Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hiking and adventure follow Windham resident - By Michelle Libby

Christi “Deva” Holmes doesn’t stay put for long. Since graduating high school in Machias in 2006, she has been on the move, volunteering, doing internships and hiking. A lot of hiking. She graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a BS in civil engineering before traveling through Central America with only a backpack and then thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. 
Since the AT she has waitressed in the Virgin Islands and visited Europe and North Africa, hiking all the way. 

Last Wednesday, Holmes shared her adventures on the Appalachian Trail at a presentation hosted by the Windham Public Library. 

She had never backpacked hiked before and she wasn’t sure what to bring. So she did what any good Mainer would do and went to LL Bean with a credit card looking for advice. Of the things she purchased that day, she had none of it when she ended her hike on August 4, 2011. 

Thru-hikers are what people are called when they hike the AT from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Kathadin in Maine in one season. Some hike north, others south, but of those 4,000 who start each year, approximately only 400 finish, she said. Most don’t finish for psychological reasons. “It’s called ‘the green tunnel’ for a reason,” Holmes said. There are only a few minutes of vistas as hikers travel the AT. Most of the time they are just walking in the woods, head down, one foot in front of the other. 

She was given the name Deva, pronounced diva, because of the make of her backpack. She hiked with others like Cropduster, Sherpa, Breeze, South Butt and Mr. Black. Most of her early hiking companions were sent home early with Lyme Disease, something that sends a huge percentage of hikers home. Holmes carried 20 percent DEET with her and put it on before going through fields and places where ticks might lurk. 

Each day Holmes woke up at 5:30 a.m. and would hike until 6 p.m. She only stopped to sign shelter log books, to take pictures or filter water. “It wasn’t exciting every day. There was a lot of time to think,” she said. 

One of the things she enjoyed was the “trail magic”, which is where people leave treats for the hikers. Those “trail angels” might leave Little Debbie treats in a storage container or set up a barbeque for those who happen by. There are more incidences of trail magic on the southern half of the trail, she said.
Carrying everything from a tooth brush to somewhere to sleep, gear remains the most talked about topic for hikers.

“I love talking about gear,” she said. The one piece of gear she was required to carry was a GPS locator that her father said she had to carry so he’d know where she was on the trial. After the first few days, Holmes realized that the equipment she had was too heavy and most of it was stuff she could get by without. She learned of out of Biddeford, Maine, that created very light, Cuben fiber hiking paraphernalia. She invested in a backpack and ECHO tent. 

When she started her hike her load was 40 pounds with food and water. When she unloaded some of her gear, okay most of her gear, her pack weighed 17 pounds, giving her the ability to cover between 15 and 25 miles each day. 

“There’s nothing else to do. You get up and walk,” she told the group. She chose to wear sneakers for most of the hike instead of boots. 

Her stove was made out of a soda can and used denatured alcohol as the fuel. It weighed ounces.
Holmes carried a debit card for laundry, hostels and food. She said she was not very good at tracking her expenses, but she tried to save where ever she could. “I’d split a motel with other hikers,” she said. The average expense to hike the AT is $4 per mile. 

She rarely veered off the AT, she did climb the Dragon’s Tooth, visited the Guillotine and hitchhiked into town. At one ski resort, she took the gondola to the bottom and ate a cheeseburger before hopping back on the trail. At Harper’s Ferry, what is considered the half-way point, she logged in as the 212th northbound hiker this season. She only had 1,165 miles to go. 

Holmes said she was never nervous about being alone, mostly because she never spent the night alone and on the weekend, there were always people hiking. 

“I loved walking up and it being so quiet, and watching the world wake up,” she told the group. Maine was her favorite part of the hike and not just because it was home. There are so many lakes, that hikers can camp next to one almost every night getting in a swim. “By New Hampshire I was so done with this,” she said, but being so close, she couldn’t stop.  

“The hike has given me more confidence. Psychologically if you can do this, you could put your mind into everything,” she said. “Everyone was so nice, it restores your faith in humanity.”

