Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tax Battle Stage II

My property tax problem continues. Yesterday the weekly issue of the local Moosehead Messenger "hit the news stands" with my name on page 1 above the fold in an article titled "Revaluation leaves some stuck in the middle." Last week I met with the Moosehead Messenger's young editor, Ben Bragdon, and took him for a small tour of the airport area and my farm. He used me as his example when he wrote this article and I must say, he did an excellent job of summarizing the situation. I commend his work although at this point I won't quote from it, not yet anyway. He did, however, inform the town of my problem and I am thankful for that.
Yesterday I spent the morning with my younger son Than. He and I had dental appointments in Dover-Foxcroft. He's in Bangor this summer so I drove to Bangor to get him, then to Dover-Foxcroft, then back to Bangor. It was afternoon by the time I dropped him off and did a little shopping but I was mulling a thought through my head, had even mentioned it to Than, that I might drive over to Dixmont and see if Jean Hay-Bright is as hospitable as one of her two websites once seemed to indicate. You see, Jean is a busy lady now that Maine Democrats nominated her to run against Maine's famed Senator Olympia Snowe so I wasn't really expecting a warm welcome at Jean's home, a complete stranger walking in with a personal problem like this.
I couldn't have been more wrong. I was almost (almost) literally welcomed with open arms. I don't know what Jean and her husband David would have done with those two hours yesterday afternoon had I not appeared at their door, but what they actually did with it was to spend it helping me focus on this problem. We discussed a few national issues first. She seems well informed and leans heavily in the same direction I'm leaning on most controversial issues. How can you be an organic farmer dreaming of a better tomorrow and not lean in that direction? She and David asked me to run a favor delivering posters and bumper stickers to the Dover-Foxcroft party headquarters. I even went to the extreme of questioning Jean to see if her political ambitions were really serious or just a lark. She assured me that she is very serious and has spent the past year and a half dedicated to this hope.
Then we settled down to discussing the situation I face with my small future farm. We discussed the farm's proximity to the airport and my concerns that aviation fuel lead and potential spraying operations could jeopardize organic farm certification should I ever attempt to be certified. She quizzed me repeatedly to determine how serious I am about keeping the farm and working it as opposed to selling out to the real estate boom to finance my retirement. She offered advice and resources to encourage me to get some commercial production started soon. She even gave me a spare catalog for a company in Indiana from which she and David had ordered two large greenhouse kits which I could see in the distance on the far side of their large garden. David offered me coffee which he then had to brew for me. I refused to "drink alone" sharing a laugh with Jean and David.
I found Jean and David to be as hospitable and as genuine as anyone I have ever met. Both are mature Mainers deeply concerned about the political trend in Washington. But both are real human beings who were willing to set aside everything to help a fellow Mainer with a problem. I thank them both for their generosity and for the many resources they left with me.
Jean pointed out a couple of things that hadn't yet come even close to crossing my mind. Several times in our talk she mentioned that taxes should be based on "current use" and not on what she referred to as "highest and best use." Lacking a notebook myself, Jean jotted this down on a note she prepared for me as I was preparing to leave. I am aware that taxes are based on market value, something often completely divorced from current use. I am also aware that this maximizes tax revenues for the counties, cities and towns in the state. Whenever Jean mentioned highest and best use, I assumed she was talking about this speculative highest market value, but she corrected my thinking on that one time. She asked what makes the town think that the highest market value is the "highest and best use" of my land? Why isn't the "highest and best use" what the land is being used for now? Why would it be better from the perspective of the town's residents for my land to be gated off, posted, mowed, and turned over to some wealthy out-of-stater looking for investment property?
Secondly, Jean got on her computer and within seconds showed me the Maine Land Trust Network website listing dozens of land trusts in Maine, trusts that might possibly serve as the "third party trust" which the tax assessor mentioned if I am to qualify for tax reductions based on public access to open lands. Jean perked my imagination when she found the Friends of Wilson Pond listed there.
I have reached the conclusion that my battle won't be, or at least shouldn't be, with the assessor. He is someone I need to work with rather than against despite the apparent lack of personal concern on his part. I can see that the assessor can't make exceptions based on individual personal needs. What he can do is work with me to find the best way to redefine the highest and best use of my land. He was at my house this morning reviewing his valuation of my home and I took the opportunity to ask him questions about redefining that element of my farm. It is becoming clear to me that nobody recognizes my word as legitimate. I have to find ways within state law to redefine the value of that farm.
The battle continues, but at least I'm beginning to be able to see the squares on the chessboard and I'm beginning to understand how the pieces are used. There may be hope yet.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Tips about Junk

