VII ~ September
Girl at the Blue Hill Fair
High enough to view the bay
the Ferris wheel carries its intrepid few
above the crowds who flow below
like a river eddying at the merry-go-round
where a sweet girl clings to her pretty horse
in measured pace of calliope prance,
amid the whirling current of carnival lights,
cotton candy color, jewels of glass.
Like Mardi Gras Krewe
tossing favors to the crowd she smiles
and waves, this bud of a Rose Bowl beauty,
small princess on her palfrey,
but at every round a quarter turn too soon
I see her lean against the flow
and scan us all in anxious search
until my face she finds—
our bond the gem among the glitter.
Since I did not live before gunpowder
there is nothing in my life
that is anything like watching hawks.
It matters not at all what I thought
I was going to do today.
Simply, here they are
sliding shadows over my shoulder
to explode before me as scimitars,
as hawk. Usually soundless,
today they slice through the air
crying in an odd wee voice
to one another.
Spiraling along the ridge of spruces
beside the breezy bay
it’s a youngster who pauses on a silver snag
to peer from a pale small face,
its great eyes marked
as if they dripped coal black tears.
This innocence seems somehow better planned
than the rifle shots heard here last night at dusk
(red tides have closed the clam flats for much of summer
so it’s no surprise that poaching has begun
to move the deer). Tomorrow
both the kestrels and the deer will be quite gone.
coda, September 13:
My friend who writes poems as prayers for healing,you who
lost your brother to the towers’ fall,
what do you see now in these blue September skies?
I hold you in my heart.
Bamboo wind chimes
hanging in the spruce
as the onshore breezes
carrying the sparking
clatter beat of the big thumb
of that black-banded brown grasshopper
which time and again jumps away
and turns to face me.
Crickets, quick and silent, scurry
through the grass, dark ones
knobby-kneed and crawling,
with a lacquered look.
Invisible synchronicities pulse through us
when they find their right spots.
Standing birch trees rustle
like a concert cough.
Electric, those grasshoppers circle me.
Full-frequency clicks fan
so much quicker
than the brain can grab,
round hot sound,
a splendor of sonorities
over the brief riff
of a lone cicada.
In the lee of the island
a hundred just-arrived white-winged scoters
float in the sheen of September afternoon,
strange as Taoist scholar’s rocks.
On the lee slope, goldenrod
ignites in orange flares of Monarchs
by the dozens gathering,
not needing to be noticed before
tomorrow they will cross the bay.
Scared, yes, and stalked,
but never have I known
what the finch knows
hurls itself through
the sunny space above me
in less time
than it takes me
to think the words
hawk in hungry pursuit
right up to the dark
spruce tangle shelter
where the finch perhaps
takes slowing breaths.
You can’t tell me
that only humans
know the meaning of death,
not on September afternoons.
Chokecherry Harvest Song
Tired, sticky, stained, I sing
a song of all the pleasures gained
in our Labor Day observance -
the annual autumn ritual of gathering
the Island hedgerow harvest in.
We sing the harvest with a plastic pail,
grabbing ragged limb, milking off
the motley fruits, mother of cherry,
ruby rain, truly gourmet native.
You can’t beat the natural and organic
old fashioned essence destined for a jar.
We sing the harvest with the spangled spider
under all whose eyes we misers
roll the cherry gems to banish
all the withered ones among them.
Away, you come-along caterpillars;
be gone, thou writhing zoo of bugs!
We sing the harvest with red hands.
Squeeze and twist plump pillow case
bags dripping on the porch,
inviting raccoons from the night
while we ferret out more jars to sterilize.
We sing the harvest with a wooden spoon,
the roily foam’s full rolling boil
skimmed off and set aside for breakfast toast,
or tea, jars ladled full and cooled,
the equal measure of sugar
deemed not too dear a trade.
We used to sing the harvest from
town hall. Giggling in the leafy shadows
round the parking lot where last year’s
prime crop hung, we spied on our selectman
as he went to laugh at us with the clerk
from whom we’d asked permission.
It was a last laugh, for then he ordered
all the bushes cleared by fall.
Why? Well, no Islander admits
that they ate mussels either,
until mussels were truly trendy
cooked with garlic, beer, or wine.
This winter let the praises ring with
chokecherry recipes in the Boston paper.
Town crews then might be told to spare
the roadside lace of frothy blooms
before they brush and pave. Sweet harvest
that would be, chokecherry not dismissed
as only hard-times food,
but a wealth well worth our taxes.
in the Grass
Rich brown and bright gold
appearing reappearing threading under
the grey-haired summer’s end golden rod
crossthatched in the slant sun
small head shiny your eyes large dark round
almost pretty face
head arched high the instant
before disappearing in a flicker
though you leave no trace
there is a faint
before the cricket
has a special magic. For me September always has a new year feel,
thanks to my own many years in school, then being married to
an academic whose calendar was ruled by the university, and then
sending two sons through various school systems. September has
always meant organizing some array of new clothes, new pencils,
Labor Day has always been the way we mark the commencement
of this special era. When I was young, school did not start
several weeks after Labor Day so the day also meant a large
gathering of my mother’s family for a picnic at the cottage
on Lake Ontario by Rochester, New York.
