Offering guidance in developing a practice that benefits mind and body

This month Port Clyde resident John McIlwain has begun offering weekly classes in meditation at the 47 Main Street Studio in Tenants Harbor. The hour-long sessions will include, he advertises, “Practice, instruction, talks.”

McIlwain, a lawyer who is now retired from what he calls “a very satisfying but high-stress career in affordable housing,” says that trying to deal with the stress of that career is what got him started on his own meditation practice about 17 years ago.  “I was in a senior position at a major corporation in Washington, D.C., and was lucky enough that they provided a [health] coach and one day she said, ‘You’re under a lot of stress,’ and I said, ‘What else is new? That’s what these jobs are.’ I told her I’d always been under stress and she said, ‘Yes, but you’ve never been this age before.’ I was in my mid 50s at the time. She added, ‘You need to take better care of yourself.’”

That experience led McIlwain to psychotherapist and meditation teacher Tara Brach, founder of Washington’s Insight Meditation Community. “It really felt like the culmination of a lot of exploration and other practices that I had been exploring over my life. So that started a 17-year practice of daily meditation and exploration and study of Buddhist practices.”

At the time he started studying with Brach, McIlwain says, daily meditation wasn’t something a person talked about very much. “The perception of meditation in our culture has changed a lot in the last 10 years. It’s like yoga used to be—you didn’t want people to know. But now lots of psychologists and psychotherapists are recommending meditation to their clients for their own healing.”

And as practicing meditation has become more commonly recommended for reducing stress, the larger benefits are becoming better understood. “Of course, being Americans, if something new comes along we have to test it out scientifically—and we have,” McIlwain says with a wry grin. “Now there are all sorts of studies going on about meditation and this disease or that disease, this illness or that stress or whatever. And it’s amazing the number of health benefits that scientists are documenting that come out of meditation.”

McIlwain also points to what may seem the surprising fact that the U.S. military has also been studying meditation and offering meditation practice to troops. “It turns out that what these warriors are saying is that frequently in today’s kind of combat you’re in a civilian type of environment, but you don’t know who is dangerous and who is not. So if something happens, the tendency is to react first with your guns, often killing innocent people. But what they are saying is that they have found that meditation helps them be able to stop for a second and discriminate, to realize that no, that was a car backfiring, not someone shooting at me.

“So as people settle into meditation, they get more of a sense of relaxation, more of an ability to react in a much more relaxed way to the inevitable bumps and upsets and disagreements and things like that in life. This is something I’ll be talking about in the class, about how we’ll begin to be able to see some of those benefits—and then over a period of time we’ll see health benefits, see how meditation increases the auto-immune system so you’re less likely to get colds and illnesses because your immune system is healthier because you’ve been sitting there doing nothing.”

That “doing nothing,” of course, is what the “practice” in “meditation practice” is all about.
“I’ve taught regular classes in New York City for many years with many beginners but also with people of many different strains of meditation experience and backgrounds.” McIlwain notes.

“One of the things I love doing is working with people wherever they are, whether they’re just beginning to come together and want to learn a little bit about meditation or whether they are people who have a lot of experience in meditation but know the satisfaction of meditating with other people because of the energy that seems to be created. But in any event, one of the things I certainly have found over and over with people who are meditating—because I ask—is that,  particularly when you are starting, it’s easier to do it in a group. So in these classes I’ll bring a few people together and provide some simple guidance and that will help people go through a 20- or 30-minute meditation even if they’ve never done that before.”

McIlwain says that he personally meditates about a half an hour each day, bringing his attention into his body and then bringing attention to his breathing, in and out. Thoughts arise, but he gently, firmly pushes them away and returns to the breath. A person’s brainwaves literally change, he says. The point is to be aware of thoughts and feelings, but in a non-judgmental way.

Importantly, learning not to judge one’s thoughts and feelings during meditation, McIlwain observes, helps people be kinder to themselves. “We live in a society that is harsh, that is very judgmental. And so this is another thing I’ll be talking about in my classes—how do we learn to be kind to ourselves, to deal with the fact that we are human beings and often have wonderful thoughts and feelings, but we also have nasty thoughts and feelings? For myself, not only do I have nasty feelings but then I’m upset with myself for having those nasty thoughts or feelings. So meditation practice is just a way of slowly accepting that we are human beings and that makes it easier to forgive ourselves. I find that the more I am kind to myself, the kinder I am to the people around me, so it starts to spread out.”

For people who might worry that to take on a meditation practice they might have to take on particular religious or spiritual teachings, McIlwain, himself a Christian in background, notes that Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions all utilize forms of mindfulness practices. “Although the types of meditation I use come out of Buddhism, they all predate Buddhism. Christians have a tradition of centering prayer, for example, which is much the same.”—JW

PHOTO: Antonia Small

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Boston Post Cane presented to Jameson

Dot Jameson, center, with Selectmen Jerry Hall, Randy Elwell, Town Manager Tim Polky and Selectman Richard Bates.

