June 4, 2015: 5:30-7:45am. 45ºF (about 7ºC), overcast but bright with some patches of sun, slight breeze. By the end of the walk it was 51ºF (11ºC).
Walkers: Tim Garrity, Executive Director, Mount Desert Island Historical Society; Lynn Boulger, Dean of Institutional Advancement, College of the Atlantic; and Frankie, a labrador retriever. The conversation started up so quickly that I forgot to take a photo of everybody when we we were all together, so I have to apologize to Lynn and Frankie for inadvertently leaving them out.
We met at the parking lot super-early one morning in June and headed down the trail to Hunters Beach. Lynn asked how I choose topics for this blog.
J: I find that actually climbing over the shoreline really forces me to pay attention to it so I’ve got a literally hands-on appreciation of geology and barnacles and stuff like that. [What I write about] is driven partly by what I find and partly by who I’m with, and whatever comes out of it is great. I try not to go out with any kind of preconceived ideas. I think if you go out looking for something that’s all you find.
L: So do you have another profession?
J: Well, I was a landscape architect, and about, oh my god, seven, eight years ago, I sold my business to my former partner and I’ve been mostly a stay-at-home-mom. [Ed.note: Not too long after this walk I started working as a landscape architect again at LARK Studio in Bar Harbor.]
L: And how old are your children?
J: They are now 14 and 17, so yeah, I’ve been developing a career as a photographer, a fine art and landscape photographer.
J: Gosh we picked a good morning!
T: Isn’t it beautiful? You’ve really been out in all kinds of weather.
J: Oh my Lord yes.
T: The stories about the deep snow were really great.
J: It was actually a lot of fun. Hard work but a lot of fun. The rain is the stuff that ends up being not so fun.
T: We were last here on Christmas Day… It was incredibly warm.
L: That’s right. … So are you trying to circumnavigate the whole coast, is that it?
J: Yeah, … about 120 miles as near as I can figure
T: How far have you gone so far?
J: I started at the Bar, so not very far!
T: How far is that?
J: Oh gosh, I’m not sure.
L: It feels far!
J: It feels far until you look at a map of the island and it’s this tiny little segment. [Ed.note: It was roughly 13 miles. ]
J: Hmmm. How comfortable are you guys on seaweed-covered rocks?
T: We’ll do our best.
[We started scrambling down the shore, and the sliding cobbles drowned out a lot of the recorded conversation]
L: The college has a press, you know.
J: Oh, like a publishing house?
J: Oh cool!
L: It’s fairly new, we’ve done a couple of books … we don’t quite have a criteria for selection. We decided to republish Bill Newlin’s Lakes and Ponds of Mount Desert that had gone out print. Downeast Books, I think, had done the first one. And then somebody else came to us with a book and it wasn’t [quite right] and so we had to edit, and he was not interested in editing …
T: He didn’t want anybody to change a word?
J: Well that’s too bad. It seems like half the point of working with a publishing house is so you can get their advice.
L: Yeah. … [Hesitating by a boulder] This is …
J: Pretty slick
L: This one is too.
J: I usually go fairly slowly.
T: I can understand why it would take you a long time to go a hundred and twenty miles if this is the surface you’re climbing on!
J: Sometimes it’s like this, sometimes it’s more like that [pointing to a drier, more stable area of rock.] I do a lot of sit-and-slide. And if this is, like, no fun just let me know.
T: No, we’re with you.
J: ‘Cause we can head up the cliff. … It does make it hard to talk doesn’t it?
J: Well it looks like Frankie’s having fun. …. [Frankie was having a blast, sniffing at everything and sliding around on the cobbles.]
We chatted a bit about how we had come to be in our current jobs:
T: Well, I guess I’ve been interested in history since childhood…; I was a hospital foreman in the Navy, went to college through a program they had in healthcare administration, and ended up sticking with it to a graduate degree and worked for 25 years as a healthcare [administrator] before deciding that that’s really not what I wanted to do with my life. … I decided about 8 years ago to [change] my career to history, and I went to the graduate program at the University of Maine, and got a master’s in history. And in the process of my career transformation I worked at the Park as a ranger, and in 2010 I [became] director of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society. So we write an annual magazine [ed.note: Chebacco]
J: Which is very cool!
