Getting ready to roost


Chickens are coming!  We have a winter before they arrive, but today, on a warm mid-autumn holiday, we got to work putting up a stockade fence.

IMG_4304IMG_4308Mel, a great gardener from the big house helped, and our neighbor Steve came over to see what was going on.

Our backlot is overgrown with roots aplenty, and not far underground lies ledge.  By day’s end, the post hole digger was dented and bent.  But six sections of fence went up.  Privacy for the hens, and for us too.

The City of South Portland will allow six hens – no Roosters – per household.  Muscovy Ducks would be welcome; they love to eat flies, maggots, mosquitos, mosquito larva, slugs, bugs of all sorts, black widow spiders, the brown fiddleback spider and any thing else that creeps and crawls.  They are a boon to any garden.

IMG_4309 If two households pair up, would that allow twelve birds in total – a mixture of chickens and ducks?  Steve had chickens decades ago, and welcomes the idea.  Maybe we have the chickens and he keeps the ducks, and they waddle back and forth, foraging here and there as they go.  Something fun to ponder as the winter winds begin to blow.  



Autumn at Home


Newest sculpture, home grown


One of the issues in our untended yard is the saplings that took root too close to the house.  On the back of our Ell, we had a Box Elder tree growing very close, and we feared its roots could impact the foundation.  IMG_2786Last December we cut down that tree.


The stump remained, and as we prepared to do site work for a new patio, we decided to try to remove it with the excavator.  IMG_4517That root just refused to come out, and the tap root – big as a Christmas Ham – had grown through the foundation into the crawl space beneath the Ell.


We were just about to give up when the root snapped and broke free.  The Ell remains standing.  Here is a photo of Jim Hamlin, excavator and big game hunter!


We decided that the root deserved a permanent place on our Art Farm.  To make it safe, we dug a small hole and set the stump and root upright.  It stands more than eight feet tall.  Pretty amazing!


In My Backyard


The tar sands debate – dark and dismal – always seemed focused on someplace far away: the Province of Alberta, Nebraska, West Texas.  But en sotto voce, plans have been taking shape right out my back door.

The Casco Bay is the maritime port for Eastern Canada.  Into this year round deep-water port, oil tankers arrive daily to unload their crude and then ship it by pipeline 236 miles north to Canada.  Since 1941 – for almost three generations – over 4 billion barrels of crude oil have been pumped northward along the Portland-Montreal Pipeline.


It is no engineering feat to realize that a pipeline can flow in either direction.  And as the Keystone XL pipeline became embroiled, rumors began to surface for shipping the tar sands oil east, from Alberta to Quebec then into Vermont and New Hampshire for export through the Gulf of Maine.

The pipeline can move 600,000 gallons per day.  Its terminus is South Portland.  The oil tank farm lies across the street.  Tar sands would come here.  Not without a fight.


The Portland-Montreal Pipeline Company has made no announcement of plans to reverse the pipeline.  None, officially, but a strong grass roots coalition – raising voice from Vermont to South Portland – has been preemptive in resisting the possibility.

In South Portland, it is a zoning issue.  On 5 November there is a referendum up for a vote.  The citizen initiated Waterfront Protection Ordinance states that within the Shipyard District, the permitted use would include “facilities for the unloading of petroleum products from ships docking in South Portland” but “there shall be no enlargement or expansion of existing petroleum storage tank farms and accessory piers, pumping and distribution facilities….”

If you ask any of the activists in favor of Waterfront Protection, they make plain that the existing crude oil business is fine – the inbound unloading of tankers – but there should be no expansion that allows the outbound loading of tankers.  Tar sands is the issue, and the related toxic fumes, emissions, and the very real risk of an oil spill.  The high bitumen content of tar sands makes clean up difficult by an order of magnitude.

In debate, plain language is anything but, and big oil is funding the movement against Waterfront Protection. The Portland-Montreal Pipeline Company, which operates quietly out of a small red brick building over on Hill Street, and does have a sterling record of safety, is a subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil Corporation.

“It’s the Economy, Stupid,” is a slogan proven to win elections, and that is the crux of their argument.  Upon a faulty premise, they have built a case carefully, and are broadcasting misinformation widely in glossy mass mailings, that arrive weekly.  They are spending a reported $275,000 in their campaign against the ordinance.

They paid Charles Lawton, a local economist, $15,000 to quantify the impact of the ordinance shutting down all oil-related business.  (Bear in mind, the ordinance clearly states that the status quo is fine, and only the expansion is restricted.)  Given the premise of all operations ceasing, the economist logically projected over the next decade 5,600 jobs would be lost and $252 million dollars in earnings would vanish; the “economic multiplier” would impact the wider community to the amount of $26.6 million annually, eliminating about 250 jobs, $12 million in income, and $9.4 million in tax revenues.

In the 16 October edition of the Portland Press Herald, a columnist called this report, “a scare tactic masquerading as a fact.  Pretty slick, huh? One minute Lawton is talking hypothetically about a waterfront sans workers – and the next his gloomy forecast is attached, as sure as tomorrow’s sunrise, to a “yes” vote on the Waterfront Protection Ordinance.”

You have to wonder how Lawton regards this distortion, and what to make of his quote from the article : “I’m not uncomfortable with what I delivered…[but] I can’t say how it’s been represented in ads or handouts or fliers or whatever.”   Is the public nothing more than a bunch of rats being lead through a dirty maze?  Independent thought and fact checking are crucial.

Fear is an easy message to sell.  Whether it is true or not seems hardly the issue.  Big Oil has reportedly hired youths to go door to door, telling people they also want to protect the waterfront but the language is too restrictive.  “It’s just the wording is wrong.”

