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Tag: maine

A matter of Faith: Girl, 5, gets service dog


A family in northern Maine says it is “overwhelmed” by the generosity they saw from friends and strangers who donated enough money for them to get a service dog for their 5-year-old daughter, Faith.

Faith has spina bifida and experiences seizures. The new dog — a black Lab named Dandy — has been trained to detect when they might be coming.

Bruce and Beverly McNally, of Island Falls, took Faith in as a foster child, then as their adopted daughter. They quickly realized they needed help monitoring her for the seizures, which could be deadly if not addressed.

“The family became very worried, which is why they wanted to get the dog,” Michele King, Faith’s aunt, told the Bangor Daily News.

King is also the chief administrative officer for Brave Hearts, a nonprofit Christian home for young men in Island Falls, and that organization sponsored a fundraiser last month to try and raise the $2,500 that was needed.

King said that donations came from the more than 100 people who attended a benefit supper, and from people as far away as North Carolina.

“We just couldn’t believe it,” Beverly McNally said. “We eventually had enough money and we had to gently turn people away. We had to tell them that we had enough for the dog, but that we wanted them to donate the money to a charity of their own choosing.”

Dandy came from CARES — Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services — a nonprofit organization in Concordia, Kansas, that trains and matches assistance dogs with owners.

“Dandy has just been wonderful for Faith,” McNally said on Friday. “She picks up on a chemical change in the body when a seizure occurs. One day when we got back, Faith was very lethargic. She was in the chair with me and needed to be snuggled a lot more. And the dog got up in the chair and started whining. And I didn’t realize what was going on. And 45 minutes later, Faith had a seizure. Then I realized what the dog was trying to tell me.”

(Photo: Michele King)

Ephemera is here to stay

It was a windy day, with patches of rain that came and went as I drove from Bangor, through western Maine, New Hampshire and into Vermont on Highway 2 – a rolling ribbon of smooth (mostly) blacktop, dotted with flea markets, farms, campgrounds and more than a few antique stores.

It’s the same road John Steinbeck took 50 years ago with his poodle Charley on the trip that would lead to the book “Travels With Charley” – a book whose place is firmly cemented as a timeless American  classic.

The high winds were blowing leaves, at the peak of their color, off the trees, and sending them swirling across the highway like swarms of bees – signaling that nature’s most beautiful and all-too-transitory season would soon be coming to an end.

As I whizzed along through the drizzle, one particular antique store caught my eye — though not in time to stop — because, among the other things its sign advertised, was: “Ephemera.”

As the antique barn disappeared in my rearview mirror, I kept repeating the word aloud, which I tend to do when I confront an unusual word while driving alone with Ace. He responds with head tilts and funny looks, and he did so especially with “ephemera,” probably because it sounds, to him, vaguely like “dinner.”

I had a fair notion what ephemera was — just as I have a fair notion of what curios, trinkets, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac are. I knew ephemera was not a perfume, though it sounds like one; or a prescription drug, though it sounds like one; or a skin condition, though it sounds like one.

What, I fantasized, if I had stopped at the shop? The door, I’m sure, would have had a bell on it that jingled when I entered, and a friendly proprietor would have approached, who would have reminded me of one of the characters on the Bob Newhart Show (the one where he had an inn).

“Can I help you with anything today?”

“Yes,” I’d say. “I understand you have ephemera.”

“Indeed we do,” the proprietor would say, rubbing his dry, chapped hands together. “What particular type of ephemera are you interested in – what genre?”

“Oh,” I’d say, “I guess some basic ephemera, run of the mill ephemera.”

“What is it you collect?”  he’d say.

“It varies,” I’d answer. “Unemployment. Plastic bags to pick up dog poop. Dust. Dog hair. Fast food coupons. My thoughts.”

“I see, but what exactly are you looking for today, ephemera-wise?”

“Well, I’m pretty open,” I’d say. “But I want some good, sturdy ephemera — something that lasts.”