T: Thanks! And I became you know, a non-profit administrator and a historian; we have to raise money, we put on programs, we have an extensive educational program … we try to encourage people to write about history, and we are trying to constantly rediscover the history of this place and not tell the same story over and over again … Looking at it from different angles. Each year we pick a theme for Chebacco. This year’s theme is ‘waves of change;’ landscape history, how the environment has changed, both the seascape and the landscape. … David Fisher wrote about the lost landscapes of Mount Desert Island, particularly meadows.
J: I really enjoyed the one on Bartlett’s Island.
T: Did you?
J: Yeah, that was cool. … OK, let’s see. [Looking at a particularly large boulder] I think we’re going to have to go around this.
T: Next year’s theme is ‘borderlands,’ … history has traditionally been pulled from the perspective of national history – US history, French history, UK history – borderlands history takes up where domains overlap, like this area in the 17th and 18th century where French, English and Wabankai contested the same space, or a cultural borderland …
[We paused to study our path]
L: This may be a possibility…
J: Through here?
T: I think you can hang on here…
J: In case I didn’t mention this before, the first rule of the coast walk is ‘don’t die.’
L: No, you didn’t tell us that.
T: I don’t think there’s a next step after this.
J: Yeah, I’ll get really mad at you if you get killed.
[We turned and worked our way around a different section of the shore.]
T: So right now, for instance, I’m working on a project … focusing around the time of the Park’s founding, the early 20th century. Immigrants came into an environment in which they were not particularly welcome, where they had no reason to expect to be welcomed. Maine had a long history of nativism, suspicion of people coming from away, the wealthy [people] … came here to get away from, among other things, immigrants in the cities. But large numbers of immigrants came here because with the growth of the tourist business in Bar Harbor they could find work, so people really came from all over the world. …
J: So are you working on Maine in general or just the island?
T: Mostly trying to focus on the island. We often have to go wider because we need more studies or parallels. [We’ve been researching an immigrant] named Julius Kurson. He came from a place called Courland in Russia [ed.note: Courland is now Jelgava, Latvia], a nation that had been occupied by Germany, and then it was occupied by Russia, a hapless eastern European state contested by major powers. He came over in … 1888, in about a year he was a naturalized citizen. He identified himself as a paper-maker, when he was 24 years old he came over here, he established a clothing business on Main Street in Bar Harbor. Met a girl in Boston, brought his brother over to help him work in the store, and he and his wife quickly became a well-accepted part of society, joining several commercial organizations, then he was a representative for the Democratic convention… . Eventually we have him retiring to Los Angeles. You can still see his house on a sunny street… . So when you tell the history of Acadia National Park, which you are kind of obligated to do for the centennial, we didn’t want to tell the same old history, so our Borderlands people, writers, are working on topics like a Scottish immigrant who was one of the principals in designing landscape gardens, a guy named Miller, and Betsy Hewlett is working on that. [Mary Holway] is asking where the Wabanaki were at the time of the founding, were they just a romantic ideal when the mountains were named for them? Norumbega, Penobscot, and so forth? Or … else they were kind of idealized with performance, a westernized version of Indians, which George Neptune wrote about. People were interacting with Penobscot Indians here while Indian wars were being fought in the West, and it was a way for people to engage with Indians in a fairly safe way. But other than that romantic ideal, we’re not finding any evidence that they were involved in any way in this ceremonial [beginning of the park], they were kind of kept at a distance.
J: Yeah, that was kind of the period when they were really being driven off the island.
T: Yes, right. Right at that time they were seen as, kind of transitioned into an undesirable.
J: Yeah, first they got driven off the shore, because that was about the time of the Squaw Hollow, right? On the Athletic Fields?
T: Oh you went around with George, didn’t you?
J: Yeah, and then I did a lot of reading, too, because it was – a lot of the encampments were along my path. Or a couple of them, any way. … [We paused to study our route again.] It’s slow work, the scrambling.
T: Have you encountered a moonscape like this before?
J: Oh yeah! This is pretty much par for the course. But this is why I never know how far I’m going to get. I usually try and allot about 2 hours for a walk, and sometimes, rarely, I can do a whole mile. Very rarely! Only when I’m [walking] up on top [of the cliffs]. I just never know how long it’s going to take me because I don’t really know what I’m getting into. Are we going to be able to get to the area you wanted to? Going this way?
T: You know, I think we’re there, because the shore is looking out at Bunker Ledge.
