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Voices from the Coast: On Custom

In celebration of Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s 50th year, people share their visions of and for the Maine coast.

cus·tom /ˈkəstəm/ 1. a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.

Rich Knox, Nash Island, 2005

Rich Knox has worked for Maine Coast Heritage Trust as Director of Communications since 2002. His passion for the Maine coast began when he arrived in Maine in 1988, and hasn’t wavered since. Rich loves standup paddling, in all seasons and conditions.

Nash Island, Remembering Jenny Cirone

The plan was to get to Cutler, but the visibility was zero in Eastern Harbor and we weren’t about to navigate Moosabec Reach in thick fog with a mast that was almost as tall as the high tide clearance under the Beals Island Bridge.

While ashore on the first day we noticed an elderly, hunched, woman pole her dory to the beach, lift her leg slowly over the gunnel and, with the help of a crutch and a couple of admiring young girls, alight and mend her way up to a house on the road. This was Jenny Cirone, at the time in her late 70s, who had spent her entire life both lobstering and tending a herd of sheep on the islands off Cape Split—Nash, Big Nash, and The Ladle. She grew up on Nash Island when her father was the keeper of its lighthouse.

Born in 1929, Peter Rand first cruised the Maine coast in 1939, and has done so more than 50 times since, oftentimes with his wife, Alice. He is retired, following 60 years of medical research, and has served on Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s board and council since the 1970s.

Ten Tourists Visit Baker’s Island, Maine, ca. 1900

This hurly-burly, these misshapen slabs,
I can barely stomach it, yet
what walls I could make.

These pink platforms by the sea!
Where is my partner?
Where are my slippers?

Carl Little has lived on Mount Desert Island since 1989. In addition to numerous art books, Little is the author of Ocean Drinker: New & Selected Poems (2006), and his work has appeared in diverse journals and several anthologies. Little is Communications Manager at the Maine Community Foundation.

Robert Ives with his grandson, Soren

Muscongus Bay

My introduction to Muscongus Bay was unexpected. In 1969 I was sailing with friends in their twenty-six-foot sloop when foul weather rolled in as we rounded Pemaquid Point. Seeking refuge in Round Pond Harbor, we dropped anchor to ride out the storm. Immediately I was taken by the simple peace and beauty of the small village and its protected harbor. We weathered the storm and put out to sea the following day, sailing past Pemaquid Light on the western point of Muscongus Bay, heading home to Mere Point in Brunswick.

When I returned four years later, I stayed. In the summer of 1973, my wife Ruth and I moved to Monhegan Island, the eastern-most point of Muscongus Bay, where we taught for two years in the one-room school and served as ministers of the island church. We had 14 children ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, with one or two per grade. The winter island population was about 75 people. It was a remarkable community, and over the years I performed the marriages of nine of our 14 school children.

Robert Ives has served as the minister on Monhegan Island, Louds (Muscongus) Island, and in New Harbor and Round Pond. For 33 years he directed the Carpenter’s Boat Shop and was Director of Religious and Spiritual Life at Bowdoin College. He currently lives in Pemaquid Harbor with his wife Phyllis.

Mom and Dad’s Campfire

I’m going down the road and in my mind
I enter your camp by the sea
Imagine an eternal fireplace
Mom and Dad are sitting there
I remember the days of digging clams
Building the camp, boughs for the floor
I was always hoping to hear more
Of what you would tell me of our ancestors
We must have slept like rocks
Near that ocean
I found sweetgrass there years later
Hold a place for me in that camp
And I’ll be coming home
To be with yous, by your side
At the eternal camp fire.

Carol Dana was born on the Penobscot River in 1952. Her experiences camping, when her mom would talk about the old ways, are some of her favorite childhood memories. She has worked at the Indian Island School and at the Penobscot Cultural Historic Preservation Department, and has been writing for many years.

