Category Archives: February 15

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

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

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!

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

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.

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.