Category Archives: Military History

Pondering Perception

My pace slows while walking on a level trail back to camp.   There are shadows here too.   A jeep and two trucks on the thoroughfare.  I stand aside and watch them pass.   The crunch of boots on ice dutifully cross behind me.   A door opens, “Enter,” snap-click, “Your 1400 hours report, Sir.”   “At ease.”    Laughter from the Mess hall slips lightly through the trees .   Was it a winning hand or The Burns and Allen Show on the Radio?

I must sit down.   There’s so much here!   I know.   Today’s exploration is only a minute slice of Jewell Island’s time.    But what an exceptional time it was!   It’s a far cry from the historical ebb and flow of Casco Bay, except for fighting over land, fishing rights, and the bloodshed of war with the “natives.”    Now, that’s a perceptual discovery – sarcasm!    The norm is selfishness and unrest.   Ponder that, Jude.   Hmm.    That’s the history of man.    Really?    I think not.    I’ve traveled mile upon mile, sometimes hours, others months long and have yet to meet the dangerous person, not even the one who has the aura, “gotta get out of here!”

The truth of my journeys have the reward of connecting with people who share their abundance (no matter the size), who help in need, and are a pleasure to be around.   I think that we all prefer to remember these types of moments.   Yes, the outcries over the sensationally divisive and frightening daily news is quite loud.   However, what I hear and read about the most are the sacrifices people make on behalf of others, to the point of risking life and perhaps losing it to save a stranger.   Someone we do not know.   Casco Bay’s is chuck full of heroic acts.   Whoa Jude, slow down.  Get back on track.

What did I see here, today?   I saw my feet walk on steps inside cement buildings with a view, scuffling over the prints of men whose sole duty was that of securing America .  They were trained in sighting via the trigonometric process of horizontal triangulation.   Some men’s paint scraping boots climbed the stairs to observe or keep watch, hour after hour and day after day, scanning for threats within the visual range from any floor of either tower.   Others manned the batteries, be it the 202, the AMTB’s or other weapons of defense.  “Honor, Courage, and Commitment” amidst smoking, cussing and swearing.   I need to learn more about this and the Island’s history in much more detail.   I wish that I had taken the time (what time!) to purchase, read and study “The History of Jewell Island” by Peter W. Benoit before leaving.

Whew!  Woozy from musings, I head back to camp for some afternoon relaxation.   It is time to let go, to pass thought into rest as nature has with the broken derelicts of wood, tar and metal.   Trees, shrub, vines, weeds and the like growing over, in and through what once was but is no more.


Jewell and WWII

I take leave of the Punchbowl and the Great Blue Heron.  Off to explore, the structures and relics left from WWII.

I think of the men.   Did they like it here with the cool damp air and frigid winters?   According to my source for Jewell Island History, barracks were hastily built and had no insulation.   Water was scarce and tainted with minerals.   The batteries were unfinished when the first men arrived, but the towers were built.   These were constructed out of concrete (one at 50′ and the other at 80′)   and were used as “base-end” stations, coordinating with the station at Trundy Point, Cape Elizabeth.   Their primary use was to aid the accuracy of new 12 inch guns, 17 miles range, at Fort Levitt on Cushing Island.

Jewell was also the best choice for harbor defenses, adding observation as an additional use for the towers.   It was also a light-station and had Anti mortar torpedo boat batteries.   These were 90 mm guns that could fire 24 shots a minute at a range of 10,000 yards.   [Info from History of Jewell Island, Maine by Peter W. Benoit, an excellent read.]  Click for weapons info and photos

Footsteps o’er shadows
Tar-papered walls

Batteries unfinished
Radar delayed

Blocks  and Metal
Towers and Storage

Scarcely used
Little remaining

China in Pieces
Roof on the ground

Something for nothing
For nothing did happen

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Little Chebeague

Soft amber light gently touches my face, waking me slowly.  The solace of the silent moon from the evening’s landing remained with me through the night.  It was in my dreams but my sleep was so sound that I do not recall this nor any dream.  But I sense the power of its presence and can’t help but lay hold of time, suspending it as a fragment from the broader scheme of reality. My mind’s eye efficiently gathering every nuance of the scene before me, a boat’s motor, a wisp of air, sand and trees, water lapping the shore, changing light and the energy of auras.  I’m so glad to be here.

