Author Archives: BetsyWelch

DASH bus serves St. George residents via local ride program

Driver Minna Grotton

A new and inexpensive public bus service in Thomaston and Rockland is available to anyone who doesn’t—or doesn’t wish to—drive their own car.

Called DASH, this shuttle bus is not unlike a trolley system that operated in the area generations ago. Between 7am and 4:50pm, the shiny red buses make scheduled stops in a continuous loop from the Wal-mart parking lot in Thomaston to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport. Buses have a lift for wheelchairs.

For St. George residents, the free Neighbor-to-Neighbor ride service, in private cars, can connect with a DASH bus, allowing the driver to return home, run errands and pick up their rider later in the day. The bus service was only launched on May 1st, and ridership is still light, but already Neighbor to Neighbor is starting to receive requests for rides to a DASH bus stop.

Jane Matthews of St. George recently gave the bus a try, and had this to say afterward: “I rode up to the hospital, had the 10 minute break and we headed back down. I wanted to get some bagels and shop at the Good Tern, so [bus driver Minna Grotton] saved me quite a walk by dropping me right in front of the co-op!”

Steffany Pyle, community engagement facilitator for Mid-Coast Public Transportation, said there are many rural residents who do not drive, and even some who do, who can take advantage of public transportation. You save the cost, stress and environmental impact of driving your own car, and you can ride the bus for $2. A day pass is $5, and a punch ticket for a dozen rides is $20. For $50, you can buy a monthly pass, and there are discounts for riders over 60, as well as for someone with a physical disability.

The bus will travel up to three-quarters of a mile off route to pick up someone unable to reach a bus stop, so long as the delay doesn’t push things off schedule.

Pyle said Waldo County has had public bus service for 30 years, and Knox County had a similar service in the past. She hopes DASH will succeed where its predecessors failed. Funding comes from the Federal Transit Administration, as well as state transportation funds, local matches, grants and donations.

“We’re figuring out what stops are working, what’s not. It’s an ongoing process,” Pyle said.

Matthews, who is a “proud owner” of a monthly bus pass, praised the service: “My southbound (bus) had picked up a woman in a wheelchair at Pen Bay and dropped her right at her apartment in the South end. She is a frequent rider. The wheelchair exit was efficient and without any catches, thanks to the great vehicle and experienced driver.”

Matthews hopes the DASH experiment is a success. “Of course we all have dreams of weekend hours, expanded weekday hours and expanded routes or connections to other systems.”
—Steve Cartwright

The DASH bus service can be reached at 338-4769, or midcoastpublictransportation.org; Neighbor to Neighbor can be contacted at 691-7069, or ridesinstgeorge@gmail.com.

Cruising for puffins and more

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Getting to be a “chaperone” on cool field trips is recognized as one of the four major bonuses of having a kid. So it was a “no-brainer” for me when Mrs. Elwell’s 3rd grade class (Leif’s class) sent the word that they were looking for adults to join them for a “puffin cruise” field trip. I jumped quickly to reserve my spot (I am at my best in no-brainer situations). To make things even better, Ms. Thompson’s 1st graders and Mrs. MacCaffray’s 4th graders were also going to be on the trip, so it was truly a case of “the more, the merrier”!

In preparation for the trip the 1st graders have been studying birds and the 4th graders have been researching animal adaptations (super cool topic). For their part, Mrs. Elwell’s class has been specifically studying the Atlantic Puffin. The class even designed, created and sold t-shirts that explain the puffin life cycle and lifestyle through the students’ artwork. Proceeds from the shirts went to support Project Puffin and the National Audubon Society for their efforts to help understand and protect puffins and other seabirds. The kids proudly wore the shirts as we loaded onto Monhegan Boat Line’s “Elizabeth Ann,” and headed out with visions of dancing puffins and food (it was lunch time).

Puffins may have been the focus for the day and Eastern Egg Rock the destination for the boat ride, but it was clear early on that this trip was about more than just puffins. The day was gorgeous—the reason “rain dates” were created—and everyone seemed grateful for that. After we passed Marshall Point Light, some of the kids got to practice with their binoculars by focusing on a small feeding frenzy of Common Terns, Black Guillemots and Double-crested Cormorants. Before we knew it the boat was pulling up alongside a handful of rocky ledges and small islands where Harbor Seals had hauled out and everyone got great views of the wildlife. It’s pupping season for Harbor Seals and there were many mother-seal-and-pup combinations in and out of the water. The pups only stay with the moms for about a month, and so the timing couldn’t have been better. Needless to say the kids were psyched!

