Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DOWNEAST ARTS: FINE, FOLK AND INDUSTRIAL

Eastport, ME
Schoodic Sculpture Tour
While we are visiting the Bartlett Winery, Kathe Bartlett tells us about the Schoodic Sculpture Symposium. We’ve seen some of the huge granite sculptures during our travels in eastern Maine so we head over to the Symposium. 

The Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium is a biennial cultural event that brings artists, communities and visitors together to create a public sculpture collection in eastern Maine.  To date they have completed 27 installations from Bangor to Eastport and created the Schoodic Sculpture Tour.  This year is the fifth symposium and possibly the last, unless they can expand the geography of the tour to include other areas of Maine.  Seven sculptors from Maine and around the world are chosen from a field of 190+ applicants.  They come together for six weeks during the northeast summer to saw, chop, chisel, grind and polish massive blocks of granite.  We are awestruck by the scale and complexity of these monuments and the men and women manipulating this medium.  This open-air studio is totally accessible; we can walk around and through the work area and talk to the artists as they work. It’s noisy, dusty, muddy and thoroughly fascinating.


From Left to Right – Top to Bottom:  Bertha Shortis (Switzerland), Matthew Foster (Maine), Kyoung Uk Min (South Korea), Miles Chapin (Maine), Valerian Jikia (Republic of Georgia), Robert Leverich (Washington), Roy Patterson (Maine)

Every time we head east along Highway 1, we pass a huge steel building with CHAINSAW SAWYER ARTIST LIVE SHOW in bold red print and a huge bald eagle grasping two chainsaws in it’s talons painted on the side.  There is also a handmade sign with a list of chainsaw awe inspiring accomplishments.  Try as we might, we can no longer resist the lure of this roadside attraction.  Every evening at 7, for the mere cost of ten dollars per adult Ray Murphy puts on his chainsaw-sawing extravaganza.

We arrive a little before seven and we are the only ones here besides Ray and his assistant.  Ray greets us with a warm handshake and a hug.  He tells us a bit about his history; starting at the age of ten, he picked up his dad’s chainsaw and cut his name into a piece of wood and chainsaw art was invented.  As a teenager, he tried to enter one of his 100% cut by a chainsaw pieces in a carving contest and was rejected because the piece was too crude and the chainsaw was not an appropriate carving tool.  So Ray rejected the term carver and calls himself a Chainsaw Sawyer Artist TM, one who creates art only with a chainsaw. He shows us some of his commissioned work.  His specialties are eagles. President Reagan had one of Ray’s eagles in the white house during his term.  His feats are listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not and he was a topic in the 1984 version of Trivial Pursuit.  After checking out the gift shop we all head over to the theatre for the show.

The theatre seats 400 but Ray freely admits that he has never had anywhere near that many people to one of his shows. Even though there are only two of us, Ray seems excited to get on with the show.  We take our seats in the front row and Ray enters the sawing booth.  It’s a sound proof, ventilated room with a bulletproof glass front and a camera inside that sends video to a wide screen mounted above the room. 

The lights house lights dim and the assistant reads about Ray’s history.  Ray comes out and sits with us in the audience; he makes a few adjustments to the sound and then enters the booth.  He starts the saw (we can’t hear or smell it) and proceeds to attack a piece of wood. In a matter of minutes he has created a table, two chairs, a hamburger (top and bottom bun and the patty) a pile of fries and a squirrel. Then he proceeds to saw 50 NUMBERS and THE ALPHABET on a Popsicle stick, my name on a number 2 pencil, Chris’ name on a wooden belt buckle, (while he’s wearing it,) the numbers 1 to 14 on a toothpick and a collection of animals and shape - some sawn with two chainsaws at the same time.  All of the art is given away to the audience (with the exception of the toothpick) and we come out with the squirrel, Popsicle stick, pencil, personalized belt buckle and a crescent moon carving.  (Could have had all of it but that just seems greedy and we have no space for it.)  The show is well worth the price of admission.  Ray is a true entertainer… Just don’t call him a carver.



