Making Stories

A year ago in August, I was contacted about writing an article. The woman who emailed me read my Biddeford article for the “big city paper,” The Boston Globe. She liked it and thought I had what it took to tell her story. It was about a town that had stopped making paper.

In 2016, I was in a funk. I told Mark that “maybe I should quit” the writing game.

Part of this was self-pity. But part of it was also feeling like my writing was going nowhere. At the time, it wasn’t.

Mark’s response was, “keep doing what you’re doing, dad.”

I told the woman that I couldn’t do it.

Then, Mark was killed.

In January (and February, March, and April), writing didn’t seem to matter. Yes, I was blogging. This was more about simply pouring out my pain associated with loss and grief. I was shocked that people actually read my posts.

A decision was made to reconnect with the woman who reached out to me in 2016. She was pleased to hear from me. She was also sorry about Mark.

One year after she first contacted me, I made my first trip down the coast. I’d make several more.

I talked to people in the town. The town had lost a mill. A mill that had been making paper since 1930. I also met a man with big ideas about logs not needed for making paper. Continue reading

Leaning West

Maine’s western border abuts New Hampshire, known as The Granite State. When pine trees meet mountain rock, it speaks to something rugged and permanent.

Granted, some men never meet a mountaintop or a swath of timber without thinking in terms of dollar signs, but so far, western Maine and New Hampshire’s White Mountains still offer natural beauty and views that are hard to beat anywhere in the East. And while development hustlers and water extractors have made their presence known, just like everywhere else, there is less blight once you get away from the tourist corridors, with plenty of opportunities to appreciate nature.

I’ve mentioned being an umpire. This is a gig that takes you wherever your assignor sends you. Since the board I’m a member of doesn’t have much of a presence in far western Maine, sometimes you’re assigned to cover places like Fryeburg, not far from having entrée into the White Mountain National Forest.

Yesterday, I made my second trip in a week to cover an 8th grade middle school game. Logistics and school budgets being what they are, many at that level opt for paying only one umpire. That means for traveling to Fryeburg, I receive a fee and a half, along with mileage. It’s likely I got picked to make two trips this year because I have a fairly flexible schedule. If you work in Portland and don’t get out of work ‘til 3:00 or even with a sympathetic boss who will let you out at 2:30, you’ll never be able to make the trip in time to get there for the 3:30 game time. Plus, rushing like a mad man is never the mindset you want to show up with, then spend 7 innings focused on being professional and capable of doing a job you’ll be proud of.

Fryeburg takes about an hour and 30 minutes from my doorstep (give or take 5 minutes, depending on the route) to Indian Acres Camp for Boys, where Molly Ockett Middle School is playing their games this spring. Apparently Fryeburg is experiencing an economic windfall of sorts, or perhaps it’s MSAD 72’s turn to receive state school funding—whatever the reason, there’s a major school expansion taking place at the middle school site on Route 302 and their former ball field is a big patch dirt and construction debris. Hence the trip to Indian Acres, a place I’d never heard of ‘til a week ago. If you know the area, or you’ve been to Fryeburg from attending their magnificent fall fair, then Indian Acres is just north of the fairgrounds on Route 5.

Sweden the town, not the country.

Sweden the town, not the country.

Continue reading

On the Base

The closure of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) was a long, drawn-out affair.  Like most impending events that you eventually find out were inevitable, this was another one that elicited hand-wringing, predictions of doom and gloom—not to mention—certain economic devastation. Brunswick was likely to dry up and blow away without Uncle Sam and the Pentagon sending shekels, keeping it afloat—at least that’s the version the media sold us.

The perspective is always different through the lens of hindsight. Looking back also provides perspective on how news stories get spun. I find it especially enlightening when political icons are judged by history. George Mitchell, everyone’s favorite Maine Democrat (if you’re a Maine Democrat) had this to say back in 1993, when he was Senate Majority Leader, in a news brief I located from the Boston Globe. [via ProQuest]

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell said yesterday that he is optimistic Maine’s Navy bases will be spared when the Defense Department’s list of recommended bases for closure s released. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and the Brunswick Naval Air Station could potentially be on the list Secretary of Defense Les Aspin will present to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. [The Boston Globe, March 6, 1993]

BNAS was on the list, and it wasn’t spared. So much for the wisdom of ole’ George, Mr. Maine Democrat.  Actually, there’s more political wrangling to this story, as Mitchell ended up leaving the Senate and as a result, Maine lost some clout in Washington. That might actually have had more to do with the closure than Mitchell being a lousy prognosticator.

When BNAS closed in 2011, it affected 2,687 active duty personnel and 583 full-time civilian personnel. That was a significant loss of jobs along with the economic ripple effect that accompanied the closure.

