Sunday, July 26, 2015

Maine: Rockland history, Interfaith Alliance (1/4)

     Welcome to Rockland Maine, a harbor town on the Penobscot Bay with a population of 7,500.  This is the first article in a 4 article series.

     Settled in the 1860's, it was originally a camp that harvested oak and pine.

     Rockland quickly developed a wide diversity of industry.  These included granite quarrying and finishing, limestone mining and kilning, ship making, sail making, grain processing, carriage manufacturing, shoe factories and of course fishing.  300 vessels served 125 lime kilns - this was a busy place.  The railroad came in 1871 adding tourism to the list of businesses.  The result of this today is a pool of talented and versatile folks who engage in a wide variety of activities.

     There are numerous museums and art galleries, a train that runs through scenic areas of Maine, sailing excursions and a host of other activities here.  The record high temperature here was 96 degrees in 1936; during the winter months 20 below zero is not uncommon.

     A mile long breakwater, built in 1902, protects the mouth of the harbor.  Its tip is adorned by Rockland Harbor Lighthouse.

     Immediately across the harbor entrance is a second lighthouse - Owl's Head Lighthouse.

     This structure was built 76 years prior to the breakwater - back in 1826.

     One of the great recent stories here is that of Charles Cawley.  Charles was passing through Rockland as a young college student, and had a tire go flat on his car.  Men from the local fire department pitched in and got him a whole set of brand new tires   Charles never forgot that kindness.

      Years later Charles founded a large finance company called MBNA.  He headquartered it out of Rockland, and in the process brought 4,500 jobs to Maine.

     I was unable to interview Charles as he is older and in poor health now.  But I could see the results of his efforts here.  He had numerous things built for the city - a boardwalk, parks and gardens and the like.  It is clear that he had a clear vision about the civic duties of a corporation, and he paid his people very well.  And it wasn't just here that he contributed - many other communities along this stretch of coast have museums, waterfront walkways, parks and many other things due to his generosity.  It is a great example of a kindness coming full circle.    

     Kindness seems to be in Rockland's blood.  I had just arrived in Rockland, and was sitting down to take a break and decide whether to write an article here or move on down the coast to the town of Bath.  We spent last week within ten miles of here in Camden and Rockport.  I have it in my head that I need to make 50 miles a week to have this first trip done by 2020, so I was inclined to move on.

     A fast moving guy swept by, turned around and said "I don't know you.  My name is Dick McKusic."  I introduced myself, and his next question was "Where are you from?"

     When I told him that I am based out of Charleston SC, he grabbed my forearm and leaned in close to me.  With a tear in his eye he said "I want you to know - and I want the people of Charleston to know how many people they touched with their handling of that tragic shooting in that church down there.  Your kindness is a message that has been heard around the world.  It shows others that if we want to live in a forgiving world we have to forgive others."

     He asked what I was doing, and I told him a bit about this journey to set up a fundraiser for an autism and epilepsy research hospital.  Immediately he asked where I was staying.  When I told him my van, he said "No - no you're not.  You are staying at my house."  He gave me his address and that was that.

     Dick has owned this house for fifty years.  Thirty years ago he started housing men who were just getting released from prison.  He had scores of men stay here - helping them get jobs, licenses, handle legal and addiction issues and the host of other problems that people face who have been in the system.  He named the house the "Dew Drop Inn," and the sign still hangs on his front door.

     Dick is full of hope - much more so than most folks.  These are grape-fruit trees he has grown from seeds.

     He has been nurturing them for a couple of years now, taking them inside during the cold months.  He loves the foliage, and although he doubts they will ever bear fruit, there is always hope, right?

     Back in 2006 and 2010, Dick went to Cuba on several mission trips that originated in Canada.     When he returned the second time, he felt that God had given him twelve specific tasks to complete upon his return.  One of the things he did was write to Barack Obama.

     He penned a note telling the President that he was praying for him to have guidance and strength, and related to him the conditions he found in Cuba.

     He talked about how graceful and kind the Cuban people are, and how they represent a simplicity and purity that was very compelling.  He told Obama that if he were to visit and meet the Cuban people he would probably change the way the United States deals with the country.

    Some time went by, and Dick figured that Barack gets thousands of emails a day - he just hoped his message might help.  Well, one day a response came back.     

     In December of 2014 the world became aware of a thaw in relations with Cuba when Barack sent a delegation there to pick up an American prisoner named Alan Gross they had been holding.  Along with the note came a bunch of photos - of Barack talking on the phone when he negotiated the release with Castro, of the delegation on the way to pick him up, of Alan making his first phone call on the jet that brought him back - really an unexpected and touching gesture.  What a remarkable thing.

     I laid the photos out on the table, and ironically the television in the top photo shows Sarah Palin on CNN as they were breaking the news about a thaw in Cuba-US relations.  I wish I knew what she was saying so I could put it in context here.  Nah - not really.

     But there is no sitting still when you are with Dick.  The next morning we were off to the local soup kitchen where Dick washes dishes a couple of days a week.

     The soup kitchen operates in the Catholic Church from Monday through Friday and at the Episcopal Church on Saturday and Sunday.  The local Jewish Synagogue handles it on Christmas and Easter.  

     Each day has a team of folks who cook, serve and clean.  The teams are made up of folks from churches all over the area - I quit counting at about twenty different ones.  Even the usually reclusive Mormons were here - several of their young men act as waiters two days a week.