A fellow visitor to the Schoodic Symposium mentioned that he was headed over to Lunaform to pick up a couple of pots.  A few days later we notice a sign on Hwy 1 – “Lunaform first left after the bridge.”  So we take that first left and follow the signs into the forest to a Japanese Style building.  It’s all very Zen with large urns and planters set artistically around the grounds.  At the studio we are greeted by one of the workers who invites us in, and answers our questions about what they produce and how they do it and hands us a couple of catalogues. (Silly us… we thought it was a pottery studio…) 

Lunaform LLC creates hand-turned, dry-packed concrete garden urns, planters, pots and more ranging from colossal 1,500-pound planters to their small works – 210-pound knee high “Luna” urns, the company’s namesake piece.  Their technique creates seamless works of concrete that are steel reinforced.  All of the pieces are beautifully designed and they are the only ones in the country doing it.  

When we arrive they are in the process of unmolding pieces that cured over the weekend.  Next we are shown the curing room and the paint studio.  The colorist explains her processes and shows us some of the finishes and explains the processes to achieve them.  Then we are encouraged to wander around the buildings to see the wide variety of pieces they produce. During these wanderings we meet one of the owners, Dan.  He shows us an Asian inspired LED light fixture that they are working on. 


Pulling into an RV park and setting out a couple of 1,500 lb. urns around Dimples, instead of some neon whirligigs or plastic pink flamingos… that would be sweet… now… if they only made them in Styrofoam…


Monday, September 8, 2014

BAR HARBOR REDUX PT 2...

BAR HARBOR REDUX PT 2…

Lobster Man of Maine
Our goal now is to run a couple of tanks of clean fuel through Dave to clean out the emissions control systems.  So we do a little research and get advice from some folks and start exploring the area away from Desert Island.  We have also started reading the “The Lobster Gangs of Maine” (1988) by James M. Archeson, an anthropological study of the lobster culture, lifestyle and economy here. 

Our first day out to burn fuel, we head east for Beals Island, an authentic lobster fishing village and alleged source of a great crab roll.  Halfway there the DEF error and check engine lights go back on. (Arghh!) So we turn around and head back to the GMC dealer where they hook Dave up to the diagnostics machine.  There may be lights but there are no error codes…  so now we drive until the lights go off.  

Lobster Pound
It’s back on the road… Crossing the bridge from the fishing village of Jonesport we arrive on Beals Island and are transported to a different time and space.  This is not a gentrified tourist destination; it’s the land of the hard working Downeast lobstermen and women. There are fishing boats in the harbor, more boats on blocks in various stages of repair, wood fences enclose a couple of lobster pounds on either side of the short pier, lobster pots, hundreds if not thousands stacked on the docks and along the shore and the smell of bait, oil, gas, diesel and the sea.

We keep our eyes peeled for the crab rolls… AHHA… We spot the hand painted sign:  Bayview Takeout, Wicked Good Food!!!”   It’s a low, tan with green trim, wood building with a narrow deck, set back behind a gravel parking lot with a couple of picnic tables off to the side. There is a line at the window and only a few available parking spots.  They have a pretty extensive menu with burgers, hotdogs, chicken, and every flavor of seafood rolls.  The prices seem reasonable.    Considering the variety of dishes being ordered by the folks at the front of the line, they must do everything pretty good.  Once we get to the window we order a couple of crab rolls one with onion rings and one with their sweet potato fries.  Since we opt to dine here, we are instructed to take a seat at the picnic tables and our order will be delivered shortly. (Folks ordering to go, get their food delivered to their cars.) 
Crab Roll & Sweet Potato Fries

Our meals arrive and there must be over a half pound of crab on each roll.  The buns are soft with crisp buttery toasted sides.  The lightly seasoned fresh crab is delicate and sweet. The thinly sliced onio  Probably some of the best sweet potato fries ever!  Locals call this place “Frank’s” after the owner. We call it WICKED GOOD FOOD after the sign. 
n rings are sweet and crisp and the sweet potato fries are crunchy without, soft within and seasoned to perfection.
Bayview Takeout on Urbanspoon




A wild blue world
On our way back we stop at the huge blue dome at the corner of Highway 1 and 187.  This is Wild Blueberry World.  This is the place to get everything blueberry.  We watch a short video about the plants and harvesting and then we pick up a wild blueberry spread (better than a jam or jelly) and an assortment of baked goods: scones, muffins and a killer blueberry pie.  We have to wait a bit for the farmer to bring in the fresh berries that are being harvested. Once he arrives we add a couple of pints to our purchases and head back to Bar Harbor. 


