The First Coast's Lubec Stories
In May 2018 The First Coast’s Airstream came to Lubec, and parked in a field on North Lubec Road.
For one month, writer and radio producer Galen Koch visited with and interviewed local residents, followed fishermen, harvesters, and farmers to work, and spent evenings admiring the shadbush blossoms and pale green brilliance of the Lubec spring. With the help of photographer Greta Rybus, Galen documented some of the stories, work, and lives happening here, in this easternmost part of the state of Maine.
These stories are a celebration of this place; its past, present, and future. They are as much about the people as they are about work, the landscape, and mystery of this place.
The stories might answer a question. Or make you ask one. “What does it mean to be from here?” “How do you make a life in far Downeast Maine?” Some of the stories are simply ruminations, meditations, ponderings, histories. Some are even about ghosts.
The stories here represent a small fraction of the people who call Lubec, and this part of Washington County, home. This exhibit does not capture the whole of Lubec or what it means to live and work here. They are a glimpse into the lives and landscape that make up some of this town and the surrounding area. Together they tell a story of hard work, loss, hopefulness, and a pride of and love for the land.
This work would not be possible without the generosity of the storytellers. Every person interviewed and photographed for this project gave the gift of their time, energy, and stories. Thank you.
All of the photographs in this exhibit are by Greta Rybus. Audio and interviews by Galen Koch. You can see this exhibit in-person at the Lubec Brewing Company in Lubec, Maine.
To access the Soundwalk, visit www.thefirstcoast.org/lubecsoundwalk
Wendell Small, Whiting
"There's nothing like this area and the people. I think they're just so sincere. If you’re young and you’re building a home and you’re starting something, people drive by and they come in and they say, 'Can I help you get those frames up? Can I help you run that concrete?' That’s the way we are here, we help each other.”
George “Bubba” Eaton, Lubec
"When I was younger, I grew up in North Lubec, you knew everybody. Christ! We used to have, I don't know how many, kids up there having fun and everything. I used to mow lawns, my father owned a blueberry land up the road here, we used to rake blueberries for our clothes for school. We just didn't get free money, we all worked and raked berries and all that. I worked in the hen house, I worked clamming, with my father. My father dug clams in the beginning and also kept wood, so you learned all this stuff growing up and you knew everybody.”
Riley Callow, Edmunds
“It's hard for me to speak to because I'm “From Away...” The only cul- ture I've experienced is Washington County culture... This place is pretty unique even within Maine. There is an identity and a community and togetherness as well as an independence, a sense of self-sustain- ability. I'm very drawn to that and it's been enough to keep me here for a year at this point. I'm a pretty impulsive, rambling kind of person so I feel like that says something.”
McGinley Jones, Lubec
“Most of the people who come up here as "visitors" or "tourists" are coming up here because it's off the beaten path and they want to go hiking on quiet trails, they want to walk a beach where they're the only one on it, they want to be able to go out in a boat and not see wall-to-wall houses and they want to sit down in a place like this and have a conversation with someone they've never met that's a real conversation.”
Bob Peacock, Eastport and Lubec
“It's a tougher fishery here I think than it is down the coast. A lot of guys here don't fish the limit because they just can't physically get to enough traps when the lobsters are really moving. If you don't tend to them it's just a waste of effort and money to put them in, a guy might have a six hundred trap limit and heʼs only fishing four hundred.”
David Pressley, Lubec
“There used to be a lot of weirs down the coast of Maine. As a young person, in high school, I had a small boat with a few lobster boats and the weir fishermen were working all around and caught my
interest, so I got the chance to work a little bit with them. Itʼs a very stationary type of fishing, you canʼt go get the fish. They either come to you, or they donʼt. More modern day types of fishing they can chase the herring just about anywhere where as [weir fishing] depended on the luck of having them come into us. Today I donʼt know of any weirs on the Maine coast anywhere, I think theyʼre pretty much all gone.”
Shelly Tinker, Lubec
“The tides are so powerful, they come and go and it's quick. They're very powerful, you either work with 'em or against 'em as a fishermen. It just takes a lot of skill. When you're there and the tide turns and you're not ready for it, you could be up to your ears in trouble. There's a lot of knowledge for the fishermen to have to be out there in these huge tides. There was a winter where we kept losing fishermen. They kept getting the gear stuck on the bottom, dragginʼ the boats down and fishermen were dying. We lost like seven in one winter around this area and thatʼs rare to lose that many, anywhere. It pissed me off. Thereʼs gotta be something we can do!”