On July 27 the Town of St. George presented the Boston Post Cane to Dorothy (Dot) Jameson at her home on River Road in Long Cove. The cane is given to the oldest citizen of St. George. Jameson turned 100 on May 18.

According to The Boston Post Cane Information Center, the tradition of giving Boston Post canes to the oldest citizen of a New England town began on August 2, 1909 when Edwin A. Grozier, publisher of the Boston Post newspaper, “forwarded to the Board of Selectmen in 700 towns (no cities included) in New England a gold-headed ebony cane with the request that it be presented to the oldest male citizen of the town, to be used by him as long as he lives (or moves from the town), and at his death handed down to the next oldest citizen of the town. The cane would belong to the town and not the man who received it.”

The Post went out of business in 1957. Opening up eligibility for the cane to women came in 1930, but not without controversy.

PHOTO: Jo Ann Parker

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Ain’t nothin’ common about these terns…

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

Common Tern hunting

August is a great month for bird watching in the Tenants Harbor marsh (all months are great, really). My recent walks on the library and nature trails by the school have turned up sightings of Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, many Wood Ducks, Pied-bill Grebe, Belted Kingfisher, Spotted Sandpiper and Bald Eagle to name a few species. Over the next month or so multitudes of shorebirds—yellowlegs, Solitary and Least Sandpipers, and Plovers to boot—will make pit stops along the muddy marsh edges. Lots to look forward to.

For me, though, early August in the marsh is all about the terns. Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) to be precise, but first a little background.

As a group, terns are considered “seabirds,” although many species are regularly found in fresh water. They are in the bird family Laridae—same as gulls, skua, jaegers and skimmers. Those familiar with gulls, skua and jaegers know they tend to be big, somewhat bulky and often behave like bullies. Terns, on the other hand, are small- to medium-sized and are strong fliers with tight wings and streamlined bodies. If one were to think of gulls and skua body shapes as being similar to hawks, then a tern would be the sleek falcon cousin.

Bald Eagle with a tern escort

While terns regularly give up their food (lunch money) when harassed by their cousins, their aggressiveness around nesting islands and offspring is legendary. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when efforts to entice Atlantic Puffins to re-colonize former nesting islands in Maine were underway (such as on Eastern Egg Rock), it was found that re-establishing tern colonies was essential for the protection of the island. Even though puffins sound like chainsaws, they are pretty much defenseless against gulls and will choose to leave rather than deal with them. Contrastingly, terns will “escort” intruders away from nesting areas through loud, relentlessly aggressive dive bombs. This bustling attracts more terns which can turn into an angry mob if the intruder does not leave the area quickly. Nobody wants to mess with terns.

The closest Common Tern nesting colonies to St. George are on Eastern Egg Rock (roughly 80 nests) and Metinic Island (400+ nests).  Many Arctic Terns nest on those islands as well. A Common Tern nest is not much more than a scrape in sand or pebbles that may be lined with grass. A female Common Tern will lay three eggs towards the end of May, which hatch in three to four weeks and then the chicks remain in the nest for another week or so. Young Common Terns cannot fly for yet another four weeks or so (mid-late July), and even when they are capable fliers will sit on ledges and wait impatiently to be fed by adults. And that brings us to the Common Tern scene in the Tenants Harbor marsh.

Common Tern

My son Leif and I did a paddle in the marsh in early August and this year’s freshly hatched (late June) Common Terns have turned the big rock in the middle into “Tern Island” (Leif named it). I counted nine juvenile Common Terns basking and begging on said rock, with several resting adult terns joining them. Tern behavior was everywhere—they were circling overhead and diving head first after fish, taking baths in the water, preening (feather maintenance) on the rock, and most of all, terns in every direction were darting around making a racket.  We watched a first-year Bald Eagle being escorted out of the marsh vicinity by a handful of adult terns.

The terns will be leaving soon. Common Terns have one of the longest migrations in the bird world  with some individuals going (almost) from pole to pole and  the largest overwintering congregation (20-30,000 individuals) being found in Punta Rasa, Argentina. Individual Common Terns have been documented migrating over 20,000 miles in a year, can live for over 25 years and weigh about 4.2 ounces. Enjoy them while you can on the islands and in the marsh, because they have many miles to go before they turn around and come back next summer!

(Tenants Harbor resident Kirk Gentalen is a regional steward for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.)