T: How you doing Frankie?
J: He must be having a little trouble down here.
[He was having a lot of trouble walking among the boulders, and shortly after this, Lynn took Frankie back to the car.]
J: Oh my gosh, something’s swarming in here. Looks like scud. I’ve never seen them do that before.
T: What is this?
J: See all the little, they’re amphipods, oh look, a little starfish. Scud are amphipods, they’re related to shrimp. Very distantly related. And you often see them crawling underneath a rock when you turn it over. But you don’t usually see them swimming this way.
J: I wonder why they’re swarming like that?
T: So this is an hour before low tide?
J: Yes. I find that gives me a good two hours to get through. Let’s see. There’s something else in this one. Oh my gosh, there’s starfish all over the place! There’s a little one down there. Well, two starfish, I guess they’re not ALL over the place. Oh, and there’s a crab eating right under there. It’s sometimes hard for me to tell people what I’m interested in because I don’t know until I come across it. I find every now and then I have to stop and just look around. Because when I first looked over there I didn’t even see the crab. And same for the starfish, I looked right past it.
T: I used to work and volunteer for a K-9 search and rescue team. … We would do hide from each others’ dogs to play the victim, and one of the things I found was that [while hiding] I could just sit there and just do nothing while waiting for a dog. It was amazing just sitting in the woods with no other assignment, to just sit and watch what emerged. It was all around you all the time, but you would start to notice it when you’re quiet for a little bit.
J: Exactly. So every now and them while I’m walking, I really do have to just stop and go, ‘Okay, what’s in the air, what am I walking on, what is here?’
T: It’s a new opportunity.
J: Oh look, the starfish has moved. Oh no, that’s the second one, there’s another one there. [splashing noises as I picked one up] Okay, now I’m wet.
T: Are starfish one of those creatures that will regenerate a limb?
J: Yep, that’s what that one’s doing. Growing it back. Hey could you hold it for me? What’s he got on him?
T: Looks like a little scud.
J: So they’ve got eyes at the end of their arms. Right at the tip there.
T: Cool. And they get an optical view from these eyes?
J: I’m not sure what they can actually see through them. I think it’s just light and dark. But it must be so confusing getting information from 5 directions.
T: And not a lot of brainpower to interpret it.
J: But still, there are limited things they’re trying to accomplish. Oh yeah there’s another starfish down under there. I guess that means we better be careful where we step. You know, this might be one of the trickier rockscapes I’ve gone through.
T: Well we seem to have found the layer that is a little crustier than the other stuff that was just plain slippery.
J: You can tell from what we’re walking on and from the starfish that this is kind of deeper water, it’s covered longer. There’s a lot more starfish down here. Oh this is so cool!
T: Oh that’s beautiful.
J: Yeah, that’s not a photo that’s going to come out well, though, cause it’s too far down. I’m mostly going to get reflection on the surface.
T: Can you put a lens on your camera that would then penetrate the reflection?
J: Not really. I can put a polarizing filter on, which would help. Oh here’s another crab hiding from us. It’s so cool to see the crabs now. I hadn’t seen a lot of moving things other than periwinkles most of the winter.
T: Do you know what their life is like in the winter? Did you see crabs?
J: No, I really think I only saw one live crab in the winter.
T: And they’ve started to emerge.
J: About a month ago. And starfish I only started seeing maybe three weeks ago, when I hit Otter Cliffs. And some of that might be because in the winter I really was pretty limited on the shore. I just couldn’t get down to it most of the time because the cliffs were iced over.
T: Do you know John Gillis? I think I might have recommended one of his books, The Human Shore?
T: He’s a professor emeritus of history at Rutgers, he has a summer home on Gotts Island, and he lives in Berkeley in the winter, and his book on the human shore is talking about how history has become landlocked, and so often we’re talking about what happens on the land masses
J: I did start reading that one! Unfortunately I had gotten it from the library and it was due back before I finished it.
T: Well, he’s written another article for us for next year’s Chebacco, called “Unsettled Mount Desert Island,” and his idea is that islands are unsettled places, that people are constantly passing them by.
J: What do you mean by ‘passing them by?’
