Winter wonderland sleigh ride

A family enjoying a sleigh ride at Benton Fun Park on Sunday, December 10. Sleigh rides will be offered again on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16-17, and Sat., Dec. 23. Call 314-1640 for reservations. Photo by Mark Huard, Owner of Central Maine Photography

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Bird disappearance is phenomenon that exists nationwide


by Roland D. Hallee

Two months after writing an article about the lack of song birds in our area, the feedback continues to pour in from all over the country, not to mention from friends and acquaintances whenever the subject surfaces. Everyone has also commented on the extremely large number of crows that have emerged in our area.

Even in my backyard, where we generally have a multitude of bird varieties, it has been quiet. We have completely cleaned out the bird feeders and restocked them, to the point where we have even purchased new ones, and other forms of bird seed dispensers like nets, seed balls and containers.

The problem is universal, it seems.

Mimi replied to me, “My neighbors and I also noticed a very sudden decline in feeder birds since mid-September in the Catskills as well. It is so sad to not have the birds about though there are geese and crows, so hopefully the others will be back.”

Sj says, “Over the last two years we have noticed the decline of spiders on our property in mid-coast Maine. The mosquito decline is possibly due to the second year of a drought. Wild bees, and our bat [population] all seem stressed and in decline. I have kept daily journals for 25 years, making daily notes of weather and wildlife. The odd absence of birds is ‘different’ this year, for us as well, and another alert to change in our environment worth keeping track of.”

Msdarlene writes, “We are in central New Hampshire and have always fed birds with multiple feeders and a varied diet of sunflower seeds, hearts, nuts and suet. We have cleaned out our feeders monthly and replenished the food and still no birds in sight. We normally have to refill our feeders twice a week. Since September 2017, our woods and feeders are silent. No birds, zero, zilch, nada…scary quiet. I hope they return, I sure miss them.”

Rich speculates “that the malathion aerial spraying for zika vectors has done damage to large insect populations.”

Finally, Lyn, of Fairfield, writes, “Wow! This article came up on my Facebook feed. Some friends and I were just talking about how we have no song birds this fall. I said I thought they had been driven away by massive crow populations, just as you observed, too. They are all I see. I am sad to know this is happening all over. I hope the Audubon Society is right that it’s just a normal migration shift, but I am missing the birds very much.”

With the first measurable snowfall this fall, only 12 days before the official winter solstice, we will keep vigil as to the turnover in bird varieties. We’ll see if the cardinals arrive, along with the European starlings that come around in the winter. Also, don’t forget the pigeons and mourning doves. Not to beat a subject to death, but since noticing the large number of crows around, the pigeon population seems to have taken a hit. Since the crow onslaught, I have noticed no pigeons in my yard, which is extremely unusual. There also seem to be more seagulls than normal. Is that another sign of changes in the environment?

It’s probably time we pay attention to what Mother Nature is trying to tell us.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the original six teams of the NHL.

Answer here!

I’m Just Curious: Words

by Debbie Walker

This afternoon has been just wonderful with our first and second graders. I’m not exaggerating. When you introduce words to a child (18 of them) and they get excited about what they can do with these words, their teacher and I couldn’t help but get excited. You see we are word lovers as well.

The activity started out as a project to write Christmas cards (yes, I did say Christmas). Their first task was to come up with words they might want to use for their cards.

I pointed out that sometimes when I write, if I have trouble coming up with the subject for a column, I will start thumbing through magazines and books for ideas. So….

I dug out all of our Christmas story books for them to go through on their word hunt. Their teacher took them through a process where they all had a chance to look over the books for “their” words. The process I believe was called a “Book Pass.”

I was pleased to see them with their answer, for each of them to have used all the books, not just the one given to them. We also have special dictionaries for the class. Sometimes in a free time the kids will choose a dictionary to look at. Word, word, words!



by Peter Cates

How I started collecting records:

Gustav Mahler

My first encounter with the music of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) occurred during the spring of 1963, when I was 11. That year RCA Victor had developed the Dynagroove recording process, initially releasing 10 LPs with both mono and stereo editions, and touting the enhancement as the greatest advance in sound since the electrical microphone in 1924 during the 78 days. I remember salivating over the record ad in the Portland Sunday Telegram advertising the black label pop and red label classical items, wanting all of them and worrying about whether I would like the music later. In those days, I considered any LP from RCA Victor and Columbia as a status symbol, just as I did the huge Magnavox cabinet with radio, phonograph, and color TV and the Thunderbird convertible. I was definitely a crass materialist in those days – money was everything!

