Tag Archives: Maine

HIWAY AMERICA – The Little Desert That Grew in Maine

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The Little Desert That Grew in Maine

 

http://youtu.be/3SfEcntKSH8

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Herb Swanson for The New York Times

Exposed glacial silt has created an unlikely diversion for tourists in coastal Maine: a desert tour.

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On a clear late-summer morning with temperatures in the low 70’s, the “desert,” which emerges incongruously from the surrounding green hills, shimmered at 90 degrees from the reflected heat of its shifting dunes. Walking to the middle of this silent expanse, you’ll find it difficult to believe you are anywhere in the eastern United States, let alone Maine.

Most visitors tour this otherworldly landscape — which takes up most of the Desert of Maine tourist attraction’s 47 acres — on 30-minute tram tours. But there are also easy hiking trails, and visitors can wander on their own. In places, dunes tower high above the trails, kept at bay by trees — the surrounding forest is the natural fence that keeps the sand from spreading.

The Desert of Maine is well known locally, according to Robert Doyle, a retired head of the Maine Geological Survey and former associate professor at the University of Maine at Augusta. “My father took me there when I was 10,” he said.

The story of this strange place began more than 10,000 years ago, Mr. Doyle explained, when the glaciers of the last Ice Age slowly scraped the soil and ground rocks into pebbles and then to a sandy substance known as glacial silt, forming a layer up to 80 feet deep in places in southern Maine. Then, over the centuries, topsoil formed a cap, concealing the “desert,” enabling forest to grow and, when settlers came to North America, supporting agriculture.

Enter William Tuttle, a farmer who bought 300 acres of prime farmland in 1797. Tuttle built a large post-and-beam barn on the site and operated a successful farm for decades, raising cattle and crops. His descendants added sheep to sell wool to textile mills. Poor crop rotation and overgrazing by sheep, which tear the plants out of the soil by the roots, resulted in soil erosion and something eerily beyond.

One day, a patch of sand the size of a dinner plate became exposed. It grew until the family became alarmed. But it was too late. The “desert” had made its entrance, and the more the soil eroded, the more the sand underneath was exposed.

THE Tuttles didn’t give up right away, and tried for years to fight the inevitable. But slowly the sand claimed the farm, swallowing buildings and pasture. By the early 20th century they abandoned the place. Proving that one person’s disaster is another’s gold mine, Henry Goldrup bought the farm in 1919 for $300 and opened it as a tourist attraction in 1925. It now attracts 30,000 visitors a year, according to Mary and Bob Kaschub, who work as tour guides.

The tram tour travels through the starkest portions of the desolate landscape, like the site of a springhouse, built in 1935, that was overtaken by sand by 1962 and is now invisible under eight feet of sand. Pine trees have adapted to the sand and seem healthy, with only their tops exposed and their trunks buried as much as 50 feet deep. The contrast is vivid between the brightness of the dunes and the surrounding forest.

Mica in the silt sparkles in the Maine sun. It also reflects heat, explaining the high temperatures in the middle of the sandy expanse. Readings of more than 100 degrees are not uncommon, Ms. Kaschub said.

Over several years as a tour guide, she has learned to respect the power of the sand. On one tour, a powerful gust of wind suddenly made it impossible to see and nearly impossible to breathe, she said. Visitors and staff had to cover their eyes, noses and mouths until the swirling sandstorm subsided several minutes later. Ms. Kaschub also pointed out trees that had been stripped of much of their bark, essentially sandblasted smooth from the wind. “Every year, I wonder, will the desert win, or will the forest win?” she mused.

On the day of our visit the air was still, making it easy to admire the area’s odd beauty and to feel sorry for the hapless Tuttles. They tried to make bricks out of the sand swallowing their farm, but because of the high mica content, the bricks just crumbled and fell apart. So the sparkling quality that helped make the place a tourist attraction essentially prevented its practical use.

Once the touring and hiking are done, there are more activities for children. A staff artist gives free lessons in fashioning art from the sand, which varies in color. For the purchase of a bottle for a few dollars and a quick lesson in shaping a sand creation, visitors can spend an absorbing hour creating a piece of the “desert” to bring home.

Also on the site are a museum with agricultural implements and a play area where children can search for colored stones that the staff has scattered on the sand.

In the 1950’s, the Desert of Maine kept a camel named Sarah to add to the desert atmosphere. It developed the unfortunate habit of biting and spitting at the tourists and was eventually sent to a zoo. Taking its place now are two life-size statues of camels, one lying down and the other standing. They are not nearly as interactive as Sarah was, but at least tourists who want a souvenir picture won’t have to worry about fending off a dromedary with anger management issues.

THE NORTH POND HERMIT

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The ‘North Pond Hermit:’ the Man That Lived Without Human Contact for 28 Years

August 25, 2014

For nearly thirty years, he was only a legend in small towns – a ghost that slunk into homes at night and surviving on whatever food he could steal without being noticed by scared residents. Such a phantom couldn’t possibly live in the nearby forest.

Well, that phantom was finally arrested for stealing last year, and he’s being called the last true hermit.

When he was captured, the hermit was out for a late night raid at the Pine Trees Summer Camp near North Pond in central Maine. While searching through the kitchen for food, he unknowingly set off an alarm that led to his arrest at the hands of Sergeant Terry Hughes, a warden that had become obsessed with capturing the man, known as the North Pond Hermit in the surrounding community.

Hughes, with the help of some Maine state police, apprehended the burglar and asked him his name. He didn’t say a word, and he had no identification on him. He admitted to the state trooper, Diane Perkins-Vance, saying in a broken voice that he was ashamed to ask questions.

His name, the trooper learned, was Christopher Thomas Knight. He was born in 1965, had no address, and had no vehicle. He lived in the woods, alone. He had gone to live in the woods when he was only 20 years old — now, he was 47.

His way of life is truly remarkable. He never lit a fire, as he was afraid of being detected, and moved only at night, sleeping in a tent during the day. When he was captured, he had no idea if his parents were alive, and had lived without money, car, and phone — he’d never even heard anything of the internet. He admitted to committing about 40 break-ins a year to keep himself well-fed.

Before that night — April 4 of last year — Knight had only said one word to another human being in the last 27 years. He said “hi” to a passing hiker.

The man had long been a legend in the nearby town of North Pond, where residents had suffered break-ins for so long. But most claim they didn’t really believe that such a thing could be true — after all, what man could survive in the woods through the freezing cold of a Northeast winter?

Knight, somehow, managed it. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep a journal or snap any photos to document his long time alone. He had pledged, after all, to live his entire life in secret after he went to the forest as a young man, just out of high school.

While, many have tried to contact him since to hear his story, he hasn’t been saying much. A writer over at GQ managed to get a short response letter from Knight, staying in prison, the two of them bonding over a shared love of literature — Knight had stolen many books during his time in the woods.

They exchanged more and more letters, Knight offering his regrets on a life of crime and reflections on the differences between the two ways of life he had led. One fascinating, surprisingly literate, tidbit:

Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.

To learn more of his stunning story, read the long feature article at GQ, which we’ll again link to here. Trust us, the whole piece, though lengthy, is fascinating.

‘North Pond Hermit’ pleads guilty to burglary, theft
Christopher Knight, the man known as the North Pond Hermit, pleaded guilty on Monday and will be entered into a special program. WMTW News 8’s Aly Myles…

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