Category Archives: Community Activism

Six Years and Slowing

On the "skiddah"

On the “skiddah”

It is March once again, and the anniversary month of this blog which started out as Outside the Box and is now Localista.

I don’t look too fashionable there on the skidder, but let me tell you, I was THRILLED to have a chance to get into the driver’s seat, turn the ignition key, and roll slowly backward, oops! I was maybe in the thing for a minute and a half before I stalled it. Heavy equipment operator is not going to be my next career.

What I did learn from this experience was 1)guys who work in the woods are great storytellers and hard workers and all-around great people and 2)enough about operating a skidder to finish a writing project.

Harvesting in the Maine woods has long been an economic driver for our state, providing jobs and a marketable resource. It is a local sort of job, and even with improvements in equipment, still requires a human brain. Unlike other jobs which are being outsourced to…robots. Check out this article, “Your Job May Soon Be Obsolete Thanks To Robots,”  on AGBeat from the American Genius Network.

Yes, computers are now writing news articles. Egads! Soon they will be writing books, I suppose, cranking them out from synopses and outlines, or maybe just picking and choosing from scenarios, character lists, and possible turning points from specialized plot and narrative computer programs. I’m typing this and thinking, “It’s probably already been done, but I don’t want to go look. I’m scairt!”

So, I’m still doing the localism thing as much as possible, have incorporated it into my life with room left for improvement, as always. Those hiking boots in the photo up there? Got ’em at Reny’s, one of Maine’s independent stores. It was the only size of its kind on the shelves, the only pair of boots in my size, and they fit perfectly. In fact, they were so comfortable with a pair of wool hiking socks I also picked up, I didn’t unlace them all day. The support felt fantastic!

Today I’m wearing a combination outfit–a sweater from Goodwill, a scarf that was a gift, and a pair of pants I bought full-price at Chico’s at the mall. I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, but then I got a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. It’s not about perfection. It’s about awareness and small changes and doing the best you can.

Six years later, I’m slowing down but trudging along, one step at a time.

Holiday Concert in a Small Town in Maine

holiday concert

Left to right: Tom Osborne, Kyle Osborn, Michael Saulnier, Brian Saulnier

A Christmas tea featuring live musical performances by a talented pair of brothers was held at the Jeremiah Mason House Bed & Breakfast in Limerick on Saturday, Dec. 13. Hosts of the tea and concert were Tom and Kyle Osborne who have owned and run the bed & breakfast establishment for the past 14 years. For the fourth year in a row, they invited brothers Michael and Brian Saulnier to perform on guitar and piano, a tradition that hosts, guests, and the musicians look forward to as each Christmas season rolls around.

This year, the Osbornes also invited members of the Limerick Historical Society to attend the concert. “We used to hold it during the Limerick Village Christmas,” Kyle said following the hour-long concert. “But that was just too much so we decided to do it this way.”

The music room, adjoining dining room, and the hallway were filled to standing-room only for the afternoon event. Tom welcomed the guests to the historic home and introduced Brian Saulnier as the opening performer. Brian read a brief but touching essay on life in a small town at Christmas and then sang a set of Christmas songs, accompanying himself on his bright blue acoustic guitar.

Brian then introduced his brother, Michael, who had driven up to town from Massachusetts. “My brother Mike is here to play the piano, and I could listen to him all day long,” Brian said.

Michael, who has been seriously studying piano for six years, treated everyone to a variety of folk piano and jazz arrangements by such luminaries as George Winston  and Vince Guaraldi. Two songs, however, were composed by Michael himself. One, entitled “Lavender Falls” and the other a variation on the theme called, “Epicycles” were very much in the George Winston style with a lovely interplay of both right-hand and left-hand notes.

Following the concert, Tom thanked both musicians for sharing their gift. “Music has big healing power,” he said. “I want to thank Brian for sharing his voice and for introducing me to his brother, Mike.” Michael’s recorded cd was offered for sale, the proceeds of which were to go to the York County Shelter. Tom then invited the guests to partake of a variety of cookies and sweets baked on  and tea sandwiches which were provided by the Clipper Merchant Tea House.

