Category Archives: Volume 7

Looking for options and solutions to a school space-crunch—by making decisions as a community

Bryson Mattox, pictured here in 7th grade, built a digital salinity probe in the Makerspace that collected data as part of the St. George School’s 7th grade Learning Expedition to determine the effects of tidal flooding on the freshwater habitat of the marsh and how salinity affects the survival of the alewife eggs and fry. In March, Bryson, along with Alison England (Middle Level Science Teacher) and Paul Meinersmann (Technology/ Makerspace Director), presented their work at the Maine Environmental Education Association’s Annual Conference.

For the past several years, school superintendent Mike Felton and his facilities and programming working group have been wrestling with how to find enough space to serve the growing number of students attending the St. George School.

“We’ve felt increasing pressure each year and we felt it most last year,” Felton says. “We had 25 fourth graders last year and we’d already split the third grade, so we didn’t have the personnel or space to split the fourth grade. So part of the space problem is class size.”

Mike Felton

But an even bigger aspect of the school’s space-crunch, Felton points out, is programs. He rapidly ticks off the list of curricula and services that now require space in the school building: world language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, the Makerspace, the school library, STEAM activities (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), Title 1 reading and math interventions, special ed, life skills (for students with developmental delays or autism) and a program for students with more severe behavioral and emotional needs. In addition, he says, three different social workers need spaces where they can work with students and there are occasions when needs testing (such as speech and hearing) has to be conducted, something that currently most often takes place in Felton’s own office.

Most other school administrations would view the issue of how best to solve their space problems as an internal problem. Guided by the long-term goal of providing students with an education that allows them to succeed and become productive citizens, they would determine what curricula, special programs, staffing and facilities are desirable for meeting that goal and then ask for the financial resources to make that plan a reality. But the St. George School is different than most other schools, Felton emphasizes.

“We are a community school. We have to make decisions about what is needed as a community. There is no other way. As a community we need to ask how is the school going to be part of the community as we move forward?”

This means, Felton explains, in addition to thinking about desirable educational and long-term goals for the students and what resources are needed to meet them, also thinking about the school’s facilities and its students as valuable resources for the community at large.

Already the school’s students are making valuable contributions to the community, Felton says, pointing to such examples as the recommendations about energy choices Jaime MacCaffray’s fourth grade class made to the School Board last year and the “citizen science” work Alison England’s classes have been doing on alewife restoration.

“And we really see the school building as a community building, because there are also a lot of after-school uses for a variety of groups and organizations from Parks and Recreation and an after-school program in coordination with Blueberry Cove to different meetings and community events. When we’re looking at the school space we really want to look at how can whatever we do benefit the entire community.”

Felton also flags that dealing with the school’s space issues is not only about better accommodating all the programs, services and uses currently in place. It is also about possible new opportunities to improve those offerings. For example, in terms of the school’s Makerspace, the Midcoast School of Technology has come forward with an interest in possibly working with the school’s middle-level students. So there is now the possibility that a vocational-technological component could be brought back to the curriculum, this time integrated with the work already being done with 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotics. Access, Felton says, could be for everybody, students and community members alike working to address questions, issues and challenges facing the community.

Another question is whether a public pre-K program would be desirable. “We have a working group right now looking at this and the state is moving in the direction that in the future public pre-K could be required. There are tremendous advantages to students when you get them started in education early, but that requires space.”

So decisions have to be made. Thanks to financial support from a community member, the school has been able to hire a firm of architects, Portland-based Oak Point Associates, to help with a building-use assessment, which the firm began conducting this past summer. “They are basically meeting with different stakeholders, community members, and students to get a sense of what people want and need from the school building. They’ll be at our regular open house for student families on October 10, so they’ll be connecting with those families and trying to get feedback from them,” Felton explains.

Then, on October 29 at 5:30pm in the school gym, Oak Point is going to hold a community meeting, trying to get as many community members together as possible to get their thoughts on the school, the space, historically how it has been used and what they want from the space moving forward.