For Ann growing up in Aroostook County, school had already started
earlier in August. Then school took a recess for most of September
and some of October as the potato harvest was gathered in, with
the children helping with harvest. Some of the County schools
still operate on that calendar although modern agricultural practices
and machinery have changed the scene considerably. Ann proposed
this year that Ken and I join her and Charlie for a trip to the
County and the family home.
We had gorgeous warm weather. We met Ann’s parents and
toured potato farms. Aroostook County, referred to in Maine simply
as “The County”, is the largest county in the state,
and expansively lovely. The rolling hills are planted with swaying
waves of grain that is planted in crop rotation. Other fields
look textured by comb teeth – with rows of potato plants
nearly ready for harvest.
Ann’s dad took us to the Salmon Brook Historical Society
Farmstead Museum, which he was instrumental in setting up. Here
we marveled at the ingenuity of old fashioned potato harvesting
machines, great Tinker Toy-Rube Goldberg contraptions which cut
seed potatoes for spring planting, long-tined diggers which uprooted
the potatoes for harvest, and handled baskets made by local Indians,
and barrels with owner’s marks stenciled on them like
cattle brands. Ann demonstrated the technique of twirling the
of potatoes into barrels waiting at the end of the rows and
recalled what taxing, dusty work the whole operation was.
As a youngster she had never spent a Labor Day holiday at the
family’s Cross Lake camp. They were much too busy at
laboring. However, this year we were free to go there and savor
of cooking over a campfire on the lake shore and listening
to the loons.
My own father was a farm product. We spent happy days on the
family farm in Ohio, and many a row I have walked with him
in farmers’ fields during his career as an entomologist. The
years of raising my own family were spent on what was once a
dairy farm in St. Lawrence County, New York State’s largest
and perhaps coldest county. Ann and I feel we have come from
similar paths, and the recent outing together only reinforced
At this time of year the squirrel instinct in me is very strong.
I put away food. Having spent childhood years in southern New
Jersey when it was truly the Garden State, I know what fresh
from the fields bounty is. Living now on a granite ledge overlooking
the ocean, with deer and hungry snowshoe hares eager to beat
me to any meager harvest, I have had to content myself with
and a few wild gleanings. Wild cranberries of the upland type
and chokecherries growing along old field edges for jam and
syrup were among our favorites. I am feeling a loss as neither
this year. It was too cold for the pollinators to fly back
when the cranberries needed it, and the town road crew had
away the best stands of chokecherries. A bad year.
I identify with our Island fishermen as close counterparts to
those who harvest from the land, who know both good years and
bad. Both farmers and fishers enjoy a measure of personal independence,
take huge risks, face considerable danger, and are a culture
unto themselves, a culture recognizably at risk these days due
to ways we are managing our environment.
Labor Day behind us, today we are back to work. It’s a
clear bright blue day with a northwest wind. My sprits are high
and the barometer registers high pressure indeed, just the sort
of day that the hawks like to fly. Ann and I are meeting at the
old quarry on Little Deer known as Pine Hill. It’s also
known as the serpentine quarry, if you live across the Causeway
on Deer Isle; and if you are a geologist, it’s the peridotite
outcropping. Half of the hill has been cut away and was carted
just down the road to build the Causeway between Little Deer
and the main part of Deer Isle. Kurt and Pat Fairchild, current
owners, have decided to make a gift of the promontory to Island
Heritage Trust. With Ken and Dr. Nishanta Rajakaruna of College
of the Atlantic over on Mount Desert Ann and I are exploring
It has been years since I have been here. As we walk up the narrow
lane leading to the quarry I am once again awed at the tall cliffs
sheer against the vibrant blue sky. It is only when we approach
nearer and my eye travels the rock faces, that I see they have
been defaced since last I visited. Urban style graffiti cover
many of the surfaces. The quarry floor glitters with broken glass.
Skulls, defiant but misspelled epithets, the letter A in a circle,
the anarchy symbol, Black Sabbath and other rock band emblems
of the subgenre favored by the Goth element of youth culture
are spray painted everywhere. How utterly sad it is to ponder
what this reflects.
How can I share with those angry young people another way of
relating to the world? In my world, phenomenology, the study
of the orderly progression through time of nature is remarkable
and inexorable. It is September so plants will set seed and birds
will head south or stay, as is their nature. I find solace in
knowing there are patterns greater than I.