I visited Little Chebeague Island during last year’s practice trip and fell in love with the place.  The weather was not the greatest, with the threat of rain and dismal light for taking pictures, and a second set of camera batteries dying.  Oh, did I mention attacking ants?  Ouch!

I walked the trails anyway as well as the west shore at low tide.  Asian Bittersweet and Black Swallow-Wort were obliterating trees and shrubs in an ominous choke-hold.  Trails were overgrown and old broken down or vandalized structures were difficult to see, especially the Pritchett Cottage.

Pritchette Cottage   Pritchett Cottage   Overgrown Field  Overgrown Path


[I enjoyed the rest of my exploration in spite of dead camera batteries and sprinting to the tent for refuge from the incoming deluge.  The rainstorm provided a good show of lightning on the water.]

I finally crawl out of the tent.  I have a unique way of doing so because of a knee injury.  It doesn’t like to bend so on my knees, swivel and crawl out the door with a straight right leg.  An interesting feat due to the small size of the tent door.  Kayaking with the knee isn’t a problem but walking on it is another story.  I brought my “big guns” brace for support but it was still a challenge walking on seaweed covered rocks.

The water is back to a blue reflecting the color of the sky.  It is calm having few ripples, especially in Chandler Cove where the water is still.  I walk along the sand looking for the trail to the privy where I stop to see the Navy Firefighting practice apparatus.  That’s right.  The US Navy took over the island during WWII to train every sailor how to fight fires aboard a Navy Ship. Approximately 1500 sailors trained here.  However, the primary use of the island for the Navy was recreation.  Many sailors spent time on Little Chebeague before shipping out.  “the United States Navy used the island as a recreation and training site during World War II. Soldiers enjoyed ball fields, boxing rings, and a skeet range.”   From a WordPress Blog, click here for more information.

Navy Fire Fighting      Click here to see more photos and detailed description of the Navy’s Firefighting School.

After returning from a visit to the privy, I gaze at the sand inspecting it to find something of interest.  Ah, little sneaky.  A set of raccoon tracks lead from the water and up the beach into the grass.  Buggers, is a better comment as last year I ended up at war with the creatures.  I didn’t know they could swim and definitely have an opinion about it.  RACOONS ARE BANNED FROM SWIMMING!

You see, my first night during last year’s practice trip was spent on the southern tip of East Gosling.  I arrived just before dark, found the one spot to set up a tent, dragged what I needed up and quickly made camp as darkness descended.  It was a warm night so I left extraneous gear outside the tent, including my food which was wrapped tightly inside a dry bag.  Clank!  Bam! Rattle, Rattle!  What? (It sounded like Number 5 rifling through the mobile snack stand in the movie, Short Circuit.)  I ran down quickly to find a raccoon inside my kayak and chased him off.  He couldn’t pry the hatches open but he did crawl up under my bow in search of a nighttime snack.  The only thing he found was a small sack that contained canned tuna and sardines.  Buggers!  He’d chewed several holes in it.

Now, I was worried about the food up by the tent.  I grabbed a section of my spare paddle and ran back to camp.  Whew, it was still there.  The paddle section lay next to me as I tried to get some sleep.  Not more than a few minutes went by, when I heard the raccoon again.  He had my bag and was dragging it into the bushes.  I yelled and smacked the ground with the paddle and he dropped the bag.  How bold these critters are!  The food bag spent the rest of the night inside with me.