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

 

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Working to capture the essence of a moment

“The Pier from the Float”, 16×20 oil on linen

In 1947 Sweden adopted the notion that art was for everyone. This democratization of art enabled most Swedish households to collect and display original paintings by both amateur and professional artists through the promotion of artists and the establishment of various art organizations. This made original art more affordable for most Swedes. And because Swedes enjoy a strong connection to the outdoors, many of these paintings were landscapes. The Swedes also have a strong tradition of craft passed along from one generation to the next. It was into that culture that St. George artist Björn Runquist was born and where the roots of his identity as a landscape painter and craftsman reside.

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Runquist immigrated to America with his family when he was only four years old. Here, he was raised as an American in a Swedish household. Inspired in his youth to make art, Runquist won a coloring contest at age seven. His insightful parents sent him once a week for three years to study art with what Runquist calls a “beatnik” who taught only a handful of students to paint, sculpt, sketch and play chess. This profound early influence enabled Runquist to find a balance in his biculturalism.

During his teens, Runquist’s father, a professional engineer, was transferred to Normandy. There, he attended a French lycèe and learned the language by immersion. And, by the time the family moved to Paris he was fluent in the language. Continuing his education in the United States, Runquist attended Colgate University as an undergraduate followed by a masters degree from Kings College, University of London. While there, he met his future wife, Anne, who was born and raised in Norway. They moved back to America in 1975, settling into the Boston area.  It was at that time that Runquist rediscovered his paintbox stored in his parents’ basement all those years. He began painting again and never stopped.

Over the next 35 years, Runquist engaged in dual professions as a professional artist and as head of the modern language department at Kent School in Connecticut. His duties there also included coaching tennis and squash. “It was very challenging to do that and paint,” Runquist remarks, “but they balanced each other very nicely in terms of keeping me engaged and fresh.” Dedicated to his art, he painted every day, whether or not he felt like it.

Runquist is a self-taught artist informed and inspired by the works of others. Influenced by the Impressionists during his teen years, he began a journey into art that led him to David Friend’s book The Creative Way to Paint where he learned the principles governing design and painting. For about a decade Runquist’s paintings were largely abstract, influenced in particular by the work of abstract expressionist Richard Diebenkorn. However, his artistic journey took a sharp turn when he encountered the representational works of Fairfield Porter, Edward Hopper and Marsden Hartley, and began creating figurative work in the form of landscapes. Continuing along that vein, he discovered the luscious textural brushwork of the late 19th-century/early 20th-century American painter John Singer Sargent, and felt a deep connection to Sargent’s landscapes. As Runquist puts it, Sargent’s brushwork “captured the essence of a moment of a gesture.” From then on, this sensual aspect of painting became his focus. Hailing from the Swedish tradition of landscape painting and craftmaking, he saw in Sargent what was inherent in himself: that the act of painting is the joyful process of “making something.”  To him, a painting isn’t just an image, it’s a three-dimensional object made of canvas, wood and paint. And, painting en plein air is a multisensory experience that satisfies most all his senses. A favorite quote is from early 20th-century painter Robert Henri who wrote “A painting is a footprint of an authentic experience.” Runquist’s stylized landscapes are created to evoke rather than tell a story. He favors ambiguity so that the viewers may find their own meaning in the work.

Björn and Anne Runquist now reside in the Clark Island area of St. George. Initially, they spent summers here, but are now full-time residents. Runquist finds inspiration for his paintings from the local natural surroundings as well as houses and structures. Additionally, the long history of art in this region is an essential inspiration to his work.

Presently, Runquist exhibits his work at Landing Gallery in Rockland, and annually during the second weekend of August at the Grange.  He teaches numerous plein air painting workshops at home and abroad.  His work may be viewed online at www.bjornrunquist.com. —Katharine A. Cartwright

 

PHOTOS: Top, courtesy Björn Runquist, bottom, Katharine Cartwright

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Welcoming young veterans to American Legion Post 34

Memorial Day, 2017

In May, the Kinney-Melquist American Legion Post-34 in St. George honored two special veterans who had served in combat many years ago.  Paul Dalrymple served in the Army in World War II and Joe Kirk was a Marine Corps veteran in the Korean War in the 1950s. But Post-34 members’ recent discussions have also focused on welcoming our young women and men who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to join us and share their experiences.  So we are inviting the young veterans who have served in the last 15 years of war in the Middle East to join our post and share in our community service and memories such as supporting the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and participating in local patriotic celebrations and parades.  Veterans who have experienced deployments overseas in foreign countries and have supported each other are special lifelong friends.

Please contact our Adjutant Jan Gaudio (594-0025) about joining. —Bob Branco

PHOTO: Betsy Welch

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Working to insure financial futures from the center of Port Clyde

Port Clyde seems an unlikely headquarters for an investment advisor, but for Evelyn (Evy) Blum of Marshall Point Advisors a high-speed internet line makes it possible to work easily from her location in the center of the village. She says she especially appreciates the added benefit of working in an atmosphere of “quiet beauty” that is a satisfying distance from the financial markets.