Eastern Egg Rock is a classic seabird nesting island—devoid of trees, it’s more of a seven-acre rock pile, sprinkled with grasses and bird blinds that the puffin project researchers observe from. The list of seabirds that nest on Eastern Egg Rock is impressive—Common, Arctic and federally endangered Roseate Terns as well as Common Eiders, Leach’s Storm-petrels, Black Guillemots and, of course, the roughly 170 pairs of Atlantic Puffin. In early June the puffins and seabirds were incubating eggs, so the comings and goings are somewhat muted as compared to when young are being fed (late June-July). We were entertained, though, by a mob of terns “escorting” a Great Black-backed Gull away from the nesting colony. Terns never sound happy, and the combination of their cries and quick dives towards the gull made for a fun show.

We started to see puffins after motoring about half way around the island, cute little “sea parrots” bobbing on the water. The captain and crew did a great job snuggling the boat up close to the birds, and the birds were impressively tolerant of not only the boat but of all the excited screams and energy coming from the boat’s passengers! It’s always great to see puffins (unless you are a fish) but seeing them with a boatload of kids is definitely the way to do it. Everyone saw them, and everyone was pumped—including the puffins (I think)!

The return trip was highlighted by a session with an incredibly user-friendly Harbor Porpoise. It took relatively quick dives (less than a minute), popped up somewhat close to the boat several times and then stayed at the surface for many breathes between dives. Needless to say, the cheers from the kids with each porpoise sighting had the boat rocking—in a good way.

“That was the best field trip I’ve ever been on”, was the quote from Leif when we got back to Port Clyde and I wholeheartedly agreed. The kids were great (parents too!), the day was beautiful and the wildlife was abundant. Just another reason I am glad I am a parent!

Let’s get this show on the road—Nature Bummin’ is going live with stories and slides at the next St. George Historical Society meeting on Thursday June 28th, 7pm at the St. George Grange at Wiley’s Corner. Potluck precedes the talk at 6pm–should be a fun show!

Solo exhibitions—looking beyond the opening reception

One of the most frequently celebrated events on the St. George peninsula during the summer is the opening of an art exhibition. Most weekends feature at least one new show heralded in by open invitations to the community. The opening reception, usually on a Friday evening, is the celebration of an artist’s body of work. Large crowds often attend these openings, causing traffic jams as drivers jockey for one of the precious few parking spaces. After filing through a narrow doorway into a crowded gallery or hall, folks are treated to a beautiful display of fine art accompanied by wine and hors d’oeuvres. Normally, these folks quickly make their way to the wine and food table, which is always enticing. Turning to the art, most take a look and then locate the artist to express their admiration and appreciation. And, all too soon, their backs are turned to the art as they feast and socialize for the rest of the evening. That’s only natural. After all, this is a community where friends and acquaintances abound. However, if we could look behind the scenes at how some of our local artists prepare for a solo exhibition and what it means to them, we might want to spend a little more time considering the art on display.

A solo exhibition of fine art is years in the making. In fact, when someone asks me how long it took me to create a particular painting, I like to say “all my life.” In truth, every work produced by an artist is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and dedication to this discipline. Mastery isn’t achieved overnight. Creating art is only part of the equation. We also endure the struggle and expense of figuring out how to exhibit it. It’s complicated. Each painting selected for an exhibition is like a chapter in a novel. It must fit the theme, be displayed in a sequence that serves the narrative, and have enough chapters to complete the story. And, like any novel, an exhibition needs readers.

Geoff Bladon prepares for an exhibition by “thinking about the venue, size and number of paintings that would be suitable, associated costs like the venue fees, framing, reception, publicity” and any other responsibilities that fall to the artist. Bob Steinmetz adds that assigning prices to the works is another important factor, and that “it is important to me how well the show is hung and the overall quality of how well my work is presented to the public.” This means proper framing, expert hanging, and adequate lighting. As Bjorn Runquist puts it, this stage of preparation is “triage.” And, if you’re wondering how much all this costs, it can be, and often is, thousands of dollars.

But, an exhibition without patrons and viewers isn’t worth much to the artist. So, our advance efforts include photography, writing notices, creating posters, mailing postcards, sending out emails, and talking to friends. The majority of artists that I’ve spoken with would love to have a personal assistant to handle this. For that matter, we’d like them to handle marketing and bookkeeping as well. Only a select few artists have enough funds to afford this type of help, so we’re mostly on our own.