Meanwhile, RCA released a $1 album, entitled The Sound of Tomorrow, which was heavily advertised on Sunday night’s Wonderful World of Disney, RCA being its sponsor, but also in Buick ads, as RCA forged a deal with the auto company for its dealerships to be the exclusive venue for purchasing the record. Naturally, one afternoon, Mom drove me to Waterville’s own Buick dealer, then owned by a family friend, Nick Saporita, and located on Silver Street, and I took my copy home to play on the $32 manually operated RCA Victor stereo player. The machine was given to me as a birthday present but I was given to understand that it was the family player. Such double-dealing was then common as part of family sharing.

Side one had the black label, thereby providing the following five pop artists:

  1. Peter Nero, a most agreeable pianist who would sneak in quotes from classical pieces as part of his usual pop program.

    Peter Nero

  2. Marty Gold, a very gifted pop arranger/ con­­ductor who worked for both Victor and Kapp records.

    Marty Gold

  3. Hugo and Luigi, a duo of producers and arrangers for the Roulette and Victor labels, specializing in records of very pleasant chorus and orchestral selections.
  4. Dick Schory, a soft jazz arranger.

    Dick Schory

  5. Sid Ramin, a jazz arranger/ conductor with imagination and taste who helped Leonard Bernstein with orchestration during the Broadway run of West Side Story.
    The second side red label featured the following five fine artists:
  6. Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Boston Symphony in the second movement of the Mahler 1st Symphony. Finally, this joyous Scherzo was my first hearing of the music of a composer who previously had just been a slightly intriguing name in a Columbia Record Club booklet. Leinsdorf at that time was beginning what would be seven years as Boston’s Music Director.

    Erich Leinsdorf

  7. Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops. This orchestra would make many records featuring both pop and the classics while Fiedler had formidable talent, wide-ranging musical curiosity and taste and astute political and business skills.

    Arthur Fiedler

  8. Robert Shaw Chorale. Like Arthur Fiedler, Shaw was a very gifted orchestral conductor but his fame lay in the many records with his chorus and training choirs all over the world. His Christmas album from the late ‘40s, Joy to the World, is still available on CD and sounds great with its a capella singing.

    Robert Shaw

  9. Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony. Munch spent 13 very exciting years in Boston, made a lot of great records and retired in 1962, being replaced by Erich Leinsdorf.
  10. Leontyne Price was one of the finest sopranos who ever lived and possessed a voice with both power and beauty during her thankfully long prime, giving goosebumps to many, including myself.

My second Mahler record wouldn’t be added to my then very small collection for three years due to very limited cash and the distractions of other composers!

Crockett elected Kennebec Historical Society president

Patsy Garside Crockett was elected president of the Kennebec Historical Society at the groups annual meeting, held at the Maine State Library.

Patsy Garside Crockett

Society members re-elected were Vice President Bruce Kirkham, Secretary Emily Schroeder, Treasurer Ernest Plummer and board of directors members Stefanie Barley, Richard Bridges and Anne Cough. Also, John Lawrence and outgoing president Kent London were elected to the board.

Crockett, a Kennebec County Commissioner and former state representative from Augusta, said she is pleased to join the “family of members” again. She was the society’s secretary in the early 1990s and an executive committee member from 1996 to 1998. Her late husband, Robert Crockett, was the society’s president from 1995 to 1997, and their granddaughter Sarah Ann Crockett became the society’s youngest life member several years ago when she joined while a sixth-grade student at Maranacook Community School, in Readfield.

The guest speaker was John H. Twomey, who spoke about his book.

The Kennebec Historical Society, founded in 1891, has about 425 members. Its headquarters are at 107 Winthrop St., in Augusta, and is open to the public 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, and by appointment. Researchers are encouraged to call 622-7718 for information about the society or its archive and library.

Vassalboro Selectmen to hear CEO, act on ongoing town land use violations

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, with an agenda that includes discussions with Codes Officer Richard Dolby.

Dolby has drafted revisions to the Building Permit Ordinance (last revised in 2012), which need selectmen’s review and ultimate approval by voters. He is also scheduled to talk about two ongoing violations of town land use ordinances.

Other items on the Dec. 14 agenda are final action to sell a foreclosed-upon subdivision on Ilona Drive, a report on the cost of mailing town meeting notices to voters, discussion of solid waste disposal and cemetery maintenance and a preliminary schedule for selectmen’s and budget committee deliberations in preparation for the June 2018 annual town meeting.

Vassalboro selectmen’s meetings are held in the town office meeting room and are open to the public.

Vassalboro: Planners approve new business, home

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members approved both applications on their Dec. 5 agenda, allowing a new business on Riverside Drive and a new house on Webber Pond Road.

Troy LaBreck is leasing the Getchell building at 2252 Riverside Drive, at the Alpine Street intersection, to run a business repairing motorcycles, snowmobiles, four-wheelers and similar sports machines. He might later include sales and car repairs and used car sales, he said; he is a Ford Focus fan.