“I’ve loved this area since childhood, when I went to summer camp in Maine and sailed out to Monhegan from Tenants Harbor. My husband, Steve Thomas, and I bought a home on Hupper Island in the 1990s. When he stopped hosting “This Old House” on Public Television and we no longer needed to be Boston-based, we renovated a small home in the village and moved here full time.”

Blum first got involved in the world of stocks and bonds by helping her father, who was an active investor, with charting stock prices. This led to a 30-year professional career that involved selling financial information to the investment community. “During that period I also assisted my father in managing wealth for a small number of family members and friends. When he retired 12 years ago, I started Marshall Point Advisors and became a registered investment advisor.”

Blum explains that being an investment advisor is different from being a financial planner. “Financial planners do worry about portfolio management, which is what I do, but they also worry about insurance coverage, budgeting and things like estate planning, which is huge. They catch all of the phases of one’s financial life—saving for college, saving for retirement. They help people from cradle to grave planning for the future.”

Blum says consulting a financial planner—ideally at regular intervals, say when someone is in their 20s, then in their 40s and then later—would benefit most people whatever their circumstances. “Take fishermen, for example. You can have lobstermen making good money for several years, but then there are bad years. Or they get an injury. Just like ball players, they have to plan for the long game.” But, Blum adds, financial planning can also be “a painful process.” The reason, she says, is that money can be a very personal issue and many people don’t have much practice disclosing the details of their financial lives to others.

Blum took all of the training needed to become a financial planner, “but when push came to shove, the only part that really interested me was investment management. So I’m only paid to handle the portfolio management itself. That doesn’t mean I can’t offer direction or offer a second opinion on other matters. I can coach and give feedback. And I’ve developed a group of professionals out and about who I know will give my clients good specific advice on, say, estate planning or life insurance.”

In terms of investment advice, Blum says the way she works is different from the way many other investment advisors work. “The main difference between what I do and what people usually get for financial advice is that I don’t sell any products. So a stockbroker who works with someone is pushing products and getting commissions to do that. When there’s a high commission on a new investment product the stockbroker will respond accordingly.”

In Blum’s case there are no commissions involved. “I’m paid a fee based on a percentage of the amount of the assets I’m managing for someone—whether stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. I want them to do well because I’ll do well. If we start with $100,000 and I get them up to $1,000,000 then I’m doing well.”

A major aspect of her work as an investment advisor, she stresses, is to help her client’s develop confidence about the investment plan she and they have put in place. This can involve a significant amount of time spent explaining about how to put a person’s “excess money”—the funds that might be left over after all the bills are paid—to work.

“People mix up saving money with putting that money to work once it is saved. Today certificates of deposit pay nothing, savings accounts pay nothing, so even with low inflation you’re not making any money.” That, she says, is where investing comes in.

A common type of investment is a retirement fund, to which a person might contribute through their job. “You usually get a choice of investment funds, typically a mutual fund. But mutual funds behave very differently, they have characteristics that a person may or may not be aware of. So until you understand how you are investing your money and in what proportion, whether in growth funds or bonds and so on, you haven’t really made a decision—it’s just sitting there. It may be safe, but if it’s not well invested you’re wasting a huge opportunity.”

Blum’s clients range from people in their late 20s to early 90s, with assets ranging from $350,000 to $3,000,000. And while she admits that it doesn’t make practical sense for someone to pay her to manage smaller amounts, she stresses that anybody can get involved in making their money work for them.

“Think about the daily coffee you drink. If you don’t make your coffee at home and instead buy it at Starbucks or somewhere else, those are dollars that might add up to $500 over the course of a year. There are now simple and efficient investment tools that didn’t exist 20 years ago. There are investment firms like Schwab or Ameritrade that allow small purchases of stock for very small fees. So you can buy $100 worth of stock for $5 or $1,000 worth of stock for $5.”

Blum acknowledges that money and finance can be uncomfortable territory for many people.

“Part of it is that we don’t teach about it to our children in school—it’s not a subject. The kids have no training in even the most basic financial management, which is a checkbook and a budget. You can graduate college and still not know the difference between a stock and a bond! The additional issue, which is probably generational, is that older women know less about finances  than men do—or at least they admit to knowing less. A mature woman who is newly in charge of her own finances will say, ‘I don’t know the first thing about this, my husband took care of it, my father took care of it. My brother-in-law tells me I should buy Facebook, should I?’”

