View of Portland from Peaks Island

It’s been twelve years, but I’ve never gotten tired of admiring the view of Portland from Peaks Island. Night or day, it’s amazing.

Helloween

There’s Halloween–and then there’s Helloween.

For those of you who’ve never been to Halloween on Peaks Island–the thing you need to know is that the must-visit house is the home of Scott and Nancy Nash. Every year Scott, Nancy, and an army of their friends apply a combination of artistic talent and tongue-in-cheek humor–to turn the Nash front yard into a Halloween theme experience.

This year, the theme was Helloween.

B. Ellze Bub, Senior Acquisitions Officer met me at the street and handed me his business card. “Would you like to set up an appointment?” he asked.

Next, I met with Lucifer, who enticed me to sign some sort of contract.

I danced with demons.

Played a game of Infernal Ring Toss.

Avoided the glowing head.

And admired the various illuminated props.

Before I left, I ate two red hot dogs.  And by red, I mean two of the neon-almost-pink red hot dogs we have here in Maine. (If you think I’m exaggerating about the color, click here for third party validation: http://erincooks.com/red-hot-dogs/ ) Evidentially that’s what they eat in hell.

 

 

Small Island, Big Halloween

Halloween is big on Peaks Island. BIG. So big it’s going to take me two posts to share.

Today, I’m posting photos of costumes and decorations. Thursday, it’s all about the special Hell-oween celebration created by Scott and Nancy Nash and friends.

Makes you want to jump on the ferry and come on out, doesn’t it?

 

The Sacred & Profane

The best way I can think of to describe The Sacred & Profane, an annual art experience held on Peaks Island, is this: If the Pompidou Center (museum of modern art in Paris) were to set up an exhibition on Peaks Island, this is what it would be like.

It started at the ferry landing off of the 2:45 p.m. boat where we were greeted by a devil with a super-sized pitchfork wearing a yellow rain slicker. Attendees grouped together and walked up Welch Street and then up Brackett Street toward the center of the island. A handful wore costumes and played the role of ghoul or forest nymph. Most wore boots and jeans and fleeces—and carried backpacks. The outdoorsy hippie type.

A few of the characters were part of the show. A guy dressed like an antique aviator/photographer posed with his homemade camera.

A young guy in military attire stood statue-still and shoeless in a puddle. His image and the fall foliage reflected verbatim in the still water to create an effect as silencing and emotional as any national monument.

We lined up at the battery entrance and waited our turn to enter. During World War II, Battery Steele was a munitions bunker with two large guns pointed out at the Atlantic. Now it is owned by the Peaks Island Land Preserve. By day it is a tourist attraction. On summer nights it serves as teen party central. And once a year—on a Saturday afternoon right around the Harvest Moon, Battery Steele is transformed into The Sacred and Profane.

Ron and I hung back and waited our turn to enter—which required we walk the plank over six-inches of water. A family of beavers, which settled in this part of the island about five years ago, has caused a dramatic shift in the water table. Our crossing over the muddy puddle felt oddly symbolic—like a cross over the River Styx.

Inside, the bunker glowed. Votive candles lined its two-football field length. Ron and I squinted our way through the dank, explored from room to room. We viewed flickering neon, glowing lanterns, and psychedelic projections. The air felt cool and smelled like a brush fire raging through a cannabis farm. We heard poetry and rants.

Putting this event together was no easy feat. Participants included fine artists, performance artists, installation artists, sculptors, found object artists and musicians. There was music and food. Temporary wires were run to power projections and amplify sound.

But what’s most interesting to me was that there was no printed program, no one stood up to take a bow. This is because when S&P was conceived fourteen-or-so years ago, the idea was that the event should stand as a whole. Neither the event planners nor the individual artists would be called out in any way.

And then there is the issue of growth. The bunker can only accommodate so many people—and S&P attracts to capacity as is.  If word got out—there would be too many people to handle. So information about S&P is held close as Ryan Seacrest holds the American Idol votes tabulation prior to the live broadcast. There is no publicity, no web site, no sponsors. If you want to find out the date, you have to ask around.

I’m lucky because while I don’t know anyone directly, I do know a couple of people who know some people…

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Cycled

I found my bike almost immediately when I moved to Peaks Island. Or rather, it found me. T, who was taking care of our lawn, heard me talking about needing a bike. So he brought me one.

“One of my other clients asked me to take this to the dump, so I asked them if it was alright if I gave it to you,” he said. I guess that makes it a rescue bike.

That was over ten years ago. An internet search revealed that my beloved Raleigh is a 1972 or ’73 model. All it needs to keep going is a little maintenance–a biennial trip to Brad’s Recycled Bike Shop (conveniently located two blocks away).

Every few years, some new hybrid bike attempts to seduce me. It dangles its shiny, flawless coat of paint and waves its sturdy hybrid wheels.

I can’t deny that I’ve been tempted, but so far, I’ve been able to resist. One deterrent is that getting a new bike would require a trip to town and then purchase of a bike ticket to transport the new bike over on the ferry. All that seems like too much trouble, considering the only thing I use the bike for is to cycle the four-mile perimeter of the island.

