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Twelve Miles from the Rest of the World

A Portrait of the Damariscotta River
Reviews by Kay Liss Lincoln County News

It's not often a coffee-table kind of book is as pleasurable to read as to look at. Actually, the just-published book, Twelve Miles from the Rest of the World: A Portrait of the Damariscotta River, with text by Barnaby Porter of Walpole and photos by Al Trescot of Damariscotta, has to be considered as a different genre altogether, because the writing and visual contents are so well-balanced, with equal communicative and artistic weight.

Add to this achievement, an interesting layout with photographs ranging in size and the text broken up into essays and a separate running narrative of a boat trip down the length of the river, and you have an eminently readable and attractive book. The book was published by Trescot's graphic design company in Damariscotta, Rocky Hill Design.

What's nice, too, is that it can be looked at and read in one sitting, or at one's leisure. Perhaps the best testament to its quality is that both the words and the pictures have enough lyrical resonance to be appreciated over and over again, like a good poem or favorite piece of music.

The photographs vary in content, some of the "picture-postcard" type, for instance of the Gut in South Bristol with its colorful wharf, lobster boats and buoys. But even these have a more artistic look to them. And it is nice to have an assortment of these to balance the many scenic views of the surrounding landscape and the seascape of the river. The depth of color, quality of light and the detail in all of the photographs are stunning.

The reader sees the river in all of its dimensions, both human and natural, all of its colors, seasons, and times of day, as much in the photos as in the text. It is easy to appreciate the landscape in its full fall glory, such as in a picture of Miller Island or of a splendid one of a saltwater farm in South Bristol, or in the summer with the foliage so lush and sunsets spectacular.

But not many of us see much of the river in winter. And some of the book's most exquisite photos are of this time of year. There's a meditative, serene beauty to such pictures as Prentiss Island, its conifers and shoreline outlined in white, and another of a wind-swept, icy-looking Turnip Island viewed from the end of Rutherford Island in the snow.

In one of the many excellent essays, "The Old Woman's Breath," Porter captures the beauty of the winter season: "Two nights ago the old woman in the river finally froze. At last the river's surface is motionless except for the heaving and cracking of its edges on the tides... I can see an open patch of water and the old woman's breath steaming in the night, gently, as there is no wind, just barely perceptible wisps of vapor in the cold air. Her great age... and long experience in these wintry matters are, for her, but dreamy echoes of ice ages in the past...."

Porter has the winning combination of the best of naturalist writers: a scientific grasp of the natural world (he is both a forester and wildlife biologist), a philosophical, poetic and artistic sensibility, and a very keen eye. He also has an exuberant appreciation for the human history of the river, which he shares in the essays and in the narrative travelogue. One can learn a lot about mussel farming, oyster harvesting and shipbuilding endeavors past and present along the Damariscotta.

In another winter-time essay, his sense of humor, a constant throughout the text, though subtle and not overdone in the true Maine manner, comes through clearly. Entitled "Eat Your Hearts Out (partial letter to friends in Florida," he writes: "All the trees, most impressively the tall pines, were coated with pink and white hoarfrost, and the sun, which is a little higher these days, was beaming down through them with the bright promise of spring... I thought about your oranges and lemons... then I noticed something to bring my vision of Florida to its knees... the pines overhead slowly released their clinging crystals of frost in an ethereal shower... each a tiny prism of rainbow light against a clear blue sky above ... Can palm trees do that?"

And in one essay, "Lingering Sunsets," an image we can easily still envision: "Leaden grey overhead, wispy pink on its western edge, the end-of-day, mid-March sky holds no promise of warmth this evening as the setting sun stabs its cold, golden beams through one last snow squall driving across the river."

Other essays contain observations about wildlife along the river, fox, seals and various ducks. The writer's keen, almost painterly eye is particularly apparent in one entitled "Blue Mists" in which he describes the subtle variety of blues in a summer's sky.

The book is available at Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta.

Twelve Miles from the Rest of the World

A Portrait of the Damariscotta River

By Barnaby Porter with photographs by Al Trescot
by Muriel L. Hendrix, The Working Waterfront, Island Institute

Twelve Miles from the Rest of the World will delight people who live near or have visited the Damariscotta River; people who love history or are fascinated by rivers in general; those who appreciate and aspire to beautiful photography and a wide range of other readers who enjoy a ramble through natural and cultural history.

The book grew out of Barnaby Porter's 40 years of meandering along the Damariscotta River, which is actually a 12-mile estuary. His experience is supplemented with tidbits about historical sites and oddities he has encountered, and all are enhanced by Al Trescot's gorgeous photos of the river in all seasons, all times of day.

