Solving the problem of idle hands—while savoring a touch of romance

John Shea

John Shea

When John Shea finally retired from a career in engineering and made the move from being a part-time to a full-time resident of Martinsville in July of 1999, he knew that gardening and his interest in local conservation efforts would supply him with plenty of outdoor activity from spring through autumn. The question was, what, besides his lifelong interest in politics, would keep him happily occupied during the winter months?

“I wanted something to do with my hands,” explains Shea, adding, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop!”

A friend gave him a book about Nantucket Lightship baskets and Shea’s problem was solved. “I liked the look of them—but there was also an aspect of romance to it.”

Shea says he loved thinking of the Nantucket men who spent months isolated on the lightships that started being anchored off the treacherous shoals about 19 miles south of the island in the mid-19th century. Although, given the area’s strong currents and often violent seas, keeping the ships afloat and well maintained was a difficult and often hazardous job, the crew also had a great deal of free time. Until about 1892, most of them filled those long hours with basket-making, a craft that Nantucketers had been developing since the later 18th century.

“I served in the Navy during World War II,” Shea says. “I could relate to the many months spent at sea and needing something to do when off duty.”

Shea credits another book, Lightship Baskets of Nantucket by Martha R. Lawrence (Schiffer Publishing), with teaching him the meticulous, many-step process involved in making these baskets. “I don’t harvest my own materials or make my own molds—that is way beyond me,” he notes, so he buys his supplies from a company specializing in Nantucket baskets based outside of New Bedford, Mass.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs with most every culture and community needing containers for a diversity of uses, the baskets the Nantucket makers produced ranged widely in size and shape. But the type of Nantucket basket that is now perhaps the best known is one introduced in about 1948 by José Reyes, a man born in the Philippines whose life’s journey surprisingly led him to settle on Nantucket with his wife after World War II. Not long after arriving on the island he became involved in making baskets in the Nantucket style. Reyes’ big innovation was to add a lid so that his baskets could be used as ladies’ handbags. They soon became a bit of a fad—Queen Elizabeth II was presented one at her coronation in 1953.

“They say the Reyes purse is the PhD of Nantucket basket-making,” Shea says, pointing to the tricky engineering of the hinges, clasp, handles and lid that is involved. Many Nantucket purses were also decorated with intricate ivory scrimshaw designs, although it is now illegal to use ivory unless the piece is authenticated as antique.

Shea is now putting the finishing touches on a purse he started this past winter. He plans to donate it to the Jackson Memorial Library for a fundraiser raffle to be held sometime this coming season.

Shea has made about 60 baskets over the years, but he doesn’t sell them—even though they can fetch $80 an inch. Instead, he prefers to give them to family members and friends. “The more baskets I make the broker I get,” he laughs. “I’ve got five kids, so every time I make a new design everyone wants one.”

Shea is glad that people enjoy receiving his baskets, but the real satisfaction, he says, is in crafting them. “I’m not creating anything new,” he is quick to point out, “I’m just following the formula. But they are graceful. They have a simplistic beauty.”

Then, after a pause, he adds, “I only do this in wintertime. I find making them very peaceful.” —JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

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Why start—and maybe save—seeds?

seedlings 1 SMBy mid-April I am in full seed-starting mode. Onions, shallots and leeks first, artichokes, snap dragons and sweet peas, ageratum and lacy blue didiscus. Peppers, eggplants, tomatoes. I’ve even started pre-sprouting the seed ginger that I hope will produce a bountiful baby ginger crop in September. My aim is to be ready for transplanting when (if?) the ground finally warms up.

One of the reasons I first began starting my own seeds was to get a greater variety of seedlings than I was finding at our local nursery centers. I was frustrated by reading glowing descriptions of lovely, delicious-sounding Cherokee Purple or Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomatoes in seed catalogs but only finding Early Girl or Better Boy seedlings locally.

Still, up until now I have not been much of a seed-saver—by the end of the growing season I am usually ready for a rest, so I have been happy to let companies who specialize in harvesting, storing, researching and finding good seed take care of my needs.