“Right now everything is on the table,” Felton says. “But given the number of programs we have going on now, it is critical that we come up with options and solutions. For me, the most important part is really the community process. I think as a community we will come up with the right outcome. I look at it first as what programming do we need and want to offer and then what are the space requirements.”

—JW (All members of the St. George Community are invited to the “Community Meeting to Discuss the School Building” on Tuesday, October 29 at 5:30pm in the St. George School Gym.)

PHOTOS: Top and bottom, courtesy St. George School; Mike Felton, Julie Wortman

The ‘Age of Sail’ in St. George

Early photo of shipwrecks at Tenants Harbor taken from what is now the lawn of the East Wind Inn

The September program of the St. George Historical Society was presented by Dale Pierson and was on “Ships, Shipbuilding, Captains, Crews and Cargoes of St. George.” Dale told us about how he “volunteered” to do the presentation:

“My quest started with an interest in several ancestors who are listed as Captains or Ship Masters in local references and cemetery inscriptions. Somehow, I agreed to do a talk about “Ships, Sea Captains, Shipbuilding and the Age of Sail.” Who were they, what ships did they sail, when did they travel the oceans of the world, where did they sail to and why did it all seem to cease? These are some of the questions I wanted answers to. After re-reading works by local authors, I went to the Penobscot Marine Museum with a list of ancestors, in pursuit of more information. There I realized that much of the information is not cross-referenced and the search was to be a rather tedious affair. Some data was listed in one reference while other data was listed elsewhere. It was then I decided to gather the information of our local sailing history and put it into a document that is searchable by categories. Using a spreadsheet, which helps to keep my scattered thoughts organized, I began entering information from many sources that I will share with you. Trying to limit the presentation to information pertaining to St. George is not easy. The boats, captains (masters), crews, and cargos traveled all over the globe. These local builders and owners moved their chess pieces to different ports of call constantly.”

The time frame of Dale’s talk was from the 1830s to the end of the early 1900s, when so many sailing ships ended up beached on our shores. He spoke of the vast number of sailors, sea captains and sailing vessels that called St. George home. There was mention of the various shipyards and their locations in St. George. Jim Skoglund showed the audience a top hat that belonged to Capt. David Watts and spoke of the fact that sea captains regularly wore a top hat to distinguish themselves from others. Dale mentioned some of the cargo—southern pine brought north, paving stones carried to Boston and New York, and even a shipload of Mormons who were transported from Liverpool, England, in search of a new home in Utah. He also told the story of the Hattie Dunn, a three-masted wooden schooner captained by a St. George native that was sunk by a German U-boat in May 1918 off the coast of Virginia.

There were close to 75 people who packed into the Ocean View Grange that evening, and it appeared that there was interest in having a similar program again next year.
—John Falla

PHOTOS: Top, courtesy of St. George Historical Society; bottom, Betsy Welch

Knox Museum to host free community harvest festival Oct. 12

On Saturday, October 12 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the General Henry Knox Museum will host a fun-filled harvest festival on the grounds of Montpelier in Thomaston. Free to the community, this family event will feature traditional lawn games, hands-on seasonal craft activities including pumpkin painting and cookie decorating. Apple cider and fall-inspired treats will be served. Take your photo with General Henry Knox. This event is open to the public and free of charge.

General Henry Knox was born in 1750. In 1775, General George Washington chose Knox as his Chief of Artillery. Knox spent most of the Revolutionary War by Washington’s side and following the war, he was chosen to be the first Secretary of War. Knox and Washington became and remained lifelong friends. In 1795, Knox retired to a large tract of land, located in what is now Thomaston, which his wife had inherited from her mother. On this land, they built an elaborate nineteen-room mansion and named it “Montpelier.”