-         At the halfway point it is customary to eat a whole half gallon of ice cream.
-         New Jersey has the highest density of bears.
-         Holmes went through three pairs of sneakers.
-         On Summer Solstice hikers hike naked.
-         On Mount Washington, it’s tradition for thru-hikers to moon the Cog Railway.
-         Crossing the Kennebec River is done by canoe marked with the white trail blaze meaning it’s official.
-         The Hunt Trail is the official way up Mt. Kathadin.
-         In 2011, the trail was 2,178.3 miles long.
-         In Millinocket at the AT CafĂ©, hikers who conquered the AT eat a Summit Sundae, which includes 13 scoops of ice cream, one for each state on the trail.
-         Holmes used a Katadyn Hiker Pro as a water filter.
-         Duct tape was important for everything.

Faded history sought from early grave sites - By Walter Lunt

Local historians want to uncover the genealogy and information lost in forgotten family cemeteries

The deer hunter told Linda Griffin that he knew of several unrecorded small cemeteries in remote wooded areas of Windham. For Griffin, who is president of the Windham Historical Society, the news confirmed her long held suspicion that there must be numerous out-of-the–way private burial grounds in the town that are long forgotten, remote plots blanketed with groundcover, shrubs, even trees. Griffin pictures fallen or leaning headstones, darkened by time and lined with moss, but maintaining a tranquil dignity after decades of neglect.

The hunter passed away unexpectedly shortly after their conversation, so Griffin has put out a plea to property owners with old graveyards to come forward so that historians can fill in some missing history, particularly genealogical records. 

Early burial grounds were once an intimate part of a family’s property. Many were gated and landscaped, according to Griffin. Family members would conduct solemn visits on the hallowed ground, speaking to their deceased loved ones, sharing news and making vows to carrying on family legacies. Over time the old homes would fall away, be moved or sold. In some cases the graveyards would fall to neglect by succeeding owners.

Griffin said her own family was able to fill in key genealogical information recently during a chance discovery at an old burial ground off Nash Road in Windham. The inscription on a leaning one hundred plus year old tombstone revealed the names of her husband’s fourth great grandparents.

Griffin and other researchers at the Windham Historical Society are convinced there are reams of faded history and genealogical information inscribed on aging headstones, just waiting to fill in the blank pages of local archival records.

Property owners with old family burial grounds can contact the historical society by calling 650-7484 or visiting

Store owner reunites 1945 recording of young sailor with descendants - By Elizabeth Richards

Michael Esposito Sr. didn’t intend to cause a flurry of publicity when he sought out the Austin family on Facebook. He simply wanted to return a recording, made by a young man who had joined the Navy in 1945, to its rightful owners. But when he used the far-reaching capabilities of Facebook to find the family, the attention he garnered reached as far as the national media outlet USA Today.
Esposito, co-owner of the Windham Radio Shack, which has an extensive record department, purchased a collection of albums close to 15 years ago. As he flipped through that collection, he came across a unique item. Inside a mailing envelope addressed to Mr. & Mrs. William D. Austin at their home in Auburn was a recording made by their son, William Austin, who was at basic training in Texas. 

Esposito knew then that he wanted to get the record back where it belonged. He began cold calling people with the last name Austin in the Auburn area. Everyone he contacted listened to his story, but none had the connection he hoped for. Over the years, he occasionally tried. Hitting dead ends each time, he gave up in frustration. At the time, he had no idea if the young man had even made it back from World War II. If he hadn’t, Esposito realized, there might not be any family to find. 

In 2014, Esposito lost his father. Feeling nostalgic, something made him decide it was time to revisit the search. With his strong orientation towards family, he felt like he needed to get the recording back to the descendents of Austin somehow. “If it were mine, I’d want it back,” he said. 

