the way around that point.

Jenn: Yeah.

Lisa:  We’ve got tons of …

Jenn: The next people were a ‘definitely no.’ We’re bracketed by severe no’s. [So we had to be careful not to trespass.]  I think we’re somewhere along here.

Lisa:  Right in here. I don’t think we’ve gone that far. We’ve passed the house. Where does it say the house is?

Jenn: It doesn’t but I think the house is here.

Lisa:  We might be there. We’re not out past this.

Jenn: You’re right.

[We tried to figure out where we were relative to the property lines. Sometimes the shape of the land is so different at low tide from what is shown on the map that it’s hard to orient yourself. I should have brought a map that showed the houses on the lots! ]

Lisa:  Maybe the penguin marks … It looks like this is the point right here.

Jenny:        I think you’re right.

Lisa:  I think we can still go see the penguin. … Where is that map again? Now that we can see the lay of the land.

Jenny:        It’s weird. It doesn’t seem to match up very well.

Lisa:  No.

Jenn: It feels like that’s the end of the point but maybe it’s before low tide.

Lisa:  Maybe. It could be that this is but still, I think we can go to that little beach right there and then I think probably the property line comes down because that’s …

[We decided to play it safe and not go up to the penguin; when I got back and looked at more detailed maps, I realized we’d cut the walk much shorter than it had to be. Nuts.]

Lisa:  That is so cool how that green gets like thick hair. Very thin, old man hair. One of the Three Stooges.

Jenn: It’s like a comb over. Now the periwinkle haven’t started eating it yet which is really weird.

Lisa:  The periwinkle what?

Jenn: Haven’t started eating. Usually the periwinkles eat tracks right through that stuff.

Jenn: You know what we need to do, now that we’re sweaty and gross? Selfie time!

Lisa:  Okay. [Ed.note: Lisa is a good sport.]

Jenn: I think I’m done with walking on rocks for the day. (My knees and ankles were getting sore.)

Lisa:  I haven’t been out in a long time. … I’m gonna be sunburned.

[So we quit for the day, and I was on my own for the other parts of the walk.)

Research Topic No.6: Coffeepot

Eventually I arrived at Coffeepot, the Pierce family cottage. The shoreline had been slowly rising into ever-steeper cliffs, so Ben Pierce helped me find my way down to the shore.

The cottage gets its name from this silver coffeepot made by Benjamin Burt around 1770-1780:

It was given to Charles William Eliot when he was President of Harvard University. Eliot’s summer home was on the other side of Peabody Drive, and in 1917 he sold the coffeepot and used the proceeds to build this cottage. Ben is writing an article on both coffeepots for the 2018 issue of Chebacco, the journal of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society. Stay tuned to learn more! I’ll also point you toward the article “A Russian in Retrospect: Lev Vladimir Goriansky” by Carl Little in the 2004 Chebacco. Goriansky was an architect and painter who married one of Eliot’s granddaughters and designed several additions to Coffeepot.

This cave was like the Playboy Mansion of whelks and periwinkles.

The four days of this Coast Walk happened over that point in May when spring gains momentum and you can almost see the new leaves unfurling and flowers opening.


Coming up next we’re going to have a change of format. (This project really is a work in progress!) As I mentioned earlier, I received a grant from the Kindling Fund this year, and a large portion of it was earmarked for transcription services for the interviews. I need to use that by the end of 2017, so I’m interviewing people in areas well ahead of the point I’ve reached on the ground. At the moment, I’m planning to publish those interviews here as they happen, so you guys have something to read while I’m plugging away on permissions for the next section, and then work them in to the Walk when I finally catch up to myself. I’ve met with some really cool people already, and can’t wait to share the interviews with you! Let’s see how this works…




Library of Congress maps are available online.

map: “Mount Desert Island,” USC&GS, 1875. Library of Congress.

map: “Mount Desert and Adjacent Islands,” Colby & Stuart, 1887. Library of Congress.

map: “Mount Desert Island,” Rand, 1893. Library of Congress.