I do have to make some choices, though. First, I don’t want any GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds because I don’t trust them—I don’t want to eat anything that might react weirdly with the bacteria in my gut or with my DNA. Next, I want seed that has been organically grown—not only do I want to avoid pesticide residue where I can, but I also want to support organic growers who are working hard to improve their soil and environment rather than exploiting it.

After that I have been simply interested in taste, vigor and appearance, so I have been willing to take either open-pollinated or hybrid seeds. The difference between the two is that open-pollinated seeds will produce true-to-type seeds year after year. That means Provider Bush Green Beans, for instance, will have seeds that will again grow into the same Provider Bush Green Beans that I want.

Hybrids, on the other hand, are the result of an intentional cross of different parents to produce seeds with desired traits from both. However, year-to-year there is no certain way to make sure the seed from the hybrid will be true to type or revert back to a parent.
I usually choose open-pollinated varieties. This way I figure I at least have the option of saving my own organically-grown seeds should there be a reason I can no longer get seeds from my favorite suppliers. This will work as long as there is not another type of green bean growing nearby, blooming at the same time, that cross-pollinates the Provider. So if I want to save Provider Green Beans, I just have to make sure that is the only green bean I am growing or I’ll need to take steps to isolate it (with a row cover, for instance).

Another reason to grow openly-pollinated seeds and save them, has to do with the thinking behind the Jackson Memorial Library’s new Seed Library. Openly pollinated plants slowly adapt to local growing conditions and climate from year to year. That means that saving their seeds might make it possible eventually to grow plants very well suited to our particular environment. So one day in the future a St. George Provider Bush Bean will be slightly different from one grown elsewhere. Maybe it will be adapted to  late springs and cool, foggy starts to summer. Now that is something to think about! Maybe it will lead me to find enough energy at the end of this coming growing season to begin saving seeds.

—Anne E. Cox (Cox is co-owner of Hedgerow in Martinsville.)

The seed library at Jackson Memorial Library

What is a seed library? Seed libraries are beginning to sprout up across the country as a means to provide access to free seeds to encourage more people to grow their own food, and increase the viability of seeds that are grown in and selected for the specific bioregion. Our aim is to make seeds available on the peninsula for all and to further cultivate interest in the community for growing our own herbs, vegetables, and flowers.

How is the seed library supported? We have been incredibly fortunate to receive many seed packet donations from Fedco Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, the Heirloom Seed Project, and individual growers in the Knox-Lincoln area.

How does the seed library work? Visit the library and browse the seed packets. Refer to the seed catalogs for more information. Choose up to five seed packets to take home and plant in your garden. You’ll log your name, seed packets taken, whether you plan to save the seed to bring back at the end of the season, and your gardening skill level.

We are also growing our collection of gardening, foraging, and cook books that offer a wealth of local and regional knowledge of food. We have a great line-up of local experts and enthusiasts who will come share their knowledge through demonstrations, workshops, and lectures for our “Food For Thought” series that are all family-friendly, and hands-on! Visit the library website, for more information.

—Hannah Tannebring, JML Island Fellow

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Roadside clean-up Day May 3

Nicole den Ouden and son Westin do their part at last year’s clean-up.

Nicole den Ouden and son Westin do their part at last year’s clean-up.

Inaugurated about 10 years ago by the town’s then newly formed Conservation Commission, the annual Roadside Clean-up Day will this year be held on Saturday, May 3. Mary Carey, who was one of the event’s first organizers, recalls how the Commission got the idea for orchestrating a town-wide clean-up. “Everyone was aware of the mess we find along our roads in the spring,” she says. “We [on the Commission] wanted to make ourselves useful and visible, so the clean-up was a way to do both.

Starting with Johanna Tutone’s contribution of muffins and coffee for volunteers starting off in the morning on the first clean-up day, it has become traditional to hold a pancake breakfast for the event from 7am-9am at the Town Hall. For the past several years the St. George Days committee has been the sponsor, using the breakfast as a way to raise money for their organization. They also sponsor a bottle drive on the same day.

