Last night, we had the first real snow of this winter. A tiny bit more is coming down as I type at 1:54 pm. It is cloudy outside. I went out earlier to plow the driveway but it is to mucky. The total accumulation of snow is only a few inches. We have had an eerily warm winter. This is typically a time when we are anxious that we will have a enough firewood to get us though. But this year we need not worry. We had a chimney fire in November that required the fire department. It was a crazy event, slightly traumatizing. As a result, we have decided not to use our woodstove until we can have it inspected by someone with greater knowledge than myself. So until then, our large pile of firewood sits, waiting in anticipation of offering us warmth. We do have an inspection scheduled for January 30, and will hopefully be enjoying wood heat soon after.
My paintings have been entirely acrylic this winter. I have barely been into my studio. The studio is the best place for oils and turps. With acrylic I can just paint in the house by making room on the kitchen table. I have an art cart that I wheel into a spare bedroom when I finish painting for the day. It works out very well, though I do miss working on larger paintings and they do require more room.
I do believe the painting, below, is complete. I did a minor touch up this morning and was pleased with the results, as minimal as it was. This painting is for sale. If you are interested in purchasing it please email me. email@example.com
Weather wise, the first day of September could not have been more beautiful. I met Ron Nowell on Kingsbury Lane, off Route 91 in the Scotland area of York, Maine. We parked our vehicles in a designated parking space directly across from the Kingsbury House and adjacent to two concrete posts with very bold stop signs anchored atop.
It was Ron’s intention to guide us to School House Number 7 with many points of interest along the way. The signs said cars were not permitted beyond the stop signs so we began walking up the Lane. This is the tenth walk I have taken with Ron since this past spring. We began on Third Hill, then Second Hill, First Hill, Ramsdell Marsh, and off onto the Horse Hills. We have been looking for many things but often discovering more than we planned on and sometimes coming up empty with what we intended to see. It has all been a great experience for me. Ron is unusually knowledgeable about so many things including botany that I have considered these hikes a real privilege. Yesterday we hiked much further than we intended and because of the loops it was challenging to keep our direction certain.
I have found the history of this area of York intriguing and consuming. Early in York’s history the town decided the Northeast area of York would be suitable for expansion and offered the mostly vacant land to the earliest and newest arrivals with the idea of development. Those here first were eligible for 8 shares, newcomers were more likely to receive less. The names for these areas were the Outer and Inner Commons, Stated Commons and ”The Thousand Acres.” From the early 18th Century these parcels were divided and sold and used by their owners for a variety of things but mostly agriculture. The designated lots were actually picked from a hat in order to avoid the possibility of favoritism. Although today there is evidence of habitation left by graveyards and cellar holes one gets the feeling living here was more challenging than the more coastal area of town.
Ron and I proceeded down the ancient trails that are in some places rutted due to heavy traffic by four wheelers. We began searching for a Junkins Graveyard that we did not find but did find two cellar holes with very large stones. Both were from the Junkins family, the second built by Daniel Junkins. This cellar hole was the largest I have seen in this area and is visible and easily accessible from the trail. As we approached the cellar hole my eyes began to widen. Taking in the mammoth stones and where they were placed seemed impossible, especially as I reflected on the methods available to these early settlers of York.
The Scottish families that came to this area from 1657 to 1671, included the Maxwells, MacIntires, Junkins and Grants among others (Banks, Volume 1, page 209). They had been captured by the English during Cromwell’s war with Scotland, taken prisoner, sent to the New World and sold as indentured servants. They eventually made their way to York where they raised large families and prospered. As evidenced by what these families left behind, they brought the craft of stone masonry from Scotland. They needed not bring stones for their craft, for there were plenty. The large stones were quarried very close to where they were placed and have rested steady for numerous generations. Some have drill marks indicating they were split with feathers and wedges, others may have been naturally squared. All were placed with great care ensuring longevity.
Moving on, Ron took us to a Junkins family graveyard a few hundred yards from the cellar hole. Daniel and his wife Hannah rest prominently with other family members nearby. This couple both lived to their mid seventies. Ron and I discussed how what would appear to be such a physically demanding life could lead to such a long life. We had no answer and moved onward.
