The Death of an Old Growth Pine

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Late last winter and into the spring, coastal Maine was rocked by one heavy snow storm after another. Unfortunately, a casualty of that weather was one of the three old growth white pines on my property.

Because they are in the forest, and you can’t step back far enough to get a good image, it’s hard to get a picture of these old trees that does them justice. I took the photo above last summer of one of the two old growth white pines further up the property. You can see this tree from Deer Isle Bridge if you know where to look. It sticks up above the other treetops on the ridge and is probably about 150 feet tall.

The tree in question is lower down, in a boggy part of the property. Rot in the heart of the tree is what caused a third of it to come down. The trunk that came down is huge! Check it out, with apologies to the lackluster video skills.

the Anchorage Newsletter, 2018

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Hi, folks!

The season is getting underway, so I thought I would write you all to spell out some details about the house.

The Anchorage was built in 1812 by Samuel Billings, the son of a major land grant settler to the peninsula — Billings Cove, which you can see from the front porch, was named after him.

A local family purchased the Anchorage and its land from Billings in 1826 and farmed the property year-round until the 1880s, when a Pennsylvania judge bought it and turned the place into a summer house. He held on to the place until the 1924, then sold it to one of his law firm colleagues. This second family owned the place until I bought it from them in the summer of 2015.

It is an old house, a big house, and it has been added on to several times, finally resulting in the upstairs dormers and three wings sprawling out from the original square configuration of the house. You can tell that the original influences on the house were European, and Gothic, but later on they added whatever suited either their needs or fancy. I particularly love the sweet little mural of birds painted on the mantel of the small downstairs bedroom.

 

Arrival

When you arrive, the kitchen door will be open, and there will be keys on the table. Only the kitchen door locks from the outside. I’ll leave some lights on if it’s dark when you come. Walk up to the cabin behind the house if you want a tour of the property or any time you have questions. You can call or text me at (512) 590-5207.

Parking

You can park near the kitchen door if you need to. I would love it if you used the parking spots near the barn; it helps with erosion. Please do not park on the main drive or the drive up to the Cabin since you might block me or my guests in.

The Water

There is arsenic in the well water, a pretty typical thing up here because of all the granite ledges underground. It is safe to bathe and shower and brush your teeth in this water — skin contact isn’t dangerous — but you shouldn’t drink it.

There is filtered water at the kitchen tap that is safe to drink. This option leaves something to be desired — it fills slowly, and there is a loud trickling while the purified tank refills. I put a bowl over the drain, which really cuts down the sound of the water refilling.

The flasks on the counter are already filled and ready for use.

The Septic System

I put in a brand new septic system last year, which is why the lawn is looking pretty sad. Please only use the toilet paper I provide (single ply), and do not flush anything else, including feminine products. Also be careful about what you put in the sinks. No grease and as few food scraps as possible.

Trash Removal

In the pantry off the kitchen, there are two large metal trash cans for trash and recycling. At the end of your stay, I will bring the trash and recycling to the town dump.

If you have tons of trash, you can take it yourself at any point; the Blue Hill Transfer Station is on the way to Ellsworth (and Acadia National Park).

Blue Hill Municipal does not recycle many things that I am used to recycling where I live in the winter. They are also constantly revising what they will and will not recycle based on their cost. The tag near the microwave is reasonably accurate, though.

Do not leave any trash outside, not even in cans. (See wildlife, below, to read more about the bears.)

Please show consideration for me by leaving the trash as tidy as possible.

Fire

Not a single one of my fireplaces (including the Franklin stove) is safe to use. A chimney professional sternly warned me that any one of them could cause a house fire, and fires here invariably lead to the loss of the house, as the fire department has no hydrants to tap into.

If you are cold in the morning, there is a space heater mounted to the wall in the kitchen and a couple of spare heaters in the laundry room. There are also working electric heaters in the two downstairs baths and the back bedroom. Please remember to turn these off when you’re not using them.

Linens

I provide all bed linens. There are towels in the linen closet of the east wing bathroom.

Internet

The user name and password are located on the back of the modem/router in the room with the television. The service is pathetic; we’re still on DSL.

However, it is fine for watching movies on Netflix or checking your email. The Blue Hill Library has fast service for downloading things to watch later.

Wildlife

Don’t be surprised if you see a bear. We have a mother with three half-grown cubs in Sargentville this summer. You might also see a bald eagle. I’ve seen them at Billings Cove.

There is a walking trail that starts by the barn and goes up to the blueberry field at the top of my property. Feel free to pick whatever you find. The berries ripen in mid-July and are available until August 15.

FAQ

Where’s the closest grocery store?

