Trailblazing

I’ve spent a few days working over at Russell’s property this summer. He has multiple acres of some lovely, largely wooded property at Cape Rosier on the mainland, and among many other projects he’s been working on creating hiking trails through the property to particularly scenic spots. Earlier this summer Richard, Russell, and I worked for a day on clearing out a path and glade along a cool, stony brook that spills out from a natural spring on Russell’s land, and on Sunday I continued the path along the stream and then turned inland to follow an obvious animal trail and see where it led.

Trailblazing is hard work, but it is also a lot of fun. Basically, the goal is to identify the logical route for a trail and then convert landscape that looks like the photo above into something walkable, like the photo below. That means breaking up and removing rotted logs, gathering up and moving fallen timber that blocks the way, and cutting down scrub trees and dead trees and low hanging branches along the route. Armed with a small saw and limb-cutting shears, I let my pathfinder instincts run free, cutting and chopping and hefting armloads of branches and fallen twigs. As the trail signs turned inland, I followed what looked like a deer trail, shown running through the moss in the photo below, that led to a pretty natural clearing where sunlight dappled the ground under towering trees.

Russell’s property is beautiful and full of surprises—like the brook, the spring, a big round boulder I dubbed Cannonball Rock, and a natural granite promontory that affords a view of Cape Rosier and Castine in the far distance, and others yet to be discovered—and there are lots of ways the trails could run. I’ve finished my trailblazing work for 2021, but I’ll gladly return in 2022 for more scouting, brush cutting, and trail clearing.

The Last Days Of Lobstering?

The people of Stonington are concerned about the future of their community. They aren’t worried about an approaching nor’easter or the remnants of a tropical storm; they’ve survived many of those. Instead, they are worried about federal regulations, designed to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale, that they are afraid might sink the Maine lobster industry–the industry that supports many of the businesses and households in Stonington, which is the largest working lobster fishing community in Maine.

On August 31, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrative (NOAA) issued final regulations that will close a part of the coastal waters off Maine to lobster fishing from October to January, which is traditionally a lucrative time for those in the lobster trade. And then, by May, lobster fishermen will have to configure their lines and traps to meet other new regulations that are designed to limit the number of lines connecting buoys on the water’s surface to lobster traps on the ocean floor and to weaken the strength of the rope lines, so that any right whale that becomes entangled can break free.

That’s a source of significant disagreement between the Maine lobster industry, on one hand, and NOAA and environmentalists on the other. The Mainers say that lobster lines aren’t responsible for a shrinking whale population and that it’s been two decades since a right whale became entangled in a Maine lobster rope. NOAA says, on the other hand, that since 2017 34 right whales have died and 16 were injured by entanglements or ship strikes. NOAA also adds, however, that at least some of those whales were entangled in Canadian gear, and the Maine lobster advocates point out that the NOAA regulations of course won’t affect Canadian lobstermen while the Maine industry is being punished. The Mainers also grind their teeth when regulators say that they use survey data on “predictive density” of whales to close hundreds of square miles of waters to lobster fishing, when the lobster boat captains who are out on the water every day say the practical reality is that whales really aren’t affected.

And the lobster boat captains also note that the alternative fishing method allowed by the regulations–called “ropeless gear”–uses technology that is admittedly “not mature” and would be enormously expensive for individual lobstermen to implement. In all, the NOAA says that it expects the regulations will cost the lobster industry between $9.8 million and $20 million in the first year, and there is no federal money available to help them. That’s a lot of money for an industry where the front-line fishermen who bait and set the traps, deposit the buoys, and hope for a good catch, are primarily independent businessmen who own and man their own boats. That’s why Stonington’s assistant harbormaster, quoted in the first article linked above, says bleakly: “This will sink a lot of people.”

It’s a classic example of the push-and-pull between industry and environmentalism, except this time the “industry” being affected isn’t faceless corporations, but individual, blue-collar lobstermen, many of whom are from families that have engaged in lobster fishing, using the traditional rope-and-buoy approach, for generations. If the new regulations, which are expected to be challenged in court, stay in place, and those independent boat captains can’t afford to comply with the new requirements, it will take away a huge source of both jobs and year-round revenue that hundreds of families count on. It’s not hard to understand why the locals are concerned that the regulations will dramatically change the Stonington community.