In the sunshine we see tiny orange skippers now, flitting like
campfire sparks. The striking black and alluringly velvety
red admirals and white admirals wait till summer is ripe. It
to take crickets most of the summer to really get going, and
they are quite ready to take over when the cicada have retired.
Shore birds are now mostly gone. That plaintive cry is eagles
or hawks – and they too come and go in their own progression.
Even our weather this month has its own bitter-sweet progression.
It is always teasing, a warm-cold stirring not unlike the hurricanes
which we can expect to peak in intensity now. When the days
are beautiful, the weather is matchless; when it’s gloomy,
the weather seems to press with the whole weight of winter
which we know is waiting for us.
Here comes Nishi. He is a native of Sri Lanka. His name is
very musical – Ni shan ta Ra ja ka run a, but “Nishi” fits
wonderfully. He is compact, very neat, and appealingly energetic.
He’s a natural teacher, explaining almost from the moment
that we meet that scientists prefer to refer to the host of
mineral here as peridotite parent rocks. That includes such
familiar words as olivine, serpentine, chrysotile, asbestos,
nickel, and chromium. We have heard of soapstone, if not steatite,
which is the same thing.
Nishi has studied the plant communities of serpentine rocks in
California. In 1999 he also located a half dozen serpentine outcrops
in Sri Lanka. When he was doing postdoctoral studies at Stanford,
he worked on small islands where birds roosted and changed the
chemistry with their guano. He mentions that plants restricted
to isolated extreme habitats are often selfers as one would expect.
Selfer?” I can see Ann’s quizzical expression.
It doesn’t need another plant to fertilize it,” Nishi
explains. He confesses that one of the reasons he took the
job at CoA was that this Pine Hill quarry drew him like a magnet.
Nishi is an evolutionary biologist, an ecologist of sorts, and
is delighted to meet Ken who was the first graduate student of
the distinguished ecologist, Robert MacArthur. Ken agrees to
send Nishi copies of his papers on the mice of the islands. Robert
introduced Ken and me at University of Pennsylvania back in the
days when we were just figuring out how island biogeography operates.
Now we think in terms of other kinds of islands as well, islands
in time, islands along migration routes, islands in function.” Nishi
stops to point out a tiny strawberry plant nested among the
shards of rock and broken glass on the quarry floor.
These little strawberries here flowered within a month of snow
melt. That’s a common reaction to stress. That puts them
well ahead of the other strawberry plants in the area. They
will have only other strawberries of the peridotite population
pollinate with. You see what a powerful force that natural
selection can be.”
Ann is already down on the rocks with her camera.
Serpentinite outcrops, mine tailings rich in heavy metals, and
nitrogen-rich guano deposits all give rise to localized patterns
of plant distribution. It’s not that we have plants growing
here that grow nowhere else: it’s that these plants may
look like the ones elsewhere, but their chemistry is different.
They are morphologically identical but physiologically distinct.
These plants, though small and stunted, have the trick of coping
with heavy metals which most plants find toxic.”
Ann is bent over a very small aster, focusing on its lovely lavender
There is nothing here that is unusual for Maine,” Nishi
says, “but everything here looks stunted, physically stressed,
sad if you will. This substrate effect is not as spectacular
as it is in California. The rocks here have been exposed only
some thirteen or fourteen thousand years - since the islands
emerged from the sea, maybe less if you’re counting from
the glacier’s most recent retreat - so we probably do not
have full-fledged species differentiated here yet. Genetic accommodation
to extreme edaphic – soil – conditions can take
place quite rapidly, even within a few generations. These conditions
are potent agents of natural selection.”
Only thirteen or fourteen thousand years!” I think to
myself. I have read that the rocks in serpentine formations
the mantle of the earth, thrust up from deeper, older regions.
This has happened in a few places along the Appalachian Mountain
chain, near Washington, DC, near my old stomping grounds by
Philadelphia, in Vermont, and in Greenland and Scotland, to
name places in
this hemisphere. The idea that I have seen special windows
into the mantle of the planet pleases me. The idea that conditions
here at this small serpentine quarry can teach us about evolution
occurring in my life span awes me.
Nishi guides us over to the vertical rock face. He hands Ann
a lovely stone flake, shining a waxy green in the sunlight. “This
is what people call serpentine. And look at this Resurrection
plant,” he says with undisguised enthusiasm. “ Selaginaella
I usually think of selaginella as a trailing moss-like plant
in greenhouses. This small silvery plant looks more like tall
haircap moss stems, and Nishi assure us it is now very green
after our recent rains.
“ We hope to do a complete vascular plant survey, around the season.
If we get a grant from NASA we can have these plants chemically
“ Why would NASA be interested?”
“ Well, peridotite makes up the mantle of Mars.”
“ Why would a plant find it an advantage to take up heavy metals?”
“ Perhaps as a defense against pathogens or herbivores. Heavy metals
are very toxic to insects.”
