Campobello Island and Two Thirds of the Quoddy Loop

Eighteen years ago I headed down to Dublin, New Hampshire for the first time to visit my new colleagues at Yankee Publishing. I made a brief pit-stop at the tourist information centre in St. Stephen, New Brunswick and on the bookshelf there I happened to spy a book about Campobello Island by one Steve Muskie, a book that was notable not for its subject but for its author: Steve was the man at Yankee who’d recruited me, and it was Steve that I was on my way to visit for the first time. Thanks to the book, and its author photo, I now knew what Steve looked like.

Despite my interest being in Steve and not Campobello, in the years since I always had it in the back of my mind that I’d like to visit the island: I’m a sucker for enclaves and so that fact that road access to the island, which is Canadian, requires driving from the U.S. appealed to me. I was also intrigued by the notion that the Roosevelt Campobello International Park was a bi-national project. And I like islands.

And so when it came time to chart our course back from Bethel, Maine to Prince Edward Island, I realized I had my chance, finally: we could drive onto Campobello from Maine, take a ferry to Deer Island, New Brunswick, then another ferry from Deer Island to the New Brunswick mainland, and then reconnect with the highway to PEI.

Which is exactly what we did.

I booked us a last-minute room at the Friars Bay Motel and off we headed on Saturday morning, across the middle of Maine toward the easternmost part of the country.

The drive, along Rte. 219, up the I-95 a little, the along Rte. 1 along the Maine coast, was occasionally very scenic, occasionally very crowded (especially around the turn-off to Bar Harbor, where all New Englanders apparently decided to spend the long weekend), and almost completely lacking in quality coffee.

Route across Maine

We arrive on Campobello around 4:00 p.m. after an easy border-crossing with no line-up at all. We checked in at the Friars Bay Motel only to find that a confusion, related to multiple people named “Peter” booking at the last minute, had resulted in a double-booking for our room in the motel. The staff, however, didn’t drop a beat: they had arranged for us to stay in an oceanside house in Welshpool, just up the road, for the same price. Who were we to complain.

Campobello House

The house was a little musty, but it had three bedrooms, a complete kitchen, a huge living room and dining room, a nice sun porch, a deck, a yard for Ethan to romp around in, and a view to end all views:

Campobello House View

We settled in, and then decamped to the Fireside Restaurant, inside the park, for a pleasant supper; on the way back we saw the sun set over America from the beach at Friars Bay:

Sunset over Friar's Bay, Campobello Island

On Sunday morning we got up early, had a quick breakfast from supplies gathered the night before from the coop grocery store up the road, and then headed to the park for a tour.

My Roosevelt knowledge to this point was weak: I knew about the New Deal, and the war, and about Eleanor as a pioneering feminist, but little else. The visitors centre in the park, along with a tour of Roosevelt Cottage, did an excellent job of bringing us up to speed: the cottage is well-preserved and provides a fascinating look at how the rich summered on the shore, and the staff providing the guided tour were helpful and answered all of our questions.

The highlight of our visit was the Tea with Eleanor program, a free lecture-with-cookies-and-tea, held in the stunning Hubbard Cottage. It lasted about an hour, and consisted of a bottomless cup of King Cole tea, ginger and lemon cookies, and an exploration of the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. The guides told a good story, the tea was strong, and the surroundings perfect.

After tea, we headed back to Welshpool where we caught the 1:00 p.m. ferry to Deer Island ($28 for car and passengers, runs until mid-September, takes about 30 minutes). The ferry is an ingenious combination of barge and tugboat, connected by a device that allows the tug to swing around and change directions. The route affords views of Lubec (in the distance), Eastport and the islands of the area.

Deer Island is nothing to write home about in terms of facilities, but the coastal scenery along the winding 30 minute drive is stunning.

We caught the 2:00 p.m. ferry from Deer Island to the mainland (free, takes 20 minutes), which offers similarly interesting views (although depending on your position on the ferry these can be well-obscured).

These two ferries are two-thirds of the so-called “Quoddy Loop”: we could have doubled back into the USA via the Deer Island to Eastport, Maine ferry (operated by the same company) to “close the loop,” and, indeed, Eastport looks like an intriguing place to visit, in part because of the Tides Institute, so perhaps on our next trip that’s exactly what we’ll do.

Once we hit the mainland we made a beeline from home, stopping briefly in Saint John for coffee (everything was closed except for Second Cup, which turns out to offer an excellent flat white, so we were not disappointed), and in Moncton for supper at Calactus (which is not a great vegetarian restaurant, but it is a vegetarian restaurant in Moncton, which is enough to make it remarkable).

We rolled our rented Fiat 500L into Charlottetown around 9:30 p.m., quickly unloaded, I ran it back to the airport, took a taxi back home, and was in bed by 11:00 p.m.