The solution, Blum believes, is not only education, but also careful, individualized planning. “So I want my clients to understand that we’re going to implement an investment plan designed to reach their specific goal. When there is a plan in place and a system of investing in place that you stick to, you develop confidence.”—JW

PHOTO: Julie Wortman

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Of seaweed and connections

by Joan Beard

As if in slow motion, I am pulled forward until I feel that first shock that simultaneously penetrates my skull and creates a line of crackling cold on my shoulder blades.  Every brain cell is rearranged and then I am in it:  moving, floating, drinking in the seaweed, the dark blue green depths and, sometimes, the dancing sunlight.  On a good day the breathing comes easily, but it can take a few minutes to get my rhythm and adjust to this dream-like horizontality.  I love open swimming in Maine.

There are so many great lakes, ponds, rocky coastal areas and salty beaches that I am afraid to list them, for fear of leaving other beauties off the list.

I value my time submerged even more, now that I live in a world tethered by cell phones, texting and e-mail. Swimming keeps me connected to what is most important:  nature and myself.  Like so many others, I find that spending time in nature is an education in values and respect. As an artist I cannot imitate nature, but rather embrace it and become more aware of my humility.

Photographing and swimming in oceans and lakes for many years has taught me a few things. Clearer water generally indicates cleaner water. Once I snuck into Jordan Pond for a dusk swim and no water has ever tasted cleaner­­­—it was a long time ago.  Plant and sea life diversity are not only beautiful but also indicate a healthy habitat. There are a few places I have returned to annually over the past 20 years and the level of deterioration I observe sometimes terrifies me.

One grey and cool morning in early July I took a swim at Drift Inn Beach. My inner ear was immediately chilled by the water. The waves initially came at me in a way that made it difficult to breathe without drinking in the sea as I moved forward. I had no choice but to give in to the chaos so I took few breaths and focused on what was below me.  I found a wide range of seaweed and little fish swimming in schools below and beside me.  I began to relax and speed up, warming up a bit. I even felt hope that maybe we could find a way to flow with nature instead of constantly assaulting her and get out of this negative environmental cycle we are so caught up in.

As an artist it’s all in the details.   There is so much we can’t quantify like the emotional and physical benefits of fresh sea air or the healing powers of looking at a landscape unblemished by houses or clear-cutting.

I am always encouraged by the enthusiastic open swimmers I see when I emerge from my dream-like swim.  Some are moving in the water, others wading like so many of the animals (including dinosaurs) who have lived on this wild and wonderful planet before us.

Photographer Joan Beard returns to midcoast Maine from New York City annually (mainelyportraits.com and joanbeard.com).  On Saturday, August 19 she will be joining in the 5K Islesboro Crossing swim to raise money for Lifeflight of Maine with Lori Beth Schwartz and Anne Harrison.  Paddlers will include Wendy Zwecker, Madeline Rockwell, Tamara Cody (https://lifeflight.donordrive.com/index.cfm).

PHOTOS: Joan Beard

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Everybody loves dragonflies

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

American Emerald

I took an informal poll recently and the results were unanimous—everybody loves dragonflies. It should be noted that I only asked three people and one of them was me, but still the final tally is impossible to deny. And who can blame “everybody?” Dragonflies are amazing fliers, top predators both in and out of the water, all the while being a link to an historic past. Surely they are the pride of the Odonata (take that Damselflies!).

Summer is the time to observe adult dragonflies and whether you have a field, a yard or live by fresh water there are opportunities to watch a variety of dragonfly behavior just about everywhere.

When close to water, dragonflies have one thing on their minds—mating—and the action can be fast and furious. Male dragonflies patrol pond edges, zipping and chasing away males of their own species (and at times just about any other dragonfly species) to secure access to any female that might show up. Battles between males escalate when a female does make an appearance and then the race to mate is on. A “successful” male will grab a female in flight by her head and thorax (don’t try this at home) and then he curves his body so the tip of his abdomen (the long body part) grasps the back of the female’s head. Females will then curve their body until the tip of their abdomen makes contact with the male, forming a circle or “wheel position” and reproductive exchanges are made. Dragonfly mating can last from three seconds (impressive in a way) to up to an hour (impressive in the traditional sense).

From there egg laying ensues and dragonfly females can lay hundreds of eggs at a time.  In some dragonfly species females have blades to slice into plants such as cattails so they can insert the fertilized eggs there for protection. Other species may use ovipositors to poke eggs into mud or floating mats of vegetation.

Blue Dasher

On a recent paddle in the Tenants Harbor marsh my son Leif and I watched female Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) lay eggs a different way—by slapping their abdominal tip into the water over and over again while in flight! With each dip of the tip eggs are released to sink to the bottom. The male associated with the eggs (the dad?) hovered above her as she deposited their eggs, guarding her from any other males who might try to grab her, scoop out the first male’s “reproductive exchange” and then have his own exchange with the female.