I was able to move from East Gosling to West Gosling as the Sunday crowd had left the large and beautiful campsite.  I declared war on the raccoons, threatening capture and impaling one on a stick that was stuck in the sandy beach.  You know, like certain native people’s did to warn off their enemies.  I prepared for the oncoming war an hour before dusk by booby-trapping the cockpit of the kayak, made ready the spare paddle shaft and collected some rocks, plus a light that is bright and will flash.
1 ready    2 ready   4 Ready  5 ready  Guess what.  This raccoon was stupid which is good.  He came early.  It was dusk but well before dark.  I slapped my kayak with the paddle shaft and tossed a rock at it.  Up the tree he went.  I stood watching him with all the patience in the world.  Each time he tried to come down the tree, I smacked my kayak with the paddle shaft and yelled at him.  No go for the coon.  He was going to learn who’s the boss, ME!  I wouldn’t let him come down, nope and not until I say so.  — He tried to hide among the shadows of the tree branches in order to sneak down once it was dark. Bright Red light time.  There’s nowhere to hide.  — I kept him there for about a half hour and let me tell you. When he came done from the tree, he sprinted away, never to return.  I won!

Well, I never saw or heard a raccoon last night.  It probably helped that my hatches are double secured and that I bungie a dive flag over the cockpit opening.  I chose the dive flag as a cockpit cover because I dream of being a diver some day.  Probably won’t happen as that’s expensive. However, learning to free-dive is possible.

My slow inspection for critter tracks continue as I meander back to camp.  There isn’t much to see besides bird tracks.  A gull lands on the shore while I tidy things up.  She or a juvenile gull allows me to snap off a few shots of her/him with my camera.  How nice.  Hope to see more shore birds and be able to photograph them as well.

I eat a quick breakfast, Grapenuts drowned in protein powdered milk and two scoops of peanut butter, then grab my camera and head out to explore Little Chebeague once again.  Wow, what a surprise!  My mouth gapes open.  Someone cleared the invasive vines away from the trail, nice!  What’s this?  Sign says, “Caretakers Cabin.”  I follow the side trail and sure enough, there’s a cabin. No one is home so I head back to the main trail of.  However, I meet Christine within a few minutes.  She and a friend are working on the engine of a brush mower.  They say they didn’t need help.

What’s up with the caretaker’s cabin?  That’s where I live now.  Where are you from?  Near Falmouth.  What’s up with the work?  The MITA (Maine Island Trail Association) partnered with the Park Service to rid the island of the invasive vines and restore it (as much as possible) to what it was during the 1800’s, except for the buildings.

Little Chebeague was originally a recreational area for Native Americans who lived on Great Chebeague during the summer.  According to Bill Caldwell “Chief Madockowando was top man on Chebeague Island when the first white settlers came in the 1600’s….they caught fish…killed a seal or two…” (Islands of Maine Where America Really Began).  And like the residents of today, they crossed the sandbar between Great Chebeague and Little Chebeague at low tide to enjoy the expansive sand beaches, picnic, swim and so on.
IMG_4838  Sandbar extends about 200 feet.

IMG_5786     IMG_5785

The 1800’s portray Little Chebeague having a few summer cottages, a farm and a hotel for visitors.

I continue to walk the paths, amazed at the progress Christine has made in just a couple of months.  Fields are being opened up, vines cut away from shrubs, and trees saved from the Asian Bittersweet.  Vroom, Vroom, Vroom, chainsaw now at work.  Christine is a little thing but certainly has a big work ethic.  I see where the vines have been cut away from trees already and also so many more to go.  Small areas are cleared around large trees.  One even has a board swing hanging by ropes from its branches.  Dilapidated buildings clutter clearings.  Vandals and age are burying them into the soft dirt.

The tide is slowly rising but there is still plenty of exposed shore on the west side of the island.  I walk here as I did last year but able to use my camera more.  It’s a strange feeling to visit the past. One that is only a year old.  I’d love to be able to go back in time and see the real past, beginning with the Native Americans.

