When saving the town money is also about doing something good for the environment

All PostsBy the end of this month, St. George Conservation Commission member Dan Verrillo expects that the town will begin getting most all the electricity it needs from the sun—at a cost cheaper than the electricity it has been purchasing from Central Maine Power (CMP). In fact, pointing to a graph that shows, year by year, projected costs, outputs and savings, he says that over time the town could end up saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on energy expenditures.

“This is a good day for us,” Verrillo says with quiet satisfaction. “We’re doing something that is good for the environment and we’re saving the town money.”

While the Conservation Commission and other local green-energy advocates have long had a goal of moving the town in this direction, Verrillo and fellow commission colleague Joss Coggeshall began doing the legwork to make the town solar project a reality about four years ago. “Solar is key to solving the problem of reducing the carbon footprint, but we always put the economics first because saving money applies to everybody, no matter what their belief might be [about global warming],” Verrillo points out. “My role in all this was basically to bug everybody to get the task done.”

What got the ball rolling in earnest, Verrillo says, was when he discovered that there were companies in Maine who were willing, at no cost to the homeowner, to put solar panels on individual homes that had the right kind of roofs—ones that were solid, south-facing and inclined at an optimum angle.

Dan Verrillo

“Their pitch was interesting,” Verrillo explains. “They said we’ll put the panels up there for free, then we’ll charge you for the electricity the panels generate, but at or below the going rate. It seemed like a good deal for people who wanted to go green.” Verrillo explains that the scheme was economical for the energy-supplying companies because, in addition to benefitting from federal discounts for supplying green energy to homeowners, the roofs were free, the cost of solar panels was now relatively inexpensive and the panels had become much more energy efficient. Another good deal for the homeowners was that after 30 years they would take ownership of the panels and the electricity generated would also be free to them.

Verrillo’s next step was to discover if a similar arrangement might be available for a municipality like St. George. “I found out that you could make agreements with companies where they own the panels and they are just parking them on your roof and they generate the electricity and then sell it to you either at a fixed rate, or for a bit lower than CMP’s rate—there were different options. The town would be obligated to buy the electricity from the company. You make an agreement for 20 years—it is called a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which is standard.” After the 20 years the system—and the energy generated—would belong to the town.

The PPA seemed too good to be true to some town officials, Verrillo acknowledges, partly because many people still think about solar technology as it was in the past—costly to install and fraught with maintenance issues. It was hard to believe that in this case installation was free and, as Verrillo notes, “nowadays each panel is metered, so they are all independent—it used to be if a leaf fell on one panel they all went down.”

But once Verrillo and Coggeshall demonstrated to the Select Board’s satisfaction that solar is a reliable and cost-effective technology, especially against a likely future of increased costs for energy from non-renewable sources, they ran into a glitch. It involved the availability of something called “net metering,” which was crucial to the success of the project. This was because the town wasn’t interested in going “off the grid,” which would require the expense of battery storage. Instead, the plan required that it be possible to use CMP for delivery of the power generated.

Verrillo explains: “With CMPs permission, anybody in this state generating energy using wind or solar power can hook up to CMP with a meter and supply the whole grid, which CMP owns, with electricity. CMP will say that any you don’t use on site, any that leaves, we’ll credit it to you if you don’t use it. So you actually have a bucket you are filling with energy. So in the summer you are likely producing more than you are using and that is going out to the grid where somebody else will use it. In the winter, when you’re not generating as much because of cloud cover, and you’re using more electricity, you get to use up what you supplied in the summer. They give you a year to use it.”

The problem was that Maine’s governor wanted to get rid of net metering. So St. George’s select board decided to put the solar project on hold until it was clear how the state would proceed.