Once the exhibition is up and ready, the artist has only to deal with her emotions. What will happen? What do I hope will happen? What’s the worst that can happen? Anxiety sets in. As Otty Merrill puts it, exhibiting her work “is a blessing and opportunity, and a bit of a curse to show and get feedback. It’s important to remind myself often that my art is simply a product of my energy and point of view, and putting myself out there is a choice.” Therefore, a solo exhibition is an existential experience for the artist. We feel hope and anxiety beforehand. On opening night, we’re happy for the viewers who contemplate our work and offer us encouragement. If our work sells, we’re ecstatic and confident in our ability. Relief sets in when the exhibition ends, and then despondency if we take home most of the art that was on display. This leads to postpARTem blues as we doubt our talent and struggle to find the rationale that will send us back to the easel. Optimism and confidence eventually win the fight and we can again declare “I AM an artist!”

By now, you might be asking yourself why an artist would choose to have a solo exhibition. There are several reasons. We need the income to pay the expense of creating the work in the first place. That income also allows us to exclusively devote our time creating art throughout the year. Because most patrons don’t beat on the doors of our studios to see our work, we must bring it to the public. There is also the psychological aspect of why we make art. Merrill feels that “making art alone can be like singing in the forest alone…does anyone hear me?” Artists use their works to communicate with others, so it needs to exist among others. According to Runquist, “My hopes for a show have changed a great deal over the years. At first, it was hope for recognition, good reviews, etc. Now, it is more the pleasure that others will enjoy it as well and that some will sell.” Bladon feels “there is a sense of satisfaction in seeing a considerable amount of your work hung together. You feel like you’ve accomplished something. Sales, of course, indicate viewers support you by voting with their wallet, which is encouraging. But, meaningful positive comments from your peers whom you respect is probably the best outcome hoped for.” Therefore, communication and support are important motivators for artists who decide to hold a solo exhibition.

This summer, there will be dozens of artist receptions at venues dotting the St. George peninsula. Awaiting you is an artist who took a lifetime and great effort to create and display the works that you will view, and who hopes that you’ll spend some time in a meaningful contemplation. A solo art exhibition is much more than a cocktail party, it’s a culturally enriching experience that creates dialogue within a community and within oneself. It’s where we can discover our humanity.

—K­atharine A. Cartwright­

Practicing French—and having fun—where French is spoken

On the morning of May 31, twenty-four 8th grade students and eight adult chaperones departed the St. George School in a coach bus at 6:30 am bound for Quebec City. After months of planning and fundraising, the trip was finally a reality!

The first stop once we crossed the border was a break at the Galeries de Capitale Mall to do some shopping, get lunch, and stay cool in the 90 degree heat. After checking into the Hotel de Concorde, we had time to swim before getting a bite to eat on the Grand Alleé around the corner from the hotel. Then we were off for some intense games of laser tag at Defi Laser.

After a late night, we rose early to visit Ecole de Secondaire Rochebelle, a high school in Quebec. There we met our pen pals, a group of immigrant students who had been learning French much like us. We had written back and forth during the school year and now finally got to meet some of them. We did some ice breaker games, got a school tour, were amazed by the student art show, and then went outside for some games on the sports fields before we said au revoir.

The bus then dropped us off in the lower town of the Old City of Quebec where we had lunch at various cafes, shopped, and took in the famous sites of Old Quebec. We practiced our French at every place we visited and the people of Quebec were very patient and friendly.

Back to the hotel for another swim, and to get ready for dinner and the Dance Cruise. After enjoying some poutine and other food at Les Trois Garcons, we walked through the Old City again to get to the boat for the cruise. The boat was packed with kids from Philadelphia, Vermont, and Quebec and we danced away the evening. It was a beautiful night on the St. Lawrence with the city all lit up behind us.

The next morning we walked to Paillard, a French bakery, and enjoyed the croissants, breads, and chocolat chaud. We then drove to Montmorency Falls, a beautiful sight, and walked up the steps on the side of the falls (some of us got soaked by the mist) before riding down on the cable car. After that we went to the Aquarium Du Quebec where we saw polar bears, seals, walruses, and a beautiful display of jellyfish. Then it was time to take the long bus ride home.

What an amazing trip it was! Thank you to all of the parents, the school, and the St. George Community for making this happen!

—This report was prepared by members of the 8th-grade class and Josh McPhail.

When umpiring is all about fun—and learning how to play the game ‘right’

For the past seven weeks or so, Craig Gauthier hasn’t seen much of his wife, Dawn. While both normally have demanding weekday work schedules, from the last week in April through the first week or so of June, Gauthier is also umpiring Little League softball games six days a week—most every evening after work and, usually, two games each Saturday.

