Category Archives: Downeast Musings

Festival of Lights (Eastport, Maine)

Santa Claus chose one of the coldest nights in December to pay a visit to the children of Eastport.  He came with Mrs. Claus, elves, Frosty, students from Shead High School, and the Husson University Boat School.

Santa visits Eastport

Santa visits Eastport

Shead Class of 2011

Shead Class of 2011

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Santa's Little Helper

Santa's Little Helper

 

People gathered around barrels to warm their hands by the fire and lend an ear to the  musicians who braved the frigid temperatures to sing Christmas carols.

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Eventually even Santa had enough of the December chill and he dashed away to Peavey Library to sit fireside with more than 150 children and adults from Eastport, Pleasant Point, Pembroke, Perry, and other surrounding towns. 

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 Patrons of the library brought snacks and cocoa for everyone ( I was spotted at the buffet on more than one occasion) and as I sat eating one feta truffle too many, I stared at the organized chaos.

I watched the rapt faces of the children and their proud parents and saw  the smiles of those  whose children have long since grown.

 I laughed at Santa who was having his lap worn out ( I just know there will be a lump of coal for me on Christmas morning). 

I thought about the Shead High School students who weren’t too “cool” to participate in a Christmas parade.

I considered the unique character of Eastport and the generous, open hearts of the people who breathe life into this little city and I wondered:  do they really know how special they are?

 

Happy Holidays from Downeast Maine!

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From Bad To Worse To Grateful

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to write about the doings in Downeast Maine, but this time of year is busy.  We’re buttoning up for winter and the mad dash is on to finish up outdoor projects.

Not too long ago I discovered a leak in my shed roof.  As an aside, a “shed” in Downeast Maine is considered to be an unheated room attached to one’s house.  My house has a shed and I use it to store pellets for my pellet stove, tools, recycling bins etc.

The carpenter who originally planned to replace the roof called and announced he was too busy to tackle the job, so the hunt was on for a new carpenter to replace the crumbling mess before the autumn rains began.

So I hired a carpenter who was new in town and looking for work.  The idea was simple:  he needed work and I needed a new shed roof.

After 41 years I should know that absolutely nothing is that simple.

The project began in earnest but after nearly a week, the roof (which covers a 10 x 12 room), was nowhere near completion.  As a bonus, the weatherman was cheerily predicting three days of rain and 60 mph winds.

I stared up at the half finished roof and thought, “Oh joy,” (Okay, maybe my thoughts were a little more colorful than that, but you get the idea).

I guess now’s the time to tell you that my shed shares a common wall with my bathroom. 

I had nightmares about a deluge of water pouring in between the walls, mold growing like spanish moss,  while tons of wood pellets exploded like sponges.

Then the unthinkable happened:  the roofer, who I may remind you was new in town, took off.  Yup, he split town.  Hit the high road for parts unknown.

I guess Eastport wasn’t to his taste.

Three days of rain and gale winds on the way, a half finished roof, and I was more than a bit irritated.  But there’s always a bright side…

I’ve mentioned several times the unbelievable generosity of the people in Downeast Maine.  People without two nickels to rub together will give you anything they have without question. 

Life can be hard in an economically depressed area like this and we look out for one another here.

In a state of anxiety and righteous anger, I called my good friends, Rose and Robert.  I ranted and raved about the audacity of the fleet of foot carpenter. 

They sympathized, they empathized, like good friends should.

Would you believe it?  Robert showed up the very next day, tools in hand,  and worked like a madman.  Shingles on, cedar shingles replaced, new corner boards on, just as the first drops of rain began to splatter against the new roof. 

The man is amazing.

 Like magic, my nightmares of spongey wood pellets disappeared.

I got out my wallet and tried to pay Robert but he wouldn’t hear of it.  He laughed and said, “Put your money away; that’s what friends are for.”

What do you do with a friend like that? 

You thank them profusely and thank your lucky stars, that’s what.

Not only am I fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, I am truly blessed with the friendships I have made.