Knox had a hand in much of the area’s economic development: He shipped timber, made bricks, participated in agriculture, built a lock and canal system on the Georges River, built roads, helped found a church, and quarried lime. A true extrovert, he once welcomed over 500 townspeople to a party at Montpelier. Knox died in 1806, at the age of 56, but he left behind many people dedicated to preserving his legacy.

The General Henry Knox Museum is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to honoring the life, times, and legacy of Henry Knox; the heritage of Montpelier; and the veterans and families who have served, and continue to serve, our nation. The museum is located at the junction of Routes 1 and 131, on 30 High St. in Thomaston.

For more information contact Knox Museum at 354-8062 or go to www.knoxmuseum.org.

Community safety and services panel discussion

The St. George Business Alliance (SGBA) is pleased to invite SGBA members and St. George residents to a panel discussion on Tuesday morning, October 15, focused on “Community Safety and Services.” The presentation—scheduled for 9:00 am at the Town Office in Tenants Harbor—is open to the public and will include emergency preparedness plans and updates from the St. George Office of Emergency Management, the St. George Fire Department, the St. George Volunteer Fire & Ambulance Association, and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

Representatives from the St. George Community Development Association and St. George’s Neighbor to Neighbor Ride Assistance Program will also be on hand to answer questions and discuss the services provided by their organizations.

The SGBA is a local non-profit trade association of businesses, individuals, civic and non-profit organizations whose mission is to promote business and cultural prosperity in St. George. It has scheduled this informative session to update residents on the services available to ensure the health and safety of the St. George community and its residents.

Snapper!

Since the equinox, baby snapping turtles have been discovered trekking across the grounds of Hedgerow in Martinsville, instinctively heading to their future home in nearby wetlands. The mama turtles had emerged from those wetlands at the summer solstice, burying their eggs at various locations on the property.

PHOTO: Kate Johanson

Of merlins and monarchs (and more…)

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Monhegan Island eastern view

I knew I was going to Monhegan Island a few weeks in advance, so there was plenty of time to dream a version of the island visit that I could write a column about. The most likely scenario I imagined was a day full of interactions with hard-core bird watchers, interactions that would inspire a column rich with a heavily sarcastic take on their behavior. You see, a combination of several factors—location being an important one—makes Monhegan a bird magnet, and thus a magnet for birders. During spring and fall migrations, many a bird observer heads to the island for the day or for an extended stay (two weeks or more) because the birds can be so “good” out there. My good friend Mike and I have been planning a trip ever since my family moved to St. George for that exact reason. The birds. With that in mind, and my experience from years past, it seemed fair odds that the column would just write itself. But it didn’t take long to recognize that I may need corrective lenses when “envisioning!”

First off, there were hardly any birders out there. We spotted a few strolling the stroll, easily identified with their binos, books, cameras and funky vests and hats. There was a single, organized “birdery” (group of “birders”) that moved in an amoeba-like fashion in an effort to have the entire group catch a glimpse of every tweeter. But the birdery was from mid-coast Audubon, so I actually knew (and kinda like) some of the folks, and the individual, floating birders seemed pleasant, even with their distracting vests on. I would have to abandon the column vision, that much I could see!

The second situation was how incredibly quiet it was, bird-wise, on the island. There seemed to be more birders than birds, which may have played a role in the low number of birders venturing to Monhegan that day. Mike and I strolled the town stroll and quickly found ourselves heading to the woods to search for mushrooms and views. The column would write itself, as it rightfully should, just that this one wouldn’t be about birds.

Monarch butterflies, on the other hand, were a species of being that could not be denied that day. They were, are and have been everywhere for weeks (as of this typing), and that day on Monhegan was no different. From the eastern clifftops you could watch the monarchs coming in from over the ocean, or wave goodbye to them as they headed over to Manana and beyond. Migration is so cool, and monarch migration is so crazy—it’s the king! We saw a couple hundred that particular Saturday, and several other butterfly species and still heard the “you should have been here a few days ago …” stories. Nothing is cooler than butterfly stories.

