How clean are the lakes on MDI?


SOMESVILLE, July 4, 2020 – MDI’s natural assets need no embellishment. The iconoclastic rocky coast, dense swaths of green, softly outlined mountains, moody stretches of fog — they are transcendent. Its trails are like veins and arteries breathing oxygen throughout the entire fulsome corpus – one unlike any.

The mountains of MDI are essentially granite promontories with the tallest ones poking above the treeline which prompted the French explorer Samuel de Champlain to equate them with deserts. Acid rain stripped the trees of their verdant complexion in the Nineties but they have since come back. More trees can always be planted, and more trails blazed. The rocks are forever.

The fresh bodies of water on the island, however, do not have the luxury of guaranteed sustainability. I have always assumed a degree of fragility with the lakes and ponds on MDI, as with lakes anywhere in Maine. Acadia National Park is a mixed blessing and a bit of a wildcard. Bubble Pond, Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake rank consistently among the cleanest in the state, owing to their shoreline development moratorium. But the average 3.5 million visitors to the park is an imposing number, particularly for Echo Lake and Long Pond, where swimmers and boaters come in hordes.

Every boater and fisherman from away has the potential of conveying invasive species. They are often unintentionally spread from one body of water to another. This happens through the failure to remove organisms clinging to boats and trailers.

Becky Schaffner, of the Maine Bureau of Water Quality, said there are nine factors which weigh in on why Long Pond received the caution yellow card in the map above for invasive plants. But three stand above all else: a launching ramp giving great access to boats, proximity to tourism and highways, and size of the lake. At 939 acres, Long Pond is twice the size of the second largest lake on MDI, Eagle Lake. It is the only lake with unlimited horsepower for boats. About 10 years ago it banned jet skis which can take over a lake quickly with a high-pitched and loud screech and dangerous speeds that threaten loons and kayakers.

I know many of my readers are well-schooled in these perils. But bear with me. Recently retired, I am just now diving into the subject and what I’m finding is unnerving. I recently started to monitor Lond Pond’s water clarity, the safe keeping of multiple sets of loons, the state of the habitats, reports of water quality, and the like. So I was stunned when I ran across the above map while doing my usual due diligence. I have always assumed that MDI lakes were pristine and above reproach in terms of their quality.

But Becky Schaffner walked me back from the edge, explaining that virtually all lakes of a certain size have the yellow status. It’s more of a category than an actual measurement. There are no invasive plants in any of MDI’s lakes although Somes Pond has been flagged as a “below average” lake in terms of its clarity and water quality.

It was the finger-like ponds, lakes and Somes Sound, carved by a glacial hand millions of years ago, which drew my wife and me back summer after summer. In August 1984 we beat against a stiff wind to round Northern Neck on Long Pond and onto the lee side where, close to Ned Johnson’s summer cottage, there was portage at a causeway for our canoe to return to the rental place at pond’s end. Even at a much younger age it was unexpectedly demanding. Lighter, swifter kayaks have yet come into fashion. The earned calories allowed for a hearty dinner at the Asticou that night.

Like many vacationers, swimming in an obstructed body of water without having to turn every 25 yards was a rare pleasure for me. There were braver souls who crossed the lake at its narrowest from the eastern shore of Northern Neck to the other side despite boat traffic. The late Kenneth Paigen, director of Jackson Labs who died in February at Age 92, swam every day in the lake. I best remembered him as the perennial winner of the Long Pond Regatta, held the first Sunday in August. His 20-foot sloop, Soleil, had a distinctive bright sun logo and would vanquish the rest of the fleet every year.

Long Pond was also home to Brian Shaw’s sea plane, parked at Pond’s End. I never minded the minor ruckus caused by the plane’s takeoffs and landings. It was one of the special oddities which made Long Pond distinctive.

I have an unconditional affection for Long Pond even though it once almost cost me my life. While swimming along the western shore of the lake one day about 20 years ago, I spied a boat towing a skiier headed toward me. It was far off and I did not panic. I was certain the pilot would see me in the water. Then, as the boat approached I saw that there was no spotter as required by law. The driver was the spotter and had his eyes on his skiing daughter instead of the water ahead. It was headed straight for me.

I dove and watched the boat go over me. I remembered there was a skiier in tow so I stayed under water until she went by. The boater realized what he had done and stopped. There was profuse and animated apologies. I scolded him. We went our ways. Since then I have always towed a red life preserver and worn a yellow cap while swimming in Long Pond.

Long Pond is also where I became a fisherman although I did not catch a single fish for 10 years. A neighbor, Richard Closson, taught me to go to the one-stop and buy worms. He then mapped the best places on the lake for me. You can’t catch fish where there aren’t any.

All these activities would suffer if Long Pond were to be invaded by aquatic species.

The invasive species which gets the most attention is milfoil.