Trescot and Porter met in 2003 on a short cruise of the upper Damariscotta aboard Gus Johnson's Shinola. Later, Porter offered to take Trescot on one of his "coving" expeditions. The term was coined by a friend of his who prefers to make time from point A to Point B when he's out in his boat, in contrast to Porter, who enjoys moseying in and out of the river's many coves, behind islands and along ledges, and is always ready to stop if he sees something out of the ordinary. Photographs in the book are culled from thousands of pictures Trescot took during many subsequent "coving" trips.

There are two strains of narrative in the book. One is a running river tour that begins at the town landing in Damariscotta and ends at East Boothbay, with a side trip through the gut in South Bristol and down the Thread of Life. Along the way, Porter lovingly describes various sections of the river and includes an eclectic mix of interesting information about different areas, such as the ancient oyster bed ten feet under the bottom mud near Dodge Lower Cove, which is "estimated by researchers to be nearly half a mile long and as much as ten feet deep." In many places, there are lyrical descriptions of unique spots like Salt Marsh Cove, where "the southern branch offers a visual feast of marbled ledges, huge overhanging hemlocks and glass green water leading in to a very pretty and almost hidden salt marsh. It's the sort of place that makes you whisper."

During the tour, he includes descriptions of now defunct historic places and tells about the river's bounty, such as at Glidden Ledge, where he says "Not only is a huge amount of water concentrated through this constriction in the river but a huge amount of life as well, as is evidenced by bird activity at most stages of the tide and the regular presence of fishermen, not to mention the extensive beds of filter feeding mussels and all kinds of shellfish, starfish, urchins, anemones, worms and other invertebrates."

The book's second narrative strain is composed of short essays, many of which Porter wrote for Maine Public Radio and read over the air. They cover a wide range of subjects. One gives a moving description of the night when Schooner Landing Restaurant and Bar burned during a winter storm. "Huge, billowing, orange flames leaped upward through the curtains of heavy, horizontally blowing snow, and hissing jets of water from the fire hoses shot in great arcs, up and over and into the night. Windows popped, ceilings fell, and the letters, 'Schooner Landing,' on the gable end toward us were gradually seared and scorched by the heat and licking flames until at last they spelled 'Defeated,' or so it seemed."

He contemplates the power of the tide, "something on the order of 15 billion gallons of water in our river alone," and describes standing in a mud flat while "the muck sucking at my boots squishes and squirms, acre upon acre of it, the primordial soup, loading the air to saturation with the black, organic smells of trillions of little lives beginning and ending in each moment." And with the same acute sensory details, tells about two fox chasing each other along the shore, a dead seal pup that had been dragged, possibly by a fox, to higher land, and unrelenting osprey attacks on baffled cormorants and a Great Blue Heron.

Another essay considers the diversity of industries that have flourished along the river. It concludes with a list compiled by an archeological survey that discovered sites of "23 brickyards, 8 shipyards, 13 quays and stone wharfs, 4 mills, 2 ice companies, 2 lobster pounds, 2 dams, 1 salt works and 18 aboriginal sites (oyster and soft shell clam middens)."

Like Porter's descriptions, Trescot's photographs evoke the river's presence. It's as if the reader can smell the river, feel the dampness of fog, hear working boat engines or crackling ice. Some, particularly scenes captured on crisp autumn days, are startling in their colors. Others are quiet, muted and reflective. Altogether, they capture the vast diversity of the river: its varied shoreline, bountiful wildlife, its human activities and beauty in every season.

The book is Porter and Trescot's celebration of this diversity and beauty. But it is more, a call for continued vigilance to protect it. As Porter says when visiting Seal Cove: "Despite its popularity among recreational and cruising vessels; despite the frequent sport fishermen and the bird watchers, who sneak in to get a glimpse of the eagles nesting on Hodgsons Island; despite the measured increase of new homes built along the cove's eastern shore; Seal Cove still manifests a tenuous atmosphere of wildness, a preciousness that seems to hold a certain priority in river-goers' minds as a piece of the Damariscotta whose welfare must be guarded with great care. I could not agree more myself....but then I feel that way about the entire river."

In This Place

Trescot's 'In This Place' a fine tribute to Muscongus Bay

By Al Trescott foreword by Robert Ives
Reviews by Kay Liss Lincoln County News

Al Trescot has created a thoughtful, well-rounded and moving tribute to Muscongus Bay in the form of a book of photographs, just published by his Damariscotta publishing company, Rocky Hill Publishing. Other than a short introduction by Trescot and a foreword by the Rev. Bobby Ives, this is a book that captures the area in purely visual terms, unlike his 2005 publishing tribute to the Damariscotta River that combined his photographs and Barnaby Porter's wonderful writing.