The argument against net metering, says Verrillo, was that solar energy was only for the rich, rather than a cost-efficient technology that could save all sorts of people money, including people like those getting their panels installed for free by the solar energy producers Verrillo had learned about. “CMP went along with the governor’s critique, saying we should pay for the use of its power lines. To that, we and others in favor of net metering said, ‘How much will it cost to build another power plant? In the summer we’re actually giving CMP a boost because when you need more power we’re supplying it. And then in the winter CMP doesn’t have to shut down any power plants, so we’re saving it money. And we don’t put extra wear and tear on CMPs electrical lines.’ In other words, we argued that we were actually helping the power companies and I believe they knew it.”

Still, the governor continued vetoing bills that favored net metering. And the governor gave the task of getting rid of net metering to the Public Utilities Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor. The commission ruled that all renewable energy systems that are in effect or being installed during 2017 could continue with net metering, but that the commission will phase it out over 15 years.

“So I said to the select board, if we want to save money, we’ve got to get our system installed this year,” Verrillo recounts. An ad hoc committee of the board consisting of Richard Bates, Jerry Hall and Verrillo was set up to make the installation happen if the residents of the town agreed. The proposal was placed on the ballot last June and the public voted for it by a significant margin.

The ad hoc committee then looked over the three best bids for the installation and recommended ReVision Energy, the largest of the companies competing for the PPC. Ironically, during the time it took for the Public Utilities Commission to make its ruling on net-metering, solar installation costs had come down even more so that the town was able to install a bigger system than originally planned—a 67-kilowatt system that will generate about 80,000 kilowatts a year or 90 percent of town usage. And, luckily, because time was getting short to complete the project in 2017, the Public Utilities Commission extended the deadline for installing new net-metering solar power systems to May 2018 because the commission needed extra time to figure out how to implement its phase-out ruling.

ReVision Energy began installing the solar energy system at the transfer station in early February of this year. CMP should have it hooked up to the grid by the end of this month.

Once the new system is up and running, Verrillo estimates that it will save the town more than $1,000 a year in energy costs. But the Conservation Commission and the select board’s ad hoc committee, Verrillo says, are proposing something that has the potential to increase those savings considerably.

“Now, we could save $1,000 a year for 20 years, which is when we will own the system. And then the system is likely to be good for another 20 years after that [with a savings of at least $10,000 a year]. But we are recommending that the town buy the system after 6 years. So if it costs over $150,000 to put the system in, if we buy it after 6 years at fair market value, which ReVision believes is half the installation cost, we would pay a little less than $80,000 for it. At that point we get to start saving $10,000 a year, not just $1,000. And it will run for at least another 30 years after that so we’re predicting that over time we’ll save hundreds of thousands of dollars [and by year 12 the system will be paid for].” Again, if non-renewable energy costs go up, so will the savings.

“I’m not greedy that we’re going to save particular amounts of money,” Verrillo admits. “I just want to save money and do good.”

Verrillo and the rest of the town’s Conservation Commission see the town’s new solar power system as providing an opportunity to help community members—especially its youth—see for themselves how solar works and the benefits this type of energy can bring. And he feels confident that future governors will restore net metering because of its positive economic and environmental impact.

A ceremonial “switch pulling” will be held at the transfer station at 3pm on Monday, April 9th, when everyone can get a good look at the new system. At 4pm there will be refreshments and an information session at the firefighters’ meeting room at the town office. ReVision Energy will be there to answer questions about the system and the services they offer. —JW

PHOTO: Anita Siegenthaler

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Nature shufflin’—March style

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

There’s a beaver slapping in there somewhere.

As far as weather goes, March rolled in like a warm, drippy towel. A towel that was mistakenly dropped in the bath but had to be used anyway because “it is what it is.” Snow and pond ice melted away seemingly overnight, leaving one with feelings of “too soon.” Knowing that there is another winter just 10 months away is hardly a consolation prize—winter is simply the best, never want to see it go (not that it is necessarily over yet, if you know what I mean).

A crepuscular stroll to pay my final respects to the thick winter ice that no longer can support humanoids anymore was interrupted by a loud “SLAP.” It was a jarring slap, unexpected and unprovoked—came out of nowhere. More importantly though, it was the kind of “wake up” slap that pulls you out of your head and reminds you that life marches on after the snow and ice are gone. And then there was another “SLAP,” and I moved on completely from the thick ice of a week before.