T: Well, they’ve been involved in the movement of human civilization from a sea-borne peoples who, when the first maps were drawn of this coast as Europeans began discovering, the first things they articulated were the islands. They didn’t really see the shore, and they often mis-perceived the shore, they thought that the land mass was narrow, and that very soon they would get to the Pacific and an avenue to the Indies. … They never penetrated deep and far. They lived on the coast and their primary purpose, especially the French, who were here, was trade with the interior, and they mis-perceived how vast the American continent was, that their first reading was what we’re looking at here, and the center of gravity of the nation was really on its edges, in the islands, and how the islands were really the highlight. And that’s part of what I was intending to talk about is this Eastern Way, and what, if we use our historical imagination what this Eastern Way has written on it in the contrast between history of big events and important people, compared to a history that looks at wave after wave of small things, with each tide. That’s one of the things we’re trying to do with Mount Desert Island’s history, is that often the history is told in terms of first there were mountains, then there were Indians, then there were settlers, then rich people made a park, and there was a fire; a very simplistic outline
J: Broad strokes
T: when really it’s a lot more nuanced. There’s a lot more depth and complexity to the history that you can constantly explore. It all hasn’t been told. In fact we’re looking at our whole mission and vision and values for the historical society. Our mission now is to keep discovering and celebrate the history of Mount Desert Island. We’re recognizing that that needs to change to acknowledge that there are histories, plural, and many different histories to be told. And I think there once was a sense that there was an authoritative view of history and that was it. George Dorr caused the mountains to be renamed, or many of them, and his purpose was to inscribe indelibly the history of Mount Desert Island, which really can’t be done
J: or a history
T: Yeah, the history, he intended it to be the history, and he wanted every visitor who saw Champlain Mountain or Cadillac Mountain to see his perspective, to see his view of history.
J: I found it really interesting that he, which mountain was it now, right behind Sand Beach there, ah
J: No, I’m trying to remember; Beehive’s one of the only ones that didn’t change. There was a mountain that was named for an English explorer, and he changed it
J: Yeah, Newport, that’s it, and he changed it to a French explorer.
T: That became Champlain, yeah.
J: Right. And I was just … I couldn’t find the logic in that.
T: Yeah, well, one of the things that I’m trying to understand is the history of the history, the historiography of the place. When someone tells a history, they really tell as much about themselves and their own times as they do about the time that they’re exploring. And when Dorr was writing his history into the granite mountains, pretending that they would never change, he was really dealing with a time when there was great sympathy for the French struggle in the first World War, and a need to win over Congress to authorize the founding of the park. By emphasizing the French history he was taking advantage of a great deal of American empathy for the oppressed people of France, and it was a winning strategy; nothing wrong with it, I guess, except for its permanence. … As authors move on, as historians move on, in time, their perspective changes, and when you write something in granite, by putting the names on the mountains, that’s something that he tried to make permanent. And I think that our understanding of history is a lot more fluid than that. History has been described as a dialogue with the past, this constant conversation. What we’re trying to do with our magazine is each year have another conversation with the past, we keep moving on a bit, we look at things differently, different perspectives. We ask different questions and come up with different answers than anybody would even 20 years ago.
J: Well I think you guys are asking some very interesting questions. I loved the latest issue, it was just fascinating. The whole cod history?
T: Yeah, I think … that one is approaching the landmark category. I think that’s a very significant [study] … and the way they approached it, looking at historic documents, the customs records for Southwest Harbor, that recorded the landings of cod, and that’s the front half of the article, looking at what happens historically, and then oral histories from the elders remembering their father’s generation, their grandfather’s generation, the stories they would hear. And I think one points out the ecological disaster that the loss of the cod industry is, and the other is the cultural disaster and the loss of a way of life.
J: It made me worry about the lobster industry. There are a lot of parallels there.
T: One of the things John Gillis says that really stuck with me is he was hiking in California at a seaside park and there was this warning sign at the edge of a cliff that said “Never turn your back on the ocean.”
J: No kidding!
T: And I feel like the whole generation is turning its back on the ocean; I think when people visit Acadia it’s very important for them to get out on the water. We’ve given up a whole lot of working waterfront to big homes and that’s a loss.
J: It’s a kind of diversity that’s going. You know, coming through Otter Creek and reading the history there … I’ve always been an unequivocal fan of the park. I think it’s amazing; I’m so grateful that it exists. But that was the first time I ever really saw that there was a cost to it.
T: Yeah, I agree, I think we’re conflicted, aren’t we, that we appreciate what was done, but … [We got distracted by sea stars.]