When asked about his performance schedule, Mike said that he plays mostly for personal enjoyment and occasionally for the public when asked. Brian has also been busy this year, billing himself as The Musical Medic and playing at Maine Medical Center, nursing homes, and community events like the Research Club’s cookies and hot cocoa gathering following the tree lighting at the town’s A Village Christmas Festival. “There are infinite choices about what to do with limited time,” Brian said. “This is what I chose to do with mine.”

My Evil Pellet Stove

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Dear Reader:

I live in Maine, and in Maine the winters are cold. Correction, the late autumns, winters, and the biggest part of springs are cold. In order to survive, humans who live in Maine need a source of warmth in order to thrive. So it has been, I believe, ever since the first people took up residence in our fair state.

Over the past five years, I have explored various issues pertaining to sustainability, localism, and culture. I was inspired, first of all, by the notion of “Peak Oil” which is really “Peak Energy” or–to be more colloquial–“When the Juice Runs Out.” I read about the End of Suburbia and the Geography of Nowhere and about how we need to Powerdown.

Throughout the book reading and eco-film watching, I heard much about weaning off oil and using, instead, renewable energy. Things like wood, geothermal, and solar were touted as better options. I was cool with that.

I grew up with a wood stove. I am fond of that dry, heatier-somehow kind of warmth that is thrown out by a wood stove compared to a forced hot-air furnace. Plus, you know, it is traditional, and I like traditional.

It took a few years to make the switch, but eventually hubby and I decided on a pellet stove. We bought one last fall, used it all winter, and were pleased. We rarely filled the oil tank (for the hot water heater; replacing that is a future consideration), and I was warmer than I’d been in many years since I had taken to reducing the thermostat down to 60 degrees–way too cold for me to be comfortable, even with a sweater and knit hat. I was thrilled that the pellets were made out of a local resource–wood from Maine or neighboring Canada–and would burn more efficiently and cleanly than a traditional wood stove. Yay! We were doing our part for the environment!

Or so I thought.

Today I learned of an article expressing shock and dismay that some major corporations are–gasp!–producing pellets, shipping them overseas, and making a profit! I went in search of the article and think this might be it. OUTRAGEOUS: U.S. Forests Logged, Pelletized, Shipped Overseas in the Name of Renewable Energy. (from EcoWatch.com)

It does seem rather appalling.

Sigh.

I get it. Trees are beautiful. They are a wonderful resource, and we should manage them with care. Burning them throws carbon into the air. But wasn’t the whole idea of switching to “renewables” dependent on, um, actually USING the renewables? And what other choices do we have? Solar? What about those solar panels? What are they made of? What kind of energy is used to manufacture and transport them? What about batteries and storage of energy for when you need it? And if we all switch, will we then be told by the likes of EcoWatch that we are evil for supporting a corporation that is profiting from the production and sale of the technology?

I’m not saying “going solar” is wrong or in any way a poor choice. I would love, love, love to see our communities transition to using solar, but please don’t act as if 1)sustainability advocates are blameless in this burgeoning market for wood pellets and 2)there is no environmental cost to ramping up solar energy solutions.

Human beings use resources and make an impact on the environment. Period. Perhaps the only way we can TRULY reduce our impact is to stop making more humans to warm, feed, clothe, inoculate, and hydrate.

In other words, don’t throw out your pellet stoves. Instead, buy some birth control. Or just say NO to sex. (WARNING: CRUDENESS ALERT! 31 Ways to Say No To Sex)

Whatever works best for you.

ps: Just watching the national news and learned that China is lifting their “one child only” rule. And so it goes and goes and goes…

Social currency

Waterboro Reporter

Waterboro Reporter

The photo above was provided by the owner/publisher of the newspaper for which I work. The Waterboro Reporter is a locally-owned, weekly community paper that pays me for the articles I write–many about sustainability, local farmers and business people, local non-profit organization, school news, town government and activist groups. The Reporter is, I believe, an important part of the “local circle.” It is a free-to-read newspaper, with printing costs and content (read: writers like me!) costs covered only by advertising dollars, not readers.