The mad slapper was a beaver (Castor canadensis), of course, and it was using a newly opened and expanding ice-hole to announce not only that it survived the winter but also that it wasn’t entirely too happy about something (most likely my presence). Beaver tail slaps are a cool, if not startling use of non-vocal communications to relay potential danger and/or aggression. The sound of a tail slap will inspire any beavers on land or shore to quickly retreat to the safety of deep waters. “Deep-water safety” is the basic inspiration behind beavers damming up streams and creeks—five feet is safer than one foot. Safety first!

Beaver societies are closely knit and family-focused with colonies following a matriarchal order (picture a female beaver saying, “this is Big Mama’s lodge!”). To a certain extent this social dynamic is even reflected in beaver tail-slapping. While male beavers tend to tail-slap more often than females, members of a colony are more likely scurry to deeper waters when an adult female does the slapping. Apparently beavers take dangers more seriously when they are relayed by a female beaver’s tail. Do male/female slaps sound different? or does the colony know who’s doing the slapping simply by being aware of where other individuals are at the “moment of slappage?” Either way I got the message after the fourth slap and retreated as darkness was taking hold anyway.

American Woodcock

My return home was balanced with the familiar “Peent” of an American Woodcock, the first I’d heard this year. A true harbinger of spring, woodcocks are a somewhat early bird returner to breed in Maine. A shorebird of the woods, male American Woodcocks prefer field edges, especially those bordered with shrubs, as their stage for their impressive aerial courtship display.

After “peenting” somewhere between several and (seemingly) hundreds of times, a male woodcock will take to the skies and slowly ascend hundreds of feet in a large circling pattern (not unlike a raptor catching a thermal) flapping and buzzing the entire time. Once at its apex the male lets gravity take over and the woodcock falls in a zig-zaggy formation back to the ground—essentially landing in the same spot where it took off. Three of a woodcock’s primary (flight) feathers are modified and create whistling sounds throughout the entire aerial portion. And then he repeats over and over again. The gusto of a bird performing such maneuvers in early spring, even at times when there is snow on the ground, makes it a hit every year!

That night I got home with a few new questions and a slightly revamped perspective, which is really about as much as one can ask of a hike. Winter certainly is the best, but soon spring will be here and that will be the best. At some point summer will arrive and will be the best then. And of course autumn then follows and will become the best at that time. And then soon we’ll be back to the winter, the best of all. At that moment.

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

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A field trip focused on ‘A Human Crisis’

by Madison Barbour

On Tuesday February 27th, 2018 the 7th graders went on a field trip to the Jonathan Frost Gallery in Rockland to a show called “People on the Move: A Human Crisis.” At the gallery we all observed the artwork created by refugees. We had a sheet and wrote down what paintings inspired us most and reasons that people had to leave their homes. There are 65 million people on the move right now because they were driven from their homes to get to a safer place. A couple of the causes were because of war and famine.

There was a girl named Veronica who came to the gallery to talk to us about her experience and what she did in Tanzania, Africa. Veronica was born in Tanzania and her parents and older siblings were born in the Congo. In Tanzania they lived in a refugee camp and they lived in a clay brick house that they built. Veronica enjoys sports, she plays basketball, soccer, softball and track. She can speak almost four languages. She can speak English, Swahili, Kibembe, and some French. Veronica goes to school now at Oceanside Middle School and she is in 8th grade.

We really enjoyed this field trip. Thank you, Ms. Kit Harrison for organizing it for us, and Mr. McPhail and Ms. Ryan for going with us.

(Barbour is a Grade 7 student at the St. George School. Kit Harrison is a language teacher.)

PHOTO: Kit Harrison

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St. George Historical Society project—and website!

