Ditch Niche

Our place in Stonington features a small stream that runs along the border between our property and our neighbor’s place to the north.  Actually, “stream” is probably not an accurate description.  I think of it as a creek, but some people might view it as more of a rivulet, or even a glorified drainage ditch.  The water tumbles down the hillside to the harbor, rushing by in the winter and wet spring months and when it rains, but otherwise moving sluggishly — if at all — after a few dry days at the end of summer.

Humble thought it may be, it’s still the only watercourse I’ve ever had on a property, and I think it is pretty cool.  The neighbor’s side of the creek is littered with big, picturesque boulders, but our side was definitely lacking in the stone category.  As a result, the second part of my stone-digging project has involved rolling, flipping, or carrying the stones I’ve excavated over to the creekside, to better frame the stream.  I’ve also been working at clearing out the accumulated branches and other debris that has clogged the creek and interfered with the flow of the water.  It’s pretty clear that nobody has paid much attention to it for years.

The goal is to make the creek look more like a waterway and less like a damp spot in the yard.  It’s still a work in progress.

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Name Upgrade

Just last year, it bore the straightforward but dismissively insulting name “Dump Road.” But the same impulses that caused someone to come up with “pre-owned vehicles” rather than “used cars” and to rebrand the Patagonian Toothfish into Chilean Sea Bass were brought to bear, and “Dump Road” became the considerably more upscale and environmentally friendly “Transfer Station Road.” There’s still a town dump on the road, of course, but that’s beside the point. Dump Road deserved a better name.

What Deer Isle road is next up for a new moniker? Weedfield Road, perhaps? Let’s see . . . how about Wilderness Trace? Or maybe Natural Lane?

Roots Music

Last night we visited the Burnt Cove Church Community Center to catch a performance of the Loose Cannon Jug Band.  It was a foot-stomping, knee-tapping way to end a sunny Saturday on the Labor Day weekend.

The LCJB is five musicians who play just about every traditional musical instrument you can think of:  tenor banjo, guitars, fiddle, harmonica, squeeze box, washboard, . . . and two jugs, of course.  The only thing they seemed to be missing was a spoons player.  They performed traditional songs and original creations, all in the style of early blues, bouncy gospel, and other American roots music of the ’20s and ’30s.  The songs, old and new, were terrific and often funny, and the band members all seemed to be having a great time — which meant that the audience was having a great time, too.  The audience sing-along to Mud Flat Laundromat was a highlight.

The Loose Cannon Jug Band show was one of the many offerings of the Summer Entertainment Series in Stonington.  For a small community, the Series offers an impressive array of shows — in fact, last night there was a second performance, of folk music, at the Opera House itself.  The LCJB show occurred at the Burnt Cove Church, pictured below, which is a beautiful old church turned into a performance venue, complete with pews for seating and pressed tin ceiling.  When the band launched into one of their raucous gospel numbers about sin and Satan, it was a perfect combination of sound and setting.

Franchise Free

One of the great things about Stonington, Maine is that it’s far off the beaten path.  So far, in fact, that it’s totally franchise-free.  You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks here.  In fact, you’d have to drive dozens of miles into the mainland before you hit your first  franchise fast food restaurant or coffee shop.

Located at the tip of Deer Isle, out in the middle of Penobscot Bay, Stonington is just too small and too remote for the big franchise chains.  That means if you’ve got to start your day with some kind of Starbucks brand caramel-topped pumpkin spice latte grande, this just isn’t the place for you.  (It also means that you won’t find a discarded Starbucks coffee cup or a McDonald’s wrapper around town, either.)

inn-on-the-harbor

That doesn’t mean that Stonington lacks for coffee or the other amenities of modern life.  Instead, locally owned businesses have filled the niche that would otherwise be filled by the big chains.  There’s a great coffee shop called 44 North where you can get your java fix, and there are really good restaurants, ranging from the classic home-cooked offerings offered at the Harbor Cafe (pictured above, where the haddock chowder is addictive and you have to save room for dessert) and Stonecutters Kitchen and the Fin and Fern to the more high-end fare found at Acadia House Provisions and Aragosta.  The other businesses in town are locally owned, too — and some of them are employee-owned co-ops.

The local ownership adds a certain indefinable quality to the buying experience.  There are signs around the island noting that buying from local businesses means local jobs, and that’s clearly the case.  It actually makes you want to shop at the local options and support the local economy, in a way that just doesn’t apply to stopping at a national chain operation.

It’s all a pretty old school approach.  There’s nothing wrong with the big companies and their franchises, of course, but it’s nice to be reminded of what America was like before large-scale national brands took hold and unique local businesses lined the sidewalks along Main Street.

All Politics Is Local

The old saying is that “all politics is local.”  We’ve seen some very tangible evidence of the truth of that saying here in Stonington, Maine.

Last night there was a public hearing at the Stonington Town Hall about food trucks.  It’s a hot issue here for the small business owners.  There’s a limited “summer season” in Stonington when local businesses hope to sell their wares to tourists and visitors enjoying the sunny but not-too-hot weather, and also a limited amount of four-hour on-street parking in the “downtown” area that those tourists and visitors can use.  Business owners are concerned that food trucks can come and use those precious spots for the full four hours, potentially making parking a challenge and causing a visitor to pass their business by.  And the restaurants, all of which are locally owned businesses, aren’t happy with the idea of food trucks swooping in and taking away customers.

Stonington doesn’t have an ordinance governing food trucks.  Should there be one, and if so what should it say?  Last night the town’s Board of Selectmen heard from the public on the issues, and now they’ll decide.

And sometimes the politics is even more local — specifically, about one person with a piece of cardboard and a magic marker.  The sign below was posted on a telephone pole just at the eastern entrance to the downtown area.  Not knowing anything about the “whale rules” that the sign mentioned, I did a Google search and learned that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has promulgated a proposed rule to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.  NOAA believes that the whales are at risk of death or injury from entanglement in the many buoy lines that connect lobster traps on the ocean floor to their buoy markers on the surface,  The new proposed rule would require Maine lobstermen to remove half of their vertical buoy lines in the water — which means directly reducing the potential catch.  In a town like Stonington, where many people are self-employed in the lobster industry, that’s a federal rule that could potentially have an enormous and direct impact on the town.  Public hearings on the rule will begin soon, and Maine’s congressional delegation has appealed to President Trump to quash the proposed rule.  They argue that there really isn’t evidence that the lobster buoy lines are responsible for the decline in the right whale population.

That hand-lettered sign just outside of town got my attention, and made me look into an issue that i wasn’t aware of before.  It just shows the impact of a little local politicking.