Author Archives: BetsyWelch

An idea whose time has come: honoring first responders

Fighting a fire during a training exercise

For the past 15 to 20 years or so, the idea of erecting a monument to honor the service of the men and women belonging to the St. George Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Association has been, as Association member Steve Jarrett says, “floating around” within the Fire Department. Jarrett has been a member of the Association for 27 years, joining a year after the group was formally incorporated (see sidebar for a more detailed history). He is now the chair of a committee working hard to bring into reality what up until recently had just been a matter of wishful thinking.

“At first we were going to do a wall of honor with a big piece of polished granite with brass plaques with names and dates and then we realized that if we’ve been in this business [since the 1940s] it would be hard and we might even be leaving people out if we didn’t have good records, so we kept pondering the idea. I’ve kind of hung with it all the way through. We’ve had a lot of projects going so we’ve had to prioritize, but I didn’t want to see this fall through the cracks. So last year I went to an Association meeting and I said, ‘Do we or don’t we want to continue this and if we do, let’s form a committee, let’s get some ideas.’ And the Association said this is something we want to follow through on.”

The desire to recognize the service of the town’s emergency responders, most of whom are volunteers (only the round-the-clock paramedics are paid), Jarrett says, has to do with wanting to honor Association members’ willingness to shoulder the responsibility—and, frequently, to accept the risks entailed—for safeguarding St. George lives and property. And the time the members put into training alone, represents a significant commitment.

Steve Jarrett

“It used to be you could show up at a fire and help—now you have to be trained,” Jarrett points out. “The training can be intense but it isn’t overwhelming. You can get certified after a year. It’s all for our own good. Our new ‘burn building’ is going to let us do a lot better, a lot more intense, training. It will allow the young recruits to decide if it’s for them or not. It gives us all a chance to act in these scenarios and be safe and remember we’re a team—one comes out, we all come out. There are no heroes and no free-lancing, as one chief used to put it.”

Jarrett’s committee has settled on the idea of an outdoor monument made of granite with benches on either side. “After putting some ideas together we got with Brooks Monuments in Warren and we came to a design which is shaded granite with white granite for the bench tops. We had other ideas such as bronze items to be added, like a pair of boots and a helmet, but we decided, let’s start basic and through the years if we want to add to it we can do that. We wanted something that wouldn’t be reaching for the stars to finance.”

The committee has selected a site on the Town Office lawn in front of the flag pole, facing the parking lot. The estimated cost of the project is $20,000. “The ground has to be prepped so it can be anchored, and it’s got to be installed. The brass plaque at the top alone is $3,000. We thought that was a very fair and reasonable price. It’s got all kinds of flat space for later adding on things—there could be bronze medallions that families could use to commemorate a loved one, or we could put pavers around that could be inscribed.”

The financing for the monument, Jarrett says, will be entirely by donation and fund-raising efforts such as bottle drives. “This will not be in the town’s budget. This is something that comes from the heart.” Jarrett and the committee say they hope they meet their fundraising goal in a reasonable time because the longer the project is delayed the more expensive it will likely be. But they also recognize that the Association has other needs that require funding, so they plan to be careful not to compete with fundraisers for those.

But Jarrett says he and the monument committee are determined to bring this project to fruition. “This monument does mean a lot to us—the EMS and the Fire Department. There’s a lot of pride in our department. There are members of our department who came in when they were 15, 16 years old. I came in in my late 20s. My father used to be on it, my uncle used to be on it. If my three sons hadn’t run off and joined the navy they’d be on it. It is a thing amongst fire departments to put a monument out, a place to celebrate, honor, reflect. It’s a meeting ground with sentimental meaning to it—for all those who have served, for all those who want to come and say something or think something on our behalf, too. It was an idea, and we’re trying to make it a reality.”—JW
(Those wishing to make a contribution to the Fire and Rescue Monument can make their donation to St. George Firefighters and Ambulance Association and send it to the Town Office at PO Box 131, Tenants Harbor, ME 04860. Please specify that the donation is for the Fire and Rescue Monument.)