Hand-drawn “Map of Mount Desert Island,” Colby & Stuart, 1887. Image courtesy of the Northeast Harbor Library Archives

“Path Map of the Eastern Part of Mount Desert Island, Maine,” Bates, Rand and Jaques, 1911. Library of Congress.

Brown, Margaret Coffin and Vekasi, Jim, Pathmakers: Cultural Landscape Report for the Historic Hiking Trail System of Mount Desert Island, Boston, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, 2006. Available as download here.

Little, Carl, “A Russian in Retrospect: Lev Vladimir Goriansky,” Chebacco, 2004.

Prins, Harald and McBride, Bunny, Asticou’s Island Domain: Wabanaki Peoples at Mount Desert Island 1500-2000, vol. 2. Boston, National Park Service, 2007.

James W. Sewall Company, A Study of Summer Visitors’ Facilities in the Town of Mount Desert, Maine, 1964. Spiral-bound report prepared for the Summer-Year Round Resident Planning Committee of the Mount Desert Chamber of Commerce. [MDI Historical Society 015.FIC.01]

Dogwhelk (Nucella lapillus). Field Studies Council (no date). Web. 24 Sept., 2017. Retrieved from

New England Dog Whelk (Nassarius trivittatus). University of Rhode Island Environmental Data Center (no date). Web. 24 Sept., 2017. Retrieved from

McGee, Samuel Savage, They Should Have Constructed their Buildings on Wheels: Early Settlement. Maine Memory Network (April 2013). Web. 1 October, 2017. Retrieved from
































Addendum – Little Long Pond

Samuel Eliot and John Rivers have just published a new book called Little Long Pond: A Field Guide to Four Seasons. There are chapters on the ecology of the pond, the history of the area, and the pond’s future. With hundreds of photos by John Rivers and other local photographers, it’s really a beautiful book!

Copies are available at McGraths in Northeast Harbor and from the authors, 276-3665.


Eliot, Samuel A. and Rivers, John R. Little Long Pond: A Field Guide to Four Seasons. Blurb Inc., 2016.


Porcia and the Gulls

Herring gull chick. Photo credit: Porcia Manandhar


In May of 2015 I was five months into the Coast Walk and had just started to pay attention to the gulls. When I’m curious about something, I generally broadcast it far and wide as I have a lot of very clever and ridiculously knowledgeable friends and I never know which of them is going to point me in the right direction. In this case, Darron Collins introduced me to Porcia Manandhar, who at the time was a student at the College of the Atlantic. She had spent the previous summer banding gull chicks on Great Duck Island and Mount Desert Rock as part of a research program led by John Anderson, professor of zoology and ecology at COA. We had a fascinating talk, which, since it wasn’t directly related to the shoreline of MDI, unfortunately got buried in the avalanche of information and adventure that followed. I recently ran into Porcia, who graduated from COA this past June and is now a research fellow at the Jackson Laboratory, and was reminded of what a lively and interesting interview she’d given me. In the intervening time, I’d also received a grant from the Kindling Fund that covers transcription services for Coast Walk interviews, so instead of spending six hours painstakingly transcribing the audio I was able to dig out the original recording and send it off. I got it back last week, so with many apologies to Porcia for the delay, here it is:

Porcia:   I had never seen the ocean in my entire life.

Jenn:      Where did you grow up?

Porcia:   I grew up in Nepal, and this is the first time I saw the ocean, and I am living right next to it! But I spent the whole summer on two islands, and it was great, and I banded birds… . I was very nervous but then my professors were like, ‘Oh it’s more like research, just go, you don’t have any commitments, you just discover things.’ And that’s how I fell in love with it; oh, field research is fun. And I came in with an interest in medicine and now I’m thinking about field medicine sort of thing.

Jenn:      Cool.

