Category Archives: Industry

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.

I Used To Love My Smith-Corona

I Used to Love My Smith-Corona

Dear Reader:

I was thinking about typewriters the other day. Looking through electronic file after electronic file for a certain Christmas story I wrote five, no, seven years ago, I thought, “It was better when we had typewriters; instead of copying from floppy disk to dvd to thumb drive to external hard drive, instead of moving from computer to the new computer to the next new computer, we had paper copies. In file folders. In a filing cabinet. Easy.”

Back in the olden days–pre-1992, let’s say–I wrote on an electric Smith-Corona typewriter my parents bought me for college. Actually, I wrote first drafts with pen and paper and only committed work to type when it was good enough for final draft. I still have these papers. They are hard copies. In files. In my filing cabinet. Not lost in a maelstrom of bits and bytes spiraling out of control on the hard drive of the elderly and ailing (slow) computer up in my office or here on the laptop or stuck on floppy disks in various hidey-holes in my desk…somewhere.

I’d argue without reservation that paper is a better system, except there was that time I let a friend read a story and she lost it until it reappeared five years later, stuck inside a July Vogue which she’d been reading out beside her pool that summer. I suppose the possibility of physical misplacement is as much a problem as losing those electronic files.

Plus, I can’t blame the computer for my disorganization. After all, I could print out a physical copy of everything for “just in case.”

But I miss the typewriter. I miss correction fluid. I miss lining up the paper and rolling it over the barrel. I do, in fact, have an old manual typewriter of my grandmother’s in my office, sitting atop a filing cabinet along with a copy of her self-published collection of local stories and recipes. It used to sit in the old “office” at my grandparents’ house, the room that used to be a front porch, the room where I used to plug in my Smith-Corona and type stories and papers for college classes. I can smell that room if I think about it long enough. Heavy smell. Like ink. Like some sort of oil. Like stacks of old papers.

I can’t type on this old machine. It needs repair, the keys are sticky, and who knows if you can still get ribbons for it, but I love that it is there, a talisman, a symbol of a different time. When things were not so easy. No auto-correct, for one thing. Editing marks, for another. A deliberateness born of necessity, fingers certainly not tapping out any old thought that crossed the mind. Not so easy to erase a word, a sentence, a paragraph, entire scenes.

Maybe someday, someone will invent a retro-looking computer, one that sounds like real typewriter keys when you hit the letters and dings! when the cursor jumps down to the beginning of the next line. If I get totally nostalgic (and find myself suddenly flush with cash) I could buy something like the beautiful old machine in the picture below.

It can be ordered at myTypewriter.com. In the meantime, I’ve learned my lesson: print out a hard copy and file it away “just in case.”

As for going local on this one, I’ve found office and school supplies to be a challenge. Discount/salvage stores like Marden’s and Reny’s sometimes carry notebooks, pens, rulers, cards, and craft items. However, this is pretty hit or miss. Locally-owned specialty and gift stores in larger towns and cities often have cute file folders, notebooks, pens, and stationery, but they are just-as-often often pricey.

Most recently, I noticed a couple local crafters at the Newfield Farmer’s Market were selling homemade cards and fancied-up notebooks–good possibilities, but where did those underlying notebooks and paper come from? China via Walmart?

I’d really, REALLY like to find paper made here in Maine. Maine was once a booming paper-making state that employed many citizens with good-paying, good-retirement, good-benefit jobs until outsourcing pulled the pulpwood out from under the the workers. How about repurposing some old mills to make specialty papers and cardstock from recycled materials? How about hemp paper? Save our forests and boost our economy. While we’re on the subject of actually producing things again, how about revitalizing our textile manufacturing, too? Like paper, fabric can be made from recycled materials and hemp. And what about shoes…?

Before I get too far off-subject in a rant for local manufacturing, I will end this post. One thing at a time, right? Take a look around your neighborhood, village, or nearby cities; you may luck out and find a great local source for your writing/office supply needs. If you do, drop me a line and a link. Localistas, unite!

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!

Getting Hip to Hemp

Grass/Jeans

Note: The first Levi’s jeans were made with hemp cloth.

Dear Reader:

Industrial hemp is not a drug.

Just wanted to clear that up right away. While I am not in the least interested in growing, selling, or smoking marijuana, I am interested in the industrial production of Cannibis sativa for clothing, yarn, paper, rope, and the myriad other uses of this ancient plant. Sometime or other I was told that hemp was an environmentally-friendly, versatile plant that had been grown since earliest times throughout the world.

In fact, rumor has it that hemp was grown right here in the good ole U.S.A. from Colonial times through the 20th century. Really? And the founding fathers weren’t all raging drug addicts? Could this be true?

Over the years I’ve done a bit of desultory researching online for my own curiosity, and I have some nagging questions regarding industrial hemp and the politics surrounding it.

Do hemp activists have ulterior motives for wanting to legalize hemp agriculture? (Do they all just want to grow their own weed?)

Why was hemp criminalized to begin with? (Was there some sort of political-industrial collusion involved?)

Would industrial hemp be a profitable agricultural endeavor? Would the average American even be interested in purchasing hemp products? (Or is hemp the exclusive domain of “greenies” and “hippies” and certain television and film personalities with a environmental bug up their you-know-whats?)

Should the federal government continue to prohibit the growing and selling of industrial hemp or should it be left up to the individual states to decide? (And how’s that drug “war” going, anyway?)

Stick with me people. We’re goin’ to get hip to hemp.

Here are some facts taken from a USDA document (that would be the United States Department of Agriculture)regarding industrial hemp. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ages001e/ages001ec.pdf

1. In 1645, the PURITANS brought hemp with them to the New World to use as a spinning fiber.

2. The hemp industry flourished in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois up until 1860, when cotton became more prominent.

3. In 1937 Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act which put the production of hemp under government regulation.

4. During WWII the GOVERNMENT instituted an emergency program to produce hemp; after the war, legal restrictions were again imposed.

According to various pro-industrial hemp websites, hemp has been used to make paper for thousands of years. The Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta, and drafts of the Declaration of Independence were all written on hemp paper. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. (from azhemp.org)

Industrial hemp can be used to make acid-free paper, rope, cloth, oil, plastics, composites,soaps, cosmetics and bio-fuel. The seeds can be eaten and are protein-rich. With so many products that can be made from one plant, does it really make sense to prohibit that plant in the United States?

There is also some suspicion that the prohibition of hemp was encouraged by big industries (chemical companies) whose products are needed to break down wood fiber for making paper pulp.

Hemp does not require chemicals to break the fibers for paper.

However, according to a Wikipedia entry, processing hemp into paper is a relatively expensive process, so perhaps, paper made from hemp isn’t exactly what the “legalize hemp” proponents make it out to be. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp)

I suspect many of the “pro-hemp” crowd are motivated by less industrial and more, shall we say, recreational reasons, but it seems pretty irrational to me to prohibit a useful commodity simply because some people like to use its more nefarious cousin for mind-altering or medicinal purposes.

Whether or not growing industrial hemp could or would be a viable business endeavor, there is a bigger question we need to ask ourselves. Do we need the federal government to regulate our industries? Or should this be left to the individual states? Has criminalizing cannibis stopped or even slowed the growth, sale, and usage of drugs?

The Global Commission on Drug Policy says, “No!” Their recent report claims that the war on drugs has failed and urges that countries consider legalizing marijuana and other controlled substances. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/02/war-on-drugs-not-working

Congressman and presidential hopeful, Ron Paul, writes in his book, LIBERTY DEFINED, that the Constitution limits the powers of the federal government, that state laws should determine issues like prohibition of substances, and points out that prohibition usually does nothing but encourage a black market and underground economy for the production, sale, and distribution of the substance in question.

In other words, every dollar spent “fighting the war on drugs” is a dollar wasted.

When it comes to the question of industrial hemp, not only are we losing a potential valuable commodity that could be used to create jobs, but we are also throwing our money away trying to legislate and police morality.

The United States is the biggest importer of industrial hemp in the world. China is the world’s biggest exporter.

Go figure.

Isn’t it time we started producing for ourselves again? Leading the world in production rather than consumption? I encourage you to research this issue for yourself . . . thinking a little bit Outside the Box.