Once in the water, eggs will hatch in as little as 10 days and a brand spanking new dragonfly larva—called a “nymph”—hatches. Dragonfly nymphs are major predators in ponds and come equipped with an enlarged, spiked lower jaw that they can shoot out a third of their body length. This enables the nymphs to catch large prey such as fish and salamanders as well as just about any aquatic insect.

Dragonflies may stay in this nymph stage for as little as a month, but often they remain in the water for years, eating and   growing by molting their exoskeletons anywhere from six to 18 times. Funny how dragonflies are in a sense aquatic insects, since they spend most of their lives in the water, but they are largely appreciated for the few weeks to a month that they are adults.

That day paddling on the marsh we also watched adult males of several different species patrol lily pads and shorelines. But the action on the water is often too frenetic to photograph (a side hobby of mine) and that is where my yard comes into play.

Common Whitetail

My yard (located conveniently near the Tenants Harbor marsh) has been buzzing/humming with lots of dragonfly activity. When away from water, dragonflies focus on food and basking which makes for a much calmer dragonfly experience. Adult dragonflies of both genders cruise over the yard picking off flying insects, turning the blood I just donated to a mosquito into energy to catch more mosquitoes. Here dragonflies will land for extended periods of time to warm up or rest. Such times are great for photographing.

One day I counted 10 species of dragonflies in my yard—Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctosa), Common Whitetail (Libellula lydia), Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea), Blue Corporal (Libellula deplanata), American Emerald (Cordulia shurtleffi), Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Green Darner, Blue Dasher and Johnny Whiteface. Needless to say, it was an awesome day.

(Tenants Harbor resident Kirk Gentalen is a regional steward for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.)

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

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Exploring the ‘connectiveness’ of all things in the universe

It was only seven years ago that Port Clyde artist Jon Mort discovered his true voice as a storyteller through his detailed renderings of found objects in colored pencil. With these objects, he creates a narrative that reflects his fascination with the natural order of the universe and the connectedness of all things. “I’m a person who has a deep hunger for order and the world at large, and nothing is more important than the coeval force to be connected.”

Born and raised near Ashton, Md., as a child Mort engaged in making art in the home studio of his father, noted artist Greg Mort, and was soon producing work that found its way into the hands of collectors. This was the first step on his path to becoming a professional artist. “I always carried a strong personal association with the idea that I was a creative person,” he explains, “but outside forces suggested the term ‘artist’ before it became a label I thought about applying to myself.” After high school, Mort enrolled in Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in studio art with a minor in classical archeology and ancient history.

In 2005, after graduation from F&M, Mort engaged in summer studies in Tuscany, Italy, where he joined an archaeological dig. While onsite, he was tutored by an illustrator from the British Museum of History who was working with a large array of precision measuring and transcribing tools. This left an enormous impression on Mort, who was searching for exactitude and refinement in his style.

“The people who have shaped my life are the teachers,” says Mort. These people also include a classics professor who he says taught him the importance of “fearlessness” and, more importantly, his parents, Nadine and Greg, who gave him the courage and confidence to pursue his heartfelt passion for art. Additionally, Mort’s mother, especially, encouraged him to pursue a diversity of experience rather than specializing in any one field too early on. According to Mort, “This shaped my character far more than any individual professional goal.”

Continuing his education, Mort earned a Master’s degree in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009, where he learned the importance of rigor, simplicity—and solitude. Mort’s graduate thesis was based upon the question, “What is an architecture of solitude?” To answer that question, he returned to his childhood summer cottage in Martinsville, which was first rented by his parents when he was only five weeks old. From his bedroom window upstairs, the young Mort could view an island in Spruce Cove, informally known as “Grandaddy’s Island.” Contemplating it, he says he realized that “solitude is paramount, the root of all reflection and creativity, the source of all human endeavor.”

After graduate school, Mort began a career as a full-time professional artist, incorporating into his work all the influences, insights and skills that he had acquired along the way. Among his earliest works, Mort returned to the influence of his studies in classics to create graphite drawings of fantastical neo-mythological figures for which his friends would pose. Eventually, Mort turned to the medium of Prismacolor pencils, a natural outgrowth of his architectural training. He also began to explore a new theme based on the “connectiveness” of all things in the universe. Mort collects objects like old shells, discarded small bottles, foreign coins, small bound books with ornate bindings, among many things, to serve as his models. As he explains it, these objects are “a story crying out to be told.” Finding connections between several objects, Mort carefully assembles them within the boundaries of a thoughtfully balanced composition that invites viewers to explore and discover their own personal “connectiveness” to the objects.

