The Coast Walk Project


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




















Coast Walk 17 Still Life, May 18

Coast Walk 17: Mouth of Little Harbor Brook, May 18, 2017

Old maps label this “Little Harbor” but today it is only known as the mouth of Little Harbor Brook.


Left to right, top to bottom:

Row 1: Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis), Horse Mussel (Modiolus modiolus), Blue Mussel, Dog Whelk (Nucella lapillus), Blue Mussel

Row 2: Pink granite beach stone, 2 Dog Whelks, Coralline (Corallina officinalis), Dog Whelk, Lobster (Homarus americanus), Waved Whelk (Buccinum undatum) (hard to identify because it’s so worn)

Row 3: Dog Whelks, Blue Mussels, more Dog Whelks, Common Periwinkles (Littorina littorea)

Row 4: Jonah Crab (Cancer borealis), Paper Birch bark (Betula papyrifera), [on birch bark: 3 Dog Whelks, aqua sea glass, pink granite beach stone], plastic Harley Davidson keychain

Row 5: Blue Mussel, Common Periwinkles, striped beach stone, Atlantic Sea Scallop (Placopecten magellanicus), Blue Mussel, lobster antenna, Lobster

Row 6: 3 spruce cones (Abies sp.), pink granite beach stone, 2 spruce cones

Row 7: Soft-shell Clam (Mya arenaria), Common Periwinkle, green sea glass, granite beach stone, Horse Mussel

Row 8: Lobster-claw band, Stimpson Whelk (Colus stimpsoni), Northern Lacuna (Lacuna vincta), 2 Smooth Periwinkle (Littorina obtusata), Common Periwinkle, Smooth Periwinkle

Row 9: Sea-worn brick, polypropylene lobster trap rope, 2 Dog Whelks, 2 Blue Mussels





Coast Walk 17 Still Life, May 17

Coast Walk 17: Bracy Cove to Roberts Point, May 17, 2017

From top to bottom, left to right:

Row 1: Razor Clam (Ensis directus), lobster trap rope, Horse Mussel (Modiolus modiolus), Common Slipper Shell (Crepidula fornicata)

Row 2: pink granite beach stone, Rock Crab (Cancer irroratus), driftwood, Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea)

Row 3: Waved Whelk (Buccinum undatum), Quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria), severely worn shell (probably Quahog) crab claw, aluminum can top, Moon Snail (Lunatia heros), beach stone


There will be two still life photos from this walk – I usually try to do one per walk, but this one was broken into so many short sections (I’ll explain why in the main post) and there were so many good beachcombing areas that I had too much for one photo, so I kept them separated by date. Research for this section of the coast is proceeding slowly, mostly because my personal and work lives have been so busy. We’re renovating a dilapidated but lovely old house, and if you’ve ever done that you know how all-consuming it can be!





Sandworm (Nereis virens or Alitta virens)

The Coast Walk takes me to some unexpected places.

This week I got invited to an Intertidal Stakeholders meeting at Schoodic – clammers, wormers, seaweed harvesters, biologists from a couple of colleges, a shellfish warden, people from the Department of Marine Resources, Fish & Wildlife, Schoodic Institute, and Acadia National Park. And me. This was one of a series of meetings Schoodic Institute has been facilitating between the various people who use the intertidal zone, trying to keep a dialog going between the conservationists and the harvesters. The clammers and wormers took us out into the mudflats, and educated the heck out of us. Then the seaweed harvesters had their turn in the rocky intertidal. All of the people who talked to us have been working in their field for decades and I was left with the impression that all of them were concerned with conservation – that it is not in their interest to clear-cut the resources they depend on. They all had some pretty choice things to say about newcomers who do just that! The Park staff had a lot of questions like, ‘What is the effect of clamming on anaerobic mud in the flats?’ and ‘What is the regrowth rate of rockweed after harvesting?’ I kept my mouth shut for most of the meeting and listened hard. Next time I get to a mudflat, I’ll have a lot more to share with you!

Bloodworm (prob. Glycera dibranchiata)

Milky Ribbon Worm (Cerebratulus lacteus)

Sandworm (Nereis virens or Alitta virens)

Sandworm showing its teeth.






Addenda: The Bar Harbor Inn (Coast Walk 2)

So I was poking around in the Maine Room of the Jesup Library, which is exactly what it sounds like – a tiny room off to one side of the main room in which they keep all the books about Maine, with one wall just for Bar Harbor and MDI. It has stuff like Ladies’ Fellowship cookbooks from local churches, and a tiny book about the gardens at the Jordan Pond House, and books about the Bio Lab and the Jackson Lab, and books like Lost Bar Harbor or Bar Harbor in the Gilded Age. Intensely local stuff, some of it. So I was poking around among the pamphlets, and I found this:

It’s actually awesome – at least half of it is a history of tourism on Mount Desert Island from the 1830s to the 1980s, and the author sets the development of the inn within the context of social change on the island. If you’re interested in the island’s history I highly recommend this one! It’s short and readable, too, with some great anecdotes.