The Brown house on Main Street in Tenants Harbor

It would surprise you how much history exists in town hidden away in attics, trunks or other storage areas. Several years ago Dana Smith began a project of gathering whatever he could—photos, newspaper clippings, etc.—and chronicling it in 3-ring binders at the Marshall Point Light House Museum. Dana would make photocopies or take pictures of these items, and sort them into the various categories of sports, houses, schools, etc. Last time I knew there were over 30 binders that Dana had created. Some of the material was also donated to the Historical Society in order to preserve it and provide safekeeping. These items have been cataloged and are stored in a vault at the town office.

From Jane Brown’s collection

Recently I decided to begin a new phase of what Dana began—digitizing the collection, but also continuing the process of collecting local history. I have started an archive of digital images, copying from the collection and adding what has been generously donated by others. Judy Smalley of Hampton, N.H., provided some old tintypes, photos, deeds and wills—which I scanned and returned, along with a CD of the images—of the Smalley and Fogerty family. Jane Brown asked me about an old dresser she had in the house that had “H F K, Tenants Harbor” stenciled on the bottom of the drawer. I told her about the H. F. Kalloch store that used to be on Main Street in Tenants Harbor, and then asked her about any old pictures she may have in the house (knowing that the house has been in the Brown family since it was built in the 1870s). Jane provided me with some old tintypes and a photo album for scanning. Again, I processed and promptly returned them with a CD of the images. One of those images appears with this article.

From Judy Smalley’s collection

Along with this project has been the creation of a new website­—www.stgeorgehistory.com­—that is still in its early stages, but has over 300 postcard images of the area. Thanks to Steve Adams, who allowed the scanning of his postcard collection, there will be about another 100 cards added soon to the website. This website also has a section called Faces of St. George. It has some pictures of people who were part of the history of St. George. Most of the pictures are identified, but it has been suggested that a section be added of people that are currently unidentified in hopes that some people will recognize an old aunt or uncle, or maybe granddad’s cousin, and a connection will be made. The two images shown here are such photos.

If you have some history of St. George and would like to share it, you can call me at 701-9750 or email me at johnmfalla1954@gmail.com. —John Falla

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To the editor:

On December 18th a Fabian Oil truck tipped over while making a delivery heating oil to the Anderson residence on The Glenmere Road, spilling 1,700 gallons of heating oil.

Not a good thing. This is considered a “significant” spill. Both the topography of the location and the severe weather has made it harder to clean up and predict the flow of the oil through the fractures and faults in the bedrock.

In the two months following the spill, there has been lack of information and communication on all levels. This has caused frustration and mounting concern, not only for the Andersons, but for those in the surrounding, downhill, Horse Point Road neighborhood and the marsh.

Most of us first heard about the spill through the February 6th article in the Portland Press Herald, more than a month later! Additional coverage appeared in the Village Soup and the Friends of St. George (FOSG) alerted its members in the February 20th email bulletin.

Though the Town of St. George has no legal responsibility in such a spill, it could have made information available to residents on the town website or at the Town Office. Since it has not done so, an information gap opened, resulting in much confusion and misinformation.

To fill this gap, a group of neighbors has established contact and met with the DEP’s Dan Courtmanch. He is updating the group and FOSG regularly as test results become available.

The FOSG website at http://www.friendsofstgeorge.org/ has more detailed information and links and will continue to provide regular updates.

This is what we know at this point. Although the DEP responded within hours of the spill, bad weather slowed the clean up by St. Germain Collins, the company hired by Fabian Oil.

Cleanup of a 500-foot perimeter area is ongoing and directed and supervised by the DEP to include:

• removal of contaminated soil
• visual scans for standing oil within the original perimeter three times a week
• monitoring of five recently drilled monitoring wells near the original 500-foot perimeter
• expanded, fixed monitoring and visuals scans at level of the wetlands downhill from the spill site.

Anyone in the area who smells oil in their water should call the DEP at (800) 482-0777 immediately. This is an unpredictable, long-term waiting game.