PHOTOS: Top, Courtesy of SGVFFAA, below, Julie Wortman


A brief history of the SGVFFAA

With the entry of the United States into World War II late in 1941 the Civil Defense Service was formed. A primary concern of Civil Defense was fire protection in case of incendiary bombing. On March 9, 1942 the selectmen of the Town of St. George voted to expend $6,500 for the purchase of fire equipment for the town. A group of fire commissioners was selected under the leadership of Alfred R. Fuller. H. Alvah Harris was appointed fire chief. Prior to this time St. George had no firefighting equipment and no organized firefighting force.

On February 3, 1943 the first apparatus (a 500-gallon 1943 Mack) arrived in town. In the meantime the chief and volunteers had been trained by the Rockland Fire Department.

On March 15, 1943 a complete set of regulations based on model standards recommended by the National Fire Protection Association was read and adopted at the town’s Annual Meeting. The objective of the town’s Fire Department was the “Prevention of fire and the protection of life and property within the limits of St. George.” The town further voted to pay volunteer firefighters at a rate of $.50 an hour while on active duty.

The St. George Volunteer Fireman’s Association was formed on November 15, 1953. The first officers elected were: John Kulju, President; Alison Wilson Jr., Vice President; Arthur L. Ingersoll, Secretary and Treasurer. The minutes record: “Although several meetings prior to this date were held … it was at this meeting that organization was actually completed with officers, rules and regulations.”

The first Annual Meeting was held on April 8, 1954 and subsequently on each second Thursday of April.

The Fireman’s Association was incorporated on June 13, 1990 and changed its name to the present form.

The first ambulance was purchased for $100 on March 6, 1956. It was a 1942 Cadillac Meteor ambulance/hearse which required some additional fitting-out before taking on its tasks (e.g.: a “wheeled cot”).

The ambulance service began as a fully volunteer service entirely funded by community donations. Our first ambulance was purchased with funds raised by a house-to-house canvas by the Fireman’s Association. A total of $308 was raised in that effort. At the time the ambulance was purchased there were approximately 35 volunteers.

That first ambulance was replaced with a 1950 Cadillac on October 31, 1959. That vehicle was replaced in 1963 with a 1956 vehicle. That vehicle remained in service until 1970 and was replaced by a 1967 Pontiac.

In 1970 it was noted that a new state law required the ambulance have licensed attendants. Sixteen volunteers took a nine-week course at Knox Hospital to earn the necessary licenses. An ambulance service in the Maine tradition of neighbors helping neighbors was well and truly underway.—from the St. George Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Association website (

Up close with invasive plants at Fort Point on September 15

The Georges River Land Trust and the St. George Conservation Commission will co-host a walk on the Fort Point Trail in St. George on Saturday, September 15, from 10 to 11:30 am to identify and discuss native and invasive plants found in the midcoast. The walk, which will help people improve their confidence in identifying the most common and emerging invasive plants and provide recommendations on how to remove and dispose of them, is free and open to the public.

Nancy Olmstead, Invasive Plant Biologist with the Maine Natural Areas Program in the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, will lead the walk. Nancy coordinates the iMapInvasives online mapping program, trains partners and volunteers, performs field identification and assessment of invasive plant infestations, and makes recommendations for infestation management. She holds a BA in biology from Cornell University and an MS in plant biology from the University of Vermont Field Naturalist Program.

Walkers should meet at 10 am at the Fort Point Trailhead at Wiley’s Corner spring in St. George on Route 131. Sturdy footwear is recommended for this one-mile round trip walk out to the St. George River.

This event is part of Georges River Land Trust’s “Walks and Talks” series, programs about local resources that are open and free to the public.

Community Cupboard is now open

The St. George Community Development Corporation has opened the St. George Community Cupboard at 47 Main Street in a room adjacent to the Corporation’s office. Run by local volunteers, this food pantry will be open on Thursdays from 2-7 pm. In addition to food, the Cupboard will carry some hygiene products.

Anyone wishing to volunteer or to donate non-perishable goods, please drop by the Town Office, the Corporation office or call 372-2193 for more information.

Monarchs reign!