And so, 18 years after Campobello first came on my radar, I finally got to experience it. It was well worth it, and I’m certain we’ll be back.

Pete's Guide to Bethel, Maine

We’ve spent the last week here in Bethel, Maine with the gathered Rukavinas: 14 people and one service dog housed in a palatial mansion that far exceeds our station in life (but which, split 5 ways, is surprisingly affordable).

While the details of the intra-familial hijinks that ensured are locked, of necessity, in a vault of secrecy, I can report the following highlights we came across in Metro Bethel:

DiCocoa’s Market Bakery & Cafe, on Main Street downtown, is the local bohemian, dog-friendly, coffee house, serving espresso, intriguing bagels, a wide range of pastries made in-house and offering an eclectic range of local grocery products (kimchi, yogurt, gelato, coffee beans from Larry’s). We had coffee there every day, often-times twice. It’s got a nice vibe, acceptable coffee, and the food is tasty (especially the intriguing bagels). The highlight of our week at DiCocoa’s came tonight, however: the annex next door is opened on occasion for “dining experiences,” and tonight it was Mexican Night, a meal, served family-style, that blew our minds; everything was fresh-picked, locally-sourced, and lovingly made. If you have an opportunity to take in the next offering, I highly recommend you do.

The Good Food Store, on Route 26 heading toward Sunday River, is a nice little healthy grocery store with an array of dry and fresh goods. They have a large selection of dry goods, bread, wine, some frozen entrees that are good for large-group-feeding, and the largest selection of kombucha I’ve ever seen. I learned a lot about by place by eavesdropping on conversation between the cashier and the personable Tucker Carlson while I was waiting in line. There’s a BBQ trailer next door where Catherine and Oliver indulged in various falls-off-the-bone barbeque delights.

Marta’s Bakery, a 30 minute drive south in Waterford, was an unexpected treat. Marta is a Czech baker who serves a lovely array of pastries, accompanied by the best coffee we’ve had on the trip, from her hillside chalet.

The Local Hub, a 30 minute drive east in Greenwood, was described online as a cross between a European bakery, an organic grocery and a yoga studio, and that’s pretty accurate. We stopped for lunch on Wednesday: the food was tasty and the staff exceedingly friendly. Catherine picked up some very nice wool after lunch from the display at the back. Right across the street was a shop selling guns, ammo, Hello Kitty products and origami supplies (which is how you know you’re in Maine when you’re there).

We’re heading back to PEI in the morning, by way of Campobello Island and the ferry to Deer Island, NB, arriving home, if all goes according to plan, on Sunday. This has been the first vacation I’ve had in years that resembled vacations as they are meant to happen: eating, drinking, swimming, relaxing, enjoying the company of family and not working at all. It was oddly pleasant.

The State of Comment Spam

Here are some statistics that might interest you about how things have gone since I turned the comments back on here a week ago.

Over the last 7 days there have been 10 comments from real people commenting about real things – “ham” in the spam-fighting game.

During the same 7 days, Mollom, which I am using to filter spam, has stopped 1,421 spam comments.

Two or three pieces of spam are still getting through each day, which I must manually delete: these are usually of the “heap praise” variety of spam, things like “that’s a really great post that I found really great interesting,” with the author’s name linking, because I allowed a “home page” entry on the comment form, to sites selling jeans or sunglasses or domain names or whatever.

These two or three a day are annoying and dispiriting, but I’m a lot better off than I would be deleting 200 spam a day without filtering.

Epic Solo Journeys by Indefatigable Australians

The Australian film Tracks is playing at City Cinema until Sunday night. It’s an interesting film, especially if you are a fan of the “epic solo journeys by indefatigable Australians” genre as I am (see also Half-Safe: Across the Atlantic by Jeep).

Based on the true story of Robyn Davidson, who walked from Alice Springs to the Ocean in 1977, the film is beautifully shot, and an oddly compelling tale, given that the action consists mostly of a woman, a dog and four camels walking across desert landscapes.

There is, I warn you (spoiler alert) dog-related pathos that was especially shocking to me as I had Ethan at my feet throughout; fortunately his head was under the seat of the person in front of me, so he didn’t witness it.

“The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life...”

From the article Wrong Answer, published in The New Yorker edition dated July 21, 2014, concerning organized cheating, by teachers and administrators, on standardized tests in Atlanta schools:

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ ”infatuation with data,” their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” In a 2011 paper in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, he warned that policymakers were using mathematics “to intimidate—to preëmpt debate about the goals of education and measures of success.”

The article referenced is available online – Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data – and is an interesting exploration of the concept of “value-added modeling” in educational testing.

So much of the educational agenda over the last school year was consumed with public discussion of the December 2013 release of PISA test results for the Islandaround the Home and School table as much as anywhere else – that it’s helpful to gain context about how testing is conducted, how the results are interpreted and reported, and whether or not they are of value for making practical decisions about educational policy.