“I can’t say no [to requests that I umpire a game]. I really don’t want to say no. Every game I say no, that’s another game these kids are playing without an umpire. And when somebody—a coach or a parent—steps in and umpires, but doesn’t really know the rules, they are in there kind of making up their own rules, because they don’t know. So it’s good to have an official in there to say, ‘All right, you can’t do this, you can’t do that and this is what you have to do to play the game right.’”

Gauthier has been focusing on what it takes to play Little League softball “right” ever since Dawn, who herself had been coaching Little League softball for over 10 years in St. George at the time, asked if he would like to umpire—that was eight years ago, just before the couple was to be married in the fall of 2010.

“They were, as usual, short on volunteer umpires. So I said yeah, great, I have no trouble stepping up. I like to do anything I can for the kids.”

Umpiring softball, in fact, was a volunteer opportunity practically made to order for Gauthier, who has had a lifelong love of the sport. “Out of the sports that I play, which are basketball, football and softball, I like softball the best because you can really shine at both ends, offense and defense. It doesn’t take much to hit a ball and it doesn’t take much to catch a ball. It’s a hitting game. You have to decide where you want to hit the ball, given how the other team is fielding. It’s all about strategy, which is fun.”

To Gauthier, having fun should be a key aspect of the Little League experience, which involves girls and boys nine to 12 years old. And Gauthier also believes Little League should in large part be about learning the game—this applies not only to the young players, but also to their coaches and parents.

A read-through of the rule book is important, but Gauthier says there is so much more to the game than most people realize. “When I first started umpiring, Ben Vail, the director of St. George’s Parks and Recreation Department, asked me if I wanted to go to ‘Umpire School” in Bristol, Conn. [at the Eastern Regional Baseball and Softball Little League Center] to become certified. And I said yes.”

The Bristol Little League Center puts on clinics every spring where a volunteer umpire can, Gauthier says, “learn enough to go out and satisfy the parents and the coaches.” But the certification course lasts five days, with three days spent in the classroom before participants ever step out onto a ball field.

“There were so many little things that as a player my whole life I never knew. At the school we were at it eight to 10 hours a day and I thought is there really all that much to umpiring? But there is. And so many of the rules have come about because someone somewhere tried to cheat a little bit.”

Gauthier uses the example of the infield fly. “Most people don’t realize that when there’s an infield fly you automatically call time—it’s a dead ball and the person who is out is the batter. There are no additional plays possible, no force plays.” The rule, he says, exists to prevent the fielding team from making a double or triple play when an infielder chooses not to catch a ball otherwise easily caught.

Other rules have to do with safety. “Like not throwing the bat,” Gauthier explains. “You’re out if you do that, because someone could get hurt. If you’re just using what I call ‘playground rules,’ as so many people do, a thrown bat is often considered okay if no one got hurt.”

But while a very strict adherence to the official rules of the game is crucial at the junior high, high school and college levels, Gauthier believes that for Little League games a different approach is beneficial because Little Leaguers and many of their coaches and parents are new to softball.

“Sometimes a college-level umpire comes to some of these Little League games and they call the game very strictly. But I take it at levels. I can tell when a player is petrified of a fast ball coming in—she’s never seen it before, she’s been hitting off a T until now so she jumps out of the batter’s box and I have to call it a strike. She won’t know why I made this call, so I’ll explain it to her and I’ll even position her in the box, put one foot here and the other foot there. And I take it from there. Because at this level it is learning.”

At the Little League level, too, skill is a factor that sometimes affects the way games play out. “I did a game the other night where the score was 16-6 and the winning team didn’t even have to bring a bat. They scored on walks and balls. It often comes down to how well does your pitcher throw a strike and how well does your catcher catch the ball and not allow it to get behind her. That’s why a game can last one-and-a-half hours to four hours. It varies. Fortunately in our league we only allow 10 runs in an inning, so if we reach 10 we stop and the teams change the field. And if you’re ahead by 10 runs after four innings the game is over.” With a wry smile, he adds, “It’s a mercy.”

Gauthier admits that sometimes he finds ways to offer encouragement to struggling players. “I’m not technically bending the rules or forgetting the rules. I’m making the rules fit the situation. When a team is down by 15 runs and this poor player finally gets a bat on the ball the reaction of the crowd is so loud it’s an uproar and I call her safe even if she’s a step out. If the other team’s coach says something I say, ‘You’re ahead by 15, what does it matter? It will be you sometime.’”