Porcia:   … Even just walking around campus I can see herring gulls, and when I heard them for the first time in winter I was freaking out. I was like, ‘I know that call.’ … I heard that the entire summer and I know their behavior, and even though this is not Great Duck or Mount Desert Rock where they’re more … wild, they somehow act the same way even here, which is really nice. Banding gulls in the beginning [was] kind of hard for me, because I never grew up with pets, and never had a living thing in my hand. And the first few days when I was taught banding, and how to grab the chick, we had to keep the eyes closed so that they don’t freak out and everything, but it was so scary because I could hear their heart beat. And that [would] go so high and I was like I don’t really want to do this because I’m scaring this little chick.

Jenn: You’re afraid you’re going to hurt them?

Porcia: Yeah, that was my main scare, I think. And banding is very – you are using pincers to lock the band and it was very scary that I would just sometimes lose my strength or something would happen, but my professor was always there until I got through, until I was comfortable enough. In the first few days I was like, ‘How can you do this to a bird!’ … and I could literally question myself if I should be doing that. But then when I talked to … my professor, John Andersen, and he … told a lot of stories [about] how he felt, and it was a similar way. But he also made us realize it’s important that you do it, because … people are like ‘Oh gulls are pests …, they’re annoying, and they yell all the time,’ but …  his data which he collected for more than fifteen/sixteen years showed that the gull population has been declining in the Gulf of Maine, and these two islands are the only two places where the population is stable. … It was interesting, out of eight or nine islands only these two islands where the gull population was stable.

J: Do you know why?

P: … We still don’t know. But one of the things, at least what happened on Great Duck last year was that Hurricane Arthur came in. Even though it wasn’t a big hit to the mainland we evacuated the island for 3 days or so, and when we went back, the chicks I banded, I found 11 of the banded chicks dead and more than 23 gull chicks dead. And all of them were hypothermic. I didn’t expect it, but I should have thought of it. … They don’t have their waxed feathers yet. They don’t have their primary feathers or secondary feathers. Just down. So it’s very easy to figure out these chicks died because of … hypothermia, and a lot of them were trying to hide inside rock cracks, and most of them were siblings, because we banded them. Usually siblings have the same number, like 24, 23, 22 – they have the same serial numbers, and we also note down which nest these chicks are from so that when we normally go and check on 40 nests at least, and check on the chicks and take their weight and their head-to-beak size and see their growth and how quickly they gain weight or how slowly. Just to keep track of if we have … healthy chicks, and when the hurricane came a lot of chicks died and … I was just … Usually I would go and put on bands, but at that time I was taking off bands.

Jenn: That’s so sad.

Porcia:   So many of them.

Jenn:  What did the gull parents do during the hurricane?

Porcia:  They normally try to … it rained for a whole day or two, [and] the gulls are fine just sitting … but their chicks even if they’re protecting it, they will get wet, because they normally nest on … bare rocks, rock cracks, and on vegetation, so… if the water comes out from the vegetation, it will just [run into the cracks]. I feel like the parents tried to put them inside cracks and places where there isn’t much rain, but the nests and the chicks are also … in the intertidal, so the sea level rose a lot, too. And right after we went back to Great Duck and I saw this, we were wondering … what happened at Mount Desert Rock, because Mount Desert Rock is just a rock. There’s no vegetation. And that place is, if there’s low tide, it’s five acres, and if there’s high tide, it’s three acres. But when we went back it was worse, the water had come … I think 20/30 meters away from the house, from the research station we had. There’s a huge crack in front of the house, and the land … forms, like, a ledge, this high and this high, so this part was completely drowned. The water came very high up, and those were the places where most nests were. …

Jenn: Oh no, did you lose them all?

Porcia: Yeah. … And it was the same situation. All the siblings were rushing to one end, and there [was] more rain later when I moved to Mount Desert Rock, and the same thing happened. Not as intensively as I would think because I wasn’t there for the hurricane, in Mount Desert Rock, but during the time when the rain came we didn’t come out of the house for three days, because it was so windy, so rainy, so chilly, and a lot of the chicks died at that time. …

Jenn: That must have been devastating, to band them and get to know them and have them all die like that.