During the summers, Mort resides in Port Clyde and the rest of the year in Washington, D.C. “It’s a privilege to share the Maine coast and there are few places where the forces that shape the natural world intersect to form such beautiful results,” he reflects. He says he feels grateful to spend summers on the St. George peninsula and hopes to continue creating work that he cares about. When asked about his future, Mort explains that he loves the uncertainty of what may come next in his life.

Presently, Mort is represented by Massoni Art Gallery in Chestertown, Md., and Sommerville Manning Gallery in Greenville, Del. His joint summer open studio with his father is scheduled for August 5-6 from 10am to 5pm at the Fieldstone Castle in Port Clyde. Mort’s exhibition for this event, entitled “Maine Treasures,” is his reflection on the granular beauty of this area and how beautiful it is. More of Mort’s work may be viewed on his website: www.jonmortstudio.com. —Katharine A. Cartwright

PHOTOS: Top, Jon Mort; bottom, Katharine Cartwright

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Thanks to a rock band, pursuing a career in getting kids and adults out into the natural world

When Kirk Gentalen talks about what got him thinking about pursuing a career in environmental education and management he doesn’t point to the influence of a favorite teacher or a childhood spent camping and hiking. Instead, he credits the Grateful Dead.

“It was going to the band’s concerts in high school and being exposed to different ways of thinking. Beyond the stage there were always booths devoted to different topics and issues—simple things like recycling that I hadn’t thought about before.”

Another formative experience for the New Jersey native was spending three weeks studying milkweed on Hardwood Island in Blue Hill Bay near Mount Desert Island. “I went to my guidance counselor at the end of my junior year in high school and said I wanted to do a summer science camp,” Gentalen recalls. “He went to his filing cabinet and picked out the thinnest file in the drawer. It was about the Maine Island Ecology program on Hardwood Island. That seemed perfect.”

While at Hardwood, Gentalen traded t-shirts with another camper. “The one she gave me was covered with banana slugs, which got me interested in the University of California Santa Cruz—the Fighting Banana Slugs!” At Santa Cruz Gentalen majored in Environmental Studies. Following graduation in 1992 he began working in environmental education, mostly at three- or four-month summer camps.

Gentalen’s choice of which camps to apply to for work was often motivated by a desire to see some bird or environment that piqued his interest. “I left California for Ohio—the warblers out there are just not as cool as back here so I ended up back east a lot. Here there are many more species and many more niches. I like the diversity and seeing how different niches developed.” His summer travels eventually took him to Wisconsin, Tennessee, Cape Cod, Georgia, Washington state and back to California. Along the way he met up with Amy Palmer, to whom he is now married. While out in California the couple also spent several summers doing eco-tourism work in Homer, Alaska.

As Palmer worked on completing a master’s degree in teaching the couple contemplated their next move, this time, they thought, to a more permanent location. “We had things lining up in California when we decided that maybe it would be good to relocate to a place closer to Amy’s parents in upstate New York,” Gentalen says. “So I said, how about getting a job on an island in Maine? And within a couple of weeks that’s what she did—she got a job teaching at the school on Vinalhaven.”

Gentalen and Palmer spent 11 years on Vinalhaven, from 2004 to 2015. That is where their son, Leif, who is now eight years old, was born. Gentalen again found summer work at Tanglewood Camp in Lincolnville and with a whale watch business in Bar Harbor. But in 2007 he began working year-round for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), taking the post of “regional steward” for Vinalhaven and North Haven, a position he still holds.

The work of each MCHT regional steward differs according to the specific needs of each region and the skills and experience each brings to the job, Gentalen explains. “My main job is to provide access for open space on the islands through trail maintenance or forestry, like attacking invasives, building bridges or waterbars to prevent erosion, or chain sawing. I also monitor easements—mainly for views either from the water or the land—to make sure people are doing what they’ve agreed to do.”

And because of his background in environmental education, especially with young people, a big piece of Gentalen’s job is to do outreach with schools. “I work with kids on Vinalhaven, but I also do a lot of walks and talks with kids around the state.” Although Amanda Devine is the regional steward for the St. George area, this past year Gentalen worked with her and St. George School science teacher Alison England and her 8th grade students studying vernal pools in the Bamford Preserve at Long Cove.

While his work for MCHT had familiarized him with St. George, his ties to the town have grown stronger since he and his family moved to St. George from Vinalhaven in 2015, when Palmer took a job teaching at the St. George School. Last year, for example, Gentalen became a Cub Scout den leader here. He also has helped out with the Girl Scouts and begun leading occasional nature walks for the Jackson Memorial Library.

Gentalen and his family also recently bought a house near the end of Watts Avenue in Tenants Harbor. Most exciting for Gentalen is that their new property reaches right down to the Tenants Harbor marsh not far from a beaver dam. “We totally lucked out on this spot.” Gentalen says. “The other day I photographed 10 different species of dragonflies! I’m also a big otter guy. The first time I went down to the beaver dam I went down to this point of land and found an otter latrine. I was standing there looking at it when I heard this snorting sound. I turned around and there were two otters looking at me.”