I’m impressed. Nishi points out a charming wood fern, Woodsia
ilvensis, clinging to the rock face. “Here is a particularly
interesting possibility.” Ann thinks so too as her photo
frames not only the diminutive plant but the wild colors of
the graffiti painting.
“ Nishi, what would you do about the graffiti? Leave them or try
to clean them off?”
“ I would hope people would value this site and not make any more,
but I definitely would not apply any chemicals to try to clean
them. You might also think about encouraging people to walk
on a designated path for the view. Soil compaction can be something
of a problem where a site gets loved to death. “
We have scrambled up to the top of the quarry. The sun is warm
on our backs. An eagle soars by, looking for all the world like
a diving board just half way to the moon. We perch on the bare
ridge top. Even the grasshoppers also taking in the sunshine
look like rocks. An occasional buffy dragonfly clatters helicoptering
We look directly into the tree tops, an unusual perch for bird
watching. The tree canopies see the like a kettle of bubbling
jam. Flocks of twittering small birds. This batch sounds like
it must be young goldfinches. Plain and tiny, most of these
are what ornithologists call “confusing fall warblers”.
In the autumn, warblers have a drab plumage which makes most
of them very difficult to identify. Without such field marks
as “bright yellow breast” or “conspicuous rust
streaks under the wings”, you have to look sharp for
the remaining wing bars or eye rings which make one species
Ken says that the birds with dark olive backs are probably
blackburnians. In spring a blackburnian warbler has a bright
neon orange throat
patch, but for now we will have to take Ken’s word for
it. The distinctive silhouette, spectacle-like rings around the
eyes, and its silvery call makes us fairly sure we are watching
a solitary vireo as well. I can’t really care just which
ones we are watching because it is such a treat to be up high,
tree-house style, watching the birds.
The sky is a gorgeous blue. To my eye it looks like a good day
for hawk watching, but so far, we see none. The wind is almost
out of the northwest, so it ought to be a good flight day. We
had heard of the hawk watching programs at Acadia National Park.
Maybe we should be at Acadia.
This year we went to the official park hawk watch for the first
time. From the Hawk Migration Association of North America web
page, Ken found just about anything we might want to know by
typing in www.nps.gov/acad/, count data hawkcount.org. Weather
forecasters think we may see something of Hurricane Ophelia by
the end of the week so we decided to head on down, as they say
around here when one heads down east with the predominant wind
Deer Isle folk are slightly smug about being different from
Mount Desert Island. We take a special pleasure in Ellsworth
we from The Island. They of course assume we mean MDI — and
we do not.
We are very glad that we are off the beaten path. We have our
PFA’s, persons from away here on Deer Isle, but not many
JPT’s, just-passing-throughs. We could be talking about
tourists or migrating birds it turns out. To our dismay there
were still crowds of humans aplenty, the air uncomfortably
warm and distressingly smoggy. From the top of Cadillac Mountain
could barely see Deer Isle as ought to be possible on a truly
The beaten path was certainly well-beaten. We were impressed
with the very nicely worded signs about not trampling fragile
and special vegetation. Visitors are urged not pile rocks on
top one another to form cairns. That is the equivalent of posting
false road signs as cairns placed by the park service are meant
to be read for guidance in the fog. We ask our stewards here
on the Island to dismantle any free lance rock piles when they
find them along the trails. Here we are not so much worried about
misdirecting hikers lost on mountain tops in the fog as trying
to encourage folks to be considerate and not spoil the scene
for others with signs of man-made intrusion.
According to the on line report yesterday was a record day at
Acadia, with 88 sharp-shinned hawks and an amazing 483 broad-winged
hawks tallied. Comparing notes with area birders we think it
is possible that the broadwings tend to follow the Reach or cross
Sedgwick farther inland with the lift they get from Cadillac
Mountain. We see relatively few broadwings here on Deer Isle.
On days when we have checked nearly simultaneously at Hawk Hill,
at Settlement Quarry, and at Pine Hill by posting friends at
the various sites and doing some fancy commuting ourselves, we
have found pleasantly satisfying numbers of hawks in the air,
but not hundreds.
As we pick our way up the shred of trail that skirts the cliff
face, rock by rock, Nishi and Ken keep up a conversation about
Ken’s work in the Antilles. At the top they continue
while Ann photographs near and far. I enjoy the sun and the
I got scolded for not taking specimens of the Elaenia flyctchers
from the islands of St Lucia and St Vincent,” I hear Ken
saying. “Maybe they did look just alike in a museum drawer
full of specimens, but in the field, you certainly did not have
to kill them to tell them apart. Their behavior is quite recognizably
different. I suspect there are specimens mislabeled in collections.” How
well Nishi understands look-alikes that are quite different.
We have been worrying about islands in the neotropics and islands
of habitat.” Nishi says. “Perhaps we also should
start worrying about islands in structure. The two men discuss
the loss of diversity of structure.