Award Winning Spirits
The next day we head out past Schoodic to the Bartlett Spirits of Maine Distillery and winery.  We arrive, with the opinion that the only thing worth tasting is their award winning (Gold medal at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition) Rusticator Rum.  However, Kathe Bartlett describes some of their pear and blueberry wines as extremely dry and less fruit forward that some of their grape cousins.  We’re skeptical, (ok REALLY skeptical!) We choose six vintages from the dry end of the tasting menu.  The pear wines are refreshing, light and crisp with a slight pear finish.  The blueberry wines are full bodied and robust. Nothing like the fruity desert wines we’ve tasted elsewhere. Bob and Kathe Bartlett prove that a good fruit wine is not an oxymoron.  Next we try the spirits. The crystal clear double gold medal Pear-Eau-de-vie brandy fills the senses with perfect pear. The Apple American brandy is smooth and warming.  But it’s the Rum we come for and it’s the organic molasses based Rusticator Rum we take home. This is a smooth sipping rum with robust vanilla, toffee and cigar smoke aromas that fade to traces of lime and banana. The taste is a salted vanilla and brown sugar with a long sweet finish.  Six bottles come home with us, two pear and two blueberry wines and two bottles of Rusticator Rum.

Seafood and Recycling


Since this is crab season we stop at Tibbitts Seafood, shack with the hand written sign, the chainsaw art and peeling paint outside, a few coolers inside and a crusty all business proprietress.  Here you can pick up a variety of fresh seafood and recycle your empty bottles and cans. We get a couple of pints of crabmeat and enjoy a variety of crab dishes over the next few days.


Penobscot Narrows Bridge


More driving… we head west… and see Fort Knox
(Not the one with all the gold, we’re not that far west… duh…)

The entrance fee to the Fort Knox State Park covers exploration of the fort and a minimal extra fee allows access to the observation tower of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.  First we head to the tallest public bridge observatory in the world.  (Why have we never heard of this???)

The elevator shoots up and in just over a minute we are two floors below the 420’ observation deck.  From the deck we have views of the entire surrounding area. 



Inside Ft. Knox
After, we head over to the fort. This granite fort was never fully completed, never saw battle and was eventually declared excess federal government property and sold to the state of Maine. There is a visitor center with a sign indicating that tours are available. We ask the bored docent behind the desk and he points to an equally unenthusiastic docent seated by the door talking to a couple of visitors who are also seated.  We approach & try to make eye contact.  The docent continues to talk and answer questions and never looks at us, even though we are standing directly behind the two other visitors.  We wait patiently and after a bit figure that a) we forgot to take off our invisibility cloaks, b) are being ignored or c) the docent sitting & talking IS the tour.  So we head out and have a great time exploring the fort on our own.  There are lots of tunnels and fun photo ops and the fort is in remarkably good shape with very few restricted areas. 

Ft. Knox
Afterwards we drive across the bridge over to Bucksport to view the fort from across the river and grab a bite at the Harbor View Grille. We get a great table on the deck with unobstructed views of the river and the fort.  One order of the daily special: a pair of Red Hot Dogs stuffed with blue cheese and topped with grilled onions and for a dollar extra a side of Poutine (French fries with gravy and cheese curds.) OK the red dogs are visually weird, but they taste like a regular albeit a good dog. Guess there’s no relationship between color and taste.  The word poutine is French Acadian slang for “mushy mess.”  It’s a simple dish of French fries sprinkled with cheese curds and then drizzled with gravy, the end result is an outstanding junk food taste sensation… so decadent it should be illegal!  Second order is the Crabby Cake, a crab cake burger on a toasted bun with tomato, lettuce, and a well-balanced chipotle aioli with a side of onion rings.  The Crab cake is fresh and light without a lot of filler and slightly crisp around the edges.  The chipotle aioli lends the right amount of zest. Rings are crisp and not greasy.  Service is good, food is good, and today is good!
Harbor View Grille on Urbanspoon

Eagle Lake
After all this driving around we feel like we need to do some hiking and biking.  We head into Acadia and hike along the carriage road from the visitor center to Eagle Lake.  Then we bike along the same road, it’s pretty much all up hill. Chris is enjoying, me not so much… I stop at the beaver pond to explore and take more photos while Chris continues on to Eagle Lake. When he returns we coast back down to the visitor center.  After a rain day of doing nothing, It’s back to the park.  I drop Chris off at the visitor center with his bike and he rides to Jordon Pond. I drive up to Jordan Pond and hike the 3.6-mile perimeter of the pond. 

