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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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:
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: https://www.ecowatch.com/dead-whale-plastic-pollution-2408402292.html
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.
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.
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 http://www.theseashore.org.uk/theseashore/SpeciesPages
New England Dog Whelk (Nassarius trivittatus). University of Rhode Island Environmental Data Center (no date). Web. 24 Sept., 2017. Retrieved from https://www.edc.uri.edu/restoration/html/gallery/invert/new.htm
McGee, Samuel Savage, They Should Have Constructed their Buildings on Wheels: Early Settlement. Maine Memory Network (April 2013). Web. 1 October, 2017. Retrieved from http://mdi.mainememory.net/page/3807/display.html