At that point, he’d look puzzled and begin pointing out items on his dusty shelves – defunct board games, old movie posters, paper dolls, airsickness bags, cigar boxes, bookplates, old fashioned Coca-Cola bottles, baseball cards, lunch pails, seed company advertisements, old maps and calendars from years past.

“And there’s this,” he’d say, picking up a Life magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. “This is classic ephemera.”

“Do you have any more modern-day ephemera?” I’d question.

“Only this Justin Bieber CD, this Kentucky Fried Chicken sandwich that uses slabs of chicken in lieu of bread, and these Kindles – but we’re not totally sure yet they will be ephemeral.”

“I guess we can only hope.”

He would smile only slighty, and it would quickly fade from his face. “Ephemera is tricky stuff,” he’d say.

“But if people are preserving it, is it really ephemeral?” I’d ask. “By collecting it, or selling at high prices, as you do, these things that no longer have much use, does not that run counter to their very ephemerality – taking something intended to be transitory and short term and preserving it for eternity?  Isn’t ‘classic ephemera’ a contradiction in terms?”

“Yes and no,” he’d say.

With that, I would take my leave, more confused than I was when I entered. I’d turn on my wipers to shoo the fallen leaves off my windshield. I’d check my gas tank – gas, now there’s something that’s truly ephemeral – give Ace a pat on the head and keep heading west.

Highway Haiku: Directions in Maine

“Directions in Maine”

 

Two lefts, six miles, right

Ay-ah, that’s how you get from

Hee-yah to they-yah

Chasing spuds in the far north of Maine

Given that there’s not all that much else to do in Aroostook County, Maine, Ace and I followed the potatoes.

For it was potatoes, mainly, that brought John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley 50 years ago to the state’s largest and northernmost county — a place he’d never been. Neither had I, and though we’re not precisely following the path Steinbeck took for ”Travels With Charley,” this piece of it seemed worth duplicating.

“I wanted to go to the rooftree of Maine to start my trip before turning west. It seemed to give the journey a design, and everything in the world must have a design or the human mind rejects it,” Steinbeck wrote. “… Maine was my design, potatoes my purpose.”

Of particular interest to the author of “The Grapes of Wrath” were the migrant French Canadian workers who crossed the border in harvest season to pick up potatoes, after they were unearthed by machinery, and place them in baskets.

Poverty, farmworkers and migration were recurrent theme’s in Steinbeck’s vast body of work, so it’s not surprising that, for what would turn out to be his last book, he revisited them.

Steinbeck parked his camper, Rocinante, on the side of a lake, just down from a migrant camp. Smelling their soup from 100 yards away, he dispatched Charley to serve as his ambassador. He’d let the poodle go, then follow, retrieving him, apologizing for the nuisance. A conversation about the dog would inevitably ensue, leading to conversation about other things.

At this particular juncture, Steinbeck had the added advantage of his dog being French. Charley was born in Bercy, outside Paris. He invited the farmworkers to come see his camper after dinner, which six of them did. They drank beer, then brandy, served in pill bottles, a jelly glass, coffee cups and a shaving mug. They had more brandy, and then more brandy.

Rocinante, Steinbeck wrote, “took on a glow it never quite lost.”

I didn’t get a glow on in Madawaska. Seeking food, I stopped in Jerry T’s Chug-a-Mug, but they weren’t serving any. The only place that was, Jeff’s Pizza and Subs, about ten doors down, was closing in 10 minutes. I walked down, placed an order, then finished off my mug at Jerry’s. The bartender wasn’t familiar with John Steinbeck. Neither was the operator of my motel. Neither was the receptionist at Naturally Potatoes, a processing plant I stopped at after following a loaded potato truck down the highway to see where it was going.

Finding no Steinbeck afficianados, no glow, and no French Canadian farmworkers, I settled for some quality time back in the motel room with my burger.

And a side of mashed potatoes.

The harvesting of potatoes is all done by machinery now — human hands rarely enter the picture. Machines unearth the potatoes, machines scoop them out of the dirt, sending them up conveyor belts that drop them into trucks that hit the highway and dump them at processing plants.