Camp is down and Abbie B prepped to go and me working on be ready too.  A park ranger stops by to chat.  A nice fella sharing his knowledge of the islands he cares for so much, expounding on their natural beauty.

It’s such a lovely day.  I’m planning to head north to Bangs Island.  I wasn’t able to stop there last year and really want to see it.  No, you should paddle over to Jewell Island.  I ponder a moment and agree that the sea is calm enough to make the crossing.

We make a little more small talk before parting company.  I finish putting on paddle gear and slide Abbie B down to the water.

**See next post for a gallery Little Chebeague photos.  They include ones from last year too.

Destination Little Chebeague Island

Abbie B and me head north stopping by an exposed rock where I look to the east eyeing Fort Gorges.  A place I’ve wanted to visit since I first saw it from Fort Williams Park.  The first lighthouse of Maine is also located at the park.  (Portland Head Light built 1787-1790 as ordered by President George Washington.)

Fort Gorges lies a little over a mile from Portland Harbor.  Its construction began in 1857 but was not completed until after the civil war, 1865.  The fort is named after Sir Ferdinando Gorges, “The Father of Maine.”  Gorges poured some 30 to 40 years of his life, expending all of his resources toward the colonization of Maine.  It’s sad to say fort gorgesthat Fort Gorges is the only place that acknowledges his devotion to the great state of Maine.



Photo credit: / Foter / CC BY         Click to view a photo gallery of the Fort.    Since access to Fort Gorges crosses Portland Harbor shipping lanes, you may want to make a security call on your vhf radio both ways.  Click to find out why.

We continue our northward paddle until crossing a minor shipping lane.   I chose this one because it is outside of Portland Harbor and in a lane that is mostly used by small craft.  However the small craft often pose more of a danger than the big ones.  Pilots of jet skis and “cigarette” boats are self-absorbed and move at high speeds.  Bam! What was that?  I don’t know.  Maybe a piece of garbage or driftwood.

We reach the shallow water that runs along the western side of Great Diamond Island and sit for a while.  A lone lobster boat is motoring to the north.  A sailboat lazily passes by on its southward track.  The island is quiet and I wonder what it sounded like during its early years of settlement.

Yup, a lot of grunting went on as the island was once home for hogs.  In fact, it was called Hog Island.  The name change was to direct focus to the attractiveness of the island.  Folklore says that Great Diamond is based on the sun’s reflection off the minerals of its rocky ledges.

Abbie B and me continuing our own lazy jaunt along Great Diamond’s coast to its north end.  Cow island is nearly a stone’s throw from there.  We travel between the two  Islands to eliminate concern for other craft and meet two men fishing from a bass boat.  We exchange hello’s and chat a few minutes before making our way across Hussey Sound.  The sea is rolling a bit and a light current meets us making short work of reaching Long Island.

The light is waning as the sun hits the horizon but Abbie B and me maintain our pleasant pace. Long Island is long and it takes awhile to reach the northern end where a narrow channel runs between it and Little Chebeague Island.  A lobster boat heads out through it while Abbie B and me watch.  The boat’s gentle wake causes us to bob up and down in the water.  Water that was blue and is now a grayish-green.

We cross the channel and paddle along the southern tip of Little Chebegue until the rocky shoreline turns to sand.  The designated camping areas are on the sheltered east side.  However, the tide is still low and I see a rocky protrusion that extends out and along the channel.  It’s silly to paddle all the way around it when there is a lovely spot that locals use is right next to me.

We land and I push myself up and out of Abbie B sending her back between my legs.  Brr, the water is cold.  I’m wearing my dry top from now on!  Abbie B slides easily up the sandy bank.

St-r-e-e-t-ch, ah that feels good!  Wow, look at that moon.  It sits in silence beckoning me to do the same.  I do.  My eyes trace the sky above and below the small white orb.  Peaceful, very peaceful.

Little Chebeague, rocks, the channel and Long Island