So, Robert, as I sit here listening to the rain pound the roof, confident there won’t be an explosion of wood pellets, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Of Travel And Contentment

For as long as I can remember I have always loved to travel.  Never content to sit at home, I was always planning a trip to somewhere. 

The travel bug may have struck when I was 17 and a friend was headed to Milwaukee to visit relatives.  She got a ride to the airport with a friend of hers and asked me if I wanted to come along for something to do.

I looked at the flight board and in a half-whine said, “Wish I could go.” 

My friend whipped out her credit card and egged me on.

With $1.49 in my pocket and no change of clothes, I boarded a plane to Milwaukee.  I was kind enough to fill out a postcard with a picture of a Delta plane soaring through the friendly skies and mailed it to my parents.

“Hi Mom and Dad!  Gone to Milwaukee!” (or something to that effect).  No wonder my father’s hair went gray early.

I still remember the names of the people I stayed with all these years later.  College girls who were too happy to loan me clothes and take me to dinner at Uno’s in Chicago. 

The travel bug had bitten me square in the backside; I was hooked and wanted more.

I never wanted to stay home.  Spinning like Mary Tyler Moore, arms outstretched, at  Place de la Concorde in Paris. Sunning on the white sands of Bahamian beaches.  Taking my grandmother to England for her first trip to Europe.  Trying my best to sample as much chocolate as humanly possible in Belgium.  Checking my shoes for scorpions in Costa Rica and climbing a volcano in Nicaragua. 

I was always scanning travel sites looking for deals, and short notice travel was never much of a problem for my sister, who is my favorite traveling companion.

When I first started plotting my move Downeast, my sister sensibly asked, “How far to the nearest airport?”

Two hours and forty five minutes, one way, to Bangor International Airport, but that was okay as I pointed out, “It isn’t as if I will be driving it once a week, right?”

In two weeks I am headed to sunny Florida to visit my 85 year old grandmother (known to all as “Gram”).  I haven’t seen Gram in over a year and miss her terribly.

As the departure date approaches, I find myself dreading it.  Nothing to do with Gram, of course;  I can’t wait to see her.  She is an amazing lady and when I grow up, I want to be just like her.

The problem is, I don’t want to leave home.  I don’t want to leave Eastport and fly all the way to Florida (there’s that half-whine again). 

 I know as soon as I leave the island I will wish I was back home, where I belong.

This attitude has startled me.  I was the type who could have my bags packed at a moment’s notice.  “Get me outta here” was my motto.

My home is my castle and I have no desire to leave it.  What was I running from for all those years when I would be planning my next journey just weeks after returning from a vacation? 

 What is this about?  I have a list of must-see destinations, for God’s sake:  Egypt, Botswana, Scotland, Italy, Lithuania….

I  realized that aside from some of the hardships that come with living in Downeast Maine that I have become content.  At long last I am happy with where I am, and contentment is a beautiful thing.

So I will be flying the friendly skies in October with mixed feelings.  Certainly happiness to see my beloved “Gram” but also warm in the knowledge that I will come home again, back to Eastport, back where I belong.

Maine Small Island Post Offices On The Edge?

The other day I received the September issue of The Working Waterfront, a monthly publication about Maine islands and waterfront areas of Maine.  In their words, the free monthly newspaper covers “just about anything connected with this coast and the lives of the people who live and work here.”

While reading an article on an artist’s collective in Machias, I happened to notice a small article of sorts reminding us of the plight of small island post offices and how buying stamps directly from these small post offices helps to keep them in business.

Consider Cliff Island:  fewer than 60 year round residents according to a Cliff Island website.  Or Monhegan Island, sitting twelve nautical miles off the mainland with somewhere around 75 residents. 

 You can just imagine the moaning and groaning at USPS Headquarters about keeping those post offices open.

Sutton Island recently lost their mail delivery system.  Mail was brought by ferry and left in a trash can marked “US Mail”.  Apparently the Postal Service was concerned over lack of security so now residents of Sutton Island make a two mile ocean journey to collect their mail. 

 Just imagine spending upwards of three hours to pick up a pile of store flyers and unsolicited credit card offers. 