A friend just emailed me some tips about telemarket calls and junk mail:

I've opt-out for these things, but sometimes a call makes it through. Its summer, so my fax is the kids line full time then, and they get these calls too, so, I told them these great ideas. The first one, I've done for years *snicker* 'cept I go take a nice relaxing shower, by the time I'm done, they're all gone *BIG grin* :) Andy Rooney's (60 minutes) ideas: Telemarketers Three Little Words That Work !! (1)The three little words are: "Hold On, Please..." Saying this, while putting down your phone and walking off (instead of hanging-up immediately) would make each telemarketing call so much more time-consuming that boiler room sales would grind to a halt. Then when you eventually hear the phone company's "beep-beep-beep" tone, you know it's time to go back and hang up your handset, which has efficiently completed its task. These three little words will help eliminate telephone soliciting. (2) Do you ever get those annoying phone calls with no one on the other end? This is a telemarketing technique where a machine makes phone calls and records the time of day when a person answers the phone. This technique is used to determine the best time of day for a "real" sales person to call back and get someone at home. What you can do after answering, if you notice there is no one there, is to immediately start hitting your # button on the phone, 6 or 7 times, as quickly as possible This confuses the machine that dialed the call and it kicks your number out of their system. Gosh, what a shame not to have your name in their system any longer !!! (3) Junk Mail Help: When you get "ads" enclosed with your phone or utility bill, return these "ads" with your payment. Let the sending companies throw their own junk mail away. When you get those "pre-approved" letters in the mail for everything from credit cards to 2nd mortgages and similar type junk, do not throw away the return envelope. Most of these come with postage-paid return envelopes, right? It costs them more than the regular 37 cents postage "IF" and when they receive them back. It costs them nothing if you throw them away! The postage was around 50 cents before the last increase and it is according to the weight. In that case, why not get rid of some of your other junk mail and put it in these cool little, postage-paid return envelopes. One of Andy Rooney's (60 minutes) ideas. Send an ad for your local chimney cleaner to American Express. Send a pizza coupon to Citibank. If you didn't get anything else that day, then just send them their blank application back! If you want to remain anonymous, just make sure your name isn't on anything you send them. You can even send the envelope back empty if you want to just to keep them guessing! It still costs them 37 cents. The banks and credit card companies are currently getting a lot of their own junk back in the mail, but folks, we need to OVERWHELM them. Let's let them know what it's like to get lots of junk mail, and best of all they're paying for it...Twice! Let's help keep our postal service busy since they are saying that e-mail is cutting into their business profits, and that's why they need to increase postage costs again. You get the idea ! If enough people follow these tips, it will work ---- I have been doing this for years, and I get very little junk mail anymore.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Water into Wine