Smashed Apple Season

In the spring, everyone loves apple trees. Their delicate blossoms scent the warming breezes, and their pretty bright flowers foretell the growing season to come.

But in the fall, no one is very excited to have apple trees around. Once, perhaps, people actually tended the trees and carefully harvested the apples for consumption, but those days are long since past. Nobody picks the fruit anymore. Instead, the overripe apples fall to the ground, rot on the pavement, and eventually are smashed and ground into the asphalt by passing pickups and pedestrians who want to indulge their destructive impulses. And when the apples get obliterated, they coat the roadway with slime and emit an overpowering, cloying smell like applesauce gone bad, on steroids.

It’s not pleasant.

We’ve got a few of the smashed apple zones in Stonington that I pass on my morning walks. As bad as the smell is for a passerby, at least the unpleasantness is fleeting. Imagine living within one of the zones and smelling that smell constantly. It’s something for everyone to keep in mind the next time they are tempted to play Johnny Appleseed.

Circling Gulls

On my walk this morning I noticed a few dozen seagulls circling one of the piers near the mailboat dock, with more gulls joining every minute. They were raising an unholy racket and clearly had spotted some potential food that they might grab off the pier. It was either that, or a reenactment of a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

The gulls looked very picturesque, silhouetted against the sunrise, but the harsh reality is a different story. Seagulls are trash birds that will try to eat just about anything and will fly off with the disgusting items you can imagine. We know this because we’ve found items dropped by seagulls on our deck. This summer’s seagull gifts have included a large, rotting, eyeless fish head and a gross bait bag with fish guts that probably was snatched from a lobster boat.

It’s just part of the price you pay for living in a seaside community.

The Mushroom Trail

On Sunday we headed off the island to the nearby Holbrook Sanctuary for a hike. The Sanctuary has a lot of trail options that we haven’t tried yet, and the middle of a three-day weekend was a good time to experience a new one. We chose the Mountain Loop trail, which promised to offer what we like about hikes: a pleasant ramble through the cathedral of trees, where you can enjoy surroundings so peaceful and quiet that even a whisper seems like a shout.

It quickly became clear that, at this time of year at least, the Mountain Loop trail could also be called the Mushroom trail. We saw lots of mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors, from a bone white that stood out sharply against the prevailing browns and greens, to a bright orange shooting up from the moss, and finally a harvest gold to brighten the side of the trail.

When we started our hike we wondered if any of the leaves on the trees would be starting to turn. They really weren’t, although some of the ferns in the forest were showing some colors along the edges of their fronds. But who needs fall foliage when you’ve got mushrooms to brighten the forest floor?

The Bees Are Back In Town

If, like me, you’ve been troubled by news articles over the past few years about declining bee populations, here’s some good news: the bees are back, in Stonington at least. We’ve had lots of bee activity by the little guy shown above and a number of his hive mates in our flowerbeds and have seen bees buzzing around flowers and plants along the roadways and even in the downtown area. In contrast, bee sightings last year were a rarity. Fellow gardeners in our neighborhood also report that their flowers are attracting many more bees than they saw last year.

It’s great to see the bees out, being “busy as a bee.” Even better, I haven’t heard of any bee stings.

The Lily Pond Walk

On Sunday Kish and I took one of our favorite walks on Deer Isle, on the Dunham Point Road. It’s a circular route that starts at the shoreline and the grounds of the Deer Isle Yacht Club, skirts the sweep of a stony beach, then heads inland through towering forest, where the air is heavy with the scent of pine. After a ramble through the trees the road emerges in a farm area with a view of the Eggemoggin Reach in the far distance, and passes a house on a hill that looks like it could have been the setting for the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World. Then we turn right onto Perez Road and head uphill to my favorite stretch of road, where we might encounter a cyclist or two on the rolling hills, and just before we turn down toward the shore again we find this perfect little lily pond, peaceful and quiet, with its floating pink flowers and lily pads and unruffled water that gives a mirror-like reflection of the scenery above.