At some point Kingsbury Lane turns into Linscott Road and after making a large loop we came out of the woods and walked along Linscott for about a half mile. We were looking for Old Bell Marsh Road and Ron thought we could access it by an old right of way that was created to give better access to the Stated Commons. Ron referred to this road as the back road to the Stated Commons. Although it varied in width, without measuring it was about fifty feet wide and had an ambitious stonewall on each side. In fact, on the Westerly side the wall exceed four feet in width. We walked directly up the middle to a point where Ron observed we had entered the Stated Commons.
As I said previously, our objective was to find Schoolhouse number 7 but we were far away. In fact, little did we know that we also had a water feature between us and the old schoolhouse. It is named the Bell Marsh Reservoir. As we came upon it the skies opened up and there was a terrific breeze blowing cool and steady in our faces from across the water on an ideal 80°F summer day. We began to walk along the Easterly side of the spongy shore line. The beauty of the view is much enhanced by the absence of homes or other man made features, except for a dam. As we walk along, both Ron and I are constantly scanning the woods for anything unnatural, we also look for orchids and plants that may or may not belong. Sadly, the Eastern hemlock trees that are prey to the parasitic woolly adelgid. Most of the hemlock groves feel sickly making a noticeable lack of canopy. Other places are lush and green. We pass over the changing landscape, pleased by the fresh breeze or smell of sweet fern as we approach a sunny opening. We exchange observations, take mental notes, feel the Earth on the soles of our shoes that become heavier with each step and yet we are inspired by curiosity and of what might be just ahead — determined not to miss it.
Of course we cannot possibly know everything, we cannot cover all of this land, at least not today. Who knows what is hidden beyond the trails but often that is the best place to look. It is perhaps where we will find the illusive small whorled pogonia. The little orchid is an Indian cucumber root look alike in many ways. We have seen plenty of those. It feels like a miracle to be amongst so much nature in a place that people once tried to develop. Their failure has provided great benefit to future generations. Much of this land is preserved by organizations that work to keep the land natural and undeveloped. As we walk, I have never been more grateful to be the beneficiary of public access, it is invaluable.
Aided with two old maps and a cell phone I often check the phone using a gps app called Gaia. I have been recording our walk and our route shows up crystal clear on the screen of the phone. I can see we are still well over a mile from Schoolhouse Number 7. I suggest to Ron that we cut away from the shoreline and begin bush whacking. I see a shard of blue plastic on the edge of the shore in the tree line and walk toward it not knowing what to expect. As I get closer it looks like a broken piece of a plastic drum. I pick it up and put it in my pack and as I do I see a trail in the woods and instinctively move toward it exclaiming the discovery to Ron. We break through the underbrush and onto the trail. As we look to our left we see the road leads right into the reservoir in the same way a boat ramp would. We realize this was the road that we have been looking for and when they flooded the reservoir they submerged this portion of the road. There are two family cemeteries that may have been submerged during the flooding of the reservoir, the Shaw family and the Nowell family. They were in the vicinity of the school house and we are hopeful they still exist above water. We can look across the water to the opposite shore and see where the old road may rise up from the depths. I look back at my phone and realize there is a large unseen bay that we would need to skirt around to get over to the point of a reemerging road.
As we walked, Ron told me that George Chapman, Jr., who passed away at 97 years in March 2022, had attended Schoolhouse Number 7. He grew up on Linscott Road and most likely walked along Old Bell Marsh Road as a means to receive his education. This really helped me to put things in perspective. This area is currently void of inhabitants but previously supported a school, tiny no doubt but in my imagination I can’t help seeing children on the trail going to and from the school. Like the small whorled pogonia, for now Schoolhouse Number 7 remains a mystery to me. Ron and I decide not to keep going forward as it nears four o’clock p.m. and we have a long hike out of the woods. My lower legs and feet feel the weight of the day. Hiking on trails, through the pathless woods and along the rocky edges of Bell Marsh Reservoir have tired me out. Ron says he can’t wait to get back to his truck, sit, read his paper and drink some coffee. We turn around leaving the schoolhouse for another day. We attempt to return the same way we came but it proves illogical.