Another nice perk for volunteers was also instituted early on when Jim Barstow of Monhegan Boat Line stopped to ask a clean-up crew what they were doing. Told that they were volunteering for Roadside Clean-up Day, he decided to offer a free day trip to Monhegan to encourage more participation. This year Monhegan Boat Line is giving the event 25 round-trip tickets to the island for June 29 (available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Town Hall on the morning of the clean-up).

The Conservation Commission is encouraging people wishing to volunteer—whether as individuals, families, or groups—to sign up at the Town Hall in advance. There they can select the section of road they’d like to clean. Each section is about a half mile long, covering both sides of the road. Also, the Transfer Station will be collecting rigid plastic receptacles suitable for broken glass (reasonably clean drywall mud buckets, kitty litter containers, etc.) prior to May 3.

Volunteers are given trash bags and buckets for the clean-up the morning of the event. They either take all the trash to the Transfer Station or leave it by the side of the road. If they go to the Transfer Station, members of the Solid Waste and Recycle Committee will be there to help with the drop off. If the trash is left beside the road, Conservation Commission members with trucks will pick it up and take it to the Transfer Station. They also pick up any large objects such as large pieces of metal, tires, etc. that folks pull out of the woods.

“For the past several years the men of the Bolduc Correctional Facility have helped by cleaning both sides of the road for several miles on Route 131 from the town line toward the center of Tenants Harbor,” notes Jane Rasmussen, the Commission’s coordinator for the clean-up project. “We are very grateful for their help.” —JW

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High Island referendum May 12

High IslandSM

PHOTO: Steve Cartwright

Citizens of St. George will have an opportunity on May 12 to vote on whether the town should take an active role in a fundraising effort by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) aimed at securing the necessary funds to purchase High Island, which is located between Long Cove and Tenants Harbor (and visible from Route 131 off Wildcat lobster pound). The island’s current owners have allowed Blueberry Cove/Tanglewood campers to use the island for youth camping and outdoor adventure programs for more than 50 years. They have been working with MCHT to conserve the property for the past 10 years, but now feel they can no longer afford to own the island. They would like to see it conserved and available both to the public and to youth camp programs. Although the appraised value is $850,000, the owners are willing to sell it to MCHT for $650,000.

The town’s Conservation Commission strongly endorses MCHT’s efforts—and the town’s active involvement. The Commission cites the many benefits that would ensue. These include ensuring: (1) the protection of the island’s wildlife habitat; (2) the continuing availability of the island for youth camping programs; (3) public access; and (4) the island’s continued contribution to the town’s scenic character. The Commission also notes the economic benefits of enhancing St. George’s appeal to visitors wishing to spend  time in a community where they can have access to places of natural and scenic beauty. The Commission points to the town’s comprehensive plan, which gives strong emphasis to conserving the town’s distinctive natural resources, including its waterfronts. [See the Commission’s document, “Funding Support for the Purchase of High Island: Collaboration with Maine Coast Heritage Trust,” at, under “Documents”]

While the Maine Coast Heritage Trust will pursue its goal of acquiring the island whether the town donates funds to the effort or not, MCHT spokesperson Amanda Devine says the town’s official participation in the fundraising would strongly enhance the project’s appeal to prospective donors and grant-making organizations.

St. George’s Select Board has decided to leave the decision about whether to participate in the fundraising effort to the town’s voters. [See the minutes of the March 17, 2014 meeting of the St. George Select Board for the Board’s discussion of the Conservation Commission’s request for funding support for the purchase of High Island at, under “Meeting Minutes”]

The Commission has pointed out that, if the Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s efforts to raise the necessary funds to buy the island fails, any money appropriated by the town to help in that effort would be returned to the town.

A public hearing regarding the referendum on the proposal to participate in the effort to purchase High Island is scheduled for Tuesday, April 22 at the Town Office, 7pm. —JW

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Overture to Spring

April rises out of the doldrums
into a day slated for the wild
and the wonderful

by the sight of fir trees
bending and swaying
to the whistle
of the wind,

by the chop-chop roar
of the ocean, rippled
in silver,

the staccato rattle-beat
on the dappled kitchen

and the reedy whizz
of the final rinse
in the laundry
spinning itself

into the middle of
a cosmic recital.