Little League, Gauthier points out, “is your last chance to shine if you’re an average player. If you make the team in junior high you’re probably going to be sitting on the bench.” His hope is that the kids playing the game enjoy it enough that they continue to play it recreationally all their lives—like he and Dawn still do. Gauthier plays all summer long in the Elks League and all autumn long with Dawn in the co-ed league in Waldoboro.

“Softball is not a ‘girl’s’ game,” he emphasizes. “At our co-ed level it is very competitive.” After a pause he adds reflectively, “To find someone who loves the game as much as I do—that’s Dawn—it was amazing.” —JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

Time to register for the BBC half marathon

The Blueberry Cove 13.1 road race is accepting registrations for the 8th annual half marathon in St.George. All proceeds go to help kids attend Blueberry Cove and Tanglewood 4H Camps and Learning Centers.

A pre-race seafood and pasta dinner with blueberry pie and ice cream takes place Saturday, August 25, and the race starts at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, August 26, at the Tenants Harbor camp. The course takes runners and walkers to the St.George River, Turkey Cove, Port Clyde village, the Marshall Point Lighthouse, Drift Inn Beach, and it finishes at the camp with a post-race brunch. People are welcome to stay over in the camp cabins, or tent on the lawn.

The course includes water stops every two miles. Organizers avoid plastic. Bibs are hand-painted on cloth. Mile posts are re-purposed lobster buoys. Volunteers are needed for water stops and intersections, and all volunteers are welcome to the brunch. If you can volunteer, please call Steve Cartwright, 372-6534, or email: writer@midcoast.com.

For information and to sign up, visit Blueberry Cove 13.1 on Facebook, or https://www.active.com/tenants-harbor-me/running/blueberry-cove-13-1-2018.

2018 St. George Memorial Day address

by Robert Branco

[Ed. note: The following is the excerpted text from the address Robert Branco gave at this year’s Memorial Day observance in Tenants Harbor. Branco is a member of the Kinney-Melquist chapter of the American Legion.]

Following the American Civil War, the federal government began creating national cemeteries for the war veteran dead across the country. For the next 100 years Memorial Day celebrations were held honoring war veterans around the country. Now a national holiday, Memorial Day honors all the men and women veterans who have given their lives for the country in the wars in our history around the world. … In addition to giving their lives on these foreign battlefields, our men and women have had many life-threatening difficulties in their lives when they are back at home with family. Their memories of the loss of their brothers and sisters at arms alongside of them are horrific nightmares that never leave them.

Many of them also have been wounded in combat and have lost arms and legs due to explosive weapons. The modern creation of artificial prosthetic limbs has helped many of the combat veterans recover important parts of their life. Others have suffered post-traumatic stress when their close comrades have died next to them in battle from horrible wounds. …

… My niece Jessica, a long-time high school teacher married in 2005. Her husband Tony had been an Army combat medic in Iraq where he cared for those wounded and killed in battle. He and I had shared our military experience when we met. Three years ago, Tony was battling post-traumatic stress from his tours in combat and he and Jessica lived in San Jose, California with their two young children. Tony was trying to get help from the VA for his PTSD but apparently their counseling efforts weren’t working to help him control his stress …

…After all these many years of war that our American veterans have been through, post-traumatic stress is just being acknowledged as a serious mental health problem. Sadly, enough help hasn’t been given to veterans who have been in difficult combat situations and bear tragic memories.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2015, Tony was struggling with his thoughts at home, feeling bad. He had kept a rifle in their apartment, and suddenly was in bed with it greatly upset. My niece and her mother were trying to talk him down from what looked like a very suicidal condition. Finally, he took his life with the weapon. So tragic.

The memories I have of the tragedy are sad, but the real blessing is that Tony did not attack his family. He had always been loving and caring of his wife and children—even though he struggled with the terrible battle stress he suffered from his tours in Iraq. The many pictures of him with his young daughter Audrey and son Jason are full of many happy smiles. …

…So, what do we have to learn from this?

In 2014 7,388 veterans in our country took their own lives. While some VA facilities have made a difference to support our veterans in their needs, much more needs to be done across the country.

Since some of our family and friends have left us because of their tragic memories of the wars and veteran friends they have lost, we need to continue to support our veterans and send our messages to our government representatives about the need to provide real important psychological support for all of our veterans, young and old. The availability of this valuable life support needs to be highlighted in all the media, especially in televised documentaries and publicity in all means of communication.

The one blessing for my niece is that there was a lot of support from her friends and family after this tragedy. Recently, she received a special invitation for her to go to Denver, Colorado with her children for a special event gathering of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit which offers compassionate care to all those grieving the loss of military loved ones.