Now firefighters statewide have raised their voices against the Waterfront Protection Ordinance.  Their union also says the wording is wrong, and would restrict companies from upgrading for safety requirements.  Really?

Bill McKibben, a bright light and outspoken environmental activist has said, “The Portland pipeline isn’t some obscure local issue — it’s a fuse leading straight to one of the most dangerous carbon bombs on the planet.”

A description of this “carbon bomb” – referred to as the most destructive project on earth – can be found at the web site :

Alberta Oilsands-iStockphoto-Thinkstock-400x239

The Alberta Boreal Forest, under which the oil is embedded, is equivalent to the size of England; the deforestation is so vast it can be seen from outer space.

The industrial process is massively consumptive of resources: four barrels of water, four tons of earth, and energy equal to three barrels of oil are required to extract one barrel of oil. but-thousands-flock-here-to-make-real-money-in-the-oil-sands--where-creating-synthetic-crude-begins-in-the-strip-mine

Ninety percent of water used in tar sands extraction cannot be returned to the Athabasca River due to quality issues.

The Tar Sands contain 17% more carbon than other types of crude oil, and the extraction process emits as much as four times more carbon dioxide than conventional drilling.once-the-rough-oil-is-pulled-from-the-sand-it-will-get-sent-to-an-upgrader-like-suncors-here-on-the-athabasca-river--this-is-one-of-the-sites-where-the-oil-from-the-oil-sands-is-converted-into-synthetic-crude

First Nations communities living close to the oil sands or downstream on the Athabasca River are suffering from higher-than-normal cancer levels and illness.

The facts of the tar sands are nightmarish, and its scale is overwhelming.  This is an important moment for the members of our community to take a stand.  The question before us, at its most basic, might be framed as whether, as a community, we want to remain dependent upon the fossil fuel economy, or shall we pursue a future that is restorative, that is abundant rather than austere, that embraces creativity as a means to discovery, and that teaches our children to think for themselves and neither follow blindly nor let fear fuel their decisions.

One step forward…


Working through the to-do list, we had reached the happy task of hanging a hammock.  Was I ready for that.

And on the same weekend, back in July, Becca found a puddle of water on the computer desk.  Looking up, we saw sheetrock sagging.  Glug!  The hammock went empty as I started ripping out the ceiling.


The roof on that section of the house had some pretty sloppy flashing.  When we jacked up parts of the basement during our renovation last autumn – our goal was to level the kitchen floor – the upward pressure must also have shifted, ever so slightly, that section of roofline.  Water was finding the path of least resistance.  Into our house.  Onto our desk.

“Look at it as an opportunity,”  That was the advice of Noah, the builder who has been helping us.  I never would have gone there but he had a point.  During our renovation last autumn we superinsulated the main house and attic but did not do the ceiling cavity in this section.  Since we had to expose part of the ceiling now,  it made sense to rip out the entire section and re-do the insulation.

But I was slow to get started. Finally I removed all the sheetrock and strapping and then affixed rigid foam insulation between the rafters.  I left air space between the rigid foam and the roof boards, then used spray foam to seal the edges and corners.

IMG_3949Rolls of insulation were placed across the rafters and a vapor barrier was stapled in place. I used a 1 mil plastic sheet.


Calculating the total insulation value we gained is an unsolved puzzle: R5 against the roof + spray foam + R30 rolls of pink insulation = I know not what, but it is much more than was up there before.  In fact, I found a gaping hole between the house interior and the porch roof.  Whoever built this addition felt that tar paper was adequate insulation against the winter cold.  Amazing!

When I finished replacing the sheetrock, heavy rains fell and nothing appeared inside the house. That was the big test. I hired a professional to do the final taping and mudding; this was a prominent location and it was well worth having a skilled hand do the finish work. And that gave me the chance, on an Indian Summer afternoon, to go lie upon the hammock.


Fairy Playground

Needed some magic today so we found a special place amongst the fading plants to create a play land.

IMG_4050Materials included objects from our last beach walk -shells, sea glass, stones, as well as items collected from around the yard – leaves, sticks, stones.



Making paths and trails…





Adding leaf boats…






Mama Earth Vertebrae

Prouts Neck Beach, Scarborough, Maine



Cannon preservation


A Carronade is a short smoothbore cast iron naval weapon introduced circa 1778 by Carron Foundry in Scotland.  The weapons have a short range, and ships with these became easy prey to those mounting rifled long guns, so after the War of 1812 the cannons were mostly discontinued.  The Confederacy used some during the Civil War.

IMG_4219The inscription “1723” denotes the weight.  This Carronade, a “32-pounder,” sits now at the big house, and the salt air will deteriorate the metal.  We needed to do some preservation work.

Having absolutely no knowledge of metals, I did some research.  The Superintendent of the Richmond  National Battlefield Park recommended painting the cannon.  We shied away from that.  Oil seemed a safer route.   The gun department of a local hunting outfitter advised that we not use any of their oils; they argued that metals have changed and modern oils would be risky.

So I called Dereck Glaser, a Master Blacksmith and founder of the New England School of Metalwork.  Dereck’s recipe was equal parts Boiled Linseed Oil and Thompson”s Water Seal, with a bit of Japan Driers added.  It worked great!  Dereck’s webs sites are: and

Here are before and after photos:



Up in the Clouds

The Art Farm grows with more form and color. Earlier this month, for David’s birthday, a good friend built this Bluebird house to which I added a bit of color. IMG_3782 IMG_3786 IMG_3792 IMG_3832 IMG_3827

From Tree to Table