As we are hoping to come out of the woods on Linscott Road, I am reminded of a photo that was taken of me standing at the Garey Dam. I believe Rick Foster took the photo when we were working on a stone foundation and fireplace for a new home on Geary Lane off Bell Marsh Road.
Today, these mill stones are mostly gone. And when one looks down beyond the mill the vista opens up into a dramatic view of Bell Marsh Reservoir. Ron told me that the original mill was built by the Nowell family and the Garey family later purchased it.
We finally arrive on Linscott Road and Ron points out a Junkins graveyard. Beyond that are two large cellar holes on the Westerly side of the road. They are made with large cut stones though time has rearranged them into a lazy composition of disrepair. The road has many new homes, attractive to the modern eye and well cared for. The contrast between the old cellar holes and new homes is somewhat irreconcilable. We continue walking through this old town lane lined on both sides by still sturdy stone walls. We notice some plants in the ditches and take a moment to identify them. I pick up a few recently fallen hickory nuts and Ron recalls his grandmother preparing them as a topping for oatmeal. He cuts one open. The shell seems impossible but eventually he cuts his way to the meat. He tells me his grandmother cured them by putting them on newspapers on the attic floor and suggests I do the same. Once they dry the shells will fall away, he says. I put some in my pocket for later.
We make it back to the parking lot on Kingsbury Lane. Though draining it has been a beautiful day for a walk in the woods, my favorite thing to do. After each walk with Ron, I return home with a completely new perspective on the Mount Agamenticus area. Always inspired to find out more, I extend the trips by combing through the old maps and plans for the Outer and Stated Commons, seeing who lived where we had travelled, looking for more hints to interpret the past.
Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine, is rich in history. Not only does it serve as a landmark for mariners past and present but it was once inhabited by York’s early residents. The forefathers of the Town decided to sell parcels of this area to York residents who were over twenty one years of age and willing to pay the cost of administration. The dividing and selling was documented in a book titled the Book of Proprietors that is currently kept at the York Town Hall.
Today, it is difficult to imagine the attraction for early settlers in this area and yet, without a doubt, owning a piece of the Outer Commons elevated a persons social status, among other things. We assume that a lot of these shares were bought and sold for profit. But many of these lots were inhabited by families whose names are significant in York History. Among the families in this area listed on the highway tax maps for 1831 are Ramsdell, Welch, Fitzgerald, Lewis, Thompson, Dixon, Jellison and others.
In the spring of 2022, with Ron serving as a guide, we began extensive hikes in the First (Mount Agamenticus), Second and Third Hill area. Ron’s knowledge of botany, landmarks, monuments and history around the mountain is exceptional. Ron noted numerous points of interest and we discovered some new ones. Eventually we both became guided by curiosity as one discovery led to another. From caves that we walked through, to spring holes, to old foundations, to a mammoth White Pine tree, to burial sites that could have easily been passed by – it all became a wonder and puzzle.
Our curiosity took us to land surveys and old deeds in a mission to find out more about those who lived there and why. Ron pointed out some unusually substantial stonewalls on the Northwest side of Second Hill. We instinctively began to follow them down hill. Ron had a survey plan titled, Plan of Lands of Alex.Thompson’s Lying on the North West Side of the Middle Agamenticus Hill Including Abram Thompson place and other Lands, 1874, in original possession of Carroll Trafton. Initially, regardless of orientation the plan made little sense. One feature on the plan compelled us both to discover more—an unusual shaped stonewall near an “old barn yard.”
In contrast to rough terrain found elsewhere on the mountain, the land was much more flat with a gentle slope. It was uncharacteristic of a first or second growth forest, rather it was smooth, perhaps made so by plowing. There are numerous piles of stones, varying from ten to fifteen feet in diameter and several feet high serving as collection sites when the fields were picked clean of rocks. Some of these piles are very close to the stonewalls. One wonders how it was decided for some of the rocks to have been turned into stonewalls rather than piles.
