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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 74/May 1909/The Harpswell Laboratory

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 74‎ | May 1909

THE HARPSWELL LABORATORY
By MAX MORSE

THE COLLEGE OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK

Whether one is sailing about upon the sunny sea, fishing with muslin nets for the surface fauna, or steaming away far from shore to dredge for other material, or, again, carrying on observations in the cool sea water tanks and bell-jars of a neat little wooden workshop thrown open to the sea-breezes, it alike requires some effort to persuade one's self that the occupation is really something more than that of finding amusement.—Romanes, "Jellyfishes, Starfishes and Seaurchins."

 

ROMANES was thinking of Cromarty Firth when he drew this beautiful vignette. One may equally well think of the "little wooden workshop" founded by John Sterling Kingsley on Casco Bay.

As it stands at present, the laboratory is a one-story, wooden building, 24 by 43 feet on the ground, with sixteen windows looking out directly on a rugged shore, where the long ground swells from open water break incessantly. The building, within, is divided up into nine small rooms for investigators, and one large room, which is fitted up with five tables, for other workers, as occasion demands. A portion of this space is given over to shelving for the nucleus of a library made up mainly of books from the private library of Dr. Kingsley and reprints given to the laboratory by various students. Arrangement is made whereby the current journals are placed on file, during the season, and back numbers may be obtained for the asking, either from Tufts College or from the Boston Society of Natural History. At either end of the laboratory are double doors and when these are "thrown open to the sea breezes" an ideal temperature is assured, even on the warmest days. There have been but few days for many years when the thermometer in the laboratory registered above 78° F.

The equipment of the laboratory, modest as it is, has been found adequate for the purposes. Whenever special apparatus has been called for it has been supplied without delay, either from Portland, which is within an hour and one-half by the line of steamers running down the bay, or from Boston, which may be reached within three hours. Microtomes, glassware and the commoner laboratory materials are brought at the beginning of the season from the zoological laboratory of Tufts College. Investigators, even in our larger laboratories, prefer to take with them their more special apparatus, and such workers have been requested to do so when applying for space at the Harpswell station.

PSM V74 D510 Harpswell laboratory looking southeast.png

Fig. 1. The Laboratory, looking southeast. The sea reaches the bluff immediately beyond the fence. The writer is indebted to Professor H. V. Neal for the use of the photographs reproduced in this article.

One feature may appear, to some investigators, a serious drawback, and that is the lack of running water. The experience, however, of those who have carried on protracted series of experiments involving the keeping of living material throughout the season has been that no inconvenience has been felt by the absence of running water. The main reason for this is that the temperature is so low that one may keep material standing in dishes in the laboratory for many days without even changing the water. Thus one may keep hydroids, echinoderms, and even the "candles" of dog-fish without difficulty.

The laboratory is supplied with several small boats and with a motor boat, similar to the one which is used by the fishermen of Casco Bay. It is wonderfully seaworthy and safe, and for the collector it is ideal. If occasion demands, additional motors may be rented at low fees by the day or week from the fishermen. An ample supply of seines, dredges and trawls is maintained at the laboratory. The stock of chemicals and reagents is large, and whenever additional supplies of this character are required they are readily obtained from the larger dealers of Portland, who keep constantly on hand all but the more exceptional reagents. In fact, this city may be drawn upon for supplies rarely found in other cities of its size.

Accessibility to the laboratory is assured. The city of Portland is the terminus of the Grand Trunk System, and of the Boston and Maine and Maine Central railways and of several coastwise lines. The Maine Steamship Company maintains throughout the year a line of steamers between this port and that of New York. A day line and a night line of steamers ply between Portland and Boston, while the down-east ports, St. Johns and the St. Lawrence country are made accessible by other steamship lines. In general, the rates of passage on these lines is low and there is afforded a most comfortable and convenient mode of travel.

The laboratory is situated in the little fishing village of South Harpswell. A line of steamers sending a boat from Portland every two hours, on the average, throughout the day, is utilized in the main for reaching the laboratory. One may, if he desire, go overland to Brunswick, the seat of Bowdoin College, fourteen miles up Harpswell Neck. From Brunswick, Portland may be reached by trolley or by rail, or by a line of steamers running from the New Meadows River to Portland.

The Portland Public Library and the Library of the Portland Society of Natural History may be called upon for literature not supplied at the laboratory. The latter institution has, too, collections of the animals and plants from the surrounding region, identified by some of our well-known systematists, such as Emerton and others.