Until around 1960, potatoes were dug out of the ground with a mechanical digger, then picked up by hand, put into baskets, then dumped into barrels. The barrels were lifted onto a flatbed truck and hauled to storage or to the processing. Farmworkers were paid by how many they picked up.

Today, migrant farmworkers have little place in the potato farming industry. They are used to harvest two of the state’s other top crops — broccoli and blueberries. But harvesting the hearty spud, thick skinned and mostly bruise-proof, is a job that clunky machines have taken over.

Maine once led the nation in potato production, but by 1994 it had fallen to eighth on the list of top potato states.

We left Madawaska the next morning amid a thick fog the sun was in the process of burning off, following Highway 1 to its end, then heading south on Highway 11 — destination Bangor, Maine.

We passed through rolling hills, more small towns, and more potato farms, whose harvest goes on to be powdered and chowedered, mashed and hashed, chipped and french-fried.

We may not be eating our vegetables, but we were seeing plenty of them, including this sea of broccoli. Was it crying out for cheese sauce, or was that just my imagination?

We passed by lumber mills, where the smell of sap wafted into the car, mom and pop motels, more farmland, and sheds both collapsed and collapsing.

Having seen both coastal Maine and inland Maine, both recreational Maine and working Maine, both comfy Maine and struggling Maine, we decided — behind schedule as we are — to rest up in Bangor before heading to the next state west: New Hampshire … or is it Vermont?

(Black and white photo, circa 1930, from the Maine Historical Society)

(Other photos by John Woestendiek)

Of moose and men

So far, we have veered wildly off the path John Steinbeck took 50 years ago — the one that led to his book, “Travels with Charley,” and the one we intend to loosely follow in the months ahead.

Rather than go to Deerfield, Massachusetts, we went to Provincetown. Rather than go to Deer Isle, Maine, we went to Bar Harbor. Wise decisions both, as it turned out.

For while Steinbeck was out to reconnect with, and take the pulse of, the country, we’re more in search of people and places that have a special connection with dogs. Though it’s one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors – and one I would never be so bold as to take shots at — there was never enough Charley in “Travels with Charley,” for my tastes.

Bringing the dog along was, in fact, an afterthought — a concession, in part, to his wife, who had concerns about Steinbeck’s health and safety alone on the road.

After a few weeks, as he ventured into Maine’s more northern reaches, it was Steinbeck who had concerns about Charley’s safety — mainly that his poodle might fall victim to hunters.

Steinbeck wasn’t real big on hunting, describing some sportsmen as  “overweight gentlemen, primed with whiskey and armed with high powered rifles. They shoot at anything that moves or looks as though it might …”

Worried that Charley might be mistaken for a deer, Steinbeck wrapped a red kleenex around his dog’s tail, fastening it with rubber bands: “Every morning I renewed his flag, and he wore it all the way west while bullets whined and whistled around us.”

As we got back on Steinbeck’s trail, heading to the northeastern-most reaches of Maine, I borrowed his idea — not tying anything to Ace’s curly tail, but, not long after we passed Maine’s highest mountain, Mount Katahdin, replacing his brown bandana with a bright red one.

I-95, north of Bangor is a glorious stretch of road (for an Interstate) — especially at the peak of fall. It’s billboard free, and designed in such a way that you rarely see the lanes of traffic bound the other way. We followed it to Houlton, then headed north up Highway 1, through Presque Isle, Caribou and Van Buren.

Then we followed along the Canadian border, enjoying the sight of the leaves turning in two countries, and stopping for the night in Madawaska, Maine’s most northeastern town, where we checked into Martin’s Motel.

The accomodations were perfectly fine, but Ace seemed jumpy — like he is when we camp.

Something was bothering him, and I’m not sure what. Maybe he’s road-weary. Perhaps it was an upset stomach; he was flatulent during the whole drive — making it a heat-on, windows-open kind of day. He’s scratching a lot, and may need a bath and a flea treatment. Maybe he was picking up a hunting season vibe — sesning that it’s that time of year, in these parts, when testosterone rises like maple tree sap and men venture into the woods to kill animals.