The area was too vast to be conclusive about how to find the exact location of the barn yard, though we tried during one afternoon of exhaustive hiking. A few days later Kevin hiked out to the area with a GPS trail mapping app on his phone and walked along the stonewalls creating a graphic route that was nearly identical to the stonewalls on the property plan. Ron was called and we met at the Cedar Trail head. After reaching our destination we also discovered a cellar hole for a home, At the deepest point the cellar hole was about 8 feet from top to bottom and made us more curious. Shortly thereafter, we pinpointed the location of a barn and an out building.
According to the survey plans we were at the Thompson homestead. Checking deeds at the York County Registry of Deeds further confirmed our assumption. Book 140, Page 221, dated September 21, 1831, describes brothers Abraham and Isaac Thompson dividing the property previously owned by their father, “Alexander Thompson late of York, deceased, the land lying a little bit to the North of Agamenticus.”
The deed describes marked trees, bearings and rods to secure boundaries. Most curiously the deed states, “said Abraham is to have the old barn and the south room in the house, or one half of the house and the said Isaac to have the new barn and the north part of the house as far as one room extends, and the said Abraham gives Isaac nine months from this date to occupy his part of the house, and take it off from his land; and both parties agree that there shall be a privilege for each party to pass and repass from their premises…”
We spent some time conversing about the significance of such an operation way out here in the woods. Though there were some neighbors on the mountain, unlike the community of York Village, the homes were spread far apart, evoking a feeling of isolation. The paths were steep and rough. Transportation would have been by foot or a springless horse or ox cart with steel rimmed wheels. Sheep farming became a craze with the introduction of Marino sheep in 1802 and at great cost to New England forests. The endless stonewalls that we see today were created to contain the lucrative commodity. We speculated that sheep farming would have provided enough income to support this homestead.
In many families the given names of members are repeated for many generations, Alexander Thompson is no exception. William Thompson was living in Kittery when he died at 43 years of age in 1676. George Ernst wrote that William’s younger children, one being Alexander (1671-1720), were left to the Selectmen of Kittery to provide for. Ernst speculates the children went to various families and their names may have became that of their foster parents, confusing a clear genealogy. None-the-less, we see that the above Alexander had two sons, referred to in the above noted deed as Isaac and Abraham.
We are unclear as to the progression of who owned exactly what but have begun to unravel a web of information that inspires us to look farther. Ron is quite sure there were Abrams as well as Abrahams in this area though a survey report done for Land For Maine’s Future by Titcomb Associates refers to Abraham as “aka Abram.”
We have found at least three recorded tracts of land owned by Thomson family members on the North side of Mount Agamenticus.
York County Registry of Deeds, Book 43, Page 182, February 28, 1775
Joseph Linscot to Joseph and Curtis Thompson for about 55 acres, 13 acres and one
third of an acre.
2. York County Registry of Deeds, Book 42, Page 110, August 1, 1772
James Junkins to Alexander Thompson containing eight shares of lot one in the fourth
3. York County Registry of Deeds, Book 58, Page 30A, November 29, 1781
James Junkins sells remaining shares of lot one in the fourth range to Alexander Thompson.
The plan of the Outer Commons copied by Angevine Gowen from Daniel Sewall, W. Junkins Survey Map of 1874 and a York Town Map are included as attachments to this document.
It may be of interest for the reader to notice the contrast of the rectilinear format of the division of the Outer Commons versus the wandering boundaries in the Junkins Survey.
Over the past several years the weather has been noticeably warm for winter, here in Maine. I cannot discount the idea that we are moving to a point of no return. With wild weather fluctuations and unprecedented natural disasters it would be impossible not to conclude that we will face a reckoning in the near future. Global warming is all around us and yet we are indignant to change our way of life, even if it could save humanity. It is as if we have no incentive to stop plundering the Earth’s resources and evidently we are more determined than ever to carry on as usual.
Today, I took my camera along for my morning walk. My routine has been to walk two to three miles on flat ground with occasional exceptions. The exceptions are walking through the woods, aimlessly. By aimless I mean just walking where my whim takes me, with the idea of arriving home at some point. When I woke this morning and looked out the window, my compulsion was to get outside where the fresh five inches of snow had rendered everything bright, brilliant and beautiful. It was about 10°F which creates an extra crisp light.