So aside from a jaunt to Cliff Island or Monhegan (which sounds great to me by the way), how can you help keep these vital post offices alive?

Buy your stamps by mail, of course.  I borrowed heavily from the coupon in The Working Waterfront (I hope they don’t mind) and have included their list of island post offices complete with zip codes.

Take a minute to cut out the coupon (link below) and order a book or two of stamps from a small post office on one of Maine’s multitudinous small islands:

Cliff Island     04019              Swan’s Island     04685

Long Island    04050              Cranberry Isles   04625

Chebeague     04017              Isle au Haut        04645

North Haven   04853              Islesford            04646

Islesboro        04848             Monhegan           04852

Peaks Island    04108             Frenchboro         04635

Click here for the ORDER FORM(buy stamps by mail order forms can also be found at your local post office). 

One more thing:   if anyone on these wonderful islands cares to have a weekend guest, be sure to let me know;  I’ll pack my bags and buy my stamps in person.

The Way Life Should Be

I’m always carrying on about  the incomparable beauty of Eastport and Downeast Maine but today I rediscovered the unreserved friendliness, impromptu gaiety, and unabashed happiness that is life in Eastport.

After an outrageous number of back to back days of fog and rain, the sun made its grand appearance at long last. 

I donned my flip flops and a pair of sunglasses and down the sea path I went, a stiff breeze coming from the west, sunlight bouncing crazily off the water, and I was filled with the indescribable happiness which can only be achieved after innumerable days of cold rain and dense fog.

Families and couples gathered around the picnic tables outside Quoddy Bay Lobster with platters of cherry red lobsters and small mountains of steamers.  Plastic bibs snapped like sails in the breeze, the sound of laughter snatched and carried off by the wind.

The mood was high on Water Street as I watched a man standing in the bed of a pickup truck playing an upright piano, belting out whatever tunes came into his head.  I’m fairly certain the piano was destined for someplace else, but the impromptu performance stopped everyone in their tracks and made us smile.

I visited a local artisan shop and wound up spending nearly an hour conversing with the artist about the economy, lay-offs, and the endless possibilities the future holds.  The artist was unknown to me, and I to him,  but the conversation flowed, the atmosphere was relaxed. 

Although his paintings, carvings, and pottery were impressive, I didn’t have a dime to spend (three more days until payday) but the conversation was real… and the sun was shining.

I wandered to a store that carries local crafts and admired a pair of lavender woolen socks with lupines knit into the sides.  I have been planning to buy a pair or two and had to check to make sure they had plenty on offer for when payday arrives  (three more days, but who’s counting?)

I struck up a conversation with the woman working behind the counter about Christmas, our families, and old postcards.  We don’t know one another but it didn’t matter; the rain and fog were gone, even if only for a day. 

 Tourists were out and the locals were milling around, talking and laughing in the middle of sidewalks, outside of restaurants, greeting one another as if a year, instead of a week,  had passed.

I don’t know a lot of people here yet, but there is a rapport between pet owners and many people recognize me because of my beastly, ghastly, overexcited terrier and my tag-a-long feline Midge. 

Over and over I heard, “Where are Molly and Midge today?”

Like a parent feeling guilty about leaving the kids at home, I explained  even I need a solo walk from time to time.  And so the conversation continued about pets, antiques and home improvement projects until I realized that, I too, was one of the locals milling about in doorways, smiling in the afternoon sun.

Never underestimate the power of a gorgeous day to bring out the joy in your fellow man. 

 Take the time to rediscover the art of real and relaxed conversation, you just might end up learning something new or meeting someone new. 

 Stop and listen to the music, or better yet, be the guy standing in the back of a pickup playing a piano.

 Walking home with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, I realized that this is happiness, this is Eastport, and this is truly the way life should be.

What’s The Motive?

Warning:  Rant ahead!

I was visiting an elderly neighbor today.  He’s a shut-in and always happy for company; he even leaves a door open so my wandering cat, Midge, can pay a visit. 