J: There’s one there, there’s one, oh my god they’re all over the place, there’s one back there, there’s one clinging to this rock here. I’m starting to worry that I’m going to step on one of these guys!
T: If there hadn’t been a park here
J: It would look like Lake Winnipesaukee.
T: It would be so much worse.
J: It would be lawn all the way to the ocean. … [Splash.] Oh crumbs. Yeah, now I’m really wet.
T: How’s the water?
J: Chilly. Oh my gosh, look at all the starfish here. I wonder why they’re upside down like that.
T: They don’t look so good.
J: No, they don’t. … Well, I’ll have to ask my friends … on Facebook: ‘How come all the starfish are upside down?’
T: And as far as we know that’s just the way things go. I assume they’re dead, yes?
J: I can’t tell. Their little feet are still sticking out, the little suction feet. That one looks alive. It’s still moving. … This one’s still moving.
Digression: About a month later I was leading a class at Schoodic Institute and mentioned this puzzle to Hannah Webber, who’s the Education and Research Project Manager over there. She thought it was most likely that the sea stars had been exposed too long and had run out of internal water. once they were back in the water they’d be fine. See, sea stars have an internal hydraulic system that runs their vascular system and also operates their tube feet. The usual explanation of how sea stars grip things is that their hydraulic system creates suction in the ends of their tube feet. However, some recent studies say their grip comes from adhesive chemicals rather than suction. Either way, it’s possible that if they had been out of the water too long, then they might have lost too much internal water to operate their hydraulics and just started to lose their grip. We were brainstorming ways to test the theory – maybe this summer… I’ll let you know if I find out more. And now, back to our regularly scheduled program:
T: Did you see the crab hidden under the rock?
J: No, missed that. Oh yeah!
T: What a great lair. It’s waiting for someone to swim by.
[Just to give you some sense of what it’s like down there, the whole recording is laced with sounds of trickling water, with conversation drowned out by the occasional wave breaking over the rocks, or the sounds of pants sliding over seaweed.]
T: Look at the short distance we’ve covered!
J: I know! But look at everything we’ve seen.
T: We just got a model delivered to us, a fellow named Duane Muzzy is a boat model maker who lives in Saint Augustine and … he offered to make boat models for us. The first one we had him make is a chebacco boat, a two-masted forerunner of the schooner. That was a very common working vessel in the 18th century and now he’s just delivered a shallop, which was a kind of a long, broad, working boat that was actually made to be split in half and nested, and carried across the Atlantic on a larger vessel, and then re-assembled and used to explore inland waters or off the shallow shore.
J: Split in half long?
T: Crosswise and then nested and put in the hold
J: Oh wow!
T: And it’s meant to represent Champlain’s shallop, [and provide] historical perspective of this place, looking down the Eastern Way. If these rocks could talk, the history that’s gone on in this waterway. This is the route to Europe, and the Atlantic, and the West Indies. Just imagine this … the type of vessel that came in here to explore the shore. Indians used shallops, too. They would acquire European vessels, … and there was a competition to get offshore and meet fishing vessels for trade. To meet the Europeans out on the water, to be there first. A version of it was also used as a whaleboat by Basque fishermen who preceded people like Champlain in the 16th century, the mid-1500s.
J: So it’s pointed at both ends, is it?
T: Yeah, it is pointed at both ends, and there’s sideboards, on each side, kind of like an outrigger. It doesn’t have a keel, but these boards on the outside keep it stable in the water.
J: So is this [model] at the Sound museum?
T: Yes, this is at the Sound Schoolhouse. We just received it. … [In the past] we focused a lot on the first Euro or English settlers, and we’re trying to cast back a little farther, to look at an earlier history, and into that borderland of the tidal zone and kind of this challenged, unsettled place where nobody really knew who owned it, people were trying to claim it. … There’s also that poignant story of the French missionaries in 1614 who were at Fernald Point, possibly, we can’t be certain of their location, but … they had set up their settlement for about 6 weeks, you know this story, right? And they would’ve sailed right by here; some of them were killed, some of them were captured and taken to England for trial for what, trespassing? For setting up a settlement in defiance of the English king’s claim, and … the working men who were just there to do a job were put in boats, possibly like a shallop and sent to start rowing towards Europe, where they met French fishing boats and eventually returned.
J: They just sent them out and said ‘Row back to Europe?”