Besides, my bike is kinda like me–even if I am a decade older. We’re both getting a little rusty and our gears stick. Our complexions are flawed and we are definitely showing our age. But still, what we lack in beauty and shine, we make up for in action. We both still function just fine, thank you. At least for the time being.

Let’s just hope it stays that way.

Cart Pride

“Excuse me…” A woman stopped me on Commercial Street in Portland. I was on my way from the garage on Pearl Street to the ferry pushing a full wire granny-cart of groceries.

“Where did you get…”

Vroom. A car sped by. I didn’t hear the end of the woman’s statement but she seemed to be interested in something I was wearing. I felt myself flush just a little. She was attractive, maybe 28 years old, wearing a tasteful amount of makeup. With her streamlined black suit paired with tasteful pumps and pristine leather handbag–she appeared to be too well dressed to be from Maine. I suspected she had just moved or was visiting on business.

I felt flattered, special. Out of all of the people walking by the Custom House, this put-together woman had stopped me. I stood just a little taller and smiled. Perhaps she’d noticed that I was wearing a brand new pair of brown leather Dansko clogs. Or maybe it was my beige L.L. Bean fleece jacket. Yes, I thought proudly. I do embody the Maine spirit. She probably wants to know where I shop for my clothes.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Where did you get…”

I tried to anticipate what the woman was going to say. Would it be my jeans she liked or my lobster print socks? Maybe my boat-striped tote bag…

“Your cart,” she said.

My cart? I deflated like a punctured balloon.

Could this really be true? Was my utility cart my best feature?

When your car is on the mainland and your home is on Peaks Island, your utility cart becomes a key accessory. Choosing that cart is entirely a matter of personal preference, much like selecting what model car to drive. And while ultimately there is no right or wrong choice, cart selection is no different than anything else that islanders weigh in on. They feel with certainty that whatever vehicle they have selected is the best choice possible–and that everyone else’s selections are, well, just wrong.

Cart users tend to gravitate toward the style they think fits best with the way they intend to use their vehicle. And while it would be a stretch to call a utility cart a fashion accessory, there is some amount of vanity involved. Whether people admit it or not, their choice of whether to use a cart–or which type of cart–depends somewhat on the way they see themselves and the way they want to be seen by others.

Some islanders attempt to look playful by choosing one of the blue plastic four-wheeled numbers that look like a cross between a kids’ wagon and a plastic milk crate. Other people prefer the family look and pile their hardware purchases, housewares and groceries into their child’s stroller for years after the the child has ceased to ride. But overall, the most popular style, hands down, is the upright wire granny cart.

Many prefer an upright cart because the cart owner doesn’t have to bend over to use it–thus making it easier on their back. However for some, this cart’s appeal comes from the fact that they can tip it onto two wheels and pull it from behind–which tends to look more cool than pushing it in front of you like Sisyphus heaving a large boulder uphill.

Another feature of the upright cart is that in comes in a variety of finishes. The selection includes chrome, black, royal blue and red. None of these are particularly attractive, but at least there are choices. Also, there are a variety of models to meet the user’s needs. These range from smaller, lighter weight choices to larger, ultra-durable varieties.

The latter is what I have. My family is notorious for overpacking, so our cart boasts deep treads and a heavy axle to support five very full paper bags of groceries. Our cart’s large wheels make it easier to drag it up and down the stairs between Flatbread and the ferry dock, while its deep treads painlessly navigate the rigors of mud season. I like to think of it as the 4-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicle of the utility cart world.

When my disappointment that the well-dressed woman liked my cart and not my clothes wore off, I tried to see my cart and me through her eyes. When I looked past my cart’s big ugly wheels and lackluster matte black finish, I saw a durable vehicle that could get the job done. It had serpentined through throngs of summer tourists and made the trek up the Welch Street hill in the snow. It was reliable, and that’s a good quality. Both for a cart and for person.

I looked the woman square in the eye. “I got my cart at Maine Hardware, down on Saint John Street,” I said.

Then I placed both hands square on the handles, nodded, and sprinted over the curb, across Commercial Street and toward the boat.

 

Show Your True Colors

Yes, it’s a lime green house. Peaks Islanders aren’t afraid of color. This particular home was built around 1820 and is one of the oldest structures still standing on the island.

I think the reason islanders are so bold with color is because so many of them are artists.

Or maybe it reflects their passion and independent thinking. These are two of the best qualities that islanders as a group possess–unless you need everyone to come to agreement on something.

Godzilla Goes Missing (Again)

On Peaks Island we have an email communication system. Whenever we have something to give away (used mattresses, an old hammock) or something we need (dog walkers, to borrow a high chair for the weekend). We just email our notes to E or H and they blast out our request.

In early June, my friend Jean used the list to broadcast some sad news. The foot-tall plastic Godzilla that guards her front door had gone missing, again.

Subject: PI List: Godzilla stolen

Godzilla went missing from his perch in front of our brick house on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

If anyone sees Godzilla or knows who took him, please let us know or send him back!