This was so special for Jessica. Since 1994 this program has assisted more than 75,000 surviving families with retreats, regional seminars for adults and youth programs across the country. The caring support of TAPS has helped Jessica’s life become more positive with Audrey and Jason as they continue their lives together. These memories of our veterans in our families and friends are so important in our own lives.

One thing for sure is that our sincere support for them can really make a difference.

The ‘art’ of trackin’ woodpeckers

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

“All you need are ears to track woodpeckers.” This quote from my nine-year-old son Leif sums up what he would say if he wrote a column about tracking woodpeckers. And Leif’s right, woodpeckers often announce their presence in an area quite loudly when vocalizing, drumming, or excavating trees for food and homes. Eyes can come in handy, of course, when observing the loads of sign woodpeckers leave behind after feeding or actually seeing the birds. With a fine combination of listening and looking one can learn a ton about what local woodpeckers are up to.

To generalize, woodpeckers are neither the sneakiest of animals nor the hardest of animals to track. Finding an old paper birch riddled with old woodpecker holes is not uncommon in the St. George woods and neither is finding an apple tree with row after row of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker holes lining the bark. A pile of fresh “shrapnel” wood chips under such trees clues an observer to how recent, and how frequent a tree or area is visited as a lunch stop. Sometimes the wood is so fresh you can still hear the woodpecker pecking while searching for ants, grubs or any other tasty morsel that sticks to their extra-long tongues!

Pileated woodpecker

Early in the breeding season the loud, echoing calls of local Hairy, Downy and Pileated woodpeckers rang through the St. George woods as territories were laid claim to. When a woodpecker’s throat gets tired from calling they move on to their favorite “drumming” branches to lay down a beat that can also be heard over distances. The acoustics of such branches act to amplify a woodpecker’s pecking, turning an effortless pecking rhythm into a booming bass drum in an act of true non-vocal communication. These are the activities that Leif was thinking about with his quote. For a time it seemed like every woodpecker around wanted to be heard and the tracking was easy!

Any rogue woodpecker that enters an established territory is taken as a threat and is met with a cacophony of calls and displays to relay a message of displeasure. These non-contact “battles” can be quite comical to watch, and even harder to miss when dueling woodpeckers are chasing and screaming their way through a set of trees.

Breeding season brings associated activities such as mating, cavity-excavating, egg-laying and all that. Active woodpecker nests in the earliest stages can be tricky to find as adults stay quiet during incubation and keep the coming and going to a minimum. Once the eggs hatch, however, activity picks up and nests can be (somewhat) easily found. This is my favorite part of tracking woodpeckers and June happens to be the month for finding woodpecker nests. What luck! What timing!

Hairy woodpecker nest

Once woodpeckers hatch they start begging (typical) in a continual effort to remind their parents that they are still alive and that they are hungry all the time. With a little imagination the young woodpecker- begging calls sound like a cat purring and the “purring” chorus from a nest with three nestling woodpeckers can be heard from over 100 feet away. At first, the young are too small to reach the cavity opening, but over the course of a few weeks they gain enough size to where they are able to poke their heads (one at a time) through the opening and beg unfiltered. Now the “purring” can be heard even further away, making the tracking and locating of a nest that much easier. Simply follow the purring to the nest tree and then search for the cavity opening—it can be that simple!

With the nest in hand (not literally) I like to find a spot from a safe distance to watch the action as the babies grow. Adult woodpeckers will call as they approach the nest, letting the nestlings know a meal is on its way. When the youngsters are small, adult woodpeckers will completely enter the cavity to feed and may hang out inside for a bit. Sometimes adults can be seen leaving the cavity carrying a white sac in their bill. These are “fecal sacs”, which are essentially “packaged poop” which the adult will carry and dispose of away from the nest tree. Fecal sacs are great adaptions if you want to keep a nest zone free of smells and stains. Those are some pretty dedicated parents!

No bike ride in June is complete without hearing at least one woodpecker nest, and on a decent ride I may pass three or more roadside nests with countless others too far for my ears to register. Whether on the trails, walking roadside or pooting around on a bike (that’s what I do) listen for the “purring of the woodpeckers”­­—you may be rewarded with a view of woodpeckers only a few weeks old, or an adult carrying a fecal sac. Either way, June is baby bird month (not officially) and with a little listening and looking neighborhood woodpeckers and their nests can be on your radar and the observing will begin! Another in the endless list of reasons to go outside!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Salinity and its effects on alewives

Students wade into the creek between the culvert and the marsh

by Maggie Gill

The watershed of our marsh is in trouble, especially for the alewives.