T: Yeah. They just released them and left them on their own, they had to get out, they had to leave. And the Indians were very sympathetic to them, they tried to help the French. They were dismayed, they didn’t know the French and English wouldn’t get along, they figured they were all Europeans, what could possibly be the problem?
J: That’s just brutal.
T: Scramble up there, or go back down and back up?
J: Either way, there’s good footholds. And no seaweed, right? [Laughter]
J: You see how the stone’s all pockmarked here? I think what that is, is that when the granite broke up the older stone, bits of the older stone would’ve been floating in the granite matrix, and they were softer, and so they’ve eroded.
T: That would make sense. There was a place in Turkey where there were really intricate rivulets or, what it was was really soft sedimentary rock and bubbles had come up, air bubbles, and you could follow the trail of the bubble all the way down … it was very sharp where the edges had worn away, sometimes the edge where the bubble and the rock met was extremely lacerating.
We paused for a bit to work out the best path forward.
J: I have to admit there’s a fair amount of backtracking when you’re going off road. Ow.
T: This is a great way to get around, isn’t it?
J: Yeah, you certainly see things!
T: Yeah, it’s wonderful! Oh, there’s a fence up there!
J: There’s a fence over there, too. …
T: So where do you want to go? Do you want to intercept this trail up there? Or go farther along the shore?
T: That railing goes on and on. I don’t think I’ve been there, I don’t think that’s part of the trail. Maybe there’s an alternative trail that we didn’t take.
J: I’ve never hiked up there at all so I’m not sure.
T: It looks very old-school, doesn’t it? To have a railing like that? It looks like 1890s, 1910 style trail.
J: Very ‘Village Improvement Society.’
T: Yeah, very VIS.
J: It looks like we aren’t going to be able to go any further, there’s a bit of a chasm up ahead.
T: Yeah, so we’ll cut up and intercept the trail? The railing?
J: Yes. Looks like it – there must be some sort of trail up there. … So, let’s head up and see what we find. What time do you need to be at work today?
T: I’m pretty open, I have to be at the Somesville museum at 9:30, that’s my first appointment.
J: OK, so we’ve got a little time.
J: Oh my gosh, look at this! You want to try and trace this and see where it goes?
T: Yeah, sure. We’ll end up doubling back because it was above us for a while.
J: It’s so beautifully crafted.
J: Look at the berries [on the juniper].
T: I was astonished when it was pointed out to me that it smells like gin. Or gin smells like this.
J: It’s where gin gets its flavor. Sometimes I think it would be fun to try and make my own.
T: It would! We were at Pineland Farms down in southern Maine, and they were selling a gin-making kit.
J: Well, why not? Beer-making kits are so, you know, last decade.
J: Look at this fabulous lichen. I am so tickled we found an old trail!
T: You know, Don Linehan would be an interesting guy for you to talk to. And Maureen Fournier. Make it a kind of a hobby to look up all the [lost] trails. They probably know about this one.
J: Somebody’s keeping it up.
T: Yeah, well, you know, it may crisscross with whatever formal trail that’s signposted at the edge of Cooksey. There’s another cairn.
J: Between the cairns, this path right here has been kept open … there’s another cairn over here.
T: I think this path goes down to the beach. We could retrace it that way.
J: Okay. … It’s such a pretty path. You have to wonder why it was abandoned. Was it pretty much liability along the cliffs?
[Ed.note: it turns out we stumbled onto the remains of the old Seal Harbor Shore Path, which you can read about in this excellent post on the Memorials of Acadia National Park blog. To summarize, it appears to have been built around 1896, and ran for about a mile from the Crows Nest property to Hunters Beach. Cooksey Drive, then called Sea Cliff Drive, had recently been built by William Cooksey, a real estate developer, and the path was built to provide shore access for the landlocked lots in his development. (See the blog posts for information sources.) It seems to have fallen out of use in the 1950s, and all of it except the portion we hiked here is now private property.]
T: [In the next issue of Chebacco} we’re trying to reflect on the history of Acadia National Park from a borderlands perspective, and that borderlands is pretty loosely defined, but one way to look at it is a place where domains overlap and there’s a presence in the middle of those overlapping domains, and there’s a history to be told there. You know, there can be a natural history and a cultural history of the shoreline and based on what you’ve seen, what’s become of it over the last century, or the last 10,000 years, or what will become of it in the next hundred years. One of the articles we’re trying to find somebody to write is about the borderland of the present, the borderland being the place where the past and the future overlap. I think that would be a lot of fun to write, because there were a lot of projections a century ago of what the future would be a century ahead so we can look back on those past predictions and see what they missed and where they were on target and then prepare to be foolish ourselves a hundred years from now when people come back and look at our predictions for a century out.