Wende McIlwain
FOSG Chair

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The ‘winter games’ season in St. George—it’s not just about snow and cold

Tenants Harbor resident Rose Stanek enjoys snowshoeing near her home with her dogs, Sally and Yahara.

Last weekend the 2018 U.S. National Toboggan Championships were held at the Camden Snow Bowl. The competition, touted by Wikipedia as “the only organized wooden toboggan race in the country and possibly the world,” is no match for the Olympic Games, but for 28 years the event has been providing spectators and participants from St. George and elsewhere in the midcoast with plenty of entertainment (check out the costumes) and excitement (everybody goes down the same 400’-long wooden chute, sometimes as fast as 40mph, ending on frozen Hosmer Pond).

In a way, the toboggan competition marks the climax of the “winter games” here in midcoast Maine and St. George. The town’s ski club program, which makes available discounted lift tickets on winter Thursday afternoons/evenings at the Snow Bowl, ends this week. And the outdoor skating rink at the St. George School will soon be dismantled and stowed away. Next week’s February school break vacation will see folks grabbing their snowshoes and heading to Georges River Land Trust trailheads, ice fishing on nearby ponds and lakes or traveling to ski slopes in the western mountains or camps further north for final outdoor adventures. And unless there is still a lot more snow in the town’s future, Ben Vail, the Parks and Recreation Department director, may soon be bringing to an end his practice of donning his snowshoes after a snowstorm and breaking the nature trail at the school for public use.

But there is another side to the mostly unorganized, snow-and-cold dependent “winter games” that occupy people here in St. George and the midcoast. “Fall and spring the town makes sure the fields are in shape for school use, but in the winter the school becomes the town’s defacto recreation center,” Recreation Director Vail points out. And while St. George adults enjoy evening pick-up volleyball, pickleball and basketball games, youth basketball is the premier wintertime activity at the school’s gym.

Grades 3-4 St. George girls play Thomaston in one of the final round-robin games of this winter’s Parks and Recreation Department youth basketball season on Saturday, February 3 at the St. George School.

Saturday mornings starting at 7:30am there are basketball clinics for K-2 kids followed by games for older teams. Weekday afternoons there are practices for girls and boys teams (grades 5-6 and 3-4) with final round robin play with other area schools. And then, March 16-18, St. George will host the annual Mussel Ridge Basketball Tournament for grades 3-4 boys and girls teams from surrounding towns.

“The Mussel Ridge event is very big,” Vail acknowledges, noting that it is the Recreation Booster’s (the extra-budgetary arm of the Parks and Recreation Committee) major fundraiser—this year the group is hoping to raise enough funds to repair the merry-go-round and install a replica of a lobster boat for kids to play on at Collins Park in Port Clyde. What makes the St. George School the perfect venue for such a tournament is that the gym is sized for elementary-age girls and boys. A wide range of community members come out to both work and enjoy the tournament.

The entertainment value of both youth and high-school basketball cannot be underestimated, Vail points out.

“Here in Maine basketball is a very big winter sport,” Vail stresses. “In the smaller communities, especially, when the school teams are playing, it’s a big source of entertainment.”

Vail himself, he admits, is a big high-school basketball fan. He spends most February vacation weeks attending tournament games in Augusta and sometimes Portland. “I saw 33 games last year,” he says with a grin. “For generations people from all those communities in northern Maine—Fort Kent to Calais and everywhere in between—would come to see their teams play in Bangor. They would get hotel rooms and spend the whole week there watching games. The Bangor Auditorium used to be called the ‘Mecca.’”

In this regard, the fact that offering opportunities to travel to sports games has also proven to be a popular St. George Parks and Recreation Department program comes as no surprise. Most recently, on Sunday, January 28, a bus full of St. George friends and families took in a Maine Red Claws game—the Red Claws are a professional minor league basketball team affiliated with the Boston Celtics—at their home court in Portland. Vail credits Raymie Upham, a former Parks and Recreation Committee member, with the idea of sponsoring these trips.