It is not, however, the buildings and accessories that attract the worker, but rather the living material. Harpswell has nothing to fear in rivalry with sister laboratories, wherever they may be, in wealth of material. In order to set this feature of the case clearly before the

PSM V74 D511 Interior of the harpswell laboratory.png

Fig. 2. Interior of the Laboratory looking northward.

 
PSM V74 D512 Harpswell laboratory beach at low tide.png
Fig. 5. The Labpratory Beach at Low Tide. looking towards Professor Kingsley's house, immediately beyond which is the laboratory.
 

reader, it will be necessary to describe briefly the geography of the region.

No geologist has described the rock formation of Casco Bay, although many of the more salient points in its history are evident. A glance at the accompanying map will show that the bay is dotted here and there with islands, none of which are more than three miles in length. It is popularly said by the denizens of the region that there are as many islands in the bay as there are days in the year. However that may be, it seems to the traveler who is making his first visit by the little steamer threading through the devious passages between the islands, that the estimate has been too meager. Extending down from the mainland are several long ragged points of land. Harpswell is one, Cape Small Point is another. The axes of these peninsulas lie parallel with those of the islands and between the islands and the peninsulas are deep lagoons bordered by the steep high sides of the islands. The average depth of these lagoons is fourteen fathoms, although a greater depth is reached in some places. At the westward. Cape Elizabeth forms the boundary for the bay.

A portion of the Arctic current flowing down the Gulf of Maine from the Greenland and Labrador shores is deflected into the immediate vicinity of Casco Bay, giving the cool water and the cool air characteristic of the locality. The Gulf Stream lies beyond this cold current and, while rarely a bit of the fauna of this stream comes into the bay, its effect is practically nothing on the plant and animal life. The dense fogs so characteristic of some of our other laboratories, nearer the Gulf Stream, are nearly absent here. It is mainly for this reason that one may safely use apparatus at the laboratory without injury from rust and hydroxide and oxide depositions. The writer, during the past season, used apparatus of great delicacy, such as is seldom brought out of the city workrooms, in investigating the contractions of muscle in various invertebrates, without any deleterious effect being produced by its sojourn at the coast.

The geological structure of the region is such that the retreating tides leave tide-pools filled with a wealth of animals and plants. The range of the tides is great, averaging fourteen feet. The cleavage planes of the mica schist and slate are normal to each other so that square or rectagonal holes are left for the formation of the tide-pools. Here may be found Asterias, Strongylocentrotus, Metridium, Tetrastemma, Carcinus, Cancer and dozens of other species. The algalogist is well rewarded for any labor he may expend in working these pools. The lagoons were gouged out in preglacial times and therefore the rocks are bare and free from till and boulders to a great extent. The subsidence of the whole region in later times has deepened the water throughout the bay, and these deep lagoons are carpeted with immense Laminaria and the perforated Agarum, belonging to the same group. The surfaces of the islands bordering the water stretches and of the peninsulas pushing seaward from the mainland are covered with evergreens, while as one passes up the sounds towards the mainland proper this evergreen growth gives place to deciduous trees. Hence, within a comparatively short distance, the botanist may have a wide range of vegetation.

Out "upon the sunny seas" float Aurelia flavidula and Cyanea arctica in countless numbers. Melicerta and Pteropods occur during

PSM V74 D514 Typical rock structure creating tide pools.png

Fig. 4. Typical Rock Structure forming the Tide-pools.

the greater part of the season, and these may be collected in a rowboat within the sounds themselves. On shallow banks of sand exposed entirely at low tide Echinarachnius parma may be collected in quantities, and with great ease. Strongylocentrotus dröbachiensis is dredged by the bushel within a mile of the laboratory, while the same dredgings bring up Dentalium, Corymorplia, Chalina, Edwardsia, Pentacta, Terebratulina, Pecten tenuicostata, Boltenia and other classics.

The one-day trips from the laboratory may be undertaken in one of many directions. Twenty miles is generally a recognized limit. The map reveals the possibilities of a day's collecting. All the trips are in sheltered water or within safe distance of harbors, and the strong tide sweeps which are familiar to the collector at many of our other laboratories are not present here, except in one or two points, hence the fear of being carried away from the collecting ground never disturbs one.