The lollipop mentality,” I curse to myself. I hate it
when I see landscapers chainsaw off all the branches they can
on trees, leaving nary a bush for a bird to nest in, to rest
in, thanks to some misplaced human enthusiasm for neatness
or the manicured look.
Migrating birds rely on that ordinary diversity of structure
for shelter. They have no reservation system allowing them to
choose where they will spend the night on their long trips. Nishi
says he is trying to interest his students in the possibilities
of backyard sanctuaries, simple ideas that enrich the diversity
of the habitats.
How encouraging it is to meet a young scientist like him. As
we start back down the trail, I hear Ken and Nishi discussing
the high number of endemic plant species in Cuba. Endemics are
plants which have evolved in situ, and soil indicators are plants
found in fairly restricted area, wherever serpentinite soil is
found, for example. Nishi says 99 per cent of the plants here
are what are called boden vag, or soil wanderers, from the Scandinavian
words for wandering home.
I pause to write that unfamiliar term in my notes on my clipboard.
I am part way down a slide on my rear from one boulder to another.
I hear Ann behind me laughing as I hang up.
Hold up! Marnie’s always on duty.”
My notes are heavily laced with technical terms. Edaphic races,
phylogenetic taxa, serpentinite endemics, hybrid inviability,
ecotypes, etc. and that is not even counting the Latin names.
And I am aware that as biologists, we are slightly guilty of
glossing over how exciting this area is geologically. It is all
too easy to glaze over when geologists enthusiastically name
and describe the collisions, pressings, squeezings and volcanic
squirtings that they easily envision over millions of years.
They are comfortable with the changing names for the comings
and goings of the oceans and continental plates resulting from
all this bashing.
Precambrian Era sounds incredibly ancient, basically before evidence
of living organisms. When those oldest rocks have eroded into
sand and pressed into sediments and cooked, we have what geologists
call Ellsworth schist. The grey-green crumbly rocks of the north
and east of Deer Isle are Ellsworth schist.
Little Deer’s rocks are the result of somewhat later
Cambrian volcanic explosions and take their name from what
call Castine volcanics. The mixture rocks that look to be made
of many sorts of pudding stuffs may date to this period.
By the time we get to the Silurian Era, granites have boiled
up to form Cadillac Mountain and the grayish granite rocks
in Sedgwick and South Penobscot. In the Devonian Era, Deer
Granites, the “newer” granites of Stonington, distinctively
pale pinkish, and Oak Point granites, more salmon-reddish,
are intruding. This is the era that could be called the Great
Then comes Jurassic Era, which everyone thinks they can visualize
thanks to the popular movie, Jurassic Park, in spite of the fact
that dinosaurs came later. This may be the time which gave us
the dark green serpentine-like peridotite, the lovely green flakes
which litter the trail.
Whether this is a slice of ancient ocean floor or the core
of an ancient volcano as the locals say, this distinctive silhouette,
like a camel’s hump, brings joy to vacationers and residents
alike when first spotted on the horizon above the sparkling bay.
What makes the camel’s hump, this earth sculpture, is
the fact that half of the hill has been carted away. It was
for any of the interesting minerals, but for rocks to build
the causeway between Little Deer and the main island of Deer
On the highway we see distant yellow school buses, while through
the trees we glimpse sails of yachts making their way under the
Today there is just a hint of autumn glory in the colors of the
deciduous trees which stand out from the deep black-green of
the spruces around us and on the rolling mainland hills. We have
had many warm winds up from the south, but no really cold nights
to bring out the colors. Gasoline prices have been high and suffering
in our own Gulf states has been enormous thanks to hurricanes
Katrina and Rita. How will the shoulder season be this year?
Will those folks known as leaf peepers come? Lobstering was only
fair. This could be a cold winter.
Chinese scholar poets, often in political exile, have left us
a body of haunting but melancholy poetry. I think about their
scroll paintings as I pause to look out at the Deer Isle-Sedgewick
bridge stretched across the Eggemoggin Reach. The bridge provides
just the touch the Chinese and Japanese painters wanted in their
landscapes: sharp verticals of the man-made to contrast with
the sinuous curves of the natural. The bridge offers both of
course. Here on the Island we tend to refer to it simply as the
Deer Isle Bridge.
I ask Ann what folks on her side, Sedgwick, call it. We laugh
that all bridges have two ends. By my own stubborn nature and
the resilient natural world around me I keep reminding myself
that time works the same way. The bridge is not just a view
to the past. It’s also the way to the future.