I have this t-shirt that I wear sometimes when I'm picking blueberries. It's a plain gray JERZEES shirt, size L if you're curious, but on the front is a picture of purple grapes tightly suspended together with various facial impressions on each grape. The picture is circled with a green wreath with the words "Whip me, Crush me, Make me wine!" Appropriately enough, I was wearing that shirt yesterday afternoon at the American Folk Festival. Marcia and I went on Friday evening and again on Saturday when we attended with our younger son Than. After a mid afternoon lunch of alligator and crawdads, we headed for the Three Rivers Stage where Robert Belfour was playing old New Orleans style blues on a beautiful blue acoustic guitar. Than picked that occasion to wander off and find a toilet with a flush and I was left holding his gallon milk jug of water and his can of Top rolling tobacco. Marcia and I helped ourselves to two of the vacant chairs left behind by festival attendants who weren't sitting in on this particular show and sat through a few long blues tunes before we finally decided Than must be lost in the crowd. Than is 21 for any of you wondering at this point and Marcia is all mother still to him so the task of relocating him became our primary burden at that point.
I ambled around the perimeter of the crowd at that tiny stage, perhaps a couple hundred spectators, when I noticed a middle-aged man standing with his wife looking at me.
"Is that water?" he asked.
Now I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention at that point to what I was wearing or what I was holding in my hands. I was just a tiny bit spaced out by the crowd at this million dollar event, not to mention momentarily focused on my mission of spotting my six foot six son.
"Excuse me?" I asked.
He nodded his head at my left hand where I was holding the milk jug which was about a third full of water. "Is that water?" he asked again.
"Why in fact it is," I responded, looking at my left hand to confirm what he was referring to. I thought he was probably about to ask me for a drink. Maybe he was thirsty in this dry Canadian air that dominated the weekend.
"Can you turn that into wine?" he asked.
"Can you turn that water into wine?" He quoted my t-shirt to me.
I haven't told you the whole story. Yes I had on this t-shirt, but I was also sporting a colorful purple, yellow, and white knit cap made in Egypt that I picked up this summer at a yard sale. Also I now sport about a month and a half worth of untrimmed beard, my first beard ever. Add to that the odd-looking, almost Earth Shoe shaped Keen brand unpolished leather walking shoes. One might say I had a bit of a Muslim look to me.
So I thought for a moment about his query... then looked him in the eye moving in a little closer.
"Do I look like a Christian to you?" I asked.
We chatted a moment, then he said perhaps he'd see me a little later and check to see if the color of my water had darkened any. He did in fact see me a little later when I had taken a break from my search and was having a smoke and he commented that it still looked like water. I told him it was my son's water so there wasn't a lot I could do about it.
My son Than later told a joke about water to wine. I'll see if I can recall it.
Than asked me if I know how Jesus turned water into wine. I said I in fact don't know how He did it. Than said he took them out in a dry place and kept them so long in the sun that eventually they all got really thirsty and wined for the water.
Hey, before all you right-wingers start shoving your righteousness up our asses, let me assure you that we are indeed born-again Christians. Just maybe not so "right" as you.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Local Tragedy

My home town suffered a tragedy a week ago. A lady who summers here on my own favorite lake, Wilson Pond, lost her brakes in a borrowed pickup truck going down over the hill on my street, Pleasant Street, accelerated while she apparently tried everything she could try to slow down the truck short of crashing it into the ditch or the houses on our street, then ran the stop sign at the bottom of our hill, crossed a parking lot, and broke through the railing of the boardwalk, plunging into Moosehead Lake. Attempts by three local businessmen to rescue her failed and she drowned before responders could rescue her. Apparently the emergency brake was missing a segment of cable and both the front right and rear right brake lines failed. I have been told that the pickup had a manual transmission and it appears that she tried to downshift, damaging the transmission in the process.
I have traveled this hill nearly all my life. The hill is one of the steepest in town and it flattens out less than a hundred yards from the stop sign. It has been my recurring nightmare, sleeping and awake, that I would find myself without brakes going down this hill and wind up crashing into the lake. I'm not alone when it comes to that fear. It's shared by many who use this street to enter town. I can only imagine the terror this woman felt as she helplessly plunged through the stop sign and shot into the lake.
I commend the rescue efforts of the three local businessmen, Mike Boutin who owns Northwoods Outfitters, Chris Fenn, one of Boutin's employees, and another local businessman Gary Deflethsen who bravely dove into Moosehead Lake working themselves to exhaustion attempting the rescue. They are reported to have said the woman herself appeared to be unconscious and unable to help herself. The article in this week's Moosehead Messenger goes on to say that even our town manager John Simco donned a wetsuit and joined the rescue effort, but the Bangor Daily News reported on Saturday that it was 30 minutes before trained rescuers were able to break into the truck fifteen feet under water and bring the lady's body up. It would appear to me that the woman's only chance of survival was the rescue attempt by these three brave local businessmen. Again, I commend their efforts.
Should such a nightmare ever happen to myself, my wife, my children, or any of my friends or extended family, I would hope that there would be men and women in this town brave enough to risk their lives to rescue us. Damn the warnings reportedly later given by Simco and published in Saturday's Bangor Daily News. Quoting the article, not Simco directly, "people need to be very careful in such situations. The first rule of any rescue effort is to keep yourself safe. One or all of the men could have been overcome and required a rescue which would have made the task even more difficult for first responders."
All who attempted the rescue are heroes in my eyes. Damn Simco's warnings!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tax Battle Stage I