Porcia: Yeah, and you know chicks. Some of them are so sassy, and you know … there were these two chicks right outside of our house in Mount Desert Rock. I think my friend named two of them Igor and Bruno. … They [didn’t] care if we were there, they just yelled at us, and they [were] right outside the door. And they [were] black-backed chicks, so they are big.

Jenn:      Oh, gosh.

Porcia:   Yeah. And they are very hostile to other tiny herring gull chicks, and … when it’s very sunny on the boardwalk they try to fly. But they are the laziest chicks. They don’t go hunt even though they know how to fly. And their mom lives right on top of the roof of the doorway. They just beg for food all the time.

Jenn:      And does she give it to them?

Porcia:   She does it. But then again, that’s why they go after the herring gull chicks.

Jenn:      To take their food?

Porcia:   Yeah, to take their food. If you scare the herring gulls they puke out. They puke out all the food that they store in their necks. Also they, they were just really lazy. But a bully kind of. They were fun too. Igor and Bruno. … One of them got sick at the end of the season. And then we didn’t see him. My friend was also … The same friend who gave them names … She was doing an intertidal study and looking at plankton and stuff. And when she was doing [that] she normally sits outside for the sun to help her look into their slides and stuff … and at that time she forgot her pipette outside. … And next thing you know one of the gull chicks, those two, one of them had taken it in and was running around. So we went after that chick and finally got it out. It was glass.

Jenn:      It swallowed it?

Porcia:   It couldn’t swallow it. It was just sticking out of his beak.

Jenn:      Oh my god.

Porcia:   And they’re so hard to catch when they … run.

Jenn:      They sound kind of like human kids.

Porcia:   Yeah. Definitely.

Jenn:      Getting in trouble, putting things in their mouth.

Porcia:   Oh yeah.

Jenn:      … How did you end up doing this?

Porcia:   Well, I took human anatomy class with John Anderson. He studied medicine during his undergraduate years along with ecology and stuff, and I took those two classes, and I wasn’t … I just came from home, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go home after a year, because going home is expensive. And it’s kind of far, and I don’t like the plane rides.

Jenn:      I don’t blame you.

Porcia:   I don’t like the layovers. They are so long and tiring. I was like … I can do anything. I don’t have any plans. I first got accepted to the Mount Desert Rock thing, but then one of the people who were going to Great Duck dropped out, and they [said], “Do you want to do both islands?” I was like, if it’s possible.

So, Mr. Sean Todd, he takes care of Mount Desert Rock. And Mr. John takes care of Great Duck, so Mr. John trained me in the first seven weeks. And I came back for a week or so, and then I went back to Mount Desert Rock until the school started.

Jenn:      Must have been amazing.

Porcia:   Yeah. It was such a great experience. … On Great Duck we have an outhouse which we built ourselves.

Jenn:      Oh my gosh.

Porcia:   It was interesting how it survived the hurricane. One of the U.S. Marine people took a picture of it during the winter … End of winter and beginning of spring, and they sent a picture, and the outhouse was standing. That’s the last-

Jenn:      I guess you guys did a good job with it.

Porcia:   Yeah. [The] outhouse always falls apart at the beginning of every season, but this season, it was standing, so we were impressed.

Jenn:      And what happens to the waste?

Porcia:   The waste … So, in Great Duck there’s soil.

Jenn:      Oh, okay.

Porcia:   But in Mount Desert rock there isn’t. In Mount Desert Rock we have incinerating bathrooms. … Everything just bubbles inside that bathroom once we turn it on. It’s really gross, but you have to do what you have to do. … We collect waste … We have a bathroom, but it’s a bucket bathroom. So, we carry the waste every two days or so. And we put it in an incinerating bathroom. … It’s like a half a day process to burn everything. It just turns into these few grams of carbon. That’s it.

Jenn:      And you just sprinkle it like soil or something?

Porcia:   Yeah, and it’s done.

Jenn:      That’s just amazing.

Porcia:   Yeah, Mount Desert Rock only has some seaside rose. Is that what people call them?

Jenn:      Mm-hmm. The rugosas?