  —Janet Shea

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Supplying petroleum that is local, reasonable and focused on people


In 2004, Dale O’Neal saw an opportunity. He had been working for about 20 years with Coastal Tankers Corporation and that operation was beginning to wind down. So he arranged to buy the 25-year-old mini tanker Anne from Vane Brothers in Baltimore to launch a new company, Maine Coast Petroleum. With a business focus on delivering petroleum products to the islands of midcoast Maine, the tanker was crucial to the new company’s success—but shortly after bringing the Anne to Rockland he ran into a glitch.

“We discovered that, to comply with Coast Guard regulations for New England waters, the vessel needed a cofferdam, basically a space to act as a safety buffer between the engine room and the nearest fuel tank,” O’Neal explains. “So the Anne was going to be out of service for about six weeks while the cofferdam was being installed and we had lined up a supply of new customers [many of whom had done business with Coastal Tankers] who needed fuel.”
The solution to this problem—the purchase of a fuel truck he could use to ferry petroleum to various islands—would lead to an unexpectedly positive result.

“Once the Anne was in service, we didn’t really need a truck, but we had it, so we put an ad with the picture of the truck into the Courier Gazette and said we were offering heating oil at a competitive price.”

As a result, in addition to plying the bay in the Anne, going from Frenchboro to Monhegan as well as from boat to boat with gasoline and diesel, O’Neal also drove the truck, making deliveries to local commercial docks and homes, often late into the night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“After six months of doing both, I finally realized I needed to hire some help,” he laughs. Now with three other truck drivers and five trucks—along with a second tanker, the Duff, acquired from Vance Brothers in 2009—Maine Coast Petroleum has developed into a bustling enterprise. O’Neal credits office manager Terry Banda with managing the impressively complex juggling act of meeting the year-round demands of supplying fuel on both sea and land.

Unlike big land-based oil companies with large fuel storage facilities, Maine Coast Petroleum only uses its two mini tankers, which operate from Schooner Wharf in Rockland, to store the fuel it sells. The petroleum comes from a supplier near Augusta, which loads the tankers. The trucks are loaded from the tankers. The trick is in the timing, notes Banda.

“We have to factor in the schedule of marine deliveries to islands and ships with land deliveries,” she says. “In summer the tankers are constantly busy running from island to island and from ship to ship. And the commercial docks keep the trucks busy. Sometimes our Augusta supplier makes several trips a day to keep the tankers loaded—a cruise ship can take on a lot of fuel at one time.”

Luckily, when the summer demand begins to ebb, the home heating fuel market starts taking up the slack. “The house end of the business has been responsible for bringing the company along,” Banda points out. “The secret to our success is that we are busy year-round.” So, without planning it, purchasing that first truck really paid off.

Another aspect of the company’s success has to do with location. It would be easy, even logical, for Maine Coast Petroleum to have set up its office in Rockland, says O’Neal, “but we’ve always been a Tenants Harbor company.” When O’Neal and his wife Kristin were first married they lived in Rockland, where O’Neal was born and raised. But Kristin, who grew up in St. George, advocated for the move back here (Kristin is part of the Parker family, which includes her sisters Terry Banda and Cheryl Parker, Maine Coast Petroleum’s accountant, and brother Jim, a local builder of wooden boats). That was 14 years ago, when their first child was a year old. There are now four O’Neal children to keep the couple busy.

“People like the feel of a small, local company,” says O’Neal. Being headquartered in Tenants Harbor on Route 131 south of the village, he believes, also helps keep the company focused on the human element of the service Maine Coast Petroleum supplies.

“I really like the connection to our customers,” O’Neal emphasizes. Banda, who also lives in Tenants Harbor with her husband Paul and their family (daughter Lindsay works part-time for the company), agrees. “We don’t give customers a number,” she says, “we just know them by name. We’ll also work with people to get them what they need for what they can pay. Some companies charge extra if a customer orders less than 100 gallons of fuel, but we’ll deliver as little as 20 gallons if that is what a customer can afford. We don’t want anyone to be cold. We just want to be local and reasonable.”