Geologists are fascinated by the rocks here, a type rare on the
coast of Maine. The original olivine and pyroxene in this body
have been replaced by magnetite and serpentine. Based on its
mineralogical similarity to dated dikes in the region it has
been assigned to the Jurassic. Recent studies, however, suggest
that the Pine Hill peridotite may be a chunk of ancient seafloor
caught up in the collision of tectonic plates some 400-500 million
Nishi is fascinated with the future, the evidence of how evolution
works. I think you could say fairly that Ann and I are interested
in the present. Yes, the bridge carries pilgrims both ways. Nishi
heads back to his own Island, Mount Desert, and we return to
my Sunset home to grab some lunch and spend some time on our
own hawk hill, adjacent and functionally part of Barred Island
When we arrive home, the crows are hollering “Hawk! Hawk!
Hawk!” The woods lane dead ends at our house so the driveway
turn-around creates an opening in the spruces. The hawks work
these edges to flush small birds. The crows so firmly claim
the fringe of spruces and the small point of land between us
the nearest neighbors that we have labeled it Cape Crow.
Like so many fighter planes, sharpies and the crows swoop out
into the bright blue sky to challenge each other, dog fighting
just above our heads.
Why on earth don’t the hawks on their long distance journey
save their energy? They do not avoid a fight. They veer out
of their way to challenge other hawks or the crows or even
raven which lends its big baritone fighting yell to the fracas.
“ Hawk! HAWK! KRAWNK!”
Sharpshinned hawks, why are you here and not at Pine Hill? I
think serpentinite plants are not the only mysteries yet to be
unraveled. Our world is very subtle.
Only reluctantly can I tear myself away from the birds above
the driveway to thread through the birches up a hundred and
some feet above the sparkling sea level to a more inclusive
point. It’s really hard to count the hawks on Hawk Hill.
Even from the knoll at Barred Island Preserve where you can see
in 360æ, the hawks don’t really cooperate. In the first
place, by far the most numerous species are kestrels and sharpies,
the small ones. They move along the ridge in spirals, dipping
down into the trees to snatch their prey, the small birds who
were also about to head out over the bay. So, is that the same
bird circling back again?
Although we sit or stand quietly under a tree, if, when, I turn
my head to peer in the direction of a small keening cry, like
as not the small swift hawk hurls itself over my shoulder and
disappears among the trees in front of us. Ann cannot possibly
lead fast enough to capture the image. She mutters under her
I pick a bird and follow its spirals around and around the hillside,
waiting to watch it finally head out over the water. But then
the bird slips around in back of me so I might count it once
I am glad for the sake of science that they are getting fairly
reliable numbers up at Acadia. For me it is sufficient to know
that this small area of cut-over spruces and birch is of importance
to a good number of hawks. That is reason enough to rejoice in
the knowledge that conservation easements should keep it available
to the hawks and warblers for years to come.
The experience of hawk watching here is quite different from
the Acadia hawk count. Instead of the thrilling parade of hawks
soaring up the mountainside to pass overhead in an awesome stream,
here the watcher is almost a participant in the drama. The experience
feels quite intimate.
Like everything else about comparing Mount Desert Island and
Deer Isle, theirs is definitely on a larger scale. The pink
cliffs are bigger, the beaches are bigger, the “cottages” are
bigger, the crowds are bigger…
As if to heighten the jewel-like effect of the September afternoon,
a few sails still grace the bay here too. For many sailors, this
is their favorite time of year. I watch a large and lovely white
lobster boat send up paired rooster-tail wakes as it circles
to pick up traps. There is wind enough, cool and crisp, to stir
up the bay sufficient to make it fairly rough work hauling traps.
But in the light of this autumn beauty, I know the lobsterman
would shrug and his eyes just perceptibly twinkle if I were to
praise him to his face.
Our own chores of the workaday world finally exert their call,
so we head back down through the woods. On the silver spear of
an overturned spruce root, a black plastic pail is impaled. The
sheriff has left his calling card, a warning to whomever it was
that was growing marijuana out here. A few weeks ago, the hill
echoed to thumping growl of a helicopter ranging slowly back
and forth, back and forth. The next issue of the local paper
reported a sizeable pot bust. The overflight was apparently timed
for when the plants would be large, but not yet ready to harvest
since we have not yet had a frost. Well, the sheriff and his
machete have taken care of that.
Ken as steward of the Barred Island Preserve followed his nose
yesterday to find evidence that this year’s deer poaching
has begun. As in past years, a black plastic bag was dumped
just off the road, inside the concealing fringe of bushes.
bag were the guts and boney parts of a deer, shot, hastily
butchered, and telltale remains quickly disposed of. Legal
begin soon. I am distressed that so many people feel so without
hope that copping out of reality seems so inviting. Skirting
the law seems worth the risk.
I was recently made poignantly aware of the way our lives run
on separate tracks largely invisible to one another by the
loss of a scallop fisherman. He had gone to fish off Massachusetts.