Joanne Case, Lubec
“Tourism has always been a big part of Lubec. In the winter time there's just nothing here for the locals, our restaurants mostly close after September. Our fisheries, that is the number one thing, tourism is always in the background, but tourism can only last four months. And the four months that it does last, it's a boom here for sure, our population doubles. The restaurants flourish, your stores flourish, your gas station... but I think we just need to have some year-round work other than the fisheries. The fisheries and the seasonal, you have your clammers, you have your blueberry rakers, but we just need a main industry that would keep people working.”
Bob Peacock, Eastport Harbor Pilot
“I love being on the water, lake or ocean, either one. It's nice to wake up and see the water. I go to New York and other places, I don't like being in the city, I really don't. It's fun to visit for a few days or go to a show or something but it's not like getting up here every morning, it's heaven, being on the water. As my pilot boat captain Ralph DeWitt once said, "My worst day on the water is better than your best day in a cubical somewhere." There's some truth in that, I'll tell yah. There really is.”
Amanda Lyons Harvesting Wormweed in Trescott
“I am a digger so I can still look at the research, still understand the dig- ger's side of it and then understand that I have thousands of acres of clam flats of all different kinds, sand, rock, clay, mud. I got issues with predators, I got issues with landowners, I got issues with access slowly disappearing for our commercial diggers. Whether it was an access that was just by the previous landlord or an access that has been there publicly for the last 25 years, turn around and say "Well I don't want you on my land." And there's nothing to protect the digger, nothing. And the only rule that can protect the digger is by boat.”
Aaron Bell, Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds
“You can't just stop making milk because the price is low and wait ʻtil the price is high to make milk again. That's the ultimate challenge of dairy. We're at the end of the road; we're 150 miles from the next closest farm, 150 miles one way, that Horizon even picks up. Horizon drives 150 miles, picks us up... And then would drive 150 miles for sometimes tiny amounts of milk. I can see why it didn't make economic sense for them. It's just a tough area, I mean Washington County is not a good area to rely on a major milk processor in New York and Massachusetts.”
Wendell Small, North Lubec
“Weʼre just cominʼ from a dive just off this pier a hundred yards out in the water. High tide, under a pen of salmon, gettinʼ the best of urchins. Their row was as orange as an orange. They were plentiful.When that tide changes thereʼs three rivers forcing the water making it quite treacherous. Weʼre in the big boat... And the waves were eight and ten feet and we were full of urchins. Weʼd go up, right straight in the air, and weʼd go down and itʼd be right black. And I said, “David, are we all right?” He said, “Look, reach out back there and get that bag back there on that bench.” I said, “What is this, David” He said, “Itʼs my lunch.” I said, “David! Weʼre gonna die, and youʼre gonna eat a lunch?” And he said, “Yup, and Iʼm gonna have a full belly!”
Justin Right on F/V Two Girls in Lubec
Words from Sharon McGonigal, Lubec
“I'd like to see our kids be able to stay here if they wanted to, I don't want to have to bring 'em up to see 'em move. You see the same thing all my life growing up, things come and things go. They stay for awhile and then they're gone. A restaurant will open for four or five years and then it's gone. I'm gonna stay right here as long as I can! We're all set as long as I have a little food and that sunset!”
Alba Briggs, North Lubec
Words from Aaron Bell, Tide Mill Farm, Edmunds
“My family worked in the woods, my parents always had a huge vegetable garden and they butchered chickens every fall - and I was expected to work. I wish we lived in the city. I used to resent living here. I had a great upbringing. I had the beach and we could ride bikes, but as I got older I wanted to go skateboarding in town and just wanted to go travel and not be based here. But that changed six years later when we ended up moving back [to Tide Mill Farm]. I never would have thought I'd ever move back to live here.”
Bubba Eaton Lighthouse Keeper at West Quoddy Head Light, 1978 - 1982
“Growing up nothing happened to me where I would believe that there were ghosts. My thing was when I was down on West Quoddy Head, when that happened I believed it. It was one of them experiences you never forget... I really felt a presence there, I could feel that. There is always somebody there. I had all the lights on and I had a gun and knife and everything else down there. I used to drink Coke to keep myself awake but, if I lay down, believe me the place was lit up. I'd rather see somebody, you know, if the place was lit up, I'd rather see 'em. I don't shut my eyes.”