Fast forward four years and the former Naval Air Station is in the process of redevelopment under the care of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA). Since redevelopment began, there are more than 70 businesses occupying the former base, and according to various news sources, more than 700 new jobs have been created.

Being that the JBE wants to be your go-to source for local news, at least local in terms of drawing a 30-mile ring around the JBE compound, I was able to dig a bit deeper for my readers. According the MRRA’s very own Redevelopment News newsletter that number is actually 730 jobs—which they cite as being “60 percent more than projected four years into this project. The newsletter goes on to report that they “expect to have more than 800 employees here in high-paying, quality positions by the end of the year.”

Plenty of space for development, at Brunswick Landing.

Plenty of space for development, at Brunswick Landing.

Continue reading

Know Your Home State

Maine’s been known as vacationland for as long as I can remember. It’s a place that visitors from other states and across the world flock to, especially in the summer. Yet, many Mainers (I include myself here) have yet to really get to know their home state.

Rather than pining for adventures beyond Maine’s borders in locales that others consider exotic, me and my better half are committed to doing a better job of exploring the back roads, peninsulas, coves and harbors of the Pine Tree State. It’s easier to do now that winter has departed and warmer days are en route.

We spent the past weekend in Ogunquit. The town’s white sand beach, with the backdrop of rugged coastal cliffs is breathtaking.

Maine's most beautiful beach.

Maine’s most beautiful beach.

Continue reading

A Cut Above-Bowdoinham (bonus material)

A week ago Saturday, I drove to Bowdoinham to gather information about the town for today’s Explore feature in the Sun-Journal’s b-section. Things went much better than I anticipated.

It’s not as if I thought that Bowdoinham wouldn’t offer up interesting things to write about. No, last Saturday, I was in a pissy (see definition #2) mood, running on fumes after a long week. Actually, when I walked out the door committed to spending a few hours dredging up details for my story, I was dreading leaving the warmth of the wood stove and going out into the bleak, dreary November cold. I also know that this type of writing about local communities demands (if done well) putting boots on the ground in order to connect with the sense of the place.

This is my seventh Explore feature. The town of Wilton was my first one back in May. Seven is a number that comes up in my writing and in my latest book of essays—it is the “perfect number,” after all. Continue reading

Lobster Roll Season Opens

I was pleased to hear about Sherman’s Books & Stationery opening a new store in Portland. I learned about it when I emailed an old friend and colleague from my workforce development days. His son, Josh Christie, happens to be manager of the new Sherman’s. They held their grand opening on Saturday. I covered it for the Bangor Daily News. Christie is also the author of one of the best books about Maine beers, Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland.

Grand opening at Sherman's on Exchange Street.

Grand opening at Sherman’s on Exchange Street.

The news about the Sherman’s opening came via my own network. I tapped it and it’s provided opportunities for me as a writer. I continue casting my freelance net widely, and I’ve been landing writing assignments more frequently. Yesterday, my news story about the grand opening appeared in the BDN. I wrote a prior story about bookstores across the state. I have another article in the works about Portland being Maine’s literary hub. Continue reading

Going West

I’ll be headed west again today, driving into Maine’s western mountains. It’s a beautiful drive, and the snow-capped mountains of the region always seem to be beckoning me toward them.

The drive, usually up Route 4, is a long one and I like to stop off in Farmington because that’s about half way for me. Farmington is the big town in Franklin County and as such, has the most of almost everything related to commerce. Continue reading

The Other Maine

Mountains don't care about words.

Mountains don’t care about words.

Issues often get framed in a narrow manner. Apparently it’s easier that way. Words and simple solutions to complex problems are becoming our undoing.

The United States. Drugs. Education. There are other ways to slice the pie.

The State of Maine, and the state of Maine. Context and geography is everything, especially how place affects the people living there. Continue reading

Driving Down East

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Friday night, we were headed north on Route 1, our destination Down East and Machias. Miss Mary said she wanted to spend the weekend walking beaches she remembered from days past, gathering rocks, and spending a few days away. I love an impromptu road trip and being mobile as much as anyone, so I needed little persuasion when it was mentioned two weeks ago. Continue reading

Yellow submarines, Moxie, and Lobster Rolls

Saturday I headed down the coast. My traveling companion and better half, Miss Mary, was prepping for her third Tri for a Cure on Sunday. I was on my own.

I enjoy driving down coastal U.S. Route 1 towards places like Thomaston, Rockland, and even Camden, my final destination. Given that it was mid-July, and tourist season, I thought the traffic would be heavier than it was. I wasn’t complaining. Continue reading