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Let’s cut right to the chase—it’s been an epic summer for Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). There’s a buzz in the air (not literally) and just about everyone you ask gets a little giddy (literally) telling stories of recent Monarch encounters. We’ve been hearing comments like “incredible banner year” and “what a resurgence” from Lubec to upstate New York­—and the spectacle undoubtedly extends further west! The excitement feels even more special since just a handful of years ago Monarch sightings were few and far between. A rebound has never felt so good, and that’s including my very historic basketball days.

Monarchs are a marvel on many levels, of course, and their natural history basics can be mind-blowing (not literally I hope). As adults, Monarchs have a 4-inch wingspan, with males slightly larger than females, and their average weight is about half a gram (or a fifth of a penny’s weight). Largish for a butterfly, but relatively small when compared to most long-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. The Monarchs of eastern North America (our Monarchs!) originate from overwintering high in the Mariposa Monarca Biological Reserve in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, roughly 3,000 miles away. Studies have shown Monarchs at average speeds of about 5.5 miles per hour, weather and wind conditions taken into consideration, of course. I’m no math major, but that’s about 545.5 hours of travel one way, or 3.25 weeks of travel if they flew non-stop, 24 hours a day.

While many butterfly species migrate north each year never to return south (Painted Ladies are a fine example), Monarchs are the only butterfly species known to migrate in both north and south directions. The twist with Monarch migration is that the northward migration is made over the course of several generations. In other words, the butterflies that reach St. George are actually somewhere in the great to great-great-great grandkid range of the “original” migrants that left Mexico sometime in March. Through all that travelling there is no helicopter parenting, no one to tell them where to go, what to do, or when to move. It’s 100 percent instinct with each generation, which is an alternative lifestyle in its own right. Monarchs leaving our St. George, however, make the entire 2,979 mile trip south as adults, taking as much as 2 months to get back to the land where their great-great grandparents overwintered just a year prior. Google maps say for humans it’s a 47- hour drive, custom issues withstanding.

All butterflies go through a four-stage, “complete” metamorphosis. Local Monarch encounters have been focused mostly on three of those stages—caterpillar (larvae), chrysalis (pupae), and adults (eggs are somewhat hard to find)—with representatives of all three stages often found in the same area. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants (several species) and hatch after three to eight days. The yellow, white and black striped Monarch larva then feast on the milkweed plant, creating fat reserves while ingesting toxins from the plant that are “used” later on to make adults “distasteful” to predators. The larvae “grow larger” through five major molts over the course of about nine to fourteen days. The larvae then find a (hopefully) solid substrate to hang upside down from, shed their striped exoskeleton one final time and molt into an opaque, blue-green chrysalis with small gold dots.

A Monarch caterpillar

Early stage chrysalis

Metamorphosis nearly complete

“Chrysalis” is a term used for the hard shelled pupa that butterflies form rather than a “cocoon,” which is largely a silk casing that moths use in their pupa stage. “Pupa” is often referred to as the “inactive” stage of insects between larvae and adult, but there is actually a lot going on in that hard shell. Enzymes are released that digest most of the caterpillar’s tissues, creating a sort of caterpillar soup. What is not digested are organized cells called “imaginal discs.” These discs were formed while the Monarch was still in its egg, and each was created for an adult body part—eyes, legs, wings etc. Within the chrysalis the imaginal discs use the protein rich “soup” to power intense cell division to rapidly grow the adult body parts. After a couple of weeks the chrysalis turns black/clear and soon an adult Monarch emerges–three body parts, six legs (forelegs are vestigial), wings and all. The wings are droopy at first and have to be pumped full of liquid to harden and stiffen before they can take flight. I have yet to find a word that fully captures just how staggering this change from larva to adult is. And from there the Monarchs head south—always active, always on the move!

Daily sightings of Monarchs have made this summer special and one to remember. It’s been a refreshing resurgence that could not have been predicted just a few years ago. There are many ways to help Monarchs, from protecting milkweed patches to creating habitats in our yards that support Monarchs and butterflies in all stages of development. A simple internet search can be enlightening as to ways to help Monarchs. It’s worth the search!

May this be a trend for the future and may Monarchs be part of the St George summer/fall scene for years to come. They are a special part of summer, and what a summer it has been!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

A curator and artist interested in ‘the confluence of science and art’

“I’m an observer,” reveals St. George resident Jane Bianco,” who has always been interested in the confluence of science and art.” In fact, Blanco’s professional experiences in graphic design, science illustration, electron microscopy and art history have uniquely prepared her for her present position as curator at The Farnsworth Art Museum and as an accomplished artist in her own right.