As you might already know, the alewives that used to thrive in our town marsh disappeared for over 30 years, leaving everyone wondering, “What happened?” Almost three years ago we got another shock; they came back! But there might be another problem on our hands now…

In science class, we have been studying the salinity in the marsh. Using the refractometers that measure the salinity in water, we took samples from three different points near the culvert. We took the samples back to the classroom and measured how much salt was in the water in each sample. Fortunately, water coming directly from the marsh was found to have zero parts of salt per thousand parts of water (0 ppt). In the stream itself we found anywhere from 4-27 ppt because of the tidal influence. We do think that some tides bring salt waters right over the outlet and directly into the marsh.

Now, you may be thinking “Okay, so there’s a little bit of salt in the waters of the marsh. What’s the big deal? And how does this relate to the alewives?” Here’s the problem about the salt in our watershed: Research suggests that alewife eggs develop best in less than 5 ppt of salinity. Now is where the other part of our studies comes in.

Along with studying salinity, we have been studying tides that can flood into the marsh. According to the “rule of twelves” of a tide cycle, we can go down to the marsh at any time and find out if the coming (or leaving) tide will (or has) flood (or flooded) the marsh. Here’s an example of how to calculate the tides: Say it was one hour before the coming high tide. First, we would measure the water in the culvert, and let’s say that that we measured 10 inches in the culvert. Then we go back to the classroom and start calculating, knowing the time we made the observation, the time of the high tide, and the predicted depth of the tide. First, we find 1/12 of the 8.7 foot tide since there is another hour of water to come in on the tide. One-twelfth of 8.7 feet is 0.73 feet. Then we find out how many inches 0.73 feet is. That answer is 8 1/2 inches. The next step is to add this to our original measurement of 10 inches for a total of 18 1/2 inches. Since the difference in elevation between the bottom of the culvert and the outlet of the marsh is approximately three feet, this high tide of 8.7 feet, with 18 1/2 inches of water in the culvert would not flood the culvert.

In conclusion, the marsh’s alewives run may be in even more trouble, even if you can’t see the damage as its happening. To keep you updated, you could check out our website, http://marshwatershed.edublogs.org/ .

(Gill is a 7th-grade student at the St. George School.)

[Note: Thanks to a grant from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s “Vital Signs” Freshwater Investigations program, and direction from Paul Meinersmann, St. George students are building a digital salinity sensor station to deploy in the marsh. Students are reading and learning about how the different parts work, how they connect together, how to write code in order to give the sensor commands. After testing, it will be ready to go. Collecting salinity data over time will give us a better view of how tides influence the freshwater of the marsh and possibly the alewives.—Alison England]

PHOTOS: Courtesy St. George School

First-grade bird expedition

Spencer Hilchey looks through the telescope.

by Leilani Myers

First graders at the St. George School have been involved in a bird expedition this spring. They have been studying the common characteristics that all birds have and learning about different beaks, feathers and feet that help birds survive. They have been on bird walks to find nests, birds and eggs. Chewonki Foundation visited them and brought three live owls for us to see.
Each student has picked a Maine bird to research. They are working on scientific drawings and fact cards that will be displayed on the school nature trail. Their expedition grand finale will be a puffin cruise to Eastern Egg Rock to observe a puffin nesting site!

(Myers is a 6th-grade student at the St. George School)

When food is a big part of the camping experience

Livestock is a part of the food system picture at Blueberry Cove Camp

A camper attending Blueberry Cove Camp (BBC) off Hart’s Neck Road in Tenants Harbor—whether taking part in day camp or living in one of the cabins—gets to experience everything a beautiful coastal setting has to offer in terms of summertime fun: boating, swimming, exploring islands, drama, pottery, canoe trips to the marsh, games like capture the flag and campfires.

It used to be, according to BBC director Ryan LeShane, that even the vegetable gardens at the camp were about fun, with the focus on experimentation. “Some years we had 20 different crops so we got just a little bit of everything.” But because Blueberry Cove is part of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension 4-H program, food systems education for kids with a priority given to putting food on the table has become an increasingly important ingredient of the camp’s mission—and, practically speaking, a good way to reduce costs.

“So now our goal is to get the vast majority of our fresh produce either from our own gardens or from other local sources,” LeShane says. “Last year we finally got to the point we wanted to be with that. We focused on heavy production on a certain realm of crops, mostly different types of fresh greens. I don’t think we ordered in any lettuce all season.”

Some of the gardening volunteers at Blueberry Cove Camp who came to help plant vegetable beds on a windy mid-May morning.