Porcia:   Yeah, the rugosas, the Chinese rugosas, and Mount Desert Rock only has two colors, one color actually. It only has dark pink and pink, I think. But Great Duck has white ones and pink and all of them. But Great Duck is vegetated and Mount Desert is not.

Jenn:      How did the roses get out there?

Porcia:   We have no idea. It’s very interesting … And also the roses are always closer to the house area, toward the ledges there aren’t many.

Jenn:      I wonder if the keeper planted them.

Porcia:   Yeah, probably. As far as I know the gulls didn’t nest there when the lighthouse keeper was there because he had a dog. … I think once they [left] the gulls started nesting there. Maybe the gulls nested there all the time, like, before humans came there.

Jenn:      Yeah.

Porcia:   And then there was a dog, and there was a brief moment where there [weren’t] any gulls. But there are many gulls there now. And normally by the time we get to Mount Desert Rock it’s sort of like the ending season of herring gull nesting and nesting season. By that time all the black-backs are big, and they only hang out in the ledges. But the herring gulls are the ones who hang out closer towards the house, and they’re still growing, still feeding.

Jenn:      So this is, what, June?

Porcia:   … No, this is the beginning of August.

Jenn:      Oh, okay. So you go out there pretty late.

Porcia:   Yeah. Great Duck is from June to end of July. … And then we start Mount Desert Rock until the beginning of September.

Jenn:      Are the gulls annoyed when you get there?

Porcia:   They scream a lot. One of the things, when we go out to the field, it’s very exhausting to catch the chick, yes? But the other exhausting part is to handle the parents. It’s very difficult because they dive bomb on you, and it hurts really bad. … They aim for the head.

Jenn:      Are they hitting you with their beaks?

Porcia:   They come down with their beaks but they scratch with their claws.

Jenn:      Ow, that would hurt.

Porcia:   But they do hit the eagles with the beaks when the eagles come in. But the eagles are mostly there in Great Duck.

Jenn: Are there a lot of eagles?

Porcia:   The bald eagle nesting site … There’s a tiny island [near Great Duck] called Little Duck where the eagles nest. And one of Mr. John’s projects, or his long term project was to look at the gull and the eagle and how they interact. And when the eagle comes to the gull colony, … the entire gull colony goes up to the sky. … They’re everywhere. And they scream so much that even though we’re sitting inside talking and playing music while cooking you can hear the gulls scream.

Jenn:      Oh my gosh.

Porcia:   So, once we hear that we’re like, there’s an eagle. And we go out and with our binoculars, we try to find the eagle and see if it took any chicks or not. Normally we note down all of the eagle sightings, too. There were many eagle sightings this year, and mostly it’s parents and juveniles. Sometimes the juveniles come along with their parents when the eagle is teaching their young ones to hunt. Just a few years ago one of the students, Kate Shlepr, … found a relation in which the eagle sighting went up but the gull population went down.

Jenn:      The gulls are leaving or getting eaten?

Porcia:   Getting eaten, actually. One of the times when I was banding the east side of the research station …, I went one afternoon because I didn’t have much to do, so I just went to find chicks. … I was looking for the chicks, running after them, and I finally catch [one], and I look up, and the whole colony’s up. I was like, wait, this is not [because of] me, what happened? It’s a different feeling when you’re … in the middle of it when everyone goes up. It’s different when you … sit there in the house and look for the eagle. There’s a difference between where you are.

Jenn:      Like being inside of a storm?

Porcia:   Yeah. … When you’re inside the gull colony, and the eagles come in, [as opposed to] when you’re outside the gull colony when the eagles come in. I think I became much more frazzled. I got so much more tense myself when all the gulls went up. I’m like, wait, what did I do? I just caught a chick. I do this every single day. The only gulls that are chasing after me are the parents. Next thing I didn’t see anything, I’m still searching, and this black thing just goes up, and it was just ten meters away from me, and it caught a chick and went away. It was a juvenile. It was so big. And that was the first time I saw an eagle that up close. It’s kind of crazy.