And what a grand scope of visual images it contains. They were collected over four years, in all seasons (though most in good boating seasons as the majority were taken from Trescot's boat Blondie), of the numerous islands, coves and shorelines that comprise the vast area of the bay, from New Harbor to Friendship, Monhegan Island to Louds Island. They also include every conceivable subject, from boats (especially his favorite, the lobster boat) to skies, water, rocks, wildlife, some quaint Maine architecture and a few colorful boating people.

The book, 10 inches wide by about 8 inches high, with photos around that size on opposing pages, is a practical and comfortable size. Some of the picaresque scenes captured, such as lobster boats in New Harbor's Back Cove, have the look of lovely large postcards, partly due to the size limitation. Others shot from a farther distance, capturing more of the sky and water, create a more expansive and artistic impression, though some of these, such as an expressive old oak tree in Greenland Cove, would have a greater effect in a larger format.

Yet in the scheme of such a book, which presumably aims to portray the wide diversity, both natural and cultural, of Muscongus Bay, it's only fitting that the postcard-like photos of a lobster boat at dock would be as important to include as gorgeous cloud formations, intricate granite outcroppings and wave patterns on the water with a small island appearing in the distance.

Some of these artistic photos are absolutely stunning, like one of Indian Island taken in July of 2009. The sea, which partly reflects the variety of low-lying cumulus and high cirrus clouds, and the sky are divided by a little island with a stand of tall pines. The time of day looks to be close to sunset, with a hint of pink amidst the bluish gray of sky and sea. The color and composition are perfectly balanced, characteristics of almost every picture in the collection. Another standout is one of Hatchet Cove in Friendship, again an arresting sky filled with little puffs of clouds, seen from a curved, dark green shoreline.

The most artistic image, to this viewer's mind, is one that obviously the photographer favors too, as it appears in the body of the book as well as on the book's title page. It looks almost surreal, a single cloud with faint rays of the sun shooting from behind it, reflected in a pinkish-purple sea with a sliver of Monhegan Island off in the distance. It is truly breathtaking to behold. Perhaps it's an image Trescot almost couldn't capture, because of its so subtle, evanescent quality. His sensitivity to such moments was expressed in the introduction as he described a spring afternoon between Wreck Island and Marsh Island, when the water was "just like glass. Everything glowed in a warm afternoon light that I don't think is possible to photograph &No image but the one in my head."

The foreword by Bobby Ives is a moving textual addition to the book. Ives, who started the Carpenter's Boat Shop in Pemaquid, reminisces over his forty years exploring and living on the islands in the bay, one such poignant memory describing how his wife Ruth would sit with her legs astride the bow to break the ice as he rowed from Louds Island into Round Pond to get to church in Sheepscot on a wintry Sunday morning.

This book holds a treasure-trove of memories for anyone who loves the Maine coast, and particularly Muscongus Bay. Trescot will be signing books at the Maine Coast Book Shop on Sunday, June 20 at noon. For more information, Trescot's phone number is 380-6074.

In This Place

By Al Trescott foreword by Robert Ives
Review by Lucy Alexander
Wind Check Magazine July 2010

Al Trescot is much more than a local photographer. He is a storyteller, capturing the beauty of Muscongus Bay and snippets of life in strong, vibrant color  a strength and vibrancy belonging to the people as much as the land and water. With the exception of a rew words by the author and the forward by Robert Ives, this is a simple book of pictures & telling a powerful story.

Trescot's journey begins at Pemaquid Point Light at the mouth of Johns Bay into Muscongus Bay. He puts this little finger in the sea of global perspective. "To the East, Nova Scotia, Ocean Station Delta and Bay of Biscay, France". Perusing the pages, readers will find that boats, like people and places have a history. The aughor's brief captions tell their stories. "Dot II was a captains gig from a WWII Navy vessel. Currently she is lobstering and ground fishing near the coast off New Harbor." Lori Ann a multi-fishery vessel, is rigged as a purse-seiner, allowing her to catch schools of Herring or Menhaden for lobster bait. The crew, mostly lobstermen, will share in the catch."

In This Place, Muscongus Bay Maine, four years in the making, truly captures life - at work, at play, on the water and land. When winter comes and the fire is roaring, you'll want to revisit this photographic story time and again.