For now he plans to start slowly, with no regular employees – though other mechanics might occasionally use some of his space – and no major exterior or interior changes. Planning board members reviewed plans for lighting, waste disposal and related issues that might affect the environment or neighboring landowners. They approved the permit with two conditions, both acceptable to LaBreck:

  • LaBreck is to notify abutters, and if any have questions or objections, they will have a chance to speak to the board before the permit is final; and
  • Labreck is to put a screen around the dumpster he plans to put on the property. Marilyn Hudxina needed planning board approval for her new house on Webber Pond Road abutting Kennebec Land Trust’s Vassalboro Wildlife Habitat area because the building site is within the 250-foot shoreland district. Board members found the house will be outside the 100-foot shoreland zone on a conforming lot and quickly granted the permit.

The next regular Vassalboro Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Jan. 2, 2018.

IF WALLS COULD TALK, Week of December 14, 2017

Katie Ouilette Wallsby Katie Ouilette

WALLS, I am thrilled that you talked to our faithful readers for December 7. Our apologies must be extended to faithful readers who sought us for a couple weeks, because we lost our power. Frankly. we surely know what our neighboring states have gone through. True, we didn’t have a hurricane, as they did, but we sure had wind! Well, faithful readers, WALLS will now catch you up on news that hasn’t been written yet.

Son Dean and his wife Donna will arrive just on December 14 and will leave to enjoy Christmas with most of our family in Washington state. On December 6, Danny drove to get his son, Landon, who celebrates his 20th birthday this month. Yes, WALLS, he now attends Culinary Arts College, after the horrible battle with Wilm’s Cancer at St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. No question that St. Jude’s was the place for Landon to be, as he even had schooling there, so that he would not lose all those seven years in the hospital.

Oh, back to Dean and Donna. Dean’s birthday is December 19, and we hope to celebrate it with him before he has to leave on December 17. Actually, Dean and Donna have done so much for the folks that their Bellingham, Washington, church has adopted, and they go to Haiti about three times a year. We hope to have a bit of a gathering for Dean’s birthday with our Channel-ll TV Manager John Harlow and host Chris Perkins, so that folks will hear about their work there, though we are well-aware that you faithful readers may not receive that BeeLine Channel. However, we spent a wonderful time with residents of the Redington Home, in Skowhegan, on December 4, when Barbie Demo joined us for Christmas Carols. Just imagine it, she and three friends left for the Holy Land on December 5!

Oh, yes, like you, faithful readers, we will be celebrating Christmas with good friends, when Van, Jen, Chris and Clare, owners of Alton Whittemore Real Estate, entertain us at Whit’s End Restaurant. Yup, faithful readers, for sure Christmas looks like a merry one, already!

SOLON & BEYOND, Week of December 14, 2017

Marilyn Rogers-Bull & Percyby Marilyn Rogers-Bull & Percy
Solon, Maine 04979

Good morning, dear friends. Don’t worry, be happy!

Would like to inform all of you that the town meeting is coming up and that nomination papers are available at the Solon Town Office. The following positions are elected during the annual town meeting on March 3, 2018. Qualifying signatures must come from registered voters in the town of Solon. All nomination papers must be returned to the town clerk by the end of business day, January 3,2018.

Selectman/Assessor/Overseer of the Poor, 2018-2021 (3 years) vacant as of March 3, 2018 (current selectman not running for re-election). Road Commissioner 2018-2019 ( 1 year ) vacant as of March 3, 2018 ( current commissioner not running for re-election), town clerk/tax collector 2018-2021, school board member 2018-2021 ( 3 year term ). Please see the clerk during business hours to receive a nomination paper.

Direct Hire Opportunities: Public Works Laborer (with class B license) See Selectmen or Road Commissioner for application and more information.

Listing of candidates who have taken out a nomination paper for Election (to date). Selectman/Assessor of the Poor, Craig Gerry and Gaye Erskine. Town Clerk/Tax Collector, Leslie Robert Lindblom Sr.

Last night I got pretty upset when this machine failed to cooperate with me, and I called Peter to see if he could fix the problem! We made a date of 8 a.m., this morning, and he came down and performed one of his miracles, and now I am hurriedly typing this column! Really wanted all of you who read this column to know about the nomination papers being out, in case you should want to run for one of the positions listed above. Sorry, but this will be a short column because we have another engagement.

Received this note and a card from one of my un-none friends, back in November, 2015: “So sorry to hear about Percy. I will miss his words of wisdom, but I’m sure you will miss him much more. I am a cat lover and have had several very special cats so I understand what you are feeling. Know that he had a good life and was loved by people that never met him. Enjoy all of your wonderful memories. Margaret, A reader from Massachusetts. (I hope this friend who I have never met is still getting The Town Line, and enjoys Percy’s memoirs also.