Blue Hill has a regular grocery store, Tradewinds. I love that they have a local section from which you can get a number of fresh meat and dairy products, as well as artisan products. There is also the Blue Hill Coop for people who like to eat organic and local produce

The Blue Hill Farmer’s Market is on Saturday mornings, at the fairgrounds (top of the hill on your way out of town and headed for Ellsworth. Brooksville also has a farmer’s market on Tuesday morning, held in back of the Buck’s Harbor General Store, which is (by the way) a great place for coffee and muffins.

The Eggemoggin Reach Country Store prides themselves on carrying everything you need, and mostly they deliver. This old-fashioned general store is one half a mile up the road from the house.

Where can I get live lobster?

The Fish Net restaurant in Blue Hill is the easiest and most reliable option — unless you are in Stonington. Stonington pulls in more lobster than any other port in Maine, making it the lobster capital of the world, and live ones can be found at several venues there, including the Lobster Coop. There are also any number of casual spots where you can get it in season. If you see a sign, stop and get some.

Where can I get a family dinner that tastes good and is no fuss?

The Mariner’s Pub has surprisingly good food — considering that they intended to build a place for locals to gather, play cribbage, and drink — and it is reasonably priced.

L.L. Frijoles is also decent. It’s not really Mexican food, but close enough! Bonus: swing sets for the kids while you wait for the order to be ready.

In Blue Hill, Marlintinis, opposite Viking Lumber on the outskirts of town, is another reliable no fuss option. Standard pub and seafood fare, giant portions.

Please note that many restaurants are closed on either Sunday or Monday nights.

Tuesday night, you can drive to Tinder Hearth in Brooksville and dine al fresco on their homemade pizza, a very popular destination for summer people. You must call ahead to reserve a spot and make your pizza selection, and in August, that generally means calling a few days ahead.

Where can I get a fancy dinner?

Portland’s premiere food magazine voted Arborvine, in Blue Hill, one of its two area picks for best restaurant. The other is Aragosta in Stonington.

What’s with the window screens?

The house uses an old-fashioned wooden screens that adjust to fit exactly into the lower part of the window; you have to insert them manually. If you line them up correctly, these peculiar screens are a very effective barrier against mosquitos. If mosquitos are getting into your room at night, it is probably because they came in during the day and are attracted to your light. Making sure all the outside doors and screen doors are closed before it gets dark helps to keep them at bay.

Speaking of screens, there are fans in many of the bedroom closets. It can get hot in the upstairs bedrooms, but an hour of running a fan will cool things off. In three summers now, I have never known it to stay warm once the sun goes down.

Is there beach access?

Billings Cove and a nice gravelly beach are at the end of the Shore Road (about two-tenths of a mile down Reach Road if you head left at the end of the driveway). The beach is ostensibly private, but the owners do allow foot traffic.

If you don’t want to walk all the way, you can park along the Shore Road and continue down by foot, or you can drive down and drop people off. Billings Cove, on the right as you walk down, has warmer water for wading, and the Reach waters are warmer than the Atlantic Ocean. There are spectacular views of the Deer Isle Bridge.

For swimming, nearby Walker’s Pond also has a public beach. There is a nice shallow spot for young children and a section with deeper water for more experienced swimmers. The beach is located on a dirt road just before you reach the Caterpillar Hill overlook, on the left side of Route 15. It’s about two miles from the house.

For a real beach experience, head to Stonington and Sand Beach. You drive out of Stonington on Sand Beach Road and look for the parking area on the left about two miles out of town. This beach is amazing for this part of Maine. Real sand, beautiful views.

What else is there to do?

Blue Hill is a good place to get information if you want to know about music festivals, theatre performances, the location of artist studios, and (yes, even) wineries. Stop off at the Blue Hill Library and ask at the front desk. You can also contact Kneisel Hall for information about their 2018 Chamber Music Season.

Every summer on Deer Isle, the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, hosts programs in the blacksmithing, clay, glass, and other fine crafts. Artisans share their inspiration via evening sessions throughout the 2018 season.

One trip that is partcularly fun for kids is Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies, on Deer Island. “Nellie’s” partner, Peter Beerits, has transformed several acres of woods and a “town” out of found objects, including real buildings hauled to the store site. You can wander through it all and maybe even say hello to the sculptor.

My contractor, Henry Borntraeger, has a licensed lobster boat and can take you out. I don’t know what he charges. He says if you will help pull lobster pots, you can have free lobsters for dinner, though. Contact him at 207.348.6652.

For desperate times, there is a water slide/ and a mini golf place on the road to Bar Harbor. Neither are amazing, but your kids will like them. Tasha’s, opposite the Mariner’s Pub, has a driving range and modest minigolf course.

Castine is a beautiful town with a lot of history — it was occupied by the British during the War of 1812 — about one hour on the back roads. The drive alone is fun, with great views of the Bagaduce River.

For antique combing, I recommend heading off the peninsula and driving another 15 miles or so to Searsport, which once was a wealthy merchant’s town. Now it is a row of stately homes with breathtaking views of Penobscot Bay, surrounded by antique malls and flea markets. There are tons to choose from.