“The town trips were an idea I got when I was young,” Upham says. “My father use to take me on chartered Red Sox trips sponsored by the Rockland Elks. About five years ago the Thomaston Recreation Department did some Celtics trips and I thought it was time for the St. George Recreation Department to start one of our own. We have done anything from Celtics to Sea Dogs and even college football games down to Bowdoin College. It’s a good way to bring the community together and it’s a blast for the kids.”

1995-96 St. George School Yearbook photo: In 1996 this St. George School U.S. National Tobaggan Championship team built their own toboggan with the help of their teacher, Mr. Paul McKinney.

Ann Hoppe, a current Recreation Committee member, adds, “The idea behind the bus trips was so that families would have an inexpensive way to get to these events with transportation included. In the case of the Red Claws trip, $25 a person covered a coach bus ride to Portland, including the price of the ticket. And it’s a nice family affair. It’s fun. The kids get to sit together and chit chat and the parents have time to visit together as well. And it’s just relaxing. We heard so many parents say, ‘Oh, it was so nice not to have to drive down there, but to sit back and relax and not have to worry about finding a place to park.’”

As for the game itself, Hoppe adds, the big thing was what makes all these winter games so important: “There was just lots and lots of spirit.” —JW

PHOTOS: Top, Carol Arness; middle, Julie Wortman

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Ice houses and the ice box

Davis Brothers Furniture in Tenants Harbor

Prior to the invention of the modern refrigerator a lot of homes in St. George used the ice box, and they were in common use from the 1850s to the 1930s.

The ice man went door to door delivering the ice, which was kept in storage in local ice houses, packed in sawdust to insulate it and keep it from melting. It was common to keep ice stored this way throughout the year, with the ice house being refilled when the cold winter returned.

In St. George there were two main sources of ice—Howard’s Pond in Glenmere and the marsh in Tenants Harbor. Not only was ice from these locations made available to local residents, but there was quite a business in shipping the ice worldwide.

It appears that Samuel Trussell of Port Clyde started the ice business at Glenmere in the early 1870s. Records show Leonard Hupper gave a lease to Howard’s Pond to Samuel Loud of Boston in 1872 and in 1874 Samuel Trussell sold to Samuel Loud his interest to “all of the ice houses and wharf situated in [Deep Cove]… built by me,” along with ice plow, ice tongs, ice caulker and ice auger. In December of 1874 the trustees of the estate of Kilham Loud & Co sold these same assets and assigned the lease to Howard’s Pond to Josiah Hupper and F. O. Martin. Hupper and Martin may have started in the business earlier, as Elisha Seavey, in August of 1873, leased to Hupper “a right of way across his land” from the town road to the sea shore “used for the purpose of hauling ice from Howard’s Pond.”

The first evidence of a business venture at the Tenants Harbor marsh appears in June of 1890, when all the property owners surrounding the marsh gave a 10-year lease to the Davis Brothers for “the privilege of raising the water on said marsh about five ft. by building a dam across M[arsh] Creek near Ripley’s bridge for the purpose of their cutting and taking ice from said Marsh Creek.” The terms of the lease called for “paying therefor[e] the rent of (1½) one and one half cents per ton for all the ice sold or shipped.” Further conditions of the lease were that the rent was to be divided among all the property owners and “the bridge and town road at the head of said Marsh shall not be overflowed.”

In his History of St. George, Maine, Albert Smalley mentions George Rawley in Tenants Harbor as also being in the ice business. It is not known exactly where Rawley’s ice houses were located, although there is a late-19th century painting that shows what appears to be an ice house in the field where the Jackson Memorial Library now stands. We know that Rawley purchased the property that the library sits on in 1896 and he owned it until his death in 1917. And that same property included the land and buildings shown in the photo of the Davis Brothers Furniture Company (which was the old Grace Institute property), so it would probably be safe to assume that Rawley and the Davis Brothers had a business relationship.

Finally, It is also known that in the early 1900s John Morris had an ice house on the north side of Main Street across from the town office/fire station. This may have been the same location as an earlier ice house.

