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Upper Valley Vixens vs Bay State Brawlers
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While poking around Otter Cove in Acadia National Park a local fellow, an old timer, older than me by a decade, got my attention:
“I want to point out a wonderful family monument. Harold Walls, a lobsterman, who died ten years ago or so, had his slip here. His sons erected this piling in memory of their father.”
The memorial piling was at the head of a recognizable-at-low-tide slip on the rocky boulder beach of Otter Cove. The piling contained a brass insert with a verse of poetry etched upon its surface. The brass poetry inset faced the water. The verse was readable to a point but a complete reading was not to be.
The old timer sharing his local knowledge with me explained that Walls was a local Otter Creek village area family name and that Harold had lived and worked from off the Otter Cliff road.
The proprietor of the local store was from away, Sarasota, Florida and was no help in tracking down the verse or the Harold Walls family. He did suggest the Bar Harbor History Museum back in town.
The Bar Harbor Historical Society, housed in an architecturally unique brick building, a nunnery back in the day, did not have the poem or the printed collection of Harold Wall’s prose and poetry either. A docent with the Walls surname professed surprise and interest in the search but had nothing to add.
Passing through the village of Otter Creek on our way back to Blackwoods we stopped at the local restaurant, The Burning Tree. The aromas of the evening’s meal being prepped were marvelous. The owner-chef listened to my quest and provided a name. The name of the self-appointed local historian and keeper of Otter Creek village knowledge and lore: a College of the Atlantic professor, whom I was unable to raise at either home or work.
Frustrated but feeling closer and maybe more importantly, meeting interesting folk along the way. Stopped at a Wall’s family mail box on the way out of the village of Otter Creek. The gentleman at the door did not know of the memorial nor the poetry but did know of Harold Walls and his sons. I left with general directions to the Robert Walls’ residence on the other side of Bar Harbor, Hull’s Cove and the Crooked Road. This Otter Creek Walls was pleased to help and helpful he was.
Took a little time to piece together the directions, expand my limited exposure to the back roads of Mt Desert Island and put places to names. Thankfully, the Walls as an extended family, seem to favor having their name posted on their mail boxes.
Finding Robert Walls at home on a Thursday afternoon, he patiently listened on his front stoop. With a touch of emotion in his voice and face he said that Harold Walls’ was his dad. He asked of the condition of the memorial piling and Harold’s Otter Cove slip. As he invited me into his home he shared this memory of his dad: Seems Harold Walls was one for giving hitchhikers a lift. Family members expressed concern as the world around us changed. Harold demurred and continued to pick up the man by the side of the road saying that trust in your fellow man and the opportunity to meet someone new trumped all.
Robert Walls, son of Harold Walls, shared with me his personal copy of his dad’s prose and poetry as well as an extensive Acadia National Park research document on the history of Otter Creek village and Otter Cove. I walked away that evening with these Walls’ family heirlooms on the promise of returning them on the morrow.
PICKING THE SLIP
The sun had ceased its reign
and storm clouds gathered on this day,
An old man,bent and motion slow,
Tugged wave-thrown stones aside,
that stopped his labored way.
A way that had been cleared
since long ago, by hands then young,
Great sea-thrust boulders, weed-decked,
Must now again, from hallowed path, be flung.
The old man paused, the “faster’ rain now trekked,
dilute with sweat, his toil-spent face.
His eyes, but for the moment blurred,
seek now the path-course yet must clear,
To aide his laggard pace.
From beach-top, where wild rose contend
with cottage gray and old,
It winds its tortured way, this path.
When cleared, promote …
An easier access for the age-slowed man.
To reach his love … his BOAT.
Explanation of “Picking the Slip”
In an era of time past, the commercial fishing enterprise was often a small-crew pursuit. These crews of two, sometimes only one individual, kept their craft moored in numerous harbors and coves along the coast-line.
They needed tenders: small row-boats by which to reach their larger craft anchored in mid-harbor. They also needed access from their houses or their trucks at beach-top, over the boulder-strewn distance to the tenders at water’s edge.
They gained this access by laboriously tugging aside these sea-smoothed, weed-decked stones. Thus moved, there was remaining , a somewhat smoothed and useable pathway.
Many times during some years, the stones would again be thrown back into the path by storm waves, into the path so painfully cleared. Thus my poem, “Picking the Slip”.
Poetry and Prose by Harold Walls from Awaiting the Glin
Born Harold Willis Walls to Willis James and Carrie Sarah (Young) Walls, June 25, 1913 in Bar Harbor, Maine. He lived with his wife Inez (Gilley) for 62 years in the same house where he was born and where they raised five children. A lifelong Otter Creek fisherman, his early working years were spent fishing for a living using traditional New England techniques such as hand-lining for cod and seining for herring by torchlight. Later he worked as an independent lobster-man and as a gardener at well known summer estates. He enjoyed reading and occasionally wrote poetry and short stories about his life fishing out of Otter Cove.
Harold Walls died in the Fall of 2000, three years after a severe stroke caused him to lose most of his mobility and his ability to communicate through language. He spent the last years of his life at home under the care of family members and at a local nursing home. Family members fondly remember his characteristic patience and gentle manner throughout his final years.
While Harold was a talented high school student his family circumstances and the difficult times of the Great Depression prevented him from continuing his formal education. His mother died of cancer when he was still a boy. A few years later, his father contracted a debilitating and lingering form of cancer that made it necessary for Harold to take responsibility for the family welfare while still a young man.
Throughout his adult life, Harold continued to educate himself about a vast range of human experience and expression through literature and poetry. He wrote out of a joyful fascination with words, something that many in the family learned to enjoy with him and independently. … He possessed a keen and scholarly mind that allowed him to step back from the labor at hand and view it from an intellectual, even historical perspective. … He observed all … but even more importantly, he had the words to articulate and to record it all before the old ways disappeared forever.
Known for his kindness, gentleness and absolute honesty. These virtues were reflected in his deep respect for all living things, a respect that was only heightened by his reliance on nature for his survival. With his wife Inez, he enjoyed a quiet and intimate family life in which he fostered a sense of responsibility and duty that has profoundly affected and influenced the lives of his children and grandchildren.
Preface – Awaiting the Glin
A hearty thank you to the local old timer that pointed me in the direction of Harold Walls. Who are you?
A thank you to the people of the village of Otter Creek for their patience and sharing.
A thank you to Robert Walls for his trust in the stranger at his door. Your father raised you well.