Jenn:      They’re huge birds.

Porcia:   They’re huge. And it was so easy for them to catch this really fat chick, actually. I would say he’s 800, 900 grams [Ed. Note: almost 2 lbs.]

Jenn:      So they’re after the chicks and not the parents?

Porcia:   The parents are very – they will go after the eagle. Most of the times … That was only the first time I saw an eagle catch a chick. But most of the time they have failed attempts in which all the parents go after the eagle and they dive bomb on their head and … they hit with their beaks. And that really hurts, because the eagle goes haywire when it’s flying. It just goes in the wrong direction and comes back. The eagles are very persistent too. Until and unless they go away from the colony, [the gulls] keep going after the eagle. … At least three or four gulls go after one eagle until the very end, until it goes all the way to Little Duck. And these eagles are very sneaky, too. In the research area, the southern end, there aren’t … [many] trees, but there’s a huge patch of trees in the middle of the island, and it’s very dense. And that’s the place where the eagle just looks at the gull chicks, from a distance, and once it has an in, then it goes after [the chick.] Always at the end of the season it’s that one vertical patch of trees where the eagles come in.

Jenn:      So, how many gulls are in these colonies? How big is it?

Porcia:   At least 1,000 pairs, I would say.

Jenn:      Oh my gosh. I had no idea it was that big. That must be incredible when they’re all up in the air.

Porcia:   Yeah.

Porcia:   But there are two colonies … I mean, there are many colonies [that] for our own research purposes we divided into different colonies. But mostly it’s the north end and the south end. And when we count the south end sometimes we get about 600 gulls. And every morning 7:00 we do counts. … So, it’s safe to say 1,000 pairs.

Jenn:      Wow. And the same on Mount Desert Rock?

Porcia:   Mount Desert Rock has around 600, 700 gulls. I also brought my field book. I realized that I ran out of pages. This was my field book from this season. So, we would always have counts every morning.

Jenn:      Oh, I see.

Porcia:   Herring gulls, black-backed gulls, eiders, guillemots. All six, seven of us who are on the island have to wake up by 7:00. Mr. John give us the wake up call in that small staircase that we have, … “It’s 7:00, everyone come to the tower, another day in paradise,” and we’re like, ‘Oh no, we just went to sleep.’ But we have to be up in the tower by 7:00. And [during] the tower count, we count every single bird species we see and then we consult with each other and our numbers and take the best ones. These were all the head to beak counts. For my project on Mount Desert in which I still need to decide how to analyze the data, this was how I divided the island, was going to look at the island. Just sectioning the island.

Jenn:      I see.

Porcia:   It’s an oval shaped island. So now if you go there there are yellow dots in four different directions that I made every ten meters on the rock.

Jenn:      Oh, cool. So, you can kind of orient yourself.

Porcia:   Because Great Duck is big, and you would think that it’s much harder to count gulls, but Mount Desert Rock is, if you go up the tower, is right in the middle. So, you get overwhelmed with the number of white dots you see. … It’s very difficult to count and [there are no] landmarks. At least in Great Duck we’re like, oh, there’s the tower house, and the [generator] shed, and from gen shed to that corner it’s this many gulls. We can divide it.

Jenn:      Right. Big landmarks.

Porcia:   I got so frustrated and overwhelmed the first day I was counting up from the tower. I have to divide this area, or else it’s very hard. And all these marks are from the banding. … We have two kind of bands. One is the metal bands and the other is the plastic bands. The metal bands are the federal bands, and the plastic bands are more, it signifies the area where they come from. … If you see a gull with a blue band or a black band and you know the number in it, and number are very big and only three letters, then you can go onto the banding [web]site, the government banding site, and write the number and you’ll know where that chick was born and where it was banded. In Great Duck last season we had adult gulls that [were] nesting and one was from 2009 or 2012, but it was at least four years older. The bird came back to where it was banded in Mount Desert Rock, and it was “A” something. And that was the first batch of color bands that we had banded. So, it came back to Great Duck to nest this year. And had a chick, two chicks actually. Had two chicks, one of them was fine, the other had a broken wing. I don’t know if the chick survived, but it was alive until the last day we left. But that gull has come back, and we had an adult with a black band. …He was from the Isle of Shoals. …This winter, I think we heard back from the banding agency twice, and the first time they found a gull in Connecticut. Some bird enthusiast there was looking at this chick and he noted down the number on his metal band, which is a lot tinier. And he’s like, “Oh, we have seen your bird. It’s healthy.” He even sent us a picture of it.