—John Falla

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Winter songbirds and the cross-peninsula otter expressway

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Golden-crowned kinglet

A participant on a recent tracking outing mentioned how in winter Maine forests can be quiet as far as songbirds are concerned. “Huh,” was my creative reply. On the one hand, birds aren’t really singing these days and many species that nest in local woods headed for warmer climes months ago. But during the calm between storms or wind bursts, overwintering songbirds do communicate with each other and add a much appreciated chatter to the woods. So I think I would go with “quieter” as opposed to “quiet.”

Folks with feeders know that songbirds like chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, cardinals, jays, crows and juncos (among others) will visit all winter as long as the feed keeps getting replaced. These same species can be found in the woods well away from any feeding stations where they are joined by songbirds that seldom go to humans for grub. Golden-crowned Kinglets, all 4.5 inches of them, spend the winter living off of insects they find between conifer needles and under bark. Shivering to generate heat is a part of their winter survival strategy, and I observed two different individuals shivering hard while looking for food during a significant freeze earlier this winter. Joining the kinglets on our peninsula this winter has also been a small number of Brown Creepers, a songbird that hunts for insects in nooks and crannies in tree bark. On sunny days I’ve seen small flocks of Cedar Waxwings in flight as well as larger flocks of overwintering American Robins. What a winter for robins and juncos!

On most trips to a nearby decaying deer (I spend way too much time with that deer), I have been hearing and seeing a pair of finch species known as crossbills. Earlier in the winter small flocks of up to five White-winged Crossbills came through searching for bounties of spruce cones, but now it appears that Red Crossbill is the species that may hang around for a bit. Both species of crossbills have upper and lower bills (or beaks or mandibles) that don’t line up when their bill is closed. This is an adaption to access seeds in conifer cones. Crossbills will stick their bills between scales of a cone and then close (or cross) their bills which in turn pries the scales apart. The crossbills then use their sticky tongues to extract seeds that the cone holds. Another adaptation crossbills have is a pocket-like structure midway down their throats called an “esophageal diverticulum.” This pouch is used to store seeds which then can be digested during severe weather episodes allowing the crossbills to feed without “going outside” in a sense. Crossbills are songbirds built for Maine winters!

Not necessarily known for their harmonic ditties, “Corvids” (family Corvidae) such as ravens, crows and Blue Jays are a family that (somewhat surprisingly) also falls into the category of “songbirds.” In other words, they have a “syrinx” to make vocalizations as all songbirds have. Corvids are known for their “mobbing” behavior where they gang up on any predator, often owls, that they come across. Twice recently Blue Jays have drawn my attention to Northern Goshawks that hunt songbirds! Good use of your syrinx, Jays!

A belly slide on the otter expressway

As if that wasn’t enough, imagine this: You are an otter and you just fished (under the ice obviously) your way up the entire length of the marsh. Are you going to turn around and go all the way back down through the marsh to Ripley Creek in order to get to your next fishing ground? Probably not. Instead you might think about taking a short cut through the woods to your next fishing hole. The pair of otters that frequent the Tenants Harbor marsh, Lefty and Poncho, routinely follow a half mile, meandering trail between the marsh and Seavey Cove. This trail is used year round, but is most easily observed in the snow and might be thought of as an energy-efficient route between fishing hot spots.

A third otter, presumed to be a large male who we call “Larry,” also uses that trail on a regular basis, but Larry is not satisfied with only visiting the marsh and Seavey Cove. Larry also spends time fishing in the St. George River (who can blame him) and follows a mile-long meandering trail that runs from the marsh, behind (and in) the Ponderosa and then to salt water southwest of Hawthorn Point. This route goes over a high point between the marsh and the ponderosa, and with the right snow conditions Larry was able to belly slide all the way down the 1,200-foot incline! Now that is the way to travel!