Like many artists, Bianco traces the roots of her curiosity and creativity to her childhood. Born in Cambridge, England to an American soldier and his British war bride, Bianco traveled the world as her father transferred from military base to military base. Her mother, an avid reader, encouraged the young girl to learn everything possible about where they lived. Frequenting local libraries, reading fueled her curiosity and led her to thoroughly research a wide variety of topics­­—a skill important to her future role as an art curator. Bianco’s father was a resourceful and creative man who engaged in photography and a myriad of other creative endeavors aside from his career in the military and, later, as a lab administrator at a hospital. From her parents, Bianco learned observation, creativity and how to use her inner resources. She began drawing at the age of two and painting in oils by the age of ten.

By the time Bianco was 16 years old, the family had moved to Massachusetts, where she worked part-time in a fabric store. Her acquaintance with a professional graphic designer encouraged her to create a fabric collage that became the cover of the Doubleday Christmas catalogue. It also inspired her to continue in the visual arts, so she enrolled in Massachusetts College of Art to study graphic design.

Eventually, Bianco met and married a medical researcher from Venezuela, and moved to Caracas for a time where she created scientific illustrations and graphs for his published papers, but also provided statistical analyses for his work. “The technical part was kind of exciting to me,” she remarks. Maintaining her individual creativity, Bianco also found time daily to engage in still-life painting. Eventually, the couple moved back to the U.S., where her twin sons were born.

A little over 18 years ago, after she and her husband divorced, Bianco earned a graduate degree in art history from the University of Wisconsin. She also met and married Jason Engelhardt, a skilled printmaker. Engelhardt encouraged Bianco to pursue fellowships and grants to further her career and eventually Bianco was awarded a fellowship that led to a museum position at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wis., where she researched so-called “outsider” artists and art environments. “Outsider artists,” she explains, “are self-taught, outside the mainstream of art school, galleries and the business world. Often poor, they create their own environment and want to beautify their surroundings. Their art cannot be contained—it spills from inside their homes to the outside.”

Bianco’s graduate thesis, based upon her research of outsider artist Mary Nohl (1914-2001), gave Bianco the rare opportunity to conduct intense research while she lived in the artist’s home and transcribed her diaries. This allowed Bianco to chart the sequence of Nohl’s artmaking and her thesis eventually became part of the documentation that placed Nohl’s home on the National Register of Historic Places.

By 2008, Bianco had made the leap to the Farnsworth Art Museum as an associate curator, and now as curator. She loves the work because she enjoys being in the background to create scenes that feature the works of noted artists. In particular, Bianco likes conceptualizing the space for an exhibition, working with a collaborative team and interviewing living artists. In particular, she gravitates toward artists of bygone eras. “The past is alluring,” she says. “The ability to transport yourself elsewhere is a gift from my mother.” Over the past decade, Bianco has curated two notable exhibitions, one featuring the works of Jonathan Fisher and a new exhibition which will open this October 5th entitled “Maine and the Index of American Design.” She was also part of the collaborative team that brought the Marguerite Zorach exhibition to the Farnsworth last year, and wrote the catalogue for that exhibition. “We map out exhibitions five years in advance,” she explains, “and the process is very democratic. Everyone on the team has a voice.”

As an artist, Bianco is inspired to draw with pencil and ink, and also paint with watercolor. She explores color and makes detailed observations that help her understand “the way things are made.” Once a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustration, her work demonstrates her expertise in that area. But she is also open to non-objective experimentation, which allows her intuition to take over. She says she finds that the St. George community of artists encourages this freedom of expression. “It’s inspiring to be surrounded by such creative people who are supportive,” she explains. “This community is conducive to making things. It gives people the freedom to express themselves, and they are supported.” —Katherine Cartwright

[Cartwright adds this personal note: Bianco’s final statement is a perfect summary of the arts community in St. George. Because this is my final article of the summer season, I would like to reflect her sentiments in my own words. It is because of the generous support of artists and patrons alike in this community that I have thrived as an artist over the past 15 years. Thank you all!]