The lead story in last week’s St. John Valley Times — “Teen bags moose in first 20 minutes” — recounted how Corey Daigle bagged his first moose in Madawaska. It was 1,050 pounds, with a 55 1/2-inch rack. In the photo accompanying the article, Corey is straddling the dead moose, with one hand on each antler.

“I feel good about it,” the newspaper quotes him as saying. “It was a picture perfect day.”

Last week was first week of moose hunting for eight of Maine’s Wildlife Managment Districts, or, as they’re called in the abbreviated form, WMD’s.

All other news took a back seat to that, including the other story on the front page, about a woman in Fort Kent who hand knits mittens, hats and other winter gear receiving a small business grant from the state.

The newspaper’s police blotter, meanwhile, carried crime reports from previous weekend:

Friday, 9:04 a.m: Female called to question leash laws in town. She claims a woman walks her dog without a leash and the dog does its  “business” on the lawns of everyone and owner does not pick it up… 4:51 p.m.: Female called to question: Is there a street dance. Advise didn’t know…

Saturday, 7:21 a.m:. Individual called to find out what time is parade …  8:11 a.m.: Female called regarding a missing dog … 12:56 p.m.: Individual called to report found a dog on a local road…

Sunday, 9:43 a.m.: Female called to report a lost poodle….10:43 a.m.: Vandalism to mailboxes, relay to officer … 9:01 p.m.: Male called to report a skunk with a bottle on its head…

A good half of the items on the blotter were animal related –  lost dogs, mostly — and it got me to thinking about how man can pamper and pine over the loss of one animal, then go out and shoot another. There are the species we love — dog, cat, horse – and the species we love to hunt, kill, eat, and have mounted as trophies.

“Somehow, the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don’t quite know how,” Steinbeck wrote.

I don’t, either. But I know this much: Until hunting season is over, my dog isn’t leaving my side.

(Dead moose photo: St. John Valley Times)

(Other photos by John Woestendiek)

Reflections on our time Down East

The coast of Maine is one of those places that, even once you leave it, stays with you.

It has been two days since Ace and I departed — to venture up to the northeasternmost part of the state, like John Steinbeck did 50 years ago — but our trip up the coast of Maine, onto Mount Desert Island and around Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park has got to be one of the highlights of our four-plus months on the road so far.

So forgive us as we, well, reflect.

The mountains, the lakes, the ponds, the crashing surf, the mossy forests, the sunrises and sunsets, the dog park, the rocks, the cliffs, the quaint towns and scenic winding roads — thinking back on it all makes me heave a big sigh, and try to figure out a way to get back.

It’s a place, at once, so vastly civilized and vastly uncivilized, offering nature in its rawest forms, or, if you prefer, a horse drawn carriage ride to enjoy the traditional tea and popovers.

I didn’t pop for that, but I did have some magnificent blueberry pancakes — an “order of blues,” as they say — at Jordan’s Restaurant, and a memorable Greek pizza at Tamarind, the restaurant owned by the couple that provided Ace and me with a room, multiple tours and the run of their property for two days.

Ron and Karen Greenberg were the consumate hosts, and Ace mostly got along with their animals.

There were Spike and Two Spikes, both named for the white streaks on their otherwise black foreheads, a thoroughbred named Mona and a white pony named Goblin (left), who was probably my favorite — probably because he reminded me so much of a dog.

That may be because Karen has trained the 34-year-old pony using something called the Pirelli method, which is based on understanding the psychology, personality and nature of horses. Its practitioners say it leads to a ”deep, seamless and mutually beneficial human-horse relationship.”

I’m no expert on it, but my guess is — given that the key is trying to understand why a being behaves as it does — it’s a good philosophy to practice with dogs as well, not to mention other animals, like humans. Understanding and emotionally connecting, I’d think, are much more useful than berating, punishing and criticizing — as any good horse trainer, school teacher, parent,or dog owner can tell you.

