The weather remained cloudy and cool for most of our daughter’s visit. But we took advantage of one brilliantly sunny day to watch some alewives run. A nearby town, Damariscotta, holds an annual festival to celebrate the spring migration of alewives–a type of herring–from the ocean to their spawning ground in fresh water lakes.
Alewives are about a foot long and were a valuable source of food, bait, and fertilizer for the native Wabanaki and early settlers on Maine’s coast.
As with many Maine rivers, the construction of mills on the Damariscotta River in the 1700s obstructed the area’s alewife run. In 1807, in response to a request from the state, a fish ladder was constructed in Damariscotta Mills, to allow the fish to move upriver alongside the mill race. Two hundred years later, in 2007, a much-needed restoration of the fish ladder was undertaken. The Alewife Festival raises money for the restoration project.
Just the name “alewife” makes me like these fish. But the origin of the name is uncertain. One theory is that the fish have fat bellies and resemble fat-bellied women tavernkeeper alewives. I’m not buying it. Other theories are that the name evolved from Wabanaki or old English names for herring.
Our first view of the fish was impressive. As we walked over the bridge leading into Damariscotta Mills, a wide swath of river was darkened by a traffic jam of alewives working their way to a gauntlet of seagulls lining a narrows leading to the fish ladder.
It was fascinating to watch the gulls fishing.
The gulls swallow the alewives whole, creating bizarre distorting lumps on the gulls’ necks and backs as the fish go down.
Today, harvesting of the alewives continues.
Most of the harvested fish are used as bait for lobster fishermen, but some are smoked for eating. The fish ladder itself is a series of pools connected with sloping channels for the fish to swim from pool to pool.
We followed the ladder upstream, taking advantage of activities for kids along the way that the grandchildren really enjoyed.
Then we turned around and wandered downhill through Damariscotta Mills
and visited my favorite fabric store named, fittingly, Alewives Fabrics.
It was a good day.
The rain returned the next day.
The cool drizzly days brought on a flush of plant growth.
The cool-weather garden crops have been going nuts and the roadsides were especially beautiful when the sun emerged after the rain.
Bringing a spectacularly colorful rainbow.
We did have a Capp-tastrophe this week when Capp took on a young pear tree and won. It wasn’t a contest, really, he shredded that baby in about 10 seconds flat.
Capp loves to pull up vegetation and roots, so I had been surprised and pleased that he had (so far) ignored are little orchard trees. After he destroyed the pear tree, however, we wasted no time in building little fences around all of our young trees.
Fences make for happy Lab owners.
We are in full nesting season in the yard.
Our bird houses are full. Two have swallows, two have wrens, and one has bluebirds. I love this time of year.