Want to know what’s going on in Town government?

The Town of St. George Select Board has been taking steps to improve communications with the residents of St. George, partly in response to some controversial issues that have arisen recently, particularly with 10 Cold Storage Road. To that end, the Board is encouraging residents to subscribe to the St. George Newsletter, which can be done by contacting the Town Office (372-6363) or by signing up on the Town website ( The newsletter is published every two months and subscribers can opt to receive it either by mail or email. Regardless, the decision has been made to send a copy of the newsletter to every resident at least once a year—this year the mailing went out at the end of August.

In addition, making the Town website ( easier to navigate has been another goal. The Board is pleased to announce that new version is now up and running. It has asked that, beginning this month, the various boards, committees and commissions put updates on their activities on the website so that residents wanting to track more closely the work of these groups can find the information they are seeking in a quick, easy-to-read format as well as through the usual notifications of meetings and agendas and the publication of meeting minutes.

The St. George Select Board is open to other ideas on how to improve Town communications. It also encourages anyone with a question about any activities of the Town administration or any of the Town boards or committees to feel free to contact the Town Manager, the appropriate department head or any member of the Select Board:

Richard Bates   372-6904
Jerry Hall    701-1263
Wayne Sawyer    372-6489
Tammy Willey    372-8904
Randy Elwell    372-0602

Working to bring biomedical health and career education to Maine’s high schools

When Karina Meiri and her husband Jim Schwob bought their house on Ridge Road in Martinsville a few years ago, it changed the way they thought about Maine—up until then they had primarily been vacationers. But Meiri says she thinks of herself these days as an “evolving resident.” This has to do with spending more time here as she enters a semi-retired phase of her professional life as a professor of Developmental, Molecular and Chemical Biology at Tufts Medical School, but it also has to do with the fact that, as the Co-Director of Tufts’ Center for Translational Science Education, educating Maine’s high school science students has recently become a significant focus.

What Meiri and her colleagues at the Center have to offer Maine’s high school science students—and not incidentally their teachers—are curricula that bring together modern biomedical science, valuable health education and exposure to the wide range of career paths in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) fields.

“The public health aspect of the curriculum is for everybody,” Meiri says. “We did a focus group in which we asked high school students, ‘How many of you are interested in science?’ and 50 percent of them said they were somewhat interested in science. But then when we asked, ‘How many of you are interested in learning about your own health and the diseases that affect your own health?’ 98 percent of them said, ‘Yeah, we’d be really interested in learning about that.’ So that’s something students want to learn. Every kid needs to know how to manage their health so that when they go to the doctor and the doctor says, ‘Oh you’ve got an ear infection, so you need to take these antibiotics.’ They need to understand why the doctor then says to them, ‘And don’t forget to finish the course.’ That’s something simple, but it is key to a lot of underlying problems with antibiotics, so understanding that sort of thing, we believe, will give more impetus to public health compliance.”

High school students in Boston are learning how infections spread using an activity that is part of “The Great Diseases” curriculum developed by St. George resident Karina Meiri and her team at Tufts Medical School. The curriculum is now being introduced to high schools in Maine.

At first, when Meiri joined the Tufts Medical School faculty in 2000, her interest was in working with high school students who were already taking an interest in doing “real” science. “Before coming to Tufts I always had high school students in my lab, working, learning science, helping, as a way to encourage them if they were interested in science. That morphed into a program that I started where I would pair high school students with other scientists so they could do projects. The point of that was so that they could enter these science competitions like the Intel competition because there is a lot of prize money in these competitions that would help students with college costs. Then, when Jim and I moved to Boston I started a really big program involving 100 students a year—we would match them with scientists from Tufts, or Harvard or MIT or industry.”

Eventually, Meiri and her colleagues realized that while it was great working with high school students who were already interested in science, there was a large group of students who didn’t really know if they would be interested in science or not.
“We realized that if we wanted to get to those students we’d have to get into the classroom and to get into the classroom we’d have to get the teachers on board, so that was how we decided to change from offering a sort of informal kind of opportunity for students to learn science to one that was really formally focused on the classroom.”