What I enjoy most about walking through the woods with my camera is the freedom of choices, movement, composition, to click the shutter or not to click. Foremost, I am witness to the incredible display nature is offering. It is mine and it is the most magical exhibit I have ever known. I need only to open my mind and let my eyes lead the way. I don’t know how to express this wonder but make humble attempts, realizing the very act is a compromise. My favorite places to walk are the woods with views of trees, the ground and the sky. I love to turn around and look behind where often the best magic takes place. But as soon as I reach for my camera something else happens. My mind transforms to conventions, to composition and framing the image. This process is a departure from pure observation. I don’t mind this process as it is an attempt to respond to a call to action. I feel a necessity to capture a facsimile of what I am experiencing and bear witness to the inspiration I perceive. Immediately after the shutter clicks I know I have failed at an attempt to capture the exhilaration I feel from my communion with nature. But a photograph conveys something quite different and at best offers the viewer a shared moment, an offering of consideration and perhaps evoking the viewer’s imagination to participate in a semblance that initially inspired the shutter to click.
Most mornings I have been walking two or more miles. I like walking the same route and reenforcing the places of most interest and always looking between to see what I am missing. December is making way for January, yet we have had no cold weather, at least not what I would expect when I cut the season’s firewood. I bring along my Nikon some days and have been pushing the limits of my iPhone 13 pro max. The iPhone is unquestionably amazing but goes after contrast to sharpen the image, dark grays, specifically and more than I like.
The photo above was taken with my Nikon D800. The full size images look amazing on the computer screen. I make small adjustments in light room to try to bring back the same feel as when I click the shutter.
Here in Southern Maine we have received our first significant snowstorm. We have about ten inches of snow, currently. A very light and fluffy whiteness that permeates the landscape.
I have left this mushroom to mature and follow its natural life cycle, rather than interrupt the natural process, for the other natural process of consumption.
We are moving closer to Christmas and all that it implies. With COVID19 this year we don’t expect company for Christmas. Our three kids are grown and live in Boston, near LA and one literally rambles all over the country in a semi truck. We do not see them much when there is no pandemic and seeing them now is down to zero.
I have 3 piles of logs on which I grown shiitake mushrooms. This past summer there was one massive bloom and a second one, later in the fall, after immense rain. I don’t try to control the fruiting but let it occur naturally. Each year I cut about 20 four foot long logs, about 6-9 inches in diameter and inoculate the logs by drilling 5/16 holes and tapping plugs that have been inoculated, into the holes at about 6 inches apart in all directions.
I purchase the plugs at Northspore, a Maine company in Westbook. Each pile has slightly different shiitakes. Some are more favorable that others. The process works well. I typically wait to just before the sap flows to cut the logs. I have used beech, red oak and silver maple (swamp maple). They all seem to work well, though the red oak is the most dense and I suspect would have the larger yield.
I currently have the benefit of having lived 60 years. I also have accumulation of stuff, as witness and compounded during this lifetime. Yikes, a lot of stuff. The possessions I question most are the tangible testimony of my attempts at making art. I view it as a problem mostly. The process of creating is where it all happens, and then we have this stuff left over.
I have never approached art as a commercial venture. Rather a process of self discovery and the process works in parallel with my spiritual journey. Both expanding and contracting according to the laws of the universe.
My painting studio is very small. It is a stand alone building, created in the 1980’s. I built it and still need to put a board, shingle or something here and there to call it complete, but that is another story. A few days ago I had a compulsion to open a plastic bin which contained drawings from a particularly productive period in regards to drawing. Once the top was lifted, a mouse looked up at me with big black eyes. She didn’t have enough spring to jump out, so I assisted her with a stick. As she kept leaping upward, I caught her with a stick an propelled her out, onto the floor and into hiding.
After examining the content it was clear she has built a nest in the box of drawings. At first I was very disappointed to see so much shredded content. I put some gloves on and began removing the nest, comprised of canvas and paper, the work I had imagined was safe. Quickly, I uncovered two infant mice, hairless with rapid heartbeats. They were too small to move, helpless. Two thoughts entered my mind at once. Watching my friend Brad Webber killing mice in his his garden with a spade shovel and how carefully the Dali Lama described excavating ground for a monastery. The monks refused to step on an insect.