Howie Robbins, Halibut Fishing
“Everyoneʼs starting to get gear down now. We fish trawls up here. Thereʼs too many Grand Manan-ers fishing in the gray zone now, they got big boats, big gear, itʼs hard to handle. You canʼt compete, you know? I donʼt want to go out there and fight and chew, it ainʼt worth it. I can actually fish in Canada, my mother was from St. Johns, Newfoundland.”
Dave Brown, Clamming in North Lubec
“I always go back to digging clams... You're your own boss, there's nobody to bother you. Of course, the hours change, the tide changes an hour a day so as the set tides it gets later and later in the day, right? I started doing clams in Canada but I started sea urchins over here. Back then I was tending divers... you could pick your days. You have cold, sub-zero, no you didn't go. Gave a lot of wind? You didn't have to go, but now you do. Around here there's no safe harbor. We have to get in a little boat and get out to our big boat. If the wind's blowing it can be dangerous, people have lost their lives doing it. The state says this is the day you go, you try to get to your boat.”
Rachel Bell, Tide Mill Creamery, Edmunds
“I feel like it's really easy to fall in and out of love with what I do depending on how hard my day has been. But always the goats make me fall in love with what I'm doing. Just being in their presence and their personalities and their desire for affection and their curiosity, it's really special to be with them. I think it both lifts my spirits when I need that but it also brings me right into the present moment.”
Jake Kilton, Halibut Fishing on Howie Robbins’ Boat
Words from Howie Robbins
“Hauling halibut you have to haul it on a slack so there isn't so much tide fightin' the fish. Itʼs hard bottom in here, thatʼs why I fish it. Itʼs a weird fishery, trying to figure out where they are and what theyʼre feeding on. I've noticed in the past three years, middle of June, they shut right off. I don't know if they move or... I've tried everything.”
Shelly Tinker, Corey + Corey Automotive
“When I was younger I'd walk up to the edge of the ocean and go, “There's a whole world, right there! We gotta take advantage of this somehow, there's so much to see and so little to do in this town.” That's how I got into [diving] in the first place. [There] was a juvenile minke whale in a weir. He was in there, following the herring. I had my back up against the weir stake so it would go by me and out through the weir. Watching the herring from underneath and the light shining through and the circles of the silver, it was so beautiful. At one point the whale came through them and I went, "Holy shit." It opened up like a big donut, this hole, and then the whale come through and I was like, "Oh my god, I've just seen the most beautiful thing in the world."
“Maine people are close to the earth and to the seasons. Maine still has a strong resource-based economy, there's this acknowledgment that making a living connected to nature and resources like fishing or farming or the forest that's really honored in this state as a traditional way of making a living. People in Maine want to see those livelihoods continue in the future.”
Rachel Bell, Edmunds
Goats on Rachel Bell's Farm
“The overall thing has dropped here in terms of fishing for herring and sardines. Lobstering has gotten better over the years. Way back when I was fishing they never caught anything like they catch now, they have some big catches. I had 184 traps... We might haul those and get 30 lobsters, 40 lobsters. Now if they haul that many they have half a boat load of lobsters to bring in. The fishermen today donʼt know how lucky they are, and I hope it continues for them. I believe in climate change, I donʼt know if you do or not...”
David Pressley, Lubec
Howie Robbins' Halibut
“I think Lubec is on the mend, we're going to become a little tourist town. The factory's are gone, the only thing we got left is a little bit of fishing and we're on the mend, we're building back up again. We had junk shops and restaurants, hotels, motels, I might never see it, but it's coming. We're gonna be a little Bar Harbor.”
Willy Corey, Lubec
Winding Road, North Lubec
“The only thing here, really, is your tourist season. You got a few restaurants that hire a few people minimum wage. We used to have factories, we used to have a lot of jobs in Lubec but I don't know... Lubec's always gonna be here. The question is who's gonna be livin' in it?”
Dave Brown, Lubec
Coming in from Haul, Lubec
This work would not be possible without the generosity of the storytellers. Every person interviewed and photographed for this project gave the gift of their time, energy, and stories.
Special thanks to Lubec Historical Society, Lubec Landmarks, Lubec Memorial Library, and Lubec Brewing Company.
To learn more about The First Coastʼs projects around Maine visit www.thefirstcoast.org