In short, in a walk of a few miles, the Dunham Point Road gives a glimpse of just about every form of topography our island has to offer.

It’s been a busy year on Deer Isle, with lots of tourists downtown and on the trails and at the parks. But the Dunham Point Road trek is off the beaten path even by Deer Isle standards, and we usually have it pretty much to ourselves. That’s one reason why it’s a favorite.

A Turtle’s Spot

It was a beautiful day today—bright and sunny and about 70 degrees—so we decided to take Betty on a lunchtime walk down Indian Point Road to the beaver pond. When we arrived we noticed this baby turtle (in the lower right hand corner of the photo above) sunning itself on a lily pad, without a care in the world.

I hope the turtle enjoyed its prime pad position, because it won’t be able to do so much longer. When the turtle reaches its full-grown size the lily pad won’t support its weight, and it will have to crowd with the adults onto sturdier logs or rocks when it wants to sunbathe.

America’s Tailpipe

Some Mainers say their state is like “America’s tailpipe.” With prevailing winds blowing from the west, the exhaust fumes from daily life in other states head east and often find their way to the skies above Maine before spilling out over the Atlantic.

We had evidence of the “tailpipe” experience last night, when photo above was taken. We suspect that some of the smoke billowing from the enormous Bootleg wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington has been blown to our neck of the woods in coastal Maine, creating a dense layer of haze that shrouded the sun. The sun was like an orange pumpkin in the sky; you could look directly at it, and it cast an orange shimmer on the ocean waters below. The haze was so thick that at the horizon, where the filter of haze was the greatest, the sunset was entirely blocked from view.

“America’s tailpipe” is subject to an air advisory today, with an AQI of 101, which means the air is unsafe for specific sensitive groups. Our experience with haze shows how we are all connected by virtue of the environment, and why wildfire problems out west should concern us all.

In The Inland Mist

Recently I’ve started trying different routes on my morning walk, just to mix things up a bit. One new route takes me away from the shoreline and downtown Stonington and instead follows Route 15 up the hill to Cemetery Road, then across the interior of the island, and then back down the hill toward home on the Greenhead Peninsula. That inland, tree-lined route gives a decidedly different perspective on our little town.

On foggy mornings, like this morning, the mist rolls up the hillside and encases the countryside in a blurry, moist white blanket. It gives the landscape a kind of mystical look that makes for a very pleasant, and very quiet, walk. Earlier this week, on a similarly misty morning, I saw a large herd of deer that included a few youngsters that hadn’t lost their spots nosing around in this same spot. I surprised them as I walked past, and they looked up, startled, and then bolted gracefully into the tree line and vanished into the mist.

Driftwood

One of the great incidental benefits of living in a seaside community is driftwood.

I like pretty much everything about driftwood—starting with its name. It’s not “washed-up wood,” it’s driftwood—as if it has been out for a pleasant journey, leaving the forest behind, taking its time and seeing the sights, without a care in the world. And the physical characteristics of driftwood reflect its ocean journey. Driftwood has a special feel. Its bark has been washed away, and the water and salt and sun and wind exposure somehow have left the driftwood with a smooth, silky feel. It’s warm to the touch, but also feels lighter than branches of similar size, as if its waterborne experience has sucked the weight away, leaving just the essential sturdiness behind. It’s one reason why gnarled pieces of driftwood make great walking sticks.

And the other great thing about driftwood is its innate air of mystery. Where did it come from, and how far has it traveled, and how long did it take for it to reach its destination on a rocky beach? Consider this huge piece of driftwood, below, that we saw on the beach at Barred Island this past weekend. From the notching, it’s clear it has been shaped by human hands for some purpose—but what? We’ll never know for sure, which makes it all the more interesting.

The Path To Barred Island

They say that timing is everything. In the case of the hike to Barred Island, that’s literally true.

We’ve taken the rooty trail out to Barred Island multiple times, but when we’ve reached the vantage point of the photo above we’ve always encountered a full channel of frigid, leg-numbing seawater—which is why it’s called Barred Island. But on our hike on Sunday, we timed our arrival perfectly, and instead of seawater we found that at low tide a sandy, golden path had appeared, beckoning us over to Barred Island itself.

