March 2014 Newsletter
Greetings from the Harraseeket Inn! March is known here in Maine as mud month, but if this weather keeps up, March of 2014 could become known as the beginning of the next ice age. When I started writing this newsletter, Maine was getting walloped by yet another good old fashioned snow storm. Two feet of snow was predicted in many parts of the state, thousands were without power and snow shovels were once again being pressed into service. We survived that storm and another one is roaring in this week. The Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Race in Fort Kent went off without a hitch this year, great snow conditions, great trail and perfect weather. Spectators were bundled up in the sub zero temps but the sled dogs like it cold. We had a good time, tho Digit ran Lilleth right off her feet and I had to carry her for about five miles, during which time she happily and sneakily ate about two pounds of hot dogs I'd packed for dog snacks. The race was a great way to end the season, but the winter season doesn't seem to want to end. March belongs to both winter and spring, and the struggle between the two seasons can be fierce, but the good news is, spring always wins in the end.
This isn't the worst winter Maine's ever suffered through, not by far, and in fact, we're pretty lucky. In the 1800's there were no such things as weather satellites, the Weather Channel or emergency radio broadcasting. Weather was forecast by studying the skies. "Mares tails and mackerel scales make tall ships carry low sails. Red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky at morning, sailors take warning." There are many more old (and accurate) sayings, but there was little advance warning of advancing hurricanes or blizzards. The winter of 1856 was legendary for its storms, and those storms created a Maine legend known as Abby (Abbie) Burgess, who at the time was a sixteen year old girl living with her mother and father and three younger sisters on Matinicus Rock twenty six miles off of Rockland, Maine. Her father was the lighthouse keeper, but in order to make ends meet he spent much of his time fishing, leaving a good portion of the tending of the Rock's two lights (and fourteen oil lamps) to his oldest daughter. That winter the weather was so bad the government couldn't get its ship to resupply the lighthouse. The family was running out of food and oil for the lamps. Her father, in desperation, headed for the mainland in his fishing boat for the much needed supplies. He didn't figure to be gone more than a day or so, but during his absence a fresh wave of fierce winter storms blew in and lasted a full month, making it impossible for him to return to the Rock. The shipping lane off Matinicus Rock was very busy in those days and during foul weather the two lights were critical to sailors. They must be kept lit. The waves grew larger and swamped the house. Abby moved her mother and sisters into the taller of the two lighthouse towers. She kept the wicks trimmed and the fourteen lamps burning night and day and tended her three younger sisters and ailing mother. In an excerpt from a letter she wrote a friend, Abby recounted the challenges: "As the tide rose, the sea made a complete breach over the rock, washing every movable thing away, and of the old dwelling not one stone was left upon another. ... As the tide came, the sea rose higher and higher till the only endurable placed were the light towers. If they stood, we were saved, otherwise our fate was only too certain. But for some reason, I know not why, I had no misgivings, and went on my work as usual. For four weeks, owing to rough weather, no landing could be effected on the rock. During this time we were without assistance of any male member of our family. Though at times greatly exhausted by my labors, not once did the lights fail. I was able to perform all my accustomed duties as well as my father's."
"You know the hens were our only companions. Becoming convinced, as the gale increased, that unless they were brought into the house they would be lost... so seizing a basket, I ran out a few yards after the rollers had passed and the sea fell off a little, with the water knee deep, to the coop, and rescued all but one. It was the work of a moment, and I was back in the house with the door fastened, but none too quick, for at that instant my little sister, standing at the window, exclaimed, 'Oh, look there! The worst sea is coming!' That wave destroyed the old dwelling and swept the rock."
Because of her efforts, many lives were saved, along with the coveted flock of chickens. After that storm, one might think Abby would wish for a life far away from the sea, but she loved it. In 1861, for political reasons, her father Samuel lost his job at the lighthouse and a heart broken Abby, reluctant to leave, asked to stay and train the new lighthouse keeper. Romance was in the cards and she soon fell in love with the Grant's youngest son Isaac. They later married and lived on the Rock for another fourteen years. Isaac and Abby had four children on Matinicus Rock. After twenty-two years, they moved to Isaac's new position as lighthouse keeper of Whitehead Light Station, near the Town of St. George. Before she died at age 53 Abbie wrote, "Those old lamps - as they were when my father lived on Matinicus Rock - are so thoroughly impressed in my memory that even now I often dream of them. There were fourteen lamps and fourteen reflectors. When I dream of them it always seems as though I have been away a long while and I'm trying to get back in time to light lamps before sunset. ... I wonder if the care of the lighthouse will follow my soul after it has led this worn out body. If I ever have a gravestone I would like it to be in the form of a lighthouse."
Abby got her wish. She is buried at Forest Hill Cemetary, in South Thomaston, Maine.