To their credit, Meiri says, high school science faculty realize that to teach science they have to engage students in science. “They have to involve them in a discovery experience so that they realize that science is about discovering things, not just learning things.” Applying that understanding to environmental projects—take St. George School’s alewife project as an example—can be very successful, Meiri says, because the projects are community oriented. “But our interest was in biomedical science, the science of health and disease, so that is something a bit more removed from the community, although our focus group made clear that health and disease is very much something students find engaging. But the teachers find it harder to translate that interest into effective projects because their own training isn’t in that kind of science. And then, when you become a teacher, you often don’t get content-based professional development. If their school has four days a year for professional development you’re going to get a professional development day that speaks to everybody and is not narrowly focused on topics like infectious diseases.”

So Meiri and her colleagues applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to work on developing a biomedical science curriculum for high school students called “The Great Diseases.” They began working on the five-year project with a group of local high school teachers in 2008. The curriculum was designed to be the “Biology II” course being offered to Boston area students with three years of science already under their belts—an elective that had been posing a significant challenge to their teachers, who were not feeling confident that their training was adequate to the teaching at this level.

“So we designed four six-week modules: infectious diseases, metabolic diseases like obesity, neurological disorders of which addiction would be a part and cancer of which modern technology would be a part. So those were the modules. And instead of saying, with infectious diseases for example, ‘Here’s a list of bacteria and here’s a list of parasites, now go away and learn them,’ which is what happens in medical school, the way we decided to do it was to ask 30 clear questions like, ‘What does it mean to say a disease is infectious? When does a microbe become pathogenic? How do we find out? How does our body control infectious disease? How do we treat it?’ So those were the big questions and then we would use specific diseases to explain the answers. So we might talk about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) from the point of view of the science, asking ‘How does a STD work?’ So there is a real public health impact associated with it.”

Each module took the teachers and Meiri’s team a year to put together. “Over each year we would teach the teachers the content and then we would come up with the 30 questions. Then we would go away and take each of those questions and make them into a week’s worth of lessons. Then we would design those lessons so that each has a structure that a teacher can come to and just look at and say, ‘Okay, now I know what to teach in this lesson and how to teach it.’”

“The Great Diseases” curriculum has proven extremely popular. Meiri cites one teacher’s experience: “First she had to strong-arm kids to take the class, so the first year she had just 20 students. Now she is teaching four sections of the course and there is a waiting list.”

Meiri’s Center for Translational Science Education has also made the curriculum available online—there are about 15,000 downloads from the Center’s site each month, by users all over the world, but primarily in the U.S. Supporting all these users has become a significant part of the Center’s work.

“We designed workshops for teachers so they could come to us in Boston, usually during the summer, and learn how to teach each of the modules. Then we designed on-line virtual support so if a teacher in Texas wants to learn how a microbe becomes pathogenic they can sign up to have online chats and texts and skypes with someone who is an expert in our group and that expert can answer their questions and give tips about how to teach the classes. We also encourage the teachers to modify the lessons so if they say, ‘Well, my class doesn’t do well with reading,’ or ‘My class actually needs more reading than activities because we don’t really have the resources to support the activities,’ we’ll say, ‘Why don’t you do the lesson this way rather than in that way,’ so it is really structured support for the teachers. And the students get extra support because we supply workbooks that go along with the lessons.”

With another five-year grant from the NIH in 2014 the team began developing online professional development for teachers who can’t come to Boston for “The Great Diseases” workshops, especially those from schools in rural areas.

Another aspect of the Center’s work has involved developing another high school curriculum that goes into the classroom and gives students the opportunity to experience the “drug discovery” process as a means of exposing the students to science-related career options.

“With this curriculum we go into the classroom and say, ‘Here are three diseases, which one do we want to cure?’” Meiri explains. “The students go away and research the diseases and then they decide which to take on. And then we divide them into teams and each person in each of the teams plays a specific role, like a medicinal chemist or someone who organizes clinical trials or somebody who looks after the animals in the facility or someone who writes reports for the FDA. And then, over the course of a week, the students simulate this drug discovery process, they look at the data, figure out how to make their experimental drug better, and so on. The students get to experience all those different careers and learn about them and the education they would need to pursue them—not every STEM career requires a PhD or even a college degree. And the kids get to appreciate there is more to science than being a biology teacher.”