I needed a break, so decided to go into the house and make some tea. I conferred with my wife Sandra. Either of us are fans of mice. But I couldn’t go kill them, somehow. So I went back into the studio and made a makeshift nest for them from the materials I removed from the box of drawings. I also set a mouse trap under the wood stove which was the most difficult thing to come to terms with.
Feeling good and bad, I proceeded with my intention of rediscovering the box of drawings. There was much shredded material which included the edges of many drawings. The drawings were laid one upon another and at first the damage seemed significant. I pulled them all out and onto the floor. I cleaned out the plastic tub and began putting them back, one drawing at a time. The drawings that were dated were either 1984 or 1985. Many were not dated or signed. The ones I thought were worthy I scribbled my initials on the backs of.
The damage to the contents of the plastic bin wasn’t as severe as it originally appeared. The mouse had collected much material from other places and it looked like, brought them into the bin. As I looked at each drawing, some were very familiar and some I did not recognize. These drawing were the result of a process that had occurred about 35 years ago. They weren’t so much different from the results of my process today. In fact, some of the drawings that were damaged by the mice, I put in a pile and look forward to reworking them into collages, maybe like the ones seen here.
This discovery of the mice and the vulnerability of my drawings has caused me to wonder about further detachment from objects. After all, what benefit do these things provide hidden away in boxes? Yes, they provide the opportunity for mice and I do admit, I derived satisfaction from revisiting this time in my life. One or two years out of art school, living isolated in the woods, Sandra and I having no idea what today would look like back then.
I received four drawing pads yesterday. I ordered them online. It took longer than expected for them to arrive and two of six didn’t arrive. I am happy as I have nearly exhausted my paper supply. I also ordered and received a quart of Higgins waterproof ink. The pads that I received from Dick Blick are 12″ x 18″ and 14″ x 17″.
The above drawing is the first page of a twenty four page pad. The most difficult decision was picking a spot to draw. There are so many, where I live. I just walk out the door and in all directions are my favorite places to draw. Today, I let my intuition guide me until I have walked far enough. I set up with my make shift camera tripod, portable drawing table.
Being in the woods during an extraordinary fall day is special in itself. When I take a drawing pad with me, I find instant fulfillment. Feeling blessed to be experiencing the remarkable bounty of nature, inspiration is abundant. So, how does one come to terms with drawing in the complex woods?
I kept reminding myself that I cannot be too serious. I must follow my instincts while contemplating all the choices before me. What value, what brush, what to look at, what is calling my attention and what am I missing. With all these questions running though my head, I eventually settle down and slowly forget there are any questions and begin responding to the scene in front of me. As I move through time, I relax and try to make the sketch pad and the scene it represents related in some aspects.
Making the drawing look like the scene is just too big of a task. It is the beauty that I am responding to and bearing witness is my intent. I do this with black ink and white paper, a little water and some old brushes that could use replacing. This is all OK with me. Each brushstroke brings a different type of emotion. I often feel that I have wrecked the whole thing and suddenly it comes back and so it goes to a point where one just decides enough is enough.
I really enjoy making these woods drawings. Today, I took short breaks and wandered around a bit as the ink dried. I saw so many other places where I could set up, that were so inspiring. In my mind I played out how I would begin, what are the big shapes, how to organize the composition. But most of all, just looking, slowing down enough to be receptive to what is before me and being grateful for the opportunity to be in my favorite place, the woods, is always the most wonderful part.
Painting is a process. I wonder if anything can be considered finished. Each time I go into the studio, something is left behind. Something for me to contemplate the next time I go in. I love this process. I have the privilege to never be concerned with finishing anything.
This painting will be seen on this website in various states. This is the most current state. It is currently titled, Upon Arrival. It is oil on canvas, currently un-stretched, 32″ x 26″.
The air is sublime. 70ºF. Southern Maine coastal area. Blue sky. Post summer day.
I have been working occasionally in my studio. The paintings in progress are without a frame. I have not stretched them but have unrolled canvas, gessoed the surface with three coats and begun painting.
The painting below encourages me to consider the title, “no place special.” It is 32″x 26″. However, I think, for now, it will be titled, “Upon Arrival.”