Chris arrives just as I’m finishing the loop and we partake in a meal at the Jordan Pond House.  A cup of seafood chowder with a couple of their famous pop overs and a BLTT (A nothing special, something you can probably get in any supermarket deli across the nation, Bacon Lettuce Tomato and Turkey Sandwich.) The food is overpriced for the quality and the popovers overrated. (In our opinion a case where the legend and ambiance overly influences the culinary perceptions, Ouch!)
Jordan Pond House Restaurant on Urbanspoon

But wait… there’s more… next the Downeast arts… fine, folk and industrial…


Thursday, September 4, 2014

BAR HARBOR REDUX PT 1 …

Bar Harbor viewed from
Bar Island
So it’s back to Bar Harbor where we hope that Dave is: a) fixed and has no further problems with the DEF system (least likely scenario) or b) throws another error code and hopefully the techs at Darling GMC in Ellsworth can get to the bottom of what ails him.  We make it from Lubec to the Bar Harbor campground with no problems.  After we get checked in we head across the highway to the Bar Harbor Lobster Pound.  Last time we had two of their lobster dinners but this time we opt for their crab cake with a side of fries and fried whole clams & fries.  The crab cake was amazing all crab with hardly any fillers– one of the best ever! However, the clams left a bit to be desired…

Bass Harbor Head Light
The next morning we head into Acadia NP to pick up a current car pass then head over to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.  This is the only lighthouse on Desert Island.  There are two paths leading to the sea from the parking lot.  One paved that takes us to the base of the lighthouse, the other winds through the woods to the rocky cliffs on the other side of the lighthouse.  Both end with spectacular views of the harbor and the sea.  The keeper’s house here is the current residence for the commander of the local Coast Guard Unit.

Brewery where they
Save The Ales
On the way back we stop at the Atlantic BrewingCompany.   Following the signs we turn into the driveway next to a typical New England white clapboard house and are assaulted by the aroma of BBQ… (WTF this is lobsta country???)  It feels like we’re at a family get together in grandma’s back yard… (If gramps was a microbrewer and granny was a BBQ queen that is…) This place is a twofer… Atlantic Brewery and Mainely Meat BBQ. 

We sign up for a brewery tour that will start in about 45 min… so… while we’re waiting for our tour to start we order up a couple of pints and a half rack of ribs. The ribs are dry rubbed and super smoky… falling off the bone tender and juicy.  There are two BBQ sauces in squirt bottles on the table, one sweet and one hot and tangy.  We discover that a combination of the two is perfect for our taste buds.  

After our snack we do the brewery tour.  It’s informational and finishes with a tasting of Atlantic and Bar Harbor Brews. (Atlantic bought out Bar Harbor Brewery a few years back when the Bar Harbor folks retired and continue to produce the BHB ales in addition to their products.)  Since we’re dark ales and stouts drinkers this gives us a nice selection of brews for out taste.  Now we know that this can be our one stop shopping for Atlantic and Bar Harbor Brews while we’re here… YEA! 

A few days later we return to buy more beer and have the Mainely Meat Sampler plate, a super deal… Ribs, chicken, sausage and pulled pork with corn bread, Cole slaw, potato salad and beans… one order is plenty for two (unless you are a really big eater or want to take home leftovers.)  Maine may not be the BBQ capital of the world… we’ll let Texas, Kansas and North Carolina duke that out… but Mainely Meats dishes up some pretty fine Q, and a nice antidote for Lobster overload!
Mainely Meat Barbeque on Urbanspoon

So far Dave is acting fine, but we are not fully confident… we need more miles and a re-gen cycle… so we head over to the Petit MananWildlife Refuge some 47 miles east to do some hiking.   On the way Dave does a re-gen… cross our fingers and hope for the best.  It’s a beautiful day we start the Hollingsworth trail through a field of ferns and wild flowers and continue through a forest of jack pines and onto wooden walkways over wetland vegetation back through forest to a sandy beach.  We scramble along the rocky coast for a bit and then rejoin the trail back through forest and over wetlands and loop back to the parking area.  A great hike with lots of photo ops… PERFECT!  Once we get back onto highway one Dave throws an error code… SHIT… SHIT… SHIT!