Jenn:      Oh my gosh. Like baby pictures.

Porcia:   Yeah. It’s a year old and it’s fat. We just banded it from Mount Desert Rock. Another bird from Mount Desert Rock was found in New York State.

Jenn:      How far do the gulls go?

Porcia:   They do go down to Florida and warmer places.

Jenn:      I didn’t realize that herring gulls migrated.

Porcia:   The islands go away. The whole of the colony goes away at the same time, or similar time. We were kind of surprised to see eggs yesterday. There were 38 nests and at least ten of them had three eggs in one nest.

Jenn:      So, is that early?

Porcia:   Yeah. It was pretty early, because normally the black-backed are the ones which nest earlier, but there were only six black-backed nests that I saw. And all of them had three eggs. And there were a lot of color differences in the eggs, too, which I wonder why. I’ve yet to ask my professor, but there were the ones that were like heavily spotted black, [and] there were the ones which were like eider eggs, very white. Like duck eggs. I was like, “Oh, interesting.” But one of the things that people will find different in the two islands is the nesting material. The ones in Mount Desert Rock mostly have seaweed in all of them.

Jenn:      Oh, that makes sense.

Porcia:   Yeah. And the ones in Great Duck have hay kind of thing, like … dried twigs and grass. Some of the nests, I think these are just first year parents or so, they lay their eggs on bare rock.

Jenn:      That’s kind of dangerous.

Porcia:   Yeah. And they clearly would not survive. Last year one of the things I saw, … that I noticed personally was it was very easy for eggs to break on Mount Desert Rock, because they would just tumble and fall, and it’s just rocks. But in Great Duck gulls also nest around the vegetation. … There are more crevices for the nests to hold the eggs. And just yesterday too I found a few eggs that just cracked, just because they fell.

Jenn:      That’s just sad. All that work.

Porcia:   I know, yeah. But gulls, they are very easy to … If they have invested a lot, they do cry or feel sad.

Jenn:      Really?

Porcia:   They do look for the chick even though they know sometimes. The parent just sits in the nest even though it knows its chick is dead. Because the dead chick is right on the nest. It still sits there.

Jenn:      Wow.

Porcia:   Because it has had a long investment in that chick. But some parents, if it’s … a day or two old chick, if they die they just leave. Also, eggs, when they crack and stuff, they just leave it.

Jenn:      Do they ever lay another round of eggs?

Porcia:   They normally don’t.

Porcia:   … Black-backs are another predatory birds on the herring gulls. … Herring gull chicks are easy food.

Jenn:      Really?

Porcia:   And they nest right next to them. So we have had this pair of black-backs in Great Duck. It’s right in front of the tower and next to the generator shed where also our foghorn is. Normally we don’t go near that because Mr. John yells at us, “Don’t go there.” But all the chicks go there when we come for them! They know we don’t go there so they go there. This black-back chick there … The parents go psychotic at the end of the season and start killing all the herring gull chicks. And they start feeding their chicks. And it’s interesting how in that place, it’s like a ledge, and there’s herring gull nests around, and there’s a black-back nest right in the middle. I was just … The day when I saw the black-back eat the chicks was the same day when I saw a seal eat an eider chick. Both things [were] happening at the same time, in the evening.

Jenn:      Sounds brutal.

Porcia:   I have never seen that, I was just like … Mr. John was on the island and I was telling him, and he’s like, “Wait, I think it’s the same family that did the same thing last year.” And he came up, and it is the same one. Just a week ago they went back, and Mr. John was like, “They’re still there.” They’re nesting there this year too.