The heavy lifting in this year’s vegetable gardens has already begun. LeShane says Hart’s Neck resident and current BBC board member Jane Bracy is key to this effort. “Jane heads up our volunteer gardeners army—six to 10 volunteers who come to plant the gardens and then come once a week to weed and to keep up succession planting. It’s a huge aspect of the work.”

Once camp is up and running—the eight-week summer season runs from the last part of June through July and then for three weeks in August—the campers become part of the garden work force. They help with weeding and watering the gardens.

“We have salad offerings at lunch and dinner every day. The kids get a chance to get down into the garden, harvest peas, beans, carrots and bring back the produce. We find that when kids have that connection they are more willing to eat what’s offered on the tables. The kids especially enjoy our potatoes, onions and garlic.”

Livestock is also a part of the food system picture, LeShane says. “Last year we also raised some small animals in the summer—two pigs and five goats. We have a connection with a local goat dairy farm up by Ellsworth where we get a couple of their young goats each year and then find families for them. The pigs were great, too, because they could eat whatever we couldn’t compost along with food scraps from the dining hall.”

Last year’s pigs were “processed” by Curtis Meats and will come back into the camp food stream this year. “We want to be honest with kids while we’re educating them about where their food comes from: This is where your pork or bacon comes from, someone raised those pigs somewhere and these are the ones we are raising.”

Fruit trees also figure into what the campers learn about food. The camp has 10 peach trees and a pear tree. The campers also harvest blueberries, raspberries and rhubarb to make into pies and other dessert treats.

Still, the camping season at Blueberry Cove is short and by September, when the residential and day campers are gone, LeShane says, “We still have lots of tomatoes coming on.” That kind of reality, along with the fact that the camp has reached the limit of its summer-camp capacity, has led the camp’s board of directors to develop a plan for realizing a new, ambitious goal for expanding the camp’s mission.

“We’re now at 85 to 90 percent of summertime capacity, averaging over 600 campers a year, so there’s not a lot of growth in that area possible—nor do we have the desire to go beyond what makes our camp unique,” LeShane notes. “I think that the fact we only have 40 or so kids a week in our residential camp programs indicates the desirable position of where we fit in the camp world across the state. There are camps that have 100 or 200 kids at camp a week so some of those kids get lost—a camp like ours is on a smaller scale and that really builds a sense of community.”

Still, LeShane says, “Our question has been, ‘How can we reach more kids?’” The fact that Blueberry Cove is located right in the middle of a year-round community has suggested the answer.

“For me, who grew up as a camper, living and working in a camp that is inside a community has been a great experience. and I find that there is a great interest in Blueberry Cove from St. George,” LeShane reflects. “So our big dream is to become a year-round environmental learning center, a resource and asset to this and other Maine communities.”

The BBC board is now in the process of launching a fundraising campaign to realize that dream. It’s called the Campaign for Kids. One goal of the campaign is to expand the camp’s physical plant. “The idea is not so much to run a residential camp year round, but to provide what we need in order to be able to run a school program—basically a heated indoor space that has bathrooms,” Le Shane explains. “In this sense we’re looking at winterizing the dining hall as a key piece to our future.”

“There’s also a half-built building behind the dining hall which we got a grant from the Hearst Foundation to finish so that we can use it as a year-round science center and leadership training facility,” LeShane adds. “It will have remote technology so that we’ll be able to connect directly with U Maine to bring those resources down here.”

The Campaign for Kids also aims to create an endowment for scholarships. “We want ours to be an affordable environmental learning center for Maine kids, whether for a summer camping experience or for a school group, so we want to keep the fee basis low,” LeShane emphasizes. “Seventy percent of our campers already receive some form of financial aid, through money raised by our annual half marathon, our annual appeal and a couple of grants. But we’d like to do more.”

Finally, there’s an asset the camp already has in place that the campaign hopes to enhance, and that is its commercial kitchen, which was updated and winterized in 2008. If the campaign can raise enough funds to also bring a kitchen manager on board, the commercial kitchen could not only provide meals for school and other groups—possibly making use of those September tomatoes and other late-season crops that the Blueberry Cove vegetable gardens can produce—but also accommodate users who would like to do value-added cooking and teach young people about how to preserve food.

“Because U Maine Cooperative Extension is 4-H,” Le Shane points out, “food systems education for kids is always a goal.”—JW

Jane Bracy notes that gardening volunteers are always welcome. Contact her at pcboathouse@gmail.com to find out more.

PHOTOS: Top, Ryan LeShane, bottom, Julie Wortman