Young Peregrine Falcon

There was also no shortage of raptors that day, with falcons, accipiters and the random bald eagle making up most of the lot. A steady flow of merlin falcons to the island from the east, provided quick sightings as they zoomed by, flying low on sneak attacks (classic merlin style). Merlins feed on birds (and dragonflies, etc.), and their hunting ways combined with the random peregrine falcon flyby undoubtedly added to the songbird silence. To add to the fun, sharp-shinned hawks were the accipiter of the day—several sighted—which is as prestigious an honor as it sounds. The airborne action was fast and furious.

Eastern Subterranean Termites

We crossed paths with the mid-coast Audubon group about mid-day, and you can tell how the bird watching is going when a birdery only talks about a dragonfly situation they observed. Don Reimer, one of my favorite people, was leading the field trip and gave us the scoop on a large gathering of large dragonflies over the Lobster Cove trail. Don noted that the odnonates looked to be hunting “flying ants” that were emerging in one spot along the trail. His description matched the reality we came upon. Comet Darners (Anax longipes)—large, green-headed and red-abdomened dragonflies—numbered in the dozens, hunting what appeared to be Eastern Subterranean Termites (Reticulitermes flavipes) with several darners clearly flying with termite wings sticking out of their mouths. We watched for a bit, but when we returned a half hour later the scene was all quiet, not a darner to be seen nor a flying ant as well. I think Don’s interpretation was right, which is usually the case.

We tried one last trail before heading to the boat, and crossed paths with a small, mixed species songbird flock that was “user friendly” in the sense that the birdies allowed great views. A handful of warblers, Baltimore Oriole and a Olive-sided Flycatcher rounded out the day and we could officially say we saw some songbirds on Monhegan. The day had already been a success and the late wave of birds just made things “more successfuller.”

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Tools and work

by Leilani Myers and Evie Thissell

(L to R) Carlin Thompson, Bishop Lunt and John Falla as chef, lobsterman and fireman

Since returning to school, we’ve been traveling around the building looking for things the grades are doing that are new and different at St. George School. We have found lots of cool things, such as a new music program, some new STEAM classes, a new gym teacher, a new French teacher, and lots more plans! Since it’s too much to write about in one article, we decided to begin by highlighting what’s going on in Ms. Ruth Thompson’s First Grade and Ms. Meghan Smith’s Kindergarten/First Grade classes.

Both Ms. Thompson’s and Ms. Smith’s classes are having an amazing time in their “Tools and Work” expedition. They are learning about tools that people use in their different professions. Several guests have visited their classrooms to demonstrate the tools they use in their every-day work. They have seen tools from a custodian, gym teacher, cook, artist and nurse, from right in our own school! They have also visited the Children’s Museum in Rockland to see tools from other trades, such as veterinarians and artists and scientists. Their final project will be to work collaboratively in teams to identify a need within the classroom, school, or playground and to design and build an amazing solution with the appropriate tools. We can’t wait to see what they come up with!

(Myers and Thissell are 8th-grade students at the St. George School.)

PHOTO: Ruth Thompson

Native plant corner 10-10-19

New England Aster

Asters and goldenrods might be Maine’s most recognizable late-season wildflowers. They often grow together in wild spaces and because purples and yellows are complementary, they are especially pleasing to the eye.

Aside from their visual appeal, there are more important reasons to appreciate goldenrods and asters and allow them to become the foundation of your late-season wildlife and pollinator garden. Goldenrods and asters are closely related botanically as both are members of the huge Asteraceae (aster) family. But the real power of these two genres of plants is their rich nectar that supports pollinating insects in late summer through fall. If you observe the blooms of the various species of goldenrods and asters throughout September, you will find an amazing assortment of insects nectaring on them, including many familiar butterflies and especially the beloved Monarch butterfly. Leaving the stalks and dried seed heads in the gardens through winter will provide seed and shelter for birds and other critters through the lean months.