Milfoil can radically change the ecology of a lake. It can grow at an inch a day if conditions are ripe, it forms very dense mats of vegetation on the surface of the water and it spreads so fast that a small body of water can be choked with it in a single season or two. The thick Milfoil mats interfere with most recreational activities including boating, swimming, water skiing and fishing.

Milfoil has already penetrated many lakes and ponds in southern Maine. See link for a map:

Since 2002 Maine has required all motorized boats have “milfoil” stickers to generate revenue to combat the spread of the plant.


You may help by volunteering to monitoring water quality or as a IPPers (Invasive Plant Patrollers). The Somes-Meynell Nature Sanctuary has partnered with the Lake Stewards of Maine  ( to train volunteers to educate boaters at the pond’s end boat launch on Long Pond.

While it’s possible to eradicate invasive plants, it’s a difficult task, said Beck Schaffner. Some lakes have tried herbicides specific to the plant so not to affect other vegetation. Then there is simply pulling out the plants by hand. Some towns have hired divers as well.

Climate change only adds urgency to the need to be vigilant. The surface temperature in Long Pond today was 76 degrees. I cannot remember a time over the last 35 years when the temperature was above 70 in late June or early July. Last summer the temperature actually exceeded 80 in August.

Warming water exacerbates all the threats mentioned above. A shorter ice season gives rise to more organisms to grow and at a faster clip. Native and non native species begin to jockey for territory. Fresh water fish are endangered.

The North American Lake Management Society warned:

“Aquatic ecosystems are sensitive to climate change, and the impacts of future climatic changes include a wide range of negative consequences … Increased water temperatures will affect oxygen regimes, redox potentials, lake stratification, mixing rates, and the metabolism and life cycles of aquatic organisms.

“Freshwater species are at especially high risk to be threatened or endangered due to climate change … specific ecological responses to climate change cannot be predicted, because new combinations of native and non-native species will interact in novel situations. Overall, shifts in precipitation variability and seasonal runoff will have profound effects on water supply, water quality, and management of water resources.”

Luckily we live in Maine where common sense and practicality trump blind ideology. The water around us is getting warmer. The next 35 years will require much more proactive, prophylactic behavior than the last 35.

The state of the lakes and ponds on MDI is good. But the next time you jump into the lake, launch your boat, cast that line, make sure for everyone’s sake the contact is safe and free.

Annual alewife counting in Somesville ..


SOMESVILLE, May 29, 2020 – An osprey dives and snatches one and immediately turns the fish facing forward to cut down the drag. These are amazing mobile creatures built for the mission. The eagle which was hanging around to harass the osprey to drop the prey is nowhere to be seen. Eagles are lazy. They sit at the top of the food chain and prefer others do the heavy lifting. They also aren’t as adept as the quicker osprey to lift themselves back into flight.


Although I did not see one, seals are sometimes seen chasing the alewives all the way to the bottom of the fish ladder at Mill Pond.

A couple of opportunistic gulls are hovering. Twenty five yards away a family of Canada geese with newborn chicks are oblivious to the cacophony.

We are steps away from the back of the one-room library here, and the annual rite of passage for alewives – also called river herring – has begun. For city folks like me, this is a visual aphrodisiac. I’m trying to process the multiple activities and doing my best to understand the cycle of life before me.

I am properly masked and distanced from Billy Helprin, director of the Somes-Meynell sanctuary which operates the annual count on Mill Pond next to the historic selectmen’s building. Researchers from the College of The Atlantic are tagging some fish to track their migration patterns and to gather behavorial data.

The return of alewives to Maine’s inner waterways is an epic environmental achievement, and I am grateful to Billy for allowing me to participate (see my post below for the dam removal in 1999 which sparked this movement).

Alewives are a basic food source for just about every living thing in Maine – from striped bass, to lobsters, to otters, to loons, and the ones mentioned above. Since the removal of two dams on the Kennebec River, more than 27 million alewives have returned. Thousands of dams were constructed in the 19th century by the lumber industry.

Alewives are anadromous. They co-exist in salt water and fresh water lakes, where they spawn in the spring. Fish ladders such as the one here assist the fish to swim upstream. You may read more about them here

If you would like to view the fish here, you may cross the historic bowed bridge in the village to view the thousands of fish, including lake perch, in the pond below.

Final Mill Pond alewife count ..

Here is the final report on the 2020 alewife count from Billy …

“The total number that we all counted at the Mill Pond is 30,363 (4 times last year’s very low # of 7,608, and about 80% of 2018’s 37,678); at Long Pond we (mostly JF Burns) counted and moved by net 9,660 from trap into the lake (almost 19 times last year’s 512!!, 78% of 2018’s 12,353, 111% of 2017’s 8,669 – lots of variation here for sure). 
This year’s run has been much better than I had feared it might be given last year’s drop. Last year’s low may have had to do in part with drought/low water conditions in the summer of  2015 and 2016.