Eden Hill is in jeopardy of losing its existence and I'm getting quite depressed because of that. What is going on to make me say that?
Eden Hill exists in my own imagination, but I use the term to name the farm that I plan to spend my retirement maintaining. The farm is located in the town of Greenville, Maine and is part of what has been "The Walden Farm" since the 1880s. During World War II the federal government, the State of Maine, and the town of Greenville by "eminent domain" took land from this farm and other neighboring farms and built the Greenville Airport. Prior to that time, my dad maintained a landing strip in one of his pastures, but with the war came government funding for small airports such as the Greenville airport.
The Walden Farm was broken into three sections by this 1940s airport project. One section is still in use as airport property and includes the north end of the secondary runway, part of the flightline, and property on which a half dozen hangers sit.
A second section of Walden Farm was to become the east end of a third runway, but after stripping large sections of this land of its farm topsoil and standing timber, the third runway plans were scrapped and the land went into decades of neglect. Attempts to recover this land by my father were rebuffed by the town until the 1970s when my father, then in his 80s, was finally granted ownership to this land by quit-claim deed.
A third section of this land was not taken for airport use and remains to this day in the Walden Family. My dad divorced in the mid 1940s and this part of the farm was deeded to Dad's daughter who later deeded it to her younger brother Ed, my half brother.
It is the second section of this farm, the property taken for the third runway, then abandoned for decades before being returned to my father, that has come to be my farm and it is this farm that I have been calling Eden Hill Farm since the beginning of this century.
Eden Hill Farm contains approximately eighteen and a half acres of land, two acres of which are sectioned off by the Walden Farm Road, a town-owned gravel road used to access my brother Ed's farm as well as the west shore of Lower Wilson Pond. Roughly half of my farm is in old pasture land now being used as blueberry fields. When I was a boy, my dad and my brother Hal maintained these fields every few years by burning them in the spring just after the snow melt. Burning blueberry fields every few years is common practice in Maine. After Dad died, Hal and I occasionally burned the fields just to keep the forests from taking over our fields. He died early in 2001 leaving to me what I now call Eden Hill Farm.
There are no buildings or house lots of any kind on Eden Hill Farm, nor to my knowledge have there been at any time in the history of Walden Farm. Yet the tax assessors for the Town of Greenville insist that I pay taxes for a one acre house lot. The official term for this lot is "baselot." As long as I don't build on my property, I have no control of where this imaginary house lot is placed on my property. In fact, there is no need for it to even be located. It exists in the imagination of the tax assessors who are free to locate it wherever its value would be maximized. This practice yields the maximum taxes for the town.
Greenville just hired an assessing firm to revalue the property values of the entire town. Comparing 2006 assessments with recent property sales, some of the property in the town was said to be overvalued while some was undervalued so this new assessment, it was claimed, would even things out. Most property owners, it was claimed, would see very little change in taxes. Eden Hill Farm saw a change in taxes, however, from approximately $650 in 2006 to approximately $1,650 next year. The increase reflects an increase in the assessed value of the land from $29,000 in 2006 to just over $150,000 in 2007.
I met with the assessor on Monday to fact find and check for mistakes. It was then that I found out about the baselot valuation. The assessor told me that if there was no marketable view from my land, the baselot would be valued at $30,000. It is the potential for a view that lifts the value by an additional $100,000. He explained that recent sales in the area reflect the accuracy of his assessment.
In other words, if I were to decide to develop my land into a house lot and were to put that land on the market, I could expect to sell it for this amount of money if the house lot took advantage of the view. My taxes are based on these "ifs."
Eden Hill Farm has no house lot on it. Eden Hill Farm is not for sale.
Let the war begin.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Republican Liberal