David Little, “Artist setting up easel in fog”, Oil on canvas, 8 x 16 inches, 2010

David Little is the author of Art of Katahdin (2013), and co-author with brother Carl of Art of Acadia (2016) and Paintings of Portland (2018). A life-long landscape artist, David currently lives in Portland with his wife Mikki and maintains a studio there.


Hi there…How do you do?
I’m Derek Purlington.
I’m from Connecticut…
bought the lot beyond the cove.

Ayuh, I know it—use’ta hunt there.

My big house is all built,
and the pier and beach house
will be done in a month.

Use’ta walk down here to wade
and sun with Sal, my wife,
when we first were datin’.

Philip C. Rose was an English teacher, photographer, and not-so-ancient mariner who spent his final years writing poetry from his cliff-perched cottage in Machiasport. At times terrifying, at times inscrutable, the sea was something he wrestled with and wrote about, but never railed against.

Lise Becu, Spirit of the Marsh, 2011, Addison black granite (gabbro) from the historic Pleasant River Quarry, sited in Addison

Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec native Lise Becu’s Inuit-mythology-inspired sculptures have been featured at symposia in Finland, France, and Maine, where she now lives in Tenants Harbor. Her Spirit of the Marsh is part of the 200-mile Maine Sculpture Trail in Downeast Maine.


inherit: to come into possession of
maintain: to preserve or retain, to carry on, to sustain
bestow: to present as a gift or honor

As humans, we have an inherent connection to the natural world. The heritage of the land we conserve includes the forces that have shaped it, as well as the organisms that live there. For a land trust, accepting conservation easements and purchasing land can seem like a cut and dried business transaction. We make decisions by examining the present ecological and community values of these lands. But ecological preservation does not represent the whole picture. History and culture also inform our sense of and connection to place.

When we complete a land deal, we inherit the history and culture of the humans who have interacted and lived on the landscape. Their land-use practices may go back thousands of years. Stewardship, caring for the land, involves paying attention to what came before. My experience as a Maine Coast Heritage Trust land steward in Washington County has taught me that when you inherit something as abstract and slippery as culture, it is not always apparent. Learning to read this landscape takes an observant eye and a curiosity that goes beyond science.

Deirdre Whitehead has worked for Maine Coast Heritage Trust as a Downeast steward since 2009. She came to Washington County from Midcoast Maine to work for the Passamaquoddy Tribe and fell in love with the area. In her spare time, she gardens and plays music.

A Conversation on Land Conservation

Donald Soctomah is Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. He was born in 1955 within the aboriginal homeland of the Passamaquoddy Tribe. After receiving his undergraduate degree in forestry from the University of Maine at Orono in 1984, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service out of the West Virginia Office, serving seven states around the country. In 1989, he returned to Washington County to work for the Passamaquoddy Tribal Forestry Department in various capacities.

An author, filmmaker, and historian, Soctomah was elected to serve as Tribal Representative to the Maine House of Representatives for eight years and later worked as the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. Soctomah has authored several children’s books and history books. He is also a frequent consultant on historic and educational projects around the Northeast and has worked to inventory Passamaquoddy place names in Maine and New Brunswick, Canada.

Tell me about your history working with land trusts in Maine

When I served as Tribal Representative, one of the pieces of legislation I passed had to do with funds for Land for Maine’s Future, which allows conservation groups to access state money to buy land based on archaeological value and tribal concerns. I started working with land trusts to get their support for the legislation. That passed. A lot of the groups looked at that as another way to protect different cultural concerns and use the funds as a source of revenue to protect land.

How does your work as Passamaquoddy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer intersect with land conservation?

A major part of my job is to protect native artifacts, native concerns, and native culture. Several federal laws were enacted to give the tribes a voice on land use. For any project in the State that receives federal money, I get a copy of the work plan and make comments on it. So if it concerns tribal culture and may impact rich sources of history we get involved. Many times, I work with archaeological firms to conduct archaeological digs. I’ve worked cooperatively with Maine Coast Heritage Trust to address cultural concerns on MCHT lands.