It is a challenge to choose just one species of these remarkable plants to discuss in this column, but having just witnessed the most incredible flight of Monarchs during the last week of September, we choose New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

The magnificent blooms of New England Aster highlight Maine’s late-season landscape with rich colors ranging from deep violet to lavender and pink with yellow centers. Large and showy, this aster can grow up to six feet high. Like most asters it blooms late in the season and provides a critical fall nectar source for pollinators, especially Monarchs as they stock up for their fall migration to Mexico. New England aster is also a larval host for several butterflies and moths including the Pearl Crescent.

This deer-resistant native prefers moist, rich soil but is easily grown in a broad range of conditions, thriving in full sun or light shade in all but the driest soils. It does self-seed in favorable conditions. When this tall aster goes into bloom, the lower leaves begin to dry up and this is normal. If height becomes an issue, pinching back the stems a few times before mid-July can help eliminate any need for staking.

Plant straight species New England aster with companion native goldenrods, Joe-pye weeds, milkweeds, and native grasses such as little blue stem and native mountain mints for a beautiful and supportive late-season pollinator garden. Perhaps the September Monarch flight will visit your corner too!—Jan Getgood

PHOTO: Jan Getgood

A successful artist-entrepreneur with a vocation for encouraging others

Molly Haley with her Marblehead Handprints briefcase

It was their love of sailing that first brought Molly Haley and her husband Ed Freitag to this part of coastal Maine in 2007. Then, in 2013, they made a commitment to spending significant time in St. George when they bought a small seasonal residence on Water Street overlooking Tenants Harbor, where they moor “Primetime,” their Beneteau 49. But sailing isn’t the couple’s only passion or reason for enjoying this area. This past April they were among the key supporters of the Island Institute’s 6th Artists and Makers Conference, an annual event whose aim is to serve Maine’s art-based businesses. For Haley, in particular, encouraging artist-entrepreneurs in whatever way she can has become a true vocation, one that stems from her own personal experience as an artist-turned-business owner in the 1970s.

At the time, Haley was living in Marblehead, Mass., teaching art to middle- and high-school students, as was common in those days for many art majors with a college degree (in her case from Skidmore College). What launched her into the business world was pure happenstance—an invitation from the Marblehead Art Association to teach a class in silk screening. Afterward, one of the students, Kathy Walters, expressed interest in learning how to silk screen on fabric. From that point forward it was a cascade of developments, decisions and lucky connections that made the company Haley and Walters founded in 1970, Marblehead Handprints, a legend in the artisan retail world.

They started experimentally, creating their own designs and hand printing them in Haley’s kitchen and back room. The decision to try silk screening on canvas—something no one else was doing—proved providential. “I’ve always been product-oriented,” says Haley, “so as soon as we had started making our fabric I wanted to make something out of it.” The two began churning out tote bags in various sizes and other creations, holding little open houses in Haley’s home to show their wares.

Next came the official launch of Marblehead Handprints and setting up a shop in downtown Marblehead. Haley was 28.

“As we got into it, I realized that the kind of designs we were doing were the kind of things I had been doing during my senior year at Skidmore—the two-dimensional work with positive and negative designs,” Haley says. “I was also drawing on a fabulous color course based on the work of Josef Albers that I took. And these two aspects of my Skidmore training turned out to be the basis for the business Kathy and I created. We did things in colors we liked and our scale at first was pretty big. Later, when Laura Ashley came out and started doing what we were doing, making things that mixed and matched, but using a smaller scale, we listened and made some adjustments to our scale.”

The business became something of a cottage industry, involving dozens of people, mostly all women. They employed stitchers, hand printers, and shop help. “If someone came to us with an idea for a product, we gave them some fabric and said, ‘Try it out.’ Eventually we bought stuff from them.”