Bringing these curricula to Maine has become a significant focus for Meiri and Tufts’ Center for Translational Science Education for several reasons, Meiri notes, though it is entirely coincidental that this is happening at the same time that Meiri and her husband have become part-time residents of St. George. For one thing, Maine is a good fit because Tufts already has a relationship with Portland’s Maine Medical Center and with the Jackson Labs in Bar Harbor, both of which are doing science outreach with high schools. In fact, Maine Medical Center has already introduced Meiri’s team to a resource that will help connect it to Maine’s rural schools and has also hosted a workshop focused on one aspect of “The Great Diseases” curriculum for a group of Maine high school teachers. In addition, support from the Bingham Foundation, which has a special interest in bringing health science education to high schools in Maine, is making it possible for the Center to expand science curriculum development in the state.

Meiri is clearly pleased that her Center’s health science education work is developing a strong foothold in Maine. But, she admits, she also has a concern, noting, “We don’t yet have any educational partners in the midcoast area.” Now that she is becoming more and more grounded in St. George it seems likely that that situation will soon change. —JW

PHOTOS: Top, Julie Wortman; Center for Translational Science Education

The ‘Lighthouse on the Hill’

The Tenants Harbor Baptist Church, also known as the Third Baptist Church of St. George, was an outgrowth of the two earlier Baptist churches at Wiley’s Corner and at the Ridge in Martinsville. A group was organized in 1842 and in March 1845 a meeting was held at the Clark schoolhouse for the purpose of “adopting measures to build a church.” A church was built at the cost of about $2,500 and it was dedicated in December 1847.

Talk about rebuilding the church began about 1883, but construction work did not begin until the fall of 1890. It took a year to complete, at a contract price of $5,800, with a dedication of the new building in October 1891. Church membership at the time was around 250.

A newspaper article from 1891 describes the church: “The church is commandingly located on a hill overlooking the pretty village whose name it bears. The structure is in the form of two right-angled wings with a handsome tower at the junction. The old church forms one of the wings.” The article goes on to describe the renovations in detail, noting the size and types of wood used, seating capacity and the beautiful stained glass windows. The church steeple is then mentioned: “It is 74 feet high and commands a wonderful view of the surrounding country and sea. It is used as a beacon for sailors off the coast, its commanding situation making it very useful for that purpose.” To this day, it is still referred to as the “Lighthouse on the Hill.”

At the dedication in 1891, the building committee reported approximately $2,000 of debt. Immediately several members stepped forward and made donations, followed by Capt Samuel Watts. A contemporary account said Watts addressed his friends and neighbors saying, “The church should be dedicated free from debt.” He reportedly then and there paid the balance of $1,750.

For many years the church was the site for the St. George High School’s graduation services. —John Falla

Today’s renovations to the steeple

Tenants Harbor Baptist Church

Over the next two months, the nearly 200-year-old Tenants Harbor Baptist Church will be in the midst of a renovation project.

The church’s steeple has been in need of major repairs for over a decade, and after successfully raising a majority of the funding for the project, work is getting underway to bring the steeple up to its previous glory.

The church, founded in 1842, has been a central figure in the Tenants Harbor and greater St. George community. With the church sitting high on the hill on Main Street, the steeple has been known throughout the years as the “Lighthouse on the Hill.”

However, due to decades of wear and tear up on that hill, the light has not been shining—nor the church bell rung as of late.

Weathering the Maine elements has caused numerous steeple elements to deteriorate. The steeple has also been struck by lightening several times throughout the church’s history, the last time being about 15 years ago.

Throughout the years, intermittent repairs have been made to keep the steeple in adequate shape. But the renovations being made this fall are needed to bring the steeple to its original condition.

During the steeple’s restoration, several belfry posts and beams will be replaced, along with the installation of two new bell braces, which support the church bell. A wall realignment will need to be completed, as well as replacing all of the trim and finish on the steeple’ belfry. Other repairs are also included in the plans.