It puzzles me that Bush and gang are throwing their support to Joe Lieberman from Connecticut rather than supporting the Republican candidate. I mean wasn't Lieberman a liberal... a Democrat? Did the Democratic Party nominate Lieberman to be the candidate for Vice President in 2000 because they knew he wasn't a liberal Democrat?
So if he was a liberal and supported things like pro-choice and gay rights, what effect will this new White House campaign to reelect him have on the Religious Right's support for Bush?
I think Karl Rove owes them an explanation.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Another Perspective

It's interesting that there can be radically divergent perspectives on the major issues of our time. Abortion is a good example. Social Security is another. Taxes, religion, drugs, the death penalty, and Israel add to the list. In every case there are two completely divergent perspectives, each unwilling and thus incapable of articulating the opposing perspective. In most of these cases, the opinions of the general public are not represented by the advocates of the extremes. Public opinion generally tries to moderate the debate, not polarize it. The public tends to want peace. Extremists have another agenda completely.
One prime example of this divergence is the debate about Israel. On March 26 of this year I wrote about a book I had been reading, America and the Founding of Israel: An Investigation of the Morality of America's Role, written by John W. Mulhall, Deshon Press, 1995. That book certainly painted one perspective about the morality (or lack thereof) of Zionism. Today I read an April 23, 2002 article by Joseph Farah titled "The Jews took no one's land." Nowhere in that article is Zionism even mentioned.
In fact, that article claims that the land which is now Israel was "practically deserted" at the end of the 19th Century. It wasn't until Jews began emigrating to the land in the early 20th Century (bringing with them, one would assume, their wealth, diligence, and intelligence) that Muslim Arabs began moving in to work for these Jews.
From that, one would most likely conclude that the land these Arabs farmed didn't belong to them. It belonged to the wealthy Jews who had "drained the swamps and made the deserts bloom" and therefore had every right to evict Muslim Arabs from their land. Yet eviction wasn't what happened at all. Farah goes on to say that the Jews "accepted... gratefully" the UN's 1948 "great partition" but the Arabs "rejected it with a vengeance and declared war" and then "urged Arabs to leave the area so they would not be caught in the crossfire." In other words, the Arab people (who didn't have any real claim to the land in the first place) willingly abandoned their homes in what is now Israel in order to stay out of "the crossfire" while Arab fighters "crushed" Israel and "destroyed" the Jews.
Farah goes on to say that the refugee problem "could be settled in a week by the rich Arab oil states" but is being maintained by the Arabs for political purposes.
Farah, founder of WorldNetDaily.com where this article was published, seems to think of himself as a Christian. Wikipedia seems to confirm that notion.
But how can the author of this article be a respectable Christian if Christianity has anything at all to do with the truth? It's one thing to be pro-Israel and pro-Zionist. The world is stuffed full of propagandists who fit this mold. It's a different thing entirely to be a Christian. That is, it used to be different. It doesn't appear to be that way any more.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Just Joking

So why was Saddam not involved in 9/11?
Cheney didn't trust him.