Maine Farmhouse Journal

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Maine - The Way Life Should Be

July 1-5, 1999

The more time we spend in our adopted State of Maine, the more pleased we are with our choice to move here. Good friends, family, and plenty of fun things to do. This Independence Day weekend was an especially fine time to be in Maine.

Early Saturday morning, Jack and I went to the coast in our continuing quest to find some striped bass to tease with our flyrods. Ozzie, his houseguest from Puerto Rico, came with us. The day was bright, blue, not too warm, with a slight breeze off the ocean smelling of salt and seaweed. We tried the mouths of the Mousam and Little Rivers where they enter the sea near Kennebunk, and from the rocks at the coast near Biddeford Pool. The scenery was spectacular! Standing on the rocks, casting into the waves, with the gulls overhead, the Wood Island lighthouse on the horizon, and the colored lobster buoys bobbing in the swell - with good friends - life doesn't get much better!

Woods Island Light
off Biddeford Pool, Maine

There was only one thing missing - the fish. Not only didn't we land any stripers, or have strikes, we didn't even see any of the bait fish activity that indicates stripers are schooling in the area. No one else fishing at any of the spots did anything either, but that didn't make us feel any better. This is the fourth time that Jack and I have gone out after stripers, to return fishless. He buoys me up with tales of his 40-fish days in these same areas, but I sense that even he is beginning to doubt his abilities. Doubt in an angler is a very bad thing indeed - doubting that the fish are there, or worse, doubting your ability to catch them.

I once had a sermon preached directly to me in church when we lived in Canterbury, NH. (sure, the rest of the congregation happened to be there in church at the time, but I know that the minister was talking just to me!). Our friend and then neighbor, Reverend Carl preached a sermon on fishing. He pointed out "there is a big difference between going fishing and going to catch fish" Fishing is a state of mind, as is our view of life.

The experience of going fishing, or our journey through life, can be an end in itself. The goal-oriented approach to life, of going to catch fish, has another set of values altogether. Our challenge as anglers is to be able to differentiate between the two, and not to get so hung up on the goals we set for ourselves that we miss the experience of the chase. Our series of unsuccessful trips for stripers this summer have been fun, and have introduced me to a new type of fishing and some wonderful parts of the coast I probably wouldn't ever have discovered if we weren't chasing fish. And besides, there is always next time - when the stripers will be schooling and every cast will produce a strike!

Penny took advantage of the time while we were fishing to explore Bridgton's used book stores. When I got back home, we both hopped in the car and headed out for Windham where we had some shopping to do and some more book places to check out. Returning to the Farmhouse, I made a quick run to the dump and then a quick dip in the pool - and it was time for the annual Independence Day concert. For years, the Portland Symphony has had an outdoor concert followed by fireworks at the Shawnee Peak Ski area near Bridgton.

Jack and Ellen brought Ozzie and Shirley, their house guests. Their across-the-street neighbors Bob and Pam came along as well. We all had a gourmet picnic on the grassy slopes of the ski area, complete with fried chicken, several varieties of potato salad and rice salad, four kinds of cheese (with crackers), sour pickles, sausage, and several different kinds of red and white wine. The wine glasses and the tablecloth were a nice touch - "it only takes a little more to go first class!"

The weather couldn't have been better - cool, with a slight breeze, not muggy and no bugs. There were light, fluffy clouds overhead in a blue sky, and as the evening progressed the clouds moved in to provide a perfect backdrop for the fireworks. There was a good crowd, filling the grass sloping down to the band shell. When the concert started at 7:30 p.m. with the trooping of the colors and the Star Spangled Banner, everyone stood and broke out in singing. We then settled into our lawn chairs and recliners, wine glasses in hand, and thoroughly enjoyed the program of marches, show tunes and patriotic airs.

I always am a critic of firework shows - it comes from all those years as a fireworks shooter for cities and town shows in Michigan and New Hampshire. I was pleased to no end with the show they put on after the music concluded. The fireworks were well done - a nice mix of shells, well spaced and executed. My old outfit - Hobo Fireworks ("never a bum show") couldn't have done it better.

Good music, good friends and good wine - this has got to be what the sign makers meant when they hung the greeting on the Maine turnpike at the state line - "Maine - the way life should be!"

Shipping room takes shape

Since the last trip, Paul has finished removing the old floor and timbers and framed in a new ceiling, installed the new windows, door and floor, and removed the old stairs. Heating ducts are in, and lights installed. It will give us a bright, roomy place to pack books for shipment to customers. Things are progressing along nicely.