I love the idea of currency circulating from one local business to the next local business via paychecks and purchases. This is the essence of a local economy. It also creates a type of social currency: measured only in goodwill and reciprocity.

Here is a real example: Last month, the Reporter sold advertising space to local businesses and printed up some ads that readers were sure to notice as they read the content of the paper. Then the Reporter collected the advertising money from those businesses. Last week, the Reporter sent me a check for my articles. I cashed my check on Saturday and went immediately to the Newfield Farmer’s Market–where I bought close to $25 worth of stuff. Now, if the market then took out an advertisement in the following week’s paper, the local economic circle would be complete! The money would just continue circulating–maybe going to out to a local antique store or the local supermarket–but eventually, hopefully, coming right back around and around and around.

THIS cycle is exactly what I’ve been writing about/advocating for the past four years!

Over the course of a year, with money earned from my writing gig, I’ve bought local maple syrup, a Community Supported Agriculture membership from a local farmer, and an order for a year’s worth of beef from a Limerick neighbor. I’ve shopped at the local supermarket and had countless lunches at local restaurants like the Clipper Merchant Tea House and the Peppermill. I’ve donated money to charitable causes (guess where I went on Saturday afternoon, after the market? The Limerick Historical Society penny auction.)I’ve bought incense,books, toys and other interesting stuff at local gift shops. My love for Plummer’s Hardware and the Limerick Supermarket is well-known.

Much of this I’ve documented here on Localista and shared with my facebook friends and my email list, which is also free publicity for the local businesses I love. In turn, these businesses provide me with excellent customer service and great products.

The money I spend comes from a locally owned paper whose only income–I will stress this again–is advertising. This is a newspaper that has been amazing to publish all the stories I’ve written with a sustainability slant, promoting the kind of “buy local” philosophy I hold dear. The Reporter doesn’t “sell” newspaper coverage. It covers stories we think are interesting and important whether or not an ad is purchased; however, think about that local cycle a minute. Now think some more…

Readers, please shop locally, and if you shop at one of our advertisers, let them know you saw their ad in the paper. Supporting each other, in a local economy, is the foundation of freedom from corporate control. Be part of the circle!

Shopping Local for the Holidays

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Dear Reader:

How are you doing on your holiday shopping so far? I’ve been taking advantage of lucky opportunities that pop up–like yesterday’s trip to Portland for a Jim Brickman performance at the Portland Museum of Art.

Heading toward the museum for the performance, I noticed a Reny’s department store across from the parking garage. Hello! I don’t get into Portland that often, so the chance to pop into one of the branches of a Maine-owned department store was like an early Christmas present to myself.

Reny's Department Store Logo

Reny’s Department Store Logo

I’m fairly pleased with my local shopping progress this holiday season. I’ve bought books by Maine authors at public readings, handcrafted jewelry from the funkiest little shop--Maine Jewelry and Art--in Bangor on Plaid Friday (local answer to the mall’s Black Friday horror story), c.d.’s directly from musicians at performances (ahem, did you catch that Jim Brickman reference up there?), makeup from a local Avon rep, clothes from that Reny’s excursion yesterday, and a few things at Goodwill.

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

I’ve also ordered Christmas cards from my good friend and fine artist, Sandra Waugh, who lives right here in my town. That is her “waughtercolor” at the top of this page, such a cute, little red boat skillfully rendered, floating between sea and sky. This and other select paintings are for sale right now, but Sandra also creates beautiful watercolor portraits of loved ones, children, and pets from photographs you mail to her, like this one of the fly fisherman.

I am in awe of that kind of talent! Please visit her website at http://www.waughtercolors.com/ and/or private message her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/messages/waughtercolors

With the shopping well-underway, I guess it is time to start looking toward decorating the tree and holiday recipes. Food shopping for holiday meals can be a bit challenging (I need an egg source!), and I will write about that in another post as we get closer to Christmas. In the meantime…

I challenge you to buy at least ONE item this year from a local merchant or small-business owner, knowing that when you do so, much more of that money gets sent back into the local economy than if you spent the same $$’s at a mega-corporation. Want more reasons? Visit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website for the Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses.

Happy Holiday Shopping, everyone!

Election Day–Does It Really Matter Who Wins?

U.S.A. Election Day

Ralph Lauren vneck sweater / J.Crew twill jacket / Levi’s Made & Crafted mid rise jeans / Converse shoes, $14 / Tommy Hilfiger bag / Tommy Hilfiger Sid Cable Knit Multicolor Scarf, $98 / Tommy Hilfiger perfume, $52

I am voting today–and I’m going to check a box for President–but I’m really only going because of the state and local races and questions, where I (perhaps naively) believe my vote actually makes a difference in my life and my community. When it comes to the Presidential race, eh, shrug, not so much.

Either Obama is going to win and we’ll continue with this gridlock as the Republicans block everything for the sake of politics…or Romney is going to win and we’ll start hearing, “I inherited this mess…so don’t blame me” as the Dems begin to block everything for the sake of politics. And they’ll all start talking about 2016.

Meanwhile the Federal Reserve and corporate cronies will go ahead and do their own thing, laughing (at us) all the way to the bank.

Read what economists think about the affect of the election on the economy on CNN.com

Am I Rita Skeeter?

Dear Reader:

When I dressed up in a green and black feather boa and headpiece on Halloween night and headed out into the community to take pictures and jot notes for my newspaper column, a few people yelled, “I know who you are…Rita Skeeter!”

My response? “Um, I didn’t plan to be Rita Skeeter, but I guess I’m glad I’m somebody.” In truth, I picked up the costume pieces on a whim a couple months ago, and on a whim dressed up on Halloween before heading into town. I guess with the fluffy boa, my signature red lipstick, my glasses, and my notebook and pen, I did bear a slight resemblance to the Harry Potter newshound.

My new life as a journalist keeps me out and about in the community, talking to the people who run the town as well as the regular people who live and work here but keep out of the spotlight. I’ve been to selectmen meetings, covered events at the elementary school, interviewed community members for profile pieces, and even slurped down some green juice at a free showing of the film FAT, SICK AND NEARLY DEAD at the public library. I practically beg people to send me tidbits of news that I can expand into articles. I am in my element. I can be nosy but detached, involved but not imbedded. I stand outside it, observe, and report what I see and hear. It’s awesome!

I’m also humbled by the responsibility. Okay, so it isn’t the end of the world if I spell someone’s name wrong, but I do need to be cognizant that everything I chose to highlight and everything I chose to leave out creates meaning in the story. I can chose to underscore the positive or I can spotlight the conflicts and negativity. Is this choice to highlight the positive a kind of skewing of the truth? Is it an angle?

Of course it is.

I hope I’m NOT Rita Skeeter, the reporter in the Harry Potter series who slants everything toward the sensational and titillating. I hope I have more journalistic integrity than to take others’ innocent behavior and twist it into something scandalous, but I also hope to write the truth, to capture this place in all its weirdness and its normalcy, its high moments and its times of adversity, its people and its industry. In other words, I do have an agenda. My agenda is to strengthen the community by showing my fellow citizens who we are, what we do, how we do it here in our small, rural town.

Eating Cold Strawberries on a Hot Summer Day

Local BerriesDear Reader:

Summer is here! Summer is here! Nature is ushering in the season with temperatures in the eighties and a haze of humidity, and I am sitting here eating my fill of cold strawberries harvested at a nearby farm and sold at our local branch of a corporate grocery chain. The juxtaposition of cool berries and hot air seems to mirror the juxtaposition of local produce sold, ironically, at a multinational chain store.

Is this ideal? Of course not. Ideal would be me rising early and biking up the road to Dole’s Orchards to pick berries grown at my neighborhood farm, paying cash to the neighbor-farmer who will reinvest in the farm and community, and biking back down the hill to my house to bake a strawberry rhubarb pie with the berries, rhubarb from my garden, and a pastry made from Maine whole wheat flour and lard from a real farm in Pennsylvania and purchased from the locally-owned, Amish-inspired store in a nearby town.

If I’ve learned one thing from my three years of blogging about localism and sustainability and community-building, it is how idealism is the beacon and how reality falls somewhere on the scale that measures between the shade of utter failure far from that beacon and the light-filled space of near-success.

Garden Boxes Summer Solstice

Take my garden boxes, for example. In my head, the ideal garden overflows with lush, green plants beginning to blossom and fruit. No pests reside here, just rich, moist garden soil, fat and happy earthworms, and the occasional bee and butterfly to pollinate and enliven the mini-ecosystem. In reality, the compost dries out much too fast because I really should have added in peat moss and vermiculite, the plants aren’t growing as fast as I wish, the eggplant and cabbages have holes in the leaves (and some leaves completely gnawed) where some tiny, marauding insect has plundered the succulent vegetation. The plants in the herb bed look yellowish. The micro greens in the greens beds are still micro-micro–too small to harvest even after a month of growth.

Peas and Zuccini

I sit outside with my coffee and contemplate the state of my garden and realize that even though it isn’t perfect, it is quite lovely and has the potential for productivity. The peas yearn upward toward the turned-on-its-side tomato cage I placed there for support. The zucchini and summer squash and cucumber plants spread wide palms to the sun. The hot-pink annuals–geranium and petunia and portulaca–burst with color in their corners next to the “black” Japanese shiso plant, the sweet potato vine, the chocolate mint in the pink & black garden box.

Wild Roses

I turn from my garden boxes and look at the wild edge. Here near a tumbled rock wall, the wild roses remind me that Nature often does a better job on her own. This year’s rosa rugosa blooms sweeten the air with their scent even as they glow against the gray backdrop of those old stones some farmer used to mark a field a hundred-fifty years ago. Earlier, there was a profusion of wild strawberries dancing at the feet of those rose princesses. Near the compost bin, a sturdy mullein thrusts out its plush, velvety leaves.

When I reach out to touch a rose, it falls apart, petals showering over my hands.

Perfection is not necessary in this world. The beauty is in the attempt, in the growth, in the trial-and-error. It is the appreciation for what is as well as the striving toward what could be.

Later this week, I will make my way to Dole’s to pick strawberries. I’ll probably drive my gas-powered automobile. Doing what is better than nothing really is better than doing nothing at all.

Chosing A Sustainable Life

My blogger/local community friends at The Existential Gardner posted a wonderful piece about our sustainable past, our industrial present, and hopefully a sustainable future. Since they said it so much better than I ever could, I’m going to share the link so you can enjoy it for yourself. This is one I will read again.

http://theexistentialgardener.blogspot.com/2012/03/imagining-sustainable-lifestyle.html

The Mill Has Some Gloss

North Mill in Biddeford, Maine

Dear Reader:

I love old mill towns. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because I didn’t grow up in a mill town, I am fascinated by the novelty of an industrial-ish landscape. These manufacturing communities are cities, not towns, I suppose, but they are not cities of high-rise apartment buildings, corporate offices for national food chains and banks, and big shopping malls. These Maine city-towns have Main Streets, corner stores, local tobacco shops, and hundred-year-old bakeries; triple-decker apartment buildings that used to house the mill workers, big Catholic cathedrals with a satisfying Gothic flair, and a turn-of-the-century architectural style that for one reason or another sets my creative juices flowing; people who sometimes speak with the slight accent, still, of the St. George River Valley. I love it!

Across the river in Saco

When I lived in Westbrook, my daily walk took me past one of these slumbering manufacturing behmoths that had been built along the tumbling river that once powered the building’s machinery. Incidentally, I would also walk past the still-operating paper mill at the other end of Main Street. I would look up at the even rows of windows, the geometric simplicity of those windows and the pattern of red-orange brick, and imagine an earlier time when people walked from the neighboring streets to punch in to work for the day. They’d be carrying their tin lunch boxes. They’d be tired already, perhaps, at the end of a long week, or else young and cheerful and hopeful.

I’m sure I’m romanticizing the whole thing. That’s my nature.

Since moving even further south, I’ve spent time driving into Sanford, often routing past the empty, old textile buildings there and dreaming of how they could be repurposed. I even wrote two romance novels set in towns like these. Apparently, I’m a little obsessed.

From www.goodreads.com

Maybe it has something to do with Richard Russo. His EMPIRE FALLS is brilliant, of course. It is the story of a town and its citizens trying to come to grips with a new economy where manufacturing takes place in China or India or Mexico, and the people left behind at home buy the finished products and struggle to figure out what to do now. I loved EMPIRE FALLS. I recognized it. There is a kind of sad romanticism to these crumbling, quiet buildings. Like Dickens’ Miss Havisham, they’ve seen better days.

Enter Biddeford. I’ve been to this small city many times in the past few years, taking the Teen to the orthodontist and myself to the allergist over near Southern Maine Med, but I’d only visited downtown twice–once to eat at a great little Indian restaurant, The Jewel of India, and another time to have coffee with a friend at the old mill building. So, on a sunny day last week, I decided to check out the refurbished North Dam Mill again–this time with my camera and a notebook in hand.

Smokestack Tower

The first mill established here in the 17th century was an iron manufacturing business. Eventually, large buildings were erected on both the Biddeford and Saco sides of the Saco River and workers flooded into the cities, creating a booming textile manufacturing center. Read about the history and see some great archival photos at the Maine Memory Network site.

Eventually the mills closed. A few years ago, developer Doug Sanford bought the property and re-purposed the wonderful buildings into retail, office, and living space. Click HERE to visit the Pepperell Mill/North Dam Mill website.

Art Outside the Mill

On this day, I take a few photos of the impressive smokestack near the parking lot and then stroll into the reception area on the main floor of building 18. The large hallway is dim, with its exposed pipes painted black to blend in with the black ceiling. An expansive red Oriental rug anchors two over-sized leather couches in a sitting area. Right near the windows of a small off-shoot of a hall, a tiny coffee shop wafts acoustic music and the aroma of fresh-ground java.

This is “Perk”…and while I sit at the narrow counter in front of the windows, a few residents drift in to order lunch or coffee. The young guy behind the counter makes pleasant chit-chat with everyone. His co-worker is busy making sandwiches or something. I hear clanging pans behind the music (Sarah Brightman, maybe?)piped in over the speakers

Outside the windows, I can see the river across the road, traffic zipping past, three guys hanging out near the benches and steel flower sculpture near the entrance. Neighbors chatting? I think so.

The entire place makes me think of a castle, the walls rising along the river and road like ramparts, the smokestack a watchtower. Inside are art studios and professional offices on this main floor. A sign beside me reads, “River’s Edge Wood Products: Showroom open on an appointment basis.” Upstairs floors are dedicated to apartments.

Exposed pipe against a white-painted brick wall

I can imagine living here. The exposed pipes. The high ceilings. The well-used hardwood flooring. Mostly, though, I love the idea of living within biking/walking distance to Main St. and all the great local stores and restaurants and the library. The Amtrak station is a short walk, as well, for trips to Boston and beyond. Living close to neighbors. Stopping for a morning latte at Perk.

Art in the hallway

This is a New-Urbanists dream! Click HERE to read about New Urbanism. Walkability. Diversity of purpose. Community and connectivity. Traditional neighborhood structure. Common space. I’d like to see a community garden somewhere here–maybe on the roof!

The Saco River

I took this picture from a little patio off the parking lot overlooking the river. The Saco side of the mills are across the water.

Windmill at the Mill

Isn’t the juxtaposition between the old water/coal-powered mill and the new, space-agey windmill great? To me this symbolizes the future . . . if we have the guts and willpower to transition to a more sustainable way of life. A way where we go back to our more densely-populated urbans centers, our Main Street stores owned by our neighbors, and our sense of community purpose while at the same time taking advantage of new technologies and ideas and art.

I want to wake up and smell the coffee . . . at places like Perk!