He has stood guard in front of our house for about 18 years, and has many admirers.  We hope he reappears.

Thank you.

Jean, Cooper and Luna

brick house

Two days later, another note regarding Godzilla circulated. This time from the police. “We can’t do anything because the owner didn’t file a police report,” it said. Jean laughed. She wants Godzilla returned, but hadn’t planned to file charges against the perpetrator.

In case you missed it, here is my original story about Godzilla that ran in the Island Times last year.

The man crouched and cowered in front of the red brick house on Island Avenue. His hands were placed on either side of his face and his mouth stretched wide open—as though some invisible demon were descending upon him from the sky. It was Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” come to life.

Something weird was going on. And not regular Peaks Island weird. This was beyond someone pushing a dog stroller or painting their house chartreuse. A skinny guy with dark hair—who I’d never seen before in my life—was standing in front of my friend Jean Hoffman’s front door cowering in fear of…I could only guess what. But then again, it was a summer Sunday afternoon. A Reggae Sunday afternoon. There were lots of visitors on the island, and many of them were doing a lot of drinking. There was no telling what this guy’s story was going to be.

I accelerated my pace to make sure this odd drunk wasn’t damaging anything. But when I got closer, I realized that the guy wasn’t drunk at all. He was the subject of a photo shoot. His companion, a 30-something blond guy, was poised at the curb holding a digital Nikon. A third companion, a woman, stood between them, off to one side. She had Jean’s son’s foot-tall plastic Godzilla grasped firmly in both hands and was extending her arms—and Godzilla—away from her body and into the view of the camera.

It took me several seconds to piece this together. When I did, I laughed. This imaginative threesome were taking pictures that showed Godzilla in epic proportions looming over the much smaller Screamer.

This was the most unique use of Godzilla I’d ever seen, which is saying a lot. Few can resist interaction with Peaks Island’s biggest movie star resident. Godzilla and his smaller dinosaur cohorts are posed by islanders and photographed by visitors almost daily. Typically, Godzilla and crew find themselves lined-up as though in preparation for a battle. Other times they are circled-up for a pre-historic hoedown. Often an unfortunate smaller dinosaur hangs out of Godzilla’s mouth. But I’ve never seen anyone capture Godzilla’s photo in nearly so creative a fashion.

Godzilla has resided year-round on Peaks, and stood guard in front of the Hoffman’s house, since 2000 when he relocated from town. He serves the community as a photo opportunity, a conversation piece and a directional landmark. “Go by the Godzilla house, then continue past the library,” people say. He’s manned (or should I say monstered?) his post 24-7, with the single exception of a few months in 2009 when he took a sabbatical. “One day he was just gone,” recounts Jean.

After Godzilla’s disappearance, Jean asked around to see if anyone had any information on Godzilla’s whereabouts. Even the teens—who usually know everything—pled ignorance. After a couple of weeks, a dinosaur about half the size of Godzilla showed up. He held a note that said, “I may not be big, but I’m strong and can take care of myself.”

A month later, Godzilla reappeared—holding a sign that said, “I’m Back.” Godzilla’s true whereabouts have never been revealed, but people have their suspicions. Some say it was a teen prank. Others think a young kid with a bad case of monster envy “borrowed” him. Others say Godzilla attended a late night bash at Battery Steele and was too hung over to return home right away. A long-time friend of Godzilla’s who ask not to be named calls this third theory ridiculous—Godzilla has absolutely no history of alcohol abuse.

While foul play seems likely, I for one hope that Godzilla’s disappearance was voluntary. Maybe he visited his old friend Mothra to reminisce about their days as Japanese film stars. Or perhaps he attended a reunion with other costars he’s worked with over the years such as Astro-Monster, Ghidorah the three-headed monster and Mathew Broderick.

We may never know exactly where Godzilla was, but I for one am glad that he returned. Once again islanders and visitors can “go by the Godzilla house” on their way to and from down front. And they do—often stopping to create some really innovative photo shoots.

 

Lobster Buoys

Every Maine lobsterman (or woman) has their own unique color scheme for their buoys–this is how they identify whose traps are whose.

Every buoy marks the location of a lobster trap that sits on the bottom of the ocean below the buoy.

In late summer, when the lobsters are most active, there are tons of buoys in the water.

Even when a buoy gets lost in a storm–no matter where it washes up–it remains the legal property of the lobsterman. That’s why people who collect the lobster buoys that wash up on the beach display them outdoors. They are required by law to leave the buoys where the lobsterman could potentially find them and reclaim them.

Fort Scammell

The inside of Fort Scammell is amazing! Who knew that inside the flat stone walls visible from the water–there are spiral stairways, vaulted ceilings and beautiful stonework.

I finally visited Fort Scammell this summer after passing by on the ferry for ten-plus years. The fort was built on House Island in 1862 as part of the U.S. seacoast defense system–one of a series of forts designated as “Third System Forts.” Three Third System Forts served as Portland’s harbor defense system: Fort Scammell, Fort  Gorges (middle of Casco Bay) and Fort Preble (South Portland). All three are visible from the ferry between Peaks Island and Portland.