Apparently the dragging equipment snagged bottom and the boat
was lost. Here on the Island, news arrived swiftly. I could
the day of vigil, when there was still hope the boat captain
might be found. And the day after, when there was not. The
succession of pick up trucks filling the driveway of the lost
home told most eloquently of community support. An innocent
tourist buying sweatshirts on the opposite side of street had
of perceiving the drama.
In quick succession the Island recently saw three funerals, two
memorializing the decedents with fond memories and joking anecdotes
by family and friends. Local businessmen, the artistic community,
and long time summer residents gathered together. The third service
was marked too by tears, but also with a profound silence, there-but-for-grace-go-I,
the silence of the fishermen.
We lead parallel lives, like the hawks flying over us, or the
shorebirds who travel in the night. Our destinies are linked
whether or not we realize it.
A Camden architect friend of ours bemoans the loss of community
there, where wealthy shorelands ordinance breakers just pay
the fine when they choose to chop out a grand view from their
house, their trophy. Recent studies have found that the disparity
between the top income bracket and the poorest is at its worst
here on Deer Isle. I have noticed that the general appearance
of what was once known as Tarpaper Alley has been much improved
in appearance in recent years. Cosmetic appearances aside,
however, anyone who comes here to work, young Islanders who
wish to remain
here, young families—they all will find acquiring affordable
real estate on Deer Isle a real challenge.
On a recent walk here we encountered an Island family walking
the land by a favorite spot once used by all. Their cousins
who own the land have moved away but now are selling out at
that only the wealthy from away can afford. The Island is changing
too fast for local comprehension. We can’t stop the changes.
We can only hope to steer the changes to minimize the painful
consequences to our community and maximize the good things
that can come.
sweet fall day lures us to Little Deer. We decide to go see
Pat and Kurt Fairchild, the Little Deer folks who are donating
Pine Hill Quarry to Island Heritage Trust. They have a lovely
home overlooking the Reach.
The sign in front of the house on the hill still displays Pat’s parents’ names, “Emily
and Monroe Wiegand”. Pat stills refers to this as “Mother’s
Sparky, their little Petite Bassett Griffon Vandene, a French hunting hound,
greets us. In the kitchen Pat gives a pot of chowder another stir before we
settle in to visit. She is making it to take over to one of her neighbors,
an elderly woman of about hundred. They have just sold this house and are in
the midst of packing their belongings to return to their winter home in Arizona.
Boxes line the hallway, but Pat is unperturbed by either the prospect of a
visit or the chowder making interrupting their packing.
Kurt comes in from his shop. His full beard is longer than it was last time
we saw him. “Now that we are getting things here properly wound up, I
can get my beard trimmed,” he laughs, settling into a chair. Out the
window we see bright fall foliage and impressive air traffic of small birds
at the feeder on their deck. Both Pat and Kurt keep track of what birds are
there as we talk.
My brother Walt has been looking in on his friend, Arthur, a.k.a. Dud, Haskell,
master mariner, yacht captain, retired from the Merchant Marines. Dud lives
in Deer Isle village, across from the Shakespeare School, so called in honor
of the memory of the crew of the schooner Shakespeare lost at sea in 1818.
The saving and restoration of this one room school house which operated from
1858 to 1921 is a project dear to Dud’s heart. Pat’s father, Monroe,
was a generous contributor to this work. As with so many other people that
Monroe came in contact with here on the Island, they became good friends.
I observe that the metaphor of beads and string has occurred to me to describe
the interconnections which are so enriching. Dud met Monroe when he was hired
to bring Monroe’s yacht up to the bay one summer. The two subsequently
enjoyed each other’s company, partnering insights and resources to make
local enterprises of good will effective, and dining out together quite regularly.
Monroe Weigand was a vice president of the Avon Company.
“ Don’t you know his arrival on the Island put a stir in the local
Avon lady?” Dud reports.
The Wiegand family loved the people here for what they are. They had no desire
to change them, to make them more like the folks of Suffern, New Jersey where
Pat grew up, or Greenwich Connecticut to which her father was eventually transferred
by Avon. The list of caretakers, neighbors, town officials, etc. whom Monroe
befriended is long.
I say to Kurt that an impressively long list of folks have told me about something
Kurt fixed for them. Family tradition.
Modestly he deflects my praise saying, “The Lord blessed me with an ability
to figure out problems and fix things.”
Pat laughs, adding that “He is the one who knows where the valve is,
who it is that has the keys, where the corner markers are, even where the septic
tank is buried.”
“ I understand you are very generous with your help, and your gift of Pine
Hill is very generous,” I say.
“ I made a good living at being a site manager for Honeywell Corporation
in the Phoenix area. At one time I oversaw maintenance and construction in six
factories there, twelve shops, as a journeyman electrician, tending plumbing
and heating. I figure it is time for me to give back. Besides, it’s Pat
who is generous. It’s her family land.”
Pat sews enthusiastically for the craft sales for the church on Little Deer.