More Farmhouse history

We were able to trace the Farmhouse history back a few more years with a couple of hours spent at the Town Offices going over old tax records. We found that Fred L. Meserve became the owner of the farm in 1916 and owned it till 1930. Over the years, Fred owned 80 acres, the farm house and buildings, one or two horses, two or three cows, and a dog or two. He also acquired an automobile in 1920.

Ownership Dates, Years Owned and Owners
Prior to 1830 to about 1891-60 years
John and Jane Meserve
1891 to ????
Unknown - we need to fill in this gap
Prior to 1892 to 1916 - 24 years +
John Meserve
1916 to 1930 - 14 years
Fred L. and Lillian A.P. Meserve
1930 to 1947 - 17 years
Ephraim and Lunetta Chessey
1947 to 1956 - 8 years
George E. Jr. and Ephraim Chessey
1956 to 1976 - 20 years
Richard W. and Dorothy L. Howard
1976 to 1986 - 10 years
Dorothy L. O'Donnell
1986 to 1998 - 13 years
Edward F. and Dorothy L. O'Donnell
1998 - present
Allen F. and Penny R. Crabtree III

In 1924 Fred married Lillian A. Poor, who owned the farm a couple of miles to the north of the Farmhouse. Lillian had become owner of the Poor family farm when her father, Edwin L. Poor died in 1913. She had 56 acres, farmhouse and buildings, which she retained after she married Fred in 1924.

Fred's father, John Meserve, was listed on the tax roles as the owner of our Farmhouse from 1892 until 1916. Fred was listed as a poll-tax payer with no taxable property for several years prior to 1916. Unfortunately, 1892 is about the earliest surviving record at the Town Hall - there was a fire that destroyed the very early town records. It is also a bit confusing that there were apparently two John Meserves - the original owner (John Meserve) died in 1868, and the John Meserve who owned the Farmhouse until 1913.

We now have, however, something to go back to the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds with, and help us pick up the loose ends with deeds and conveyances.

An Adventure in Moving

Son Jim and his wife Alison met Penny and I at their place in Athens around 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, July 4th. We've had about 7,000 books stored in their barn for a couple of years, and today was the day that we picked to move them to the Sebago Farmhouse.

Everytime I rent a U-Haul truck, I tell myself never again. The equipment is always old and on the verge of breaking down. Their motto - "an adventure in moving" is particularly irritating - have you ever thought of moving as an adventure? However, since they are conveniently located everywhere, I go back to them and rent a truck the next time I need one.

Unloading our "Adventure in Moving"
truck at the barn

We picked up an aged 17 foot Econoline truck in Waterville, Maine. Although the odometer read only a little over 29,000 miles, as soon as I fired it up it was clear that this truck had been around with lots of hard use. The tip off should have been the California plates on it. The truck labored up and down the hills to Athens - the transmission was about shot, and it barely backed up. When it was loaded, we noticed that the front wheels noticeably cocked inward, and on the road it shimmied and shook. The air conditioner and radio only worked intermittently on the long, hot drive to Sebago.

Jim and I removed the tarps and then the plastic cover from the cube of book boxes stacked 4x4x13 in the barn. Spot checking several boxes, I was relieved to find no damage and no mildew of the books. Pretty good after sitting on pallets in Athens for two years, and in Concord for six years before that. I checked some of the titles - books that we'd forgotten about! They are all priced and sorted by category just as they came off the shelves - but from 10 to 15 years ago when they were stock we had in our open shops in Michigan and New Hampshire. Penny and I will be kept busy for months putting these on our website inventory.

Jim had the larger dolly, so he hauled four boxes at a time down the length of the barn and up the ramp into the truck. Since my dolly was smaller, I declared the age handicap and only moved three boxes at a time. Thirty trips and two hours later, the aging truck was loaded and ready to wheeze down the road.

Books for Crabtree's Collection inventory

It was a slow trip up and down the hills to the Maine Turnpike. When we were all reasonably assured that the truck was probably going to make it, Jim and Alison and Penny sped on around me to get the barn at the Farmhouse ready. We reversed the process when I got there, and restacked the boxes on pallets in a dry, protected corner of the barn and covered the cube (4x6x9 this time) with plastic. Time for a well-deserved dip in the pool, then dinner.

Feeding the bats

The pool was just the right temperature, about 78o F, and the evening stars were out - this was on Thursday, when we first arrived at the Farmhouse. I was floating around in the pool, I thought of a way to feed the bats and be entertained at the same time. Our colony of little brown bats are active in the evening, swooping around the house and back yard feeding on insects. I found, however, that if the overhead spotlight was turned on, it attracted swarms of moths, millers and various other bugs. It was only a few minutes before the bats began darting out of the darkness through the swarms of insects at the light. They continued to feed like this as long as I left the light on.