And so for Percy’s memoir: “Laughing stirs up the blood, expands the chest, electrifies the nerves, clears away the cobwebs from the brain, and gives the whole system a cleansing rehabilitation. Anonymous.

Opiates in Central Maine: Not just a National Crisis

Drug overdoses rose 40 percent last year, costing the lives of 378 Mainers.

by Eric W. Austin

With words like ‘epidemic,’ ‘crisis,’ and ‘national emergency,’ the opioid problem has been in the news a lot lately. But how is this important issue impacting our local communities here in Central Maine?

That’s the question I set out to answer.

I started by contacting an old friend of mine. Jared Mills was a year ahead of me at Winslow High School, graduating in 1992. Now he serves as the Deputy Chief of Police for Augusta. He told me something I’d hear a lot in the succeeding weeks: The opioid issue really is a problem. It is a crisis, and we need to do something about it now.

“There have been eight pharmacy robberies in the last few years – just here in Augusta,” Deputy Chief Mills told me back in October. “We’ve solved them all, and they were committed by people looking for opiates.”

The message was: opiate withdrawal motivated the crimes. These weren’t hardened criminals so much as desperate people fighting an addiction that had become too much for them.

Something else became clear as I spoke to people involved in this effort: attitudes in law enforcement toward drug offenders are changing.

Detective Sergeant Tracey Frost, one of the Oakland police officers the town of China has hired part-time, put it most succinctly: “We can’t arrest our way out of this,” he told me. Frost has deep roots in the community, coaching at Messalonskee High and serving as the school’s Resource Officer.

We were eating lunch at the China Dine-ah. The enticing smell of burgers and bacon contrasted sharply with the somber topic we were discussing. “We have arrested our way out of certain social situations,” Frost explained. “Everyone knows you can’t drink and drive now. Everybody. We’ve made great strides in different areas like drunk driving and domestic abuse.”

However, according to Frost, the current opioid crisis is not an issue that can be solved that way. Still, Frost is hopeful. “Fortunately,” he continued, “we have police leadership in Maine who are smart, well-educated, and willing to say we’ve got to break the trend here, and start reaching out and helping people – as opposed to just throwing the cuffs on them and taking them down to jail.”

Arrest and incarceration is expensive, with costs that are significantly higher than comparable treatment programs. And it’s not effective, since addicts released from incarceration head right back to their addiction of choice, only to be arrested and incarcerated once again. Law enforcement is trying to break this cycle.

On the treatment side, medical professionals are dealing with a similar issue. Dr. Robert Croswell, Medical Director for MaineGeneral’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, in Waterville, and a sitting member on the hospital’s Opiate Steering Committee, met with me to discuss the matter. In his mind, one of the obstacles to providing people with appropriate treatment is the criminal classification of opiates.

“In opiate addiction treatment,” he tells me, “there are pill counts and pee tests. If someone is caught with cannabinoids in their system, they can be kicked out of treatment. It turns the doctor into a law enforcement official. This is detrimental to patients who need help, and discourages doctors from participating in treatment programs. Compare this to alcohol addiction where the emphasis is on treatment, rather than the policing of an illegal substance.”

Dr. Croswell advocates treating opiates like alcohol: controlled and regulated, but not illegal. It’s still a controversial opinion, but one that’s gaining traction among those trying to deal with this issue. In 2015, the police department in Gloucester, Massachusetts, started a program that aims to treat addicts as patients rather than criminals. It has seen great success, and there is talk of bringing the concept here as well.

In Maine, deaths caused by drug overdoses shot up 40 percent last year, with a record 378 Mainers succumbing to addiction. That number is likely to go up when official numbers are released for 2017. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

From my conversations with those on the frontlines, it’s clear we’re dealing with a complex problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. The solutions we need require not just a change in policy, but a shift in attitude as well. Fortunately, those involved have studied the mistakes of the past and are aware that a different approach is necessary.

In the months ahead, I’ll be delving deeper into the treatment side of things, and talking with some of those directly affected. I’ll also be speaking with more of our local law enforcement here in Central Maine, to find out what they’re doing to combat this alarming trend.

There’s still a long way to go in dealing with this issue. The fight is far from over, but thankfully, those involved are not hiding their heads in the sand.

UPDATE: The numbers for 2017 have been released, and there were 418 overdose deaths last year, a 27 percent increase over 2016.

Eric Austin is a writer and technical consultant living in China, Maine. If you or someone you know has been affected by opiate addiction and you would like to share your story, please contact him at All correspondence is strictly confidential.