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.