      Pictured below is Baptiste Darcourt and Pfeiffer.  

     Baptiste is a French trained chef who has worked all over the world - literally all over.  I quit taking notes at about the tenth country he named.  He has been cooking here for four years now and attends the local Catholic Church.  Shirley moved here after being widowed, and wanted to have a way to give to the community and have some social life.  She identifies herself as "spiritual" rather than as a member of a particular religion.

     On top of being fed, the people who come to the kitchen are able to bring a bag and take fresh vegetables, fruit, breads and pastries.

     This has been an ongoing effort for decades, and some of these folks have been here since the beginning.  This is Maria - she has been doing this twice a week for 40 years now.

     But you can't stand around a kitchen with a camera and clipboard for long.  In his thick French accent, Baptiste asked me if I knew how to cut cheese.  Rather than doing the obvious and asking him to pull my finger, I simply said "yes."  An apron and gloves and there you go.

     Then we are off to the Methodist Church where they have acquired six acres to be used as a formal garden.

     Today they are have a small ceremony marking the event.

     A number of churches are represented here, and the mayor, Frank Isganitis and both local representatives to congress are present.  Frank, an eloquent speaker, addresses the crowd first and talks about the importance of what they are doing as it relates to the spirit of the community.

     I overheard Frank talking to one of the representative about a fellow from a neighboring town who had said that you couldn't get anything done in Rockport unless you were part of the "good old boy network."

     Frank, who is openly gay, replied that it was hard to have a "good old boy network" when a gay man and two women were the primary representatives of the town.

     The minister of the church, Lael Sorensen and two other women who were an integral part of getting this project underway turn the first spades of dirt.     

    Frank jokes that real men know how to get the women working.

     A few cookies from the refreshment table and Dick has me off on another mission.

     It seems that Dick has put together a group of people from various local churches that take music to the local nursing home.  Dick finds out I used to play keyboards, and although I protest how rusty I am he encourages me to play.  He rounds up a keyboard for me to practice on a bit and we are off. 

     I didn't photograph the group in the nursing home out of privacy concerns, but someone took a photo of me.  Another fellow played numerous songs while I procrastinated and fidgeted.  I finally played a couple of songs at the end - after all I reasoned, most of them won't remember how bad I am.

     Much to my surprise, they all jumped in and sang along to "Fleur Elise" from the Sound of Music and were all over "Amazing Grace." 

     Dick has a music group coming to town from Virginia the day after tomorrow, so while he makes arrangements we have a bit of time to explore the area.  Hopefully Dick's choir's singing skills is better than me on the keyboards.  They, like this area, are supposed to be a group that represents a wide variety of religions.  We will meet them tomorrow.

     Big pits left from old mines are common here - and they are deep.  I am told most are over 200 feet - some of them way over that.  Some, such as this one were quarries for limestone.  You can see the beginning of the white vein nestled in the granite.

     Limestone is the result of sea life being deposited on the ocean floor, so here is a clear example of volcanic activity laying granite atop what was once the floor of the ocean.  

     I had several folks warn me that the vegetation and rocks along the edges are often loose, and if you fall in there is no way to climb back out.  If no one happens to be close, you are a goner, and probably by the time they get back with a rope hypothermia has done you in.

     Here is one of the granite quarries - some of them are quite picturesque.  Taking the warnings seriously, I didn't push it trying to find spots to get good photos of them.

     And these Mainer's know how to use rock.  I guess if you are going to name your town Rockland you better.   

     Another small Maine town, another beautiful library.  I wonder if anyone has done a book on Maine Libraries.  They all have been works of art.

     Another fellow built picnic tables out of the granite.

     Guess you don't have to worry about those walking off.  Here is another table out of wood I really like.

     It was found outside a children's nautical museum.

     One good use for a big quarry - the town landfill.

     The town actually sorts their trash better than anywhere I have seen.  They even ferret out books and have them in a shed where people can pick out what they want.  The trash that isn't recycled is ground up and deposited here.  Beneath the surface, this pile of trash is 3,000 feet long, 250 feet high and 200 feet wide.  I have a theory that we fill our landfills at exactly the same rate the container ships bring in stuff from China.  Just a theory.

     One thing I am not used to seeing is clotheslines everywhere.  Well, you see clotheslines but here it seems most everyone actually uses them.

     Rockland is the self-proclaimed "Lobster Capital of the World."  You could do a whole book on all the different ways the lobster is used as a decoration here.  A few that caught my eye - the "junk lobster."

     And for the debonair crowd - the lobster crusher claw gold and diamond pendant.

     A lot of subliminal messages there - best to just move on.  

     On a whole separate note, I have seen more confederate flags flown here than I ever did in Charleston. 

     I will have to ask if it is just a reaction to the recent attempts to ban them or if it has been the norm here.  Pretty ironic though - all those flags about as far north of the Mason Dixon line as you can get on the mainland.

    That brings us to today's parting shot - spotted in a local restaurant.

     Well, there you have it.  And today's "Faces in the Crowd" - a fellow that was attending the dedication for the gardens.

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1 comment:

  1. My name is Brandon. I attend the same church as Dick McKusic. I can tell you that the confederate flag was not commonly seen before the events in Charleston and the subsequent attempts to ban it. Mainers have a habit of expressing our dislike of others telling us what we can and cannot do by simply doing what they say we cant as long as it doesnt actually cause physical harm to others.