At 1600 acres, Tide Mill is the largest farm out of the 12 on my list. Located in Edmunds, Maine, it’s also the most remote. As with every farm I’ve visited so far, their income (from organic chicken, pork, beef, dairy, and vegetables) is supplemented with sustainable logging. Fields take up 50 of the Bell’s 1600 acres and much of the rest is forested. According to a Tide Mill brochure, “In 1765, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe guided Robert Bell, an immigrant from Scotland, to the site on Cobscook Bay where he built a tide-powered grist mill.” Aaron Bell and Carly DelSignore’s 3 children represent the 9th generation on that land. Given the huge scale of the farm, I had anticipated lots of gleaming metal and industrial-feeling production. Instead, I discovered a functional, hard-working beauty—the farm barely holding the forest and ocean at bay.
The place feels bedrock real–evidence of a life being lived. Hard work is everywhere.
On our arrival in the early afternoon, Aaron and Carly were in the fields, but Rick and I found Kim, the bookkeeper, in an office set in the main room of the converted farmhouse.
Kim hadn’t heard of my running project, and I was temporarily confused by the “Welcome Runners” sign on the table. As it turns out, check-in for the first annual International Marathon was happening at the farm on the same day. Kim told us a bit about her return to Maine from the Midwest–how she loves Washington County, in spite of it being “the forgotten part of Maine.” On the drive to the farm, we’d passed plenty of bedraggled shacks and abandoned country stores. The county has a reputation for housing meth labs and dealing with rampant drug addiction, though some say that things are beginning to turn around.
Aaron had planned to meet me at 1:00 so we could look at a map of my planned run. Since he was caught up in the fields, I decided to head out before the afternoon slipped away. In an earlier phone conversation, Aaron had said that if I took on the forest, it would turn into a camping trip; I decided to stick to the coastal borders and Route 1—even that would take several hours. I figured I would start with the 6 miles of shoreline, cut up through the woods to Route 1, and then arc back around the fields to the farmhouse.
The Maine coastline does not provide a great running surface, and I spent the afternoon navigating through water, over seaweed-cloaked rocks, into mud and sand, and through calf-whipping sea grass. Other than startling a raccoon who was crab-fishing on the shore, I was completely alone.
After 3 miles, and 1.5 hours, I realized that the clear path from the water to Rt. 1, which was evident on my Google map, was completely invisible from the shoreline. After another 30 minutes of searching , I realized I would have to turn around in order to make it back for the scheduled meet-up time with Rick.
Each farm run has had me bubbling with excitement, but there’s also been an undercurrent of fear. At Tide Mill I noticed the disparity between my anticipatory and experiential fears. Anticipated fears: making a fool of myself, twisting an ankle, getting lost, picking up tick borne diseases, and meeting creeps in the woods. During this run, when I’d begun to retrace my steps back to the farm, I had an unexpected mishap. I fell into a sinkhole, instantly sinking into muddy sand up to my thighs.
I pulled myself out and started running without much more thought, but that night over dinner, Rick’s friend Newell, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe, said, “those are honey holes and they can kill you!” So, ticks and looking like a fool? Not so much. Bath salts addicted hermits and honey holes, absolutely!
After each run, when I return to my Brunswick studio, I upload and print a map of my route using my gps enabled Garmin Forerunner 10. The printed shape of each run, along with my notes from the experience, is the starting place for a first drawing. At one point during the Tide Mill run, when it looked like I would have to retrace my steps back to the farm, I thought, “Shit, this run is going to be a terrible shape!” The desire for a better-shaped drawing, along with my tired legs and the fading afternoon, inspired some bushwhacking. I began to hover close to the edge of the woods, looking for thinning trees in the distance. The woods on the farm were so dense that it was often hard to move a foot in any direction, but after a few faulty attempts, I ventured west toward what appeared to be a distant clearing. I was about to turn back toward the shore, when I reached an area of clearcut land and spotted a horse in the distance!
I hugged the tree line around the property until I spotted a house, a driveway, and then the road. I realized it was the back entrance to the farm! As I began to run, relieved to be on a solid surface, I almost stepped on an odd pile of mud.
A poke with my toe revealed a tail and then the head of a baby snapping turtle. I got a stick, shuffled it to the bushes, and took off in the direction of the farm. I picked up the pace, eager to get back. Suddenly, I heard a crashing and snorting to my left. I’d startled three hearty, happy pigs rooting around in an expansive field. The farm came into view!
I found Rick sitting on the rocks shooting photos of sea grass. I collapsed on the rocky promontory near the farmhouse, peeled the muddy, stinking socks from my blistered feet, and took in the view. I’d only covered a small percentage of the farm property, but I was done.
I had yet to meet Aaron or Carly, and as we were driving out, a mini van overflowing with Carly, the kids, and a big friendly dog was pulling in. We hovered in the driveway for a quick visit, and made a plan to pick up some of the farm’s delicious organic chicken and steak on our way back down the coast. Carly shared a bit about moving from Maryland to marry into the Bell legacy. With a huge full-time farming operation and home schooling their 3 kids, she’s clearly got her hands full. As we chatted, the dog was climbing out the driver’s side window to greet us and a son was scrambling out of the van’s sunroof. I quickly thanked Carly for hosting my project, and she gathered kids and pets back in and headed for the farmhouse. Filled up with the stories of the day, Rick and I took off for Pembroke to enjoy celebratory lobster dinner.
Yowza! I’ve gotten myself into a sink hole and it isn’t fun. In fact, the adrenalin rush was pretty scary all by itself. Jan and I were hiking up around Sabino creek after floods–we wanted to see what was there. I went into the sink hole up to my crotch, but only with one leg, so that was a bit awkward. Ha. And at least I had someone to pull me out. You deserved that lobster when you were done!
Tide Mill is about a mile from my house in Lubec by water and about 5 by land. As you stand at the shore looking east, we live the next bay down (Straight Bay) which is partially hidden behind Falls Island. I wish I’d know you were up. We are headed north (east really) at the end of the month. We have known Terry and Kathy and their daughter Rachel for many years. Terry and his brother cut the wood for our floor.
The opposite side of Whiting Bay and just down from the Bell’s place is the Cobscook Community Learning Center (CCLC). They have a campus and a lot of land on the point closest to Rt. 189. It looks as if I will be spending a lot of my post Union time at CCLC as we got some start up funding to begin an education program focused on rural poverty. The project is to create a poverty informed rural education, Washington County, ME is among the five poorest counties in the US at this point. We are also designing a Rural Teaching and Learning program, maybe with UMO, I don’t know who yet will accredit the programs. It is really at the very beginning as my contract with UIU has just expired.
Anyway, we can talk more about it sometime. If you are up that way again you should stop in at CCLC’s campus or write and stay at our place. I think you would like CCLC’s programs and their philosophy. They have a lot of great ideas and of course, the place is beautiful. Hope you are well.
Best, Ben W.
Your CCLC works sounds amazing, Ben–I’d love to see the campus and hear more. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to support that project! I’m heading up to Grand Manan next week and again in August, so perhaps a visit on one of those trips. I loved getting to know the area during the Tide Mill Farm run. Hope to connect soon!