Salt Of The Earth

Imagine a place where people come together to tell true stories about the most important things in life. Imagine a place where a photo, a word, or a single sound can stir the core of your soul.

For the past 42 years the Salt Institute For Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine has been telling stories through writing, radio, photography, and most recently, film. Students spend hours upon hours interviewing and recording everyday people and places to document their hopes, struggles, successes, and failures.

Lobstermen. Schoolteachers. Minor league hockey fans. Churches. Potato fields. Shopping malls. Salt was built on the belief that a good story is dictated by its authenticity, not its fame.

I attended Salt in the spring of 2010 and spent a semester in the writing program, constantly asking myself: what does it mean to be human?

I lived in an apartment across the street from my grandmother in the section of Portland known as Libbytown. Since my mom grew up there, I felt connected to the neighborhood and began researching its past. It was a story about a place struggling to reestablish its identity, having been physically torn apart by the Urban Renewal movement of the 1960s. It became my final long-form assignment for Salt, and a version was published as the cover story for the Bollard. It was the first money I ever made from publication.

I brought a copy over to my grandmother and we spent an afternoon talking about her neighborhood—what had changed over the years, what hadn’t. She was proud to see my name in print. Then, just two days later, she passed away unexpectedly. I was the last person to spend time visiting with her.

Salt means a lot of things to many different people. For me, it’s an internal compass steering me home.

We live in a culture of the 24-hour news cycle. It is fleeting, loud, and overbearing. It is driven by money. It does not care about the way light falls in a small-town diner on a Sunday afternoon or the wrinkles on the skin of a woman in a nursing home.

I was in denial when I first heard of the school’s closing. My brain refused to accept the information. When it finally hit me, it hit me hard. I wept. Salt is not a just a building and it’s not just an institution. It’s a symbol of truth. It represents the common man. It teaches empathy and generates understanding.

Salt is a small, special place that has a beating heart unto itself, as constant as Casco Bay’s waves, as relentless as New England pride.

Spring 2010 Writing Track

Continuing down the river…

Yesterday we continued on the Presumpscot, putting in just below the Great Falls Dam at North Gorham Pond, portaging at Dundee Dam, and pulling out at Shaw Park in Gorham. This section of the river was clear and the fish were jumping especially from below Dundee Dam to the Covered Bridge in Windham. It was a sunny and hot day, which drew swimmers at various rope swings, swimming holes, and small beaches along the way. We saw a variety of wildlife including kingfishers, sandpipers, turtles, geese, and ducks.

Did you know that at different points in history, the Presumpscot has been dubbed the most controlled river in the country? I am delving into historical research about the river’s many mills and dams. The Dundee Dam, pictured below, is the largest on the river.

Dundee Dam in Windham
Looking up river at Dundee Dam in Windham

The paddle begins…

Yesterday, Kyle and I paddled from the Sebago Lake Basin through the North Gorham Pond, portaging at the Eel Weir Dam and Great Falls Dam. It was a warm but hazy day, and we stopped to take pictures, have lunch, and explore the area. We took the Eel Weir Canal from the Basin, because where the river begins is too shallow and rocky to canoe. Our trip lasted about four hours and it was a little tricky figuring out where to put in after the portages, as we have never done this section of the river before. It was a challenging but rewarding start!

You can explore the river on Google Maps (shown) or Google Earth.
You can explore the river on Google Maps (shown) or Google Earth.

Introducing the Presumpscot River Project

I am excited to share that for my final graduate multimedia project (thesis) I am exploring the Presumpscot River in southern Maine. I grew up within the Presumpscot’s watershed–the river is about a five minute drive from my parents’ home in Gorham and the Little River, a tributary, runs through our backyard. I will be posting updates as I canoe the river, learn about its history, and make connections to the greater ecosystems of which it is part!

Presumpscot River Project
The Presumpscot originates in the Sebago Lake Basin (lower right). I have already been exploring the river and mapping out a canoe route, along with partner Kyle Joyce.