A key feature of the business was that Haley and Walters never went to machine printing. “When we first started printing in my back room it was a maximum of a couple of yards at a time that we could print and we would roll the fabric up as we went and it wasn’t always very technical with the lining up of the pattern. But people liked that, they could see the overlap and know that it was hand printed that way. We were experimenting with a lot of different types of fabric, but we ran out of space and couldn’t keep up with production even after we narrowed down our designs. We finally went with hand-printer mills in Massachusetts. Over the years we used six different hand-printer mills in the northeast.”

Marblehead Handprint products weren’t cheap, Haley freely admits. “At the time our stuff was expensive because we had to pay people who lived in the U.S.—there wasn’t some big factory in Puerto Rico or some other place. But buying our products was an investment for the purchaser—we didn’t have planned obsolescence. Our products were made to last.” By way of proof, Haley pulls out her own Marblehead Handprints briefcase, made before the business closed around 1994 and still showing virtually no signs of wear. “We used real heavy canvas that was very hard to print on,” she notes.

Haley and Walters went wholesale early, in 1971. “We thought let’s go wholesale, so I called Saks Fifth Avenue and I got an appointment. When we got there with our little dog-and-pony show, the buyer wasn’t there, but we ended up in the vice president’s office and I guess we charmed him because he bought from us—bought for all their 22 stores! We thought uh-oh, this is when we really need to be serious about the business and so we went to the bank.”

But going to the bank for two women wasn’t a simple matter in the early 1970s, the era of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and other women’s movements. Both married at the time, Haley and Walters couldn’t even get credit cards in their own names when they started their business. “We weren’t involved in the ERA or any of the movements going on then,” Haley reflects, “it was just what we wanted to do, so we did it.”

Within four years of starting Marblehead Handprints, Haley and her then husband divorced, leaving Haley with two daughters to raise on her own—thankfully, Marblehead Handprints was fully up and running by then. And starting in 1978 people interested in running Marblehead Handprints stores began coming forward. Eventually there were over 20 such stores across the country.

“We licensed the use of our name on a yearly basis, wholesaled to them and did yearly conferences that focused on things like store display ideas and other business topics,” Haley explains. About the same time that this was occurring, Haley met Ed Freitag and eventually married him and moved to Washington D.C., taking over responsibility for such things as trade shows while also commuting to Marblehead to work with Walters on developing new designs, refreshing the look of their most popular offerings and developing new products.

Eventually, after a run of more than 24 years, Haley and Walters began the process of shutting Marblehead Handprints down. At this point Haley began turning her attention to finding ways to share what she had learned as a successful entrepreneur with others, especially women.

St. George resident Kate Johanson has been using her MH knitting bag for 37 years.

“I heard that the American Women’s Economic Development (AWED) program that was part of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women Business Ownership was opening a business center in D.C. for women needing information about running a business. So I picked up the phone and spoke with the executive director and told her who I was and my business and she said, ‘Oh, I know your business!’ So I ended up volunteering for them doing business counseling.” She eventually was hired for the position of Director of Counseling and Special Programs, which involved developing workshops, recruiting business professionals to do counseling and matching them with aspiring entrepreneurs.

“What I realized in doing that work was that training entrepreneurs needed a different approach from what was offered in business schools—a practical approach of how to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. These people wanted to move and wanted the business information. They were not interested in theory.”

That realization, Haley says, was the inspiration for proposing in 2003 that her alma mater, Skidmore College, set up an Entrepreneurial Artist program in the art department. But it took 10 years for her proposal to become a reality.

“At Skidmore I was going to the business department and to the art department and back and forth, having trouble getting anywhere—there was a lot of resistance to the entrepreneurial program because a lot of the art professors wanted art for art’s sake. Well, that’s fine, but I managed to take an art degree and do a business. I learned business as I went along. And we managed to support a lot of people through Marblehead Handprints, including myself, because I was a single mother for seven years. It wasn’t until the college established the Arts Administration Program that they could see where it could belong.”