If you can remember all the way back to Coast Walk 2, we talked a bit about the beginnings of the inn as a social club. Here is Messer’s account of the Reading Room’s grand opening in 1887:


That was a little long, sorry. I’ll skim over the rest of its history – the Reading Room social club closed in 1921 after WWI devastated tourism and the new income tax cut severely into the summer visitors’ discretionary income. It was bought by the Maine Central Railroad in 1923 and leased to the Bar Harbor Yacht Club, which was very successful through the Roaring Twenties but closed in 1932 with the onset of the Great Depression. The following year, a consortium of hotel owners created the Shore Club in the building as an amenity for their guests. In the 1940s, when tourism dried up during WWII, the US Navy occupied the building, using it as a mess hall, communications, recreation, some housing, and office space. After the war, it was essentially abandoned and sat empty until the Fire of ’47, when the Red Cross used it as their disaster service headquarters:

In 1948, some of the more determined rebuilders formed the Bar Harbor Hotel Corporation and bought the old Reading Room building. They “raised money by selling shares to island residents and other interested parties. … The plan was to modify the Reading Room building and add a wing of fifty rooms on the southern side of the building.” The new Hotel Bar Harbor opened in 1950. It prospered, was sold a couple of times, changed its name to the Bar Harbor Motor Inn, continued to prosper, and in 1987 was bought by David Witham, who changed the name to the Bar Harbor Inn.

And so it goes.



Messer, Vincent C. A History of the Bar Harbor Inn. Privately published, 2010.









Addenda: the Rodick herring weirs (Coast Walk 1)

Years and years ago – before I became a photographer, before I started either the Beachcombing series or the Coast Walk, even before I got curious about how the stripes get into beach stones – I spent a lot of my beachcombing time at the Bar. Once, on a bitterly cold winter day after a big storm, I stumbled across a line of old posts.

I stared at them for a long time – they were too far from either the big island or the little island to have been part of a dock, and they were too regularly placed to be debris. They were obviously not part of a shipwreck. What the heck? It remained a mystery to me for years. Then Facebook was invented, and the Bar Harbor Historical Society posted this photo:


Bar Harbor Historical Society Facebook post, March 22, 2014


And all was made clear. It’s crazy that I forgot to mention this on Coast Walk 1, because this was one of those moments that added up into the idea that became the Coast Walk! But better late than never, right?

For those of us who are not familiar with them, let’s start with the basics – what’s a weir? A fishing weir is a structure meant to trap or channel fish. It’s an ancient technique found all over the world. People use stone walls, baskets, woven wattle fences – whatever materials are common. Here in the northeast, you still sometimes see posts with nets strung between them.  The tide rises, the fish swim in the deeper water, then as the tide recedes, the current pulls the fish into the weir. Some weirs are constructed with a small opening so it’s hard for fish to find their way out. I believe the Rodick weir had an opening that could be closed when the weir was full.

This 1901 description of the weir by a naturalist makes me so jealous:

from Arnold, Sea-Beach at Ebb-Tide, 1901

It sounds like the world’s most amazing tidepool! One thing I don’t understand is that now at low tide that area is dry (as you can see in my photos), which makes me wonder if we’re both talking about the same weir. Maybe Rodick had another one a little farther out? Another peculiarity is that while most of the species she mentions are still here, I’ve never seen Margarita helicina (now called Margarites helicinus.) It looks a bit like a Smooth Periwinkle, so maybe I have seen them and didn’t realize it? It’s hard to learn species ID through the internet. Anyway, I’d never heard of it before reading this, so you know I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out now.

One of the reasons I was so struck by finding out this had been a herring weir is that, to the best of my knowledge, there aren’t any inshore herring now. My husband remembers a large shoal of them coming in to the town beach when he was a kid (1970s), but that was a rare thing, and doesn’t seem to have happened since. I highly recommend this essay on cod-fishing around the island and its effect on other species, including herring:  “From Wealth to Poverty: The Rise and Fall of Cod around Mount Desert Island.”  Herring was used as bait in the cod industry, as it is now in the lobster industry, and the scale of the depletion the authors describe is hard to imagine. “One large weir was on Rodick’s Island (now Bar Island) bordering Bar Harbor. In 1884 the Maine Mining and Industrial Journal reported “A big haul of herring—some 3,000 to 5,000 bushels [roughly 210,000 to 350,000 pounds]— was made this week in the weir at Rodick’s Island.” And the Journal announced the next year that “Herring have been quite plentiful in Frenchman’s Bay recently. One day last week 1,000 bushels [70,000 pounds] of the fish were taken in the Rodick weir at Bar Harbor in one tide.” This was one of many weirs in the area; at this time, Penobscot Bay supported 183 of them.”  Can you imagine 70,000 pounds of fish being taken between Bar Harbor and Bar Island?

from Chisholm’s Mount Desert Guide-Book, M.F. Sweetser, 1888

Some more photos of the Rodick weirs:

photo courtesy of the Jesup Memorial Library (PC 23948)

photo courtesy of the Jesup Memorial Library (PC 18943)

And more photos of the remains of the weir:

size 9 boot print for scale

In other news, while I’ve been stalled waiting for permissions for the next stretch of the Coast Walk, I’ve been busy in the studio.

Here’s the beginning of a new series on Healthcare:  (Jennifer Steen Booher)

And here’s my current photography obsession, seaweed:

 (Jennifer Steen Booher)


Arnold, Augusta Foote. The Sea-Beach at Ebb-Tide. NY, The Century Co., 1901. (the photo is from my personal copy but I’ve provided a link to an online text.)

Springuel, Natalie, Leavenworth, Bill, and  Alexander,Karen. “From Wealth to Poverty: The Rise and Fall of Cod around Mount Desert Island.” Chebacco, vol.XVI, 2015, pp.66-91.

Sweetser, Moses Foster. Chisholm’s Mount Desert Guide-Book. Portland, ME, Chisolm Brothers, 1888.