From following Larry’s tracks I could see that there was one night where he made his way from Seavey Cove, fished the upper reaches of the marsh and then headed over to the St. George. He completed the entire 1.5-mile “cross-peninsula otter expressway” in one effort, belly sliding as much as possible. Probably not the only otter expressway on the peninsula, just the one I live closest to.

Hope you are enjoying winter! We’ll see you out there!

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John F. Shea: A retirement marked by an outgoing, lively interest in community life

Janet and John Shea

John F. Shea, Jr., 89, passed away in Portland on January 31. He and his wife of 63 years, Janet, moved to their “Pointed Fir” home in Martinsville in 1993, following Shea’s career as a civil engineer with the Polaroid Corporation. An outgoing person, Shea took a lively interest in community life from the moment he arrived in St. George.

The campaign to move the Jackson Memorial Library into a new facility was a particular passion. And once the library moved, Shea, for five years a library board member, was always willing to turn his engineer’s point of view to helping trouble-shoot problem issues with the new facility. He enthusiastically took on projects such as ventilating the room that houses the library’s electronics, installing automatic thermostats, and improving the heating system in the children’s room. Shea was also responsible for pulling together the library’s monthly men’s discussion group.

An avid vegetable gardener, Shea’s curiosity about the natural world of this peninsula led him to also become involved with the town’s Conservation Commission. Restoring a run of alewives into the Tenants Harbor marsh was one of his priorities. He spearheaded a campaign to restock the marsh with spawn-ready fish from 2009 to 2013, and strongly advocated for the replacement of the obstructive culvert at Ripley Creek that finally occurred in 2015. He particularly encouraged and enjoyed the involvement of the St. George School, where he also volunteered as a math tutor, in these restoration efforts.

Shea’s service in the U.S. Navy from 1946 to 1948, too, was the foundation of his fierce pride in being a veteran and a member of the Kinney-Melquist American Legion Post-34 in St. George.

The Sheas moved to Portland, Maine, in 2017 to be closer to their two daughters and more accessible to their three sons and grandchildren in the Boston area. —JW

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Ice fishing is my favorite thing to do in winter

by Dylan Lord

Ice fishing has been my favorite thing thing to do in the winter for 80 percent of my life. This cold winter sport is a very fun activity to do on a weekend. There is a lot of enjoyment that you can look back on throughout the week.

Last Saturday when I went ice fishing, the frigid breeze was freezing the tip of my nose. My father and I just got on the perfectly smooth ice. There was no snow on the ice, but there was two inches of crusty, dry snow on the hard, frosty ground. I just finished drilling holes on the ice. The ice was a solid eight inches. One other person was on the part of the lake we were on.

I scooped out the ice holes with an ice scoop, which looks like a one-and-a-half-foot tall ladle with small holes in the scoop to let the water out and keep the slush and ice bits in. I went back to our blue-and-black tent that we had our pack baskets next to. I set my lucky ice-fishing trap, that I have a new flag for because the original flag dry-rotted off.

I tried setting my third trap, but on my lucky trap the flag whooshed up. I dashed over, losing traction with each stride. The reel on the ice fishing trap was spinning really fast. I picked up the trap and started pulling up the line. The fish was definitely on the line and was putting up a great fight. I pulled up the fish and it was a bass, a largemouth bass.

I ended up catching 20 fish on that cold breezy day. It is a very fun, social sport. I love ice fishing and I hope you will try it too.

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

Finn Cushman with a three-pound bass he caught while fishing with his dad and friends at North Pond in Warren.

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Got internet?

Home tech volunteers from left: Jeff Boulet, Alane Kennedy, John Maltais and Van Thompson.

Got internet? If you don’t, and would like to learn what it would take to get it, one of your St. George neighbors can help—at no charge. If you already have internet, but are having issues connecting, you can ask for a free home tech visit and diagnosis. This outreach project is brought to you by the St. George Community Development Corporation. The goal is to make residents more self-sufficient with technology and improve internet access for all. For more information or to schedule an appointment for a home tech diagnosis, please call 372-2193 or email info@stgerogecommunity.org.

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