We have continued to fine tune the complex fish passage “machine” (system) from Long Pond to Ripples Pond to Somes Pond to the Mill Pond and finally to the saltwater cove in Somesville – in both directions. What works going up is not necessarily what works for outbound fish. Each big rain event or significant depletion of water level necessitates adjustments to the system. As Rusty and Julie know from having the stream below the 2nd dam in their backyard, conditions can change quickly and actions need to be undertaken to block or open channels, and to herd and net fish out of deadend pools. “

Bass Harbor braces for worst, as pandemic, Right Whale battle threaten to unmoor lobster industry..

BERNARD, June 11, 2020 – I have never met a truly contented lobster fisherman. “There is always something,” as the late philosopher Gilda Radner once said. There is never enough lobster, or, as in 2012, there was too much lobster. There is the persistent rising cost – from diesel fuel, to insurance, to crew wages, to lost gear, to bait. There is bad weather, always bad weather, and, above all, there are harrowing moments at sea. And that’s all during the good times.

Now, two major shocks to the industry in two years are truly staggering. In 2019 fishermen took an unexpected punch to the gut when the Chinese closed their massive market to Maine lobsters by imposing counter tariffs which can be up to 40 percent. Fishermen streamlined their supply chain and made it easier to reach the domestic market and survived. Now, the pandemic is coming to strike another blow.

So forgive the disquiet at the two hamlets sharing the same harbor here – Bernard and Bass Harbor, and despite lobstermen being a foreboding lot to start with, there is a sense of dread that the worst is yet to come.

“There will be lobstermen going out of business,” said Jim Dow, whose family has been fishing in these parts for five generations. Dow thinks the summer will be similar to 2008 during the Great Recession. But even then, restaurants were still open.

Bass Harbor/Bernard is a lobster town through and through – the only one on MDI. Bass Harbor ranks consistently in the top 10 in Maine for total lobster catch annually, along with Stonington, Jonesport, Beals Island, Vinalhaven and Portland.

Maine sells 75 to 80 percent of all lobsters consumed in the United States which is now the only market left after the tariff debacle. The industry survived that shock partly because prices stayed above $5 a pound for fishermen while overall catch plummeted.

Today, Lobsters were selling at $4.10 a pound from the boat at Beal’s Lobster Pond in Southwest Harbor. There is no telling where prices are headed but very few are betting they will increase while the country is still in partial lockdown and the restaurant industry reeling. A major problem is that lobsters do not have a big retail demand as most people do not like to cook it at home. That’s a challenge the Maine Lobster Marketing collaborative is trying to solve with a campaign to get consumers to buy lobsters directly.

Another problem is the short season for lobsters – essentially July, August and September. Consumers like lobsters fresh and the summer is when the catch is abundant as lobsters come closer to shore. Many fishermen are seasonal and just preparing to launch their boats. As they do so, they will add to the problem, increasing inventory when demand is low.

“This is a particularly precarious time,” said Genevieve McDonald, a lobster fisherwoman out of Stonington who is also a state representative and a member of the Joint Committee for Marine Resources. She noted that it has been a slow start to the season. “There is not a mad rush to set out” on the part of many fishermen.

At the recent photo op in early June in Bangor, Donald Trump held a “fishermen’s roundtable” and did his best to act empathic. He gathered a friendly audience, led by former Gov. Paul LePage. Trump had to be educated on many commercial fishing issues. Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, prepared a letter to Trump to complain that Maine did not get its fair share of federal assistance.

“The paycheck protection program, disaster loans and pandemic unemployment have helped keep some businesses afloat, and we are grateful for the fishing industry disaster relief spearheaded by Senator Collins. However, Maine received only $20 million, a fraction of the billions of dollars in economic activity we stand to lose during this crisis. We urge the administration to consider additional aid to save our nation’s commercial fisheries.”

But in front of Trump, Porter said no such thing. Instead he took Trump’s bait to take a swipe at Barack Obama, who is now almost four years out of office. That the Svengali-in-Chief, who was singularly responsible for U. S. lobsterman losing both the Chinese and European markets overnight, was able to manipulate hard working Mainers into political theater is Shakespearean in its tragic extreme.

When told that China imposed a 40 percent tariff and the E.U. had a 20 percent tax, Trump said, “Well, that one is easy.” He said he would hit them with another tariff to get them to cancel their lobster tariffs, totally deflecting any responsibility for the economic mayhem. Everyone is still waiting for that easy decision to manifest.

At one point Trump turned to LePage to ask him how to resolve the right whale issue, and LePage replied that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) had to be restrained. Trump did not know what NOAA was but turned to an aide and said, “Okay. Let’s get that done.”


For more, read this editorial from the Bangor Daily News about Trump’s visit ..