J: Because we can’t even imagine.
J: I think we can go this way.
T: I think either way gets back to Cooksey Drive, that by way of Hunters Beach.
J: Ok, have you been up this way?
T: We descended this once. And it was variable. Sometimes the path wasn’t completely certain. It’s not a Park path, … a VIS path, I guess.
J: It’s beautiful! Which way would you like to go? I’m good either way.
T: Let’s go the way we haven’t been.
T: I guess I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know where this path leads.
J: This is called serendipity.
T: OK, well let’s go ahead. Look, somebody’s trying to help us out here. So the articles that are shaping up so far are, the lead article might be one by Bill Horner, do you know Bill?
J: I do
T: … More of an op-ed piece …, the working title is History Trust, or Historical Trust, in which he likens history to air or water, a resource to be shared by everyone. A century ago people looked at their domains and decided they ought to be held in trust for the public good and shared with everybody, and … historical societies … are not there yet, we’re holding our collections and often requiring the public to navigate our crazy boundaries. A researcher trying to discover the history of any aspect of this island needs to work across organizational lines, no one organization has the history that’s needed.
T: And the onset of the digital age holds the ability for these historical resources to be held in common, and there’s also a need to protect them, especially from fire and climate. Lest they, you know, turn to ashes or rot. And Bill is advocating for a historical trust …, first to enable these organizations to digitize and … properly catalog and preserve their records. And perhaps ultimately to hold them in common. So that’s the lead article. We have Betsy Hewlett writing about a Scottish gardener who came here and worked for George Dorr, worked for Beatrix Farrand, and then was one of the founding gardeners … for what’s become the Island Land and Garden Preserve. …The borderlands there are the mixture of designed landscapes with the natural landscape, and his role in that as an immigrant coming to find his way, and the new-found profession of gardener, that actually replaced sailor and fisherman as the primary occupations for MDI people. …
T: So we’re talking about anywhere from 8-10 articles, I think. … That will be our Centennial issue – the borderlands history of Mount Desert Island.
J: That’s really exciting.
T: It’s fun to have that focus. I think it’s unique, too. It requires a pretty big commitment on the part of a lot of people to get it done. Like publishing a book each year.
J: Well I’ve found some of your back issues are really useful references. I’m pretty sure it was one of your back issues that I read about the mountain names in.
T: The mountain naming controvery? Yeah.
J: Down this way? I think it’s a path.
T: Looks like it, yeah. Sounds like it. [waves on cobbles in distance]
T: We’re going through a transition in editorial and production of it. Emily Beck has been the editor but it’s a monumental job. For somebody who works full time, it’s a tremendous sacrifice on her part and she’s at a point where we really need to go at it in a different way. So I’m going to sit down with Earl Brechlin in a couple of weeks and get his ideas on who we could talk to and how one does publishing. Who should we talk to about being the editor and being responsible for every last typographical error. Someone to be the managing editor and coordinate all aspects of it from the line editing to the design to the printing process.
J: Someone fairly meticulous.
T: Why did you stop landscape architecture?
J: A whole bunch of things happened at the same time. I was having health troubles, and I had two toddlers, well not toddlers, my youngest had just started kindergarten, and I was missing them growing up because I was working in the construction industry – [I spotted poison ivy growing up a tree] oh, don’t touch that! Woah, that is the first time I have seen that on the island. Yeah, so between the kids, and the health issues … . So that’s where that path goes! Neat. … Did I answer your question?
T: Yeah, a transition. I had a very similar experience. Oh my god what a big difference it’s made.
J: Yeah, and sometimes you do just need a change. I’d been doing landscape architecture for almost ten years
T: It’s easy to say as a hobbyist without having to rely on it day after day, but I think some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done was laying a brick patio and brick pathway. Just this enormous amount of labor and digging a trench, laying down brick, and I know there’s a lot that’s unappealing about that work but man, it was satisfying. Each brick had a tremendous cost to it in how much work it took to find a place for it, but it was so satisfying to see it completed. At the time I was doing this administrative work where you could labor all day and not see anything … come of it, and it was such a contrast to have that simple path.