 While discussing the current events here in Eastport, he mentioned a neighbor who has been driving him nuts.

“The problem with Patty is, whenever she does something nice for me, she has to let everyone in town know she did it,” he lamented.  “She’ll bring me supper and then I am hearing from half the neighborhood about how she ‘takes care’ of me; as if I can’t feed myself. ”

He stared out the window for a long moment and added, ” It’s embarrassing.   Why does she do it?”

At first I thought he was asking me why Patty feels the need to shout her good deeds to the world (or to whomever will stand still long enough to listen), but as I sat on my neighbor’s couch I realized what he was really asking me:   Why does Patty bring him supper? What’s her motive?

Does she do it to help out an elderly shut-in or does she do it so she can try and focus the spotlight on herself for another day?

A lot of us do nice things, good deeds, perform the proverbial ‘random acts of kindness’ because it makes us feel good inside.  We do it for the happiness it brings someone else and we expect nothing in return. 

People like Patty have an entirely different motive.

I know someone else who does the same manoeuvre.  Recognition is the name of the game with these types of “do gooders”.  Volunteer work brings on a long and involved conversation where she explains how she really doesn’t have the time for it,  but the organization in question just can’t get by without her help.

  After it’s done, she’ll tell anyone within hearing distance (and she’ll raise her voice expressly for those standing just outside of hearing distance) about the number of hours she put in, the amount of money she raised, the number of people who benefitted from her generosity. 

 Just ask these types what they’ve been up to lately and they’ll blow their own horn for hours.  Naturally, they save the world single handedly.

We all know someone like this.   Who knows, perhaps some who are reading this will recognize themselves.

For those of you who recognize yourself in this rant, ask yourself the next time you are signing on for yet another charitable cause, what’s your motive?

On behalf of those of us who do kindnesses for others and remain silent about them:  we don’t want to listen to you, we don’t want to tell you how wonderful you are, and we are getting just a wee bit tired of patting you on the back when you’ve already sprained your arm patting yourself on the back.

If you find yourself repeating the same self-congratulatory litany to your friends, family, and neighbors, then you aren’t performing your heroic feats for anyone other than yourself…think about it.

Remembering Ed Earley

This is a guest post by Ann Cornelison of Eastport, Maine.  Ann was kind enough to contribute this post after being interviewed by Living Downeast about protesting the war in Iraq.  She remembers Ed Earley, Navy veteran and war protester.

 

One of our most loyal regulars, Ed Earley, was a veteran, a Navy man, and he served as a Seabee in World War II.  Ed would wear his ‘Veteran’s For Peace’ hat and always brought his carefully constructed wooden signs to the peace vigils .

 Ed was a quiet man, with a friendly, calm demeanor .  When his health declined, his nephew and family (another Ed and his wife Darbie) would drop Ed off at the peace vigil on Saturday mornings.  Sometimes “young” Ed and Darbie’s young daughter would stay and stand beside Uncle Ed’s chair.  Eventually Ed could no longer even come and sit with us; he spent the last months of his life in the nursing home, and he died on May 25, 2008. 

Ed was a dear soul, and it was a privilege to know him.

 One cherished  memory is when U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) made a point of coming to shake Ed’s hand during the July 4th parade in Eastport in 2007, as he and the other politicians walked past where Ed was sitting with the rest of us war protestors, wearing his ‘Veteran’s For Peace’ hat and holding his carefully constructed wooden sign . 

 Ed was a man of honor and conscience, and the world is richer for his having passed through it.

The graveside service was held on a lovely June afternoon in Eastport, at Hillside Cemetery.  There were four things on the cloth-covered table that we all gathered around:  the box of Ed’s ashes, Ed’s veteran’s flag, a photo of Ed sitting with a friend on a pile of wood, and another photo, a casual portrait I’d say,  of Ed standing with one of his large, wooden, carefully constructed anti-war signs.

We are honored that nephew Ed is going to let us use his Uncle Ed’s signs, on long-term loan, on Saturdays.

In Memory of Ed Earley  1927 – 2008

 

photographs courtesy of Ann Cornelison