The next morning we call the dealer and make arrangements for Dave to go in the next day.  OK… for today we do stuff geographically closer….

Blue Lobster
The Mount Desert Oceanarium is just down the road.  This attraction is different from other aquariums or museums in that they don’t have any self guided tours.  The basic price of admission includes three modules: Lobster trapping, a touch pool of local sea life and a lobster hatchery.   A fourth module, a docent led hike of the sea marsh can be added for a nominal fee.  Since we are of the “WTF GO FOR IT” mindset we do all four. 



Lobster mama with eggs
The Lobster trapping lecture is intriguing with a real clear explanation of the physical, social, economic and political aspects of this career.  The touch pool is unique.  The docent pulls creatures from the tank, talks about them and allows visitors to touch or hold… this actually is better for the animals… touch tanks where kids reach into the water and indiscriminately touch or pick up is really not a great model for the animals.  There are also a few aquarium tanks with local sea life including some rare blue lobsters.  The Lobster hatchery is absolutely fascinating.  Females loaded with fertilized eggs are caught in the wild in lobster pots and delivered to the hatchery where they are held until the eggs hatch.  The hatchlings are raised first in aerated tanks and then individual lobster condos until they are released into the sea.  This increases the number of juveniles in the area and hopefully the end harvest of legal lobster. 

While we have been hanging out on the coast of Maine we have been curious about the relationship between the lobsters, their food supply and the catchers.  YouTube has a number of videos showing lobsters going in and out of traps.  So it’s basically: drop a pot and hope that when you pull it up, there is a lobster in it. Ironically the Lobster traps are the major food source for the lobsters as they move toward the coast and warmer waters in the summer months.  (Lobster ranching? Lobster farming? What shall we call it?)  Finally, the hike/tour of the marsh is interesting, informative, dot connecting and worth the extra few coins.

Cairn smasher
Cairns on Bar Island 
One of the benefits of staying here is the free shuttle.  After checking the tide charts, we take the bus into town and walk to the land bridge that connects Bar Island to the mainland during lowtide.  A truck on the bar is renting kayaks.  Once we get to the Island, we watch the National Park Ranger smashing pseudo cairns that folks have build along the shore… ok we get it… leave no trace… but WTF this just seems mean!  OK what ever… We hike up to the summit of Bar Island, great views of the harbor on the way back down we spot a yearling deer buck and a doe in a meadow. Like most National Park Wild Life they have no fear of humans.  They lift their heads, look at us and go back to eating.  Once we get back to the sand bar, the sun is setting and the kayakers are heading back to the truck.  Soon the tide will be in and it will be another six hours before folks can walk to the island.

Kayaks at Sunset
Lobstapalooza at the
Cottage St. Pub
Back in Bar Harbor we head up to Cottage St and swing by the Cottage St. Bakery for some pastries for tomorrow’s breakfast and then head to the Cottage St Pub.  The place is packed but the window seats have just been vacated, so we grab these and order our first round.  Folks come and go and we chat with most of them.  One group arrives sporting lobster hats. It’s an annual family reunion. They live all over the U.S. and they meet in different locations each year. The 78 year-old matriarch is celebrating along with them. (She had open-heart surgery 6 weeks ago and had been worried that she wouldn’t be able to make it.)  We join in with their celebration.  Suddenly it’s 10:15 and the last shuttle bus leaves at 10:30.  So we quickly pay or tab and dash to the bus stop where our Island Explorer designated driver is ready to take us home.


Dave goes back into the shop.  All the diagnostics can’t seem to pinpoint his ailment.  A possible culprit may be bad fuel. So to rule this out they clear the error message and instruct us to get a fresh tank of fuel once we’re down to a quarter tank or so and see if the error comes back.   Looks like we’ll be here for a bit and explore some of the outlying towns and attractions…