I’ve been working in Maine journalism long enough to remember nearly two decades of these year-end reviews. Many times, I’ve looked back at my pictures and been disappointed. Sometimes I look at my images and see nothing but missed opportunities and lackluster work.
This is not one of those years.
Taking a gander at what I’ve done in 2017, I can hardly believe I had time for it all. On top of that, I like a lot of what I see. I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of this visual storytelling gig I’ve managed to hang on to all these years.
So, here’s my list, my best of 2017. I hope you enjoy looking back at it. I have. I’m throwing in some songs I wrote and one big, digital project I pulled together, too. Please feel free to chime in below and tell me what you liked or didn’t like.
I started off the year, in January, with a story about Portland’s newest old tradition: contra dancing. Callers at the weekly, Thursday night shindig at the State Street Church stay away from gender specific terms like “ladies” and “gents” when explaining the steps. On Thursday, caller Gretchen Carroll used “rubies” and “jets” instead. That way, any person can feel comfortable dancing either role.
Also in January, I had some fun smelt fishing in the middle of the night. It’s a far cry from sitting on a bucket, in the frozen middle of a windswept pond, waiting for a flag to pop up on your trap. It’s kind of luxurious. It’s warm and fun. It’s hardly like ice fishing at all.
In February, I reconnected with some folks I first met in 2014. Andrea Caron was in the midst of her cancer treatment then. This time, she’d beaten the disease and Mary Schmaling-Kearns was tattooing and beautifying her reconstructed breasts in her unique, blossoming style.
Anyone who knows me, knows my pet peeve about snow-covered sidewalks in this town. This was my February protest anthem. Come on! It’s not that hard to clear your sidewalk. And it’s the law.
I learned all about hatchet hurling in March at the Maine Warrior Gym. I had no idea ax throwing was a sport.
You don’t need a plaid shirt and hipster cred to try ax throwing, either.
“It’s preferred,” said co-owner Tim Johnson, stroking his whiskers and smiling. “But we do allow people without beards.”
In April, (the 20th, of course) instead of Ash Wednesday, it was more like Hash Thursday as Maine’s high priest of weed, Crash Barry, handed out free pot, along with copies of his new book “Marijuana Valley,” in Monument Square. An orderly line of hundreds stretched out from his small table under the Civil War victory statue.
Also in April, I told the story of William “Billy” Brown. He was a child soldier who went to sea in 1798. Maimed in battle in a now-forgotten war, Brown was then cast aside by his country. The African-American man never got medals or the pension he was due. Instead, his reward was a life of pain and poverty. When he died, he ended up a forgotten man in an unmarked grave in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.
Until two local history buffs took up his cause, that is.
In 2013, local historians Larry Glatz and Herb Adams stumbled over Brown’s old pension documents. The papers revealed his service, protecting the United States in its infancy, and how the government later ignored his pleas for help.
They wanted to put things right and resolved to get Brown a proper military headstone. It sounded easy. But they soon smacked into the same bureaucratic brick walls Brown ran into 170 years ago.
I met Connor McGrath in May. McGrath is a stand up comedian from Deering Center. He’s has Asperger’s syndrome — but it’s no handicap. In fact, it’s part of his act and the crowd loves it.
“I don’t think it’s a disability,” said McGrath. “It’s like being left handed. It’s a way of looking at the world. I think it works out well for stand-up comedy because stand-up comedy is all about not getting social cues and misinterpreting the everyday interactions in life.”
In June (though the story ran in July) I teamed up with Jackie Farwell to do a story on tick-covered migratory birds. It’s probably one of the nastiest picture stories I have ever worked on. The birds’ tick-infested eyeballs were truly hard to look at. Couple that with the thought that they carry them around and drop them out of the sky — eewww! It’s hard to take.
Also in June, I watched alewives in a rocky pool, behind a small waterfall on Mill Brook in Westbrook. Their sleek, dark bodies pointed upstream in the thousands. In ones and twos, they darted, flopped and leapt up the frothing, three-foot drop. They were on their way home, to Highland Lake, where they spawned before returning the same way, back to the sea.
They do it every year, in that secluded, woodland pool, like nature’s clockwork. The only difference this year is that they had an audience to cheer them on.
It’s hard for Zoo Cain to sneak around the city. People tend to know where he is.
Folks know if Cain is uptown, out of town or home at his St. John Valley neighborhood apartment. That’s because his truck screams in a kaleidoscopic riot of hand-painted color and knicknacks. It announces his whereabouts, wherever he goes. It’s like a visual trumpet, heralding his movements.
I finally got to meet him in July.
“I dig the wrench, I dig the ride. Friendship’s where it’s at.” — John Joslin
Folks said goodbye to Portland artist, vintage motorcycle nut and friend Jon Joslin in July. He represented everything I hold dear about Portland. He was vintage cool, creative, and didn’t pretend to be anything other than himself. He hung out at Treefort Cycleshop in East Bayside long before it became fashionable. As gentrification gobbles up whole neighborhoods, his passing can’t help but feel like a punctuation mark at the end of golden time for this city.
Words cannot describe my irritation when I hear someone refer to Portland’s Back Cove as Back Bay. So, I wrote a song to get it all out.
Speaking of Back Cove. I closed out my “Paddle ‘Round Portland” series by seeing a sunrise from its waters in September.
In October, I celebrated the anniversary of Portland’s destruction at the hands of the British Navy by telling the story of Alice Greeley.
After the British were done, her tavern was one of the few buildings left standing. The city and county governments were run out of her place for months afterwards.
Because the facts of the story are so thin, I wrote a song to fill in the gaps and pay tribute to the woman’s bravery. I roped my colleague Seth Koenig into helping me, with it. Feel free to sing along.
A small group of veterans and historians gathered on Nov. 20, in the Wilde Chapel at Evergreen Cemetery, in remembrance of the first Mainer to die in World War I. The ceremony marked 100 years, nearly to the hour, that Harold Taylor Andrews was killed in France.
“And [in front of] Harold Andrews, there was a small circle of the foe,” said Herb Adams, “that he had taken down with the only tool at hand: his shovel.”
This month, Seth Koenig and I solved the riddle of Longfellow’s missing scarf. Then we took steps to remedy the situation.
Also in December, I stumbled onto a very Christmassy scene down at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad. It was cold. It was snowy. But I had a ball making these pictures.
I’m ending the year with a story of a Mainer who nearly died many miles from home due to his outsized sense of adventure. He’s the kind of guy that makes me proud to be from the Pine Tree State.