J: There were things that I loved about it. I didn’t actually do the construction part, I was the designer and I managed the construction projects, so I found it incredibly stressful having the responsibility for getting it built without having control of the money to pay the contractors or over the contractors’ actual schedule. I was kind of stuck in the middle between client and contractor. And the smart contractors knew that even though I wasn’t actually paying them directly they needed to stay on my good side because I controlled all the jobs they were getting. But a lot of them didn’t. And those I didn’t work with more than once.
T: Well I converted from being a hospital CEO with a few hundred people under my, you know I was responsible for the organization; to [working] for the Census for a time, riding a mountain bike to all the empty properties in Southwest Harbor to certify that nobody was present there on April 1, 2010; to working for the Park where I was an interpretive ranger and reported to 6 or 8 or 10 levels of the US government, and you know, was at the bottom of the pile, to going to the historical society where I was the sole employee, and learning which way the letterhead needs to go in the printer. And how does one put an address on an envelope? You know, like how do you feed an envelope into the printer and make it come out right? You do all those tasks. And … we now have 5 employees and there’s an organization to be managed and I find myself wondering ‘Now what is my job exactly?’ You know, what am I supposed to be doing from one minute to the next now that I have all these people?
J: That must be really exciting! Growing that way.
T: It’s wonderful. To be able to do the kind of work you love and I never get tired of it. The research is my favorite part, the writing. …
T: When I was a ranger, I was taking people on tours of [inaudible] Mountain, and I wanted to describe to them the kinds of people who lived along the road, and [inaudible] the cemetery and there was this tombstone that said “John M. Gilley, Company C, First Maine Cavalry Regiment, fell at the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 1864, age 45.” And I started to research that, and developed this whole biography that I published in Chebacco, and learned that this guy hadn’t fought at the Battle of the Wilderness, his company was 20 miles away, and on May 5 he was wounded and captured, and probably died about three weeks later, and he was age 45 …,, as his tombstone accurately stated but the army thought he was 7 years younger because he lied about his age to get into the cavalry. I learned all these things about him: he built the pro shop at the Causeway golf club, he helped build the Union Church in Somesville, he was a prominent citizen of the town, but chucked it all, sort of the ideal patriot, left everything behind – his wife, his farm, everything he had – to become a soldier. I learned a lot about him … and there was this moment when they sent me his photograph; out of the thousands of people who served in the war only a few thousand of the photographs are identified, and all of a sudden I came face to face with this guy. It was really a stunning experience to have learned so much about him and to kind of meet him.
J: It’s like a treasure hunt, when you find things in the archives.
And then, boom, just like that we were back at the parking lot saying goodbye. Thank you so much for hiking with me, Tim!
I’ve got two more posts to write, and that will bring us around the point into Seal Harbor Beach, and we’ll be up to date at last! I hope that my hectic family and work life will slow down at the end of next month and I’ll be able to concentrate on the Coast Walk again. If you’re getting impatient with my rate of progress (god knows I am!) there’s something you can do to help.
The two things that slow me down the most are getting permission from property owners and transcribing the interviews. You can’t really help with the first one, but you might be able to give me a hand with the second. Part of the problem is the audio quality – half the conversation gets drowned out by waves or wind or the sound of my camera shutter, or the sound of snowpants scraping over barnacles – that one is amazingly loud, and I spend ages playing the same phrase over and over trying to decipher it. I’ve been reluctant to get microphones because I’m worried that it will feel too formal, but there’s no way around it. Good quality audio will save me hours.
But the thing is, good-quality wireless microphones run about $100 apiece, and the Coast Walk is a ‘labor of love’ which is a roundabout way of saying it’s self-financed. There are a few other things that could help: certain software, for example, and I need new snowpants for next winter (shredded mine on the barnacles, they’re basically made of duct tape now). So if you’re enjoying the Walk and you’d like to help out, I’ve put a ‘donate’ button on the blog. It works with Paypal, but you can use a credit card there.
The Coast Walk is not a non-profit, so the donation won’t be deductible, you just get the joy of knowing I can deliver posts a little faster!
I found a couple of photos of the Seal Harbor Shore Path in its heyday. No date on them, I’m afraid, but the woman’s dress looks 1900-ish.