Every Thanksgiving, Maine Coast Petroleum announces a special bargain price for fuel oil, and the company participates with a variety of fuel assistance programs, including “Joe for Oil’ and the Penquis Community Action Program. Last year they donated 100 gallons of heating oil for a raffle benefiting St. George Days. The company’s community-centered focus also shows up in its sponsorships of the Muscle Ridge basketball event and Trekkers.

Maine Coast Petroleum has seen a lot of change and growth since O’Neal bought the Anne in 2004. 2014 will be no exception. The company is poised to send the Duff downeast for a major retrofitting to transform it into a double-hull vessel just in time to meet the mandate of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that all single-skin tank vessels be phased out by 2015. This will be a seven-month project. “The Duff project is unique,” O’Neal says, because most tanker companies build new rather than retrofitting to meet the law’s requirements.

For O’Neal, too, the Duff is worth saving because the vessel has become part of the Maine Coast Petroleum family. That’s the small-town attitude that has made Maine Coast Petroleum not just a successful business but also a good neighbor. ­—JW

For more information on the services Maine Coast Petroleum supplies go to or call 207-372-6962.


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A good place for a party, a great place for an auction

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a late afternoon in February the icy parking lot at Echo Hill in Wiley’s Corner is packed with cars. Inside about 40 people are clustered around tables holding boxes filled with a hodge-podge of oldish, somewhat battered items: mugs, bottles, dolls, baseball card collections, frames—you name it. At 4:30pm auctioneer Larry Trueman of LT Auctions turns on his mike headset and his helpers begin bringing the boxes forward.

“Here’s Lot #160, an interesting box of old bottles—some for old patent medicines, some for old tonics. Who will start with $20? How about $15 …” Someone nods. Trueman points in acknowledgment. “I’ve got $15 here, who will give me $18?” Another nod, another acknowledging arm gesture. “I’ve got $18, who will give me $20?” And so the bidding proceeds until Trueman pronounces the box sold. The next is quickly brought forward, and the process is repeated until Trueman and his helpers have worked through all the lots.

Up on the stage at the end of the hall Dianna Trueman enters transaction after transaction into a laptop computer, creating a running tab for each successful bidder. Occasionally she yells out, “Wait! What was that bidder’s number?” Or “What lot was that?”

People munch on popcorn they’ve purchased from tonight’s caterer, Deb Prescott. She’s also offering a menu of interesting-sounding dinner fare which will help sustain those bidders planning on staying for the main event, which will begin at about 5:30pm. Old chairs, cupboards, tables, rugs, paintings, clocks and sundry oddities line the perimeter of the hall, each numbered and ready to be brought forward to be sold to the highest bidder.

“I’m here for the accordion,” says one smiling woman who enters the hall just as the boxed-lot bidding is winding down. “Wouldn’t that be fun?” She came earlier in the day to preview the goods on offer, a common practice among the auction veterans gathered here tonight. Some are dealers, some are collectors, some seem to simply enjoy the entertainment of the bidding wars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALarry and Dianna Trueman bought Echo Hill in July of 2013. This hall has housed many a wedding reception and party over the years and people claim it has one of the best dance floors in the midcoast area, a history the Trueman’s appreciate. “People in St. George feel like this place belongs to them,” Dianna Trueman acknowledges. “And we plan to keep it available for their events like always, from May through November.”

But the true heart of what goes on at Echo Hill these days is the Truemans’ auction business. Dianna Trueman, an emergency room nurse who was born and raised in Rockland, likes vintage things, but it is Larry Trueman who has a lifetime of experience in the auction and antiques market, starting with tagging after his parents to antique and firearms auctions in the 1970s. In 1982, after graduating from the University of Southern Maine with a major in American Studies, Trueman got a job with the prominent appraiser and auctioneer Richard W. Oliver of Kennebunk.

In 1986 Trueman attended Reppert School of Auctioneering in Decatur, Indiana, to learn the finer points of auctioneering techniques. “It’s not about talking fast,” Trueman explains. “It’s about talking articulately, so people understand what’s being auctioned. Otherwise they can be afraid to bid.”