Now if only the little darlings would come back from their evening hunt and roost in their bat houses where we want them to. But no, they persist in returning to the attic, the bat room and the upstairs to the carriage house. Paul and I watch them as they leave for their evening hunting. Every time we plug up the holes that they are leaving from, they return to others. Paul said, "This is a like a mystery - trying to match wits with the bats".

Penny says that we are obsessive about the bats. I'd like to think that Paul and I are just very focused. So far, we have lost every skirmish in our campaign to move the colony from the house to their nice, new bat houses. Whether he is at the farm or we are, he and I talk on the phone nearly every night to compare notes and plan strategies:

"I counted dozens coming from under the carriage house roof - by the old outhouse" he said, or

"Now they're coming from the eaves up at the attic!"

"You could look in the shipping room windows and there were dozens of bats swirling around"

"I was up on a ladder at the carriage house eves, and found a large crack under the metal roofing. I found myself at eye level with a row of little faces and teeth hissing at me - I got down from there real quick!"

The Bat Room

Dot and her daughter had made some progress at cleaning out the unfinished room over the kitchen - the room we call the "Bat Room" - but there was much more to be done. On the top of my list for the weekend was finishing the job and getting all of the 20 years of culch moved and the place cleaned up. It really was a disgusting mess - an empty and neglected room full of old furniture, files, clothes, carpets and lumber - liberally sprinkled all over with bat droppings. I spent all of on afternoon trash bagging the junk and hauling all the treasures that Dot had said she wanted to save down to the front porch for pickup later. Old carpet, lumber and linoleum went out the window - enough for a trailer load to the dump.

Bat droppings were up to three inches deep in places, and I found 21 mummified bats and young from past colonies there. With face mask firmly in place, and exhaust fan in the window sucking the bat dropping dust out of the room, I filled up a 30-gallon shop vac bag with droppings from the floor, walls and rafters. Penny then scrubbed down the floor with a strong Lysol solution four times to try and get out the bat urine odor from the floor boards.

Now that the room was empty, I took a hard look for holes to the attic, the carriage house and to the outside that we'd missed earlier. I sealed off the cracks with cardboard, and filled holes with foam. The windows were opened and screens put in place, to lower the temperature in the room and make it less appealing as a roosting area. It was a dirty, hot and exhausting day, but I felt that we'd made significant progress in the battle of the bats.

That night I had to retrieve a tape measure from the Bat Room that I'd left there. When I opened the door I was greeted by five or six bats flying around the room. Clearly, I'd not found all the holes. The next morning a check of the chimney revealed a sizeable crack between the chimney and ridge pole, with light shining through from the outside and several bats moving. Also, fresh droppings were in several locations on the floor.

On Sunday, my son Jim helped me haul a short ladder up into the Bat Room and we went to work with foam and duct tape, sealing these new holes we'd discovered. It was pretty exciting when a bat flew out of the wall while I was up at the top of the ladder trying to get the can of foam to flow upside down! The bat flew around my head, then around the room, before roosting somewhere across the room.

The next morning there were no fresh droppings and no visible bats - mebbe we've successfully isolated the Bat Room from the bat colony. I then lugged the shopvac up to the attic, and filled another vacuum bag with droppings (up to four inches deep in places) and filled more cracks and holes. The bats were very noisy in the wall where the attic and Bat Room come together, and I could see little bat faces staring at me through holes in the wall. I filled all the holes into the attic that I could see with foam - leaving them holes to the outside, but closing off their access to the attic at least from the Bat Room side.

They have been, as Paul and I suspected, roosting in the soffit at the south edge of the house roof. There are openings to the outside from the soffit, so that bats can come and go, but they now can't get into the Bat Room. We're not so sure about the attic. Although I've closed up the openings into the attic on the Bat Room side, there are bat noises from under the metal roofing near the main chimney, on the west side of the attic.

In talking to Paul tonight (July 15, 1999) he related that the colony of mothers and babies is still in the attic, and is now hanging out near the main chimney. He lost count at 60 adults. There is another colony of about 30, probably male bats, roosting in the second story of the carriage house. They seriously resent him trying to do any work up there. The only saving grace is that the bat room is clear of them at least. Anybody want to come and get some bats to start their own colony? I'll give you a great deal!

Allen and Penny Crabtree

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Last updated July 15, 1999