Once the work is done, we’re hopeful to have “The Lighthouse on the Hill” back in working order so we can once again ring the bell and light the steeple. —Walter W. Desruisseaux, Sr.

Parasites in paradise

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

Indian Pipe

Say the word “parasite” to a friend (go ahead, I dare you) and you’ll likely receive a look of disdain that’s (most likely) partnered with some sort of negative sound effect. If you are lucky, you might “get” to hear a biased story about some moochy, mutual friend. To make matters worse—toss out the classic joke “Q: What do you call a parasite on a Loon? A: Loon-a-tick”—and you are likely to get eye rolls, head shakes and possibly lose a friend or two. In the simplest terms, parasites are to be avoided and the joke is just not that funny. Parasites (and the loon joke) are like the complete opposite of a win-win.

The famous entomologist, E.O Wilson, described parasites as “predators that eat prey in units of less than one.” Dictionaries define parasites as organisms that “derive nutrients from another organism … at the other organism’s expense.” Despite these less than glowing reviews, there are still parasites that bring smiles to countless human faces each year, and many of them (parasites, humans, and faces) can be found right here in St. George!

Take the parasitic Indian Pipe or ghost flower (Monotropa uniflora) of the Heath family (Ericaceae) for example. While everyone agrees that photosynthesis in plants is mind-boggling and incredible, Indian Pipe is a plant that skips the whole “create your own sugar” thing and instead goes rogue and taps into underground sources for nourishment (a plant race away from the sun).

Polinated Indian Pipes

When they rise from the earth, Indian Pipes are “ghostly white” to “partially-pinkish” (no green chlorophyll here!) with a single, nodding flower at the top of each white stalk. Their look changes once the flowers are pollinated, as the Indian Pipe flowers redirectionalize themselves, face upwards and the entire plant turns to black. The coloration and morphology phases of Indian Pipe make for a diverse observational experience that can really only be compared to that of a slime mold. In other words they are fun to watch. Very cool, if you are into that kind of thing.

In truth, Indian Pipes only parasitize trees in an indirect sort of way. Their roots take nutrients from underground, mychorrhizal fungus that happen to have a symbiotic relationship with the local trees! To grow, an Indian Pipe plant takes a portion of the sugars that a mychorhizal fungus receives from a tree in exchange for nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients. It’s a parasitic arrangement that doesn’t kill the fungus or the tree and results in cool-looking, ghostly Indian Pipes sprinkled throughout the woods! Win-win.

Pine Sap

And Indian Pipes aren’t the only Heath to go down the “parasitic path.” Pine Sap (Monotropa hypoithys) is a closely related (same genus!) parasitic plant that is also found in the forests of St. George, albeit in less abundance than Indian Pipes. Pine Sap is easily identifiable with its tannish coloration and multiple, nodding flowers on a single stalk. And parasitic all the way.

Another local parasitic favorite is the Lobster Mushroom. In the case of a Lobster Mushroom, it’s a mold (Hypomyces lactifluorum) that attacks a mushroom from the family Russula (Russulaceae); often Peppery Milky (Lactarius piperatus) or short stalked russula (Russula brevipes) mushrooms. The mold “arrests the development” of the parasitized mushroom while using the structure as a platform to release its own spores. The result is a warped mushroom completely covered in reddish-orange skin, somewhat reminiscent of a cooked lobster—thus the name (HELLO)! As it absorbs nutrients the mold also prevents Russula mushrooms from doing their Russula mushroom duties (spreading spores). On a side note, the mold also happens to turn the parasitized, fungal bloom from a not-particularly-appetizing mushroom into a prized “choice” edible, a delicacy that has been cooked in restaurants and grilled on barbeques for hundreds of years (or eaten for a long time). Here is a parasite that pleases both the eyes and the palate!

I have to say, in no way are we trying to minimize the effects parasites can have—they are here, among us and even the best of us get them (trust me on this). And while spraying clothes and being vigilant with tick checks has become a part of life with parasites in mid-coast Maine, there are still examples of this natural relationship that can get heads noddin’ at the marvel of it all. Parasitism is an aggressive alternative to doing it yourself, and examples of such behavior are found throughout nature. Some of these parasites and parasitical relationships can even inspire smiles. What a world.

See you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen