I was sitting on the screen porch in the soft gray light of an overcast day just before dawn. It was too early to put on my glasses - I mostly like to sit and listen to the birds and squirrels. There were Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, the wake-up calls of crows, a porcupine's adorable chittering, and a Northern Flicker had a lot to say as he flitted through the trees.

And then there was a buzzing hum. Could it be? Yes! A hummingbird was at the feeder, drinking deeply, before flying off. I keep thinking, well, that's got to be the last hummingbird of the summer. And maybe it was this one.

Our son gave us a hummingbird feeder for Christmas last year. It obviously had to sit on a shelf for a while. We finally got a stand to hang it from and mounted it on the porch. I found a recipe for hummingbird food (1/4 cup refined sugar and 1 cup of water, boiled thoroughly) and got it filled.

Much to our delight, the first hummingbird showed up at the feeder within an hour. She actually stood on the little perch and drank and drank and drank. There were actually little bubbles gurgling up the reservoir. As the summer went on, there were hummingbirds all through the day. We saw the females more often at dawn and dusk while the males came in during full light, often diving at each other to defend "their" feeder, even though there were plenty of feeding spots for all of them.

They really are impossibly tiny - just a tad bigger than the big double-winged dragon flies we get around here.

And then one day, there were none. Migration season had begun and we thought that was it. But in the next days, we have seen a few at dawn and dusk. In the morning, there has been less food, so something has been feeding at night. Perhaps there's still a few local hummers around, but we're probably seeing Hummingbirds from farther north, happy to find a full feeder on their long trek south.

Soon, we'll need to take the feeder down for the winter, with just memories of these fierce flying jewels to carry us through to Spring.

Getting the rest in Firefox Reader Mode

The Firefox browser has a nifty feature called "Reader Mode" that, for most pages, strips out background images, ads, things that pop up, and other things that conspire to make something impossible to read, especially on a small screen.

It's not perfect: how well and if it works depends on how that page was made. Some pages can't be displayed in reader mode. You can tell because the reader mode icon does not appear in the address bar. Some "ads" sneak through, such as pleas to subscribe. Those you just learn to skip over as you read.

Sometimes the article is truncated, but there are a few things you can try to get the rest:

  • There may be a button on the original page that says something like "continue reading". Click that and try reader mode again.
  • On some sites, the article doesn't fully load until you start scrolling down the page. Sometimes you need to scroll all the way to the bottom. But once you do, reader mode can then display the full article.

If you're new to reader mode, you can learn about its other features on the Firefox help pages. It has settings for light/dark mode, font size, and serif/sans serif. Desktop has additional settings.

Newbury Neck

Tramps in the woods: Newbury Neck Beach, Rokakis/Shafer easement, and Carter Nature Preserve on Newbury Neck, Surry, Maine
Thursday December 29, 2022

After not getting out for hikes for a while, between holiday preparations and weather and a three day power outage and clean-up thereof, there was a nice (for December) day coming up. We had been thinking our next outing would be to the Meadowbrook Forest, a massive property managed by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust that stretches from rt. 172 in Surry up to rt. 1 in Ellsworth. (It doesn't show up on Google maps, by the way.) But the days are so short and those trails are so long, so we decided to visit Newbury Neck, a part of Surry we had never been to.

Newbury Neck is a long peninsula reaching down between the Blue Hill Peninsula and the Trenton peninsula and Mount Desert Island, with Morgan Bay on the west side and Union River Bay on the east. After a much-needed stop at the transfer station, we continued on rt. 172 and turned right onto Newbury Neck Road. There are various places where you can catch glimpses of Union River Bay, especially with winter-bare trees.  The map showed some public features on the shore, but we didn't see how you were supposed to access them. We'll have to ask around to find out which private roads allow right-of-way to them.

We drove by the public Newbury Neck Beach, but didn't stop as they were doing construction, probably repairs from storm damage to the seawall between the beach and the road.  We drove all the way to where the road became private property, posted "no trespassing". If you want to go all the way to the end, you'll need to make friends with whoever lives there. So we turned around and headed back north, keeping an eye out for the Blue Hill Heritage trust sign we thought we glimpsed on the way down.

And there it was! There was a spot with room for one, or maybe two cars and a path leading across a large field to the shore. According to the sign, this is not a "preserve" but a "conservation easement" granted "through the generosity of Laurie A. Rokakis & Christina L. Shafer" for day, foot use only. Well, it was day and we had feet, so we took off to the shore. The path is very smooth as it goes down a slight decline. The field had had a fall mowing and seemed to be a mix of hay and low-bush blueberry.

A path with a thin covering of snow winds downhill through the short tan grasses and reddish brown blueberry bushes ,with a view across Union River Bay to the Trenton peninsula and Bartlett Island, with the mountains of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island rising behind them.

When you get to the end, you are perched over 10 feet above the rocky shore with no reasonable route for the rest of the way down; this access is for the gorgeous view across Union River Bay to Trenton, Mount Desert Island, and Bartlett Island. The shore was strewn with chunks of ice, and floes of ice floated with the tide, despite the warmish weather since the deep freeze. We strolled back up to the car and continued north.

Union River Bay and the rocks and seaweed on the shore coated with ice and a thin coating of snow. The surface of the water has thin sheets and chunks of ice floating on top. The sky is overcast but bright.

The white trunk of a  birch tree slashes upward in front of the path leading back up the hill to the parking area.

When we passed the Newbury Neck Beach again, it looked like they had finished back-filling the breakwater, and a carload of people were bounding around on the beach, poking at the ice and peering into tidal pools. The tide was pretty high leaving not so much room on the beach, so we continued to Cross Road where we would find the parking area for the Furth Wildlife Sanctuary and Talalay Nature Sanctuary, on one side of the road, and the Carter Nature Preserve on the other. Our plan was to do both loops, but the days are shorter than you might think, so we left Furth/Talalay for another day.

Driving by Newbury Neck Beach, with visitors on the shore, lobster boats anchored in the bay, and the mountains of Acadia in the distance.

The Carter Nature Preserve itself is on the shore of Morgan Bay, but there is a pretty lengthy easement trail to get to it. The first part is an easy-to-moderate trail through woods, and then a long stretch of wide, hard packed easy trail, sprinkled with eight or so very nice benches. One of them had a water bowl for dogs, bring your own water. The trail had a thin covering of busily melting snow, so I was glad for both my walking stick and my waterproof boots. It was lined with mostly young firs and the forests on either side were generously covered with mosses and lichens. There are a few spots as it goes up and then down a hill where it's a bit more difficult, but they were installing steps on the hardest part.

A wide snowy path winding between young fir trees.

A water dish for dogs placed at the end of a fancy bench next to a snowy trail.

As we approached the Preserve itself, we started encountering spots where the storm had knocked over trees across the trail.  The most difficult was a pair of trees that left only about of foot of clearance under them and no easy way over them, just before the sturdy bridge over a stream that empties out into Morgan Bay. Most were very easy to step right over. We made a note that we should drop a line to the Trust in case it wasn't already on their trail repair list.

A pair of tall trees that have fallen directly across the path, lightly dusted with snow.

A flat wooden bridge with a rope handrail that crosses a small stream. There's a single set of footprints in the snow coming across the bridge the other way.

The Preserve is a sweet property with a fairly easy trail that winds through dense woods. Some of the biggest trees were obviously long-dead, but still providing habitat for birds, squirrels, lichens, fungi, and mosses. There weren't many birds to be seen - a Chickadee here and there - but it must be a happening place during the summer breeding season.

The tall, thick stump of what must have been a massive tree rises in a cone from the leaf litter of the forest floor, surrounded by huge old fallen branches and young firs.

At one point, the trail takes you down to and along the rocky shore.  The beach was largely covered by ice and snow and there were lots of small ice floes floating on the water. It has lovely views across Morgan Bay. The low winter sun tinted some of the elaborate clouds pink, and they were reflected in the water and ice. The trail then turns up a rustic stone stairway and past a field to Cross Road, where there's a second parking area which probably holds about two cars. Instead of backtracking along the entire trail, we walked the pretty short distance up Cross Road to where we had left our car.

Morgan Bay with the mostly cloudy sky reflected on the still surface, dotted with chunks of ice. Chunks of snow-covered ice are strewn about on the rocky ledge of the shore.

The jumbled rocks on the shore pile up and morph into a staircase up the bank, with a functional if not elegant handrail.

From there, we proceeded on to Ellsworth, had another fine although late lunch at the Airline Brewing Company, then returned by way of the grocery store.  All in all, a very good day: two errands, two fun visits, and home before dark.


Preparing for a Grinchy Christmas

Many of us were getting things ready for Christmas, shopping both food and gift, making travel plans or keeping track of others', sending cards, wrapping, cleaning, packing, decorating - all the usual hubbub before the busiest holiday of the year.  Meanwhile, meteorologist were tracking a major storm. Sometimes their predictions fizzle out as it gets closer, but this one just kept getting worse. So we started turning our thoughts to emergency planning.

We were going to be getting ridiculously strong winds and torrential rain, so our first concern was what to do if the power went out. The forecasts predicted hundreds of thousands of outages; the odds were not good for just hoping it wouldn't be us, and they were equally bad for hoping our power would be restored in a few hours.


Our well pump needs electricity to work, so we had to gather and store potable water for drinking and cooking and reasonably clean water for flushing toilets. We dug deep into the back of the cabinets for the largest cooking pots. One stock pot was for making a huge pot of soup, and the bigger one for water. We also filled every pitcher, thermos, tea pot, and empty jug with clean tap water. This turned out to be enough for three people for three days with about five gallons left over.

The two large canning pots and the bucket were reserved for toilet flushing. Since it was supposed to rain hard, we got out our large trash can that had only been used for (washed) recycling and positioned it under a gutter that would be protected from the expected 30 mph winds, gusting up to 60 or 70. The plan was to use that water for the toilets. (It's been a little droughty around here and why drain the well when we'd be getting water for free?)

The weakness in this plan was that temperatures were supposed to plummet as the rain ended. The barrel would be way too heavy to bring inside when full. We then crossed our fingers that it would take a really long time for it to freeze solid. Indeed, it did not. We have a big fire poker, a rod about five feet long with a loop handle and the end bent over into a four or five inch long spike, that made short work of the layer of ice on top so we could refill the canning pots. We filled the bucket and pots during the rain storm, and the barrel quickly filled to overflowing again. And then we refilled the pots as they were emptied during the power outage. (I say "we" but Dave did all of the ice water refills.) When the power came back, we still had one full pot inside and the barrel was half full, although a good bit of that was ice.

We saved a lot of water by just not washing dishes. We put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and then stacked them as neatly as we could manage when it was full, fondly thinking of when there would be hot water and electricity to run it. We re-used our coffee and tea mugs since we don't put milk or sugar in them.  We didn't run out of dishes, but we had some paper plates in case we did.


The refrigerator also does not work without electricity. Although the temperatures were ridiculously warm for the first part of the storm, forecasts said that temperatures would plunge into single digits (Fahrenheit) as the wind died down. So we hauled out our two chest coolers and put them on the porch, along with all the freezer packs we could round up. After the power went out, we didn't open the fridge doors until the temperature dropped and the coolers got cold. We then loaded up one chest with everything that had to stay frozen, keeping it on the porch. The other chest we used to store beer inside, after letting it get super cold (but not frozen) outside. The fridge then became a big ice chest. We used the freezer compartment, with lots of ice packs, to store things that shouldn't freeze but had to be kept cold. The main compartment we used for things that we usually keep in the fridge but only need to be kept refrigerated to prolong shelf-life.

This part of the plan worked great. Nothing got warm that had to be kept cold (and therefore nothing had to be thrown out!) and we had access to all of our perishables. It would need some tweaking if it hadn't been so cold out, though.


But speaking of cold, our biggest problem was going to be heat. We need electricity for the ignition on our propane-fueled furnace and for the pump for the radiant floor heat. We had plenty of propane, having checked a few days earlier after hearing the early forecasts, but no way for the furnace to use it. We don't have a wood or pellet stove, and our outdoor fireplace wouldn't be of much use.  We thought briefly of running out to the hardware store to get a generator, but we felt that we needed to know a lot more about what options there were and how you actually use them.  We had a few regrets as we were serenaded from all sides by the low roar of neighbors' generators and seeing their well-lit windows, but also thinking we would be driven to distraction having that sound right outside our windows.  Our closest neighbor, in distance and socially, had a wood stove and had an open invitation to come get warm, so our big concern was making sure the pipes didn't freeze.

As the storm got closer, we cranked up the heat in the house to get it as warm as we could, and ran portable heaters to help it along. We kept a big pot of soup simmering most of the day to add even more heat as well as some humidity (not to mention dinner.) We have large southeast-facing windows, so we hoped that we would get some morning sun to help out - that part of the plan didn't pan out as the most direct sun over the next few days was in the afternoon when it didn't help much. Just not a good weekend for weather luck!

As the power outage continued, with no useful information from Versant about how long we would have to wait for restoration (any minute now, or maybe not until Wednesday is not that helpful) the key consideration was keeping what warmth we had inside. So the first order of business was to not be going in and out all the time. The beer in the cooler instead of on the porch helped.  All three of us leaving and coming back from the neighbor's didn't help. Even when doing it at the same time, the door was open longer than you would think. And our doors are exceptionally tall. What we needed was a little tunnel entrance like for an igloo - a human "cat" door?

The oven needs electricity to regulate when the gas comes on and for ignition, so we weren't tempted to asphyxiate ourselves that way. But we could use the cooktop by lighting the burners with matches. Simmering the soup in its tall stock pot acted like a small radiator, adding some warmth.  When the soup was gone, we heated up our cast iron cookware and left it on the stove as fin-type radiators. That didn't seem as effective other than a place to warm up our hands, so we put the other stock pot, with potable water, on to boil and turned off the burner until it cooled, and repeating.  Whenever we boiled water for tea and coffee, we filled it so the remaining water would add another degree or two (or fraction thereof? We forgot to bring an engineer with us to calculate it.) The good news about the door is that it brought in fresh air, which lessened propane-burning pollution building up in the house.

Mind you, this did not warm the house. We were just trying to stave off having to drain the pipes.  Without the solar boost of morning sun, we were losing about 10F degrees a day. We could always put on more clothes and blankets on the bed or go next door, but we needed to be sure to stay above 32F since we couldn't leave the faucets dripping since the well pump was not functioning. On the third day, a bank of clouds rolled in to cover the rising sun and the house was in the 40s, and we realized that the unheated basement (where the most pipes are) was probably colder.  Versant had hinted that our power would be back by 10pm the night before, but that turned out to be a cruel jest.

So we sent a text to Matt, who had built our house: "The house here has been holding its heat pretty well, but if we don't get power back today, we're thinking we should drain the pipes. But we have never done that before. Would you be available today to give us some advice?" He called us back almost instantly because he's that kinda guy. He said his power just came back so maybe ours would be back soon, too. But if not, he had a propane generator he didn't need now and he could get Bobby to come by and hook it to our propane tanks.  It was just a small one, but would be enough for the heating system.  And then about three hours later, the refrigerator roared back to life and all the lights that had been on were suddenly shining again. We let him know right away, thanking him for his offer, and he wrote back, "Happy to do it but also happy not to." Exactly.


On the topic of lights, they were not on our critical-to-life list. But we knew where all the flashlights, batteries, and candles were, and we had a Luci light all charged up. Our phones were fully charged, too, and we found ourselves grateful that we had gotten heavier models with long-lasting batteries the last time around.  Something we thought of too late was that we should have charged the battery packs for our chain saw and lawn mower: they have USB ports we could have used for recharging devices.

Our restoration

When the power came back, there was great rejoicing! But all was not as it was before. We love our radiant floor heating, but it takes forever to get the house warm again. The slab the pipes are imbedded in has to warm up, and then the floor can start to warm the air above it, but that heat is quickly sucked up by all the cold furniture and walls. We plugged the space heaters back in to give it a boost. In the meantime, we had to reverse our refrigerator modifications so the cold stuff didn't freeze, and also so things would be where they were supposed to be.

We continued to used the potable water we had stockpiled until it was gone: it seemed criminal to dump good water down the drain. But we did dump the leftover rainwater in the bathroom after a day. We waited almost a week before dumping the outside rain barrel … just in case the power winked out again.

Our hot water didn't get hot until the house had warmed up. By the next morning it was almost hot enough for a shower, but it took until later until it was hot enough for the dishwasher. In the meantime, all the pots and pans from cooking and storing water got scoured and put away. It took two loads to get all the stockpiled dirty dishes washed. After a full day with power, there was also enough hot water for all the showers you would want to take.

Next time…

Although we were quite pleased with our preparations, there a few things we should do to be better prepared next time.

  • Remember to charge all the USB battery back-ups.

  • Get some USB-powered LED lights.

  • Get some back-up power. Our choices seem to be propane generator (easy and not that expensive, but loud), wind or solar (no fossil fuels, but reliability is expensive), or propane fuel cell (pricey, but quiet and emissions are just oxygen and carbon dioxide), with battery back-up optional except for the solar/wind. As Jon's 90-something uncle pointed out, we're getting old, which means power outages start becoming dangerous rather than just inconvenient, so we'll be doing some more in-depth research.

Blagden Preserve and Bass Light

Tramps in The Woods: Indian Point-Blagden Preserve and Bass Light
Friday, November 18, 2022.

It was a fine November day, clear and bright, seasonably cold, but with little wind, so we bundled up and headed to Mount Desert Island (MDI). Much of MDI is Acadia National Park, but today our first objective was the Indian Point-Blagden Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy, on the "quiet" west side of MDI.

Indian Point-Blagden Preserve

Handsome old oak trees line the Higgins Farm Road entrance to the preserve. The one on the left has a brass plaque that reads, "Mrs. John H. Abram's grandfather Seth Harding planted these oak trees which came from Ellsworth the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 1865."

The Big Woods trail leads from a spacious parking area through mossy woods down to a private road. The first bit is very easy going - wide, smooth, and well marked. But there a few bits that are a little tougher going, mostly due to tree roots, and a few tiny stretches that are a bit steep. Tree roots mean you have to make a gazillion micro-decisions about where to put your feet. Walking on the roots can be slippery, but walking between them you have to be careful that you don't get your foot caught, so you spend a lot of time looking down rather than looking around. There was another stretch with jumbled rocks, which also require attention to where to put your feet. There are a lot of trees, so there's not much undergrowth except mosses and a few baby trees, mostly where big ones had been blown down. It looked like it was foggy from the gray tree trunks as far as you could see. It's probably a refreshingly shady walk on a hot summer day.

Path winding through the trees on the Big Woods Trail with carpets of moss on either side.

It had snowed then rained the other day, leaving some puddles and mushy bits. We were glad of the sturdy bits of boardwalk through the worst places.

A box-type boardwalk, with covered sides, about eight feet long and reaching across a muddy puddle.

Once you're past the steeper bits, the trail comes into a wide, flat area with ancient apple trees with a gravel road through it. The road was lined with "no parking" signs, which suggests it's a busy place in the summer. But we only ran into one couple as we were heading back to our car. We're so glad we can go to places like this on off-season weekdays so we can have them to ourselves!

A field of asters sporting their fluffy seed heads with a cluster of old apple trees.

On the other side of the road, there are two trail choices. We took the Fern Trail. We were not expecting to see that many ferns in November, but we did come across a few hardy specimens. This trail was very flat and had lots of bits of boardwalk through the marshy areas. It leads down to the shore and then along the gravel/pebble beach for a bit. Behind the curving beach is a fresh water marsh. The tide was out, exposing the golden seaweed covering the intertidal rocks.

A brave and/or hardy fern growing through brown fallen leaves and pine needles.

A marsh, in late autumn russets and brown, peeking out from behind the mounded up pebbles of the beach.

Bright yellow seaweed draping the exposed rocks in the intertidal zone.

We never saw the return loop, but we didn't look that hard since we found where it hooked up with the Shore Trail. The Shore Trail follows along the rocky edge of the ocean. The characteristic shoreline rock of MDI is the beautiful pink granite, but the exposed bedrocks on this bit of the island is Ellsworth schist, handsome in its own special swirly, layered way.

Huge slabs of Ellsworth schist slant up towards the sky at the edge of the ocean.

A closer look at the Ellsworth schist shows its wavy layers. This piece has a small seam of white quartz at the bottom of a rainwater puddle.

This preserve is supposed to be great for birding, but, well, it's November, so mostly we saw Chickadees and gulls. But there are a few benches along the trail where you can watch the ocean and keep a lookout for osprey and other coastal birds, and maybe harbor seals basking on the rocks. It was great day for watching the ocean. The air was clear and you could see islands dotting the horizon, the most distant ones seeming to float the air just above the water.

When we got back to the car, backtracking on the Shore Trail and Big Woods Trail, we snarfed down a few granola bars and then proceeded down Indian Point towards Bass Harbor. Our plan was to grab some lunch in Bass Harbor, but the places we had hoped to go were closed for the season. That happens around here. As we passed through town, a huge white-tailed deer buck stepped into the road in front of us. We told him that he should be wearing a safety vest, but he paid no attention to us.

Bass Harbor Light Station

We followed the road down to the Bass Light, first lit to guide mariners around the Bass Harbor sandbar and the treacherous rocks in 1858. This had been a U.S. Coast Guard facility, but they transferred it to the National Park Service when the light was fully automated. There's no access to the interior, in fact there are signs saying that it's a "private residence" but also posted "U.S. Property No Trespassing". But you can go down a narrow paved roadway and stand next to the small house and connector to the cylindrical brick light house itself. It's topped with a glass and metal cupola housing a Fresnel lens. At the base are two bells that had been used on foggy days - they had to be rung every 10 seconds! Various gadgets were adopted so the lighthouse keeper didn't have to stand outside for hours on end to ring it manually and eventually they were replaced by bell buoys.

The lighthouse, connector, and a corner of the keeper's house, with a view miles out over the bay.

A large brass bell mounted at the base of the lighthouse. It says, "Blake Bell Co. U.S. Light House Establishment. 1891." The frame holding it has a sign that reads, "Please don't hit the bell."

A slightly smaller bell mounted in a rusting tower fixed to the rocky cliff edge. It says, "U.S.C.G. 1966" It, too, has a sign saying, "Please don't hit the bell."

On the other side of the parking lot is a trail that takes you down for a picturesque view from the other side. The first stretch is a flat, wide walkway of packed gravel, but any hopes of getting a wheelchair someplace interesting disappear with a series of stepped terraces ending at a set of stairs. The stairs wind down the steep face of the cliff, with little platforms where you can step aside to catch your breath on your way back up or look out at the ocean, and dump you out onto some stone steps. But to actually see the lighthouse, you have to clamber out onto the giant pink granite rocks. I only climbed out enough to catch a glimpse, and then we clambered back up.

The deceptively inviting hard path to the cliff-side lighthouse view.

Steep but sturdy stairs leading down the cliff face with the ocean just below.

The rest of the staircase leading to steps made of rough granite blocks and then jumbled boulders and the ocean beyond.

Jumbles of pink granite with the ocean to the left and the lighthouse peeking out from the trees at the top of the cliff.

English Pub

We were really hungry at this point. We decided our best bet was to head back towards home and look for a place in Ellsworth. We settled on the Airline Brewing Company pub on Maine Street on the way down to the river, which we had driven by many times. Its decor was a very good rendition of a traditional English pub, reminding us of those we had visited, although very tiny. They served actual English-style beers, a delightful change from the aggressively hopped American craft beers you find everywhere these days, and had several cask-conditioned options and more on tap. I ordered bangers and mash and Jon got a cobb salad, and we finished up with pumpkin cheesecake and another Special Old Bitter. (Why do they bring two spoons? If Jon wanted some, he could have ordered it himself. The second spoon went unused.)

The front corner of the Airline Brewing pub with red leather seats and dark woodwork.

A slice of pumpkin cheesecake with a fancy dollop of whipped cream, and two spoons.

A stretch of Main Street in Ellsworth at dusk. The Airline Brewing company is on the left and the Grand theater, lit up in neon, on the right.

And then we drove the rest of the way back with the last light of the day. It was full dark when we arrived. The kitties were so glad to see us - they were sure we had abandoned them forever.



Mariaville and Taft Point

Tramps in the Woods: Mariaville Falls Preserve and Taft Point Preserve
Thursday, November 10, 2022

The forecast called for another September-like day in the middle of November, so it seemed like a good day to bring lunch and get an early start so we could go for walks in two places. We picked two properties managed by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy - our first of theirs - one inland and one on the coast.

Mariaville Falls Preserve

The first thing you do when you go to a new place is find out how the locals say it so you don't embarrass yourself. It's pronounced mar-EYE-ah-vill (like "the wind calls Mariah".) But then we didn't run into a single person and didn't get to show off our lack of ignorance. But that meant we had this lovely property all to ourselves!

This is a fairly large chuck of land along the West Branch of the Union River, upstream from the massive Graham Lake, but the only trails are down by the river. From the nice parking area at the end of a gravel road, the trail follows the top of a ridge forested in birch, pine, cedar, and oak.

A shady grove of tall White Pines with a sunlit clearing in the distance.

The "unimproved" trail is quite easy, but there are a number of places that looked like they would be dicey in wet weather, and some did have plank bridges across the worst places. At the end of the ridge, there is a winding trail down to the river shore. Somebody had obviously cleared the slippery fallen leaves from the steepest parts, so that was nice!

The trail winding down the ridge where a plank bridge crosses a stream.

At the bottom, you turn right to follow the spur trail upstream along the sedate Union River. Sedate, that is until you hit the bottom of the stretch of falls, when it turns out it's pretty feisty. There are a series of falls every 10 or 20 feet, each getting a bit taller. The rock here is not the smooth granite of the shore, but a layered rock that reminded us of the rocks lining Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, N.Y. At the highest point of this part of the trail is a nice bench with a great view of the biggest falls in the series. While this is touted as an extremely clean stream, the water was markedly tea-brown, no doubt from all the fallen leaves steeping in it.

This tree may have fallen over, but it didn't give up: it just tried again across the path.

The first set of falls and the characteristic flat rocks the river runs through.

The bench at the head of the falls. Note the strands of rope between two trees: they probably wouldn't stop you from falling into the falls, so more of a suggestion to not go there.

From there the trail continues to a bend in the river, where it once again looks serene. The roar of the water from around the bend would probably tip you off that the next stretch was not navigable, but they also have a sign posted.

The glass-like surface of the Union River upstream from the falls reflecting the trees on the other shore.

We then backtracked on the spur and completed the riverside part of the loop and the spur that goes to the preserve's boundary. Some of this part is wide and smooth - probably enough for wheelchairs or baby strollers, although the path back up to the second parking might be a little steep.

Wide smooth trail through trees along the banks of the Union River.

Trail up to the second parking area. A few large boulders are positioned at the top to discourage vehicular traffic.

We followed the road from the second parking area to where our car was and enjoyed some nice sandwiches. We then hopped in the car and headed to Gouldsboro on the coast.

Taft Point Preserve

The Taft Point Preserve has two loop trails from the parking area. There were two other cars in the parking lot when we arrived, but only one when we finished the Flanders Bay trail and then only ours when we finished the Jones Cove loop. It felt like we had the place to ourselves, though, since we didn't see or hear the other visitors. One of the features of this preserve is an interesting intertidal zone, but the tide was high when we were there, so we'll have to save that for another visit.

The brochure mentions that there is well on the Flanders Bay trail, but we actually saw two: one round and one square, both with fences around them to keep folks from falling in. Maybe the square one was a foundation for something rather than a well?

Downhill from the trail, a small round stone well is trying to hide amongst the fallen leaves

A square hole in the ground lined with mossy rocks. A scattering of brown leaves float on the surface, which is reflecting the sky and tree branches above.

We came across an amazing tree, completely covered in burls. It had obviously been a while since it had put out new leaves, but it was still standing proud and beautiful, so I hesitate to call it dead.

A burly tree reaching its top two branches out as if to hug the sky.

The trail winds down through spruce and oak to the shore. There are a few places with two-plank boardwalks across areas that must get wet, but they were bone dry on our walk. The trail follows the shore for a while until you come to a beautiful bridge over a small ravine, featuring a lovely bench so you can sit and admire the ocean. There are amazing views of the mountains at Acadia National Park. No pictures though - the sun was too low and shining right into the camera. You'll just have to go and see for yourself. Shortly after there's a sturdy set of stairs down to a pebbly beach.

A wooden bridge with hefty handrails with the ocean in the background.

A bench built in the middle of a bridge. Its back bows out so its very deep in the middle. The back slats get taller in the middle, and there's a block of wood underneath you can pull out it if the seat is too high for you.

Sturdy stairs down to the beach.

We didn't linger long on the beach, but headed back up through the woods to the parking area so we'd have enough time to do the Jones Cove loop. This trail included numbered signposts for a self-guided nature walk. There was a set of laminated cards hanging at the welcome signpost at the parking lot that you could borrow as well as QR codes on each of the posts. On shore part of the trail, there was a tantalizing glimpse of a fan-shaped sandy beach, but the trail turned back up before getting there. Access must be from the adjacent private land.

Looking through trees to a sandy beach a bit down the shore.

This loop passed by several moss and lichen covered boulders, some sporting some small ferns, always a high point of any trek.

A large rock in the woods covered with moss, lichens, some fallen leaves, and a few small ferns.

All in all, this a delightful small preserve with easy trails and lovely views. We'll have to go back when the sun is higher in the sky and the tide is out.


Tennis Preserve, Deer Isle, Maine

Tramps in the woods: Edgar M. Tennis Preserve, Deer Isle, Maine
Tuesday November 8, 2022

Taking advantage of a nice November day, we headed out to the Tennis Preserve on Deer Isle, a reserve managed by the Island Heritage Trust and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. It was a little nippy with a brisk wind, so we wanted something more forest than beach. The trails were more primitive that I had assumed, and so many, many rocks and roots, some hidden beneath fallen leaves, making this hike moderate rather than easy. But we did get a little warning: the parking spots were even rougher than the trails.

An olive green Subaru is pulled up over rocks and tree roots. The area is identified as a parking lot by the small sign on the right that says P.

The preserve is second-growth coastal woods, with lots of spruce and thick moss coverings on the ground, dotted here and there with large glacially-deposited granite boulders. The woods are tangled with fallen trees, some with huge fans of roots that tore up when the trees toppled, carrying the large stones they had wrapped around. I imagine much of the maintenance work goes into clearing fallen trees from the trail.

A large toppled tree with a huge circle of roots sticking up into the air. Grasses and mosses have started to grow where the tree used to stand.
A grove of spruce trees separated by soft mounds of mosses and lichens, lit by dappled sunlight.

We chose the Pickering Cove-side long loop. The trail starts off on what used to be a road to the farmhouse, but splits off into winding paths at the old foundation. The house must have been so tiny. It's hard to imagine spending long Maine winters there in such a remote location.

Grasses and small trees encroach on slumping hole in the ground, lined with rocks and some pieces of dressed granite.

A spur of the trail leads to the Toothaker Family Cemetery, not on Preserve land, but respectful visitors are welcome.  There's a nice sign about the history of the early European settlers of Deer Isle and the family buried here.

Looking through a wire fence gate with scrollwork decorations on top to an oak leaf strewn cemetery.

A bit further on, you find yourself at the edge of the ocean. There's a big drop-off down to a boulder-strewn shore. It looked like treacherous going, and there was a fierce, cold wind, so we stayed on the uphill trail and made no attempt to clamber down. It was still a pretty steep drop towards the ocean and the trail is narrow and slanty, so of course I had a bit of a battle with vertigo/paralyzing fear of falling. It would have been easy with my emotional support walking stick.

A view through fallen branches and reddish fall grasses to a stretch of ocean with a tree-covered island on the other side.

We stopped at few openings to Pickering Cove and Jericho Bay to take in the gorgeous view, but not for very long: that strong, cold wind encouraged us to keep going.

A rocky ledge pokes out of the water. The near side is massive hunks of lichen-covered boulders. The far side is a long tree covered island.
Looking out over a rocky shore to Jericho Bay, dotted with islands as far as you can see.
Looking down Pickering Cove across a sunlit rocky shore.

We should probably come back and check out the Southeast Harbor-side loop trail, and maybe the Pickering Cove short loop someday, but the days are really short around now, so we skipped them this time.


How I make stuffing

This recipe makes enough stuffing to stuff a good size turkey and still have plenty left to cook separately.

Melt one stick of butter in a large pan. Butter browns easily, so use a very low heat.
Stick of butter in a big sauce pan on a stovetop

Chop up two medium onions and add to melting butter.
Chopped onions with no pieces bigger than half an inch

Chop 3-4 stalks of celery and add to butter and onions.
Celery on a cutting board with slices less than a quarter of an inch

Core, peel, and chop two medium apples and add to butter, onions, and celery.
Quartered apple on a cutting board The second quarter has been cored The third quarter has also been peeled The final quarter has been cut into half inch or less cubes

Add about 1 tablespoon each of rosemary, thyme, and sage, and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
Simmering onions, celery, and apples with herbs sitting on top not yet stirred inSalt and pepper grinders

Lightly chop half a cup of shelled walnuts and add to the pot.
Shelled walnuts on a cutting board chopped so that no pieces are bigger than half an inch or so

Add 1 cup of apple cider to the pot.
One cup of cider in a glass measuring cup with a jug of fresh apple cider in the background

Bring to a boil and let it simmer gently until the onions are tender.
Herbs onions celery apples walnuts and cider gentling simmering in the pan

Turn off the heat and add about 1/3 of a 7 ounce bag of bread crumbs.
Back of breadcrumb package showing 7 ounce sizeFront of breadcrumb package Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned classic stuffing

Lightly toss it in, add another 1/3 bag. Stir again, and then add the rest of the bread crumbs and toss the mixture lightly. Let it sit for a few minutes and toss lightly; repeat until the crumbs are equally softened.
First third of breadcrumb addedSecond third of breadcrumbs added and gently mixed in

The stuffing is now ready to put into the turkey.

For the rest, lightly beat one egg into another cup of cider. Drizzle this into the stuffing, mixing frequently. If you are cooking the entire batch separately, you may need to add cider or water until the mixture is wet but not sopping.

Butter an oven-safe baking dish and put the stuffing in. Press it in only hard enough so that there are no voids. Cover the dish with a lid or tin foil.

Bake in a 325-350°F oven until the edges start to brown and pull away from the edges, usually 40 minutes or so. The internal temperature should be at least 165°F.
If you're using a deep dish, it may take longer, and you should use the lower temperature (325°F) so it doesn't get too dried out on the edges.

Grandma Warner's Molasses Cookies

My grandmother, Gladys Warner, was a formidable woman. She raised a family of six while working as a cook in a logging camp in the Adirondacks. When she made pies, she made them by the dozen. She nursed her sister's twins as well as one of her own. She hunted and fished. She grew most of her own food, canning lots of it even after getting huge freezer chests. She could knit a pair of mittens in an evening. And she made the best molasses cookies I have ever had.

This recipe makes 8-9 dozen, so make sure you have about 3 hours. Note that it doesn't use eggs, dairy products, or nuts, so it's a handy recipe if you have to worry about food allergies.


  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 heaping tsp. ginger
  • 2 heaping tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 heaping tsp. baking soda
  • 5-6 cups flour (about half a 5 lb. bag)
  • about 1/4 cup granulated sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Cream together the brown sugar and shortening.
  3. Add the molasses, honey, applesauce, salt, and spices and mix well.
  4. Mix the baking soda into about 4 cups of flour, and add to the mixture. Stir until smooth.
  5. Continue to add flour, mixing well, until the dough is very stiff. (The exact amount can vary based on humidity and who knows what else.)
  6. Drop large spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. (Bigger than a walnut, but smaller than an apricot.)
  7. Butter the bottom of a glass and dip it in sugar. Use it to flatten the drops to between 1/3" and 1/2".
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until they bounce back when tapped with a finger. If they brown, you've kept them in too long.
Dark, non-stick cookie sheets do not work well: the cookies tend to burn on the bottom. Ordinary greased metal sheets work fine; they won't stick at all if you let them cool on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring them to cooling racks.

If stored in an air-tight container, these cookies are purported to last indefinitely without refrigeration. (But I've never been able to test this - they get eaten too fast!)

The myth of automated heading outlines

There's been a revived interest in automatically generated, logically nested headings maps. The HTML5 solution was to use the H1 element in each SECTION, and the browser would then figure out the correct level by the nesting of SECTION elements.  But browsers have not actually implemented this part of the specification, so this method does not work.

Heading outlines are particularly important for people using assistive technologies (see Background section below) so it would be a Good Thing if technology could help us improve their quality.

Further reading: The HTML5 Document Outline, by Steve Faulkner

Let's make a new element!

Jonathan Neal has put out a proposal to add a new element, H, to indicate the heading for a SECTION.  The idea is to provide a contextual heading for a given piece of content without having to know exactly what level it is in terms of the overall page. Browsers could then generate a logical outline based on nesting of SECTIONs.

This really leaves us where we are now: there is no value unless browsers actually implement it.

Further reading: The State of <H>, Jonathan Neal

What, actually, is the problem to be solved?

I have some bad news: heading and content hierarchies are based on the authors' intent and the what they are trying to communicate.  No algorithm can read a person's mind, so if you want your heading levels useful and meaningful, you have to do it yourself.  It doesn't really matter if you do it with numbered heading elements or by correct nesting, only you can know the relationships and hierarchies and make sure to use the markup that will best represent it.  If the author doesn't care about or understand content structure, nested SECTIONs will be abused just as badly as numbered headings.

The current debate seems to be stuck on how to generate an algorithm that can fix missing structure markup without breaking good structure markup.  I for one can imagine why browser vendors aren't interested in tackling this problem: you are guaranteed to make somebody angry with you.

Further reading: Do we need a new heading element? We don't know, by Jake Archibald

But what about content re-use?

The only real-life example of where code could help is content re-use.  In some publishing environments, you may have pieces of content that can be used in different places, and they may need different heading levels in those different places.  This is a legitimate issue, but in reality, it's not a very common one.

Content re-use is very appealing: there's only one place to keep information up-to-date while being able to pop it in everyplace it's useful.  We did a lot of work on enabling content re-use in Mass.Gov for these reasons. But it was almost never used: content often needed to be edited to make sense in the new context, and/or it was easier and better to just link to the existing content. When it was used, it created new content maintenance problems when the original was edited or deleted.  So, great idea, but not practical in most situations.

The wonders of content management systems

Where content re-use does make sense is in an environment with highly controlled information architecture and content curation, which requires a sophisticated content management system.  The obvious place to build automation for correct outlining is within that CMS, as part of the controls.  The page-generating code and templates control where different pieces of content go, so should also be able to control what heading levels are being used in those different places.

And that's pretty much what sites like this are doing already, so a browser-based algorithm is not going to solve any problems for them.

In less-rigid environments, with more content creators with greater latitude, you can still configure your CMS to make it easier for them to do the right thing. For instance, you can configure its WYSIWYG to not offer heading levels higher than authors should use.

Browsers are amazing, and are forgiving of so much bad markup, but it's not reasonable to expect them to fix everything.  When it comes to issues that have to with the actual meaning and purpose of content, it may not even be desirable to expect them to fix them.  Sometimes you just have to fix your own problems.

Background: Why headings are important

We use headings in written content to break up long chunks of text to make it easier to absorb.  A sighted user can easily scan the content to see what it is about and how it is organized.  Screen reader software gives users a list of headings and their levels that they can navigate from, or they can use keyboard commands to move from heading to heading, either sequentially or within a specific heading level.  There are browser extensions that give keyboard-only users similar methods.

If you have used heading levels correctly, it will be a logical outline of the content.  The most common errors are using only visual effects instead of heading markup, skipping levels, and incorrect nesting.