March is maple sugaring month! My youngest brother Nathaniel, who lives in Vassalboro (and who didn't win the New England Runner Sled Championships this February but had a rousing good time), has already tapped eight of his maple trees. He says he got his taps in early this year because the baby he and Jessica are expecting was due on March 10th. He figures once the baby comes there'll be little time for maple sugaring chores and he's probably right. They went to the hospital last night and the baby is in the process of being born on Saint Patrick's Day. Spring is all about babies and March is a month for nest building. Ravens are busy rebuilding their old nests or creating new ones and soon the female will be incubating four or five speckled blue-green eggs. Her mate will feed her while she's on the nest, and once the eggs have hatched, both parents will get to work feeding their very vocal young. Skunks are on the prowl as romance rules their world. Those that don't get run over in search of a mate on the other side of the road will be raising their skunklets in another two months. Moose will be shedding their thick winter coats toward the end of the month and starting to look rather mangy, and on April 1st at precisely 12 a.m. the fur of both short and long-tailed weasels will change from winter white to spring brown. (And if you didn't catch that early April Fools joke, shame on you!)
In the Maine news this past week, four black bears were discovered sleeping in the base of a hollow tree in a back yard in Orono not a stone's throw from a busy road and a house. A mama bear and her three yearlings were cuddled together, snoring away, when someone who was target practicing with his bow lost an arrow and began rummaging around for it at the base of the tree, which happened to be directly behind his target. He happened to spot a lot of black hair inside the opening at the base of the tree and wisely decided he didn't need his lost arrow that badly. The Maine IF&W crew was summonsed, and they tranquilized all four Orono Black Bears and ID'd them with ear tags and lip tatoos before stuffing them back into the hollow tree to finish out their long winters nap. More on that story, and some pretty incredible pictures and video from the Bangor Daily News.
March is the month when many of us start our seeds; tomatoes and peppers and onions and leeks, in between shoveling snow and shoveling more snow and pitching wood into the wood stove and wondering if spring will ever come. Seed catalogs are the saving grace of many a Mainer when cabin fever strikes but there are other cures, as well. Some head south to the tropics to soak up some sun on a white sand beach. Other more hardy souls head to Freeport (Maine, not Bahamas) to bask in our indoor heated swimming pool and feast on the bounty of fresh Maine seafood and naturally and organically raised provender from our local farmers. Our talented chefs are standing by at your beck and call to prepare your sumptious meals. Cuddle fireside inside the inn, or make new friends around our outdoor firepit. We have some very special packages going on right now. How about our "Freeport Getaway"? You'd be hard pressed to find a better value anywhere. Call our front desk staff at 1-800-342-6423 for details on the Freeport Getaway or check out our other packages on our website.
*March is Double Voucher Month; Redeem your trivia vouchers for double their value on lodging (packages excluded)
*Maine Maple Sunday: March 23 How sweet it is! Come visit a sugar shack and stock up on real maple syrup.
*March 28, 2014 --- Wescustago Youth Chorale is holding a Benefit Dance at the Harraseeket Inn with the Time Pilots, a locally renowned dance band who are known for playing the best dance hits past and present. Come join us from 7-10 PM for the dance party and some great local raffles, including "Beer for a Year" donated by Shipyard Breweries, two tickets to Bobby McFarrin at Merrill Auditorium on April 13 donated by Portland Ovations, a photography package, gift cards to local businesses, and much more. WYC thanks Harraseeket Inn for supporting our mission of music education and choral performance. WYC is a 501©3 organization based in Freeport celebrating our 16th year of concerts and community outreach. Currently WYC is comprised of 80 auditioned singers ages 8 to 18 from eleven area towns. Tickets are $15 each and may be purchased from any WYC member, or by calling Leigh Palmer at 846-0705, or through EventBrite.com
*Easter Sunday is April 20th. Join us for our Easter Grand Buffet, call 1-800-342-6423 for reservations.
*"Hear ye, hear ye! The Down East Magazine 2014 Readers Choice polls are open! Thank you for helping us be named Best of Maine 2013, and please take the time to vote for us today!" http://www.downeast.com/readerschoice2014
And finally, our monthly trivia question. Last month's trivia asked "Who was the 2013 winner of the New England Runner Sled Championships?" and the answer was Brian Trahan. This month's trivia has a current "Hollywood" lighthouse theme. What is the name and location of the Maine lighthouse where a proposed film project involving the legend of Abby Burgess may have run aground over a blaring fog horn and Coast Guard regulations? All correct answers win a voucher worth $5. toward food or lodging on your next visit, and from the correct answers a grand prize winner will be drawn who will recieve a gift certificate for dinner for two in our Maine Harvest Dining Room or Broad Arrow Tavern. You may redeem up to 12 vouchers ($60.) at one time, and you must respond to the trivia before the next newsletter (with the answer in it!) goes out.
Good luck, happy St. Patrick's Day and we hope to see you this spring!
The Gray family