In the spring of 2013 Haley and Arts Administration Program director David Howson developed and presented the first Entrepreneurial Artist Workshop. The initiative is now a fully accredited curriculum with such classes as “Business Basics,” intensive field experiences and networking events. More than 300 students have taken advantage of the program so far.

“Through this program students learn how to use their creative ideas in a different way, how to take what you’re doing and turn it into something people will buy. But you have to be a certain personality, I think, and not all artists have the personality to do business. You have to be open to opportunities, you have to start talking to people—and you have to look at your competition, go to galleries and shows, to see how your work fits in. And you may have to bow to the market a little bit. If you continue to go to your own drummer you may not be able to keep up.”

As an afterthought, Haley adds with a shrug, “And the people who just want to paint can paint.”

—JW (The Marblehead Museum is in the process of mounting a show celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Marblehead Handprints that will open June 1, 2020.)

Ready to go full-time—with Ice House Oysters

Toni Small and John Cotton tend their floating oyster farm.

It has taken three years, but John Cotton and Toni Small have finally developed their oyster farm in Ice House Cove to a point where tending the oysters has become a full-time job. “Right now we’ve got about 150 bags of oysters growing and with the addition of this year’s babies, we’ve got almost 300,000 oysters,” says Cotton. “I’ve switched from going out to turn the bags once a week to going every couple of days. By next summer we’ll be able to sell 20,000 or more oysters every week.”

The start-up period for the couple’s business, which they’ve named Ice House Oysters, has taken longer than with other oyster farms, Cotton explains, because of their decision to establish their farm off Howard Head where the St. George River meets the ocean. “Ninety-five percent of all oyster farms are up in mudflats because the water is warmer there—oysters grow faster in warmer waters. So those oysters mature in one or two years. Our oysters are in colder water, so the maturation time is about three years. But we decided to grow ours closer to the ocean water to make our oysters different, to have a different flavor, which they do—they are much more briny than everybody else’s.”

Ice House Oyster’s intertidal lease

Another advantage to choosing the Ice House Cove location for their farm, the couple says, is that the mix of salt water and fresh water that occurs at the mouth of the St. George River provides an especially rich mix of nutrients. That, the couple believes, combined with the fact that during the first year they raise their baby oysters in the intertidal zone, gives their oysters a real developmental boost.

“We put the babies in traditional oyster bags, but they are actually out of the water for a couple of hours each day,” Cotton explains. “That means they rotate every six hours and that gives them the cup shape faster so there’s more meat. After that initial year we take them out to the floating farm.”

Right now, Ice House Oysters are small, a size termed “petites” in the oyster business. “These are usually the most expensive oyster because they are more concentrated in flavor,” Cotton notes. “We will eventually also have larger-size oysters, but it is my feeling that the petites are the best because although they are young, they are still old enough to have a strong shell. It’s also just the right size to have enough meat. And I think they are perfect for beginners because if you’ve never had an oyster, it’s best not to start with some giant thing. I think the main reason people don’t like oysters when they try them for the first time is the feeling in your mouth, a big globby thing. So if you’re a rookie it’s best to start with a petite.”

For Cotton, who has close to 40 years under his belt as a commercial fisherman, turning to oyster aquaculture is crucial to his and Small’s economic future. “We commercial fishermen always looked down on aquaculture, but I think moving to aquaculture is really the only option left to make money in the off season. We used to be able to go shrimping, urchining, ground fishing, and scalloping but we don’t have that anymore. Shrimping is closed, scalloping licenses are closed, ground-fishing licenses are closed and there are very few licenses out for urchining because the resource is so scarce.”

And with climate change, Cotton adds, it is now possible to harvest the oysters in the winter. “Before you had to take a chain saw and cut through the ice.”

—JW (Ice House Oysters are available for sale by the dozen at the Hedgerow Market in Martinsville [8 Ridge Road] and directly from Cotton and Small [207-593-6885]).