Trueman went out on his own in 1988 as Trueman Auctions, now LT Auctions. A specialty has always been antique firearms, but  the Truemans are what they call a “full-service auction company.”

“We’ll do it all,” says Dianna Trueman. She cites the example of a Rockland house where the elderly owners had passed away and the nephew who inherited the property was not interested in the contents and did not want to fly into town to ready the building for selling. The Truemans brought in a crew to empty the house for him and to find what they could of value. “The place was rundown and shabby—a lot of shopping channel stuff,” she recalls. “But we found two albums with professional photos taken on Monhegan from 1890 to 1902, which were a real treasure.”

“We do our best to get the very most we can for the estate or for someone’s fine antiques or collections,” says Trueman. But, he adds, there are no guarantees. “We work for the consigners, but we also have to provide good deals for the buyers. Luckily, it usually all balances out.” —JW

For more information on LT Auctions call 207-372-2014 or email LTPEAKS60@LIVE.COM.

Photos by Julie Wortman

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Skunk Cabbage

The earliest I have seen skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) around here is February 19. Even in this year of the polar vortex, though, skunk cabbage will be showing up in March through the ice and snow, due to thermogenesis—the ability to produce heat, thereby melting its way out of the frozen ground. —Anne Cox

color skunk c. 1Scolor skunk c 3S color skunk c 4Scolor skunk c 2S

 Photos by Anne Cox

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Brush piles: a springtime opportunity

brush SMAs the snow melts and spring comes around, we start thinking about cleaning up our yards for the growing/flowering season ahead.

Many of us wonder what to do with all the dead branches that have fallen from our trees, or that we have pruned.  And we haul Christmas trees and wreaths to the recycling center. But what seems like a disposal challenge is actually an opportunity to improve the wildlife-carrying capacity of our property, or of nearby wooded areas.

Brush piles provide shelter and nesting opportunities for a wide variety of creatures.  All you have to do is find an inconspicuous place to heap up your brush, then leave it alone.  The birds and small mammals will find it and use it.  Long-term, it will slowly deteriorate into soil-enriching humus.

We have created brush piles in several locations on the Wheeler Bay Wildlife Sanctuary off Clark Island Road. We used to have a big wood chipper and would put all of the branches through that, but doing so is a lost opportunity to do some good (and if you’ve ever used a big chipper, you know they are noisy, fuel-thirsty, and very scary!  I can still remember the scene in that old James Bond movie in which the bad guy goes through a chipper and comes out hamburger meat). So now we build brush piles.  Sometimes we even place a mammal-size nesting box on the ground, then heap the brush on top of it.

brush 2 SMWhat you’re really doing is re-creating what happens in undeveloped woodlands.  Branches die and fall to the ground.  Ice storms bend healthy branches to the breaking point to land on top of them.  Sometimes heavy winds blow trees over. Leaves are blown around until they get entangled in heaps of branches on the woodland floor.  The result is natural brush piles.  When we convert woodlands into house lots, we have this urge to make everything tidy, but in doing so, we eliminate habitat and leave a lot of our feathered and furry friends homeless.  That gives us an opportunity to do good and be lazy at the same time.  We don’t need to haul off or burn brush.  All we need to do is create a brush pile in some corner of the yard.

Two years ago we experimented with another kind of brush pile.  In one section of our big pond there are bare stone walls and underwater ledges of what was once the Hocking Granite Quarry.  There was very little life in that area, so during spring cleanup, we dumped some tree stumps into the water and piled dead branches on top until the brush pile was a couple of feet higher than the water surface.  The results were incredible.  Water insects now had a place to attach their eggs, and to hide.  Underwater vegetation flourished in the undergrowth.

Amphibians and minnows mobbed the area because it was a bountiful food source.  And that drew herons, ducks, otters, diving birds, mink, and larger fish into the vicinity, which in turn attracted ospreys and eagles.

So look around you.  Is there a spot in your garden where you can stack your dead branches and clippings?  It can become a little wildlife village.

—Leonard Greenhalgh (Greenhalgh is President and Founder of the Maine Coastal Habitat Foundation, and also a professor at Dartmouth College.)

Photos by Jocelyn Pacquette

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