A mile from the laboratory is the site of the Old Tide Mill, now no more, but represented by the rapids which served in former years to turn the wheels of the mill. The open sea is led in communication with a large tidal pond by a long, narrow cove, at the narrowest portion of which the old mill once rested. Through these narrows and over the rocks the tide rushes at twelve knots an hour into the pool at rising tide and out again at falling tide. Beneath these rocks is a veritable curiosity shop for the novice and an Eldorado for the biologist. An invoice from the overturning of a single stone, in genera, is given as follows: Tethya, Cliona, Tubularia, Clava, Metridium, Asterias, Cribrella, Ophiopholis, Ophioglypha, Strongylocentrotus, Pentacta, Tetrastemma, Lepidonotus, Spirorbis, Membranipora, Balanus, Pagurus, Cancer, Carcinus, Idothea, Purpura, Æolis, Molgula, Leptoclinum and Amaroucium. The most fastidious could scarcely ask for a greater galaxy.

Across the cove and opposite the mill-site is a fishermen's village. Here are brought in, from the open water and the sounds, fish of all descriptions. Aside from the food fishes, such as rock cod, hake, pollock and the like, these men may, at the request of the laboratory, bring back numbers of sand-sharks, rays and dog-fish, the "candles" or egg-cases of which afford possibilities for embryological studies, both descriptive and experimental, hitherto scarcely recognized. The abundance of the material supplied by these fishermen is taken advantage of by Professor F. D. Lambert, who maintains a supply station for zoological material in connection with the laboratory on Harpswell. Nowhere, to the writer's knowledge, is such an abundant supply of choice material made available to the zoologist.

Nearer the laboratory, on the sandy shores of a neighboring island. Nereis and Sipunculus may be dug in large numbers. Cerebratulus, represented by two species, one being the giant form, occurs near the "bridge," while Balanoglossus, Pholas, Zirphæa and other interesting and important forms, from the point of view of the experimentalist, are to be found in the same vicinity. But it is impossible to go on. One would of necessity give a catalogue of the fauna of Casco Bay if he desired to do the matter justice.

The history of the laboratory is brief. The late Professor Lee, of Bowdoin College, insisted upon the desirability of establishing a station for the study of marine forms in the Gulf of Maine, and specifically in Casco Bay. In 1898, Professor Kingsley, together with a band of students from Tufts College, leased a cottage near the present site and

PSM V74 D516 The coast at high tide.png

Fig. 5. The Coast at High Tide. Compare with Fig. 3.

converted it into a laboratory on the lower floor, while the upper chambers were made living rooms. Then, in 1901, Tufts College bought a tract of land and erected the present building, opening it for the use of students for the first time in the summer of the same year. Later on, an addition was made to the rear of the building. For the first years, undergraduate instruction was maintained in the laboratory, but in 1906, this was abandoned. Now, all the expenses of the laboratory are met from the small fee paid by each investigator, which is made for the use of room and material. For the coming season, a new arrangement has been made whereby funds other than those supplied by the workers will be available and a collector will be ready to bring to the investigator whatever material he may desire. Additions, too, to the library and to the supplies and possibly to the building itself are planned and if not completed during the coming season, they will be made in the near future.

Living facilities, a matter of concern to the average investigator at the summer laboratory, are at their best. One may find almost any mode of living he may desire on Harpswell. If he desires a first-class hotel, he has the choice of three. If he prefer to live in a private house and obtain his meals either in the same house or one within easy access, he may do so. If he desire a cottage, he may obtain one at low rental for the season. The average rental for a five-room house is seventy-five dollars, for the season, beginning as early and ending as late as one desires. Country produce may be engaged and delivered at your door.

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Fig. 6. A View in the Evergreens, one half mile from the laboratory.

at very reasonable rates, while grocers supply the best provisions, being in the main those brought fresh from Portland, a city well known for its splendid markets. Finally, camping is possible, either near the laboratory, or farther away amongst the evergreens.

With a delightful climate, plenty of sunshine and clear sky, a rich fauna and flora, good facilities for carrying on investigation, a comfortable summer home, freedom from the conventionalities of our more formal stations, ease of access—certainly Harpswell has few rivals.

The biologist is notorious for being ever busy. "I have no vacations," complained an entomologist; "there are ants wherever I go." The ability of the biologist to work incessantly is easily explained; his work is his play. Emphatically is this so of the investigator at Harpswell.