The pandemic will wreak havoc this summer but this too shall pass. A more secular – and perhaps fatal – future awaits lobstermen in the form of the battle to save right whales. Environmental groups have filed two lawsuits asserting that the whales get entangled in lobster traps which cause injury and even death. In April they won a major victory when a federal judge – appointed by Barack Obama (note reference above) – ruled that the U.S. Agency charged with implementing rules to protect the whales gave the lobster industry a free pass.


North Atlantic right whales have been under the protection of the Endangered Species Act since 1970. Today researchers estimate there are about 400 North Atlantic right whales with fewer than 100 breeding females left. “Only 12 births have been observed in the three calving seasons since 2017, less than one-third the previous average annual birth rate,” according to NOAA. “This, together with an unprecedented 30 mortalities since 2017, accelerates the downward trend that began around 2010, with deaths outpacing births in this population.”

A study released on May 28 offered a new twist – that the U.S. lobster industry could place fewer traps in the water and still gain just as much profit.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Marine Policy Journal. Lead researcher Hannah Myers, a graduate student at the University of Alaska’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, examined landings and other data from lobster-fishing territory that crosses the international Hague Line between Nova Scotia and Maine.

“We found that Canadian fishers in the Gulf of Maine caught about the same amount of lobster using seven and a half times less effort than Maine fishers on the U.S. side,” she said. The researchers found that while the Canadians spent fewer days at sea and fished fewer traps, the traps they pulled had almost four times as many lobsters in them.”

“As far as why catch might actually be higher with a closure, there’s a lot of biological reasons for that and other variables that confound it, but in some cases it might be analogous to farmers allowing a field to lie fallow in order to improve productivity later on,” Myers said.

One skeptic is Stonington’s McDonald. “Canadian lobster fishing and Maine lobstering fishing are very different. You can’t compare them side by side,” she said.

“The fleets are different. Canada has a shorter season. Maine has both an inshore fleet and offshore fleet,” McDonald said. She, like other commercial lobstermen, are focused on the Sept. 1 deadline to implement new regulations to track ropes which ensnare whales to bolster their argument that most of the lines entangling whales are not that of Maine fishermen.

State Rep. Genevieve McDonald became the first woman commercial fisherman elected to the Maine state legislature in 2018

According to the National Marine Fishery Service, about 75 percent of all right whale entanglements are caused by rope that cannot be traced to any particular fishery or region. By requiring all Maine lobstermen mark their rope with purple marks, Maine will obtain more robust data to show the extent to which Maine lobster gear is — or is not — involved in right whale entanglements.

Maine hopes to distinguish itself from the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and offshore sectors of the lobster fishery, which in some areas have a much higher overlap with right whales. Some fishermen who fish only “inshore” complain that whales don’t come into shallow water and question why they must adhere to the new rules.

Maine fishermen like to point out that most of the whale deaths since 2017 have occurred in Canada. That year was particularly bad for North Atlantic right whales. There were 17 caused by entanglement or ship strike. Twelve of those deaths occurred in Canadian waters. Maine fishermen claim there is no evidence to attribute any right whale death to fishing gear entanglement in the Gulf of Maine.

Now enter Climate change from Stage Right.

Just because something happened last year doesn’t mean it will repeat itself this year, owing to the warming oceans. Moreover, entanglement may be a leading cause of the decline in reproduction. The Museum of Science in Boston estimated that 85 percent of the right whales have been entangled at least once.

The whales could be ranging more widely, following the ebb and flow of their traditional food sources, or looking for new ones. Their staple is a tiny crustacean called Calanus finmarchicus, whose abundance changes with the currents and the climate.

Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, a marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says migration appears to be changing. “The reason whales died last year is because they were utilizing relatively new habitats, where there’s no protective legislation in place,” she says. “They’re facing waters that aren’t protected by vessel speed reductions, fishing gear regulations, seasonal fishery closures.”

Stonington’s State Rep. McDonald seems to share this view.

“Maine is not the end of the earth. As other species shift north, other species are going to shift into Maine from the Mid-Atlantic,” she said shortly after her election.

There is a prodigious paradox in all this. Lobster fishing has been one of the most environmentally sound and sustainable sea-going enterprises in history. It is the only fishery which is still healthy after more than 100 years. It practices fishery management with precision and discipline so that lobsters are not depleted. As early as 1874, the industry agreed on a size limit which is still followed today. Maine lobstermen are by definition conservationists who have successfully passed down their craft for multiple generations like Jim Dow.

But the future is fuzzy, with a judge in Washington, D.C. playing an outsized role, well-sourced environmental groups taking no prisoners, Susan Collins and Donald Trump potentially ousted and a new administration which will give NOAA ample powers to enforce the Endangered Species Act. LePage was right about one thing: Lobstermen are practical, but also fiercely independent. It would be the ultimate irony for this conservation-minded group to suffer a significant defeat and be forced to remake the landmark seascape of Maine Harbors. Could it be that they are playing the wrong hand? As self-satisfying as it may be to bash liberals, could they be assisting in their own demise?

“There are 900,000 vertical lines for lobster traps in the Northeast,” said Hannah Myers. “It’s tragedy of the commons,” invoking the essay written in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd on how people behave to their self interest contrary to the “common good.”

Rare bird sighting on Beech Hill .. confessions of an accidental naturalist

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SOMESVILLE, June 6, 2020 – It’s not possible to ignore the ubiquity of creatures, insects, plants and vegetation which we humans encounter on this island daily. Sharing my morning coffee with a hummingbird at the feeder, avoiding a field mouse scurrying across our dirt road, stealthily clipping some beautiful lupine flowers and hoping no one catches me defiling nature, and trying mightily to commune with the owl before it takes flight at dusk.

If you live here, you are an accidental naturalist whether you like it or not. The tag of serious naturalists belongs to a devoted community of people called birders.

I was introduced to this special fraternity last year when I entered and won a silent auction at the Southwest Harbor Library’s annual dinner for a guided birding tour led by local ornithologist Craig Kesselheim. In mid September we trekked through Ship’s Harbor Trail and enjoyed the sighting of various shore birds. As a lifelong sailor I was equipped properly with adequate binoculars.

Suddenly at the point Kesselheim’s demeanor shifted into high animation, and he exclaimed and pointed, “Black Skimmers!”

I turned to where he pointed and saw four birds flying about 15 feet above the water heading south. They were like the F-15 fighter jets I saw at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada when I was a young reporter in 1977. They were in formation as precise as the Blue Angels. They were purposeful. And they were fleeting.

At that moment I understood birding.

On Friday night May 29 Duane Braun saw an unusual yellow throated bird at his feeder on Beech Hill Road and consulted his guide. Could it be? These birds just aren’t seen in the Northeast. Braun went across his street and consulted Tom Hayward, a more serious birder who confirmed that this indeed is a black headed grosbeak.

Conversations ensued, especially with Craig Kesselheim, because the discovery of an exciting species where it doesn’t belong could bring out a hoard of birders.

The next day, my wife and I are on our daily walk. We are on Beech Hill Road when we pass a house with many cars parked on the roadside and many folks with cameras and binoculars.

I knew what it had to be .. I could not help my journalistic impulses. “What did you see?” A Black headed Grosbeak, I was told. A western bird almost never seen in the Northeast. Okay. Is that it? How did it get here? What does it say about migration patterns? What does it say about climate change?

But that’s the entire point, isn’t it? Unless we observe and document the data, we’ll never know.

Craig Kesselheim was kind enough to point out that this was an extraordinary week of birding, including his sighting of a pink-footed goose, the first sighting on MDI and Hancock County.

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I am humbled by the life here. I abhor the use of the word “wildlife.” As human civilization disintegrates before us, I am eager to learn more about how species around us can help save our own.PAGE BREAK

Notable non-profits, volunteer groups, charities on MDI …

Housing trust for island workers ..

Island Housing Trust subdivision off Beech Hill Road

SOMESVILLE, May 15, 2020 -The world of nonprofits and charities on MDI is substantial. It’s a world opening up to me as I blog. As a summer person, I supported the Southwest Harbor library, Common Good Soup Kitchen and other organizations in my narrow sphere of contact.

Some of the nonprofits attempt to solve problems unique to the island, such as the Island Housing Trust, which builds affordable houses for families which otherwise cannot afford to live on MDI. Since 2000 median housing prices have doubled while median income is half that. Three quarters of new construction are for seasonal residents, and 54 percent of island workers commute from off island.

There is also the problem of workers moving twice a year, shuttling from winter rentals to summer homes which may consist of camps, off-island housing or moving in with family.

The trust has built or acquired 33 homes in 18 years for sale to folks who meet a means test. The trust holds a secondary mortgage deed which allows banks to loan the money, according to Executive Director Marla O’Byrne.

What surprised me is the “long tail” support of IHT, with the largest gift ever being $100,000. The average donation is about $1,000 with many coming in below that, O’Byrne said. Consider that the Summer Residents Association of Mount Desert raised more than $500,000 in a few weeks when it pledged to support local business during the pandemic.

IHT’s latest project is a 30-acre tract, bordered by another 30 acres of wetland acquired by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, on Rt. 3 near the head of the island called Jones Marsh. O’Byrne said IHT is focusing on the most readily buildable seven acres off Rte. 3, holding the remaining 23 acres for future determination.

Here is the link to IHT’s donation page:

Caring for those struggling with addiction, mental health …

Acadia Family Center at 1 Fernald Point Road, Southwest Harbor, across from the Causeway Club

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, May 13, 2020 – The cankered alchemy of the pandemic is difficult to manage even for healthy, well-adjusted members of society, but when you have a substance abuse problem, the isolation and loss of income – particular on a island – can be overwhelming.

Since early March, MDI’s licensed facility for outpatient treatment of addiction and other mental health afflictions such as depression, grief and anxiety – Acadia Family Center in Southwest Harbor – has seen a 25 percent increase in new cases, according to director Stephanie Joy Muscat. “We’re also seeing existing clients more often,” she said.

Since March 19 the center has been conducting virtual counseling through “teletherapy,” Muscat said, and the transition has been a smooth one despite the increased demand. Muscat said the center has eliminated “co-pay” for clients during the pandemic.

“In 1978, a group of concerned citizens from Mount Desert Island (MDI) and the Cranberry Isles decided they needed to do something about the increase in alcohol and other drug-related problems in their communities,” according to the center’s online brochure. “That led to the formation of the MDI Alcohol and Drug Abuse Group, which became an extension of the MDI Hospital’s Chemical Dependency Unit and funded educational programs in the hospital and our local schools.”

In 1988, the Acadia Family Center opened as the group’s treatment branch in Southwest Harbor. In 2006, AFC moved to its current location at One Fernald Point Road.

For privacy reasons, data is not readily available about addiction on Mount Desert Island. But last year’s Hancock County Health report offered some insights.

There were 380 drug-related deaths in Maine last year, nine in Hancock County six of which were opioid deaths. Opioid poisoning reported by emergency rooms in the county is on the increase compared with the rest of the state – 4.5 per 10,000 residents compared with 3.6/10,000 statewide, according to the latest data.

You don’t need a medical degree to discern that 2020 could be a difficult year, especially on MDI. Here is the center’s donate page if you would like to contribute:

MDI Hospital honors outgoing CEO, chair, employees of the year ..

SOMESVILLE, Sept. 4, 2020 – I joined the annual meeting of our island hospital on Zoom. The event was essentially a passing of the torch from one leadership team to another. Both CEO Arthur J. Blank and Chairman James R. Bright are stepping down. Blank was the top executive for 20 years. MDI Hospital is the envy of independent community hospitals all over the country. Chrissi Maguire, whom I interviewed (see below), takes over as the new CEO.

A special shoutout goes to the two employees of the year:

Barbara MacPike, the hospital’s quality and safety guru, and Jenny Michaud of Birch Bay Retirement Center.

Barbara, who is charged with infection prevention, has seen it all throughout the years. She remained determined and compassionate throughout the pandemic, selflessly taking on any challenge that she is handed. Michaud has provided all of the residents at Birch Bay Village a clean and comfortable environment to live in, and helped assure no resident would contract Covid-19. I have a soft spot for such public servants.






Search, rescue, rinse, repeat …

NORTHEAST HARBOR – Lili Pew engages volunteerism as if it were a contact sport. So do the 40 some other members of MDI Search and Rescue. Already this year, MDI SAR has responded to 19 requests for assistance from the park service at Acadia and others, Pew said. MDISAR also assists the Maine Warden Service in other parts of the state.

As we sat on her porch overlooking Northeast Harbor, Pew said she tells her clients that if her pager goes off during a meeting, she will be flying out of there.

Flying at top speed seems to be Pew’s only gear. In addition to a career as a broker at The Knowles Company, Pew is on the boards of Friends of Acadia, College of the Atlantic and the Ellsworth Business Economic Corp. But none of the other volunteer work require the physical wherewithal and strength of search and rescue.

Like many MDI organizations affected by the pandemic, MDI SAR has had to postpone its in-person training of new members.

“After several months in which we did not allow any new members to join our team due to COVID-19, MDISAR is ready to begin welcoming new members again in the net few weeks. If you are interested in joining the team and have not yet reached out to us, please get in touch ASAP. You can message us on facebook or email us a to express interest or if you have any questions.”

The groups hold three or four training sessions a month.

On June 28, around 4:30 a.m., MDISAR responded to a multi-agency callout for a technical rescue at the Maine Coast Heritage Trust – MDI Cooksey Drive Overlook. “We worked in cooperation with Acadia National Park and the Mount Desert Fire Department to raise the subject approximately 30 feet up the cliff face and then carried him in a litter up the trail to the parking area,” the group said on its FB page

Started in 1982, MDI SAR is an all-volunteer 501c3 organization and relies on donations. Click on its website to view a great video featuring core team members Steve Hudson, Davin O’Connell, Mary Krevans … (I couldn’t decipher the other names on the video …)

Golfing on MDI …

NORTHEAST HARBOR, May 15, 2020 – I started playing golf at Age 47 in 1997 at the nine-hole Causeway Club where even a hacker like me can’t do any serious damage. My 75-year-old father sat in the cart while I toured the course trying to learn the game.

“Hit the ball straight, Linc! Hit the ball straight!” my dad intoned as if I had any control over where the little orb was heading.

But as anyone who’s played the game may attest, it’s addictive. That summer I tried to play Kebo, the massive tract carved out of Acadia’s majestic mountains where there is a hole – the 17th – which legend has it that President William Taft took 27 shots to get out of that sand trap which resembles a gravel pit on the side of a hill. I’m sure it’s apocryphal but the locals love the lore. Plus it’s good marketing.

My most memorable moment at Kebo was when I stepped on a mound of fire ants looking for my ball on the 12th hole. Those buggers are hard to shake off, and they sting like crazy.

Kebo gets a lot of attention among the Mayflower class for its founding date, 1888, which legitimizes the silly and annualized debate over which are the oldest golf clubs in the country. The Dorset in Vermont, 1886, lays claim. But there are many caveats. When did the course actually open? Was there a club before a golf course, etc.

For me, the tract on the island which challenges the imagination and has its own lore is the Northeast Harbor Golf Club. That is a course where golf balls go to die. In the late Nineties, I actually had a boy who sold me back the same ball I hit into the woods in the front nine on the back nine. The ball had a distinctive logo.

NHGC is mystical and an alluring place with a dab of secrecy like Skull and Bones. They seem to change the rules every year. One year there was a facile two-week membership for summer people. Next year they revoked that. This year there is no public play, owing to the pandemic, a reasonable response from a club which seems to have its own business model.

Me, I’m just grateful for an off-season membership which dis-invites me in July and August. But that’s okay. I haven’t played golf for five years. I’ve enjoyed the turtle soup at Pine Valley, the horrendously long Par 4s at Winged Foot and the hilly Olympic in San Francisco.

But it’s Northeast Harbor Golf Club where the memories run deep and the echo of the mountains are resonant when a ball caroms off a granite ledge into the abyss like no other place on earth …

Maine’s love affair with eels and other living things …

SOMESVILLE, May 3, 2020 – Two years ago today one of the biggest sting operations in U.S. marine enforcement history reached its denouement when the Ellsworth “elvers kingpin” was sentenced.

But more on that in later. First, I want to talk about eels.

I am not a big sushi fan so whenever I’m at a Japanese restaurant I default to grilled unagi (above photo), or eel. I love this dish even though it’s on the pricey side. I also love the way the Chinese braise eel and smother it with garlic and hot oil.

Like many folks from away I never knew about the strong Down East connection with eels until last year, that Maine is one of the world’s leading sources for elvers – baby eels – which are sold to aqua farms in Asia to raise adult eels for markets in Japan and China. Elvers are worth more than gold on the black market, fetching $3,000 a pound or more.

That got me thinking about what a temptation it must be with so many folks out of work during this pandemic to set up a poaching operation to earn some quick cash. A large bucket of elvers can sell for $50,000.

All you need is a fyke net, lanterns and a tidal stream. Best thing is you do this at night when elvers swim upstream to avoid natural predators during the day. Seems to me these are perfect ingredients made for poaching.

The marine enforcement authorities must be worried about this as well. Beginning in 2011 they began to keep a close eye as prices skyrocketed. Two things converged to spike the demand. The Europeans overfished eels to the point of wiping out 90 percent of the population, forcing them to halt all fishing. Japan, meanwhile, got hit with an earthquake and tsunami which shattered its aqua farm infrastructure. The price per pound for elvers went from $185 in 2010 to $1,900 a pound two years later.

In the years since, eel has become the second only to lobster in generating revenues for Maine, approaching $40 million a year. Each year the state holds a lottery to add a handful of newcomers to its 1,000 licensed fishermen. Mount Desert has more than 20 licensees, the newest being SW Harbor committeeman Corey Pettegrow who won one in February.

Maine also imposes a limit of just under 10,000 pounds. So far, the catch has reached slightly above 7,500 pounds this season with another month to go.

Back to the anniversary …

On May 3, 2018, Bill Sheldon was sentenced to serve six months in prison for trafficking more than $500,000 in elvers in the Ellsworth area. In all 21 persons were arrested by the Feds, including 12 Maine residents. William Sheldon was actually a Maine Department of Marine Resources employee with a degree in wildlife management in the 70s when he developed techniques for elvers fishing and for shipment. He taught numerous locals how best to fish these transparent worm-like morsels. Many of his students went on to earn a decent living as elvers prices rivaled that of the bluefin tuna – another high demand fish for the Japanese markets.

When he was busted in his shop in Ellsworth he was brokering one third of all elvers inventory shipped to Asia from Maine. Sheldon claims that he bought a small batch of 267 pounds of elvers from poachers from South Carolina whom he thought had fished the baby eels in Maine waters. He served six months in prison in New Hampshire.

Was it an appropriately light sentence given that he helped create the second largest seafood market in the state – one the state is still promulgating despite environmental concerns?

There is the persistent pressure by the likes of organizations like Seafood Watch and Greenpeace to end all elvers fishing in Maine, which is one of only two East Coast states – South Carolina the other – to allow it. Could it be that even the annual limit isn’t enough to prevent the elvers population from going to zero, as was what essentially happened in Europe? That will be an article for another day.

Meanwhile, I’ll never eat another plate of unagi with the same innocence.

For more on this topic, watch this short documentary …

A friend pointed out these lichen atop a pole at Beech Hill Farm called “British Soldiers” as they resemble red coats … now that the farm has plowed and seeded it’s not that far from fresh organic fruit and vegetables … Beech Hill will also deliver during the lockdown.

QSJ’s personal essays: From me to you with love …

‘228 Incident’ a precursor of life in America? Or a cure for our stasis?

SOMESVILLE – It started with cigarettes, much like what happened to Eric Garner.

The Taiwanese widow was accused of selling contraband cigarettes. Eric Garner was accused of selling single cigarettes without tax stamps.

Agents of the brutal Chang Kai-shek regime physically struck the elderly woman in front of bystanders who became visibly angry and began to stir like a mob. A shot was fired into the crowd. The next day the shooting victim died.

This was Feb. 28, 1947 on the island of Taiwan where I was born in 1950 and spent my formative years. It would become known as the 228 Incident, triggering an uprising of Taiwan’s ethnic majority oppressed by two years of a dictatorship with virtually all freedoms taken away, property illegally seized and political voice shuttered.

Historian have been unable to document the exact number of deaths as a result of the Chinese Nationalist Army’s horrific response to the uprising. Estimates range up to 30,000. The Army was indiscriminately shooting people in the streets.

My father barely escaped after a full body search and came home white as a ghost, my mother recalled, thus the massacre given the name White Terror. For sure, our status as Nationalists from the Mainland saved my father’s life.

The irony was that the Taiwanese embraced the Nationalist regime with full alacrity when it was ceded back to China in 1945 after World War II, ending 50 years of Japanese rule. The locals were eager to be governed by ethnic Chinese like them, and not by the Japanese who saw Taiwan as a convenient appurtenance to help its imperial ambitions. The air strikes on the Philippines the day after Pearl Harbor were launched from Taiwan.

The Taiwanese felt safe under the Chinese Nationalists. After all, we were all ethnic Hans.

But the Army Chang sent to Taiwan were battle-hardened veterans of 10 years of warfare — first against the Japanese and then against the Communists. They brought a martial law sensibility and were not interested in any civil discourse. They seized what they wanted and debased all Taiwanese culture and pride.

Two years after the 228 Incident Chang himself would come to call Taiwan home after being defeated by the Communists on the Mainland and exiled to the island across the Taiwan Strait. But Chang remembered that the Taiwanese had a tipping point for tolerance. Throughout the Fifties he began to attenuate his dictatorial tendencies. He made it possible for Taiwanese farmers to own their land. He allowed newspapers to have a freer voice. He made education a priority. With the help of American aid, he positioned Taiwan to become an economic force.

Today, Taiwan is a full-throated democracy with an ethnic Taiwanese president and enjoys freedoms not available in places like Hong Kong, or even the United States. The children of Taiwan do not fear being shot by a mass murderer in their schools. Taiwan guarantees the basic human right to life for children — something America cannot accomplish.

Taiwan has universal health care, and a great higher education system where graduates are not burdened by usurous, life-choking debt.

Taiwan is 80 miles from Mainland China where the Corona Virus originated. Yet, the island of 25 million people had only 7 Covid-19 deaths, and because of disciplined contact tracing and testing, fewer than 450 total COVID-19 infections.

With his knee chocking off George Floyd’s life, could Derek Chauvin become the lightning rod which triggers a national uprising in the United States where an ethnic minority has suffered an unequal administration of justice, born a higher cost for everything from disease to economic impairment and lacked the voice of the privileged and dominant whites?

Is it appropriate to call the reaction to Floyd’s death just “looting and rioting?”

In our collective management of our country, did we fail a specific and easily identifying group given our original sin of slavery?

Black Americans cannot trust the police to protect them, cannot jog in their neighborhoods, cannot buy a house in the towns of their choosing, cannot participate in the shared opportunities of the economy, cannot get health care in parity with white Americans, cannot raise their children in a protected environment and cannot bird watch in Central Park.

Was the death of George Floyd their 228 Incident? Or will the cankered alchemy under Donald Trump bind us in a downward spiral of dejection. I am not optimistic.

So when the nightmare of America coming apart reaches its denouement, I have the luxury of a choice which most Americans do not have. I have an escape hatch — the original papers which my mother gave me as proof of my birth and residency in Taipei, the capital. When this country finally disintegrates under its weight of troubled history, hypocrisy and prevarication, I can seek and receive citizenship in Taiwan, where I may bask in true equality — hard won and well deserved.