This time, rather than calling, he spread the word on Facebook. On Saturday, January 3rd, he wrote a post asking – almost begging, he said – people to help him get the job done. “I hope this post will be shared by all of you so that this record will be reunited with his family,” he wrote. “I am determined to find this family and hopefully his children or grandchildren may hear his voice again! How cool would that be!”
And it was. By the next afternoon Esposito had in his hands an address and phone number for Barry Austin, Austin’s son. But before he could call the number, his phone rang. On the other end was Dorna Davis, Austin’s daughter. “I was a minute away from calling her brother’s number when she called me,” Esposito said. They arranged to meet at the store on Monday evening, so that she could hear the recording and take it home. 

Esposito posted a follow up message on Facebook, sharing the good news. And that’s when the media attention really began. By the end of that day, he’d received calls from several local news stations asking if they could be there for the exchange the following evening. 

At first Esposito, who said he didn’t want all this publicity, told them no. At his wife’s urging, he consulted with Davis and also with Dorothy Austin, Austin’s wife, to see how they felt about it. “I didn’t want them to feel ambushed by me,” said Esposito. “I just wanted to give it to them.” The family gave the go ahead, and so on Monday, January 5th when six members of Austin’s family came together with five members of Esposito’s family to make the exchange, the cameras were rolling.

It was an emotional event, Esposito said. He had set up an antique record player and they played the recording together. Through scratches and pops, the family heard William’s voice as a young man, sharing bits of news with his family, and letting them know he missed them. “It was amazing. It really didn’t sound like him – he was only 19,” said Davis. “It was just nice to hear what he had to say, and that he was missing his family.” Hearing the recording was also special to her son, Davis said, who had never before heard his grandfather’s voice. 

Her family had no idea the recording even existed, Davis said. What she assumes happened is that his parents received the recording, listened to it, and tucked it away for safekeeping. When they died, it was sold in a batch of records and ended up with Esposito. 

The publicity the story has generated came as a shock to Esposito. “I thought I’d contact somebody, they’d come in and I’d give them the record. I had no idea,” he said. By the end of last week, the story had run in USA Today, and was reaching news outlets across the country.

Davis said the publicity hasn’t really affected the family. “It’s quite fun,” she said. But the best part is having the recording. “We had no idea it existed, but it’s nice to have,” she said. The family hopes to find somewhere that can convert the record to a CD and take the scratchiness out for better sound quality. Then, she said, they’d like to take it to Austin’s brother, who is living in an assisted living facility, so he can hear his brother’s voice again.

Esposito said he feels like his extended family has been expanded. “You make family with not just blood relatives sometimes. These kinds of things push you into that relationship. We’ll keep in touch with each other forever.”Bottom of Form

Windham-Raymond groups align to fight drug and alcohol abuse - By Walter Lunt

Concerned groups of citizens from Windham and Raymond are joining forces to significantly reduce or eliminate drug abuse in the lakes region. The coalition, known as Be The Influence-Drug Free Communities, came together recently to begin the preliminary work of preparing a federal grant application for $125,000 over five years.

The diverse collaborative, made up of community, school, youth, law enforcement and business groups are targeting chiefly tobacco, alcohol and marijuana abuse, and encourage more participation from most of the sectors.

The group plans to gather data, write specific goals and develop an action plan to identify factors that contribute and lead to poor decisions surrounding the use of drugs and alcohol.

Windham school officials say interested students will address these issues at a “student summit” later this month. Windham High School student Alec Wurfel created a Be The Influence logo that will be used throughout the educational campaign.
At their recent meeting as a coalition, some expressed concern that relaxed attitudes and numerous proposals to reduce penalties for marijuana possession in other communities send mixed messages to youth. One participant stated flatly, “Kids (just) don’t know the reasons why they shouldn’t use.”
Should the grant application be successful, the coalition hopes to conduct an expansive educational campaign that will show all facets of the community, young and old, how to Be The Influence against substance abuse.

The Drug Free Community effort is being coordinated by Opportunity Alliance of South Portland. Similar programs have reported success in at least 13 other Maine communities.

More information can be obtained by consulting the Windham-Raymond RSU14 website or