And it’s a good practice when it comes to places, too. Learning its history, geography, geology, dipping your toe in its surf, sitting on its rocks, hiking its trails, cleaning its dirt out from underneath your fingernails all lead to better appreciating a place.

Ron and Karen, who have lived there for 30 years, were perfect examples of that. In our travels, it has been heartwarming to come across people who truly love where they live, to the extent that they want to show if off, whether it be Albuquerque or Acadia.

Almost like proud parents, they address the highlights, pull out photos, show off the trophies – and in the process, they pass that emotional connection they have on to you.

It’s almost as if what they’ve seen over decades, or a lifetime, in a place, starts being reflected in you.

Even if you only get to spend a day or two there.

It’s the best kind of contagiousness.

And on Mount Desert Island, I caught it.

(To see a synopsis of where we’ve been so far, click here.)

(To follow “Travels with Ace” in its entirety, click here.)

Now THAT’S a dog park

Those who loyally follow my travels with Ace know that we feel a far stronger connection to the poor than the rich, and that our compassion for the former stems largely from our envy of the latter, along with our liberal bias, and the fact that we are, for now, living a few steps under the poverty line.

From time to time, we come close to bashing the wealthy — mostly for good reason, sometimes for no reason at all.

In our travels so far, we’ve noticed that some of the nicest parts of this country — be they desert, mountains or  oceanfront — have, in effect, become playgrounds for the rich, sometimes to the extent that the not so rich are nudged, pushed or priced out.

From Santa Fe to Cape Cod, we’ve seen communities that were established and long occupied by the working class – miners and fishermen and the like — that have refocused on tourism and are appealing to an upscale demographic, turning them into places everybody wants to come, but not everybody can afford.

So it was a bit to my surprise, and ran counter to my thinking — namely, that rich people achieve that state through selfishness — when I learned that the postcard-pretty, wonderfully open, unfenced and totally free dog park Ace and I were walking through in Bar Harbor, Maine, was a gift from a rich man’s family.

The philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family — donors of much of the land that would become  Acadia National Park — included ensuring that there would also be a place on the island where dogs can run free. And you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to go there.

Dogs on leashes are permited in Acadia National Park, but if you ever head up that way with your dog — and by all means you should — you need to know about the trail around Little Long Pond. I don’t have a problem with National Parks enforcing leash laws, but it always strikes me as incongruous that when walking through our country’s most free and open lands we must rein in our dogs’ spiritedness by means of a rope.

At Little Long Pond, dogs can romp through woods and grasslands, run on the deck of the boathouse, leap into the pond and sniff nature to their heart’s content.

Ace and I worked in two visits while on Mount Desert Island, and while he seemed to thoroughly enjoy peering over rocky cliffs to the ocean below, being the first dog in America to see Sunday’s sunrise, and spending time at the home we were staying at, with two cats and two horses, Little Long Pond seemed his favorite place.

Unlike Sag Harbor, the now upscale, former working class fishing town in Long Island where we started this leg our journey, retracing the route of John Steinbeck, Bar Harbor was pretty much upscale from the get go. Mount Desert Island  was settled by the rich and for years was their mostly private vacation spot.

When it opened up to the public, it did so carefully, and under the guidance of the wealthy families who came here first. That’s why, in Acadia National Park, you can still ride in a horse drawn carriage, along paths designed by Rockefeller, to get tea and popovers. That’s why the roads for cars are designed not in a way that get’s you where you going most quickly, but in a way that affords the best view.

Yes, the island is still pricey — that’s in its heritage — but there are lots of affordable options, and even some freebies, like the dog park, which adjoins the park service lands and is still owned and maintained by the family.

Acadia National Park is well worth the price of admission, and well worth spending more than the two days I scheduled.

Steinbeck didn’t include Bar Harbor on his route; instead, he visited Deer Isle, located on the next peninsula south, where he stayed at the home of a friend with an unfriendly cat. Rereading that part of the book, it doesn’t sound like either he or Charley had a real good time there.

In that way, given our days on Mount Desert Island,we’ve already got them beat.

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