Once we got to the little island we learned that there were no interior trails, because of an ongoing restoration project. The only option for the visitor is to scramble around the shoreline, which can be treacherous due to slick, algae-covered rocks along the channel separating the island from the mainland. You really have to watch your step, and our sturdy, gripping hiking shoes came in handy.

Once you turn the corner and start to circle the island, the rocks—primarily striated granite—become larger, sun-baked, and a lot easier to navigate. In this area of the shoreline we saw a small furry critter—perhaps an otter?—scampering among the rocks. At this point of the circumnavigation of the island, you begin to see the other islands, and the lighthouse out in the Penobscot Bay.

On the far side of the island, the big rocks give way to a stunning collection of different kinds of smaller rocks, which meant that careful attention to path planning and foot placement was important. It was fun to hop from rock to rock and enjoy the colorful mosaic of the different colored rocks in the bright sunshine. If you like rocks and subtle colors, it’s a very cool area.

Following the shoreline inevitably took us back to the sandy spit linking the island to the mainland. We were glad we timed our visit so as to finally allow us to cross over to Barred Island and see what it had to offer. And speaking of timing, as we noticed the sun moving slowly toward the western horizon and glimmering brilliantly on the water, after a full day of yard work and hiking, we decided the timing was also perfect for some soft-serve ice cream.

The Beaver Pond

My destination on my jaunt down Indian Point Road this morning was the place the locals call the beaver pond. It probably has a different, official name, but nobody uses it. The beavers have exercised adverse possession—you can see their two ramshackle lodges that look like wood piles across the pond—and they have acquired de facto naming rights in the process.

The pond is a mile or so down the road, after it veers from the shoreline and meanders inland into some piney forest. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and your timing is right, you’ll see the beavers swimming in the pond, hauling wood to the lodge, or gnawing away at the wood at their lodge, and if you’re really lucky they might notice you and slap their flat tails on the surface of the water and then swim away in a huff. This morning, though, I didn’t see any of the critters. I expect they were keeping themselves warm in their lodges, probably enjoying a warming cup of coffee before getting to work.

A Purple Riot

If you like purple—and who doesn’t?—Stonington is a great place to visit right now. The lupines have bloomed earlier than their traditional Father’s Day arrival, and the vast majority of them are purple. Couple the lupines with the lilac bushes and their fragrant purple flowers, and you have a sweet-smelling purple festival in the works.

Why have the lupines arrived early? Some locals say it’s because we’ve gotten less rain than usual, some say it’s because it’s been sunnier than normal, and some say Mother Nature just decided to give us a post-COVID break and let us enjoy some pretty flowers earlier than she usually does.

A Little Lupine Luck

Over the weekend I was weeding dandelions, which is a constant challenge in our yard, when I ran across this little plant in one of the flowerbeds near the fence line. In my weeding frenzy, I almost weeded it out, but my rational brain took control, recognized the plant, and stopped me before my crazed dandelion eradication efforts added it to the weed bucket.

“Hey, that’s one of my lupines,” I realized, and then I felt a welling sense of pleasure and pride as I carefully weeded around the little plant to give it maximum room for growth. It was a very rewarding gardening moment.

Last fall, before we left Stonington for Columbus, I harvested a bunch of lupine seeds and prepared them for planting. It’s a laborious process, because you need to extract the seeds from their seed pods, one by one, and then dry them before you can plant them. Lupine seeds then need to be in the ground and experience some freezing temperatures before they grow, and you might experience loss of the seeds as a result of hungry birds and critters looking for a snack during the fall and winter months. But I was willing to try a long-term gardening project, so I planted the seeds on a wing and a prayer, and hoped — and now, eight months later, I’m seeing the fruits (or more precisely, plants) of my efforts.

We’re not out of the woods yet, as I’ll need to give this little guy careful attention over the coming months, but it’s very cool to see that the lupine experiment worked. Some of my lupine seeds didn’t germinate, but some did, and as a result I may have some pretty lupine plants where there were none before. Such small victories are the stuff of gardening satisfaction.