Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


I saw Ahab, and he was wearing cargo shorts

His wooden leg was obscured by countless useful pockets.

So today, in the interest of reminding myself that I was no longer in Kansas or Cleveland or Menlo Park, I went on a boat ride and it was grand. I popped some Dramamine (bad experience traveling to the Channel Islands), dressed in layers, grabbed my knit hat, and dropped 15 bucks on the Mailboat run. With some of my fellow Salters on the bow (see previous post for a much more factual and informative account of the trip), I merrily recounted the story of being so drugged up on a trip to Prince Edward Island, I slept through many meals and a whale sighting. Then, of course, one hour into the unbelievably smooth ride this morning, the Dramamine hit me and I started to nod off. Damn! Foiled again!

The trip was lovely, although it’s hard to take those islands seriously. They’re too picturesque. All of their chairs are made of wood and painted white. There are hammocks and swings tied to branches that hang over the ocean. You imagine everyone who lives in these houses spends time reading Thoreau and gathering moss. They apparently really enjoy soda though, as a large proportion of the freight getting dropped off on the islands was two liter bottles of Pepsi. I got a bit sun-kissed, and felt very touristy (I didn’t do a good job of dissembling: walking up the ramp to the boat I blurted, “Look at me! I’m in Maine!” Seriously.) Highlights included watching a puppy on board the boat chase its tail, taking off my hat at the behest of a man who wanted his wife to make him one just like it, and nearly talking myself into buying a $3 bar of lemon verbena soap in the “Island Treasures” gift shop. I resisted.

Although this is definitely the pinnacle of my Maine-specific activity, I have not been short on adventures since I moved to Portland. After following a couple dead-end leads for stories, last week I found myself in Alfred, Maine. You may have heard of it: in 1837, an elephant named Old Bet was shot to death there. I did not know this going down. In order to find it out, I had to embed myself in the culture. I asked myself: What would Lord Peter Wimsey do (WWLPWD)? Having forgot my monocle in London, I settled on chatting up a local hairdresser… while getting my hair cut. Good idea? No. Kim, who has a hair salon in the back of her home, had terrible allergies and was struggling with them a great deal while chopping at my formerly beautiful locks. Do I sound bitter? It’s not that big a deal. She did make a phone call for me which got me sitting in the kitchen with this amazing couple, who gave me the run down on old Alfred, including elephant story. However, I ended the day empty handed and bare headed.

Even if I didn’t end up with a story after all that, it did increase my confidence to be able to find one somewhere. After another week filled with anxiety, I may have finally landed on something...

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