Jenn:      And the herring gulls haven’t figured this out?

Porcia:   Figured that-

Jenn:      That the black-backs are going to eat them at the end of the season?

Porcia:   Oh, it’s just that … I think no matter what the herring gulls do, they can’t defend their chicks when the black-backs attack. Because the black-backs are big. I think when I saw the chicks get eaten, it was only one parent, one herring gull parent that was defending against it. But it was both the black-back parents. One was after the chick and the other one was after the parents.

Jenn:      Bullies.

Porcia:   Yeah. But, yeah, black-backs do eat the herring gull chicks pretty often. And, in some places in Great Duck too, there’s this one area where there are only black-backs. And there’s one area where there’s only herring gulls. But in the middle, around the tower area it’s mostly mixed

Jenn:      Maybe the herring gulls there figured out they need a little space.

Porcia:   Oh, yeah. But the herring gulls themselves are very territorial. I am very scared when I go on field that [I might] displace a chick too far from its nest. Herring gulls are very territorial, and if another chick comes to their nest they will kill that chick. Even tiny chicks. They kill them. They peck on them. One of the chicks on Mount Desert Rock, it was right next to the house. I kept track of it, and it survived at the end of the season, but I think it moved to the wrong nest one day, and it was pecked so badly that half of his face was bloodied.

Jenn:      Oh my gosh.

Porcia:   I saw it from the tower, and then I didn’t know if I should go or not, and then I just went and grabbed the chick, and I was going to band it, but I was like, I don’t think I should band it. Maybe it won’t survive.

Jenn:      You could see the skull?

Porcia:   Yeah, I could see the skull. But that chick was always guarded by the parent leader after I noticed it.

Jenn:      And it survived?

Porcia:   Mm-hmm.

Jenn:      Wow.

Porcia:   There was one chick that had a band of plastic on its neck. That chick was happily flying by that age. And I was worried. At Mount Desert Rock there’s a lot of waste [Ed. Note: floating garbage], and also at Great Duck. And Great Duck, I don’t think we see it that often, even though there’s many. At least on the southern side is all the waste that comes from the ocean. The buoys, the strings, and-

Jenn:      Water bottles.

Porcia:   Random water bottles and socks, shoes, I don’t know where they-

Jenn:      Flip flops. I find flip flops all the time.

Porcia:   Yeah. Do people just throw it out in the ocean?

Jenn:      I think they wash off boats. I think people do throw stuff in the ocean, but a lot of it is just lost.

Porcia:   And a lot of buoys, which I understand.

Jenn:      Yeah, those just get washed up.

Porcia:   But there’s random things that come. And one time we found a shoe. Mr. John had just ripped his shoe, and it was his size. … He didn’t wear it though.

Jenn:      Why not?

Porcia:   I don’t know. … It was New Balance company. That’s all I remember. It was white and blue. On Mount Desert Rock, there [is] random plastic stuff everywhere. One day I was looking up from the binoculars, counting the chicks on the sections. There [was] this chick who had a red plastic band on its neck. I tried going after it, but it [would] just, like, fly. Two or three days passed. I tried to catch that chick. Next day, my friend is like, “I think I found the band. I think I found the plastic ring [that was] on his neck.” So, it took it off.

Jenn:      Oh, good.

Porcia:   [But the next day it] was trying to get it [back on]. So, I went back and grabbed the plastic band and brought it all the way to here.

Jenn:      You think it was putting it on on purpose?

Porcia:   I have no idea. It had very razor sharp edges in the rim. It’s just weird. Maybe it will make them look cool. I don’t know.

Jenn:      Like pierced ears.

Porcia:   In the chick colony.

Jenn:      The latest fashion.

Porcia:   Yeah. Chicks are funny.

Jenn:      You get kind of attached to them?

Porcia:   Yeah. They’re funny. But they’re fun.


Great Duck Island. Photo credit: Porcia Manandhar