This past weekend we attended the First Annual Alewife Festival at the Maine Forest and Logging Museum in Bradley Maine. As my friend Andrea said, our lives would certainly be richer for having attended an Alewife Festival.
An Alewife is a fish, for those of you who are unaware. Alewives were very important to the Native Americans living in this area 200 to 400 years ago (maybe thousands of years ago). Smoked and dried fish could last for up to 6 months (according to the gentleman I talked to this weekend), therefore helping a person to survive through the winter months when fishing is difficult. Alewives were so important to the Native Americans that they often reflected that importance in the naming of places. I found this out one day when my boss asked me to go to the bookstore to find something of interest for some visitors that were new to Maine. The book I found listed all the names of Maine that were of Native origin and what they meant in English. So many of them mentioned the fish. For example, Mattamiscontis (as in the stream) means “where there has been plenty of alewives”, according to the author of Native American Place Names of Maine, New Hampshire, & Vermont, R.A. Douglas Lithgow. The Alewife Festival, or as I kept calling it, the “Fish Fair” (which I compared, tongue-in-cheek-like, to the the Phish Concert of 1998 in Limestone, Maine. And by the way, the Phish concert had so many fans attend – approximately 60,000 – that for one August weekend in 1998, Limestone was the most populated town in the state.) seemed to be the place to be last weekend, so off we went.
First stop, the Bradley Fire Department Pancake Breakfast. Two pancakes, one regular and the other blueberry, two sausage links and a cup of coffee later, and we were at the Logging Museum, more affectionately known as Leonard’s Mills. I haven’t been there in eons, so I was kind of excited to see the place again.
First we stopped by the smokehouse and tried some nicely smoked fish. They told us that they had to tend to the fire every two hours for 2 days, so they were camping right next to the smoke house to attend it throughout the night. The smoke house itself could hold 1000 fish. Pretty impressive. It would take me awhile to eat 1000 fish….just sayin. The lady, Inez, told us how to squeeze the fish pieces to sort of pop the skin and then peel the meat out. Then she kept the skin and bones for fertilizer. Nothing wasted.
The picture you see above is of the fishway that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service built in 2012. You can read about the project here http://www.fws.gov/northeast/PDF/ME/blackman.pdf. The alewives come up out of the Penobscot River and swim up stream on their way to Chemo Pond to spawn. I was told that there were two different types of alewives in the stream, one that would spawn in the stream and the other that would spawn only in the pond.
That is a fish right there……really.
It was a lovely day and they have done such a wonderful job with the fishway and the grounds. They had just built a bridge over the stream and we stood on it for quite some time, leaning on the railing, warm sun on our backs, watching the little fishies try to leap up over the little stone walls, to reach the next level, one level closer to their goal. They rested by hiving up together in these little pools. It was really kind of amazing.
Having seen and eaten our fill of the little fish (about 6 inches to 8 inches long, by the way), we decided to explore the rest of the grounds. We happened upon a trail. It was a wide and level trail that enticed us into the woods.
The ancient trees were extremely tall, making me itch to climb them (I resisted).
And there were signs posted along the way, telling us about the trees, the canopy, the warblers and the wood ducks. We delighted in exploring the trail, each sign luring us to the next. Somewhere at the beginning of the trail we were informed that it was 1.5 miles long. We felt as though we were up to the challenge, especially with such lovely groomed trails to follow.
We found a nice little bench overlooking the bog (man made according to the sign). And we continued up the trail.
That is when things went a bit awry.
We came to the end of the well groomed trail. There was a sign that said Bridge Trail. Now who can resist a bridge, right? We marched on. The trail got less groomed, more thin….more like a cow path, really. And we marched. I started tripping over roots and rocks. We found a small steep hill. Down we went. Single file now, as the trail was no longer wide enough for two people to walk side by side. And we marched onward. Certainly this trail was going to come out back at Leonard’s Mills. But no. We found the bridge. It was about 2 feet wide with 3 inch spaces between each 2 to 3 inch board. My friend, Barbara, complained about having little feet and being in danger of slipping between the rungs. The bridge crossed over a boggy area. The bugs tried to help us out by attempting to fly us across, but being unable to do that, they decided to lighten our load by sucking some of the blood out of us. We got to the other side of the boggy area, which took surprisingly longer than I would have thought, and found the “Red Trail”. So called, because of the apparent red blotches of paint on the occasional tree. Okay, perhaps it was the other way around – but either way, we followed the red blotches. Now the cow path had turned into a deer path. It was about this time that I was starting to think that perhaps I should study the vegetation because, no doubt, I would have to forage something for supper for everyone, because we were probably never getting out of the woods again. But not finding any raspberry bushes or plantain, I was thinking I would have to resort to bark soup made with bog water. Just as I was about to give up and lay down on one of the comfortable piles of excrement left by a passing bear or deer, and wait for the coyotes to take me, we stepped into a magical place. It was the Penobscot Experimental Forest (http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/ef/locations/me/penobscot/). All the undergrowth was gone, and the tall straight trees seemingly held up the canopy 100 feet above our heads, like pillars holding up the roof of an enormous cathedral.
It was glorious and almost holy.
We walked on. By this time, I had dubbed my friend Barbara the “Wood Nymph”, as she blithely and nimbly lead us onward. I was so tired, and a bit frightened by our situation, that I neglected to take any pictures of this mystical place and I am kicking myself for it now. Just as I was opening my mouth to say to the others that perhaps we were lost, we found civilization in the form of a beer can tucked into the bark of a fallen tree and we found the trail out of there. But of course it did not lead us into Leonard’s Mills, it just brought us around in a circle to the bridge again. And so, no longer caring about the signs on the side of the trail that told us of birds and trees, we trudged back onto the well groomed trail that would lead us to our starting point. We stopped at the bench to take our rest, not saying much, although I think I was thanking God for not having to produce supper out of bark and bog water. Then we marched back to Leonard’s Mills. Had we taken the hint at the beginning of the trail from the wooden box on a post that housed ants and maps of the trails, we would have known that we should turn around at the end of the first trail and not gone to find the bridge. There was a couple that passed us on our way back, and I wondered if I should warn them to turn back, but I didn’t. I wonder if they are still out there?
Back at the Maine Forest and Logging Museum we discovered the settlement and explored the sawmill. The sawmill was very fascinating.
My husband would ask me why I hadn’t taken pictures of the mechanism inside, the saw that the waterwheel powers. But as thrilling as that all was, it is the water wheel and the rock wall that thrills me. Inside the sawmill you could see how, as the wheel turns, it would also turn a series of gear wheels that would eventually move the saw blade up and down to saw through large logs. I wondered how fast it would be. Would it take 5 minutes or 20 minutes to saw through those logs?
I love rocks. They are lucky I didn’t line my pockets with their wonderful rock walls. There was a huge rock (think boulder) on the trail that made me go “oooh!”, to which my husband always responds with an instant and short “no!”.
The covered bridge was beautiful.
And the windows made interesting frames for photos.
There is so much more to see and do at the Maine Forest and Logging Museum, than to watch the fish jump up the fishway, or walk the trail until you are exhausted and contemplating bog water for dinner. If you get the chance you should really have an adventure of your own here. Check it out at http://www.maineforestandloggingmuseum.org/
P.S. there is a new museum store there. In it, we found a bumper sticker that says “Follow me to the Forest” and a pin/button that says “All who wander, are not lost”. Barbara, the Wood Nymph, ended up with those, as it should be.