 

Changes Are Coming

IMG_3573I’ll be making some changes to this website in the coming weeks. It has lacked a focus because I was unsure what direction I wanted to take with the property. So I stopped updating the blog and working on other parts of the site.

This year has brought me some clarity. I can hardly wait to share more details with you. First, though, I’m going to work a bit on the site design.

 

Happy New Year!

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When I arrived back in town a few days ago, my neighbor, who’d been taking in the mail for me, handed me a package containing a bound edition of the Sedgwick Bicentennial publication, “Life and Times in a Coastal Village.” Also included was the photograph above, of my house, the Anchorage, as it once was.

It had always wondered what made the house seem just slightly wrong architecturally. It was the dormer windows added to the house at some later time. The west wing porch was also partially removed, along with steps leading into the house.

Thank you so much, Jan Anderson and the rest of the Sargentville Chapel’s Thursday Club, for this wonderful gift.

If any of my readers choose to follow the link, you can see all the wonderful pies members baked for the annual auction held on December 6, 2015. The proceeds go to benefit the Sedgwick-Brooklin Historical Society and its restoration of the Sedgwick Baptist Church, which I discussed in a previous post. Continue reading “Happy New Year!”

Part Three of Financing a Second Property: Passive Activity Loss

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The world of tax deductions for small businesses and second properties is a labyrinth of schedule E vs. schedule C forms, allowable deductions, exceptions and special circumstances. I thought I knew many of the rules because, as a freelancer, I had written a 17,000 word series of video scripts designed to train Realtors in selling vacation homes. But it truly is a complex and overwhelming area of the tax code, and I am learning new things all the time.

Case in Point: The Passive Activity Loss Exception

One of the things I didn’t realize when I purchased the Anchorage and Cabin is I would be able to take advantage of a special tax deduction designed for individuals who experience passive activity loss (PAL) with an investment property. Provided that you are “materially involved” in the management of the property — that is, you take an active role rather than letting a management company handle the details — and provided that you have at least a 10 percent ownership interest in the property, the IRS makes an exception to their general rule that rental losses are passive and can only be offset against other passive income. The upshot is you get to claim a tax deduction up to $25,000 against all income gains, including ordinary income, each year you meet the qualifications.

Okay, this sounds awesome — but of course it’s not that simple. Nothing in the world of small business taxation is even remotely simple; exemptions and exceptions volley back and forth schizophrenically, sometimes in the same document. The problem here? This deduction gets phased out once your modified adjusted gross income (line 38 on your 1040) rises above $100,000 a year, and if your MAGI is over $150,000, you can’t take the deduction at all. In other words, divorcées who don’t usually make squat but decide to cash out their retirement accounts to purchase a historical Maine homestead don’t get to deduct a goddamned thing for that tax year. Goddamn it.

The IRS does allow you to carry the deduction forward into subsequent tax years — at least that’s what I hear from my accountant. What I’m not entirely sure about is if I’ll be able to take the deduction against ordinary income or just against my passive rental losses. If the former, it seems likely that I will be able to recoup about a third of the taxes I’m paying in 2015, though I may have to phase that out over several years.

Beyond that, there are a number of variables:

  • Is it better to manage the property myself or have a company take care of these details for a fee?
  • Would I make more money renting out both houses and using a service or occupying the Cabin and taking a hand’s on approach to renting the Anchorage during the summer season?
  • Should I run the Anchorage as a small business venture, or would it be more advantageous simply to rely on the passive seasonal rental income?

Fortunately, these are questions I don’t have to answer right away.

Nest Egg or Cash Flow

I want to finish this post by touching on a particularly insightful bit of information that one of my freelance clients shared with me. I told him what I was about to do, and rather than try and talk me out of it, he pointed out that the rental revenues I’d have coming in would be equal to the interest on a large nest egg.

I’d never thought about it that way, but it’s true. By the time I retire, annual rental income from the Anchorage will be equal to 4 percent interest on a $500,000 capital sum, and unlike money placed in a safe investment, like a CD, this income stream is tied to inflation.

One of my favorite moments in cinematic history occurs in Albert Brooks’s 1985 comedy, Lost in America, right after the character played by Julie Hagerty gambles away all of the money she and her husband, played by Brooks himself, were going to use to support themselves in their quest to touch Indians and sleep beneath the stars.

“The egg is a protector, like a god,” an irate Brooks rants at her, “And we sit under the nest egg, and we are protected by it. Without it, no protection.”

lost_in_america_1985_685x385The Nest Egg Principal is what most of us emulate as we move toward retirement. The goal is to accumulate a large sum money so that we have enough interest income to supplement what we will receive in the way of social security and pension. Without the “nest egg,” we’ll barely have enough to scrape by.

I’m not knocking this principle. But there’s something to be said for taking a gamble as well.