Kurt is volunteer sexton at Hardy Hill cemetery, mowing, trimming, setting
markers. She explains that her father had Dick Buxton survey out some land
to give to the Hardy Hill cemetery association land to expand. I wonder if
Dick and Monroe talked about Dick’s project, a preserve at Holt Mill
Pond. I wonder if they compared notes about loving this community and the need
to think about the future. I ask about other plots of land I’ve heard
Monroe was involved with, and Pat and Kurt explain.
“ Monroe fell in love with it here in 1966 and decided to retire here and
built this house in 1987. Over the years he acquired a number of properties and
sold and gave parcels as well. Someone needed to relocate a road, needed a place
to live, you know, things like that. He was genuinely interested in the community.”
“ Pine Hill was used by the whole area. People liked to climb up for the
view down the Reach, even before there was a quarry, before there were trees
“ It always belonged to the community. It was never really just ours,” Pat
Kurt says he too has heard that the stones for the Causeway came from the quarry,
and perhaps for the bridge abutments as well.
Pat adds, “We hope now Pine Hill will always be a place for the community
to enjoy, where they can come to take pictures and leave nothing but footprints.” As
a teacher of third, fourth and fifth grades, Pat has always had an interest
in the natural sciences. She and Kurt are very aware of the botanical and geological
value of the quarry. I’m sure they will follow Nishi’s researches
with great interest.
I ask how their children feel about the gift. Between them and the children’s
children, there are nine: Kurt’s two sons and two daughters, and Pat’s.
“ Well, when the property was inherited, the bank trustees urged us to
sell to developers,” Kurt begins to explain.
“ Over our dead bodies!” Pat declares.
“ We knew the same pressures to sell would eventually be on the next
“ What the kids said they would miss most was that we were selling the
shore. How will we see the water? Climb Pine Hill. The Trust will see that you
can always do that. That works, they said.”
I note that we are all looking out over the blue expanse of the Reach. Kurt
says softly that they are going to follow with interest the results of the
beach by the bridge being sold to developers. “Where locals always went
to enjoy the beach and launch their boats, where I read in an old 1894 book
at the church that folks used to use the piers and slips for coming to church.”
“ I would be lost now if you put me back where I grew up, “says Pat.
Being originally from New Jersey as well, I know what she means. “When
we drive back and forth to Arizona it just breaks our heart to see the farmland
plowed down for development.”
“ You try to come up with some sort of protection for the land, but it
all comes down to what some sharp attorney can turn around.”
Silently I think about the struggles over the years that made the land trusts
of the nation band together in a national association and retain the finest
legal minds possible to deal with precisely this phenomenon.
Kurt breaks the silence saying “The city of Phoenix has been chasing
us for the past 40 years. Farther and farther out. We once lived 18 miles out
past the city line. We moved further out when the city swallowed us. Now they
are developing the Sonoran desert as well. We’ve seen six thousand acres
of wonderful desert plowed and paved.
“ They say we need the tax base,” Pat says scornfully. “You
could see it if it wasn’t that there are empty houses and empty office
buildings remaining empty there,” she says. “It’s all just
a question of profits, lining the city’s coffers, not what is good for
the people who actually live in the city. Development costs the towns. ”
Study after study here in Maine shows that to be true, but there is still an
element which seems to deny it to themselves.
“ This world is beautiful. We don’t like what people have done to
A new wave of goldfinches twitters up to the feeder on the deck. A purple finch
hangs onto the thistle bag. As the last of the afternoon light gradually shifts
to that particular fall gold which is like no other season’s light, the
air temperature takes on a special crispness. No wonder they call those who
winter in warmer climates “snowbirds”. We and the tiny birds can
feel it coming.
Kurt and Pat express their sorrow at leaving soon. They plan to keep ownership
of enough land for an RV pad. Parked outside even now is the vehicle in which
they plan to spend future summers here. How well I remember the days in our
own life when we had a foot in two boats, Deer Isle and Canton, New York. Though
I loved my life in both places, I always found the transition most uncomfortable.
Kurt is looking forward to elk hunting with his sons in December. Ever since
his own boyhood in Michigan he has been an avid hunter. He is proud of the
fact that he and Pat raised their own chickens and beef and live off wild game. “I
never hunt for horns. If we don’t eat it, I don’t shoot it. Pat
hunts only with the camera, and we travel with field guides in the van. We
Tree shadows lengthen as we make our way home. Both golden leaves and green
grasses are backlit in a charmingly theatrical way. I know from experience
that hawks have found roosting places in our hillside birches for the night.
Deer have stepped out of those same shadows to nibble the summer grasses in
The scene, with or without human observers, is quite like a Garden of Eden.
The fall from grace will happen soon enough. Hunting season, tomorrow’s
challenges of migration. But tonight is golden. I am glad to be where I am.