Encouraging people to get out into the natural landscape is something Gentalen enjoys and believes stimulates conservation mindedness. “We’ve been doing these Thursday morning bird walks out on Vinalhaven for seven years. And when we first did them there weren’t that many hikes offered and people came along just to see where we were going to go so they could come out and hike later. Anytime you can get people out there is just great. It has just been impressive to me, from when I was a kid until now, how much more conscious people are of the environment.” —JW

PHOTO: Julie Wortman

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The early history of the quarry at Long Cove

This is the first of two columns on the history of the Long Cove quarry, covering the time frame up to 1900.  Most of the information comes from local newspapers, labor union reports, census records and the books On Solid Granite by Margaret Graham Neeson and Tombstones and Paving Blocks by Roger L Grindle.

Long Cove quarry saw its beginning in 1875.   James M Smith, Joseph Hume and William Birss were partners in the foundation of the Long Cove Granite Co.  In an 1877 newspaper article it was reported that the quarry had shipped 38 tons of granite and employed from 60 to 100 men.  In late 1879 the company got the contract for the completion of the government building in Albany, N.Y., and work was expected to last a year.  Earlier granite supplied for this building came from Spruce Head.

In the 1880 census of St George there were some quarry workers in the Smalleytown area–just north of Long Cove–and although most of them were local families, there were some from Canada and a few from England and Scotland.  A boarding house for workers doesn’t appear in the 1880 census, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.  In June 1880 a local branch of the Granite Cutters International Union was created at Long Cove and while work continued on the Albany contract, the paving cutters at Long Cove were responsible for cutting 500,000 blocks in 1880.

The cutting for the Albany contract was completed by the fall of 1881 and it was reported that some of the men then left “for other parts.”  Those remaining were out of work for about a month and had started back to work when things went bad.  The local newspaper reported in October 1881 that the company had been attached by creditors. A list of property at the time of the Sheriff’s sale in March 1882 reveals the extent of operations: 3 derricks; a carpenter’s shop; crowbars, hammers and sledges; six horses; two cows; a complete blacksmithy; 300 drills; 70 kits of stone cutting tools; several carts and wagons, including two stone wagons; and various blasting equipment.  The sale also included a boarding house and a store with its contents–which included food, kerosene, chimney lamps, gun powder, 22 bottles of bay rum, 23 bottles of cologne and 12 bottles of hair oil.

The Booth Brothers Company bought the quarry and equipment at the Sheriff’s sale in 1882 for about $2,100.  Things at the Long Cove quarry during the 1880s could be described as uneventful, but turned around in 1888 with what was described as a “good busy summer.”  The 1880s finished on a mixed note with workers moving on as soon as they completed their jobs, but the company also started the construction of a railway from the quarry to the wharf.  This created optimism for the workers for the coming year.

Overall, the 1890s proved difficult for the granite industry.  There was the labor strike known as “The Great Lockout of 1892” and at a national level there was the “Panic of 1893,” which resulted in an economic depression that lasted from 1893 to 1897.  The Spanish-American War also had its effect on operations in 1898.  The local union representative reported that everything was at a standstill and was likely to remain so “until we know the issue of the war just begun.”

The early 1890s started off quite well for Long Cove, though.  Booth Brothers was awarded a contract in 1891 to build the first five stories of a $1.5 million block in Philadelphia.  To prepare for the work, the company purchased a new 36-ton capacity derrick.  It was reported in 1892 that there were 140 granite cutters, paving cutters and quarrymen busy at Long Cove.  A new steam car also arrived.  Then things went downhill.  Besides the problems that occurred during the Great Lockout, Booth Brothers had a fire in the engine house and polishing mill at Long Cove, and a schooner loaded with 21,000 paving blocks from Eagle Quarry sank in Wheeler’s Bay.

A change in technology in the granite industry occurred at Long Cove in 1895–the “Big Blast.”  The large wall of the quarry was drilled into from several angles and over 500 kegs of powder were placed in the holes.  With one single blast about 300,000 tons of granite was loosened.  Booth Brothers now had a good supply of granite for new contracts.  This approach was something new to the granite industry and proved so successful that other quarries began using the same technique.

—John M. Falla (Falla is a historian of local history who grew up in St. George and until recently served as the town’s manager.)

The Penobscot Marine Museum’s photography collection consists of more than140,000 photographic images from all over Maine, New England and beyond. More than 60,000 photos are available in PMM’s online database with more being added each week. Fine art prints are available. Visit www.Penobscot Marine Museum.org today.

PHOTO, top: PMM  Bottom, John Falla

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