Sign(s) o’ the times

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Berkeley’s Polypore

Fall is a wonderful time of the year. Temps are cooling down, brisk breezes roll and flow, and the fungi on the peninsula are announcing their presence with authority. There’s no a better time than the fall to “increase your acquaintancy” with your neighborhood fungi. Significant late summer rains have inspired a mushroom scene that is rich and diverse. Things are looking good.

Even with incredible diversity before your eyes, it can be easy to lose concentration and start to focus on the most lucrative of fungal species—both monetarily and salivatory speaking that is. We are talking about King Boletes (Boletus edulis) of course, and it is only logical to be attracted when in the presence of greatness. In the same vein though, there are connections between other species in the woods based on timing, niches and habitat. With this in mind, “unwritten” (and at times unsubstantiated) rules develop to help make a mushroom seeker’s effort more efficient. The “look two weeks after a significant rain” is an example of such a rule. But one of my favorite fungal rules is the “look for King Boletes when the Amanita muscaria are up.”

Amanita muscaria

Amanita muscaria, aka “Fly agaric,” are easy to identify (tall, yellow and scaly even by mushroom standards) and often can be seen from distances. Driving on Route 131 gets a little more dangerous this time of the year as one is scanning yards and forest edges for A. muscaria while cruising at 45 mph. “Giddypation” levels rise with every muscaria sighting, and some yards are so loaded they inspire “extreme giddypation.” Happy for the Amanitas, but also happy for the Bolete clues they provide. Thanks Fly Agaric!

At the same time, there are opportunities to develop our own folklore guidelines based on local observations. Guidelines to add to the historic fungi knowledge. And once school starts I keep tabs on the “big oak at the end of the road.” This is because the tree has some serious “butt rot” issues caused by a pair of mushroom species that fruit below it. They also happen to fruit when the Boletes are up!

The first is Berkeley’s Polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi), the largest polypore mushroom to be found on the peninsula. Polypores are a group of mushrooms whose undersides are full of holes. A Berkeley’s polypore fruiting body is comprised of many overlaying, pale-buff shelves that can measure three feet across! The fungus itself causes “butt rot” in standing trees such as the oak and thus the mushrooms are generally found at the base of hardwoods they are rotting.

Jack O’Lantern mushroom

Not too long after the Berk’s emerge, bright orange Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) join the scene. The fungi that makes the Berk’s and the Jack O’Lanterns mushrooms aren’t killing the oak per se, but instead are turning the heartwood at the base, or butt of the tree, back into soil. The heartwood gives a tree strength and stability and is where you can count the rings to age a tree. Seeing the Berkeley’s and Jack O’ Lanterns fruiting so boldly does not bode well for the future of the tree, however. Its heartwood is at the very least compromised, and at the worst the heartwood is mush. That said, “when the Jacks start to glow, a-bolete-looking we must go!” Still working on the wording.

And, of course, there is more going on with the Jack O’ Lantern than just being a reminder to look for Boletes. Jack O’Lanterns earn their common name by being orange in color, and by glowing an “eerie green” at night. This bioluminescent “foxfire” is likely used to attract insects and other dispersers in an effort to “get the spores out!” Foxfire is also very entertaining for human observers, but probably not a reason behind its fungal presence.

And as if that weren’t enough, Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms are poisonous to humans. They aren’t toxic enough to kill you (good news!) , but if eaten, Jack’s will leave you digestively unstable for some time (bad news!). Somehow they are often mistaken for Chanterelles even though Jack’s have gills and Chanterelles have ridges. And the two species don’t really look or act like each other. Getting sick off wild mushrooms is a humbling experience that I would never wish on anyone. Hearing tales of illness and then crossing paths with the culprit can be a reminder to show respect and do your due diligence before pickin’ and mackin’.

And so yes, it is a great time to be out in the woods, seeing the signs and connecting the reminders. Creating some new extremely local (local as in my own head) folklore is fun even knowing these rules are only temporary. Someday the big oak will be gone and we’ll be left to find new “signs o’ the times.”

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen