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.
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
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.
Caring for those struggling with addiction, mental health …
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: https://acadiafamilycenter.org/donate/
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 MDISAR@gmail.com to express interest or if you have any questions.”
The groups hold three or four training sessions a month.
Started in 1982, MDI SAR is an all-volunteer 501c3 organization and relies on donations. Click on its website to view a great video https://mdisar.org/ featuring core team members Steve Hudson, Davin O’Connell, Mary Krevans … (I couldn’t decipher the other names on the video …)
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 …
SOMESVILLE, May 13, 2020 – I first thought they were turkeys. But these were guinea hens foraging off Beech Hill Cross Road. They love insects, particularly ticks. Each hen can eat 4,000 ticks a day, so it’s a blessing to see them herding through the woods. Go hens, go!
‘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.